Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Criminology Report : Strain Theory & Genetics; Nature vs. Nurture

No one can ever be certain what drives an individual to commit a crime. In criminology we use many diverse theories to help us determine ones reasoning. The two theories that will be covered are Robert K. Merton’s Strain theory and the genetic theory; nature vs. nurture. The strain theory stats “no legitimate means, substitute illegitimate means” while genetics feels crime is in ones DNA, they are born into a life of crime. In Robert K. Merton’s strain theory the causes of crime are lack of opportunity, deviance, and the need to fulfill the” American dream”. While the biological theory of genetics; natures vs. nurture stats the causes of crime are faulty genes, a limited rationality, and the lack of moral development.

No legitimate means and lack of equal opportunity are major cause of crime in Merton’s strain theory. Robert K. Merton believes one is forced to a life of crime or to commit a crime, as they don’t have the same and or equal opportunities. For example, Johnny boy lives with his mother and father who both work, Johnny boy’s father is a top lawyer in the city and therefore has many connections. Johnny boy is able to get a full time job at the age of eighteen. There’s another kid, who lives just down the street from Johnny boys neighbourhood, we’ll call him Tommy boy. Tommy boy lives at home with his mother, who works extensive hours and can barely pay the rent. Tommy boy try’s hard to get a job applying anywhere, and everywhere, all so he can help his mother pay the rent. Unfortunately Tommy can’t find a job. The strain theory stats Tommy boy will be more likely to commit a crime, as he has no legitimate means. To reduce or eliminate crime the strain theory believes in the need for more equal opportunities. Although it is not practical for everyone to have a salary cap, society needs to make opportunities equal to everyone. Today more than often people are hired because they know someone; we need to eliminate the politics from business opportunities. There is also a need for more social groups for these at risk, low income individuals. These groups would give individuals assistance in finding jobs, applying for government services and ultimately provide moral support.
Secondly the strain theory believes deviance is also a major cause for crime. Whether it is from an individual or a group such as a criminal organization. Criminal organizations tend to abide by their own rules and goals and show little respect for authority figures. These groups form off innovation one of Merton’s five modes of adapting to strain. They accept societal goals but have no legitimate means of full filling these goals, so they design their own ways of getting ahead. Thus a criminal organization is formed, these organizations strive off crime, whether it be robbery, embezzlement, drug trafficking or other criminal acts, theirs means are clearly illegitimate. A deviant behaviour is fundamental to such organizations, as those who practice deviant behaviour, tend to go against the views of society. In order to reduce crime in these groups and organizations we need to monitor these groups and their routines, making them less likely to return to or continue a life of crime. There also needs to be conformity within the group. If one individual in the group accepts society’s goals, then the rest of the group will conform to these goals, and the breakdown of the criminal organization begins.
Lastly there is the desire to live the so called “American Dream”, a home in the suburbs, a wife, kids, and a top job. This idea becomes fixed in their heads and an individual will do anything to reach this goal, sometimes that means turning to a life of crime. Through the media, such as televisions shows and magazines this idea of the “American Dream: is drilled into our heads. This idea was first fixed into societies head with shows like “leave it to beaver” where a nuclear family lives in a suburban dream home, were the father works ,and mom stays at home. These days this concept is harder to come by, as more often we see both spouses having to work to make ends meet. More than often individuals will use illegitimate means to obtain their goals, whether it be selling “hot” products or pushing a little marijuana for a friend, when there are no legitimate means, on will substitute illegitimate means.
Biological theories in criminology deal with genetic and societal influences on criminal behaviour. The biological theory on genetics stats you are born into a life of crime, criminal behaviour is in your DNA. This is the idea that someone has uncontrollable traits, and will act out, but not on their own free will. One doesn’t choose a life of crime they are born into it, this is also called nature vs. nurture, and it is in ones nature to become a criminal. This concept is more than stating someone growing up around a criminal lifestyle will lead a life of crime, it is also saying it is in ones genes to take on a criminal behaviour. It’s in the genes passed down from their parents; we can categorize these as faulty genes. Whether it is a chemical unbalance in ones brain, or defective genes passed down, genetic theory stats genetics is to blame for their criminal behaviour. To eliminate or help reduce ones criminal behaviour, there is a need for genetic testing on these individuals and those at risk. The purpose of the testing is to determine if there is a pattern, in individuals with these faulty genes. There is a major need to isolate the causes of why ones genes drive them commit a crime.

