The Psychology of Crime
Every outward manifestation is a harvest. No full-fledged or overt act takes place that is not the lawful sequence of previous incubation, nourishment, and growth. When a criminal offence "happens," the usual concern is only with the event, its details, and the adequate punishment of the offender. The act is vividly outlined, its heinous features are analyzed, the guilt of its supposed author is passed upon, and a demand is made for the enforcement of the proper penalty. This comprises all that society feels called upon to do in the premises. A blow has been dealt to the community in one of its parts, and the community deals a proportionate one in return; and thus the transaction is closed, and the books balanced. Possibly some "motive" may be discovered, which forms the last or immediate step behind the act; but farther back, or in broader scope, neither general nor special investigation is thought necessary.
While deeper research may not be practicable officially, it is of great importance that there should be a more general and intelligent appreciation of the processes through which crime and disorder are generated. The superficial and objective spirit of our Western civilization is unfavorable for a thorough study of primary and subjective causation. The Within that finds expression in the Without lies hidden away from the popular gaze, and only through some application of psychological law can it be clearly interpreted.
No criminal motive ever grows in weight so that it finally preponderates, except by slow and intangible accretions. However spontaneous or impulsive any given offence may appear in its method, the foundation upon which it rears itself has been slowly formed from a variety of sediment. The great lesson of modern science is that nothing "happens." Everything that comes is pushed from behind. This philosophy, which is accepted by all careful thinkers, and perhaps theoretically by a wider circle, is yet far from being acknowledged as a practical truism. We live under an economy of law absolutely universal in its scope; but while no link in the chain of detail includes the least element of chance, there is no fatalism involved in this perfect order. On the contrary, all real freedom comes only from its aid, and through intelligent conformity. Law is always in readiness to serve us; but we must adopt its methods.
There is no pessimism involved in a study of the generation of crime; for the very laws and forces which by abnormal use bring it into expression are abundantly potent, when rightly used, for the production of its normal and wholesome opposites. While recognizing an upward trend as broad as humanity, and an optimism which views "evil" only as a subjective condition, yet it is evident that there are operative at the present time special forces that directly germinate crime and disorder. It is said that about seven thousand murders have taken place within the limits of the United States during the last year, and offences of lesser degree have been so numerous that even an approximate estimate can hardly be formed. However, we are dealing not with statistics but principles.
The luxury and artificialism of our modern civilization, the struggle for wealth and social position, the pursuit of sensuous gratification — are powerful factors which disintegrate character, obscure high ideals, and bring disorder and abnormity into overt manifestation. But perhaps a more potent element of demoralization than any of these is found in the deluge of delineated criminality and other morbid reading-matter, in which the community mentally dwells, and the malaria of which it is constantly inhaling. This great, unceasing supply of unsound mental pabulum comes in the forms of offensive sensationalism in the daily press, flashy illustrated weeklies, and the cheap "blood and thunder" fiction which is devoured in unlimited quantities by youthful and immature minds.
That a large ratio of space in the great dailies is crowded with matter that in varying degree may be classed as abnormal and unwholesome is a palpable and unquestioned fact. It is also quite unnecessary to prove the existence of the flashy illustrated weeklies. Their numbers and suggestiveness are evidenced by the gaping crowd always seen gathered about the news-shop windows, gazing at pictorial representations which are as near the border-line of indecency as it is possible to be and escape the law. The world is full of "suggestion" of every quality. That which is distinctively classed as "hypnotic" is in quantity but "a drop in the bucket" when compared with the every-day variety.
The sediment which settles from all these turbid agitations furnishes the soil out of which murders, suicides, sexual immoralities, thefts, and numberless other disorders are the continual growth and fruitage. If unsound meat or decayed vegetables are palmed off upon the public, the guilty offender is arrested and punished; but youthful and pure consciousness may be invaded and poisoned, and all is taken as a matter of course. Society concerns itself considerably with the punishment of crime, but very little with its prevention. The penalty for overt criminality is conventionally supposed to act as a powerful deterrent; but it has only a limited power in that direction. While government — or organized society — cannot take legal cognizance of anything less than overt acts, it is important that there should be a general and intelligent knowledge of the constructive process through which criminals are made. They do not come by chance, but grow; and their growth is through suggestion. The immediate psychical impulse which precedes the overt act is but one link in a chain which reaches back indefinitely.
Society in general is responsible for its criminality. Its criminals are not detached units on the outside, but rather eruptions from within. The circulation of the body politic is impure. Prevailing morbid thoughts and ideas naturally find embodiment, an illustrative specimen of which was seen in Guiteau, the slayer of President Garfield. As well cut off an occasional thistle-head, with the expectation of killing the crop, as hope to exterminate crime through the deterrent power of legislative penalty.
The lack of moral and social progress is due to a prevailing sensuous superficiality, which concerns itself only with phenomena instead of deep causative forces. Criminality is purely expressive and symptomatic. The laws of mind are unswerving and exact. Mental conditions, including all qualities of thought and suggestion, tend to outward expression. To illustrate: An atrocious murder takes place. The daily press, by full detail and embellishments, graphically engraves it, with all its suggestiveness, upon the public consciousness. Its passion and abnormity are held up and analyzed until they permeate the whole psychic atmosphere. The criminal is surrounded by the halo of romance and glamour of notoriety. His likeness is given a prominent place in a leading column, and is thus brought before the eyes of unnumbered thousands. And recently modern "enterprise" reproduces the whole scene, through cuts or engravings, not omitting the weapons. A mental picture of the tout ensemble is thus photographed upon all minds and memories. The details are read, re-read, and discussed. Where there is any mind containing, in some degree, a chord of savagery, animalism, or morbidity, it is stirred into corresponding vibration. Possibly some, who have been near the verge of a similar act, are pushed over the line. But no one escapes untarnished. The soundest and sanest minds cannot thus have the imaging faculty tampered with, without some deterioration, even though it be unconscious.
