Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

Aligning, integrating and applying the behavioural sciences

When BLUE fails, call for Clint!

Updated: 25 August 2016

For those of us who were raised in the 1960s and 1970s, Clint Eastwood was arguably the ultimate ‘big screen tough guy’. Never impossibly-muscled like the generation of ‘action men’ who came after him – the likes of Arnold Schwarzenneger and Sylvester Stallone – and rarely prone to the ridiculous levels of single-handed mass slaughter commonplace in their movies, Eastwood mostly played far more believable characters. And, because they were far more believable, Eastwood’s anti-heroes exuded a far greater sense of menace. Though Eastwood has long since moved on to become acclaimed as a director and filmmaker of quality, character-driven films with strong narratives, on the occasion this now rather-old actor gets his fists flailing, he is still believable as someone who would very willingly do you serious harm.

Periodically there are still Eastwood seasons on TV, usually built around one or more outings of his 2 main anti-heroes, the mysterious ‘Man with No Name’ gunslinger and the homicidal maverick cop ‘Dirty Harry’. That Eastwood can still command a TV season of his films, when most of his contemporaries are forgotten by all but the most devoted, is testament to the enduring power of the myth Eastwood created during those years.

How that myth can play out in the modern cultural psyche is reflected in this humorous animation sent to me by my friend Tim Bramley.


It’s a well-made piece of fun but the memes it propagates are both serious and potent.

The villain, of course, is that bête noire of the tabloid press, the ‘hoodie’. Feet up, his mobile blaring some amelodic trance cut, he’s loud, inconsiderate and uncaring, probably on some kind of drug and with, so they say, a potential for sudden and reckless violence. He unsettles our PURPLE vMEME because we don’t feel safe when he’s around.

The GREEN vMEME of the man opposite him – presumably an ageing ex-hippie from the ‘Peace & Love’ book he’s trying to read – is getting him nowhere in attempting to deal with the hoodie through expressions of pained tolerance. Accordingly, he scales down the Spiral to BLUE and gestures to the rules notice when the conductor comes in. The conductor rapidly exits the carriage.

BLUE has failed.

It is at this moment that Clint’s Man with No Name steps forward and takes care of the luckless hoodie in what would have been a truly violent assault had it involved real people.

We laugh at the hapless hoodie and cheer for the Man With No Name. Good, on-our-side RED has beaten bad, hoodie RED.

The Man With No Name and Dirty Harry fulfil a certain macho fantasy. How many of us males would like to be ‘real men’, unfazed by villainy and supremely competent in dealing out our own brand of rough justice when the rule of law is found to be ineffective?

Will the RED fantasy man be consistent in his justice?
While such investigations as the Bo-Bo Doll studies of Albert Bandura (Albert Bandura, Dorothea Ross & Sheila Ross, 1961; Albert Bandura & Richard Walters, 1963; Bandura, 1965) have cast serious doubt on the ‘harmlessness’ of violent role models on TV and in the movies, there is also a neo-Freudian argument that we employ the selfplex defence mechanism of projection onto such anti-heroes. When we watch the Man With No Name take the law into his own hands and crush the villain(s), we project our own frustrations and fears of those who threaten us onto the Man With No Name, our ‘baddies’ becomes his ‘baddies’ and he deals with them for us. We feel a sense of elation when he kills the fantasy equivalents of those real-life ‘baddies’ we’d like to harm if only we could.

BLUE’s rules are the bedrock of Modern civilisation. Thanks to BLUE thinking, we stop at red traffic lights, seek gainful and lawful employment, pay our taxes and TV licence fee, send our children to school, mostly refrain from stealing what we want but can’t afford (Robert K Merton’s 1938 version of anomie), pay off our loans, join orderly queues, at least ‘try’ to resist cheating on our partner and usually refrain from hitting the person who is irritating the hell out of us, etc, etc.

So, if BLUE fails, then our structure of ‘civilisation’ is compromised. When BLUE can’t keep order, then it falls to RED power (the Man With No Name) or PURPLE’s tribal internal demarcations of age and gender and external discriminations against those who are ‘not of our tribe’ to keep a very different kind of order from BLUE’s universally-applicable rules.

At a relatively micro-level we see what happens when BLUE fails in schools which can’t stop bullying: parents end up telling their children to fight back, to hit the bully. Ie: the parents tell the child not to trust the failed (BLUE) school system but to take the law into their own fists (RED).

