Friday, January 29, 2016

Malheur and the justifications for punishment

Not Malheur at all but public lands nonetheless

Thinking back to my philosophy of law classes more than thirty years ago, I can remember—vaguely—the debates about why there is punishment. One school of thought is that it’s preventative; you punish people for murdering someone because that discourages others from murdering people themselves. Another view was that you punished the person for their crime in order to rehabilitate them. A third argument was that the only way to treat the individual with respect was to hold them accountable for their actions. In this view the point wasn’t that it was good for them or good for society, though there could be those side effects, but rather it was treating them as a rational human being worthy of respectful treatment. It just happened that “respectful,” in this instance, meant locking them up in jail for a good long time because they had done something very wrong. (Thinking about this on my ride in this morning, it occurred to me that there was also a "protect society" position. See? Cycling does improve one's thought processes.)

 The astute reader will realize that since I go on longest about that third option—and with muddiest language—that it was the position I favored all those years ago. It’s an odd extension of the Golden Rule: treating others as you would like to be treated. I think, usually, that I want to be treated like a grown-up capable of making informed decisions and when those are wrong decisions, I should probably have to deal with those consequences. (In reality, I’m sure, I’d love to be allowed to skate on my mistakes and, quite frequently, that’s how it works out for me. Consistent and true to my ideals, I so often am not.)

But, let’s pretend I didn’t have the moment of honesty there and go back to the original three justifications for punishment and my declared alignment with the third. Today, it all wavers because I read this from one of the “remaining occupiers” at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, as he explains why he’s not willing to leave the Refuge:

“The option is you go out there and they get you and it’s a felony crime and it’s a prison sentence…A lot of us are scared of that option.”
 “We’re not planning on using any guns. Like I said, we [want] to go home,” he said. “But if they want to attack us then we got to defend ourselves.”
 “If they come in to arrest then they’re going to throw us behind bars where weird shit would happen.”

Today I read this (and do click the link and read the whole short piece yourself; it's illuminating in a depressing way) and think this man has consciously chosen to take over a public land and apparently is only now realizing that there could be some unpleasant consequences. I’d heap abuse on him for being so damned stupid except that, to some extent, he was justified in thinking it was all sort of a game since Mr. Cliven Bundy got away—and continues to get away—with grazing his animals on public land without paying for it. Having set that precedent, possibly the FBI shouldn’t be surprised that his imitators feel like it’s not fair that any of them should be held accountable. Which is why, I’d say, they’ve got to stop suggesting that charges won’t be filed and that anyone involved will not be prosecuted for the occupation of Malheur. The example set otherwise encourages future sad sacks like David Fry to get themselves into situations where shit’s gonna happen.

1 comment:

  1. "if they want to attack us then we got to defend ourselves"

    If only the federal government had said this to itself 28 days ago.