The Lure of Evil Deeds. BOOKS: TWO VIEWS OF `SEDUCTIONS OF CRIME'
AFTER a presidential campaign that saw a convicted murderer-rapist, Willie Horton, rival the pledge of allegiance for attention, ``Seductions of Crime'' offers a welcome, substantive examination of the emotional and psychological origins of criminal behavior. Jack Katz is bent on knowing the ``spiritual gratifications'' the Hortons of this world get from violent crime.
A Copernicus of social psychology, Katz probes the deviant imagination of a felon as the felon imagines his own actions.
Unlike most social scientists of the last four decades, he sees that ``The causes of crime [are] constructed by the offenders themselves.'' He does not look for the criminal animus in familial, economic, or class background. Rather, Katz pronounces the criminal's ``moral seductions,'' the good in being bad, the center of criminal activity.
That said, this book reads like a metaphysical wrestling match, where evil motives stand principles of right and wrong on their head. It is a tough nut to crack, but well worth the effort, although the response may not be what Katz anticipated.
Its effect will track that of Upton Sinclair's ``The Jungle,'' a scathing expos'e of the Chicago meatpacking industry at the turn of the century. Sinclair was bent on socialist political reform. Indifferent to his politics, the nation demanded better sausages.
Instead of an appreciation for the chaos and evil seen at the center of a criminal's being, Katz's book will elicit a call for more cops, more jails, and more voltage for murderers sitting in electric chairs.
Stylistically, Katz juxtaposes the reasoned, dispassionate language of the social scientist - ``The practice of stickup requires the achievement of a distinctive moral incompetence: the construction of indifference to the mundane consequences of the crime to oneself and, therefore, to others'' - with streetwise lingo - ``Somebody say, `I ain't a-giving up nothing.' But you can change his tune easy. You ain't got to kill him. Smack him with the gun or shoot him in the foot or kneecap, he give it right up. Knock his big toe off with one of them .45s, he give it up.''
The contrast between these two linguistic epistemologies intensifies and focuses the discussion of moral idiocy at the heart of this book. Katz yokes abstract ideas about issues of morals and ethics to the subjective and perverse statements of criminals.
As he moves from simple cases listed in police records to more complex ones, to the depiction of criminal intent in literature, his face-off between good and evil evokes the age-old impasse of original sin, where an evil act becomes an intensely felt good.
``In stickups, as in other fields in which a difficult spiritual commitment must be made, many are called but few are chosen .... It is practically impossible to make a career of stickups just by making a calculated show of a disposition to be bad; you must live the commitment of deviance. You must really mean it.''
Katz is not dealing with Edith and Archie Bunker here. He labors in the social sewers. He introduces ``Nut,'' ``Jug,'' Slick,'' ``JC,'' ``West Indian Archie,'' and other felons, each of whom returns to society between stays in prison.
Katz sallies with youth gangs in Scotland and Los Angeles, psychoanalyzes wife beaters and spouse killers. He contemplates the ``normal'' bizarre behavior of leather-clad, chain-bedecked Hell's Angels skipping across a bar floor, jumping into each other's arms and planting wet, vociferous kisses on each other's lips.
What is Katz trying to show? one asks. ``Badness,'' deviance as the willed norm. Straight society will find this book inordinately rational while at the same time highly emotional. Get ready to wrestle.