Updated: Jan 30, 2022
How may we fix the Democrats’ justice reform misadventures, and impel the Republicans’ indolent inertia towards a wiser direction? It would be wise to start from centuries of experience with crime. Since medieval times, violent crime in Western Civilization has plummeted. Regions of the globe like Latin America that share causal factors of violence with medieval times, still have high homicide rates. Around 1200 A.D. in Europe, there were between 4 and 110 homicides per 100,000 people, depending upon the locality. If we want to estimate the aggregate European continental homicide rate in 1200 A.D., the regression puts it at 20 per 100,000. By contrast, here are modern regional homicide rates just prior to the pandemic:
Europe: 3 (inflated 300% by violent Islamic and former-communist countries in the east)
United States: 6 (inflated 200% by gang territories)
In Northern and Western European nations, the rate is now 1 homicide per 100,000 people. How did Europe reduce its violent crime to 2.7% of what it was nearly a thousand years ago? Why have regions like Latin America retained a medieval level of violence? Why does the United States have an elevated level of violence compared to modern Europe? What can we take from these lessons to help us with modern crime? How does a pandemic affect these drivers of crime? And why did our government officials fail to anticipate these events?
The authoritative work on the subject is Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime by Manuel Eisner. He found four categories of factors to explain why European crime plummeted over the past millennium: elite violence, political and economic developments, civilizing process, and cultural change.
The blue bloods systematized elite violence (see Part 1). In feudal times, these elites could get away with exercising their power violently to defend their interests. They could hire their own hitmen, guards, and even small militias to violently enact their will. Sound familiar Latin America? As political power centralized, over time, the knightly warrior society gave way to a monarchical court society where violence was centrally controlled by larger states (monarchic absolutism). The knightly “honor” culture then gave way to courtly manners of intrigue, diplomacy, and persuasion. These courtly manners then diffused from the elites to the lower social classes.
This factor is still alive today. Let’s define the fundamental aspect of “elite violence,” as non-state entities or colluding intelligence agencies with enough money to buy violence in order to secure their power and wealth. While modern America does not have monarchs and knights, we can consider modern “elite violence” to be that which is organized by wealthy criminal cartels, intelligence agencies, corporate interests, and murder-for-hire. About one-in-thirty murders are murder-for-hire; at least, the ones that actually get prosecuted. It’s anyone’s guess as to how many “accidental,” “medical error,” “mystery disease,” “suicidal,” or “missing-person” deaths are victims who crossed the wrong powerful psychopath.
Because elite violence is a cold and calculating enterprise, it is contained most effectively by increased penalties, investigation efficacy, and enforcement aggression. When the risks are not worth the costs, the calculating elites will choose to avoid the risk. But there are some sadistic elites for whom increased costs will not deter their crimes — Nero and the scientists of Unit 731 are prime examples. But because most elites lack that level of sadism and have a lot to lose, increased risk will tend to constrain most of them.
This is the wisdom behind RICO, in which America showed the world in the 1960s how to deal with organized crime in a non-totalitarian society. We’ve since added tax, surveillance, and financial monitoring powers for law enforcement, which have increased the costs for organized crime to operate. Some civil libertarians have claimed that RICO laws have enabled the government to overstep their authority. But what nobody can deny is that their application in the 1970s to 1980s reduced the mafia from an apex to a shadow. Over 1,000 crime leaders were prosecuted with over 2,500 indictments.
But beating down crime is like grooming yourself: no matter how much time and energy you devote to it, you’re always going to have to adapt and do it again as the body changes. And the body of organized crime has changed from mafia crime families to more decentralized gangs.
In America and Russia, organized criminals are the primary perpetrators of violence. As the Arab Spring and the War on Terror have displaced millions of people from CENTCOM, Europe has only recently learned what it means to have foreign organized criminal elements using refugees and illegal immigration to flood their streets with cells of operators, hiding amongst the mostly-peaceful new immigrants. America has been confronting this menace for generations, with 80% of American crime attributable to gangs.
While a street thug may not seem “elite,” most of them are part of extensively organized prison gangs, drug cartels, or intelligence agency subversion. Latin America still has a medieval level of violent crime because it tolerates this elite violence, rather than treating it like a merciless war that they must eradicate with overwhelming violence from the state and citizens. They do not bolster the will of the people to depose corrupt officials, arm themselves, and participate in the war against elite violence.
The key to understanding modern elite violence is with sufficient abstraction. With enough money to buy violence in order to secure power and wealth, the face of the blue bloods may change, but the concepts will not.
