Policing at a Crossroads

. . . same crossroads all things eventually reach when they start down the road toward humanism, or just plain exist, moving like the rest of us into the future. At some point in the train robbery, you have to commit to letting go of your horse and holding on to the train. The period where you still have both options is dangerous, so safety dictates it be short. I know, sorry.

I’ll go straight to it, but it’ll take a minute still – still sorry.

I caught a headline somewhere, most likely Twitter, some person got released from a wrongful conviction, and got paid some great amount for damages, which got me thinking. Of course, the first NPLP (something I’m trying to start – Namby Pamby Liberal Pussy. Folks like me.) thought is ‘Yes! Science has saved another wrongly convicted man from police machinations!’ and yes, there could be a racial aspect to the story, I mean of course, there always could be, but the picture was of a black fellow.

Then of course, I sort of globalized the concept, like I enjoy way too much, started to wonder, if there are say, a thousand such cases in a given place during a given period, then how many of the thousand were non-criminal innocents and how many might have deserved their sentences or worse for crimes they weren’t prosecuted for and/or convicted of? I mean, surely, if the police can be known to have railroaded an innocent black man into prison, then it is probably not beneath their morals to have set some heinous, dangerous criminals up for solid wrongful convictions either.

So, the first RWN (Right Wing Nutjob, something that’s a normal epithet on a site I play on, Thoughts.com) thought following that probably is, I hope somebody is reviewing which sorts of folks they’re setting free, like trying to make sure the newly free drug-related convicts really are only that or something. And, yeah, we always hope for some local knowledge, some attention to detail. Numbers games are always error-riddled.

But for me, again, trying to globalize, trying to see the social implications of all things punishment-related, this is it here.

That second practice must have felt pretty justifiable, if the cop knew, for sure, that his target’s incarceration would make the public a good deal safer, that if in short, the end really was justification for some evil means. However, technology, humanism and morality have moved on in this case, specifically, the old setup tactics are failing now because some humanists, someone who cares, have applied DNA testing etc. and caught the police cheating.

In the long term, each generation gets treated better than the last, and they each learn to expect to be. We expect moral circles to expand, and we are viewing moral issues in a more egalitarian, more logical way with each decade as well, and one result of that process is this. We want to hold our police to the law more than we perhaps have in the past. Police forces evolved because the wealthy found their prosperity to be more stable when the King tried and punished crimes, rather than living with the endless feuding produced by the previous vendetta sort of system where families looked after offenders to their interests privately. So police came into being long before modern democracies. Now, we are taxpayers and the police don’t work for the King anymore, they work for us. So the time honoured tactic of setting a man up to please the policeman’s employers, now, looks as criminal as it always did, except worse.

Worse, because the victim is supposed to be the boss. Worse, because it’s now our moral issue, because we’re the boss. Can’t blame it on the King anymore, it’s us. Now that it is, I think we think the police are supposed to do their jobs and somehow succeed while never straying across the line of the law themselves for the very good reason that when they stray, it’s sometimes against us. I don’t imagine anyone has escaped the image of an experienced cop’s disdain for the idea, and fair enough, I get it, I do. It’s violence for violence, the experience is real, the danger is real . . . but still. As true and undeniable as that is, it’s still, I’m sorry, not that meaningful, uh . . . scientifically, yes, even for social science. Anecdotal, to be sure, but not only that. The thing is, all that is life as viewed from the past, from horseback. Our societies, and our police forces are at the choice-point now, still feeling the ongoing trauma of our authoritarian ways of the past and still trying to keep a grip on it, but we also have one hand on the train of the future, where mass media and big data are starting to show us who we really are.

So when the King’s dragoons abuse their position, it’s a moral crime, sure, but he’s the King, he’s responsible and we’re not. When our tax-funded, public police do, it’s our moral crime, we’re responsible, and in democratic societies like ours we need to do something about it. That is our job, to vote intelligently and not support evil, law and order politicians.

For the police, that is the crossroads we’re at. Yes, we have in the past turned a blind eye to some over-stepping on the part of the police, but now here we are, taxed and paying for it. Any herd of herbivores tolerates the presence of the predators, perhaps, the wildebeests live with the lions as a fact of life – but I don’t think they would if they had to pay for it too. I think this crossroads perhaps adds up to a slight change in job description for the police, an acknowledgement of the democratic nature of our society and who’s working for who.

Specifically?

What if we did let’s say, refresh our commitment to the police staying on the right side of the law themselves? We the people might try to remember that the goal, eventually, must certainly be a lawful world where at least the police aren’t criminals too. Sorry, also not very specific. Let’s just brainstorm a bit, point form.

