Straight Up with Sherri

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Words of Wisdom

These are some old columns, but in light of the London bombings, the "American Hiroshima," the ACLU, Judge Roberts' adoption files being a TARGET of the LOONS, etc- I felt it HELPFUL to post this today. You can follow the links and read much more.

Jonah Goldberg, YOU ROCK!

"The difference between the good society and the bad one is entirely defined by the rules which determine how this natural impulse to compete for respect and happiness should take place. A bad society is one where it is acceptable for people to attain status through violence or birthright. The good society is one where status is achieved through creativity, personal industriousness, and moral self-restraint. A bad society considers some groups ineligible to compete for trivial or superficial reasons. A good society believes everyone is free to pursue happiness equally. But all societies, good and bad, will have such competition for status and success. This is a universal truth."

and then there is this one:

"Meanwhile, conservatism has always understood that life is too complicated to be easily defined — or controlled — by the human intellect. "The nature of man is intricate," wrote Edmund Burke, "the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man's nature or to the quality of his affairs." Man is born in sin, God's plan is unknowable, the known and tried, in Lincoln's formulation, is preferable to the unknown and untried: This is the spine of conservatism's humility."

and this one:

The Tyranny of Clichés

In debates with readers, colleagues, college audiences, et al. the monitor on my internal respect-o-meter flat-lines every time I hear someone say, for instance, "better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished."

In order to explain what I'm talking about let me repeat my objection to this phrase.

It's not so much that this isn't true. Maybe it is. Maybe it is better that ten confirmed rapists and murderers be set loose on the streets to murder and rape again rather than lock up one innocent guy along with the ten menaces to society. Maybe we will all accept it as the price of liberty when your mother is subsequently raped or your son is shot because, hey, better the rapists and murderers go free than the unlucky go to jail.

But, it seems to me, there's an argument to be had here. Isn't there? Let me provide a very quick-guided tour of the obvious. According to the best social scientists and criminologists, career criminals commit a great many crimes over their lifetimes. Indeed, that's why we call them "career criminals" — they've made a career of it. Career accountants have, in all likelihood, prepared many tax returns and we can expect them to prepare many more. So it is with career criminals who've committed many crimes: We can expect them to commit many more. This is why I call prison "the bad people place."

So, anyway, if you say "better ten guilty men go free than one innocent be punished" — or some variation of that — all I expect from you is an argument. Why is it better?

Don't get me wrong, I understand the principle: We should err on the side of protecting the innocent rather than punishing the guilty. Fair enough. But quite often — too often — when people throw out this old adage, they seem to think the principle settles the argument when in fact it only sets the stage for it.

For instance, how come it's better that ten guilty men go free? When we translate the principle to reality, we've got to pick a threshold number. So why not say it's better that 50 guilty men go free? Or, say, two guilty men? Is 10 a special number? Or is it just easy to say? Or haven't you thought about it all? Most often, people haven't thought about it all.

So let me ask you, why not set free two million guilty men? After all, we all know that some number of innocent people are in prison right now. Therefore, if we maximize the principle of erring on the side of the innocent we should let everyone out of jail because we know someone doesn't belong there.

The point is.......