AF: Original Gangster: The Real Life Story of one of America’s Most Notorious Drug Lords, by Frank Lucas

Welcome to the final volume in our exploration of the anthropology of crime, Frank Lucas and Aliya King’s Original Gangster. Unlike the other book in this series, this one is actually (co)authored by the criminal himself. This provides a unique perspective, but also introduces the question of whether the author is entirely honest–but since I have no way to independently verify his story, I’ll just be reporting matters as he tells them.

It’s been a month since I finished the book, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It’s an interesting read, for sure, but I am ambivalent about giving criminals more attention–on the other hand, the book has already been made into a movie, so what’s one more reader?

Lucas’s story begins in 1936, when, at the age of six, he witnesses his cousin’s head blown off by the KKK. He soon began stealing food to help feed his impoverished family, and left home at the age of 14. I forget why, exactly, he decided to set off on his own, but he quickly ran into trouble, was arrested and put into a chain gang. With a little help he managed to escape and made his way to New York City, where a helpful bus driver got him to his final destination:

“Right here! Go. Get off! This is Harlem.”

I stood on 114th Street and 8th Avenue and looked to my right and to my left. There was nothing but black people as far as I cold see. And there were all kinds of black folks: men and women of all ages and sizes, some who looked dirt poor (but not as poor as me) and some who looked straight-up rich.

I threw out my hands and screamed out as loud as I could, “Hello, Harlem USA!”

Harlem, 1765

Harlem has an interesting history of its own. The British burned down the small, Dutch town during the Revolutionary War. New York City expanded into Harlem, and after the Civil War, the area became heavily Jewish and Italian. By the 30s, the Jews had been replaced by Puerto Ricans (the Italians lingered a little longer.)

In 1904, black real estate entrepreneur Phillip Payton, Jr., of the Afro-American Realty Company, began encouraging blacks to move from other New York neighborhoods to Harlem (which had particularly low rents then because of a housing crash.) According to Wikipedia:

The early 20th-century Great Migration of blacks to northern industrial cities was fueled by their desire to leave behind the Jim Crow South, seek better jobs and education for their children, and escape a culture of lynching violence. During World War I, expanding industries recruited black laborers to fill new jobs, thinly staffed after the draft began to take young men. … In 1910, Central Harlem was about 10% black. By 1920, central Harlem was 32.43% black. The 1930 census showed 70.18% of Central Harlem’s residents as black… As blacks moved in, white residents left. Between 1920 and 1930, 118,792 white people left the neighborhood and 87,417 blacks arrived.

Between 1907 and 1915 some white residents of Harlem resisted the neighborhood’s change, especially once the swelling black population pressed west of Lenox Avenue, which served as an informal color line until the early 1920s. Some made pacts not to sell to or rent to black Others tried to buy property and evict black tenants, but the Afro-American Realty Company retaliated by buying other property and evicting whites. …

Soon after blacks began to move into Harlem, the community became known as “the spiritual home of the Negro protest movement.” … The NAACP chapter there soon grew to be the largest in the country. Activist A. Philip Randolph lived in Harlem and published the radical magazine The Messenger starting in 1917. … W. E. B. Du Bois lived and published in Harlem in the 1920s, as did James Weldon Johnson and Marcus Garvey.

Mount Morris brownstones, Harlem

You know, some books are written in a way that lends themselves quoting, and some are not. This book had a great deal of interesting material about crime and particularly Lucas’s development as a criminal, but most of it went into too much depth to easily quote. (I do longer quotes for books out of copyright.) This passage works, though:

I never even thought about getting a regular job. That just wasn’t me. From the moment I saw my cousin’s head blown away in front of me by the Klan, I had no faith in doing things the “right” way. … I watched my parents break their backs for next to nothing because they tried to play by the unfair rule of the sharecropping system. Just seemed like trying to do things the so-called right way got you nowhere…

There were two Harlems back then. There were the high-society folks, the people who lived in the fancy brownstones overlooking Central Park or up on Mount Morris. … I didn’t notice these people. I knew they were there, but it was like they were in black and white. …Those people up on Mount Morris had solid educations, which gave them a hell of a lot more options than I had. …

The underworld was in full, living color. The prostitute and their pimps, the number runners and their clients, the drug dealers and, most especially, the gamblers, who always had lots of money. They spoke a language I could read, write, and understand fluently.

Just to recap, our author showed up in Harlem at the age of 14 or so with the clothes on his back and not enough money to ride the bus. He found a warm place to sleep with the other homeless and began stealing food. This progressed to stealing money, and as the author puts it:

A few months after I started stealing anything not nailed down in Harlem, I was introduced to the heroin trade.

On the history of Heroin ™:

Hoffmann, working at Bayer pharmaceutical company in Elberfeld, Germany, was instructed by his supervisor Heinrich Dreser to acetylate morphine with the objective of producing codeine, a constituent of the opium poppy… Instead, the experiment produced an acetylated form of morphine one and a half to two times more potent than morphine itself. The head of Bayer’s research department reputedly coined the drug’s new name, “heroin,” based on the German heroisch, which means “heroic, strong” (from the ancient Greek word “heros, ήρως”). …

In 1895, the German drug company Bayer marketed diacetylmorphine as an over-the-counter drug under the trademark name Heroin. It was developed chiefly as a morphine substitute for cough suppressants that did not have morphine’s addictive side-effects. Morphine at the time was a popular recreational drug, and Bayer wished to find a similar but non-addictive substitute to market. However, contrary to Bayer’s advertising as a “non-addictive morphine substitute,” heroin would soon have one of the highest rates of addiction among its users.

Like Frisbees and Kleenex, Heroin was once a brand name that has become synonymous with the product.

Lucas isn’t out to take heroin. He wants to sell it–probably a less risky and more profitable venture than robbing people at gunpoint. But by now he’s attracted some unwanted attention.

In the underworld environment, cops are the natural enemy of a drug dealer. It was my job to just stay out of their way, but that rule only applies to cops trying to do their job. Crooked cops have no rules and no ethics. And some of them get a badge just so they can have a license to beat people up and rob them.

If I ever turned a corner and saw Diggs and his partner, Pappo, my stomach sank and my temper jumped a few degrees. …

“You got a reason to have your hands on me?” I’d say.

“We can make one up if you don’t shut the fuck up,” they’d say.

An incident at 133rd Street and Seventh Avenue during the Harlem Riot of 1964.

Diggs and Pappo beat him up a lot, until one day Lucas went a little crazy and threatened to kill them, after which they left him alone.

If I recall correctly, Lucas was only about 17 at this time, so this was around 1947, maybe into the early 50s.

Obviously Lucas has interacted with a lot of police officers, since he’s been arrested a few times and spent many years in prison. He doesn’t have much negative to say about honest cops, but crooked cops–who not only beat him, like Diggs and Pappo, but also extorted money from him–earn his ire.

Of course, Lucas was actually a criminal, but why did he attract so much attention from police officers who were content to beat him up a bit and then let him back out on the streets? If the crooked cops knew he was dealing, why didn’t he attract the attention of honest police officers before becoming a multi-millionaire drug lord? Were the crooked cops just more attuned to criminal activity (being, essentially, criminals themselves)? Was there just not enough solid evidence to convict Lucas in a court of law, but more than plenty to randomly harass him? Does arresting people require a lot of paperwork?

