August 5th, 2011
|02:18 am - Excellent Article on Rational Justice and Musings on Brutality |
I don't normally find much worth reading in The Economist, but This is the best piece I've seen about the various US discussions about Norwegian justice and prisons that I've seen. Here's the core point of the article:
It does raise ethical questions. The maximum sentence in Norway is 21 years, though this can be extended indefinitely in five year blocks as long as the prisoner is deemed a "high risk" for repeat offence. Is this enough for a monster like Mr Breivik? And even if he spends life in prison, doesn't it offend our sense of justice to imagine a man responsible for such enormities whiling away his time jogging in the crisp air and putting on musicals in comfortable confinement? I completely agree with the conclusions, but my own reaction is quite different, I simply have never understood the desire so many people have for various sorts of Lex Talionis justice, the idea of justice as revenge, or the desire to make others physically suffer. I honestly find the entire idea both sick and sickening. For me, revenge, torturing prisoners to gain information, brutal prisons, war, and employing people with few other choices in work-places with horrific and dangerous working conditions are all one in the same – either the desire to cause other to suffer to make yourself feel good, or the willingness to cause others to suffer in order to gain practical or ideological benefit for yourself (or your chosen group). I'm far from certain which I regard as more repugnant.
I say, yes, it does offend our sense of justice. It offends mine. But I am very wary of my own instinct for retribution, and of yours. The idea of balancing some cosmic scale, of restoring the moral order to equilibrium, is deeply appealing. But there is no cosmic scale to balance. The moral order is not some sort of pervasive ethereal substance that threatens to undo us if monstrous offence is not met with equally ferocious punishment. If we are able to approach the matter rationally, which is hard, I think we will see that a society's main imperative is to guarantee the safety of its members by taking the criminal out of commission and then by punishing wrongdoers to the extent necessary to deter similar future crimes. I think we can be sure that Mr Breivik will not be left in a position to kill again. So the main question, to my mind, is whether a comfortable (and possibly relatively short) detention is sufficient to deter similar crimes. Though I do think the severity of punishment has some effect on the frequency of crimes, I doubt the severity of Mr Breivik's punishment will have anything at all to do with the future incidence of elaborately plotted massacres.
I'm uncertain why I lack the impulse for bloody revenge that seems so common. On a broader scale, I suspect that this attitude is more common in the US both because of how violent it is compared to other developed nations, and perhaps more importantly, because of how unstable people's lives are, and especially how economically unstable people's lives are – a period of serious illness, a automobile accident, or even various random economic circumstance can ruin someone's life and completely impoverish them in ways that cannot happen in most of the rest of the developed world. Easily two thirds of the people in the US are one serious economic setback from poverty, and which they might not be able to recover from. So, people look for individuals to blame or punish for their fears.
Despite more than a few claims to the contrary, this state of affairs, and especially this desire for bloody vengeance is not the human condition, this is not inevitable, this is merely what the nation I live in is like, and that's something I am far from happy with. Every time I see, hear or read something about corporal punishment of children, the need to "be tough" with teens, and the various sorts of casual violence found in various US subcultures, I always wonder how much that all this helps create the whole sick system.
Current Mood: thoughtful
Swift punishment is far more of a deterrent than severe punishment. I learned this in my college sociology class.
I have a theory that Americans may be violent partially because the alternative we are presented with is ridiculous: immediate, complete, unconditional, and compulsory forgiveness for those who wrong us. According to many American churches, anger is a sin under any and all circumstances. The victim is required to beg forgiveness from his/her abuser for feeling anger towards the abuser.
I know this is true for me. I strongly believe in retributive justice for everyone, including myself. This tendency is ameliorated, however, when a wiser party presents me with a more creative solution of transformative justice. However, I don't know how to come up with such solutions on my own.
|Date:||August 6th, 2011 12:16 am (UTC)|| |
I have a theory
I have the same theory.
|Date:||August 5th, 2011 04:41 pm (UTC)|| |
I think the key thing that is not much discussed in the Norway 'luxury prison' articles that are cropping up now is that Norway has a tiny tiny recidivism rate. Their focus on rehabilitation, re-integration and caring for criminals as people is hugely successful in the only thing I think the state should be involved in, with relation to humans hurting each other -- preventing it from happening again. I don't think the abstract entity the 'state' should be involved in vengance at all -- the state's fuction is to make sure our society/civilization works as smoothly as we can manage, not to punish evildoers.
