(This guest post was written by my close friend, Edward Tanoto. Having spent some years in one of Singapore’s top high schools on a government scholarship, he has learned many lessons – easy and hard – about studying, life, friendships, and contemplating about the future. Admiringly, he’s also a serious thinker.)
“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’”
Genesis 2: 16 – 17
Thus was the first rule of law – the only law in the Garden of Eden. Alas, it did not take long for Adam and Eve to break it. The consequence of their disobedience has since been passed to us – their posterity. This is the “sin” we must bear, the “sin” that distances us from the LORD God… or so it was told.
After spending 4 years of my life in both Methodist and Anglican schools in Singapore, I have come to familiarize myself with the Bible. Being a Buddhist by birth, the teachings of Buddha had already been ingrained early in my mind. As an Indonesian, it did not take long for me to inquire and learn more about Islam – the common religion of my birthplace. Sharing a room with a Hindu Balinese, I also managed to shed some light on the many festivals and prayers they indulge in. In my exposure, I discover several recurring themes in every belief – benevolence, compassion and humility.
Virtue is not an alien or novel concept. History has recorded people perceived as virtuous since the days of yore. Jesus Christ, Muhammad The Prophet, Florence Nightingale, Mother Theresa, Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, and many other inspiring figures are all hailed as role models in religious, historical and even societal contexts. Virtue has become a highly lauded principle that projects the very notion of humanity. Indeed, most of us are encouraged to be the best of ourselves even from a very young age. After all, morals and goodwill make the world go around…right?
In an ideal world, this may hold true. However, do remember that we are living in the real – and imperfect – world. In the real world, crimes reside alongside virtues. Arson, kidnapping, murder and prostitution are just few examples of our everyday problem. Every country struggles with it, every citizens loathe it and every newspaper anticipates it. The question here is will it ever end? Thankfully, it will not. Let me repeat. Thankfully, it will not.
I am, first and foremost, not a proponent of criminal activities. I firmly believe in the need to constantly keep lawbreakers in check. School shootings, terrorism, embezzlement and the like have cost us billions – or take another example (highlighting dilemmas of our own technological marvels): cybercrime itself has cost the global economy $400 billion annually. However, I do not concur that eradicating crimes is the way out. Simply put, and from a utilitarian point of view (ironically), we need offences and felonies. Criminal offences have become an integral part of our society and is one of the driving forces of the economy.
Consider these points as follow:
- Many parts of our economy are dependent on crimes.
This is a seemingly ludicrous irony in our society. Considering our disdain toward crime, we expect ourselves to not be involved in (much less depend on) crime. It is almost a hypocrisy to let our economic gear run at the mercy of criminal offences. However, looking around, we see various industries that tap on the profitable prospect of crimes – court houses, police stations, incarcerations just to name a few. Many of us also depend on various crimes to make a living. Committing a crime doesn’t necessarily entail murders, robberies, or other acts of terrorism. Take the most ‘light’ examples, say, copyright infringement, or even downloading illegally from the Internet (we don’t have to be hypocrites, but that’s what many of us still do). The entire judicial system (police, lawyers and judges) are dependent on breach of law. The military (SAF, ABRI, Bundeswehr, etc.) is founded to deter enemies both foreign and domestic. Government monitoring bodies (NSA, CIA, KPK, etc.) are working around the clock to uncover more novel crimes and combat corrupt practices. When you think about it, they all revolve around crime. To take away crime is equivalent to taking away their very existence. This means that without crime, we may have to replace many of the law enforcers to other occupations. With 830,000 people employed as police in the United States itself, the figure is not looking good.
- Criminal activities are necessary to help make ends meet.
This is especially apparent in developing countries. Many third-world countries are safe haven for criminal organizations and lucrative unscrupulous businesses. The reasons may vary – corrupt bureaucratic practice, weak judicial system or political turbulence. However, the underlying purpose is always the same – to survive. These “ends” may include political agenda or livelihood crisis. Drug smuggling is rampant in developing countries simply because there are limited employment opportunities, and everyone has to survive. People then resort to the underworld business to subsist themselves. In countries or states with strong mob influence such as Mexico, bribes and compensations are needed to maintain “peace” for the people. In these cases, crime may help bring order in the society, albeit a fragile one.
- Crimes may open our eyes to an underlying issue.
Many of the crimes that arise may help point to a flaw in the law or societal lifestyle. School shooting incidents point to the danger of gun laws in the US, hacking incidents raise questions over the safety of our personal information in the cyber world and domestic terrorism may signal increasing extremism. Without crimes, these problems may never come to light. Crimes help us to critically think of the consequence of our law and lifestyle. As our lifestyle keep changing, so will crime. It is these crimes that will illuminate the aspects that can be improved on.
A world without crime is indeed tempting. It is the dream of modern civilisation and the pinnacle of justice. Yet, it remains an illusion even to this day. We do not wish for it to go unchecked – but at the same time, it is not wise to completely erase it from the face of the world. For better or worse, crimes have been part of us since mankind walked through the Earth. The one guaranteed future of crime is disappointing but important – crimes will continue to exist and evolve alongside us. Even what one considers a crime or a sin today may no longer be considered so in the future; its definitions remain fluid as societies constantly change. It all boils down to how we choose to treat it – as a vice or as a lesson. The bottom line, a crime-free society, remains by itself a distant utopian dystopia.
So, the next time you read about a crime, it may be intriguing to think about it on both sides of the coin. As for me, that is why I like being a free thinker!
More articles from Edward to be published in the future.