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Psychologists have researched this question for many years, whether or not criminals are born or made, but to date they have not come to a conclusive answer. Some psychologists believe in the nature approach (born criminals) and others believe in the nurture approach (made criminals), (Newburn, 2007).
Many experts believe that violence is an inborn trait that people are naturally violent and aggressive, but there are those who do not support this belief. Psychologist, Erich Fromm believes that ‘human destructiveness is not part of human nature and that it is not common to people’ (Erich Fromm). I take a similar view and would say that violent behaviour in people can be identified by a person’s genetics, together with their circumstances and environment. Religious leaders, scientists and philosophers have been trying to find out if people are born with violent, aggressive tendencies. An eighteenth century philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau tried to demonstrate that humans are naturally good until they are warped by society, a society that encourages inequality and competiveness. He believed that society was responsible for the fact that human beings hurt one another (Jean Jacques Rousseau). This ideology I agree with because there are many situations in life where our environment and society act as the driving force in our behaviour. Take for example someone who has lost their job and is in desperate need of money to feed themself and their family, there are some people who will resort to various types of criminal activity in order to meet their needs. On the other hand we will have some people who will not stray from the law, no matter what their circumstance. This type of person would have learned to control their response to this kind of situation. This control within someone could have been a result of their upbringing, life experiences, social class and maybe their general attitude towards life. This brings to light whether or not criminals are born or made.
Erich Fromm says that ‘some people prefer to believe that aggression is all instinctive because then they don’t have to consider how social problems have contributed to a rise in violence’. This is a very true statement because if violent behaviour and aggressive behaviour was purely instinctive then we would all probably react in pretty much the same way to certain situations, and we clearly do not. This brings us to the argument to whether criminal behaviour is fuelled by our social problems and society. In society people have been always categorised according to their wealth, or in accordance to their lifestyle and income. In the past this was seen as categorising them into classes; the upper class, the middle class and the working class. Today people in the lower socio-economic groups would be considered to be working class, which I would say makes up three-quarters of our society. The origin of the people in this group, generally have
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The Modes of Punishment. A Monologue of a Young Judge.
I am a beginner in the sphere of justice. The most frequent punishment I apply when I have to decide on a convict’s sentence is community service. I think it is the most lenient measure for wrongdoers, but a very useful one for the rest of the community. Since my experience is not very big, I haven’t dealt with atrocious crimes which would deserve capital punishment.
When I studied at Moscow State University my English teacher suggested a very productive idea that a person who has committed a crime should be deprived of those rights, which he or she mostly appreciates. That will be the most effective mode of retribution and deterrence. I am strongly opposed to fines of any kind or scale, as I suppose that money couldn’t make a restitution for moral or physical sufferings. And what’s more, people nowadays are always ready to lose a small sum of money, rather than their freedom or some rights.
I also consider solitary confinement to be an effective measure. When an offender is barred from the rest of the world, deprived of normal social life, when he can’t turn to anybody for help or advise, he has time to think about his life and behaviour. If he is later reformed (according to the assessment of prison board), then he should be sentenced to community service and supervision. But if he can’t understand the cruelty of his behaviour, he faces life imprisonment. I don’t like to use probation and suspended sentences, as there is a fear that an offender may always turn to a slippery slope.
Nevertheless, I usually turn to case study while sentencing this or that person, since I understand the importance of my duty to decide the destinies of people.
Нелли Ганжела, юридический факультет
criminality inborn or acquired?
my opinion it is a very complicated problem because criminality is a complex
notion. I think the majority of criminals are shaped by environmental factors.
It does not mean, however, that a person becomes a criminal because of the
influence of poverty. To my mind such environmental factors as the impact of
family, friends, school and social rank of a person do not matter. I know many
cases when a rich man became a criminal. I agree there are some people who have
criminal proclivities but these are rare cases. If children have alcoholic or
drug-abusing parents and they see a lot of violence around — there is a very
big opportunity that they will become criminals.
For example, my parents think that there were much less
criminals in the USSR because there was powerful ideology claiming that everyone
should study, work, have a good family. People were more patriotic, teenagers
had particular aims in life, they wanted to become useful members of society.
Being good was a good taste.
These days, the situation is different and moral values are
‘denominated’. That is why in order to prevent crime each person should take
proper care of his children and his family. If all members of our society do so,
this world will become better.
Аревик Айрапетян, юридический факультет
However hard people try, laws are always insufficient.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said «Life and state are far from being perfect.» Why are laws always insufficient? Why can’t we make laws, which will satisfy our demands? It is a very old and interesting question. It is closely connected with the issues of the of the origins of law in general.
Long long ago our ancestors lived according to their customs and conventions, and later according to the law of God. Then, why was there a necessity for inventing some comprehensive law for society, some written law? Today we can investigate the reasons for this phenomenon.
Life is changing constantly. Laws, which were in effect, for example, in Soviet times, can’t be in force these days because life has progressed greatly, our attitudes towards each other have changed and we look at things in a different way.
