The Perception of Crime as an Illness
Defining the Illness
What causes crime? Is it, as our brutal justice systems would have us believe, merely an illustration of an individual's inner diabolical nature; their own self-absorption and misanthropy? Or rather, is it an ominous depiction of society's own misanthropy; our mindless apathy when confronted with the grave ills that plague our civilization?
The sole purpose of the Justice system, as its brutal advocates have only recently come to fully admit, is to savagely punish criminals. Neither the Justice system nor its supporters have attempted to correct the social ills that cause crime. In fact these misguided people and their barbaric institution have refused to admit that endemic social problems cause crime at all; they have instead chosen to tenaciously cling to the groundless belief that it is not the influence of social ills or intolerable environmental circumstances which cause an individual to carry out criminal activity, but rather an innate inclination towards evil. This perspective is so shallow, so misguided, so bereft of analysis and understanding, that anyone should be ashamed to admit acceptance of it. Yet we have allowed our society to be domineering by this pathetic excuse for a way of thinking. We have based our country's most intrusive and active institution on this flimsy idea.
To say that choice is the sole factor in an individual's decision to act in a socially unacceptable manner is ludicrous. Human behavior is caused by a wide range of environmental inputs, so to say that an individual's socially unacceptable behavior is caused solely by their intention, their wish, to do something wrong displays only an extreme ignorance, lack of understanding, and absence of comprehension of human behavior.
Mankind is, at heart, a creature of reason. There is reason in everything we do. There is cause for every action, an input for every output. It is only logical to conclude that, if crime exists, that there must be reason and cause for it. Nothing exists without cause. These causes are what constitute the social "disease" that is crime. Expunging crime from society does not lie in destroying the human illustrations of these social ills, but rather, in finding reasonable solutions and cures for those ills. A crime is not, as the justice system holds, the responsibility of the individual who commits it, but rather, the society who caused it. Crime is not the individual's illness, but society's.
If an individual is compelled, by irregular, inhospitable, and unacceptable environmental circumstances, to commit an act of wrong then it is not the individual, but society who is responsible for the crime; and it is society, not the individual, who must make reparations. It is society who is responsible for the root causes of this social instability, and it is society, not the individual, who is the criminal. An individual's socially unacceptable actions are nothing more than an illustration of society's socially unacceptable practices. If a person acts in an unacceptable manner it is society who must bear the shame of those actions, since it is society who was, in the wrongs commited, proven to have failed in its responsibilities to the individual.
The individual does not have a responsibility to society, rather it is society which has great responsibilities towards the individual. Human beings do not live in societies to serve the collective, but rather to be served by the collective. It is a society's responsibility to protect and care for every individual within it. Criminals and their victims are merely people who society has failed to protect. Society caused, and allowed to continue, unacceptable behavior that resulted in the injury of two parties: the victims and the criminals. It is through this perspective where one can observe that no individual is truly a criminal, but rather, that society is the criminal and all individuals victims.
Criminals are as much victims as the people they hurt. An individual carries out criminal activity only because society has treated them criminally; only because society has ineptly allowed, maintained, and attempted to justify conditions that led to the criminal behavior. No person can be responsible for their actions when they are compelled by unacceptable external (and, often, internal) circumstances. The savage methods of brutal punishment that society has collectively imposed upon the individual, both before and after the criminal behavior occured, cannot, and will never, regardless of its extremity, result in an alleviation of crime. The only thing that can cure the social illness that is crime, is a focus of energy and effort directed towards the social ills that are the root causes of crime, and which, in and of themselves, are truly the only crimes.
Defense of the Interpretation
There are some who have argued that an interpretation of crime as an illness poses a danger to society in that it erases any conception of justice and would result in the loss of a fundamental understanding of morality. These arguments, though, base their logic on the false theory that only punishment can instill and maintain moral behavior.
