Chad Perrin: SOB

15 August 2006

a motivation for the criminal mind

Filed under: Cognition,Liberty — apotheon @ 02:54

Cornering a rat makes it ornery. The same is true of a badger. Anything with teeth, claws, or strong limbs can get downright scary when cornered. The same is true of sharp minds as of sharp claws and teeth.

Rebellious behavior is typically attributed to psychological or neurological dysfunction, such as sociopathy, other antisocial personality disorders, and simple “hormones” in teenagers as pointed out in Paul Graham’s essay Why Nerds are Unpopular (thanks for inspiring me to revisit that essay, Sterling). Being cornered drives one to destructive behavior, because destructive behavior is a component of the primal “fight or flight” response that comes with panic-inducing circumstances. When overmatched without room for flight, it becomes necessary to fight, and such fighting can become desperate indeed.

We, as human beings, have significant capacity for abstract reasoning. Even the least of us (where “us” is any nontrivial percentage of the poplace as demographically identified by capacity for abstract reasoning) engages in abstract reasoning to a greater or lesser degree most of the time, as at least a sort of mental “background noise” that subtly affects our behavior. We can calculate odds relating to more than merely the current moment in time, and relating to circumstances over a longer term — and, in fact, we do so constantly. Our every waking moment is to some degree influenced by the pervasive realization of the difficulty of overcoming the inertia of social tradition.

We do not say the word “bomb” on airplanes, not merely because someone might arrest us, but because of the long-term negative effects of being branded, however briefly, with the term “terrorist” and the quite permanent consequences that might conceivably result. We turn off the lights — at least most of them — when we leave home so that we don’t run up electricity bills that might make it more difficult to afford a vacation next year and, if we leave a light on, we do so on the off-chance it might dissuade a would-be burglar. We think in abstracts all the damned time. As a result of this, we know that in a one-on-“one” fight with the primary authority structures in our society, we each would lose. Period.

This serves as something of a disincentive for fighting back. The untenable state of affairs that arises when this is coupled with being cornered by the unjust opprobrium of society, such as being repeatedly targeted by racial profiling without other “probable cause”, being ticketed for driving “too fast” on an otherwise empty stretch of wide-open road with a too-low speed limit, or being dragged into court for accidentally and unknowingly running afoul of patent or sodomy laws (Did you know that oral sex qualifies legally as sodomy?), leads to some downright absurd behavior. When your avenue of escape is missing, and fighting back is recognized as self-destructive because it has no positive effect on the authority structures that have targeted you, the difference between outwardly destructive behavior and self-destructive behavior is roughly nil.

The extreme of this is suicide, of course. In lesser degree, we have such self-destructive behaviors as drug abuse (not strictly synonymous with drug use which, even recreationally, need not be drug abuse). These self-destructive behaviors have something else in common, aside from the self-destructiveness of them: they provide, directly or indirectly, an avenue of emotional or (to some extent) literal escape. Outward destructive behavior replaces flight when flight is impossible. Self-destructive behavior reclaims flight when even outwardly destructive behavior provides no possibility of bettering one’s circumstances.

The nanny state is functionally equivalent to the police state, both in the superficial trappings and in the manner by which all constituents are made into criminals, with no escape from that fate. The “health and welfare” benevolent face on the nanny state and the “protection and security” benevolent face on the police state both serve to conceal the same underlying, ugly reality: the corner in which we, the half-drowned rats of society, are trapped. We are prodded, often unintentionally, into lashing out against the only target that cannot fight back — ourselves. Psychologically speaking, most “victimless” nanny-law crime is a form of rebellion, manifesting as self-destructive behavior in response to a situation with no practical escape. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


  1. I think you’re spot on, apotheon. I believe that’s why drug abuse (including alcoholism) has been a problem in our society for centuries. But we treat all these issues as if they were individual problems, illnesses, or crimes — when really they’re a symptom of an overbearing society.

    Comment by SterlingCamden — 15 August 2006 @ 09:12

  2. I have a t-shirt somewhere ’round here that I need to find. There’s a mini-rant on the back of it about what happens when society backs the artistic and/or intellectual mind into a corner and eliminates the opportunity for artistic expression, using Littleton, CO as an illustration. Now if I can only remember where I stuck that shirt. . . .

    Comment by apotheon — 15 August 2006 @ 11:34

  3. This reminds me of an interesting book I read quite a while ago called The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris. It addresses the fact that many of the problems humans face such as violence, homosexuality, and anti-social behavior are only manifested in other animals when they are caged. This could equate to what you wrote in that the more restricted our lives become the more we fall into destructive and counter-productive behaviors.

    Comment by medullaoblongata — 15 August 2006 @ 01:44

  4. I might have to take a look at The Human Zoo at some point, then. I tend to guess that “homosexuality” falls under the “counterproductive”, rather than “destructive”, heading in that comparison — or, perhaps more literally, “counter-reproductive”.

    Comment by apotheon — 15 August 2006 @ 02:01

  5. Haha, yes I would say “counter-reproductive” would be a good category although I’m sure some would argue for the “destructive” description as well.

    Comment by medullaoblongata — 15 August 2006 @ 03:14

  6. “Self-destructive behavior reclaims flight when even outwardly destructive behavior provides no possibility of bettering one’s circumstances.”

    I like this statement, it rings so true. I think evolutionary psychology has a lot to say about self-destructive behavior and our compatibility with modern society. We’re analog beasts in a digital world!

    Comment by Do Follow by Aibal — 8 September 2008 @ 06:59

  7. Thanks for the compliment, and for commenting. Welcome to SOB.

    Comment by apotheon — 8 September 2008 @ 08:53

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All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License