Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gypsies, thieves, neighbors and other undesirables

Crime is a strange thing. It gets most of its strangeness from the fact that no one is born a criminal and nothing is inherently criminal. A crime is, by definition, the breaking of a law - whatever that law might be.

One of the stranger aspects of this is that the one surefire way to reduce criminality is to reduce the amount of laws. If the amount of laws is reduced to zero, then there are by definition no criminals.

Strange as it might sound, this will not happen any time soon. But it is a good starting point for understanding crime and criminality. If we can reduce the amount of criminals by simply redacting the relevant laws, then it follows that we can also increase the amount of criminals by enacting new ones. It's the same principle, after all.

This becomes relevant real fast as politicians oftentimes compete in the ancient art of trying to appear the most anti-crime. The one says the penalties should be raised by this much, the other hears this and goes +1. All the while their voters nod their heads and thin - yeah, let's get those criminal bastards.

The thing is that there really is nothing in place to stop the politicians from declaring the most random things criminal. All they have to do is to pass a law, and then - wham, a new group of criminals are now in existence, and all measures that can and should be used against criminals can now be used against these new people.

Who would that be, you ask? Well, it all depends on who happens to be the outgroup of the moment. It could be any group that can be defined by words, but traditionally homosexuals, ethnic minorities, political oppositions and other undesirable elements have been targeted.

The recent usage of the word "terrorist" has made it very possible to treat a large number of people as criminals. The British have their laws against "anti-social behavior", which I suspect many people break by just being.

It could be anyone. It could be you.

This calls for restraint when it comes to what measures can and should be used against criminals. If all it takes for a country to round up all gay people and put them in incarceration is one minor bill passed into law, then gay people - or any other group, for that matter - can't really be said to live in safety. Especially not if the tougher measures go above and beyond sending people to prison.

It has happened before.

Don't make the mistake of imbuing metaphysical properties into the term "criminal". No one is born a criminal, and no eternal unholy stigma is placed upon the souls of those who break the law. They are still people, and as the rhetoric starts to become more heated, it is wise to take a step back and ask the question: is that a decent way to treat people?

It is always about people. No matter how much anyone wants to put the fear of "criminals" into your head.

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