Rafed English

Are There Any Born Criminals?

Today the theory of Lombroso and his followers who believed in the existence of born criminals has been rejected by experts in the field. While serving as a doctor in the Italian army, Lombroso had noticed that tattooing was very common among criminals. This led him to conclude that criminals had a lower level of physical sensitivity than normal people and that their lack of moral sensitivity was also a product of the lack of physical sensitivity. Later on, while dissecting the brain of a robber he noted that it resembled in certain features the brains of lower vertebrae. Those observations formed a prelude to the theory of the appearance of hidden hereditary traits. Lombroso considered certain characteristics as being indicative of a criminal temperament, some of them being: curly hair, slanting eyes, a protruding chin, arching eyebrows, and abnormally big or small head, protruding cheekbones, big ears, a disproportionate relationship between the size of the skull and the face, and a long-drawn forehead. When several of these characteristics are present in a person, one could ascertain with certainty his criminal nature, he believed. He named these characteristics, 'the marks of decadence.' Dr. Alexis Carrel, a French scholar, says:

The born criminal, invented by Lombroso, does not exist. But there are born defectives who become criminals. In reality, many criminals as normal. They are often more clever than policemen and judges. Sociologists and social workers do not meet them during their survey of prisons. The gangsters and crooks, heroes of the cinema and the daily papers, sometimes display normal and even high mental, affective, and aesthetic activities. But their moral sense has not developed. This disharmony in the world of consciousness is a phenomenon characteristic of our time. We have succeeded in giving organic health to the inhabitants of the modern city. But, despite the immense sums spent on education, we have failed to develop completely their intellectual and moral activities. Even in the elite of the population, consciousness often lacks harmony and strength. The elementary functions are dispersed, of poor quality, and of low intensity. Some of them may be quite deficient.

The happiest and most useful men consist of a well-integrated whole of intellectual, moral, and organic activities. The quality of these activities, and their equilibrium, gives to such a type its superiority over the others. Their intensity determines the social level of a given individual. It makes of him a tradesman or a bank president, a little physician or a celebrated professor, a village mayor or a president of the United States. The development of complete human beings must be the aim of our efforts. It is only with such thoroughly developed individuals that a real civilization can be constructed. 9

A contemporary psychologist writes:

Today it has been conclusively established, scientifically as well as philosophically and beyond any doubt, that there does not exist an 'evil' human being; there exist only sick human beings. The realisation of this matter is so significant that it may be said without any exaggeration that no discovery or invention in the world since the emergence of man until the present has had, not will ever have, an equal impact on human welfare. That is, the day that people truly realise this fact and the organisation of society and its regulating institutions is based on this established truth the major part of human suffering, wretchedness, enmities, conflicts and punishments will undergo a moderation. Why? Because when everybody comes to know, for instance, that stinginess, envy, fear, cunning, prejudice, capriciousness, injustice and hundreds of other vices of this kind are logical outcomes of spiritual illnesses that are susceptible to treatment exactly like the common cold, sore throat, indigestion and so on, that will yield two definite important and useful results. Firstly, the sick persons themselves, who are today regarded as 'evil'* will turn to treatment with a full hope and become healthy and good human beings. Secondly, the people will not view them with hostility and resentment as 'evil' persons, but will look upon them as sick human beings deserving sympathy. And it goes without saying that there is a great difference between these two outlooks and their results.

Right now this is the principle that is implemented in most schools in civilised countries, and even in prisons, and this approach is gradually coming to be used with very beneficial results. It is the duty of humanist writers to make all efforts to propagate these extremely beneficial truths, so that all societies throughout the world are benefited by them. 10

This scientific and philosophical theory, whose discovery has been ascribed here to the world of modern science, is one which has a history of fourteen centuries in the religious texts of Islam. The Holy Qur'an refers to the hypocrites as sick persons suffering from two-facedness and malice:

There is a sickness in their hearts. (2:10)

Some moralists and adherents of certain faiths consider man's inner nature as evil and sinful. John Dewey writes:

"Give a dog a bad name and hang him." Human nature has been the dog of professional moralists, and consequences accord with the proverb. Man's nature has been regarded with suspicion, with fear, with sour looks, sometimes with enthusiasm for its possibilities but only when these were placed in contrast with its actualities. It has appeared to be so evilly disposed that the business of morality was to prune and curb it; it would be thought better of if it could be replaced by something else. It has been supposed that morality would be quite superfluous were it not for the inherent weakness, bordering on depravity, of human nature. Some writers with a more genial conception have attributed the current blackening to theologians who have thought to honour the divine by disparaging the human. Theologians have doubtless taken a gloomier view of man than have pagans and secularists. But this explanation doesn't take us far. For after all these theologians are themselves human, and they would have been without influence if the human audience had not somehow responded to them. 11


9. Carrel, Alexis, Man, the Unknown (Bombay: Wilco Publishing House), p. 137.

10. Ravankawi (Psychoanalysis), p. 7.

11. John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1928), p. 1.

Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"

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