Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby sje46 » Wed Sep 23, 2009 7:49 am UTC

When we say "criminals are people too", we're not saying that they have human DNA. We're saying that they are us, and we are them. The majority of criminals do what they did because they honestly thought it was the best thing to do. Or their society teaches them a false moral like "snitches get stitches" and so they aid and abet criminals. Or they do it to survive. Gang members may have to, hypotheticially, rob a convenience store in order to be accepted into the gang so that they can make money so they can feed their families and get protection from them. Or kids will get beat up if they wear dorky clothing, so they shoplift because they can't afford to buy it themselves. People may not feel accepted (and most people need to feel accepted to be mentally healthy) if they don't try hard drugs, which may erode their motivation, intelligence, or encourage them to steal. Some people naturally have anger problems that they just can't control. Some people have been indoctrinated with the idea that if someone insults your family, you should curb-stomp them. I'm saying that there is a great chance that any of you would have done the same thing if you were in the same circumstances.

All of these people have feelings. They cry and love and remininsce. Pedophiles--easily the most hated people in America--may have done something horrible by touching children, but these pedophiles may have done wonderful things too. They may have worked 80 hours a week in order to put their children through school. They may have cried when they had to put their dog down. They have known the pain of being rejected for the Spring Ball in seventh grade. They're people too. Even if they made a horrible decision once in their life, that decision does not define them. If you kill him, you will kill the evil pedophile part, sure, but you will kill the heart that leapt when Susie kissed him in fifth grade. So yeah, they are people, just like you.

I think it is our duty to them to help them find success and understand what is moral, and how to act on urges, and how to make money in a way that doesn't hurt people.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Nem » Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:28 am UTC

I'll kill a man to preserve social order, but I won't kill a man because he deserves it. If I kill someone because they deserve it then maybe a couple of years later I get to killing the guy next door because he leaves his TV on at night and I think he deserves it. Deserve is just a matter of opinion. It might make sense to kill a few arseholes but then which ones do we kill and which ones do we let live? Once you've accepted that someone just has to 'deserve' to die what are you going to use to draw the line anymore? A few hundred years ago we burned people alive because they deserved it, and doubtless the people who did that felt just as ardently that the people they were doing it to deserved it.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Gelsamel » Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:38 am UTC

Exactly, I have no problem with someone say... Murdering a corrupt King who, because of his status, would not be imprisoned or rehabilitated in order to save lives. But because he deserved it? No.

And Adalwolf goes so far as to say;
Sometimes criminals just deserve to die. Simply put. If the courts don't do it, then by the gods the friends and family of the victim(s) have every right in the world to do it.


What? Seriously? That attitude is one which only serves to make a rod for your own back.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby The TJ » Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:42 am UTC

Ok, why is it that this keeps coming back to "Criminals are people too".

Of COURSE they are! People who did something wrong, hence being called criminals. I'm not saying that I don't have sympathy for people raised in a bad situation, but that's not a free pass! "Hmm... Well, you stabbed a guy for insulting your friends... Oh wait, you're in a gang? You must not have been in control of your own actions! Not guillty!"

The law shouldn't be any different for ANYONE. If it's so bad, then we should change the situation, not the laws.

As for the defense for, say, murderers. Sure, they might've been swell people, pillars of the community. Maybe their death would be a terrible thing. But the same holds for their victim too. The life they destroyed might have been just as good or better, but that didn't stop the murder. Sometimes, rarely, the death penalty is the appropriate choice. ONLY, and I want to stress this, because you guys seem to think the people who want the death penalty want it for every crime, ONLY murderes should get the death penalty, and even that should be in the extreme cases. Crimes like theft, vandalism, and even rape, should at most have to serve time.

And Gelsamel, YOU seem to be under the impression that if someone's in favor of the death penalty, that must mean they'd want to tie up every single murderer on earth and gas em, hang em, or juice em completely ignoring the fact that they're killing too. That's far from the truth. From pretty much every culture, murder is a very bad thing. That's a basic. I agree to it, you certainly agree to it, society agrees to it. So if someone breaks that law, held by all cultures, they should face the consequences.

I'm not ignoring the fact that someone is doing the killing during the death sentence, but it's the punishment for the crime, not a new crime altogether. Not all killing is murder, some is just. I know that sounds pretentious, but that's how I see it. If there's a murderer bad enough to warrant the death penalty (And there have been, I assure you) then the one who administers the penalty should be exempt.

And I don't agree with Adolwolf, if the court doesn't snetence them to death, they shouldn't be killed. They might DESERVE it, but they shouldn't be killed.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Gelsamel » Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:56 am UTC

The TJ wrote:And Gelsamel, YOU seem to be under the impression that if someone's in favor of the death penalty, that must mean they'd want to tie up every single murderer on earth and gas em, hang em, or juice em completely ignoring the fact that they're killing too.


No, not really. As I said in a post above I'm fine with a killing people to prevent further harm. In the example I gave though it was in a situation where they couldn't be rehabilitated and they couldn't be kept imprisoned. If you can keep them imprisoned there is no reason to kill them. When you take the step from life-time imprisonment to death penalty for no reason (ie. not because life imprisonment is impossible) then you're falling back to "They deserve it" and not to "this will save people". And -that- is what I'm against.

I'm against this bullshit "They deserve it" shit because THAT is what causes most violent crime and wars and fucked up shit and it's rampant in our culture.

You do what is necessary not what is "deserved". You need to minimise the restriction of freedom and maximise the safety provided to the rest of society. Death Penalty offers exceedingly negligible extra safety over life in prison, and is mostly because people want to see the "bad guys" "rot in hell" and also negates the possibility of rehabilitation (and y'know is killing a human being for little to no safety and absolutely no rehab value).


Edit: What I mean is by saying you have to kill or harm or deny freedom to people because they "deserve it" and not because it will save people is bloodying your own hands and making a rod for your own back. Because by saying "They deserve it and that's why" you become a de facto murderer and you set up a system and culture that can murder you with that exact same 'excuse'. And that that excuse is the reason why most violent crime happens. And it's disgusting that people try to defend that attitude and perpetuate that culture.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Zamfir » Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:24 am UTC

sje46 wrote:The majority of criminals do what they did because they honestly thought it was the best thing to do. Or their society teaches them a false moral like "snitches get stitches" and so they aid and abet criminals. Or they do it to survive.

But there really are professional criminals who do not think they are doing "the right thing", and they commit a very large part of all crimes. I have a few serious criminals as (very :) )distant family members, and they like to tell tall stories about their deeds. You shouldn't believe the stories of course, but it tells a lot about the way they justify themselves.

