Theories abound as to the motivation of someone who decides to sink below the letter of the law (or rise above it, depending), from the far out to the mundane. Quite interestingly, it may be nearly impossible to ever retrieve a scientifically accurate representation of this data – criminals, much like wild animals, are rarely academically observed in the wild, only in the zoo of the prison system, where they will invariably act much different toward their prospective observers.
Speaking candidly as someone who has stolen from, emotionally harmed, and otherwise caused detriment to others in a distant past, I would offer the opinion that more often than not, a psychologically healthy criminal has one mindset, which boils down to, simply, “I can get away with this.”
Mind you, I have never committed a violent crime against another, nor would I; nor am I what you would call a “hardened criminal,” though I have spent an aggregate of roughly 24 hours in various jails across the country – so take the rest as you will.
Objectively, I could stand by an argument that in some felonies, a certain amount of very rudimentary “cost-benefit analysis” takes place. Though deranged as it may be, a young person with no positive influences in their world could certainly value the kinship at stake in murdering an unknown person in order to gain favor in a gang over that stranger’s life. Alternately, it may even be subjectively worth it to defraud hundreds or thousands of people out of millions or billions of dollars, depending on your personal morals.
For some, it can be deduced that trading a downtrodden life of poverty and loneliness for wealth and companionship could transcend any artificial, manmade consequences.
However, in the commission of most, if not all crimes, there must exist a certain measure of confidence in one’s ability to reap the reward without said consequence. Whether it’s the aforementioned murderer, or a speeder on the interstate, or even or a child trying to play video games with the sound off after bedtime, the action can only even enter the mind after successfully spurning previous boundaries.
I realize this must sound paradoxical, but as toddlers, we absorb the world around us in very unique ways. We are constantly pushing boundaries, both ours and those of others, and customarily, we are restrained. It is only upon the absence of such restraint do we find the behaviors that we find what we are capable of outside of the limits of “regulations,” whether they be household rules, or manmade laws.
By building upon the selfish character of our human nature as we age, we eventually grow to learn that sometimes, there are rules that can be broken, and we discover the methodologies to do so. Expanding on this, we can arrive at the logical mindset of what, socially and ethically, we can call “a criminal.”
In short, as long as there are humans, there will be opportunists, and as long as there are opportunists, there will continue to be those who are willing to subvert the laws put forth before them.