Chapter 1: Nature vs Nurture

What shapes us - Nature or Nurture? The debates between the two have gone on since the time of Aristotle. Antonio Rappa argues that there is a need to understand that the meaning of the human condition itself does not suggest an essentialist quality to the phrase, “human condition”. It is for want of a better label, Rappa says, that it is a pity that being human is nothing less than conditional. The dilemma of Locke versus Hobbes resurfaces. This debate stems from the tug-of-war between hereditary and genetic predispositions with that of the environment that ultimately shapes an individual. The debate albeit still ongoing, continues to touch and influence many facets of life including policy especially in the field of education, migration and even security. Furthermore, it will be the parameters of human nature that will ultimately help influence the parameters within which societies function and are governed.

Source: JSTOR, 2019

1.1 Nature

Are men and women born good or evil? This presumes that there is an essentialist quality to crime and that some people are by nature predisposed to criminal activities. Many assume, however, that the manner in which an individual responds to this age-old debate will have an impact in the manner in which legislation is framed.

Amongst those that disagree with the view that people are by nature predisposed to criminal activities is Antonio Rappa who believes that such essentialism or reductionism is harmful and misguided (Rappa, 1997; Rappa, 2002; Rappa, 2004; Rappa & Wee, 2006; Rappa, 2011; Rappa, 2012, unpublished manuscript). The place of technology in late modernity suggests that it prevails in terms of terrorising the human condition. This was argued by one of Rappa’s teachers, Majid Tehranian, the Harvard-trained political scientist and government communications’ scholar. Tehranian’s work titled Technologies of Terror exemplifies how certain belief-systems that are steeped in cultural violence tend towards an afflictive level of disorder. People who believe in the Bell Curve debacles and the erroneous methods used by Herrnstein and Murray tend to support the essentialist view of the human condition. Rappa explains that the essentialist view is dangerous because it means we judge a book by its cover: essentialism is dangerous, according to Rappa, because someone who is judged by the way he or she looks not only brings harm to the individual, it also bears harm on society as a whole. Essentialisms and reductionism, says Rappa, lead to false stereotype casting (Rappa, 2002). Criminal behaviour is therefore not related to the nature model proponents who believe that if your father was a crook, you will be a crook.

The Italian school of criminology is one such paradigm that believes that some people are born as naturally predisposed to crime and that criminal tendencies are in the genes. This school was founded at the end of the 19th century by Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909) and two of his Italian disciples, Enrico Ferri (1856–1929) and Raffaele Garofalo (1851–1934).

The central idea of Lombroso's work came to him as he autopsied the body of a notorious Italian criminal named Giuseppe Villela. As he contemplated Villela's skull, he noted that certain characteristics of it (specifically, a depression on the occiput that he named the median occipital fossa) reminded him of the skulls of "inferior races" and "the lower types of apes, rodents, and birds". The term Lombroso used to describe the appearance of organisms resembling ancestral (prehuman) forms of life is atavism.

Source: JSTOR, 2019

Born criminals were thus viewed by Lombroso in his earliest writings as a form of human sub-species (in his later writings he came to view them less as evolutionary throwbacks and more in terms of arrested development and degeneracy). Lombroso believed that atavism could be identified by a number of measurable physical stigmata, which included protruding jaw, drooping eyes, large ears, twisted and flattish nose, long arms relative to the lower limbs, sloping shoulders, and a coccyx that resembled "the stump of a tail." The concept of atavism was glaringly wrong, but like so many others of his time, Lombroso sought to understand behavioural phenomena with reference to the principles of evolution as they were understood at the time. If humankind was just at one end of the continuum of animal life, it made sense to many people that criminals — who acted "beastly" and who lacked reasoned conscience — were biologically inferior beings. Thus understood, atavism became a popular concept, used for instance by the novelist Emile Zola in the Rougon-Macquart.

