Sunday, January 17, 2010

Real Crime

I am always angered and amused, in equal measure, by claims from some body or individual that the police should leave them alone and concentrate upon "real criminals".
Most often, this whine arises from those who are busted for some traffic offence. This isn't exclusively so, but does illustrate an interesting point.
Those who commit these widespread offences have a genuine belief that they are not "criminals". Criminals are, after all, "the Other", a semi-separate species that surely does not encompass them?
It is an interesting exercise to sit and list the crimes you have committed during your life. Shaded your tax return? Failed to renew your TV licence? Car tax? Bumped up an insurance claim? Broken the speed limit? Wandered from work with an extra couple of pens and a stapler in your bag?
All crimes. I defy anyone to seriously claim that they have not committed a criminal offence.
We are all criminals. We prisoners are not a separate species. If you look in the mirror, it is us that stare back. Please consider that unpleasant point should you next be afflicted with an urge to demonise criminals.


  1. You will lose a lot of support if you try to suggest that a motoring offence, or poor bookkeeping is equivalent to what you did. That's why the thousands of people with 3 points on their licence are not in gaol, and you are.

    People don't demonise criminals, because they broke the increasingly arbitary law of the land, but they do demonise, quite reasonably murderers and thieves.

    You'd do well to remember that?

  2. @jackart, at no point did ben suggest that murder equated with petty theft or speeding, so your response rather makes his point- we have to see criminals as the "other" and are offended at any suggestion otherwise! It may be worth stating here, though, that bad drivers kill about a thousand more people than murderers do every year...

  3. I don't recall Ben ever asking for support. I hope he writes it as it is and if some are moved to offer support then well and good. If this blog became a campaign for Ben, the risk is he would write self serving crap. That would lose the audience!

  4. Oh, I love this post! It is so true and it made me laugh! And excellent reply, madalbert!

  5. From George Bernard Shaw (1922)

    The thief who is in prison is not necessarily more dishonest than his fellows at large, but mostly one who, through ignorance or stupidity steals in a way that is not customary. He snatches a loaf from the baker's counter and is promptly run into gaol.
    Another man snatches bread from the table of hundreds of widows and orphans and similar credulous souls who do not know the ways of company promoters; and, as likely as not, he is run into Parliament.

  6. Quite so, Mr Moore. Misunderstandings flow from classification. While we can expect a banker to go a-banking day by day, impelled by desire or necessity, it’s a mistake to expect predictable consistency of action from someone who has murdered or robbed. While the morals of a banker and a bank robber may be indistinguishable (they both opt for fast-track self-enrichment), what is notable is that, where the banker gets bail outs, the bank robber is refused bail.

  7. It's a very valid point, and own personal previous misdemeanors (as well as the 3 points on my license!) make sure I am perfectly well aware that there is no such thing as 'The Other' when it comes to criminals and criminality, just degrees of severity.

    That, and getting caught.

  8. I read Ben's blog every day, and I appreciate his point of view on a number of issues. However to suggest that because we are all guilty of "crimes" that means the criminal is not other.

    Most people put motoring offences into a different category to all other crimes because it is impossible to not be a criminal. Ergo someone caught speeding is not a criminal in most people's mind.

    Everyone condemns murder, and puts the murderer into the category "other" as Ben would have it. everyone draws the line differently. I for example am happy to condone tax-evasion because I regard the tax being evaded as theft. To complain about that facet of human nature to condemn criminals on the basis that everyone's got a speeding ticket is a facile comment on an otherwise excellent and thought provoking blog.

  9. @jackart, that sounds very much like, "if everyone is doing it, it can't be a proper crime". Sorry, but a crime is a crime, and those who commit crimes are criminals. Live with it!

  10. Jackart: Miaow! Did Ben hit a raw nerve?

  11. @anoynmous...err not really... speeding may well be a crime but is not a crime punishable by a custodial sentence, atleast for a non severe and singualar offence. That is a world away from an individual who chooses steal from anothers persons property. And this banker debate is also sensationlist tripe.

    At the end of the day the majority of crimes are commited I would say on a risk/reward basis. Some bend the system a little which might get them a small "perk" others go to the next level.

