Thursday, November 17, 2011
Progress and the Human Spirit
Is it not a central purpose of political society to wrangle the monstrous atavistic emotions that batter our modern minds and to sift them, to channel and retrain them, to re-shape them into social forces that move us forward to a better civilisation?
From the perspective of lifelong resident in the bowels of the State, it appears that every human endeavour has given birth to the greatest heights of aspiration. Literature, art, science, philosophy, politics economics...there is no field, which, while encompassing the basest of our drives, has not moved humanity onwards to new perspectives, joys, opportunities. Society has benefited from every difficult step we have taken as a society from the primordial slime.
Amidst this social and human bounty there stands a rancid edifice. It is replicated in city centres across the nation and as individuals we pass beneath the walls with indifference. The edifice that is prison stands in almost deliberate opposition to all of the advances achieved by our society.
This is not to deny the existence of change. Prison itself as a form of punishment is a rather modern development, a concrete manifestation of a shift in the nature of punishment from inflicting bodily pain to inflicting mental suffering. Does this constitute an advance, progress? Does this change in the locus of pain stand as a beacon of social achievement?
No. Imprisonment is a failure on every level. In practical terms, it persistently fails to change the individuals who are fed through the gates and subjected to the process of mortification. On a social level, imprisonment perpetuates crime through gross reoffending levels. And on a human level, inflicting suffering upon each other degrades us all.
Why has punishment, this wilfully self-defeating infliction of suffering, remain immune from the progress that is evident in every other field of human endeavour? Why do we cling to the ancient urges to hurt those who hurt us,even when there is no benefit? And why is this debased enterprise seemingly unable to be transformed by social or political processes so that it reflects the best of humanity rather than the worst?
Labels: crime and punishment