The Structure and Prevention of Delinquency1
The title of this article refers not only to reducing the number of criminal acts, but also to preventing the commission of any crime. The two aspects of this problem are inseparable. We can successfully reduce crime only by understanding what causes it.
In certain conditions of our present social system, during the course of his development, an individual faces difficulties he cannot overcome because he has not been properly prepared to overcome them. As a result, he goes to pieces under these burdens. As Individual Psychologists, we speak of burdens for which the social interest of the individual must be sufficiently developed to bear.
Although it will never be attained, we can imagine an ideal state in which man would be able to cope with every difficulty to which he might be subjected. I shall not dwell on those difficulties. However, many social institutions present obstacles to individuals who have not been prepared in childhood to meet them.
As statistics show, crime is not diminishing; at certain times and under certain circumstances, it is even increasing. Some people assume that the increased cost of living is the cause of increasing crime; others, that the decrease in the cost of living is responsible. Even when a country is prosperous, criminal tendencies appear which were not present at other times. When times were comparatively good for almost everyone in the United States, when no crisis existed, the increase of crime was attributed to Prohibition, or to how easily some people became rich.
The problem of reducing crime is extraordinarily complicated. Although we can approach the problem with various assumptions, we cannot say that any one of them is conclusive. However, in this article, we focus on those fundamental problems recognized by Individual Psychology, the solution of which leads to preparing mankind better than it has been prepared in the past to withstand its trials.
We must strengthen the interest in others which will enable man to withstand his difficulties. Those who have witnessed the results of Individual Psychology understand the important element is the cultivation of the inborn potential for social feeling so that an individual behaves with a sufficient degree
1 Originally titled “Die Vorbeugung der Delinquenz.” First published in the Int. Z. Indiv. Psychol., Vol. 13, pages 196-206, 1935. Translated into English and published in the Int.
J. Indiv. Psychol., Vol. 1, No. 3, pages 3-13, 1935.
of active social interest. In that way, the attitude toward the tasks of life is directed toward common usefulness.
Crime is an intentional injury of others for personal advantage. Obviously then, the problem concerns human beings in whom social interest is not sufficiently developed. From many years of experience, we know how this insufficiency comes about. We understand how social interest did not develop sufficiently in those individuals.
We will explain the determining factors which educate the child for solving his future problems in accordance with the common welfare. A child so trained will feel himself a part of the whole, a member of the human race who lives, works, and plays with other members, and who regards first the small tasks of his childhood and later the greater tasks of his maturity in only one way: by asking himself, “What can I contribute?” An individual so trained in childhood will never show criminal tendencies, even when the pressure of external circumstances becomes as severe as it is today when so many are failing.
Owing to communal life, one of our chief problems has been the way in which an individual relates to others, the way he contributes to the advancement of the community. In this process of the individual's relating to the community, many mistakes have been made for which mankind has paid. Wise men have always said that the happiness of mankind lies in working together, in living as if each individual had set himself the task of contributing to the common welfare.
The development of the inborn potential for cooperation occurs as soon as the child is born. It occurs first in the relationship of the child and mother, because the mother is the first person whom the child experiences. This relationship has its foundation in nature. The child and mother are dependent on each other; this relationship not only arises out of nature, but is favored by it. When other schools of psychology maintain that the child comes into the world a complete egoist with a “drive for destruction” and no other intention than to foster himself cannibalistically on his mother, they overlook the role of the mother in the relationship. The mother with her milk-filled breasts and all the other altered functions of her body (not to mention the new emotional development of her love for her child) needs the child as much as the child needs her. They depend on each other by nature. In this first opportunity for the cultivation of the inborn social potential, social interest takes on life.
But even here, at the very beginning, many mistakes can be made because humans are fallible. For instance, often satisfied with a restricted social development for the child, the mother might not concern herself with his need to go from her care into a much wider circle of human contacts. In such a case, the mother concentrates the child's social potential on herself. She does not help him extend his interest to others. Even the father may be excluded, if he makes no special effort to enter this “closed circle.” Of course, other children and strangers are also excluded. However, the mother's task is to keep the child from seeing her as the only person with whom he can make contact.
