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We should take his guitar so we can be REALLY tough on crime!

We should take his guitar so we can be REALLY tough on crime!

Below is a guest post by Cory Massimino, a blogger for Students for Liberty. Prison abolitionism is an intriguing idea, one that interests me but I have yet to explore in depth. Unafraid, Massimino goes there and argues that prisons — even for the violent individuals who may “deserve it” — have no place in the ideal libertarian society.

Let us know how you feel in the comments.

The prison system as we know it is commonly regarded as disgusting, brutal, unethical, and the antithesis to anything and everything libertarians stand for. America’s prisons are funded with money expropriated from tax payers, awarded to politically connected prison contractors, to cage human beings largely charged with only harming themselves. Every step of the way, the modern prison system is structured in such a way that benefits politicians, police unions, and prison contractors, at the expense of tax payers, minorities, harmless drug users, and others guilty of the state-created fairy tale known as “victimless crimes.”

What would an ideal prison system look like? Libertarians and others with a yearning for justice suspect it would be a much smaller institution, in place only to put away those in society that are truly guilty of wrong doing, such as murders, thieves, and rapists. They don’t want it to be abused by politicians, unions, and crony capitalists. They want it to be a truly blind system, that doesn’t disproportionately put away minorities and provides true justice. While I share these admirable goals, I believe the prison system should not only be shrunken, but abolished all together on both ethical and pragmatic grounds.

Libertarians are dedicated to the idea of non-aggression. We believe the initiation of force is wrong, and the only time aggression is justified is in self-defense. While this is the core of libertarian ethics, it is not the whole story.

Suppose I just don’t like your face and decide to step on your toe. I have aggressed against you and violated your rights. Since you are now justified in retaliating, would it be ethically allowed for you to shoot me? You are allowed to retaliate, but that doesn’t mean any and all actions you take are justified. While you would not exactly be initiating force against me, your act of retaliation (shooting me) is not proportional to my use of force (stepping on your toe), and is, therefore, not ethically allowed. While we must refrain from initiating force, we must also refrain from using a disproportionate amount of retaliatory force. If you shot me for stepping on your toe, you would be acting disproportionately, and that counts as aggression.

It follows then, that libertarians are dedicated to a strict use of the term “self-defense.” We can act aggressive insofar as that aggression is needed to defend ourselves or make ourselves whole. For example, if you stole my cell phone, I can capture you and force you to give my cell phone back. If you had lost or destroyed my cell phone before I captured you, you would be ethically required to make me whole to the best of your ability; to pay restitution. Depending on certain cultural and legal norms, you would have to buy me a new cell phone, or give me the monetary equivalent of my cell phone, or any other similar actions.

This has certain implications for the use of punishment in society. In fact, it means coercion for the sake of punishment is morally unjustified, since punishing someone for the sake of punishment goes beyond acting out of mere self-defense. While we may have inclinations to act out of revenge or payback, we can’t justify coercion in the name of solely inflicting suffering because that would be a disproportionate use of force. The only justification for the continuous restraining of people, like a prison does, would be in the case of people who just won’t stop committing crimes; repeat offenders. A society based on restitution and making the victim whole, rather than punishment is the realization of non-aggression and proportionality.

What do we make of the pragmatic objections to a restitution-based, prison-free justice system? The most common objection is what do we do with criminals? We must acknowledge that in a free society, the amount of “criminals” would be dramatically less than it is now. The prison system cages millions of non-violent drug offenders that would be free to do what they wish to their own body in a free society.

Okay, but what about the current prisoners who did commit a real crime, such as murder, rape or theft? What do we do with them? No doubt, people who commit these crimes, under most circumstances, are despicable, wretched individuals. But we must acknowledge that many crimes are done in the heat of the moment to people the perpetrator personally knows. Committing a single crime is not, in itself, a sign that you will commit another one or that you are an ongoing threat. Simple restitution seems appropriate in the cases where people are not expected to be repeat offenders.

Alright, what, then, do we do with true criminals — the murderers, the rapists, the thieves, that are repeat offenders? I strongly suspect that private companies, instead of spending money to build large buildings to house this small number of repeat offenders, would find it profitable to use a system similar to that of house arrest. It would be more efficient to use technology and guards on call to restrain people to their homes than to transport them all to a single, large location.

Furthermore, restitution would act as a deterrent for committing criminal acts and some kind of insurance scheme described by economist Robert Murphy in Chaos Theory, which would be used to determine and know people’s criminal history, could create incentives to remain peaceful through charging higher or lower premiums.

