Social Question

SmashTheState's avatar

Why do people commit vandalism?

Asked by SmashTheState (14220points) January 28th, 2011

I’m not talking about political acts like throwing a brick through a bank window or tossing a corporate newsrag’s box off a bridge into a river; I’ve done those kinds of things myself, and I know well the causes of direct action, and I don’t regard it as vandalism in any case.

What I’m referring to here is senseless vandalism, like wrecking a public water fountain, or defacing a work of art. Why do people smear shit all over the stalls in public bathrooms? Why do they dump all the paper towels on the floor, or plug up the sinks with chewing gum?

Once, while I lived in a rooming house, I had spent weeks working on a paper model of a castle. If any of you have ever done a paper model, you know how delicate they are. Because you’re working with paper, you can’t even use large amounts of glue. I spent every night for weeks at the kitchen table with a magnifying glass, constructing tiny paper arbalests and catapults, putting down “grass” in the courtyard and oiling miniscule paper squares to construct translucent windows. When it was finally done, I left it on the table to dry.

The next morning I came down and found it missing. I searched everywhere and couldn’t find it. With a sinking heart I looked in the trash can and there it was, crumpled into a ball and tossed haphazardly in amongst the burnt popcorn and banana peels. I suspected who had done it (one of the other tenants) and confronted her on it when she came home. She freely admitted to doing it. At that point I was stunned by her nonchalance, so all I could do was ask her why. She seemed totally uninterested. She just shrugged her shoulders, said “I dunno” and walked away.

Why did she do it? What did she get from it? Why do people vandalize without seeming to profit from it in any way?

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32 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

That question is a source of frustration to me as well. I can only surmise it must be some kind of personality disorder in people that have no empathy or compassion.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Our culture encourages extreme egocentrism and avoidance of responsibility. Also, some people are just assholes.

josie's avatar

Because they are losers. They hate the fact that people own something. They are usually stupid, ineffective, and hopeless. They hate the people who own the property that they defile. This, for no other reason than that they own nothing themselves, including their own destiny. Because they have sacrificed it to something else. Could be the government, could be drugs, could be a social circle that enables their defeatism. It doesn’t matter. They are useless, and they want to devalue anything that reminds them of their poor choices. Real simple.

SmashTheState's avatar

@josie A public water fountain reminds them of their own failings? Deliberately painting the walls of a toilet stall with their shit makes them forget they’re losers? Something doesn’t seem right with that.

Jeruba's avatar

Does it have something to do with a sense of power? gaining a momentary feeling of power—maybe as an antidote to a chronic feeling of powerlessness? doing it just because they can?

Exerting my fiction-writer’s habits of speculative projection, I can come up with something like this as a hypothetical inner narrative for that shockingly callous young woman’s behavior:

I notice that you’re making something.
You’re working very hard to make something artistic and creative.
I see that it’s delicate and painstaking.
I could never do something like that.
I’ve never known anyone who could do something like that.
You must have a very special talent or skill.
You probably think you’re special.
You probably think you’re better than me.
You just like to rub it in, or else why would you leave this here where everybody can see it?
Just seeing it makes me mad because you’re showing it off, how superior you are.
You make me feel bad.
You have too much power over my feelings.
I’ll show you. I can have power over your feelings.
See? You’re not better than me. Your work is garbage.
You’re garbage. Not me.

AmWiser's avatar

It’s difficult to understand the workings of the human mind and heart. And for that reason we have hate and destructive behavior that can’t be explained, sometimes not even by the person who is hateful and destructive.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@josie Yea, I don’t buy that explanation at all, particularly since everyone I’ve ever known who does this sort of shit is spoiled middle class suburban kids with lots of material possessions. It’s got way more to do with privilege than it does with the lack of it.

JLeslie's avatar

Great Question. I never could understand this either. Stealing you have the thing, vandalism gets you nothing. Not that stealing is ok, but I can kind of understand it better. I guess vandalism when you are really pissed at someone and you know it will hurt them, like your boyfriend is cheating so you throw paint on his car that he loves more than life. Maybe I kind of get that. But random vandalism, just being destructive for the sake of destruction, I will never get it. I have never felt compelled to vadalize anything, not even the shitty boyfriend’s car.

It must have to do with envy, and inner pent up anger. It is like a toddler temper tandrum or something. A way of venting frustration and sadness I would guess. Just a guess.

Some vandals may feel graffiti for instance on public property is not the same as someone’s personal property? Not sure.

SmashTheState's avatar

Surely there are people here on Fluther who are secret vandals. If you don’t want to give yourself away, just make a single-purpose account for answering this question. Why do you do it? Explain it for us so we understand.

Brian1946's avatar


“She freely admitted to doing it.”

Did you do anything to her or something of her’s in return?

josie's avatar

@SmashTheState You asked. I answered. If nobody wanted an opinion, why would they ask?

SmashTheState's avatar

@Brian1946 Well… sort of. Not intentionally. It’s kind of a long story. I explained what happened to a friend of mine, and he was outraged. He decided to get revenge for me, without bothering to tell me. I never found out until months later. What happened is this:

He knew, since I had told him, that she used her window as a garbage chute. Instead of putting stuff in the trash, she just went to her window and tossed it all onto the roof of the level below. Racoons would scavenge in it and eventually drag most of it away. Anyway, knowing this, my friend took a gorilla mask and a machete and waited outside her window one night for hours until she opened it to throw some trash away. Then he leaped at her wearing the gorilla mask and waving the machete. She screamed and took off running to get the security guard who lived downstairs. He came running in his underwear with his gun, and was very annoyed when she gibbered that there was a “monster” on the roof that wanted to kill her. In fact, everyone in the building was annoyed by the hullabaloo, and everyone just assumed she was crazy when she babbled about a killer on the roof.