In addition to the "atavistic born criminal", Lombroso identified two other types: the "insane criminal", and the "criminaloid". Although insane criminals bore some stigmata, they were not "born criminals"; rather, they become criminal as a result "of an alteration of the brain, which completely upsets their moral nature." Among the ranks of "insane criminals" were alcoholics, kleptomaniacs, nymphomaniacs, and child molesters. "Criminaloids" had none of the physical peculiarities of the "born" or "insane criminal", became involved in crime later in life, and tended to commit less serious crimes. "Criminaloids" were further categorised as "habitual criminals", who become so by contact with other criminals, the abuse of alcohol, or other "distressing circumstances." This category included "juridical criminals", who fall afoul of the law by accident; and the "criminal by passion", hot-headed and impulsive persons who commit violent acts when provoked.

Central to this was the notion of biological determinism wherein all human behaviour is innate. The two other instrumental figures in the criminology continue to have a lasting impact on the manner through which the ideas surrounding the debates on nature and nurture are determined. Ferri, for instance, was particularly instrumental in the conceptual formation of social defence, which was based principally on assumptions of biological positivism. His seminal work on social defence reinforced ideas where the purpose or punishment of criminals would serve to incapacitate the individual in so far as they do not pose a security threat to society at large. Ferri did make exceptions to this. He noted that efforts to use a more pastoral approach were dependent on nature of the criminal and were possible if the person was not a career criminal. In this instance, rehabilitation and reintegration were possible.

Garofalo on the other hand had been known for the conceptual notion of natural crime that he had propounded. This was “based fundamentally on the idea that for scientific purposes, the concept of crime cannot be accepted as a legal category since the factors which produce the legal definitions of crime are contingent and capricious and display no consistent, unifying principle.” (Allen, 1955) Natural crimes are evil in themselves (mala in se), whereas other kinds of crimes (mala prohibita) are wrong only because they have been defined as such by the law. Punishment should fit the criminal and not the crime. For Garofalo, however, the only question to be considered at sentencing was the danger the offender posed to society, which was to be judged by an offender's "peculiarities." (Walsh & Ellis, 2006) He developed four categories of criminals, each meriting different forms of punishment: "extreme", "impulsive", "professional", and "endemic". (Walsh & Ellis, 2006) Extreme criminals were to be dealt with quickly as their presence impacts the safety and security of the community. The impulsive criminal was one who had the tendency to function on impulse due to external factors such as alcoholism or internal factors such as mental instability. Professional criminals were ones who calculated their actions and consequences and finally, endemic criminals in turn could be controlled if there were amendments to the law or if pervasive crime in geographic areas could be dealt with swiftly.

1.2 Nurture

On the other end of the nature and nurture spectrum is that of the role played by nature. This presumes that society determines the outcome of criminal behaviour and that young children, for example, who are placed in a social milieu of criminal activities will become criminals themselves. For example, in an old Palavian myth, the Kingdom of Shan was founded in the second century B.C. by a Brahmin prince named Amakashivalakshimi who created a communal place for brigands. Over time, this place became ghettoised and hence became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The proponents of the nurture model believe that whether your father was a crook or not does not matter because it is up to society. Society will determine whether you are a crook or a good citizen.

Aside from the Italian school of criminology that was mentioned earlier, the other schools of thought in criminology believe in nurture as a cause of crime, criminal tendencies and criminal activity.

The Classical School, which developed in the mid-17th century, was based on utilitarian philosophy. Cesare Beccaria, author of On Crimes and Punishments (1763–64), Jeremy Bentham, inventor of the Panopticon, and other classical school philosophers argued that

  1. People have free will to choose how to act.
  2. Deterrence is based upon the notion of the human being as a ‘hedonist’ who seeks pleasure and avoids pain, and a ‘rational calculator’ weighing up the costs and benefits of the consequences of each action. Thus, it ignores the possibility of irrationality and unconscious drives as motivational factors.
  3. Punishment (of sufficient severity) can deter people from crime, as the costs (penalties) outweigh benefits, and that severity of punishment should be proportionate to the crime.
  4. The more swift and certain the punishment, the more effective it is in deterring criminal behaviour.