Among other developments, a child may become spoiled if he suffers from a feeling of privation and senses that only in the mother can he find the possibility of satisfying his wants. This spoiling is especially true, for example, of children born with organ inferiorities who consequently face life as if under a burden which causes them to suffer. In such a case, the child learns to expect everything from the mother, and becoming conscious of a feeling of deprivation, apprehending his burden, he forces the mother to occupy herself exclusively with him.
Nevertheless, the bad training given by the mother is not responsible for producing the pampered life style. The child stumbles into this mistaken path by himself when the mother is the only person with whom he makes contact. This attitude could not occur unless the child claimed for himself all the advantages of such a relationship. In other words, focused on himself, the child sees his only possibility of success in expecting everything from his mother, in contributing nothing, in always taking and never giving. His social feeling will go no further. Consequently, the child’s picture of the world will be one in which he expects everything from others.
In the obscure processes of his thinking, such a child regards others as objects. Because he expects everything from others without giving anything to them, they are nothing more than objects. With this viewpoint, no one can develop the feeling of equality with others. We cannot keep the interest of others in mind if they are merely outsiders who have to look after us and have been made available for our exploitation.
Criminals invariably demonstrate a pampered life style. They picture the world as a place where everyone else exists for their exploitation, where they have the right to forcibly take possession of the goods, health, or life of others and to set their own interest above the interest of others. A certain attitude runs through their life history. The social interest of criminals suffered shipwreck in childhood and did not attain full maturity. These individuals begin early to take forcibly anything they think belongs to them.
However, their intelligence must be taken into consideration. If that is missing, then we cannot call them criminals. We cannot employ the concept of crime in relation to a feebleminded person who commits an offense. That term applies to a deed planned intentionally and maliciously for the purpose of enriching the perpetrator. A criminal act is the result of the pampered life style insisting on “wish fulfillment.” Also, difficulties are harder for those with a pampered life style to withstand, because they feel their own wishes more strongly than others, considering themselves justified in these personal desires, so that they solve their problems in a way that maintains their personal prestige.
All Freudian research and its findings relate to the pampered life style without acknowledgment of that fact. The popularity of this school and the resentment implicit in its theories point to a readiness in those with a pampered life style to accept it because they feel anything that stems from the pampered life style is justified and right.
This pampering and its results assume a variety of colors depending on whether the child takes an active or passive attitude toward life. Even in a passive way, he can expect everything from others; but if he shows more activity, he will take from others whatever he wants that is not given to him voluntarily. Right here is the beginning of delinquency. A most important result of Individual Psychology is its ability to determine the psychic structure of a child who is a potential delinquent and in danger of heading for a career of crime. Criminals whom I have studied, whether in life or literature, have all been of this type. Through pampering or self-pampering as children, they came to an early halt in the development of their social interest, but displayed a great amount of activity.
We can detect the criminal’s mistaken picture of the world in his earliest childhood recollections. For example, we hear things like the following: “I was helping with the wash when I saw a piece of money on the table, so I took it. I was six years old;” or, “When I was five, a freight car burned at our railway station. A lot of children’s balls were thrown out and I grabbed as many as I could hold;” or again, “My mother was careless about leaving money lying about, so each week I took some of it.”
Such lack of social interest bound up with activity will be found again and again in the early recollections of delinquents. The clear expression in these early memories of the pampered life style combined with great activity is one of the most significant findings of Individual Psychology. Fighting, lack of consideration for or injury of others, and running away appear early in these people; clearly, interest in and for others is missing in them.
We dare not forget these facts in studying delinquency. In addition, with the commonly inadequate development of social feeling the inclination to crime is more prevalent than the actual commission of crime, which also requires an external “cause” in a difficult situation confronting the criminal. The criminal sees in the commission of his crime the only possible relief from his difficult situation. His crime seems to him his only possibility of success. Never missing from any crime, the difficult situation is like a test of the criminal’s social interest.
