Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Punishment and Justice and Vengeance

The thing with a road trip is the very long, late night conversations.  Sometimes my control slips or my guard comes down or whatever happens and I see things in a different way, with more emotion than I usually do. More empathy. That's neither good nor bad, just different.

Anyway, M was talking about victims who want vengeance.  Who didn't seem to realize that the vengeance they wanted was wrong, that a bullet to the head was quicker that...

And I got it, in a weird way.

Justice is a hard thing to define.  It's like fairness.  There is one group that says that a fair basketball game is one with objective refs where all the rules are applied to all the players equally.  I'm cool with that.  That's the ideal, and subject to human error, but I like that.

There is another group, and one that seems to be growing, that seems to believe that a fair basketball game is one that ends in a tie.  An uneven score is prima facie evidence that the game is unfair and it is the responsibility of the refs to apply the rules in any way necessary to keep the scores even.

I'm not cool with that.  Not with the power dynamic, nor with where it has to end.

But both are valid definitions for fair. (I'm assuming you all understand the difference between truth and validity.)

Justice seems tied up with fair.  Actions bringing commensurate responses.  An ideal, but try to adjust it much past the 1:1 math of "an eye for an eye" or "blood for blood" of the old vendettas and it gets very ambiguous very quickly.

So we wind up with a justice system and an ideal of punishment that has more to do with the feelings of society than with altering behavior (punishment in the behavioral sense) or any recognizable definition of justice.

And I'm cool with that.  Some can stomach the idea of state executions, some can't.  When the majority can't, those are the rules we follow.  Because the mores, the way things are done, are more important to a society than any particular piece of justice.  Far less cool with it when I'm too close to the problem... but when I can be objective I get it and even when it was hard to be objective that was the job, and I did the job.

My personal belief is to scrap the entire idea of justice and treat crime as a public health issue.  One chance to modify behavior.  If that fails, remove the individual.  Years ago, I read a story  (My memory is fuzzy but I think it was H Beam Piper and it was SF) where the judge said something like, "I'm not ordering your execution because of what you did.  I'm ordering your execution because you have shown you are willing to do what you did."  That resonated.  Some bacteria are good for you, some kill.  As a public health issue, why treat a person who kills any differently than a bacteria?

But the vengeance thing.
Normally I'm with M.  Rapist?  Shoot him in the head.  Quick.  Efficient. Cheap. And never, ever will he victimize anyone else.  And that's enough.  For me.

But, combination of sleep deprivation and the company, I got a whiff of the logic of vengeance and punishment.  Not real logic.  The math actually doesn't work unless there is an afterlife or reincarnation.  But I have heard evil men bragging, and reminiscing about how their victims begged.

The drive (remember this is sleep deprivation talking) is to bring things full circle, to closure.  And that will never feel complete until the perpetrator felt what the victim felt.  Until the victimizers learn the lessons of the victims.


Anonymous said...

Tit for tat's tricky.

If a sedentary woman half my size hits me as hard as she can so I hit her back as hard as I can, is that fair? No.

What if I hit her back as hard as she hit me? Closer, but still definitely no; I'm bigger, stronger, tougher... harder to hurt.

Calibrating a fair physical return hit seems infeasible; more workable response seems verbal; a little unfair, perhaps, but more palatable than the alternative.

Death sentence for rape seems like an overreaction. I certainly agree prison's not working. Caning, maybe? Castration?

TomF said...

If there's any form of afterlife (take you pick), then justice is a "given." Just not necessarily within the span of a single lifetime.

nry said...

A sedentary woman pulls a gun on you and you shoot her to save your own life, is that fair?

If a sedentary woman hits me then I need to do some more of Rory's drills for sudden violence :)

Jim said...

But the victimizer can never feel what the victim does.

Dropping all the metaphysical crap... I ain't you. You ain't me. I'm not the rape victim I met my first night on the street. If the assailant had the capacity to feel what the victim would feel -- they, by definition, wouldn't victimize them.

In Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein discusses the death penalty. A deserter had kidnapped and killed a child, and when captured, was sentenced to death. The novel points out that perhaps the deserter was mentally ill, and should be held in treatment until "cured." Except... if he was cured, how could he live with what he had done? (And if he ever escaped, how do you explain it to his next victim, the novel goes on to ask.)

David Kafri said...

The problem with the death sentence is it's finality, and the possibility of error in deciding whodunit. Put someone behind bars and new evidence shows up (DNA samples?), you can free her/im. Kill them and it's done, no way to undo it.

Nick Lo said...

Perhaps where the math is also fuzzy is at the trigger end of "a bullet to the head": Someone has to do it.

Casting myself in a scenario of wanting bullet-in-head revenge against someone for an act of extreme cruelty: Considering I've only ever shot at cans and targets as a kid and never lived in an armed society, the emotional and physical challenge is already tipped in favour of the more experienced culprit.

So, perhaps I turn to someone with more experience to do it for me. Doing so would have me closer to a sense of revenge, but I'd have asked them to also carry the emotional results so the equation is even more imbalanced. The better I know them the harder passing on that responsibility might be.

If we share the act amongst society as we do, it does seem to add some level of balance. I'm further away from the direct feeling of revenge (closure?) but I also have much less sense that I got any single individual to carry out my dirty work. Society as a whole has decided to act for the sake of that society.

But, in the end someone has to do it and they have to be considered when thinking about "fair'. I'm at the comfortable armchair theory end of that so I can only ask how much you and/or anyone else who is at/has been at the action end, would consider yourselves in the fairness of punishment?

Anonymous said...

I occasionally find myself wondering why we tolerate child molesters at all. They prey on our young!

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with John Douglas(aka Mind Hunter): judge by means of DANGEROUSNESS.

Is he a threat to society after his sentence? Are there ways he can use to reduce his sentence? Is he likely to be able to escape his sentence?

As much as I feel for the victim, I'd rather prevent him from making another victim. Learn from mistakes, like. If he gets out and kills/rapes again, then we have learned nothing.


Anonymous said...

Revolving Door Justice-

I would like to see violent sex offenders put in for Life or killed. They have an abnormal appetite that can't be cured.

Parole boards insist on putting the responsibility for safety of children on the parents when they release child rapists into their neighborhoods. Maybe we should randomly shoot one parole board member each time they let out a violent offender and he does it

Anonymous said...

Revolving Door Justice-

I would like to see violent sex offenders put in for Life or killed. They have an abnormal appetite that can't be cured.

Parole boards insist on putting the responsibility for safety of children on the parents when they release child rapists into their neighborhoods. Maybe we should randomly shoot one parole board member each time they let out a violent offender and he does it

Anonymous said...

Revolving Door Justice-

I would like to see violent sex offenders put in for Life or killed. They have an abnormal appetite that can't be cured.

Parole boards insist on putting the responsibility for safety of children on the parents when they release child rapists into their neighborhoods. Maybe we should randomly shoot one parole board member each time they let out a violent offender and he does it

Anonymous said...

Does the death sentence need to be "fair?" If every convicted rapist was executed, and that deterred some from raping, even if occasionally an innocent person was convicted, isn't that a different kind of fair?

Anonymous said...

Looking at the issue another way, we all die. The difference between the violent offender and the general population is "when". The Justice System should take the violent sex offender out of circulation promptly, recalled due to major defects.

I am amazed that horrific murderers can live on another 14 years with free room and board after the initial trial before they are executed. Whatever happened to the right to a speedy trial?

Scott said...

It seems to me most of the commenters are missing what you are saying. Here is my take. In Japan, when you are caught for a crime you get a judge and a prosecutor, no defense attorney. The prosecutor is expected to be your advocate and to be fair. Crime is not viewed morally, it is a behavior problem. Therefore every second you spend in prison is calculated to change your behavior.
The closest we have come to even thinking this way is the book/film A Clockwork Orange. The "behavior modifiers" in the book have an evil streak, and after he is released (and "cured") he is helpless against vengeance and sadism.
I recently read a book on New Zealand which explains that they care deeply about fairness and much less about freedom. They have many expressions to describe what they consider American perfidy, my favorite: A Yankee Start! (Meaning I was never given a chance)

Unknown said...

