20/2/2006

An Eye For An Eye

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:15 am

I know I tend to link out to Salon quite a bit, and I know it means you have to watch an ad, but in this particular case I think it’s very worthwhile. It’s a really interesting interviwe with a guy who has just written a book about justice and vengeance, and it includes as a starting point an idea that I’ve been talking about for maybe 10 years… that ‘an eye for an eye’ was a way of limiting and controlling vengeance, and actually led to a less bloody society.

In terms of what he says on the second page about God’s vengeance, I’d be inclined to make the distinction between ‘God as He really is’ and ‘God as He is portrayed’… but certainly the idea of disproportionate vengeance fits the Old Testament view.

I think this article really helps us to get at that outrage we tend to feel when someone gets a very light sentence for a heinous crime. I’ve argued withfriends about that issue in the past, but there’s a very real point there: if the sentence is too light, it places a lower value on the victim than on the offender.

I’m not a lock-em-up and throw away the key kind of guy, but this article really gave me some great food for thought.

5 responses to “An Eye For An Eye”

  1. Sirdar Inc. says:

    From our talks on similar issues I tended to think you were more the ‘give them lower sentences and rehabilitate them’ kind of guy as opposed to the ‘make them pay for their crimes’ guy. Maybe I’m reading your post wrong but I am seeing you looking more like the ‘make them pay for their crimes’ person. Of course, me being more on the ‘right’ than yourself, I think the punishment should reflect the crime. I will be doing a blog post soon based on an article in Reader Digest on two-tiered justice that will show that some punishments for the crimes are feted out based on who you are and how much money you have. And were talking about Canadians, not OJ.

  2. site admin says:

    I guess we’re approaching the issue of proportionality from opposite sides! That is, as a lefty I’d tend to be more lenient in sentencing as a whole, not so much because I don’t think punishment is important, but because I also (a) hope for rehabilitation: it just seems unbearably sad, although it may be true in some cases, that there are people who can’t be rehabilitated and therefore have to live out their lives in jail for society’s protection and (b) take into consideration the crappy lives and lack of parenting, leadership, education and so on that have to some extent caused criminals to be the way they are. So reading this was valuable to me because it also made me think about the effects on the victims, and about proportionality. There’s still an argument to be made about rehabilitation, but it’s important for our sense of justice, and for the victims’ sense of their own value, that the punishment fit the crime.

    Having said that, there is also no real reparation: money, compensation, jail… none of these restores a dead person to life, heals a raped person’s heart and mind or whatever. And, interestingly, jail basically in some way denies this ‘eye for an eye’ concept, because jail doesn’t (except in a very abstract way) compensate the victim or the victim’s family for the loss. I guess that’s whay we see civil suits for monetary damages: the aim is to in some sense compensate for what has been taken away, and jailing the taker doesn’t do that.

    I don’t want to caricature your position, but on the right I guess people come at the ‘eye for an eye’ thing from the other direction – they might be inclined to escalate the punishment beyond the crime, to ‘send a message’ and ‘teach a lesson’. So while this principle might increase the punishments I would assign, it might serve to decrease some of the punishments you would… which is its purpose!

  3. site admin says:

    And in response to the two-tiered justice system: yeppers. But being based on the Reader’s Digest, I’ll be surprised if it says ‘white collar criminals get off ridiculously lightly given the damage they cause, whereas working class criminals take the hard fall for much lesser crimes’. But I’m prepared to be pleasantly surprised. 😉

  4. Sirdar Inc. says:

    My idea of punishment for the crime also doesn’t mean lock ’em up and throw away the key. You do bring up an important part about the victim. Most people who look for lenient punishment generally don’t take into consideration the victim. And you are right in that money will not bring back a dead person. The eye for an eye is something that does get practiced in some countries in the world. Here, the only eye is jail, fine, community service, or all three. What irks most people who think the crime doesn’t always match the punishment is the light sentences and the inconsistency of the punishment. There are times when a drunk driver who has been caught for the 4th time gets a suspended sentence because his lawyer knows the system. They system doesn’t work for the people, the system works for the system and that is where the discrepancies creep in. Oh…and you haven’t characterized my position as you haven’t described my position.

    As for the two-tiered just-us system, it is white collar crimes only that they talk about. Same type of crime, but different outcomes. Maybe tonight I can get to it.

  5. site admin says:

    Cool, I’m looking forward to it. Terry Pratchett has pointed out that the root meaning of ‘privilege’ is ‘private law’: that is, if you’re privileged (rich, or an insider), the system works for you, but if you’re not, it doesn’t. Agreed that the system needs to work a lot better. One of the requirements for that is a serious, well-funded public defender system.

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