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?

8 comments:

  1. Wow, Ben, this is really moving and I'm feeling it; the indignation, anger, sorrow ... gulp

    I'm flabergasted too how people can consistently and institutionaly be so cruel to one another, and its as soon as you are born.

    Truth is that poverty is criminalised in this society; to be poor is a crime, and so much flows from that.

    Still, we are resilient and so are you Ben, we are survivors, therefore we must be righteous, look to the light continuously

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  2. Wow its so nice but I'm flabergasted too how people can consistently and institutionaly be so cruel to one another, and its as soon as you are born.
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  4. Dear Ben,
    I am a new visitor to your blog and I am moved by your introspections. I shall visit back and read more of your blog. I have a blog where I put my ruminations too.

    The kind of existential crisis that you feel being imprisoned by barbed walls is not very different from what some of us feel in the wide world outside - our physical limitations, restrictions of society, rules at workplace, etc. are all invisible walls that are drawn around us.

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  5. "Why do we cling to the ancient urges to hurt those who hurt us,even when there is no benefit?"

    There is no other way to get that sense of justice.

    It's not scientific or logical, but emotional. If somebody screws you over, why not have something bad happen to them?

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  6. Hi Will, just to quote you here:- "If somebody screws you over, why not have something bad happen to them?"

    My answer in response to your question 'why not ...' would be that it is a downward spiral that leads no-where except to a bottomless pit.

    Yes, we have emotions, we also have intellect and morality. We are not animals, we can use our sense of what is best and what is good for ourselves and for everyone, even in emotionaly challenging times and situations. The best way at such times of a serious crime committed against you ( whatever it is) is to share that grievance with other people around and close to you, then decide as a group of rational people what to do and how best to mend the chasm.

    My experience tells me, and my gut feeling is to only use the police and courts as a very last resort to get 'justice', especially as they have a very poor track record on delivering just verdicts, unfortunately. And this does make it much harder for us all, absolutely.

    There are exceptions of course, people who act and hurt other(s)through what they used to call 'diminished responsibility', I'm not sure what they call it now, but basically lashing out at someone because there is a gross misundestanding as that person suffers from for example, paranoia.

    Society has a duty of care for these people, not just for the safety of others, but also because it may be itself responsible for producing gross insecurities in people that lead them to a paranoid state in the first place. There really is no room for revenge in these cases, just greater understanding, and lots of care from others.

    We are human and its a race, a human race, not a dog race or a rat race, but a human race, humanity is our salvation and we badly need it.

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  7. I'm not disagreeing with you per se, but i'd love to hear your idea of an alternative to imprisonment.

    You committed a terrible crime, you know this and have never dennied it. You deserved to be punished.

    What do you think would have been an appropriate punishment for the crime you committed?

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