Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture Copyright © 1995 Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture
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ISSN 1070-8286

Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 3(6) (1995) 133-144


Gregory J. Howard
University at Albany

The necessity of society creates the necessity of constraint, of sharedness, of being like and acting with others; yet the necessity of meaning creates the necessity of freedom, of questioning and making choices, of differentiating and separating oneself from others and from all external realities. The human condition is thus one of necessary conflict between freedom and constraint, between the demands of individuality and the demands of society. It is this conflict and others which... make the problem of social order inevitable (p.2).
-- Jack D. Douglas (1971) --
Within the realm of criminological inquiry, the privileging of the scientific methods continues to condemn creative criminologists to a marginal status. This situation is unacceptable (p.105).
-- Bruce DiCristina (1995) --
Describing -- that is the last ambition of an absurd thought. Science likewise, having reached the end of its paradoxes, ceases to propound and stops to contemplate and sketch the virgin landscape of phenomena. The heart learns thus that the emotion delighting us when we see the world's aspects comes to us not from its depth but from their diversity. Explanation is useless, but the sensation remains and, with it, the constant attractions of a universe inexhaustible in quantity. The place of the work of art can be understood at this point (p.95).
-- Albert Camus (1955) --
Few concepts are more central to the project of criminology than social order. Indeed, any discipline that seeks to understand the individual and society -- and one can hardly be reckoned without reference to the other -- must rest on this concept at some level. Yet criminologists share with other social scientists a peculiar hesitancy to take this concept seriously in their theoretical and empirical efforts. Perhaps this reflects the tendency toward narrow specialization that afflicts most areas of intellectual inquiry today, a tendency that results in that scholar privileging structural factors and another favoring subjective ones. That this type of exclusionary thinking is simply wrongheaded has been noted by Groves and Lynch (1990) with singular eloquence. They write:

Specialization certainly has its merits, and there are problems for which specialized approaches are well suited. Crime, however, is not one of them. Criminology should take subjective orientations seriously because people have them. Experience exists. Hopes, fears, and [End page 133] memories exist. Pain and suffering exist, as do happiness and jubilation. If these feelings and experiences are beyond the grasp of some particularistic vision of criminology, so much the worse for criminology. The same holds true for structural orientations, which are important because people enact their subjectivity in specific social and historical contexts. Structural sociology is charged with the analysis of those contexts. To dismiss them is to dismiss the very circumstances which create, reflect, sustain, enhance, and/or diminish subjectivity [emphasis in original] (p.367).
What is needed, conclude Groves and Lynch (1990), is the creation of "interdisciplinary bridges" that will "effectively integrate structural and subjective themes" (p.368). I submit that the concept of social order can provide the abutment for exactly this type of spanning.

Social order of course is all around us. We count on it when we drive upon any highway, where the use of turn signals and brake lights alerts others to our basic intentions so that they might act accordingly. Social order makes driving at high speeds on a narrow strip of pavement in small metal and plastic vehicles feasible. We assume it when we attend sporting events, although certain developments can make social order look tenuous enough to rally riot police, as recently occurred in Cleveland after word circulated that the Browns would be moved to Baltimore. Social order permits the assembly of large crowds to take place without incident; it allows us to fly in airplanes, helicopters, and dirigibles; it makes war possible; and it ensures that eggs appear on the market shelf. Simply put, life as we know it today, the array of interactions that populate our daily rounds, is predicated on the notion of social order.

Now when most people think of social order, they actually think of its obverse. That is, they think of social disorder. This realization led David Burnham, in his "Special Introduction" to Law and Order Reconsidered, to note as a weakness of the report its failure to consider in detail the breakdown of law and order in the major cities of America. "The Report's description of the ugly reality of these diseases can be sharpened by attending to specific cases," he counsels. And so he offers the following:

