Do Cat Thieves Give Clues to the Origins of Criminality in Humans?

Here in  North Africa, I watch the neighborhood animals, who belong to no one, and make their rounds in the same places daily.  We have a lot of street animals, and cats often jump in to our house through the windows (other people’s houses, too), in search of food. Some of them can get quite aggressive, especially with our own cats.  Our cats feel they have to go outside and “defend the yard” every time they see a cat jump in over the garden wall.  Of course they go absolutely wild if a neighborhood cat jumps into our house.

I began to think about these intruders as thieves, because that’s what they would be considered, if they were humans. It’s easier for them to steal food than it is for them to hunt for it themselves in an urban environment.

It’s also easier (than working) for human thieves to do the same–either because they are lazy, or their environment didn’t give them other reasonable options, or because they are more greedy than others (white collar criminals?). I wonder how much of this laziness/greediness could be genetically determined, or if it is somewhat genetically programmed into all of us.  In fact, scientists are now finding evidence of this (see HERE and HERE).

My observation of cats in the neighborhood has lead me wonder whether ALL cats would be thieves if they weren’t fed by their owners.

Therefore, what keeps ALL humans from becoming thieves? Rather than asking the question who is likely to become a criminal (in human society), perhaps we should seek to understand this question  by asking instead, what KEEPS people from taking the easy route of becoming a thief/criminal? Instead of asking who cheats and why, maybe we should be asking, “Why doesn’t EVERYONE cheating/lying/stealing? What keeps those of us who are law-abiding citizens, so?”

I wonder if the answer lies in the environment.  Instead of saying that the environment causes criminality, perhaps the reverse is actually closer to the truth.  Perhaps we would all be criminals, except for if we have a positive environment which, as we are raised, gives us POSITIVE REWARDS (such as RESPECT or ADMIRATION) for becoming law-abiding citizens.  Those who grow up in impoverished environments (or cultural environments) where they never experience these rewards, are unlikely to become honest and law-abiding.

What do others think?

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8 Responses to “Do Cat Thieves Give Clues to the Origins of Criminality in Humans?”

  1. RainDancer Says:

    What a genuine way of looking at the issue!

    According to Islam for example, everyone is born a good person, so, criminality “flourishes” in environments that are conditioned for criminality, that is, societies where people don’t abide by religion (Which is a supreme law). Moreover, criminality becomes a legalized resort in places where people MUST do something illegal to stay alive. Hence, Criminality becomes a necessary evil, or a survival tool.

    Even though it’s true that people have an “animalistic” innate tendency (instinct) to harm other people, it’s also true that we have another MORE POWERFUL instinct which keeps us law-abiding creatures. Also, as I mentioned above, religion plays a very important role in keeping people from doing evil deeds. I know that there have been uncountable wars caused by religion but in ome societies, religion is the only guarantee that people won’t kill each other.

    In accordance with this, I remember a talk I had with a friend some time ago, he said: “Do you think these people (meaning people in the street) give a damn about laws? Well, they don’t. We’re safe here just because people are afraid from God’s punishment in the hereafter”

    As sad as it is, I guess this comment carries a lot of truth in it. So, we can conclude that in religious societies, it’s religion that keeps people from being criminals and not the law.

    Thank you Lynne!

  2. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn Discussion (C.S.): Human did not have criminal behavior 200,000 years ago simply because there were no laws that said a particulat behavior was criminal. The very strong did not need laws to protect them. They were the law. Laws were created to protect the weak later in the history of social evolution. Some people will continue to do what they want to do even if there were laws against what they were doing. Evolution through natural selection will eventually reduce the number of those who don’t follow the law. Pinker says in a recent book that violence and wars all over the world is on a downward trend. Good news for those who believe in Evolution – about 50% of the people in the US of A.

  3. Lynne Diligent Says:

    Email from a friend (J.J.): I don’t agree. In the animal world (including cats) might makes right. There is ample evidence that in the presence of social breakdown, we humans also raid and steal. Therefore, it can probably be traced to lack of social norms among cats. Cats were never known for being very social and therein is your problem.

  4. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From Facebook (S.C.W.): “Cat Burglars!”

  5. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn (B.P.): Great idea. Comes up in my work (psychologist) with parents who want to know how to stop kids’ misbehavior and often miss the real pull they have which is to look at why other kids WANT to behave. I can usually get far by just helping them realize the power they wield with their relationship, approval, the perks of behaving – if they’ll stop giving the squeaky wheel the grease and ignoring the smooth running ones. As for misbehaving, it’s existed a long long time. Remember the iceman – a 5000 year old murder victim found in the alps.

  6. cybermd Says:

    Christian theologies believe in original sin, thus the Western concept that all people are inclined towards evil behavior, unless the environment prevents them. Semitic religions (Islam and Judaism), in contrast, believe that man is born good and the environment corrupts.

  7. Corvus Says:

    I like your observation. Religion has traditionally been one control, legal systems another. I think this post is very related to your post on corruption.

  8. Flo Says:

    Pirhanas don’t eat each other because they are physically matched and all watch each other. They constantly nip at one another and have fast healing. When one gets injured enough though the rest devour it.
    I believe this is what keeps humans and other animals in check. When people say the fear of god orders society I take that to mean the fear of one’s pain and fellow human shapes society. There is a greed instinct that is bound only by the limits of the environment. There is also information that leverages and misinformation that harms.

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