  • It might not be going too far to suggest that police need to lose a few more fights to regain public sympathy. Personally, I reserve my concern for the people who lose the vast majority of the fights. Today, the police don’t look vulnerable enough to justify their shoot first policies. I think non-lethal weaponry in the hands of the police would go a long way towards building some public trust for the police, and for that to happen, there has to be some sense that police casualties are indeed a negotiable thing, as long as there are so many more citizen casualties. As long as the life of a single cop is supposed to be worth more than any number of citizens, we’re going to be in conflict and in that sense, police are creating social problems rather than solving them.
  • I actually like the idea of this possibly fictional ‘Ferguson Effect.’ If the police are really engaged in a sort of work slow-down action to protest the growing public scrutiny of them or to avoid getting themselves into trouble, that might be a good thing. If they are not going through a door when their only possible security is to kill those folks on the other side, maybe that’s a good thing. Personally, I can imagine that there are ways in which even gang activity and drug dealing are less offensive than state-sponsored murder of criminals. I mean, if this is the conversation?

“Hey, Police! Stop shooting unarmed alleged criminals!”

“Hey, it’s dangerous out here! Do you want policing or don’t you?”

“Yes, but murder is a crime, so it is for you too!”

“Hey, it’s my security! Do you want this crime stopped or not?”

“Yes – THIS crime, but your crime too!”

“Hey, if you haven’t got my back, I ain’t working! If it’s my life at risk, I ain’t going through any more doors. See how you like it when we’re not out there killing criminals for you.”

This adds up to an immediate threat, a pressure play, but what if maybe we call the police’s bluff, what if we stop and think about it for a minute? I say we give it a try, see how it plays out. Whatever happens, we learn something. So here’s my response:

“Good idea. Let’s see how it works out. If everything goes to Hell, we’ll make changes again, but for now, yeah. Let’s see how it pans out.”

  • We need to stop arresting people for minor crimes, period. An arrest is an action that is an escalation compared to many of the “crimes” we arrest and detain for, and as such, worse. We need to mail out invoices for fines, and we need to help the miscreants pay the fines – not arrest them and start potentially deadly fights to do it. If we are trying to lessen crime, then we need to stop justifying larger crimes – confinement, violence – by using them to stop smaller ones.

 

So, this is getting long, I’ll stop.

Long and short? As a society, as many societies, we seem to have missed the change, we seem to not have noticed that democratic governments change everything, all the ancient social institutions, and that police forces today work, literally and officially, for the people, all the people. What was police brutality in the past and used to be a private act, the King’s goons working out on His citizens, is now insubordination. Eric Garner was a member of the consortium that employs the NYPD, a citizen, and he was murdered by his own public servants. Ironically, that should offend authoritarians everywhere as well as everyone else.

It stopped being us VS them when we established our democracies, Folks, it’s all us now. Let’s deal with crime generally, not just some people’s crimes. Ours too.

 

Jeff

Nov. 23, 2015

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A Conflicted Society – Rape #1

There’s this great, thinking-outside-the-box bit Louis C.K. did at least once, I saw it in the beginning stand-up bit on one episode of his TV show, “Louie,” where he aligns perfectly with me in the idea that punishing can backfire badly. I’ll paraphrase, I’m sure it’s copyrighted. He says something along the lines of ‘if we hated the people who have sex with kids a little less, maybe they wouldn’t feel they had to kill the kid afterward.’ The punch line is something like ‘so, rather than us getting a call that our kid is missing or has been found dead, we’d get a call from the child-rapist instead, saying “Hey, I just fucked your kid. You want me to bring him home, or should I just take him straight to soccer?”’

I guess the laugh comes from the shock and surprise, hearing something from the ‘things we never thought we’d hear’ file, but like a great many great jokes, it’s a stealthy way to express a great truth. Of course that would be a terrible phone call to get, but it’s clearly preferable to the other one. Louie, the genius, is telling us that our kids would be safer if we hated ‘people who have sex with kids’ a little less., that our desire for retribution is a part of the equation that puts the kids at an even greater level of risk.

Now if we can handle that example, the next one should be relatively easy: rape.

Is it possible that we hate rape too much?

I don’t mean it’s not that bad, don’t get me wrong. It’s all that bad and more. I’m just trying to help, and I’m wondering if we’ve allowed the word to get too big and too bad, so that no-one is willing to use it! Has it gotten so bad that men are unable to believe it about each other? So bad that we think of it as some sort of gargantuan mythical evil that is just too heinous to charge each other with?

Like Louie’s idea that if we hated the paedophile a little less his victims might be allowed to live, perhaps if we brought the idea of rape back into focus, back into the realm of human reality, we could prosecute it without feeling like we’re accusing the rapist of something akin to genocide or cannibalism. After all, as horrible as it is, and as devastating as it is for the victims, it’s clearly common enough, pervasive enough that we can think about it as normal, that is, as a normal enough crime that convictions for it shouldn’t qualify as extreme in anyone’s minds. Rape should be considered a normal crime, and should carry something closer to a normal rate of prosecution.

