a philosophy blog

Stephenson: crime is a masculine statement (I)

Bianco Luno’s notes on June Stephenson’s Men are Not Cost-Effective

  I   |  II  |  III 

Editor’s Introduction

“Women and men do not participate equally in crime. The disparity is so extreme, ancient, and immanent that it long ago should have garnered serious attention from philosophers for what it signals about the only two kinds of moral consciousness.” So Luno contends.

The word “crime” has wider connotations for him than merely the violation of established law. He is ever ultimately concerned with differences in the moral worlds of women and men. The troubled relation of males to law is merely the most undeniably patent manifestation of this fact. It is the tip of a massive iceberg comprised of sex differences. It is the index of an important fact about human-created evil.

About five years after it was published, Luno encountered and annotated June Stephenson’s controversial Men are Not Cost-Effective (1995) which he describes as an “important book.” The thesis of Stephenson’s work fits neatly with his theory of the proprietary criminality of maleness which had been initially spurred by his study of Otto Weininger’s Sex and Character (1903). Weininger argued at the level of moral theory that men were necessarily bound to heterocosmic ends and that this left them particularly unadapted to material decency without a system rules centered on Kantian-like moral principle. Their lot requires a strenuous morality to superintend their earthly performance. Women neither have nor require the same. In this, Weininger extends an idea already found in Kant. The idea that morality is rather sharply delimited by sex has been largely ignored by other philosophers, mostly male, under the sway of a naïve form of equality feminism—born of political, social, and economic concerns, that has matured little since the time of J. S. Mill. (But, as Luno notes, not all feminisms have been so blinkered. Thus, he finds consonance between Weininger and some of the most radical feminisms.)

No writing on this subject has placed in relief the need for seeing women and men as operating in different moral worlds better than Stephenson’s book. Perhaps, because it is a commonplace, most people assume without comment that it is true that crime is endemic to maleness (or as Luno puts it, “men do crime like fish swim”). Over a century ago Weininger educed startling conclusions from this propensity which have never been fully appreciated for what they were. Weininger’s account of the differences between women and men and their profound moral import are usually taken as anathema to the goals of feminism, when in fact his target was the masculine tendency to subvert, appropriate, and amass material power which is what crime is all about.

A book of abstruse research or high-flying speculation Stephenson’s book isn’t. One might be put off by the absence of extensive documentation, especially in a book with such a tendentious conclusion: that males should be taxed simply for being male to help defray the cost of having them in society. But quickly it becomes clear, as she herself remarks, why documentation would actually undercut rather than further that conclusion: if the point isn’t obvious, then it is not made. If the most cursory survey of daily news items does not convince you, nothing will. A full academic apparatus would suggest that the point concerning the essential criminality of men was either obscure or a matter of controversy. It is supposed to be neither. Stephenson’s book is the perfect concrete complement to Otto Weininger’s abstract treatise. Both tried to remind us in very different ways of what is right in front of our nose. (Gertude Stein and Ludwig Wittgenstein—two who also read and greatly admired Weininger—construed genius as the attempt to do precisely that.)

There is, of course, another angle on this. In a lecture (on which Luno comments here) and subsequently in Is There Anything Good About Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men (2010), Roy F. Baumeister offers a partial bio-sociological response to Stephenson, among others, in the course of which he restates many of the Weininger’s contentions about the mandatory character of male cultural creativity. He does so with the benefit of a century’s worth of empirical hindsight and without the Kantian moral apparatus. There is certainly a world of philosophical difference between Weininger and Baumeister. Weininger was concerned to train masculine will on a sky-scraping trellis of ideals where Baumeister offers an evolutionary perspective, a scientific explanation, or what amounts to an apology of sorts. Weininger, in the end (Luno frequently argues), was more profoundly moved by the awful responsibility of men for the human-created evil in the world than by masculine cosmic achievement though he was well aware of the latter—indeed, most readers never get past his celebration of it to his point in celebrating it: that men had better press themselves into the highest service to make up for their otherwise miserable proclivities. This, for Luno, is what distinguishes Weininger’s treatment from Baumeister’s.

Stephenson reminds us, in case we forget, of the gravity of that responsibility. There is a real tendency to forget in the interest of expediency or survival. Weininger does not consider extended or comfortable material survival in itself worthy. It is the character of that survival that matters above all. He expresses in its purest form the moral consequences of being male in the world. His conclusion is that men do not properly belong here. (By contrast, Stephenson suggests they can stay so long as they pay; Baumeister, that they have been paying as they go.)

