When Compassion is Cruel

Justice demands that killers serve out their full sentences

People don't always get what they deserve in this world, so it is gratifying to see when someone does. It happened Wednesday when a California parole board insisted that Susan Atkins, a 61-year-old amputee with incurable brain cancer, live her few remaining months in prison rather than the embrace of her loved ones.

This may sound like pointless excess inflicted on someone whose crime, committed 40 years ago, is ancient history. But even to mention Atkins without first mentioning her victims is an affront. In 1969, she repeatedly thrust a knife into an innocent woman who was eight and a half months pregnant, killing her and her unborn child.

It's a crime that might be forgotten except that Atkins was a member of Charles Manson's murderous cult. Her victim, actress Sharon Tate, stabbed 16 times, was one of seven people slaughtered in Los Angeles in a two-night spree that Manson, insanely, thought would ignite a massive race war.

Atkins and her co-defendants were convicted and sentenced to die, but her sentence was reduced to life in prison when the state supreme court abolished capital punishment in 1972. Her illness served as grounds to ask the parole board for "compassionate release" so she could peacefully expire outside of prison.

Even her prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, endorsed the idea. "She's already paid substantially for her crime, close to 40 years behind bars," he told The Los Angeles Times. "She has terminal cancer. The mercy she was asking for is so minuscule."

But the parole board unanimously refused. No doubt the board members recalled that in a 1993 parole hearing, Atkins acknowledged that when she had her own opportunity to grant clemency, she chose not to. Tate begged Atkins to spare her baby, to no avail.

"Compassionate release" already has a bad name in this country because it was the basis for Scotland's decision to free the only person convicted in the 1988 airline bombing over Lockerbie, which killed 270 people. Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was serving a life sentence but, afflicted with terminal prostate cancer, was sent home to Libya to live out his remaining time on Earth.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill defended the decision by saying, "Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion available." He noted that the killer "now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die."

If we are going to rely on the Almighty in these matters, though, I would prefer that pleas for clemency from convicted killers also be addressed to Him. The truth is we are all going to die, and if we prefer not to do it in prison, we have the option of not committing crimes whose punishment might get in the way of our last wishes.

Like Atkins, Megrahi had already been spared execution, which amounts to gratuitous cruelty. Many of us who oppose the death penalty nonetheless think that when someone gets a life sentence, we should not have to parse the meaning of "life." It ought to mean till you're dead, which neither Atkins nor Megrahi is.

It's some consolation that Megrahi is something of an exception, since infamous killers don't usually get the chance to walk free. California law excludes "compassionate release" for anyone sentenced to life without parole. But mere life sentences often qualify for early release.

One was granted to Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a member of the Manson cult who was not involved in the Los Angeles murders but who in 1975 walked up to President Gerald Ford in Sacramento and shoved a loaded pistol in his face. She was convicted of attempted assassination and went to prison. But last month, still quite alive at 60, she was freed to go her merry way.

Maybe Fromme is now harmless, and maybe there is money to be saved by letting her or Atkins out of their taxpayer-financed housing. But few government funds were ever better spent. And it's hard to see why people who have committed violent crimes deserve any consideration beyond the fair trial and sentencing they have already gotten. Compassionate release is compassionate only to criminals, not their victims.

All this brings to mind the exchange in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, when one character asks another to define the opposite of charity. The answer? "Justice."

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  • @||

    the exchange in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, when one character asks another to define the opposite of charity. The answer? "Justice."

    Before all the Ayn Rand slurs begin, she wasn't opposed to private charity, or course. Her statement in Atlas is ruthlessly precise. Charity is only a "good" when it serves a higher value.

  • ||

    im sorry but life in prison is fucking retarded, kill the bitch, kill that lockerbie piece of shit as well. Fuckin pussy liberal americans

  • Suki||

    If her benefactors could have cut an oil deal she would be out with a parade.

  • Bob||

    Let's get a good ol' Reason sissy slap-fight going. I'll start with this:

    A justice system's ultimate purpose is to protect the general population from the smaller criminal population; it isn't meant to satisfy people's desire for vengeance or schadenfreude. I don't know about this woman's general level of dangerousness, but I am of the opinion that if she won't -- or can't -- harm anyone else then there's no point in keeping her in prison. Plus, she's going to die in a few months anyhow, so I think, after forty years in the hoosegow, the "deterrent" of seeing what happens to criminals has been satisfied. I doubt anyone would think, "Hey! She got out after only forty years! Murder is surely the path that I should take given the lenience granted murderers!"

  • squarooticus||

    Bob:

    A justice system's ultimate purpose is to protect the general population from the smaller criminal population; it isn't meant to satisfy people's desire for vengeance or schadenfreude.


    QFT.

    I have come to the conclusion over the last couple of years that prisoners should be given the choice of exile to (say) a medium-sized island somewhere in the Pacific, with no provisions or machinery available. It gets the criminals out of our hair, satisfying the main purpose of criminal punishment, and forces them to build a society if they wish to survive for any length of time.

  • Kolohe||

    Before all the Ayn Rand slurs begin, she wasn't opposed to private charity, or course

    I'm no Rand scholar, but she seemed not to be too keen on it, either. (Because of my reading that her view was that it seldoms serves a 'higher value' - however you wish to define it)

    I wouuld bet she probably had/would have had the same opinion on Mother Theresea that Christopher Hitchens does

    But would welcome a rebuttal argument.

  • Anonymous||

    squarooticus,

    That's how Australia started.

    Need I say more?

  • squarooticus||

    That's how Australia started.

    Need I say more?


    Sure, they're all drunks... but they're not *that* bad! :-)

  • The Angry Optimist||

    A justice system's ultimate purpose is to protect the general population from the smaller criminal population; it isn't meant to satisfy people's desire for vengeance or schadenfreude.



    If that is the case, then on what basis would you oppose "cruel and unusual punishment"? After all, so far, you have only set "deterrence" as the ultimate goal, so anything within the range of possible sentences that would deter (i.e. cutting off hands, stoning), should be permissible, yes?

    Perhaps you think there should be some kind of floor on cruel punishments, but even saying that means that you accept the premise that there should be some kind of "justice" in the system.

  • ||

    "A justice system's ultimate purpose is to protect the general population from the smaller criminal population; it isn't meant to satisfy people's desire for vengeance or schadenfreude."

    There is more to it than that. It is to give people a sense of justice as well. If it were just about deterence and protecting the public, someone like Bernie Madoff wouldn't get any jail time. What threat is Madoff to the public now? It is not like anyone would ever invest money with him again. Why not just take back all the money he stole? That sollution doesn't work and Madoff needs to go to the bar hotel because the justice system is about more than protection and deterence. It is about justice. It is not only about justice. And we don't act completely for revenge. But punishment and justice are a part of it.

  • ||

    Seems pretty reasonable to me dude!

    RT
    www.privacy-web.pl.tc

  • ||

    Megrahi had already been spared execution, which amounts to gratuitous cruelty.

    Fuck you with a chainsaw, Chapman! Allowing a mass murderer to live is "gratuitous cruelty" to the families of their innocent victims. Their right to live is forfeit the second they steal the life of another. Death is neither cruel nor unusual punishment for murderers.

  • ||

    There is the unfortunate truth that the Lockerbie bomber had an appeal which would have quite possibly nullified his sentence, so rather than deal with an embarrassment the Scottish and British governments used the fortunate incidence of cancer towards what even Ayn Rand might declare a greater good: oil. The North Sea is drying up, people. Russia doesn't make good deals. Libya might be cheap now. And everything's a gamble, but the future is bleak without some oil.

  • ||

    She was convicted of attempted assassination and went to prison. But last month, still quite alive at 60, she was freed to go her merry way.

    Maybe Fromme is now harmless, and maybe there is money to be saved by letting her or Atkins out of their taxpayer-financed housing. But few government funds were ever better spent.



    screw atkins, let her rot.

    but fromme was convicted of "attempted assasination". attempted crimes and are about twice as damaging to other persons rights as crimes of "conspiracy". i have trouble justifying prison for acts involving no harm, or even worse for the "crime" of thinking about a crime. Ahmed Omar Abu Ali got life for planning to kill bush, i just don't see the justice in that. i think at least we should take Squarooticus' idea and exile people in those circumstances...

  • The Angry Optimist||

    ransom - I cannot think of an effective way to take actual, harmful attempts (ala John Hinckley) and divorce them from Squeaky Fromme-like attempts. Can you?

  • ||

    "but fromme was convicted of "attempted assasination". attempted crimes and are about twice as damaging to other persons rights as crimes of "conspiracy".