    Another sensationlist post..yet again probably counter argued by "you are not intelligent enough to understand" within this prisoners love in we have going on here. So to be clear I understand your post I simply disagree with it. And to add to this you really want to be released?? In a way you have a life in there which is more suited to how you come across, namely you can be disruptive and argumentative in there and life stays the same. In the outside world I fear you would huge problems say in a working enviornment to begin with.

  12. anon @12:52, the max sentence for theft is 14 years, so unless you have never so much as nicked a paperclip from work then Ben's point stands. And your characterisation is classic "criminal justice professional"- as Ben challenges us to think, you call him argumentative and disruptive and claim he couldn't cope in the world. No wonder he cant get released, if that is the type of rubbish he has to deal with. Sod it, lets just lobotomise all prisoners, just in case they make us uncomfortable...

  13. i hope ben is disruptive! Shaking up a moribund, failing prison system might lead to change. Too much conformity leads to personal and social atrophy.

  14. I agree with the thrust of Jackart's comments and largely disagree with the others who think there is a moral equivalence between bankers/speeders/a.n.other cliched caraciture and somone who has used violence to harm, or steal from, another person. In that sense there definitely are "real criminals".

    Ben, are you cheekily goading us?! Do you truly believe everything in that post? I found your tone a bit inflammatory when you call people, who have a view that they are not criminals, whiners. Crimnal is just a word. Its pedantic to use its literal meaning to make an argument - people don't see stealing paper clips as theft and dont see themselves as criminals. You are on shaky ground if you follow that sort of logic. You are right, prisoners are not a separate species, but "we" are not all criminals.

  15. Benn, people should see 'stealing paper clips' as a crime because that is what it is. I am sure we are all guilty of some sort of crime and if we found ourselves penalised for these 'lesser' crimes we would want support and understanding. Speeding, theft, cheating the tax man etc, they are all crimes and we should not try to pretend they are not. Everyone who is caught for a crime should take their punishment and then be allowed to move on - why is Ben not being allowed to move on? Perhaps we should keep all criminals in prison in case they commit another crime like we do with people with an indeterminate sentence (IPP).

  16. @Benn, you make Ben's point - people who steal paperclips dont see themselves as criminals, even though they are. Why is this fact so hard for some people to accept? As Ben says, it may be because we want criminals to be different from ourselves - they are easier to despise that way.

  17. @madalbert
    For those who are bleating about stealing paper clips as a crime...honestly what planet are you on? Get a grip. It's such a non starter for any kind of serious discussion.

    The fact of the matter is this post is designed to be inflamatory, disguised to create some "intelligent" debate.

    People who have committed a crime are people...I get it.

    People who repeateldy steal other peoples possesions, are people I get it. However, they are also socially damaging, so a level of negative feeling towards them is understandable. Demonisation being a term used here to inflame.

    Yes I am the same poster @12:52..

    In regards to my comment about Ben wanting to be released. What I was stating is that reading his posts he seems like the sort of chap who is purposely obstructive and argumentative. Sometimes with good reason, however, I imagine a great deal of time just becasue he feels like it. If i'm wrong here then I am prepared to be corrected but his posts imply this. Surely a better tact would be to perhaps toe this injust line. So you can be relased and do greater good outside....Worth the sacrifice?

    Plus let me also add that I am not some sort of daily mail reader. I fully believe that greater reformative procedures shoul dbe put in place. I spent 2 years of my life working on an educational based project that tackled this very issue. But quite alot of the posts on here are nonsense and damage your cause.

  18. anon, i am so happy that you finally "get it", just a pity you resisted for so long! Now, what is this obsession with trying to get ben to abandon the principle of resisting abuses of power? Why do you find that so disturbing? Sounds to me we could all give it a try!

  19. Anon, I didn't realise this blog had a "cause".

  20. lol @madalbert

    How can there be resistance to something so obvious, your group thinking here is paper clip

    What obsession? I merely suggested another method so he could be released and "maybe" be of greater benefit working against these injustices. And my initial quiestion was "does he actually want to be freed?" which is a fair question based on the longevity of his incaceration.

