Heinous crimes: outrage is not enough

15 June, 2021

Protests in Madrid against the last Heinous crimes
Protests in Madrid against the last Heinous crimes

This week, in Spain, the ruling against two parents who murdered their two children in Valencia was heard; in the Canary Islands, the corpse, more than 1km deep in the sea of one of the girls who had been kidnapped by her own father was discovered; and in Catalonia a woman confessed to the murder of her own daughter out of spite for her ex-partner and father of the girl. We must ask ourselves why these heinous crimes keep occurring, what produces them and why 20 years of laws and public policies against gender violence have apparently been to no avail.

Table of Contents

Beyond “gender-based violence.”

Children killed by their fathers in Spain
Children killed by their fathers in Spain

As we see in the graph above, murders of minors by their parents and parents’ partners are relatively rare: between 1 and 8 cases per year in Spain, a country of 47 million inhabitants.

It is true that cases like that of Sant Joan d’Espí, in which the murderer is the mother, although they share the same apparent motivation of spite, are not computed in the official statistics, which is only interested in murders that can somehow fit as violence against women. The self-serving artificiality of the system is evident, but it does not alter its moral impact either more or less. So terrible that we cannot help but wonder why they occur and how to avoid them.

To begin with, we all can appreciate that in the explanation of these heinous crimes by the official state ideology regarding these issues, feminism, something is amiss. The state’s definition of gender violence is that of a political crime, equivalent to a kind of male terrorism against women. Those responsible of state ideology tell us that these murders of children are in fact a reaction of those men who can’t stand the freedom of women. When just this week what we have seen is a murderous father, but also a mother who confessed to a similar murder and a pair of parents who murdered together.

It is clear that the state has opted for a political and media instrumentalization of heinous crimes at all costs, and that it doesn’t care whether reality fits into its categories or not. There is a reason why relational frame theory is so useful for their daily manipulation.

To understand where this violence comes from, we must first recognize that the horror it produces and the small number that – fortunately – cause it actually exist for a reason. The evolutionary path that led to the emergence of our species made us social animals precisely to be able to take care of a non-autonomous offspring for a longer time. If we are particularly hurt by these heinous crimes and the word antinatural comes up again and again in their description, it is for a reason. The official rationale, according to which the parents’ motivation is ideological, is too weak to be credible even intuitively.

Where do heinous crimes come from

Concepción Arenal
Concepción Arenal

This was not always the case. In the 19th century, widely accepted social science such as Émile Durkheim’s work, even raised the question of the social nature of suicide. And the state attempted a first scientific approach to heinous crimes.

Concepción Arenal’s work for example, reflects this general effort by the authorities of the time. Today feminism unabashedly tries to make this figure its own, but it is no coincidence that to do so it strives to make invisible the core of her vital work, El visitador del preso. Arenal is one of those authors and politicians who in the second half of the 19th century tried to incorporate the first advances in psychiatry and psychology into the repressive policy of the states. Thanks to them, between 1870 and 1928 the penal code will incorporate different considerations on mental alienation.

They reflected early discoveries about the workings of the brain, the role of drugs, and the nature of insanity. The general approach was still humanist and in Arenal’s case, Catholic and compassionate. It would lead to the idea of punishment as part of a therapeutic process whose ultimate goal would be the prisoner’s reintegration into a society in progress. The general development of society would evidently not go that way.

Capitalism’s shift to an irreversible phase of global crises and wars drove research on drugs and mind control toward their military uses. The First World War was the first in which pharmaceutical drugs were massively used by armies: with cocaine pills by the British then and methamphetamine by the German armies in the next great imperialist war, a first leap occurs that ends in today’s sadistic mix of fostering and industrialization of drugs on the one hand and the hardening of their repression on the other.

But from that progressive moment of state ideology on crimes and criminals it is worth rescuing an idea that Arenal repeated ad nauseam: underneath the heinous crimes there lie social causes and mental pathologies that go far beyond the impact of any particular ideology.

Manipulation with method

The Nazi press used profusely, under the direction of Joseph Goebbels the technique of "selective reporting", prioritizing the chronicling of certain types of crimes and making others invisible according to the interests of the regime
The Nazi press used profusely, under the direction of Joseph Goebbels the technique of “selective reporting”, prioritizing the chronicling of certain types of crimes and making others invisible according to the interests of the regime

As we have seen this week, state and media propaganda reinterprets crimes which their perpetrators argue as being out of spite as a form of violence against women (collectively. However there is no shortage of women who confess to heinous crimes against their children or their ex-partners for the same reasons, nor parental couples who murder their offspring together. The criminal chronicle of recent years is punctuated with such cases.