    So if I just walk up to you and take a few shots at you, that is ok as long as I miss? Attempted crimes are crimes for good reason. Fromme was a derranged member of the same cult Atkins was in. And she took a shot at someone. She needed to be locked up for a long time. She is not Atkins level because she didn't go out and torture and kill someone. But, she still is a criminal and deserved what she got.

  • hmm||

    I don't care how compassionate it is to let her out. Unless the government is going to look the other way while Tate's family takes their pound of flesh then consider her incarceration protective custody. Her actions, regardless of the time farme, are without reprieve. She sits there and rots where she belongs.

  • Rich||

    FTA: "She's already paid substantially for her crime, close to 40 years behind bars," he told The Los Angeles Times. "She has terminal cancer. The mercy she was asking for is so minuscule."

    Paid "substantially", perhaps -- but not *fully*. If you can't do the time, .... Plus, I suspect she's getting good medical treatment on the taxpayer's nickel. *That* mercy is not "miniscule".

  • Bob||

    There is more to it than that. It is to give people a sense of justice as well. If it were just about deterence and protecting the public, someone like Bernie Madoff wouldn't get any jail time. What threat is Madoff to the public now? It is not like anyone would ever invest money with him again. Why not just take back all the money he stole? That sollution doesn't work and Madoff needs to go to the bar hotel because the justice system is about more than protection and deterence. It is about justice. It is not only about justice. And we don't act completely for revenge. But punishment and justice are a part of it.



    Some things you can't punish. Madoff is a perfect example of closing the barn door after the cows have already gotten out. He's already done everything he wanted to and isn't young enough that making him waste the rest of his life really means anything. It only amounts to attempting to fulfill an emotional desire of observers.

    Similarly, a suicide bomber or a murder/suicide can never be brought to "justice" -- which I see as highly subjective. There's nothing anyone can even pretend to do... unless you get some shaman to put an ancient Finnish pagan curse on his soul or something.

  • ||

    TAO:


    no i can't. it's just a question i sometimes think about.



    John:


    So if I just walk up to you and take a few shots at you, that is ok as long as I miss?



    not saying that at all. i'm just exploring the moral justifications and ramifications of punishing crimes that have no discernible victims. i think it's a valid question. not saying i have the answer either.

  • Kolohe||

    "Do they give Nobel Prizes out for 'attempted chemistry'?"

  • ||


    Similarly, a suicide bomber or a murder/suicide can never be brought to "justice" -- which I see as highly subjective. There's nothing anyone can even pretend to do... unless you get some shaman to put an ancient Finnish pagan curse on his soul or something.



    well, you can always bomb the shit out of his country of origin...


    just sayin'... works for some folks.

  • ||

    Kolohe | September 7, 2009, 11:07am | #

    hee hee

  • ||

    well, you can always bomb the shit out of his country of origin...


    jeesh i'm so sexist.

    when is NOW gonna start complaining about the administration's use of the term "man made disaster"?

  • hmm||

    "Do they give Nobel Prizes out for 'attempted chemistry'?"



    Since most science based, economic, and so on Nobel prizes are based on theory, as is all science, you could argue they are all based on "attempted" or not absolute ideas. Although theory could be argued to be absolute until otherwise proven.

  • robc||

    ransom,

    You need to hee hee at Sideshow Bob, not Kolohe.

    But good use of Simpson's material on Kolohe's part.

  • ||

    TAO:


    of course hinckley hit brady, (a crime worse than murder if you consider what came out of that) and a cop too i think.

  • robc||

    Its German, for "The Bart The".

    No one who speaks German could be a bad man.

  • robc||

    ransom,

    and Reagan. Dont forget Hinkley actually hit his target.

    Thus the first two 4 hr terms of the Bush presidency.

  • ||

    My ex-wife was determined (by me) to be guilty of "Attempted Cooking". Convicted and divorced.

  • ||

    robc:

    i did forget that. maybe because he did not have a cunt wife. well i guess the "just say no" shit was bad... i dunno who is worse now. nancy or sarah!? sounds like a good poll question.

  • ||

    This article has an interesting things to say about justice and punishment.
    http://www.naturalism.org/sommers.htm

  • ||

    Steve, your vicious, brainless, redneck, lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key rant masquerading as a libertarian opinion piece, followed directly by the equally deranged musings of some of your readers has just about done it for me.

    This isn't libertarianism. This is reactionary scumbaggery [sic]. Reason has been sliding, slowly at first but very noticeably of late, towards a dark and ugly place. Added to your site's recent crazy ravings about foreign affairs, your visceral hatred of anything Obama, your completely false and twisted misrepresentation of public healthcare in other countries and the nasty posthumous attacks on Ted Kennedy (not one of my favourite politicians) by some of your readers, it is possible you may already have reached it.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Joe M is a perfect example of what people do when they do not have an argument. Declare that the whole "movement" is fucked, conveniently point out something you disagree with as evidence of such, and then blame everybody but yourself for the "problem" you just wholesale invented.

    Dude, STFU, Joe M.

  • ||

    Susan Smith ... Another great burn the bitch example.

    http://www.naturalism.org/freewill2.htm

  • The Angry Optimist||

    He's already done everything he wanted to and isn't young enough that making him waste the rest of his life really means anything. It only amounts to attempting to fulfill an emotional desire of observers.



    So are you saying to just let him go, then?

  • ||

    He's already done everything he wanted to and isn't young enough that making him waste the rest of his life really means anything. It only amounts to attempting to fulfill an emotional desire of observers.
    So are you saying to just let him go, then?

    Yes.

  • ||

    A justice system's ultimate purpose is to protect the general population from the smaller criminal population; it isn't meant to satisfy people's desire for vengeance or schadenfreude.

    Of course it is. Vengeance is a deep seated human desire and it ain't going away so long as humans roam the earth. If the justice system doesn't provide a fair and orderly outlet for vengeance, you're going to have to deal with the unfair and chaotic satisfaction of vengeance taking place on the street instead of in the courtroom.

    You bleeding hearts seem so proud of your higher sensibilities and pristine ideals, yet you advocate a course of action guaranteed to turn society against them.

  • ||

    There's nothing redneck about arguing against arbitrary acts of clemency for celebrity murderers, but...

    ...I would've like this piece better if it considered the absurdity of granting such mercy in light of the drug war, and the unpardonable state of US prisons.


    But hey Joe...I wonder what you can possibly mean by the phrase "twisted misrepresentation of public healthcare in other countries"?

    Also, be honest - which side in the health care "debate" is really doing more to exploit Teddy's corpse?

  • ||

    im sorry but life in prison is fucking retarded, kill the bitch, kill that lockerbie piece of shit as well. Fuckin pussy liberal americans

    If that plane had exploded over Albuquerque instead of Lockerbie, that schmuck would have been roasted like a marshmallow years ago, and Qaddafi would have been hugging a charred husk at the Tripoli airport. Don't blame us for the pusilanimous actions of the formerly virile Scots. William Wallace would be ashamed of them.

  • ||

    He's already done everything he wanted to and isn't young enough that making him waste the rest of his life really means anything. It only amounts to attempting to fulfill an emotional desire of observers.

    Then why would he even want to get out of jail?

    You guys want to have your cake and eat it too. First, you say it's cruel to make someone spend the last months of their life in prison, and then you say it doesn't matter to the person if they do because they're old, so there's no deterrence gain. Make up your minds.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    So, in the Madoff case, we have a couple of folks here saying that theft shouldn't be punishable. well, that is, if the thief is "old enough". I didn't know that we wanted to carve out statutory exemptions for the elderly.

    Just out of curiosity, does that mean that Bob, Paul Davis, et. al., do not support Nazi-hunting? Or Commie-hunting?

  • ||

    TAO, I don't think Bob and Paul Davis have thought the implications of their opinions through that far, they just enjoy showing off how much more evolved their sensibilities are than the rest of us.

  • Suki||

    Just out of curiosity, does that mean that Bob, Paul Davis, et. al., do not support Nazi-hunting? Or Commie-hunting?

    I thought Nazi hunting was okay but Commie hunting was persecution for one's "beliefs?" ;)

    Who was that saying attempted murder shouldn't be a crime? The chick had a loaded gun pointed at another person, not in self defense.

  • MNG||

    How old was she when she committed the crime? Would it matter if she were 19 or 20?

  • MNG||

    "Just out of curiosity, does that mean that Bob, Paul Davis, et. al., do not support Nazi-hunting?"

    I will say this, that when they dig up some 80+ year old Mississippi Klansman and try them I always feel like there's something wrong there. But I think there's no real rational basis to that.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Tulpa -

    In my overwhelming naivete, I assumed that creatures that are able to mimic intellectual thought were actually capable of it.

