Classical Texts in Psychology
York University, Toronto, Ontario
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On the Witness Stand:
Essays on Psychology and Crime
Hugo Münsterberg (1908/19275
THE PREVENTION OF CRIME
A FEW weeks ago there stumbled into my laboratory a most pitiable human wreck; I saw at the first glance how morphine had devastated the frame of a man in his best years, and trembling and with rolling eyes he confessed that he was using thirty grains of the destructive poison every day. He could neither eat nor sleep, he had not worked for years, he had left wife and child, -- it was a gruesome story of heartrending misery. They had sent him to asylums in vain; he remained the slave of his passion, and everyone treated him with contempt and disgust. Slowly I drew out his whole tragedy from the beginning. He had been successful in life and hard at work; then he had had an accident and had been brought into a Southern hospital. There the surgeons gave him morphine every evening to secure a restful night, just a little "shot" of an eighth of a grain. When he left the hospital his hip was healed, but the poor fellow could not sleep without the drug, and [p. 232] from day to day the dose had to be increased -- he was a morphinist, an outcast, without energy and without hope.
For weeks I have been fighting his passion with persistent suggestive treatment, and the dose he needs has now been reduced to the hundredth part, and his old strength and enjoyment of life have slowly come back; he will be cured soon. But every day when I put my full energy to the task, I have to think of the cruelty with which society has treated him. He was not born a "dope fiend"; he did not choose the poison. Organised society injected it into his system -- a small dose only, but enough to make the craving for it irresistible, and when it had grown to ruinous proportions society was ready to despise and to condemn him. Even in the best case it could only make heroic efforts to overcome the gigantic passion which it had recklessly raised. To me this diseased passion is a symbol of all the crime that fills the countries of the globe. No man is born a criminal. But society gives him without his will the ruinous injection -- of course, a small dose only, a shot of an eighth of a grain, and despises him if the injected instinct [p. 233] grows and grows, and when it has destroyed the whole man, then society goes heroically to work with police and court and punishment. It is nearly always too late -- to prevent that first reckless injection would have been better than all the labour of the penitentiaries.
At last this conviction is making its way everywhere: prevention of crime is more important than treatment of crime. It is claimed that this country spends annually five hundred million dollars more on fighting the existing crime than on all its works of charity, education and religion; the feeling is at last growing that a fraction of that expense and energy would be ample for providing that such a quantity of habitual crime should not come to existence at all. For such a result, however, it is essential that all social factors coöperate in harmony and that no science which may contribute to this tremendous problem hold back. It is evident that it i the duty of modern experimental psychology to give its serious attention to such thoughts, and a psychologist may therefore ask for a hearing. He has perhaps little to contribute, as only in very recent days has the psychological [p. 234] laboratory come into connection with the world of crime, but that little is the more needed to awake interest for this too much neglected aspect of the case.
Public opinion, to be sure, to-day leans toward calling the psychologist as witness for a very different purpose. The psychologist is to disburden society of its responsibility for the growth of crime, inasmuch as he is called to testify that the criminal is born as such. Reminiscences of Lombroso's interesting theories and of his whole school fill the air. It seems a dogma that the true scientist must accept the type of the born criminal along with other human abnormalities which are beyond our social making and unmaking, like the epileptic, or, on the sunny side of society, the musical genius. But in such a form the doctrine is certainly misleading and distorted, and the psychologist must refuse to furnish evidence. No one will deny the importance of those Italian inquiries which were quickly amplified by the researchers of all countries. It was of the highest value to study the bodily and mental characteristics of the inmates of our prisons, to gather anthropological and [p. 235] sociological data of their misshapen ears or palates, of their tattooing and their slang, and finally to make psychological experiments as to their sensitiveness and their emotions. But no result justifies the claim that criminals are born as such. The accusation against society stands after Lombroso firmer than before; society has not done its duty.
From the outset we must not forget that from a psychological point of view it is utterly vague to speak of a criminal disposition as if such a term stood for a unified mental state. In the old days of reckless phrenology it seemed so simple to talk of the sense for architecture or the sense for morality, and in the same way of the absence of such sense, as if really one elementary function only were involved. All that was necessary for the old phrenologist, because it was his belief that he was able to recognise the development of mental functions like love of music or criminality from the development of certain bumps on the skull; and for that purpose it was again necessary to presuppose that such mental traits were located in one single corner of the brain. [p. 236] To-day we know that such faculties are the outcome of hundreds of thousands of processes which are going on in perhaps millions of brain parts. We may seek the localised seat for simple tone sensations or simple colour sensations, but not for a whole perception of a thing, and infinitely less for such complex states, built up from ideas, emotions, and volitions.