  21. Let us take two behaviours that normally cause no harm: carrying a knife and speeding. Our common sense demands we see one as inherently criminal and the other as just something most people do. For one people demand long prison sentences for others people object to a few points and a fine.

    However which kills more people?

    I could provide similiar examples of behaviours which demonstrated that some very harmful illegal behaviours are not commonly regarded as crime whilst other less harmful behaviours are.

    Whilst the process of deciding what is "crime" is complex a major part of it is deeming certain behaviours as 'other'. Thanks for stimulating this interesting debate Ben.

  22. The majority agree with me = I'm right.
    The majority disagree with me = They are indulging in an infantile group-think prisoner love-in and I'm right.

    No one here is equating theft of paper clips with murder. However, the majority of us agree that real hard reform of the justice system (which would benefit society imensly) requires us to stop thinking of criminals as different to us. All crime is on a continuum.

  23. John Moore, I like your uber rational perspective but in the real world we have to make distinctions. I guess the distinction I would draw is intent (or inferred intent). People who speed have no intent of causing harm. They of course cause great harm (due to vast numbers involved) but they are mostly just ignorant, for many reasons, but nothing more. People who carry knives (let's assume) must be prepared to use it, whether in self defence or otherwise. They have intent or we have to infer they have.

    Coming from a different angle, its just another distinction that must be made as a matter of "public policy". People can't be prevented from using cars because the utility outweighs the cost (in other words we can't infer intent to cause harm for every driver). Preventing people from carrying knives has no forseeable negative consequences. I am guessing all your other examples of "very harmful illegal behaviours" fail the public policy practicality test. I would also guess many of these behvaiours are not regarded as crimes, or at least serious crimes.

  24. Interesting point about utility. Apologies for the reductio ad Hitlerum but I was talking to a friend yesterday who wrote a paper as a schoolboy on the economic impact of holocaust slave-labour on the German economy. No doubting the utility for at least the SS there. While I drive, the logic of the utility (my getting somewhere faster than I would by other means) outweighing the cost (people dying in their thousands) sits very uncomfortably with me, and I suspect that in time, we'll get over that particular aberation. There was a time we thought that the economic benefits of child labour outweighed the cost.

  25. This isn't directly related to the topic, but as an American in a knife-friendly state I find it bizarre that people who carry knives are considered criminals elsewhere.

  26. Speeding is not a crime, it's a "regulatory offense" or whatever you call it over there. Criminal law is not involved at all, at least not in my country.

  27. fantastic blog, just read from 2009 and comments to each one!
    To return to ben's comments, i completely empathise with his 'mirror' idea.

    However, i believe such an idea is one that is learned via some sort of humility that one experiences.

    It can be very tough to transmit that type of lesson to others. I've tried and failed countless times to instantly install the 'mirror theory' on others.

    What i have found is that whatever 'karma' might be it works if you 'believe' it works.

    The trick to it is to gain an absolute faith in all people, to treat all humans as one's perfect master (someone to learn from). What seems to happen (thru my eyes) is that this authority given to people exposes a persons willingness to either exploit their new found authority or their willingness to return the respect.

    The next bit, once realised can only be described as hiliarious! Its definetly what Ben refers to when he went 'on the warpath' and humiliated some prison officers in a previous thread.

    If a person does indeed exploit the authority bestowed upon them by another they will soon sort of trip up, kinda like pride before a fall, the pressure of being in control and abusing that control seems to be at odds with our true nature.
    If a person simply returns the awesome respect one has been given lots of wonderful things happen. Sort of like vicious circles and whatever you'd call its opposite.
    I'd agree that we all can and do act in a criminal or offensive manner at times.
    I'd like to add that we all can and do act in a saintly manner at times.
    Jackart mentions 'where we draw the line' which i think is a very apt phrase when talking about the above behaviours.

    Best to aim to be a saint methinks. I don't mind forgiving people for abherant actions coz i believe in people! We will learn! We will develop and progress! Hopefully we'll live in harmony soon eh?
    Punishing someone who punishes others makes loadsa sense. F.... sake. Yeah, that's what i call leading by example!!!


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