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Crime and punishment

be careful what you wish for

By Peter RosePublished 11 months ago 10 min read

Crime and punishment

Over the last few thousand years human societies formed and flourished. In order that any society can manage itself, it has rules. Even the non-human groups, such as Apes, Lions, wolves etc have rules of behaviour within that group. So, the existence of rules appears to be natural, necessary for the survival of the group.

As human social groupings became larger and more complex, the rules also became more stringently applied. Punishment for infringement of the rules, gradually developed. In the early history it seems the rules were rather arbitrary, the strongest leaders imposed their opinions and wishes on everyone else. The emergence of organised religions caused the codification of rules into laws with defined punishments for not adhering to those rules. With the invention of writing, these rules and laws could be spread round entire nations and not confined to small local groupings. So where are we now? The law courts and the lawyers who become judges, are concerned with the law and the interpretation of the written down laws. Before examining where the concepts of “no platforming” and “cancelling” stand in relationship with laws and punishment; we need some definitions.

Rules— defined ways of conduct, stipulated methods of procedure,

Laws—rules that are enforceable.

Punishment—a penalty imposed by force, on a person judged to have broken a law.

Codification—to organise into a recoded and recognised system.

Society—the total of people in organised groups. A system of human organisation generating recognisable patterns of behaviour and recognisable institutions with rules

No Platforming—stopping the spread of opinions and views that a particular group do not agree with.--- Note this group is self-selecting, unofficial and not applying laws. It is a group seeking to coerce without the legal authority to do so.

Cancelling— The preventing of a person from lawfully earning their living. The prevention, by a self-appointed group, of a lawful activity by an individual. Note again this is coercion, not the application of laws.

Evidence—The data on which to base establishment of truth or falsehood, the means by which proof or disbelief can be established.

Proof—evidence that helps establish truth, a sequence of steps that establish truth.

Courts of law—This varies from nation to nation but for the purpose of this essay it can be defined as The body which establishes the legality or illegality of any action. The body which decides if a law has been broken, and if so, who is responsible and what punishment is to be applied.

Coercion—the act of forcing or compelling without regard to individuals wishes or desires.

Anarchy—general lawlessness and disorder. The absence of government. chaos

Justice—the administration of law according to accepted principles --the quality of being just—a fair and impartial judgement—well-founded correct or true.

Natural justice—based on human reasoning.

Despite a very small minority, who claim to be anarchists, just about everybody, in nearly all nations, accept the need for rules, laws, and the necessity of law enforcement, even those claiming to be anarchists generally seem to want a different form of government (one they control) rather than no government. If there are no rules or laws, then the strongest take what they like and the weak suffer. Murder and rape become the norm rather that the abhorrence they are to most of us today. Commerce fails to exist since everything just gets taken by whoever is strongest, at that moment in time, and so society as we understand it, falls apart. Even “career criminals” accept that what they do is not acceptable to the majority. The phrase, if you cannot do the time, don’t do the crime; just about describes how those who consistently break property laws, view their own activities. In our, so called, modern times of enlightenment, a very large proportion of crimes are committed by people who are not making a career out of law breaking, so many are desperate due to drug or alcohol addiction, or through desperate poverty and or emotional and mental disturbance.

Consideration of motives for criminal activity leads to consideration of punishment. Those who break the law because of poverty, invoke more sympathy, from the general population of any society, than those who do the same activities due to greed, avarice, and an unwillingness to comply to the norms of that society. This sympathy would indicate a different level of punishment but written down laws are interpreted by law courts, in ways that are dictated by the wording of a law, rather than any sympathy aroused by the motive. This is where laws and justice start to separate. Punishment is supposed to have two main purposes, making the criminal less likely to commit the same action again, and as a deterrent to others who may be considering committing similar criminal acts. There is an added purpose when punishment is jail or death. This added purpose is keeping the majority of the society safe from the activities of the law breaker.

A law court, at least in theory, studies evidence before making a judgement on truth. This arrival at truth, indicates whether a law has been broken, and who broke it. It also decides on the punishment. A couple of considerations about evidence that needs thinking about; evidence that someone could have committed a crime is not evidence they did do it; evidence that someone wanted to commit a crime is not evidence that that did do it. Theoretically evidence is clear, concise and beyond dispute. When judgement is based on such evidence; the law court reaches an undisputed finding. Unfortunately, theory and practice are very different things, opinion gets mixed with fact and laws can be interpreted in different ways by differing thought processes. Intention, motive, and opportunity act as “circumstantial” evidence and if the law enforcement agencies believe, due to their own experiences of the alleged law breaker, that the person is guilty, even without direct actual physical evidence; they will attempt to get a conviction. The alleged perpetrator, and those seeking acquittal, will use different thought process and interpretations, to achieve acquittal. It all becomes a matter of judgment, rather than fact. This drives justice and the law even further apart. What can be done about this?

