The horrifying kidnap and sexual enslavement, and finally ultimate release, of three women in Cleveland recently led many to ask “What kind of monster could do this?” This is a normal reaction. It is also normal that almost immediately, finger pointing began. Neighbors lamented that many calls had been made to investigate suspicious activity in that home. Police complained that the community did not stay involved or participate in two way citizen-authority reports. Some people said the guy was incredibly “non-suspicious, ordinary and friendly.” Others said that Ariel Castro was always “very strange.” What are the social factors that led to such a brutal human tragedy? Here are ten possible contributing factors. They are by far not the only factors, nor are they certain. However, they do offer some insight into what social factors are often found in what creates and protects a psychopath, or sociopath in the modern world.
One: People mind their own business. People are no longer tribal. They do not commune in areas where everyone knows everyone else personally. They commute rather than work in one region. They do not rely upon one another to borrow a cup or sugar anymore. They are less inclined to interact with neighbors, or help one another out. For example long ago, before cars, a family would share and pool resources and services. A gardener might help a neighbor in exchange for some firewood. People knew one another and one another’s coming and going. Children were watched communally. People knew others’ first names. If the whole block was actively engaged in a community garden, frequently taking produce to that lonely, poor guy who seemed to only have fast food to eat, someone would have noticed his behavior sooner.
Two: In today’s society people are taught a kind of privileged privacy. They learn values of privacy, and also a subtle form of mistrust that tells them to stay out of things that might cause trouble. They are conditioned to respect privacy, partly as a result of being territorial and suspicious, but also due to feeling entitled to each own private property of every kind so bartering, sharing, connecting and so on is not encouraged. This is also due to sexism and racism, discussed further below. It is part of a larger disconnect in society, and it is largely unconscious of how much they are attune to texting, tablets and so on, and not attuned to sounds, sights and other senses.
Three: No one knows quite what to believe in an unbelievably bad situation. A suicide note penned by Ariel Castro said that he was abused as a child. This is more likely than not. It is in no way an excuse, since a bad childhood does not ensure that 99% of the population who endured some kind of abuse will become sadistic sexual predators. It may even suggest that he is being manipulative. If he genuinely felt remorse, why would he keep the women captive for years beyond his “confession” of regret? Social conditioning seeks to know “why, why, why?” This is at least in part a disbelief in shared guilt by not noticing red flags which wave like bull-fighting capes in hindsight.
Four: People have built in defense mechanisms. It is completely normal to have a built in defense mechanism that puts all the blame only upon the perpetrator. The perpetrator, however, could never live a secret life for a decade without willing enablers who do not want to be aware. Who wants to believe, after all, that your friendly neighbor is a complete sociopath?
Five: Modern people, living in isolated, separate lives, do not trust their intuition. People (who in hindsight see lots of clues) did not trust their intuition at the time they sensed something very strange about that concealed home, and peculiar guy. Human intuition is not trusted in the modern age due to many factors. One is that people are taught to let the authorities whose salary we pay worry about it. A second is herd mentality. Surely someone will call 911, they think. In fact, it is assumed, if something was really amiss there would surely have been many, many calls to 911. What needs to change in society, is for people to always call, even if they think forty others already have called.
Six: In addition to not trusting intuition, people do not trust that they won’t be dragged into some huge and unpleasant drama. They do not trust that community law enforcement will automatically be on their side. In fact, they often distrust the authorities and would rather keep a very low profile. Again, due to the other factors already listed, it is not difficult at all to reason that it is “probably nothing, and if it is, I certainly don’t want my name and life dragged into it!”
Seven: Despite having “Come a long way baby.” Sexism still exists. This is not to say that the residents of just one Cleveland town are sexist. Everyone, everywhere is to some degree not willing to admit that domestic violence, crimes against women, unequal judgment and more fall upon the more vulnerable shoulders of young women and small children. This is yet another defense mechanism at work. Not once in ten years did anyone question how it could be that someone who shows no sign of a significant other (even a gay boyfriend!) a wife, a visitor, at least nominal relationship with his acknowledged children, or any other guests of any kind inside the home. This is not normal. When it is noticed, pester the police, and do not assume that all women are already liberated since Hillary Clinton may run for president!
Eight: The working class neighborhood was much more vulnerable to crime and neglect. People do not care much when a prostitute is murdered (or even shot at today, or assaulted) in some American town this very hour. If a president or governor had an attempted crime against them, people care much more. Killing a police man is more serious than killing a meth-head. Having a celebrity’s child kidnapped would get much more press and help. People’s appetite for grisly details is not low, but their interest in celebrity trumps it. Nancy Grace makes a living off of missing and exploited children, but does she really help? This says something about our society.
Nine: Poverty plays a part in crime. Just like racism, sexism and isolationism, the fact that poor people endure more crime than very rich people says something about society and its willing participation in creating monsters. Born helpless and abused, it is quite predictable that a very (thankfully) small portion of criminal minds become resentful, bitter and anti-social to the extreme. Even now there are more poor people serving time for their crimes than rich people serve for their “safer” crimes, and in less posh conditions. This is not to say people should not have consequences of crime, but that society should aim for equity and fairness.
Ten: People are struggling in a terrible economy. This causes much more need for citizens to “look out for number one.” It is not that people are uncaring. It is that they are stretched to the limit in making a living, ignoring the neighborhood and trying to keep their own families from crime and all its consequences. Although it may be an outrageous stretch to complain that this would not have happened if the giant banks and lenders had not bankrupted the economy, it is not unreasonable to say that in difficult times, everyone already has all their mental, emotional and physical resources in play where they believe they have to operate them to just survive and make a living. Also, it is no exaggeration to note that empty, seemingly abandoned homes with no light or compassion spilling in could stand on a block with little notice. There are many abandoned homes now scarcely noticed. Lots of foreclosures exist. Lots of people are self –absorbed for their own survival to save their own homes, jobs, children and life-styles.
This is a terrible tragedy. Hopefully many lessons will be learned from it. Maybe people will pay more attention, and learn to make their neighborhoods interactive, alert, caring and compassionate. Maybe police outreach programs will focus more on low income and tough areas. Maybe working class people will assert themselves enough to say “My child’s life has the same value as any famous person’s child.”