Obviously, we’re very split on the subject. Obviously, some men don’t think of it that way, and sadly, for some men rape is just business as usual. Part of the bitterness that the subject carries for women and innocent men must surely arise from the horrible irony of knowing the worst sort of rapist can escape prosecution partly because some other men think or pretend that rape is simply unthinkable. Maybe the rest of us men should stop being afraid to talk about our fear that these swine are laughing at us and make that part of the conversation, along with everything else we don’t like to talk about in regards to rape, sexual aggression and outright violence. For instance, why is it that the only people that want to talk about all the ways we’re conflicted on the whole subject of sex and all the factors that make rape prosecutions so problematic are policemen and defense attorneys?

Colour Blindness and Optimism

There are a lot of comments going around the internet that sound like a sort of backlash against the Ferguson and I Can’t Breathe protests. It’s white folks taking umbrage, maybe feeling left out, like ‘who’s protesting the fact that my life sucks too?’

I think comments like that can be viewed as somewhere on a spectrum, the extreme bad end being racist, but it’s probably usually best viewed this way: a lot of white folks aren’t aware of their racism. It’s all part and parcel of the beliefs around social things – Original Sin, Nature over Nurture stuff, a pedestrian disdain for psychology and social science generally. It seems to me to be rooted in some sort of idea that despite the bad things happening in the world, still, somehow we need to see everything as being all right.

Everything is OK, we’re not screwed up or racist, we’re just dealing with the screwed up people in the poorest communities the best way and the only way possible. It’s the world that’s bad, not us.

This “colour blindness” is at it’s core, optimistic. Of course, optimism isn’t always a good thing.

Trading Up: Moral Equivalence – Bigger Crimes for Smaller Ones

First of all, I admit, I was a late adopter of the expression, “moral equivalence.” I find it counterintuitive, it really means ‘false moral equivalence,’ right, ‘contrived moral equivalence,’ something like that? Or does it refer to people who really do think these disparate situations are actually equivalent? Whatever, let’s live with those questions, like they used to say in the “est” seminars. I’m a great believer that we need to juggle all these thoughts, all these balls need to be in the air at once, that we shouldn’t commit to any conclusions that could be wrong and then base our arguments from them. Everything should always be available for review in our minds, pending new information.

I think we all place the concept in the category of fallacious argument. Moral equivalencies are offered as justifications for behaviours that we all naturally intuit to be wrong, such as violence that is out of proportion to the behaviour that prompts it. Examples of moral equivalence may include:

  • A nation like Israel literally killing something like a thousand Palestinians for every murdered Israeli because the Palestinian Arabs WANT to kill all the Israelis.
  • A police officer literally killing a citizen in a fight that begins with an attempted arrest for a minor crime – of course, like jaywalking or operating a very small commercial enterprise without a license or without filing the taxes.
  • A law introduced that curtails the rights of large numbers of people based on statistically insignificant levels of a crime – like the voter ID laws.

Now, I know everyone is making the race arguments about these things, and of course there is racism, and classism, the poor always get the short end, and through long term, cultural racism, ‘the poor’ is pretty much synonymous with ‘blacks,’ at least in America. Fair enough. I just want to point out what seems to be slipping under the radar: the simple moral fallacy underlying all policing, and authority in general, and that is the magnitude of the crimes in these situations.

I think we can all see the cost and benefits of imprisoning murderers. Sure, forcible confinement is bad, an infringement of the prisoner’s human rights, but his infringement on the human rights of his victims is worse, so we feel justice is served. Perhaps not optimally, at least I don’t really think so, but close enough for this conversation. And so, if this killer resists arrest and dies in the ensuing fight, that’s still close enough to proper – of course, provided he really is a murderer, provided he’s guilty.

Morally, that is not so bad. Pretty good in a horrible situation. But that example should not be used to cover all arrests. That is some bad science, in fact it is probably one of these arguments of ‘moral equivalence’ to say that anyone who resists arrest for anything can be righteously killed. Race and racism aside, that is reprehensible, and defending that behaviour very correctly puts the defender on the wrong side of morality. This is a net increase in crime: murder for jaywalking, murder for black market cigarette sales.

That is the opposite of what we are paying police for.

Talk about ‘do as I say, not as I do!’ Here’s what you can’t do, and here’s what we can do – this is the very essence of inequality, inequity and anathema to ‘all men being created equal.’

So here’s what I think should happen: I don’t think that we should enforce these laws if it means creating a bigger crime than the one we’re trying to stop. So no corporal punishment for non-violent crimes, for jaywalking for illegal small businesses – verbal admonishments only. Counselling and reason, let them know that they aren’t holding up their end of the deal in our attempts to have a fair society. Perhaps for the subsistence criminal, we can find them some legal money to live on. This may involve reorganizing our social structure in such a way that doesn’t leave so many people out of the right side of life and the law, such as decriminalizing drugs and stopping the erosion of the government’s revenues for education and healthcare.