Of course, one can mention as an instance the USA or some other countries that have once adopted their national constitutions, which are still the supreme law in these countries. And in Russia we have changed 6 constitutional laws for the last 100 years. «Why?» — this question is quite in order. The answer is very simple. Just compare the events of American and Russian history for the last 100 years and you’ll understand the difference. Besides, this is a matter of legal theory as the two countries are guided by different legal principles.
So, as long as life is changing, law will be changing too, and it will always be insufficient. And to my mind it is very good! It’s better to change our life and law for the better, than to stand at one point, however good it may be.
Чиликов Егор, юридический факультет
Judge not, lest ye be judged.
The wisdom of the Bible is often misunderstood, the text is often misread. As many other statements, this one has fallen the victim of human ignorance and shallowness.
What does it mean? ‘Judge not, or God shall Judge you?’ ‘Judge not, or terrible justice shall be unleashed upon you?’ At first, I hesitated to accept one of the points of view that were offered to me. But later, I understood… To make it clear, let me give you an apologue.
Once upon a time, there lived a man of honor and virtue. He was a pious and righteous person, ascetic and devoted to God. But there was one flaw… He used to judge… He judged all humanity most harshly, accusing men of suffocating in their lust to please their bodies, drowning in their sins, forgetting about the salvation of their souls and development of their morale. He judged… He treated them as inferiors, he set himself above them on a pedestal of self-righteous and selfish blindness. He did not think of them as humans. He treated them as animals, or servants of the Devil. He considered himself to be Chosen by God to save this world from corruption and decay of morale…
He became an outcast. No one would speak to him; no one would offer a helping hand to him. Living in seclusion, far from civilization, he saw the light …. God granted him the wisdom and the truth became evident to him. And what he saw was unpleasant: Pointing at others’ weaknesses, he failed to notice his own faults. Self-righteousness, foolish pride, diminishing others’ achievements — that is what he saw. But he continued to judge… Yet, along with the others, he began to judge himself as well…
So the one who judged finally had justice meted upon him. But not from above, he took it from inside his soul…
Миловидов Олег, юридический факультет
However hard people try, laws are always insufficient.
When people first began to live in groups they had few rules or laws, but they soon realized that each individual had to pay attention to the needs and the welfare of his neighbors in order to make life not only tolerable, but pleasant for the greatest number of people. It was considered necessary for each person to recognize everyone else’s rights to life and the ownership of property. Otherwise society could not function in peace. Laws were passed to establish the order in community and they also had to protect the moral values, which were developing among people for many centuries. However in ancient times for example the laws which specified the rights of slaveholder could hardly comply with the slaves’ notions of justice. Another example of unfairness of laws is the condition of Russian peasants during the period of serfdom.
In modern societies law is applied to control the behavior of their members. Law guarantees and protects the rights of all people, who ought to respect and obey the norms, adopted by the legislature.
But as many scientific investigations show, lots of people do not respect
law. They follow its norms just because of the fear of punishment. People pay for the tickets in transport just to avoid being fined. Very often motor-car drivers don’t lose any opportunity to exceed the speed on the road, when it is not allowed, if they are sure, that there is no policeman near. A lot of people don’t have any legal culture. The reason is that we have imperfect laws. This trouble can lead to the increase of offences and crimes.
One more fact which shows the insufficiency of laws is that some rights,
proclaimed in important official documents, are hardly realized in practice. Many young men have lots of trouble when they try to escape the service in the army and want to choose some alternative service.
It is a matter of fact that to provide laws which will help its people to live safely and as comfortably as possible is a Homeric task. But in my opinion a legislature should revise laws, find their defects and try to work out some new perspectives for establishment more perfect and fair laws.
Кулямина Юля, юридический факультет
Laws are not for ordinary people, they are for lawyers
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
I consider it a great honour to address you
today. And I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak that you have
bestowed on me.
I would like to start my speech with a story
that a friend of mine told me yesterday.
An indignant lawyer reproaches the
judge: «Last time you charged my client with
a theft committed in broad daylight. This time you are bringing charges
for the artful robbery committed at night. Can you please tell me now, when
exactly my client ought to steal?!!!
The joke suggests that people like this thief
should study laws just to know when they should rob other people and when
they should not.
You know that there wasn’t any law in the primitive
society. And, of course, all of you know, that one of the first written codes
of law appeared in Babylonia. Does anybody here know what laws I am talking
about? Yeah, you are right. It’s the Code of Hammurabi. All of us
have heard a lot about it. But have you ever heard about a jurist or a lawyer
in Babylonia? The answer is «No». That is why I can assert that law was addressed
to every member of Babylonian community: to the rich and to the poor; to
government officials, priests, and soldiers, merchants, labourers and artisans.
Laws aren’t made only for lawyers. They have
always been meant for all of us. If it were not so, you wouldn’t know
your rights — what you can and what you can t do. You would be absolutely
helpless. And lawyers would be the most powerful and rich people (by the
way, this is not very bad, I think). There would appear a necessity of putting
at least one policeman at every street corner to prevent people from breaking
the law. In fact, every man would become a potential offender.
