THE PSYCHOLOGY OF CRIMINALITY

I am, because I exist. This statement is true for a vast majority of people. About 90% of Americans claim to be living unfulfilled lives. It is not surprising to see so many people fail in life; because mastering the skills needed to be successful requires hard work. The cliché, ‘genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration’, (Thomas Edison, 1847 – 1931), is not an exaggeration. Thus, most people surrender to living for the sake of living, aimlessly and purposelessly. At the same time holding on to a feeling that they deserve better. Such inert people never make the morning headlines in daily newspapers. Hence, we enjoy reading with admiration about individuals living on the fringe, those who consider mere existence a crime.

I am not a philosopher, so I cannot answer the question if mere existence is a crime, especially when there is so much potential at our disposal. From the psychology point of view, I can say this, that there exists a certain mental threshold, which when triggered or it is surpassed; an energised feeling thence overwhelms us. A good example of this feeling is when we pass exams. A scholar achieves this feeling when his/her research paper is published and an inventor when his/her invention succeeds. It is this extraordinary inner stimulating feeling that incites us to react and work hard for progress again and again.

But not all people are willing to work hard for success or exercise the patience needed. Despite the fact that they too are adamant that they deserve better. Hence, they opt to take short cuts to achieve their goals. More often than not it is the criminals who pursue this path of short cuts. One explanation for this is, generally, we are moral beings born with free will, and those with the will always will push the boundaries and some will even break the rules. As Colin Wilson in his book “A Criminal History of Mankind (Grafton, 1985)”, says “Nothing is worse for a criminal than early success.”

If the confessions of the criminals are any indicator for the reasons of their bad behaviour, it is that it is done out of animosity, a vengeance against society, born out of feelings that their robbery or burglary is a legitimate way of expressing their sense of social grievance. It means their whole concentration is being channelled on their frustration and resentment. The criminal needs external stimuli to achieve the threshold, e.g. a psychopath feels aroused by causing pain on others. This threshold can be described as the ‘critical point’ or the biting point between an accelerator and clutch in an automobile, it triggers an extraordinary excitement, an ecstasy in the mind.

This does not mean that the mind is the real culprit. Far from it, as the mind can be a creative force or a destructive force, meaning that we are neither innately good nor bad. What we have is tendencies to become either. The central role played here is by our egos or the ‘false self’ (Also called Nafs in Arabic).  Colin Wilson argues that we allow the Nafs to dominate our mind, and we become slaves to the Nafs, we work towards satisfying the master, the Nafs. The larger the ego you have, the less you care about the morals, which explains why some criminals lack remorse after the crime. This explains why most violent criminals possess more than the average share of desire for exercising that threshold. Hence, the unfulfilled appetite for criminality is a commoner among mass murderers.

Still, the big question is what allures criminals towards criminality? Why do they take the ‘decision to be out of control’? It is obvious that everyone chooses their own path, man has the power of free choice. In Colin Wilson’s view, it is related to our energy in the brain. “Meaning perception is a power of the mind; it depends upon a certain mental energy. And this mental energy is precisely what all criminals’ lack. They lay far too much emphasis on the physical stimulus in the process of ‘enrichment’.”

 Unlike geniuses, who channel their energy towards creative works, the criminal tends to waste it on negative emotions. When a criminal “explodes into violence, all the energy is wasted. Worse still, it destroys the banks of the canal. So in permitting himself free expression of his negative emotions he is indulging in a process of slow but sure self-erosion - the emotional counterpart of physical incontinence. Without proper ‘drainage’, his inner being turns into a kind of swamp or sewage farm. This is why most of the violent men of history, from Alexander the Great to Stalin, have ended up as psychotics. Without the power to control their negative emotions, they become incapable of any state of sustained well-being.” Furthermore, “For the violent criminals and murderers, violence seems to become a natural outlet for frustration or boredom.”

Colin Wilson identifies boredom as one of the biggest source of criminality, arguing that the individual “needs challenge or crisis to get the best out of him”. Colin Wilson believes it is “feebleness of will-power” and the individual’s inability of self-assertion that allows the Nafs to take control during times of boredom. Colin Wilson’s theory is plausible when as he says “we have to recognise that boredom is a feeling that nothing is ‘happening inside’, and that this springs from a sense of non-participation in the environment. Boredom vanishes as soon as we feel ‘involved’.”

But I find this explanation of boredom a bit too simplistic. As I have already argued in my previous article: THE EVOLUTION AND FATE OF THE SOCIAL ORDER, that:

“Institutions create mechanisms that translate ideology – say, the causes of evil.” True, the real culprit is the system that creates the conditions in which the crimes are committed. I do agree with Zimbardo. But the question arises: what is the system? Zimbardo’s view is clear. He believes it is the “power elite,” working behind the scenes, who create the conditions of life for the rest of us.

The irony is often we are ruled by the very criminals and predators. For instance there has been an unprecedented increase in criminality in recent times by the wealth grabbing elite. The history books offer no respite either; historical heroes glorified also happen to be the greatest villains, the biggest killers, such as Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great, not to mention, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, whom between them killed over 100 million people, yet remain heroes. Colin Wilson concurs, “The worst crimes are not committed by evil degenerates, but by decent and intelligent people taking ‘pragmatic’ decisions.”  Such highly intelligent heroes/villains “feel most free in moments of conquest; so for the past three thousand years or so, most of the greatest men have led armies into their neighbours’ territory, and turned order into chaos.”

In a world immersed in chaos, impeccable manners and mindfulness has become a rare commodity. Criminality and vile behaviour has become more acceptable at the expense of morals. Therefore, our choices are very simple and there are no middle grounds or grey areas. We either take the challenge of becoming creatives or the corrosiveness of mere existence will place us on a self-destructive path.  The real joy and success is in embracing creativity. “There is no doubt that man’s creativity is the most centrally important fact about him.”

This article is the second part of a two part article. The first article is: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF CREATIVITY

Reference:
Wilson, Colin. 1985. A Criminal History of Mankind, Grafton.

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