If anything, it resembles the pride of a salesman who made a good deal: they were smarter and had more balls than others, and then you get the money. There is indeed also an aspect of loyalty that matters more than the law, in that perspective hitting snitches is indeed seen as a moral thing to do. But most of what they do is about making money, and there is no aspect of believing that criminality is a "right thing to do". They just think that others are pussies for not being criminals.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Gelsamel » Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:32 am UTC

But they still think they're justified. They still think that there is something about what they're doing that makes it more right but still kinda wrong. Like "Well yeah stealing is wrong... but-". Everyone always thinks they're justified, almost always at least. And "Best thing to do" =/= "Right thing to do", it just means the best course of action. Ie. that that action is justified.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Zamfir » Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:44 am UTC

Gelsamel wrote:But they still think they're justified. They still think that there is something about what they're doing that makes it more right but still kinda wrong. Like "Well yeah stealing is wrong... but-". Everyone always thinks they're justified, almost always at least. And "Best thing to do" =/= "Right thing to do", it just means the best course of action. Ie. that that action is justified.

But this ends up rather tautological, if any reason to do something counts as a legitimate justification. Of course people think there is a reason to do it, but that reason is "It makes me richer". There are more than enough people who do things they know hurt others, are against the law, things they would not accept if they were the victims, and they still do it, because it makes them better of.

They're just gambling that they won't get caught. Under such circumstances, I don't see the problem with saying they deserve punishment when they do get caught. If you want to keep ethics out of it, see it as the debt you are obliged to pay when you lose a bet.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Gelsamel » Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:00 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Gelsamel wrote:But they still think they're justified. They still think that there is something about what they're doing that makes it more right but still kinda wrong. Like "Well yeah stealing is wrong... but-". Everyone always thinks they're justified, almost always at least. And "Best thing to do" =/= "Right thing to do", it just means the best course of action. Ie. that that action is justified.

But this ends up rather tautological, if any reason to do something counts as a legitimate justification. Of course people think there is a reason to do it, but that reason is "It makes me richer". There are more than enough people who do things they know hurt others, are against the law, things they would not accept if they were the victims, and they still do it, because it makes them better of.

They're just gambling that they won't get caught. Under such circumstances, I don't see the problem with saying they deserve punishment when they do get caught. If you want to keep ethics out of it, see it as the debt you are obliged to pay when you lose a bet.


Right of course. But sje is just pointing out we're not talking about complete monsters here. Most criminals are normal people and that if we knew what they knew and grew up how they grew up and experienced what they experienced then we'd probably make similar decisions. They're still people who think that they're taking the best course of action. And sure, they should be "punished" if by "punished" you mean "restricting their freedom to protect others". But do they "deserve to die"? Or "deserve to rot in prison"? Or "deserve to be hurt"? They don't -deserve- any of those.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby The TJ » Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:15 am UTC

Gelsamel wrote:Right of course. But sje is just pointing out we're not talking about complete monsters here. Most criminals are normal people and that if we knew what they knew and grew up how they grew up and experienced what they experienced then we'd probably make similar decisions. They're still people who think that they're taking the best course of action. And sure, they should be "punished" if by "punished" you mean "restricting their freedom to protect others". But do they "deserve to die"? Or "deserve to rot in prison"? Or "deserve to be hurt"? They don't -deserve- any of those.


WHO is saying that? I think you're mistaking Adolwolf (At least I HOPE so). When he says some criminals should be killed I think he's only talking about murderers.

I don't think anyone here thinks a burglar should get the chair.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Gelsamel » Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:38 am UTC

... ... ... huh?

Is this supposed to be some non-sequitur joke?
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Zamfir » Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:40 am UTC

Gelsamel wrote:Right of course. But sje is just pointing out we're not talking about complete monsters here. Most criminals are normal people and that if we knew what they knew and grew up how they grew up and experienced what they experienced then we'd probably make similar decisions. They're still people who think that they're taking the best course of action. And sure, they should be "punished" if by "punished" you mean "restricting their freedom to protect others". But do they "deserve to die"? Or "deserve to rot in prison"? Or "deserve to be hurt"? They don't -deserve- any of those.

Sure, but there is a whole range of levels and types of punishment that would be acceptable within a view of deserved punishment.

If I am allowed an analogy, I'd say that trying to separate revenge entirely from punishment is like separating sexual desire from marriage. In the sense that marriage, and a lot of other norms surrounding sexuality, is a social construction that channels potentially destabilizing sexual desires into something safe for society, and even constructive. In a similar sense, a legal system with punishments channels a desire for revenge into something that stabilizes society.

You can try to remove those basic urges entirely from the legal system, make it ethically pure. But odds are that would make the system itself less effective, in the sense that people wouldn't feel the system as 'just' and worthy of support if it didn't offer some punishment. And it would leave people with a very strong desire for evenge anyway. Vendetta's are everywhere in societies with weak justice systems.

I would argue that a well-functioning justice system uses people's desire for revenge cosntructively, with a goal of keeping people safer. And I suspect it would be less effective at protecting people if ay notion of revenge were removed from it. It also means that revenge should not take over the system entirely and become the main determinant of the punishments involved. But some level of revnge in it is acceptable, and perhaps even beneficiary.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby The TJ » Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:47 am UTC

Gelsamel wrote:... ... ... huh?

Is this supposed to be some non-sequitur joke?


Oh, I was paying a bit more attention to sje's second paragraph, I thought that's what you were talking about.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Gelsamel » Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:52 am UTC

Certainly an interesting view. But does this make 'revenge' alright simply because it might help things? Even though this culture of "what they deserve" that we perpetuate on the "Good Guys Side" is synonymous with the culture that -causes- violent crimes and war and genocide and suffering and hate and segregation?

Why can't a system that is purely focused on protection and rehabilitation be as effective as one that satisfies bloodlust as a driver of protection? Those justice systems you talk about aren't very effective themselves... how much of those small amount of benefits that those failing systems bring stem from utilising this base desire for revenge?



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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Zamfir » Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:01 pm UTC

Gelsamel wrote:Those justice systems you talk about aren't very effective themselves...

Compared to what? Countries with weak justice systems have astonishing crime rates, where weak means mostly "low odds of being caught" and "high chance to bribe yourself free". Failed states without a functioning official justice system are completely off the scale when it comes to violence and rape, not to mention kidnappings, racketeering, and all other forms to push money out of people.
The well functioning justice systems everywhere are far from perfect, but it is easy to underestimate how much crime they do prevent.
Gelsamel wrote:Why can't a system that is purely focused on protection and rehabilitation be as effective as one that satisfies bloodlust as a driver of protection?

Well, on a practical level people want revenge, and they want it deeply. You will want it too, if something bad is done to you or people close to you. People can accept a systemized and limited form of revenge in the form of legal punishment, but no revenge at all will feel to victims as if they are themselves punished again. It appears to be the way people work, and going too much against that is going to encourage "alternative justice" vendetta systems that will be seen by many as legitimate.. One of the points of a legal system is that it allows an impersonal form of revenge,to prevent a cycle of revenge-on-revenge.

