The Carrot and the Stick – The Irony of Deterrents Part #5

This series is intended to clarify the role and the efficacy of our use of deterrents, both in our households as a parenting tool and in society as a major premise upon which we have based our approach to criminal justice. Here’s the rest of the series:

(Part #1 sucked . . . you can find it on my blog, there’s a search button – but you’re not missing much.)

My premise is this:

When a deterrent works, when someone chooses not to engage in ‘naughty’ or criminal behaviour, then that’s terrific, it’s all good. A child may feel some betrayal at hearing that his caregivers are prepared to hurt him, and in a better world that would be a problem to solve, but in this world we have bigger fish to fry, namely the actual hurt that happens all too often.

It is when the deterrent fails that needs to be looked at, because actual, real world punishments have been shown to increase childhood misbehaviours in the longer term, and it follows that this is also the case in the world of adult criminality. In fact, our “legitimate” punishments cause the very same suite of damages that we all know illicit abuse causes, and so the failure of a deterrent isn’t simply a failure and the lack of a positive outcome, but a net decrease in the quality of life in our families and in our society. It’s a negative.

Our punishments are hurting us. Sounds like a no-brainer when we say it like that, doesn’t it?

We like to talk a lot about rehabilitation, the non-liberals consider that its success rate isn’t good enough and that as such, simply means a waste of money and resources, while the liberals consider it to be important, and if it gets a few percent of people out of the criminal life and the criminal justice system, then we owe to all criminals to try it. I’m here to tell you that rehabilitation isn’t what is failing.

What is failing is not the carrot, but the stick.

If someone wants to explain to me why giving someone an education or a trade won’t work, they’ll need to do something.

They’ll need to show that rehabilitation, when administered alone, without being accompanied by abuse, is failing. We know what abuse and fear does do people, and what it does, how to put this . . . what it does is not this: make people happier, less violent, less addicted and smarter. Personally, I see all punishment as abuse, but for this argument, I’ll settle for this: prison is abuse. Prisons are violent, terrifying places where there is danger in every shadow. We mostly think that’s a good thing, because that is where the deterrent lies, but this being my point in this series: when it’s a threat or a promise, it’s a deterrent. When it’s reality, it’s abuse, and damaging to those living in it.

Rehabilitation is an attempt towards improvement in a person’s performance in society; the abuse of life in prison is almost a guarantee of no such improvement, in fact, as stated in the film “Blow” as well as everywhere, prison is Crime University. That is the education many convicts get, along with the abuse that we know is the best way make people meaner and less interested in the legitimate life of lawful society. So these two ideas are diametrically opposed: if we really wanted to rehabilitate anyone, we wouldn’t abuse them before, throughout, and after their rehab program. Think of it in terms of how the kids in school with the most abusive, violent parents don’t all grow up to be the doctors and leaders, how abuse and corporal punishments have been shown, over and over, to negatively impact cognition and grades. In that sense, the hard-liners of public policy are correct: doing both of these things is mostly a waste of our money and time. It’s just that it’s not the rehab that’s at fault. It’s not the carrot that’s eating all of our resources. It’s the stick.

All that money we’re spending on abuse, and it’s creating crime, making criminals worse, because that’s what abuse does. If we want to see what can be done with the carrot – with an offer of a life for these people – we need to give the carrot without employing the stick at the same time, rehabilitation OR abuse. We need to make our prisons safe for our inmates, is what I’m saying. Sure we need to lock some dangerous folks up, but let’s spend that money a little smarter, and lock them up in such a way where they have a chance to improve themselves, make them safe from one another, more space, individual quarters.

Sure it’s more money, but it’s money with a return. The money we’re spending now is only creating crime in the long run.

Authority is the Problem.

Muslim extremists, Zionist extremists, Christian ones, Buddhists – people, the extremism is in the authority, not in the flavour. This one takes your refusal to eat what they allow as a reason to punish or kill you, that one some other reason, the common denominator, the really bad thing with all these attitudes is the punishing part, the killing part, the authority. So the Christian authorities decry Muslim “extremism” (read “authoritarianism”), but they won’t ever decry authority, because they enjoy their own too much.

Folks, let’s don’t be divided and conquered in this way. Eyes open – it is authority that is the problem, power and force. If you are going to kill me for some behaviour of mine, then it is irrelevant to me what the name of your God is. What is relevant to me is that you are a killer, that you think you have the right to bring punishments down on me. The brand of psychosis you have is a minor detail, Christian, Muslim, whatever. Authority – the idea that some people have the right to control others – that is the problem. That is the core belief all of our authorities share, Christian, Muslim, whatever. And they’ve all struck a deal with one another that they will never talk about that.

(The above argument regarding authoritarianism versus the world’s great religions’ versions of authority also applies to political systems. It is the nearly impossible to kill kernel of authority that turned the great Communist experiments into oppressive dictatorships, just as it has with so many non-socialist societies. Muslim, Christian, Capitalist, Communist, doesn’t matter: the common thread, and what should be the obvious evil, is authority.)

I hate to tell you: belief in authority, that is even more impossible to cure than belief in religion. It’s the basis of religious belief. All religions are a set of rules to follow to achieve some spiritual end, and acceptance that life is about authority is a prerequisite to believing that, a rule, and a punishment or a reward for it. Now here’s the thing.

Authority is a necessary evil. Adults need to control their babies, for their own good. We’re responsible for them, and they’re helpless and clueless, so there’s no talking to them. Sometimes parents need to act unilaterally, and in that way, authority can be a necessary thing for the survival of babies and young children.

After that?

After that, authority exists in a state of arrested development, or rather, it has us trapped in a state of arrested development. If we raise our kids right, they don’t need someone telling them what to do and how to live. A human being that has successfully matured to adulthood should be able to operate autonomously and cooperate autonomously. If we raised each other right, we could live in a world run with reason and communication alone. The reason we can’t is because we are all damaged and made stupid by authority and its abuses. The science is in regarding abuse and corporal punishment which are the tools of authority: it’s damaging us.

Without this damage, the world would not be full of screwed up, evil people who can only get the things they want done by way of authority, because the things they want to do aren’t supportable by logic, reason, morality or communication. If the things you want are social or economic inequality (power or wealth), then you’ll need authority for that. Healthy, mature, intelligent human beings probably won’t give you that willingly and consciously. For a world with lessening inequality, for us to develop normally, individually and collectively, we need to wean ourselves off of this belief in authority. It’s holding us back. Individually, and as a species, we are not growing up as long as we’re buying into the system of authority.