Going by media reports of gruesome murders and other serious crimes,
we naturally get the feeling that there is an upsurge of violence in Sri
Lanka and other parts of the world. Drug addicts and sex maniacs kill
old women living in isolation minding their own business. Some fathers
rape their daughters. Innocent children are kidnapped to demand ransom
from their hapless parents. Organised crimes are committed by underworld
thugs creating a fear psychosis in peace-loving citizens.
While most criminals are arrested by the law enforcement authorities,
some newspapers tend to sensationalise crimes only to increase their
circulation.Although it is against media ethics, pictures of slain
people are splashed in newspapers along with bizarre and bloody scenes.
The old adage says, “Crime does not pay.” However, crimes, most of them
serious, seem to be on the increase. While political and religious
leaders are making a concerted attempt to contain crimes, criminals seem
to be having a field day.
Even a wayside philosopher might wonder whether there is a “criminal
mind” separating offenders from the law-abiding citizens. Most of us are
ready to swear that we can never stoop to the low level of committing a
crime. However, according to modern psychologists, most of us are quite
capable of criminal thoughts and even actions. Although rational people
would condemn all crimes as “inhuman”, psychologist Gavin de Becker says
many crimes are nothing but “human”. According to him, if one person is
capable of a particular crime under certain circumstances, others may
also be capable of that act. He says, “The resource of violence is in
everyone; all that changes is our view of the justification.”
Gavin de Becker: Many crimes are
nothing but ‘human’
De Becker says people commit crimes for various reasons. For
instance, a criminal may feel justified in committing a crime when he is
wronged. Despite the fact that there are law enforcement authorities and
an impartial judicial system in operation, some people take the law into
their own hands to punish offenders. One reason for this unfortunate
situation is that some people are not willing to wait till the offender
is punished by law. Even their impatience is sometimes justifiable
because the wheels of justice turn very slowly. In fact, law’s delays
are one of the issues the Government is trying to deal with.
Even if the death penalty is made operative, it is unlikely that the
crime rate would go down. This is because every perpetrator of crime has
the false notion that he can get away scot free. Sometimes, a man may
commit a crime knowing very well that he would be arrested and
subsequently punished by law. On such occasions, research shows that
such a person may get the self satisfaction of “punishing” his victim.
Another reason for the increase in crimes is the availability of
deadly weapons in the underworld. This has other implications. Those who
do not wish to have blood on their hands may hire a contract killer to
do the job. Unless the underworld is eliminated there will always be
ruthless contract killers who will do anything for money. It is a
healthy sign that the Government is going ahead to decimate the
When the right circumstances are readily available, many people are
likely to commit crimes. Fortunately, the majority of any country are
not criminals. Even if they have the potential to commit crimes, they
think twice before doing so. This is because of the self-restraint we
have practised over the years. Religion, philosophy and psychology
should get the credit for weaning a large number of people from crimes.
When a crime, especially a murder, is committed, lawyers and judges
look for actus reus and mens rea before punishing an offender. But
modern psychologists have gone one step further to ascertain the history
of violence or violent intent that usually precedes the act. De Becker
in fact wants us to understand violence as a process in which the
violent outcome is only one link.
Sometimes, husbands kill their wives. De Becker’s path-breaking book
The Gift of Fear has a creepy line that needs the attention of law
enforcement authorities. According to him, spousal murder does not
happen in the heat of the moment. On most occasions, the murder is
premeditated. Some husbands who turn themselves to be killers do not
like to be rejected by their wives. Most spousal murders take place
after the woman leaves the marriage.
De Becker’s experience is that a troubled childhood is an important
predictor of violent criminality. In a study into serial killers, 100
percent were found to have suffered violence at the hands of elders.
Therefore, we must take care not to ill-treat children under any
circumstances. This will definitely minimise crimes.
Most adults who had spent their childhood away from their parents
never learn to be sociable. Such people form a warped view of the world
- at the expense of the public.
All the views expressed by De Becker may not apply to our society
because he wrote The Gift of Fear within the cultural context of the
United States. However, his views cannot be put aside easily as it is
one of the great books written on the psychology of violence.