Libertarians ought not only object to the modern, crony infested prison system that commits heinous crimes on a daily basis, but also support the abolition of prisons all together. Taken to its logical conclusions, the non-aggression principle and the principle of proportionality require the end to all prisons and pragmatic considerations only reinforce our case against them. Prisons have no place in a free society.

Who will build the prisons in Libertopia? No one.

Cory Massimino studies economics at Seminole State University and blogs for Students For Liberty. He spends his time ranting about the government and educating people on basic economics. Follow him on Twitter

04_top10postapocalypticbooks1Welcome to The Stag Blog’s series dealing with portrayals of the end times through movies, novels, docudramas, documentaries, instructional pamphlets and films, songs, and memories. The focus will mainly be on nuclear fears during the Cold War, but we may branch out into some asteroids, aliens, or plagues. Let’s keep it loose.

Guest posts are particularly welcome on this subject — give me your best nuke movies, your memories of hiding under desks, or your childhood (or adult) worries over alien invasion.

This week, we have a guest post written by Brian Martinez! His topic is the completely wonderful, eerie, horrible, stayed-up-until-dawn-to-finish-it novel A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Martinez advises that those who wish to remain unspoiled might want to stop here.

The Cold War was still a thing when I came of age in the 1980s, but by then it had taken on a slick Hollywoodized gleam, captured in movies like WarGames and Red Dawn and even (God help us) Rocky IV. The closest I came to a nuclear holocaust was losing my last city in Missile Command. It never felt as palpably close as it must have in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when Joe McCarthy looked for Communists under every rock and typewriter, and schoolkids practiced “duck and cover” drills in case the Russkies unleashed the Big One. That was the Cold War observed by Walter M. Miller, Jr., who went on to write a series of novellas, first published in science fiction magazines, that became A Canticle for Leibowitz. Published in 1960, and a winner of the Hugo Award, it is one of the definitive novels about a post-nuclear apocalypse. I first read Canticle in high school and have re-read it several times since, and it has not lost its power to evoke both laughter at humanity’s foibles and sadness at its prolific and horrifying talent for self-destruction.

Miller himself participated in some of that destruction, serving on a bomber crew in World War II, and taking part in the bombing of an ancient monastery allegedly being used by the Germans for strategic purposes during the battle of Monte Cassino. The experience helped shape the focus of his novel: a monastery established in the aftermath of a major nuclear war, dedicated to preserving what scientific knowledge remained after the so-called “Flame Deluge” had destroyed most of it. The monastery’s founder is Leibowitz, a Jewish engineer who, like Miller did following World War II, converted to Catholicism, and made it his mission to save any books and documents he could find, which became the “Memorabilia” and the monastic order’s raison d’être.

The central theme of Canticle is the cyclical nature of human history — its birth, rise, eventual destruction, and rebirth. It starts a few hundred years after an event common to many religious mythologies: a creator-deity, pissed off at its creation, triggers some type of calamity (usually a flood, or “deluge”) to wipe the known world away, aiming to rebuild it better than before. In Miller’s novel, it’s humankind who sets off the Flame Deluge to scrub the world clean. It leaves behind few survivors, many of whose descendants suffer from horrible genetic mutations due to radioactive fallout. Others, blaming advanced technology for allowing nuclear weapons to proliferate, begin the “Simplification”, a mass destruction of books and other stores of knowledge, hence Leibowitz’ desire to protect as much of these materials as possible. He is eventually martyred for his cause.

Canticle is told in three acts, each separated by about 600 years; the first, “Fiat Homo” (Let There Be Man), is analogous to the beginning of a new Dark Age, where the church is the main cultivator of knowledge, and guards access to it jealously; much of the population remains uneducated, focused on daily survival. Life is a Hobbesian experience, brutish and short. The second section, “Fiat Lux” (Let There Be Light), is a renaissance period, as the church slowly opens its Memorabilia to the outside world, inevitably bringing it into conflict with the rise of increasingly secular city-states (in particular, Texarkana, ruled by the ambitious Hannegan). After Hannegan proclaims that his city is no longer subject to rule from New Rome, the church excommunicates him, declaring he no longer possesses the moral authority to rule. Finally in “Fiat Voluntas Tua” (Let Thy Will Be Done), civilization has reached 20th-century levels of technology and beyond, with starships and human colonization of space — and again, nuclear weapons. The Flame Deluge ultimately has not changed the course of human history; it just set the mile marker to zero.