Lucas was eventually arrested and sent to prison (in 1975, though his 70 year sentence was eventually reduced to 5 plus parole.) Throughout the period Lucas was operating–primarily the 1960s and early 70s–heroin, crack, and crime hit NYC like a sledgehammer. How much was Lucas’s fault is debatable (though it was surely a lot.) But the attitude of “let’s just beat up the criminals a bit and then put them back on the streets” couldn’t have helped.

It’s getting late, so let’s continue this next Friday.

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Anthropology Friday: The Way of the Wiseguy by Donnie Brasco, pt. 3/3

An FBI surveillance photograph of Joseph Pistone, Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero and Tony Rossi.

Welcome to the final installment of The Way of the Wiseguy, by Joseph D. Pistone aka Donnie Brasco. Brasco infiltrated the mob between 1976 and 81, providing the FBI with a great deal of evidence that lead to, according to Wikipedia, “over 200 indictments and over 100 convictions of Mafia members.”

Between Donnie Brasco and Dobyns’s No Angel (about his infiltration of the Hells Angels), you may be wondering how any organization can protect itself against infiltration. I suspect that any organization that takes in new members is vulnerable. Even if you have to know a guy who’s already in the organization to get in, people who are already in the organization can turn state’s evidence and start working with the government. (Therefore I recommend not organizing to commit crimes.)

However, several factors probably make an organization significantly harder to infiltrate:

1. Conduct business in a language other than English (or the local language, wherever the organization is)

2. Only accept members from an isolated group that feels little connection to the broader culture

3. Difficult to fake entrance requirements (such as killing someone.)

The Mafia is not America’s only organized criminal organization. We have all sorts of criminal gangs from virtually every ethnic group. Most criminal organizations draw heavily from people who are isolated from the mainstream culture–folks who either don’t see their way to success in mainstream culture or don’t care if they prey on it.

I enjoyed this book; unfortunately it is still under copyright and the author is still alive, so I’m not quoting as much as I’d like to. I encourage you to pick up the book and read it yourself.

But let’s let Pistone talk. On the Wiseguy Way–and getting what you want out of life:

Say you’re out for a night on the town… And the maitre d’ says, “sorry, you have no reservation.” …Here’s what ninety-nine percent of the population would do–they would turn right around and leave.

Now here’s what wiseguys would do. …

Wiseguys never ever make restaurant reservations. They just show up at some five star joint and give the maitre d’ some made up name. When no reservation is found, that’s when wiseguy do their wiseguy thing. …

“What do you mean, no reservation?” Lefty demanded, his voice rising… “Check again.” … pretty soon all of us were angry and yelling and making a fuss… “No table? How can there be no fucking table? Check the fucking book again.”

Within minutes, we had the best table in the house. …

… they satisfied our demand, however irrational it was, imply to get us to stop making a fuss. Most people don’t like fusses…

The fact is, most people don’t have the stomach for confrontation that wiseguys have. Wiseguys are absolutely unafraid to confront people, even if they know they are dead wrong about something. For wiseguys, a wrong can be turned into a right simply by arguing your point loudly and forcibly. The value of getting in someone’s face and knocking them off-balance cannot be overstated. Wiseguys know this–wiseguys understand the currency of fear. …

you pretty much get what you ask for in this life, and most people are too timid to ask for what they want.

Personally, confrontations make me almost physically nauseous. I have trouble telling a waiter my order is incorrect, much less making a fuss over anything.

The Wiseguy Strut:

You can spot a wiseguy a block away from the way he walks. … They walk around like they own the streets, which, in effect, they do. … in their neighborhoods, on their streets, wiseguys basically announce themselves as wiseguys. It is a badge of honor to be connected in their neighborhoods, and, as a result, they are respected and even admired by their neighbors…

Of course, if you don’t respect them, you might get killed, but matters seem to go beyond that:

Ordinary people in wiseguy neighborhoods get something in exchange for showing mobsters this respect. Neighborhoods that are dominated by wiseguys are also considered to be under the protection of these wiseguys. There are far fewer robberies, rapes, or muggings in wiseguy neighborhoods than in even the safest precincts of the city. … You would have to be one stupid burglar to come into a mobbed-up neighborhood and knock up the corner bar. … There isn’t a police force in the world that deters crime as well as the presence of wiseuys. ….

Pistone may at times exaggerate, but I think he is basically correct that roughing up a business that has paid protection money to the mob is a mistake.

In our next book we’ll be reviewing, Frank Lucas’s Original Gangster, there’s a story about a man named Icepick Red. The police were after Red because he kept putting icepicks into people, killing them. Frank, then a teenager In Harlem, saw Red around the neighborhood fairly regularly and even interacted with him, but the police somehow couldn’t find him. Finally Red killed a guy who worked for “Bumpy” Johnson, a Harlem crime boss. Bumpy’s men immediately got Red, brought him in, and Bumpy had fire ants eat him alive.

Bumpy’s methods might not be Constitutional, but he did what the police, for some reason, had failed to do.

I suspect the same holds for Italian mobsters.

Wiseguys do not come into neighborhoods and make those neighborhoods worse. … Wiseguys take great pride in knowing that their street are safe and clean and filled with happy citizens walking their dogs, pushing their kids, living their live–and respecting the wiseguys.

This mutually beneficial relationship between laypeople and the mobsters that live among them is the reason it is so hard for law enforcement agencies to root out wiseguys. … If there is any police activity in a certain neighborhood, any extended surveillance by feds in parked cars or vans, the citizen of that neighborhood are going to know about it, and they are going to make sure the wiseguy know about it, too.

Sure, if your choice is between Bumpy Johnson and Icepick Red, you pick Bumpy.

So here’s a question: did mob-controlled neighborhoods actually have lower crime rates (mob-related deaths perhaps excluded) than non-mob controlled ones, and what were the effects of Pistone’s infiltration (76-81) and the Mafia Commission Trial (85-86) on local crime? Certainly the crime rate rose steadily from the 1950s onward, bounced around a bunch post 1970, and finally peaked in 1990. Did cracking down on the Mafia help crime rates go down 4 years later? Or does Stop and Frisk deserve the credit? (Or does some other factor deserve the credit?)

Unemployed men outside a soup kitchen opened by Al Capone in Chicago during the Depression, February 1931

Back to Pistone:

One of the most famous bosses of all time, for instance, was Al Capone, the notorious gangster who ruled Chicago in the ’20s and early ’30s. Capone consolidated his authority by whacking seven members of the Irish-American O’Banion gang in the fabled St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. His incredible power over the gangs and illegal trades of Chicago was broken only when the feds nabbed him… He truly thought of himself as a shrewd entrepreneur who ran a sweeping and profitable empire…

In the end, mob bosses are just that–bosses. They oversee a variety of business endeavors, supervise a big team of employees, and settle disputes with other enterprises. … If this sounds pretty boring, that’s because it is.

Pistone’s description of a typical day in the Mafia sounded so boring I wondered why they don’t just give up and get regular jobs.