1.2.1 Positivist School

The Positivist school presumes that criminal behaviour is caused by internal and external factors outside of the individual's control. The scientific method was introduced and applied to study human behaviour. Positivism can be broken up into three segments that include biological, psychological and social positivism.

Lombroso's Italian school was rivalled, in France, by Alexandre Lacassagne and his school of thought, based in Lyon and influential from 1885 to 1914. The Lacassagne School rejected Lombroso's theory of "criminal type" and of "born criminals", and strained the importance of social factors. However, contrary to criminological tendencies influenced by Durkheim's social determinism, it did not reject biological factors. Indeed, Lacassagne created an original synthesis of both tendencies, influenced by positivism, phrenology and hygienism, which alleged a direct influence of the social environment on the brain and compared the social itself to a brain, upholding an organicist position. Furthermore, Lacassagne criticised the lack of efficiency of prison, insisted on social responsibilities towards crime and on political voluntarism as a solution to crime, and thus advocated harsh penalties for those criminals thought to be unredeemable ("recidivists"), for example, by supporting the 1895 law on penal colonies or opposing the abolition of the death penalty in 1906.

Sociological positivism postulates that societal factors such as poverty, membership of subcultures, or low levels of education can predispose people to crime. Adolphe Quetelet made use of data and statistical analysis to gain insight into relationship between crime and sociological factors. He found that age, gender, poverty, education, and alcohol consumption were important factors related to crime. Rawson W. Rawson utilised crime statistics to suggest a link between population density and crime rates, with crowded cities creating an environment conducive for crime. Joseph Fletcher and John Glyde also presented papers to the Statistical Society of London on their studies of crime and its distribution. Henry Mayhew used empirical methods and an ethnographic approach to address social questions and poverty, and presented his studies in London Labour and the London Poor. Émile Durkheim viewed crime as an inevitable aspect of society, with uneven distribution of wealth and other differences among people.

1.2.2 The Chicago School

The Chicago School arose in the early twentieth century, through the work of Robert E. Park, Ernest Burgess, and other urban sociologists at the University of Chicago. In the 1920s, Park and Burgess identified five concentric zones that often exist as cities grow, including the "zone in transition" which was identified as most volatile and subject to disorder. In the 1940s, Henry McKay and Clifford R. Shaw focused on juvenile delinquents, finding that they were concentrated in the zone of transition.

Chicago School sociologists adopted a social ecology approach to studying cities, and postulated that urban neighbourhoods with high levels of poverty often experience breakdown in the social structure and institutions such as family and schools. This results in social disorganisation, which reduces the ability of these institutions to control behaviour and creates an environment ripe for deviant behaviour.

1.3 Criminals and Terrorists Compared

“A criminal is not necessarily a terrorist. A terrorist is necessarily a criminal” argues Antonio L Rappa in a recent interview. This is simply because terrorism is a type (subset) of crime, and not the other way around. This makes terrorists a specific type of criminal. The reader should note that while deviance and crime are overlapping sets, this is not the case for terrorism and crime; terrorism is strictly a subset within crime. In other words, there may be some deviant behaviours which are not criminal in nature and some criminal behaviours which are not deviant in nature (i.e. even though some are classified as crimes, such as flying kites and radio-controlled aeroplanes at no-fly zones in Singapore. Whilst this has been criminalised, terrorism, however, is considered strictly a crime, in that there are no acts of terrorism, which are not considered as crimes. All terrorist activities are criminal and liable to prosecution.

Figure 2.1 source: “Venn diagram of crime, deviance and terrorism”. Yasser Mattar, 2011

According to terrorism scholar Bruce Hoffman:

"It is not only individual agencies within the same governmental apparatus that cannot agree on a single definition of terrorism. Experts and other long-established scholars in the field are equally incapable of reaching a consensus. In the first edition of his magisterial survey, “Political terrorism: A Research Guide,” Alex Schmid devoted more than a hundred pages to examining more than a hundred different definitions of terrorism in an effort to discover a broadly acceptable, reasonably comprehensive explication of the word. Four years and a second edition later, Schimd was no closer to the goal of his quest, conceding in the first sentence of the revised volume that the “search for an adequate definition is still on”. Walter Laqueur despaired of defining terrorism in both editions of his monumental work on the subject, maintaining that it is neither possible to do so nor worthwhile to make the attempt."