How does the average man succeed;n living an honest life? Impressions and thoughts carry to his mind numberless ideas which awake feelings of pleasure and displeasure. The pleasurable idea stirs up the desire and the impulse to realise it in action, and the disagreeable idea awakes the impulse to get rid of the displeasing source. There is no further will act necessary; the idea, of the end itself presses the brain button and makes us act. We approach the attractive and escape the painful by the mere power of the ideas; the whole development of life from the first sucking for sweet milk is possible only through this mechanism. But from the beginning life complicates this process. The tempting idea of the end to be reached awakes, before the action sets in, some counter [p. 237] idea, perhaps the thought of dangerous results; we desire the fruit, but we know it is poisonous, and the idea of poisoning works in the opposite direction. The attractive impression gives the impulse to extend the arm, and the thought of danger gives the counter impulse to withdraw the arm. The one tends to inhibit the other; the more vivid idea overpowers the weaker one; we do not grasp for the poisonous fruit, because the danger holds as back.
Such counter idea, which associates itself with the idea of the end, may be of social character; the expectation of punishment or of contempt may work as such a check, and yet the mechanism of the process is just the same. It is again a balancing of opposing forces. And finally, instead of such social ideas, there may stand on the other side a religious habit or an ethical ideal which may become effective where no social fear is involved, but the principle remains always the same: the struggle of ideas controls the resulting action. There is no good or bad, wise or foolish actor behind those ideas to pick out the favoured one, but the ideas in their varieties of vividness [p. 238] and feeling-tone with their attached impulses are themselves the working of the personality, and their striving determines the result. A life may be honest, or at least decent, if the tempting ideas of socially forbidden ends are inhibited and over-powered by opposing considerations, ideas of punishment and harm, or of religious fear. On a higher level we may demand that it shall be the idea of moral dignity which checks the forbidden impulse. But the essential point remains that the non-criminal, the correct life, is always the result of a complex interplay between ideas and counter ideas with the result that the thought of some unpleasant consequence inhibits the desire. The mechanism of the process is therefore not different from the case where the idea of bodily harm prevents us from doing a reckless or dangerous thing. And in this way the psychologist cannot acknowledge a special function of non-criminal behaviour; it overlaps and practically coincides with the reasonable, cautious way of living in every other respect. By the smallest possible steps every man's adjustment to his environment, leads from the avoidance of bodily risks to the [p. 239] avoidance of social risks, and thus to non-criminal habits. There is nowhere a sharp demarcation line. The one who is instinctively overmuch afraid of being found out in wrong-doing will live a faultless life from the standpoint of law; just as truly as his neighbour who obeys the laws from a moral conviction. It is impossible to bring criminality, from a psychological viewpoint, down to one formula.
The normal decent life thus demands that an idea which by its feeling tone stimulates to a forbidden action shall awake, at the same time, the counter ideas which stimulate to the inhibition of the action, and that these opposing ideas shall remain victorious. It is evident that crime may thus result from most different reasons. Those social counter ideas may not have been learned, or they may not come quickly enough to consciousness, or they may be too faint, or, on the other hand, the original ideas with their desires may be too intense, or their emotions may be too vehement, or the mechanism of inhibition may not be working normally -- in short, a defect or an abnormality in any part of the complex process may lead to a confiict [p. 240] with the law. And yet how different the mind in which the impulses are too strong from that in which the opposing ideas are too faint and that in which the inhibition does not work precisely. And where is to be the point at which the defect becomes abnormal? The temperament with strong impulses may remain still quite well behaved if the checking ideas are unusually strong too, and the faint checks may be harmless if the desires are still weaker.