Justice is an extremely vague and abstract idea, too often subject to differing interpretations and methods of application. In modern society justice has become nothing more than a euphemism for vengeance. It is understood that the application of this theory is merely carried out through the punishment of a criminal. When justice is interpreted in this manner then a society failing to apply this idea would, indeed, lack justice. But what sort of danger does this pose to a society? What sort of "detrimental" effect would a lack of justice create? At least in this interpretation, where justice is meant as vengeance and punishment, a society will not suffer any detrimental effects as a result of failing to apply it. Vengeance does not help a society, rather it harms it when society exerts its collective energies on punishing offenses rather than preventing their existence through the removal of the preceding social ills. A theory of justice, interpreted in this manner, actually harms society by preventing the removal of social ills.
When justice, rather than being interpreted as vengeance, is instead thought of as an idea of fairness then failing to apply punishment does not pose a danger to this theory. One might ask "Isn't it only fair, when an individual has committed wrong, that they be punished?" But this question merely ignores the cause of the criminal activity. It is a question that should not have to be asked at all. Rather, one must ask whether, instead of allowing social ills to exist and compel individuals to act in a socially unacceptable manner, society should not, in all fairness, expunge the social ills that caused the socially unacceptable behavior. For society to pass judgment on the individual is hypocritical when society is itself judged to be criminal by allowing the continued existence of socially unacceptable conditions.
To say that a lack of punishment or vengeance poses a danger to moral ideology merely illustrates a misunderstanding of the human mind, and of morality itself. It is not punishment, but rather instruction, that instills morality. An individual accepts no moral ideology when punished for a lifetime, rather they are far more likely to accept an immoral ideology. Punishment is itself immoral because the only methods in which it can be carried out are immoral: violence, pain, and theft of freedom. Morality cannot be instilled through the application of immorality. For an individual to accept an ideology they must be treated in accordance with that ideology. To act towards an individual in the same manner in which they acted towards another, a manner which society itself has labeled immoral, is no more in accordance with morality than was the original action. The application of an equal punishment can then, in no way, inspire a change of ideology, but rather it will maintain that ideology.
It is, indeed, illogical to justify the application of punishment towards criminal behavior on the basis that it might harm an idea when all members of society can see before them that the application of punishment physically hurts society itself. There will be no loss of morality by failing to apply vengeance, rather the failure to do so strengthens the social morality since punishment is not in accordance with moral ideology; especially when society ignores the root causes of social instability in favor of brutalizing the individuals who are driven by social ills to engage in unacceptable behavior.
The Distinction Between Law and Morality
The Independence of Moral Ideology
One of the greatest dangers to moral ideology in modern society has been the gradual acceptance of law to be, itself, a moral ideology. Resignation to this interpretation of law is caused by the individual's uncertainty and ignorance in respect to moral ideology. The individual, because of the doctrines of law laid down by the state, can no longer differentiate between a moral ideology and the restrictions of law.
The greatest difference between a moral ideology and a doctrine of law is that one is accepted and the other imposed. The adherence to morality is chosen; an individual attempts to maintain moral behavior internally, without external restrictions or impositions. Deviation from a moral ideology results only in the natural consequences of such a deviation (i.e, guilt, shame, ignominy, etc.) which are often enough sufficient reason to maintain moral behavior. There is no choice in adhering to a doctrine of law; law is imposed upon mankind and artificial consequences are applied in response to unlawful behavior.
Whereas morality has sufficient reason put forth for every teaching, every belief, law has only a warning: violation of a specific code will result in a specific punishment. The punishments of law are physical (incarceration, restriction, fines, etc.) whereas the consequences of a violation of morality are mental (i.e, feelings of failure towards oneself and others). Unlike most moral teachings, not every law can be justified. A parent, for example, can justify telling their children not to hurt others. In what logical way though can the law justify imposition of its many invasively menial restrictions? Even when law agrees with morality, such as in the case of murder, it does not appeal to reason or logic for its restriction. All law does is state that a specific action will result in a specific punishment. "Why?" is a question that law does not analyze nor attempt to answer. Law only offers punishment; not reason. Mindless adherence to law alone is dangerous in that the individual does not understand why they must conduct themselves in a certain manner, only that they have to, or else suffer dire consequences. In order to understand why certain actions are wrong one cannot appeal to law at all, one must appeal to morality. It is in morality where true adherence to socially acceptable behavior lies, not in law.