At a meso-level, when the police (BLUE) can’t deal with the criminals (often driven by RED or purple/RED in the case of gangs), then locals may well form their own vigilante group (purple/RED) to deal with the offenders and to protect their families and property. In recent times an example of this has been the harassing of child sex-offenders; technically released ‘on licence’, to many parents it is a failure of the (BLUE) system to ensure their children are protected from dangerous people. A more large-scale example of ‘vigilantism’ occurred in Bradford in 1995. Fed up with the police allowing pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers to work their trades in the Manningham district virtually without let or hindrance, young men in that Muslim community rioted. In fact, the ‘rioting’ was a co-ordinated strategy to burn the pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers out of their houses and force them to move elsewhere. Afterwards one rioter boasted to a (white) friend of mine Chris Scurrah: “Our women can walk the streets safely at night now. Yours can’t.”

When BLUE fails at a macro level, then it can lead to a pandemic of criminal activity – as RED-driven criminal activity mushroomed in Russia following the break-up of the Soviet Union – or a major upsurge in (PURPLE/red) tribal conflict – eg: Serbs pitting themselves against Croats and Bosnians as Yugoslavia broke apart in the early 1990s.

The problem with RED picking up where BLUE has failed is that RED does whatever feels good right now. A ‘law enforcer’ like the Man With No Name might ruthlessly execute a loud hoodie today but so likes the blaring music tomorrow that he executes the middle-aged man with the pained tolerance expression. Arbitrariness, rather than consistency in doing what’s right, characterises RED. Without BLUE to set the boundaries and limitations, RED will just do whatever it wants to do – which could prove incredibly dangerous for anyone not on the Man With No Name’s ‘good guy’ list! Especially since Eastwood’s gunslinger also seems to display the detached ruthlessness often associated with the Psychoticism Dimension of Temperament.

To give him credit, Clint Eastwood, who had a huge influence on the making of the ‘Dirty Harry’ films, recognised the dangers inherent in vigilantism. In the movie Magnum Force (1972), Harry says to another cop who takes the law into his own hands:  “Pretty soon, you’ll start executing people for jaywalking. And executing people for traffic violations. Then you end up executing your neighbour ’cause his dog pisses on your lawn.”

BLUE being weak liberates RED
Left to its own devices, the BLUE vMEME can be incredibly punitive. Burning at the stake for adhering to the wrong variant of a religion, exterminating the ‘wrong’ race, waging a ‘holy’ jihad…these are just a few (large-scale) examples of how brutal and ruthless BLUE can be when it finds people who do not conform or otherwise fit to its vision of the ‘one true way’.

BLUE certainly isn’t shy of defining and enforcing the law.

So why does BLUE fail in instances like that depicted in the animation above? Clearly there are multiple reasons. In the animation the conductor’s BEIGE instinct for survival obviously gets the better of any BLUE desire to enforce the rules. How ever irritated the ageing hippie is by the hoodie’s behaviour, he doesn’t openly ask him to put his feet down or attempt to draw his attention to the rules notice. Again, his BEIGE survival instinct at play? Their fear is understandable. Because RED doesn’t recognise consequences, it can do what it likes at whim. And the more psychoticist the person is, the more impulsive and ruthless the RED action is likely to be. No wonder the ‘out there’ RED of the hoodie is perceived to be dangerous!

Drawing on cultural factors, however, it becomes apparent there is more to it. The GREEN vMEME, with its focus on ‘human-ness’ and every individual having ‘rights’, has undermined BLUE’s ability to punish – right across the social spectrum. How often do the tabloids rant on to their PURPLE/RED readership about overly-lenient sentences for crimes involving assault, rape, burglary, drug dealing, possession of child pornography, fraud, etc, etc. Day to day social order is compromised precisely because the police lack the powers (and the will?) to disrupt small-scale anti-social behaviour – eg: gangs of teenagers creating a nuisance in shopping malls on Saturday afternoons or drinking and shouting on street corners in the evenings. On the occasions some of the teenagers do end up getting arrested, the police may lack the confidence to bring charges or the courts may impose an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) or other non-custodial sentence. If a fine is imposed but the perpetrator ‘pleads poverty’, the court will allow him to pay off the fine in minuscule amounts over a number of months (if not years) so that his lifestyle is not unduly affected. Small wonder, then, that people are reluctant to confront potentially violent troublemakers when, if violence does ensue, the troublemaker is unlikely to receive a particularly-inhibiting punishment. Small wonder that witnesses are often reluctant to testify when there is little to stop the troublemaker exacting revenge in the near future if testimony is given against him. No wonder ‘fear of crime’ is rife – ramped up by the lurid tales the tabloid’s ORANGE profit thirst purveys.

