The last few weeks I have been so busy! It’s insane and often I feel like I’m drowning. Doing a master’s is no joke, let me tell you. The pressure is HIGH.
Every two weeks I have to hand in an essay on some topic in critical criminology. It’s hard, that’s for sure. I handed in my second last week, and this would be the first we’d be graded on. I was nervous as hell, I’m very motivated and excited about this master’s, but am also really scared to fail.
We have a feedback conversation with our professor every week after we hand in our assignment. I was nervous as hell, honestly. The first essay (not graded) she didn’t like so much.
She told me she graded my essay highest of all 50 students! I was giddy! I couldn’t believe it, actually. She only had two minor remarks. I got 85% and such marks are exceptional, she said.
I would like to share the essay – I hope you enjoy reading it. The assignment was to write an essay about the criminalization of [something], the examples offered were smoking and bestiality.
The Criminalization of Love: Defeating Crime by Abolishing Its Source
Love is defined in many ways. Wikipedia, a popular source consulted monthly by nearly half a billion people, offers the following definition: “Love is an emotion of a strong affection and personal attachment”. When you ask someone what they wish for in their lives, it is often a combination or variation of good health, happiness and love. You could say love makes people tick. Love drives people, sometimes even to irrational behavior: a mother would go great lengths to defend her child or a soldier would protect his country to death. No matter the consequences, they persist because of love.
But what if, one day, an influential group of scientists would state: “love is evil: love leads to passion and greed, love leads to anger and fear, love leads to murder and war, love causes all crime.” This could be picked up by influential groups such as religious groups or politicians: wouldn’t it be great to eliminate the cause of crime and evil? What kind of consequences would it have if in the future love would be banned and criminalized?
In two novels, the situation of the illegalization of love has been sketched and philosophized about and make excellent examples to demonstrate the case of love being criminalized. In 1984 (1949) by George Orwell, love is highly frowned upon and sex is repressed. Reproduction is merely an obligation to the political system.
In Lauren Oliver’s Delirium (2011), love is considered a disease (amor deliria nervosa) and at age 18, everyone receives a medically developed cure. Love is believed to be the cause of everything bad, of hurt, crime and war. In the world of Delirium, abolishing love has greatly diminished all crime.
With these examples at hand, I will try to demonstrate what the process of criminalization (Siegel, 2012) of love would look like.
First, in the process of criminalization, there would be the construction of the problem of love: love, it could be said, is the direct or indirect cause of all evil in human existence.
In the second step, a link between the deviation and the emotions of the public is created, for example through propaganda. In 1984, an entire Ministry is dedicated to censoring all media. Currently, in reality, you could consider the propaganda to be very pro-love: love is idealized, especially in the combination of the “loving family”. If love were to be criminalized, propaganda would instruct quite the opposite: love is evil and should be avoided at all times.
The third step of the criminalization process would be identifying people and their deviant behavior behind the “evil”. In the case of love, anyone could be “evil”, as anyone is capable of love. This could warrant population-wide paranoia and distrust.
The next step of the process is “creating the criminal context and its serious consequences”. Now, certain groups would be demonized, and the gap between the “good” and the “bad” people would widen. If it has become clear particular groups would be especially vulnerable to love, say, adolescents because of cognitive change, people would become especially paranoid of them, for those that love are seen as inherently bad and prone to commit other heinous crimes.
Often with such major changes in society, a resistance movement comes into existence (i.e. in World War II against German occupation, or later, the Polish resistance against communism), a group of dissenters that are willing to rise against the system and try to force it to let go of the new laws, with or without violence. This would be quickly picked up by mass media and would be used to portray the bad consequences of love.
The fifth and last step of the criminalization process shows the “solution” to the problem and the effect of criminalization. In 1984, because of transgression of the law, the protagonist is arrested to be imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and eventually brainwashed into submission. In Delirium (2011) the solution for the repression of love is the cure. In reality, a cure seems unlikely, so instead, the solution could be more as sketched in 1984, imprisonment of love criminals.
A distinction would have to be made for the severity of the transgression: i.e. being in an actual loving relationship with another human being is the worst, loving a certain kind of food would be the least. For smaller transgressions, fines could be given. Maybe a “three strikes and you’re out” system could be used for the habitual love criminal, they could be imprisoned for life or even capital punishment could be a solution. These solutions might seem harsh, but, since this is what they are trying to prevent: who is to say these habitual offenders would not start to commit other crimes?