A related point is that people have to accept the justice system as something worth submitting to, and something worth assisting. It's for example not obvious why a victim of a crime or innocent bystanders should aid the system if the system is going to coddle the perpetrator. Even if coddling were mighty effective to prevent future crimes, it would be a bit harsh to expect victim to aid in the coddling.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Gelsamel » Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:27 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:Compared to what? Countries with weak justice systems have astonishing crime rates, where weak means mostly "low odds of being caught" and "high chance to bribe yourself free". Failed states without a functioning official justice system are completely off the scale when it comes to violence and rape, not to mention kidnappings, racketeering, and all other forms to push money out of people.
The well functioning justice systems everywhere are far from perfect, but it is easy to underestimate how much crime they do prevent.


And which of those weak systems aim purely for protection and rehabilitation instead of revenge?

Well, on a practical level people want revenge, and they want it deeply. You will want it too, if something bad is done to you or people close to you. People can accept a systemized and limited form of revenge in the form of legal punishment, but no revenge at all will feel to victims as if they are themselves punished again. It appears to be the way people work, and going too much against that is going to encourage "alternative justice" vendetta systems that will be seen by many as legitimate.. One of the points of a legal system is that it allows an impersonal form of revenge,to prevent a cycle of revenge-on-revenge.

A related point is that people have to accept the justice system as something worth submitting to, and something worth assisting. It's for example not obvious why a victim of a crime or innocent bystanders should aid the system if the system is going to coddle the perpetrator. Even if coddling were mighty effective to prevent future crimes, it would be a bit harsh to expect victim to aid in the coddling.


But does that make it okay? To project some false quality onto someone that somehow there is something about their action or themselves that means they "deserve" something and have "something coming for them" etc. The same false quality that is projected onto the victims of the victimisers while they're victimising? The same false quality that is projected on the subjects of overt racism/sexism/any-prejudice?

Does that make it okay if it means we reinforce that fucked up culture of 'us' vs. 'them'? That influences cops to beat up people in jail. That influences politicians to authorise torture?
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Zamfir » Wed Sep 23, 2009 1:15 pm UTC

Gelsamel wrote:But does that make it okay? To project some false quality onto someone that somehow there is something about their action or themselves that means they "deserve" something and have "something coming for them" etc. The same false quality that is projected onto the victims of the victimisers while they're victimising?

I might be misubderstanding here, but if people want protection and revenge, both to some extent as ends in themselves, why is the second desire a false, unethical desire? it's clearly a desire that can be pushed to harmful extremes, but why is a limited amount of revenge not acceptable, especially as long it is not harming the justice system in its protective role?

Of course, the desire for revenge can become harmful to the protective role, for example if no rehabilitationary practices are allowed at all. But even then the best system might accept some limited amount of revenge even at the cost of efficiency, if that is what people want to see in the justice system. I don't see why a desire for (some) revenge and punishment is in itself always a bad thing, especially if the punishing consequences were known to the perpetrator before he or she chose to commit the crime.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Angua » Wed Sep 23, 2009 3:12 pm UTC

'An eye for an eye makes the world go blind'

I think that this is the point that Gelsamel is trying to make, that if you do things because people deserve it, you end up with lots of people who have a misguided sense of why someone deserves something else. They justify their crimes because the other person 'deserved' it.

@Adawolf, the part where Gelsamel was talking about killing gays because they 'deserve' it was an example of people taking and twisting the mentality of killing murders or rapist because they 'deserve' it. If you kill people because they've done something wrong then people will take that and use it to justify killing others because they 'think' they did something wrong (like being gay).

Also, no one is saying things like gang members shouldn't be punished for killing other people, but they are saying that while they are in prison, they should be rehabilitated so that when they come out they don't go back to being in a gang. They are taught how to live their lives without being in a gang so that they don't end up making the same mistakes again. Gang members often go back into the gang when they get out, so by rehabilitating you cut down on recurring crimes. Hopefully you also end up with people who have been in gangs, got out, and can try and educate others before they too get stuck in gangs. Hopefully if this happens to enough people the end result is not enough people left in gangs for them to continue. This also applies to many other people who commit crimes after they've fallen into a situation where they see no other way out, rehabilitation is to try to give them another way out, and hopefully once they've been given this out, they'll take it and never look back.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Heisenberg » Wed Sep 23, 2009 3:35 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:why is a limited amount of revenge not acceptable, especially as long it is not harming the justice system in its protective role?

Because revenge is motivated by ignorance and hatred. "To understand all is to forgive all." While I do desire revenge on those who have wronged me, once I understand the poverty that motivated theft or the mental illness that resulted in murder, that desire for revenge leaves me. The need for protection does not.

In my mind, the criminal justice system should exist primarily for protection, and secondarily for rehabilitation.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Philwelch » Wed Sep 23, 2009 4:11 pm UTC

While it's nice that many of us are high-minded enough to not be interested in revenge, unfortunately we've been outvoted by the rest of the world. That means that the system by which we isolate criminals from society should at least appear to be vengeful enough that the mob is satisfied. Unsatisfied mobs tend to break down social order rather quickly.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby zug » Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:19 pm UTC

Gelsamel wrote:
zug wrote:If we were going to agree with your statement that the same desires motivate torture and imprisonment, degree matters. A lot. But I don't agree that they share a root cause. People are generally tortured when they're foreign and have information the torturers want. People are generally imprisoned for being convicted of a crime in their home country.


But they are. It's true that imprisonment usually happens to non-foreigners and torture happens mostly to foreigners... but that's the wrong way to look at it.

With torture it's: Us vs. Them, Good Guys vs Bad Guys, Us-ians vs Terrorists etc.

With imprisonment it's: Us. Vs Them, Good Guys vs. Bad Guys, Us Good Non-criminals vs Criminals.

The root cause is that we want to punish those who are not us "Good" people simply because they're "Bad" people. Simply because "They deserve it" not because it'll help them or us (although some level of punishment might help us it's not -because- of that that we do it).

Also I don't really mean torture as in specifically torturing for information but just torture in general, but sure.


Well at least we finally got to the heart of the argument.

In any case, I think you're slippery sloping. Eye for an eye systems are not advocating killing people because they committed adultery or because they are the wrong color.


No, not literally "Eye for an Eye".... but that's not how I use the phrase. I use it to mean that "Those Who Do Bad Things Should Have Bad Things Done To Them". People kill adulterers and black people because they think that they deserve it. They think "Black People are bad or evil or less than human and thus they deserve to die or be assaulted or raped" THAT is why most violent crime happens. That is why most morally repugnant violent things happen.


They advocate killing killers and raping rapists and shooting shooters. I still don't see what's wrong with this.


Really?... You don't see what's wrong with killing people? You don't see what's wrong with raping people? You don't see what's wrong with shooting people?

