Thursday, February 4, 2010

Justice vs Vengeance-

Some of us have an appetite for vengeance. We feel strongly compelled to see wrongs made right, to see injustice corrected forcefully, directly and decisively. We may be driven by an innate passion for order, or we may be drive by an injustice observed or experienced. It is deeply ingrained, and feels like a compelling need.

I know I have such an appetite, such a compulsion. When I observe on the news someone wronged, I do feel for them and their immediate needs. However, there are many others who have that kind of compassion. My focus turns toward the perpetrator, and I am hungry to pursue the vile creature and inflict a comparable suffering upon them.

I recognize the ultimate impact of following through on such compulsions and refrain. Following through would most probably bring injury and suffering on myself, and may inflict such on innocents caught in the battle. I may err in selecting my target, blinded by my zeal and my ultimate lack of necessary skills in locating and bringing to bay the true perpetrator. I may well trigger a chain of counter assaults by my targets, guilty or not.

Modern societies developed systems of justice to provide for the capture of criminals and miscreants, and to administer punishment deemed consistent with the nature of the crime. Such systems are less messy, more likely to be accurate in selecting targets of justice, and inclined toward being fair.

In a perfect form such a system would be satisfactory, to society and the victim of crimes. Were the perpetrators less criminally self interested, they would also recognize the punishment received as fair and be satisfied. Such a perfect form, of course, does not exist.

Vengeance is driven by emotion, and acting out vengeance has an emotional satisfaction. Most systems of justice are simply bureaucratic machines, devoid of emotion and as a consequence devoid of emotional satisfaction for the victim.

They are also costly, and time consuming. For settling many disputes they are probably fine. Insurance claims, matters of rights, that sort of thing. However, for deeply personal injuries, such as rape, murder, and many forms of theft, they can be far from satisfying.

A number of my short stories deal with vengeance. It is a problem I think on, from time to time. How to provide emotional satisfaction to victims when the matter is not just a technical crime, but an offense against the person. I recognize that a society must maintain a system of justice and to maintain such a system they cannot allow citizens to bypass the system for personal satisfaction.

However, is justice devoid of such satisfaction a true form of justice? A citizen denied such satisfaction will have a grievance against the system that failed them emotionally. Too much of that kind of dissatisfaction can erode a society from within. Yet to maintain order a society cannot be driven by the vacillating emotional states of the citizenry.

I shall propose a solution in a subsequent post, a solution that could exist within the existing system of justice, a solution that could provide more immediate emotional satisfaction to victims. However, I would like to throw this out there for discussion. I look forward to seeing where this may go.

3 comments:

Harvey said...

"However, is justice devoid of such satisfaction a true form of justice? A citizen denied such satisfaction will have a grievance against the system that failed them emotionally. Too much of that kind of dissatisfaction can erode a society from within. Yet to maintain order a society cannot be driven by the vacillating emotional states of the citizenry."

To me, this is the crux of the matter. Since, as you point out, there is no "perfect" system of justice,(nor, in my opinion, can there be) all such systems are, perforce, compromises. A compromise may be defined as problem resolution in which neither party is fully satisfied. If the victim(s) are less than satisfied by any "justice/punishment" meted out under our existing system of jurisprudence, it makes no sense for them to blame the system for their lack of revenge or vindication. They should blame the perpetrator for all negative outcomes, since, had the perpetrator chosen not to commit the crime in the firat place, the vistim would have no reason to be unsatisfied. Since the punishment can only rarely actually "fit the crime" (i.e. Justice cannot restore life to the murder victim, etc,) all partes to such crimes are doomed to at least some disappointment in the outcome.

morsdei said...

"A perfect system of justice is one which never requires use"

I'm not sure it's only the justice system which needs to be updated. I encounter an issue with the notion of criminal punishment in the sense that, while the threat of punishment is necessary as a deterrent to influence the likelihood of an individual engaging in criminal activity, if the risk/reward pathway is leaned towards the "risk of punishment is less than the chance of reward" due to the individual's development, psychological predispositions, and/or what he or she experienced previously, then the punishment/chance of being caught may not be sufficient to deter such crimes.

The idea of punishment should not be a matter of "we are trying to make them suffer for what they did," it should be "we are using this as a method to deter others from engaging in similar behaviors."

Michael Lockridge said...

Having observed criminals for twenty years, I have observed that the threat of punishment is not much of a factor in their thinking. Most of them, when they are thinking at all prior to acting, genuinely believe that they will not get caught. As a group they are impulsive in the extreme, and consequences just don't enter into any calculations.

Why punish them at all? Probably for the sake of the "other people." Punishment makes things appear to be placed back in balance. Criminals are irritated by the loss of freedom and don't like living in a regulated environment, but very few suffer from being incarcerated.

For punishment to serve as a deterrent, it would have to be inhumanely severe. As things currently stand, jails and prisons simply serve to keep a percentage of the criminals off of the streets, and therefore not bothering the "good people."