Philosophy of Crime
Name of Presenters:
Date and Length of Presentation 24 November 1997 for 45 minutes
Basic Goal of Presentation To explain the development of criminals
Brief Outline of Presentation (as actually delivered):
Short and easy to understand, but not necessarily well justified. I've a few questions / comments about the hand out, and then I'll get to her main point of controversy.
First, Rachel states 'Murder, robbery, theft, and incest are considered "Universal Crimes."' It may be niggly on my part, but I object to this statement which presents no other complications for her document, simply because it is false. There are neither examples of virtues nor of vice that are universally considered to be either and these four are no exceptions(1).
Second, Rachel claims 'The only commonality amongst criminals is parental influence.' This claim is false. What about basic humanity or living on earth? Or human needs which are often neglected in the midst of capitalist systems? Crowley (in spoof) suggested all criminals breath air and therefore air is responsible for crimes. And on a more serious note, she completely neglects that for many (especially among the lower classes living in adverse conditions to begin with) jail can be taken as a reward -- in fact, it has been seriously suggested that this is intentional as law enforcement, insurance, and security are huge industries which rely on the existence of a growing dangerous criminal element to keep them necessary, employed, and profitable.
And perhaps Rachel should elaborate more on what she means here by "parental influence". If parents are constantly absent (as in the case of latch-key children), can they really be called parents or directly influential? Or does she mean to include such neglegence (and therefore very lack of parental influence) in her statement. But when we concider all the possibilities which can be refered to by "parental influence" without going beyond real human practices, can "commonality" still have appropriate implications within the claim?
Next, Rachel puts forth Eysench's belief: '...over time a child who is consistently punished for inappropriate behavior will develop an unpleasant physiological and emotional response whenever they consider committing the inappropriate behavior.' Generally, I have no problem with this; however, I must call into question that "consistently punished". It has been suggested by some(2) that consistent punishment is not necessarily the most effective over long term. If the punishment is consistent and then at some later point should fail, this failure may lead to a negation of the conditioning. On the other hand, if the punishment is random, a failure to punish a later incident will be taken as a product of randomness and not a break down of the system, therefore the conditioning remains in place. Also, mention should be made to the law of the forbidden: By forbidding the subject from his objective, you create and enforce a desire for the forbidden object(3).
Rachel recommends 'A way to help prevent criminals from being "born" is to not to spoil a child, to try to maintain a two parent family so that the child can identify with both sexes, and the moment you see that your own child is behaving in a criminal way, send him or her to a forensic psychologist.' Elaboration is possibly needed on 'spoil a child', but I'll leave that alone. As for 'maintain a two parent family', this seems unrealistic: Is an environment of tension created by two incompatible parents necessarily beneficial as an influence to a child? And will each of those individuals necessarily have qualities that make them desirable as influences? If we take a cross-cultural perceptive, we will see many examples of whole societies where the norm involves an absent father; even examples of societies which involve largely absent mothers.
I must also question the third part: 'send him or her to a forensic psychologist.' Putting aside, that this may not be a realistic option for many parents (is it economically feasible among those classes where are most likely to breed criminals?), I must also question is this necessarily desirable. I would think such practices can lead to an unquestioning obedience to authority and a supression of individuality.
Not covered within her handout, Rachel suggests that religions which forgive may contribute to the development of criminals. While I can not completely reject the idea, I believe this depends on the specifics of any religion in terms of what may be forgiven and what process is necessary to obtain forgiveness. According to Judaism, before you can seek forgiveness from God, you must first find forgiveness from your victim (or his surviving relatives) and then you must forgive yourself. I believe that this practice is a functional and beneficial practice of Jewish society, as it necessitates people to work past the wrongs they performed against each other and then allows them to make peace with their God. This is not the same form of dangerous forgiveness as presented by Catholics whereas you walk into the confessional, tell a priest, receive and perform some trivial assignment (i.e., "Say twelve hell marys.") and then get on with your life without any regard to the who have actual grievances against you. It must be acknowledged, religious people may need a mechanism by which they can make peace, not only amongst themselves, but also with their god(s). If these people can not make peace with their god(s), it is only a short step from "I am already condemned to Hell" to "I had therefore make the most of what life I have left."
I think we must also consider a few questions: How often are criminals religious? And if a criminal is driven by need, might he not feel that God has failed him and therefore the criminal owes little or no allegance to God?; thus forgiveness may cease to be an issue.
Finally, I think some study needs to be made in relation to permissiveness within religion as
related to permissiveness within society. The trend for religion to be more accepting of vice is largely a
result that society itself has slackened in its condemnation. As alternatives to traditional religions surface
(scientific aethieism, neo-paganism, etc.), society on the whole diverges farther from the religious ideals.
Modern western religion lacks the power base necessary to enforce its degrees upon society. People find
themselves increasingly having to choose between living according to the standards of their peers or the
stricter standards of their religion and religion does not always win. Religions have two motivations to
modernize: (A) By allowing "lesser sins" they may better preserve the nucleus of their "truth" and (B) By
accepting more people and alienating less, they may spread their "truth" further (and if they are corrupt,
collect greater profits from this). To call liberality in religion as a criminalizing influence can therefore
be seen (at least to some extent) as putting the cart before the horse.
1. The Marquis de Sade writes prolifically upon this. Juliette, in particular, is perhaps one of his best works for a study of cross-cultural ethics and morality. Return
2. I'd like to be more explicit, but I don't recall the sources I read some time ago that leads me to this question. Return
3. See Anton LaVey's The Satanic Witch for a detailed discussion of this topic. Return