Sunday, May 16, 2010
The End of Crime ("I'd Buy That For A Dollar")
"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues"
Crime rates in Newark, New Jersey, have dropped over the past few years, but Chicago's have risen. Perhaps the city should bring in the National Guard to tend to the "crime problem," or maybe it would be better to stuff more police patrol units into areas like Englewood and Austin (where the majority of Chicago's crime takes place). Is there a way to make the crime problem go away? If so, is that what we really want? Why do we want to do away with crime? What is our motivation? Unfortunately, it's not always an ethical matter, and crime is an inescapable part of human life that can be made into a straw man for society's collective vices.
Two major market films with an overrated/underrated reputation (Overrated because everybody knows these movies, but underrated because the movies are highly-regarded for all of the wrong reasons) offered remarkable commentaries on the business of crime. They were filmed in separate decades, yet made the same prophecies of how a capitalistically inclined, imperial America may finally put an end to crime. Through the use of technology, ethical problems are solved. This is where the satire starts in Robocop, and the hypocrisy thrives in Minority Report.
Robocop is about a future society plagued by crime, where only a stronger force can eradicate the initial problem. It's about fighting fire with a bigger fire. But the system breaks down in two ways. First, the product (the Robocop) starts to remember its humanity. As a result, it bends its programs directives to achieve personal desires. Then there's the bigger problem, that the man in charge of crime prevention is himself a criminal. Under the guise of justice, he makes himself richer. There are paradoxes at the heart of both the protagonist and antagonist.
Then in Minority Report, the future seems to have less crime than ever. A Calvinistic justice program predetermines exactly who will commit murder, and arrests them before they have a chance to commit their crime. A metaphysical quandary, but a Utopian appearance on the surface. And that's the problem--there's still a sickness at heart. Just because a problem appears to be solved doesn't really make it so. There could be a larger problem hidden by the overshadowing solution (and certainly, there always is).
In both films, there's a key hubris. The glitch in the system is always a result of human error. "The flaw is always human." Furthermore, there is a vain belief in perfect technology. Technology that will solve problems that stem from human nature. We forget that technology is simply a synthetic extension of ourselves, not a separate entity.
So why can't technology solve the problem of crime? Here's the issue: human nature may be the reason for crime, but crime is not the cause of human nature. If we continue to combat the resultant alone, the cause will persist. Ethics is more complex than justice systems give it credit for. But fighting fire with fire isn't ethics.
The antagonist in Minority Report actually uses ethics as his ploy. Even pure ethics, a system designed for the overall betterment of society, can be wielded for one's selfish purposes. And this is not fiction. It doesn't just happen in the movies.
One of the most incredible metaphors in the Bible is the wolf. Scripture uses the animal to refer to a person who comes into a flock without the desire to help it. Here's where most Christians get the wolf metaphor wrong though: its intention is not to harm. The wolf's intention is to help itself. And every human has the potential to be a wolf, one who puts his own needs before a group's.
Ethics is a system that cannot work with wolves. Ethics assumes that people will trust each other, helping their community to thrive as a whole in order to bring about the greatest possible collective happiness. If the group is happy, the individual is happy.
One criminal may be a wolf to a society, but will killing him solve any problems? There will be another wolf, and another, and another. There isn't a cyborg cop the size of the National Guard that can change this. There isn't a political plan or system that will prevent humans from living for themselves.
The wolf is a metaphor for a human who has been pushed to the brink of his natural, primal needs. When we have no other choice, we will kill to survive. This is the case in all of nature. As soon as we find out why we're killing, only then can we talk about "fixes." Robocop doesn't ask why a criminal has stooped to the level of robbing a gas station, nor does Pre-Crime ask why murderers can't help but engage in their crimes of passion. They simply demand a cease and desist.
We've heard the wackos go on about "illegals." Their righteous anger fuels their hate for injustice. They don't care about why these immigrants are here, they only know that they are here against the law. They view "illegals" as wolves, here to destroy our great American flock. But they're wrong. The wolves have a right to life too, they are not simply a disease that must be annihilated. A better society can exist only when needs are understood, and then met. If our culture is content with pushing people into places of desperation, desperate actions will result.
Until we go extinct, there will be crime. But when the wolves come, maybe we can influence the criminal by living peacefully amongst one another. Maybe there can be ethics without selfish individualism. Maybe remembering that every sheep eventually dies will soothe the burning rage of the wackos. There is no such thing as Utopia, and treating real life like a movie will only result in a self-fulfilling prophecy of satirical folly.