The framework in which they analyze these is obviously insufficient and their blindness is outrageous. They leave out precisely what was most interesting about the progressive reformers of the 19th century: to understand the particular cases, the heinous crimes, one must go beyond each individual case and even each criminal typology.

And the fact that the media and the state do the opposite is hardly innocent.

To understand the social causes of heinous crimes we must turn the spotlight on, not close it until we can see nothing but inhumanity and destroyed lives. Among other things because then, in the face of what has become incomprehensible under the microscope, only the horror becomes tangible, all prejudice becomes convincing and the strongest prejudices – usually those fed by the state – become reinforced. It is one of the basics of mass manipulation.

That is, it only works if the focus is limited to a category useful to state propaganda. In Spain there are about 700 deadly workplace accidents a year and some 3,600 suicides. 14 and 72 times more deaths than what is legally classified as gender-based violence. Let’s imagine for a second that the news reported every suicide, its context and the shattered families it leaves; every workplace death and the working conditions in which it occurs….

No, that is not an option for the state: social alarm is useful to it insofar as it is limited to a few cases and to a concrete phenomenon allowing it to present the state and its repression as a solution. If we were to expand the focus to the thousands of suicide victims or the hundreds of people killed by unsafe work environments, the system itself would start to become alarming. But exactly that, expanding our focus, is what we need to do to understand heinous crimes.

Why are they killing their children?

One of the best-known vignettes of heinous crimes by Mexican press illustrator Guadalupe Posada
One of the best-known vignettes of heinous crimes by Mexican press illustrator Guadalupe Posada

Criminology came to understand the horrible criminal as a damaged human being, alienated in one way or another. And, already in the 19th century, it had to acknowledge that beneath the general phenomenon, beneath the appearance of these damaged individuals – be they parricidal, suicidal or mass murderers – there were social causes. But social causes needed to be opposed by social transformations, and there their perspective was inevitably restricted.

In the end, the theories, proven false time and again, about the deterrent character of higher penalties or about the genetic or ideological origin of horrible crimes proved more useful to the state. At least they served it to provide solutions that, even if they did not solve anything, allowed it to present itself as protector of society.

And yet to questions such as why there are parents who are alienated to the point of killing their children, why thousands of people kill themselves every year, why gangs of teenage murderers appear on a regular basis, why there is child sexual abuse in the institutions that claim to exist to care for them and why there are half a hundred murders of women a year despite the continuous increase and tightening of legislation during the last two decades….

…we can only answer them by pointing to a single source: the social order, a system which massively destroys mental health and which, incapable of providing true human development, has become a veritable meat grinder that, among other forms of barbarism, produces inhuman behavior and heinous crimes.

Life under capitalism is increasingly frustrating for a growing number of people because the system simply is exhausted and its only inertia is to impose the dictatorship of accumulation (which they call economics)… becoming more anti-human the more difficulties it faces. A system that, by definition, needs to grow continuously, has been stagnant in its main figures for more than a decade. Could one have expected that a system that shows its anti-human character every day and in every thing would not produce inhumanity in thousands of the individuals it produces?

In fact, everything points to the fact that things will get worse. Anxiety cases have already multiplied even in schools. If in the last education reform law the emotional education appears on a dozen occasions, it is because living in frustration has become a general school problem affecting all European countries. An increasingly frustrating society with an educational ideology that reduces the limits of resistance to frustration is a factory of alienation.

If one combines that with the abandonment of mental healthcare, which is otherwise at best supported by ideologies such as behaviorism that are more than limited and not infrequently barbaric, what is surprising is the absence of even more horrors and heinous crimes in everyday life.

It is the same system defended by right and left, feminists and bigots, the one that produces both suicides and heinous crimes. They are born out of their working relationships, their social expectations, their family model in which children are an investment and their partner become property, their distressing school, their reifying personal relationships, their twisted and lying ideology, and the vicious and systematic destruction of everything authentically fraternal and communitarian.

At the end of the day, this is capitalism today. It no longer is that vigorous automaton which promised an infinite ascent toward abundance and knowledge. After its historical epoch of unimpeded growth, it is no more than an ailing mechanism which is breaking its own pieces. And those pieces are us. For workers around the world we can no longer fix the machine, we need to get rid of it. Outrage is not enough and reforms do not fix anything. And each of these horrible crimes, whether of children, women or men, each suicide, each death in the workplace should not only outrage us, but above all, remind us of that fact.