Monday, November 25, 2013

Why We Shouldn't Punish Criminals

You've likely heard the archaic phrase, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth;" still a modern day concept that the punishment should fit the crime. Gandhi is attributed as quipping that this would, of course, leave the world blind and toothless. Long ago, it is recorded that Jesus also spoke against this by saying, "but I tell you, do not resist an evil person." He continued to say that we should repay evil with good and to turn the other cheek. Yet are either methods very viable? Since the beginning of sentience even until now, an eye for an eye has held to be the most common form of judicial system. Despite being cautioned against even 2000 years ago, it seems to be the only thing we've thought of thus far. While we've evolved socially in so many important ways, our concept of justice seems to be lagging behind and few seem to have realized it. Perhaps we take Gandhi's and Jesus' teachings as a personal matter and exempt government from needing to do likewise. It's easy enough to consider the government authoritative and thus it is permitted to inflict punishment without the same kind of repercussions an individual would face. But I ask the question, what good is punishment to begin with? The data seems to indicate that it's merely revenge in disguise.

When we punish our children, it should be for the sake of instructing them that what they did was wrong and to guide them in the way of what is good, right, and most beneficial to their growth and development. Unfortunately, from looking around in public, I would venture a guess that most parents punish out of anger at a child's behavior and give little instruction before or after. Or they simply don't instruct them at all. But could you imagine a prison guard sitting down and explaining why what an inmate did was wrong and then actually mentoring them to do right? I certainly can't in today's world. It's no wonder criminals remain criminals and children continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Punishment in and of itself is of little effect. Without proper instruction for personal development, punishment seems to have no correlation to a persons likelihood of repeating a crime. According to a 2002 study, of the people who commit crimes such as grand theft auto, selling stolen property, larceny, robbery, and trafficking weapons, between 70 and 77 percent of them were rearrested for the same crime after release! Even more disturbing is that 41 to 51 percent of released rapists, murderers*, and drunk drivers repeated their crimes. That's akin to flipping a coin whether or not their punishment made a difference!

With statistics like these, any sane person can see that punishment is not very effective by itself. But what about the alternatives? Should our government turn the other cheek when someone doesn't pay their taxes? Should your wife turn the other cheek when someone rapes her? I would like to conclude that it doesn't take statistics to show that this won't work. Any sane person as I would define sanity should likely agree. For how long did women not resist men dominating over them and treating them like slaves and property? In fact, this atrocious undeveloped behavior is still occurring in Eastern countries like Afghanistan. And, while women now have rights today in most countries, there is still a rather powerful belief that they are servants of men or, more specifically, that men are the head of the household and women are not. Women's rights only came about by women taking a stand, and in those places where they have not yet taken a stand, they are still subject to torments such as having their noses cut off. Clearly, turning the other cheek is not entirely effective in all situations. Similarly, rewarding evil people would not be very effective either, but it's not too very far from what is necessary. We need to help these people which is indeed a form of good being done to one who commits an evil act. This is not to say that we help them by giving them gas money, but we need to treat them for their issues rather than simply punishing them.

To truly help, we need to view people who commit crimes as troubled. Their brains developed based upon their environment and their genetic makeup--nothing more. If there were something more to a person than genes and environment, then we would find an even distribution of behaviors and beliefs around the world. There wouldn't be cities where crime rates are higher or countries where one particular religion reigns supreme. If you're raised in a drug cartel, you will likely traffic drugs as an adult. If you were raised in a Muslim country and household, you will likely become a Muslim yourself. The culture around a person highly determines how that person will behave. There are obviously outliers, of course, but the statistics show just that: they're not the norm. And, in the end, it's their unique genes and outliers that caused them to be outliers in the first place. If any person had the exact same genes and experiences as any other individual, they would in fact be the same person and behave the same way. Such a thought should cause a lot of sympathy toward someone who makes a bad choice. If not, then apparently your genes do not allow for it or your environment has not taught you to by sympathetic.

Since a person behaves based upon learned experiences, there is hope that we can train them with new experiences to behave in a different manner. Rather than simply punishing them which has no correlating effect, we need to work with them and train them. This is a lot of work and likely a lot of money, but consider the amount of time and money we spend on something that has zero effect beyond getting a person off the street temporarily with a random chance that they'll continue in their crimes when they return. Even if they don't repeat a crime, that's not to say that they've become an outstanding contributor to society. I would venture a guess that most of those not repeating their crimes are still people you would not wish to hang out with since they were never properly instructed on how to behave. If we're not going to take the time to fix people, why do we take the time to punish them? We'd probably have better luck slapping them on the hand and saying "next time it's capital punishment" for anything other than the most extreme crimes and simply killing the rest. We need to either take the time to heal a person or stop all together. There is no point in wasting time and resources beating at the wind. We should either help people or not.

The desire for vengeance is so hardwired in our brain, that we can't help but think that a rapist murderer should be put to death. Think of the families that were hurt and suffer because of such a person. Think of the lives altered forever. It just begs for us to remove the perpetrator from society all together. Clearly, it shows no concern for the criminal which is met with a resounding, "Why should we?" Well I'm glad you asked! We should be concerned for the culprit because he was raised in such an environment as to create him! Clearly the problem is the environment and the culture in which he was raised and not the person himself. That should be quite alarming. For if we remove the person from society, it changes nothing about the culture that raised him. Such people are red flags of society and not merely a monster to be killed. It's a sign that there is something wrong. And if we take the time to understand the root causes of such a person's behavior and learn how to correct it, we could then use such knowledge to modify the culture to prevent further atrocities. We need a much broader picture of where such monsters come from if ever we wish to defeat it. They need to be prevented from existence rather than exterminated from it. If we learn to help them, we learn to change the world.