The recidivism rate in the US, OTOH, is pretty high.
|Date:||August 5th, 2011 10:05 pm (UTC)|| |
Yep, around 50% in the US & 20% in Norway, despite the fact that prison terms that are also on average shorter than in the US.
|Date:||August 6th, 2011 12:32 am (UTC)|| |
I have so much to say on this topic, I won't even try.
I will simply say this: speaking as a psychotherapist practicing in corrections, I have opportunity to work with inmates who have had lengthy histories of multiple incarcerations in a variety of penal institutions, and they have become... connoisseurs... after a fashion.
And what they tell me is that the really nasty, Lord-of-the-Flies, gotta-be-in-a-gang-or-get-stabbed institutions are fine by them. Rough, but it's only violence. It's like the Street, which is practically home.
No, they tell me, with little shudders, that it's the really well run prisons[*], the one where things are really professional, where "there's no funny business" (as one inmate put it), where everything -- and every inmate -- is controlled at every moment of every day, those are the prisons that cause my patients to say, "I'll do whatever it takes to never, ever, ever, ever go back there." "It broke me," one of my patients said of being in such a clean, rigorous, and tightly run prison, who had run riot in at least four previous institutions.
[* There is a certain system, that I will not name, which is renown among inmates as There Where They Do Not Put Up With Shit.]
For many convicted criminals I've spoken with, a substantial part of the allure of criminal activity is an exercise in sorta ubermenschian freedom. "I'll do whatever the hell I want, whenever the hell I want to." And they're willing to live in the violent, anarchic society that results, accepting -- as a point of honor! -- the personal risks that entails.
For such as them, locking them in a poorly supervised box with a lot of others just like them and shaking the box is a lot like nothing has changed. But put them in a strict system of social control, where they have to wake up when told to, go to sleep when told to, eat when told to, and simply be controlled in a thousand little ways, none of which violate their safety or civil rights, but all which simply limit their liberty: that's pretty much hell on earth for them. And very, very aversive.
Edited at 2011-08-06 12:34 am (UTC)
That actually sounds more terrifying than violent anarchy. But then, I'm picturing a cross between the mental ward in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Foucault's panopticon, and Brave New World. Is that an accurate guess?
|Date:||August 6th, 2011 12:49 am (UTC)|| |
I know I am remiss in not having yet seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and I honestly don't remember enough of BNW, so I can't comment to those. But I'm thinking Panopticon (Bentham, right?) is dead on the money.
Though to be clear, I don't get the impression they're particularly aversive to more normally pro-social people. If you don't feel that being inhibited from sticking a shiv in someone at the slightest provocation is an enormously burdensome restraint of your will, you're not the targeted population.
Edited at 2011-08-06 12:52 am (UTC)
I immediately thought of mental institutions as well.
The only form of lex talonis that I fantasize about is political. If the Republican members of congress were strangled to death with George Bush and Dick Cheney's still living entrails, it would make me happy. (Admittedly, I believe that even political violent revenge is best avoided, I just fantasize about it).
The folks who have stolen my various cars, on the other hand, I would only wish a moderate sentence in a Norwegian prison at most.
How about giving Texas back to Mexico - with the proviso that they have to take, and keep, every last Tea Partier? That would cleanse the Republican Party of a bunch of idiots, and then we could get back to fixing the economy.
I recently saw this article
that seems to have a similar slant on things-- in that the core idea is that Americans are actually pretty mean and sadistic. They're really two different topics, but possibly picking up on the same general thing manifesting itself in different ways.
|Date:||August 11th, 2011 08:37 am (UTC)|| |
On the one hand, I have no problem with sufficiently revengeful justice. As Confu-Tze said, "Compassion to my friends, justice to my enemies." At the same time, some forms of revenge are irrational and destructive. I think, in general, society would benefit if we realized that simply locking up dangerous people for a good deal of the time reduces the actual realistic risk they will harm another to almost nothing... it baffles me that the same people who will speed to Starbucks, risking life and limb to grab a coffee before work, quail at the idea that an unpredicted and unpredictable killer might kill them.
I think revenge is sometimes the rational response when living in an anarchic state and afflicted with injustice. It is entirely possible, as you suggest, that the current madness for revenge can be traced to a sense of insecurity, a belief that we are living in an anarchic, unjust, and dangerous state of being.