Nonetheless, Hoffman himself believes it is possible to identify some key characteristics of terrorism. He proposes that:

By distinguishing terrorists from other types of criminals and terrorism from other forms of crime, we come to appreciate that terrorism is:

In early 1975, the Law Enforcement Assistant Administration in the United States formed the National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. One of the five volumes that the committee wrote was entitled Disorders and Terrorism, produced by the Task Force on Disorders and Terrorism under the direction of H.H.A. Cooper, Director of the Task Force staff. The Task Force classified terrorism into six categories as follows.

  1. Civil disorder – A form of collective violence interfering with the peace, security, and normal functioning of the community.
  2. Political terrorism – Violent criminal behaviour designed primarily to generate fear in the community, or substantial segment of it, for political purposes.
  3. Non-Political terrorism – Terrorism that is not aimed at political purposes but which exhibits “conscious design to create and maintain a high degree of fear for coercive purposes, but the end is individual or collective gain rather than the achievement of a political objective.”
  4. Quasi-terrorism – The activities incidental to the commission of crimes of violence that are similar in form and method to genuine terrorism but which nevertheless lack its essential ingredient. It is not the main purpose of the quasi-terrorists to induce terror in the immediate victim as in the case of genuine terrorism, but the quasi-terrorist uses the modalities and techniques of the genuine terrorist and produces similar consequences and reaction. For example, the fleeing felon who takes hostages is a quasi-terrorist, whose methods are similar to those of the genuine terrorist but whose purposes are quite different.
  5. Limited political terrorism – Genuine political terrorism is characterised by a revolutionary approach; limited political terrorism refers to “acts of terrorism” which are committed for ideological or political motives but which are not part of a concerted campaign to capture control of the state.
  6. Official or state terrorism –“referring to nations whose rule is based upon fear and oppression that reach similar to terrorism or such proportions.” It may also be referred to as Structural Terrorism defined broadly as terrorist acts carried out by governments in pursuit of political objectives, often as part of their foreign policy.
Figure 2.2 Löckinger’s Typological Tree of Terrorismsource: G. Löckinger, Terrorismus, Terrorismusabwehr, Terrorismusbekampfung. Vienna: Ministry of Defence

Lockinger organises the different forms of terrorism into four categories as listed above - actors, means and methods, motives, and, finally, by geographic areas of operation. The different forms of terrorism are further divided into sub-forms, which help in the manner through which they in turn can be conceptualised.

Amongst the scholars that have impacted the study of the crime-terror nexus are Tamara Makarenko and Louis Shelly. Makarenkos’ and Shelly’s work on the Crime–Terror Continuum is based on the notion that crime and terrorism operate on a continuum. She devotes her work on analysing the ideological and operational nature of the convergence. She contends that a group or actor can move up and down the scale depending on the environment in which a group or actor operates. Louise Shelly on the other hand looks at the crime and terror through the lens of what she calls the Unholy Trinity - Transnational Crime, Corruption, and Terrorism. Her exploration of areas and subthemes that are complicit between and amongst each other present pertinent food for thought in understanding Crime and Terrorism.

Activity 2.1

There are numerous typologies of terrorism.Discuss the Convergence of Crime and Terrorism through the following as listed by the UN;

  1. Transactional, where there are operational linkages between the groups, such as financing, procurement of arms and control of territory;
  2. Ideologies and aims, where the goals of the group are identified according to their objectives;
  3. Relationship to and nature of the state, where the groups can be assessed upon the degree to which they align with or distinguish themselves from the state; and finally,
  4. Strategic use of violence, where the nature and use of violence can be used to analyse the nature of the organised crime and terrorism nexus.