Friday, July 3, 2009

Fear and Deterrence, and the Possibility of Redemption


The Small Picture

I was once at a picnic with otherwise right-thinking people when a fellow there started up with an anecdote about him having rung the local radio station to participate in an on-air discussion about that old chestnut of what's-to-be-done-with-wayward-teens. His gleeful contribution was to demand 'More Whipping!' Seriously. He was convinced that if only children were beaten more often and more harshly, society would be the better for it.

Happily he had never had children. The only person there who had, and whose children were famously trouble with a capital T, agreed. She recounted anecdotes of all the trouble she had made as a child, with the punch-line consisting each time of the hell they copped when their father caught them. Somehow this was evidence of the rightness of 'whipping', never mind her own kids. Sure enough, yours truly spoiled the social harmony by declaring that they had everything arse-about.

For the record, I've never had children. But that being said, my youngest brother was born in my last year of high school, and whilst ultimate responsibility didn't lay with me, I didn't miss much either. (And if I might just take a brief moment to brag - in an age before disposal diapers, my nappies were a triumph of dynamic tension and left everyone else's for dead). But never mind me as a crowing rooster cock-a-doodle-doo - in a discussion about discipline I followed my father's lead, which for the purpose of the argument I shall sum up as 'less is more'.

According to my father, we as children copped a whack on the bum precisely twice. In amongst us throwing anti-social, me-uber-alles tantrums we were told that this was unacceptable and that we might choose to stop it, or cop a smack on the bum. It was up to us. After we chose poorly twice, and copped two smacks, in the face of his unambiguous implacability, from then on we just believed him and chose the option that consisted of not getting whacked. I have no recollection of this you understand, merely his say-so. In fact, until he told us how he'd disciplined us, I'd have declared we'd never been whacked at all. And this is how it went for my youngest brother a decade and a half later. He was smacked precisely twice during that two year old period wherein one's sense of what-I-am expands to include the whole world. I don't know if this will surprise people, but I and my brothers were absurdly well behaved. For us, our greatest horror was that people might be disappointed in us.

This is merely me recounting the past you understand and doesn't necessarily represent me in the present. Meanwhile back at the picnic, I declared that 'whipping' will, in and of itself, in no way instil a sense of right and wrong, nor any other useful thing apart from fear. This fear will ensure nothing more than a variety of cunning that pivots on Not Getting Caught. Honestly how many times have we seen parents, of the variety given to copious physical punishment, variously promise a smack and not deliver it in the face of continued appalling behaviour (indeed with the likelihood of offering some reward-like sop to mollify the child), or otherwise delivering a whack from nowhere for behaviour that, never mind the child, had me stumped as to what they'd done wrong. What's a child to glean from this?

This was perfectly summed up for me when I once lived across the hall from a father who'd terrorise his daughters mercilessly - the screaming was nightmarish. He perfectly nailed his own absurdity when I heard him scream at his daughters, "Listen! Even when Dad is wrong, he's right!" God help those kids, there's only one lesson they'll learn from that, and that is: since there is no right and wrong, everything is arbitrary, with the say-so belonging to whoever has power, and thus the only thing that counts is not getting caught.*

The Big Picture

And from the micro to the macro, everything is like this. In this white man's world with its God who favours 'those who help themselves' (think about that), we extol no 'virtues' apart from those of individuals who excel at amassing things for themselves. Sure enough for yours truly, who puts everything on the selflessness/selfishness continuum, these are not virtues but sins. 'Sins' meanwhile, as defined by society, differ from its 'virtues' by the merest of technicalities. If I was to take $4 from a fellow I would be a criminal. But if I was a member of the Gillette/Schick cartel and charged $4.10 for a razor blade that cost 10c, I would be a feted captain of industry, an example to all.

Society deters people from committing its definitions of sins by way of fear - a fear, not of being seen as selfish (since this is a virtue), but rather of getting caught and thus being on the receiving end of further sins, which is to say, deprivation of liberty. This fear is a 'deterrent' - knowing how harshly we will be treated upon being caught we are thus deterred from committing the crime to begin with. Either that or we will do whatever it takes not to get caught.

