I’m just back from a 3.5-mile run in 32-degree (F) weather. The air was crisp and lovely but the sun too low for my comfort and the footing often icy. But I still got a good buzz out of the run.
I was thinking through some sad things that have been happening. I have a good friend in a distant state who’s had some really scary-sounding brain surgery today… There is still no word since last Thursday about the fate of the CPT-ers in Iraq… Yesterday, the son of my long-time friend and colleague Ghassan Tueni was killed in a hideous car-bomb in Beirut. His son, Gibran Tueni, left a wife and four daughters. How ghastly for Ghassan and for everyone else involved… Last night, late at night, the State of California deliberately killed a person, Tookie Williams, who in recent years has been a great force for good in the world… And the fighting goes on and on in Iraq, even though the voting has already started in the current election.
There is so much violence in the world. Much of it is carried out with a strong motivation of “punishing” the targeted party… and is based on the perpetrators’ strong conviction that they are right.. (I remember a great quote from Ian Buruma in one of his books of essays. He had grown up in Netherlands after World War 2… In the essay he was reflecting on that, and on the view he imbibed as a child there about his people’s German neighbors. “They were bad,” he wrote. “Therefore, we were good.” Think about that “therefore.”)
But what, really are the goals of punishment? They can be thought of as many, including but not limited to these:
- — to “re-educate” a former wrongdoer,
— to underscore the importance of society’s laws and norms,
— as a pure power play: to try to demonstrate that “our side” is strong, and “their side” is weak,
— to give satisfaction to the desires of former victims (some of which may be legitimate; but some may not be).
Of all those motivations, I think only the “power play” one is a constant.
I’ve written quite a bit about how I think that, in the aftermath of wrongdoing, thinking about mending/healing/reparating the torn fabric of society is much more important that trying to “settle scores”, to “get even”, or to do any of the other things that punishment is classically supposed to do.
Anyway, it feels like a day for some reflection here.