Since love is internal and hard to detect, the system would have to monitor people closely and might even become totalitarian, which could lead to society as seen in 1984, where people are monitored constantly through cameras and microphones everywhere.
Now that we have established the criminalization of love and its possible widespread, paranoia-inducing qualities, we can review the theory that describes a possible consequence for society: what Stanley Cohen termed moral panics in 1972 (in Beirne & Messerschmidt, 2012: 11).
In 2009, Jenkins (Ibid.: 11-12) suggested how a moral panic comes into existence: the new, major change in society would be displayed accordingly by the mass media. Surely, the emergence of the new repercussions of love will be portrayed (i.e. arrests, major court cases, etcetera), both to remind people of the new rules and to show them the consequences of transgression and possibly even to shock them into submission. If the cases are generalized and made to seem they could happen to anyone, the effect will be even more substantive. Those in resistance movements will be portrayed as the biggest evil, the new terrorists, by the mass media. Eventually, the collective would panic about love and love criminals: they become the new villain (or hero, depending on which side the viewer is).
Although extreme, a possible consequence of the criminalization of love could be witch-hunt much like those in the Middle Ages. In Orwell’s 1984, where everyone is recruited by Big Brother to spy on, basically, everyone, and to report them if they suspect them of breaking the law. In reality, people could start to suspect each other of thought-crime (in this case, people do experience love but they hide it from others), or doublethinking (here, pretending to agree with the criminalization of love while in reality, they don’t), terms coined by Orwell in 1984.
On the other hand, people could panic because of fear for the state. If the system truly becomes totalitarian, people will fear falling in love against their will. Naturally, this would not be apparent in propaganda, which will only suggest the state makes society safer, but instead, the system could become considered evil by the public.
In Oliver’s Delirium, the protagonist is the daughter of a woman who was immune to the cure for love and loved, and thereupon committed suicide. After her mother’s death, she is always considered by her environment to be the girl who might be immune too because of genetics. This pertains to Howard Becker’s theory of labeling (1963), and his theory is actually quite applicable to the idea of love crime. In society, there are always those labeled as “unstable”, or more generally, “prone to commit crimes”, either because they are in a certain ethnic group, of a particular age or have a specific background. The theory suggests that because of these labels these people commit crimes, as they (unconsciously) feel they cannot escape their label. In the case of love as a crime, there will certainly be groups more prone to love, or at least considered to, i.e. adolescents or parents (they cannot help but love their children).
But, as love is such a common phenomenon, not merely certain stereotypes could commit love crime. Without a cure for love, people from all layers of society would be able to commit this crime and thus would render the labeling theory mostly defunct. Basically, everyone becomes an outsider.
However unlikely it seems love would be criminalized, we can speculate that the consequences for society would be significant. Possibly, as in Delirium, people are cured of love, crime rates could fall. On the other hand, without a cure, people could already be criminals merely if they love something or someone, which could raise crime rates instead. Distrust would dominate and one could see love criminals even in the youngest babies and the oldest elderly.
Propaganda would influence the attitude of the populace toward love: love is evil, to love is evil and those who love are evil. This could lead to widespread distrust toward large groups of people, especially resistance movements, and eventually, everyone. Solutions such as imprisonment of love criminals, lifelong imprisonment or even capital punishment for the habitual offender could be posed.
Shortly after the criminalization of love, it would feel unnatural and awful for people not to be allowed to love, and could even fear the state for arresting them over something they cannot help. But as time passes, individuals could become used to it, and perhaps, like in Delirium, individuals would be happy that love is not allowed, because it, they are convinced, simplifies life and makes society safer. But would people, even those who would propose the criminalization of love, be willing to sacrifice the freedom to love to supposedly increase safety?
Becker, H. S. (1963) Outsiders. New York: The Free Press.
Beirne, P., & Messerschmidt, J.W. (2011) Criminology: A Sociological Approach. New York: Oxford University Press.
Love. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 30, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love
Orwell, G. (1949) 1984. London: Secker and Warburg.
Oliver, L. (2011) Delirium. New York: HarperCollins.
Siegel, D. (2012, September 27) Criminalization. Lecture conducted from Utrecht University, Utrecht.