Tuesday, May 26, 2009

With Crime and Punishment For All

Plinky asks, "What activity should be considered a crime? Explain why this behavior should not be tolerated and describe a fitting punishment."

Dante's Inferno, the first part of The Divine Comedy, describes the worst crimes committed by the worst sinners, and then he details the specific punishments for each of those crimes. He says the worst sin/crime known to man is when a person is a traitor to his master. That's why Satan sits in Dante's frozen hell, flapping his six wings to keep the place icy (as should be the place that is absent of light and love), chewing on the likes of Brutus, Cassius, and Judas Iscariot. Dante felt that betrayal was certainly worse than those that our Western society seems to be hung up on - suicide, abortion, murder, and homosexuality**. Though we are likely to nod at several of Dante's suggestions, we have to remember that he was also very political and actually named names when talking about some crimes and punishments - not so Christ-like, I'm afraid.

We obviously must talk about Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment when Plinky suggests that we do. In it, the main character, Raskolnikov, commits a double murder while in a deranged state. His punishment is existence itself. Rather it is living with his own troubled conscience.

For Meursault in The Stranger, the crime again is murder, though really he is tried for apathy - not crying at his mother's funeral; the punishment is that he is "beheaded in the name of the French government" which is not nearly as bad a punishment to him as is being deprived of a cigarette and sex while in jail. Eventually, even those thing are of little consequence. After all, everyone dies eventually, right? Why is execution better or worse than any other death?

For Shakespeare's overexposed couple, Romeo and Juliet, love and naivete make up the crime and the absence of that love is the punishment. Death joins them in the end. In The Tragedy of Macbeth, Macbeth is too ambitious. It's death and delusion for him. Lear favors the wrong daughters and goes insane. Hamlet's crime is revenge, also punishable by all encompassing death - no one, not the criminal nor the innocent, makes it in the end.

In real life, Martin Luther King said that the biggest crime committed in society is inaction. In many speeches and writings he says that folks who turn blind eyes to injustice are the criminals. I suppose his crime was speaking the truth that many were reluctant to hear. His punishment was being forced to leave this world before his dream was realized. Society's punishment was the loss of a very wise man, their crime being apathy.

And on and on and on.

The point of me going over all of this is to say my answer is I don't know. Literary geniuses have gone over this in many, many works. There is no conclusive answer. Murder, of course, is bad. Rape is horrendous. And still I'm inclined to say that apathy is the most ruinous because apathy can literally kill millions - (See Darfur, for reference). But then, ambition and greed, crimes that are lesser ones in our culture, can have a similar result.

I vote, instead, that we take the wisdom of those who have spent time pondering such things with a grain of salt, and focus, rather, on the things we can do for each other. Maybe if more of us wholly invested ourselves in our metaphorical gardens, taking care of our families and our communities, there would be less crime to think about, and less punishment to inflict.


* the other parts being Purgatorio and Paradiso, don't-cha know
** Apart from murder, our society has no business persecuting or prosecuting these "crimes". Shouldn't we focus on helping and loving each other? Why are we so fucking stuck in what we call 'righteousness', when really our agenda embodies exclusion and hate!?

3 comments:

Christine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine said...

Well said and thoughtful, as usual. As a side note to your footnote, I was so sad today to hear about the CA supreme court's ruling on Prop. 8, though I think their reasoning is understandable. At least they didn't invalidate the marriages of those who'd already gotten married. They'll put it on the ballot again in 2010. It's so hard to watch how slowly we move toward the fight against injustice in all its forms.

Your discussion covers over half a millenium of literature, so I guess I should stop thinking it will all get fixed sometime soon.

Yaya said...

True. My husband says that rapists should be castrated...



PS regarding your comment on my post...did you ever realize how much your Mom went through to get you? Most people who adopt have been through years of infertility and pregnancy loss only to endure years of adoption process and waiting. It's years and years and then *Bam* there is that child you've been longing for. I bet her love for youris infinite!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

With Crime and Punishment For All

Plinky asks, "What activity should be considered a crime? Explain why this behavior should not be tolerated and describe a fitting punishment."

