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Prisons In A Free Society

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Matthew J
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"Cryptic" is a term that, in its primary usage, names an idea that means puzzling or obscure. I don't know why you think simply asking you for a definition of a key term/idea that you have used is cryptic. Perhaps you mean something else by "cryptic."

I am asking what I asked: What do you mean by "objective"? In other words, what does the concept "objective" refer to in reality? The meaning of a concept is its referents, as known within a context. What is your definition of "objective" (or "objectivity," as a noun)?

P. S. -- For anyone not familiar with Ayn Rand's theory of epistemology, in particular her ideas on definitions, see: Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, sec. edition, Ch. 5 ("Definitions") and many other pages listed in the index under "Definitions."

You didn't just ask: "Hey ggdwill, what do you mean by 'objective'?". You also quoted me by including comments about criminal justice.

I used the word "cryptic" because I get the feeling that you're trying to draw out some fatal flaw in my thinking - not just in this issue but in my entire view of reality. It's kind of creepy. Since I think you've infered something already, why don't you just say it? You can just ask me if I agree with this and this and this or that and that and that, instead of waiting in the wings with your black cloak and sickle until I slip up.

But anyways, I'll indulge you. The word "objective" refers to the proper identification of a fact by an individual conciousness. There is no way to properly indentify to what degree a criminal should be punished based upon his crime because, as I said, there is no way to properly rectify the wrong committed. There is nothing to identify. All that proper criminal justice can be oriented towards is the security of a crime-free future.

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slavery

Just to make sure I've got this right, would it be possible for someone to buy a hot 16 year old girl who was guilty of shoplifting and use her as a sex-slave (ie raping her repeatedly), since she had (quote) "lost all of her rights as an individual"? I suppose you'd have to pay a fair bit since there would be a lot of competition, but you could always put in a joint bid with some mates and share her afterwards.

Also, the mixed martial arts school I train at has quite a lot of punchbags, but they dont really prepare you for the sense of impact you get when hitting other humans, so they might want to buy a few cheap prisoners so students can get used to the feeling of beating the crap out of someone until most of their bones are broken. Would this be acceptable?

Edited by Hal
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Just to make sure I've got this right, would it be possible for someone to buy a hot 16 year old girl who was guilty of shoplifting and use her as a sex-slave (ie raping her repeatedly), since she had (quote) "lost all of her rights as an individual"? I suppose you'd have to pay a fair bit since there would be a lot of competition, but you could always put in a joint bid with some mates and share her afterwards.

Also, the mixed martial arts school I train at has quite a lot of punchbags, but they dont really prepare you for the sense of impact you get when hitting other humans, so they might want to buy a few cheap prisoners so students can get used to the feeling of beating the crap out of someone until most of their bones are broken. Would this be acceptable?

I tend to think that perverts and sadists would be the one's being bid upon, not the other way around. Since I don't share your dim view of humanity, I would be willing to accept the remote possibility of what you described happening. Is there a remote possibility that someone will have a child just so they could sexually or physcially abuse it? Of course. Does that mean we should pay to have the government certify people as parents? Of course not.

Furthermore, what makes you think that the government wouldn't use discretion when selling a prisoner? Why would they turn over a prisoner to people like you described? All they would be doing, by providing the fodder for that kind of behavior, is encouraging more crime - making their job more difficult.

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I tend to think that perverts and sadists would be the one's being bid upon, not the other way around. Since I don't share your dim view of humanity, I would be willing to accept the remote possibility of what you described happening.
I like to think of myself as a realist. If you start auctioning off attractive young womens to the highest bidder, with the promise that they can do whatever they want to them, then its extremely likely that youre going to end up with rape. Its not a 'remote possibilit'y, it would pretty much be guaranteed to happen. Even if the buyers didnt purchase her with that purpose, they would still know that they could do whenever they liked to her and it would be likely to happen eventually.

Another situation in which youre almost definitely going to be promoting torture is when you auction off prisoners who have been found guilty of comitting a crime which people get highly emotional about, such as anything relating to women or children (hitting a girl, rape, paedophilia, etc). In this case, it also seems very likely that they would fall into the hands of vigilantes who would take great pleasure in torturing them.

At the end of the day, there are sadists out there, and you would definitely end up providing them with victims, especially since they would be able to pick up one of the prisoners youre about to murder for a couple of dollars.

Is there a remote possibility that someone will have a child just so they could sexually or physcially abuse it? Of course. Does that mean we should pay to have the government certify people as parents? Of course not.
No, but it means that we shouldnt stand back and let it happen. Under your system not only could prisoners be tortured, but you wouldnt be able to bring charges against the torturers if you caught them.

