Quarantine and Social Justice

Gregg Caruso is interested in the notion of Agency from the perspective of justice, desert, and sentencing. This is applied philosophy.

My main argument against the possibility of free will is Nietzsche-Strawson’s causa sui argument, which I’ve touched on a few times by now, but I haven’t yet fully articulated my position. I’ll get to that another day. I’d also like to create another video, as I would like to do for this as I explore in more detail.

Ostensibly, this is a compatibilist view that leaves a modicum of free will, even with causa sui in place. I hope this illustration will be helpful.

In the centre of the illustration is you, the self of some arbitrary person who shall act as our subject. Let’s assume a couple of basic premises:

  1. We either live in a relaxed causal, deterministic or indeterministic universe.
  2. Causa sui is in full force and effect: one cannot cause any aspect of one’s self.

I include the term relaxed in the first premise, so I don’t have to deal with a fully deterministic universe governed entirely by the notion captured by Schrödinger’s equation. The second premise is in place to serve as a limitation: even if consciousness is an emergent property, its emergence doesn’t grant some insuperable metaphysical powers. One cannot reach outside of one’s self.

The scenario plays out as follows. You have been apprehended for violating some statute. Let’s say that you’ve taken an item from a retail store. As you are leaving the store, the police stop you. When asked if you took the item, you answer in the affirmative. This is a very efficient municipality, so you are taken immediately to a magistrate to make a plea.

In this scenario, Caruso is your attorney at law. His argument is that, given causa sui, you cannot be responsible for who you are. We’ve been here before. Since you can’t be responsible for who you are, any sentence to punish you would be unethical, as you’ve done nothing to deserve it. This is the notion of desert in the realm of retributive justice.

The judge buys this argument, but s/he counters with three possible courses of action. You may not be responsible for who you are, but we are a community of laws. You are a victim of your circumstances, so we cannot look backwards. For whatever reason—and through no fault of your own, by definition—, you were broken relative to complying with community norms.

Social Justice

Firstly, we may wish to make an example of you, to signal the community that we will incarcerate people who break the laws. This is more a public service purpose than a punishment.

Secondly, if you had contracted a communicable disease—we’re looking at you Covid—, you can be quarantined under the consideration of the common good. Framed this way, it is not a punishment, we just don’t want it to happen again.

Lastly, we may also be justified on the grounds of rehabilitation. I highlight the ‘re‘ in rehabilitation because some people may not have been ‘habilitated’ in the first place. Perhaps think of them as feral. In any case, a computer programming analogy might make sense here.

So what’s this all about? Remember, causa sui says that you cannot be held responsible for creating yourself. The claim is that you are a product of your nature and nurture. Genetically speaking, perhaps there was some reason that you could not incorporate inputs into factors that allowed you to appropriately interpret this law—or any law, more generally. Or maybe, you were never exposed to this law or category of law before.

In the preventative vein, we could be signalling, ‘We caught You taking an item from a shop without paying. Now you know this, and we may make an example of you since you are caught as well’.

Quarantine may be a bit of a stretch in this scenario, so feel free to substitute a more serious offence if it helps you to remember this. Perhaps You killed someone. Even without punishment, we may want to get You off the streets before another killing is perpetrated. I’ll come back to this one.

Rehabilitation makes sense even if one is not responsible for one’s self. Presuming that you are a product of programming—family, culture, peers, and so on—, perhaps you just need to be rewired. Perhaps a particular subroutine was not implemented or activated correctly. This rationality could be used as a non-punitive justification.

Counterarguments

The public prevention case may be why offenders were pilloried in by-gone days. Display in a public square may inform some who may have missed the lesson the first time around, hence dissuading taking similar actions. But unless this ‘public service message’ reached enough people, it would probably not be the best rationale.

Quarantine may sound OK on the surface, but it’s actually rather specious. Firstly, that You knicked a trinket. What exactly is the risk of contagion? Petty theft is not known to be particularly communicable. Secondly, just because you’ve done something once is little measure of whether you’ll do it again. In fact, if this were true, then one might have assumed that you could never have committed the offence because of your history.

Rehabilitation may likely be the best option among these. If you missed that particular lesson or had forgotten or diminished the calculus, remediation may do just the trick. However, if your ‘operating system’ is not up to snuff, it’s not a matter of inputs. It’s a matter of processing capability.

Psychological intervention is in its infancy, so the probability of remediating this is low, if not a crap shoot. And not all such processes can be remediated. This could lead one to fall back on the quarantine option, but who is the competent assessor in this case?

It’s easy enough to assess if You is Hannibal Lecter or tells you straight out that s/he intends to repeat the offence. Some cognitive deficiencies are simple enough to recognise. But what about the grey areas—all of that space in between?

And who is making sure that the judges are not being punitive simply because they haven’t yet eaten lunch?