The biological theory of genetics also stats ones limited rationality is a cause for crime, as they don’t understand the seriousness of an offence and/or crime, their incoherent thinking comes from the traits passed down in their genes. Their unreasonable mind is an affect to their faulty genes and their actions are resembled from the way in which they were raised, causing them to live a criminal lifestyle, this is also the case in most serial killers. If someone can take a life with no remorse there is something wrong with them, if they can do this more than once there definitely something wrong upstairs. A normal persons irrational thinking may lead them to do drugs or steal, while a person born into crime may pull a robbery or commit murder, as they grew up around crime, it nothing to them. For these individuals we need to monitor and control their behaviour they need to be institutionalized and treated. Again it is near impossible to determine who an individual is with crime in their genetics, those who have been caught have been tested. “After I’m dead, they’re going to open up my head and find that just like we’ve been saying a part of my brain is black and dry and dead.”Bobby Joe long one of Americans most horrendous serial killers said. Although many serial killers have had brain scans there is still no official explanation to why individuals commit these horrendous acts.
Lastly genetics blames the lack of one’s moral development for a cause of crime. Again they are born into it, as a child it is up to the parents to begin your development, mentally, physically and morally. Our parents teach us right from wrong, so what if your parents sell narcotics or stolen goods, you’ll grow up morally thinking there is nothing wrong with their means of life, and you’ll see this as a legitimate means. If you’re not aware right from wrong growing you’ll make many bad decisions. For example if you grew up not knowing movies aren’t real no one was there to tell you “honey, now you know those are just actors, with special effects.” You may repeat what you see. Street racing was on a low for a while then in 2001 a movies called “ the fast and the furious” was released it seemed street racing what back on the rise, almost regularly street racing and street racing accidents where showing up in the news. Our moral development as human beings doesn’t only reflect our upbringing, but our way of life acquired in our teenage and young adult years. Where in some cases friends and materialism plays a more vital role then family, we need to be aware of the role our environment plays on our behaviour.
Under CD 5 of the criminal code of Canada drug trafficking or posession for the purpose of trafficking is and indictable offence and when moving over 3 kgs, can serve a term of life in prison. Robert K. Merton’s strain theory would explain drug trafficking as a means to make money. A drug trafficker has no legitimate means, so moving narcotics is money in their pocket. The drug trafficking industry allows for a lot of individuals to make money , first there is the supplier, followed by the middle man , then the dealers and then threes the government who makes money on convictions and charges. Criminal organizations and or gangs also see drug trafficking as a means for advancement, this ideal is especially triggered in younger gang members, and they believe selling drugs is the cool thing to do, you’re well known and making more money than a part-time job, it’s a means of financial security. Merton’s strain theory basically stats an individual becomes a drug trafficker because they need to do whatever they can to survive, they had no legitimate means , so they substituted illegitimate means , drug dealing.
The biological theory of genetics nature vs. nurture would look at drug traffickers as only being drug traffickers as they were born into a life of crime. Someone becomes a drug trafficker or dealer because they grew up around crime and or drugs; growing up in this lifestyle they don’t see it as morally wrong. Their limited rationality tells them, it’s a source for finance; they don’t test if it’s legitimate or illegitimate. Having limited rationality one may see the positives of being a drug dealer they don’t see the affect it has on society as a whole. Genetics also stats ones social environment has an effect on their criminal behaviour; a person may become a drug dealer because their friends sell drugs, or they may start to sell drugs because they friends, buy narcotics. For example your lifelong friend offers you and opportunity to make some good money, all you have to do is push a small amount of narcotics for him. Odds are if they were born with criminal genetics they do it no problem, while a normal individual might hesitate for a bit, but the fact that your friend is your supplier it may be easier to say yes. Generics stats that a person is born as a drug trafficker, or is brought up into a life as a drug pusher /dealer.

In a way the biological theory of genetics does make sense but at the same time it can be questioned. For example if an individual grew up around a criminal lifestyle, showed limited rationality, and had a lack of moral development it’s almost certain they will pertain to a life of crime. The fact that someone can be born with a “crime gene” doesn’t sit right, just the fact that someone’s actions can be blamed on the traits passed down by their parents, isn’t right. Although certain attributes or characteristics may make us feel or act certain ways, it’s one conscience that makes that final decision. Instead theories some these should be categorized under excuses, someone commits a crime, and looks at these theories as an excuse to why he/she committed the crime. Robert K. Merton’s strain theory is easier to agree with, as people are like animals when it comes to surviving and or protecting ones livelihood and family, we obtain these instincts that otherwise would never pass our minds. When this happens nothing will stop an individual, they will find any means necessary to survive. For instance a man gets laid off from his job and can’t another one, he finally does but the job pays only minimum wage, he can barely afford to pay the bills. He realizes he can make plenty of money selling narcotics. What does he do? He becomes a drug dealer; he had no legitimate means so he substituted an illegitimate means to survive. Sympathy goes out to these individuals , especially those who are doing it to pay the bills , personally a man selling marijuana to his buddies so he can pay his bills and feed his children , isn’t as criminally wrong as a man selling crack cocaine on the street corner. Problem is we can’t classify one dealer is less dangerous then another, although one drug may be dangerous then another, there both illegal. Where it is Merton’s strain theory, or nature vs. nurture both of these theories describe ones actions in various ways. No matter how many theories are published one can never fully understand what drives an individual to commit a crime.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I think one reason why people might commit crimes is what kind of situation they are living in. Like above with Tommy Boy his mom is struggling with paying for the rent so he is more likely to commit a crime because his family needs the money for rent.

  3. I think that people commit crimes because of they're situations, and theyr personal characters. People get influenced by many things including they're childhood and current economic situations.People are most likely going to commit a crim because of the struggled they face and our of desperation they do so.

  4. I believe after reading this blog I have come to a better understanding of Why someone would commit a crime. As the article pointed out if a person is unable to provide themselves with a better life due to their current situation and opportunities than they will be more likely to commit a crime.

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  6. I think a criminal is a criminal because of how their childhood was. The main factors can be based on how they grew up as a little kid and the parents can play a big role. For example, if a child was abused by their mom they can potentiality grow up to be a serial killer and target moms that treat their kids wrong.