We are phasing out capital punishment.
Dr. Pinker and the entire world of humankind will tell you that’s a good sign. Guess what I’m gonna do?
In this old favourite of mine –
I try to make the case that if we have reduced child sexual abuse, that we didn’t really do that for what we would think of as moral or humanitarian reasons, not really, that in fact we traded in any possibility of the bonobo lifestyle in favour of that fabled Platonic essence, “aggression.”
Well, today is the going to be the same sort of ultra-depressing thing, same awful format. I am sorry. Would you really leave me alone with all these awful thoughts? Both of you? Ha.
The Goodness Paradox, chapter eight, Capital Punishment. It begins with an 1820 execution for property damage and notes that in most of the world you don’t die for that anymore, not legally, and the sentence that tweaked me was four pages in, after the tide turned on it, after a treatise, “On Crimes and Punishment, Cesare Beccaria, “Prisons then increasingly took over the responsibility for social control.”
Since then, we don’t select criminals out – we abuse them.
As I said, Dr. Pinker and the entire world is trying to sell this to one another as more moral, more humanist, a step along that arc to somewhere – abusing people. I heard the doctor is a doctor of some sort of psychology! In fact it was him got the Nurture Assumption published and promoted it and its central idea, that nurture is a myth and science doesn’t credit it, so he tacitly leaves the field to me to say abuse is not a myth and so this is his explanation why things are “getting better” – abuse. Control, I expect he’d rather say.
The point is, we say “social control” as if the opposite were the truth, as if we had any power to control anything in any direction other than to make it worse. “Social control” can only mean worse, by the doctor’s own cherished science. Sorry, I’m quoting one author and trashing another – honestly, I haven’t yet determined to be angry at Wrangham, it’s the longhair I’m after, the better natures guy – and EP generally, of course, which yes, means Wrangham too. I have plans to try to rehabilitate that one, though, he shows potential. Ha.
We are a warlike branch of primates that is learning not to execute its most warlike individuals, and not only that but to abuse them for years or decades before setting them free again – it is possible to see this and talk about it as though we were not minutes from solving it all. It is possible and entirely reasonable to see this as not at all the path to the utopia. All you have to do is stop expecting good things from abuse. You psychos. Sorry, outside voice?
So yes, we don’t sex our kids, we beat them, or turf them outside among the children’s gangs. Yes, we don’t execute our thieves, we confine and abuse them, damaging them further. Our entire species entire plan to solve crime is exactly every villain’s back story, but things are getting “better.” I understand he can make a case, he has numbers – does he have a reason? If he doesn’t have a better one than control, I can take no hope from him, I’m afraid. And I know, the scourge I blame we do not keep statistics for. Yet.
I know, it looks like a continuum, from verbal reproaches through spankings all the way to capital punishment and so if we stop going all the way to the end it’s an improvement, I heard that – but the whole spectrum does not move uniformly. Fewer executions does not mean fewer spankings or fewer reasons for reproaches. Fewer executions has not moved all of humanity towards gentleness, we keep applying the abuse to more and more, the fewer instances of imprisonment and such we may have expected if the entire board were moving have not materialized. If we really thought it was a continuum, then we would follow reducing executions with reducing incarcerations also, and then spankings. We reduced capital punishment, but I don’t think punishment generally is going away. I don’t imagine the numbers of people living in prisons is falling like the number of violent deaths is, is it, doctor?
OK, we’re stopping executions, that’s good. I’m just asking why, was it humanist all around, or, dark side, were we missing a chance to abuse them, and losing self-motivated soldiers, is that maybe why we did that instead.
We’ve just got it all backwards is all. We try harder than the chimpanzees do to be good, but our efforts cause world wars. If we hated bad behaviour a little less, we’d be a little less hateful, I think. You don’t take morality lessons from killers, I understand it, that the symbolism of capital punishment isn’t endearing – but no-one really takes morality lessons about stealing food from a guy who runs a prison either, that guy has clearly got it all ass backwards too, doesn’t he?
I have a dream that some day you’ll say yes.
Aug. 1st., 2020
Update, Aug. 11th., 2020:
I want to get this idea down, that perhaps I can sort of define Pinker’s function, if he didn’t, and fit it all into Wrangham’s timeline. Starting 300,000 years ago, we see the effects of self domestication and perhaps the rise of powerful coalitions and Wrangham has suggested that selecting the most “reactive” individuals out was integral to the change, so we could see that as us practicing self-selection, and this was the beginning of morality and law.
If we view the recent phase of our improvement, the last several hundred years, it is possible to see capital punishment going out of favour in lieu of abuse and confinement, desegregation, and if the end of capital punishment is predestined, then this would mark the end of our selective efforts and our full time commitment to antisocialization instead. I wonder what metric might show us this, what change took place in war at the same time Pinker says we got nicer in a leap, renaissance, was it?
There were already world conquests and Empires for thousands of years, so it wasn’t a matter of the scale of war – must have been the frequency, then? Perhaps the gun’s changes, combatants no longer really had to face each other so close, but what does that mean, surely not more bloodshed than always. Going to say frequency, pending further learning.
Of course this is the time of the rise of the modern nation state, isn’t it? Well, of course, he’s talking about law and order, so why don’t I? But still, again, more input to the antisocialization process, more control should mean some change at the output . . . wait for it . . . ah. With the modern nation state, the war never ends, there is always trouble at the border. Plus frequency, I mean that is frequency, but plus all the regular outbursts of war are also not suspended. When the war never really ends, the people must be strong always, so more laws, more dragoons, more reasons to charge the people’s batteries.