Consider one city. Consider America's largest city. Consider New York -- eight million persons who each year call the police about 1,000 murders, 50,000 robberies and 150,000 burglaries. New York, where one out of ten of the shoppers walking into one department store steals something before leaving. New York, where 50,000 men, women, and children each day inject into their bodies the false dream of heroin. New York, where reporters saw a large group of off-duty, out-of-uniform patrolmen beat up a small band of Black Panthers in a court house. New York, where slum dwellers during the last few years have ambushed at least four policemen and bombed precinct houses and patrol cars at least a dozen times. New York, where television cameras recorded Columbia University students being clubbed and beaten by detectives gone berserk, while two of the department's top commanders silently watched. New York, where more than 7,000 men are caged two or three to a cell, waiting months and sometimes years for a court to determine whether they are innocent or guilty. New York, where the [End page 134] problems confronting virtually all American cities are magnified to terrifying proportions (p.xiii).
Burnham's counsel seems wise. Detailed examination of a specific case can help to elucidate that which might otherwise remain uselessly vague. Case studies make concepts seem more vivid. Thus, the idea of social disorder is made more pointed when it is linked to the image of rogue cops beating college students or citizens lying in wait to visit violence on unsuspecting police officers. And so, this report on social order is submitted with Burnham's advice in mind: the description of social order can be sharpened by attending to a specific case, the case of a man in New York.

It is with great hesitation that these events are committed to paper, a hesitation born of the knowledge that words are too ill-disciplined to relate the singularity of experiences fully or accurately. As abstractions, words flatten out the experiential terrain that we seek to symbolize. But for this dear price, we get something in return, the social interaction that attends symbolic exchange, without which our very existence -- both physical and psychical -- would be imperiled. So let us not be petty, forsaking the treasures of the pack in pursuit of meaningless particulars. This story must be told, for in a small way our existence depends on it.

Some things are larger than life, inflated to mythic proportions that salve our common savage fears. That these myths resemble little the daily travail that composes everyday life seems strangely irrelevant. "We all need to dream," is the common refrain. And to this sage aphorism clever and informed retorts are slow in developing, for who can rightfully deny the universalness of dreams? They persist for all on scales both grand and petit, serving to reconcile deep contradictions of a personal and, necessarily, social nature. Dreams, while universal, can take a myriad of forms, but all act in service of some keen and liveable resolution to the conflicts which plague us relentlessly.

Of these ideas I was aware during the New York City trip. There certainly were others, but they are left to the reader to decipher according to his or her own consciousness, as they are of no particular consequence to me at the moment and, in any case, I had manifestly forsaken all accountability for the duration of the expedition. "I am not responsible. I got to the house at 8am like I said -- that was my only responsibility today," I assured myself publicly. These thoughts rumbled through my head, a preamble of sorts to the story which I now intend to impart.

Lou Reed has said that "Manhattan is sinking like a rock, into the filthy Hudson, what a shock! They wrote a book about it; they said it was like ancient Rome." And for this claim a tightly woven philosophical argument may be created. Yet despite this truth, New York holds a perverse fascination for many, bearing symbols of variegated meaning, some of which lurk suspiciously on the edge of preconsciousness, ready to assert themselves at any time. This was made strikingly clear to me as I gazed on the city after we emerged from the Path station from our confused little ride from New Jersey. [End page 135]

We got on the train in Hoboken rather deliberately, boosted by the knowledge that we had a seasoned New Yorker, with many hours logged in the City, as our guide. After all, M had offered a calm presence when we were stuck at an "exact-change-only" tollbooth on the Thruway with only large bills and a gathering stream of cars behind us. "Just beep your horn and drive off," she said. And J complied with reckless precision as K and I sat in an anomic trance. "What the hell does that mean," one of us finally muttered, childlike. "You beep your horn and the toll collector thinks that you dropped change so you drive off," she instructed us patiently. "Everybody does it. In New Jersey when you don't have money, you just take an envelope. I've got friends who have dozens of them at home." Although the logic of all this was still a bit fuzzy to me, and I was certain that M had left out some key particulars, I didn't begrudge this for I couldn't argue with the results. After all, we had eluded what would've certainly been an ugly righteous slaughter at the hands of the drivers massing behind us, and we were not being hounded by State Troopers, who reportedly are mounting a horrific war on tollbooth fraud, funded by federal crime bill dollars. Success breeds confidence, so we felt rather assured, at least in our leader, as we boarded the train for Manhattan.

