How Values are Linked to Crime

Not everyone is, but the majority of people are loyal to their family. It may be genetic, it may be habit, but the loyalty is there. Similarly, however much someone may dislike their boss, there is still loyalty to work itself, and a sense of worth that comes from working at a particular job, which provides a role, a status, and an identity. Most people are quietly patriotic, not in a way they think much about. They carry a diffuse sense that theirs is the best place to live, with the best way of life.

Without thinking about it, most people are fairly law-abiding. They grew up that way, even if their parents didn’t lecture about it. And the people they saw who had to cheat in school seemed sneaky and mean, as if they had lowered themselves. Most people derive a sense of worth from honesty, and may feel a faint sense of guilt when they have to tell a minor social lie.

People expect to spend most of their lives working, and to acquire belongings and security through their work. They hope that their working lives will bring them increasing responsibility and increasing rewards as they grow in their trade. Their parents worked, or they saw the consequences when work was unavailable. It’s not something people think about, it’s just a value.

In fact, this collection of unconsidered notions about how the world works and how people ought to behave can be grouped together and called middle-class values. It’s not a question of income, but of world-view. The value of work, the responsibility to family, the assumption that a particular social system is the best (whatever its faults), the automatic predisposition to obey most of the rules most of the time, these are values that separate the ordinary citizen from the law-breaker.

A criminal’s values are different, but not that different. They may show family loyalty to their clique, refusing all kinds of inducements to be a “rat” or “snitch”. They may show more respect for a clever or daring crime than for labor, but many criminals do have specific “trades” which they acquired through time spent training. A counterfeiter or a con man was born with a kind of talent, but he has honed his skills. Plenty of criminals are trying to rise in a criminal hierarchy.

Most would say that a criminal has no predisposition to obey the rules. For some feckless individuals this may be true. Yet all social systems have rules, and the rules in prisons and jails can be quite strict. Prisoners do not generally fraternize across race lines, for example. Inmates have definite ideas about respect, and the lack of a show of respect may be punished with ferocity.

Style is important to criminals. Many dress more tastefully than the average working person, and present themselves with more flair. Style is a way to show status, of course, and it may be that the criminal has given up on acquiring status in the larger society through any means but style.

Criminals are dishonest, by definition. And criminals justify their crimes endlessly: He disrespected me. She was asking for it. Banks are insured. I was hurting and I had no choice. This refusal to accept guilt shows how deeply some criminals are hurt by their sense of having done wrong. Otherwise, they would just say: “She had it, an’ I wanted it.”

It’s not that criminals don’t have values. Everyone does. For whatever reason, a criminal expresses universal needs, for attention, for acceptance, and for security differently than mainstream people do. When the old slang term calls a criminal “bent”, it may mean something like this: that criminals have values, and they are quite close to ours.