Another harmful label

In an earlier post I wrote about the labels “race” and “gender” and their limited usefulness in discourse and policy making. There are several more where those came from. An often mentioned one in Sweden right now is “unaccompanied refugee children”. It is claimed that they are over-represented in crime statistics, in particular sexual offences. Whether true or not, this is yet another use of a useless and misleading label, like “race” and “gender”.

If we wish to move from an unwanted state (women being raped) to a wanted state (women being safe) then it is useful to know the cause the unwanted state. The cause helps us to find a corrective action. It is hardly the fact that a person is an “unaccompanied refugee children” that is the cause of any alleged behavior; it is a label void of actionable information. Except if you promote the simple “solution” of closing the borders entirely but that would be arbitrary and as humane as doling out death sentences for every crime from speeding to homicide.

A human being is a product of her genes together with the story of her life. Some genes may increase the risk of committing a crime. Nothing indicates that these genes are found more often in “unaccompanied refugee children” than in the general population. Growing up at a particular longitude and latitude does probably not make a criminal either. So what does? Being abused, being neglected, being jobless, being indoctrinated with unhelpful beliefs, being hungry, using drugs, having a mental illness, and a thousand other circumstances. Now, again, there might be a correlation between having been the victim of these circumstances and being an “unaccompanied refugee child” but it’s these circumstances that we should talk about if we wish to move to a more “wanted state”, we should not use an unhelpful sweeping label. Also, any correlation is far from 100% meaning that there are many children in this group that are unharmed and therefore well-functioning.

So instead of closing the borders, what can we do? We can give therapy to the abused and neglected and provide a safe shelter. We can provide education for the illiterate and jobless. We can educate those holding unhelpful beliefs. We can rehabilitate drug users. With this line of reasoning the issue turns into one of money which is much easier to analyze objectively.

The question is then: How generous are we?

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One thought on “Another harmful label

  1. I read The Guardian a lot. It is, together with The Economist, my main source of international news. Their generally liberal stance rhymes well with mine. But they are not without their flaws. In the reporting of the terrible shooting in Munich, The Guardian made it very clear, also in the headlines, that the shooter was a German-Iranian (“German-Iranian gunman killed nine and then himself, police say”). That label is, again, void of any useful information (unless you subscribe to Trump or Le Pen style solutions). It helped to increase xenophobia in Europe one notch. I wonder what The Guardian would have written had the gunman been of German-British origin…

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