Furthermore, what makes you think that the government wouldn't use discretion when selling a prisoner? Why would they turn over a prisoner to people like you described?
I woudlnt trust them to be competant when it comes to something that can have such disasterous consequences. Mistakes happen. Anyway, you already admitted that there would be convicts who noone would buy, so if there is only one bidder, hes going to get her.

There is no way to properly indentify to what degree a criminal should be punished based upon his crime

So how are you deciding upon the length that the period of slavery/torture should last for? If theres no 'objective' way to decide on the type of sentence, theres surely no 'objective' way to decide on the duration either.

If youre going to say "shoplifters should be slaves for a week and murderers should be slaves for 10 years", then why not just say "shoplifters should be fined $500 and murderers should be imprisoned for 10 years"? Why is the latter any less 'objective' than the former?

edit: Actually as far as I can tell, the whole motivation for your system is based on the alleged impossibility of determining punishments in an objective manner. So in that case, I assume all criminals will receive equally long periods of slavery?

Edited by Hal
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Hal, I'm going to address your last point first.

When I said that there was no objective way for the government to determine prison sentences, I meant it in the same way that there is no objective way for the government to determine the price of FedEx's stock. Just like in the economy, the "objective" sentence, according to my theory, would be a meeting of minds. It would be what the buyer and seller think are reasonable terms. There are alot of factors to consider in a deal of this gravity so yes, mistakes can happen. So what? The market isn't always objective either, especially when government rules and regulations distort it. But a free market and a private prison system are certainly better than the systems we have now where regardless if mistakes happen, innocent people still have their rights (usually their money) taken from them and the guilty are guaranteed to go on leeching.

That should shed alot of light on what I think of your other points, but I will address them specifically anyways.

Since I'm not qualified, I will refrain from offering you psychological advice even though I see your view of the inevitability of rape as quite disturbing and depressing. But even if it were correct, because of what I said above, it would be unreasonable to assume that a 16 year old shoplifter would spend more than a few day in custody.

As for vigalantes buying prisoners just to take revenge. Vigalantes are vigalantes. They're going to try to do what they do because that's what vigalantes do. I understand that I'm giving them more of a chance, but I still think it's a remote one. It's true that most convicts are low skilled. It's also true that today most low skilled labor is done in large facilities by large companies. So it's reasonable to assume they those companies would dominate the market for buying prisoners. Torturing people, for either sadistic reasons or for vigalante justice, just isn't good business.

Your point that in my theory you wouldn't be able to bring charges against the tortures even if you caught them and the point about the sole bidder getting the prisoner are both good. Except, the government could always stipulate "no torture" in the terms of the sale and they could just refuse to recognize that lone bidder's bid. I don't think it's productive to get into all the details of how the government would structure the sale. I originally used "auction" and not "sale" because I didn't give it any thought. It isn't essential the point I am trying to make: No one has a right to live on the effort of others, especially not criminals.

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Hal, I'm going to address your last point first.

When I said that there was no objective way for the government to determine prison sentences, I meant it in the same way that there is no objective way for the government to determine the price of FedEx's stock. Just like in the economy, the "objective" sentence, according to my theory, would be a meeting of minds. It would be what the buyer and seller think are reasonable terms. There are alot of factors to consider in a deal of this gravity so yes, mistakes can happen. So what? The market isn't always objective either, especially when government rules and regulations distort it. But a free market and a private prison system are certainly better than the systems we have now where regardless if mistakes happen, innocent people still have their rights (usually their money) taken from them and the guilty are guaranteed to go on leeching

But there is an objective way for the government to determine the price of FedEx's stock; there just isn't a precise way. The government looks at all the relevent, latest data and comes up with the most educated figure. The government does not look at Wallmart's stock and decide that FedEx should be two points down.

If I were to determine a prison sentence, some thing's I'd look for are: what did he do, why did he do it, what was the degree of the infraction, what punishment would fit the crime?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but what I do *not* do is assign judicial absolutes (Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not mow thine lawn on thursdays) and couple them with absolute punishments (If you kill, you must die; if you steal, your fingers must get cut off). That would be ignoring the context of the situation and thus wrong. I also don't leave it up to a commitee of judges to decide with the express belief that "there are no objective laws". If it's not objective, and it's not intrinsic, then what must law be?

There is no such thing as subjective law. Period.

If you say "there was no objective way for the government to determine prison sentences", then under your system there can be no objective law. Being objective requires being able to take the context of the situation (the facts, all of them available; not a choice few; the entirety of your knowledge) and thus apply it to whatever judgments, abstractions, principles you wish. If it is impossible to look at reality and thus reach a judgment, then you have successfully severed thought from reality (dispense your righteous justice now!).

