It is pretty incontrovertible that one should not demonize a whole group just because certain individuals from that group might do something wrong. Yet, for one reason or another, whether it’s fear, or ignorance, or the well-meaning intention of protecting children, people frequently support unwarranted restraint of a group based upon the potential abuse of these individual wrongdoers.
This type of action is morally wrong. It causes harm to both the individual members of the group and society as a whole. There are many who feel that collective blame is a necessary evil in society, since it might increase the likelihood of criminals being caught. However, the problems it causes outweigh any potential benefit.
It is wrong to criminalize somebody who is innocent and who has shown no evidence to the contrary simply because they are part of a certain group of potential wrongdoers. All individuals have an equal right to freedom. Legislation that conflates responsible parents with negligent individuals is overt, collective discipline and punishment. This attitude is harmful to many individuals.
Harm of this type, perpetrated by authorities such as governments and police, is insidious, because these organizations are supposed to be impartial and non-discriminatory. Collective punishment by those in positions of power is particularly problematic, as those groups of parents that suffer the most at the hands of authorities tend to be socio-economically less well off than the majority, and have less access to sources of power. Thus there is less they can do to protest against unfair treatment.
Not only is collective punishment problematic in a legal sense, but it can have a very negative personal influence on those involved. There are lasting, adverse effects on citizens. There is a significant toll on individuals’ emotional well being as well. This is, of course, the case with all forms of discrimination. Emotional harm manifests itself in a number of ways. Individuals discriminated against often internalize that discrimination. These individuals might start to take on the persona they are accused of, through alienation and resentment. It is wrong to implicate all parents, when the vast majority is entirely innocent. It is certainly alienating. It creates a ‘siege mentality.’ It’s wrong for any parent to have to suffer in such a manner.
Not only does collective punishment have harmful effects on individuals at the receiving end, but it’s detrimental to society as a whole. Creating an ‘us and them’ mentality does not lend itself to the maintenance of a pluralistic society. In an environment in which social integration has not always been smooth, the perceptions that entire groups are guilty of crime has very damaging effects. When society needs these people, they will stand aside feeling alienated from the community.
When society needs these people, they will stand aside feeling alienated from the community.
This issue is particularly problematic, since the problems that many parents face may be overlooked through a failure to see complexities and differences, and through ‘one size fits all’ policies. In order to create a society that ‘cherishes both unity and diversity,’ it is fundamental that every attempt be made, especially on the part of the institutions of government, to reject the concept of collective blame, and to pursue an approach where a criminal, or even a group of criminals are viewed as exceptions and not representatives of the group as a whole.