Friday, December 01, 2006

Bears and Sending Messages

Coincidentally, after talking about the costs associated with "sending messages" with someone else's money a few days ago, I ran across this item today as I waited for snow to melt:

But for the president and many of his followers it was quite simple:

In State of Denial, Woodward recounts how Michael Gerson, at the time Bush's chief speechwriter, asked Henry Kissinger why he had supported the Iraq war:

"Because Afghanistan wasn't enough," Kissinger answered. In the conflict with radical Islam, he said, they want to humiliate us. "And we need to humiliate them." The American response to 9/11 had essentially to be more than proportionate—on a larger scale than simply invading Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban. Something else was essential. The Iraq war was essential to send a larger message, "in order to make a point that we're not going to live in this world that they want for us."

. . . It's similar to what happens when a wild animal like a bear comes down out of the hills and mauls someone.

Back in the day they used to round up a posse (now they call in the professionals) grab their guns and go out to kill the bear. It doesn't really matter which bear, just that the defenders of civilization can bring home a bear carcass and show everyone that if a bear kills one of them they are going to get revenge -- preferably by killing one that was even bigger than the one that did the killing. They always say that it was because the bear was dangerous and it had developed a taste for human blood or something like that. (The people don't ever really know if the dead bear is the one, do they?) The purpose isn't really to kill the bear that did the deed. And it isn't as Kissinger says, to show the other bears that they will be killed if they do this again. It's to quell their own fear by proving to themselves that they are not helpless.

Our prison population growth has little substantively to back it despite the cherry-picked evidence and arguments of defenders who feel forced to be "scientific" rather than forthright about their actually defensible motives. We've been willing to pay the "justice premium" for those offenders despite the data and research that indicate more cost-effective alternatives. Cost-benefit folks who don't understand why we do it just need to think of the bear. We do it to quell our own fear by proving to ourselves that we are not helpless. Until policy reformers address that fundamental reality, their proposals will always fall before the latest bear.

Listening, CA? CO? WI? Anyone?

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