B F Skinner (1969) thought punishment only partly effective in changing behaviour. However, Richard Solomon (1964) produced evidence that punishment could be effective in eradicating unwanted behaviour if it was severe enough. The implication then is that the kind of punishments handed out are not severe enough – exactly the point the tabloids make. But the question then is: how severe does the punishment have to be to work?

When BLUE fails to provide safety, social cohesion is undermined. PURPLE is threatened and will welcome even the dubious sheen of safe-keeping RED may offer. Thus, fictional killers like The Man With No Name receive our plaudits. And, in real life, the ‘peasants’ place themselves under the so-called ‘protection’ of the strongest warlord amongst the feuding bandit gangs – whether in Afghanistan or on the streets of Brixton. In such circumstances RED can largely do what it likes…and mostly gets away with it!

Prisons can be made to work
Clearly BLUE needs re-enabling in much of the world and to be given real powers to enforce and punish. If people are to feel safe when going about their daily lives, there needs to be a criminal justice system that works and will manifestly catch and suitably punish those who break the rules and make the lives of others misery. The law must be enforced and the guilty punished. For the confidence of the law-abiding in the ‘system’. And as a deterrence for those considering criminal behaviour – Bandura & Walter’s 1963 Bo-Bo Doll experiment provides strong evidence that seeing others punished for their behaviour does have an inhibiting effect on those who might intend carrying out the same or similar behaviour.

In advocating a strongly punitive criminal justice system, though, the limitations of punishment need to be recognised. Both the leading pioneers of Operant Conditioning – Skinner and Edward Thorndike (1932) – recognised that punishment could act as a deterrent for unwanted behaviour but it often didn’t lead to wanted behaviour and, therefore, was limited in its effectiveness.

A number of sound studies – eg: James Bonta & Karl Hanson (1995), Rod Morgan (2002), Francesco Drago, Roberto Galbiati & Pietro Vertova (2008), Ian Mulheirn, Barney Gough & Verena Menne (2010) – have concluded that prison fails, generally speaking, to reduce recidivism (reoffending). Even those prisons with very harsh conditions, according to Drago et al, often fail to significantly reduce recidivism. The latest Ministry of Justice (2016) figures (for England & Wales 2013-2014) show an overall recidivism rate of 26% for England & Wales, with 59% of people sentenced to less than 12 months reoffending. This percentage of reoffenders reduces fairly linearly with length of sentence to 18% for people sentenced to more than 10 years. While it’s tempting to assume cause-and-effect – ie: longer sentences are more effective in reducing recidivism – there are far too many other variables – age, temperament, family, etc, etc – for this to be credible. The best we can say is that it is a negative correlation.

But, if we are to reduce recidivism significantly, much more is needed than merely apprehending the baddies and punishing them – critical though that is. A full MeshWORK approach, driven from the 2nd Tier, is needed to understand and undermine the many and often cross-pollinating factors that lead to criminal behaviour – see Biological Factors in Crime and SocioPsychological Factors in Crime. As Tony Blair stated in the 1997 general election, we need to be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”.

Prisons need not just to punish – though they do need to do that and do it harshly – but they need to educate, socialise, retrain and reinvigorate the many polluted minds within their walls, if they are to work in reducing reoffending. A carrot-and-stick approach that can draw criminals towards a different kind of life while making a return to the old life so unpalatable, returning to it is not a desirable option.

Unfortunately, while there have been many rehabilitation programmes that seemed to offer promise, none has yet been shown to work consistently. Iain Murray (2002) sums up the frustration in trying to find what he calls ‘a magic bullet’: “What researchers who study rehabilitation have begun to see through a glass darkly is that there is no such thing as an ideal programme, one that can be cut out and pasted in anywhere.” Murray seems to show a 2nd Tier level of understanding when he quotes from Lawrence Sherman et al (1998): “The important issue is not whether something works but what works for whom.”