You don't hear the word 'deterrence' much anymore - certainly not like you used to back in the seventies and eighties. Back then it was everywhere, what with being the reason why we needed to fork out a bazillion dollars for enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world ten times over. Now it's nowhere on account of it being at odds with Israel's desire to reduce Iran back to a parking lot. Frankly the complete absence of the word deterrence in a discussion of Iran's alleged pursuit of nukes is enough to tell any thinking person that the whole thing is bullshit.

Sure enough, deterrence is bullshit. For every person deterred from committing a crime, is another who is only deterred from being caught - to avoid this, he'll corrupt the judiciary, kill the witnesses, heap crime upon crime, whatever it takes. Which is to say, deterrence is as likely to increase crime as to reduce it. Not forgetting the beyond obvious fact that if deterrence worked, there'd be no one in jail.

I do hope no one starts up with that old chestnut about how if we didn't deter people then it'd be worse than it is now. Not unless they want to buy one of my famous tiger amulets, which will guarantee the wearer protection from tiger attacks. I've worn it for forty years and never been attacked once. Except for that time at Taronga Park zoo... but think how much worse it would have been if I hadn't been wearing it!

I don't know if they have tigers in Bhutan, but they certainly have criminals. Well, they do now anyway - ever since Rupert Murdoch's Sky began broadcasting into every home that is. Suddenly their meagre police force no longer has time to assist grannies cross the street because they're too busy chasing all those people who've taken to robbery and murder. Where's that fellow from the Picnic? He could advise the Bhutan government that what's needed here is more 'whipping'. Yeah well, fuck him and fuck his bullshit.

That aside, if anyone ever wanted proof of the rightness of the continuum, the unasked for social experiment taking place in Bhutan is it - a society that overnight replaced a consensus of selflessness with a shiny media model of selfishness and instantly found itself amongst all the ills of the West. Clearly it's high time we in the West wagged our finger and explained how their newly crime-ridden nation should now join the civilised world in instituting a fear-based model of deterrence, and thus may their society be as free of the depredations of criminals as we are. Or would the abysmal hypocrisy be too much? Ha ha ha ha, "Mr. Prime Minister, the delegation from the Wackenhut corporation is here to see you."

And that's how it goes - the Bhutanese are fuzzy-wuzzy jibber-jabberers and we teach them and not vice versa. The Portuguese on the other hand, whilst they are wogs, and do jibber-jabber, at least they're Christians who occasionally use soap, and thus might have something to say worth listening to. They've de-criminalised drugs it seems. Astoundingly the whole place hasn't turned into predicted den of iniquity. What's going on? It seems that the drug-users who were otherwise undeterred by the fear of punishment, actually benefit from calm and sensible discussions about the rightness of the whole caper and actually take up the government's offers of what I'm going to call redemption.

As if this wasn't completely fucking obvious. As if people like breaking into homes to steal laptops to pay for their addiction. Honestly. Portugal's experiment (in the bleeding obvious) is perfect proof that a fear based system of punishment pushes people further into crime. Now that it's been dispensed with, people finally have an opportunity to return to the embrace of society and are doing so wholeheartedly. Both crime and drug use in Portugal is declining.

The only problem with Portugal's experiment is the narrowness of the vision. Redemption is offered to users but not to sellers. Why is this is an either/or proposition? Rather than get bogged down in finicky arguments, why don't we just say that if fear didn't work for one crime, why do we imagine it will work for another? In the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary? Besides, what sort of person is picky in offering redemption? What is the 'line in the sand' that defines who or what deserves redemption, and who or what deserves fear and loathing, apart from a statement of arbitrary personal prejudice?

Little Picture Us Versus Big Picture Motherfuckers

Here we are, regular folks ever more appalled at monstrous sins of those who rule the world. Between a non-denominational satanist paedohile death cult, and a Jewish banking and warfare death cult, it's perfectly unsurprising that we dream of their righteous demise at the hands of a howling mob - string them up from lamp posts, tear them limb from limb, push stakes up their arse until the blood gurgles out their mouths. I get it. In fact I've brought up lamp posts on more that a few occasions myself.