(I would like to have read about some of the Irish gangs like the O’Banion, but this project has already gone on long enough.)

In search of Respect:

I walked into the back of Jilly’s social club and encountered a roomful of wiseguys with grim mugs. … they we there to gill me on my identity: was I really who I said I was, Donnie Brasco? …

The wiseguys grilling me realized they wouldn’t need to put a bullet in my head. After about six hours, the meeting was over, and I walked back into the main room of the social club with three of the lower-level wiseguys who had grilled me. …

What I did, the minute we left the back and walked into the main room, was pick out the one guy out of the three who wasn’t a made man.

Then I fucking coldclocked him. …”You call me a snitch, you piece of shit?”…

You see, the worst thing you can say about a wiseguy is that he is a snitch. Once they pulled me in the back and interrogated me on the assumption I was a snitch, they left me no choice but th react the way I did. If I hadn’t been upset that I had been called a snitch… that might even have aroused more suspicion. By reacting the way I did, I gained a lot of credibility in the eyes of the members of the Colombo crime family. And the reason this is so can be explained in a single word:

Respect.

The foundation of the entire Mafia is respect. … Wiseguys talk all the time about respect, about giving it and getting it in proper measures.

Pistone notes that he Mafia is less powerful today because the feds, from the 60s through the 80s, gained weapons to use against it, from bugs planted in home to the 1970 RICO act. In 1985, the feds arrested the bosses of all five NY crime families. Additionally, the mob’s basic culture began to change:

The new generation of mobsters just isn’t as devoted to the old Sicilian way of doing things. “Now you had wiseguys with no sense of the history of the Mafia or of its customs and traditions. The organized part of organized crime became just a shadow what it was…”

“the old-timers were involved in importing and distributing drugs. There was simply too much money at stake for them t keep their hands clean. But they did take a dismal view of drugs and people who used drugs … they mad sure to keep narcotics out of their neighborhoods, and certainly they did not use drugs themselves. There was a certain orderliness to the mob drug trade. Today, that caution is out the fucking window. The new wiseguys are far more interested in the money they can make off drugs than they are in keeping it out of their neighborhood or even their own bodies. Lots of wiseguys become addicts and get careless and sloppy. … These are guys who basically have no respect for the old ways of doing things, for the traditions and custom that had kept the Mafia in business for a century. Instead, they believe in instant gratification, making as much money as they can, plying their drug in previously nice neighborhoods and basically acting like common crooks. …

You have more wiseguys turning stool pigeon in the last ten or twenty year than in all the previous decades of the Mafia’s history. … Old wiseguys would get pinched, bite the bullet, button their lips, and do their time. Today, the fist thing a wiseguy does is sing.

You know, it almost sounds like the guy who devoted years of his life to taking down the Mafia is complaining that this new generation of mobsters isn’t keeping up the Mafia’s code to criminal success…

What we’re talking about here is a new breed of wiseguy who is neither as smart nor as forward-thinking as his predecessors. …

The Mafia has more or less lost its stranglehold on the unions. … a lot of it is because new wiseguys do not have the smarts and wherewithal to cultivate the union people like the old wiseguys did.

Wikipedia has an interesting passage within the etymology section on Mafia:

The word mafia derives from the Sicilian adjective mafiusu, which, roughly translated, means ‘swagger’, but can also be translated as ‘boldness’ or ‘bravado’. … In reference to a woman, however, the feminine-form adjective mafiusa means ‘beautiful’ or ‘attractive’.

Large groups of Italian migrant workers, primarily from the south of the country, first arrived in the US due to a US labor shortage. A result of the US Civil War, the end of slave labor, and the hundreds of thousands killed in the war. …

As migrant laborers from Sicily arrived for work they created their own labor system called the ‘padrone’ system based on the ‘boss’ systems which already existed during this period. … A ‘padrone’ or boss was the middle man between the English speaking businessmen and the laborers from Sicily who were unable to speak the language. He was in charge of the labor group including where they would work, the length of their employment, how much they were paid, and living quarters.

Labor laws were non existent during this period and the padrone system like the boss systems were not immune to corruption. … As the 19th century turned into the 20th century the migrant laborers from Sicily and the padrone system became synonymous with distrust. Strong leaders or padroni who were mafiosi became known as the American counterpart ‘mafia boss’, labor contracts became known as mafia contracts…

Modern society is complex, involving large groups of people trying to make their way in huge communities. You can’t possibly learn all of the skills necessary to build modern human cities. Almost everything necessary for human life–like food–requires networking together far more people than you could ever meet and get to know. Which means opportunities for middle men, fixers, bosses, networkers, headhunters, and all the other guys who “know a guy” stepping in to link the parts together to get things done–which, of course, can have its downsides.

 

Anthropology Friday: The Way of the Wiseguy, by Donnie Brasco (pt 2)

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re looking at Joseph D. Pistone aka Donnie Brasco’s The Way of the Wiseguy. In case you missed the movie, Pistone was an undercover FBI agent who infiltrated the New York Mafia (particularly the Bonnano family) from 1976-1981. The Way of the Wiseguy is not Pistone’s most famous work, but a collection of anecdotes from his years undercover, perfectly suited to a study of the culture of crime.

But enough from me. Let’s let Pistone speak:

The Mafia could not exist without its rules and codes of conduct, which are rigidly enforced and never open to question. In life, you break the social contract–such as speeding… you get a fine. … But when you’re a wiseguy facing wiseguy justice, there is no lawyer to defend you, no procedure in place to protect your rights. … Wiseguys wake up every day, aware that this may be the day that they get killed… It is a simple fact of life in the wiseguy world.

Wikipedia has an interesting list of the Mafia’s “10 Commandments”:

In November 2007, Sicilian police reported discovery of a list of “Ten Commandments” in the hideout of mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo, thought to be guidelines on good, respectful, and honourable conduct for a mafioso.[133]

  1. No one can present himself directly to another of our friends. There must be a third person to do it.
  2. Never look at the wives of friends.
  3. Never be seen with cops.
  4. Don’t go to pubs and clubs.
  5. Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty – even if your wife is about to give birth.
  6. Appointments must absolutely be respected. (probably refers to formal rank and authority.)[134]
  7. Wives must be treated with respect.
  8. When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.
  9. Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.
  10. People who can’t be part of Cosa Nostra: anyone who has a close relative in the police, anyone with a two-timing relative in the family, anyone who behaves badly and doesn’t hold to moral values.

Back to Pistone: Why Wiseguys Will Kill You:

Wiseguys do not like rape. If you rape someone who is a relative of a made guy or someone with some ties to the mob, you are in big trouble… Wiseguys have a pretty low threshold for what is and isn’t decent, but the crime of rape is one of the few transgressions that does not meet that threshold. …

The thing is, wiseguys do not go around killing people for no good reason. Like I said, if you read in the paper about some guy getting whacked, it’s a really good bet he was either a made guy who somehow fucked up. or some poor guy who get in over his head with wiseguys… or … a guy who did something that is not tolerated in the orbit of wiseguys. It is very unusual for people with no mob dealings or no connection to the mob to wind up dead at the hands of a mobster.

