Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Justice, or just punishment?

This is written to my friends, my enemies, equally to those who would do me harm, as to those who would bear me up. You live in a land of shadows, a land untrammeled by reason, where reaction and greed, hate and power live, stirring up the same to further its own ends.

You talk of justice, but your actions rarely bear justice out. You talk of punishment, and your actions are naught but punitive. You speak of redemption, but your actions hold those you would redeem apart from you, even as you revile them for not being redeemed by your condemnation.

Is this the part of a just and noble society? Is it just, or meet to cast out those who would try to become part of the society again, for the problems that lived in their past? Perhaps some never can abandon their past, but is it just or good to condemn all for the failure of the few?

Is it common sense to require a person to become part of the productive society, whilst denying him the benefits of that society, and simultaneously the opportunity to reintegrate? Is it really such a good idea to condemn a man for being on the edge of society, barely eking out an existence, while simultaneously pushing him thence?

Your condemnation is swift and certain, but is it just? You speak of justice, of equality under the law. You speak of crimes, and the condemnation of that society, but if society has judged a crime, and the sentence is ended, wherein lies the power to extend that condemnation? If we, as a people, continue this path, will not all be condemned, all lost? Who holds the power to throw the first stone, when all have erred?

Look, as well, into your hearts. Look into your very souls, at the place whence that condemnation rises. Look deep, and you will see that it is your own fears, your own heartache, your own self-doubt. You judge others by yourselves. That is why the law must be upheld equally, else it is not the law. It judges by static measures, outside a man. The condemnation must come from society, and equally must a man be redeemed within society, if that society is not to fail.

We look at the rising crime rates, the repeat offenders, and cry out for more punishment. Perhaps if the punishment is severe enough, there will be no more offenders... but is this truly a just and equitable distribution of property? Society takes on an obligation to support those offenders, so long as they remain in prison. Is it not better, less expensive, and more equitable, to redeem the offenders, offer them a place back in society, by their own work, and to cease the judgment when the time of that offense is past?

We take away their arms, their right to vote, their ability to travel, their ability to get a job, their capability of living, remove places they can go. How long until society determines that the punishments are not doing their jobs, and move to slaying those who are considered to be a constant drain on society, for having the audacity to get caught in the trap society set? If there is no way out of the trap that society has set before the offenders, is it just and equitable to punish them further for being in the trap?

Was it not recognized, early on, that changing the rules of the punishment was disallowed? That changing the rules of the game to favor either side would be just as wrong as to change the rules to disfavor either side?

Are we really asking to be just, or wishing to just be the playground bully?

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