    Whoops.

    But your point, that the criminal (and civil) justice system(s) are really just taking the "sticks and stones and guns and skull-bashing" method of solving disputes and placing them in the courtroom, is spot-on. I actually say that in all of my law interviews.

    "Why do you want to be a lawyer?"
    "Without a peaceful system, sister, I might as well just rape you right now."

  • MNG||

    There does seem to be something "un-Christian" about not forgiving a person for something they did four decades ago when they were young people. But again, I'm not sure our justice system should operate according to such Christian principles.

  • Syd Henderson||

    John | September 7, 2009, 10:08am | #
    So if I just walk up to you and take a few shots at you, that is ok as long as I miss? Attempted crimes are crimes for good reason. Fromme was a derranged member of the same cult Atkins was in. And she took a shot at someone. She needed to be locked up for a long time. She is not Atkins level because she didn't go out and torture and kill someone. But, she still is a criminal and deserved what she got.


    Except she didn't take any shots. She'd removed the bullet from the firing chamber (although there were other bullets in the gun) and she never fired the gun.

    I think you have her confused with Sara Jane Moore, who got off a shot and injured a bystander. Moore got released in 2007 but nobody noticed because she wasn't a member of the Manson family.

  • ||

    MNG:


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16th_Street_Baptist_Church_bombing



    should blanton and/or cherry gone untried?

  • MNG||

    ransom
    Given reliable witnesses and testimony and a fair trial, I think I'd have to say yes, though I'd still feel funny about it...

  • ||

    "TAO, I don't think Bob and Paul Davis have thought the implications of their opinions through that far, they just enjoy showing off how much more evolved their sensibilities are than the rest of us."

    I have thought about it over a great length of time. I have read books, watched videos, listened to podcasts, pro and con for all, and I have mulled over it for quite a long time.

  • ||

    Suki:


    Who was that saying attempted murder shouldn't be a crime? The chick had a loaded gun pointed at another person, not in self defense.



    that was me sorta... i'm not saying such acts should be ignored. i'm just asking do they rise to the level of the punishments they receive; and also, who is the victim?

  • ||

    MNG:


    from the aspect of the fallibility of the criminal justice system in murders committed just last week; i could agree to a point.

  • ||

    Paul Davis,

    Then unless you're exceptionally stupid, you've figured out how to reconcile the contradictions in your position that TAO and I have referenced above. You know, the ones you steadfastly refuse to respond to.

  • ||

    There does seem to be something "un-Christian" about not forgiving a person for something they did four decades ago when they were young people.

    Forgiveness and immunity from just punishment are two different things. Even a Catholic who receives absolution must still do penance afterward.

  • ||

    From the second article I posted. Which is my position as well.

    "All this does not mean, however, that Susan Smith (or Lorena Bobbitt or the Menendez brothers) should have been acquitted. Even if a plausible explanation of her crime rules out the freely willing agent, and so undercuts the justification for retributive punishment, there are nevertheless other very good reasons to detain her. Had she been judged insane (always unlikely given her calculated lies) then treatment in a secure facility would have been appropriate. Since she was judged sane it is obviously important to protect ourselves, as well as deter others harboring similar motives, by imprisoning her."

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Paul Davis - distill it into a principle of action.

    So far, I have "Where X [X being criminal defendant] has done some action, where the damage is done and there is no more deterrent effect OR protection to be had, then said action should not be a crime [if X is sufficiently aged]"

    This is borderline nonsense.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    The other irritating part about the link you provided is that it is nothing more than "Free will doesn't exist, but we must act as if it does", for utilitarian purposes.

    No offense, but that position is old as dirt and just as dry. Added bonus: it's tautological, and therefore relatively vacuous.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Allowing a mass murderer to live is "gratuitous cruelty" to the families of their innocent victims.

    So lemme see if I got this: Man kills man bad. State kills man good.

  • ||

    Because I believe that humans do no have contra-causal free does not mean I think a person is not cable of rehabilitation, I think that should be the goal. If a person is dying and in prison for 40 years with no possibility of any meaningful life, then there is no reason to keep them locked up. On a side note, My wife and I have had knock down dragged out verbal fights over this issue. She wants her pound of flesh.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Paul Davis - why would a person need "rehabilitated"? Again, without the notion of free will, by what measure are judging "right" and "wrong"? Automatons are not to blame for their actions; indeed, there is no 'blame' to give.

    And any "utilitarian" answer you give has to be grounded first in a notion of the "good", which requires free will to determine.

  • ||

    If you take out revenge what is left?

    Safety of public.
    Rehabilitation.
    and yes deterrence.

    But I believe in this case it is about REVENGE not deterrence. Deterrence in this case is happening how ?

    She was in a brain washing cult. That is not going to detere the next person.

    People want their pound of flesh and that is it here.

  • Suki||

    How old was she when she committed the crime?

    I don't remember. The Google is your best buddy.

    Would it matter if she were 19 or 20?

    No. Even a twelve year old should know not to point a loaded gun at someone. She wasn't doing it by accident either.

    Beloved boyfriend points out that the chamber without a bullet method is sometimes used as a safety so the user does not accidentally discharge the weapon by hitting the hammer. A method not needed in modern firearms, but on old guns it was effective.

    If the unloaded chamber were the one that was moving "into battery" when the trigger was pulled, that would be a different story, just as dumb.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    you know what's funny? You keep saying "pound of flesh", as if notions of retributive justice have been so refuted by you that you can resort to mockery, when in reality, you are dodging and evading every contradiction shown to you and refuse to coherently answer questions or outline your principles.

  • ||

    Paul:


    so all humans should be educated on how to be good people until they learn it properly? what aspects of human deviancy can't be mitigated by proper "education"? if that's the case should we all not be pushed from birth right in to educational centers to protect us from our "nurture" and to educate us on how to be good citizens; in the name of the collective good of course? if individuals have no responsibility: what need have they of rights? since society is the offender in your scenario, we must of course take steps to remedy that...

  • ||

    "But I believe in this case it is about REVENGE not deterrence. Deterrence in this case is happening how ?

    She was in a brain washing cult. That is not going to detere the next person."

    They why send her to jail at all? She broke from Manson and the cult shortly after her conviction. By your logic, she should have gotten out of jail then.

    What you call revenge, others call justice. You shouldn't be able to torture someone to death and then be allowed to live out your life in freedom because you are no longer a threat to society.

  • ||


    Beloved boyfriend points out that the chamber without a bullet method is sometimes used as a safety so the user does not accidentally discharge the weapon by hitting the hammer. A method not needed in modern firearms, but on old guns it was effective.


    true. this led to the advent of "transfer bar" mechanisms. on older revolvers the hammer was the firing pin too...

  • Hugh Akston||

    But TAO, what are the arguments for retributive justice beyond "they deserve it" (which is a moral question that the State has no business touching) and "it makes us feel better" (which, aside from being an emotional appeal, opens up a whole host of utilitarian-thought-experiment problems)?

  • ||


    Even a twelve year old should know not to point a loaded gun at someone.



    even a twelve year old should know a gun is never "unloaded" and should never point it at someone or something unless they intend to use it.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    what are the arguments for retributive justice beyond "they deserve it" (which is a moral question that the State has no business touching)



    Uh, what? Why are you begging the question that way?

  • hmm||

    If the unloaded chamber were the one that was moving "into battery" when the trigger was pulled, that would be a different story, just as dumb.

    The unloaded chamber wouldn't be moving into battery if it was being used as a safety. It would be moving out as the hammer was cocked.

    No clue why the discussion of revolvers, and too lazy to look any farther.

  • ||

    My will is free in the since that I am not being forced to act against my own personnel will at the moment. Take me out of time two minutes ago and put me back in I would make the same choices again. I am a product of my biology , environment and random events, It is who I am. My actions are caused by biology with the foremnetioned conditions conditioning my future actions. Behavior modification does not discount that there is not contra-causal free will. It is part of the definition. As far as what is good or bad. There is ethics. This is the argument atheists have with Christians about behavior if there is no God (then what is good or bad). I do not have the fortitude to go in to that today.

  • robc||

    The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment -- C. S. Lewis

    Seems appropriate to this thread.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    This, right here, highlights the main issue with describing oneself as either "utilitarian" or "CI/Retributivist". One does not exist without the other. "Utility" is defined as furthering the "good", but without a way of imparting values on certain things (life, happiness, love, food, whatever), "utility" becomes wholly meaningless. On the other hand, you cannot consider notions of justice without exploring their effects on society. They are symbiotic and should not be separated.

  • robc||

    Good early line from the essay above:

    I urge a return to the traditional or Retributive theory not solely, not even primarily, in the interests of society, but in the interests of the criminal.