You might respond "Well, they aren't "people" - They're rapists killers and shooters". That's why you said rapists/killers/shooters, right? THAT is the exact sentiment I'm talking about. "They're not people, they're black" -- "They're not people they're women" -- "They're not people they're paedophiles" -- "They're not people they're rapists". No, wrong. They're people. And they don't "deserve" anything and you're just as bad as them for suggesting they somehow do deserve something.

Sorry, but I don't see why an organised "official" system to take away people's rights because they "deserve it" is somehow better than an individual taking away another persons freedom because they "deserve it".

I also think that if a large majority of humans are in agreement that we like an eye for an eye system, WHATEVER the motivation (whether it's irrational revenge or the best philosophical way to deter crime), that social contract theoretically overrides the beliefs of a vocal, highly-motivated minority.


Which is the culture I'm talking about. You're just describing the culture which poisons everything there.

You're really not making sense. I'm not sure why you're equating the oppression of a people with the ostracism of goddamn criminals. A black person or a woman who is persecuted for existing vs a criminal who's punished for taking abhorrent actions against another human being.

There's no comparison between what a person IS and what they DO. You're comparing monkeys and apes.

Gelsamel wrote:
Zamfir wrote:Compared to what? Countries with weak justice systems have astonishing crime rates, where weak means mostly "low odds of being caught" and "high chance to bribe yourself free". Failed states without a functioning official justice system are completely off the scale when it comes to violence and rape, not to mention kidnappings, racketeering, and all other forms to push money out of people.
The well functioning justice systems everywhere are far from perfect, but it is easy to underestimate how much crime they do prevent.


And which of those weak systems aim purely for protection and rehabilitation instead of revenge?

Well, on a practical level people want revenge, and they want it deeply. You will want it too, if something bad is done to you or people close to you. People can accept a systemized and limited form of revenge in the form of legal punishment, but no revenge at all will feel to victims as if they are themselves punished again. It appears to be the way people work, and going too much against that is going to encourage "alternative justice" vendetta systems that will be seen by many as legitimate.. One of the points of a legal system is that it allows an impersonal form of revenge,to prevent a cycle of revenge-on-revenge.

A related point is that people have to accept the justice system as something worth submitting to, and something worth assisting. It's for example not obvious why a victim of a crime or innocent bystanders should aid the system if the system is going to coddle the perpetrator. Even if coddling were mighty effective to prevent future crimes, it would be a bit harsh to expect victim to aid in the coddling.


But does that make it okay? To project some false quality onto someone that somehow there is something about their action or themselves that means they "deserve" something and have "something coming for them" etc. The same false quality that is projected onto the victims of the victimisers while they're victimising? The same false quality that is projected on the subjects of overt racism/sexism/any-prejudice?

Does that make it okay if it means we reinforce that fucked up culture of 'us' vs. 'them'? That influences cops to beat up people in jail. That influences politicians to authorise torture?

Us versus them is totally 100% fine if we're ostracizing based on an action that is a violation of another human's right to life. I am totally fine with treating murderers as subhuman. Lumping murderers in with oppressed minorities is frankly offensive as fuck.
Last edited by zug on Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:48 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Lord Aurora » Fri Sep 25, 2009 1:30 am UTC

I think OP and Gelsamel are operating on a definition of "deserve" that somehow indicates vengeance. My definition of "deserve" is far from vengeance. It is simply a give and take. If I work for five hours, I deserve 5 * $hourly_wage. If I don't show up to work for five days, without reason, I deserve to be fired. If I kill someone, I deserve to be put in a position where I no longer have the option of killing people. As a killer, yes, I deserve to be punished, because I did something bad. Other people have not done anything bad, and therefore do not deserve to be punished.

I completely disagree with Hippo that we are never entitled to anything other than basic rights and life. You are entitled to that which you make yourself entitled to (as in the case of wages, continuing at your job, AND killing someone). You EARN things. For the case of the right not be put in prison, you EARN a loss to that right (weird wording, I know) by doing something that sufficiently breaks the law.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Cup of Dirt » Fri Sep 25, 2009 1:31 am UTC

Here's an angle no one has mentioned. Let's say we adopt a philosophy that subjecting someone to punishment by the criminal justice system should only be done for pragmatic reasons, not because the person deserves it. Doesn't that allow us to punish people who have committed no crime as long as there is somehow a large enough benefit to society? In trials, the prosecution would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that imprisoning someone would do more good for society than the cost of incarceration and the defendant's own suffering.

Besides the fact that this would allow us to round up and execute all reality show producers, I do not think this is a good plan.

"No, no, but we only imprison people who deserve it."

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby The Great Hippo » Fri Sep 25, 2009 1:52 am UTC

zug wrote:Us versus them is totally 100% fine if we're ostracizing based on an action that is a violation of another human's right to life. I am totally fine with treating murderers as subhuman. Lumping murderers in with oppressed minorities is frankly offensive as fuck.
Do you think that treating murderers as subhuman is an effective means to prevent murders?
Lord Aurora wrote:I think OP and Gelsamel are operating on a definition of "deserve" that somehow indicates vengeance. My definition of "deserve" is far from vengeance. It is simply a give and take. If I work for five hours, I deserve 5 * $hourly_wage. If I don't show up to work for five days, without reason, I deserve to be fired. If I kill someone, I deserve to be put in a position where I no longer have the option of killing people. As a killer, yes, I deserve to be punished, because I did something bad. Other people have not done anything bad, and therefore do not deserve to be punished.
If you work for five hours, you deserve to be paid, because you have a contract with your employer and a basic fundamental right of humans is the expectation that other humans will fulfill contracts made with them. If you don't show up for work for five days, you don't deserve to be fired; that's up to your employer. He might actually be screwing himself over by firing you; maybe he doesn't really care. Maybe you not working for five days was the best thing, really, because he couldn't have afforded to pay you for your time this week.

'Deserve' functions on the notion of reciprocity; if you do X, you deserve Y. This is about vengeance, because vengeance is nothing but reciprocity applied negatively - you did bad thing X, so you deserve bad thing Y. Entitlement is positive reciprocity. You did good thing X, you deserve good thing Y. My contention is that this is an unrealistic and indulgent way to look at the universe.
Cup of Dirt wrote:Here's an angle no one has mentioned. Let's say we adopt a philosophy that subjecting someone to punishment by the criminal justice system should only be done for pragmatic reasons, not because the person deserves it. Doesn't that allow us to punish people who have committed no crime as long as there is somehow a large enough benefit to society? In trials, the prosecution would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that imprisoning someone would do more good for society than the cost of incarceration and the defendant's own suffering.

Besides the fact that this would allow us to round up and execute all reality show producers, I do not think this is a good plan.

"No, no, but we only imprison people who deserve it."