Maybe we could document these minor crimes, and use the information in court if the person does anything that really does require police and courts, so we could show a pattern of anti-social behaviour, make a case that some sort of intervention is overdue for the stubbornly anti-social and criminal people that abuse the system.

Pie in the sky, right? Madness?

So, the status quo seems reasonable, then? That minor crimes should be punished corporally, with a forced trip to jail and possibly prison, something that would motivate the offender to fight for his life and turn our attempt to correct small crimes into deadly street battles instead? Please don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t blame everyone. It’s been complicated and confusing for so long, but that’s . . . crazy. All infractions of the law do not need to be enforced.

In fact, of course, all cases of breaking the law are not enforced now. How many crimes of the rich, the bankers, and the leaders are not punished? Of course, the crimes that are detected, solved, prosecuted and punished are far fewer than the actual instances of crime and always have been. In this way, criminal punishment has always been unfair and random. That perhaps bears repeating.

Criminal punishment has always been unfair and random. That being the obvious truth to any thinking person, and being that improving the consistency in catching and prosecuting is unlikely and possibly not even desirable – most of us think we’re close enough to the dystopic police state of our nightmares now – maybe we need to think about going the other direction. Simply not arresting and prosecuting the poorest people for minor crimes (again, drug laws come to mind) – not going after the lowest hanging fruit with the intent of violence and forcible confinement – could well be our best way to increase the consistency of our law enforcement, and therefore the general fairness of our society.

This could be one way that the police could gain some real respect and trust in the poorest communities – I mean, this wouldn’t be huge, much crime is violent crime, and I’m not advising we ignore those who would victimize others with violence – but this is exactly the point. Victimizing others with violence is exactly what the police are doing when they come to arrest and imprison people for minor crimes. If this is what cannot be changed, then talk of community trust and respect is empty blather. And deeply cynical too.

To say to people –

“We want to work with you, to establish a partnership, based on trust and mutual respect, based in understanding. We acknowledge that we are here to serve the community, to work for a greater peace and a better life for all – “

– while still maintaining that we intend nonetheless to come to your house, overpower you and throw you in prison for not paying your parking and court fines? That is deeply schizoid for some of us and downright cruel and cynical for some others. Either way, it’s . . . crazy. Again, violence, kidnapping and forcible confinement for minor crimes – that is a net increase in the level of crime, and it’s the very opposite of what the general population is paying the police to do.

Morally, arrests and the associated force and violence are worse than jaywalking, street level black market dealing, avoidance of legal and traffic fines, and drug possession. That is what I’m saying. This isn’t moral equivalence. It’s a total inversion.

Law and Order – the Irony of Deterrents, Part 2

 

I’ve just re-read my first post by that name, and I couldn’t help but notice that it’s terrible. So this isn’t going to be so much ‘Part 2’ as version 2.0. Steven Pinker keeps Tweeting about how writers need to remember that they’re the ones talking, and that we should lay it all out and not hope that our readers already know everything we’re trying to say – and boy, he could have talking to me alone. So with that in mind I’ll try this again.

 

  1. The Damages of Punishments.

 

There is a terrible irony that happens when we attempt to solve society’s ills through punishment. The science is in regarding abuse, and also regarding corporal punishment: these things are causing many of our ills.

Crime, high-risk behaviour and self-harm, addiction, depression, cognitive impairment and poor grades in school, all these and more have been shown through study after reputable study to be higher frequency issues for those who are documented to have suffered abuse and/or corporal punishment in their lives.

Let’s also admit right here the truth obscured by a ubiquitous fallacy: all serious punishments are corporal punishments. We don’t volunteer for our punishments, and when we choose to take them, it’s because they are going to be forced upon us physically if we don’t. Punishments are not optional, and force is “corporal,” ultimately. This means that the list of negative outcomes above is the result of punishments, no qualifier like “corporal” is necessary, and in fact, any qualifier is detrimental to the truth. There is no type of punishment that doesn’t ever cause damage, because there is no type of punishment that isn’t intended to. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it?

We harm so that the person we are punishing changes their behaviour in order to avoid the harm. If it doesn’t harm, it’s not a punishment, by definition. In the best cases, the prospect of the harm is enough and bad behaviour is avoided before it occurs – but we’re not addressing deterrents just yet.

That list of negative outcomes above – oh, let’s repeat it: crime, high-risk behaviour and self-harm, addiction, depression, cognitive impairment and poor grades in school – not a complete list, of course, that suite of damages has been shown, statistically to be more common in people who have suffered abuse and corporal punishment, that is to say, these effects are caused by abuse and corporal punishment.