Dante's Inferno, the first part of The Divine Comedy, describes the worst crimes committed by the worst sinners, and then he details the specific punishments for each of those crimes. He says the worst sin/crime known to man is when a person is a traitor to his master. That's why Satan sits in Dante's frozen hell, flapping his six wings to keep the place icy (as should be the place that is absent of light and love), chewing on the likes of Brutus, Cassius, and Judas Iscariot. Dante felt that betrayal was certainly worse than those that our Western society seems to be hung up on - suicide, abortion, murder, and homosexuality**. Though we are likely to nod at several of Dante's suggestions, we have to remember that he was also very political and actually named names when talking about some crimes and punishments - not so Christ-like, I'm afraid.

We obviously must talk about Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment when Plinky suggests that we do. In it, the main character, Raskolnikov, commits a double murder while in a deranged state. His punishment is existence itself. Rather it is living with his own troubled conscience.

For Meursault in The Stranger, the crime again is murder, though really he is tried for apathy - not crying at his mother's funeral; the punishment is that he is "beheaded in the name of the French government" which is not nearly as bad a punishment to him as is being deprived of a cigarette and sex while in jail. Eventually, even those thing are of little consequence. After all, everyone dies eventually, right? Why is execution better or worse than any other death?

For Shakespeare's overexposed couple, Romeo and Juliet, love and naivete make up the crime and the absence of that love is the punishment. Death joins them in the end. In The Tragedy of Macbeth, Macbeth is too ambitious. It's death and delusion for him. Lear favors the wrong daughters and goes insane. Hamlet's crime is revenge, also punishable by all encompassing death - no one, not the criminal nor the innocent, makes it in the end.

In real life, Martin Luther King said that the biggest crime committed in society is inaction. In many speeches and writings he says that folks who turn blind eyes to injustice are the criminals. I suppose his crime was speaking the truth that many were reluctant to hear. His punishment was being forced to leave this world before his dream was realized. Society's punishment was the loss of a very wise man, their crime being apathy.

And on and on and on.

The point of me going over all of this is to say my answer is I don't know. Literary geniuses have gone over this in many, many works. There is no conclusive answer. Murder, of course, is bad. Rape is horrendous. And still I'm inclined to say that apathy is the most ruinous because apathy can literally kill millions - (See Darfur, for reference). But then, ambition and greed, crimes that are lesser ones in our culture, can have a similar result.

I vote, instead, that we take the wisdom of those who have spent time pondering such things with a grain of salt, and focus, rather, on the things we can do for each other. Maybe if more of us wholly invested ourselves in our metaphorical gardens, taking care of our families and our communities, there would be less crime to think about, and less punishment to inflict.


* the other parts being Purgatorio and Paradiso, don't-cha know
** Apart from murder, our society has no business persecuting or prosecuting these "crimes". Shouldn't we focus on helping and loving each other? Why are we so fucking stuck in what we call 'righteousness', when really our agenda embodies exclusion and hate!?

3 comments:

Christine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine said...

Well said and thoughtful, as usual. As a side note to your footnote, I was so sad today to hear about the CA supreme court's ruling on Prop. 8, though I think their reasoning is understandable. At least they didn't invalidate the marriages of those who'd already gotten married. They'll put it on the ballot again in 2010. It's so hard to watch how slowly we move toward the fight against injustice in all its forms.

Your discussion covers over half a millenium of literature, so I guess I should stop thinking it will all get fixed sometime soon.

Yaya said...

True. My husband says that rapists should be castrated...



PS regarding your comment on my post...did you ever realize how much your Mom went through to get you? Most people who adopt have been through years of infertility and pregnancy loss only to endure years of adoption process and waiting. It's years and years and then *Bam* there is that child you've been longing for. I bet her love for youris infinite!