Boys who are abused are much more likely to become violent criminals if they have one version of a gene associated with chemical balances in the brain than another: Bad behaviour linked to gene. In principle, the finding is not particularly startling. Common sense has always told us that background and temperament account for a lot of what people do, and temperament has always seemed largely a matter of physical constitution.
Nonetheless, new issues arise when general impressions turn into specific knowledge. This finding is feeding a dispute between those who want to deal with crime by drugging criminals and potential criminals and those who want to deal with it by “tackling deep-rooted social problems.” It seems odd that those are thought to be the possibilities, since neither works. Behavior modification through drugs backfires, while government attempts to tackle social problems seem only to increase crime rates.
The failures aren’t surprising, since the attempt to turn crime into an administrative and technological issue displays a hopeless misunderstanding of human nature. Man has a body and an environment, but he is also an agent who cannot be dealt with by the methods of the natural sciences. As such, he is not the absolutely free center of arbitrary choice that liberal thought would make him but is defined by his ability to participate in realities that transcend him. Without taking his moral and spiritual nature into account crime cannot even be understood let alone dealt with fittingly. Nonetheless, the ways of thinking now publicly accepted don’t permit such things even to be recognized.