Moreover, it is clear that none of these defects works in the direction of crime alone. The brain in which such counter ideas are too slowly associated has no special trouble in the line of legal consequence alone; it is a general deficiency; all the ideas come slowly, the mental vision is narrow; the man is stupid and mentally lazy. On the other hand, the brain in which the opposing ideas are unable to produce inhibition must do the reckless thing everywhere: he runs risks and does not care. And the brain in which the impulses are overstrong will again show its emotional lack of balance in every field. In short, there are minds which are born slow or stupid or brutal or [p. 241] excitable or lazy or quaint or reckless or dull -- and in every one of such minds a certain chance for crime is given. But to be born with a mind which by its special stupidity or carelessness or vehemence gives to crime an easier foothold than the average mind certainly does not mean to be a born criminal. The world is full of badly balanced or badly associating persons; we cannot deny that nature provided them poorly in the struggle for social existence; they are less fit than others, but their ending within prison walls is only one of the many dangers which life has in store for them; the same unfit apparatus may make them unable to gain a position or to have friends or to protect themselves against disease. In short, it is not criminals that are "born,'' but men with poorly working minds. And yet who will say where a mind is just of the right kind? No brain works perfectly -- what intelligence and what temperament would be ideal? "All the world is peculiar." It is thus only a question of relative amount.
Just this, indeed, is the situation which the psychologist finds. Of course, if we turn to the professional criminal who has become a specialist at [p. 242] safe-blowing or at sneak-thieving or at check-forging or burglary, and who has been shaped by long years in the penitentiaries, we find specimens of mind which are very different from the normal average; but those are the differences of training. They have become indeed almost unable to avoid crimes; they have to go on in their career, but it was not their inborn disposition that forced them to burglary. If we abstract from the effect of such life training in the social underworld, and from the traces of poor education, of bad example, of disease and neglect, we find among the criminals the same types of mind as in other spheres, only with a great percentage of all kinds of mental inferiority -- stupid and narrow minds, vehement and passionate minds, minds with weak power of comprehension and minds with ineffective power of inhibition, minds without normal emotions and minds without energy for work.
When a school for criminal boys was carefully examined, it was found that of the two hundred boys one hundred and twenty-seven were deficient in their general make-up, either in the direction of feeble-mindedness or in the direction of hysteric [p. 243] emotion or in the direction of epileptic disturbance. And fuller light is thrown on these figures as soon as others are added; in eighty-five cases the father or the mother, or both, were drunkards; in twenty-four cases, the parents were insane; in twenty-six cases, epileptics; and in twenty-six further cases, suffering from other nervous diseases. Not the criminal tendency was born with the poor children, but the insufficient capacity and resistance of the central nervous system; and this was their inheritance from abnormal and degenerate parents.
If we wish to express it in terms of experimental psychology, we may consult the careful tests which have been made with female criminals in Southern penitentiaries, on the one side, and female students of a large university on the other. Certainly, point for point the criminals show a different result. For instance, in memory tests the average student remembered a series of seven letters or a series of eight numerals, while under the same experimental conditions the average criminal remembered only five letters or six numerals. Or the test for the attention to tactual impressions [p. 244] showed that the students discriminated two compass points as two on the right fore-arm at a distance of sixteen millimetres, while the criminals did not discriminate them with less than twenty-four millimetres. If students pulled at a hook as fast as they could, their energy would be decreased in half a minute by 1.6 pounds, while that of the criminals decreased by 2.4 pounds. Or if a word was given as starting point for any associations which might arise in consciousness, the average number of associations in one minute was for the students ten, for the criminals five. In short, in every respect the average of the criminals shows a poorer mental equipment than the average of the picked student minds. But here again no one feature points to a special demand for crime. Criminals are recruited especially from the mentally inferior; that is the only true core of the doctrine of the born criminal. But the mental inferiority -- intellectual or emotional or voli·tional -- forces no one to steal and burglarise. He cannot and will never equal the clever, well-balanced, energetic fellow, but society may find a modest place, humble but safe, even for the [p. 245] most stupid and most indifferent and most unenergetic: no one is predestined by his brain to the penitentiary.