Pandemic Elite Violence
How did the pandemic present opportunities for “elite violence,” “blue bloods,” i.e. organized criminals?
When everyone is wearing face masks, surveillance and suspect identification is hampered
When mobility is restricted from business closings and inconveniences, people are at home more often. While this makes home robberies harder, more cars are sitting in unmonitored parking all day long (as opposed to the monitored garages of business districts). This helps to explain why car break-ins increased, but home thefts decreased.
The travel and food service inconveniences also kept rival gangs more stationary than before, making antagonism and reprisal more certain. Mobility data showed that transportation, work, retail, and recreation presence plummeted, as people spent more of their foot traffic in parks and residential areas (see Google Mobility Trends).
Organized crime exploited the BLM animus and pandemic by paying petty hoodlums to organize in groups and steal items that can be resold for profit.
What criminals lost in property crimes with pre-pandemic modi operandi, they more than made up with increased fraud and cybercrime. Theft of COVID relief funds alone tops $100 billion. Why would a criminal invade your home and get their hands dirty when they can rob the irresponsible and poorly-managed cash tsunami created by the government?
Locking the wolf in a cage with sheep: most victims of homicide are known by the killers. Authorities exacerbated the interpersonal conflicts between troubled people, by deterring their disassociation and reprieve from each other with various COVID response policies.
Political and Economic Change
Another substrate for violent crime is economic factors and political tendencies. Throughout the past millennium in Europe, as the disparate conflicting fiefdoms gave way to a larger and centralized state, the organization and size of law enforcement increased. Civic participation inspired by the Magna Carta slowly spread, which increased mutual trust between citizens and state. The belief in the legitimacy of the state fosters peace amongst citizenry. When people mistrust the government and degrade its legitimacy, they gain a powerful rationalization to break the law when they are tempted towards crime.
While the efficacy and size of a justice system provides a deterrent to violence, and neutralizes violence by subduing instigators, there must be an optimal size. Bigger is not necessarily better. One could easily see how an overreaching justice system would foster mistrust between citizen and government, and disbelief in the legitimacy of the government.
The economic influence on peace and violence is clouded by socialist poverty-hustling misconceptions. They’ve promulgated an idea that increased access to “stuff” for the masses is responsible for declining violence. In this banal conception, people are reduced to inhumane animals, who will be violent if they don’t have the “stuff” that they want, or become placated beasts if they get enough “stuff.”
While hunger may lead to more non-violent theft of food, poverty does not lead to violence. Any claim to the contrary is instantly repudiated by dozens of studied societies that were severely impoverished, yet had little violent crime. To choose criminal violence requires a particular set of visions, attitudes, and corrupt values. No amount of poverty can create those characteristics in a person.
Rather, it is the expansion of the market economy that decreases violence, as it increases functional interdependency between people. When people exchange things on a daily basis, they become more peaceful, because they know that their lives are better off with so many other people who have different skills and knowledge. They know that they can’t do all these things on their own. And they gain respect and gratitude for people every time they exchange something fairly and helpfully — whether they frequent doctors, restaurants, retail shops, grocers, techies, or handymen. That respect and gratitude actively suppresses the visions and attitudes that inspire criminal violence.
Because of this, the welfare-heavy urban areas inadvertently blunt this peaceful market influence in many of their citizens. A person who lives off of the government does not gain respect and gratitude from market exchange. In fact, they gain insecurity, resentment, and shame, knowing that while they may be taking things from the market, they’re not contributing to it with value of their own. Consequently, they don’t feel honestly valuable to others in the market. It builds an attitude of entitlement, and decreases self-esteem, both of which favor criminal attitudes.
The market economy calls for division of labor and thus expands literacy and schooling. It also demands a more orderly conduct of life to get what you need from the market. An orderly conduct of life is encouraged by pragmatic cultural features that we saw replace European barbarism with decorum, and manners most drastically expressed by the Victorians. The criticality of education, written communication, and an orderly life leads to less violence.
The thousand years of declining violent crime in Europe was affected by all of these political and economic features.
Pandemic Impact on Political Factors for Violence
How did the pandemic impact political and economic factors for violence?
Government overreach degraded trust in the government, and thus the law. It’s not hard to see how perceptions of government overreach are common. Those who feel the pandemic response to be disproportionate are more likely to resent the government for these things:
Businesses were compelled to shut down for reasons they did not believe to be necessary or proportionate
Tax-funded teachers of government schools demanded the same pay and drastic accommodations by parents that interfered with the parents’ jobs, all to deliver worse outcomes for children
Consumers were restricted from traveling normally
Millions of workers were intimidated into taking an experimental vaccine with no long-term studies
Hospitalized patients were denied access to witnesses and advocates, as their family was forced to let them suffer or die alone
The government hypocritically denied permits for rightwing protestors, and discouraged their rallies, while they facilitated and cheered BLM and Antifa rallies and riots - negating any authenticity they had about social distancing
Government weakness is the flip side of overreach. Those who felt that the government did not do enough to fight the pandemic would also lose trust in the government.
