Leiden Law Blog

Space travel and crime reduction

Space travel and crime reduction

A relationship between space travel and crime might not be immediately obvious, but I think it is worth investigating.

Space travel was originally born from a hunger to explore the cosmos, but surprisingly it turned the collective attention back to earth.  The Dutch astronaut André Kuipers, like many other astronauts before him, recently said in a television interview that his view of planet earth from outer space has radically transformed the way he thinks about earth. But the image of earth has not only transformed the minds of astronauts: pictures taken of earth as seen from outer space have also had a great, unprecedented impact – as mythologist Joseph Campbell and others have argued – on the human mind in general. It has made many people aware that we are not living ON earth but are in fact living IN earth, within the thin layer of atmosphere which is part of the planetary system.

This is a revolutionary change in awareness, especially when we realise that according to the Christian world view, whose influence is still very much around us, we considered ourselves to be essentially different from the rest of nature, a unique species that could somehow control life heroically from above – for which God had set the example. It was Darwin who initiated the change in awareness, but through the images of planet earth we rediscovered a deep sense of connectedness, not only to the plant and animal world but also to our fellow human beings. It was not accidental that the spreading of the images coincided with the flower power movement in the 1960s, which  radically questioned top-down authority, and with the birth of the Gaia theory, which considers earth to be a gigantic living organism.

Unfortunately this new awareness has not yet reached everyone. For instance, it does not seem to have reached the minds of most criminals – from burglars to rapists to vandals to cyber criminals to terrorists. Psychologically they often see themselves as not being part of the world around them – society and the larger natural world – at all, but rather they think they are engaged in a heroic one man fight against it, to take as much from it as they can for the their own benefit. The new awareness of basic connectedness indicates that criminal behaviour, which consists largely of a one-sided taking from others, is incomplete behaviour, behaviour which lacks a reciprocal element.
Punishment can be seen as a way to restore the balance, to force the criminal to give something in return. But it has become obvious that it is not enough to limit ourselves to these conventional ways of ’crime-fighting’, to try to control crime top-down through the use of power.

It is clear that something else is needed to try to change criminals back into respectable, law-abiding people.  I am not saying that it will be easy to trigger this new awareness in criminals. But perhaps it could somehow be incorporated in restorative justice programs. It would be even better, however, to spread it as early as possible, in the way we raise our children at home and later through education at school.

So space travel might contribute – indirectly – to the reduction and prevention of crime.

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