What Causes Murder?
Some years ago I wrote a book entitled Murder: An Analysis of its Forms, Conditions, and Causes. At that time, the overall American murder rate was 5 per 100,000, while the European murder rate was only 1 per 100,000.
issue interested me because I had experienced the Nazi horrors beginning at a
young age and always wondered why some of us can kill another human being.
a cursory examination of the murder rates across the world revealed that the
European murder rate was only one fifth of the American murder rate, but that
the South American rate of murder rate was much higher than that experienced in
investigation revealed that the south saw a good deal more killings than the
north of the USA and that murder is much more common among blacks than whites.
Men commit more murder than women and the poor kill more than middle class and
upper class earners. Enlisted men are more likely to kill others than is true of
officers and college graduates have a far lesser murder rate than high school
graduates and/or high school “dropouts.”
sum, men whose social position is lower than average kill more often than those
with higher incomes and more prestige than the poor and the poorly educated.
suicide is also a form of murder, it turned out that suicide is more common
among the wealthy and the well educated than the poor and those with little
every dichotomy except gender, suicide was more common among those who had
benefitted from the American culture while those men who regarded themselves as
losers committed more homicide.
American women earn less than men and are less likely to hold leading positions
in the workforce than men, the female homicide rate is lower than that of men.
Therefore we need to compare women’s violence rates will that of all women,
and find that once more those who are less educated and are employed in poorly
paid positions than those with higher education are more violent than the
educated in leadership positions.
of this demonstrates that social position and particularly poverty are
positively related to homicide in this country. Comparisons to other countries
are largely spurious, because England, France, Italy, or Germany do not
participate in the American culture. Europeans are far less likely to expect
economic success and increases in the level of their rank in the scheme of
social stratification than is true here.
American homicide rates, which are much higher than American homicide rates, are
determined by abject poverty and a lack of opportunity to rise economically
except by means of violence associated with the drug culture.
therefore can make these observations: that because we are told from early youth
on that hard work and ingenuity will pay off in economic success and its
associated prestige, large numbers of Americans are disappointed to discover
that they cannot achieve such goals. Many of the poor do not have the resources
to attain a higher education or to become a plumber. Not only racial
discrimination, but a lack of understanding the need for self-control and
determination prevents many poor people from upward mobility. The subsequent
disappointment can have several outcomes. One of these accommodations to feeling
that one has lost all chances of becoming a success is to enter politics.
Politicians need not be educated. Politicians need only to know “how to
influence people.” All kinds of ignorant Americans have been elected to all
kinds of offices, even the presidency. Elected officials need not work but live
at the expense of the taxpayer. This makes elected office an alternative status
system. We also have innumerable organizations, including religious
congregations, whose function is to reward status seekers with offices such as
president, board member, committee chair, treasurer, etc. These voluntary
organizations allow their officials to feel important in competition with
the Rockefellers and the Ellisons.
may be only a routine account clerk or factory floor sweeper, but I am the
president of the Knights of Columbus, the B’nai B’rith, the Episcopal
Brotherhood, or the bowling club. At
I am somebody. All these oligarchies help support the self-respect of the
innumerable “average citizen,” as Michaelis noted in his great essay “Das
eiserne Gesetz der Oligarchie.” (The iron law of rule of the few).
are, however, a good number of Americans who view themselves losers in all this
competition. Whatever the reason, those who feel that they are unimportant,
unsuccessful, low earners, not good looking, or incompetent compare themselves
unfavorably to all those who seem to have it all. The media support the view
that “anyone can become president,” so that all who are less than the
expectations promoted by movies and other media become resentful of their lowly
status. One way to deal with these painful feelings of low self-esteem is to use
drugs. From alcohol to heroin, drug addicts overcome the need to rise in the
social pyramid. The drugs cover up all the defeats, all the missed
opportunities, and all the wrong decisions such as dropping out of school.
there are those who become most angry and hostile at seeing the success of
others, while considering themselves unfavorably compared. For this they blame
others, usually called “them.” “They should give me a good job; they are
all crooks,” are common beliefs among the unsuccessful. This
sense of being less than others may be called “relative deprivation.” Even
some who are not objectively deprived can feel relatively deprived because they
earn $100,000 a year, as their friends and relatives earn twice as much.
those who are always on the bottom of the social ladder, who must take orders
from a boss, who are last hired and first fired, who work jobs anyone can do,
such as unskilled labor, include some who are very angry at themselves and no longer
value their own lives. People who feel that life is not worth living and who
blame others for their perceived failures are candidates for homicide and
suicide. Such people do not care for their own lives or that of others. They can
kill without regret and are so disgusted and defeated by all their experiences
that in their rage at their ugly fate they kill, particularly people they know.
School shootings are mostly caused by students who are ridiculed, rejected, and excluded
by the popular boys and girls who won’t even let the outsiders sit at their
lunch table. With no one to help them and to reassure them, these adolescents
may be the next school shooter, as we can see almost every day on television.
This is particularly so because young people have little life experience and are
most likely to believe that things will never get better for them.
there is great emphasis on success, there must be some who see themselves as
losers. To them, the gun is an equalizer with horrible results.
Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Jewish Community in the 20th and 21st Century (2021).