Politically speaking, perhaps even stronger than sentiments towards the pandemic response was a diversion during the pandemic, called Black Lives Matter. It actively called for decarceration, defunding the police, rogue district attorneys who arbitrarily prosecute and suggest blanket clemency for serious crime, and the other aspects of the rehabilitative justice philosophy that have shown correlation to the violence surge. BLM relied upon propaganda, fabrications, and conspiracy theories to advance its agenda, with active support from the most powerful institutions in the nation - major corporations, universities, healthcare administrators, research institutions, nonprofits, and even many democrat government officials.
Debunking the BLM conspiracy theory is not difficult, but beyond the scope of this article. It set out to instigate mistrust in law enforcement, and it succeeded. Murders of police officers jumped from 139 to 295 in 2020 – far more murders than questionable police killings of suspects. Feeling that society, police, and corporations must pay for some imagined injustice provides a powerful rationalization for violence.
Pandemic Impact on Economic Factors for Violence
It is a misconception of socialist ideology that poverty itself inspires crime. All of the many societies in history that have opted for nonviolence with very low crime and extreme poverty, disprove the class warfare narrative. The real effect of economics on violence is more subtle. It interacts with portions of the population who have cultural and mental vulnerability to crime perpetration.
The pandemic response destroyed jobs in lower socioeconomic labor markets, necessarily reducing functional interdependency in market exchange. Coupled with higher tendency towards criminal psychology in lower socioeconomic populations, it reduced their trust and reliance upon each other. The decline in their sense of purpose and interdependence pressured motivations to choose crime.
The government COVID cash “stimulus” (spigot), further decreased functional interdependency, buying no respect for the government, only an increased sense of entitlement. It also further trained small business operators and cash recipients to view each other as less necessary, with a government power providing relief to them. This is most vividly expressed by the $100 billion in fraud that robbed COVID relief programs.
Increased functional literacy and education were dissuaded during the pandemic, as economic incentives for scholarship waned. Discovering that they could just get by without scholarship and without their low-income jobs, many less intelligent citizens gladly retracted from the intellectual work that they already disliked. Thus, the civilizing impact of scholarship was eroded in vulnerable populations during the pandemic.
This demographic is severely misunderstood due to idealistic egalitarian visions. The reality is that half of the population has below-median IQ, and the activities of schooling and scholarship are quite unappealing to at least 20-30% of the population, because of the way they are wired by nature. The civilizing process of scholarship must be foisted upon this demographic if they are to reap any of the benefits at all. Otherwise, the demographic must rely upon civilizing factors other than scholarship, such as peaceful religious belief, market interdependency, punitive deterrent, or various positive cultural norms.
The final set of factors identified by Manuel Eisner’s study for the decline in violence in the past millennium is cultural change. It is the fourth set on top of elite violence mitigation, economic, and political factors.
There were two main tectonic shifts in culture during the past millennium of European history: the rise of individualism and the Protestant Reformation/Catholic Counterreformation. Max Weber described this as a massive disciplining process in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The movements encouraged:
Fulfillment of duty
Sobriety & frugality
Methodic conduct of life
Inner-directedness, relentless introspection and thus conscientious living
Cultivation of shame and guilt
Increased community interaction with pastors and priests, encouraging more literacy and education
Atonement for sin (rather than merely regret and contrition)
Empathy for the weak and human dignity
It’s quite obvious how the implied ethics associated with these trends would discourage criminal action. While the modern world does not have a similar reformation of any sort, it does have multiple cultural degradations, brought on by modern Christian movements (such as Liberation Theology, Prosperity Gospel, and Mega-Church Buddy-Christ teachings), Eastern mysticism, secular humanists, theosophists, socialists (Frankfurt School descendants), and agnostics alike.
For instance, Nietzschean philosophy is extraordinarily popular with secular humanists, atheists, and agnostics. They teach Übermensch idealizations of mankind, shaming weakness and venerating strength and power -- irrespective of its outcomes, or inadvertent harm. The obsession with superhero movies is to these people, what the stories of Saints and martyrs are to Christians. Superman is the literal translation of Übermensch, even if pedantic people would quibble with the semantics of “super” versus “above,” or “beyond.” At any rate, it’s easy to see how this aspect of godless culture would degrade empathy for the weak and vulnerable. Many Nietzschean socialists of the 20th century proved that point with Nazi, Bolshevik, and Maoist brutality against the weak.