*homicides specifically

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What's Your Sine?

Have you ever found that your third helping of pie wasn't quite as good as your first? In fact, a third slice will generally make you miserable instead! Well what the heck? We're rather capable of learning but the things we learn can change in a matter of minutes! Eat pie. Pie good. Pie make feel happy! Repeat! Wait, pie not happy now? Maybe need more pie? Whoa, why pie make puke?

So perhaps we've all learned that lesson by now. Most of us the hard way... But we never stop to consider the sine-wave nature of everything else in life. Just like subsequent slices of pie make you sick and begin to degrade your joy, so does everything else: video games, work, extracurricular activities, marriage, you name it! So many things start out with a giant boost of awesomeness, but after the initial jolt, it takes more time to get less satisfaction until it slowly droops to not even being worth doing lest you wallow in the depths of despair.

I like to do things in extremes. I can go a few weeks dedicating almost every ounce of my time to one project. After the few weeks, however, I tend to get bored, give up, and work on something else or simply pout in my room that I'm such a miserable failure that can't ever finish anything. I would chalk everything up to a hair-brained idea and figure myself a fool for trying. But just last night it hit me like so many droplets of water from the shower I was partaking of. Such is the case of all good ideas. It's not at all that I'm a failure, it's simply the curse of the sine!

I can actually mathematically prove this philosophy. If you take a whole pie and slice it into 6 pieces, then clearly the 3 slices I spoke of would be half the pie, or pie/2. Now, in math, the letter 'e' has a specific value so we have to remove it from 'sine' and 'pie' so as not to confuse the calculator. Now, type into Google sin(pi/2) and it will give you the value of 1 which is Boolean for true. This clearly demonstrates that the curse of the sine wave as depicted in pie is completely true. Okay, that was just a joke; enough of that tangent--let's put this concept to some practical use!

This may seem rather counter-intuitive, but If we can learn to stop putting our time and effort into things we are already enjoying, then it gives us the opportunity to enjoy it all the more. If you eat only one slice of pie, then tomorrow you'll get even more joy out of eating a single slice than if you would have eaten two. Had you eaten two, then your third on the next day is likely to bring much less joy. You quickly diminish all joy from the pie. But if you eat only one slice each day, you can probably carry on for a few days, a week, maybe even a month without getting nauseated.

But let's apply this to more important things in life--like video games! World of Warcraft has a great capacity for ruining trivial things like your life, your marriage, and your hygiene. This is because the game is so freaking fun at first that you learn, "Game make happy!" For whatever reason, we don't figure it out like the pie incident, however. Perhaps it's because World of Warcraft never makes you puke. But we immediately latch on to the concept that this game is fun and this game makes us happy. Perhaps that was true for the first couple hours, but the next couple aren't going to make you quite as happy anymore.

Suddenly you find yourself trying to achieve one more level or finishing one more quest striving for that joy and satisfaction you gained in your first few hours. You still like the game but you find that you need more and more time to make it more worthwhile and rewarding. Once you reach the climax of joy, it starts to go downhill. You enjoy it less and less but you never really learn that this is the case as with the pie. Putting even more time into it will start to bring negative joy. You'll find yourself becoming the flamer yelling at all the n00bs and wondering why such idiots ever dared entered your heroic dungeon or raid. You're no longer having fun, but you learned early on that you like this game. Why would it change? You never realize that it morphed into something else.

Unfortunately, unlike a true sine wave, it continues going lower until you get off. Once you get off, it has a chance to float back up to the x-axis. At this point, it becomes appealing again and will likely take you on the same ride up and down. But what can we do about this? It's rather simple, really. We can jump ship! When it starts going downhill, simply get off the boat! There are plenty of other things to do in life and you may be surprised to know that hard work has the same effect. We tend to learn just the opposite, however, and permanently get it stuck in our heads that, "Work bad!" But this isn't the case at all! If you do a good job at accomplishing a real-life task, you feel quite joyful in the task. But if you keep at it when it no longer appeals to you, you tend to get more and more miserable and crash.

Work and play can be equally rewarding and equally catastrophic to your life, marriage, and even hygiene. But if you learn to jump ship from one to the other, you can find yourself riding at the top of the waves without crashing. So go, by all means, play! Just stop when it's no longer fun and get some freaking work done you lazy slacker! But when you're tired and the job is no longer quite as rewarding, stop being such a foolish workaholic and go enjoy a little fun-time with your family! And when you're no longer having fun... you get the idea!

Imagine that playtime is a sine wave and work is a cosine wave. Ride at the top and switch waves when they intersect so you go back up rather than continuing downward. In this way, you'll find that you never putter out and die and instead of giving up on things, you take small sabbaticals until you're ready for the challenge yet again. Quite often, you'll find that knowing you're allowed to quit at any time is all you need to encourage you to keep going and feel even better about doing it. The peaks of joy get higher when you actively recognize that you're choosing to do something rather than feeling an obligation to complete something. If you can cosign my philosophy of the sine, contemplate how it affects you, and actually put it into practice--you might just find yourself on a similar tangent of sharing with the world just how awesome and fulfilled your life is. So, what's your sine?