Stephenson is true to another vision of the world. From a feminist standpoint, a wrong not done is not somehow the equivalent of one that is done and compensated for. Underlying this, is ultimately the conviction that this world, this moment, must be judged by itself, in temporal isolation, in the moment, so to speak. Nothing that happens later—not in time, not in its fullness, not in some heterocosmic accounting—will undo or make suffering now worthwhile. What happens later will speak always to what happens later. It may lead, perhaps, to forgetfulness but not forgiveness. The latter presupposes a running account. The contrasting masculine idea is that moral judgment is always a linear work in progress. It spans time. That my good deed tomorrow will atone for my evil done yesterday suggests that my life is to be judged as an extension, in its totality, that real final judgment will only happen at a point in the future, that I have elbow room in which to mess around before I must begin to think of how to make myself worthy of the resources my life is consuming. The game has a duration and it is not over until it is over. The idea here very easily leaks into the heterocosmic, the transcendent, the posthumous, glory, justification in the fullness of time. Stephenson repeatedly reminds us that this vision does nothing to help accommodate women to present evil, whatever it may do for men. She rubs our noses in the ground on this.

“Men—never mind what they may say or not say about it—behave as though there really were an afterlife,” Luno elsewhere writes, implying a whole way of not biding the moment, of living as though judgment and gratification can be deferred at will. Whatever great cultural blossoms this way of experiencing has engendered it carries with it a deep liability to disrespect the moment—the quintessentially feminine moral arena. (The moral development of girls and boys as documented in the complementary work of Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan lends support to the idea that we are not merely addressing the troublesome wake of socially conditioned gender. Luno always means to talk about sex, the biological index. He adds, “Culture provides feedback and in no permanent way is dictated by biology, but with biology it begins and we are barely past beginnings.” Perhaps one day we shall get to the point of talking about gender roles or “designer sexes” but very deluded to think we are that far along this path. Needless to say, this places Luno outside mainstream thinking on these matters.)

Weininger addresses the intimate connection of time and memory and the base they form for the masculine conception of morality. The idea of redemption is central. But the temptation of men is to think asking forgiveness is an acceptable substitute for permission. When atonement becomes a birthright, corruption has set in. A theme that recurs in Stephenson is the arrogance of this attitude.

Luno contends that both Stephenson and Baumeister call attention to vitally important facts about the moral world and that both are right as far as they go but that neither goes far enough to grasp the enormity at hand. The moral bifurcation of the world presses hard for appreciation. We shall not progress in understanding what our mission here is (Luno thinks we have one), both as concrete sexed humans and as aspirationally abstract and sexless ones—aka “human beings,” until we get clear about this. Luno is concerned with the character of normativity inserted into a morally aseptic world and the difference sex makes. In other places, Luno hints at what cultural changes, especially those impinging on legal and political infrastructure, are consequent on these realizations.

Another theme, ostensibly different from the one about sex differences in crime, runs through Stephenson’s book. It is the serious attention to the vastness of white-collar crime, specifically, and relative to street crime. She and Luno would agree that low socio-economic status is an indicator of the style and character (and relative success) of crime rather than a cause. The observation reinforces the conclusion that crime is a side-effect of maleness and not a more superficially malleable aspect of social conditions. Luno theorizes at length about white-collar or what he calls “abstract crime” and its relation to civilization. Abstract crime, tied as it is to the forces that move culture, is perfectly situated for underestimation and under-recognition. Unlike Baumeister, Luno sees nothing redemptive about the link.

Stephenson would probably not understand—nor probably agree with if she did—the lessons Luno draws from her work. The same is likely true for Baumeister. Luno’s agenda is not narrowly scientific. The philosophical scope of the conclusions he draws requires that he restrict himself to only the most in-your-face premises. Stephenson and Baumeister do their part in his scheme to provide these.

The numbers at the margin are page numbers in Stephenson’s text. Direct quotations are indented. Luno’s commentary is bracketed and in blue. The rest is Luno’s paraphrase of Stephenson.



Ninety-three percent


[There is this fact to explain. There is nothing subtle about it: 93% of prison inmates are male and nearly all violent criminals are male. The percentage barely fluctuates year to year. It was 93% at the time of Stephenson’s book in 1995. It was 93% in 2008 according to the U. S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The U. S. percentage male incarceration is actually lower than it is on average internationally. In most countries, men account for more than 95% of the prison population. Women in America are bigger evil-doers than elsewhere in the world… or we bang square pegs into round holes harder in America than elsewhere under the weight of an ideology that insists what is good for men must be so for women, too. (See Roy Walmsley, “World Female Imprisonment List,” King’s College of London, International Centre for Prison Studies, 2006.)]

