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A hopeful approach for the future of international relations.

Redirect teen rebellion towards idealism and self improvement.

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Archives 2002:
Vol. 1, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Hope for the Future
Six Part Series on Science and Religion
First Three Parts of the Series on Leadership
Archives 2003:
Vol. 2, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Series on Leadership continued
Avoiding Dictatorship in a Free Society

Art and Politics
Living the Good Life
Teaching Teens
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Archives 2004:
Vol. 3, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Seven Part Series on Global Consciousness
Is "Liberal" a Dirty Word?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All

Archives 2005:
Vol. 4, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Standing up for Humanity
Unity in Diversity

Thought and Imagination
Imagination and Healing
Lessons of Katrina
Intelligent Design or Evolution

Archives 2006:
Vol. 5, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Human Programming and Conflict
Non-Violent Political Change
Sustainable Development
Legalizing Torture
Living Without an Enemy
"Fast Food" is really "Slow Food"


Featured Articles about Responsibility, the Future and Consciousness:

Hope for the Future
Series on Leadership
Series on Global Consciousness
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?
Conflict, Harmony and Integrity
Human Programming and Conflict
Non-violent Political Change
Living Without an Enemy
Protecting Children: Words and Deeds




September, 2008
7, Number 9

This Month's Article

Guilt and Shame: The quicksand on which the US justice system operates.

For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.
New York Times  “1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says” 2-28-2008

He who fights against monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process. And when you stare persistently into an abyss, the abyss also stares into you.
Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

When anti-crime crusader former Attorney-General and Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, was implicated in a prostitution ring, we were given a spectacular example of how zealous crime fighters are often really fighting their own inner demons. Since the colonists of our “new world,” an ostensibly religious people, used the public humiliation of pillories, whipping posts, stocks and branding to display wrongdoers and enforce strict moral codes, our judicial system has been more about punishment and shame than prevention and rehabilitation.

There is something almost biblical in the zeal with which we deal with crime. Our methods are highly ineffective as the following statistics indicate:

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, … and in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London.

New York Times “Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations”
April 23 2008

Instead of facing our little and big feelings of guilt realistically, we are relieved when someone is punished for them. We are not strong enough to resist the incessant images and appeals of our culture’s media — crime, sex, deception and destructive behavior — that entertain us and sell us a self-image with which we are not completely comfortable. Thus, we are subconsciously relieved when someone actually acts out our dark thoughts, desires and fantasies and then is caught and punished. We feel vicariously that the evil temptations have been removed from our life and psyche, and that we are again moral and safe.

This is the profile of the bully society that needs a victim to affirm its superiority and bolster its self-esteem. Those who are filled with self-doubt and even question their moral strength need a scapegoat to relieve them of their sins. They act aggressively against those who are deemed a threat to the self-image to which they aspire.  Instead of facing themselves with a responsible, objective program of reaching their goals, bullies need scapegoats to blame for their failures, and take attention away from their own shortcomings.

The fact that we produce so many criminals is not so much an indication that we have so many “bad” people, but that as a society we need “bad” people to show how the rest of us are good by contrast. We have so much doubt, guilt and shame that someone has to pay. On the international scene, our aggressive foreign policy and torture of political prisoners are fulfilling the warning of Nietzsche above: we are becoming monsters while fighting monsters.

So many of our crime fighters, from the County Sheriff to the Attorney General to the Judges are elected or appointed by elected officials, that the culture of justice and punishment perpetuates the fears and psychology of righteous bullying that pervades our collective psychology. “Tough on crime” is a virtue for a society in which people hypocritically deny their own tendencies while taking no action to deal with them in mature objective ways. It is a quick fix to punish transgressors instead of providing them the ways and means of improving their lives.

The American Ethic laid out in the documents at the foundation of our nation’s government was basically optimistic about the human potential. Thomas Jefferson and other enlightenment thinkers crafted a social order based on the values of the Age of Reason:

They believed that human beings -- once they were freed from superstition, their irrational religious and cultural heritage, and from material poverty -- could express their true good nature, seeking cooperation and mutual assistance. Similarly, they believed they could construct a social order that would respect fundamental human rights based upon the dignity of individuals and their freedom to shape their lives as they saw fit and the protections for personal property.