It may be replied, of course, that there are plenty of cases in which crime is committed from an irresistible impulse or from a total lack of inhibition or from other defects which exclude free self-determination, But in such cases we have clearly no longer any right to speak of crime; it is insanity. The man who starts incendiary fires because he has hallucinations in which he hears God's voice ordering him to burn the town, is not a criminal. Moreover, the pathological impulses of the diseased mind are again not confined to the criminal sphere; again crime is only the chance effect; the disturbance is general. The irresistible impulse may be just as well directed against the man's own personality, and may lead to self-mutilation or to suicide. And that holds true also for the milder degrees. Only to-day I studied the case of a lad of eleven who was brought to me because he was found stealing from time to time. He was a dear little boy, surrounded with comfort and the best and most loving influences. He fights [p. 246] and fights against his impulse and speaks of it frankly. Sometimes it comes like an attack; he longs for some money perhaps to buy fire-crackers with, and he simply cannot resist till it is done, he told me with tears, and then he hardly knows why he did it. But it was evident at the first glance that the boy was not normally built, and that the attacks which led to such pseudo-crimes were pathological, quite similar to epileptic or hysteric fits. To prevent such explosions of the diseased brain is not prevention of crime; but, on the one side, treatment of disease, on the other side, protection of society against the outbreaks of dangerous patients. In real crime we have to presuppose that the checking of the impulse by the counter idea would have been possible if the available energy had been brought into play. Crime is thus not a disease, and there is no need to excuse the existence of our jails by considering them as asylums. Every action is, of course, the necessary result of foregoing causes, but such effect of the causes remains a free, and therefore a responsible action, as long as the causes work on a mechanism which is able to secure an unhampered interplay [p. 247] of influences. The insane or the hypnotised mind has no freedom and therefore cannot commit crime, but the merely stupid or reckless or brutal or indifferent minds are still free, while it is clear that the probability of a disastrous result is for them alarmingly high.
If we thus exclude the pathological mind from further discussion, we can say that no one is born a criminal: what, then, has society to do that no one shall become a criminal? The latest of all sciences, eugenics, might look backwards and demand that society take care that such mentally weak and inferior persons are not born at all. Vital statistics show indeed on some of their darkest pages that the overwhelming majority of those degenerate personalities have drunkards and epileptics as parents. But our immediate lack is a different one: we presuppose that the minds of the millions in all their variations of strong and weak, of intelligence and emotionality and power are born and sent into the streets of the cities; what can the psychologist advise that their way may not lead them from the street to the cell of the prison?
But now the problem has become simplified. We [p. 248] know the mechanism which keeps men straight; we can foresee, therefore, what influences must be detrimental. If the counter idea is to balance and to overcome the first desire, we can foresee that the chances for crime must grow if the impulses are strengthened or if the counter ideas are weakened or eliminated, or if the inhibitory apparatus is damaged, or if in any other way the sound balance is tampered with. Here is indeed the place for the experiment of the psychologist. He can isolate the special factors and study their influence under the exact conditions of the laboratory. We may take illustrations at random.
We said that crime involves an impulse to action which is normally to be checked. The checking will be the more difficult the stronger the impulse. The psychologist therefore asks: What influences have the power to reinforce the impulse? Has, for instance, imitation such an influence? Mere speculation cannot answer such a question, and even so-called practical experience may lead to very mistaken conclusions. But the laboratory experiment can tell the story in distinct figures. I ask my subjects, for instance, to make rhythmical finger [p. 249] movements by which a weight is lifted, and the apparatus in which the arm rests records exactly the amount of every contraction. After a while the energy seems exhausted; my idea has no longer the power to lift the weight more than a few millimetres; the recorded curve sinks nearly to zero. I try with encouraging words or with harsh command; the motor energies of these word-stimuli are not ineffective; the curve shows a slight upward movement, but again it sinks rapidly. And then I make the same rhythmical movement myself before the eyes of my subject; he sees it and at once the curve ascends with unexpected strength. The movements have now simply to imitate the watched ones, and this consciousness of imitation has reinforced the energy of the impulse beyond any point which his own will could have reached. It is as if the imitation of the suggestive sight suddenly brings to work all the stored-up powers. The psychologist can vary the experiment in a hundred forms; always the same result, that the impressive demonstration of an action gives to the impulse of the imitating mind the maximum of force -- it must then be the one condition under [p. 250] which it is most difficult to inhibit the impulse. How many helpful suggestions for the good, for education and training and self-development can be drawn from such facts; but, much more, how many warnings against the reckless fostering of criminality! In millions of copies the vulgar newspaper pictures of crime reach the homes of the suggestible masses and every impulse towards the forbidden is dangerously reinforced. Every brutality spreads outward and accentuates the lawless impulses in the surrounding; the abolition of prize fights and whipping posts is not enough.
To point in another direction: everything must be fatal for weak honesty which reduces the power of restraint. The psychological experiment can here analyse the influences, for instance, of our usual stimulants -- coffee and tea, tobacco and alcohol, drugs and nervina. Laboratory experiment indicates perhaps only slight variations in the rapidity of movements in the memory tests or in the discriminations of stimuli, but every one of those changes must be endlessly magnified if it is projected into the dimensions of a world-city in which the millions indulge in artificial excitement [p. 251] and stimulation. Take the well-studied case of alcohol. We ask, let us say, a number of normal men to go through a series of experiments in their ordinary state.