Let’s make a speculative assumption: A respectable
man in a black suit with a black case comes to you and says that the government
and the state need the house you live in. Then he shows you some papers,
says that according to the law you must leave your house at once. And
then goes to your kitchen and starts having tea while waiting for you
to go away. And you just pack your things, say Goodbye to your house and
leave. Then, standing in the street you begin to realize, that you haven
t got a home any more and you have got no place to live in. And you’ll have
to go your Old Folks, and, perhaps, to live with them for another couple
of years, before you earn enough money to buy yourself a new flat.
But if you were acquainted with the law, at
least with the Constitution (the most important of all our laws), you
would know, that according to the article #35 of the Constitution, if the
state needs your house and wants you to leave it, you ought to do so,
but the state must present you a new house, equal in cost to that of yours.
And if you knew that, you wouldn’t feel desperate and homeless for a single
moment, and, of course, you wouldn’t t have to live with your parents for
another couple of years.
I can give you many more examples, but all
of them prove the same idea. That is why I can surely say, that laws aren’t
made only for lawyers, they are made for ordinary people as well. And
if you want to be a literate person, if you want to know your rights and
duties, if you don t want such nasty things to happen to you, you should
study the Law, at least you should know the Constitution.
Don t let the government fool you, be smart!
Thank you for your attention!
Роман Шарапов, юридический факультет
Laws are not for ordinary people, they are for lawyers
| Judge: You’ve been found guilty of
not stopping at the red traffic light when you should’ve done. What do
you have to say for yourself?
The defendant: Your Honour! I alawys stop at green traffic
lights when I don’t have to…
This joke shows us that people do not always
know their rights and obligations. There are some widely known rules which
are followed by everyone — just for self-protection. For example, what
would people do, unless there are some rules of the road?
But there are other very important rules and
laws, closely connected with our everyday life. Unfortunately almost
none of us knows them well. The knowledge of law is very important in every
society, for every human being. If you know your rights well, you could
demand that others should respect and observe them. In the absence of law
you could only rely upon the law of the jungle.
As for me, I don’t agree with the idea that
laws are not for ordinary people, but for lawyers. I know that there are
some special legal terms, which are unknown to the majority of the people.
But ordinary people should try to improve their general knowledge of law.
They should know their rights listed in the Constitution. It goes without
saying that average citizens don’t have to learn and understand all kinds
of rules and laws. Therefore it is the job of a lawyer to interpret complex
legal theory and precedents and «translate» them into layman’s terms.
That is why lay people have to consult lawyers in order to get legal advice.
I hope that in the future more and more ordinary
people will know their rights better. This is not an easy thing to do,
but I believe that very soon familiarity with law will allow people to
live safely and comfortably and enjoy their legal rights.
Елена Гусакова, юридический факультет
Laws are not for ordinary people, they are for lawyers
To my mind, this point of view is partially
correct. First and foremost, law is considered to regulate the life of
ordinary people. On the other hand, legal experts are employed to help
their clients struggle through the jungle of legal technicalities. Their
efforts are devoted to this primary aim. Still, most lawyers use their brilliant
skills and knowledge not only for the benefit of their clients but for their
Here’s a joke on the subject — just to back
up the theory:
A client comes to take a famous lawyer’s
«Could you tell me how much you charge for your legal advice?»
«Of course», the lawyer replies, «I charge $200 to answer
«Isn’t it too much?»
«It depends» the lawyer says, «And what’s your third question?»
In any case, though laws are made for ordinary
people, lawyers are the only people capable of making sense of all the
tricky rules and regulations. In modern society lawyers are considered
to be the cornerstone of the sophisticated legal system. That’s one of the
reasons why they demand huge payments for their work.
However it’s obvious that lawyers do the job,
which is essential for the society we live in.
Михаил Мурадов, юридический факультет
LAWS ARE NOT FOR ORDINARY PEOPLE — THEY ARE FOR LAWYERS
Once upon a time, the famous English philosopher
and lawyer Jeremiah Bentham said, «If there weren’t any laws, all the
lawyers would die out from starvation». This statement surely has a grain
of truth since throughout history laws have often been created in the form
incomprehensible for ordinary people. The first written sets of laws were
very concrete, casual, and dealt with particular cases. For example: «If
a man has bitten off another man’s finger, the bitten man shall bite off
the first man’s finger too». That’s why those ancient laws were far clearer
for ordinary people than modern ones. But in time, the legal language — legalese
— had changed a lot, and it has become rather difficult for lay people to
understand what all those laws really mean.
Ordinary people have always understood the
simple biblical rules of behavior — thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not
steal, thou shalt not sin, and so on — but sometimes they’re just unable
to make sense of the meaning of the words written in a particular law.
And, therefore, these poor ordinary people need lawyers because only a lawyer
can understand the law created by another lawyer.
The Roman lawyers used to say, «Law is what
we explain», and they weren’t far from the truth. In the modern society,
lots of laws and law codes are written in such a mysterious language that
it’s absolutely clear — these laws are not for ordinary people. And a
lawyer is to explain, clarify all these frightening legal terms, «translate»
them into our everyday language. That’s also one of the ways a lawyer
earns his money — by giving legal advice to ordinary people, and thus lawyers
are sometimes believed to have made laws more complicated just in order
to make more money.
