Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 29 January 2012





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Government Gazette

Violence begets violence

Going by media reports of gruesome murders and other serious crimes, we naturally get the feeling that there is an upsurge of violence in Sri Lanka and other parts of the world. Drug addicts and sex maniacs kill old women living in isolation minding their own business. Some fathers rape their daughters. Innocent children are kidnapped to demand ransom from their hapless parents. Organised crimes are committed by underworld thugs creating a fear psychosis in peace-loving citizens.

While most criminals are arrested by the law enforcement authorities, some newspapers tend to sensationalise crimes only to increase their circulation.Although it is against media ethics, pictures of slain people are splashed in newspapers along with bizarre and bloody scenes. The old adage says, “Crime does not pay.” However, crimes, most of them serious, seem to be on the increase. While political and religious leaders are making a concerted attempt to contain crimes, criminals seem to be having a field day.

Even a wayside philosopher might wonder whether there is a “criminal mind” separating offenders from the law-abiding citizens. Most of us are ready to swear that we can never stoop to the low level of committing a crime. However, according to modern psychologists, most of us are quite capable of criminal thoughts and even actions. Although rational people would condemn all crimes as “inhuman”, psychologist Gavin de Becker says many crimes are nothing but “human”. According to him, if one person is capable of a particular crime under certain circumstances, others may also be capable of that act. He says, “The resource of violence is in everyone; all that changes is our view of the justification.”


Gavin de Becker: Many crimes are
nothing but ‘human’

De Becker says people commit crimes for various reasons. For instance, a criminal may feel justified in committing a crime when he is wronged. Despite the fact that there are law enforcement authorities and an impartial judicial system in operation, some people take the law into their own hands to punish offenders. One reason for this unfortunate situation is that some people are not willing to wait till the offender is punished by law. Even their impatience is sometimes justifiable because the wheels of justice turn very slowly. In fact, law’s delays are one of the issues the Government is trying to deal with.

Even if the death penalty is made operative, it is unlikely that the crime rate would go down. This is because every perpetrator of crime has the false notion that he can get away scot free. Sometimes, a man may commit a crime knowing very well that he would be arrested and subsequently punished by law. On such occasions, research shows that such a person may get the self satisfaction of “punishing” his victim.

Another reason for the increase in crimes is the availability of deadly weapons in the underworld. This has other implications. Those who do not wish to have blood on their hands may hire a contract killer to do the job. Unless the underworld is eliminated there will always be ruthless contract killers who will do anything for money. It is a healthy sign that the Government is going ahead to decimate the underworld.


When the right circumstances are readily available, many people are likely to commit crimes. Fortunately, the majority of any country are not criminals. Even if they have the potential to commit crimes, they think twice before doing so. This is because of the self-restraint we have practised over the years. Religion, philosophy and psychology should get the credit for weaning a large number of people from crimes.

When a crime, especially a murder, is committed, lawyers and judges look for actus reus and mens rea before punishing an offender. But modern psychologists have gone one step further to ascertain the history of violence or violent intent that usually precedes the act. De Becker in fact wants us to understand violence as a process in which the violent outcome is only one link.

Sometimes, husbands kill their wives. De Becker’s path-breaking book The Gift of Fear has a creepy line that needs the attention of law enforcement authorities. According to him, spousal murder does not happen in the heat of the moment. On most occasions, the murder is premeditated. Some husbands who turn themselves to be killers do not like to be rejected by their wives. Most spousal murders take place after the woman leaves the marriage.

Troubled childhood

De Becker’s experience is that a troubled childhood is an important predictor of violent criminality. In a study into serial killers, 100 percent were found to have suffered violence at the hands of elders. Therefore, we must take care not to ill-treat children under any circumstances. This will definitely minimise crimes.

Most adults who had spent their childhood away from their parents never learn to be sociable. Such people form a warped view of the world - at the expense of the public.

All the views expressed by De Becker may not apply to our society because he wrote The Gift of Fear within the cultural context of the United States. However, his views cannot be put aside easily as it is one of the great books written on the psychology of violence.


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