Sunday, November 13, 2011

Crime and Punishment

 Erst muss Ordnung sein

Speaking of Bark . . .
I’m sure that the set of motive/opportunity circumstances for pretty much every crime is unique, so it’s somewhat foolish to talk about crime as if it were one thing. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskalnikov—a student who has had to quit lessons because he has no money—lives in a garret and while feverishly ill, is tortured by the injustice of his situation and resentful of the old woman who holds all his former valuables in pawn. In this condition, he first dreams about and then premeditates her brutal murder and robbery, which he then carries out methodically.
               Except for one thing. The old woman’s daughter walks in on his crime and he sees no way out but to crack open her skull with his axe. So confused, guilty and agitated is he by this time that he botches the robbery in his attempt to flee and ends up with little except his guilt to take home with him.
               That, in short, is the anatomy of one crime, albeit fictitious.
               I see no authentic way to equate Raskalnikov’s crime to those of Clifford Olsen, Robert Pickton . . .  or Osama Bin Laden, for that matter, except that all four knew that the consequences for their crimes—if apprehended—would be enormous. None of the above, it seems, were deterred either by the prospect of a life of remorse and guilt or the possibility that they might well be executed or imprisoned-for-life for what they had done.
               Slowly but surely, Canada is allowing the Harper government to pull us back to medieval concepts of crime and punishment, namely, if thirty lashes won’t deter criminals from committing crimes, then let’s see how they like sixty lashes! I can only assume that both Stephen Harper and Vic Toews are aware that the crime bill they’re championing will be both futile and expensive. The obvious conclusion is that they have also discovered that 39% of the population is enough to win a majority and that with law and order, jet fighter and economy-before-environment policies, they can be assured of 39% of the vote, no problem.
               If there is a key to solving problems of crime, terrorism and environmental degradation, it is surely in the area of prevention, not retribution.
               Mind you, prevention wouldn’t be cheap either. For instance, we know that a combination of poverty-amidst-wealth alongside exclusion breeds high crime rates, relatively speaking. Raskalnikov’s crime was hatched in the futility of poverty without prospects. Bullying in schools is symptomatic of the competitive and exploitative, them-and-us  environment in which our children are raised. Tackling realities like those makes building pipelines to Texas child’s play. It won’t be cheap.
               An imaginative approach to poverty in Canada is way overdue; it’s time to take down the “Stop Bullying” placards and put up the “Prevent Bullying” signs; it’s time for a serious, communal rethinking of our child rearing, community institution and educational objectives.  
               Every crime involves a unique set of circumstances and it’s likely that degenerates like Olsen and Pickton will appear again, a new, sterner crime bill or better preventative programs notwithstanding.  But heaven help us if we don’t even give prevention a good try.
It’s time for informed, sincere leadership. I’m guessing that 100% of the population could rally behind it.

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