Thursday, April 8, 2010

PUNISHMENT - April 8, 2010

The news this week concerns a 14-year old immigrant in a US HS, who was harassed and tortured by her classmates to the point that she just killed herself. The question of who was to blame and what is to be done about it highlights the role of punishment as a way of dealing with social disruption, and more basically the role of winning or losing as the dominant features of free market thinking, most especially in the US. Because the construction of individual failure or success continues to be treated as an indicator of personal worth, it is a way of deflecting any consideration of social organization as a shaper of individual lives. This elevates the status of competition in economic and social structure and plays down the role of cooperation, which is denounced as inefficient, as socialistic, and thus as leading to the gulags. In the meantime, personal achievement, even when accidental, is lauded as worthy through the powerful voices of those who have gotten money, even by the accident of birth or the workings of chance. In the case of the suicide, one is struck by the inadequacy of harsh punishment for those who have driven her to this action, and the equal meaninglessness of dismissing their viciousness as the actions of children. To lay the response at the door of competitive life is to run afoul of the rejection of social responsibility and the lauding of personal selfishness as the engine of progress. But we do know today that where personal competition and inequality are least, personal happiness, as reported by the people, is maximized. And in those countries, there seems to be the least need for punishment as a supposed deterrent to crime and antisocial behavior. In this time of trouble, there are ways to minimize the total of destructive self-castigation and share the available jobs to maximize the total well-being of the People, but those obsessed by the doctrine of personal worth or worthlessness will not hear of them. Then we must all live with the consequences.

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