  • ||

    "They why send her to jail at all? She broke from Manson and the cult shortly after her conviction. By your logic, she should have gotten out of jail then. "

    I have answered that question.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Paul Davis - again, you are just being lazy. If you are merely a product of a series of factors and environmental stimuli, then on what theory are you postulating that we "rehab" you when you stray from society's dictates? What you are really doing is saying "vox populi" to notions of "good" and "bad" without referent to either the practical effect of that or the moral aspect.

  • ||

    If that plane had exploded over Albuquerque instead of Lockerbie, that schmuck would have been roasted like a marshmallow years ago,

    Just like the passengers of the civilian Iranian airplane that the US shot down in 1988?

  • The Angry Optimist||

    anon - what kind of irrelevant, tu quoque non-sequitur is that supposed to be?

  • ||

    Lewis gets his ethics from his sky god.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    and you're ascribing yours to a host of factors, all without of your control.

    you're both fatalistic, in that sense.

  • robc||

    Another quote, who would I apply this to, maybe Mississippi?

    But that is not the worst. If the justification of exemplary punishment is not to be based on dessert but solely on its efficacy as a deterrent, it is not absolutely necessary that the man we punish should even have committed the crime. The deterrent effect demands that the public should draw the moral, 'If we do such an act we shall suffer like that man.' The punishment of a man actually guilty whom the public think innocent will not have the desired effect; the punishment of a man actually innocent will, provided the public think him guilty. But every modern State has powers which make it easy to fake a trial.

  • ||

    "Paul Davis - again, you are just being lazy. If you are merely a product of a series of factors and environmental stimuli, then on what theory are you postulating that we "rehab" you when you stray from society's dictates? What you are really doing is saying "vox populi" to notions of "good" and "bad" without referent to either the practical effect of that or the moral aspect."

    I am not saying that at all.

    Could you elaborate what you mean by "what theroy" ?

  • anonymous||

    There's a difference between a "justice" system and an asylum for generic antisocial behavioral disorders (ie criminal behavior). One is rooted in the idea that certain behaviors are evil, and people should be made to suffer for them whether it serves a practical purpose or not. I don't know that there's any way of bridging that gap in philosophy -- either you believe in justice as a moral concept or you don't.

  • robc||

    And another, I forgot this one was in this essay:

    Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    She was sentenced to die in prison, which is what is going to happen. I don't know what more there is to discuss.

  • ||

    "fatalistic"

    Knew that was coming. In a free society I derive my own meaning. Whether it is real or not. It is real to me. As a libertarian I try to give people the freedom to do the same.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Paul Davis - I want to know your justification for rehabbing someone who has committed a civil infraction (i.e. a crime). After all, you've already added a host of exceptions to pursuing rehabilitation (age, chance of success, deterrent effect).

    In other words, why not just "rehab" the innocent for desired deterrent effect, as Lewis points out?

  • Suki||

    The unloaded chamber wouldn't be moving into battery if it was being used as a safety. It would be moving out as the hammer was cocked.

    That's why I said it would be "a different story, just as dumb" rather than the same dumb story. :)

  • ||

    "But TAO, what are the arguments for retributive justice beyond "they deserve it"

    It is more subtle than that. People demand that someone pay a price for evil actions. If we had a system whereby somoene could commit acts that Atkins did and be allowed to go free, people would take the law into their own hands and exact their own justice. Someone pointed out above, rightly I think, Atkins is in some ways in protective custody. The state satiates the private desire for revenge.

    You may not like that idea. But the only other alternative is to let private people take their own revenge. And that is just anarchy.

  • ||

    "Paul Davis - I want to know your justification for rehabbing someone who has committed a civil infraction (i.e. a crime). After all, you've already added a host of exceptions to pursuing rehabilitation (age, chance of success, deterrent effect).

    In other words, why not just "rehab" the innocent for desired deterrent effect, as Lewis points out?"

    What civil infractions are you talking about?

    Examples?

  • Hugh Akston||

    what are the arguments for retributive justice beyond "they deserve it" (which is a moral question that the State has no business touching)

    Uh, what? Why are you begging the question that way?



    That's fair. I guess my real question is what business the state has making determinations of moral desert.

  • ||

    I appoligize for the sky god comment. I have read alot of Lewis and have a distaste for him and his God. But it was a logically fallacious statement that brings nothing to the debate.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Paul Davis - enough dodging. you came on here and said that Madoff should be released, for a variety of reasons. I want to know, under your principles, who should be (there's that notion of justice again, but oh well) rehabilitated, and why. If not Madoff...then who? And for what reasons?

    I guess my real question is what business the state has making determinations of moral desert.



    Well, I would say that, when it comes to criminal wrongs, the two notions of retributivism and utilitarianism are inextricably linked, because of the human penchant for vengeance and because of the desired outcome of a civil, ordered society.

  • ||

    I did not say Madoff should be released. I said nothing of him. How was his crime civil? White collar sure but civil?

    http://public.findlaw.com/library/legal-system/civil-vs-criminal-cases.html

    I would not give him a life sentence.

  • ||

    Oh I was not dodging I was trying to be clear in what I was to respond to.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    I did not say Madoff should be released. I said nothing of him.



    So this was not you, then?

    I didn't say "civil" the sense of the system; I said civil because, if you follow your train of thought, all infractions are "civil infractions", because the only purpose behind incarceration is rehabilitation and deterrence, not retributive justice.

    Ok, just to make this clear, Paul Davis, why would you advocate incarceration of a murderer? Just answer that.

  • Paul||

    A justice system's ultimate purpose is to protect the general population from the smaller criminal population; it isn't meant to satisfy people's desire for vengeance or schadenfreude. I don't know about this woman's general level of dangerousness, but I am of the opinion that if she won't -- or can't -- harm anyone else then there's no point in keeping her in prison.

    Lest we forget, there is a punishment element to prison.

  • ||

    I guess my real question is what business the state has making determinations of moral desert.

    The state doesn't convict people, juries do.

  • ||

    I did not say Madoff should be released. I said nothing of him.
    So this was not you, then?

    I didn't say "civil" the sense of the system; I said civil because, if you follow your train of thought, all infractions are "civil infractions", because the only purpose behind incarceration is rehabilitation and deterrence, not retributive justice.

    Ok, just to make this clear, Paul Davis, why would you advocate incarceration of a murderer? Just answer that.

    I did say that. I did not see that you were talking about Madoff. That was just lazy. And yes I would let him off after a couple of years.

    To answer your question ... again ... rehabilitation and public safety and deterrence . That could be life.

  • M o n k e e ||

    "If that plane had exploded over Albuquerque instead of Lockerbie, that schmuck would have been roasted like a marshmallow years ago"

    There did seem to be very large holes in the case against him

    close to 50% of the Scottish population think it was a stitch up

    Anyone familiar with our govs history knows that it wouldn't be the first time and probably won't be the last

    (in alot of cases its probably the right guy but not enough evidence so HM's finest get to work)

    the grounds for appeal looked so strong that a posthumous pardon would be far more embarrassing

  • Hugh Akston||

    The state doesn't convict people, juries do.

    Tulpa, thats a bullshit quibble. Juries act as agents of the state, within guidelines set out by the state, to determine guilt or innocence according to statute. Criminal law (under a retributivist reading) says that certain actions are wrong. The function of a jury is to determine whether the requirements of the action were met.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Well, I would say that, when it comes to criminal wrongs, the two notions of retributivism and utilitarianism are inextricably linked, because of the human penchant for vengeance and because of the desired outcome of a civil, ordered society.



    So if I read this correctly, you're saying that the function of a justice system is not wholly rational, and further that it needn't be.

  • ||

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard145.html

    More in line with The Angry Optimist points.

    If you give me a month I could write a rebuttal. :)

  • ||

    So if I read this correctly, you're saying that the function of a justice system is not wholly rational, and further that it needn't be.

    Yes, inasmuch as it's impossible to prove in a "wholly rational" way that murder, rape, theft, etc are immoral. A justice system can't function unless it serves the goals of the larger society, which is certainly not "wholly rational" in its own right.

  • MNG||

    Why should it be the government's job to enact justice through punishment? When people get sick or poor through no fault of their own you guys say "hey life is not fair." So when someone beats up someone else why not just say "hey, life is not fair?" Why suddenly do we need to engage the government in enacting "justice?"

  • MNG||

    "They are symbiotic and should not be separated."

    Worse, for any utlitarian worth his/her salt they would say that justice entails nothing more than doing that act which maximizes the good. And most utlitarians would equate the good with human welfare, which is not all that of a mystery (well, no more a mystery than what Aristotle's naturalistic [meta-ethically speaking] ethics calls for).

