How many bad people are there?

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by DaveC426913, Dec 28, 2018.

  1. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    I see videos of ostensibly normal people committing opportunistic crimes.

    I saw a video of a kid at school, who has his knapsack open and was obviously out-of-sorts. Some guy just walked up behind him and rooted around in his bag.

    I see videos of people walking down the sidewalk (just some lady in a track suit) and veer off to steal a package off someone's porch.

    I have a naive mental model that criminals are criminals, and law-abiders are law-abiders. Criminals seek opportunities to make a buck - law-abiders do not.

    Seeing these videos causes me to wonder just how many otherwise perfectly law-abiding citizens are one opportunity away from a crime.

    I know at least one person who is a chronic abider.
    1. When I see someone's trunk open in a parking lot, I'll close it for them.
    2. Someone drops a bill, I'll give it back.
    3. A cashier undercharges me, I'll point it out.
    4. I've gone to great lengths to return someone's lost wallet to them - money intact.

    In a cross section of, say, 100 people (I suppose that would have to sample the whole continent), how many do you think are one opportunity away from a crime?

    I'm also wondering about an experiment that could test this.
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  3. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    There's a researcher who periodically leaves things like wallets and letters and such lying around, by the dozens at a time, to see what happens.

    He finds wide variance in behavior between different cultures.

    I have had lost items returned to me by strangers who found them. It's not something I expect, necessarily, but it is as common or more common than theft, in my life.
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  5. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    I think that's a bit oversimplified.
    Criminals are people who create opportunities to make a dishonest buck; they don't wait around for serendipity.
    Then, there are opportunists, who do not plan crimes, but look for chances, or put themselves in a favourable position, to come by unearned goods.
    Then there are standard, mostly law-abiding people who don't esteem their fellow man too highly and will accept whatever free stuff the gods throw in their path: finders keepers, loophole users, advantage takers.
    Then there are decent people who find it difficult to get by in a cut-throat world and can be tempted by an easy gain. (Also, of course, it depends partly on the circumstances and mental state the person happens to be in at the moment of temptation. He wouldn't keep the wallet of another poor man, but he'll take one that's stuffed with receipts from art dealers and wine brokers, when he can't afford to take his family out for a pizza.)

    I'm not sure how many perfectly law-abiding citizens there were in the first place. Many laws don't deserve our respect and some beg to be broken.
    I'm pretty sure everyone has his or her lines of departure from the letter of the law - whether it's speed limits, recreational chemicals, tax exemptions, jury-duty ducking, expense account padding or using the wrong-gender washroom - or stealing a loaf of bread to stave off starvation - all the way to a training as a professional assassin.

    I do those things, but not from a sense of duty or law; it's simple courtesy.
    I believe that's an important distinction: one's relationship to the state and its laws from one's relationship with people in the community.

    Bad people and lawbreakers are not interchangeable. Lots of bad people do very bad things within the law - or remake the law to allow them to act badly, or hold themselves above the law, or do evil while enforcing the law.
    Candid Camera.
    Of course, now, there are cameras everywhere, so you could just study a week's footage in a department store or parking lot.
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  7. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    I am putting them in the same box, because of the conjecture:

    Yes, I shouldn't have said 'perfectly'.

    I'm making a distinction between 'I'm breaking a law' and 'your direct loss is my direct gain' malfeasance.

    Of course. None of those things are actually against the law to not do. One does them because that's who one is.

    Yes. I'm referring to those who have no compunctions about making another person into their victim.

    Sure. Of course it would be filmed. I'm trying to think of a perfect setup that rides the line between too risky and too easy.

    eg. I have no compunctions about picking up a bill on the sidewalk. Way too easy. Too many false positives
    Pulling a twenty out of someone's back pocket? Too many variables to make a good controlled test.

    (I'm not considering actually doing this, just thinking about a litmus test as a talking point.)
  8. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

    Sounds good... an then run the test in a low income naborhood an a high income naborhood an compare results.!!!
  9. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    There are also variations, as Iceaura pointed out, from one culture to another.
    People don't all have the same relative valuations for things - that is, some prize property above propriety or vice versa; some have a sliding scale of obligation by degrees of social separation, and so on.
    Conditions change, too. Economic relations and moral ambiance seem to me loosely connected, such that in times and places of great economic disparity, there is a far more relaxed attitude toward dishonesty. Or maybe it's moral laxity that promotes economic disparity, or maybe both have a common external cause.
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  10. Janus58 Valued Senior Member

    I remember a few years back when some coworkers were discussing a topic brought up on a radio show: "If you find a wallet, do you take any money out of it before returning it to the owner or not?" I was personally surprised that both the talk show hosts and my coworkers thought that it was perfectly reasonable to remove the money first as some kind of "finders fee". It's not something that I would have done; On the couple of occasions I have found wallets, I've always turned them in as I found them.
  11. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Yes, but these are excuses - for theft.

    However, you're given me food for thought. I've been assuming the subjects are not on hard times or otherwise desperate.
  12. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Not excuses, exactly: a moral climate; an environment in which the best fitted thrive and only opportunists survive. As the head turns, so go the feet: a nation assumes the morality of its governance, because all the legislation, regulation, law-enforcement and jurisprudence, contractual obligation, labour relations and municipal bylaws are fashioned in the same mold. In Nigeria, don't even try to get anything done without bribing the appropriate officials. In "communist" Poland, it was understood that workers eke out their inadequate wages by pilfering supplies from the factory. In the US, people earning a moderate salary have to make up the tax revenue from which their employers get exemptions - so, of course they, too will take any loophole they can find. That's the economic culture in which they are forced to compete.
    However, most people cleave to harder, higher standards of behaviour when dealing with their kin, their familiar community and their peers, than in dealings with another class or tribe.