"What is this 'deserve' you speak of?"
If you could prove - qualitatively, without any question or skepticism - that killing this man today would save thirty tomorrow, I would consider it a morally just act. The only reason it's not morally just in the real world is because it's impossible to know, without doubt, that killing one man will save thirty. Not to mention that those thirty might have been about to keel over from heart attacks in five minutes while the one man would live a long life for seventy odd years.
Philwelch wrote:While it's nice that many of us are high-minded enough to not be interested in revenge, unfortunately we've been outvoted by the rest of the world. That means that the system by which we isolate criminals from society should at least appear to be vengeful enough that the mob is satisfied. Unsatisfied mobs tend to break down social order rather quickly.
Zamfir wrote:If I am allowed an analogy, I'd say that trying to separate revenge entirely from punishment is like separating sexual desire from marriage. In the sense that marriage, and a lot of other norms surrounding sexuality, is a social construction that channels potentially destabilizing sexual desires into something safe for society, and even constructive. In a similar sense, a legal system with punishments channels a desire for revenge into something that stabilizes society.
Though I see your point(s), is it not worth also pointing out that dehumanizing criminals - creating systems to punish criminals violently for the sake of channeling our instinctive desire for reciprocity, etc - only leads to a self-reinforcing cycle where our desire for reciprocity grows and grows? The more we allow criminals to be victimized - the more we describe criminals as 'deserving' of punishment - the easier punishing them becomes. I don't see this attitude (that we have to punish them, to satisfy our own bloodlusts) as being a very healthy route.

Also, for an aside, since it's come up: I consider the capital punishment system as it's perpetuated today to be barbaric as fuck. We kill criminals not because we have no alternatives, but because of political expediency. In a truly just system, criminals would only be slain when the remaining alternatives were between killing them or allowing them to abuse someone. Since our resources are limited, we couldn't lock up every criminal who would abuse other prisoners. At some point, we'd have to make a decision as to which we value more.

Also, to Adalwolf: I get the feeling you would prefer us to go back to lynch mobs. I don't think stepping the discourse back that far is very helpful.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Lord Aurora » Fri Sep 25, 2009 1:55 am UTC

Also, what about the case of someone who brutally rapes, murders, and dismembers a person who has had no contact with anyone in the outside world ever, and whose family has all died off? Let's say that the criminal can honestly be trusted never to do this again (for the sake of argument). Clearly, there is no danger to society by letting this person go free. Clearly, the victim has no family or friends who need closure. Clearly, the victim doesn't need closure.

So, do we let the criminal go free?

(Note: I did not intentionally strawman you, Hippo, I'm just pointing out what I believe are flaws in your logic. I understand that you have not argued the above situation, and I do not intend to paint you as such.)

EDIT: Ninja'd. I disagree that every case of "deserves" is about vengeance, and I don't think we're going to get anywhere butting heads about that.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby The Great Hippo » Fri Sep 25, 2009 2:10 am UTC

Lord Aurora wrote:Also, what about the case of someone who brutally rapes, murders, and dismembers a person who has had no contact with anyone in the outside world ever, and whose family has all died off? Let's say that the criminal can honestly be trusted never to do this again (for the sake of argument). Clearly, there is no danger to society by letting this person go free. Clearly, the victim has no family or friends who need closure. Clearly, the victim doesn't need closure.

So, do we let the criminal go free?

(Note: I did not intentionally strawman you, Hippo, I'm just pointing out what I believe are flaws in your logic. I understand that you have not argued the above situation, and I do not intend to paint you as such.)
Allowing this criminal to go free would encourage other criminals to commit similar crimes. But if we're operating on the notion that no one will ever know about this crime except, say, the criminal and me - and I can see into the future and know the criminal will never commit an abuse like this again - then yes. I wouldn't have a problem letting them go, scott-free. Why would you? What great and terrible evil is being served by refraining from punishing someone who will never commit this crime again, and whose crime will not inspire others to commit similar crimes?

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Philwelch » Fri Sep 25, 2009 2:23 am UTC

Cup of Dirt wrote:Here's an angle no one has mentioned. Let's say we adopt a philosophy that subjecting someone to punishment by the criminal justice system should only be done for pragmatic reasons, not because the person deserves it. Doesn't that allow us to punish people who have committed no crime as long as there is somehow a large enough benefit to society? In trials, the prosecution would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that imprisoning someone would do more good for society than the cost of incarceration and the defendant's own suffering.


As it happens, this kind of utilitarianism is self-defeating. You need a utilitarianism based upon second-order rules, rather than directly applying the first-order rule of "maximize the greatest good" to each instance.

Also, you're describing a utilitarian approach. While some people may indeed be net negative contributors to society, society is able to function despite the presence of these people. Violence and disrespect for property, on the other hand, threaten the existence of a society at all.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby zug » Fri Sep 25, 2009 3:26 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Lord Aurora wrote:Also, what about the case of someone who brutally rapes, murders, and dismembers a person who has had no contact with anyone in the outside world ever, and whose family has all died off? Let's say that the criminal can honestly be trusted never to do this again (for the sake of argument). Clearly, there is no danger to society by letting this person go free. Clearly, the victim has no family or friends who need closure. Clearly, the victim doesn't need closure.

So, do we let the criminal go free?

(Note: I did not intentionally strawman you, Hippo, I'm just pointing out what I believe are flaws in your logic. I understand that you have not argued the above situation, and I do not intend to paint you as such.)
Allowing this criminal to go free would encourage other criminals to commit similar crimes. But if we're operating on the notion that no one will ever know about this crime except, say, the criminal and me - and I can see into the future and know the criminal will never commit an abuse like this again - then yes. I wouldn't have a problem letting them go, scott-free. Why would you? What great and terrible evil is being served by refraining from punishing someone who will never commit this crime again, and whose crime will not inspire others to commit similar crimes?

I definitely disagree. And you're arguing a pretty pure case here. In this instance I do think it's down to morality. I don't believe that it's "Right" (insofar as I don't ascribe to any particular deity but I do still believe in a utilitarian morality) to let someone who murdered someone else go free. But since this isn't something either of us will be able to budge the other on, perhaps we should let the argument go.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby The Great Hippo » Fri Sep 25, 2009 3:37 am UTC

zug wrote:I definitely disagree. And you're arguing a pretty pure case here. In this instance I do think it's down to morality. I don't believe that it's "Right" (insofar as I don't ascribe to any particular deity but I do still believe in a utilitarian morality) to let someone who murdered someone else go free. But since this isn't something either of us will be able to budge the other on, perhaps we should let the argument go.
I agree that it's a pure case, and I think it cuts to the core of the disagreement. Why wouldn't you let the criminal go? Why is it important that the criminal be punished? To what end? To what purpose? If there's absolutely nothing to be gained from killing a man, why on earth would you still do it?

