Guest Post: Finn From Brazil

23Aug10

Crime Part I: A History of Violence

In the 1960s some forensic scientists and historians toured the American Civil War battlefield of Antietam to examine the bullet fragments left in the soil. They were trying to understand how well American soldiers back then could aim their guns and were using the position of the bullet fragments in relation to where the enemy was standing at the time to try to determine this.

What they found to their great surprise was that the bullet fragments were so off target that it seemed as though soldiers on both sides were purposefully not firing at the enemy. Baffled they toured other civil war battlefields and were able to conclude that fully 80% of the soldiers on either side didn’t take direct aim at the opposing enemy. They still fired their guns and looked like they were playing the part of soldier, but they were aiming several yards wide of their targets.

Researchers went to other battlefields from other wars. They generated similar results examining the Revolutionary War battlefields of Massachusetts, the Napoleonic battlefields of Germany and the trenches of World War I in France. Given how many people die each year at the hands of their fellow man and how many people have died this way throughout history, one might have thought that taking human life is relatively easy, an almost natural instinct we have buried in our genes. What these findings should was that the opposite is true. It is incredibly hard to kill someone even when they are trying to kill you.

Given that their business is war and war often involves killing people, the US military has extensively researched this topic – the psychology of killing. Part of their findings – and again I don’t know how they determined this – was that only one half of one percent of the general population is essentially able to kill automatically. Really only a person with sociopathic traits can do this. For the rest of us, the large mass of humanity, the threshold of stimuli required to pull the trigger is very high.

These military researchers discovered that while almost everyone had a very natural inhibition to not kill, there were still ways to significantly lower this naturally high inhibition. The first and obvious way was through training. It was famously said that the SS used to train their soldiers to kill pigs over and over again. Once you could do that slaughtering a human wasn’t as psychologically difficult. Now the US military has other less crude forms of training that don’t involve animal sacrifice. However, the result is the same though – Special Forces in the present day US Military aim at their target a 100% of the time and when they need to kill someone, they are not thinking twice about it.

Now the other way to lower this threshold was through drugs. The US military has famously experimented with drugs on soldiers in the past for various reasons. Although there has been discussion in the past about giving soldiers Adderal type drugs to help them concentrate and work 24/7, as far as I know no one has ever tried giving them drugs that would help them kill better. This is not the case though with the gang bangers in the flavella. To understand how people kill in the modern inner-city of Rio De Janiero, you begin and end with drugs. They are able to kill because they are on drugs and they do the killing for drugs.

Crime Part II: How Flavella Gangs Do It

I talked to a journalist when I was in Rio and she told me that if you got shot or killed in Rio, chances are it was by someone who was ridiculously high. I am not saying that they got high and then accidently went on a murder spree. They got high to be able to murder. Brazilian gang leaders have recognized something that took the US military a while to fully flesh out. Normal sane, sober people have a really hard time killing each other. However, 12 year olds high on Cocaine can do it pretty easily. This woman sent me some sites of these 12 year olds from Rio talking about how they kill people. I watched one video of this kid coolly joke around an talk about how he took a cop and tied a tire to him and poured gasoline on the tire and let it. Afterwards he went to a barbecue to celebrate with his friends.

Universally she said that every one’s first time killing someone in these street neighborhoods would involve getting high on drugs before doing it. Once they were high, they could pull the trigger. And if they pulled the trigger once, their natural abhorrence to violence would be significantly lowered and they could do it again until it is possible to kill someone automatically with no drugs in your system. At the end of the day, drugs mainly cocaine provide the how and the why of all the killing.

So how do you solve the drug problem? Can you? Is it completely pointless to even try? I don’t know what the answer is. I personally am holding out hope that a pharmaceutical company will invent a drug like Soma from a Brave New World – it will be so perfectly intoxicating and healthy at the same time that no one will want to get high from dangerous, potentially lethal drugs like cocaine and heroine. Science will hopefully make the world a better place.

Crime Part III: Why China is Safe but Brazil isn’t?

Before I critique Brazil, I feel like I should point out that I love the country and feel very much at home here. The one thing though that is constantly on my mind in part because of where I am living and in part because it is a reality of the country in general is the issue of crime. I have brought it up a lot in this blog perhaps over exaggerating it but it is an issue that very much matters – it matters to people investing here to the communities and to the overall political discourse. Everyone you meet here has a story about getting mugged or kidnapped and it is something that holds the country back.

One thing I have thought about a lot is why Brazil is violent and China or India, relatively speaking are not? When I went to China last year I went to some of the poorest areas of Beijing and to some of the less prosperous cities in the interior and I never once felt unsafe. Here in Sao Paulo even in some of the nicest districts, I am wary. Why is that? Why is a nice neighborhood in Sao Paulo infinitely more scary than a poor neighborhood anywhere in East Asia.

The first answer everyone gives you is because it’s poor. I hate this answer because the fact of the matter is that Brazil on a per GDP basis is multiples wealthier than China or India or many other Asian countries with much lower crime rates. The “Brazil is poor explanation” is then usually followed by the Brazil’s income is more unequally distributed. This one rings a bit more true.  Brazil has a gini coefficient of 56. Other countries that are in this neighborhood are mainly African ones that like Brazil have incredibly high crime rates. Still many Asian countries, China in particular have seen their gini coefficients rise a great deal without their crime approaching Brazil’s levels.

I think the answer at the end of the day is the government. The government in Brazil is corrupt, over taxes the population and is generally in the business of enriching itself. The police force often turns a blind eye to crime or supply the criminals with weapons. You solve government corruption in Brazil and you solve a lot of the crime problems.

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