“Our social order depends on violence,” writes Leo Tolstoy in The Law Of Love And The Law Of Violence. “We fail to see all the crimes committed each day, all in the name of the public good. Instead we see only the rare, vulgar forms of violence and concern ourselves only with those who are CALLED murderers and thieves.”
Violence and the threat of violence hangs over us in every minute of every day. Lust (euphemistically denoted as love) may make the world go round, but violence determines the channels we will take to satisfy those lusts. The prevalent sense of impending violence is, we assume, what keeps our property secure and us safe in our homes. It is, ultimately (by enforcement of taxes), what keeps the government funded and what keeps the gears of society spinning in their proper tracks in all realms of activity– from the enforcement of traffic laws to the punishment of shoplifters.
We do not know if it is possible– ever– to have a society built otherwise. Humanity, as a general population, has never achieved a level of neighborly good-will, honesty, and peaceful co-existence which would encourage us to trust ourselves to walk the edge of civilization without the guardrails of threat and violence. Decency has never been “common.” There always seems to exist a substantial population of people who cannot control their appetites, people who–without a power stronger than their own wills and muscles– could not or would not refrain from satisfying whatever lust or greed burned in their feverishly grabby natures.
I am one of those who would like to attempt a different approach to civilization. But I am frightened. I am not at all sure that any system other than one based upon violence would work in practice.
The key to possible success in such an endeavor would be to facilitate in the common man feelings of security and joy. Happy, contented people do not commit crimes, and thus, do not need the threat of violence to rein them in. Frightened, envious, suffering, or craving people commit crimes.
Our society, in spite of all its faults, can provide –in 999 out of thousand cases– the legal means for obtaining a comfortable life– this applies even to those with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds. And yet, there are those who prefer anti-social crime to pro-community work, those who would prefer to feel bad about their activities and walk in darkness than to feel good about what they’ve accomplished and hold their head high in any part of society.
There are numerous reasons. For one, we have not figured out a way to make work pleasant for the majority of folks. In fact, the very idea that work could BE pleasant probably strikes most people as a ludicrous, pie-in-the-sky idea. After all, they wouldn’t call it “work” if it was fun, right? However, I would not be so quick to rule out the possibility that a more enlightened race of beings could figure out the work-sux dilemma. Consider the fact that when we are given free time, we often choose to perform tasks that may cause us to sweat or stay hunched over a project, but which nevertheless provides us with feelings of satisfaction, accomplishment, purpose, and worth. The trick would be to somehow make those tasks which must be performed for the benefit of society as rewarding as those tasks we perform for our own sense of fulfillment.
Another reason for crime is drugs– either directly or indirectly. Directly, in the case of people in the drug trade, and also directly for those laboring illegally in order to feed their drug-habit. Then there are the crimes more indirectly related to drugs. Here I am referencing the cases in which unfortunate souls are incapacitated enough by their use of drugs that they cannot hold a decent and legal job. They are either not fit to perform the demanded physical tasks of a legit job or are too cloudy of mind to satisfy the mental demands. Or they could just be too often undependable, or too frequently late or sick. Or perhaps they show up hungover or even drugged for their shifts. Thus, for these people, crime becomes an alternative to the failed attempt at holding a job.
And there are other indirect, drug-related causes of crime. Some people may suffer mental decline under extended use of drugs; these types will be more susceptible to those who would recruit them for illegal projects– probably first in small, fairly low-risk roles– but roles which eventually escalate. Also, in this same vein, if people are unable to hold jobs, they may become indolent, and wind-up spending time in environments where-in other non-honest-job-holding people are loitering… including those people who can and will gladly lead others astray.
And, of course, the fact that many drugs are illegal, means that many drug-users are already criminals– and not only that, but they are already associating with criminals merely by virtue of their habit or addiction. For many, it is just a matter of time until they cross the line from de facto criminal to a more active or even violent one.
Obviously, there are plenty more motives for crime than drugs. Many crimes are crimes of passion, and of all crimes, these are, to me, the least likely to ever be eliminated. However, we could at least greatly reduce the number of these types of crimes if we could facilitate the development of human beings less prone to violent reactions when faced with disturbing events. A well-balanced person would be less likely to be swept up in a torrent of rage over suddenly discovering, say, a rival to his partner’s affections, or a competitor for the monopoly he holds over another person’s sexual activities. And he is less likely to brutalize someone for stepping on his toes or wounding his pride, as he would also be less likely to be provoked to violence by mere words.
Mentally and emotionally developed people are capable of appropriate social behavior, and they are able to see — in most cases, even in our imperfect society– that a job, even an unfulfilling one, is a better way to survive and prosper than crime.
I have a theory that most repeat-offenders (of crimes such as theft) are not all that bright– not bright enough to see how much more they could get out of life by accommodating themselves to “the system;” this is why I think we catch as many criminals as we do… most criminals are dolts. But moving along…
Besides the facts that: work is unpleasant for most people, that there is relationship between drugs and crime, and that some crimes are what are termed “crimes of passion,” there are, of course, other important causes of crime. Some criminal activity stems from the same psychic discontent causing people to seek refuge in drugs– unhappiness. Most especially, the unhappiness of envy or anger.
Vandalism, for instance, is in most cases a senseless, utterly inconsiderate crime performed by people– often young people– full of anger at society and experiencing a feeling of alienation. They do not see that the things which they are defacing are part of THEIR community. Perhaps they do not have, or ever think to have, much property of their own, so they do not respect the fact that the people owning and using the property they deface may not hold the same aesthetic tastes as they do when it comes to adornment– especially adornment via spraycan.
Some vandalism is also a cry for attention. Many a vandal thinks himself an under-appreciated artist, and his wish to share his talent comes out perverted into trespass and destruction. Other vandals are attempting to gain a sense of self-worth that mainstream society is not offering them by staking-out claim to territory or by showing that they are brave or powerful or smart enough to outwit the powers that be.
I’ve only scratched the surface of this issue today. I was intending to give more space to Tolstoy’s own words, but perhaps it is well enough that, instead of merely transcribing his words, I write today about some of the causes of violence and crime in our own society and era.