However, nowadays there seems to be a trend
to make laws more comprehensible, more readable, so that even a housewife
could grasp the meaning of some clauses from the Civil Code. This can
be seen, for example, in some European countries, and it really makes us
believe that laws are going to be made for all people. And we won’t have
to pay for legal aid in order to mitigate the penalty for killing our rowdy
There is some eternal law. It is good for all times and places.
I quite agree with the statement given above
but I would like to interpret my idea by contraries and to back my opinion
with the following example:
Let’s imagine a dreadful situation: a builder
accidentally drops a brick which kills the only son of his employer. What
punishment should the negligent builder receive? These days it might be
considered just an accident and the builder will be punished but not very
strictly. And what would happen if the same accident took place long ago,
for example, in ancient Babylon?
Now when we are familiar with the laws of ancient
world we can find them amusing or astonishing but we don’t take them too
seriously. It is not always easy for us to understand the laws laid down centuries
ago. In ancient Babylon law was based on the cruel principle of revenge:
«an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth». On the one hand it seems logical
if the punishment fits the crime. On the other hand this principle meant
that if the builder (our luckless builder) killed the son of his employer,
his own son had to be killed. Cruel? Unfair? Not for the times of Hammurabi’s
rule! The approach was suitable for that particular society. But is it
acceptable for the contemporary society? Of course NOT! Why? Because our
life has changed greatly, people have changed, everything has changed.
And the law of the talion is not an eternal law. It doesn’t fit the present
situation. The human society is constantly developing and in the course of
this development it requires new laws and regulations which sometimes totally
replace the old ones.
So most laws have changed. Nevertheless there
is some law that we can still call eternal. This law is derived from the
moral values. It is rather a way of thinking, a mentality than a law
For example, since the times immemorial there
has been the law which prescribes the younger generation to respect their
parents. Throughout the history different legal codes have included specific
articles on the subject. Nowadays we don’t have such articles either in
our Constitution or in other legal documents. But still we do respect our
parents, our elders. Why? Because it’s in the human nature. We are guided
by the moral standards. And if these don’t constitute the eternal law,
could you please tell me what does!!
To sum it up I’d like to say that though our
life has changed a lot since ancient times we still have moral values,
moral laws and most of these laws are good for all times and all places.
Don’t forger it and … obey these laws.
Екатерина Назарова, юридический факультет
Laws Haven’t Changed Since Primeval Times
When human beings first began to live in large
and settled groups they had few rules or laws. Quite soon they realized
that each individual had to pay attention to the needs and welfare of his
neighbours in order to make life not only tolerable but safe for the greatest
number of people. Thus, certain rules of behaviour were set up to enable
people to live in any kind of satisfactory state. These regulations were
ancestral to contemporary laws.
One of the earliest best known legal codes
was that of Hammurabi, the king of Babylon, who lived in about 1800 BC.
Of course it would be difficult to compare his laws to modern ones. Nowadays
many things such as the instruments of punishment or the degree of offender’s
responsibility are different from those of the primeval times. What’s
more, throughout the history the very approaches to the concepts of crime
and criminality have changed.
For example, not so long ago euthanasia (assisted
suicide) was made legal in the Netherlands. Now it is the only country
where «painless killing» of those people who are terminally ill or very
old in order to stop them suffering is no longer a crime.
Undoubtedly legislation is in the process of
permanent change. However, its function remains the same — it is designed
to make people responsible for their deeds.
Дарья Захарова, юридический факультет
Laws Haven’t Changed Since Primeval Times
In the courtroom:
Judge: Now, Mrs. Johnson, how was your first marriage terminated?
Mrs. Johnson: By death.
Judge: And by whose death was it terminated?
Jokes about courts, lawyers and criminals have
always existed in our society. But justice and courts appeared much earlier
than jokes on the subject. Unfortunately our world is far from being perfect
and since the very beginning of human society crimes and criminals have also
existed. Even our remote ancestors had to administer justice. Of course early
laws might be very unrefined and naive but they reflected the human values
which are valued these days too and will be valued until the last man dies.
Thousands of years ago when a man was at a very primitive stage, crimes against
person such as murder and crimes against property, such as theft were not
approved. Punishments at that time were different from those we have nowadays,
but here is an admitted fact: penalties for bad deeds existed in human life
even in those dark ages. And nobody can question the need for them.
Justice is a cornerstone of a civilised society
and one of the greatest inventions of human mind. Without law life is
impossible. I just can’t imagine the situation when a hooligan has stolen
a handbag from a woman and people around greet him in the following way:
«Good boy! Bravo! Well done! How clever of you! We hope it will finish as
good as it has begun!»
Thus laws are an integral part of our life.
Of course a lot of water has gone under the bridge since primeval times
but pure and simple rules of good behaviour will never expire. It has always
been considered bad to kill, steal, inflict bodily harm or cause damage
Maybe many centuries ago people lived by the
law of the jungle but that was the very beginning of our modern legal
system which is still developing day after day. Which is a good idea, as
progress is always better than stagnation. I hope that at one point laws
will become really perfect and they will be worthy of real civilised society.