But honestly, there's no future in it. Were this to happen, nothing would have been learnt (amongst the survivors - and there would be survivors, there always are) apart from that old chestnut 'Don't get caught' and the requisite next thought, 'If only we'd been more vicious'.

There's no either/or for redemption. What works for small scale misdemeanors is every bit as applicable for large scale crimes-against-humanity. Honestly if the Emperor Pu'yi (in Bertolucci's Last Emperor) who was inculcated his entire life can find happiness as a gardener, anyone can.

And yeah, I also get it that what I'm suggesting is an idealistic mad dream that's right up there with pig aviation. But I don't give a fuck. Not that I'm making any pretentious claims to whatever, but did the Jesus in the bible give a fuck? Did he temper his positions on account of fear, realpolitik necessities, or any other thing?

The most absurd thing is that a world without fear, a global societal model based not on proscription of innumerable sins but rather redemption and a single aim of selflessness, is possible. We now have mass communications perfectly capable of bringing about a paradigm shift in how humans regard, and subsequently treat, each other. And in Bhutan, all we'd have to do cut their satellite, ha ha.

I haven't a shred of doubt that this is technically do-able. If anyone doubts this, just consider what would result if all the time and energy currently devoted to turning us into self-obsessed gits striving to outdo our neighbour, was instead spent on the rightness and benefits of selflessness. It's inarguable that this could be done if we wished it.

Instead, the social darwinist motherfuckers who rule this world choose, amongst all the models Darwin offers us, to emulate predators. It should be obvious to anyone of the meanest understanding that they've chosen poorly. It may have made sense once, but now (in this age of dioxins and depleted uranium) it no longer does. We are now perfectly capable of infinitely greater things. That these people have so wildly excelled at mimicking such hateful creatures, does not speak of their greatness, but rather of their prosaic lack of imagination and ultimately their stupidity.

To hell with them and their world of fear, I reject all of it and refuse to participate in any aspect of it, regardless of how much I'd like to see them on the receiving end of their own bullshit. In spite of me mentioning it just now, truth is, hell is none of my business. And quite right too given that redemption is always possible. Just to make things crystal clear, this is not a discussion of probability, but of possibility. If a thing is right and if a thing is possible, then that's where I'm at. Fear, whether received, or inflicted, and with no acknowledgement of redemption, is bullshit. The death cult can bring on their armageddon, whatever they've got - the fear and loathing will all be theirs.


nobody said...

*As a post-script to this, finally I couldn't ignore the screaming anymore and knocked on their door. With lots of obvious hushing and 'there's somebody at the door,' the father finally answered.

I asked him, "Is everything all right? It's just that I heard so much screaming I was wondering if you weren't in amongst a home invasion or something."
He was a weird combination of being spooked and aggressive at the same time. "Mate, everything's fine. Nothing's going on at all."
"You sure? You're not just saying that because there's some guy behind the door with a machete or anything? I mean, if you want me to call the police you can just wink or something," with me theatrically winking at him.
"No mate, there's no need for any cops. Nothing's going on."
I nod, eyeballing him, "Oh, okay. I'll leave you to it."

Whether I had anything to do with it or not, they moved out a couple of weeks later. Somehow I doubt those girls got off lightly.

nobody said...

BTW - the haiku blog seems to be running nicely on its new basis. As far as I'm concerned the thrill is back.

slozo said...

On fear . . . it is a word which encompasses many different things in the English language, and I think one must be careful to seperate some of them.

Fear of authority, fear of reprisal, fear of intimidating forces - these are the unhealthy fears you mostly speak on, as the controlling factors in cowing the public into subservience. And these fears can and are used greatly in a negative fashion, to ensure compliance even in situations where we may in fact cop no slap on the wrist for non-compliance. The constant repetition of stories on catching people for tax evasion is a good example, as it prepares us to fear the tax man so that we voluntarily comply and pay our tithes.

But there are what I would call healthy fears as well. These are the fears that keep us alive sometimes, and because it is a fear, when in that situation where the fear is activated - the emotion coming from our brain, which activates the adrenaline in our bodies - it is a saving grace. It may make us react more quickly, highly attune our senses, be acutely aware of danger, etc.

