To Michael Re: Making people passive NOT!

Robert Owen (
Thu, 07 Oct 1999 20:40:06 -0400

Michael S Lorrey wrote:

> ................................... The term 'cruel and unusual punishment'
> IMHO is too frequently used by the squeamish to get out of taking
> responsiblity to do what needs to be done to punish the wicked and
> attain justice for the victimized.

I understand your feelings, Michael, but we don't want "feelings" to to be basis for human beings mutilating each other in the hope that Thomas Hobbes' statement "Homini lupus lupi" ["Man is a wolf to man"] will as a consequence become False. (And by the way, parents do not INTEND or CHOOSE to produce congenital defects -- quite the contrary, and therefore can hardly be held responsible de jure or de facto. The concept "morally or legally responsible" cannot be applied to "nature" except by assuming it is a First Cause with the power of choice, i.e. by simplistically personifying it in an archaic manner. The only sense in which "nature" can be cited as a rationale for morality is in the fascist sense -- "Might makes right" and we don't believe that, do we?)

The greatest problem I find with your advocated practice is the utter impossibility of objectively deciding who is "virtuous" and who is "wicked" other than by erecting to a Legal Principle the ineffably primitive and animistic superstition that things are what they do. We all know that this proposition is False, except perhaps for tropistic and reflexive behavior. It is very like the impasse over "obscenity" -- are we to say "this human being in our opinion has no redeeming social value according to our local community standards"? Rather reminds one of provinciality gone quite mad. And surely citing the practice of mutilation of any kind (cutting off hands or clitoral excision) in some distinctly different culture as if that somehow excused us from regarding it as something barbarous (i.e. regarding it as a civilized practice) in our own is neither logically nor otherwise cogent.

The point is: judgments of moral worth cannot be subject to either logical or empirical verification, and are always associated with a basic uncertainty. Of course, any workable social arrangement will attempt to defend itself against random violence (just as the Romans attempted unsuccessfully to prevent barbarian invasion by use of deadly force) -- but to allow this End to morally justify means which are otherwise regarded as vicious is irrational and self-defeating.

If a jury of peers concludes that some individual is an incorrigible danger to the welfare of his or her community, then exile (if and when exoterrestrial Penal Colonies like Australia historically become feasible) or local isolation, while costly, are solutions which do not compromise our conscience nor our claim to civilization. "Squeamish" has no relevance to this case which is all about "ensuring the general tranquility" without loss of integrity and "self-respect".


Robert M. Owen
The Orion Institute
57 W. Morgan Street
Brevard, NC 28712-3659 USA