'Morally-Motivated' Crime: Many Violent Criminals Believe They're Actually Doing The Right Thing

Violence
Violence among criminals may actually be seen as the right and moral thing to do in their minds, according to researchers in their latest book. Courtesy of Shutterstock

Violence is never the answer. That’s what many people tell themselves when confronted with a situation that tempts throwing a punch or beating up someone who wronged them in some way. Yet The Disaster Center reports that an estimated 1,163,146 violent crimes took place in 2013 in the United States alone. A person might wonder how the number could get so high if such actions are never right.

In the mind of someone who commits violence, though it may seem absurd and unlikely, the act is actually a solution or a justified course of action. At least that’s the claim that two researchers are making in their new book.

Virtuous Violence, by Alan Page Fiske and Tage Shakti Rai, argues that violent criminals are morally inspired to commit these crimes on the basis that such actions are justifiable ways of addressing wrongdoing, according to the University of California, Los Angeles Newsroom.

“When someone does something to hurt themselves or other people, or to kill somebody, they usually do so because they think they have to,” Fiske, an anthropology professor at UCLA and the lead author of the book said in a quote published by the UCLA Newsroom. “They think they should do it, that it’s the right thing to do, that they ought to do it, and that it’s morally necessary.”

The researchers describe the perpetrator as feeling like a victim who is seeking some form of retribution for the hurt that others have instilled in him. The intentions behind his actions can range from wanting to teach someone a lesson to an attempt to fix a damaged relationship in the only way he sees as a viable option.  

“We’re not talking just about the way perpetrators excuse or justify their behavior afterwards,” Rai, a postdoctoral research fellow at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management said in a quote published by the UCLA Newsroom. “We’re talking about what motivates them to do it in the first place. “When we say that violence is morally motivated, we mean that it is so in the mind of the perpetrator. We don’t mean that we think that violence is good.” 

Fiske and Raj compare these intentions to historical trends, including the murder of innocents accused of witchcraft and those pressured to commit suicide in an attempt to rectify shameful acts committed. Much of the research is backed by real-life, such as interviews with violent criminals that the two studied and fictional examples, including the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Iliad.

Virtuous Violence also goes into detail about different lifestyles and influencers, such as family and close friends, that play a role in provoking these thoughts. The researchers do acknowledge exceptions, though they attribute most of these to psychopaths who commit a small number of violent crimes.

Fiske and Raj both assert that while these thoughts are misguided, knowing what fuels a person’s decision to commit violent murders and other aggressive actions is the first step in addressing and reducing this issue.

“All you have to do is convince the people who are violent that what they’re doing is wrong,” Fiske said in a quote published by the UCLA Newsroom.

The book is set to be published on Jan. 15 by Cambridge University Press, according to the UCLA Newsroom.

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