I hear you; another bleeding-heart liberal trying to save vicious barbarians from the justice they deserve and everybody wants to see. Bleeding-heart is a term vicious barbarians apply to forward-looking, sympathetic people who would deprive them of their just desserts (sic). Call me progressive Ishmael.
It is common that societies large and small depend on punishment to maintain order. The threat of punishment is the main device. The actual punishment is evidence that the society stands behind the threat. The paddle and expulsion at school, the speeding ticket and the fine, the very presence of the police car or motorcycle, the policeman equipped with a truncheon, a gun and a radio to call for reinforcements, the hydrogen bomb are all threats of hurt which exist to keep order.
Tyrants typically attempt to ward off attacks on their authority by killing or imprisoning their real or perceived enemies.
The United States of America is founded on the idea that the government is more dangerous than its worst citizens and must be curtailed. So it is not permitted to assume that someone is going to break the law and restrain him in advance. This is very inconvenient for everyone except the transgressor but in other systems no one is safe from the whip of the powerful.
It boils down to the question: How can we maintain order without harsh and debilitating measures?
Citizens who misbehave need to be motivated to conform to reasonable standards so that the general populace can function in a safe environment. How do we go about this? Fines, imprisonment and death are the usual solutions. Fines and the threat of fines seem to work for the large majority. People who have a lot of money are not concerned about fines so that brings up an equality issue, but the concept is probably healthy.
Imprisonment is generally punitive and hurtful. If we can find the resources and heart to make prison a place of rehabilitation instead of one of revenge, we will benefit greatly as a society. The function of prison should not be one of getting even with oddballs but a way to get destructive people away from the main body of society and help them to become positive citizens.
Of course, none of the above bleeding-heart attitudes should apply to my neighbor whose dog barks and whines day and night and whose stereo blares out techno music at three in the morning. He should be tarred and feathered, boiled in oil and torn asunder by four horses tearing off in all directions at once.
Jack Wilson is a writer and artist in Tempe, AZ