I grew up and spent a good deal of time with petty criminals, a handful of whom had a dangerous human nature. Maybe that doesn’t say much for me, or maybe it does, because it quickly hit home with me that I preferred being a law-abiding citizen rather than a law-breaker. For any number of reasons, the law enforcement career I had planned on just didn’t happen, but over the years, I’ve spent more time learning about and observing criminals than most civilians.
It’s been eye-opening, to say the least. As a psychology major, I was able to learn even more about how the criminal mind works, as explained in this excellent book by a former FBI profiler.
The other day, my wife mentioned a Facebook article she had read and said it had really hit home what we could be facing as the fabric of our society continues to break down. The author, Greg Ellifritz, is a veteran police officer and tactical trainer for his central Ohio agency. He knows more than a thing or two about the criminal mind. He writes:
Our thief today is homeless. He’s 32 years old and overweight. He’s a regular consumer of crack cocaine. He has no job and no place to live. He sometimes stays at friends’ apartments, but his permanent address is a local homeless shelter. The sum total of his possessions consisted of a change of clothes, a broken phone, and less than $4 cash.
When I asked the man why he stole the bike, his comment was enlightening:
“I took it because I have the chance to stay at my friend’s place tonight instead of the shelter. My friend lives in (the next town over) and it would be about a four hour walk to get there. It rained all day yesterday and it looks like it’s going to rain some more today. I just didn’t want to spend four hours walking in the fucking rain and getting soaking wet again. I figured a bike would be faster.”
He continued by saying: “I knew it was wrong to steal the bike, but I just don’t care. I didn’t want to get wet no more. I saw an opportunity and I took it. I’d do the same thing all over again if I got the chance. Biking is just faster than walking.”
A petty crime, important to no one, really, except the owner of the bicycle. The point that Greg is trying to hit home, though, is how criminals never give a thought to the person whose life is affected by their actions. If they see something they want and you own it, you become just an obstacle in their way. They may violently push you aside, if you’re lucky, or kill you. What they want at that moment is more important than your life will ever be, to them.
Greg goes on to explain:
This is what most folks don’t understand about serious criminals. The fact that the victim of the crime would be affected in a negative manner is not even an afterthought. Your feelings and concerns mean absolutely NOTHING to the criminal. He doesn’t care if you live or die, let alone how “inconvenienced” you will be if he takes all of your stuff or beats you within an inch of your life. If you literally had ZERO concern about the well being of your neighbors and fellow humans, what kind of atrocities would you be capable of committing? That’s something that few people consider.
Unfortunately, the majority of the hard core criminals I encounter feel the same way. You are literally nothing more than an obstacle they must overcome to achieve their goal. Most of the serious criminals out there think you and I are merely pawns on the chessboard of life. They will destroy everything you know and love if it means that they will benefit in the wake of the destruction. You are completely expendable in their eyes.
Recognize that. Recognize also that we aren’t going to be able to “fix” many of these criminals. They are out there among us every day and can’t be avoided.
This worries me when I consider TEOTWAWKI type scenarios, because during those days, months, or perhaps years, there may be no law enforcement at all. Some people like to use the acronym WROL, Without Rule of Law, to describe such a world. Those who have criminal impulses, maybe even instincts, but have been held back because they fear arrest and prison, won’t have those restraints anymore.
Today we mostly have to worry about a relatively small number of criminals, some petty, some hardened. We can add a security system to our homes, be constantly aware of our surroundings, teach our kids situational awareness and self-defense — but what if, someday in the not too distant future, ordinary Americans join these ranks because their families are starving, and they have lost absolutely everything? Might you become expendable in their eyes?
This is a depressing scenario to think about, much less discuss, because most of us want to believe that during hard times, like the Great Depression, most people will rise to the occasion and nobly help their fellow man. One of my favorite books about that era tells real life stories of a people who gave selflessly, were optimistic, and banded together to endure hard times.
Based on current trends, I don’t think we live in that country anymore, except for specific, isolated areas. Even a greater level of danger when you consider who has crossed into America — members of ISIS? Members of the most violent gangs in South America? Hardened drug criminals from Mexico? No one really knows.
Greg did provide a very small ray of hope with a few suggestions for avoiding becoming a victim to criminals of all types:
- Harden anything the criminal might target. Put a fence around it, post a home security system sign, do anything to cause a criminal to think that the risk isn’t worth it.
- Make all targets appear undesirable. Maybe having the fanciest looking house in the neighborhood wasn’t such a good idea. When we bought our current house, what I liked about it was that it’s a one-story, surrounded by very nice looking two-story houses. It’s set back from the road a way and is painted in muted colors. That doesn’t mean we’ll never be targeted, but honestly, from the outside, we sure don’t look all that attractive to thieves.
- At a personal level, make yourself look undesirable as a target. Make eye contact. Walk with a strong, confident stride. NO electronics when you’re out in public. No flashy jewelry or expensive looking clothes. Getting killed for a pair of expensive Nikes just isn’t worth it.
