Thursday, November 8, 2007


Usually people make a point of avoiding criminals, but watching criminals up close (relatively up close, that is) is something journalists get to do as part of our jobs.
In movies, criminals are rather special, the anti-hero, or even the hero him/herself, someone to be feared, like a Mafia boss or Hannibal Lecter.
In real life, criminals are simply pathetic.
They are losers.
This was a revelation that came when I covered a murder trial in Detroit.
A man charged with murdering a researcher was asked how the murder happened, and he said _ with a straight face _ that he pushed her and she fell over backwards, hit her head on a sharp corner of furniture and died, as though it was her fault that she died.
We try to understand how a criminal mind works and we sometimes come up with elaborate explanations because we want to understand why something as horrible and tragic as serious crime happens.
This article doesn't address crime.
But I found out rationalizing irrational behavior is called "cognitive dissonance," and it's not that sophisticated because monkeys and toddlers do it.
This is exactly what happens in the criminal mind.
The criminal compartmentalizes, rationalizes, justifies to come up with a weird theory, no matter how filled with laughable self-serving illogical contradictions, to explain how it was the perfectly sound and smart thing to do.
But if cognitive dissonance is about survival, the ability to move on and shrug off complex doubts about the past, then does that mean the criminal is more highly evolved than a person with a developed conscience?
Being able to live with crime isn't a cerebral process.
It's an animal instinct for survival, a level of existence on the basest level.
It's not really about being human at all.


tokyoterri said...

first, thank you for blogging - I discovered TC when I was idly googling for women's voices in Japan, and I've been reading since.

I don't have direct experience with significant violent crime, but I do believe that criminals are another side of the human in all of us.

I'm a podcast producer in Japan (a tough thing to be, but sometimes rewarding) and I listen to a lot of shows for ideas and inspiration. One of my favorite, and one of the most moving and evocative, is this show, called 'Act V', from This American Life:

It may bring another perspective on the criminality of humans - or the humanity of criminals...

Yuri Kageyama said...

Criminality is so human it is likely in us as potential just as much as benevolence, integrity and love. Violence and crime are so different in real life from the way they are depicted in movies. But when we talk about violence and crime as depicted by Shakespeare, aren't we talking about a totally different ballgame here? Art raises everything _ the mundane and the human as well as the extraordinary _ to another level, making it all beautiful, profound and eternal. When a convicted felon becomes a Shakespearan actor, that act explores that part of him/her that makes him/her an Artist _ no longer a criminal. What transformation! Anyway, and so how can I find your Podcasts? I would love to check them out.

Yuri Kageyama said...
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