After being on the train for two or three stops, we transferred to another line, and I noted with some satisfaction that we were only four stops from the World Trade Center, according to the color-coded map on the harshly lit wall of the train car. But then I alerted to an apparent problem. The group was moving toward the doors, and this was only the first stop. "What's wrong," I thought as I moved to catch up. "We got on the wrong train," one of them told me. "We just need to go back to the last station and catch the right one." This sounded perfectly reasonable to me, a quick-witted solution to a mishap which through astute observation was nipped mercifully before any serious consequence could arise. I thought myself confident once more, quickly assuming my stilted "big city" manner. But when a train pulled up and the conductor asked, "Do you folks need some help," I was immediately made painfully self-conscious. "Shit," I thought, "I must have 'helplessness' written all over my face, all of my inadequacies stripped bare for all to see and mock. I must look ill-stricken and weak, a juicy prize to the peering eyes of the social pariahs no doubt converging on me at this very moment."

I was shook from these thoughts when the train lurched to a stop at the station where we had gone awry. We got off, waited for awhile, and got on the next train which was clearly marked with the letters "WTC," our intended destination. We emerged from the subterranean labyrinth talking about how torturous it must be as a transit cop, what with the smell of piss and all wafting around menacingly. It was warm, a balmy 61 degrees on the mid-January street, and rain was gently falling. A car-alarm began to wail and a man was fidgeting around in the car across the street. I continued walking, vaguely wondering for a moment whether it was the guy's car, but the thought faded as I came to realize how disconnected I really was from the scene. We walked past an old church with gravestones dating to the eighteenth century that looked strangely out of place among the imposing skyscrapers surrounding us. "That's sort of anachronistic," I said, and someone agreed. We turned at the corner and continued walking as M looked at a small map trying to find some bearing that would point us toward the South Street Seaport. Music was playing loudly from a radio perched on the shoulder of one of the [End page 136] guys who passed us going the other direction. It sounded like Rollins Band's "Liar." We made a couple more turns and came once more to the World Trade Center and the church with its cemetery. Although we had just circled the block, we seemed to pick up speed as it appeared that M found the proper course. The rain began to come down harder making it difficult to see where we were walking. Within a few minutes, however, we reached the Seaport so the warm rain was actually refreshing.

I had never been to the Seaport before, although I had heard people speak of it frequently, and I was actually surprised to discover that it is just a shopping mall, with places to eat and some bars, on a restored dock surrounded by old ships. It was not how I had pictured it. Before we went inside to grab a bite to eat, we walked to the riverfront to look at the Brooklyn Bridge. It looked very majestic, an enduring symbol of the gritty origins of the American service economy. There was a sign at the dock's edge that related the story of the bridge's builder. Apparently, he was stricken ill by the bends, a result of work in the river placing the foundations, and was forced to watch the completion of the bridge from an apartment window that looked down on it. "I wonder if he would have liked to watch the building of the bridge from the bar in this mall," I thought.

We went inside the Seaport and parted in the food court as we sought something to suit our tastes. Since I only got coffee, I sat at the table first and started to look around. I immediately noticed small video cameras attached to the steel beams that had been left exposed. I saw a number of them which seemed to suggest that there was a large, darkened room nearby with hundreds of television screens and some authority figure watching over all of us. Some woman dropped what appeared to be an ice cream cone onto the floor. She looked around, saw that nobody was paying too much attention to her, and with visible relief began to walk off, leaving the mess on the floor. In minutes, a couple of janitors converged on the spill and quickly cleaned the floor. "I bet those fuckers in the control booth watched her with one of the cameras and dispatched these functionaries to restore order," I thought. And I became sullen.