We may begin with a reaction time experiment. That means we study how long it takes to make the quickest possible hand-movement in response to a flash-light or to a click; we measure the time between the light or sound stimulus and the reaction in thousandths of a second. Then we vary it by a test where various movements are to be made in response to different lights, so that a choice and discrimination is involved. We then turn, perhaps, to memory experiments -- with the learning of letters or figures or words. Next may be an experiment in intellectual activity; we measure the time of simple arithmetical operations. Then we study the mental associations; for instance, we give a list of two hundred words and our subject has to speak for each one the first word which flashes on his mind. We may then study the character of these closely-bound ideas and may group them statistically. Then we measure with a dynamometer the strength of the greatest [p. 252] possible effort for action. Next in order perhaps we study the judgment of our subject in his estimation of space and time distances, then the accuracy with which he imitates a given rhythm, then the rapidity with which he counts the letters of a page, then the sharpness of attention with which he discriminates a set of short impressions, and so on through other tests for other mental functions. For every test we get his average figures. And then we begin the examination of the effect of the stimulants. How are all these exactly measurable functions changed twenty minutes or an hour or two hours after taking a dose of one ounce or two ounces or three ounces of pure alcohol, whiskey, beer or champagne?
Only such a variety of tests gives the possibility of disengaging the effect and of understanding where the real disturbance sets in. Certain functions seem certainly improved. For instance, we soon find that the reaction time test gives smaller figures under alcohol, at least in a first stage; the subject who needs normally, say 150 thousandths of a second to press a telegraph key after hearing a click, may need only 125 thousandths of a [p. 253] second half an hour after his alcohol dose. But is that really an improvement? The same records show that while the time of the reaction decreases there appear at the same time wrong reactions which did not occur in his normal state; again and again, the key is pressed before the signal is really heard, the impulse explodes when any chance touches it off instead of remaining under the control of consciousness which waits for the click.
In the same way, it seems in the first short period from the dynamometric tests that the alcohol brings an improvement of motor energy, but half an hour later the tables are turned, the muscular effectiveness is decreased. In the field of associations the time of bringing a new idea to consciousness becomes longer, the process is retarded, but, more important, the associative process becomes more mechanical. If we call those associations external in which an idea awakes another with which it is connected in space or time, and internal those which involve a thorough relation, a connection by meaning and purpose, we can say that the external associations strongly increase with alcohol and the internal ones become [p. 254] eliminated. Still greater pre the changes in mechanical memorising, which is at first greatly facilitated and in calculation, which suffers from the first. The strongest improvement is shown in reading, the greatest difficulty in the intellectual connection. And if the various threads are connected by careful study, we get a unified result: all motor reactions have become easier, all acts of apperception worse, the whole ideational interplay has suffered, the inhibitions are reduced, the merely mechanical superficial connections control the mind, and the intellectual processes are slow. Is it necessary to demonstrate that every one of these changes favours crime? The counter ideas awake too slowly, hasty action results from the first impulse before it can be checked, the inhibition of the forbidden deed becomes ineffective, the desire for rash vehement movements becomes overwhelming. In such a way experimental psychology can carry the vague impressions of the bystander into a field of exact studies where mere prejudices are not allowed to interfere, but where real objections can be substantiated. Moreover, the general statements can be particularised by [p. 255] subtler examinations still: how does alcohol work in different climates, at different seasons, at different hours of the day, in work and in fatigue, in different states of health, with food and without, for different ages, different sexes, different races, and how is the effect of pure alcohol related to that of the various beverages, to whiskey and beer and wine? Only if we can differentiate the mental influences through such experimental tests can we secure a rational protection against one of the most persistent sources of social evils.
With the same methods we might study tobacco and coffee and tea, bromides and morphine, but also the effects of physical or mental overstrain, of bad air and bad light, of irrational nourishment and insu8ticient sleep, of exhaustive sports and emotional exertions, and a hundred other factors which enter into the daily life of the masses. On such an experimental basis only can we hope for regulation and improvement; a sweeping proscription, of course, might be reached without laboratory studies: simply to forbid everything is easy, but such radicalism is practically impossible as far as the evidence of fatigue or poverty is concerned, [p. 256] and perhaps possible but unwise as far as the stimulants are in question. The psychological experiment must show the middle way which shall close the fountains of evil and yet keep open the sources of good.