The cost of keeping a person in prison for one year is $20,00 to $24,000. In a maximum security prison, $30,000 to $35,000. [Monetary figures cited by Stephenson, of course, date from the early 1990s.]

After being released from prison for a violent crime, 98% of males commit another violent crime. 2% for females. With the exception of prostitution and juvenile runaways males exceed females in criminal arrest for every kind of crime.

Since 1977, the rate of women going to prison has been rising: “Women are going to prison, not so much because they are committing more crimes, but because judges are giving them equal treatment with men.” [An effect of a knee-jerk interpretation of gender “equality.”]

The kinds of crimes women go to prison for are relatively minor property crimes such as larceny, welfare fraud, receiving stolen property and, of course, such “victimless” crimes as prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse.

When women are involved in murder or manslaughter there is almost always a history of abusive male partners or other male relatives, or it is illness. Beyond those to whom they bear some relation, even these women can almost never be characterized as “a danger to society.” [It is not that personal histories and illness do not figure in male criminality as well, but they do so in a distinctly different way: these factors work on pre-existing propensities or, as we will see, harness institutions—political and legal, for instance—to magnify their effect. Otherwise, we must conclude that males are terribly abused at a rate many times greater than females in the normal course of events—or they are ten times sicker.]

In 1995, there were 2,800 prisoners in the United States on death row. 1.5% were female. 4.5 million is spent per death row inmate. It costs $600,000 to $900,000 to keep one in prison for life.

In a 1988 study it was shown that “of the 7,000 prisoners executed in this century [in the U. S.], 139 were proven innocent after their death.” [It is a backhanded recognition of how much criminality is essential to masculine character that we feel it is worth killing two innocents out of every hundred convicted of capital crimes to drive home the point to the ninety-eight and to the rest of us. That is, when they are male. I don’t think we could stand so high a percentage of innocents if they were female. I will make a wild guess that among women on death row there are none that are innocent by the same standards as apply to men, though by the standards proprietary to women neither innocence or nor guilt are relevant. Women who kill rarely put up a fight at their conviction, while deep down every man thinks there are circumstances that give him a right to kill. If there is something analogous for women, it would be connected with her role as gatekeeper to existence where the penumbra of morality is diaphanous. I am thinking of abortion and infanticide. Here, something like “a license to kill” is indeed hers, something that has long been noticed by philosophers at least since Hobbes and Kant.*]

*Editor’s note: See Luno’s discussions of abortion and capital punishment.

[Stephenson culled most of her anecdotes and statistics respectively from San Francisco and Los Angeles area newspapers and from the National Data Book, a U. S. Census Bureau publication which gathers data from local and state sources. The nearly 400 pages of Men are Not Cost-Effective were easily filled with then recent descriptions of male criminality. She points out that though it may be common knowledge that men commit most crimes, no one has heretofore bothered to focus on maleness as the cause of crime. Why should we be surprised to learn how extreme and costly male criminality is?

We sample some of the descriptions and statistics she offers below. We do this by way of alluding to something anyone with even a casual interest in staying current already knows. Maleness and criminality were always there for anyone to see. Stephenson merely puts them side by side in case we might have been distracted by other things.]

They start young….

In Boston, eight males were accused in the Halloween 1990 rape-murder of twenty-six-year-old Kimberly Rae Harbour. She was beaten, repeatedly raped and stabbed at least 100 times. Three of her assailants were seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen years old… But five were legally juveniles, one only fifteen years old.

In 1994, California spent $4,200 a year to educate a child and $32,000 a year to incarcerate a child in a California Youth Authority detention center.

In 100 hours more teens are killed [in the U. S.] by guns than soldiers killed in the 100 attack hours of the Gulf War.

[Sometimes] it’s nothing more than staring that provokes murder in teenagers.

Traveling in groups seems to give boys courage to be killers….

Not all young male murderers come from impoverished homes. A ten-year-old in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, comes from a ‘good’ family but is the youngest murderer ever to be tried as an adult because, as the judge said on June 23, 1989, the boy’s crime was ‘deliberate and willful’…

After receiving a slight reprimand while playing at a neighbor’s house, this ten-year-old ran home and took the key to his father’s ten-rifle gun cabinet from its hiding place under a bedside lamp. He then unlocked the ammunition drawer, loaded the 20-power scope rifle with a single Remington cartridge, opened the window, removed the screen, and allegedly fired a single shot at a seven-year-old girl… He was read his Miranda rights sitting on his mother’s lap.

