Wed, 18 Oct 2000 21:04:14 -0700
> -----Original Message-----
> From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]On
> Behalf Of email@example.com
> Sent: Wednesday, October 18, 2000 17:53
> To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Subject: Re: [gundam]
> 1. Prisoners doing productive work is an excellent idea. Forcing
> criminals to be idle all day is cruel and unusual punishment and is
> counterproductive to the society in general. What is bad is that someone
> (anyone) other then the prisoners would benefit financially from prison
> labors. Bottomline is that any time in history that prisoners produce any
> significant amount of financial gain for a group of people (who are
> typically feudal lords, industrialists, and you guessed it, communists),
> the amount of social injustice increased.
In America, we have this schizophrenia about our prison system, in that we can't
decide whether it's for punishment (retribution, if you will) or rehabilitation
(penitence, the root word of penitentiary, isn't punishment but absolution). We
end up swinging first one way and then the other. In the end, we try to do both
and end up not doing a good job of either.
Three peculiarly American institutions illustrate this: the chain gang, the
prison farm and the rock pile.
The chain gang is the use of prison labor for public works -- building roads,
digging ditches and other manual labor. As you note, this is often perverted
into legalized slavery but even at its best it's using a hundred convicts with
shovels and picks to do the work that any one of them could do with a backhoe or
The prison farm started out as a rehabilitative ideal: the prisoners would
become self-sufficient, growing their own food by their own labor, and sell the
surplus to fund building maintenance to improve their living conditions without
expense to taxpayers. It worked for several decades, until local farmers
complained that prison crops were undermining "honest" farmers in the
marketplace. Prison farms were scaled back until they became punitive stoop
labor with no benefit to the prisoners, who had to start buying food from the
local farmers -- at taxpayer expense.
The rock pile started out as a cost saving venture: prisoners at one of the
first prisons in America were conscripted to quarry the rock and actually build
that prison around themselves. Once the work was completed, they were kept at
it because the grueling physical regiment left them too exhausted to fight or
try to escape. Later still, rock piles whose sole purpose was to supply
something for prisoners to expend "hard labor" upon -- "making little ones out
of big ones" -- became a fixture. This is punishment pure and simple, as it was
of no benefit to anyone, anywhere.
> Personally I think the answer is that prisoners should be given work, but
> must be paid at salary at or above average level of unionized rate (of the
> country in question of course). So that it won't be an incentive for the
> industrialists, government, etc to directly or indirectly increase the
> prison population. There needn't be any worry that union level wages
> would make prison-life too comfortable. There are enough humane ways to
> make prison-life unattractive to potential criminals.
Ah, rehabilitation! It's currently out of favor here in America, where the
popular mindset is to lock them up and throw away the key. Heaven forbid we
should let convicts PROFIT from anything!
The simple restriction of liberty is unattractive to most people. House arrest
can be every bit as unpleasant as actual incarceration, perhaps more -- in
prison, you'tre surrounded by other prisoners, but under house arrest, you're a
prisoner alone among a world full of free people.
> 3. While I agree that most Americans mean well, but most of the public
> opinion about China is easily swayed by the Authority. The opinion of
> China in the US hit a definite low in 1989 with the massacre. But that
> time, the general feeling was "CCP bad, Chinese good". The second low was
> the "accidental" bombing of the Chinese embassy last year. CCP,
> understandably, milked it for all it's worth. Of course, for both the
> average Americans and Chinese, this set up the us vs. them mentality.
There's a strong but unspoken element of racism in America's view of China,
dating back to the Opium Wars. When Gene Rodenberry put a Russian on the USS
Enterprise, to illustrate how well humanity would one day get along, he eschewed
the Chinese -- you'll see his view of them in "The Omega Glory" and, to a lesser
extent, the Klingons.
And it's not just China, but to some extent all of Asia that suffers from this
institutionalized racism. Even the "positive" stereotypes -- Charlie Chan, Kung
Fu, Madame Butterfly, Kato -- are despicable. The negative ones -- Fu Manchu,
The Dragon Lady -- are downright unspeakable.
> 4. A lot of people in the West thinks that we all want to share the
> prosperity. That is simply unpractical. It is simply impossible for,
> let's say, even 50% of the population to enjoy the N. American lifestyle.
> Put it another way, if hunger is eliminated from the whole world, by the
> simple principle of supply and demand, the price of your afternoon
> chocolate bar will have to go up, how many people are really willing to go
> along with that?
The problem with capitalism is that you end up with Haves and Have Nots -- for
every rich person, there must be several poor ones. Americans, while they hope
to become rich, mainly want to see everyone as well-to-do as possible, Our
glory is that we have the largest middle class in the world, although that's
beginning to erode now. Given our druthers, I think most Americans would like
everyone to be comfortable in the middle, neither rich nor poor.
The problem with communism is that "from each according to his ability, to each
according to his need" doesn't work, either. 80% of the work ends up being done
by only 20% of the people, while the rest show up for their daily handout and
aspire to nothing greater. This happens to the capitalists, too, because every
industrialized state is a welfare state nowadays.
> 5. I am completely sympathetic to JED's feeling of helplessness. The
> post-Soviet era is both the freest and safest time; and the most
> suffocating and most depressing time. Most of the Western population are
> well-fed and well-clothed, but life's meaning seems to be getting sucked
> out of us from about age 4 onward.
This may be a simple correlation between things we're given and things we've
earned. To truly value omething, you have to expend effort to get it. That
which comes easily brings less joy.
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