Years ago I read a definition of crime that was an eye-opener for me. Since I found it in a book by Colin Wilson, a writer mainly known for his studies on occult matters, I don’t think it has reached too many experts on criminal law or criminology. But Wilson also wrote extensively on criminal matters, both in fictional and non-fictional form. In his non-fiction book A Criminal History of Mankind he argues that crime is ‘merely a childish tendency to take short-cuts. All crime has the nature of a smash and grab raid; it is an attempt to get something for nothing.’
The map-making ego
Wilson thinks this short-cut mentality must be understood within an evolutionary context: when our ego evolved from 4,000 BC onwards, we acquired (through the development of our left brain) the ability to make maps: ‘The ‘map’ concept explains the problem of crime. A man whose actual acquaintance with the real world is fairly limited looks at his map and imagines he can see a number of short-cuts. Rape is a short-cut to sexual fulfillment. Violence is a short-cut to getting his own way.’ It’s not hard to think of other examples: stealing, or engaging in fraud, is a short-cut to material wealth; terrorism is a short-cut to a better world.
An unrealistic and impatient attitude
Wilson calls the short-cut mentality childish because he thinks it is an unrealistic, immature attitude to life, which we all – criminals and respectable citizens – have to outgrow. But for the moment, this attitude is widespread in the Western world. Physically we can witness it in our road system, which indeed has many short-cuts. It’s thinking that the best way from A to B is the shortest way. And it is fuelled by impatience.
Including the context
Interestingly, by understanding crime as an expression of a short-cut mentality, the stress is not laid so much on crime as an offence, but on crime as a form of human behaviour. By referring to the map-making ego, crime is linked to evolution and psychology; and by referring to short-cuts, crime is linked to its social context. The definition implies that we cannot understand crime without being simultaneously critical towards the context of our urbanized Western lifestyle.
The long and winding road
The right road to all the things we want – the road of justice – is, of course, the long road. This road is usually not a straight road, but more like an unpaved path, with many curves. This road asks its travellers to be very patient and to trust that in the end they will reap what they have sown. Impatient criminals – expressing the urbanized lifestyle in extreme form – think they have no time to travel the long road and are blind to the rewards it will bring. Somehow they seem to believe they can reach the same destination as the person who has chosen to take the long road. But they’re mistaken, as they always end up somewhere else.
The easy and hard road
If the task to (re)discover the value of the long and winding road is difficult for any respectable citizen, it is nearly impossible for criminals. Some might not even know it exists! Evidence shows again and again that most criminals find it very hard to leave their criminal life behind them. After all, it means changing a deep-rooted habit. And this change might be seriously blocked by the widespread conviction that the short-cut is the easy road – when in fact it turns out to be the hard road.