Why Does the West Not Cane or Whip People In Public?

This post is very un-thought-through – everything in it is offered mainly to stimulate thought, not to convey my own beliefs (after all, I’m an anarchist, so my thoughts on punishment are hardly going to be mainstream).

One hears sometimes stories of people in other countries by sentenced by a court to be whipped or caned in public. Apparently, this is practiced in one form or another in about 30 different countries – all in either Africa, Asia, or the Caribbean. In ‘the west’, i.e. Europe and North America (also, it seems, Latin America) such a thing is never done – at least to adults.

Not only is it not done, but it often provokes shock and horror. Isn’t that barbaric? As a related fact, we are also entirely opposed to any sort of punitive mutilation, such as the amputation of a hand, or castration, or branding.

The reason for this is not entirely obvious at first sight. ‘We’ (that is, the general Western public) are quite happy to have people locked in cages – some of us are even happy for it to be indefinite, or solitary for long periods. Why is there such a big difference between controlling someone’s movements and just beating them?

One obvious argument for why we’re against mutilation is that it’s so permanent, and we want to affirm the possibility of rehabilitation – that punishment shouldn’t determine the whole of your life. But this seems to imply that we should be very keen on corporal punishment – because a beating, even a severe one, is less ‘lasting’ than most forms of imprisonment.

Reinforcing this, is the possibility that a beating might be considered substantially preferable to imprisonment by some (or most?) of the actual recipients of the punishment. It’s over quickly, it doesn’t impact so much on your ability to carry on your other projects. It’s less likely to destroy your relationships through prolonged absence, it has less effect on your children.

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Abolish Lawyers

This is going to be another post where I cast aspersions on the legal system from a position of relative ignorance. In fact, it’s that ignorance that I want to talk about in particular.

(also, I’m going to use ‘law’ to mean simply the standing rules and regulations of a society, including those of an anarchic society, although I’m aware that many anarchists are ‘against laws’ because they define ‘law’ slightly differently)

Because, why are we ok with the fact that we don’t really know what the law says? I mean, I could probably tell you a good number of legal facts, especially those most relevant to my life. But I doubt they would add up to 1% of the legal facts that there are, and even if we added in all those which I might have a chance of guessing based on common sense, I think it would still be a minority. And I don’t imagine many other people are much better off. In a word, law functions as a specialism.

Now we might be fine with that if we were dealing with a scientific discipine, or a complex craft – we’re not surprised that most people understand only a minority of medicine or of chemistry. But law’s not a scientific discipline, it’s a public creation, and it’s meant to be something that we all give assent to – indeed, which at some level exists because we all assent to it. And of course, it’s supposedly our responsibility to be familiar with it, because ignorance is not a defence.

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