Scrap the entire idea of justice and treat crime as a public health issue.

As always, your writing is profound, but this positively and practically brilliant!

Sometimes we forget about the distribution of evil. It's true that there are some people who start as being just plain off-the-charts evil -- but most criminals learn to be evil because being evil is always tolerated and not confronted by the aggressively non-violent, politically-correct types who feel compelled to explain it rather than confront it ... find the root cause [early] and "cure" it.

What if we "inoculated" kids against [being susceptible to threats from] criminal/deep anti-social behavior, starting at very young age when kids could play with "it" and get comfortable defending themselves? We could "boost" the initial inoculation throughout life.

Strategy Consulting said...

Yes, it's really hard to define justice. But vengeance for me is not a great solution to seek for justice. Maybe it is but in a good way. You may have killed the person who caused something to your family, but you must always remember that you cannot get back the things that have been done. So, it's better for you to move on and let the court or creator be the one to judge.

Justthisguy said...

I think of that gal who was on Death Row in Texas, for an horrible murder, who had a genuine Christian conversion, told her lawyers to stop all appeals, and basically said that she had done wrong and it was her duty to take her medicine.

Confessing and being forgiven by God does not excuse one from suffering temporal punishment, such as getting hanged, for instance.

Meron said...

You know, I always thought that H Beam Piper had some of the best court scenes in SF. And some of the best grasp of historical patterns for his time period.

RXian said...

I had a conversation somewhat along these lines last night. A and I were talking about a high-profile murder case in NOLA. The New Orleans DA's office doesn't like to take capital cases because of the duration... Anyway, one point that was made, paraphrasing: "His execution isn't for the victim; it's for the rest of us. We can't wash off blood with blood, but his death will wipe his crime from our consciousness."

Ymar Sakar said...

There's a difference between those that prefer personal executions to the whim and chance of state executions, vs those who can't stomach personal or state executions. When there is a chance to kill more evil, when such a chance would be sacrificed in taking time to apply the pain to the human minion present right now, one must clearly see one's priorities. Focus on the suffering of the one, or eliminate the threat of future evil alliances through eliminating their sources of power and membership. However, if there is no credible resource waste in devoting time and effort to one person, because either the rest cannot be reached or they don't exist, that pragmatic decision never comes about. Time and effort can now be focused on crafting a personal solution for one person alone. Fortunately for one's conscience, we will never run out of the evil membership so long as humans are humans. There will always be someone that can be reached. When looked at it this way, I suppose it depends on which one a person wants more. Do they wish to cultivate a person experience rich in context for a single person, or do they wish to reach out and touch more than what they can see right now. Energy being what it is, one cannot do both at the same time with equal effectiveness. Even without logic, that can be made using purely intuition and emotion.

The power hierarchy when applied to power mad individuals can work in an interesting fashion. Often times people target those weaker than they are, yet have certain expectations that those with more power must treat the power mad with kid gloves. Whether this is adjusted behavior according to one's societal context or simply a way to get out of hell faster when committing crimes without conscience, it makes for an educational lesson when such behavior is exposed for the (self)deception it is. Both to society to inform those new to crime, and to inform all those related to the context of the crime too. If crushing those weaker than you are, only applies to evil, then by definition, this makes evil immune from the good. Which is not exactly a positive behavior modification program for humanity at large. Nor is it personally satisfactory.

Why is it that people believe that the evil is always stronger than their victims, yet whenever the good guys exist, they may be stronger, but not more ruthless than the evil. There is something not only untrue about it, but also unbalanced in terms of how society should work.

We have gone a long ways from the time when Gods and Kings held ultimate authority over life and death for commoners. But I do not believe Western society has found anything better to replace them as authority icons and sources.