Monday, March 06, 2006

Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Lord

In a previous blog post entitled Enforcing the Law, I narrated my thoughts on the futility of punishing criminals by incarcerating them, even those criminals who are known to be guilty of truly heinous crimes. Specifically, notwithstanding the small handful of people who truly belong in prison, punishing criminals through incarceration is a very expensive proposition, and the enormous amount of public funds spent on putting people in prison - and keeping them there - does not result in a noteworthy increase in public safety. On this note, the only reasonable argument that I have ever heard for imposing criminal sanctions as a form of punishment is that a failure to do so might cause an increase in private vengeance.

On this point, I will not equivocate: The administration of criminal "justice" is an oxymoron, and what most people refer to as a thirst for justice is actually a lust for vengeance. I know of what I speak: Although I have no temper of which to speak, I have always experienced a strong sense of moral outrage when someone wrongs me. Even so, I was raised with the ideal that "two wrongs don't make a right," so I have spent my entire life sublimating my own lust for vengeance and channeling the energy of my rage into more noble pursuits. Meanwhile, I have appeased my bloodlust with the knowledge that most of those who have wronged me will be punished by their sins rather than for their sins. Once again, I know of what I speak.

If there is one thing that tempers my lust for vengeance, it is the knowledge that I have fallen short of my own ideals more times than I care to count. On this note, if I have any truly noble qualities, they are borne of survivor's guilt and the knowledge that there are those whom I have hurt out of ignorance or stupidity and without just cause. In other words, rather than worry about the speck in someone else's eye, I am usually able to focus on the beam that is in my own eye and accept whatever wrongs I have suffered at the hands of others as part of the price of being alive.

Simply put, the only penological calculus that I am willing to buy into is one that results in an increase in public safety, as it seems self-evident to me that punishment imposed from on high seldom serves a useful moral purpose. Rather, those who have a conscience will recognize their own transgressions and punish themselves accordingly, whereas those who truly deserve punishment will simply wait for an opportunity to strike back at those who pretend to sit in judgment of them. Personally, I can't help but wonder about the dubious piety of those who seek to judge and punish others rather than focusing on their own shortcomings.

God waits until you're dead to judge you, and I can wait at least that long. Meanwhile, as I stated in a previous blog post, I believe that God has much to answer for, not the least of which is why good people suffer even as bad people prosper. Even so, I believe that God will provide those answers on Judgment Day, and I am prepared to let Him[sic] decide who actually deserves to be punished for their sins, and how.