Rejection rage is commonly cited as the proximate cause of the murder of women. But male rage needn’t be so “explainable”:

Neither an estranged wife nor a girlfriend, Wendy Cheek was murdered by Robert Fairbank, thirty-six. Four days before the murder, Fairbank had been released on parole for the rape of a San Francisco woman, for which he had been sentenced for forty years. Wendy Cheek, a twenty-four-year-old San Francisco State University student, was abducted, beaten, stabbed many times with both a knife and a screwdriver, and possibly sexually assaulted, according to an autopsy report. Then Fairbank poured gasoline over her body and set her on fire.

On September 27, 1990 in Berkeley, California, Mehrad Dashti entered a cafe armed with “enough ammunition for a small army” including an M-11, a 44-caliber semi-automatic Cobray, a 9-millimeter Ruger, a 44-caliber revolver. A Cobray “emulates an illegal submachine gun and has the same fire power as an AK47 [600 bullets per minute].”

In the course of seven hours, Dashti ordered the male hostages to stand in a circle around him as a shield. He then ordered all the blond women to take off their pants and ordered the men to sexually molest them, which, according to a witness, they pretended to do. Dashti allowed brunettes to leave, and then released women he had told to remove their pants. Dashti, a college graduate with a degree in science and engineering, hated blondes, saying they wore provocative clothes and tempted men.

In the end, Dashti miraculously killed only one person—and that, according to a hostage, “upset him”—before the police fatally shot him.

Dashti was insane. He said he “heard voices.” … But then one has to ask, why aren’t all unstable people mass murderers…. And why are virtually all mass murderers men?

April 14, 1989:

The violence of Ramon Salcido was well thought out and methodical. He tells us now that he killed his two little girls first and dumped them in a garbage fill. He actually slit the throats of all three daughters, but one, the two-year-old, survived. When the surviving daughter was discovered about thirty hours later, she said, “Daddy cut me.”

According to his account, he then went to his mother-in-law’s house in Cotati and killed her and her two daughters, nine and eleven years old. Then he went to the Grand Cru Winery in nearby Glen Ellen where he worked. There he killed his fellow worker [the one he thought was having an affair with his wife]. After that he returned to his home in Boyes Hot Springs and killed his wife.

Art Floppe, an editorialist in the San Francisco Chronicle, referred to these as crimes of passion. Stefanie Salter, writing in the San Francisco Examiner, “suspected Ramon Salcido was not temporarily insane but a normal male.” Hamish Sinclair, cited by Salter, “believed he [Salcido] was losing his grip on his wife and so he followed Hobbes’ definition of possession, which is to destroy that possession so that no one else can have it either.”

[Looking over some of the media coverage (and a subsequent book written by the surviving daughter, Carmina, when she was 23 years old), we are struck but not surprised by the lurid outrage focused on the individual, Ramon Salcido, as though this kind of thing had never happened before and hasn’t happened many times since. Salter’s suggestion that there was something rather normal about Salcido is almost never addressed directly by anyone. To be sure, Salcido is a poster boy for a certain kind of serial killer—a record holder, if you will, in his field—but scarcely an anomaly.]

[We will skip the retellings of mass schoolyard killings by men with AK 47s—or boys, for that matter (she was writing before Columbine and Virginia Tech, etc.). We will pass over the freeway killers for sport, the prostitute serial killers, those men who would kill you for driving too slow or for merely being the passenger of someone driving too slow…]

Abstract Crime

[We move on to another form male criminality takes and one that is far more costly to us all: white-collar crime. The fact is few of us will be personally affected by a killer in the course of our lives, but none us escape being victims by criminals of the educated sort. Like the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, or the dreams we have, the effects of crime by this group, those in whom we as a society have made the deepest investment, are pervasive and so deeply woven into the fabric of civilization that I don’t think most really want to know the extent. The proportion of our collective resources that are consumed in dealing with the consequences stunt our lives in such pernicious ways that we become numb. Statistics are known to lie but in their lies they tell the most important truth: how grateful we should be for our blinkered capacity for comprehending them. The cost to society of white collar crime (narrowly interpreted by type of crime rather than socioeconomic status of perpetrator) is currently estimated (2009) at from $300 billion to $600 billion annually. The number is many times larger annually than all forms of street crime put together by a factor of ten (Social Problems, 3rd Ed. D. Stanley Eitzen and Maxine Baca-Zinn. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1986). The cost of street crime to society, including violent crime,* pales in comparison even with the numbers we know for white collar crime, and there are compelling circumstantial reasons to suspect the white collar crime numbers are systematically underestimated.

*Editor’s note: The material costs of rape and murder can and are quantified by economists in terms of lost productivity and diminished well being: they are about $50,000 and six to seven million, respectively on average as calculated in 1999.

