We need criminals.
Before you grab a fistful of rocks to haul at me, hear me out first. I’m not one and have never willingly partaken in crime… (Well, apart from that one time as a little kid, when mum caught me stealing some ice cream from the refrigerator).
Why fridge doors choose to creak so loudly at night, I’ll never quite understand.
Might as well use a loudspeaker while at it. Traitor!
But yes, criminals are needed. They’re such a valuable resource, and deep down, we know there’s something fascinating about them. That’s why we watch crime series. In fictional crime movies, we often love the criminal characters. Who can deny rooting for the bad guys in Oceans 11 or Heist? With actual, nonfictional crime stories, we have a slightly different reaction, exhilarating nonetheless. Think of insanely intelligent criminals like DB Cooper or Ted Kaczynski. Our minds go into detective mode: we wonder about the perpetrator’s life and their motive. We ask a million questions because we were designed to be problem solvers.
Did they have relationships?
What drove them to commit the crime?
Or something grander?
So yes, criminals give us some entertainment and keep us intrigued. Besides, they ensure that law enforcement, detectives, and prison officials have jobs. Criminals are the villains of our world, and life would probably be blander without them.
Just one request, though: make sure I’m not the victim of any of the crimes!
Before we move much further, let’s explore the concept of ‘crime’ – what is it? Certainly, my sneaking a tub of ice cream as an adolescent can’t be categorized as one. 😬
Merriam-Webster dictionary gives some insight and defines crime this way:
1: an illegal act for which someone can be punished by the government, especially a gross violation of law
2: a grave offense, especially against morality
3: criminal activity
4: something reprehensible, foolish, or disgraceful
While this helps, there’s still a lot to unravel. For example, it is well known that statistically, most people break about three laws every year, often inadvertently. Does that then make most people criminals? And before you turn up your noses at me and deny that you’ve ever broken any laws, just answer these questions: Have you ever driven one or two miles per hour above the speed limit? Ever found yourself jaywalking? Have you ever gone to space and broken the law of gravity? That last was a joke, but I’m sure you get the point. 😉
We aren’t all some criminally-minded friends because we’ve been distracted and broken a few of these laws… but what constitutes a grave offense, and who draws the line? Therein lies the cogent question. Most experts believe that there must be a pattern of lawbreaking and disregard for societal norms to earn the tag of ‘criminal mindedness.’ So, if all you did was take a lollipop from a kids-bag when they weren’t looking, congratulations, you’re not a criminal. You just had a sweet tooth and weak self-control that’s typical of many children.
Whilst psychologists don’t unanimously agree, most believe that criminals think differently from other people. From a tender age, most would-be criminals demonstrate some questionable behavioral and temperamental characteristics that point towards future criminality. They are very often exceptionally active, prone to angry and sometimes violent outbursts. Others find pleasure in abusing or killing small animals. They are also typically stubborn and astronomically self-serving. There are proponents of the idea that a genetic brain malfunction could be responsible for the crime. However, more and more studies recognize a distinct link between childhood trauma or abuse and criminal behavior.
A good example would be the case of Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant to the USA who murdered over a dozen people before he was finally caught in 1985. A bit of digging would show that he’d endured a traumatic childhood that involved a lot of beating from his father, and at age 12 -the same age I was when I was sneaking treats from the refrigerator, he witnessed his cousin graphically killing his wife. Such trauma may have caused irreparable psychological damage to his young, impressionable mind. It is, therefore, of no surprise that he dropped out of school and began breaking into homes and killing shortly after.
Is it always the case that criminally minded people have would’ve shown such tendencies from an early age? Certainly not. The case of the moor murderers, Myra and Ian, who succeeded in shocking the entirety of the United Kingdom and the world at large with their depravity, comes to mind. Although her husband and partner-in-crime, Ian, had endured a troubled childhood, Myra had been a largely sensible child who regularly babysat children in the community as a teenager. She loved reading and even joined the Roman Catholic church at 17. So how did she evolve from such a promising young girl into one who would, with her husband, rape and murder five children?
Dennis Rader, “the BTK strangler,” is another interesting example. He was an American serial killer who blinded, tortured, and killed over 10 people in vicious attacks spanning decades. However, Dennis’s childhood was as normal as they come. He was an average pupil who was a member of the boys-scout and was active at the local church.
From the foregoing, we can see that the question of whether criminality is a function of nature or nurture is not as simple as we might want it to be. Clearly, not all abused children end up as serial killers, and not all criminals had a troubled childhood. Whether those individuals got their criminal tendencies from the inheritance of unfortunate genetics, questionable parenting or some other factors, one thing is certain – their brains work differently from that of non-criminals. This raises the important question: are they helpless and sick, such that the compulsive criminal tendencies are just symptoms? Do they need our support and compassion rather than judgment? What if we are all criminals at heart, who are only scared to manifest our depravity because of the fear of the consequences?
Perhaps, one day science will have unraveled this great mystery in great detail. While we await answers, consider installing a fridge lock if you have adolescents with pesky nighttime ice cream cravings. 😂
Written by (guest post) Laolu Ogundele
Photo: adobe stock, the sun daily, the tab magazine.
P.S. My mother-in-law passed away a week ago. As well as my father-in-law died 2,5 months ago. So, I wasn’t able to produce anything “funny”, but hopefully can get back with Harmless Bullet this weekend. 📚☕️