The Charlotte News

Wednesday, June 8, 1938


Site Ed. Note: "Crime and Rationality", suggesting an alternative to jail for most criminals, presents a problem which has come a long way in many places since 1938 toward better solution--that is when not confronted with the vigilante crowd whose mantra is lock 'em up and throw away the key for every petty nuisance which might beset their petty little minds, themselves usually borderland mental patients. (A standard notion, among the reasonably sane at least in California, is that when they closed the lunatic asylums in the late sixties, they re-invested the community with many of the people who vote wholesale for all the crazy "law and order" propositions which, willy-nilly, populate the referendum (and recall) ballots, especially during the last 25 years or so, since the whopping success of the brilliant property tax initiative in 1978 which nearly bankrupted the state for a good while--only way out of which having been, what else, a legal, state-sponsored numbers racket.)

Diversion programs, for instance, for non-violent crimes, not only funneling the accused into community service work but also keeping the first-time offender from suffering a criminal record of any sort behind it, even a record of the arrest, once the program is accomplished successfully, is a sensible notion which most states ought to follow. Many other states besides California do, on varying formulas of admittance and effect.

There is nothing dumber than ruining a young man's or woman's life, one before it which was unscathed by taint of accusation of crime, over scurrilous charges, provable if at all only either by some unreliable "witness" testimony or purely by circumstantial evidence, sometimes brought forward by persons routinely engaged in criminal conduct themselves, perhaps against someone to whom the local cops or some local pol or just some local hold disfavor, charges which are both embarrassing and sometimes difficult to disprove, especially when evidence is consciously stacked in such a way that the burden is effectively unconstitutionally shifted to the defendant to disprove the charge.

We think that diversion programs ought be extended further perhaps, as available options in virtually any crime, save murder, (a crime where, without a living victim, circumstantial evidence obviously and inevitably has to play a major role), where the accused has no record or an insubstantial one, and the alleged victim or witness is, by the story described, of highly questionable veracity, or where no physical evidence of the crime exists which relates it to the accused. (That is not the cop's job, to discern who might be telling the truth.) While that might lessen the scuttlebutt on many "news" shows, it would certainly prove most salutary to society and save the taxpayer a whale of a lot of money, by eliminating the prospect of political pressure on prosecutors to take up junk cases which are flawed in the premises but on which someone has hit some sort of political hot button which tends to force the prosecutor's hand, like it or not.

Prostitutes, for instance, who don't get paid, often yell "rape". That case is not usually rape. People who commit crimes of assault often, when no unbiased eyewitnesses are available, allege that they were initially attacked when in fact they were the aggressor. The list of such questionable circumstances of allegation goes on, of course.

And, as sometimes turns out to be the case, what of the person in jail who is genuinely innocent? Will jail, as an institution, not run that person, as often as not, quite insane? It is one thing to do time for a crime one has committed and can admit. It is quite another to be in jail, accused, convicted, and yet innocent, still believed to be guilty and treated as such by the institutional setting. That turns the whole fabric of the design of even the best penal institutions we have devised topsy-turvy. And convictions on such flimsy notions as clothing or carpet fibers, blood samples, and the like, over the years, have apparently sent, as we see proved often in the age of D.N.A., many an innocent to jail, sometimes for decades, spent sometimes in the throes of the constant, omniscient throbbing hum of the death house imminent.

Ah, but someone may retort that no one is truly innocent, and so...

True, perhaps, especially if one believes, as we most assuredly do not, in that time-woven Puritanical, plucked from whole-cloth notion of "original sin", (merely mistaking physical acts without love for those coupled with it, and thus lumping them all in a mass of "sin" for want of a better distinction), but most of us are not in jail and never have been.

Jails, in our estimation, are medieval in their concept and society needs a better method of dealing with those convicted of crime, maybe even in some instances, the ultimate crime. So, try the method of negative association, a simple concept used in psychological experiments on college students. That is, take the behavior which is undesirable in society, violent behavior, thievery, chemical dependency, etc., and associate it with Pavlovian negatives. The methods then are what must be arranged so as not to throw out the baby with the bath water, the soul and judgment of the individual with the supposed negative impulse. Ordinary films we watch often perform this feat on their own, when viewed by the educated and reasonably astute. A film such as "A Clockwork Orange" probably does as much to dissociate one from criminal tendencies as a score of psychiatrists working around the clock on a patient--provided, should the viewer not be altogether rational or astute, that film is viewed in a context which surrounds the dissociative person with input which is discursive of the content. So view the film in conjunction with what amounts to a college-level film criticism course, taught by a volunteer in the community who normally teaches such a course to college students. Weed out the dissociative opinions through normal discussion and critique, of the film, not the opinions necessarily directly of the viewer. If the viewer decides he or she would like to be either Alex or the Droogies down at the milk-bar, then they need to explain why, not that inflicting pain is cool, but to understand why they might think so, that it is pain within shared by all others, probably equally with those they might decide to choose as their random or not victim.

