Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On Evil

David Brooks writes in The New York Times today about President Obama's Christian Realism in international affairs. It is a lovely column about balance in the exercise of power. Brooks suggests that liberals in the 1970s (the period of my young adulthood) abandoned the conversation about evil in international affairs, and the need for force to resist it.

In thinking about and writing about the need for criminal justice reform, about the misconduct of the police, about excessively long sentences, about the absurdities and futility of drug prohibition, about the death penalty, about racism in the justice system, and so forth, liberals may be accused of too often disregarding the evil of many of the nation's criminals who kill, maim, hurt or violate others.

In some instances, such criticism is justified, but it is also understandable, perhaps, in the recognition that such blindness balances -- in a cultural way -- the blindness of the rhetoric of retribution that has flowed in recent decades from leaders of the criminal justice establishment. The press releases of prosecutors, legislators and police chiefs have often focused exclusively (or at least excessively) on the "evil" of offenders, and been indifferent to the "evils" of the justice system. Even non-evil offenders, such as simple drug users, have been the target for retribution by the likes of Dr. William Bennett, first "drug czar," and his political allies.

In the spirit of David Brooks' commendation of President Obama for his balanced view of evil, and the need to fight it, criminal justice liberals must not fail to acknowledge the horror of being a crime victim and the terror that fear of such crime creates.

We must acknowledge that justice demands punishment, even amidst the deep flaws in our "system" of justice that both jails and convicts the innocent and lets offenders escape conviction.

Anti-prohibitionists must acknowledge the tragedy of addiction, and the need to prevent addicted offenders from using drugs if that expensive habit will lead to any more crimes.

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1 comment:

ChristMotForbud said...

I have enjoyed David Brooks on The PBS NewsHour.

This past Friday, he had the intelligent things to say about the Banker's son and his effort to bring down a plane.

Earlier that week I'd heard many people of the "prohibitionist" mindset who seem to think that these types of events can be 100% eliminated. Like me, he put forth that this idea is absurd. Like I've written elsewhere, people are wise who get in their cars and realize they may not make it to either their destination or home alive, and thus pay close attention while they drive.

With regards to addictions. Just last night I watched an old episode of an MTV show I downloaded from iTunes. I've since erased it so I don't know what it was called, something about the "real world." In it they had segments from previous shows they did on various addictions and health issues people have. There was a cocaine snorter, a woman who drank too much alcohol, a guy who shot himself with steroids, a shop-o-holic, a man who enjoyed eating more than his job (he quit) or his family and friends.

Ironically it seems one of the best things was for them to see themselves on TV so they had a more objective view of themselves. However, this does not seem to be realistic for everyone who needs help.

There was tragedy in each story. The questioner in me wonders: nature? nurture? environmental? Is it in the person's DNA, biology, to have a predisposition to getting carried away with something or craving something to their detriment? Is it because a lack of balance, discipline, they witnessed in their parents or lack of being taught it? Is it something they ate? Like Scrooge blames his nightmares on what he ate for dinner? Something in the air/water? A combination of any of those?

Still from a questioning scientific standpoint I wonder about the numbers of drug users in our country. Based on the numbers and professed first hand accounts, many people have tried various notorious drugs and either stopped at the first time, or at a later point in time, completely on their own, without spiraling to "rock bottom." What percentage of drug users is that? And why? Nature? Nurture? Environmental? It sure seems most users of notorious drugs are not addicts, or perhaps once they think they are, they stop. Andre A. used meth for one year, I read, then he stopped.

Certainly what I write should not be taken as an endorsement for people to try drugs for fun and hope they are not going to get addicted.