Thursday, March 03, 2005

Criminal justice fantasy

I was reading Maureen Dowd’s Bushworld one evening last week after skiing. Wait!! Don’t bail, she not my favorite writer either (Ann Coulter is). She has some clever insights and a good sense of humor, but sometimes she just goes head first off the deep end into fantasyland. There’s an advantage to this, though: she frees my spirit to do the same.

So I started fantasizing about George Bush’s bold policy of pre-emptive war. The Bush administration has declared that in today’s world, we cannot afford to wait for tragedy to strike, we must head it off in advance. Even if the potential perpetrator has no weapons of mass destruction, the mere intent to acquire them is enough to galvanize us into action, and rightly so, because ultimately, deeds follow intent. The Bush doctrine has fundamentally changed the face of international relations, for the better, making the world a safer place.

Now, since it’s working so well on the world stage, I thought, why not bring the idea home and use it domestically. Just imagine the advances that could be made in criminal justice systems worldwide if we could catch criminals before they commit their heinous crimes. The Timothy McVeighs of the world would be in prison (or six feet under) long before they get their eyes on explosives.

We could even use it to prevent crimes that don’t always cause death or injury but simply carry a significant risk of it, such as drunk driving. Imagine the scenario: the police pull up to a bar late at night and jot down some license plate numbers. They go inside, give all patrons breathalyzer tests and interrogate everyone in order to establish who drives and rides in each car. If all the occupants of a given car are drunk, it’s an open-and-shut case. No need to pull them out of messy accidents. The testing can be done right there in the warmth and comfort of their local drinking establishment. (Anyone who thinks my proposal trivializes the deaths of more than 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001 and the national trauma that went with it need only remember that 3,000 people die on America’s highways alone every month and that a high percentage of those deaths involve alcohol. An equal or greater number die on Europe's roads, but I digress.)

Of course, concepts like professional secrecy would have to go. Lawyers, psychiatrists, doctors, bankers and members of the clergy would be required to tell all. But that’s a small price to pay, isn’t it? The opportunities are positively titillating.

There’s only one thing that troubles me: I haven’t figured out how to get the system to work against people who simply think about committing crimes without telling anyone. Lie detectors are notoriously unreliable. For that, I suppose we must settle for our favorite writers. Kurt Vonnegut and another fellow named George come to mind.



At 8:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, as genetic research continues, what you are saying becomes closer to reality. There has been a lot of discussion over the last few years as geneticists are starting to demonstrate a genetic predisposition to criminality. There was a spate of articles about this in the mainstream media in the US a year or so ago, but since then, it seems to have been off the radar. I wonder why. As discoveries continue, this is only going to get more controversial.

As far as your point about pre-emption is concerned, I think you are (okay, for comic affect) being a little too pre-emptive. Bush was referring to people who have already threatened us and have the means to carry out their threat. You can still say that's wrong, but its not the same thing as walking around aimlessly clobbering people.

Personally, I think Bush was absolutely right, and I would think Europeans would get this more than Americans. I refer specifically to the second world war. Hitler had made known his intentions for years, and most military historians agree that even up until early 1939 France, especially in alliance with the UK, could have invaded and defeated Germany.

But why would they have even waited that long? By 1936 it was obvious what Germany was up to, and they would have been crushed easily. Imagine a Europe in which WWII had never happened.

Oh, well. Keep writing. I enjoy your blog.

At 10:17 AM, Blogger Buddy said...

"There has been a lot of discussion over the last few years as geneticists are starting to demonstrate a genetic predisposition to criminality."

Actually this "started" over 100 years ago. It was called phrenology and it was a load of crap.

At 5:03 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

It's not phrenology. It's genetics.I agree that it is extremely dangerous, but it is science, not pseudo-science, The potential for abuse is frightening, but fighting it requires education, not insults.

At 10:13 PM, Blogger Steve said...

As I understand it, phrenology, popular in the 19th century but now completely discredited, used head size and shape to "determine" the size of various regions of the brain, which were in turn thought to control human faculties. This was used, among other things, to "detect" criminality. It was indeed far from genetics. At the same time, using genetics to similar ends is scary, not because the science is flawed, but because it conjures up images of discredited theories like phrenology and our eternal susceptibility to them.

As for Hitler, I agree we must keep him and the evil he inspired in the forefront of our minds, at least for the next 500 years, anyway. But I don't think he's a one-size-fits-all historical example. As "Anonymous" pointed out, anyone who was paying attention could see that Germany was re-arming in the 1930s. Saddam Hussein, however, was not. Maybe we thought he was, but all of the evidence against him has since been proven to be unfounded. The Bush administration should have the decency to say "We invaded your country for the wrong reasons." Instead, they changed the reasons. In a parliamentary system, there could easily be a vote of no-confidence, or the government could resign and call new elections (even though this hasn't happened in the UK). But in the Bush administration, no heads have rolled. Except Charles Graner's.
Thanks for visiting and generating these discussions!

At 11:24 PM, Anonymous Jeff Z said...

I (Yes, I admit it. I'm "Anonymous." Hit the wrong in "Choose an identity." button.) wasn't trying to draw a precise analogy between Baathist Iraq and National Socialist Germany in terms of their threat to the rest of the world, but rather as a point about pre-emtion itself, which is that it often the preferable option.

At 1:48 PM, Blogger Buddy said...

Perhaps I tried to include too much under the title of phrenology, but the work of Lombroso, Nordau and others in the 19th century advocated a genetic predisposition toward criminality called degeneration. This led to the "positive" eugenics of Great Britain and much of Europe, as well as negative eugenics in the U.S. and Nazi Germany where practices included forced sterilization of members of the degenerate (often poor) classes.

Degeneration manifests itself in much of the literature written in the late 1880s. HG Wells had particularly cold-hearted solutions to the problem.

Sorry if my terminology was inaccurate or offensive. I fully support education, but if education reveals something to be a load of crap, the educated should call it what it is.


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