So yeah, I got my revenge, but not by me and not on purpose.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@josie Great deflection! And I was totally unaware that someone who asks a question couldn’t ask another one for clarification! I learn something new every day.~

Brian1946's avatar


Good on your friend.

She seems like a nihilistic slob.
Perhaps that’s part of the explanation.

Cruiser's avatar

I will paint my answer with a really wide brush and say vandals are seeking attention to the fact that even a normally cowardly, powerless person can have a moment of perceived power over a person or thing that they otherwise feel threatened by.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Because they think there will be no negative consequences for their actions.
Had you smashed her face instead of the State maybe she would think about it next time.
(I’m not suggesting it. I’m just sayin’.)

DominicX's avatar

Thrill? I’m a little confused as to why it’s done as well. I was with my friends at a mini-golf place at night (we were drunk) and one of our friends started breaking some of the lights with their golf club as my other friend egged her on. Not sure why it was even done; made no sense to me, just made me paranoid that we were going to get in serious trouble and I hate seeing things destroyed.

I’m not perfect as I have egged people’s houses/cars and I have to say…it was thrilling… :\

JLeslie's avatar

@worriedguy Interesting. If I could get away with vandalism, I still would not feel compelled to do it.

ninjacolin's avatar

You have to teach people how to treat you. Make sure you tell her not to break your things ever again. Make a new one, put it back.

IWillDrinkYourBoneMarrow's avatar

Immaturity, Stupidity.

CaptainHarley's avatar


I think your response is pretty close to the mark. These people obviously have terrible self-images and almost no self-respect. They are lashing out, whether at society in general, some aspect of society, perhaps a disliked parent.

bkcunningham's avatar

I would think they are individuals and destroy someone else’s property for a variety of reasons. There isn’t just one reason and you can’t clump them all into one neat group. Just like @SmashTheState‘s reason. They feel justified for whatever reason they have in their minds. Whether it’s getting even with “the man” or the establishment or peer pressure or just being a punk; it’s wrong. @josie hit upon quite a few of the various reasons.

talljasperman's avatar

repressed anger

Meego's avatar

What’s the difference really? Does their have to be a point whether you wipe your shit all over a stall or throw a burning baby through a a clinic window to make a political statement, it’s all the same. It’s disrespectful and trying to exert power over what you’ll never own. I really think morales are severly fucked up when people can’t decipher what respect is.

gondwanalon's avatar

Probably the best part for the person who destroyed your paper project was when she told you that she did it. Because at that moment in time she got some recognition in her miserable existence. Some people are unable to get recognition from doing good things (that takes too much hard work for them) so they get their recognition the easy way by doing bad things. It take very little effort to do vandalism.

john65pennington's avatar

Most of these acts are caused by people on drugs or alcohol. most of the people i have caught in the act of vandalism, were high on marijuana or some other illegal drug.

rooeytoo's avatar

It seems to me most vandals are young, now note I said __most__. And I think young folks have very little respect for others’ property. Perhaps because most have not worked for anything of their own? Or even because there is little fear of punishment. There was an article in the paper recently about young teens stealing cars and going for joy rides. When they are caught nothing is done, they are sent home with a lecture. In school you misbehave, you may get in trouble but if the parent deems the punishment inappropriate, the teacher is in trouble, not the kid.

I have to admit fear of punishment kept me on the straight and narrow as much as anything else when I was young and foolish and actually the same thing is true now that I am old and foolish!

downtide's avatar

I think it’s because their goal is to upset people. They’ve not learned respect, either for other people, or their property. These are the same sorts of people who join an internet forum and deliberately troll it with offensive posts, to see how many people they can offend before they get banned.

I think sometimes it’s a sort of competition amongst their peers, because it seems they get respect from each other only by being bad. An arrest record is worn like medal ribbons.

boxer3's avatar

@SmashTheState , that’s terrible- what a jerk :[

I’ve got not good answer for you, but I share your frustration.

When I lived in college dorms, people thought it was awesome
to get really drunk and piss in the elevators. It was really obnoxious,
and they’d shut down the elevators for days at time with signs posted like:
Elevator temporarily unavailable, due to pee, again…

Not that I even used the elevators, but it was just absolutely pointless.
Also when I lived on campus, one time someone on a different floor
apparently thought it’d be funny to set one of the bullitien boards on fire.
It was really awesome evacuating in the middle of the night in the middle of the winter.

Some times I think I will never understand humans….

LuckyGuy's avatar

The people who did it are jerks and need to be called out on their actions. Try to stop them. Turn them in.
I don’t drink often and never get drunk. A long time ago I was out “bar hopping” with a couple of friends. The other guys were pretty well lit. I was not. One of them decided it would be funny to pour his beer into a helmet that was hanging from the handlebars. He started to do it, but I pushed him out of the way. He tried again and I hit him so fast he went down like a rock. I walked away and wiped him off my “friend list”. I don’t ever need to associated with anyone like that. The other guys avoided me too. Their loss. Jerks.

mattbrowne's avatar

Humiliation. Envy. Disappointment. Frustration.

flo's avatar

Re. your second paragraph, some people see the government no different from big corporations so they may be doing it thinking the same way as you in your first paragraph.

Re. your rooming house example, she did it because she percieved you did something against her and she was getting back at you? Is she an otherwise reasonable person? If so, I can’t think of an explanation.

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