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August 5th, 2011

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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 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 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'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.
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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)

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