Recently the police caught Scott Wolas. He was a real estate agent who stole almost $2 million by scamming friends and clients into investing in a waterfront redevelopment that could and would never happen. He had done the same scam in other industries. It makes you wonder why a man who had obvious sales talents and a vision (of sorts) used these abilities for illegal purposes? Was it greed and always wanting more? Laziness over having to actually produce and realize a new building? An illness that drove him pathologically to steal? Or perhaps an impulse to gain control over other people- the desire for power?
As fascinating and important as these motivations are, more important is the question of: What is a crime? Is it merely the outright misuse of trust and property of another? Is it simply an action that goes against the laws and regulations society sets whatever they might be? Or does a crime require a violation of some higher moral standard?
For Scott Wolas to take other people’s money promising impossible returns knowing there was no return coming runs counter to any expectation of fairness or truth. Hello Bernie Madoff. But what about the genocide carried out against the American Indians, Jews, Armenians, or the enslavement of blacks, women, children? Is it a crime to carry out wars in the name of religion? Are we murderers for bombing Syria because of their use of chemical weapons knowing others will die by our retaliation? Or is it a crime to do nothing in that case? Is it an evil act to beat a child or a pupil in school? It didn’t used to be, nor to burn witches at the stake for that matter. And what should be done about the victim-less crimes, the drug taking at home, the same sex relationships, etc. – laws that are on the books in so many states and countries around the world?
Is it a crime that corporations grow richer through the efforts of their workers while those same employees can’t survive on the meager wages given to them? And is it a crime to be racist, misogynistic, discriminatory? Shouldn’t it be illegal to doom our children to failure because of poor education and inhuman living conditions?
If all these things are crimes and any hurtful or detrimental act that destroys trust, life or liveliness in others is illegal, then almost everyone should be looked at as a criminal. Is life and communal living impossible without crime and are we living in a ‘Lord of the Flies’ universe? Is it utopian to even want such a world? And if we all are criminals shouldn’t we be punished and what should that punishment be?
Perhaps our punishment is to be straddled with this kind of world, until and unless we do something about it!