The ultimate solution, at the end of the day, is to treat people from the beginning with reasonable decency and as normal, civilized people. Failure to do so, whether by use of overly punitive measures, feigning of aristocracy to lord over others, or other such purely anti-social conduct, is apt to breed, well, a Jet. Empathy for thine perceived enemy is a good first step toward that understanding always--before the crime, not just after it. Then...

We won't say much more about all of that, the amelioration of anti-social conduct, directly. It is written herein, in one form or another, already many times.

But it is necessary of course, at least, to define initially what it is we mean by "anti-social" conduct. Is it, as in common parlance some think, being alone or apart from people in the flesh? The loner. That is rather a silly definition to posit as it would suggest that most of our best scholars, writers, poets, musicians, even many prominent statesmen through history, are all victims of this "disease". That isn't it. One can be surrounded by people every day at work, at play, and still be quite anti-social. One can be gregarious and the life of every gathering, yet still be anti-social insofar as that term means ultimately doing a heinous act of one sort or another somewhere along the line. Anti-social conduct is truistic to a great extent. That is, what is violently criminal is anti-social and vice versa. And there are no predictors for it, not really, as society has seen proven over and over again, with a list so long, we shall not even begin it except with one example: Jack the Ripper, they say, was likely a physician or someone trained in the medical arts. Thus, profiling is a monstrous thing which may only breed what it is feebly trying to prevent, with a great chilling of freedom for all, at least other than the profilers, in the bargain. It is necessary probably first to realize that each of us, to varying degrees of triggering, are capable, when normally self-imposed restraints are lifted, of some form of violence, left over from the primordial instincts residual in the genes of all humans--capable, if not self-checked.

At the end of the day, the best solution to crime is not to start one, whether as would-be victim or would-be perpetrator. And that includes being a pill-popper or doper. If you cannot account for your whereabouts yesterday, then probably it is time to obtain some assistance somewhere, for you may be on your way to becoming anti-social. That said, some conduct made criminal is not anti-social, but merely the result of some inadvertence, in which case we definitely ought to classify it differently in society, as a civil wrong subject to amelioration by normal civil remedies, rather than criminal ones. That would be a good starting point, anyway.

And if anyone in the penal system out there is looking for a fitting punishment perhaps which we hope might also be ameliorative, then get your non-violent charge to do a research project as part of their ameliorative process, not by memorization, but by report critiquing something, a song, a movie, preferably a book, or maybe even an editorial or series of editorials out of a newspaper or magazine, gearing that critique to an understanding of how different people might perceive the same song, movie, book, editorial or magazine differently, even though viewing and perceiving in their own mind the same sentence, paragraph, page, or what have you.

Well, you get the picture.

Indeed, you could start with an old Time magazine, dated, if memory serves, November 22, 1963. Ask them to read it, all of it, even the ads., and describe in 1,000 words or less how all of that relates, for instance, or might relate at least, being viewed within different perceptions, to the editorials below, poetically or otherwise.

Echo From 1912

We discover by Dick Young's "Reporter on Assignment" story yesterday that the reason traffic lights in the city work so that automobiles are stopped at every one of them is that--it is all calculated on the theory that cars are driven on our streets at the rate of fifteen miles an hour?

And now certainly, mates, that is a most quaint theory. Has there been a car on our streets since 1912 which proceeded at the rate of 15 miles an hour? We'll lay not. It may take them an hour to get fifteen miles on Tryon Street, but that is fifteen miles of stop and go, whereas between the stopping and going they move, with the tacit approval of the coppers along the way, at a rate of twenty miles or more, mostly more.

And as a result, mates, the next light they come to is red and they have to stop; thus jamming up traffic until it turns green. And when it turns green they are off at twenty miles or more an hour and of course have to stop at the very next corner and thus jam up traffic all over again.

A Plague of Silver

Through busy downtown New York last week went a cavalcade of armored trucks carrying $70,000,000 in silver bullion. Vigilant armed guards rode alongside, and the procession was given right-of-way over all other traffic, for $70,000,000 in any medium is $70,000,000.