The others arrived soon afterward with their food. It looked safe enough, like food available in every mall in America, and I probably would have had something to eat too, had I been hungry and had a smaller bill on me. My grandfather had solemnly pressed, with a paternal determination that made me feel slightly uneasy, a hundred dollar bill in my hand as I left his place on Thursday night to catch my flight from the airport. I didn't go to the bank on Friday, for one reason or another, so I still hadn't broken it into smaller bills. I felt stupid for not doing this, recognizing earlier the difficulty this would present as we navigated the city on a Saturday. I felt awkward like this once before, when I showed up one night to visit some friends in a foreign city with only American currency. We decided to go immediately for food as it was getting late, and we were all very hungry. When the check came, I realized my error and quickly secured a loan from one of my friends, until I could reach one of the ATMs in town. Being in a foreign city without the proper currency can be painful, and I was certain that trying to buy a subway token in New York with a hundred dollar bill would not be pleasant either. So I thought that I would fall back on a stratagem that had worked in the past and stop at an ATM as we walked around the city. [End page 137]

After finishing up, we left the Seaport and started walking back toward the World Trade Center. We passed under some steel structure that provided support for a large roadway overhead, Buicks, Hondas, and Greyhounds rumbling past with abandon, and I noted a long line of taxicabs. The driver in front of whom we passed seemed to be settling in for a wait, opening his New York Post with exacting care, being about 20 cabs back in the line- up. We crossed the street, continued walking, and soon came to a corner where a building had an electric marquee that looked like a keno sign you might see in Reno or Las Vegas, with numbers that would variously illuminate. I turned to J and commented that the sign reminded me of W, who had quite a keno fetish and once tried unsuccessfully to indoctrinate me to the game's elusive inner meaning. It then occurred to me that the sign was mounted on the side of a Chinese food place, so maybe the numbers represented the orders that were ready to be picked up for take-out. This seemed especially absurd when M told us that it was simply a clock. "Yes, it is a clock now that you mention it," I cast out enlightened. It was an ingenious device, the numbers one through 60 flashing in quick succession as each second passed, and the numbers representing the hour and minutes staying lit for their due proportion of time. As we walked on I became aware of the World Trade Center towers once again. They rose prominently from down the street. "It's funny," I said. "The towers do not look as big as I thought they would." The others looked at me queerly, and I got the feeling that they did not share my perplexity. "It's just that I always imagined the towers being bigger, you know, stretching toward the sky until they have Communion with the divine Father," I offered pathetically as my thoughts turned to the scene of the towers and the church from earlier.

We found our way back to the vicinity of the World Trade Center and, once there, searched for an entrance to the subway so that we could continue our tour from Time Square. Fortunately, I had the foresight to save a single and some change from my coffee purchase earlier at the Seaport, so I was able to secure a token with minimal difficulty. But this exchange exhausted my supply of small denomination currency, and I was forced once more to contemplate the gravity of my financial situation. I entered the train considering the predicament and determined that I could not put off a visit to an ATM for much longer. This would have to be my first order of business once we got to Time Square.

I was jarred from these thoughts, however, when J made an impromptu, albeit effective, entrance to the train car. Apparently, the turnstile that provides admittance to the platform malfunctioned, trapping J mercilessly in its iron grip. J struggled bravely, under the largely uninterested eye of a transit cop, and freed himself just as the doors of the train were about to close. J acted decisively. He bounded toward the train like a terrified gazelle and hurled himself through the rapidly closing doors, landing in a three point stance which, through the sheer force of the effort and the slickness of the smutty floor, was difficult to maintain with any degree of dignity. But as J stood upright and moved toward his seat, he seemed unfazed by the event, displaying a coy and knowing smile which caused me to question whether his entry was an innocent misadventure or had actually conformed to some grand design. And then, suddenly, there was song. A young black man, moving confidently throughout the length of the car, was rapping eloquently, exhorting his captive audience for contributions to support his cause -- survival. I briefly considered asking him [End page 138] if he had change for a hundred, but thought better of it when I realized how troublesome it would be to convince him that I could really only part with a dollar or two.

We arrived at Time Square shortly after this, moving with the masses through the stale air of the station and up to the street level. We walked for some time and soon found ourselves at the Empire State Building. It was here that I noticed an ATM conveniently placed at the corner, and I decided that the time had come to resolve my fiscal dilemma. I parted from the others and entered the vestibule which housed the machines. I walked up to the third of four ATMs, inserted my card, and punched in my PIN deliberately. I requested my withdrawal and listened to the machine noisily process the transaction, thinking of how much easier my life would soon be. But when the machine spit out a receipt without any cash, I realized that something was horribly wrong. "INSUFFICIENT FUNDS TO PROCESS THIS TRANSACTION," the paper read, a paltry balance of 14 dollars and some change printed underneath this stern admonishment. "Goddamit," I said aloud as those around me glanced over cautiously. My failure to go to the bank the previous day haunted me once more as I consequently had not deposited my paycheck. Although I never really know the exact balance of my account, I was certain that I had at least 20 dollars at my disposal. But the ugly truth was right there in my hands, and there was nothing to be done about it. I felt a sense of desperation overtake me as I exited the building to the street. My ace in the hole had been illusory, and I now had to contend with the consequences.

