Why we don’t always do the right thing is rather mysterious, and the subject of numerous books and philosophical ruminations since the dawn of time. There are those among us who have no compunctions about murder. And there are those, like me, who only realized rather late in life that taking home the office pencils differed from other property crimes only in degree.
Some twenty years ago, I saw the Irish comedy film “Waking Ned Divine”, in which Ned died from shock after learning he’d won the Irish lottery. The entire village conspires to con the lottery board and split the winnings. I, and others like me, were in a nervous sweat as the village nearly came to grief for their fraud. In an elevator on the way out of the theater I said something about how nervous it made me, and a woman piped up scornfully, “Are you kidding!”
Some criminal behavior is a
direct result of a social failure.
OK, objectively I agree that fictionally conning the Irish lottery is not the same as an actual armed robbery. But on the other end there are people who have no sense of right or wrong, for whom criminal activity is like any other activity. Some of these people have the excuse of mental illness, or brain damage. This I can understand. But others have no such excuse. They appear to be otherwise normal, but simply see nothing wrong with stealing whatever isn’t nailed down, and some things that are. I don’t understand this.
There is also the factor of IQ. People with low IQ may be people with brain damage, particularly brain damage in utero or while very young. Lead or drug or alcohol poisoning of fetuses or infants literally creates a criminal mind, and lead abatement programs led to a sharp drop in criminality two decades after they were put in place. Some people’s criminal behavior, therefore, is a direct result of society’s failure to eliminate lead, or of parental failure, through drugs or child abuse.
I think I understand where the absolute worst of our serial killers come from. Every single one of them—and many other violent criminals—had an unbelievably horrible childhood, as a result of which their brains were damaged, either by lead, by drugs, by malnutrition, or gross abuse. Their own rotten parents doomed them from the first, and the parents were undoubtedly treated nearly as badly themselves. This fact alone tells us how important it is to prevent fetal poisoning and child abuse.
Every violent criminal
had a horrible childhood.
Some behavior can only be described as corporate criminality. A perfect example is certain paint companies that continued to sell highly toxic leaded paints for decades after their dangers were known. Without question, these paint executives knowingly poisoned children long after they became aware of the terrible consequences of their activities. The same can be said of tobacco execs, of course, who have known they were killing people for over half a century, who continue to kill 400,000 Americans every year, and are now trying to find new ways to kill millions overseas. And what can you say about companies that store dangerous chemicals in decaying tanks near water supplies?
Bombers mystify me. Their explosive devices kill several people, cripple others for life, and alter the lives of hundreds forever. Studies of terrorism say that such acts have their own internal logic, that they are purposeful atrocities designed to draw maximum attention to the wrongs the perpetrators believe they have suffered. Such wrongs are never as bad as the terrorists claim, and their atrocities almost never achieve anything useful because they target people who had nothing to do with their alleged wrongs. Terrorist groups generally fade away and become unimportant over time. But the terrorists are generally intelligent people, not brain damaged criminals. What leads them to these horrible and fruitless acts?
What leads terrorists to
horrible and fruitless acts?
Religious suicide bombers (virtually all of them Islamic fundamentalists of late) are in a class by themselves, because they believe their act will put them at the right hand of God and give them a goodly supply of virgins, which, for unexplained reasons, are popular rewards. Unfortunately, their religious fervor is unaffected by facts, logic, or much of anything else, and their suicide will not result in any significant change in the world, let alone improvement, or a reward of virgins. Too bad there is no way to demonstrate that the only certain result of their suicide will be the utter cessation of their existence, of which they will be forever unaware.
Why do whole populations of people allow themselves to be sucked into truly horrible acts, like the Rwanda atrocities in which hundreds of thousands died horribly? Or similar crimes in other parts of Africa, where whole villages and all their inhabitants are brutally annihilated. Or any of a number of other ethnic slaughters around the world, to say nothing of the Holocaust.
I think it’s worth noting that most such crimes by religious groups blatantly violate the most basic premises of their own religion. As a Buddhist, it strikes me that so-called Buddhists in Burma have been especially industrious in the murder of Rohingya Muslims recently, in direct violation of the most basic Buddhist teachings. But of course literally all religions, which universally abhor such things, have so-called followers who commit similar crimes.
Crimes by religious groups
blatantly violate the most
basic premises of their own religion.
Aside from mob mentality, which seems to have roughly the same intelligence as a stampede, what is it that leads such people to view fellow humans from some other group as subhuman and not deserving of life? Why don’t more people examine themselves and the facts and reject such fallacies?
We have learned that lead abatement and stopping child abuse, especially combined with good nutritional programs for school children, literally cures a good chunk of common crime. And active social intervention can prevent the development of serial killers. And we have learned that the likelihood of wars between nations is greatly lessened when such nations have economic links, as in the European Union.
What we don’t know yet is how much crime would vanish with Living Wage and other improvements in equality and justice. Unfortunately, the conservative political forces are focussed entirely on the punishment of the very people who might make their lives better if they could only earn enough money from their jobs to live on.