Екатерина Родыч, юридический факультет
ОДНОАКТНУЮ ПЬЕСУ от Дмитрия Мальцева
… И ПОЧТИ ФИЛОСОФСКИЙ ТРАКТАТ от Антона
2001-2002 УЧЕБНЫЙ ГОД:
However hard people try, laws are always insufficient
|Once a captain asked one of his soldiers:
– Private Johns, what’s your favourite book?
– The thin book, was the answer
From my point of view this attitude towards
books has some similar features with the attitude of the Russian people
to the law. We want to use as few laws as possible and we obey laws only
if the danger of punishment is obvious. The main reason of such behaviour
is not that we have imperfect laws. Our general trouble is the absence of
the good guidelines for law-making.
From the times of Jaroslav-the-Wise a lot of
lawgivers and authorities have been trying to lay down different laws and
codes. But however hard they tried, in modern Russia the crime rate is extremely
high. I think that one of the reasons of such situation is the absence of
respect to the law, or rather appreciation.
We begin with violating traffic rules, and
later we might commit more serious offences or even crimes.
Last year when some friends of mine and I visited
Finland, a very funny incident occurred. We were in a great hurry and so
we intended to cross the road when the red traffic light was on. There were
no cars on the road and we moved on. Just in the middle of the road I looked
back and saw people staring at us with great astonishment if not with fear.
They had probably never seen anyone crossing the road at the red light. You
see, it’s a high level of “legal culture”. No wonder the level of road accidents
as well as the crime rate is very low there.
To sum up, I’d like to say that only proper
observance of laws would make them work to our credit.
Николай Курмашев, юридический факультет
Laws Haven’t Changed Since Primeval Times
“A creaking door hangs long on its hinges”
— says an old English proverb. From my point of view, we can say quite
the same about laws, because they haven’t сhanged since primeval times.
Even in pre-historic time people in tribes
had different norms and rules of behavior. For example, a member of a
community was punished if he had done harm to another member of the same
community, if he had stolen something or if he had failed to perform his
duties. Nowadays the essence of such regulations of social life is absolutely
the same. Today people are responsible for all their deeds according to
This statement is easy to illustrate. In primeval
time if a man murdered another man from his tribe he had to pay а sort
of compensation, for example three sheep. And in modern law code of Chechnya
we can read that if somebody kills another man, he has to pay a compensation
of one hundred cows.
Therefore laws haven’t changed since prehistoric
times and in all ages their function has been to regulate the life of
people in society.
Laws Haven’t Changed Since Primeval Times
When the world was at a very primitive stage,
people did not realize the importance and the necessity of law. People
tried to follow some religious norms of behaviour. But soon they realised
that such rules were insufficient because they did not suite all the situations
and were not very fair.
There was a need to invent some new modes of
regulating human relations. Many kings managed to create their own law codes
and thus made it easier for themselves to rule their countries and their
people. But all of them had different points of view on what was right and
what was wrong, so laws were to be changed all the time.
Besides the society itself is developing bringing
the need for new changes in legislation. That is why nowadays it is impossible
to live under some primeval laws. For example, today individuals and whole
industries can be sued and tried in courts for violating the bans on
environment pollution. Certainly the laws, which are applicable to those
cases, are ecological laws and statutes, that did not exist before at
Consequently we can see that laws have changed
since primeval times, though the main idea of justice has remained.
Лера Храмовских, юридический факультет
Laws are not made for ordinary people, they are made for lawyers
I don’t agree with this statement. In my opinion
laws are made for ordinary people as well. And I will try to prove my
point of view.
Here is a joke about lawyers.
— What is the difference between a lawyer and
— A vampire? — A vampire only sucks blood at
This joke reflects the general attitude of
ordinary people towards nasty blood-sucking lawyers. It is absolutely
true, that the work lawyers do is very important and demanding of both
intellect and time. The legal business is really complicated and difficult
to understand. That’s why some people have to consult lawyers now and then
in order to get a piece of advice or just help. But the trouble is that
lawyers usually demand huge payments for their work. People who are well-off
can pay big lawyers’ bills. But there are always poor and very poor people
who cannot afford it. Therefore, the more ordinary people know about their
rights, about law, the better.
Юлия Эктова, юридический факультет, 2001-02
Laws haven’t changed since primeval times.
I don’t agree with this view. To my mind, if we tried to tell somebody that we love them just with the help of body language it would be very funny. And if the decisions in the US Congress had been made through strikes and wars, not through deliberation and agreement, it would have been very stupid too.
For a very long time the human being has been developing. People need to be better and cleverer. I think it is so, because it’s not right to act like animals in the jungle. Yes, some scientists think, that we descend from animals, but we are cleverer and better. At the same time, it is very important, that a lot of people believe in God, they claim that they descend from Adam and Eve, and they need to be better, because of their human nature. With time people have been changing, they have become civilized, so laws have been changing too. Laws have become more important and complete.
Nowadays people can solve their problems with the help of laws, because laws provide for our safe life. That’s why men are more sure of their lives and the lives of their relatives. The jungle world is only for animals these days.
I’m proud of my life in the modern civilized world, where I can feel stronger, because there are laws, which help me in solving different problems. The world is changing, the problems and possibilities are changing, that’ why laws are changing too.
