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The Criminal's "Superoptimism"

Just thinking something makes it so.

Criminals expect to prevail in any endeavor. An idea is a reality. Anything that they decide to do is as good as done. Considering themselves unique and superior to everyone, once they decide upon a course of action, they are certain they will attain their objective. This certainty rests partially on their being prepared to employ any means to achieve an end, including deception, intimidation, or brute force. Criminals know the occupational hazards of crime – being caught, convicted, and confined . In a high risk venture, they might be severely injured or killed. They are unrestrained by such considerations when they are ready to commit a crime. They shut off from their thinking such deterrent considerations and are poised to act. Their sense of invulnerability rests partly on the fact they have gotten away with far more than anyone suspects, including the very people who think they know them best. Every success reinforces superoptimistic thinking.

Assume you could question the toughest inmate in a prison and ask, “Didn’t you think you might get caught?” His likely response would be, “Of course, but not this time.” Keenly aware of potential consequences, he would tell you he had reached a point of total certainty of success. Completely confident that he would outwit and outmaneuver any adversary, he was absolutely positive (i.e., superoptimistic) that he would emerge unscathed.

The superoptimism applies to day to day interactions as well. Consider a criminal who is driving on a narrow two lane road and encounters a “slow poke” impeding his progress. Determined to rid himself of this obstacle, he hits the accelerator, blares the horn, and weaves around the driver, veering into a lane of oncoming traffic. An observer would perceive the maneuver as extremely risky, potentially endangering everyone nearby. The criminal does not have that view. Regarding the world as his own personal chessboard, he is certain that he will control the situation, circumvent his nemesis and speed on his way.

The criminal’s superoptimism expresses itself in his perception of himself as infallible. There are no imponderables, and he will tolerate no interference with his plans. Gene expected his wife to have their children fed, a cocktail ready to hand him, and a gourmet meal prepared to set on the table whenever he strolled through the door after work. She was to enforce his rule that the children were to be quiet and not pester them. He demanded that his spouse be available (and enthusiastic) for any sort of sexual activity after she saw to it that the kids were asleep. Indifferent as to how his wife spent her day and uncaring about her mood, he’d become angry if the evening did not proceed as he anticipated. A minor inconvenience or disruption to his plans resulted in berating his wife and yelling at the children. Occasionally, he would erupt into physical violence, hurling something in exasperation or physically disciplining a rambunctious child.

Moment to moment, day to day, in his superoptimism, the criminal believes he has carte blanche to do as he pleases without interference. Superoptimism permits a criminal to function according to what he wants, rather than who he is:
*Certain of a wage increase, the criminal already envisions spending the extra income.
*Certain he will ace an exam, the criminal does not think he needs to open a book in preparation.
*Certain that a woman in a bar is enamored of him, he berates her when she spurns his advance.
*Certain his spouse won’t care if he goes out with his buddies rather than look for a job, he becomes enraged when she questions his decision.

The criminal does not doubt the correctness of his opinions or the reasonableness of his demands. Joanna was pushing her cart toward the cashier’s counter when, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a woman heading in the same direction. In a huge rush, she ploughed ahead. Upon hearing the lady mutter to her companion, “That bitch is going to hit us with her cart,” Joanna smashed into their cart, then assaulted one of the women. She claimed that if they hadn’t gotten in her way, she would not have hit them. (Law enforcement officers saw it differently.)

Criminals like Gene and Joanna perceive life as a one-way street. Thinking something makes it so. There is no reason to consider other people if doing so poses a barrier to what they are contemplating. There are no “ifs” once a criminal embarks on a course of action. He may temporarily alter his plans if he decides to await more favorable circumstances for his enterprise. Otherwise, he remains superoptimistic that he will achieve his objective, and he is unrelenting in pursuing it.

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