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My object, all sublime,
I shall achieve in time:
To make the punishment ludicrously disproportionate to the crime
xxxxLudicrously disproportionate to the crime …

xxI often think that spot executions would solve a lot of society’s ills.
A friend recently shared a meme asking if it was a good idea to have schoolkids put their smartphones in boxes at the front of class during lessons. So I said that they should learn to control their own use of them, encouraged by spot executions of anyone whose phone rings. I don’t think they took me seriously.

xxOne of the things societies do wrong, imao, is to grade punishments to fit crimes. But this has the constant effect of making it possible to weigh up committing the crime against the risk of being caught. A small fine might not be enough to deter littering, but any larger sanction may seem draconian, whereas a few years away might be worth risking when temptation to steal presents itself. I know many people have considered even a life sentence a small price to pay for bumping me off, though none has yet succeeded (obvs!).

xxNow, your correspondent being an anarchist, he of course is not keen on the idea of state-imposed punishments at all. As Godwin pointed out in Political Justice (BkVII Ch1), to punish cannot undo the crime, but to punish to put someone off doing it again or as a deterrent for the rest of society is to punish for something that hasn’t even been done.

The difficulty here arises only from the consideration of the general nature of punishment, which is abhorrent to the true principles of mind, and ought to be restrained within as narrow limits as possible, if not instantly abolished.

xxBut let’s accept the vengeful nature of society, that puts people into need and temptation and then likes to scourge them for giving in to such horrors.
xxThe idea proposed here is that we start with the draconian punishments for the minor offences. And it can be argued that the ‘nastier’ ones do not need their punishments ramping up, because no one undertakes such complex or harsh actions as burglary or murder lightly anyway. And those that might be tempted so to do will be victims of a well-established laxity of morals — a laxity that begins with a lackadaisical attitude to minor offences.

xxYour blogger recalls reading a story a minnellium ago (probably For All the Rude People by Jack Ritchie), in which a guy starts murdering people for being rude to their fellow folk. Quite soon, the whole community begins to be more polite, at first out of fear of this vigilante, but later because they actually find it more rewarding, and a general conviviality breaks out.
xxNow, it seems unlikely that anyone would drop litter if they knew that a licensed executioner could gun them down from an unseen sniper’s nest, nor would many folks text while driving if they thought a bazooka shell might suddenly wipe them and their car from the face of the earth. So, extreme though many might find the punishment, the number of people that would actually be shredded in a hail of bullets for spitting would probably be negligible.
xxThere is a sort of proviso here, in the effects of a prevailing culture. Apologists for the laws in Islamic theocracies argue that fear of being parted from their hands deters many a thief from using them inappropriately. But it must be considered that the vast majority in these societies also accept the fundamental moral teaching of their religion, that tells them the act is wrong and even puts them in danger of a far longer-lasting punishment to come. Perhaps sadly, some in less religious communities, which have not found a way to inculcate similar but humanistic values, do also have a stronger tendency to believe that, in the words of Yul Brynner, “Wrong is when you get caught.*”
xxAnd indeed, some would say that assigning a punishment to any act implies and therefore condones its desirability, if not its performance.

xxSo if we are going to punish at all, let’s say to people that it is tempting of course to drop that sweet wrapper, to add a few quid to your insurance claim, or to put the green bottle in the white recycling bin, but let us also educate and explain patiently why it is wrong and deleterious to the whole of society, even the perpetrator, to do those things — and let’s shoot the tiresome bastards who still don’t get the fucking message.
xxAnd all this without wasting time and money on trials and so-called ‘due process’. Clean streets, polite and considerate citizens, dosh saved to spend on much-needed services and, in the longer run, far less crime of the more serious kinds.

And still the government shows no interest in hiring me as a special adviser!

xxxx

*Surprise Package (1960)

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