Morality is easily examined, understood, and accepted by the individual. Law, on the other hand, requires years of training and study to understand and apply. Whereas Morality is accepted only by those who understand and accept it, law is applied most often upon those who do not. Law is not accepted by mankind, but rather imposed upon him; and most often applied against those who do not understand it at all. The purpose of law is not to teach individuals what is right, but rather to punish them when they fail to follow up on what the state holds to be right. Law cannot teach; only morality can teach. Prevention of destructive behavior does not lie in threatening consequences, which are rarely even an afterthought, but rather in a clear understanding of why certain actions are wrong and why they should not be carried out.
Doctrines of law do not constitute moral ideologies, for they lack the basic foundation of morality: reason. An individual can study law for years and memorize a vast expanse of statutes, rulings, and interpretations yet never understand the truth of morality; never understand why specific actions are wrong. Law is data whereas morality is truth. Purpose and reason is given for everything morality teaches. Only consequences are given and warnings made by law. Morality has no warning, for it has something much more binding: understanding.
The Domination of Moral Choice
If law is not morality, then which set of beliefs do individuals choose to follow? Do individuals conduct themselves in accordance with all the statutes and restrictions of law, or rather, do they use their moral ideologies as a behavioral guide?
To realize which belief system individuals follow one need only examine the complexity of the two. Whereas law is contained within libraries, morality is contained within the mind. Whereas law must be studied and memorized, morality must be learned and understood. No person can continually appeal to the multitude of statutes, court decisions, and constitutional interpretations to guide their behavior. The relative simplicity of morality is what is, and must be, used to guide individuals in their behavioral decisions.
It is not law, but rather morality which prevents socially unacceptable behavior. While law can only define punishments for each individual action (punishments which themselves cannot be memorized, and most often cannot even be understood, by the average person) morality teaches the reasons why individuals should conduct themselves in a certain manner. Even when an individual knows the punishment resulting from a specific action, it rarely affects their decision to carry it out. Punishment becoms no more than an afterthought, and when the possibility of it is finally faced the individual can attempt and succeed in escaping it. The natural consequences resulting from a violation of morality, on the other hand, cannot be escaped; any attempt to do so would be, literally, an attempt to escape from oneself.
Individuals do not refrain from carrying out socially unacceptable behavior because they fear the consequences from law, but because they understand the teachings of morality. Due to its complexity, few people understand law, and, for even those who do understand it, law can give no reason why certain actions are illegal; only that they cannot be carried out. An individual bases their decisions on what they know. When an individual has no knowledge of law they must base their decision solely on morality. It is, in this, where one can see that law does not affect human behavior at all.
To believe that law and morality are one in the same is foolish. There are many actions that are not immoral, yet are still illegal. When an individual has no knowledge of the law, as is the case with most individuals, they must base their decisions solely on morality. It is morality which dominates the behavioral decisions of the average person. If their actions, based on morality, are illegal, then law actually results in a destruction of moral ideology and imposes itself upon the individual as some sort of concoction: a "moral doctrine" where "morality" is not defined according to reason, but according to consequences; where understanding is trivial compared to obedience. With moral ideology adherence is secondary; understanding is the essential component. When law is interpreted as a morality then mankind is left bereft of choice and becomes nothing more than an automaton programmed with the data contained in books of law lined along the shelves of libraries.
Society and its Responsibilities Towards the Individual
Society was created for the purpose of protecting the individual. The purpose of living within a society is not to serve that society, but to be served by it; to benefit from what it can offer. The primary responsibility and founding purpose of society is to protect its members, not to demand protection from them.
