Human Zoos

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other day I was driving with my wife along a lonely highway in eastern
North Carolina (yes, I know, all the highways in eastern
North Carolina are lonely) when we noticed a motorcyclist riding
along with a small child perched on the seat behind him. The child
was no more than 9 or 10 years old, and both my wife and I remarked
on the obvious stupidity of plopping a child on a crotch rocket
and barreling down the road at 65 mph. What followed though, revealed
much about how conditioned we are by our state-worshipping culture
in the "Land of the Free."

immediately thought that some sort of punishment was due for the
cyclist if there were a wreck and the child was hurt. My wife quickly
corrected me and pointed out that it’s not the government’s business
to intervene in that sort of situation. It opens all kinds of doors
that the state has used to haul people off to prison in order to
“protect” others.

this uncovered was not just that we have become such statists in
our general culture that we immediately assume that it’s right for
the state to intervene in just about any area, but the damage that
intervention, coupled with the other standard government practice
of imprisonment, does to real, living, breathing human beings. The
widely accepted idea of incarcerating criminals is simply the status
quo in America. Try beginning a conversation at your next social
gathering by declaring that just maybe, prisons aren't a good
idea, and see how many jaws drop in wonderment.

very idea of prison has at its root an Enlightenment belief in rehabilitation,
in the fundamental goodness of human nature that society has somehow
managed to screw up, and the offender simply needs a little reeducation
time – oh, say 30 or 40 years or so – to be taught that you shouldn't
rob a bank or kill someone. Of course, the average conservative
of our day will jump up and shout, "No way, you loony jarhead,
prison is punishment. I don't believe in all that rehab namby-pamby.
They need to be locked up to pay for their crimes." Pay whom?
The offended party, or the state?

idea of restitution is not completely alien to our justice system;
criminals today are still ordered to pay damages to those they’ve
wronged, but all too often it’s simply an afterthought. The real
“punishment” is when those who have violated the law have to “pay
their debt to society” and serve their time in a holding pen for
a few decades. How in the name of Patrick Henry does going to prison
somehow make the offended party whole?

answer is that in our country today, the state considers itself
the primary aggrieved and wronged party in every crime that is
committed. The state is then made whole by taking free slave
labor from people for a few years – or decades as the case
may be. This is somehow considered more humane than those harsh
Biblical laws that are the foundation of Western culture and government.
The Biblical view of lawbreaking is of course, twofold: the only
possible parties that can be wronged are God and another human being.
The reason God required restitution or retribution in the giving
of His law was that humans were made in His image; to violate or
harm another person was to do violence to His imagebearers; you
can’t exactly do much moral or physical harm to a lump of jello,
or an impersonal organization like government.

requirement for the wronged party to be made whole was the basis
for all of Biblical law. The value of the life of an imagebearer
of God was so great that the life of a murderer was required of
him. Of course, this sounds extremely mean and just so downright
uncivilized to all us modern folks today; we know better
now, post-Enlightenment, right? Well, all we have to do is to look
at our prisons and see the glorious results.

has been well-documented on this site, America imprisons more people
than any other nation. The state takes away inmates’ liberty, controlling
every moment of their lives, and locking them up in cages. For some
reason, we’ve forgotten that maybe, just maybe, throwing hundreds
of thousands of violent people together in an enclosed environment
might not be a good idea. We wonder why there is a whole prison
subculture of rape, theft, murder, and bribery; in short, why inmates
act like animals. Because we treat them like animals. Instead of
treating people who commit crimes against others like people,
even when that might grate against our modern sensibilities, we
stand by and approve of the state rounding up the cattle and robbing
them of their humanity by dumping them in the Naughty Zoo.

most so-called conservatives think it’s just peachy to lock people
up and throw away the key. We’ve been so conditioned by the left
(re-education camps, anyone?) that we don’t realize that we’re using
leftist methodology to “punish” criminals. The quiet winner is the
state, which sucks up more dollars, establishes greater control
over individuals, and steals the liberty and humanity from those
that it imprisons. We need a drastic overhaul in the way we think
of crime and punishment, a return to the concept of restitutional
justice, and the jettisoning of the failed socialist ideology of
rehabilitation and social re-engineering. The state can’t rehabilitate
the sinful heart of man; once it tries, it makes itself a god.

22, 2003

Brian Cohn [send
him mail
] is a transplanted Yankee and a former Marine Captain
who will soon be writing from Chattanooga, TN.


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