As we can see, this kind of cultural analysis can get complicated, because some cultural movements strongly encourage a few of the violence-mitigating factors, but actively promote the opposite of others. Determining a quantitative, or even rough qualitative aggregate for the various movements would be extraordinarily challenging. But we can at least think about the associations in the hope of developing a model. Such deep analysis is beyond the scope of this article, but it is easy to see how the aforementioned modern cultural movements often discourage atonement, empathy, shame, guilt, duty, sobriety, frugality, and orderly living.
The rise of individualism in the culture decreased criminal violence as well. There is inwardness encouraged by an idealized, independent self-perception. That inwardness is accompanied by autonomy, self-responsibility, and authenticity. Moral culture regulates the relationship between individuals and society, and therefore, individualist morals liberate people from collective bonds to groups that symbolically represent collective emotions (such as family and community vendettas, racial pride, class warfare, gangs). In conflicts, individualism conveys emotional indifference and subjective reflexivity, which quells violent impulse.
Violence is definitively correlated with low moral individualism; collectivism causes unstable self-esteem, low autonomy, high dependence on recognition from others, and incompetence in coping with conflict.
Pandemic Impact on Cultural Factors for Violence
Many people lost their sense of individualism during the pandemic. Their autonomy and self-responsibility was throttled by loss of work, loss of health, loss of loved ones, and patronizing ”bail-outs“ from the government. Rather than being liberated from collectivist bonds, tribalism was encouraged by political theater between Republicans and Democrats during an election year, and the BLM insurrection that destroyed between $8-12 billion in arson and theft, according to insurers.
Also, industrial interests in medicine resurrected the recurring scientific tribalism, known in history through conflicts such as Galileo, Ignaz Semmelweis, and Lysenkoism. To mask or not to mask? To vax or not to vax? To prescribe speculative therapeutics, or to simply support vitals? To social distance and shutdown travel, or to fear the unintended consequences of lockdowns more than the virus? To concern ourselves with Fauci’s financing of EcoHealth Alliance through Daszak in creating the virus at Wuhan Institute of Virology based upon scientific inquiries and intelligence leaks, or to believe the Chinese Communist Party’s “bat soup” zoonotic narrative?
Irrespective of which medical tribe people chose, the collectivism involved could easily harden the hearts of the criminally minded. One of the most disgusting examples of this is the perfectly legal homicides of patients by evil doctors who went on record admitting that they have no conscience or sympathy for unvaccinated patients, denying them priority in triage, and even denied dying patients last-resort therapeutics. While those deaths will not show up in the homicide reports, we can consider them to be an addendum to the nearly half-million people slaughtered every year by medical malfeasance and error.
The higher prevalence of low self-esteem for many medical personnel was exacerbated by this collectivism. Most people quickly revert to pragmatic motivations during crises. If collectivist morals show higher promise for short-term objectives in survival and thriving, people will choose them over individualist morals. And as noted, a side-effect of collectivist morals are motivations for violence, animosity, and aggression towards abstractions of people in opposing collectives.
Finally, the cultural features of the reformation were degraded by pandemic events. When the government prints $trillions in credit to pay people not to work, the message is that fulfillment of duty and frugality does not pay. The message is that methodic conduct of life does not pay, because in an instant, entire markets can be shut down, and people can be made prisoners in their own homes and communities. Those who worked hard can be knocked right down to all of the people who produce nothing, with the flick of a government digital monetary printing press.
Fear is heightened, encouraging people to abandon conscientious living, and surveil externalities feverishly, hampering their introspection. Shame and guilt are difficult to feel when the person observes so much hypocrisy -- economically, socially, and institutionally. Literacy and education are thwarted and less-effective “virtual learning,” replaces the human touch. People who can’t even afford to pay their own bills without a government subsidy are not attentive to atonement, when they feel as if they have little to give back. Empathy for the weak and human dignity is eviscerated when communities tolerate the abuse of patients in hospitals, the separation of families from patients, and prejudicial fear of infected strangers on the streets.
You can now see where this leads: in a lawful citizen, all of these stressors would cause anxiety, sadness, and misery. But in a person vulnerable to crime, they all contribute to increased pressure to choose new crime perpetration.
In the next part of this series, we will review other landmark studies in criminology that explained surges and declines of violent crime in the 20th century.