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. .