If, however, you are a wiseguy or a guy with some association to the mob, and you do certain things, you will get whacked. …

Not sharing money from illegal activities will get you killed. … If you are a wiseguy, everything you gain illegally, all your extorted monies, must be shared with our captain and your partners in your crew. …

Talking to cops will get you killed. …

Laying your hands on another wiseguy will get you killed. It’s a pretty simple rule–you never go after another wiseguy without the full and clear blessing of the bosses.

So the Mafia and Radical Feminists have something they agree on. The word “rape” originally meant “theft,” and we may suppose that the Mafia does not look kindly on the theft of their women.

Mafia Economics:

There is no such thing in the Mafia world as a sluggish economy. You will never hear mobster say they had a weak fiscal quarter. This series of payment that mobsters make to their superiors is absolutely relentless and irrespective of the stat e of the legitimate economy. …

And so it goes–the money comes in, the money flows up. No Mafia boss is out there earning money and distributing it downward to his loyal subordinates. … this system keeps the hands of the higher-ups as clean as possible. …

So what is it that wiseguys do with all that cash they get to keep? Depends on the wiseguy. Some become degenerate gamblers and waste every dime betting on horses. Some are cheap bastards and save as much as they can. … Some of the younger wiseguys are drug addicts who spend a bundle getting high. Some are family men who take their kids to Disney World. …

So how do they make their money?

Of all the various scams and operations orchestrated by wiseguys, none is as profitable and as dependable as illegal gambling. … the world is full of degenerate gamblers. Absolutely crawling with guys who would bet their grandmother’s last set of dentures on the outcome of the Florida-Florida State game. … people who are addicted to gambling do it every single fucking day they can. … the gambling never, ever stops. There is always–always–something for a degenerate gambler to bet on. …

How come legal gambling establishments haven’t driven wiseguys out of the gaming business? … Sure, it’s nice to go to Atlantic City and take in a show and have a fine dinner and then play the slots… But there is a catch and a pretty big one–you got to pay taxes on whatever you win. …

You see, these sicko gamblers, in their warped and twisted minds, always believe that the next hand they play, the next game they bet on, will be the Big Score, and none of them want to pay taxes on the Big Score. …

Which brings us to another mob endeavor that is inexorably linked to gambling–the time-honored practice of loan-sharking. .. That interest–called the “vigorish, or “vig,” is not computed monthly, as with most loans. It compounds every single week. Many degenerate gamblers wind up with no option but to turn to a Mafia loan shark–better known as a shylock–to secure the cash they need to pay off gambling debts. … Gamblers end up owing thousands to their bookie and thousands more to their shylock. … You are flirting with all sorts of evil shit if you string along a bunch of bookies and shylocks for too long.

This is interesting for three reasons: 1. I don’t understand gambling. Back when I was 10 I spent a couple of dollars on lottery tickets, won dollar, spent it on another ticket, won nothing, and realized this was a waste of money. That was the beginning and end of my fascination with gambling.

2. Pistone’s “degenerate gambler”. What distinguishes a regular gambler from a degenerate? Indeed, what is degeneracy? I know people who enjoy poker, but they aren’t in debt to the mob and their lives seem pretty functional.

Degeneracy, I propose, is behavior which leaves you with less control over your life. Having a glass of wine (or beer) at supper is not degenerate; drinking until you cannot safely get home is. Eating food is obviously necessary for life, but excessive eating (or dieting!) can have terrible effects on your health. Buying the occasional lottery ticket is not degenerate; spending money you can’t afford on lottery tickets and ending up in debt to the mob is.

3. As we discussed back in Parsis, Travelers, and Economic Niches, the mob here isn’t just committing random violence and robbing people–these are shadier versions of real businesses. If people need loans or want to gamble, then chances are someone will find a way to offer those services–even if it’s illegal. (We can probably throw in prostitution.

So if you’re the government, and you’re trying to decrease the power of groups like the Mafia, perhaps even quicker and more effective than spending years on risky infiltration schemes is just legalizing whatever it is that people are trying to do. Prohibition, of course, is the textbook example of an outlawed behavior fueling mob violence and the motivation for that violence disappearing once Prohibition ended.

Back to Pistone: Wiseguys have fairly normal family lives:

Wiseguys tend to be respectful of and gentlemanly towards the women in their lives. …

wiseguys love their mothers to death. Making a crack about another wiseguy’s mother is an offense that might get you whacked. Even the most brutal wiseguy will be a teddy bear in the presence of the woman who raised him. …

Believe it or not, wiseguys also treat their wives with decency and respect. That might seem like a ridiculous statement, considering that nine out of ten wiseguys have a girlfriend on the side. … Whatever they do when they are at the club or out on the town, wiseguys make fairly decent husbands when they re at home. …

They are excellent providers. you will met very few mobsters who are deadbeat dads or husband. Father of the year, they ain’t but a wiseguy who allows his family situation to spiral out of control will not be viewed kindly by his superiors in the mob. …

I figure normal family lives are part of what makes the Mafia stable. If Mafia guys can provide for their families and raise lots of children, then they’ll end up with plenty of future mobsters. If Mafia guys were unstable and couldn’t provide for their families, then the Mafia would have to constantly recruit new members from outside its own kin networks, which could make it less stable.

That’s all for today; I’ll see you next Friday.

Anthropology Friday: The Way of the Wiseguy, by Donnie Brasco pt 1

So we’re sitting there having a few drinks and talking about this and that, when it occurs to me to ask Lefty what I think s a pretty good question.

“Hey, Lefty? What’s the advantage for me in being a wiseguy?”

Lefty looks at me like I’m the world’s biggest moron. He gets excited and jumps out of his chair and starts yelling and waving his arms. “What are you, fucking crazy?” he says. “Are you fucking nuts?” When you’re a wiseguy, you can steal, you can cheat, you can lie, you can kill people–and it’s all legitimate.”

Pistone’s The Way of the Wiseguy was exactly what I was looking for: an ethnography of organized crime. Oh, sure, Pistone isn’t actually a trained anthropologist–he’s just an FBI agent who managed to learn enough about Mafia culture to infiltrate the mob without getting killed.

Reading this back-to-back with Jay Dobyns’s account of infiltrating the Hells Angels, several differences between the organizations stand out. First, while the point of the Hells Angels is unclear (are they a criminal organization, as the FBI believes, or just an association of people who like riding motorcycles together, as they assert?) the Mafia’s point is obvious: making money. Second, while the Hells Angels exist on the edge of society with few normal, functional familial relationships, mobsters appear to be socially normal: they love their moms, have wives and girlfriends (usually at the same time,) and provide for their kids. The Mafia and the Hells Angels have very different ideas about family responsibility and the general treatment of women. Third, ironically, the Hells Angels probably kill far fewer people and have more scruples about murder. And finally, while the Hells Angels enjoy each other’s company, the mobsters, it seems, don’t particularly like each other.

They also have things in common: both groups control territory, are obsessed with respect, and live outside normal laws and boundaries.

But let’s let Pistone talk: What makes a wiseguy?