There are many things we say we can’t afford as a society to pay for that we could if we did not have this burden. Things whose costs approach a trillion dollars. We might afford, for example, a more just welfare state without crimping our current standard of living or increasing our tax burden, and throw in another idiotic war or two. We could afford, as it were, to have our cake and eat much of it, too.

Children, boys especially, should be taught that success in school is imperative for opportunities in crime that are immensely lucrative and, unlike the street crime of the vulgar, quite safe. White-collar crime pays handsomely. There are risks of course, as in anything worth doing, but they are manageable. The young male should remember: incompetence in criminality is measured by being found out, by being caught. The best, the most successful criminals, the universally admired, never get caught. These men have state funerals and buildings named after them. Moreover, even those who do get caught will still do better than most of us. Success is seen in a good light whether in crime or magnanimity. It is measured in money—and how money is acquired is always a quibble of the faint-hearted. We do not admire the faint-hearted. Women, constitutionally faint-hearted, have shown themselves at a distinct disadvantage in this sort of crime, more so even than in the low-brow variety.

Take the example of Michael Milken, a stock market racketeer who through the 1980s manipulated the investment firm Drexel Burnham Lambert in a persistent pattern of law breaking to the tune of $550 million (give or take a few hundred million, depending on who you read: the fact of this indeterminacy is itself a signal characteristic of this class of crime). He received a ten year prison term. Of which he served less than two.

For comparison, Stephenson cites the case of a twenty-three-year-old man in Indianapolis who in April 1991 got seven years “for stealing a hamburger and French fries from a female customer at a McDonald’s restaurant.” One has to ask how many people would eagerly march into prison for a nominal ten years if they could earn $550 million for their trouble. Actually, as of 2010 Michael Milken is a multibillionaire, showing that, in a land of opportunity, a felony record, just like poverty, can be overcome. And if anyone doubted his talent and basic goodness, having been exiled from the securities business, he is now being lauded as a great philanthropist. A bright educated man has resources for converting crime into public success. He can write books about himself, or, better, have them written for him. It is all about seeing opportunity and having or getting the wherewithal to seize it. Milken does suffer from prostate cancer and is prominent in charities connected with finding a cure. (Wikipedia doesn’t even have an article on our hamburger thief. I don’t know his fate. But with such a diet he cannot be thriving either.)

In the early 2000s there were reports that in part because of so many high profile criminals passing through plush “Club Fed” prisons the penal system would crack down on the unseemliness by making sure millionaires and common street criminals would share the same facilities. Justice was going to be put back into the justice system. We were told.

Of course, multimillionaire prisoners (yes, even after millions in fines, they are still millionaires) are likely to have connections in high places, people who can agitate for better prison conditions. Since the purpose of a prison is to punish and punishment is supposed to hurt and deteriorating conditions make for discomfort and discomfort hurts and deteriorating prisons are cheaper than “quality” prisons and money matters (even to those us who are not “criminals”), things have gotten pretty bad in prisons. (Not that they were ever good or even meant to be.) Overcrowding and all the unpleasantness that goes with that is endemic. It may be that non-white-collar prisoners will benefit from having “so many” deep-pocketed fellow evil-doers in their midst. A rising tide lifts all boats.

But public sentiment for justice, blind to money and privilege, wavers. There are distractions. There are terrorists or would-be terrorists to consider. There are arguments that it is a waste to society to have so much talent and drive lying fallow. After all, these people are not that different from those of us who do our part to keep up appearances of civility in society. The energy of these “criminals” sometimes gets the better of them and in pursuing material dreams, just like the rest of us, they slip over to the dark side in a big way, unlike most of us (the “in a big way” part, I mean). And, too, we realize that if we haven’t slipped over ourselves it’s not all our own doing. Had we been a little smarter, a bit luckier, a bit less timid, even a little less lazy (for there is no doubt that criminals on this scale work very hard for their gains: the Protestant work ethic and criminality are not incompatible) we might have ended up in the same straits. So will the fit of penal equity last?

If there is so little equity in prisons, it is because there is so little outside them. If outside we want to let the chips fall where they will, inside they will as well. Outside, money matters. Inside, guess…

There is a distant ray of hope. It is this: remember our Big Mac thief? How outrageous it seems to many of us that he should get seven years? It’s a relative thing. Someday we will feel the same way about Michael Milken—an essentially good man of some refinement who suffered, albeit at a “summer camp” of sorts, for twenty-two months. How will this happen?

