Theft and Human Nature

In it’s barest form, theft fundamentally exists due to people (criminals) seeing an opportunity within which they have more to gain than they have to lose. The balance (or imbalance) between these two opposing poles can be utilized as a theoretical framework which can be applied to a variety of criminal acts; originally the article’s title itself was “Crime and Human Nature”, however due to some reconsideration when looking at cases of more serious crimes this framework can be lost. Although with something simple such as petty theft the framework can be viewed as a logical explanation, even within this petty crime there would no doubt be a small, lets say 10% left over due to individuals who do not fit upon the scale, outliers you could call them. When one looks further up the scale of criminal acts, at for example murder, it can be seen how the value of a “lose” – “gain” scale becomes highly diluted. What could someone possibly have to gain from murdering another individual? Well, it could be linked to a crime, to which they are merely an obstacle to the prize at the end, to which the punishment for committing murder is seen by the individual as “worth it”. But, when the actual act itself is committed, you start to encounter individuals whose motivations are their enjoyment of committing murder. They could be written off as mentally ill –  lock them in an asylum you say? But why have they laid dormant all these years, could it be that they too can be placed on the scale? The “lose” for them may just be getting caught in the act so they cannot commit it again, thus a ban on their committing murder is the downside. This probably is something an amateur such as myself cannot answer…

Within society as a whole, contemporary crime and punishment takes the scale I have just explained and focuses on the “lose” element, devising punishment and justice in order to bring down retribution upon the perpetrator.This can be seen as a near sole focus on the punishment side of the crime, whilst nearly outright ignoring the reasoning behind committing it. In short, a tactic of retribution over rehabilitation. Although this is probably the most cost effective way to tackle crime – as is the nature of capitalist society – is it the right way, even the best way in the long term? I almost catch myself thinking: what if a society existed where in the focus of justice were on the “gain” element. The society that were to answer this conundrum would have to be one based not on profit, one not riddled by inequality. At risk of seeming like I am preaching: the only society that could thoroughly tackle the nature of crime and punishment would be a socialist society, one within which the long term developments of society were prioritized over the need of capitalist society to continuously grow and create increasing profit for the ruling class.

It is telling that the society in which the incarceration is the highest as a percentage of population (See:, the United States, the country most riddled with neoliberal economics, the most pro-capitalist, “the belly of the beast”. As long as a situation exists within which some are needy then the crime rates will never be substantially depleted. To tackle crime, we have to tackle the cause of crime, not just the simplistic motivations, but the origin of the “gain” motivation.There is also a social element to this origin, if  a society could be created within which regards for other humans trumped the “gain” element then a similar rapid depletion would occur. Essentially generating a societal environment in which humans are made to feel that they have less to gain by the theft of material goods than what they have to lose in the breach of their morality. Although this situation can appear to have religious connotations, it can often appear that the a strong moral code and religious doctrine have much in common, indeed the Ten Commandments is essentially a  basic moral code. The message stays the same: society must learn that fundamental cause of crime cannot be solved by simply focusing on an outdated methodology of punishment over rehabilitation. A step in the right direction would obviously be welcomed, how we treat drug abusers would be a great first step. However, this would only ever reap inchoate returns, for a more egalitarian solution the yoke of capitalist society must be overthrown.



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