Enfin

Bringing this to a close, if we have no free will, it makes no sense to punish. Sadly, most justice systems promote retributive justice and punishment in sentencing. I’ll spare you my diatribe on how I believe most people attracted to jurisprudence, law, and law enforcement have been conditioned. And whilst Caruso feels justified in foreword action, I am more sceptical. This said, I’ll take what I can get.

This post is pretty much a stream of consciousness. I hope to give it better treatment in a future video.

Police State

Bad police dramas on TV have gotten me in the mood to rail. First, there was the topic of lying, and then there was the Unabomber. This post is broader.

We laugh of the notions of Barney Fife, Chief Wiggum, and Paul Blart, but in my estimation these are closer to the norm than the stereotype of the bad-ass cop.

My armchair pop-psychology assessment is that people who are drawn to police work are underachievers with power and control issues and conformity and morality fetishes.

Advantage goes to the house

Law enforcement and jurisprudence systems wouldn’t work if they didn’t stack the decks in their favour. They give themselves get out of jail free cards and rely on lies and deception to create an advantage. Watching these TV shows, they have permission to lie, withhold, misrepresent, coerce, and entrap without repercussion. They make ‘deals’ in domains where they have no authority. They are even allowed to engage in criminal activity if it serves the better interests of a case. They can buy drugs and property, engage with prostitutes, and any number of otherwise illegal activities.

I won’t even spend more digital ink commenting on the lack of due process judges commit in the courtroom—personal fiefdoms.

Domestic abuse

Over 40% of active police officers have domestic abuse histories.

Over 40% of active police officers have domestic abuse histories. These people have records of abusing the wives, children, domestic partners, and pets. And these are only the ones who have been caught. Statistically, the percentage is very likely to be over 50%. This is not shining endorsement. Sadly, domestic abuse is inversely correlated with IQ, so this doesn’t fair well with the next topic.

Low IQs

The average IQ of a police officer in the United States is about 104. In and of itself, this might not seem strange. This seems to imply that these IQs are in line with average, but there’s a problem. The courts have ruled that is not discriminatory to exclude people with high IQs from being police officers because they are more likely to be independent thinkers and not conformant.

Conformity

Because cops are usually and expectedly conformant, it should come as no surprise that they feel the urge to prescribe this conformity on others. Given the opportunity, I’d argue that in many instances this conformity is superficial and performative, but that’s a topic for another day.

Lying in the name of…

Among other things, my girlfriend likes cop and crime movies and TV series. I don’t see the reason, but I watch some with her. Most recently, my post on the Unabomber interrupted this one. Philosophically, I key into two things in particular: deception and conformity.

I recall Jung saying that cops and criminals are two sides of the same coin. The best criminals understand the mind of the police, and the best cops have criminal minds. But for the grace of God, we go…

lying to serve the greater good is OK

Cops and law enforcement live by deception. The philosophy here is consequentialist, lying to serve the greater good is OK. This feels somewhat akin to the ‘God works in mysterious ways’ line. The end is more important than the means.

Afterall, lying is not illegal, and it is only immoral if taken out of this ‘greater good’ context.

Biblically, the only lying off limits is ‘bearing false witness’, so I suppose no one is going to hell for this transgression.

It seems that lying by law enforcement might fall into the same category of a ‘Do these jeans make me look fat?’ response.

In fact, people in positions of power routinely justify their own lying for the better good, which I’ll translate as self-preservation, which for the uninitiated further translates to ‘my/our system is the best system, and we must maintain it’.

I’ve been in several situations where police officers lied blatantly.

no mechanism exists to call lying police officers to task

In one, I was on a jury in Beverly Hills. The police accused a Mexican man of armed robbery. The thing is that the lie was so poorly constructed, it wasn’t even close to consistent with the events they said happened. And this wasn’t one bad police officer. It was a conspiracy of at least two, as they shared corroborating accounts. The problem was that the lie superimposed on the physical layout and timeline couldn’t have possibly happened—Schrödinger’s criminal notwithstanding. I won’t restate the evidence beyond this. The jury proclaimed his to be innocent, Sadly, no mechanism exists to call lying police officers to task. Perjury is not an option in these cases. In my opinion, they should at the very least be fined. I’d rather see them fired and jailed.

I was once stopped for running an amber light. I protested and received a citation for running a red light. I immediately brought this the attention of the issuing officer, with whom I had just had a dialogue about running amber lights, and he said ‘tell it to the judge. He was quite willing to lie about something as trivial as a traffic citation. This was before the days of dash cams.

To be fair, I was once stopped for making a turn at stop sign without stopping. I thought I stopped, so when the cop pulled me over, I protested that I had stopped. He offered to review the dash cam on the spot. He rewound it, and sure enough I barely slowed down. I apologised, commended him for the ‘customer experience’, and accepted the citation without further incident. I’ll admit when I am wrong.

Conformity is the other dimension, but I’ll defer this to another post…