In due course, probably, these 5,000 tons of silver brought over on the French liner Normandie will make up a part of the 70,000 tons to be stored in a huge steel and concrete box on the military reservation at West Point. And once there, it will stay there, since nothing is to be done with this silver. It is neither to be minted into subsidiary coins nor to serve as the basis for the issuance of paper money nor to be doled out to the trades and the arts which use silver. And nobody except Uncle Sam wants it.

There it is to sit, a billion dollars' worth of it at present world prices for silver, all because four years ago Congress fell a sucker to Western arguments that to raise silver to some sort of parity with gold would revive this country's foreign trade and induce prosperity at home. Long since that theory has been abandoned as fallacious, but the silver keeps rolling in as the Treasury, acting under orders, continues to send good money after bad.

Crime and Rationality

Judge Frank M. Ogden, of the Superior Court at Oakland, Calif., told the American Psychiatric Association at San Francisco Monday that our treatment of the criminal is all wrong. Apart from a few people who are betrayed into crime by unusual circumstances, the criminal, he said, is a person who is suffering with a disease--the anti-social disease. And the way to deal with him is not to try to punish him but to isolate him and, if it is possible, to cure him.

The judge will encounter a lot of dissent on that, but there is very good reason to believe that he is right. The practice of giving a man convicted of a crime a sentence of so many years in jail, where he associates at close quarters with other criminals and becomes hardened in his ways--of turning him loose on society again when his sentence is perhaps half completed--is about as rational as the way lunatics used to be treated. They whipped them, you know, to drive the devils out. And at such places as Bedlam in London they chained them up on a bed of straw and allowed crowds to come and taunt them--all by way of making the devils so uncomfortable that they'd depart the body and brain of the afflicted one. And when Pinel, the Frenchman, began to apply rational methods at Bicetre toward the end of the eighteenth century, he was almost universally set down as a crackpot and an atheist.

But today everybody knows an insane man is merely a sick man who has to be isolated until he can be cured, not by way of punishing either himself or his devils, but by way of protecting society. Perhaps we shall presently become civilized enough to deal with the criminal in the same rational fashion.

Site Ed. Note: For more discussion by Cash on the subject of crime and insanity, see, e.g., "The Boy Rapist", April 5, 1938, "Open Season in Chicago", October 24, 1938, "Barbusse Portrays War Horror", book review of October 22, 1939, and "Chivalry", May 30, 1940.

For another side of the coin, one sounding, in our opinion, more engaged merely to prate and demonstrate some soft familiarity with literature among his fellow Lords than to obtain any form of higher truth and justice for society, see Lord Darling's 1924 essay, "Crime & Insanity, Murder and Its Punishment", attacking the Warden of Sing Sing who had set forth in a book the statistically well-premised maxim, of which it still is, that capital punishment does not deter murder--not truly in much need of statistical proof, as truly rational people do not commit murder, not ever, nor do those usually who are deterred by any form of societal condemnation or who are themselves not without some form of wish for death in the first instance; and only the rational mind ever generates any idea of deterrent reaction relative to self-preservation based on the death penalty.

The crime of murder requires more than a momentary lapse in rationality, as the deconstruction of rationality leading to it has had inevitably some long gestation period in which to stew and accrue, even if the final act is only a momentary light step of further insensate animus on the already heavily tipped balance thusly formed, one evident in other behavior patterns and tendencies to actual physical violence over time.

Does one really think that the person irrational enough to murder in the first place would be deterred by the threat of death by the state, even if immediately after the act most will try to escape the consequence? The deterrent effect, if at all, then comes too late, doesn't it? Only after the act is committed. Or, as always, if early and before it, to the person who is rational and sensitive enough not to have any desire to inflict any form of physical pain, let alone murder, in the first place.

Isn't it silly to postulate that a person staring into the irrational world of contemplation of the commission of murder might actually be semi-rational enough to pause momentarily back to rationality and discriminate on the notion that apprehension and conviction would assuredly result in the death penalty, as opposed to a life sentence in prison, and for the former consequence stop in the inclination, while if only faced with the latter, would proceed? Perhaps in the movies--not in reality. Oh, but you say, someone in prison for murder said on the tv maybe that they might not have done it in the first place had they faced the death penalty--and they seemed at the time totally rational when they made this statement. Yes, of course; they were cured. We don't, fortunately, at least in rational legislative bodies, make laws from the mouths of babes and hinged to emotion.

Adamant death penalty advocates, we opine, are persons who, unable to conceptualize the full impact of taking another's life, thus irrational to that extent, are themselves perhaps the first about whom we need worry as being likely to commit a legally unexcused homicide, whether in vengeance for a crime or otherwise.

