“Violence in modern societies is ... increasingly associated with the commission of property crimes as individuals are willing to resort to whatever means necessary to secure desired goods.”
Louise I. Shelley "Crime and Modernization"
A kid steals a candy bar because he wants to enjoy the taste; a dope addict sticks up a grocery store, shooting the owner, in order to get the money he needs to get “high”; a bank executive embezzles a million dollars so he can run off with his girlfriend to enjoy life in the Bahamas. What is the common motive behind these crimes? The desire for sense gratification.
Criminologists and social scientists have almost completely overlooked the fact that materialism is the root cause of crime. False identification of the body as the self leads people to believe that sense enjoyment will satisfy them; and most crimes are directly or indirectly connected to the attempt to find satisfaction in sense enjoyment.
The media saturates us daily with the message that the goal of life is sensual pleasure, and that success in life depends on the acquisition of those objects that make such sensual pleasure possible. From a young age, we learn that we should strive to be the controllers and enjoyers of all we survey. We are promised that such “lordship” is the way to happiness.
The criminal is just responding to this message the best way he knows how. He’s just trying to get the things the TV says he needs to be happy. He’s just trying to be the central enjoying agent—the lord—that he’s been taught he needs to be. So he needs a flashy car, fine clothes, a big house, a color TV, a gold watch, a yacht, etc.
Since no amount of sense gratification is ever enough to satisfy us, we always feel we need “more.” From the poorest person to the richest person, from the homeless to the person who lives in a mansion, everyone wants more sense gratification and thus more material wealth. If you are poor, you feel you need a color TV to be happy; if you’re rich, you feel you need a new yacht. No amount of material wealth is ever enough.
So we have crooks from all income levels. The poor crooks commit crimes so that they can get what they think they need; the rich crooks commit crimes so that they can get what they think they need. The street crook robs people so he can buy some nice clothes or drugs; the corporate crook robs companies so that he can buy 50,000 acres of land or a new Lear jet.
The fact that there are at least as many “wealthy” criminals as there are “poor” criminals effectively destroys the materialists’ theory that the root cause of crime is poverty and that the solution to the crime problem is to make everybody rich. Obviously, if poverty were the cause of crime, then no wealthy people would commit crimes. Besides, the term “poverty” is relative. A poor American, for example, would be a wealthy Ethiopian. In fact, criminals, whether rich or poor, are criminals not because they are poor or rich, but because they are in the illusion that material things will satisfy them. And, of course, the reason they are in this illusion is because they erroneously identify their body as themselves.
Because our materialistic society teaches that the acquisition of wealth and power is the goal of life, the more wealth and power you possess, the more “successful” you are considered to be. If you are materially poor, you are considered a failure in life, whereas if you are wealthy and powerful (regardless of how you acquired such wealth and power), you are considered a great success. So obtaining material wealth is not only essential for your direct sense gratification, but also for your feelings of self-worth.
In other words, you feel only as valuable as the things that you possess and control. Lacking appreciation of your real value as an eternal, blissful spark of life—falsely identifying the temporary body as yourself—you try to achieve feelings of self-worth by the acquisition and control of material things. To achieve such economic development, you may end up engaging in illegal activity—in other words, you may become a crook.
If people understand this practical knowledge about the root cause of crime, then they can effectively deal with the criminal problems facing us today. Only by knowing this real root cause can an effective solution be found.