However, the situation which appears to the criminal sufficiently difficult to make him commit the crime can appear quite insignificant to the non-criminal. For instance, a man who has no money and wants to take a girl out may become a burglar. Such mistaken behavior shows an extraordinary degree of arrogance, of diseased ambition which becomes extremely acute when the criminal sees others in possession of anything he covets.
The criminal believes that he will triumph by his crime, and not be caught. This firm conviction, too, has its roots in early childhood. I have never seen a young delinquent who had not already committed several offenses without being caught. So delinquents get the impression: “I can injure others without being caught at it.” From experience, they acquire a certainty about it.
Here we must consider another factor. No crime is committed without a plan. The criminal thinks out everything in advance, and his plan convinces him that he is superior to the police, the law, and his victim. His premise is the conviction of his superiority. He finds some grounds for this attitude in the fact that almost forty percent of criminals are not apprehended and most criminals have committed various greater or lesser offenses before capture.
In part, we can attribute the great difficulty of reforming criminals to this fact. We can turn an individual from the criminal path only through transforming his picture of the world from one of exploiting others to one of seeing others as fellow human beings. Our present methods of dealing with crime exert too little effort to increase his social interest. This statement is not intended as criticism or blame. Crime is the most serious of all the psychic mistakes. If we really wish to redirect the criminal to a more useful way of life, then we must employ the best educators, who understand thoroughly that success hinges upon the increase of his social interest.
As a rule, the criminal believes that if he had only been cleverer he would not have been caught. Even criminals standing in the shadow of the gallows cling to this impression. I remember a murderer who said again and again, “If only I had not forgotten my glasses, then I would never have been caught.” A criminal laboring under this conviction is very difficult to approach, especially as even in prison he receives advice and instruction from other criminals as to how his crime might have been more perfectly executed. As long as this problem is unsolved, approaching criminals will be difficult. As long as the criminal is convinced that if he had only proceeded differently in some small way he would not be in prison, he will reject with disdain any other explanation of his dilemma.
All ambitious individuals prepare an alibi whenever threatened with a defeat that might injure their prestige. “Prestige diplomacy” is the essence of this characteristic. We are not surprised that at St. Helena Napoleon said, “If I had only gone to Spain first and then to Russia, the whole world would now be at my feet.” These alibis provide both a comfort and a challenge to be cleverer the next time. Thus, the criminal preserves his feeling of worth and his psychic balance. For him, his failure is due to a mere trifle.
The difficulty is persuading the criminal that seeking his triumph by defrauding others is a mistake, and making him understand that contributing to society will lead to happiness. He should be shown his mistaken style of life from childhood on.
In order to commit a crime, the criminal must goad himself to do it. This bright spot in the consideration of the human psyche may be viewed as evidence that even the criminal has social interest. The real trouble is that he does not have enough of it. For the purpose of committing his crime he must overcome, both mentally and emotionally, whatever amount of social interest he possesses. He must exhaust his social interest before he can proceed on his criminal way. Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov presents a wonderful picture of this process. Raskolinov lies in his bed for two months considering whether or not he dare commit a murder. He tries to kill his social interest by imagining how much good he could do with the money of his victim. But he is not successful in that way, he still has too much social interest, until after two months he exclaims, “Am I Napoleon nor a louse?” Now he is armed, he behaves like Napoleon and murders the old woman. What has happened? He has selected a comparison, a metaphor which has no connection with reality. Neither Napoleon nor a louse, of course he sets up these alternatives because he doesn’t want to give up the crime which is his goal. Now he has an impulse which facilitates his carrying out the deed. He has exhausted his social interest. But it comes back to him after the deed is done because the metaphor he used to stimulate its accomplishment no longer serves him. This same dynamic occurs in all crimes.