Milken only stole a few hundred million dollars. The day will come when men of his caliber will steal a few hundred billion… Wait, the day is here! The day is here when a few hundred million feels like a hamburger and fries used to. Bernie Madoff upped the ante. Do the math if proportionality in punishment is your thing: even if Bernie had been a young man, he could not live long enough to spend a thousand times as long incarcerated as Milken. If several lifetimes are too short for Bernie, twenty-months was overly harsh (cruel if not quite unusual) in the case of Milken.

What’s going to happen, I believe, unless we institute capital punishment for white-collar criminals or we abandon all pretense to proportionality in punishment, is that justice will require hamburger thieves to serve a few minutes of community service. Maybe they can be made to bus a table or two.

There might be a way to avoid this predicament. I started out by saying this form of crime, more than street crime and even violent crime, was costly and getting more so. Is that true? It is if we measure things in money. Must we? Suppose we didn’t care so much about money. Let them steal what is of limited value to us. Why should we care so much? If we care so much, it is because we, like they, place untoward value upon it. Let’s make a concerted effort to lower our standard of material living. What’s wrong with that idea? (Beside the fact we won’t do it.) You see, if we did that, what they do would make no sense, if in fact it could be done at all. Nobody, even nobodies collectively, would have that kind of money to steal. And more importantly their motivation would be sapped because it is only our own motivation writ large.

Keep in mind I address abstract wealth,* not that which I can physically keep watch over. It is the fact of abstract wealth that makes white-collar crime possible. Those belongings of mine that I physically interact with everyday are subject to ordinary street crime. Street crime regulates that kind of wealth. As Hobbes noted in The Leviathan, each of us, in physical isolation, is not so imposing that we can discount personal risk in taking from others what is not ours. Abstract wealth is the condition of abstract crime: white-collar crime. Abstract crime is a function of the sophistication of material economies that no longer limit theft to what may be physically wrested from our hands.

*Editor’s note: Luno adds in marginalia: “There is a sense in which part of the abstract wealth of a woman may include the man or men she in some sense possesses: the sense in which he becomes a material hedge against external contingency. Feminism is right to counter this tendency toward dependence in women and on men, but there are other biological forces that make it to some extent inevitable. And this makes the case for the usefulness of men sharper. But the material usefulness of men is a separate question from their moral status.”

But we are material creatures living in a material world, I think I hear you mutter. You may be right. As cynical as I sometimes feel, I am not quite as convinced as you.

The power behind the idea that “greed is good” is that we all are greedy. And what we all are cannot be a bad thing. Again, I am not so cynical as to accept this without qualms, but many of you, I gather, do.

It is not enough for me to hear people say “crime you shall have with you always” without seeking to understanding why. Crime is the most egregious form human-created evil takes. But I cannot stop with such thoughts. There are other forms of human-created evil but crime—the willful violation of rules designed to protect people from harm that we are prepared to enforce—is not built into human nature. It is built into specifically masculine nature. As such, it is virtually alien to the other half of the species. This looming fact is critical and pointing to it is what is most admirable about Stephenson’s book. There may be such a thing as proprietary feminine crime but its dynamic is thoroughly different, a veritable afterthought. It is also a very different subject from the one we are addressing here, one to be explored elsewhere. My point here is the difference.]

Although their participation in white-collar crime is higher than in violent crime, women criminals are still exceptions to the rule. Enough that when they are caught they make front page headlines. When a man gets caught for a crime on the same scale it scarcely rates mention—for such crimes have neither the sex appeal of violence nor the novelty of being counterintuitive. A woman criminal is “the exception that proves the rule.”

Lisa Jones, a mere clerk, was convicted of perjury and obstructing justice in the same insider trading scandal involving Milken and Ivan Boesky. She spent almost as much time in prison (18 months) as her boss, Milken, for being loyal to him. Boesky was able to deduct 50 of his 100 million dollar fine from his taxes. Needless to say, Jones would not have benefited from such a large deduction. When women are involved in crime it is almost always as aiders and abettors.

[But when they are principles in crime we seem to relish the novelty: whether it is “sexually abusing” a boy in school (Mary Kay Letourneau) or a mother’s drowning her children in a lake (Susan Smith) or a tub (Andrea Yates).]

The crimes of Milken, Boesky and company pale beside the greatest white-collar scandal in history (up to the time) brought about by the deregulation of the savings and loan institutions during the 1980s. The cost to the tax payer was estimated at 500 billion. Institutions, previously confined to investing in 30 year fixed rate mortgages, were, as a result of deregulation, freed to invest in whatever they wanted. Across the nation, thousands, mostly men, made millions, if not billions, by investing in risky schemes at tax payers’ expense. Called to account, these men could afford high-priced lawyers. Litigation costs for the government in trying to punish and recover some of the losses mounted.