“The wiseguy does not see himself as a criminal or even a bad person; he sees himself as a businessman, a shrewd hustler, one step ahead of ordinary suckers. … Wiseguys exist in a bizarre parallel universe, a world where avarice and violence and corruption are the norm, and where the routines that most ordinary people hold dear–working good jobs, being with family, living an honest life–are seen as the curse of the weak and the stupid. …

“And yet I was not naive enough then, nor am I now, to believe that we came anywhere near to destroying the mob and ending organized crime. … The mob and mobsters have been around for centuries, and they will almost certainly be around for many generations to come. As long as there is money to be made illicitly and with minimal investment, there will  be wiseguys ready and willing to make the score. The fact is that the Mafia in particular is one of the most enduring and successful organizations in the history of the world. … What’s more, the Mafia has never had a single year out of decades when it ran in the red. The Mafia always makes a profit. There is a strong incentive for wisegys to keep things running in the black: deficits mean death.”

EvX: According to Wikipedia, the Sicilian Mafia has only been around since the late 1800s, making it younger than Twinings Tea Company (1706) and probably younger than the Pinkerton Detective Agency (1850). (The list of the World’s Oldest Companies–including Kongo Gui, founded in 578–is fascinating in itself, “According to a report published by the Bank of Korea on May 14, 2008, investigating 41 countries, there were 5,586 companies older than 200 years. Of these, 3,146 are in Japan, 837 in Germany, 222 in the Netherlands, and 196 in France.”)

But I don’t expect Pistone to be an expert in the ages of Japanese corporations nor do I necessarily believe Wikipedia on the age of the Mafia, which is a rather secretive organization that doesn’t keep a lot of official records of its activities. (This is also in contrast to the Hells Angels, who are an Official Organization with copyrighted and trademarked logos and have actually sued people for violating said intellectual property.) The fact that the Mafia has persisted for as long as it has, despite the best efforts by people like Mussolini to stamp it out, despite the enormous technological and social changes that have swept Sicily during the past century and a half, despite many mafiosi moving to the US,  suggests that its roots may lie deeper than “social changes in the 1800s.”

(Wikipedia also notes that the Mafia doesn’t call itself the Mafia, which is just a Sicilian word for a “swagger,” meaning a bold or proud man. Rather, the Mafia tends to refer obliquely to itself as just “our thing,” “this thing of ours,” etc.–“Cosa Nostra” is just Italian for “our thing.”)

Regardless, Wikipedia claims that the Mafia began in Post-Feudal Sicily:

Modern scholars believe that the seeds were planted in the upheaval of Sicily’s transition out of feudalism beginning in 1812 and its later annexation by mainland Italy in 1860. Under feudalism, the nobility owned most of the land and enforced law and order through their private armies. After 1812, the feudal barons steadily sold off or rented their lands to private citizens… After Italy annexed Sicily in 1860, it redistributed a large share of public and church land to private citizens. The result was a huge boom in landowners — from 2,000 in 1812 to 20,000 by 1861.[28] With this increase in property owners and commerce came more disputes that needed settling, contracts that needed enforcing, transactions that needed oversight, and properties that needed protecting. The barons were releasing their private armies to let the state take over the job of enforcing the law, but the new authorities were not up to the task, largely due to their inexperience with capitalism.[29] Lack of manpower was also a problem; there were often fewer than 350 active policemen for the entire island. … In the face of rising crime, booming commerce, and inefficient authorities, property owners turned to extralegal arbitrators and protectors. These extralegal protectors eventually organized themselves into the first Mafia clans.

Most of the world seems to have made the feudal transition without spawning mafia-like organizations, so what’s so special about Sicily?

HBD Chick’s map of First-Cousin Marriage Rates in Italy in 1961

HBD Chick is, of course, the go-to person for anything related to “families” or “clans,” and here’s an excellent map she made of First Cousin Marriage Rates in Italy in 1961:

below is a little chart i worked up of the percentages of first cousin marriages for all the regions for the first (1910-1914) and last (1960-64) of the time periods at which they looked. i included only the first cousin marriages since first-cousin-once-removed (1 1/2C) and second cousin (2C) marriages were not included for sicily and i wanted to be able to compare all the regions. note that the reason cavalli-sforza, et. al., didn’t include 1 1/2C and 2C marriages for sicily is that sicilians are exempt from having to get dispensations to marry those family members, so presumably the rates for those marriages are pretty high! …

HBD Chick has a chart that gives the exact numbers for each region in 1910-14 and 1960-64. Overall, first cousin marriage rates fell during this time, but in Sicily and Calabria in the 60s they were still very high–48.74% in Agrigento and 48.49% in Reggio Calabria.

and that’s just first cousin marriages! those rates are like the rates for saudi arabia and pakistan today!

Mafia presence in Italy at the municipal level, 2000-15. (Red is higher) H/T Francesco Calderoni Source (pdf)

Pistone has something interesting to say on the Mafia and genetics:

For the next several years, I did not exist except as a close associate of several members of the Bonanno crime family. … I will not deny that I became pretty close to a lot of these wiseguys, and that I felt a pang of remorse about doing things that I knew would get them killed. But it was only a pang. The truth is that I did not feel sorry for the wiseguys I helped put away. Had they discovered that I was an undercover FBI agent, they would have put two in my head and chopped me into ground beef. …

This one poor bastard, he did something to make wiseguys think he was a rat. So they stuck a meat hook up his ass and hung him from a warehouse wall. …

I tell you this to drive home the most important observation I ever made while working undercover: Wiseguys are not nice guys. … In fact, wiseguys are the meanest, cruelest, least caring people you’ll ever meet. They have zero regard for other people’s feelings, rights, and safety. …

Consider the poor bastard who ran afoul of some members of the Gambino crime family. They cut some holes in him, hung him over a bathtub, and drained all the blood out of his bodies. These are not rare occurrences or unusual crimes. Wiseguys routinely commit acts of nauseating grisliness. …

Wiseguys don’t throw up or even gag when they butcher people. They have had any decency and sense of revulsion bred right out of them.

Perhaps he did not mean this literally, in the way that I take it. But perhaps he did.

There is an ironic part in Frank Lucas’s biography, Original Gangster, in which a man who had literally tried to get a job killing people for money and had caused the deaths of thousands of people by selling them heroin opines that abortion is immoral, at least when it’s his kid being aborted (after he abandoned his wife to go have sex with other women for a week immediately after she told him she was pregnant.) Most people seem to have some kind of circle inside of which are people whom they love and do not really want to hurt, and outside of which are people who are not even human beings to them. Because the people outside this circle are not recognized as people, people deny that they are doing any violence at all to those other people. For example, Americans get quite upset when Muslims terrorists kill Americans, but we hardly pay attention when our country drops bombs on Muslims. Here’s a smattering of US military operations that haven’t gotten much press:

  • 2000: Nigeria: Special Forces troops are sent to Nigeria to lead a training mission in the country.[10]
  • 2002: Philippines: OEF-Philippines, As of January, U.S. “combat-equipped and combat support forces” have been deployed to the Philippines to train with, assist and advise the Philippines’ Armed Forces in enhancing their “counterterrorist capabilities.”[RL30172]
  • 2003: Georgia and Djibouti: “US combat equipped and support forces” had been deployed to Georgia and Djibouti to help in enhancing their “counterterrorist capabilities.”[12]
  • 2004–present: The U.S deploys drone strikes to aid in the War in North-West Pakistan
  • 2010–present: al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen: The U.S has been launching a series of drone strikes on suspected al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, and ISIS positions in Yemen.
  • 2011: 2011 military intervention in Libya: Operation Odyssey Dawn, United States and coalition enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 with bombings of Libyan forces.
  • 2011–present: Uganda: U.S. Combat troops sent in as advisers to Uganda.[20]
  • 2015–present: In early October 2015, the US military deployed 300 troops to Cameroon, with the approval of the Cameroonian government, their primary mission was to provide intelligence support to local forces as well as conducting reconnaissance flights.