The criminal who forgot his glasses said, “Why set so much store on the boy I killed? There are a million other boys.” Here he shows his need of an idea incompatible with common sense. A man who murdered his brother used a distorted concept to facilitate his crime and in reference to it exclaimed, “It was either him or me. The earth was not big enough for both of us!” Similar ideas play a part in lesser crimes. For example, a criminal who had stolen a sum of money said, “That man had plenty of money; anyhow, why should he have left that money lying around?” Or again, “That man had fine clothes and I had none; so I had to kill him.”
Clearly, this type of thinking does not show feeblemindedness, for we all use such help when we resort to poetic expression to further our purposes. We do the same thing when, for instance, we emphasize the qualities we like or dislike in other people, when we want to represent someone as bad or even when we attempt to make friendly contact. Such poetic expressions and devices are attempts to support our objectives. For example, if someone wants very much to go to the country, he begins by visualizing pictures of the mountains, and before long he actually goes there even though according to common sense, he should have stayed in town.
All human beings have this ability to incite themselves to do something good or bad. The ability to develop feelings from thoughts and pictures gives an impetus to achievements and attitudes which, though they would no doubt be accomplished anyhow, would be accomplished much less easily under the inhibitions imposed by common sense.
We can see the criminal’s mistaken picture of the world, his pampered life style, in the very fact he considers others so little that he regards them merely as victims. Lacking in social interest, he will be subject to egocentric, fantasy impulses, because having only a “private logic,” he lacks the common sense that binds the human race together. Social interest endows its possessor with a degree of reason which keeps him from deceiving himself. If he does not deceive himself, he will not wish to deceive others.
The quality so aptly termed “common sense” is the highest development of reason. Its values are constant and incontrovertible. The undervaluing of reason, common sense, and intelligence by so many perhaps indicates their lack of social interest.
Now we turn to the prevention of crime. We know how social interest may remain undeveloped, just as muscular strength may remain undeveloped.
We know that the security of mankind and the attainment of its highest destiny require that the child be shaped into a fellowman, a co-worker, who feels a part of the whole, connected to the community of men. Unlike the individual who merely lets himself be carried along, the cooperator displays a great deal of socially useful activity. This fellowman develops so that without thinking much about it, almost automatically, he moves along a path leading to the common welfare. Proceeding in this direction, he develops many of his latent capacities. The chief task of education lies in developing such fellowmen.
Social interest is not inborn in human beings; merely the potential of developing it is inborn. Inborn potential requires cultivation. The sense of touch is also inborn, but the creative power of the child develops it to the point of usefulness. The degree of development of the sense of touch in the cases of Helen Keller and Laura Bridgman came about through intensive training. A prominent neuropathologist, Frederick Tilney, who examined both of these women, found that their sense of touch did not inherently differ from the normal, but that through training they enabled themselves to accomplish much more than normal. Sight can be the same in two individuals, but what each does with it depends upon how he trains it, and may vary greatly. This important finding of Individual Psychology will eventually modify the inheritance psychologies so that they agree with our view.
It should be possible to develop social interest to a degree that suffices the individual in withstanding difficulties, not in order to suppress wishes but to turn them into the channels of general usefulness. At first sight, the mother may seem to have the task of developing the inborn potential of social interest in the child. But we must acknowledge that making the majority of parents into good educators would be an endless, futile undertaking. So we must turn to the school to assume the task of developing the inborn potential for social interest. If teachers educated their students in this way, then when children left school, they would possess sufficient social interest to meet the tasks of life.
We need a law that no child may leave school until he can take a useful place in society, until his interest in others is sufficiently developed to enable him to meet the tasks of life. In fact, children who do develop in the direction of social interest and strive for general welfare are the very ones who achieve most in their studies. And in turn, school achievement is a kind of preparation for later social usefulness. But how can a student focus on his studies if being useful is foreign to him?
Clearly, this training would impose a new responsibility upon the teacher, but after all, the teacher should be most concerned with these matters. The wisdom of the teacher can make the child understand why he needs to learn the various things taught in school, and to also understand which of his schoolmates is a fellow worker, a malingerer, or asocial. The teacher who masters this art, as we have often found, can instruct other teachers in these methods. He soon discovers that the foundation of helping a child is to lead him to the path of common usefulness, so he does not feel himself in an enemy country, and seeks his happiness in being, living, and working with others.