After walking around the city for hours, mulling over the World Trade Center vision and my precarious financial state, I reminded myself of the denial of responsibility that I had proclaimed earlier, and this managed to lighten for a time my troublesome ruminations. It was then that M guided us to our first bar, a small Mexican-style place in the Village whose name, despite trying to commit it to memory on more than one occasion, I can't recall. M informed us that the bar made very fine drinks with hearty portions of top-shelf liquors. After briefly studying a menu filled with dizzying concoctions, we settled on rather standard Mexican fare, margaritas and daiquiris. My margarita was quite good, numbing the thirst that I had developed throughout the day. We became somewhat giddy, talking about things for which we suffered caustic glares from a nearby table. Amid this brisk chatter, we ordered another round of drinks, and I was finally able to break the hundred dollar bill. I felt considerable relief.

With the tequila from the two margaritas buzzing pleasantly in my head, we left our table and started in search of a restaurant, deciding on a Thai place a few blocks away. We examined the menu and quickly ordered a large quantity of food, all of which has since been overshadowed in my mind by the shrimp dish that the slight waitress brought rapidly and obediently to the table. There were five succulent shrimp on the plate with some rice or other garnish, which was really beside the point. These were magnificent shrimp, the likes of which I have only rarely seen. When the plate was passed to me, I was transfixed by the three remaining shrimp. It took a few moments of contemplation for me to choose the shrimp I wanted. When I had decided on the one, I moved with celerity. But, suddenly, something went awry. The shrimp for which I had the hankering was falling, gently but with determination, toward the floor. I sat still, thinking "it's better to lose one than to risk losing [End page 139] two more." Once the shrimp landed with considerable ceremony, I leaned down, cautiously guarding the two remaining shrimp, and picked up the remnants. I then turned the plate over to M to continue the service and sadly deposited the worn shrimp on some empty plate. Later, as second or third helpings were being doled out, the last shrimp was offered to me, which I ruefully, but through strict and socially sanctioned reason, declined. But the others were insistent, and I was weak, as my defenses crumbled under the weight of their assurances. "Everyone has had one so why don't you?" was the tenor of their remarks. This seemed imminently practical to me, so I indulged. While the shrimp was very good, its succulence was tarnished by the knowledge that I had unambiguously altered a course of events by my own misadventure, eliminating, among other things, the necessity of coming to terms with which of us would have two shrimp to eat. The consequences were not especially dear, but the personal linkage was indisputable. And I felt a pale of guilt envelope me.

The events that now follow I relate with the greatest of trepidation, for even now they conjure up terrible visions. But we have come this far already, and it would be imprudent to turn away from them, despite their ominous implications. We left the Thai restaurant and entered the now darkened streets with a theme bar called "Jekyll and Hyde" as our immediate destination. The tenor of the streets seemed different at this time, a certain festive air abounded as people moved assuredly down the narrow walks along the road, probably thinking of the debauchery which every Saturday night implicitly promises. We made it to the bar in due course and were quickly seated on the second floor at a table upon which a grossly over-sized mask, reminiscent of some archaic South Seas tribe, peered threateningly. It was a perverse symbol whose connotations seemed immediately suspect. A waiter, looking dapper in his English-style safari accoutrements, quickly descended on us, and we discussed with him the beverage possibilities. J unhesitatingly ordered a halfyard of stout, and I blindly followed him with my own order.

