We like to think about crime in terms of good and evil. Bad people commit crimes. Good people prevent or punish crimes. That doesn’t explain why we see crime waves. It’s not that one year proportionally more bad people were born than good. For crime to spike there have to have been some people who were otherwise good, who for some reason turned bad. If we can understand why that happens, perhaps we can prevent it. Certain types of crime seem to come in to or go out of fashion. From the 1970s to 2000 serial killers dominated headlines; now they’ve mostly disappeared. Before the 1990s, school shootings were unheard of, now they’re devastatingly common. Many popular politicians and celebrities were assassinated: JFK, MLK, John Lennon, now you don’t even hear of attempts. Suicide bombings were a huge concern at the turn of the century, but have since continued to decline every year. Mob riots and protests also seem to have a copycat component, with outbreaks appearing in one area, usually spreading to others like a virus.
The truth is that society is organized around competition for status, in which status seekers model their behavior off others. Because of this, crime exists as memetic loops that propagate throughout the most susceptible members of the population to commit violent acts. Eventually the cycle runs out of depraved people to infect, law enforcement steps in to proactively protect potential victims, and the most vulnerable take steps to protect themselves, breaking the loop. These crime waves inspire outsized panic and fear, but are usually closed by relatively small changes in behavior. Serial killers stopped switched from hitchhikers to sex workers when women stopped hitchhiking as often. As sex workers got savvier — and that victim pool began to shrink — serial killers shifted online.
That catastrophic acts can be prevented with small amounts of friction is a clue to their nature as a temporary mind virus, passed on via mimesis or the copying of others. In England, death by asphyxiation from breathing oven fumes had accounted for roughly half of all suicides up until the 1970s, when Britain switched to Natural Gas (no carbon monoxide) and it dropped to none. There was no big shift to other methods: the total suicide rate dropped 30% and has stayed low since. Suicide is often the result of a temporary chemical imbalance in the brain, or stressful set of conditions that won’t last forever. If a method for committing suicide that seems relatively appealing is stuck in your brain at the wrong time, because you heard in the news or from a friend that someone else did it that way, your chances of carrying out the act increase. Making these methods slightly less mentally or physically available can give you time to reconsider, and for the conditions causing suicidal thoughts to pass. Hence the outsized affect. If we want to prevent crimes, we need to prevent toxic memes from spreading in the first place.
In otherwise peaceful Sweden, over 500 bombings occurred since 2018, sometimes with multiple unrelated bombings occurring on the same day. They have also seen a corresponding rise in shootings and “humiliation robberies”, where victims are degraded by assailants, such as being urinated on, often while being filmed. Right wing activists claim this is the result of high immigration figures, and 85% of suspects are indeed first or second generation immigrants. However that doesn’t tell the whole story, as studies show that in the United States and other countries, immigrants are less likely to commit a crime than native born residents. Most immigrants are good people, but they are also the most vulnerable. In Sweden immigrants have ended up in segregated suburbs, where unemployment is high, and criminal gangs compete with police for authority. Hiding amongst legitimate refugees are likely a handful of the very people that made countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan necessary to run away from. If left unchecked they could quickly gain influence. It didn’t start with bombings, explains Swedish criminologist Amir Rostami, “First they shot at legs and behinds, then they started shooting each other, then there were more shots, pure executions, and humiliation of the victims. Now we have extreme amounts of explosions,” he told the newspaper DN in 2019.
Crime continued to escalate because of the link to immigration: it was considered bad taste suggest it may be a problem. The idea of publishing statistics on the link between immigration and crime was decried as inherently racist. The government and left-leaning media outlets attempted to rebrand “no-go zones” as “go-go zones”, even as postal workers and ice cream trucks abandoned operating in these areas. The opera singer Malena Ernman (Greta Thunberg’s mother) parroted the falsehood that “Sweden is safer than ever”. Elites may be able to afford luxury beliefs, but regular people cannot. “All I want is for my kid not to get kidnapped and peed on.” states a Stockholm resident. This wilful blindness has opened up opportunities for gangs to seize control of immigrant neighbourhoods, and drummed up support for far right groups like the Swedish Democrats, a party with past ties to Nazism, who were rewarded with 20% of the vote in the last election. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, as the saying goes. In the case of Sweden, the issue is not just that gangs radicalized immigrant communities, but that elite societal taboos protected them while doing it.
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