Just because something is objective doesn't mean it's infallible. Just because something is wrong, doesn't mean it's not objective. If something is wrong in the light of new evidence and is not changed, then it is not objective. If my context is too small, then I should say it's too small. If my context gives me a definite answer, then I should agree with that definite answer. If my context is later expanded or altered in such a way that my previous answer is wrong, then I should alter my conclusion.

I think the government is perfectly capable (as everyone else is) of being objective. The truth-value of facts (assuming that they're even accepted) does not necessarily alter my objectivity. That's called an error, not an evasion. Everyone is at least capable of error, the government not excluded. Just because the government is not omnipotent doesn't make it not objective.

Your argument basically comes down to this...

"There is no way to properly rectify the wrong committed."

therefore:

"There is no way to properly indentify to what degree a criminal should be punished based upon his crime."

therefore:

"All that proper criminal justice can be oriented towards is the security of a crime-free future."

Your entire argument spawns from the false assumption that there is no way to recify a wrong commited. If Bill Gates stole five bucks from me and I caught up with him two days later, and he thus gave me three billion dollars, I'd consider myself rectified for having been out 5 dollars for two days. In fact, I'd feel horrible, guilty, etc for having taken 3 billion dollars to "rectify" his crime. In this case, the recompensation exceeds the requirements on an exponential level, so if I had forced him to give me that money (or even if I hadn't, really), I certainly wouldn't feel uncompensated; I'd feel like a thief myself and thus give him all (except maybe $50 or something) back. Just because a government forces him to give me a huge sum of money for the pointless little crime, doesn't make it right or necessarily make me feel better.

The same applies here. If all proper criminal justice must be oriented towards is the security of a crime-free future, then I should just kill Bill Gates. Because humans are volitional, they can always make the choice to steal again (there is no certainty that he has been rehabilitated). The only options I have for a secure society is 1) kill him 2) imprison him 3) rehabilitate him. Fining someone is recompensation, which does NOT directly benefit my security. It only acts as a deterent to crimes (which falls under rehabilitation). Sending anyone to prison can serve only three purposes: 1) getting him out of society 2) recompensating the victims 3) rehabilitating him so he can return to society. If it fails to do any of these or any other positive effects, why do it? The same goes for killing and rehabilitation. If it serves no one's interest, why? Because you FEEL like it? Because of arbitrary WHIM? Because you want the safety of being able to apply a moral absolute?

Your "theory" also accomplishes three things: subjective law (because law is neither intrinsic nor objective here), slavery, and murder (killing someone without sufficient/valid reason). After all, murder isn't defined by government.

Edited by BNeptune
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I also don't leave it up to a commitee of judges to decide with the express belief that "there are no objective laws". If it's not objective, and it's not intrinsic, then what must law be?

There is no such thing as subjective law. Period.

And yet there is. For example, deciding guilt and punishment based on one's emotional reaction at the moment, without reference to fact. Perhaps you intended to say that there should be no subjective law, but in fact there is. An example is 15 USC 1 et seq. which penalize anything judged to be restraint of trade.
but what I do *not* do is assign judicial absolutes (Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not mow thine lawn on thursdays) and couple them with absolute punishments (If you kill, you must die; if you steal, your fingers must get cut off
On the other hand, depending too much on context evicerates the judicial system by making it subjective. Rather than enforcing a judicial absolute against theft, we could have a law that allows people to steal if they do so for a good reason, such as necessicity for survival. Rather than specifying absolutely what those reasons are, such as "when faced with the alternative of death within a week", we can leave it open to contextual interpretation (so as to include "death within two weeks", "death within two months" or "grave suffering").

The importance of context in Objectivism pertains to man's conceptual nature and symbolic economy, in particular the fact that when we speak, we assume many facts without explicitly mentioning them. Implicit context is opposed to objectivity, because it is in fact presumed shared knowledge, which means that you cannot be certain that the knowledge is shared. For ordinary social conversation, this is harmless, but when invoking the power of the state to use force it is essential that implicit presumptions be replaced as much as possible with explicit statements.

Let's take the absolute "thou shalt not kill". That of course would be ridiculous, because it means we could not eat either animals or vegetables. Do you think there is anything wrong with taking existing laws against murder absolutely, at least as they exist in the United States?

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On the other hand, depending too much on context evicerates the judicial system by making it subjective. Rather than enforcing a judicial absolute against theft, we could have a law that allows people to steal if they do so for a good reason, such as necessicity for survival.

This is exactly why I hold the view that I do. The judicial absolute would be "If someone is found guilty of theft, he will be available for purchase (for mutually profitable "rehabilitation") for a period of time. If no one purchases him, just as he himself has no right to steal for the sake of his survival, the government has no right to steal for the sake of his survival either."

