The Desire to Punish

Crimes and Punishments: In the 21st Century, Chapter 4 (8 of 50)

The desire to punish is something which has arisen from social construction, and its presence is not universal in the world’s communities. Once a necessary evil becomes accepted as a consequential good, then atrocities committed evolve into tough love. For one must strike a child to keep them from harming themselves, right? It is for their own good, right? This violence begets violence as the oppressed become oppressors due to their experiences.

It has been claimed that the emotional center of justice is situated in love. Love, being a social construct, is a matter of perspective. Perspectives are a matter of interpretation, and the interpretation of laws/power is a highway to tyranny. Punishment denotes violence, which is not the human love, empathy, and cooperation which is our strength. Not understanding the implications of social constructs and objective reality, can deceive us into crafting laws harmful to society.

The legislation of violence is the overt approval of oppression. The thing about oppression is that it is like a meandering river and never flows in one direction for very long. Naturally, individuals seek to be exempt from persecution and oppressive laws. On the one hand, oppressive laws demonstrate that the societal contract has been severed from the quest for liberty. On the other side, no matter how accepted and widespread violent punishment is to the societal structure, it gains no efficacy. Not only is there harm to the people, but there is also no benefit, it is just two steps back, none forward. Even on the family level, we are crafted more by the collective of our community then we are the enforcement of arbitrary familial laws with physical punishment, and this extends throughout life.

While the desire to punish is influenced by the societal integration of violence as an appropriate response, the biological element has influenced the harm. When victimized by an offense(s), the desire for vengeance can be sparked and is an understandable reaction to a traumatic environment. The satisfaction of emotions cannot be allowed codification into our decisions to use the collective authority of state force.

As a creature dependent upon the security of the community, the use of violence is justified to maintain the benefits of the social constructs. The efforts of legislation and government are the authority to enforce the will of a collective. Any punishment exceeding the maintenance of the societal bond is unjust. Though it is recognized here and by Beccaria that, we should be cautious how we associate the word justice, an idea of anything real, as a physical power, or a being that actually exists. Justice must be viewed as something which can only be achieved by the best societal efforts to prevent the causal factors.

Punishment, at its core, is a violation of one’s liberty. In reference, a classic Beccaria principle remains as powerful as ever:

Every act of authority of one man over another, for which there is not an absolute necessity, is tyrannical.

Indeed, the path to tyranny is found throughout the travels of humanity. The creation of laws has been no different. It is not as if temporary confinements are not necessary at times; it is that the most critical eye must be placed on restrictions of liberty. Despite the frequent denial from those in temporary positions of power, the violation of one’s liberty places the moral fabric of the societal contract on trial. The concept of punishment holds that violence or the threat of violence is a deterrent to the violation of the societal contract. Through all the advancements in sciences and humanities, it remains true that force can only detain or contain with temporary compliance.

There are repercussions from the trauma of legalized violence. All punishment, as a motive, is inhumane and is an ineffective measure for providing public safety. This is not to say that it will not be argued, primarily by those who committed offenses, that the consequences faced are punishment, this is a moot discussion as to the intent of society. Punishment from the state is most associated with violent enforcement, and these policies which deviate from the human heart will eventually overcome any forceful attempts at compliance. Transgression of this nature, no matter how slow or subtle, inevitably lead to the revolt of the aggrieved, weakening the mutually beneficial societal contract.

In an additional layer of injustice, each crushing of rebellion is placing the perception of the societal bond above the authenticity of that relationship. The perception of the bond is part of society, becomes ingrained in the norms and traditions. People believe they are wrong because they broke the law. Punishing children feeds punishing adults and vice versa. The offended seek punishment has vengeance because they have been convinced that revenge is equality. The social constructs of violence even contribute to the mindset and justifications of violence from the offender. These are accepted truths within social constructions which stray far from their causes, but demonstrate how the social bond invades everything in our “matrix.”

The lived experiences of one within the social constructs find familiarity in the confirmations of its truths. Conventional wisdom or common sense become accepted at face value to be factual while their acceptance erodes at social order. The fabric of social order runs through everything in the community and once ordered is weakened to the point of instability, the push to inevitable revolution can come from anywhere.

Crimes & Punishments: In the 21st Century is available now in Paperback, Kindle, eBook, Audible, audio-books, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Spotify & more.

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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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iMemberTimes is the digital newsprint of iMemberMedia. We are open to submissions and new writers.




Edited by Dr. Michael Wood Jr., an internationally recognized public safety expert, and scholar of police management.

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Dr. Michael Wood Jr.

Dr. Michael Wood Jr.

USMC, BPD(ret), author “The Business of Policing”

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