When a society institutes a doctrine of laws and imposes it upon its members that society cannot succeed in protecting its people. Law merely creates apathy towards social ills and allows them to be maintained. By imposing law society directs its attentions away from expunging the root causes of crime and, instead, concentrates on punishing the individuals compelled into criminal behavior as a result of the preceding social ills. When instituting doctrines of law and enforcing their rules and consequent punishment society wastes its energy while failing to protect its members. Neither criminal nor victim are protected by the imposition and enforcement of law.
When society chooses to enforce law, rather than direct its collective energies upon solving the preceding social ills that compel criminal behavior, it fails to fulfill its obligations towards its members. Social ills are themselves conditions which society has a binding obligation to protect its members from. When a society chooses to enforce law it ignores these social ills and defaults on its obligations towards its people. When applying law a society, in fact, chooses to maintain and exacerbate social ills by punishing individuals it has already abused; abusing individuals it has already punished. What responsibility or wish does an individual have towards a society that refuses to protect them?
Law fails its "attempt" to protect its people on two fronts: it fails to protect those who would become criminals from the social ills that drive them to their socially unacceptable behavior and, in doing so, it also fails to protect those who would become victims of criminal behavior. It is not enough for society to impose doctrines of punishment for criminal behavior and impose those punishments after that behavior has occurred. Once crime has occurred society has already miserably failed in its responsibility towards its people. Society fails the "victim" because it was unable to prevent harm to that individual and society fails the "criminal" because it allowed unacceptable conditions to exist which led to the criminal behavior. Once criminal behavior has occurred the application of law is nothing; it does nothing but cause more pain in an already painful situation. You cannot protect an individual from something that has already happened; that, in essence, is what law claims to do. Law purports to protect the people it is imposed upon by punitively dealing with criminal actions after they have occurred.
When a society institutes law for the purpose of protecting its people it cannot succeed. Unless a society has been able to completely eradicate crime then it has failed its people. Law is only able to deal with crime after it has occurred; and it deals with crime in a brutal, savage, pointless manner. Law, regardless of how extreme it becomes in punishment, cannot and will never succeed in expunging socially unstable behavior. When a society chooses to apply law in an attempt to cope with, rather than prevent, criminal behavior it will only succeed in failing to fulfill its responsibilities towards its people.
One of the ways through which society is bound to protect the individual is through education; by giving individuals the tools they need to live. Society has a responsibility to educate its people; to better their lives with the benefits of knowledge, wisdom, and experience.
Society is obligated to educate its people, but education, to be effective, must take place within an environment which is conducive to comprehension. When society chooses to both ignore and maintain social ills it fails to both properly educate and protect its people. Because society expends so much of its time, resources, and energy upon the institution and implementation of law it fails to direct proper attention towards the education of its people; an act which causes further socially unstable behavior.
There is an intrinsic difference between education and knowledge. Such is the difference between adherence to law and application to morality. Law is data whereas morality is truth. Data cannot educate, it is analysis and understanding that educates; the analysis and understanding intrinsic in a moral ideology. If law is the only tool society uses to "educate" its people then it will fail miserably; both at educating them and at protecting them.
Knowledge of law does not constitute a proper education. Education consists of knowledge and understanding. There is no understanding in law, for the purpose of law is to dictate rather than to educate. Law denies the influence of understanding and places importance solely on obedience. Education prevents criminal behavior and, coupled with a proper environment devoid of social ills, expunges crime comlpetely. Society has a responsibility to create an environment in which all people have the freedom and ability to become educated in and understand morality, not law. Law can exist in a society plagued by social ills and will, in such a society, contribute to the inflation of those ills. Morality is both the product of and cause of a healthy environment; an environment which law and society has miserably failed, and will continue to fail, to provide.
So long as society chooses to institute and enforce law in lieu of education, protection, and the propogation of moral ideology it will never succeed in creating a socially acceptable environment. Law is the forerunner of chaos, for it causes society to ignore the root causes of criminal behavior in its frenetic zealotry to savagely brutalize the individuals compelled and driven to it by the social ills society, so eagerly, seeks to maintain.