My notion here is that you must punish the criminal for your own sake; because you cannot stand to see crime go on without reprisal, even when the reprisal will accomplish nothing. What other reason could you have for wanting to kill someone for absolutely zero gain?

I think killing people is wrong. The only circumstances where I believe in killing someone is when I'm getting something in trade; that something has to be worth the victim's allotted time on earth. Validating my morality does not meet the price tag.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby zug » Fri Sep 25, 2009 3:43 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
zug wrote:I definitely disagree. And you're arguing a pretty pure case here. In this instance I do think it's down to morality. I don't believe that it's "Right" (insofar as I don't ascribe to any particular deity but I do still believe in a utilitarian morality) to let someone who murdered someone else go free. But since this isn't something either of us will be able to budge the other on, perhaps we should let the argument go.
I agree that it's a pure case, and I think it cuts to the core of the disagreement. Why wouldn't you let the criminal go? Why is it important that the criminal be punished? To what end? To what purpose? If there's absolutely nothing to be gained from killing a man, why on earth would you still do it?

My notion here is that you must punish the criminal for your own sake; because you cannot stand to see crime go on without reprisal, even when the reprisal will accomplish nothing. What other reason could you have for wanting to kill someone for absolutely zero gain?

I think killing people is wrong. The only circumstances where I believe in killing someone is when I'm getting something in trade; that something has to be worth the victim's allotted time on earth. Validating my morality does not meet the price tag.

It's reprisal to make up for the moral wrong of killing. I believe that killing is morally wrong. It seems like you think killing is morally neutral provided there are no present victims to suffer afterward, and no other potential killers who would gain from the knowledge of that killer's freedom.

Murder is morally wrong because it removes the future possibilities from a human being, because it quite possibly hurts, and because it eradicates any potential future contributions of the murdered person to the human race (in numbers or accomplishments of progeny).

Do you disagree with this?

Editing in here: it's important that we as humans take care of the punishment of a murderer because karma isn't a reality. So yes, it's necessary to violate my own moral construct that "killing is wrong" by killing killers. If it was possible to guarantee that the murderer would die reasonably soon by other means if humans didn't intercede, then it wouldn't be necessary. But it is, and I do believe we have a duty to uphold that morality.

I also believe that a murderer (we're talking cold blooded first-degree here) loses his own right to life when he takes the life of someone else.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby The Great Hippo » Fri Sep 25, 2009 4:08 am UTC

zug wrote:I also believe that a murderer (we're talking cold blooded first-degree here) loses his own right to life when he takes the life of someone else.
Does a rapist lose his own right to not be raped when he rapes someone else? That seems to be the logical path your system is taking. I mean, you're talking karmic justice here; eye-for-an-eye stuff. Should we rape rapists, then? Or is killing them sufficient?

Or is my right to not be raped somehow more secure than my right to not be killed? If so, why? Why would you think that my right not to be killed is something I can be deprived of, but my right not to be raped isn't?

Edit: I do beg your pardon for going straight to rape here--but I see this as pretty much the logical conclusion of any system where we can strip away your fundamental rights, rather than violating them for the sake of protecting someone else's (after all, your right to life is meaningless if you can't violate someone else's right to life to protect yourself from them). If you can take away someone's right to life, you can take away their right to not be raped. You can take away their right to anything.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby The TJ » Fri Sep 25, 2009 4:28 am UTC

I'm just typing in here to say to those of you who are saying forgive and forget.

I don't believe you.

Sure, it may be fine theologically and you may be able to do it with a lot of the small stuff. But when it comes down to it EVERYone wants some revenge on the big stuff. You may insist you still could let it go if it were you, but I still won't believe it.

Besides, that doesn't enter into what the criminal deserves. If someone comes into your house and murders everyone but you, and you forgive them, I'm pretty sure they'd still get into trouble.

If forgiving the murderer was all that was needed then suicide wouldn't be illegal.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby The Great Hippo » Fri Sep 25, 2009 4:38 am UTC

The TJ wrote:I'm just typing in here to say to those of you who are saying forgive and forget.

I don't believe you.
Irrelevant. No one is saying forgive and forget.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Zamfir » Fri Sep 25, 2009 5:57 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
The TJ wrote:I'm just typing in here to say to those of you who are saying forgive and forget.

I don't believe you.
Irrelevant. No one is saying forgive and forget.
Why is it irrelevant? It seems like the core issue left after we have abstracted all practical purposes away. People want revenge, and the law describes a situation in which society has a right to some a priori described amount of revenge. I would say this is somewhat analogous to demanding payment after you have sold a product: you have a right to it, and if you want to you can demand payment. That the payment also hurts the person who received the product should not be taken into account without also taking the original sale into account, and in the same way punishment is bound to the original crime.

As Philwelch notes above, utalitarianism works better at the rule-design level than at the point-in-time level. If you demand that the application of the rules satisfies some utalitarian calculus at every point in time, and if the negative effects of punishment counts in that calculus, it becomes too easy for a non-utalitarian criminal to knowingly set up a situation where the punishment exceeds any further benefit to society.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Cup of Dirt » Fri Sep 25, 2009 6:08 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Cup of Dirt wrote:Here's an angle no one has mentioned. Let's say we adopt a philosophy that subjecting someone to punishment by the criminal justice system should only be done for pragmatic reasons, not because the person deserves it. Doesn't that allow us to punish people who have committed no crime as long as there is somehow a large enough benefit to society? In trials, the prosecution would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that imprisoning someone would do more good for society than the cost of incarceration and the defendant's own suffering.

Besides the fact that this would allow us to round up and execute all reality show producers, I do not think this is a good plan.

"No, no, but we only imprison people who deserve it."

"What is this 'deserve' you speak of?"
If you could prove - qualitatively, without any question or skepticism - that killing this man today would save thirty tomorrow, I would consider it a morally just act. The only reason it's not morally just in the real world is because it's impossible to know, without doubt, that killing one man will save thirty. Not to mention that those thirty might have been about to keel over from heart attacks in five minutes while the one man would live a long life for seventy odd years.


So you would support causing an innocent person to be imprisoned or killed if that could be shown to be for the greater good. Okay, some people think that too. But I disagree. As things stand, if I don't commit a crime, I have a guarantee from society that my rights won't be taken away. Under your scheme, my rights could be taken away at any time if that will advance some other goal. The fact that the goal might be a good one isn't the point. I didn't do anything wrong.

You're decoupling punishment from guilt. That may get better treatment for criminals that way, but the flip side is that people no longer have to do something illegal or even morally wrong to qualify for punishment. I don't think that's a good way to go.

If you want to reform the criminal justice system, I think a better way to do it is to have the standpoint that some people do deserve to be deprived of their freedom. But no one deserves (for example) to be raped and have nowhere to go for protection; that's not part of the debt they have to pay to society. So let's make prisons more tolerable places to live, and let's emphasize rehabilitation where possible, because when criminals have repaid their debt to society and can be released, we don't want them to commit crimes again.

