Beyond the Punitive Society

Punitive law enforcement is clearly a failure as Erich Fromm points out in his paper On the Psychology of the Criminal and the Punitive Society (1931). In the section entitled The Failure of the Criminal Justice System Fromm describes how punishment is an aggravating factor in future criminality, how the threat of punishment doesn’t deter crime, and how public safety is not achieved through punitive policies. In the section entitled The Hidden Purposes of Criminal Justice in a Class Society Fromm goes on to disclose the hidden function punishment has by satisfying the aggressive and sadistic impulses of the masses and by diverting attention away from an oppressive ruling class and focusing it on the criminal instead. This is seen most clearly when legislators keep beating the drum for more and better equipped law enforcement and for greater punishment in the face of each previous failure in increases of punishment. We are also bombarded with negative images of criminals and glowing ones of law enforcement in the news media and in entertainment daily with dramatic effect. 

John, the apostle and prophet, also understood the negative consequences of punishment on the human psyche. He described fear as being connected with it. 1 John 4:18. Psychoanalysts such as Erich Fromm, who were also trained in the Scriptures, picked up on this quickly. Later, Behaviorists such as B.F. Skinner, discovered through experiments in the laboratory that positive reinforcement was more effective at changing and establishing desirable behavior than punishment. Skinner called for better teaching practices involving less punishment and more positive reinforcement in the classroom. Once society is able to put the various forms of punishment it now  uses behind it and the human psyche is free of the fear associated with punishment, you will see an unleashing of human creativity intertwined with social responsibility beyond belief. A natural human enhancement will occur bringing solutions to social and technical problems as well as longer lifespans. 

Clearly a just and humane society needs a criminal justice program that will work. Human progress demands it. I’m thoroughly convinced that the best way to defeat crime and violence in society is through communal living and the teaching of children the law of God to the point where they internalize it so well that the need of punitive measures will be unnecessary. The Scriptures point to this as God’s goal. The early church in the book of Acts lived communally sharing everything so there would be no needy among them. See Acts 2:44, 45; 4:32-35. And, the prophets announced God’s plan of instilling His law in the hearts and minds of man. See Hebrews 10:15-18; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 11:19-20.

A Kibbutz project for the poor and for achieving equality might be the best way to start here in the United States. Following the example of Israel’s Kibbutz movement, poverty and its social consequences could be done away with to a large extent. Kibbutz research shows that Kibbutz communal practices decreased the likelihood of crime substantially. Because the communal childrearing practices of the Kibbutz, had such a positive impact on the children’s moral and intellectual development, Bruno Bettelheim, author of The Children of the Dream, suggested it as a solution to the problem of family disintegration in American ghettos. In Kibbutz Goshen: An Israeli Commune, by A.M. Bowes, the author points out in the section on Growing Children that there is some controversy over whether the separation of parents from the childrearing process is right for all children.

On pages 85 and 86 of Erich Fromm and Critical Criminology: Beyond the Punitive Society, it is mentioned that Franz Von Liszt and Gustav Aschaffenburg advocated the combating of crime through reducing poverty, alcoholism, and divorce as well as treating juvenile delinquents more leniently. I must wholeheartedly agree that this is the most promising route to take, but point out that assistance should not come from the state but through Kibbutz programs designed to give the poor economic independence from the dependence on state programs.

The Kibbutz idea should have its ultimate goal as providing an alternative utopian vision to the god building plans of the transhumanists. A Kibbutz society is the only way to eliminate poverty  and achieve equality, and it is full economic equality, for all, that is absolutely necessary for society to safely utilize the advanced technologies predicted to come about in the technological singularity. It must come first or the future society will be doomed to misuse its technology for highly destructive and oppressive purposes much as it does today.

With the technological singularity fast approaching it is imperative to give social research on the Kibbutz equal time and money with the new brain research being conducted that will likely lead to significant advancement in artificial intelligence (AI).


Links of Interest

The International Communal Studies Association, 

The Kibbutz at One Hundred,

Institute for Research on the Kibbutz and the Cooperative Idea,

Urban Kibbutz Living,

Our Punitive Society: Race, Class, Gender and Punishment in America, By Randall G. Shelden,

A psychoanalytic approach to understanding punitive public attitudes,