Let’s stop there for a moment, and ask, what else causes these things? Certainly medical conditions like Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and any number of brain mis-developments or diseases add their effects. I won’t argue, it may be impossible to separate FAS from other factors in an abusive and punishing population, but surely we see these outcomes in many people who are known to have no serious medical causative factors or syndromes associated with parents’ substance abuse. Of course there are serious traumas, war and natural disasters, heinous crimes, no denying that, but these aren’t likely to be an explanation for most of the people suffering these negative outcomes either. Genetic predisposition perhaps, perhaps Original Sin or its evolutionist cousin, our animal natures?

As to genetics, I expect the science is coming, the statistics may show something in the coming years; I’ll wait for the studies. As for Original Sin, I won’t hold my breath. Those statistics aren’t coming, ever.

What I’m getting at here, though I won’t presume to put a percentage on it, or even to say it’s the majority (even if I suspect it is), is that abuse and punishment are a major cause of the long list of personal damages that so many of us suffer from and that the more punished and abused of us tend to suffer from more, in proportion. Statistically.

And now to deterrents.

 

  1. Deterrents – the Calculated Risk.

 

Simply defined, a deterrent is the designation of a punishment intended to turn us from crime or misbehaviour; a punishment administered after the misdeed is intended to teach a lesson the hard way, while one that stops the behaviour before it starts is referred to as a deterrent. The threat or promise of a punishment, we hope, will avert the bad behaviour before it happens.

For a deterrent to be effective, at least one of several things must happen. A deterrent forces the subject to make a cost benefit analysis, so first, the cost must be more than we want to pay, that is the cost – the punishment – must outweigh the benefit of the crime in order to deter it. Second, the cost must be certain enough to force the analysis – meaning the punishment doesn’t matter if we don’t think we’re going to get caught, if we think we’ll never have to pay. If it were only the first condition that mattered, things would be simple – we would only have to insure costly punishments and deterrents would work. That’s not the case though; there is almost always some variable chance of never having to pay, and so deterrents are a gamble.

Depending on our perception of our chances of being caught, the strength of a deterrent is increased when the cost is increased, that is, when the punishment offered gets more severe. For the second condition, as the certainty of being caught increases, so too does the power of the deterrent. So this is the question for a person contemplating a crime, or a child considering being “bad:” what is the penalty, and will I be caught? If the penalty is painful, and the odds of getting away with it are low, and the person is not otherwise compelled to ignore the risk (a third condition, that external circumstances do not make the likelihood or severity of the penalty irrelevant), the deterrent will work. Again, this is the analysis from the criminal’s, or the naughty child’s point of view.

But we, caregivers, we, society, we have an analysis to make too, regarding costs and benefits.

 

  1. The Bets We Make – Un-calculated Risk.

 

When all goes well, when the conditions are right and the deterrent works, then that’s great. All well and good, or close enough, anyway. Let’s just say that if deterrents worked all the time, I wouldn’t be complaining. Of course they don’t, so the complaining will continue. If they did, we wouldn’t all have been spanked and grounded as children and the prison industry wouldn’t be such a growth sector.

It’s when the deterrent fails that’s the problem.

When either the punishment offered isn’t scary enough, certain enough, or when there is something scarier that will happen if we don’t commit the crime and the deterrent doesn’t work, then we have another choice: punish or let it pass. Of course, any parent or anybody else will be quick to tell us we can’t just let it pass. That would be the end of deterrents instantly. So when the deterrent fails, we punish. For what happens when we punish, I’ll refer you back to Section 1: higher incidences of crime, high-risk behaviour and self-harm, addiction, depression, cognitive impairment and poor grades in school, etc.

So this is the gamble, the bet we make. We designate a punishment, hoping for the deterrent effect, and all too often wind up punishing instead, causing the aforementioned damages to our criminals, and to our kids. When we lose this bet, we instantly transition from being the good folks who would make the world a better place by stopping bad behaviour to becoming the cause of so many of the world’s ills instead. Of course this is a multigenerational gamble. “Our kids” means us. This is the gamble, but make no mistake, no-one wins the game. This is one that we lose often enough that the wins are nearly meaningless, because the damages that come with losing aren’t balanced out by the mere absence of trauma that is the prize for winning.

Defined as a joke with the power to make us cry, this is irony: a logical joke, but a sad, sad reality. This is the deeply ironic fallacy of deterrents.

If we believe in our deterrents, but see crime remains, or increases, we may think the deterrents need to be stepped up, the penalties intended as deterrents worsened . . . and this only increases the damage, and doubles the horrible irony of our public policy. This is what is offered by our Law-and-Order politicians, more damage, and therefore, among other social symptoms, more crime. (I’m looking at you, Stephen Harper.) This situation is of course more heartbreaking when we do that with our parental discipline, when we increase the stakes on our children, in this game that we can only lose to a greater or lesser degree, this game where there is no winning.

