200 Years of You

What if I told you that you are living the same life as your parents, grandparents and your grandparents’ parents? Year on year, for the past 200 years, the economic foundations of western society have stayed the same. As a result, the way that society shapes people and the relationships that emerge from that society has largely stayed the same. Admittedly, there has been slight change. However, this change has been so slight that I aim to demonstrate that you have, are and will think the same thoughts as your ancestors. Furthermore, you will believe that you are having original ideas. Your society has had 200 years of you.

As I specialise in criminological studies, let us begin on the topic of crime. What are your instinctive thoughts about crime? Yes, we all largely agree that crime is a bad thing. Okay, this is not a very powerful demonstration so, let’s ask a more complicated, nuance questions. How would you go about solving the crime problem? In order to do that, a clear definition of crime is needed. Forgive me for putting words in your mouth, but I will presume that you will define crime as:

“Social harm that is also, sometimes a breach of law”.

This is a loose definition, but I hope it will adequately represent the public’s general definition of crime. So back to the question at hand, how would you go about solving crime? I presume that you say:

 “We should find those people who break the law and place them in prison”.

But that does not solve the crime problem, rather putting people in prison just deals with people after they have committed a crime. Now, probably feeling slightly cheated, you may respond:

“Okay, we catch the criminal before they commit the crime.”

Good, now we are entering the realm of original thought. How would you catch most individuals before they have committed a crime, whilst maintaining a society that we would all like to live in? This provokes deeper thought. It is a complex and ambitious question.

After considerable reflection, you may answer:

“By simply providing people with a good education, food, shelter, a job and a loving family, society would be able to get rid of most crime”.

You are correct. You are correct now and you were correct 200 years ago.

In fact, this idea was recognised around 2000 years ago. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor, stated  that ‘poverty is the mother of all crime’. Come 1842, Edwin Chadwick in his historical work ‘Report On The Sanitary Conditions Of The Labouring Population And On The Means Of Its Improvement’ stated that:

The more closely the subject of the evils affecting the sanitary condition of the labouring population is investigated the more widely do their effects appear to be ramified. The pecuniary cost… […] …is measured by… […] …the reduced duration of life, and the reduction of the periods of working ability or production by sickness; the cost would include also much of the public charge of attendant vice and crime’ (page 105).

In short, Chadwick claimed that dire working conditions had a relationship with crime. Indeed, he understood that crime is linked to poor conditions. To rephrase his understanding, it could be stated that poverty is responsible for a large portion of crime. This understanding has continued through to present day. There are literally thousands of archived sources that have come to support the statement that crime and poverty are linked (see, poverties.org). It was known 200 years ago and it is known today. Your thoughts are theirs. 

This begs the question, ‘Do we have the means to prevent poverty, thereby resolving the crime issue?’. The answer to this is yes. Importantly, the answer to this question has been yes for a very long time. It is stated in many contemporary journals that our global workforce could, if it was properly organised, overcome poverty. That is to say that there is no physical or technological barrier preventing us from resolving poverty tomorrow. This has been the case for over 200 years. The following passage, written by Harry Beckwith in 1925, supports this:

The time has come for a change. Man has risen from the vitalized slime of the primeval sea to the mastery of matter; but he has not yet mastered society. Man is to-day as much the slave to his collective stupidity, as a hundred thousand generations ago he was a slave to matter.

The incentive of material gain developed man from the savage to the semi-barbarian he is to-day. This incentive has been a useful device for the development of the human; but it has now fulfilled its function and is ready to be cast aside into the scrap-heap of rudimentary vestiges such as gills in the throat and belief in the divine right of kings.

the time has come when mere food and shelter and similar sordid things shall be automatic, as free and easy and involuntary of access as the air.

With food and shelter automatic, the higher incentives will universally obtain — the spiritual, aesthetic, and intellectual incentives that will tend to develop and make beautiful and noble body, mind, and spirit. Then all the world will be dominated by happiness and laughter.’

Is Beckwith’s message that different from say, the message provided by Russel Brand’s in his ‘Revolution’? Or is it any different from Bono’s ‘Capitalism to End Poverty’ campaign? Or Jacque Fresco’s ‘The Venus Project’ or Karl Marx’s Communist Utopia? Indeed, this idea has been repeated throughout history.

It is important to note that these thoughts are not just the result of a thorough education. They are the result of a rational, logical understanding of the world (specifically, the western world). Harry Beckwith, the writer above, came to his conclusions by rationally weighing the evidence in front of him – just like you. What is surprising about this is not just that it was written almost 100 years ago. Rather, Harry Beckwith was 15 years old when he wrote it.

Harry concludes his article stating:

Ninety per cent. of the crimes against society [are] crimes against private property. Ninety-five per cent. of all civil cases [are] squabbles over property, conflicts of property-rights, lawsuits, contests of wills, breaches of contract, bankruptcies, etc. With the passing of private property, this ninety-five per cent. of the cases that cluttered the courts [will] passed’.

What is interesting here is that all of these people have all had the same logical, rational experience as you. You have all come to decide that poverty and crime is linked and as such, something should be done about poverty. Like you, people in the past wanted poverty to end and they even had the means to stop it. Regardless, they did not stop poverty. You are reliving the same problems as your ancestors and importantly, you are not meant to overcome them. If you were ever to overcome this repeating issue, you would have broken a tradition that spans over 200 years. This leaves you with the question…

Will you change?