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All Crimes are Small, From a Certain Point of View

My first opportunity to consume an alcoholic beverage is still a vivid memory. I was 19, a freshman at the state college. My friends were seniors, who had no problem obtaining alcohol. This led to the crime of me drinking cheap beer through a funnel at an end of the year party.  Underage drinking is classified as a “problem” more than a crime, an attitude reflected in the inherently isolated world of a giant college campus in a rural area.

Before this starts to sound like a post that should have been used last month, let me say that I’m less interested in the particulars of the act than I am in the mindset behind it and what that says about criminal activity as a whole.

I was fully aware at the time that I was committing an ostensibly criminal act, but weighed the ease of the act (extremely simple) against the consequences (a slap on the wrist and a reprimand for violating the college’s residential code of conduct, whoopee). I got away with it too, mostly because I was smarter than most 19 year-olds drinking for the first time and I didn’t get stupid drunk.

Sure, I understand that most people would view such an act as effectively harmless–in the long run, it usually is–but the moral calculus is interesting.  Most crimes, regardless of their severity or scale, are considered small or inconsequential by the person that commits them.  Drinking in college is no different.

I can find statistical evidence of financial damage to the people involved in the Bernie Madoff pyramid scheme or the whole Enron mess from a few years back, but I’m certain that both Madoff and the Enron folks were either unaware or uncaring of the others who would suffer from their choices.  Also, they weren’t supposed to be caught.

Criminals internally justify their intended crime until getting themselves to the point of doing the deed. While the motive varies, from a burglar’s need for money to a murderer’s rage at their victim, the general principle is the same.  The criminal’s own needs or desires outweigh those of the people who might be affected by their acts.

In my one criminal act, I too judged there to be no direct effect on anyone else.  I wasn’t stupid drunk and I wouldn’t actually harm anyone; the cost to society as a whole was negligible.  But it’s only with 13 years of hindsight I can do that.  At the time, I was scared shitless about drinking again, convinced I would get caught the next time. As such, I didn’t touch alcohol again until I was legal.

I laugh when hearing about some murder or robbery secondhand, always followed by some form of the question, “How could they do that to someone? Don’t they realize how wrong it is?” In no way am I trying to belittle or minimize the victims of such acts, but: No, they don’t.  If they did, the crime wouldn’t have been committed. .

11 responses to “All Crimes are Small, From a Certain Point of View”

  1. Avatar llxt says:

    I confess to not having drank much when I wasn't yet old enough; I had other problems to deal with… But I have certainly drunk enough during the past ten years to make up for it–*this* is a Much Worse Crime. trust me!!!!

  2. Avatar Kate says:

    Sometimes — actually, a lot of times — I think the drinking age in this country is silly. Not to mention how much easier it is to get other types of drugs if you can't get your hands on booze.
    I went to a state university, too, one that was actually a dry campus. One that sold shot glasses in the university store. Someone explain that choice to me, hmmm?

    • I agree. A drinking age of 21 is ridiculous for college-bound 18-year-olds headed for universities where half the undergrad population can legally drink. The American Way is to send these teenagers off on their own with (theoretically) no experience with drinking with a "wait until you're 21 to drink" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

    • Avatar The Tailor says:

      Kate, I agree that the drinking age is dumb, but for different reasons, I suspect. I'd make it higher, On balance, most 21 year olds aren't that much smarter than 18 year olds.
      I finished my college career at a dry campus in my late 20s, being the only person in that age bracket living in the dorms was not fun, as I was automatically suspected of providing for EVERYONE, even total strangers.

  3. Sam Sam says:

    I am chuckling here at the idea of you funneling…why isn't this on YouTube? 🙂

  4. Avatar The Tailor says:

    I should have read you're comment first, Mark. You made my point. Thanks for reading to all.

  5. Avatar The Tailor says:

    It's not on YouTube because I'm fairly sure YouTube didn't exist in 1997. You and I have the ultimate drunken stupidity story already covered elsewhere on this site. Somehow, I think you introducing me to my future wife trumps the novelty of me drinking at 19….

  6. Avatar David Koons says:

    I, too, have engaged in too much drinking in college. Like you, I've had time to reflect on the past of what that behavior means, and what "crime" is committed? Yes, the legal age made this criminal. But, now, I argue, what is the crime? How can you have a crime without a victim? 18 years old is the legal age of independence, you made a choice at 19 to drink… and keep drinking? Who was harmed? I believe your conscious should be clear, and if anything, take the lesson of how it felt to drink too much, have a fuzzy memory, make a few extra apologies (I could be projecting) and learn that lesson. Is is a crime? I tend to think this country has gotten out of hand with all the 'crimes' they've created, especially when there is no victim.

  7. Avatar The Tailor says:

    I agree with you, David. The whole point of the post was that it is essentially is a victimless crime if you're smart about it, and yet society programs us to be shamed abut these acts, even when they are harmless. Thanks for reading.

  8. Avatar The Tailor says:

    I agree with you, David. The whole point of the post was that it is essentially is a victimless crime if you're smart about it, and yet society programs us to be shamed abut these acts, even when they are harmless. Thanks for reading.

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The Plain Simple Tailor About The Plain Simple Tailor

The Tailor, John to his friends, is 32 years old, and always sees the value in being underestimated. He hopes to someday write the greatest science fiction novel ever conceived by man, but has to actually have the idea first. The Tailor is an avowed Trekkie, in case you didn't get the handle reference.

Read more by this author on 30POV .


December 2010
November 2010
On My Honor
October 2010
Witch Hunt
September 2010
If, Then.
May 2010
Small Crimes
April 2010
February 2010
"It's Complicated"
January 2010