In the evolutionary transition from primeval or animal man to humanity, there has been brought over a large residuum of animality, and this forms a kind of false self, which is stirred and stimulated by outward morbid suggestion. A pugilistic encounter, a street-fight, or even a dog-fight, will, as if by magic, draw a crowd, much as a magnet will gather iron filings. In many cases a man seems to be but a thin veneer to the animal within, the latter often breaking through from outside suggestion. The occasional boy who starts out with hatchet and pistol to rob, or fight with Indians, as suggested by mental pictures drawn from the great juvenile library of "blood and thunder" fiction, only goes somewhat farther in the same direction than all other boys travel who live upon the same mental stimulant.
A recent notable murder and trial furnished a striking illustration of the extent to which a single tragic event can fill the public mind and consciousness. The official trial of the accused party was but little more exhaustive than thousands of unofficial trials which took place in drawing-rooms and business offices. But this is by no means solely the fault of publishers and editors. The public taste needs to be rectified. Everyone who reads, dwells upon, and rehearses such a quality of thought is in some measure responsible. All this is common, not because of any intention to give currency to that which is unwholesome, but from a lack of knowledge of psychological laws and the power of suggestion. A true understanding of mental philosophy is all that is needed. As soon as we intelligently grasp the laws of any force or thing, we have it not only under control, but harnessed for use. The principles of suggestion, like edged tools, when rightly used, are of wonderful utility. Its power to project high ideals is unlimited, but it recoils when misdirected.
The modern "daily" possesses a gigantic power to mould and color public consciousness; and its conduct involves a very grave responsibility, which its managers either lightly regard, or are quite unaware of; but, after all, it is but an articulation of that which preponderates in human thought. A majority want sensationalism, and supply always responds to demand. But if rapid money-making could be made secondary, the daily press would be an immense educational and uplifting force in society. In general observations, it would be unjust to intimate that all papers are on the same plane, for there are all grades and qualities. Principles only are here considered, and when once understood they will make their own application discriminately. The purveyors of the daily press cannot be expected to be disinterested philanthropists, more than other men, though their power is gigantic and their responsibility peculiar. As things are, the main hope for reform must begin with the public, or on the side of demand. The great need is a more intelligent understanding of the psychological laws of suggestion and subjective realism as causative forces. Results can only be modified through internal and underlying antecedents, and not by mere external repression.
The mechanical and news-gathering facilities of a great modern daily are marvelous. It is comparatively a new and unprecedented force, for no former period can be compared with it. But, gentlemen of the daily press, why is it that under the plea of "enterprise " or giving "the news," a murder in California, a robbery in Arkansas, or some nameless outrage in Alabama, should be put in thought pictures, framed, and hung up in the mental chambers of millions, where high ideals are scarce for lack of room? Why should the horrors of lynchings, the morbidity of suicides, or even the details of catastrophes, be branded upon thousands of sensitive souls, where their scars will be indelible? A material photograph may be destroyed in an instant, while an immaterial one, printed by the imaging faculty, may remain for a life-time, often forcing its way into the consciousness uncalled for, or even when forbidden.
When the wise man uttered the familiar aphorism, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he," he expressed not merely a moral maxim, but a scientific truism. What men mentally dwell upon they become or grow like. Thought, even when centered upon a non-entity, in proportion to its intensity and continuity confers subjective realism. Not by chance, but by law, each mental delineation leaves its distinctive hue in the grand composite which makes up character. The undisciplined thinking-faculty has a sponge-like absorbability of the medium which surrounds it, and only by systematic idealism can it be trained to close its avenues against discordant and depressing environment. Thought projected in specific directions soon forms its own channels, which are rapidly deepened by habit. When turned upon the pure, the true, and the beautiful, these positives soon cast out their negative opposites.
The quality of thinking determines consciousness, and consciousness forms character. Character is, therefore, nothing more nor less than an habitual quality of consciousness. It is often supposed to consist of action, but it is that which is back of action. Any demoralization which comes from without does not come direct, but from the sympathetic vibration of corresponding unisons within. Action is often temporarily modified from motives of outward policy, but its constant effort is to become a true copy of the inner pattern.
The scientific way to destroy evil is not to hold it up and analyze it in order to make it hateful, but rather to put it out of the consciousness. To the degree that one does not see it, to him it becomes non-existent, because there is nothing to arouse its vibrations within. But it is important to remember that evil is real only as a subjective condition.
Whether or not we so wish, we are modified by every picture thrown upon the mental canvas. No matter to what extent one may detest a crime, he cannot immerse his consciousness in its turbid waves without taking on some of its slime and sediment.
But outside of what is distinctively classed as crime, the outpicturing of everything of a negative or inharmonious nature is unprofitable. The frictions, accidents, discords, and every other lack of harmony, of whatever name, occupy room in the consciousness which is of value. A thousand objective normal human developments attract no attention, while the single abnormity is put in the lens and thrown upon the screen. Its kind is thereby propagated. Occasional "outs" are made so important that they almost appear to be the rule. Reform will come only so fast as the necessity for more ideal mental pictures is appreciated. All real entities were formed by the Creator, and all are good; so that the abnormal when displaced from the human consciousness finds no resting-place.
The real world we dwell in is our thought world, rather than the material objects which surround us. The color of all outward environment depends upon the glasses through which we view it. The human consciousness is like an endless corridor in a picture gallery, each visitor executing and hanging his own works of art. His preference is determined by the character of those before which he lingers.