    Why would you assume that, when three quarters of the worlds population - at any given moment in time - is poor, oppressed, exploited, intimidated, in physical danger, dispossessed and/or otherwise desperate?
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2018
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  13. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Twice, I have left my wallet behind in a public place and both times, it was returned, intact and untouched.
    I think it depends at least partly on the community. Our small city is generally civic-minded and cohesive. We even keep a polite, orderly flow of traffic during extensive downtown road-renovations.
  14. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    In my OP, I limited the test area to North America.
  15. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Only half, then.
  16. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Which raises a question:

    Would it be safe to infer that, in your opinion, half of America (which is pretty close to half of NA) is so destitute that stealing from thy follow citizen is the accepted way of life?

    Actually, no. There's two questions there.

    Would it be safe to you say that, in your opinion, half of America is destitute? Or in my hypothetical cross section, 50 out of 100?

    Then, of those 50, how many would you say are one opportunity away from a crime - i.e. how many consider stealing from thy fellow citizen is the accepted way of their life?
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2018
  17. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    You're overstating and oversimplifying again. If you include Mexico, I'm sure at least half of North America comes under one or more of the conditions I listed; enough to find temptation hard to resist - not as "a way of life", but under specific circumstances, to some of which I alluded earlier.

    I think my posts are sufficiently lucid to require no enhanced paraphrasing.
    Not destitute. Over 50% are financially insecure, incrementally indebted, occupationally blocked, with ever-diminishing hope of betterment. They are also frustrated, resentful and distrustful, so there is a high and rising assumption that "the other guy" is prepared to cheat them. Have you not received this morning's ration of scam e-mails, or listened to the daily news? There is a perception, cultivated by conservative media, that all working people, poor people, non-white people, non-Christians and immigrants have criminal intentions.
    A 100% of USians are living under a head of state who openly evades taxes, sets up fake charitable foundations and institutions, reneges on contracts, makes libelous accusations and tells egregious lies.
    That's the moral compass shown to people with no advantages who have to compete against people with no scruples.

    Again, how did "way of life" come into it? I differentiated career criminals from habitual opportunists from ordinary people who might succumb to temptation under certain unusual circumstances. Keeping the candy bar you accidentally overlooked in the shopping cart may be technically a crime, but it's not "stealing from thy fellow citizens"; it's taking a tiny advantage of a giant corporation and not all that wrong, in my view. Finding and keeping a wallet with a day-labourer's wages in it is not technically a crime, but very wrong.

    I don't see this a numerically quantifiable question.
  18. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    OK, a couple of notions I'm getting disabused of:
    1] I'd always thought anything south of Mexico as Central America, so I was excluding 80 million people. Been a while since Geography class...

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    2] I had no idea Mexico's population was almost 40% of America - or almost 3.5 times Canada!

    I guess I've been thinking of just America and - Canada, (which is barely more than 1/1oth of America).

    So I'll speak to just Canada and America, since those are places I consider home, as opposed to travel.

    Well, yes. But not to be argumentative.

    I'm trying to put it in a perspective I can get my head around. Take 100 random samples from the pool. How many of them would steal from me, if the opportunity arose.

    You're welcome to provide as many factors as you want to explain your rationale, but ultimately I'm trying to get down to the set of 100. It'll be somewhere between 0 and 100.

    OK, and I specified my criteria. I'm asking about all the above. To the victim, the motives or needs of the perp are irrelevant - indeed, unknown.

    Maybe the question should be turned on its head.

    Out of 100 people, randomly selected from America (and Canada), how many do you think would not seize an opportunity (for theft) if presented?

    Maybe even more concrete:
    Out of 100 lost wallet events, all over America and Canada, how many people do you think would attempt to return a wallet? How many do you think would return with the money still in it?
  19. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Okay, so you're restricting the criminal activity under to consideration to opportunist theft by an individual from an individual?
    Between 0 and 98, depending on the circumstances.
    Between 80 and 98, depending on the circumstances; 78 would just turn in to the nearest convenient authority.
    Between 2 and 98, depending on the circumstances.
  20. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    That's why the number of criminals by choice, criminals by need, occasional criminals and potential criminals is unknown - indeed, unknowable.
  21. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    The other part of the question in the OP was what would be a good test?

    If we were to perform the experiment 100 times simultaneously all over the country, there wouldn't be any "depending". We would get what we get.

    We don't have to actually perform the experiment to know that it can be done in principle, and we would get a real number (with a margin of error). It would simply depend on how good we were at getting a sufficiently random sample.
  22. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    What experiment? I don't believe you can devise even a very limited one that covers all the contingencies and variables.
    But, supposing you did something universally obvious, like leaving unguarded a desirable item and watching to see who takes it.
    That would be a good test of --- what, exactly?
    Certainly not the number of bad people, as per the thread title.
    Not the number of professional or habitual criminals. Nor the number of people willing to break any laws other than "Don't take stuff that doesn't belong to you."
    You would get the number willing to take one thing that doesn't belong to them.
    And? What is this number useful for?
  23. pluto2 Valued Senior Member

    Most people who post on Internet forums are evil. I know that by experience because I've been abused and got offended by people on Internet forums before.

    The fact is that the Internet is a bad place full of bad people and this is why I think many abusive Internet forums should be shut down for good and this includes this one.

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