Only in this way will the children of coming generations be able to solve the problems of life and make contact with their fellowmen. Only in this way can we hope that individuals will find true vocational worth, that the problem of love will be solved so that happy marriages based on the equality of the sexes will be possible, and that women may freely choose their partners. To make the child a cooperator, to make him a help instead of a burden, could become the common tradition of education.
As soon as teachers understand the advantages of their position among the leaders of mankind, as soon as they see that they have in their hands the power to guide future generations, many will join this great effort. The teacher as an individual would find that these amplifications of his work and position make it easier for him. It is certainly easier to teach social-minded, well-balanced, useful children than to drag along a number of maladjusted, negligent ones.
If anyone still doubts that the delinquent lacks sufficient social interest, rendering him unable to solve the problems of life, I refer to two points. First, fifty per cent of arrested delinquents are untrained and unskilled, meaning that even as children they did not cooperate and it was impossible to develop their social interest to the degree necessary for business or professional life.
Second, fifty per cent of criminals suffer from venereal diseases, meaning that they are unable to solve the problem of love in a normal way or to consider it a task for two equal partners. Venereal diseases often result from thinking that sex concerns merely one person, whereas it is a task for two which can be truly accomplished only when each partner has sufficient interest in the welfare of the other. These two points vividly confirm my conception of the problem of delinquency.
In conclusion, mankind would profit enormously by traveling the road proposed by Individual Psychology. The economic cost of my program for the prevention of delinquency does not worry me. The cost of the present system of detection, punishment, and maintenance of criminals far exceeds the cost of educating children to social feeling and interest in others, in short, to be contributing members of society. Even at present, the poorest community could afford this training. In a short time, a sufficient number of teachers could be prepared for the task. In Vienna, we already have a great number of teachers equipped for this work.
Furthermore, even the closest scrutiny cannot find the proposed educational measure injurious to the religious or political requirements of any nation. I can imagine no form of government in which the proposed increase of social interest would be harmful; in fact, all great movements include it in their programs.
If some people question whether other psychologies can accomplish the same results, I must answer: we Individual Psychologists are broad-minded enough to hope that they too will have the opportunity of showing what they can do to educate teachers for this work.
I see no reason why this exceptionally fruitful idea could not become reality. I have found, however, that being right is not enough, and indeed can be a disadvantage. Although we may believe this idea is so important to life that the future welfare of mankind depends upon it, I do not think we will accomplish at once what seems so obviously necessary to us. But that should not hinder us from constantly hoping and thinking of it, or from working toward it.
Individual Psychologists have worked at the problem from this standpoint for a long time, and I believe we have had good results. The solution we offer is not only theory, but also a practical solution for the problem of crime.
When we say that the problem can be solved, we do not mean that it will be solved immediately. Any new theory meets with the same incredulity and resistance that this one is meeting. It has always been so when anyone found a new way which differed from the customary trend. It was so in the development of industrial technique. The first steamboat and the first train were looked upon as enemies of man. Even scientists declared that anyone who used them must be mad. Yet it has been demonstrated that man can endure far greater speed. Those who fear that children trained in our way will surely develop headaches raise objections similar to those raised against the steamboats and the trains.
We must not keep to ourselves the conclusions we have thoroughly tested and found sound. We have the duty to disseminate them and challenge the world to subject them to further proof. As a result of this increased understanding of Individual Psychology, I hope the one-sided view of hereditarianism, the environmental theory, the endocrine gland theory, and the Freudian sexual theory of crime will be closely examined.
A deeper understanding of Individual Psychology will also greatly help in the diagnosis of feeble-mindedness, which at present is very uncertain, especially in borderline cases.
If our work has just one result, that someone reading this article tests the validity of these ideas to prove our theories, then I would be satisfied. In view of the general inertia of mankind, I must take comfort in knowing that at least I have done what I could.