In the summer of 2008, I moved from Pittsburgh to Chapel Hill to start my new position as a faculty member at the business school at the University of North Carolina. Although I was sad to leave Carnegie Mellon and my colleagues there, I was excited to meet new ones and to move into our new home. A few months earlier, my husband Greg and I had bought a lovely house surrounded by quiet, leafy streets just a few blocks away from the center of town.
Within a few days of moving in, Greg and I received a letter from Chapel Hill's City Hall welcoming us and informing us that new street lighting would be added in the neighborhood in the following weeks since that part of town had recently experienced a surge in crime. In addition to raising my fears (and not making me feel any safer), the letter also piqued my curiosity, since it highlighted an intriguing assumption: that lighting would reduce crime.
In a sense, this assumption was consistent with what Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: "As gaslight is the best nocturnal police, so the universe protects itself by pitiless publicity." According to conventional wisdom, darkness conceals identity and also decreases inhibitions; as a result, it may be linked to crime. The idea that darkness promotes unethical behavior dates back to the myth of the "Ring of Gyges," which was recounted by Plato in The Republic (360 BC). In the myth, a shepherd in Lydia named Gyges finds a ring that makes him invisible. He travels to the king's court, seduces the queen, conspires with her to kill the king, and takes control of Lydia. Thus, invisibility corrupted the wearer of the ring. The story leads Plato to ask the following question: is there anyone alive who could resist taking advantage of the invisibility ring's powers, or is it only others' monitoring that prevents us from committing immoral acts?