"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
Law and Ordered
Exclusive to STR
June 12, 2009
'With our days as a manufacturing power a wistful memory and the marketing of fraudulent Wall Street 'financial products' an infinitely self-replenishing source of national outrage, incarceration may soon become -- by default -- our leading national industry.' ~ Pro Libertate Blog
This quote is from a piece which describes the proliferation of the correctional industrial complex in America . I thought it interesting enough to send a copy to a friend. (His wife is a public school teacher ' mea culpa!) I had no idea he would provide me a brief response so rich as to be irresistible. Below is his response to the column. (At least this good Christian did not ask me for 15 minutes of fame like the last one did.) My friend is intelligent. Here is his response:
'Judges seem to be afraid to hand out sentences that are too light, because when they have to run for reelection, they know that it will be brought up by their opponent. I am guessing that is one of the main contributors to the overpopulation of prisons. Michigan is one of only five states that spends more each year on prisons than it does on education.'
Some emails just wake you up, don't they? I rubbed my hands together and gleefully wondered where to begin. At least he implicitly agrees that there is an incarceration problem--it's difficult not to with the numbers involved. He also implicitly agrees that the problem lies with authority. Interestingly though, he considers the thing worth commenting on is the manipulation of the 'Just Us' system by some for political gain. He has no idea how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Although corrupt judges are certainly a contribution to the problem, it doesn't begin or end there. (If this were the problem, the solution here would be ' what? Appoint all the judges rather than elect them?) The problem of incarceration is systemic, exponential, horrifying, colossal and deadly. The correctional industrial complex is only one tyrannical aspect of the vast, modern spawn of centuries of institutionalized lust for power. It doesn't need tinkering.
I wondered if my friend could define to my satisfaction the differences of purpose and execution, if you will, between state schools and state prisons? School authorities mean well? Corrections officials would defend themselves with the same argument. Schools keep kids off the streets? (Sometimes, but at what cost?) Schools 'socialize' children. (What is this exactly? Prepare them for life as a submitizen?) I'm not seeing any contrast so far, and I haven't yet begun to expose public schooling's roots nor its underbelly.
Both are compulsory. Both are mind numbing. Both are financed with stolen tax dollars ' you will pay for them whether you ever use them or not, whether you approve of them or not. Both achieve the same end ' they enhance state coffers, increase state growth and control and break down the psyche of the individual and groom him for submission to the omnipotent state.
I knew that saying these things aloud would alienate my friend. After all, his wife is a public school teacher who means well. (Never mind that her personal life is a shambles and she has rage and control issues.) There are just some realities so stark that they would be blinding if they were exposed without considerable preparation. I had to take a step backward at this point.
I used to go fishing for Walleye and Lake Perch in Northern Michigan with my Dad a lifetime ago. The experience taught me not to act precipitously when I felt a little vibration on my line. Dad showed me the value of thinking about what I was doing, to act patiently and skillfully, so as not to lose my interested party. So, instead of yanking hard and losing him, I began my response with this:
'I think a big part of the problem is that crimes without victims, though morally reprehensible, are not crimes at all. They are none of the state's business except that they are a tremendous source of income generation for the state. Money is what it's all about--money and power. It always has been so.'
'Yes, coveting money and power seem the biggest problem. I do think that trying to define 'crimes without victims' is difficult. Although there may not be a direct victim, there are usually indirect victims.'
'I don't think it's difficult at all! What I do behind closed doors alone or with other consenting adults is none of the state's business. In fact, if I want to smoke crack every day and ruin my life and kill myself, it's not the state's business and I don't belong behind bars. If incarceration solved this alleged 'problem,' there may be a weak argument. I once read on the website of Michigan State Corrections that, while there is no such thing as rehabilitation, if you'd like to hire an ex-con anyway, click here . . . .'
'But if you choose to smoke crack and rob someone to get money, there is a direct victim. Or if you decide you now need state assistance because you can't help your drug addicted self then there is an indirect victim. Very rarely are these things completely victimless. I am not saying incarceration is the answer, but I do not believe there is no victim. So, in essence it is the state's business.'
It's a question of missing the forest for the trees. It's not pleasant to look at the reality of who is running our lives, but it's irresponsible not to look. I don't want to face the ugly truth either, but the fact is that 'good government' is an oxymoron. It is all about power and money and always will be. If I rob someone, then there is a victim who needs to be compensated. Government teaches us that prison sentences are compensation. This is a lie. Victims are not compensated in our culture--the state is compensated. In fact, Mary J. Ruwart says that the victim is victimized twice when he is forced by the state to pay for the incarceration of the perpetrator, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars a year for each offender. Who is the state? 'The State' is your hired hand and 'what-ifs' are none of their business. If I get state assistance as a result of my drug use, the taxpayer has already been victimized by the state, which is forcing them, at gunpoint, to surrender the money they have rightfully earned. If they don't surrender it, they become criminals (which is another thread altogether).
It is given that the state uses that stolen tax money to enrich itself, its enforcers and on down the line, as witnessed in the lush pensions of public servants. Linda Brady Traynham put it nicely: 'Money tends to stick to the fingers of those who handle it first, in decreasing proportion to the distance between the source and those benefiting.' (W&GP) And my friend says that a drug user is a criminal by the mere fact that he uses? Who is protecting us from the largest criminal organization--the state itself?