Mere abstinence from stimulants, indeed, is no real solution of the problem; it is just the psychologist who knows too well the evil effects of monotony and emptiness; who understands that the craving for stimulants and artificial excitement belongs to the deepest conditions of our physical existence, and that the complete suppression of it leads to mental explosions which bring man again to disastrous impulses and crime. The laboratory experiment can demonstrate in turn how the psychological conditions are changed when such a dreary state of waiting and monotony lays hold on the mind; how certain mental functions are starving and others dangerously overwrought. A state of dulness [sic] and expectant attention is created in which the longing for contrast may intensify the desires to a point where the reaction is more vehement than under any stimulant. That is the state which, projected into the masses, may lead [p. 257] to gambling and perversity, and on to irrational crimes, which through the mere excitement of the imagination overcome the emptiness of an unstimulated life.
Or the experiment may undertake to examine the subtler mechanism of mental inhibition: how far does the suppression and inhibition of the motor impulse depend on the intensity of the counter stimulus and how far on habit -- that is, on unbroken repetition? How is it altered by interruption of training or by the feeling-tone of the ideas? Simple measurement of reaction times may be again the method, varied by the introduction of warning signals which are to counterbalance the stimulus. Yet the short schematic experiments of the psychologist's workshop illustrate clearly how and why a public state of lawless corruption and general disrespect of law must undermine the inhibitory effects of the law and thus bring crime to a rich harvest. That is just the wonderful power of the psychological experiment, that it can analyse the largest social movements in the smallest and most schematic miniature copies of the mental forces involved, and from the subtle analysis is [p. 258] only one step to the elimination of dangers. What the commercialism of our time or the vices of the street, the recklessness of the masses and the vulgarity of the newspapers, the frivolity of the stage and the excitement of the gambling hslls may mean for the weak individual cannot be better understood than through the microscopical model of it in the experimental test which allows subtle variations.
The psychologist will thus certainly not believe that all or most is done for the prevention of crime by mere threatening with punishment. The question, in this connection, is not whether the punishment satisfies our demand for retaliation or whether the punishment helps indirectly towards prevention by educating and reforming the man behind whom the doors of the penitentiary are closed. The question is now only whether the fear of a future judicial punishment will be a sufficient counter idea to check the criminal impulse. The psychologist cannot forget that too many conditions must frustrate such expectations. The hope of escaping justice in the concrete case will easily have a stronger feeling tone than the opposing [p. 259] fear of the abstract general law. The strength of the forbidden desire will narrow the circle of associations and eliminate the idea of the probable consequences. The stupid mind will not link the correct expectations, the slow mind will bring the check too late when the deed is done, the vehement mind will overrule the energies of inhibition, the emotional mind will be more moved by the anticipated immediate pleasure than by the thought of a later suffering. And all this will be reinforced if overstrain has destroyed, the nervous balance or if stimulants have smoothed the path of motor discharge. If the severity of cruel punishments has brutalised the mind, the threat will be as ineffective as if the mildness of the punishment had reduced its pain. And, worst of all, this fear will be ruled out if the mind develops in an atmosphere of crime where the child hears of the criminal as hero and looks at jail as an ordinary affair, troublesome only as most factors in his slum life are troublesome; or if the anarchy of corruption or class justice, of reckless legislation or public indifference to law defeats the inhibiting counter idea, of punishment and deprives it of its emotional [p. 260] strength. The system of punishment will be the more disappointing the more mechanical it is in its application. The plan of probation thus means a real progress.