We need to teach our kids these practices as well. I have one kid who has been a “gray man” since she hit 8 or 9 years of age and another one who loves the flashy lifestyle and impressing people with cool clothes and electronics. We use stories in the news and that we hear about from other families to gently explain to our kids how to avoid becoming a victim. I’ve also used the example I read a while back in this article to teach my kids to identify potential predators.
Above all, acknowledge that evil exists. I don’t worry too much about hurting someone’s feeling by recognizing what they do is evil and some people are just evil to the core. It’s normalcy bias, as explained in this article, that tries to convince us a certain person, group, or event is just fine in spite of our gut saying that it’s not.
12 thoughts on “Human Nature: The most dangerous survival lesson of all”
Just wanted to drop you a quick note. I’ve really enjoyed the thought provoking articles you have been posting. I like the direction you are taking this blog. Keep up the good work.
I just retired from a state prison system. They have gotten all touchy-feely oh the poor misguided individual. Dealing with them daily is/was an education. 99% of them were there to do there time with as little effort as possible, but outside of their classes they willing would tell you it’s BS. They were getting dried out (from drugs) but were planning on returning to their previous lifestyle. Why? Because they liked it. And as stated above they don’t care. We are their pray!
I still find it interesting that some inmates would help an officer on the inside but would rob you blind on the outside. But that goes to again to what was stated above. You can’t fix the criminal mind. Adjust it maybe. But now crack head babies are coming into the system and it is diffidently getting wilder on the inside, even the other inmates stay away from them because they are to wild and uncontrollable. Correctional Officers now and in the future will have their hands full.
My school classmate Dave is a Ph.D. forensic psychiatrist, now retired, who has worked in the corrections system. The following is an email change Dave and I had with another mutual friend who is a retired Federal prosecutor and former special agent.
It speaks volumes… Noah, feel free to edit if this runs a bit long.
“When I [Dave] worked for DOC doing forensic psych, Samenow was brought out for an intensive training on impacting what had by then been dubbed criminal thinking errors. The program which was put together was based on cognitive behavioral principals, and basically postulates that if the system can help an inmate identify, then challenge and replace the thoughts and behaviors which lead them to eventually act on their criminal fantasies, recidivism would be reduced, as well as the level of seriousness of the recidivistic offenses. I don’t know if those suppositions have been realized, as I left DOC in 99, then Adult Probation in ’03, so haven’t seen the reports/analysis which should have been out long ago.
“Daniel Amen, MD, in a private conversation back in about 1997 or 98, related that he had done quite a few scans (SPECT) of the brains of antisocial personality disorder folks, which revealed that, as long as the ASPD was not thinking about crime, the scans of their brains revealed a less than normal metabolism in all sections of their brains; what Amen termed “a cold brain”. He also stated that when he would ask the ASPD to think about the last crime they committed, or the one they wanted to commit next, the scans of their brain metabolism flipped from low activity everywhere to higher than normal metabolism everywhere. Which correlates with what different guests of the iron bar hotel chain told me: “there is no drug that even comes close to doing a crime. I feel like God when I’m doing a crime – I can do anything I want and no one can stop me! It’s awesome.”
“I’m hopeful that the thinking errors program has helped, but I have some doubts about the efficacy of any educational type program for this population.
“Quoting an ASPD who, when he understood the rationale behind the program he was in class for, stood up, dropped his notebook on his desk then said “you are all fucking lame. Why would I want to live like a f^%kin’ lop? Your lives are boring!” To which I responded, “maybe so you could go home at night and have sex with a woman” after which I bounced him out of the class. I’m sure my retort was meaningless to him, and in his eyes, lame, as it did not offer anything he considered to be worth trading for. In his mind, how can having sex (with the same woman!!) compare with feeling like God and taking sex from whoever you want to, whenever you decide to?
“…ASPDs do not think like us, and I also believe we should stop pretending that they do; the eventual consequences of our own stupidity in doing so is simply too great to ignore. Allow me to go back to my conversation with Amen. After he’d shared his findings about the ASPD brain he was quiet for minute, then looked at me and asked, “do you know what the worst part is?” I said no and he responded with “they’re out-breeding us by a wide margin – they start having children when they are 14 or 15 years old, and they don’t stop until they’re in their mid-fifties, plus they typically contribute nothing but their genes to their kids”.
“So it’s my two-bits that a significant component in the make-up of the average ASPD is genetic, but I admit there are likely some flaws in adopting that view. For an example, unless those genetics occur within a bell shaped curve distribution pattern in which “a tendency toward sociopathy” anchors the left part of the curve, there is no way to explain what I would label “learned or acquired sociopathy” or perhaps “latent sociopathy”.
“I eventually came to believe it is likely ASPDs may in fact, represent a flawed subspecies of humanity. There is a feral nature within many of them that is challenging and scary to too many who are charged with catching them, incarcerating and rehabilitating them. I averaged about a thousand clinical interviews per year while with DOC. During that time, I only encountered one inmate who I thought might have a chance at rehabilitation. Just one. None of the others were interested. That feral component of their personality is something they typically try to hide (except for those already in max-max and max-close – they’ve embraced it, they live it, they feed it and work hard to grow it, which is a hoot to them), and it always surprised me the number of veteran law enforcement folks who couldn’t spot it, even when it was in the early stages of having “come out to play”.