This standpoint is also a much more natural setting for calls to reform drug laws and three-strikes laws and things like that. People who commit three minor felonies don't deserve to go to jail for the rest of their lives. People who have a small amount of drugs on them don't deserve to go to jail for as long as a bank robber would -- that crime is not as bad. See how a philosophy that the punishment should fit the crime works the other way too?
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby The Great Hippo » Fri Sep 25, 2009 6:16 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:Why is it irrelevant? It seems like the core issue left after we have abstracted all practical purposes away. People want revenge, and the law describes a situation in which society has a right to some a priori described amount of revenge. I would say this is somewhat analogous to demanding payment after you have sold a product: you have a right to it, and if you want to you can demand payment. That the payment also hurts the person who received the product should not be taken into account without also taking the original sale into account, and in the same way punishment is bound to the original crime.
Selling a product to someone involves the creation of, at the very least, a verbal contract; I agree to give you X for Y. I don't see that contract existing between criminals and their victims; no one has agreed to any terms. You could make the claim that we've all agreed to a social contract wherein we agree to pay X whenever we do Y, but the fact is that I've never signed anything - I've never agreed to anything - neither have you (I assume!). More importantly, I would never voluntarily give up any of my fundamental rights (and such a contract would demand that I do under the right circumstances).

As for forgiving and forgetting - do you think that doing harm to criminals would allow their victims to forgive them? I see the notion of 'forgive' and 'forget' as irrelevant here; vengeance isn't about forgiveness.
Zamfir wrote:As Philwelch notes above, utalitarianism works better at the rule-design level than at the point-in-time level. If you demand that the application of the rules satisfies some utalitarian calculus at every point in time, and if the negative effects of punishment counts in that calculus, it becomes too easy for a non-utalitarian criminal to knowingly set up a situation where the punishment exceeds any further benefit to society.
How? Part of the calculation we make in punishing criminals is making it clear to other criminals that punishments exist; beyond the ability to see the future, I don't see how any criminal could jury-rig this system in their favor. No more than any other system, which, assuming an omnipotent criminal, already would be doomed to failure. I mean, if the guy can make it so punishing him is less cost-effective then letting him go, I'm pretty sure he can make it so we never find out about the crime in the first place.
Cup of Dirt wrote:So you would support causing an innocent person to be imprisoned or killed if that could be shown to be for the greater good. Okay, some people think that too. But I disagree. As things stand, if I don't commit a crime, I have a guarantee from society that my rights won't be taken away. Under your scheme, my rights could be taken away at any time if that will advance some other goal. The fact that the goal might be a good one isn't the point. I didn't do anything wrong.

You're decoupling punishment from guilt. That may get better treatment for criminals that way, but the flip side is that people no longer have to do something illegal or even morally wrong to qualify for punishment. I don't think that's a good way to go.
Keep in mind, my 'greater good' is the least amount of violation possible as far as human rights go. Nothing more, nothing less. So the only way that we have a situation where I'm killing people is a situation where killing people is the only way to prevent a greater violation of human rights (aka, I have to kill you to save two other people - which, again, would require a degree of pretercognition that's ridiculously impossible anyway).

Tangentially, if I know for a fact that killing you will save two lives (and I have the ability to foresee that this murder will have no other consequences) - I don't see how I can chose not to kill you. Refraining from killing you would be the equivalent of killing those other two people (choosing not to act is as much an action as choosing to act). But therein lies all sorts of ridiculousness, most of it relying upon the omniscience of the actor.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Philwelch » Fri Sep 25, 2009 7:00 am UTC

zug wrote:
The Great Hippo wrote:...if we're operating on the notion that no one will ever know about this crime except, say, the criminal and me - and I can see into the future and know the criminal will never commit an abuse like this again - then yes. I wouldn't have a problem letting them go, scott-free.

I definitely disagree. And you're arguing a pretty pure case here. In this instance I do think it's down to morality. I don't believe that it's "Right" (insofar as I don't ascribe to any particular deity but I do still believe in a utilitarian morality) to let someone who murdered someone else go free.


Utilitarianism would actually suggest the opposite--it would do no good to anyone to let this guy go free, but punishing this person causes this person, in particular, to suffer. The utilitarian solution is to let him go.

The TJ wrote:I'm just typing in here to say to those of you who are saying forgive and forget.

I don't believe you.

Sure, it may be fine theologically and you may be able to do it with a lot of the small stuff. But when it comes down to it EVERYone wants some revenge on the big stuff. You may insist you still could let it go if it were you, but I still won't believe it.


I have more faith in the variability of human personality than you do. I think some people are capable of forgiveness.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Zamfir » Fri Sep 25, 2009 7:55 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Zamfir wrote:As Philwelch notes above, utalitarianism works better at the rule-design level than at the point-in-time level. If you demand that the application of the rules satisfies some utalitarian calculus at every point in time, and if the negative effects of punishment counts in that calculus, it becomes too easy for a non-utalitarian criminal to knowingly set up a situation where the punishment exceeds any further benefit to society.
How? Part of the calculation we make in punishing criminals is making it clear to other criminals that punishments exist; beyond the ability to see the future, I don't see how any criminal could jury-rig this system in their favor. No more than any other system, which, assuming an omnipotent criminal, already would be doomed to failure. I mean, if the guy can make it so punishing him is less cost-effective then letting him go, I'm pretty sure he can make it so we never find out about the crime in the first place.

But if all punishments will serve as deterrent, why does it matter whether someone justifies them on grounds of practical reasons of deterrence, or justifies them in terms of fair revenge? If I understand you good enough, you separate those two justifications and consider one ethical or at least legitimate , and the other not. Such a separation is in my opinion purely semantic unless there are situations where they lead to different outcomes.

We've looked to the case of the criminal who can be exempted from punishment if that exemption can be kept secret. But I don't see why we should choose such an outcome when possible, if we can also punish the criminal and make that choice public as deterrent. The practical principle of deterrence and the alternative principle of fair revenge are still aligned.

To separate them we must for example assume that we cannot make the choice whether to punishment public, for physical reasons or because the publication itself would be harful in some way. But if such situations exist, we would have to act a priori as if will punish anyway. If we take the stance that the right thing to do is not to punish in such situations, we are inviting the creation of such situations.

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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby Greyarcher » Fri Sep 25, 2009 1:24 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Lord Aurora wrote:Also, what about the case of someone who brutally rapes, murders, and dismembers a person who has had no contact with anyone in the outside world ever, and whose family has all died off? Let's say that the criminal can honestly be trusted never to do this again (for the sake of argument). Clearly, there is no danger to society by letting this person go free. Clearly, the victim has no family or friends who need closure. Clearly, the victim doesn't need closure.