More important than the motives of fear are the influences which can shape the minds of the tempted, the influences which reduce the emotional and motor powers of forbidden desires, awake regularly and strongly the social counter ideas, strengthen their inhibiting influence, and weaken thus the primary impulse. It must be said again: criminals are not born, but made -- not even self-made, but fellow-made. Society must work negatively to remove those influences which work in the opposite direction. The atmosphere of criminality, the vulgarity and brutality, the meanness and frivolity of the surroundings must be removed from the mind in its development. And if the social contrasts are necessary for much of the good, at least the vulgar esteem of mere riches and the pitiless contempt for misery can be eliminated. Above all, a well-behaved mind grows only in a well-treated body; true, far-seeing hygiene can prevent more crime than any law. But it is not [p. 261] only a question of the favourite work of our hygienists, the infectious and germ diseases, together with the sanitary conditions of factories and tenements. Hygiene has to take no less care of the overworked or wrongly treated senses and nerve systems from the schoolroom to the stock exchange; there is no gain if we avoid typhoid epidemics but fall into epidemics of insanity. The whole rhythm of life breaks down the instruments of nervous resistance, and the most immediate symptom is necessarily the growth of crime. It is not the impulse itself, but the inability to resist the impulse that is the real criminal feature. The banker who speculates with the funds of his bank is not a criminal because such an idea arises in his consciousness, but because his idea is not inhibited by the counter ideas, and yet the whole community has pushed to break down the barriers which his mind could have put into the motor path of the ruinous impulse.
Of course, the negative precautions must be supplemented by the positive ones. Hygiene has not only to destroy the unclean, but to build up the clean. And for mental hygiene this holds [p. 262] still more strongly. To create a public life which is an example and an inspiration to the humblest, which fills with civic pride the lowest, -- means to abolish the penitentiaries. The public welfare must give to everybody through work, through politics, through education, through art, through religion, a kind of life interest and life content in which envy is meaningless. It is from this realm that the counter ideas must be reinforced that automatically check the impulse to the immoral deed. But no public scheme can make superfluous those dearest sources of pure life, the motives of private personal interest between human being and human being. Everything which strengthens family life and works against its dissolution, everything which gives the touch of personal sympathy to the forlorn, helps towards the prevention of crime. How often can a criminal life be fundamentally changed as soon as the absurd prejudice is given up that every criminal is a different kind of man from those outside of jail, and straightforward sympathy instead of mere charitable pity is offered. To make them feel that they are recognised as equals means to win them over to decency. [p. 263] And those who analyse them psychologically know well that there is really no condescension necessary for such acknowledgment. They are the equals of the unpunished; they are stupid or lazy or vehement or reckless or uneducated or unemotional or egotistic, but all that we find on this side of the legal demarcation line as well. We are accustomed to bow to the stupid and lazy and reckless and egotistic, in case that life has brought them under conditions where a sufficient balance was secured; they are not different in their inmost selves, even if surroundings, bad example, overwhelming temptation, the saloon, the cruelty of misfortune has once in a hasty hour destroyed that balance.
There lies finally the deep importance of a full confession. The man who confesses puts himself again on an equal ground with the honest majority; he belongs again to those who want both health and justice; he gives up his identity with the criminal and eliminates the crime like a foreign body from his life. A true confession wins the bedrock of life again and is the safest prevention of further crime. The psychologist -- I say it with [p. 264] hesitation, as my observations on that point may not yet be complete enough, and the subject is an entirely new one -- may even be able to find out by his experiments whether a true confession is probable or not. After all, the actions of every man strive for satisfaction, and there cannot be satisfaction without unity. He who lives in the present only gains such satisfaction from the immediate experience; the pleasure and enjoyment of the present hour is the end of his consciousness and absorbs him so fully that complete unity of mind is reached. Another type rushes forward, the mind directed toward the future; the suffering of the hour is overborne by the hope of the coming success, and present and future complete for him the unity of life. Both those who turn to the present and to the future cannot have a desire for true liberating confession. But it is different with those who have a vivid memory and whose mind is thus ever turning back to the past. There is the unending conflict between their memories which belong to the life of purity, to childhood and parents' love, to religion and friendship, and the present sorrow and anxiety; the craving for unity [p. 265] must end this struggle; a confession connects the present with the past again and throws out the interfering intrusion of shame. If the experiment of the psychologist demonstrates the possession of a vivid living memory, the chances are strong that a confession is to be trusted. The criminal deed is thus almost a split-off consciousness, a part of a dissociated personality, and through the confession it is cut off absolutely. On the other hand, if it is too late, if the split-off part has grown to be the stronger and has finally become the real self, then it is nearly always too late for prevention by social hygiene; the criminal who has become a professional is nearly always lost, and society has only to consider how to protect itself against the damage he is effecting. He must be separated from the commonwealth just as the insane must be removed from the market places of life. Short punishment for the professional criminal is useless and harmful in every respect. But his career is a terrible warning against delaying the prevention of crime till society -- rashly ignoring psychology -- as itself manufactured the hopeless criminal.