Шевердина Ира, факультет мировой политики МГУ
Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert in a scene from the 1931 film M, in which he plays a child murderer tortured by his compulsion to kill © Everett/Rex Features
The Anatomy of Violence: The biological roots of crime
by Adrian Raine (Allen Lane, £25)
Monsters have always fascinated us. As soon as we outgrow the spine-tingling dragons and ogres of fairytales we turn our rapt attention to the celebrity monsters of real life: Jack the Ripper, the Unabomber, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Adam Lanza. We know their names, don’t we? Behind the voyeurism that tempts even the most “mature” minds there lurks a nagging suspicion that there might be something deeply wrong in our righteous reaction to wrongdoers. Who are we to condemn them? If they’ve got a screw loose, shouldn’t they get treatment instead of punishment? And aren’t we just lucky not to have the same urges that drive them?
Then there is the question of how to explain the violent actions of human beings. Do our genes make us do it? Does an abusive childhood and poverty make us do it? Does a culture that glorifies violence make us do it? Whatever long-range effects can be attributed to these background conditions, when push comes to shove, our brains make us do it. All the causes have to be squeezed through the bottleneck of our nervous systems one way or another and aren’t we learning from the triumphant march of neuroscience that we don’t have the minds we thought we did? Tom Wolfe, as always an astute commentator on the current scene, has observed: “The conclusion people out beyond the laboratory walls are drawing is: ‘The fix is in. We’re all hard-wired’ and ‘Don’t blame me; I’m wired wrong.’” And the comic strip Dilbert, another sensitive barometer, more recently opined: “Free will is an illusion. Humans are nothing but moist robots. Just relax and let it happen.”
Are they right? Will there be nothing left of our freedom and dignity, our responsibility, our autonomy once neuroscience explains the networks of causation inside our brains? When autopsies reveal clear signs of damage in the brains of monsters, what does that portend for the rest of us moist robots? And does this mean our vaunted edifice of law and order is no more defensible than witch trials and exorcisms?
It is hard to think calmly about violence, and nobody knows that better than Adrian Raine, a distinguished neuroscientist who has devoted his career to uncovering the causes of human violence. He recognises that these are not just scientific questions, like uncovering the causal mechanisms of earthquakes, but also some of the most important ethical questions facing society. And he is all too familiar with the forces that distort thinking by laypeople and scientists alike, having worked into a headwind of scepticism and opposition for decades. Many different sorts of people do not want science poking around their most cherished verities. Consider this unholy alliance of opponents: religious conservatives who see a threat to their Abrahamic vision of retributive justice, liberal legal scholars and philosophers who fear that neurobabble and psychobabble will unweave the fabric of responsibility on which civilisation depends; postmodernists who preach that the concept of scientific evidence is a quaint relic of more innocent times; whole schools of so-called social science whose ideologies are threatened by real science encroaching on their turf. And then there are the journalists, salivating for eye-catching headline opportunities.
The message of this important book is an affirmation of what ought to be obvious but is all too often obscured by ideological smokescreens, together with an articulation of what follows from this undeniable truth: every act we ever perform, whether we are sane, normal citizens or serial killers, is the physical effect of a complex combination of genetic, developmental, and experiential factors that make us who and what we are at the moment of action. None of us is miraculously isolated from these causal factors—nor should we want to be—but some of us are better “wired” than others. Some of us are indeed “wired wrong” in ways that science can uncover and confirm, and in some instances fix. The good news, which Raine is intent on conveying to us, is that “biology is not destiny.” While it is true that there really are genetic biases for criminality and violence, it is also true that these genetic biases are not dictatorial and immutable; because our characters are the product of many complex factors, the undesirable tendencies inherent in some of our genes can in principle be neutralised by intervening in the non-genetic components.
Looking at the emerging details of the causal pathways shows how this can be done. A “well-wired” brain must be balanced, and it’s actually a rather delicate balance, maintained by cascades of neuromodulators and neurotransmitters, each of which is regulated by others, focusing attention, damping urges, stoking desires, calming and stimulating in turn. It can seem a wonder that anybody can get through the day without going berserk, and yet most of us maintain a quite robust and reliable degree of self-control, responding appropriately to setbacks and risks, and not even tempted by opportunities to commit crimes that are literally unthinkable—by us.
The ideal of the well-governed mind has been articulated by thinkers since Plato, and we’re now learning how the internal economy and politics of the brain achieve this salutary state—and how we can often intervene to restore it when a brain goes bad. It is quite easy to see how a small genetic difference (an allele, a mutant form of a normal gene) can put a brain into imbalance, much the way alcohol or drugs can, by flooding the brain with too much of one neuromodulator or starving it of one that puts on the brakes. Once an imbalance is discovered and understood, the road to treatment can be explored, and it might involve directly supplying the lacking chemical, or adjusting the environmental conditions that normally provoke its production, or both. Sometimes the root cause of the imbalance is an anatomical defect in the brain—a stunted or overdeveloped region. This is harder to fix but there are work-arounds. The brain is a spectacularly versatile and opportunistic finder of new pathways if given half a chance. But some brains, to be sure, are beyond repair now, and probably forever.