After the stouts arrived, J engaged his with the reckless abandon that he had willfully displayed throughout the day. And before I knew it, I was caught in a tit-for-tat drinking exchange with him that drained our peculiar glass beakers in about twenty minute's time. Unflinchingly, and perhaps instinctively, we ordered another round. The waiter quickly complied, and we returned immediately to our drinking contest, staring smugly at each other as we drew in gulps in quick succession. Sometime after we drank about half of our second stouts, a debilitating feeling swept through my body that I have experienced before and through retrospection have come to hold with a certain contempt. Like any subjective experience, the nuances of the feeling that engulfed me defies complete expression, even with the admirable tool of language that we employ so frequently yet mostly unthinkingly, but I can say that the feeling is accompanied by the onset of a cognitive and perceptual fog and an uncomfortable, even stubborn warmth. Perhaps the overwhelming heat is representative of guilt, that weighty construct that eludes our firm grasp yet always insidiously appears to badger and belittle. Be that as it may, I was abruptly drawn back to social interaction when I became aware of the increasingly persistent coaxing that was being uttered on my left. "Come on, you're falling behind," was the refrain. I think that I could've negotiated their gentle taunting, but then I suddenly realized that the mask on the wall had joined into the melee. The [End page 140] specifics of its commentary is not really important, suffice to say that I perceived a certain vituperation in the mask's hollow voice, a vituperation that degraded my sense of self. I determined that the only way to make the mask cease its seemingly endless degradation was to push on with the stout. When I turned back to my glass, I noticed with some consternation that I had indeed fallen behind in our drinking joust. I immediately committed myself to evening the score and eventually pulling ahead, emptying my halfyard before J despite the consequences. But, while I did manage to catch J and possibly even pass him by, I couldn't beat him to the end, for I became stymied with perhaps two gulps left in my glass. A sudden sense of self-loathing enveloped me, and I felt sickeningly alone. The world seemed to lose coherence before my eyes; I felt anomic. Consequently, I was rendered incapable of engaging in social interaction in even its most basic forms. I knew that I had to escape, slip away from the threat of interaction so as to reconstitute my composure or at least to find a presentable self.

I arose from my chair quickly and decidedly, without a word to the others, but discernibly swaying. I realized as I staggered away from the table and the evil mask that I had no particular destination in mind. I thought of going to the bathroom to collect myself, but I remembered that earlier I had difficulty getting into it, as its entrance is deftly camouflaged behind a fake bookcase. In my present condition, I could not endure such humiliation again so I made my way toward the door and the street, thinking that a walk in the cool evening's breeze might assist in my recovery. When I got outside, I immediately turned left and followed the sidewalk to the next corner where I turned left once again. I walked on dangerously, performing what Tom Waits has called an "inebriated stroll, using parking meters as walking sticks." While my vision was somewhat clouded, I could see that people were taking notice of me; I even observed one young woman who, when passing by me in the opposite direction, clutched her male companion with noticeable anxiety and exclaimed, "Look at that guy!" I was beginning to feel like the antagonist in George Orwell's brilliant story "Shooting An Elephant," and I began to fear that I was being shadowed by an agent of the state with a hunting rifle at the ready. I felt certain that the alarm that I was provoking in the natives would place this agent in such a predicament that he would have no choice but to destroy me. I turned left at the next corner, hoping that the side street would be less busy, but this was not to be. In a city the size of New York, one is hard pressed to escape others, and this was starting to make me feel nauseous. But for one accustomed to being sick on the floor of a bathroom with my head in the toilet, the streets of New York did not seem particularly enviable. I was struggling with my wretchedness when I noticed a small alleyway, which I directly entered. Partway down the small walkway, I found a garbage can, the lid for which I ripped off hastily, and violently deposited into the can the vile tequila and stout that had precipitated this bout with evil.

I felt better, at least physically. I left the alley and found my way back to the bar, which was only about three blocks away. When I arrived back at our table, the others looked at me curiously, no doubt trying to ascertain the reason for my prolonged and unexplained absence. They were gracious, however, and did not force me beyond the parsimonious "I had to get some air" accounting that I offered only halfheartedly. I think they sensed fear in my eyes and did not want to push my volatile mood, [End page 141] which was clearly evidenced by the retch that had dribbled onto my shirt. As the bill had already been paid -- whether I had contributed or not I still can't honestly say -- we rose to depart, a move that I found imminently reasonable given my adulterated state.