And unless people want to become martyrs for a cause, often these two fears have an overlap. Sometimes, I think the greatest hero is not the guy who stands up to authority and gets killed; it might be the guy who looks ahead at dangerous political situations and prepares for his family appropriately so that they and others have safety and comfort during times of stress. Instead of one man dead and the family left adrift and grieving, you have a strong family unit that can actually help others in need. And, in their own ways, they can "fight the power" much better while alive, than dead.

And on childrearing, there is a middle ground, Nobody, in reference to physical contact. I have seen many kids with zero discipline, who operate fearlessly as children, and are complete spoiled shits. Here, I will switch from the word fear to respect - this respect for your parents, and their authority, is paramount, I believe, for healthy children. Kids must understand that we do, indeed, know better; that they must listen to what we tell them. Even respectful kids will push back at parents who cross the line of appropriate punishment to abuse . . . and as important a line as it is, we will all have various ideas on where exactly to draw it. Frankly, I find the best way to find out where one would like to draw that line is by looking at the results - find the most well-adjusted older teens that you can find - well behaved, respectful, etc - and determine what their upbringing was like.

In my observation, and this is of course speaking of a general majority - laissez-faire parenting produces lazy, disrespectful kids who don't think for themselves. The best products of childhood I find have been brought up in a somewhat strict but loving family environment, with extended family involved.

I think quite independently, and was brought up in a very "old country" style, pretty strict environment. But I got lots of love, and lots of instruction and tutoring on being independent, taking care of yourself, and thinking for yourself. I don't plan on being nearly as strict as my dad was, but the results are hard to argue with.

Von Curtis said...

I've got 2 children, young adults now - between the ages of 3 and 10 my son needed quite a few smacks from his father. I don't believe it did him any harm. He did realize the limits eventually . Our daughter didn't need any.
Psychological abuse , putting down and controlling of children is a lot more damaging I think.
Talking about fear I'm still working hard to convince my husband and son that the whole swine flu media bombardment is to spread fear. He is not sure to believe me when I say it is the same corporate lot bring us the swine flu and who did 911, terrorism, wars etc and control the media.
It is hard to convince even the people close to you that we are being manipulated, brain-washed, contolled and kept in fear.
They will keep on playing us off against each other if they can - they are VERY good at it.

nobody said...

Dear nobody

I just read this article and I want to say I got three paras in and was bored to tears. And why was it so long? Otherwise, who wants to read about you at some picnic, you and some neighbour, and you and your childhood? I certainly don't and I was there! Please write something more interesting.



nobody said...

Thanks nobody, I'm with you mate. That was crap wasn't it? I recall declaring way back when that the confessional thing made me cringe and here I am doing precisely that. Cringe! Otherwise thanks for stopping by and giving me that most brilliant and useful bit of criticism - you're tops.

nobody said...

No sir, YOU'RE tops.

nobody said...

What a sycophantic self-obsessed git you are nobody. Grow up.

nobody said...

Absolutely. Shan't bother you again.

Nobody's Fool...? said...

...and now for something completely different.

the Silverfish said...

Well like they say "your never alone with Schizophrenia"

Von Curtis said...

Well our stupid vile PM Rudd is off to see the pope this week. We have idiots and criminals in power in our countries - we are definitely living in a second Dark Age.

Penny said...

Many years ago when I started to listen to Meria Heller, she would always say "stay out of fear"

At first, I didn't get it.
Stay out of fear. Fear isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is good to have some fear. It may even save your life.
As time went on I got it, I realized that while fear can be beneficial too much of it can be detrimental. Living in fear is not very good. It is paralyzing.
It stops growth and it's stops change, it stops one from moving ahead or gaining wisdom. I guess that is why fear is used so liberally. It is a real drain, on everything. It is immobilizing.

"a fear based system of punishment pushes people further into crime"

This is a good point,and one I had thought of, ever. But, I think your right about that.

"but did the Jesus in the bible give a fuck? Did he temper his positions on account of fear, realpolitik necessities, or any other thing?"

but then Jesus was killed for his positions and challenges.

Which got me thinking, is the story of Jesus being murdered for challenging the status quo meant to cause fear?

Fear that paralyzes? Fear that turns us into followers rather then leaders???