Now what should we do about all this? Would it be best to replace our system of law and punishment with a treatment model in which people are no more held responsible for their crimes than they are for their cancers or heart attacks? Some neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers have been beating the drum for this revolutionary vision and one might think Raine would be at the head of the parade, but he has been working on these issues, up close, for longer than most of them, and takes a more circumspect approach. There are different kinds of ways that brains get people into trouble, and they require different approaches. There are “hot-blooded” criminals and “cold-blooded” criminals, for instance, and the physiological differences between them are even more salient than blood temperatures would be. He tentatively presents more nuanced prescriptions.
Tradition (or better, ancient myth) has it that you have free will only if your decisions are not caused or determined by any antecedent conditions. That variety of free will is as illusory as poltergeists, but we don’t want to replace one profoundly unscientific ideology with another oversimplified “scientific” or “medical” ideology, according to which nobody is ever responsible for what they do because everybody’s decisions have a cause. We need to understand, in detail, how people’s decisions are caused if we want to identify those who are “wired wrong.” In our desire to base our policies on facts, established by scientific research, we must be patient and scrupulous, and not jump to conclusions inspired by a few anecdotes or single studies.
One of the strengths of the book is Raine’s careful presentation and explanation of the evidence that supports his striking claims. He knows that most lay people and not a few scientists routinely misinterpret statistical evidence, so he is careful to provide perspective. Lower resting heart rate in youngsters has a surprisingly strong correlation with “delinquent, criminal and violent behaviour” in adults. How strong? Raine cites a study by David Farrington of Cambridge University which claims that “low heart rate was even more strongly related to measures of violence than having a criminal parent—one of the best social predictors of later crime.” If we look at resting heart rate when given a “stressor” (a demanding task, such as counting backwards from 100 by 7), low heart rate is a predictor “as strong as the ability of mammograms to detect breast cancer.” Meta-analyses (critical surveys reviewing the studies in an area) confirm the relationship, showing that it is a better predictor than any other that has been found to date, and at least one meta-analysis shows that prescribing stimulants to raise heart rate in youngsters diminishes later antisocial behaviour.
Raine goes out of his way to forestall misinterpretation, but not always far enough. One study recounted at some length compared thousands of Danish babies over 18 years and divided them into four groups: those with birth complications, those who had been rejected by their mothers, those with neither of those early misfortunes, and those with both. “The first three groups did not differ significantly from each other, with rates of violence at about 3 per cent. It was the fourth biosocial group—the one with both the biological and the social hits—that had the highest rates of violence. This group had three times the average of the other three groups—9 per cent of them became violent offenders.” Three times! Yes, but notice: even in that group, nine out of ten babies burdened with both birth complications and maternal rejection did not exhibit any violence in young adulthood. (Raine’s main claim is secure: factors can multiply the risks, even if they don’t always.) Similarly, he points out that a female schizophrenic is 22 times more likely to kill than a nonschizophrenic female, but still, as he observes, the vast majority of schizophrenic females are not killers.
This pattern of vast normality (most people are nonviolent) in spite of significant predictors at the margins is ubiquitous in the research on violence but tends to be overlooked, distorting public imagination. Only a rather small minority of adults exhibit any signs of pathology or even deficiency, and a small proportion of those turn out to be criminals. Just as important, not all criminals show signs of brain defect.
In an unusual lapse, Raine indulges in a serious overstatement: “Criminals do have broken brains, brains that are physically different from those of the rest of us.” All of them? No, he hasn’t come close to establishing that—or even trying to establish that. This is important, because there is a tendency in discussions of law and punishment to surmise that anybody who isn’t actually deterred by the risk of punishment on some occasion must have some sort of broken brain; they must be undeterrable. This is a mistake. The reliability of self-control on which the law depends, for instance, is not perfect reliability—thank goodness, since none of us could meet that standard. What Raine is talking about, as he occasionally makes explicit, is recidivist criminals, those who demonstrate time and again that they are not deterred by the threat of punishment.
And now we face the fundamental quandary that besets any project to reform our system of punishment with measures that take proper account of incapacities while protecting civil liberties. You can’t identify recidivist criminals until after they have committed numerous crimes. Nobody is a likely recidivist in advance of committing a crime. That is to say, even the best predictors so far uncovered don’t raise the probabilities above a coin flip. Raine would like to intervene early, to prevent violence, instead of just responding after violence has occurred: “We can wait until the milk is already spilled and we have to deal with the adult recidivistic offender who is so very hard to change,” or we can follow his advice and intervene as early as possible, while brains are young and labile. This makes fine sense as long as the interventions are not freedom-limiting, or stigmatising. Let’s eliminate lead from the environment as fast as we can, since it has a clearly demonstrated harmful effect on young brains, and let’s also respond swiftly and strongly to curb child abuse and poverty, clearly marked as predictors of later violence. But what are we to do about those interventions that would require identifying children with the relevant brain conditions and subjecting them (involuntarily) to treatments that might well save them from a life of lawbreaking and prison? “At what cost civil liberties?” Raine asks. But he attempts only half the answer.