This is exactly what Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck means when he says one-size-fits-all solutions can’t work for all. Clearly approaches which treat every offender’s circumstances as completely unique and design a completely unique programme for each offender would be impossibly expensive and labour intensive. However, the map of vMEMES the Gravesian approach gives us, combined with information about temperament and shared memes, does allow us to design programmes which can group offenders according the way they think and their shared values. From there it would be possible to work on deep attitude shifts. Inevitably each offender would require some individual work; but the pay-off from such intensive work should be assurance that the offender is more likely not to reoffend and that early release could be considered.

Clare W Graves (1971b/2002, p98-101) gives an example of using different therapeutic approaches for different transitions in thought and behaviour: “If one is working with an individual in attempting to aid or to foster or even instigate a transition from the C-P [RED] to the D-Q [BLUE] system, then my position is that you’d better know Skinner backwards and forwards and you’d better stay right with the principles of Skinner…. Now, if you’re going to work with someone from D-Q to E-R [ORANGE], my data says there is only one man in this world who ever really knew the business and that was Freud. Freud really knew the business of this transition. My data says Freud didn’t know much about these other kinds of transitions…. Now, when you get to the E-R to F-S [GREEN] transition…the data says that my subjects changed under fear influence…. This is where you begin to use your Rogerian types of approach, going from the F-S to the G-T [YELLOW].”

It is beyond the scope of this article to go beyond the basic concepts outlined above; and, of course, any such approach would be expensive – though not impossibly expensive. However, the savings to be made in the longer term in terms of reducing recidivism specifically and the prison population generally – plus, reducing the cost of our criminal justice system and the damage to both lives and property and the misery that goes with crime – must offer an attractive alternative to the never-ending prison building programme and the swamped courts that fill a new prison almost as soon as it is built.

Prison, from an Integrated SocioPsychology perspective, need to be both punitive and reformative.

Taking the ‘Cure’ to the wider population
For such a vision to work, of course, the MeshWORK approach can’t be limited to the criminal justice system and the prisons the system fills; the principles and the methodologies must be rolled out to society in general. As Tony Blair said, we must tough on both crime and the causes of crime.

In effect, we need to redesign our society. By default the current version of unrestrained Capitalism afflicting much of the world, driven by an unhealthy RED/ORANGE vMEME harmonic, has, as its only key priority, wealth generation and protection (via tax avoidance/evasion) for a tiny elite – the notorious ‘1%’. As outlined in Underclass: the Excreta of Capitalism, the Capitalist systems try to minimise intensive labour in production for profit maximisation – wages usually being the single biggest ongoing cost in production. The result is people thrown on the employment ‘scrapheap’ with little or no purpose and little money other than through benefit cheating or labouring in the ‘black market’. In our bright consumerist, media-saturated world where the riches  and the desires of the wealthy are on show 24/7. Many of the poor fit into the category of what Zygmunt Bauman (1988)calls ‘the repressed’, they are excluded from the good living of the consumerist society. The Marxist Mike Brake (1980) sees the kind of loutish, thuggish behaviour displayed by many poor working class males – typified by the hoodie taken care of by the Man with No Name – as a natural reaction to their exclusion from the consumerist society.  If they, in Bauman’s concept, become ‘seduced’, then they may well resort to anomie to get what the consumerist society says they should have. Either way the life conditions for many on the scrapheaps being created by unrestrained Capitalism foster unhealthy, law-abusing purple/RED.

That, in a society with not enough BLUE gives us the kind of anti-social and criminal behaviours the tabloids rant against on one page while feting the rich and the famous on the next.

Again, it’s beyond the scope of this article to talk about how Capitalism needs to be restrained and remodelled to create a fairer, more just society. However, we can say the redesign needs to be society-wide and structured around the health of communal vMEMES so that the needs of each vMEME are met. That means recognising and legitimising diversity in thinking where the thinking is not directly threatening to other ways of thinking. Where there are problems, then the diversity needs managing in such a way as to limit the potential damage that could be caused.

David Cameron’s much-hyped ‘Big Society’ seemed to offer a first step towards creating structures for community MeshWORKS. However, the Coalition Government (2010-2015) mostly lacked the commitment and depth of understanding to understand what the Big Society might be – see Is the Big Society in BIG Trouble? Blog post – and the concept has disappeared into the ignominy of Cameron’s Brexit referendum folly.