The only protection an individual has from them is to stay armed and stay vigilant. When I started my work with DOC, I believed in the concept of evil, but had never thought about it a whole lot beyond that. Now, I will tell you straight up, evil walks among us. I’m deadly serious. -Dave
Subject: Re: FW: Re Peter Grant – Memoirs of a Prison Chaplain
I’ve got Hare’s book. Read it some years ago. He studied inmates at a BC prison. I recall one of his most striking comments was that if he had not had access to the prison population, he would have chosen to study the BC stock exchange. Psychopaths are not limited to prison populations or even stock exchanges. This is obvious by the title of the book by Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door which is also highly recommended.
Another book I recommend for anyone trying to understand criminals is Stanton Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind. He worked under a well known psychiatrist, Samuel Yochelson, at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in DC, who was studying the criminal mind. His first book was in the 1983. In his second one in 2004, this is his conclusion after studying criminals for 3 decades:
“The person who makes crime a way of life has a radically different way of thinking from the individual who behaves responsibly. The two mentalities are so different, it’s as though the criminal were a different breed.”
Massad Ayoob in his book, The Truth about Self Protection, echoes, Samenow. “These predatory people don’t think like you. They aren’t people like you. They are a different breed. Talk to doctors and psychiatrists and lawyers and probation officers. These are all people who understand the criminal mind.” I would add some cops and prison guards.
In case you are wondering why I just happen to have the above books, remember that I have a MS in Justice from AU and spent 21 years as a reserve police officer (Lt.) in DC. Also spent many years in the Federal system which has its share of crazies too. – Lloyd
Subject: Re: Re Peter Grant – Memoirs of a Prison Chaplain
I haven’t read this work, but I will make the comment that upon seeing he is a prison chaplain, I immediately suspect that his perceptions will, like all prison chaplains I’ve ever spoken with, be faulty, as they are based on preconceptions which are quite common, but which blind their holder to what the reality of that which they profess to want to understand and help. Good luck with that…
While I agree with what you said i feel you just didn’t take it far enough. I too grew up with petty criminals and my first arrest came at age of 10. I spent the next 20 years in and out of jails and rehab centers till I finally decided that I had had enough of that life. it’s not that these people ( loose term ) don’t care about your inconvenience they don’t even think about it,you are a non entity to them, they don’t think about you at all. a cat doesn’t think about the birds and mice it kills and eats and larger prey animals don’t concern themselves about the baby’s of the animals they kill or that they will die. People need to stop thinking that because they have been taught certain values that those values are human nature. THEY ARE NOT. There are to many examples of this to even talk about but a couple are tribes that believed in eating their defeated enemies would be one,american Indians believed torture was a wonderful thing as it showed them how strong their foe’s were and thus showed how strong they were for defeating them. In a WROL situation you are going to find out just how close to animals a lot of people are.
Those are excellent insights. I fear that the pablum we have been fed for decades that cause us to pity the predator will continue to be the death of more and more innocent people.
I grit my teeth every time I hear “hate the sin but love the sinner”. Sorry, but the sinner is who committed the sin; they are inseparable. The sinner murdered, raped, molested, robbed. Sin is a word used to describe what the sinner did. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Grrrr!
Civilization as it is defined is an illusion. It may be something we aspire to but, in truth, we only pretend to be civilized. Anyone who has seen what happens in war or in the absence of law enforcement knows just how thin our veil of civilization truly is. To understand true human nature we need to consider how we evolved. We lack the strength, speed, athletic abilities of most other animals on the planet. So how did we make it to the top of the food chain? We did so by using the one trait we possess which far exceeds all other animals: cunning. Cunning is part of our genetic coding. That is human nature above all other human qualities. We don’t need to use it when we are comfortable, when our needs are met. We can even be empathetic and charitable but when we are in danger or our security is threatened, or experience any discomfort really, we use our cunning first, particularly if physical force can’t or won’t be successful. Some use cunning in business or in dating and we seem to view that as acceptable, if not laudable, as long as its immediate damage isn’t apparent. Criminals use it to commit the crime; cops use it to catch the criminal. It’s our greatest weapon in war, not manpower or firepower. It can be used for good or evil but, rest assured, it will be everyone’s number one resource in a WROL situation.
Spot on- most people are WIIFM- very few are truly selfless. If u want to know what people are really like at their core, drive during rush hour in any city- you will see how selfish most people are. I believe if we did not have a police force, most people would commit some sort of crime.
Absolutely solid advice. Always watch your back!
You may have reawakened me !
Thanks, Noah. I just sent the link to this article to my family and friends. Hopefully it will awaken them from their normalcy biased slumber.
You have just described The Psychopath Obama.
And No, these people cannot be fixed.
Read “The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey Into the Dark Side” by James Fallon who’s research revealed that he himself is one and what that means.