Or are we too harsh? Is our argument merely tautological, based on what we regard as rational or not in the first instance? If you think either to be the case, please, at least, don't kill us. We shall oblige you your disagreement without resort to swords--or even treacle. But instead demonstrate rationally why, apart from emotions, the same emotions, if unrestrained in the premises, which lead to the impulse of violence and murder, that is a sense of the necessity for perfectly equivalent vengeance, there is anything rational in the state taking a life for a life. (And please, please don't resort to the Bible. It does not, in its whole fabric, taken at once, say anything remotely close to that. Nor would it be necessarily a rational conclusion even if its text, or that of some other holy book, such as the Koran, could be so interpreted.)

And, for one on the history of the treatment of epilepsy, not dissimilar to that described of insanity and criminality, and its subsequent advance in human and scientific civilized understanding, see "Driving Out the Devils", March 13, 1939.

But, perhaps, we would all prefer instead the continual tingle, tingle in the night provided by all the horror-shows cluttering the airways daily come to life--as long, that is, as they are of someone else's misery and not that of our own--yes?

Small Down Payment

There is a noticeable disposition in Washington to legislate on the installment plan, to decide upon an objective and enact laws saying, in effect: "Now this year we shall go so far towards that objective, and for next year we commit ourselves to go a little closer, and next year, etc..." Social Security is a case in point. The unemployment insurance tax began at 1%, increasing to 2 and 3% in successive years. The old age insurance tax is another. The rate starts out at 1% on both employers and employees, stepping up to 3% each by easy stages. But in the end these taxes combined will impose on business the burden of a 6% pay roll tax, and on pay envelopes another 3%.

The same tendency is to be found in appropriations. Take Mr. Bulwinkle's bill for Federal aid to the states in eradicating venereal diseases. The money involved is small potatoes, but the method is typical of the Congressional attitude that next year and the next the Treasury is going to be better off than it is now. For 1939, the appropriation would be $3,000,000. For 1940, $5,000,000. For 1941, $7,000,000, and thereafter whatever sums Congress deemed necessary.

Take the wage-and-hour bill. Its sponsors in conference sought diligently to fix the minimum wage rate at 25 cents an hour the first year and arbitrarily to impose an increase year by year until it reached 40 cents. The best the Southerners have been able to get so far is to limit the mandatory increase to one year, to start at 25 cents and to go to 30 the next year and to leave it up to advisory boards for various industries after that.

Well, it appeals to us as a sensible procedure to start slowly and work up speed. But the cumulative effect of all these reforms, especially the ultimate effect on business machinery of a 6% pay roll tax and progressively higher wages and shorter hours, not to mention other Federal incubi, no man knoweth or can foresee. And yet the administration is committed to them in advance, having strategically asked for only a small down payment in order to get Congress's signature on the dotted line.

Note on Crimes

The fascist code which is growing up in the world seems to have as its prime postulate that the criminality of an action depends entirely on who does it.

Thus the day before yesterday the Spanish Insurgent high command reported that "the Reds (the Loyalists) with their usual criminality bombed Palma." Palma, capital of Mallorca, is the Italian air base in Spain, and the bombing was carried out purely against the military objectives there located, and not against the civilian population. The bombing came, too, on the heels of a long series of bombings by the Insurgents--bombings which were obviously carried out with no view to military objectives. Bombings, indeed, which were obviously and wantonly directed at the civilian population. Thus at Valencia last week these Insurgents killed and wounded 500 persons, most of them women lined up in the market place to buy their day's food. And in another case planes which had been driven off from Barcelona by anti-aircraft fire deliberately unloaded their cargo of bombs on a little country town which admittedly had no military value, and killed and wounded some 300 civilians.

The bombing of military objectives at Palma, according to the fascist account of the matter, is criminal, whereas their own merciless murder of civilians is a defense of holy religion and civilization.

A Target for Kicks

A number of farmers have petitioned the Vance County Commissioner to discharge the County Farm Agent, complaining chiefly that he showed "partiality based on politics" in making crop allotments under the new AAA. Under that new AAA, the administrative system of the old AAA and the Soil Conservation Act was preserved, and in that system, county farm agents are a prime factor.

What cause farmers in Vance County have for being disgruntled and how many of them are, we don't know. Generally, vexation over this year's allotments has arisen because the farmers wanted the higher prices which would come with curtailed production and did not want to be the ones to curtail; and that may be the trouble in Vance. Nevertheless, in any method of parceling out production permits there is plenty of scope for politics and favoritism and simple mistakes, and that is one of the worst objections to the method of controlling prices by telling this farmer and that exactly how much they may raise.

Site Ed. Note: The others of this date are here.

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