I know deterring crime, deterring bad behaviour, it sounds positive. If it worked every time, if the bad behaviour was averted one hundred percent of the time, it would be – but it doesn’t. Again, I’m not going to put a number out there, I won’t even presume to say that the deterrent fails more often than not. Clearly it fails often enough; punishments are not rare, by any measure, and neither are the sorts of damages punishments have been shown to cause. I repeat: deterrents fail often enough, and damaging punishing inevitably results. There is no winning these bets, only degrees of losing. Punishing damages people, and our wish that bad behaviour can be reliably deterred is back-firing. Our chosen method to solve crime and misbehaviour is what is causing it, and not the other way around.

If this is not heartbreaking to us, we can consider that we have been desensitized to it. There is only so much horrible irony a person can take before we just switch off. It’s the system, it’s not our fault.

That doesn’t mean it’s not wrong.

 


Curing Crime

          I know, no-one dreams of actually curing crime, not adults, not really. It’s just one of the fantasies we teach our kids, that anyone is actually fighting some abstraction called “crime,” be it fictional heroes and super-heroes, or the real, live police along with the rest of the criminal justice system.

          Any adult knows that once we create institutions, they have their own instinct for survival, and it’s no secret lately that the criminal justice system is big business . . . so like everything else in the money system, the very people who might have been tasked with “curing crime” are the last people who might want to actually do it. But it’s not just the prison moguls, it’s all of us who aren’t curing crime, and I can see another part of the problem. It came to me while commenting on another post tonight.

          We, as a society, have yet to define the crimes in the first place. Take for instance, violence, up to and including murder. Crimes, right? Not so much. These things are not crimes in themselves – I mean they are, they are, in reality – but not in our societies, our human societies. In many contexts, violence and murder are seen as solutions to crime and misbehaviour. It’s not “murder” when the good guys do it, apparently.

          So, here’s the point. No-one is fighting these abstractions, “violence,” “murder.” These are still unidentified as problems and they are often identified as solutions instead. So we must realize that these things are not considered to be inherently criminal. So if murder is not clearly in the “crime” section of our minds, what is? How can we stamp out violence and murder when we, as a society do not perceive them to be inherently criminal?

          We must realize that no-one is fighting “crime.” We are only fighting some of the people who commit these “crimes,” and using these very same activities to do it. And that is what we keep coming up against, every time the police do what they do for is in an overly public or blatant way, every time they cross “the line.” We are seeing the truth, that it is the people who commit crimes that our societies, through our police and criminal justice systems are fighting, and the actual “crimes,” violence and murder, walk free, never even accused.

          We need to put violence and murder in the “crime” side of the ledger if we are ever to even begin the fight against them. If murder and violence might ever be stopped, then the good guys can’t be allowed to do it either.

Murderous Madmen and Their Victim Groups

Posted in a shorter form on May 27, 2014

A bunch of girls didn’t do what he wanted, so he set out to hurt a bunch of girls and teach them all a lesson. Folks, yes that is misogyny, yes it is gun violence, but mainly

IT IS PUNISHMENT.

The reason all these killers find it reasonable and rational to hurt the people who don’t do what they want, is because EVERYONE finds it reasonable and rational to hurt people when they don’t do what they want. That’s the concept of punishment. And we all know where he learned it, where they all learn it, where WE all learned it. Right?

Now how is it that what these crazies are trying to do and why is somehow not front and center of the conversation? Why are we talking about sex rather than the roots of violence, why are we talking about who the victims are instead of what these killers are doing and why?

The way we and our media focus on the victim group is making me uncomfortable, there is something very wrong with it. Everything I’m going to list may be hyperbolic, but hyperbole would not be possible if it didn’t contain a substantial kernel of truth. Plus, taken together, the power and possible truth of the situation may be unavoidable. So these are the ideas that make me uneasy about it:

