A young woman recently got busted stealing 45 million dollars from the finance company where she worked.
45 million eh – how about that? Wasn’t 44 million enough?
The woman’s lawyer tried to get her off on the grounds that she’d been abused as a child and this had led to her crime. There’s indeed some evidence that greed wasn’t the main motive. Turns out she didn’t spend much of the stolen money on herself. Instead she gave expensive gifts to other people to make herself feel special. Still, it’s doubtful this child abuse defence could ever have been used if this was not a white collar crime. It’s amazing the distancing effect that happens when a crime is committed ‘on paper’ (or by computer) rather than physically.
For example, imagine a guy mugs somebody in the street for $45. The crime feels real. Or someone holds up a petrol station and makes off with $450 cash. It feels very real. If the same guy were able to heist $4500 from a jewellery store, or even $45 000 from a bank, that’s cold hard cash. But steal 45 million by fiddling some computer records and it’s no longer real, it’s just an abstraction like figures on the stock market. The crime is only a concept, not a reality. So you can bring up the counter concept that child abuse leads to multi-million dollar theft.
The judge wasn’t buying it and the woman got fifteen years. He was no doubt sympathetic to what she’d suffered as a child, but perhaps he reasoned that if all criminals who had terrible childhoods were suddenly let off their crimes, all the jails would be half empty overnight.
He may also have thought that while child abuse is very sad and damaging, it doesn’t follow that you have to react by stealing 45 million from your employer. Stealing 45 million isn’t the only possible response.
When it comes down to it, it’s hard to see why white collar crime is really any better than blue collar crime. It’s actually a little weak in a way, for the white collar criminal seeks a criminal result but isn’t prepared to dirty his or her hands to achieve it. As Lars Ulrich said about people downloading music on the net in the Napster case of ’96, if you’re tough enough to steal music let’s see you walk into Towers records and steal the CDs with your own hands instead of hiding behind your computers.
Or if you’re going to steal money, let’s see if you’ve got the balls to hold up a bank instead of doing it online. Or to take an extreme example, if you hate someone enough to want to kill them you’d better be able to do the evil deed yourself. To hire a contract killer because you’re too squeamish to face the reality of your own action is just weak (as if murder isn’t bad enough anyway.)
Of course you could say the same thing about people who eat meat but don’t kill the animal themselves. That includes me. So I suppose we’re all white collar criminals in one way or another.
And that’s how you get from 45 million to vegetarianism in 500 words or less.