I’m not good at remembering things. So keep that in mind.
But I was watching Bettany Hughes discuss Socrates on Genius of the Ancient World on Netflix. I didn’t go back and watch the episode because as I’ve said before, I don’t do research (because I’m lazy), but towards the end of the episode she mentioned that Socrates believed that the purpose of justice was to reform (as opposed to being a simple act of vengeance committed by the state).
After the episode ended, Netflix recommended that I watch The Confession Tapes which describes itself as a documentary series that explores false confessions committed within our criminal justice system. Of course, I didn’t watch it (because I’m lazy).
I remember that a couple of years ago, Senator Cory Booker mentioned that there were some hard choices that Americans have to face if they were to be serious about criminal justice reform. Americans seem to be sympathetic to the non-violent offender that just seemed to have a bad day (or week, or month, etc.) After all, good people sometimes fuck up. BUT, that might be easier said than enacted. Us liberal-minded folk might feel good about ourselves when we give an inmate the benefit of the doubt, but we’d probably feel different if we knew the prisoner’s exact story. I was quite surprised to hear a US Senator bring up this point.
For example, while in rehab, I hated most of my fellow patients. Never mind the fact that I was a fucking dirtball alcoholic sitting in the exact same rooms. I thought they were pieces of shit. If they ever found themselves back in jail, they probably deserved it.
This was only a few weeks ago.
YET, if I heard about their stories via the internet through some left-wing publication, I’d probably feel sympathy. I’d wish them the best. If they became incarcerated, my blood would have boiled.
Americans like the IDEA of criminal justice reform. But the truth is they can’t stomach it. Why? Because concepts of JUSTICE, and GOOD GUYS VS. BAD GUYS are cemented into our culture. Tales of the Wild West, Superman, Chuck Norris…they all solidify our deep-held beliefs that the good guys always win and the bad guys get PUNISHED.
There are few second chances in the United States.
Sure, some felons make a turnaround. We might be able to forgive white-collar crime, former (non-violent) drug dealers, and even those that facilitate dog fighting. Those are easy to forgive.
But can we forgive sex-offenders? Murderers (of the non-serial-killing type)? Child-beaters? Wife-beaters? Clown-beaters? Etc. etc. Even if they were fully ‘reformed’ and capable of full integration back into society?
I have my doubts.
Now some of you have an easy solution to these criminals: “Take em’ out back and shoot em’!” Fair enough. Of course, now the question is where do we draw the line? Are all of these crimes worth getting shot for? I mean, should our justice system kill a guy for just taking his dick out in public?
But, of course, once when that man is released back into society his chances of employment plummet and his likelihood of homelessness skyrocket. Thus costing tax-payers more money for having him be a non-contributing citizen.
So he might as well be shot!
I’ll concede that I might be missing the point (I’m lazy, how many times will I have to say this?). There are deep racial disparities firmly embedded into our criminal justice system that need to be rooted out. Incarcerations for drug offenses are outrageous. There are an abnormal amount of people found guilty of offenses they didn’t commit. THAT’S the point behind current criminal justice reform.
I get it.
MY POINT is that we, as Americans, are not for CRIMINAL reform…we are just looking for better methods of CRIMINALIZATION…hence the current push for criminal justice reform. This is why the US has the highest incarceration rates. Even if we fixed all of the problems I previously mentioned, I’d venture to guess that we’d still have a disproportionate amount of people behind bars. (But feel free to throw some data my way).
America’s need to “deliver justice to bad guys” is the disease out of which we have racial-inequality, recidivism, a stupid War on Drugs, and a host of other societal ills as symptoms. Our “moral code”, as established long ago by Christianity, feel-good liberalism, etc…has made us unable to view ourselves as having the capacity for both good and evil.
“We” are good. Everyone else is evil….and there’s no coming back. Once a criminal, ALWAYS a criminal. That’s the American way.
I’ve always felt (and I’m probably wrong) that people throughout history have lived vicariously through their rulers. Even authoritarian ones. That is, after all, how they got their power. We like strongmen. Especially Americans.
Michel Foucault mentioned somewhere in Discipline and Punish, that prior to the Enlightenment, gruesome punishments were a means of power restoration to the monarchy. When a crime was committed, it was committed against the state and therefore the crime in some way diminished the monarchy’s power. So when punishment was enacted, the monarchy became fully restored, and so on…
I’m not sure where I’m going with that…
BUT, Americans somewhat feel that way in current times. That when a crime is committed, it is being committed against the American ideal. And punishment is a means of restoring that ideal. The drive for justice is hardwired into what it means TO BE American. To relinquish the need to punish criminals would mean relinquishing the foundations of the United States of America itself.
There’s no room for forgiveness.
I was surprised to learn that Gavrilo Princip, the man who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand which subsequently led to World War I, wasn’t sentenced to death because he was too young (he was 19). He was also only given 20 years in prison (although he died while incarcerated). This was in 1914.
Why does this surprise me?
Imagine if this happened in the US. Today. Instead of being 19 years old, imagine if he was 16 (or some age where one can’t receive the death penalty). What do you think his sentence would be? Would there be any sympathy for him?
I might be going off the rails again, but…in imagining current US/European relations, I’m reminded of Greco/Roman relations of ancient times. The Ancient Greeks were the intellects. The Romans, while having many achievements themselves in engineering, military, etc.. couldn’t touch the Greeks in their intellectual prowess. There aren’t many notable Ancient Roman philosophers. The Greeks, like the Europeans of today, were around first and the Romans found a great deal of influence in their culture. The United States has its foundations in European culture. And like the Romans, although we have many achievements of our own, the United States just can’t touch the intellectual prowess of the Europeans.
Aside from a few exceptions, there just aren’t many notable American philosophers.
Where am I going with this?
I’m not sure, but basically…stop being stupid. And if we want to get serious about criminal justice reform, we have to look at reforming the criminal.