  1. The focus on the victim group (women, LGB&T people, racial or religious minorities) seems to call into question issues of the groups’ human rights status; the status of the group is reviewed in media coverage in terms of public opinion and public policy. This seems to put such crimes into a category of ideology where they do not belong. In our society, everyone has a right not to be victimized, and especially not to be murdered. Are we pandering to those who may support these crimes?
  2. Focusing on the victim group contains the implicit idea that there is, at least theoretically, the possibility that some groups can properly be targeted for victimization and murder, otherwise, why would the particular group identity of the victim be an issue? For proof of this, of course there are groups that many of us are OK with killing, people outside of our society, such as enemy combatants, and some within our society, perpetrators of heinous crimes, etc. I don’t intend to debate capital punishment here, but it shows precedent, and our sometime willingness to victimize and kill. The message is also inherent that there is a certain amount of flexibility in the list of who can and who cannot be justifiably harmed.
  3. By at least appearing in our media and private discussions to ignore the common factor –  the criminals and their apparent feeling that it’s justifiable to harm or kill those of whom they disapprove – we are subjecting the victim groups to a kind of ‘divide and conquer’ situation. Are we not condemning the use of force to change people’s behaviour generally, in favour of having each marginalized group address it’s particular abusers, and on their own? Must every identifiable group fight their attackers by themselves, when all various groups’ enemies are of one kind, and all doing the same thing?
  4. By directing attention to the victim group, we are detracting attention away from the psychological and social ground that produces the bad fruit of these criminal victimizers. I see it as analogous to the one of the points batted about in the gun control discussions: just as gun are inanimate and not to be “blamed” for what people do with them, so too is the practice of punishment, of hurting people to change their behaviour, not to be “blamed” or called into question. The difference is that punishing is even more sacred, and more so in more places than the freedom to own guns.

So, as I said, hyperbolic perhaps, but with a core of truth. Perhaps it is a matter that the victim groups simply make sexy headlines, and media discussions are so often sensationalist – but reasons why a thing is are a proof that the thing really does exist.

Please, let’s try to learn to talk about the bad guys and why they do what they do, and if it is a fractal of our culture of punishment, let’s go there too. Let’s not blame the victims, let’s not always be dropping the hint that if they don’t want to be victimized, they should just shut up and conform. OK?

Irony: when a Deterrent Becomes a Punishment

What a different world we would have if deterrents, one of the central tenets of punishment, actually worked like it was supposed to. But let’s face facts: they don’t, at least not often enough, not often enough that the damages of the punishments promised as deterrents aren’t hurting us all.

 

The amount of punishments we actually have to implement should tell us this. We have all, nearly every last one of us been punished as children, and millions are still being punished as adults, the correctional system is an ever growing industry. Perhaps many crimes are deterred, but enough to say that this is the best possible option for us? Is it working well enough?

 

This is an interesting question, “is it working well enough,” and the answer there would be dependent on some assumptions, the first of which, as always in this topic, must be our stance on Original Sin.

 

On one side of this doctrine, if we believe either the religious version, that Man is born with sin in his heart, or the evolutionist version, that Man is descended from beasts and must be civilized by force, then our view will be that a great deal of crime has been deterred, that left to our own we will be criminals. In this view, if we let up on the stick, crime will increase and civilization will collapse; in this view, without punitive restraint, the beast will rule.

 

On the other side of this doctrine, if we reject the idea that sin and crime are built into humanity and see people as basically good, at least like housecats, that is, good when food is plentiful, then we may look for other causes for crime, then we may need reasons why people commit crimes. No secret for anyone who knows me, or anyone who’s seen other posts of mine: this is the view I begin with. I am looking for reasons, I start with the idea that something, something in this life, in the here and now, is causing crime and violence. There certainly are genetic things, built in things on either side of the moral scale, but saying “the Devil made me do it” is not a reason that we shouldn’t analyze what we are doing in the here and now. To state it a slightly different way, declaring “that’s just the way it is” and refusing to look at our own activity, that is something like socio or psychopathy.

 

I am trying to deal with the deterrent aspect here, but this needs to be said. I’ve said it elsewhere in more detail, and please ask if this isn’t clear; this is an interactive media, after all: punishment damages us. The damages of abuse are clear and well documented, and the damages of corporal punishment are of all the same sort, also well documented; corporal punishment is rapidly moving to the wrong side of the law in much of the world. What isn’t so well documented, what I am trying to show, is one or both of two things, which have the same result.

 

  1. “Corporal” punishment is really the only kind there is. There can be no punishment in the world except that it is made to happen, physically, except that it is backed up with force. We are corporeal beings after all. We don’t generally volunteer for our punishments, they are imposed, against our will and this ultimately must be done by force, even if that means in a particular case it is through the threat and learned experience of force, that is, even if every single punishment doesn’t require physical force, a general program of punishment  does.

 

  1. Much of the damage of abuse, corporal punishment, and this fictional non-corporal punishment isn’t physical. It is emotional, cognitive, psychological, and it stands to reason that it isn’t the physical aspects of abuse and punishment that cause it. The damage a young child suffers when its parent hurts it somehow on purpose and then promises to do it again, this doesn’t require that the hurt be only physical. This is the damage of emotional betrayal (among other things).

 

Damaged people are more subject to all sorts of social problems, crime being one of them, and being a part of many of these damages, addictions, self harm, promiscuity, violence. It seems to me, genetic or not, at least some of this is crime we are causing with our damaging, punishing ways.

