05 May 2015

On crime and punishment

This is probably why I find comment threads and many of the attitudes of others a little disturbing.

Not only do I not care very much about what random strangers think of me, I do not think I should care very much about them and what they want to do either. Since random strangers rarely think very much about us to begin with, I regard this benign neglect as a form of kindness where the alternative is busily interfering with one another in potentially harmful ways. It is, I think, a discordant attitude relative to many of my fellow citizens and human beings to be moderately tolerant and patient of their transgressions and opinions for which I disagree.

I do think it is necessary to bring attention to incidents of bigotry or intolerance where they occur. Our modern age of social media makes this extraordinarily easy to have previously isolated communities that could have stewed their views as they had for decades before instead be exposed to the light of day and a position of considerable push back from opposing views showing the potential error of their ways. But the manner of doing so matters a great deal to allowing people who commit these transgressive acts of speech or behavior to learn from these errors, if we think of them as errors. The goal here is to ultimately improve our social environment by having people accept that these displays of intolerance or bigotry or hatred and even violence are not useful to helping themselves prosper and promote whatever genuine values they adhere to in that modern world either. Not to submerge these behaviors and conceal them, but to be rehabilitated in their ways in some respect. Or at least to own up to the behavior in a credible way and move on.

Instead. Our interest, as it is with crime, is generally to punish those who inflame our delicate sensibilities. I have little interest in punishing people for crimes either, seeing our system of laws and jails and prisons conceptually as more suitably based around reducing or preventing future crimes than attaining some balance for those that are already committed. For a serious crime like murder or rape for example, this is to me, impossible as a task to try to use the legal system for explicitly, to balance these scales in a complete manner that the victims will feel made whole again in this way. Meanwhile, for the many, many less serious crimes, it is likely our balance is far too far weighted toward injustice in the penalties we assign already. Putting people in prison to punish them is therefore not a delicate action carefully considered. Neither it seems is a social media pile-on.

The affliction of suffering and pain onto other human beings is something that ought to be undertaken only carefully, without malicious intentions, and with the notion that the effect it will have may be ultimately salutary upon both ourselves as those who must impose it and upon the object of our affliction in the form of an offensive or malicious action undertaken by another human being that requires sanction and attention. Too much is undertaken with the notion that the effect it will have will make us feel better about ourselves and our own (as yet still favored) forms of intolerance and its expressions without thinking carefully about the damage and whether it will have any beneficial effect. Perhaps this is a natural instinct of human beings to meddle in this way, but it is a dangerous instinct if followed too closely in ultimately re-creating the thing we hate and fear.

I would instead suggest a focus like this might be more healthy.
- Attend to instances of suffering inflicted by others. Be aware these exist, even if not all claims will be legitimate or possible to resolve (they may be systemic or interconnected to other issues, or the demands of the suffering may be irrational and impossible to placate). Approach them seriously as matters of serious concern for our attention and interest.

- Seek a manner of redressing those grievances. There are many options besides assuming the worst possible motives of another person or issuing threats of harm to their person (true of both the offender or the offendee). The volume of response doesn't need to go to 11 all the time.

- Cultivate a degree of relative indifference where suffering is not present. Let people be on their way most of the time without accosting them with virulent and aggressive responses. Learn to let some things slide, and pick your battles.
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