It seems clear that this explanation shows the main reason for the seemingly abnormal number of property crimes in the United States.
Man’s infinitely long past developed the hunger instinct, which made him take directly and simply where he could and as he could. This is always urging him to supply his wants in the simplest way, regardless of the later restrictions that modern civilization has placed around the getting of property. With the weaker intellectually and physically, these instincts are all-controlling. The superficial and absurd theories that his excesses are due to the lack of the certainty of punishment take no account of the life experience, and the inherent structure of man.
Especially in our large cities with their great opportunities for the creation and accumulation of wealth, the “lust of power” is shown by the nerve-racking efforts to obtain wealth by the most reckless methods. The emotion drives us to spend extravagantly and conspicuously, that we may inspire the envy of our neighbors by our money and power.
This is an old emotion securing a new outlet, and tenfold magnified in force, through modern conditions in commercial and industrial life. Is it not plain that in America it has assumed the form of an obsession, biting us high and low, until we reek of it? It is likewise clear that it is a menace to any abiding peace and welfare; that it is still growing and leaving a bitter harvest of neurasthenics in its wake.
The criminologist must face the fact that, in spite of contrary pretenses by most of our social doctors, we are still in our work-a-day life guided almost exclusively by the mores—the folk-ways of old—founded on expediency as revealed by experiences, and acquired by the only known process, that of trial and error. If this be true, it clearly follows that in order to conserve any vestige of a civilization, we must realize the fact that property crimes are the normal results of the complex activities making up the treadmill called civilization. We must likewise realize that to modify these crimes we must modify the trend of the race.
When the seamy side of man’s behavior is scrutinized by science, it cannot be other than grim and distressing to the reader. It is this to the writer. But all the really significant facts of life are grim and often repulsive in the material presented. To the “irony of facts” must be ascribed the shadows as well as the high lights. No distortions or speculations can influence the findings of science. They are accessible and can be checked up by any one sufficiently interested. The student knows that man is what he is, because of his origin and long and painful past.
CRIMES AGAINST PROPERTY
By far the largest class of crimes may be called crimes against property. Strictly speaking, these are crimes in relation to the ownership of property; criminal ways of depriving the lawful owner of its possession.