  • MNG||

    Hume solved this silly debate over free will and punishment ages ago. If it is the case our behavior is determined by forces around us then punishment can serve as a force determining behavior towards not harming people.

    "Perhaps you think there should be some kind of floor on cruel punishments, but even saying that means that you accept the premise that there should be some kind of "justice" in the system."

    This shows TAO's ignorance of utilitarian thinkers (not surprising, after all the deep and nuanced Rand tells us we can safely dismiss these moral spiders with a wave of the hand). Notions of cruel and unusual were became buzzwords due largely to the work of utilitarian legal reformers such as Beccaria and Bentham. Cruel punishments generally fail the utlilitarian calculus because cruelty involves inhumane, pointless and wanton harm of others, such a general policy would be contrary to maximization of human welfare (the least punishment necessary to prevent some greater harm is the only one warranted); unusual punishments were opposed because regularity in the law makes deterrence possible in Bentham and Beccaria's view.

  • robc||

    MNG,

    Stop being an ass. I realize that isnt possible for you, but Im saying it anyway.

    Why should it be the government's job to enact justice through punishment?

    The anarchists dont think it is. Minarchists think this is one of the few legit functions of goverment. Government was created for just this specific purpose - to protect lives and property.

  • MNG||

    Mill has a great, well written and easy to follow discussion about the concept justice, it's origins and it's relation to utilitarian principles in his book Utilitarianism.

  • MNG||

    Really robc, one can see why a social compact to protect everyone from harm would be easy to say yes on, but why one to "enact justice?" What business is that of the government? And why, even assuming we accept a Libertopian penal code, stop at infractions of the penal code?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Why should it be the government's job to enact justice through punishment? When people get sick or poor through no fault of their own you guys say "hey life is not fair." So when someone beats up someone else why not just say "hey, life is not fair?" Why suddenly do we need to engage the government in enacting "justice?"



    At the risk of encouraging another pointless round of rhetorical tiddlywinks with you MNG, I will say that the distinction lies in direct, human causal antecedents. The first two examples are the result of diffuse causes, some human, some not. The latter is the result of someone making the discrete choice to beat someone else up.

  • ||

    I will admit rehabilitition does get into thorny slippery slope state vs liberty issues. USSR abuse of psychology took this to full effect.

    I was not talking about rehabilitation of political thought. I was using it in the "Killing your neighbor is bad Mkay" way. You can force him to live in a cage but not force him to rethink his criminail behavior? There seems to be a disconnect there. That is what Rothbard and Lewis are arguing.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Yes, inasmuch as it's impossible to prove in a "wholly rational" way that murder, rape, theft, etc are immoral. A justice system can't function unless it serves the goals of the larger society, which is certainly not "wholly rational" in its own right.



    I will accept this answer because it appeals to my deep disdain for Kantian abstract rationalism.

  • robc||

    MNG,

    Would you not agree that the Lewis point about deterrence would be agreed to (in the bad way) by a utilitarian? Punishing an innocent man (who everyone thinks is guilty) provides deterrence.

    I would think to avoid this problem, utilitarians would have to come down on the side of justice as the primary purpose of punishment.

    I guess it comes down to the measure of utility.

    eh, Fuck Utilitarianism is easier.

  • robc||

    why one to "enact justice?

    I think the Lewis essay explains that. Basing it on anything else descends rapidly into evil.

  • MNG||

    Hugh
    I don't want to go around the merry go round with you guys as to the magic reason why government coercion is OK for harm that is the result of positive acts as opposed to negative ones, I'm asking something a bit more complicated: granted your wacky ideas about that issue, why should it be the government's job to "enact justice?"

  • robc||

    And why, even assuming we accept a Libertopian penal code, stop at infractions of the penal code?

    The answer there is that if it isnt an infraction of the penal code, then it is a matter of liberty. There is no justice to be served.

    The infraction was a commission of force or fraud. Justice demands doing nothing to anyone else. There is no just penalty for someone who behaves that way.

  • MNg||

    robc
    Utilitarianism is like democracy, it's the worst form of ethics except for every other form.

    But yes, if punishing an innocent man would save many lives, then duh it is the right thing to do. Any other choice would be disrespectufl of human life and welfare.

  • ||

    Like so many other moral systems claiming to be rational, the problem with utilitarianism is that the calculations are utterly dependent on values that come from outside the system. For instance,

    Cruel punishments generally fail the utlilitarian calculus because cruelty involves inhumane, pointless and wanton harm of others

    Inhumane, according to whom? Pointless and wanton, with regard to what purpose?

  • robc||

    why should it be the government's job to "enact justice?"

    It doesnt have to be. It could be a private justice enactment agency, but I see no way to enact that without veering dangerously near vigilantism.

    Its the same reason Im not an anarchist, anarchy isnt stable. Without the state, this isnt stable. Not that the state (see Mississippi) is all that stable.

    I think this is a "If men were angels" argument.

  • robc||

    if punishing an innocent man would save many lives, then duh it is the right thing to do

    That is the most fucking evil statement I have ever heard on this board.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    I was using it in the "Killing your neighbor is bad Mkay" way.



    But when you say "bad", you are making a moral/ethical value judgment, which requires an implicit acceptance of free will, and therefore opens the door into retributive justice once again.

  • robc||

    MNG,

    Utilitarianism is like democracy, it's the worst form of ethics except for every other form.


    Based on your followup statement, this is clearly not true. It is the worst form of ethics, including all others.

  • ||

    A justice system's ultimate purpose is to protect the general population from the smaller criminal population; it isn't meant to satisfy people's desire for vengeance or schadenfreude. I don't know about this woman's general level of dangerousness, but I am of the opinion that if she won't -- or can't -- harm anyone else then there's no point in keeping her in prison.

    Your second sentence is not necessarily the logical consequence if you accept the premise of your first sentence.

    If someone murders their spouse in a moment of rage, and is clearly highly unlikely to ever kill anyone ever again due to the exceptional circumstances, is it a good idea to let them go unpunished? Or does it set a bad precedent that would encourage others to murder their spouses and then claim that this extenuating circumstance applies to them, too?

    If you want to cut down on the number of murders -- to prevent further unlibertarian initiations of force -- there needs to be punishment for those who, acting with intent, kill another when it is not in self-defense.

  • Hugh Akston||

    why should it be the government's job to "enact justice?"

    Because the alternative is the Hatfields and McCoys escalating feuds until everyone is dead.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    In other words:

    the problem with utilitarianism is that the calculations are utterly dependent on values that come from outside the system.



    Yes, this is absolutely correct. "Utility" must have a purpose, a cause, a value for which a given action can be measured. What is the utility of me shooting someone? Without a values- and justice-based context, there is no way to answer this question.

  • MNG||

    tulpa
    Don't act like these words are some great mystery just because, like most concepts, they are not mathematically precise. Look them up if you need to know the meanings.

  • robc||

    Question for others:

    Is MNG a troll or is he truly evil? Or is there a 3rd explanation. I literally cannot comprehend the statement he just made. If he is a troll, he goes in my incif file. If he is truly that evil, I dont think I can argue with him any more, so into incif he goes. Anyone (not MNG) want to give me a 3rd option?

  • The Angry Optimist||

    engaging MNG on this is wholly pointless, folks. I would have thought we would have learned that by now.

  • MNG||

    "That is the most fucking evil statement I have ever heard on this board."

    Sorry robc, I think allowing many people to suffer or die for the abstract sake of innocence is the evil view. I'm afraid my morality cares about effects on actual human beings, and am sorry yours does not.

  • ||


    Would you not agree that the Lewis point about deterrence would be agreed to (in the bad way) by a utilitarian? Punishing an innocent man (who everyone thinks is guilty) provides deterrence.



    absolutely correct. how else did we end up jailing people who commit no crime, e.g., drug users, all in the interest of society.

  • MNG||

    TAO
    Please stop ponitificating on a subject on which you are just not that wide read. I mean, I should have thought Mills Utilitarianism would have been undergrad reading for a philosophy major, and it makes your whole "justice" vs. "utility" notions seem silly.

  • ||

    Only in extremely contrived scenarios do the negative rights of two people come into conflict. You have to come up with examples of violinists with kidnapper fans needing kidney transplants, etc.

    Whereas everyone's so-called "positive rights" are guaranteed to be in conflict for all eternity with everyone else's positive rights, as well as some people's negative rights. If everyone has a positive right to X, where X is some good or service that there isn't enough of for everyone, you can see the problems that arise with respect to everyone else's positive rights to X as well as the negative rights of those who currently possess X. Recognizing positive rights leads to a much less stable social system.