It’s nigh impossible to love everybody equally (nor do I think you should) and the vast majority of people love their own families and children far more than everyone else. How much you preference your own family over everyone else, however, varies a lot from person to person and culture to culture, and may have a lot to do with things like whether people in your culture traditionally marry people from within their own families, creating a system where you have very little contact with people on the outside or if they seek brides from neighboring villages, creating a system where people have far more contact outside their own families.

When Defector-Punishers meet Cooperator-Punishers in the Streets of Paris

ETA: I’ve got to find a new source for the video.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a game theory experiment that explores the conditions under which people cooperate or defect against each other. I assume you are already familiar with the details.

In a single game of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, defection or cooperation depends a lot on the folks involved’s individual personalities, but in multi-iteration games (games where people play multiple times against each other,) cooperators generally punish defectors, which eventually leads to mutual cooperation–the best outcome.

One of the implications of this finding is that people will cooperate more with people they’ve had (and will have) repeated interactions with than with strangers. I learned this the hard way when I went from playing board games with my highschool friends to playing with a group of strangers, and promptly got defected on in a plan to split the profits from Broadway and Park Place. The whole business sounds silly in retrospect, but believe me, if I had ever encountered this person again, I would have defected–hard–against them.

Punishing defectors leads to a stable system of mutual, beneficial cooperation.

But in when experimenters took the multi-iteration prisoner’s dilemma abroad, they discovered an unexpected (to them) behavior: cooperation-punishing. These are people who defect against cooperators, leading to mutual defection. Mutual defection is also stable, but shitty.

Cynically, we might say that this is less about “punishment” as that the cooperation-punishers smelled a sucker and decided to benefit themselves. They may also have been unable to realize that their opponent would probably change their behavior in response to the initial defection due to insufficient ability to model other people’s thought processes, and so simply continued doing the thing that had worked once, even once it stopped working. (IE, they were dumb.) As a practical matter, though, we can refer to this as “punishing cooperators,” since that is the result.

Societies with smart people should converge on mutual cooperation; societies with dumb people converge on mutual defection.

What happen when these two styles meet, and people from societies where defectors-get-punished meet people from societies where cooperators-get-punished?

In an actual prisoner’s dilemma experiment, it is of course obvious whether you cooperated or not, but let’s think about this in the much fuzzier terms of normal human human interactions, where there is far more debate and uncertainty about intentions (and effects.) If, in the normal course of your daily life, most people cooperate and defectors are defected against, and then suddenly someone starts defecting against you, your first response may be to soul-searchingly examine whether you did something to cause the defection. For example, suppose you are part of a social group that normally eats dinner at each other’s houses once a week, and suddenly one week, someone doesn’t invite you to their gathering. A reasonable response would be to ask yourself, “Did I do something to piss them off?”

Many of the most liberal people I know seem completely incapable of figuring out, on an instinctual level, whether or not they are being taken advantage. They get hurt and say something like, “I don’t want to abandon my faith in humanity,” or they try to “examine their privilege” even harder. It is painful to watch; sometimes I just want to yell, “It is okay to hate people who have hurt you!”

There’s a saying that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. What’s the word for a person who’s been mugged and is still a liberal?

Last weekend, my housemate and I were mugged at gunpoint while walking home from Dupont Circle. T

… when a reporter asked whether I was surprised that this happened in Georgetown, I immediately answered: “Not at all.” It was so clear to me that we live in the most privileged neighborhood within a city that has historically been, and continues to be, harshly unequal. …

What has been most startling to me, even more so than the incident itself, have been the reactions I’ve gotten. I kept hearing “thugs,” “criminals” and “bad people.” While I understand why one might jump to that conclusion, I don’t think this is fair.

Not once did I consider our attackers to be “bad people.” I trust that they weren’t trying to hurt me. In fact, if they knew me, I bet they’d think I was okay.

One of my friends was homeless for 20 years and never mugged anyone. I know people who have been reduced to shoplifting food because they did not have any, but still never pulled a gun on anyone, broke into their house, threatened someone, or stole from them.

Poverty does not make good people rob others at gunpoint. This is bullshit, and an insult to all of the people who have endured poverty without hurting others.

I have not been able to write about the Paris Attacks and their fallout since they happened, mostly because I try not to write posts that look like this: DJGGGYWEEERRRRRRRRK!!!111!!

But I came upon this graph today, of French attitudes toward Muslims before and after the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

From Pew Research Center, "Ratings of Muslims rise in France..."
From Pew Research Center, “Ratings of Muslims rise in France after Charlie Hebdo…”

I regret that I do not have more recent data from France, but I do have some from America:

From Pew Research Center, "Ratings of Muslims rise in France..."
From Pew Research Center, “Ratings of Muslims rise in France after Charlie Hebdo Attack…”

Take a look at those conservatives!

Forget about “It’s better to be feared than loved.” Apparently being feared makes you loved.

To be fair, I have noticed a habit among certain people to delicately start a sentence, “Now, I like Muslims, but…” or “I like blacks, but…” which may be driving some of this. Anti-racism has become such a dominant value that even conservatives cannot express the pain and horror they felt from 9-11 without first throwing out an anti-racist disclaimer (not that it works, of course. They are always guilty of racism, no matter what they say.)

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, did anyone feel the need to stand around, declaring, “I’m not anti-Japanese, but…” ?

The mere idea of having a single blanket encapsulation of 1.6 billion people–1/5th of the world’s population–is idiotic. I reject the question. I have no opinion of Nigerians that applies equally to Bosnians, nor of Kazakhs that applies to Indonesians. Likewise, I have no opinion of Christians that covers Haitians, Norwegians, and Ugandans; Mormons and Eastern Orthodox; no single coherent opinion of Hindus, Buddhists, or Jews. But I have very strong opinions about the people I consider my enemies.

According to Newsweek (8-26-14):

One in six French citizens sympathises with the Islamist militant group ISIS, also known as Islamic State, a poll released this week found.

The poll of European attitudes towards the group, carried out by ICM for Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya, revealed that 16% of French citizens have a positive opinion of ISIS. This percentage increases among younger respondents, spiking at 27% for those aged 18-24. …

Newsweek’s France Correspondent, Anne-Elizabeth Moutet, was unsurprised by the news. “This is the ideology of young French Muslims from immigrant backgrounds,” she said, “unemployed to the tune of 40%, who’ve been deluged by satellite TV and internet propaganda.” She pointed to a correlation between support for ISIS and rising anti-Semitism in France, adding that “these are the same people who torch synagogues”.

