Introduction to the Reader
Crimes and Punishments: In the 21st Century (3 of 50)
The evolution of laws and their processes has led us to further understanding of what drives humanity and its organization. The particulars of any systems are influenced by its circumstances, but the principles of what work will work everywhere. Human, remains the keyword in human organization and that is what society is. Human organization and governance are the administration of that society’s rules.
The legislation of laws has come from a variety of forms, and more are still to come. Some version of democracy, republic, monarchy, communism, or dictatorship has taken up much of known governmental structures. There is no intent for this to be a detailed argument over government procedure. Instead, this writing is an inquiry of truth derived from a lifelong pursuit of why. Alas, a cruel aspect of the quest for truth is that eventually, you know enough to know how little you know. All you will ever know for sure is that which does not work.
It has been long held, and remains true in many societies, that the principles behind the laws for regulating human societal code were sourced by revelation, natural law, or the social bonds of our communities. Much confused discussion and debate have attempted to shepherd the conflicts of the three to minimal public consensus. There is nothing rare about the inability to see the readily apparent. The three principles are an irrational proposition because of their flawed premises.
Social bonds are the social constructs human beings establish to work in cooperative partnership and to make sense of their world. Revelation is information from above, and there are no divine statutes or known mechanisms for their sourcing. Natural law is rational nature of humans or a vague good and evil concept. There is no sensible nature of people, good and evil, or immutable principles, everything is subjective, and we know this when the edict to not kill is an accepted violation in self-defense and public safety circumstances. Revelation and natural law are social constructs within the social bonds. There are only the social bonds we create, and there is objective reality.
Those social bonds are also the source of political and moral principles. Individual and traditional tenets are inevitably held, but to codify the group laws, they matter not. For the group, policies must come from critical inquiry, best practices, exploration, collective knowledge, and critique. With principles of such origin, legislation can improve the social bonds of community. We are human beings who are incentivized to behaviors by the social constructs of our systems and institutions.
Justice is exemplary of one of the social constructs that plaques the definition attempts from scholars and streets. The prevailing sense of justice has come to be revenge plus equality. The burn for vengeance is laced in tradition and is rational from the individual. For the group principles of the social bond and the need to continually improve its sustainability, justice can only be the investigation into causation and pursuits to eliminate the conditions of development. Justice is reflected in successfully preventing the recurrence, not of the offender, but the offense.
All in all, the general argument in public safety has been about the need for penal laws for societal existence. The concept is foundationally premised on the deterrence aspect of punishment. The problem is, punishment does not have an adequate deterrent effect. As science has advanced, the premise is revealed to be critically flawed. There is no need for penal laws. There is no need for punishment. There is a demand to codify justice into the social bonds.
Why listen to me about these concerns? We are the sum of our experiences. These experiences have provided a rare opportunity for me. To have been a practitioner of violence to maintain social order and then be educated into being a scholar, researcher, and intellectual provides a particular perspective. Being in spaces from poverty to excess and from the streets of historical and legendary oppression in Baltimore to the stuffy conversations of academics provides humility. I take listening very seriously and have learned from both the discarded and the praised.
Those laws and enforcement measures I conducted are reactionary and cannot prevent the victimization I was supposed to be fighting. There is no panacea, no total fix, and there is no mechanism in place for adding the necessary ingredient of humanity. The tyranny of ruling over the actions of other unless absolutely necessary is all around us when we look.
The glue that holds civilization together in cooperation is our societal bond, and there is no more significant reason why our version of ape as climbed to the top of the food chain. Even when that glue is weak, it remains our greatest strength for maintaining a productive community. We can continually improve our societies by focusing on that bond between members of a collective effort. Generally, these members have been viewed as citizens or something similar, but that social construct will prove unstable in the evolution of humanity.
As science and experience inform our knowledge, the societal bond is codified into laws. Often this purpose of codifying the relationship is to provide a system which will benefit the most people of a community, but the next step of improvement is a system which is the most beneficial for all. While my experience and perspective deal with so-called, criminal law, these principles apply to legislation in general.
Michael Wood Jr. is a police management scholar who after spending a career in the USMC and Baltimore Police Department, took to dismantling the blue wall of silence and creating the pathway to reform; a model called Civilian-Led Policing. His fight for justice has included leading the historic Veterans for Standing Rock action in December of 2016, listening to the front lines of Black Lives Matter, opposing money in politics, and elevating the voices of others. You can find Michael in hundreds of media appearances, from HBO’s Fixing the System documentary with President Obama, to The Joe Rogan Experience, to published opinion pieces in The Guardian and Baltimore Sun, and everything in-between, where he furthers the discussion on criminal justice systems and institutions, and the needs of society.
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