 

But back to deterrents:

 

The first thing I would point out regarding deterrents are that their power increases as the certainty of their implementation increases, and of course that equation works also in the inverse. The power of a deterrent is lessened as the perceived chance of actually having to face the penalty grows smaller, meaning, if there’s a perceived chance the misbehaver can avoid the penalty, the deterrent can fail; this is only more true if the chance is real – and of course, many crimes and misbehaviours are not found out. Of course then, in anything but a totalitarian, police state, deterrents can and do fail, and damaging punishments ensue. If deterrents worked well enough, the prisons would not be so full, and we would not all be punished as children.

 

We offer these punishments in our effort to turn our kids and our adolescents away from misbehaviours and turn our adolescents and adults away from crime, and when it works, terrific, it’s all good. But when it doesn’t work, when our kids insist on their misbehaviours, or when our criminals do and we have to implement the punishment – well then we are damaging our kids, and further damaging these adult misbehavers, and we have made the shift from being the solution and trying to prevent crime and bad behaviour to being the problem, and actually causing it.

 

Defined as a joke with the power to make us cry, this is irony, a logical joke, but a sad, sad reality, the deeply ironic fallacy of deterrents.

 

If we believe in deterrents, but see crime remains, or increases, we may think the deterrents need to be stepped up, the penalties intended as deterrents worsened . . . and this probably only increases the damage, and doubles the horrible irony of our public policy. This is what is offered by our Law-and-Order politicians, more damage, more crime. (I’m looking at you, Stephen Harper.) That situation is of course only even more heartbreaking if we do that with our parental discipline, if we increase the stakes.

 

If this is not heartbreaking to us, we can consider that we have been desensitized to it. There is only so much horrible irony a person can take before we just switch off.

 

So, if my side of this argument is true, even partly, then punishment and deterrents, the very processes we hope will lessen crime and misbehaviours, could well be ironically creating the crime we are trying to stop. It’s also true that we have given these ideas a fair try – all of human history – and despite that things don’t change much, and that any lessening of the violence and brutality in this world has been accomplished by a net increase in humanity rather than an increase in penalties and deterrence schemes, we keep trying it. It’s well known that cognitive impairment is one of the many damages incurred by abuse and punishment. Perhaps this explains our inability to see this conundrum: perhaps we are slow learners.

 

 

Freedom or Punishment – Make your Choice, America.

Regardless of where we think the current American Libertarian movement or, rather the Small Government movement, is coming from, regardless of its validity, there is going to be a choice to make: a culture of punishing, the Prison State, or liberty.

A belief in punishing, a belief in deterrents – that is going to require large budgets for Police Departments and prisons. Big budgets are the definition of Big Government. But consider:

What is a deterrent? Where is the deterrent of a prison sentence if there are no Police to catch and prosecute the criminals? So, Big Punishment requires Big Government (of course any Conservative will tell you he’s for one and against the other).

So here’s your choice, America, and incidentally, every other nation:

You want liberty, freedom from Big Government? Then you need to find another way, a far more humanist way to lessen the violence in your society. Small Government won’t be able to afford the endless cycles of violence and crime that the Punishment Culture creates.

What’s up with the Lethal Injection Drug Shortage?

I think they outlawed what they use – didn’t it come out that the pre-drug didn’t kill pain, but only caused total paralysis so that we couldn’t see how much it hurts, what a cruel, horrible practice it is?

So now there’s a “shortage” in the States – code for “outlawed where they make it in Europe” and they’re scrambling, trying different cocktails . . . and here is my question:

What the Hell is wrong with morphine and heroin?

Is it too good for these scumbags? Why not set him up with a steady drip, one that will come on slow, play the guy’s favourite music, let him get high, feel good, fall asleep and watch his breathing slow until it stops?

I mean you’re already killing the bastard, do you really have to punish him even more? Let the bastard die nice, fa crissakes!

What is the matter with us? Death is too good for our most screwed up individuals, it must be a horrible death? What does that say about us? What does that do to us, morally? What are we turning ourselves into?

I don’t buy into what I call the Punishment Cult, or the Punishment Culture, at all. I don’t think children should be punished, at all, and I don’t think adult criminals should be either. If it must be incarceration, let it be nice. I advocate for a maximum security  Ramada Inn. Decent furniture, HBO, decent food. If people are dangerous and violent and we need to separate them, that will do it, why do we need to make them meaner and more bitter?

If it must be death, or if they choose death, let it me a morphine drip, let it be nice. Why not?

We punish people for hurting people. How? By hurting them. This doesn’t improve people. If it did, our violence and crime problems would be improving, we’ve been doing what we do – punishing – for a very long time, generations, and it’s not getting better. I think it’s time to admit that violence breeds violence, which means that if you want less violence, then we must – guess what?

You can’t can you?

Violence breeds violence, which means that if you want less violence, then we must  . . . wait for it . . .

Be less violent. Meaning US, not some ephemeral THEM. If the GOOD guys hurt people, what do we expect from the bad guys?