In lieu of the video that was supposed to be here, let’s just say that I think ISIS is pretty darn evil.

 

The Police

The flipside of criminals is, obviously, the police. No consideration of criminality can be complete without some consideration of the folks making the technical determination.

That involves more people than just the police, of course.

Much of the time, the police do a decent job. But the Legal/Justice System is out of whack. Has been for as long as I’ve been paying attention.

Some major issues:
1. Major corporations use lawsuits to destroy their competition. Maybe good for them; definitely bad for humanity.
2. Corporations and the wealthy pass laws that benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else.
3. The wealthy have way more ability to use the system to their advantage.
4. Politicians pass a lot of laws just to sound good, with terrible effects.

5. Prosecutors pursue convictions even when they know they probably have the wrong guy; judges are complicit. (This is a biggie.)
6. Plea bargaining.
7. Prisons are shitty.

It is fairly easy to imagine the police (and related folks,) after dealing day in and day out with criminals, begin to think less in terms of specific crimes, and more in terms of making sure that dangerous “criminal types” stay behind bars for a good, long time. So what if the guy didn’t commit this particular crime? He looks like a criminal; he probably did something.

Statistically speaking, they’d probably be correct. Take recidivism rates; knowing that 84% of carjackers will commit another crime, how eager would you be to let a carjacker out of prison? Would you try to find some reason to keep them in?

But what about the 16% who never commit another crime again in their lives? (Or at least, don’t get caught). It is unfair to imprison them for the rest of their days for the sins of others, after all. Next we’ll be imprisoning people for pre-crime.

The Justice System involves a lot of people who have to deal with a lot of very dangerous people in stressful situations; mistakes will be made. To be clear: this is a hard job, and one mistake can have quite disastrous consequences. In a nation of >300 million people, you will hear horrible stories of things gone horribly wrong no matter how great things are overall. Thus the importance of determining whether we are just hearing about tragic but basically random accidents, or regular, systematic abuses that we can actually do something about.

Unfortunately, I suspect we tend to focus on the former, rather than the latter–probably because the latter involves reading things like DOJ statistics, which appeals to most people like moldy pie.

In a good world, people can trust the police. Our justice system, unfortunately, does not inspire trust. This really needs to be changed, or else I just don’t see how the country can function.

Man arrested more than 70 times; released again

Nicholas Limpert from Spokane has been arrested more than 70 times. Now charged again, prosecutors are working to find a way to keep a career criminal off the streets. 

His first offense? Murder, at the age of 15.

“Prosecutors told KREM 2 News on Wednesday that they plan to get tough on Limpert with his latest trial.”

“Larry Haskell, the Spokane County prosecutor, said Limpert’s history of crimes could final[ly] be catching up to him.”

70th time’s the charm, right?

“”I think every day what I could’ve done to prevent myself from getting into trouble,” Limpert told a judge.”

Not get caught; clearly this man needs to work on his skills at not getting caught.

It is possible that Limpert actually has some desire to not get into trouble, but simply lacks any ability to control his actions and act in a non-criminal manner. It is also possible that Limpert just doesn’t want to go to jail for his criminal activities. Either way, nothing’s going to change.

Sorry, Les Mis: Criminals gonna Criminal

“3 in 4 former prisoners in 30 states arrested within 5 years of release” (from the Bureau of Justice Statistics press release, April 22, 2014.)Inspired by my recent musings, I thought I would refresh my memory on recidivism stats–I have a vague memory that murderers tend not to recidivate, (murderers tend to stay in prison for a very long time) and that car jackers do, but it’s a bad idea to make claims based on vague memories of old data.

So here’s what the press release has to say:

“An estimated two-thirds (68 percent) of 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years…

More than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who were arrested within five years of release were arrested within the first six months after release, with more than half (57 percent) arrested by the end of the first year.”

We could probably save some time and effort if we could effectively identify those third before releasing them. HOWEVER, I don’t know what percent of these people are being re-arrested on parole violations that the rest of us might not really consider “crimes”, like missing a meeting with one’s parole officer or forgetting to register one’s address.

“Recidivism rates varied with the attributes of the inmate. Prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were the most likely to recidivate. Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders.”

I’m guessing violent offenders spent longer in prison, and thus were older when released.

“Recidivism was highest among males, blacks and young adults. By the end of the fifth year after release, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of males and two-thirds (68 percent) of females were arrested, a 10 percentage point difference that remained relatively stable during the entire 5-year follow-up period.

Five years after release from prison, black offenders had the highest recidivism rate (81 percent), compared to Hispanic (75 percent) and white (73 percent) offenders.”

So, while while the chances of being a criminal vary widely between groups, criminals from all the groups recidivate at fairly similar rates. This suggests that we are probably actually arresting the subset of people who are criminals most of the time.

“Within five years of release, 61 percent of released inmates with four or fewer arrests in their prior criminal history were arrested, compared to 86 percent of those who had 10 or more prior arrests.”

Maybe guys with 10 prior arrests shouldn’t be released until they’re well over 40?

Some finer grain on recidivism by specific crime, after five years (note: this does not tell us the new offense,) from the PDF:

Violent: 71.3%
Homicide: 51.2
Murder: 47.9
Nonnegligent manslaughter: 55.7
Negligent manslaughter: 53.0
Rape/sexual assault: 60.1
Robbery: 77.0
Assault: 77.1
Other: 70.4
Property: 82.1%
Burglary: 81.8
Carjacking: 84.1
Fraud/forgery: 77.0
Drug: 76.9%
Possession: 78.3
Trafficking: 75.4
Public order: 73.6%
Weapons: 79.5
Driving under the influence: 59.9

Looks like my vague memories were correct. Murderers are the least likely to recidivate, probably due to the personal nature of many murders (you’ve got to really hate that guy,) and murderers being older when released, but they are still folks who aren’t great at solving inter-personal problems or running their lives. Rapist probably figure out non-illegal ways to have sex, or else get old enough to be less interested in it. Drunks probably learn to call a cab when drunk.

Relatively speaking, of course. A 50 or 60% recidivism rate still isn’t something that inspires great confidence. To be clear, again, this is not data on how many released murderers commit another murder or how many released rapists commit another rape–this is arrest for any crime. A further breakdown of re-arrest by new crime vs. old crime would be interesting.Carjacking, by contrast, looks like the Xtreme sports of crime–people attracted to this form of violent thrill-seeking seem unlikely to change their spots or find more legal alternatives.

On a related note, The role of parenting in the prediction of criminal involvement: findings from a nationally representative sample of youth and a sample of adopted youth.

From the abstract: The role of parenting in the development of criminal behavior has been the source of a vast amount of research, with the majority of studies detecting statistically significant associations between dimensions of parenting and measures of criminal involvement. An emerging group of scholars, however, has drawn attention to the methodological limitations-mainly genetic confounding-of the parental socialization literature. The current study addressed this limitation by analyzing a sample of adoptees to assess the association between 8 parenting measures and 4 criminal justice outcome measures. The results revealed very little evidence of parental socialization effects on criminal behavior before controlling for genetic confounding and no evidence of parental socialization effects on criminal involvement after controlling for genetic confounding.

