Crime becomes a shared responsibility once it corrupts society. Upton Sinclair wrote: “..So long as social asphyxia shall be possible.. (and) so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this shall not be useless.” The book in question was Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. The 2012 musical movie version is lauded across red carpets word wide with glittering bejeweled actors. It was nominated for scores of awards, including Oscars.
Presumably, the many homeless, orphaned, enslaved little girls around the world love it too, but they will never see it. They and their bothers are waiting for the next war lord, dealer, or pimp to work them over. “Les Miz” is a story about crime. There is also, sex, redemption, poverty and justice, but all of these are related to the shared responsibility of crime and what is does to society.
Although greatly simplified, “Les Miz” regards questions of good and evil, (Seriously, nineteen years enslavement for trying to escape hard labor over a loaf of bread?), crime is a central theme of Hugo’s masterpiece. It is the ruination of human lives due to greed, exploitation, degradation, poverty, loss of person hood and what a conscience and sense of duty really delivers for the over all good.
In Hugo’s world and in the modern one as well, it is clear that crime and treatment of criminals is a shared responsibility, whether people think it should be or not. As to the individual responsibility, it is clear that for most low collar crime there is usually built in destruction of lives. Statistics show that people in poverty routinely go to prison at far higher rates than others.
In contrast, for white collar crime there is often no punishment at all, and even ample reward. Think of the enormous financial collapse of 2008 that so far, no one has gone to prison for, although everyone agrees running ruinous credit schemes was criminal. Many allege that even nations break international laws every day, but for powerful nations, there is little to lose. And lack of consequence is always a very big part of the problem.
In each situation, and for every crime in between, there is obviously a very high social cost. And there is no consistency to most laws that allow many to walk free, while others are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
In most burglaries, these days, unless there is a witness, preferably with a video cam, there is not even an attempt to arrest or recover what is stolen. A house in Washington State was recently burgled even of every appliance, water heater and the copper wiring for the plumbing. The house was vandalized beyond recognition. Distraught owners, had been left phone messages by the thief, so they knew who “Miller” was, but they were left without lights or water. The inspecting officer lamented the state of the economy and high prevalence of homelessness for which he blamed the increase of such crime. There were, as he said, just far too many instances of such theft, for anything to be done. In other words, everyone must pay the cost, and not always the criminal.
Recently, in the news also, was the tragic mass killing of young children and staff at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut. This type of crime moves people emotionally. Yet there have been even more shootings, in accumulation, not so well known that have occurred since then. They are not unusual, and there are some areas where homicide is a daily event. Then there is sex trafficking, along with child abuse, drug related and gang related crime, petty and serious theft, that cost dearly to everyone. What responsibility should society take for this?
The only logical answer is that individual responsibility and shared responsibility should both be enlisted to help combat such destruction. The point that Hugo was trying to make is that exploitation, injustice and poverty create high cost consequences to everyone, from the loyal officer, Javert, to Cosette, the abused little orphan who loses her mother to prostitution, poverty and exploitation. Even the high crimes of the church and state are targeted. Even now, such institutions do not adequately protect such as these. In fact, there are more children enslaved now, and more crimes “assigned” to them than every before in world history.
There really is no such thing as victim-less crime. Any form of exploitation, be it of fellow man, animal, plant, resource, common soil or continent, results in suffering for someone. Sometimes the sufferer may be only the perpetrator himself, but this too adds to total misery. If it is truly “victim” less than there is no crime. But if anyone suffers, even the sex, gambling or drug addict themselves, there is a victim who is not rising to honor the gifts of his or her life.
Due to the complex system of international exploitation, illegal immigration, corporate screens and hidden costs, not even those repsonsoble understand their crimes. In most crimes there are more victims than anyone ever knows about