So, do we let the criminal go free?
Allowing this criminal to go free would encourage other criminals to commit similar crimes. But if we're operating on the notion that no one will ever know about this crime except, say, the criminal and me - and I can see into the future and know the criminal will never commit an abuse like this again - then yes. I wouldn't have a problem letting them go, scott-free. Why would you? What great and terrible evil is being served by refraining from punishing someone who will never commit this crime again, and whose crime will not inspire others to commit similar crimes?
I find this to be very interesting, because I've been on different sides of the fence when considering this question. I know I definitely would have let the criminal off once; I still feel an inclination to do so. But I change my mind if we add a bit of detail to the scenario.

Let us suppose that the criminal acted out of some dark and twisted hedonism. Just this once, he raped and extensively tortured (I mean extensively tortured) this hermit to death because he wanted to enjoy the novelty of these forbidden actions. He is not repentant about what he did--he is smug and self-satisfied. You alone know what he did and to you alone he will gloat and describe in excruciating detail what he did to his victim. But you (magically) know that he will never commit crimes in the future. The novelty of crime is gone; he'll still be someone incredibly callous in his selfishness, but he will be law-abiding.

Could I let that guy go free? Even if he would never commit another crime, and even if this hermit magically never had any family or contact with anyone...I wouldn't let him go. I, obviously, have never been tortured to death; but I've read about what can be done and what has been done, and I have a good imagination. I don't think I'm a very empathetic person, but if that guy started gloating to me and describing what he did to his victim...if I had the means I would probably kill him then and there. I have no confidence that this would be a moral act; and the design of the hypothetical scenario means I know that prevention, deterrence, and rehabilitation couldn't justify the act. But I would never accept letting that guy walk away free to enjoy his life when he doesn't have a shred of remorse or repentance about what he did.

This may be closely tied to a certain principle: a criminal shall not profit from their crime. I cannot help but wonder if this principle doesn't underlie some people's desire for punishment. Or perhaps that principle is actually the codified result of people's desire for punishment--it's hard to say precisely how the two things are connected, but I suspect they are.
So, for instance, a murderer or rapist accomplished what they desired by committing the murder/rape--they have "profited". That profit needs to be balanced by something else--namely, punishment.
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Re: Crime and Punishment: What Criminals Deserve

Postby The Great Hippo » Fri Sep 25, 2009 3:34 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:But if all punishments will serve as deterrent, why does it matter whether someone justifies them on grounds of practical reasons of deterrence, or justifies them in terms of fair revenge? If I understand you good enough, you separate those two justifications and consider one ethical or at least legitimate , and the other not. Such a separation is in my opinion purely semantic unless there are situations where they lead to different outcomes.
Again, I see the systems as being somewhat similar, but when you make the determination that criminals deserve to be punished, you also make the determination that they can be deprived of their rights - and when you have a subset of the population who are being deprived of rights, you will unnecessarily abuse them.

The goal is to violate as few human rights as possible; if we say that criminals deserve punishment, suddenly we're no longer concerned with minimizing our violations of human rights. Suddenly it doesn't matter, because the criminal deserves punishment, so we are free to punish them to our heart's content. And, surprise! - in this country, we do.

I see what you mean about these two systems being the same, but our attitude that criminals 'deserve' things colors every way we treat them. If they 'deserve' punishment, I am free to abuse them in any way I wish. If criminals do not deserve punishment - if we punish them only as a function of necessity - suddenly, we are performing something that is evil, but must be done. It shifts the focus of our punishment from "Ha ha, take THAT, scum" to "I'm sorry, but this is the only way to protect victims". I think that is an incredibly important shift in attitude. The current system, as it stands, is sadistic - and rewards sadism. Look at my country's prisoner abuses. Check out Abu Graihb. This is what happens when we think criminals deserve punishment.

We punish them excessively and with sadistic glee.
Zamfir wrote:We've looked to the case of the criminal who can be exempted from punishment if that exemption can be kept secret. But I don't see why we should choose such an outcome when possible, if we can also punish the criminal and make that choice public as deterrent. The practical principle of deterrence and the alternative principle of fair revenge are still aligned.
That's different, then; if we can somehow find a way to punish the criminal as a deterrent that will prevent other crimes, then we've figured out a utilitarian reason to punish the criminal. Two things, though - 1) We have to know that making the criminal's crime public and punishing them will create a greater good than letting the criminal go (who we know will commit no more crimes - also, again, this requires omniscience, which we don't have), 2) This opens my approach to a funny criticism, in that if this was an effective response, you could then argue that I should go out and punish random innocent people for various crimes in order to deter future crimes. But again, as this would require omniscience on the part of the punisher, I don't think it's an effective rebuttle. Either way, if I could know - factually, without a doubt - that punishing someone for a crime they didn't commit would save lives - I would consider it, depending on other mitigating circumstances.
Greyarcher wrote:Let us suppose that the criminal acted out of some dark and twisted hedonism. Just this once, he raped and extensively tortured (I mean extensively tortured) this hermit to death because he wanted to enjoy the novelty of these forbidden actions. He is not repentant about what he did--he is smug and self-satisfied. You alone know what he did and to you alone he will gloat and describe in excruciating detail what he did to his victim. But you (magically) know that he will never commit crimes in the future. The novelty of crime is gone; he'll still be someone incredibly callous in his selfishness, but he will be law-abiding.

Could I let that guy go free? Even if he would never commit another crime, and even if this hermit magically never had any family or contact with anyone...I wouldn't let him go. I, obviously, have never been tortured to death; but I've read about what can be done and what has been done, and I have a good imagination. I don't think I'm a very empathetic person, but if that guy started gloating to me and describing what he did to his victim...if I had the means I would probably kill him then and there. I have no confidence that this would be a moral act; and the design of the hypothetical scenario means I know that prevention, deterrence, and rehabilitation couldn't justify the act. But I would never accept letting that guy walk away free to enjoy his life when he doesn't have a shred of remorse or repentance about what he did.
So your ability to let someone go free is based on whether or not they have experienced the appropriate level of sorrow for their criminal acts? This, to me, seems arbitrary; I honestly don't care whether or not you feel bad for what you did. All that concerns me is if you'll do it again, and if punishing you will prevent crimes in the future.

Rereading that, I'm coming off as a little aggressive there. I don't mean to be; my point is just that things like personal guilt are, to me, irrelevant except concerning what role they play in criminal acts in the future. If your guilt stops you from committing future crimes, excellent. If you have no guilt, but you will still not commit future crimes; also excellent. If you are cheerfully glib about your murder, but this will in no way cause an increase in crimes in the future - I don't care. Frankly, how you see your criminal acts is wholly irrelevant to me. I am only interested in what you are going to do.


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