I had a lot of time to think about the preceding events on the train ride home, after I finally overcame the difficulties that I encountered with the bill machine that provided access to the platform. Technology often befuddles me, and in my extant condition I could not figure out which way to insert my dollar bill into the machine. Again, currency was the sponsor of considerable woe for me. Once on the train, we managed to find our way back to Hoboken and the car uneventfully. The car was still intact, always a concern when parking in New Jersey, despite an egregious oversight earlier in the day which resulted in the doors being left unlocked. The drive to the hotel was unusually quiet as we each delved into our private thoughts. When we checked into the hotel, we found that complementary drinks were granted in the price of the room. While more booze was certainly the last thing I really needed, I found it hard to look a gift horse in the mouth. So we went to the hotel bar, enjoyed our gratis cocktails, and endured the persistent cacophony of pop songs from the '80s that droned over the bar's in-house sound system. At closing time, we went back to the room where we all collapsed into various states of repose. I found one of the chairs that adorned the room to my liking and soon started a soliloquy that could be best characterized, even then, as mere babble. Soon J was snoring intermittently but decidedly, a physical manifestation to which he freely admits -- being a social discomfort that occurs with such regularity that its manifester typically incurs only a mild ribbing and not serious censure. The television was broadcasting a particularly flagrant movie that starred Hulk Hogan as some kind of nanny or babysitter, which I watched despite myself. And I stayed awake until near 7am intermittently talking, drowsily and contently, to M and thinking seriously about having to answer the phone call we had ordered as an alarm for the morning -- a responsibility which I anxiously, yet willingly, assumed.

To will is to be human. This is by no means a radical notion. It has informed theories advanced by criminologists from the beginning, if one accepts the popular accounting that criminology was born with the publication of Beccaria's (1963[1764]) On Crimes and Punishments. It forms the basis for the American legal system. It conforms with the weight of our daily experiences. And so it is that Theodor Geiger (1969[1954]) writes: "social order is present only in so-called acts of will" (p.43).

That humans are willful creatures means they are active participants in the creation of their world. We are not mere recepticals for the forces of society to fill up and arrange. Rather, we take what society offers and bend it to suit our peculiarities. Thus, my friend coined a joke. Andy Warhol came to fashion "Campbell Soup" cans into an artistic statement. "Taggers" in New York City adopted subway cars as their canvas. Knute Rockne of Notre Dame first threw the forward pass in football. And I came to write these words. Creativity is the essence of this active subjectivity, and its most notable manifestation. [End page 142]

The bounds of human creativity do indeed seem endless. We are awed by the sight of the Egyptian Pyramids, and the knowledge that some mind conceived of such a project. We are repulsed by the macabre details of Brett Easton Ellis's (1991) American Psycho, in which bizarre torture, inconceivable to most, is laid bare. And most of us are met daily by innovations in thought and action from those with whom we associate. Yet bounds do exist, for if they did not, we would all be rendered "sick" and "spiteful," like the protaganist of Dostoevsky's (1974[1864]) brilliant novel Notes from Underground, who proclaimed that "not only excess consciousness, but any consciousness at all is a disease" (p.6). That these bounds exist is of course no great mystery; sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists of all stripes have commented on them often, coining such terms as culture, law, and ideology to capture them. Unfortunately, these conceptualizations tend to reify human creations; they treat them as "social facts" that dominate and direct individuals.

Yet the rigid determinism that the "social facts" position seems to entail simply does not accord with common experience, including that of sociologists. Howard Becker (1994) has noted in his essay on "Conceptualizing Coincidence" how sociologists, when discussing the genesis of their projects, often say "it just happened," implicitly exempting themselves from the "iron laws" that they like to impose on other people in their own theories and conceptualizations. We all seem to know that we could have acted differently than we did on some occasion, that we could have thought of something else to say or do, yet we also seem willing to acknowledge that forces outside of us had a hand in determining what we in fact accomplished. If the concepts employed by sociologists, psychologists, criminologists, and others are to be of any value in coming to understand ourselves, than they must recognize this basic insight: human beings act out their subjectivty within limits. And it is toward this end that the concept of social order might be usefully applied.


Beccaria, Cesare. (1963). On crimes and punishmets (H. Paolucci, Trans.). Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

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