Intellectual Heritage Program of Temple University

The disgraceful state of American justice and incarceration is evidence that we have not yet realized the promise of the foundations of our society. We are still dominated by medieval thinking obsessed with instilling fear, guilt and shame. The political dramas in campaigns for public office continue to appeal to these emotional short circuits that disable clear thinking. We will not realize our potential, our abundant intelligence or the great human resources of innovation unless we extract ourselves from the obsolete quicksand of our guilt and shame and face reality.

© 2008 Richard V. Sidy

Read Related Articles

Criminal Justice - The Powerful Over the Weak

Criminal Justice - The Ethic of Custodianship

Legalizing Torture

Entertainment - a poem


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Archives 2005
Volumn 4
January: "Standing up for Humanity"
February: "The Wake of Disaster" – a poem
March: "Unity in Diversity
April: "Life is Calling"
May: "Entertainment" – a poem
June: "Thought and Imagination" part 1
July: "Thought and Imagination" part 2
August: "Imagination and Healing"
September: "Malice or Neglect? – Lessons of Katrina"
October: "Protecting Children"
November: "Intelligent Design or Evolution?"
December: "Building with one hand, destroying with the other"
Archives 2006
Volumn 5

January: "Conflict, Harmony, and Integrity"
February: "Satyagraha or Soul-force and Political Change"
March: "I Know I'm Not Alone - Wisdom of Michael Franti"
April: "Human Programming and Conflict Part I"
May: "Human Programming and Conflict Part II"
June: "Soccer Diplomacy"
July: "Sustainable Development is Nature's Way
August: "Parallel Universes"
September: "The News is not New"
October: "Legalizing Torture"
November: "Living Without an Enemy"
December: "Fast Food is really Slow Food"

Archives 2007
Volumn 6

January: "State of Fear"
February: Criminal Justice - "The Powerful Over the Weak"
March: "Culture Shock: The Good Life and Survival"
April: "March Madness"
May: "No Child Left Behind" Leaves Many Teachers Behind
June: "Personal Ecology"
July: Criminal Justice - "The Ethic of Custodianship"
August: "Exploring the Mind - part 1"
September: "Exploring the Mind - part 2: The Poetic Mind
October: "How Much Pain Can We Stand?"
November: "When Languages Disappear"
December: "Is it Enough to be Tolerant?"

Archives 2008
Volumn 7

January: "Beyond Ideology: Politics of the Future "
February: "Beyond the Bush Years"
March: "The Imaginary Economy - Part I
April: "The Imaginary Economy - Part II
May: Questions from Prison
June: "iGods and Connectivity"
July: "Energy Independence"
August: "Tribalism and the 2008 Elections
September: "Guilt, Shame and U.S. Justice"
October: "Have We Been Willing Slaves?"
November: "Are We Ready for the Future?"
December: "Are we done learning from pain?"

Archives 2009
Volumn 8

January: "Awakening"
February: "When Sacrifice is no Sacrifice"
March: "The Good New Days"
April: "The Power of Metaphor"
May: "The Conflict of Mythologies"
June: "The Time is Right"
July: "The New Anarchy"
August: "The Art of Living"
September: "Outrage"
October: "Are Women Becoming More Unhappy?

November: "Effect of the manufacturing culture on the American Psyche"
December: Who are the Real Game Changers?

Archives 2010
Volumn 9

January: The Music of Place
February: Earthquakes and Other Awakenings
March: Sense of Place, Sense of Self, Sense of Humanity
April: Why Do People Serve?
May: Decentralizing Food and Energy
June: Beyond Reading and Writing — Ecological literacy
July: Organization or Organism?
August: Fear and Cynicism = “Inter-fear-ance”
September: Are we afraid of our "Better Angels?"
October: Choosing Our Battles
November: Meeting the Need
December: A Living Canvas

Diplomacy Help for Teens Science and Religion Poetry Archives
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