Thursday, August 27, 2009
Why I Hate The USA: One Nation, Behind Bars
Every time I hear the US referred to as the Land of the Free, I don't know whether to laugh or to go on a cross-country killing spree. The US has more of its population in prison than any other country on the planet. That means we are not the land of the free. It would (literally, actually, no fooling, you idiot) make more sense to refer to ourselves as the land of the incarcerated.
Having more than one out of a hundred US citizens behind bars would be bad enough, but the nature and quality of US prisons makes the situation much worse than it seems on the surface.
Our system is predicated on false premises. The idea is that the threat of punishment discourages wrongdoing.
Haw! Haw! Haw!
This is based on a fairly clear misreading of human nature, especially the kind of impulsive, judgment-poor human nature that's typical of people who do the kind of shit that gets them locked up. And really, let's be honest -- it has its roots in a desire to punish.
The desire to punish is based in malice. It is sadistic -- it allows people to take pleasure in the suffering of others if they can convince themselves that the suffering in question is justified.
Justified cruelty is still cruelty. I say this as someone with a broad streak of vicious bastard in my character. I take great pleasure in the suffering of those I see as deserving of it. This is a vice. It only differs from garden-variety sadism in that it offers the oh-so-delicious spice of self-righteous indignation. (Well, that and I don't get hard behind it, thank goodness.)
This is a flaw. I don't like recognizing it in myself, and I try and keep it curbed. In the US this trait openly celebrated, incorporated into our social and political systems. It devours vast quantities of public wealth and destroys lives and communities.
And it does no good.
While there are people who react to prison by straightening themselves out, that ain't typical. Prison destroys people, then turns them out on the street with a stigma that makes them virtually unemployable. We are being made to pay money to have people broken to the point where they have difficulty existing outside the controlled environment of a prison. Ever hear the term 'institutional man?'
And I refer to men here, because the vast majority of prisoners in the US are men. And this is why in the US, men are statistically more likely to be raped than women.
I reached a conclusion a while ago that left me feeling extremely uncomfortable. I went to bounce it off a friend of mine. She's a former Marine, and a former cop, among other things. She's had enough contact with the prison system for me to feel as though she'd be able to set me straight on the subject.
So I asked her, "Is it an exaggeration to call most prisons in the US rape camps?"
She didn't have to think about it. She wasn't surprised by the notion -- didn't even blink.
"No, that's what they are."
It really, really bugs me when people gloat over the idea of someone going to prison and getting raped. And this isn't a right wing/left wing thing. I've known plenty of pinkoes who have relished the idea of certain individuals being forcibly sexually violated.
That's right, folks. The USA keeps better than one percent of its population in rape camps, and we think it's funny.
Fuck you, USA.
Of course, the rape camps are, as they always are, stocked on a basis of ethnicity. The number of black men in prison is an act of apartheid. And when you conjugate that with the notion of cheap prison labor, it doesn't seem a million miles away from being a covert return to slavery.
And never forget -- we pay for this. The prison system sucks a hell of a lot of money out of the public commonwealth and delivers nothing in return but broken humans. If I'm gonna pay for something like this, I'd at least like to see productive citizens at the end of the process.
Most significantly, the main reason people are in prison is because of the illegality of many popular mind-altering drugs. Our rum-guzzling, pot-growing founding fathers would be massively shocked by this one. John Stuart Mills would shit pills.
America has produced a drug culture of remarkable influence and potency. Look back on the old days of patent medicines -- our forefathers and -mothers were all messed up on hardcore drugs. You used to be able to buy cocaine and heroin at the fucking drugstore.
Republicans make a big noise about Democratic social engineering, but it's hard to see a more egregious example of social engineering than incarcerating more of our population than any Marxist government because you want to control what kind of a buzz people get.
To legislate what people can and cannot put into their own bodies is a fundamental violation of liberty. Period.
Most people in prison are there because of drug offenses. Why are we spending money to keep them from living productive lives, to render them incapable of leading productive lives?
Because a lot of folks love, love, love to see bad guys punished. And that leads them to believe against all evidence that punishment discourages behavior.
So it's easy enough to bitch about the situation. Here are a few thoughts on how a better system could be put into place.
First off, totally decriminalize all drug use. Let anyone use any drug they want.
There are people who take this stance who say that there wouldn't be any significant fallout from doing this. They are full of shit. May I suggest a brief perusal of Hogarth's Beer Alley and Gin Lane? If you lived in a lower-class neighborhood during the heyday of crack, Gin Lane should look pretty fucking familiar to you. This is what happens when unfamiliar hard drugs hit a community for the first time. And make no mistake, hard liquor is a hard drug.
But I feel very strongly that the social cost of living in a rape-camp culture is far more damaging to the USA, socially, economically, and morally. And over time, the culture learns to absorb the effects of the availability of hard drugs -- look at the role gin currently plays in British culture.
If you drink alcohol, coffee, or smoke tobacco -- hell, if you eat fast food and drink soda (take a look at the research on their effects on brain chemistry -- it ain't hyperbole), you are a serious drug user. Get over it and stop pointing fingers at people just because their dangerous mind-altering chemicals aren't your preference.
Next, get rid of incarceration as a punishment. Only incarcerate those who have demonstrated an inability to function in society without harming others, and make their incarceration dignified and humane -- one that reflects the highest values of our culture rather than the most abject.
Instead, make the fuckers work for a living, and make them pay for what they've done in dollars. After they've paid off their victims and the court costs, then leave 'em alone. Make it so that employers know that someone who's been through the mill of the legal system is someone who's probably a good employee. Education and halfway houses. This would be cheaper than prisons, and by returning people to society as contributors and taxpayers rather than fundsuckers, we earn interest. Every citizen should be regarded as an investment. (That's socialism, right there. And that's a subject for another essay.)
And somewhere out there I can hear the bleating. "But that means that people would commit crimes so they could get jobs!" Make similar educational programs available to everyone. Again, invest in a healthy culture. "But why should we treat criminals --" Stop right there and ask yourself the question, "Why am I so eager to punish people?"
When I asked myself that question, the answer was simple. "Because I'm kind of an asshole." Breaking a law doesn't make someone an asshole. Hurting others out of foolishness and unbridled self-interest makes someone an asshole.
And when I think of our prison system, I can't help but think that we're a nation of assholes. Land of the free, my ass.