  • MNG||

    ""Utility" must have a purpose, a cause, a value for which a given action can be measured."

    Fucking duh! Every utilitarian knows that utilitarianism needs a next step, an exploration of what utility entails. You don't even realize your strawman, do you?

  • The Angry Optimist||

    absolutely correct. how else did we end up jailing people who commit no crime, e.g., drug users, all in the interest of society.



    Because that is the end-state of utilitarianism. If I use my cool little Bentham-ite calculus, I could come up with some contrived way where the Drug War makes sense to further the "good of human welfare". Of course, that means I get to declare the "good" whatever I want and define it as I choose.

  • MNG||

    Look, forget the positive v. negative rights thing, why should the government enact justice among its citizens (no of course boys and girls, don't give a deterence-consequentialist answer...)

  • ||

    Before all the Ayn Rand slurs begin, she wasn't opposed to private charity, or course

    I'm no Rand scholar, but she seemed not to be too keen on it, either. (Because of my reading that her view was that it seldoms serves a 'higher value' - however you wish to define it)


    Kolohe -- Ayn Rand was opposing to people sacrificing a higher value for a lower value. So, to her, "good" charity is when you care about the recipient of the charity, and value their delight in receiving the charity more than you value the thing being given away.

    Rand wouldn't be opposed to someone like Mother Theresa if they truly enjoyed helping the people in question, and felt fulfilled doing it, but would be opposed if they were doing it out of a sense of duty and sacrifice.

    Basically, if you feel even a bit resentful or imposed upon when performing charity -- if you feel like it's a duty rather than a pleasure -- then Rand would consider that a sacrifice and something wrongheaded to do.

    And, since most people who give "charitably" seem to do so rather grudgingly, yeah, there would be less charitable giving -- and none at all by the government -- if everyone followed Objectivist principles.

  • robc||

    We hear all the time, "We shouldnt legalize drugs, but we should treat them instead of jailing them". It is straight out of the Lewis essay.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Tulpa - I would have a hard time coming up with anything other than a "lifeboat" scenario (which I guess is what you're getting at) where negative rights would "conflict", but even then, imposition of positive rights in that scenario would lead to someone's altruistic death. And for what?

  • ||

    Forget the whole gravity thing, just explain why apples fall from trees.

  • MNG||

    TAO
    Since you were egging the guy upthread on to "state his principles" then please oblige us in the same regard. What is your alternative to utilitarianism? Don't say "to do justice" because that is just to say "my theory of right is to do right!"

  • MNG||

    "even then, imposition of positive rights in that scenario would lead to someone's altruistic death."

    Uhh, to avoid, er, MORE deaths?

    My goodness you have a human life hating ethic there TAO!

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Forget the whole gravity thing, just explain why apples fall from trees.



    Ha!

  • MNG||

    Still waiting here ladies and gents, mighty retributionists, why should the government be involved in giving people what they morally deserve? And why only in penal situations?

  • MNG||

    re the drug war
    Does anyone think Mills or Bentham would support that? WTF?

  • MNG||

    If you do think that, you need to start READING BOOKS. Start with ones by, well, Mills and Bentham.

  • ||

    Don't act like these words are some great mystery just because, like most concepts, they are not mathematically precise. Look them up if you need to know the meanings.

    People disagree on what kinds of actions are inhumane, and whether an action is pointless or wanton by definition depends on what goals one is seeking to achieve. You can't solve the problem by telling someone to look those words up any more than you can answer whether something is moral or not by looking up the definition of "moral".

  • ||

    MNG, you're only still waiting because you're not accepting the answer you've been given.

  • MNG||

    Tulpa
    I had no idea you were such a moral relativist!

    As to your following post, I haven't seen any answer at all. I saw some answers about what ideas of justice should be carried out by government, but that wasn't my question. My question is, why should the government be involved in giving people what they morally deserve?

  • MNG||

    Anyone? Anyone?

    Bueller?

  • MNG||

    The problem for you tulpa is the context you are noting is built into the concepts.

    Kicking a dog just to put him into pain is cruel and wanton, kicking him to keep him from biting is not (or at least not so much). Non-cruel punishments are ones that give the least amount of welfare reduction necessary to prevent some greater welfare reduction.

  • MNG||

    See, my side can answer this foundational question easily.

    Governments, like anything else, are good when they act to maximize human welfare. Their acts are good when the do this. Governments punishing people is a good when that maximizes human welfare, and it is wrong when it does not. To the degree justice just means doing that (which utlitarians think), that's why it's ok for governments to be involved in the game of "doing justice."

    Now it's your side's turn.

    What, you don't know any foundational principles to base your answer on?

    Tis a pity.

  • ||

    What if I derive great pleasure from watching the dog suffer? Then kicking the dog is not wanton WRT maximizing welfare.

    Oh! I know what happens next. You say that pleasure gained from the suffering of others doesn't add to welfare, and your argument comes full circle. I haven't read the collected works of Mills and Bentham, but I've been in enough tiresome arguments with utilitarians.

  • ||

    Still waiting here ladies and gents, mighty retributionists, why should the government be involved in giving people what they morally deserve? And why only in penal situations?

    MNG -- The government should NOT be involved in giving people what they "morally deserve", except in the narrow sense that the government should be involved in preventing initiations of force against others.

    That is, while I may have moral objections against many actions of my neighbors, the only ones where I feel the government has any business being involved is when the moral objections are to actual physical harm upon person or property.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    What if I derive great pleasure from watching the dog suffer? Then kicking the dog is not wanton WRT maximizing welfare.

    Oh! I know what happens next. You say that pleasure gained from the suffering of others doesn't add to welfare, and your argument comes full circle.



    Got it in one. Utilitarians always rankly beg the question, namely, how does one define human welfare?

    Of course, whenever you present something controversial that might actually raise the level of pleasure in the world, then it's "all hands on deck" to launch every tiresome argument known to man to try to convince us all that "heeey...relaaaax guy..."

  • ||

    Of course, we don't even need such a contrived example to show the hollowness of utilitarianism. I guarantee that most guys would derive much greater pleasure from groping an attractive woman -- in a totally non-pain-inducing way -- than she would suffer in annoyance. So maximizing welfare clearly says that we should allow such groping, and in fact for her to resist it should constitute a crime.

    Now, most utilitarians will just try to redefine welfare in some counterintuitive way to avoid this embarrassing conclusion, showing just how foundational their "foundational principle" is. It's a trojan horse for sneaking in your own personal opinions on morality and pretending they're all rational-like.

  • ||

    Governments, like anything else, are good when they act to maximize human welfare. Their acts are good when the do this.

    "Human welfare" as defined by whom? By your collectivist principles where it's OK to initiate force and steal from one person via taxes and give those ill-gotten proceeds to someone else you like more?

    Monstrous things have been committed under the rubric of "maximizing human welfare". That is not a power that can or should be entrusted to elected politicians. That only works if we were ruled by angels, which we most decidedly are not.

  • ||

    TAO
    "could come up with some contrived way where the Drug War makes sense to further the "good of human welfare"."

    agreed, exactly my contention of what has happened. talk to any douchebag about the war on drugs and once you point out he is only hurting himself, they will invariably start talking about the cost to society...

  • The Angry Optimist||

    I would not care if we were ruled by angels. Being ruled by angels would suck ass.

    I am reminded of a volume of Sandman where angels took over Hell, and the punishments became so much worse (hearkening back to Lewis) because the angels were convinced that they were doing it for their own victims' good.

    It's in the fourth Collection (Seasons of Mists) and comes highly recommended. Some Dante, Leibniz/Voltaire references...so good.

  • ||


    Monstrous things have been committed under the rubric of "maximizing human welfare".



    exactly. and meanwhile the utilitarians are sitting around debating whether their atrocities are maximizing human welfare or merely inconveniencing a few greedy individualists...

  • The Angry Optimist||

    they will invariably start talking about the cost to society...



    You could certainly craft a utilitarian justification for this...

  • ||

  • ||

    precisely

  • ||

    A utilitarian "utopia":

    Zamyatin's "We" and its One State

  • ||

    I would not care if we were ruled by angels. Being ruled by angels would suck ass.

    Depends on who's version of angels you used. If you had angels who strictly enforced NIOF, and otherwise left people alone, that would be great.

    But the angels in the Bible? Those collectivists? Nah.

  • ||

    Here in Norway we never sentence to more than 21 years, and if they behave in prison and are not considered dangerous we let them out after 14.

    And frankly, I do not see any problems with our approach.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Regardless, it is clear (to me) that utilitarianism pretty vapid. There is a lot of question-begging, a-contextual "calculus-es" made, and, at its root, anything can be justified by utilitarianism. If you want to look to fields that are applicable to modern society, look to either ethical egoism or virtue ethics.