Hundred million dollar fines mean little to those with billion dollar assets. Nor do prison sentences in the plush summer camps reserved for the well-heeled. In any case, sentences were bargained down. The greater the crime, the more with which to bargain. [Street criminals will always be at a disadvantage here, unless they rise to the height of sophisticated crime boss. The latter approach white-collar criminality through self-education. But the odds are stacked against this happening. The most direct route to great criminal wealth is through formal education. Personal drive alone has more severe limits.

Barry Tarlow writes in a magazine for criminal defense lawyers The Champion (March 2006):

Often major players in a criminal scheme get relative hand-slap sentences because they are uniquely situated to serve up others. Unfortunately bit players who have nothing to trade suffer the full force of the law. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals described this troubling disparity:

“Drones of the organization—the runners, mules, drivers, and lookouts—hav[e] nothing . . . to offer. They lack the contacts and trust necessary to set up big deals, and they know little information of value. Whatever tales they have to tell, their bosses will have related. Defendants unlucky enough to be innocent have no information at all. . . . The more serious the defendant’s crimes, the lower the sentence—because the greater his wrongs, the more information and assistance he has to offer to a prosecutor.”

The notion that “punishment should fit the crime” is quaint.

And Stephenson was writing before the scandals of the Clinton era and the Bush era and—needless to say—our era (whenever that might be).]

“Other than Janet McKinzie, virtually every person convicted in the S&L scandal was male.” Her case, of course, made headlines: “WOMAN sentenced to 20 years…”


A study from the National Institute for Research into Crime Origins, cited by Stephenson suggests:

…a correlation between white males raised in two-parent families and those who are indicted or convicted in S&L fraud. The researchers believe that in a two-parent home the white male needs to overcome a sense of inferiority. In addition, it could be said that the son is competing with the father, or that the parent’s have enjoyed each other’s company to the exclusion of their son. In any event, it appears that the single-parent home is not contributing to bank fraud to the extent that the two-parent one is, nor are the homes of minorities. The researchers said, ‘Maybe if we can find the pathology in the white male culture, we can intervene with preventative programs before the entire federal treasury collapses.’

[Not sure what to make of “National Institute for Research into Crime Origins.” There was a short-lived surge of funding in the 1990s for “criminal analysis.” In any case, the organization doesn’t seem to exist today. I can’t imagine why…

The speculation is Freudian and a tad fanciful—which is not to say it isn’t true, just in this context unnecessarily acrobatic. Men, former boys, do crime, period. At least when they are not distracted by ideals into being constructive, and even then they fantasize about the dark side. Rich or poor, privileged or not, they scope out their environment for opportunities to subvert the order of things. Having two parents about tends to connect them with stabler material conditions. This in turn offers offers abstract opportunities. Does having a male role model make boys less apt to be criminal? Actually, criminals always have male role models. Maybe not the right ones, maybe the villains in comic books, but they have them. You must be thinking that something in being a father, an available one, would make him not willfully contribute to his son’s delinquency. One would think so were it not that for the fact that fathers, too, tend to be male and will instantiate the very drives (to the extent they are any kind of model at all) that the slightest tweak in circumstances or temperament will corrupt. Virtue is not inherited or even directly teachable. It must be displayed to the novice, as Aristotle used to insist. Then we pray and wait a long time, hoping he survives long enough for some of it to take.

We are not saying that having an available father is not a good thing if the goal is to increase the chances that a son will become a “contributing member of society.” White-collar criminals, without a doubt, contribute to society, sometimes in a big way. They may become philanthropic, a variation on the Robin Hood syndrome: steal from the rich (and the poor, too, to the extent these fancy themselves rich, i.e., not “lower” class) and give to the rich. Even street criminals do as much. After all, they buy stuff with their stolen assets, not to mention making necessary a vast criminal and justice apparatus which in turn employs hundreds of thousands. Yes, crime, even plain old street crime is economically productive. Somebody has to be employed to make the crap the criminals buy with their loot. It is not that different from the stuff non-criminals buy.

The compulsion to wrest control from whatever environment and amass power at any cost whether by fist, gun, pen or computer is quintessentially male.

“Contributing to society” cannot be the measure of anything morally useful. The bottom questions are two: first, in material terms, is the contribution a net gain to society (the question Stephenson asks and answers), and, second—independent of the answer to the first question—is something moral happening by having males do their thing. In the end, the latter is my question.

