One Finite Planet

The innocent child assumption: even Hitler?

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I recently watched an episode of "Comedians in cars getting coffee",(C6:E4 11:55) where Ricky Gervais has a photo of Hitler as a baby. And relates, "I talk about sci-fi, and I always go back and kill Hitler". And I go, I go, they go "well people tried all the time", and they go "No I'd go back and kill him as a baby". I go, "You'd go back, and kill baby Hitler, who hasn't done anything wrong yet, and just strangle him? Have you seen Hitler as a baby" and I pull out this photo and I go "He was adorable".

An innocent child?

There is a common phrase: “an innocent child”.

A young infant is considered ‘innocent’, by why? Is it only because infants have not yet committed any crimes, or because there is nothing in their nature at birth, but innocence, and it is only interaction with the world that results in people going beyond sins to the extent they commit crimes or could be labelled ‘evil’? Or, for some people, does either fate or their nature or a combination make them, in the style of minority report, destined to commit crimes, and even even crimes against humanity, meaning these people should be arrested purely on the basis the before they commit these crimes?

Kill baby Hitler, or change the life experiences?

Ricky repeats the same observation.

Perhaps strangely, I would have to agree with Ricky Gervais on this one. It is my belief that with different formative life experiences, Hitler could have turned out to be a very different person.

To take it further, following the adage “it takes a village to raise a child”, wider society also had a role in making Hitler into the monster he became. There is no suggestion Hitler, had he lived should not have been punished to whatever extent was possible for these crimes, if nothing else other than ensure consistency that anyone who commits war crimes will be punished. The faint hope is that some, who have an inclination to commit war crimes, will be dissuaded by the punishment that awaits.

However, the person a Hitler or perhaps even a Putin has become as result of their life experience, their actions may have be inevitable, and the entire question of the illusion of free will emerges.

The Innocent Child Assumption.

Is evil purely due to environment, or do genes play a role?

This is a huge moral question, with no proven answer, but what you believe, has significant moral implications.

The innocent child assumption is that no human being is genetically more predisposed to becoming a ‘worse’ human being as a result of factors in their environment, than anyone than any other human.

It is my belief that while specific details of a combination of genes may possibly make one specific person more vulnerable to being negatively influenced by specific events than another person, sort of like different people having their own kryptonite, that overall, no person is genetically disposed to be more vulnerable to negative influences than any other.

Generically, the innocent child assumption is that no combination of genes exists that can be identified as ‘evil genes’ directly (as opposed to indirectly) resulting in a predisposition to commit crimes or be ‘evil’.

You can never prove things do not exist. Instead, you must rely on the lack of proof a thing does exist. This means, on the same type of premise that I believe there is no abominable snowman without proof, I also do not belief people are born with ‘evil genes’ without proof. Just as I do not accept fuzzy pictures some people declare proof of the snowman to be real, I also do not accept evidence that people who do evil things exist as evidence that doing evil things was part of their nature.

Debunking the existence of ‘evil genes’.

Aren’t all humans born with ‘sin’?

Nobody’s perfect. Even the newborn ‘innocent child’ may cry for no apparent reason, seek attention or want comfort when it is not necessary. I am setting the bar for ‘evil’ at a level beyond the bar of ‘sin’. Experiments show all children will lie under certain circumstances, and lying would be ‘sin’, so the religious stance that we are all born with ‘sin’ is not incompatible with the Innocent Child Assumption. Note that all children lie under certain circumstances. However, in the case of the experiments, it is the circumstances that result in the lies. It could be argued that those circumstances are harmful, and given that it is the observation that all children lie under the right circumstances, there is no evidence here of people varying as a result of their genes, which means the core of the innocent child assumption fully applies. The threshold is set at ‘crime’, which most people never cross, rather than ‘sin’, which depending on the definition, is a line that everyone will face circumstances that cause them to cross.

The “apple never falls far from the tree”.

This is an observation that those born into criminal environments are likely to also break the law. However there are clear studies that with identical twins separated at birth, environmental factors as clear as exposure to lead clearly change the likelihood of committing violent crime. While may be valid examples of people following criminal paths of parents, this is not sufficient to determine genes rather than environment is the factor. Again, look at the studies of identical twins placed into different environments from birth. Many behaviour patterns do seem to be genetic, but disposition to crime does not.

What about genes that correlate with crime rates?

The adage is “correlation is not causation”. However, in this case the correlation can indirectly result in causation. Imagine almost any gene that results in disability, being racially discriminated against, or a social outcast and their is a high probability of increasing the likelihood of those genes correlating with an unhealthy environments identified as

Genes and other factors combine to produce environment.

Note that, despite a lack of ‘evil genes’ directly resulting in a predisposition for crime, their are genes, including those that affect appearance, that can alter the effective environment of an individual, potentially, and arguably unfairly, increasing the chances of an environment will be more likely to trigger criminal behaviour.

Racism and the Innocent Child Assumption.

In any society with a history of racism, genes, such as those for dark skin, that increase the likelihood of experiencing racism strongly correlate with a increased crime rates.

For example, in the US, a higher percentage of people of colour commit crimes. If you are not racist, then logically you would conclude that people of colour experience an environment more likely to trigger a predisposition for crime. The result is an endless cycle. Treat people in a negative manner on the basis of skin colour, and more of those people will be driven to crime, providing more triggers for negative treatment.

In the US, higher rates of crime amongst people of colour could lead some to believe that, rather than environment being to blame, people of colour are genetically more likely to commit crimes. But any such conclusion is adopted, it should also be considered that white people in the USA, are more likely to commit crime than white people in Finland, or Denmark for example. Environment or genetics? What percentage of white people in the USA are responsible for mass shootings in schools compared to people in other countries? Would anyone really deny these crimes are mostly about environment? Or would the same people suggesting coloured people commit crimes because of their genes also support that white people in the USA are genetically more likely to commit mass shootings than most other people around the world?

In the US, the right to vote for all races was still being contested in the 1960s, a clear sign of racist policies until quite recently, but the US is far from alone. In Australia, were only officially accepted as citizens of the land where they had lived for over 40,000 years in 1967. The resulting environment? Incarceration rates, and criminal offence rates of indigenous people clearly indicate a huge problem. People are driven to such crime rates by racism, and the crime rates perpetuate the racism. Until the problems that drive up the crime rate relative to other citizens are solved, incarceration rates and deaths while incarcerated will continue to be a national shame. But solving the problems is far from easy.

Other genetic factors.

There would logically be many other genetic traits that make existence in society more difficult for people, and as a result have a correlation with increased rates of crime. In societies without care for the disabled, disability is likely to correlate with increased crime rates.


When we see a correlation with increased rates of crime, instead of “othering” the group in question, it may be that the thinking of “it takes a village to raise a child” should be applied. While we must punish those who commit serious crime, we can also examine how these individuals were also failed by the village.

My own opining is that caution is required before making penalties more lenient, as this could be counter productive to the esteem of the group in question and trigger further discrimination. I feel that when the crimes have already resulted it is too late for a real solution, which is to the more difficult problem of countering the the negative environments that erode self esteem and increase the likelihood of criminal behaviour in the first place.