The problem here is not someone abusing drugs and needing help. The problem is that the state has made itself the nanny to end all nannies at the expense of the taxpayer. Any indirect victims are created by the state itself. I personally have no animosity towards a drug user who steals. Yes, it's wrong and, yes, it would be painful if it happened to me. They are very sick people, no doubt. Sick people need experienced, knowledgeable help. Incarceration helps no one but the jailer with the pension. It changes nothing for the better. In the hands of experts, a sick addict has a chance. It is rare, but experts in the field of addiction can and do help sick addicts turn their lives around, and making amends is an integral part of that process. This is what actually "helps" victims, not prisons. I visited a friend's brother in prison a few times. He was an alcoholic who had been sober for a few years when he injured his back and became addicted to painkillers. (It's not an uncommon type of story among people with addictive personalities.) In his addictive quest for opiates made illegal by the state, Rick held up a pharmacy with an unloaded gun. He's now doing 12 years in state prison. He's not allowed to attend recovery meetings on the inside until he gets within six months of release.
Rick is a sensitive artist, a little bird of a man who doesn't scare me. He has trouble getting art supplies in prison because he might tattoo himself. He says he'll never go back to prison. Sadly, without help for his addiction, I believe he will go back. The solution is not actually about will power and the state is not helping anyone here.
For illustration, I would have liked to take a slightly different tack in this discussion of 'crime.' For some people, food is a drug. Compulsive overeaters get addicted to the rush of eating even when they are not hungry. If they don't develop bulimia, they become obese and cannot work. As a result, they may collect Social Security Disability payments. I know many of them. I think that is a crime and the bureaucrats who assist and enable them are thieves. We are forced to pay their increased medical costs as a direct result of their lifestyle choices. We even pay for the food they overeat! The state itself is a perpetrator, not a protector. The state decides that a drug user is a criminal but an over-eater is a victim because this decision enhances the state's power. Someone who accepts state assistance for any reason is in possession of stolen property. However, he is slightly less a criminal than the armed mob who steals the taxpayer's money in the first place. The wealth of our nation has been stolen by government and placed into the hands of a few. Because income taxes are above 40%, there aren't many other places to go for assistance besides the state. This is as the state would have it. (Bumper sticker du jour: 'Don't rob ' the government hates competition.')
If the state weren't already 'on the take' and organizing this game with an offer we cannot refuse, I would have no issue with compulsive overeaters. I pity them because they are emotionally sick. They'll stop engaging their addiction when life becomes difficult enough, and not before. They certainly won't stop if their addiction is subsidized. Again, the problem is not personal choice or liberties ' it is tyranny. Most people don't understand the distinction between freedom and license, and licensing is the domain of the state in every meaning of the word. And boy, oh boy, does it pay! In the last century of government growth, the value of the dollar has been inflated away 95%. When dollars stopped representing something of measurable, intrinsic value, i.e., gold and silver, the government could print up as much of it as they wanted, and they did. The reality is paralyzing, enraging and overwhelming. I try not to think about it, but this is the reality. I'm much more offended and afraid of government than I am at the thought of a drug addict robbing me. I've already been robbed by both, and I'll take the drug addict every time. For him there is at least hope.
If my friend's 'potential for crime' argument has logical validity, so does this: All men are born with a penis and, along with it, the potential to rape. Indeed, we can say with certainty that some of them will rape. Perhaps we should simply incarcerate all the penises in order to maintain law and order? Perhaps we should implant eavesdropping devices, for which the penis itself would pay? A microchip could monitor their position constantly by satellite. We could tax, license and regulate penises with a new 'Bureau of Internal Affairs.' Just think of all the jobs it would create!
So much has been written and exposed regarding the War on Drugs, especially from insiders, that to support the drug war at all indicates a serious lack of intelligence or honesty. In a most recent edition of The Liberator Online, James W. Harris quotes a March 5th column in the prestigious publication, The Economist, which 'has a highly educated and influential readership of over one million.' It calls for an end to the century-old War on Drugs because it is a proven 'colossal failure.'
"[T]he war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to legalize drugs . . . . "Although some illegal drugs are extremely dangerous to some people, most are not especially harmful. (Tobacco is more addictive than virtually all of them.) Most consumers of illegal drugs, including cocaine and even heroin, take them only occasionally. They do so because they derive enjoyment from them (as they do from whisky or a Marlboro Light). It is not the state's job to stop them from doing so . . . . "[F]ar from reducing crime, prohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before . . . . "Legalization would not drive gangsters completely out of drugs; as with alcohol and cigarettes, there would be taxes to avoid and rules to subvert. Nor would it automatically cure failed states like Afghanistan . Our solution [legalization] is a messy one; but a century of manifest failure argues for trying it." 'This is not a new position for The Economist. The magazine has been editorializing against the War on Drugs for twenty years. But today, as the failures of drug prohibition become ever more obvious, more and more people are finally beginning to listen.'
One can only hope.
Retta Fontana is an atheist, anarchist, baker, potter and parenting teacher. Children are her favorite people.