Art by Yiskhah
There is a discussion of crime and punishmentin the Talmud that reminds me of the modern notion of deterrents. Do they work? The evidence suggests they do not work. From the position of psychotherapy deterrents fail to work because what drives us to action is not always a matter of conscious awareness. We are by and large, not rational human beings, we tend more towards the emotions and the chemicals that thrive on drama and challenge, the same chemicals that make us creative individuals and keep us alive. We live in a punitive society and when we read the old laws we can see why. “An eye for an eye” appears to be a suitable form of natural justice, but it does not take account of the power relations that sit beneath almost all forms of harmful activity. As Freud pointed out, we are taught to love our neighbour, but who truly loves their neighbour when they throw rubbish into your yard or they keep you up all night with heavy metal music? Love becomes a false premise! I spent several years working in criminal justice in the belief that regardless of the crime, every human being has a right to dignity and fair treatment. Retribution in any form does not resolve the underlying features that create societal problems that are grounded largely in inequality and a lack of opportunity to thrive. All crime and retribution is, in my view, a form of neurosis because it takes place in the context of fear. There are some people who commit offences regardless of their social disposition because they are fully embedded into a competitive capitalist system and need to survive emotionally as well as physically. The system itself generates immense fear in the minds of those who must live in it. Society creates its own criminals, but rather than address the aetiology of the offence we punish the perpetrators because it provides a feeling of being in control. However, the reverse is true. When we demand rights, we do not consider the number of new laws we need to enforce them. The more laws we have the more incentive to break them. The very nature of this duality insists that when one side of the duality gains more power the other must rise to match it. As for the crime of rape. Studies have shown that when perpetrators are forced to confront their victim to explain why they committed the rape, the discussion is far more effective for behavioural change than locking someone up in detention. This is a hard process for the victim, but it also opens the pathways for healing because it is only when we confront our worst fears that we can be truly healed.