CRIME & CRIMINALITY — UTILITY OF THE HUMAN ECOLOGICAL APPROACH.


THE INTRACTABLE PROBLEM OF CRIME

Rajendra Dhar
POLICE WATCH INDIA (Regd. NGO).

The utility of the human ecological approach on one of the most intractable internal social problems in culturally diverse societies i.e. crime is very important. There are important practical reasons for trying to understand human behaviour in an integrated fashion.

Crime is a particularly interesting problem because it is in many respects the obverse of altruism. This is especially true if we define crime broadly as behaviour in which individuals obtain resources from others via force, fraud, or stealth. In order for people to reap the full benefits of group cooperation and division of labour, one must subordinate their personal interests to those of others—occasionally in dramatic fashion. Altruistic acts cost an individual more than he or she gains. Criminal acts do just the opposite. People who commit these acts intentionally harm others for their own gain. Of course, sometimes altruism on the small scale is necessary to execute predatory Crime and Criminality strategies against the larger societies. Criminal conspiracies may enjoin considerable self sacrifice on the part of gang members who are caught.

The key to understanding crime is to focus on fundamental attributes of all criminal behaviours rather than on specific criminal acts. Instead of trying to separately understand crimes such as homicide, robbery, rape, burglary, embezzlement, and drug use, we need to identify what it is they all have in common. Much past research on crime has been confounded by its focus on these politico-legal rather than behavioural definitions.

The behavioural definition of crime focuses on criminality, a certain personality profile that causes the most alarming sorts of crimes. All criminal behaviours involve the use of force, fraud, or stealth to obtain material or symbolic resources. Criminality is a style of strategic behaviour characterized by self-centeredness, indifference to the suffering and needs of others, and low self-control. More impulsive individuals are more likely to find criminality an attractive style of behaviour because it can provide immediate gratification through relatively easy or simple strategies. These strategies frequently are risky and thrilling, usually requiring little skill or planning.


They often result in pain or discomfort for victims and offer few or meagre long-term benefits because they interfere with careers, family, and friendships. Gottfredson and Hirschi assert that this means the Criminality in this sense bears a problematic relationship with legal crimes. Some drug dealers, tax cheats, prostitutes and other legal criminals may simply be business people whose business activity happens to be illegal. Psychologically, they might not differ from ordinary citizens.

This conception of crime explains the wide variety of criminal activity and the fact that individuals tend not to specialise in one type of crime. It also is consistent with the well-established tendency of people to be consistent over long periods of time in the frequency and severity of crimes they commit. Even executives who commit white collar crimes probably are more impulsive, self-centered, and indifferent to the suffering of others than those who do not take advantage of similar opportunities.

Focusing on criminality rather than political/legal definitions also allows us to finesse the perplexing problem of why some acts (e.g., marijuana consumption) are defined as crimes while similar arguably more damaging acts (e.g., alcohol consumption) are not.

These issues, central to conflict theories and critical theories of crime, are important. However, because they focus on systematically deeper power relations between competing interest groups, they seldom provide feasible policy alternatives and tend to reinforce perceptions of crime as an insolvable problem. What we want to do here is see if the human ecological approach can lead us to some practical strategies for controlling crime.

Human resources can have material, symbolic, or hedonistic value. In crimes such as thefts, individuals take material resources such as property from another person without his or her knowing cooperation.

Those who commit crimes such as narcotics trafficking and gambling attempt to obtain money that can be exchanged for material resources. In crimes such as assaults not associated with theft, sexual assaults, and illicit drug use, people obtain hedonistic resources that increase pleasurable feelings or decrease unpleasant feelings. Political crimes such as terrorism or election fraud attempt to obtain symbolic resources such as power or prestige.


Criminal behaviour is the product of a systematic process that involves complex interactions between individual, societal, and ecological factors over the course of our lives. In other words, from conception onward the intellectual, emotional, and physical attributes we develop are strongly influenced by our personal behaviours and physical processes, interactions with the physical environment, and interactions with other people, groups and institutions. These systematic processes affect the transmission from generation to generation of traits associated with increased involvement in crime.

Societal or macro level factors deal with systematic interactions between social groups. Societal factors describe the ways society is structured. They include such things as the relative distribution of the population among groups and the flows of information, resources, and people between groups. Societal factors encompass the variety and heterogeneity of caste/ethnic/cultural/productive groups, their behaviours and beliefs, and economic relations.

Individual or micro level factors describe how a person becomes motivated to commit a crime.

Motivation is more than the “I want.” portion of the equation. It includes “I could.” “What will it cost me compared to what I think I’ll get?” and “Is this right and proper?” Motivation is the outcome of a process in which a goal is formulated, costs and benefits are assessed, and internal constraints on behaviour are applied. The relative importance of the components of this process may vary from individual to individual, time to time, and situation to situation.

However unattainable they now may seem, nurturant crime control strategies are practically and philosophically appealing because they are proactive and emphasize developing restraint systems within individuals rather than increasing governmental control. They also have broader implications. If crime control strategies focused on controlling the development and expression of criminality instead of controlling specific criminal acts, it might be possible to address simultaneously the common source of an entire set of dysfunctional behaviours: crime, drug abuse, accidents, and perhaps even suicide.

We might do so in a manner that builds human capital and improves social cohesiveness. It is ironic that some think it naive to consider employing nurturant strategies that, according to this paradigm, will take generations to control crime.

DON’T WE ROUTINELY PLAN CITIES, HIGHWAYS, AND MILITARY WEAPONS SYSTEMS 20 YEARS OR MORE INTO THE FUTURE?

OUR ANALYSIS INDICATES THAT IT IS TIME TO EVOLVE THE CULTURE OF OUR SOCIETY TO BECOME LESS IMPULSIVE, LESS DEPENDENT ON COERCION, AND MORE SENSITIVE TO THE NEEDS AND SUFFERING OF OTHERS.

IN OTHER WORDS:-
WE SOW AN ACT AND REAP A HABIT: WE SOW A HABIT AND REAP A CHARACTER: WE SOW A CHARACTER AND REAP A DESTINY. — William Black (1893)

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