Of course, no society could ever be perfect and the ebbs and flows of vMEMES on the Spiral would mean constant tinkering and readjustment of MeshWORKS. So we need vigilance and constant scanning for change from whatever desirable state is achieved. As the human mind-brain develops and expands its capacity, so it inevitably creates new challenges. But having the understanding and the means to develop strategies to facilitate change would mean we can manage it, rather than be driven helplessly by it.

So, in a MeshWORK-developed and managed society, would there still be a place for Clint Eastwood’s anti-heroes? The answer has to be…from time to time. Because there will always be crime and violence. When Albert Einstein & Sigmund Freud (1931-1932) corresponded on the subject of war, Einstein (30 July 1932) talked of man having “within him a lust for hatred and destruction” . Freud’s response was that “…there is no likelihood of our being able to suppress humanity’s aggressive tendencies” (September 1932). This tendency to aggression Freud attributed to Thanatos, the ‘death instinct’ of the Id. In Integrated SocioPsychology, Freud’s concept of the Id is reframed as the drive to express self which is at its most brutal and unrestrained when RED is dominating the selfplex.

So, because there will always be RED and no system can be perfect all the time, there will inevitably be instances where BLUE’s control slips and ‘bad’ RED causes havoc and misery. And, in such times, we will cheer when Eastwood’s (good RED) gunslinger executes the (bad RED) hoodie. But vigilantism is no substitute for the effective rule of law.

To minimise both crime and violence and the opportunity for vigilante RED, we need a MeshWORK approach to both crime and the causes of crime.


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5 Responses

  1. Tom Christensen says

    Love your work. You’re leaving both a wide and focused trail that integrates more ideas than I’ve seen done anywhere else! Thank you.

  2. Tim Saunders says

    Good article Keith. Talking of Clint did you watch him in Gran Torino? Updated 21st C Dirty Harry but more subtle story lines and community oriented about a smarter old blue veteran who learns to deal with the conflicting purple & red in his neighbourhood (to his own surprise) & finally outsmarts bad Red with good Red, to his own cost. A consummate film in every sense that he directed himself.

    • Keith E Rice says

      Looked at the link. Thanks, Tim.

      Gosh, Eastwood is still impressive. He still knows how to play it. Will definitely catch the movie next time.

      And you’re right: it does encapsulate many of the issues under discussion

  3. Rob Webster says

    I think most people would agree that prisons need to be reformative as well as punitive. Speaking to a prison governor recently, she made it very clear that, with the current level of resource, it is virtually impossible for her staff to undertake any serious rehabilitative work with those who are in prison for less than 12 months (which in practice means those with sentences of less than 2 years). That seems to correlate with the data on reoffending.

    Bearing in mind that particular prison is currently state run, what concerns me even more is that, with the prison service on it’s way to total privatisation, will rehabilitation even be a priority for those running prisons in the future?

    • Rob Webster says

      To expand on that second point a little…
      Currently about 15% of UK inmates are in private prisons. Some of these perform well, some don’t despite the advantages of modern purpose built facilities they have over the old Victorian prisons (when the government invited companies to tender for failing, 1820s built HMP Brixton, there were no bids). But at the moment, when 85% of the system is in public hands, GREEN’s desire to rehabilitate and bring the “damaged” people back into society is, hopefully, the prevailing force, albeit hindered by funding, staffing, overcrowding etc. as in much of the public sector in these times of government austerity. For now, those private prisons are directly measured against their public sector counterparts and so keeping rehabilitation broadly in line is necessary to win/retain contracts. In fact, arguably those few private prisons have a strong motivation to exceed public sector performance to encourage further privatisation.
      Should total privatisation occur however, the primary motivator of those in control of our prisons (I’m talking at a strategic level here rather than governors) could become an ORANGE one of profit for their companies, their shareholders and themselves. If a company is getting lucrative contracts for dealing with a large prison population then it is hardly in their interest for that population to decrease through rehabilitation of offenders. The Conservatives previously suggested (“Repair” 2007) that private prisons could receive a premium if offenders are not reconvicted within two years. On the surface this may seem like a reasonable plan, but if reoffending rates did fall significantly then losses from the shrinking population would before long outweigh any gains from the premium. Surely no private company could be expected to sit back and let that happen?
      In an additional twist, companies such as G4S and Serco (who run 6 prisons each) also provide many back office and support services to the police and Ministry of Justice, including provision of custody suites and forensics, recruitment of civilian investigators and electronic tagging. Doesn’t that seem to be means, motive and opportunity to influence the number of people going to court and, therefore, potentially the number going to prison?