A recurring theme in this column has been concerning how the nature of the configuration of crime changes according to the configuration of living environments. More specifically, we humans start out in more natural traditional living environments with some people being stimulated by all the organic stimuli that surround them to feel a welling up of uncontrollably intense emotion for which abrasive situations in the external world can act as the match to activate it and channel it into violent action. This is what I have called a crime of passion and I use this term in a much broader sense than say a man who kills his woman or her lover, because she or he has been cheating on him. In preliterate societies where abrasive situations out of the ordinary are frequently ascribed to witchcraft on the part of certain individuals, such individuals can be the target of explosive aggression on the part of a supposed victim of witchcraft. This does not mean that visible triggers for these violent outbursts don’t exist. But a revenge for the alienation of affection of one’s lover is only one of a vast list of potential triggers. In traditional societies, people have to protect their honor against many real and supposed grievances. All the organic stimulation in more traditional natural environments tends to give people the feeling that they are being swallowed up by their living environments. A strong sense of self-definition based on a strong sense of honor tends to give people a sense of protection against a feeling of undifferentiation that comes from the sense of being swallowed up by a more natural living environment. Perceived slights from others provide a means of focusing one’s sense of self to protect against undifferentiation. These perceived slights can lead to the acts of aggression against others I call crimes of passion. These perceived slights become a vehicle for channeling all the organic stimuli that well up within a person as a result of the influence of all the organic stimuli to be found in a more natural field of experience.
Over time, as modern technology has displaced and even replaced the natural traditional components found in human living environments, the impact of these organic stimuli in the external world on humans diminishes. The organic stimuli, which are flowing blendable continual stimuli, are replaced by technological stimuli, which consist of defined discrete stimuli for the actual different steps of technological processes and the different machine figures involved as well as infinite vacuum stimuli for the pauses between the discrete steps of technological processes as well as the sharply defined physical spaces that exist between machines and between machine products. Technological living environments have very different configurations of stimuli from the more traditional natural living environments that have vast masses of grounded organic stimuli with imperfectly formed figures that are still grounded in the organic backdrop of the field of experience. In contrast today we have vast vacuum spaces filled with the free floating fully formed figures of modern machines and the products they create. These free floating figures may create clutter in the vacuum spaces they occupy, but they don’t create bonded connections as they would in a more grounded natural environment.
The transformation in the human living environment created by modern technology does not occur overnight. It has occurred over centuries. And this means that the transformation in the nature of crime has also occurred gradually. It’s not like one day criminals were committing crimes of passion and the next day, they were committing crimes of numbness. As a matter of fact, we can say that there were transitional stages leading from one to the other. Diffuse killings led to more focused family feuds, led to more refined individualized duels, many times with what at that time represented modern technology, namely pistols. But there is something very mediated and numbing about walking away from someone and then potentially killing him from a distance with a pistol.
Duels were not truly a crime. After all, they were an institutionalized form of violence during certain periods of history. A true crime of passion would be to sneak up on someone and shoot them, or stab them without giving them a chance to respond. But a duel does represent a focused expression of passionate aggression, a shrinking of the channels of expression of passionate emotion and perhaps of the amount of internalized angry passion on the path of evolution towards the loss of passion in today’s world as a prime factor in the expression of violent behavior. The situation is complicated, because certainly today, particularly in some 3rd World countries, there are, because of strong cultural predilections, still expressions of highly emotive violence. But particularly in much of the industrialized world – United States, Canada, Europe, among others – crimes of numbness have become a dominant form of violent expression.
And as technology becomes more and more pervasive in human living environments, there the expression of crime will continue to evolve. Unless something changes dramatically, there will be a greater and greater frecuency of crimes of numbness. Already people are becoming inured to a steady diet of more shootings appearing in their newspapers and even in their lives.
In today’s world, the crimes of physical injury are increasingly not so much channeling uncontrollable emotion towards someone so that the emotion can be released as much as they are trying to jolt the perpetrator out of his numbness by artificially stimulating emotion that isn’t there, so that the perpetrator can feel alive. And as technology attempts to take on more and more aspects of life so that life can supposedly become more frictionless and generally easier, people are going to sink into deeper and deeper states of numbness. And as the numbness settles in, a greater and greater percentage of these people are going to disrupt society with their crimes of numbness, leading, of course, to more and more tragic results. That is unless people start to consciously limit their participation in consumer technology and start trying to increase their living in primary experience and external world reality. Trying to restore some more traditional natural patches of living environments would also help. It would certainly be a part of a positive start.
© 2019 Laurence Mesirow