In the Atlantic Monthly recently there was a thorough and well written article helping people to understand why the old school legal system based on “two wrongs” is, well, making things worse, and why a legal system based on the understandings of brain science, which approaches things from a “How can we make the situation better in the future?” approach is the way to go.
While our current style of punishment rests on a bedrock of personal volition and blame, our modern understanding of the brain suggests a different approach. Blameworthiness should be removed from the legal argot. It is a backward-looking concept that demands the impossible task of untangling the hopelessly complex web of genetics and environment that constructs the trajectory of a human life.
Instead of debating culpability, we should focus on what to do, moving forward, with an accused lawbreaker. I suggest that the legal system has to become forward-looking, primarily because it can no longer hope to do otherwise. As science complicates the question of culpability, our legal and social policy will need to shift toward a different set of questions: How is a person likely to behave in the future? Are criminal actions likely to be repeated? Can this person be helped toward pro-social behavior? How can incentives be realistically structured to deter crime?
Blame is passé. And because all intentional harm is sick, prevention of harmful (criminal and otherwise) behavior needs a future based on health care. And I mean real health care, looking at the whole human, including their environment, and what the individual needs to be their best (better quality food, water, air, warmth, sunlight, and the freedom to express one’s excess matter and energy).
The world moves slowly, even slower than a turtle. And even this article still promotes more sick, harmful, punitive, blame-based behavior by the legal system. But the world does indeed move, towards a better place for the children, a place where all human brains are treated as precious and valuable and deserving of the best possible nurturing…