Outside of the law courts; our modern society is becoming a swamp of confusion and contradictions. The sheer numbers involved in any social group, have made social cohesion difficult. The concept of everyone accepting, even when not agreeing with, the views of the majority are rapidly disappearing. Punishment without support of any law, is starting to emerge. No platforming and the cancel culture are creating a very dangerous set of precedents. The concept that one sub section of society can punish individuals or other parts of that society, simply because they hold different views, even when these views are not only within the law but within the acceptance of the majority, creates a situation that allows any group to punish any other group, for not believing as they do. A very dangerous path to be following. Those who advocate such processes as “cancelling” to prevent a person carrying out lawful activities, are in danger, because setting such a precedent, allows other sub sections of society, to “punish” them, simply because the second sub section does not agree with the cancelling. Those advocating “cancelling” can have no just cause for complaint if they are debarred from carrying out lawful activities. Natural justice will prevail. Claiming some moral or higher righteousness, saying they are justified because their beliefs are right and others wrong is not only arrogant and ego driven, but it is also immoral in itself. The cohesion of society is dependent on the adherence to an accepted set of rules and laws. If one subgroup claims the right to not accept and adhere to the set of rules, then any and every subgroup will and can make the same claim. No more society. No rule of law. It does not matter if the first subgroup considers itself superior, due to education or economics or any other “reason.” What they are demanding is “Fascism,” where they control everybody else, simply because they consider themselves to be superior.

Regarding the use of punishment as a deterrent to further criminal activity; 2 different views have emerged due to the amount of re-offending. One view is that the punishments are not harsh enough to act as deterrent and the other view is that since punishment does not work, stop punishing.

Both views, and many variations between extremes, have followers who fervently believe they are right. Criminals are people and people do not come in uniform simple collectives. Every person is different not only in physical appearance but in mental, emotional, and psychological attitudes, each is a mixture of conditioning, education and inbuilt natural “tendency.” This leads to the understanding that what will be a deterrent to one, will have no deterring effect on another. Given the huge numbers it is not practical to have a set of defined deterrents to each separate offender. Thus, we come back to punishment that protects the public from criminal activities. At its simplest this is either death or very long-term imprisonment. Here the practicalities have to be accepted, long term imprisonment is expensive, if the criminal activity is wholly, or partly, due to the mental and emotional make-up of the offender, then all sorts of conditions and safeguards have to be in place. A moral question arises, is the criminal suffering from an “illness” or acting deliberately for their own self-interest and gratification. Since the acts (the crime), can be the same in both of these situations, should the punishment also be the same, regardless of any “illness” in the perpetrator?

It has to also be noted that some ”crimes” are motivated by political and religious belief. The perpetrator may have genuine fervent belief that any action they take is directed towards achievement of a worthwhile objective. Other perpetrators may be manipulated by others who have the same personal justification for their actions. People who kill, destroy, rape etc in the name of furthering a “cause” are not deterred by punishment, they believe they have a right to kill, destroy etc due to the righteousness of their objective. So, they consider any punishment they receive to be wrong and unjustified. How to protect the majority from the murderous actions of such people? They are very unlikely to stop their activities because of any punishment or reprimands from the majority. The only simple solution is death.

Protest groups often break the law but consider themselves justified in doing so because of the “rightness” of their belief. Could such belief exempt them from the punishment? Only those who agree with the aims of the protest group, will say yes but if every person is allowed to break laws because they have a belief not shared by the majority, we will have anarchy and chaos, society will break down. Thus, the law breakers have to be punished and the majority protected from the actions of the protest groups. In democratic nations the protestors have a right to peacefully and lawfully persuade the majority to their view and use the secret ballot box to obtain agreement to change the rules and laws. They do not have the right to coerce others to accept their opinions.

Historically there used to be a punishment by exile or banishment. These are morally appealing since the offender is not physically damaged but in our modern world the concept that placing a person a thousand miles away and expecting them to stay there with no communication to others, is not practical. The future of society depends on the future of crime and punishment. The action of self-selecting groups attempting to coerce others to a way of life or belief, will destroy social cohesion, because each group may consider themselves justified in their acts of coercion. If they are allowed to use coercion, then groups opposing them will have a precedent that allows them to also use coercion. Escalation of these actions will only end with a fascist form of governance. Democracy can only survive if there is acceptance of rules and laws.


About the Creator

Peter Rose

Collections of "my" vocal essays with additions, are available as printed books ASIN 197680615 and 1980878536 also some fictional works and some e books available at Amazon;-


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