Notes based on my first reading (around the year 2000):

…but my concern is less with formal law-breaking than with moral preconditions. Indictment and conviction are merely what happens when things get so bad that even our already corrupted sensibilities are offended. Today 5 or 6 years after her book was published we have shining examples in Bill Clinton and Bill Gates.

The political and socioeconomic crimes of Bill Clinton are unremarkable as presidents go. It his utter shamelessness that will be recalled by generations of boys. The best liars seduce our sympathy. He will do for the morally depraved what his successor is doing for the mentally retarded: offer hope that even they may aspire to the highest position of power. Clinton was an exceptional child but his career bears the mark of having been fatherless. His crimes petty in principle—but because the world became his “street”—in practice they were gravely consequential and more than anyone he was responsible for the chief executive that came after him…

Somebody has to be the “richest man in the world” and at the time of my writing it is Bill Gates, a product of a stable two-parent and well off family. (His concentration of wealth would be obscene were it not for the fact that it is mainly Americans who idolize wealth in this form. In fact, the riches entities in the world—the ones that move and shake the world—are not individuals but families, just as in ancient times, the trillionaire families whose names and transcontinental reach can only be rumored: the extended families that permeate the structure of the largest corporations and most powerful states. No, it is not states that function like this: real power cannot survive the light of day. Real power must operate in secrecy. What one sees are ripples. To this extent, the conspiracy theorists have it right. Only, of course, there is no actual “conspiracy” for that suggests too much premeditation and organization and ignores the organic aspect of these blood-entities.) Gates’ relation to the law has always been one of exploitation and management of consequences. In this, he was far more successful than the train wreck, Clinton, whose intelligence and charm may have saved him personally but did nothing for the institution he came to stand for.

Bill Gates mugshot, 1977
Microsoft boss Bill Gates was photographed by the Albuquerque, New Mexico police in 1977 after a traffic violation (details of which have been lost over time).

…for they represent paradigms of “all that a man can be.” They are the Alexanders of our time and there will never be enough Diogenean characters unimpressed by their magnanimity. Men live by creating and breaking rules. The one requires the other. As long as they can adopt and maintain the attitude of a player in a game, they are men—interlopers in a woman’s world. Women are infrastructure, landscape; they function as décor. They lend interest…

It is not impossible that a man may stop seeing it as a game of aggrandizement. Something may misfire in the course of his normal development. He may lose the callousness necessary to his playfulness. He may actually come to take his mission seriously, which is to do the best he can here to relieve pain—or at least not cause anymore—and leave… But it cannot be exaggerated how rarely this happens.

What generally happens is that the human environment is made to conform with his predisposition. Success is measured in how long he can manage to pull this off, in stability. Most men (barring gross historical distortions, e.g. slavery among black males in the U.S. or genocide among Jews) adjust themselves and their environment to some level of comfort with each other.

In all this, morality goes begging. Reality keeps shouting it down with cries of “survival.” And no one questions survival. (Except me—and my poor suicidal Weininger.)]

What do men want with money and power? They want above all to be generous to others, to be paragons of magnanimity. [I believe the desire is genuine: even if they won’t get far by starting out thinking that way, they get around to it in due course.]

Edwin T. Burney III, thirty-seven, of Dallas, was indicted on seventeen counts of bank fraud for his role in the failure of the Sunbelt S&L. He was accustomed to giving extravagant parties, even with elephants, and offering $100,000 loans on the spot. He also financed the purchase of thirty-four Rolls Royces for the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

For Charles Keating, “money was no object.” He spread the wealth around the family: “His son who had held only one job before, as a busboy, was given a salary of $1 million.”

Stephenson concludes this chapter:

This most expensive of crimes, white-collar crime, involves intelligent planning, a predetermined plot to deceive, and a lax system of regulation, whether it be in the management of school funds or the largest banks in the country, or even in the management of the country itself. Where there is something to be criminally gained in the white-collar area, there are those who will scheme to get it. And almost all are educated, upper-middle-class white men who were raised in two-parent families.

From mass and serial murder to violent assault to robbery to bank fraud to toxic waste dumping to oil spills to hate crimes to drunk driving to arson to drug-dealing to trespassing to litter and graphitti… All masculine pastimes. [Rape is deliberately left off this list because (to the extent it contains an element separable from violent assault) it is a very special crime—one with a metaphysical dimension. It’s not clear that it is possible for a man not to rape a woman and still attend to her. That doesn’t make it any less a crime but it points to something deep requiring separate discussion. See below.]

  I   |  II  |  III 

Posted by luno in Criminality, philosophy and sex, rape, female criminality, sex differences, feminism, male criminality, Moral Theory (Sunday November 28, 2010 at 12:22 pm)

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