Are we too afraid to be free? of a world without prisons?


To Vladmir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka V.I. Lenin, is attributed the old Soviet boast, “The nature of Capitalism is such that the last Capitalist will sell the rope to the Communist with which to hang the last Capitalist.”  It could be true that Capitalism may be inherently self-destructive, but Democracy is even more so.  

I am increasingly convinced that the American people WANT to live in Slavery; they WANT to live in a secure and well-regulated Corporate World Prison Planet; they fear freedom and the self-responsibility that comes with it; they loathe the idea that their chains could or should be shaken off: like the frog in hot water, they may in fact become incrementally more comfortable with ever slightly tighter chains, in fact, until their circulation stops entire—

“We have lingered in the chambers of the sea/

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown/

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”

Or in other words, “In my end is my beginning.”  The way my grandfather always explained it was, “So long as I am the dictator, I favor pure democracy.”

          Young people who use drugs apparently, for the most part, do not really favor the legalization of drugs or think it is wrong that people who use or sell drugs are put in jail.  They, like prisoners in jails everywhere, fear pederasts and pedophiles will go free, or that murderers and rapists will rule the streets, if there is any meaningful relaxation in the criminal laws which would restore due process of law and civil rights.  And I’m not just talking about young people I meet in the bleak suburbs of Florida and Texas and other bleak places, I’m talking about many of the young people walking around the streets of Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the American Revolution effectively began, where the Sons of Liberty toasted from bowls made by Paul Revere, and George Washington took command of the Continental Army.

          I for my part dream of a world without prisons, or at least a world with no long-term incarceration for anything, ever.  Murder?  Well, it’s rare, for one thing, and for another, Non-civilized tribesmen have no jails, yet murder is rare because vengeance will follow murder, and feuds will decimate the population as a result.  Anthropologists who have studied the feuding Indians of Amazonia and adjacent portions of South America (such as the “Fierce People: the Yanomamo of the Orinoco River in Venezuela) or the until very recently continually warring and sometimes cannibalistic tribes of New Guinea have not seemed to fear for their lives (although it is possible that one Michael Clark Rockefeller who vanished sometime in November 1961 SHOULD have….). 

The simple fact is that throughout history, murder has not always been punished by imprisonment or death and yet murder may be more common now in the United States of America than it ever was before, anywhere.  The United States Supreme Court recently declined to extend the death penalty back to crimes involving something other than homicide, but for a long time in the Anglo-American world, people were hanged for almost anything and everything—horse-stealing, pick-pocketing, etc.

But the young people of America seem convinced that, “if you do the crime you should do the time” and so they will probably continue voting for the politicians who build the most prisons and increase mandatory minimum sentences and probation violations until more people will be in jail or under supervision than outside of it.

I envision a world in which we return to the “injury-only” view of crime.  I can break your taboos all I want to, would be my argument, so long as I don’t hurt you, and if I do hurt you, then I should owe you compensa-tion, and if I will not or cannot compensate you adequately, then you are entitled to vengeance—but that vengeance is yours alone, and if you don’t care, why should anyone else?  That is my ideal world.  So I suppose that, “if I were sitting on the Court, every crime would sound in tort.”

Civil litigation supplemented by personal vendettas is a poor enforcement tool, but is it any worse or less efficient or less accurate than criminal justice?

The same young people I mentioned talking to above also seem to believe that most people in jail deserve to be there.  How ANYONE can think that (in light of recent history and plain reality) is just a mystery to me.  Most people who are in jail in the United States are in jail for drug-related crimes, and all or nearly all drug-related laws in the United States are plainly unconstitutional, and imprisonment for drugs is only socially destructive, NEVER socially constructive.  I would especially say this is true all Federal anti-drug laws, which carry the stiffest sentences, and are backed up by not one single line in the constitution, and by analogy with the abolition of slavery and the prohibition of liquor—if there’s nothing in the constitution about abolishing or prohibiting a species of property, such as alcohol, or drugs, the constitution prohibits the abolition or prohibition of that species of property by way of the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment).

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