  • @||

    prolefeed | September 7, 2009, 3:39pm | #
    Rand wouldn't be opposed to someone like Mother Theresa if [she] truly enjoyed helping the people in question, and felt fulfilled doing it, but would be opposed if they were doing it out of a sense of duty and sacrifice.


    "Duty and sacrifice" defines MoTee.
    Ayn Rand certainly would not approve of that particular "saint" and her methods.

  • Suki||

    Are Libertarians supposed to be celebrating Labor Day or trashing it? What about libertarians?

    Not a threadjack, just wonderin' since all y'all is here.

  • ||

    fuck labor anything.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Suki,

    Ask the Typical Libertarian.

  • Suki||

    HA,

    LOL! You made my weekend!

  • nebby||

    "Fuck labor anything."

    Isn't that on the libertarian seal?

  • Norwegian Juvenile Delinquent||

    Here in Norway we never sentence to more than 21 years, and if they behave in prison and are not considered dangerous we let them out after 14.

    And frankly, I do not see any problems with our approach.


    Me neither, thanks. Hee-hee!

  • ||

    If you want to look to fields that are applicable to modern society, look to either ethical egoism or virtue ethics.

    My nihilism seems to be working just fine, thanks.

  • Suki||

    Isn't that on the libertarian seal?

    I thought those were clubbed as babies to make really pretty coats?

  • The Angry Optimist||

    My nihilism seems to be working just fine, thanks.



    I don't think that nihilism provides you the ability to evaluate whether it is working "fine".

  • Hugh Akston||

    I thought those were clubbed as babies to make really pretty coats?

    The coats come from liberal seals. They're too stupid to run away from someone coming at them with a big stick. Conservative seals, OTOH never leave the sea and drown at a young age.

    Try to club a libertarian seal and you'll lose a fucking finger.

  • ||

    Here in Norway we never sentence to more than 21 years, and if they behave in prison and are not considered dangerous we let them out after 14.

    And frankly, I do not see any problems with our approach.


    So, in Norway, if you hate someone enough to be willing to spend 14 years in prison after killing them (assuming you even get caught), they're toast?

    And, since the maximum is 21 even if you don't behave, you could take out everyone who has ever pissed you off in one murderous rampage and still only get 21 years?

    Yeah, I don't see any problems with that either.

  • Suki||

    The coats come from liberal seals. They're too stupid to run away from someone coming at them with a big stick. Conservative seals, OTOH never leave the sea and drown at a young age.

    Try to club a libertarian seal and you'll lose a fucking finger.


    HE, you so R-O-C-K! You made the blog too with a leash toss :)

  • Q||

    "But yes, if punishing an innocent man would save many lives, then duh it is the right thing to do. Any other choice would be disrespectufl of human life and welfare."
    MNG, what would your precious Mill say about this? If you are going to go about name-dropping for the sake of proving that yours is a vastly superior intellect, and go about telling people what books they should read before having the audacity to hold an opinion, then your argument ought to adopt a framework that is congruous with those whose names you have dropped. In "On Liberty" Mill addresses similar scenarios. If Mill were alive today, he would have words with you, sir.

  • ||

    Suki the link on your blog does not go anwhere...

  • ||

    more specifically, your link to HA's typical libertarian...

  • ||

    nevermind. i'm a retard and was clicking your internal link.


    carry on... nothing but a halfwit to see here...

  • Suki||

    ransom? Need an aspirin? LOL

  • Suki||

    But yes, if punishing an innocent man would save many lives, then duh it is the right thing to do.

    How could punishing an innocent person save anybody?

  • ransom147||

    Suki:

    Thanks but I'm gonna try booze first. That oughts make me smarter.

  • ||

    Suki,

    Well, there's the would-be German saboteur during WW2 who turned himself in and gave information on the various Nazi plots to sabotage the US war industry. Despite not having engaged in any sabotage, he was promptly subjected to a military trial and thrown in jail, with the official word being that the FBI had tracked him down. The US wanted the Nazis to believe any future sabotage mission would be immediately crushed in a similar fashion. And it appears to have worked, as there were no similar missions afterward.

  • ||

    I don't think that nihilism provides you the ability to evaluate whether it is working "fine".

    Good catch, poor phrasing on my part. I should say, my nihilism isn't causing me any difficulties.

  • ||

    Also, the Klingons discommendating Worf as a traitor prevented the civil war that would surely have followed revelations of the Duras family's treachery.

  • JB||

    that was me sorta... i'm not saying such acts should be ignored. i'm just asking do they rise to the level of the punishments they receive; and also, who is the victim?

    ransom, have you ever had someone you don't know come up and put a gun in your face?

    There is definitely a victim there.

  • JB||

    Similarly, a suicide bomber or a murder/suicide can never be brought to "justice" -- which I see as highly subjective. There's nothing anyone can even pretend to do... unless you get some shaman to put an ancient Finnish pagan curse on his soul or something.

    You can take his remaining remains, feed them to a pig, wait until the pig shits, wrap the shit in bacon and feed it to another pig, take that shit and put it in the carcass of a dead pig and bury it in a bacon-casket.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    there's the would-be German saboteur during WW2 who turned himself in and gave information on the various Nazi plots to sabotage the US war industry. Despite not having engaged in any sabotage, he was promptly subjected to a military trial and thrown in jail



    It's actually a worse story than that. All eight were sentenced to death, the two who backed out included. The two had their sentences commuted - eventually pardoned and sent back to Checkpoint Charlie in 1948, and the other six got the chair.

  • Bernardo de la Paz||

    I have come to the conclusion over the last couple of years that prisoners should be given the choice of exile to (say) a medium-sized island somewhere in the Pacific, with no provisions or machinery available. It gets the criminals out of our hair, satisfying the main purpose of criminal punishment, and forces them to build a society if they wish to survive for any length of time.

    Why not send them to the moon?

  • ransom147||

    JB:

    Yes.

  • ||

    I was using it in the "Killing your neighbor is bad Mkay" way.
    But when you say "bad", you are making a moral/ethical value judgment, which requires an implicit acceptance of free will, and therefore opens the door into retributive justice once again.

    Well being killed is against my interest. I would think that most be would agree it would be against there interest as well. It is bad for me it is bad for everyone else. That is not moral judgement that is survival imperative.

  • ransom147||

    For the moment that that happens, a persons liberties are effectively arrested by apparent threat of force. I agree it is wrong and there is a victim. But does the crime merit life in prison. In places where I can't find a victim like "conspiracy" crimes I have even more trouble agreeing to life in prison. That's all I'm getting at. I'm not claiming to have an answer, just looking for input...

  • ||

    Joe M | September 7, 2009, 11:39am

    I have to agree with you on your unfortunately maligned post. There's a lot of scorn, disdain, and snark around here doubling as discourse. Reason is a hateful, hateful place; I never cite it when talking with friends about good resources for modern libertarian thinking.

    Somewhere along the lines, "STFU" became de rigeur. That says a lot about this angry little ghetto.

  • ||

    Andrew,

    I'm unclear what type of "discourse" a melodramatic screed like Joe M's comment, or yours for that matter, is supposed to initiate. He made no arguments, just complained that Reason doesn't like Obama or nationalized health care. Disdain and snark seem quite well placed in responding to such a display.

    In addition, the fact that Joe M's vacuous little turd of a comment, and yours, won't be deleted by the administrators says a lot about "this angry little ghetto" too. Compare that to your pals at DKos.

  • Elemenope||

    Joe M's point was not artfully argued, but I agree that this place (the comments section in particular) isn't what it used to be.

    In addition, the fact that Joe M's vacuous little turd of a comment, and yours, won't be deleted by the administrators says a lot about "this angry little ghetto" too.

    This place still has its virtues, whatever its current vices.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    El - he didn't have a point. Disappointed in you thinking that he did.

  • Elemenope||

    How...condescending of you. He did have a point: commentary on this site has slid a bit further off the stupid slope. This thread is the first in a *long* while where anything approaching intellectual debate can be found, and even it was pretty weak.

    He said:
    Reason has been sliding, slowly at first but very noticeably of late, towards a dark and ugly place. Added to your site's recent crazy ravings about foreign affairs...

    Meh.

    ...your visceral hatred of anything Obama...

    IMO, this actually has been pretty evident. Bush got pretty kid-gloves treatment, compared to the pile-on for Obama (not so much from the articles as from the commenters).

    ...your completely false and twisted misrepresentation of public healthcare in other countries

    This I also agree with as a legitimate beef. Much of what has been said on this particular subject has been nothing short of idiotic. It should not be necessary to lie or distort in order to win the argument.

