Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen

A few weeks back FB friend TT asked for a blogging request, and I wanted to say I don't do requests, but then realized I had never had one before. So of course I'm going to blog on the topic she asked. To set it up, here's TT's email--with which I completely agree--and with an incredible kicker of a story to close:

Michael Vick. Miserable excuse for a human being. Hated by dog-lovers everywhere, and rightly so, I'm sure. (I have two dogs, so you can guess how I feel about dog-fighting in general.) Just got signed to a 1.5 million contract to do what he does do well. I've seen posts howling for his blood, and those espousing the viewpoint that he should be able to move on with his life (having served his time). Here's the problem that I have, and wish that someone would express in a more articulate fashion, especially since it's a situation that doesn't apply just to this particular sack of s***: at what point in our modern media-driven society did the sentence for certain persons/crimes become a life-sentence?

If, after sentencing and time-served, we as a society do not allow a person to "move on" and try to earn a living in a normal fashion (and live in a semi-normal way), why don't we just admit that we are in essence giving people a life sentence for certain crimes? (Think sexual predators, with eternal monitoring and permanent restrictions on where they can live that are so restrictive that nowhere qualifies.) Corollary: do certain crimes deserve eternal societal damnation? If so, why not just kill the poor bastards to start with? (I don't really support this, it's more of a bonus question guaranteed to start fights.) Extra points: contrast and compare with OJ. I've seen people doing it online already. General opinion seems to be that OJ skated so he deserves eternal public humiliation (but due to his own stupidity, Nevada apparently will do the public's job for them). On the other hand, Vick "served time" but not enough to satisfy many (and going from a multi-millionaire to a bankrupt apparently also doesn't soothe the savage breasts). Personally, I wouldn't pay a nickel to see him play, because I retain my right of economic boycott -- but I don't feel I have the right to impose my feelings on someone else in this situation (by forevermore denying Vick the right to play...if only I could work in a clever Baltimore Ravens joke here!).

Where I have trouble in general is the dichotomy we create when we claim we put people in prison to rehabilitate them (we don't, if we aren't teaching them new skills and/or treating them for drugs et al. if needed) AND to prevent crime (okay, they are off the streets while locked up) AND then expect them to fly straight when they get out...but put so many roadblocks in their way that the deck is stacked against them (for both the famous and non-famous). With the modern media, someone somewhere is sure to feel they "didn't pay enough/suffer enough" to be truly sorry/rehabilitated enough to be allowed a life. What's a society to do with these pariahs? Throw them to the dogs? Perhaps a bit too apropos in this case.

On a personal dad (a pharmacist) was shot through the heart, lung, and liver in a Rx holdup when I was 11. Through (I think) a miracle he survived. They found one of the three guys 5 years later, and the cops called my dad before arresting the guy. My dad asked, "What has the guy been doing the last 5 years?" Turns out he had gone back to school, finished college, married, had a kid, steady job, active in his community. Exactly the kind of life you would hope someone could build after being fully rehabilitated. My dad told the local police chief, "Leave him alone. So long as he stays out of trouble and keeps on living the kind of life he's living now, just leave him alone. Even arresting him to find out what he knows could ruin what he's built and made of himself, and I doubt he knows where the other guys are at this point. What possible good could come of arresting him now? He's as rehabilitated as anyone could ever hope for...the experience must have scared him straight." My dad's decision, I think, was the right one, although there were many who thought he should have pressed charges. I've always told my Dad I really admire him for how he handled the situation.

First and foremost, what a dad.

Second, blood howling is the true National Pastime. Ask the Bushies, who exploited it so well. It's one of the reasons suicide bombers are such a great affront--they never let us get even. It's one of the reasons people cling to hell, so there's still something the evil will get for their dastardly deeds.

Third, while I've grown agnostic on the god question, I desperately cling to my faith in human beings, despite all the evidence otherwise. Don't mean to go all Panglossian, we're far from perfectible, but we can better ourselves. (Oh, don't giggle while I write this.) But instead I live in a state, one that's going bankrupt, that still manages to do this: spend more on its prisons than on its universities. That's a hint the priorities might be a bit skewed. But totally typical--just look at the health care reform debate, and how the notion of more preventive medicine just never takes off. It doesn't help that, as someone pointed out, most of us get our health insurance from work, and those providers know most of us work 7-12 jobs in our lifetime, so preventive health care just means you're saving the next employer money--and who wants to do that?

Fourth, and maybe it's all Ayn Rand's fault, but how did personal responsibility come to mean getting everything I can for me and screw you? Somehow, too, it's generally the political right that seems to espouse this bs, the folks who call this a Christian nation, which is even more ironic. God must be rolling over in his grave.

Fifth, the greatest thing we can do is forgive. The entire world is set up to hurt and fair's got nothing to do with it. We're all going to die, after all, and you might do that alone, which is a total bitch, or you go and those left behind die a little with you. Thanks very much, world. That's only the really dramatic part, of course, for each day can be filled with a thousand paper cuts of indignity, the simple things we do and fail to do for each other. So, it's sort of as simple as be nice. Each grudge held is a bit of your own goodness you've killed off. Do you have that much of it to lose? For that might be the ultimate problem--we curse Michael Vick, damn the terrorists, want the Lockerbie bomber to have a miserable cancerous rot in jail--because we see just enough of them in ourselves. It's a reverse inoculation of sorts--instead of injecting ourselves with a tiny bit of something bad so we can learn to fight it, we wipe out something hugely bad and assume that washes our sins too.

I'm not sure it works that way.

(19 of 31 in the drive to 2500)

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Blogger Marty said...

Powerful message, and a thoughtful, articulate response. "The Market" writhes beneath it all, as now many prisons are privately run, and so there's a market for prisoners, and therefore incentive both not to rehabilitate effectively and to contribute to the media fear circus. Of course, in the financial pages, the advice is to buy, because it's a growing market in the most incarcerated nation in the world.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Trekking Left said...

Nice post, George.

2:13 PM  
Blogger ahab said...

Very powerful, George. Thanks. I took a few days to think it over before posting a reply, but I don't think I have a lot to add to what you've said.

As you know, through an historical accident I have season seats to the Eagles. They didn't seem to have a need for Vick, and the last thing they needed was the controversy. But now that they've signed him -- and they are very good people, the Eagles owners and management -- his fight for justice is sort of my fight too.

There is not a lot of human compassion in some of the PETA types. Which I can understand, being something of an absolutist for the compassion I feel that they are missing. But the really disturbing crowd, and it's a huge one, is the thinly-veiled racist crew that can never be satisfied that a black man -- esp a talented and formerly successful one -- has been sufficiently humiliated. Ugly doesn't begin to describe the vicious racism I've been seeing in online comments to this story every day now for more than a month.

Strange bedfellows indeed, PETA and the KKK.

4:34 AM  

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