Dom Zerchi, the abbot of the Order of Saint Leibowitz in the final act, comments on this apparent futility, after a retaliatory nuclear strike (“Lucifer has fallen” in the vernacular of the time) has wiped out Texarkana:

“What’s to be believed? Or does it matter at all? When mass murder’s been answered with mass murder, rape with rape, hate with hate, there’s no longer much meaning in asking whose ax is the bloodier. Evil, on evil, piled on evil….And Christ breathed the same carrion air with us; how meek the Majesty of our Almighty God! What an Infinite Sense of Humor–for Him to become one of us!–King of the Universe, nailed on a cross as a Yiddish Schlemiel by the likes of us. They say Lucifer was cast down for refusing to adore the Incarnate Word; the Foul One must totally lack a sense of humor! God of Jacob, God even of Cain! Why do they do it all again?”

Zerchi is my favorite character in the book. Bold, acerbic, and world-weary, he gamely stands on the foundation of his church’s doctrine even as the world literally explodes into chaos around him. Of the abbots chronicled in the novel, he is the most at odds with the state. When a doctor employed by the “Green Star” relief agency (the book’s analogue to the Red Cross) arrives at the abbey to assess victims of the nuclear attack, Zerchi enjoins him not to recommend voluntary euthanasia for any of his patients, no matter how grim their prognosis. He has some choice words for the government’s approach to dealing with nuclear disaster instead of preventing it in the first place:

“The very existence of the Radiation Disaster Act, and like laws in other countries, is the plainest possible evidence that governments were fully aware of the consequences of another war, but instead of trying to make the crime impossible, they tried to provide in advance for the consequences of the crime. Are the implications of that fact meaningless to you, Doctor?”

Eventually the doctor does break his promise, recommending that a young woman and her child, both suffering from severe radiation poisoning, visit the euthanasia camp down the road from the abbey. This sets up yet another confrontation between Zerchi and his novices and the state agents protecting the “mercy camp.” It is clear the Church can no longer reconcile the natural laws which “bind men to Christ” and the laws of man, who allow nuclear holocaust and then sanction death for those unlucky enough to survive. But as the Church views itself as eternal, by then it has already made plans to continue its existence off-world, if need be.

If this sounds like an exigesis more than a review, perhaps it’s because Catholic doctrine and imagery permeate Canticle. As an atheist I will not pretend to have any deep understanding of Roman Catholic teachings, but I still find Miller’s exploration of them fascinating. The Church of Canticle is an eternal force in the world, changing little from one age to the next. Miller liberally uses Latin throughout the story, even though the real Catholic Church had begun to abandon its use in everyday liturgy shortly after the novel’s publication. It gives a strong impression of traditionalism which helps ground the dynamic rise and predictable fall of civilization. Miller leavens it all with humor and sharply witty dialogue. Even though the technology of Miller’s future world seems overly mechanical and unimaginative by today’s science fiction standards, it readily fades into the background, bringing into focus what really matters in the book: its ideas.

In each era of the story, the monks of Saint Leibowitz and their leader struggle with the temptations of the world while maintaining their devotion to Christ and the mission of their order. Miller confronts them with some tough questions — What is the nature of humanity? How does one recognize the inherent dignity of other humans? What moral authority grants states the power to govern? Will science and technology ultimately set humankind free, or enslave it and eventually, condemn it to destruction?

To his credit — and the reason why A Canticle for Leibowitz remains such a powerful and affecting novel more than a half-century later — Miller never answers these questions definitively, save perhaps the last. The nuclear explosions which light up the horizon at the end of the novel is Miller’s affirmation that humankind is doomed to self-destruction. It proved a sad foreboding of the author’s own life. According to author Terry Bisson, Miller faded from the science fiction scene following the release of Canticle, and had alienated himself from fans and fellow writers, as well as his own family. Suffering from depression following his wife’s death and his own health issues, Miller committed suicide in 1996 (a grim irony given the passionate opposition to suicide in Canticle’s third act). He left behind an unfinished novel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, which was completed by Bisson and published the year after Miller’s death. There was no happy ending for Miller, nor for humankind in Canticle — but its story may yet begin again.

Brian Martinez is a full-time software developer, part-time blogger, and donktastic poker player. He lives in Denver. He blogs at The Libertarian Standard and his own site, A Thousand Cuts. Follow him on Twitter as well.