He makes sure we know the likely benefits by describing a future, in lively detail, of just such a project. He calls it the LOMBROSO programme, an acronym for Legal Offensive on Murder: Brain Research Operations for the Screening of Offenders, but more pointedly he has named it after Cesare Lombroso, the 19th-century phrenologist and criminologist who first proposed that “criminal brains” could be identified. It is courageous—or maybe just rash—of Raine to name his pet project after a figure whom textbooks typically revile, but there is a method to be discerned here and it should be taken seriously. Knowing that his readers will be on high alert, ready to pounce on any telltale symptom of political incorrectness, he chooses to brandish his challenges, apparently confirming the worst fears of his readers. Then, that settled, he gets them to think clearly about what really might be good or bad about one policy or another. It works—at least most of the time. He uses this strategy in both directions, providing a ringing defence of retributive punishment—easing the anxiety of retributivists and showing that he really understands where they are coming from—before calmly dismantling it, showing where the weaknesses lie.
Raine wants us to think about a disturbing topic, and has chosen—wisely, I think—to live dangerously; to confront the reader with a remorseless clinical objectivity about the details of unspeakable atrocities, with occasionally over-casual formulations that seem designed to provoke outrage from those who think such taboo topics should be handled with the utmost decorum and gravity. He clearly enjoys the role of museum-guide in the macabre chamber of horrors where the exhibits are real-life cannibals, heartless psychopaths, child killers in both senses of that ambiguous phrase, and other walking time-bombs. He uses our relish for such fare to propel the reader through the patient explanation of the methods of brain scanning, the recitation of statistics and the meta-analyses. It is Raine who arranged to scan the brains of 41 murderers on death row, with significant and disturbing results. Murderers from “good homes,” for instance, showed significantly reduced frontal lobe activity compared with murderers who had deprived upbringings. Should we draw the conclusion that children from good homes grow up to be murderers only if they have broken brains? No. It could be that murderers with good brains from good homes don’t get caught. It’s complicated.
An even more audacious study, published in 2000, was one he conducted with “free range,” “successful” psychopaths—never arrested for any crime, never before identified in the wild. How on earth did he find them? An educated hunch suggested that a significant proportion of male temp workers would be psychopaths, so he got a grant that permitted him to hire dozens of them in the Los Angeles area. Their job: to fill out questionnaires and in some instances have their brains scanned, and then participate in interviews. Sure enough, 21 men (and no women) qualified as “psycopaths” on the standard test used in prisons. Their brains were scanned and they showed the telltale prefrontal deficiency in grey matter as well as other well-established markers of psychopathy. The interviews were the most striking aspect of the study. None of the 21 had criminal records, but reassured by the certificate of confidentiality Raine secured for the experiment (a standard provision where subjects could be at risk otherwise), they readily provided detailed accounts of the crimes they had committed, including armed robbery, rape and even murder. Raine thinks there is scant chance that they were making any of this up, and he has perhaps more experience than any other researcher in talking with violent criminals. “Perhaps for the first time in their lives, they could talk about their wrongdoings at length with a professional in full confidence and without risk—even getting into the nitty-gritty of rape and homicide.”
He eventually briefly confronts the fear that, once on the slippery slope he has embarked on, scientific research into the links between our brains and our tendency towards violence will bring about the demise of moral responsibility altogether. He calls the fear a “cop-out,” arguing that “there is firm ground underfoot and ample opportunities up and down that slope to choose where to stand—if we have the courage to do so.” But that is not enough, because courage isn’t in short supply; what we need are good reasons, and he doesn’t provide so much as a hint as to what the grounds will be for taking a stand in one place rather than another.
We need a clear account of what moral responsibility requires and although Raine takes a few stabs at the free will issues, he wisely retreats. (If only the other neuroscientists confronting this tangled philosophical mess were as circumspect!) This is not his area of expertise, so he leaves the issue unresolved. The main obstacle to his understanding, I submit, is his failure to discern the difference between a retributive justification of punishment (which he is right to dismiss) and a consequentialist justification of punishment. Some thinkers—even some philosophers—make the mistake of equating punishment with retribution: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, with no concern for the consequences. The retributivists say “we should punish wrongdoers simply because they deserve to suffer, even if punishment doesn’t deter them or others.” The consequentialist says that the institution of punishment has a moral justification in virtue of its fostering respect for the law. We don’t just try to “fix” wrongdoers; we punish them, whether or not this improves them, in order to maintain the rule of law. (Handing out a red card in football may have the effect of reforming the offending player, but that is not the consequence that matters; the game is made better if everybody plays by the rules.) Such a consequentialist justification of punishment can define a defensible class of responsible citizens, who, if they transgress, are eligible for punishment, not treatment, because they are, in general, reliably deterrable. But demonstrating this to the satisfaction of the corps of philosophers and legal scholars wrestling with the issue is a job for another book by another author.
The Anatomy of Violence is a most valuable contribution to the current debates on these topics. Raine provides the details, and the evidential backing, for a host of distinctions that need to be drawn by those of us intent on reforming our obscenely unjust system of criminal justice. His ultimate reticence on the big ethical and legal questions is itself not an abdication but a measure of his own sense of responsibility: he tells us about what he can responsibly vouch for, and invites us to finish the story using our own expertise. That is perhaps the most important task facing philosophy and jurisprudence.