In other words, looks like my basic thesis is holding up. Overall, I suspect it is far easier to fuck up a kid so they don’t meet their full potential (say, by abusing/neglecting) than to get rid of the effects of negative traits. It’s probably best to try to work with people’s inclinations by finding them life-paths that work for them, rather than trying to mold them into something they aren’t.

Lotteries

Oh look, W. Hunter posted about Lotteries.
“Lotteries can be useful natural experiments; we can use them to test the accuracy of standard sociological theories, in which rich people buy their kids extra smarts, bigger brains, better health, etc.

David Cesarini, who I met at that Chicago meeting, has looked at the effect of winning the lottery in Sweden. He found that the “effects of parental wealth on infant health, drug consumption, scholastic performance and cognitive and non-cognitive skills can be bounded to a tight interval around zero.” “

I count this as evidence in favor of my theory that winning the lottery does not have a significant effect on a person’s likelihood of committing crimes (eg, drug consumption,) and that the converse, becoming suddenly poor, probably also has no major effect.

There’s also a somewhat garbled reference in the article to an interesting 1800s land-lottery in Georgia; I recall the longer post on the subject and recommend it if you can find it.

Criminality–a WIP; your thoughts appreciated

I’ve been thinking about criminality, inspired by a friend’s musings on why didn’t he turn to crime during his decades of homelessness and schizophrenia. My answer was relatively simple: I think my friend just isn’t a criminal sort of person.

To clarify what I mean: let’s assume, similar to IQ, that each person has a “criminality quotient,” or CQ. Like IQ, one’s relative CQ is assumed to basically hold steady over time–that is, we assume that a person who rates “Low CQ” at 20 will also rate “Low CQ” at 30 and 60 and 10 years old, though the particular activities people do obviously change with age. Absolute CQ decreases for everyone past 35 or so.

A low CQ person has very little inclination to criminal behavior–they come to a full stop at stop signs, return excess change if a cashier gives them too much, don’t litter, and always cooperate in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. They are a bit dull, but they make good neighbors and employees.

A mildly CQ person is okay with a few forms of petty crime, like shoplifting, underage drinking, pot smoking, or yelling at people. They make fun friends but they litter and their party guests vomit in your bushes, making bad neighbors. You generally wouldn’t arrest these people, even though they do break the law.

A moderately CQ person purposefully does things that actually hurt people. They mug people or hold up conbinis; they get in fights. They mistreat animals, women, and children. They defect on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. They make shitty friends and shitty neighbors, because they steal your stuff.

A high CQ person is a murderer; they have no respect for human life.

A common explanation for criminality is that poverty causes it, hence my formerly homeless friend’s confusion. Obviously poverty can cause people to commit crimes they wouldn’t otherwise, like stealing food or sleeping in public parks. But in general, I suspect the causal arrow points the other way: criminality involves certain traits–like aggression and impulsivity–that make it hard to keep jobs, which makes criminal people poor.

Good people, reduced to poverty, remain good people. Bad people, suddenly given a bunch of money, remain bad people.

I’m not sure how one would test the first half of this without massive confounders or terrible ethics,  but the latter half seems relatively easy, if you can just find enough petty criminals who’ve won the lottery and aren’t in prison–although now that I think about it, it seems like you could look at before and during data for people affected by essentially government-induced famines or poverty events. Just a friendly wager, but I bet Jews during the Holocaust had crime rates lower than American inner-city-lottery winners.

But “criminality” is a complex trait, so let’s unpack that a little. What exactly is it about criminality that makes it correlate with poverty?

Subtraits: aggression, impulsivity, low intelligence, lack of empathy, low risk aversion, high temporal discount.

Any of these traits by themselves wouldn’t necessarily induce criminality–people with Down’s Syndrome, for example, have low IQs but are very kind and have no inclination toward criminality (that I have ever heard of, anyway.) Many autistic people are supposed to be low in empathy, but do not desire to hurt others, and often have rather strong moral compasses. Low risk-aversion people can just do xtreme sports, and high-time preference people can be bad at saving money but otherwise harmless. Even aggressive people can channel their aggression into something useful if they are intelligent. Impulsive people might just eat too many cookies or dye their hair wacky colors.

But people who have more than one of these traits are highly likely to engage in criminal behavior.

However, these traits do not appear to be randomly distributed (thus, criminalitty is not randomly distributed.) Rather, they seem to belong to a complex or archetype, of which “criminality” is one manifestation.

This complex has probably been more or less the human default for most of human history. After all, chimps are not especially known for not tearing each other’s faces off. And saving up wealth for tomorrow instead of eating it today doesn’t make sense if the tribe next door can just come in and steal it. In a violent, chaotic, pre-state tribal world, “criminality” is survival.

Over at Evo and Proud, Frost has been talking about his paper on the genetic pacification of Europe via executing lots of criminals, and various counter arguments, ie, In the wrong place at the wrong time? and How many were already fathers?

To summarize, briefly, Frost proposes that the precipitous drop in W. European crime levels over the past thousand years or so has been due to states executing criminals, thus removing “criminal” genes from the genepool. The sticky questions are whether the drop in crime actually happened when and where his theory suggests, and if enough people were actually killed to make a dent in criminality.

I suspect that Frost is at least partially right–many people who might have had children were executed instead–but there is another factor to consider:

A land where criminals are executed is a land where criminals are already useless or less than useless. They have gone from assets to nuisances (horrible ones, but nuisances nonetheless), to be swatted like flies.

In a land where criminals are useful, we do not call them criminals; we call them heroes. Is Che Guevara a murderer or a freedom fighter? Depends on who you ask. Is the man who crushes enemies, drives off their cattle and hears the lamentations of their women a hero or a butcher? In Mongolia, there are statues of Genghis Khan and he is regarded as the father of Mongolia. Vlad Tepes is a here in Romania.

In a land where marauding tribes are no longer a concern, you have no need for violent tribesmen of your own. In a land where long term saving is technically possible, people who do can get ahead. In these places, the criminality complex is no longer favored, and even mildly CQ people–too mild to get executed–get out-competed by people with lower CQs.

However, I do caution that recent data suggests this trend may have reversed, and criminals may now have more children than non-criminals. I wouldn’t count on anything being eternal.

Looking back over my own thought on the subject over the years, I think this is essentially reversal of sorts. Our legal system is built on the Enlightenment (I think) idea of redeemability–that criminals can be changed; that we punish the individual criminal act, not the “criminality” of the offender. This may not be so in the death penalty or for certain egregiously heinous acts like child rape, but in general, there are principles like “no double jeopardy” and “people who have served their time should be allowed to re-integrate into society and not be punished anymore.” The idea of CQ basically implies that some people should be imprisoned irrespective of whatever crimes they’ve been convicted of, simply because they’re going to commit more crimes.

There’s a conflict here, and it’s easy to see how either view, taken to extremes, could go horribly wrong. Thus it is probably best to maintain a moderate approach to imprisonment, while trying to ensure that society is set up to encourage lawful behavior and not reward criminality.

Your thoughts and reflections are encouraged/appreciated.