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And yet there is. For example, deciding guilt and punishment based on one's emotional reaction at the moment, without reference to fact. Perhaps you intended to say that there should be no subjective law, but in fact there is. An example is 15 USC 1 et seq. which penalize anything judged to be restraint of trade.On the other hand, depending too much on context evicerates the judicial system by making it subjective. Rather than enforcing a judicial absolute against theft, we could have a law that allows people to steal if they do so for a good reason, such as necessicity for survival. Rather than specifying absolutely what those reasons are, such as "when faced with the alternative of death within a week", we can leave it open to contextual interpretation (so as to include "death within two weeks", "death within two months" or "grave suffering").

The importance of context in Objectivism pertains to man's conceptual nature and symbolic economy, in particular the fact that when we speak, we assume many facts without explicitly mentioning them. Implicit context is opposed to objectivity, because it is in fact presumed shared knowledge, which means that you cannot be certain that the knowledge is shared. For ordinary social conversation, this is harmless, but when invoking the power of the state to use force it is essential that implicit presumptions be replaced as much as possible with explicit statements.

Let's take the absolute "thou shalt not kill". That of course would be ridiculous, because it means we could not eat either animals or vegetables. Do you think there is anything wrong with taking existing laws against murder absolutely, at least as they exist in the United States?

Okay, I meant there shouldn't be subjective law.

Killing is not murder. "Thou shalt not kill" is ridiculous because it means I can't kill in self defense (murder is killing unjustly). Something is only absolute in the context it is concieved, and as far as I can tell, "Thou shalt not murder" is a perfectly valid absolute. I mean... what's wrong with killing justly?

As for too much context making the judicial system subjective... No. The more (relevant and valid) information you have, the more accurate your conclusion will be. The example you gave still made the stealing wrong. But should it be illigal for the government to steal Iraqi warheads planned to be fired on America? No.

Now, would I have been able to pass correct judgment on America if all the context I had was "America stole from Iraq"? Or did I need more context? Would I have been able to pass an even more precise judgment had I known whether or not the choice had been a split decision, how many were stolen, how powerful the bombs were, what the consequences of the stealing (and of not stealing) were, etc? Subjectivism involves the absence or evasion of facts, of ignoring or extrapolating information.

Don't drop the context.

What context? You said that it's wrong for someone to live off the efforts of another, and that it's right for someone to enslave a man who stole five dollars. That is either hypocritical or contradictory or both.

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What context? You said that it's wrong for someone to live off the efforts of another, and that it's right for someone to enslave a man who stole five dollars. That is either hypocritical or contradictory or both.

What context? Uh, the context of my plan - in which one person is living off of the efforts of a convicted criminal (not to mention that the criminal is simultaeously living off of the efforts of that person/company). Whereas, in the context of right now - reality, the criminal is living off of the efforts of innocent people.

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Something is only absolute in the context it is concieved, and as far as I can tell, "Thou shalt not murder" is a perfectly valid absolute.
I don't know what you mean by "in the context it is conceived" -- does that mean "in the contexts which the lawmakers were thinking of when they wrote the law"? How do we know what that context is; maybe as a bit of scholarly research we can figure out what some founding fathers had in mind in writing a law, but I think it's unreasonable to demand that ordinary people have knowledge of what the law demands that goes way above and beyond what the law actually says.
As for too much context making the judicial system subjective... No. The more (relevant and valid) information you have, the more accurate your conclusion will be. The example you gave still made the stealing wrong. But should it be illigal for the government to steal Iraqi warheads planned to be fired on America? No.
First, you have to distinguish between knowing enough to be able to judge whether a certain act proscribed by law has taken place, like whether there were any witnesses, and knowing what the law actually says. There is nothing we can do about partial knowledge of guilt. But zealously invoking "context" in knowing what the law actually says is a problem. For example, antitrust law has that flaw -- you cannot know in advance of performing an act whether it is legal or illegal, because antitrust law is entirely contextual. There is no objective content to it; instead, the jury is to look at the facts and determine if the totality of circumstances seems to constitute "restraint of trade". Now as for missiles and Iraq, that's irrelevant because there is no conceivable violation of any law there. You may feel like passing some kind of moral judgment on the president or military leaders, but in this case we're talking about law.

My point is that the law must be objective to function properly, and it should be taken to be absolute. That means that if you want a "contextual exception" where self-defense is taken to block a guilty conviction, then that facts should be in the law (which, btw, it is). If you want a "desparation exception" for laws against theft, then those exceptions should be codified in the law. This will not change the fact that we cannot always determine whether the accused did indeed steal, but it does at least define the context where theft is legally sanctioned, if we are to have legally sanctioned contexts where the law allows theft. Frankly, I don't see any need to allow exceptions to laws against theft.

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