    ...and the nasty posthumous attacks on Ted Kennedy (not one of my favourite politicians) by some of your readers...

    Meh. Chappaquiddick was pretty unforgivable, true. But many seemed to relish the pile-on, which is distasteful.

    ...it is possible you may already have reached it.

    The point at which I mainly disagree with him. It's just a bit more sucky than it used to be; it is not scraping the bottom of any terrible barrel. For that, one must go to WND or DKos. But the deterioration in commentary is quite real.

  • ||

    This article has a cheek to be listed under the name "reason". It is based on the flawed premise that Atkins stabbed Tate. Her false confession was accepted as false in the appellant court final decision which upheld her grand jury testimony which was that she did not kill Tate, her knife was lost and unused per forensic evidence, since the early 1970s she had retracted on the Tate component(after her son was out of Manson followers reach), and to top it all off Tates real killer Charles Tex Watson has confessed on oath to inflicting ALL of Tates injuries. It seems only a complete sucker for the American press hysteria could still believe she killed Tate. That would encompass the whole American Public in other words. Where do you live - Hollywood. Where are the weapons of mass destruction huh? Who killed Tate huh?
    Nice to see America has adopted Mansons value that its OK to decline compassion to those you don't like. Especially falsely accused wytches.

  • MNG||

    "The government should NOT be involved in giving people what they "morally deserve", except in the narrow sense that the government should be involved in preventing initiations of force against others."

    Wow, this was the only answer to my question, and it amounts to "the government has no role in giving people what they morally deserve, except to deter and prevent harm to others via force." Of course TAO et al, our retributionists, didn't pick up that this left no room for their retributionist ideas justifying punishment. Amateur hour at the philosophical corral indeed.

    "Utilitarians always rankly beg the question, namely, how does one define human welfare?"

    Again TAO all you demonstrate here is that you have read very little utilitarians. You really misunderstand what it is about. Utilitarianism is just acceptance of consequentialism plus the meta-ethical view that to say something is a good act is just to say it maximizes welfare, and THEN there must be a definition of that welfare. Not only do most utilitarians not leave that undefined, it's a critical step for them. For example Bentham defines it in terms of merely pleasure and pain (better a satsified pig than an unhappy poet). Sedgwick had a different one, Mill another, etc.

    What's funny is that you are not unclear about what I mean by maximizing human welfare, or utility, in fact it's because you realize what I mean and that it is clear to you that you recoil from it so much and so fast; you realize it would demand many very specific acts that you don't want to do or accept...In essence you are in the hilarious position of saying "I cannot make sense of what you are talking about, and I find all of your specific points to be not acceptable!"

  • MNG||

    Tulpa
    You too need to read more utilitarians. I don't know any published one that would not simply accept what you propose, that the pleasure of the sadist counts in the calculus. But it's not too much of a problem; whatever pleasure the kicker gets from kicking the dog, the reduction in welfare overall registered by the dog's pain from being kicked outweighs it, thus the act is wrong. This is the standard argument, I have no idea where the utilitarian in your head comes from...

  • ||

    But it's not too much of a problem; whatever pleasure the kicker gets from kicking the dog, the reduction in welfare overall registered by the dog's pain from being kicked outweighs it, thus the act is wrong.

    But if you filmed the dog kicking and posted the video on YouTube, surely the ficarious enjoyment it would give dog haters all over the world would be sufficient to outweigh the temporary disutility to the dog during the time it was being kicked.

  • ||

    How could punishing an innocent person save anybody?

    If the innocent person was generally believed to be guilty of murder, then his punishment might deter others from committing murder. If the number of murders deterred >1, then a utilitarian would say that punishing the guilty person was worth it (and if he was given a punishment of less disutility to him than the death penalty, then deterring even a single murder might be enough to justify that punishment).

  • ||

    So, in Norway, if you hate someone enough to be willing to spend 14 years in prison after killing them (assuming you even get caught), they're toast?

    And, since the maximum is 21 even if you don't behave, you could take out everyone who has ever pissed you off in one murderous rampage and still only get 21 years?


    Do we have any reason to believe that the number who would be undeterred by a penalty of 14 years' imprisonment would be significantly larger than the number undeterred by a penalty of 21 years? Or that the number undeterred by a penalty of 21 years would be significantly larger than the number undeterred by a penalty of life w/o the possibility of parole? I know that theoretically the number would be greater, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least to find that the curve of the number-of-undeterred-murders-as-a-function-of-the-penalty function becomes pretty darn flat as you move up along the penalty axis.

  • JB||

    Joe M's point was not artfully argued, but I agree that this place (the comments section in particular) isn't what it used to be.

    You liked it better when more people were like you down on your knees slurping that Obama cock.

    After Bush, many people are pissed off to see someone so much worse.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    whatever pleasure the kicker gets from kicking the dog, the reduction in welfare overall registered by the dog's pain from being kicked outweighs it, thus the act is wrong.



    Ha! What an awful argument.

  • MNG||

    As he intellectually flounders, TAO is relegated to JB status in his posts...

  • JB||

    I think I hear a troll talking. Go back to talking about how you getting punched in the face is fair.

  • ||

    You too need to read more utilitarians. I don't know any published one that would not simply accept what you propose, that the pleasure of the sadist counts in the calculus. But it's not too much of a problem; whatever pleasure the kicker gets from kicking the dog, the reduction in welfare overall registered by the dog's pain from being kicked outweighs it, thus the act is wrong. This is the standard argument, I have no idea where the utilitarian in your head comes from...

    If that's the standard "argument", I'm not missing much by not reading them. It's just a bald assertion -- you've provided no evidence why the pain of the dog automatically outweighs the pleasure of the kicker. You also haven't addressed my thought experiment about groping attractive women.

    Utilitarianism is just acceptance of consequentialism plus the meta-ethical view that to say something is a good act is just to say it maximizes welfare, and THEN there must be a definition of that welfare. Not only do most utilitarians not leave that undefined, it's a critical step for them.

    And thus what you claimed is a foundational principle is not really foundational at all, as it hinges on the question of what constitutes welfare. Garbage in, garbage out. If all of one's personal nonrational beliefs, opinions, and prejudices are free to be snuck in to utilitarianism under cover of defining welfare, then you're not talking about a rational moral philosophy anymore.

  • ||

    Bush got pretty kid-gloves treatment, compared to the pile-on for Obama (not so much from the articles as from the commenters).

    I don't think there's any serious dispute that Bush was less noxious than Obama has been from a libertarian standpoint. At least Bush occasionally opposed govt interference in the economy. BO has been awful from a libertarian POV on basically every issue that's come up.

  • Q||

    OK. This "maximization of welfare" bit really is ambiguous, MNG. You cannot brazenly dismiss this criticism and extend your arguments through ink just because a utilitarian somewhere has posited an adequate definition. Yes, definitions vary, but you are going to have to choose one that is in line with your overall framework.
    For one thing (and I believe it was Rawls who actually leveled this criticism of util in A Theory of justice, interestingly enough--I am no fan of Rawls but hey, an argument is an argument), utilitarianism "aggregates utility" in that it assumes that the utility of one individual can be counted together with that of another and that somehow these are separatable from the individual. I think this is a criticism partially founded in the ambiguity of what exactly utility is. For utilitarianism to act as a meaningful normative theory, it has to have some guidelines that define what it is an individual is trying to maximize. Too easily can one individual act to maximize his view of utility which is possibly irreconcilable with another's. So what, exactly, are you defining as utility?
    Also,stop it with the name-dropping. We get it. You fancy yourself an amateur philosophizer. But it is really patronizing to see things like "You too need to read more utilitarians" and related side comments.

  • supra shoes||

    I don't think that nihilism provides you the ability to evaluate whether it is working "fine".

  • Rachael||

    Isn't everyone overlooking the most important ethical question here.

    Why is California breaking laws - even the Governor to Guantanamo people like Susan ONSHORE. As a non American I'm appalled at the totalitarian regime you're running in a supposed democracy with a suppose functioning legal system. If you don't believe some of your inmates - which could be us oneday - have been completely rights stripped then check out this link on Atkins. How does Rand or your other crones think about pretend sentences with no end dates JUST for californian murderers? I do not believe in the death penalty but I honestly think that as the California Governor is holding large numbers of political prisoners in the criminal jails he is deserving. That is worse than murder - it is a broad human rights atrocity - affecting thousands when killers families are also put in the equation. http://susanatkins.wetpaint.com/page/Cal.+Parole+Board+Outside+Law

  • abercrombie milano||

    It is interesting and informative article. Thank you.

  • nike shox||

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