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Ethics and warehousing


Who are we to blame:  the utilitarian theory of retribution--jk


Utilitarian ethics as a guidance for government and personal action is based upon the maximization of the good:  by government for those within the society, and by individuals.  It is a code for public actions and of personal actions.  The issue of what should be done about behavior that produces significant harm for a society, on a government level, it would be to for to select policies which would reduce the overall harm.  A policy of warehousing that costs $45,000 per year is producing harm to society, harm to the individual, and harm to those separated from that person.  To minimize these, a policy of retraining, of supervision upon release, and of making the conditions of confinement only moderately odious.  Odious enough so that those in need of assistance don ‘t see for example robbing a bank as way to get into a job training & drug rehabilitation program. 


Utilitarian society goes not just to the issue of personal actions and social policy, but also to the very nature of society.  It was the understood question in Plato’s Republic:  How to build the ideal society?  Utilitarian theory is applied not just to the conditions of incarceration, but also to that of employment, goods and service, and the distribution of wealth.  Utilitarians is about maximizing the good.  And if an area such as administration of programs is found wanting, then positive change is required.  Plato gives us the first extensive example of this approach.  


Improving conditions of confinement and release is not an isolated issue, but ought to be part of an overall program to make society better.


One way to view society is that like of nature, full of niches.  A niche is an environmental slot which accommodate a certain number animals.  Thus there are in a given area certain number of seed eating birds, of insect eating birds, of nectar gathering birds.  And within this broad categorization, there would be birds that can eat seeds with hard shells, and those that can’t. In our society there are certain behavior niches.  Conditions support a the various mass religions, gambling casinos, sporting good stores, etc.  The same too with biker clubs, drug dealers, and robbers.  Changes in conditions entails changes in the number and type of churches, of sporting good stores, etc.  Changes in social conditions and the numbers of bikers, recreational drug users, and thieves change.  The change of niches results in a changing of enterprises.  The Roosevelt New Deal had within the constraints of capitalism a vision of changing niches, of maximizing the number of sober, hardworking citizens.  We need to get back to Plato, to making government a good parent. 


And we need a public-interested media (not our corporate media), one which will raise repeatedly the questions of what is the good life and what should government be doing to promote it?  We need a media which does not give the corporate answer of removing regulations for the sake of profits, and thereby presuming that the law of the jungle is the road to the good life.  We have gone from the wisdom born of the depression to the idiocy of the 1920s and the era of robber barons.  History is repeating itself:  corporate greed is not the way to build a healthy society. 



The ingredients of Utilitarianism are found in the history of thought long before Bentham.

Antecedents of Utilitarianism among the ancients
A hedonistic theory of the value of life is found in the early 5th century BC in the ethics of Aristippus of Cyrene, founder of the Cyrenaic school, and 100 years later in that of Epicurus, founder of an ethic of retirement, and their followers in ancient Greece. The seeds of ethical universalism are found in the doctrines of the rival ethical
school of Stoicism and in Christianity.

Utilitarianism is an effort to provide an answer to the practical question What ought a man to do? Its answer is that he ought to act so as to produce the best consequences possible.

Basic concepts
In the notion of consequences the Utilitarian includes all of the good and bad produced by the act, whether arising after the act has been performed or during its performance. If the difference in the consequences of alternative acts is not great, some Utilitarians do not regard the choice between them as a moral issue. According to Mill, acts should be classified as morally right or wrong only if the consequences are of such significance that a person would wish to see the agent compelled, not merely persuaded and exhorted, to act in the preferred manner.

In assessing the consequences of actions, Utilitarianism relies upon some theory of intrinsic value: something is held to be good in itself, apart from further consequences, and all other values are believed to derive their worth from their relation to this intrinsic good as a means to an end. Bentham and Mill were hedonists; i.e., they analyzed happiness as a balance of pleasure over pain and believed that these feelings alone are of intrinsic value and disvalue. Utilitarians also assume that it is possible to compare the intrinsic values produced by two alternative actions and to estimate which would have better consequences. Bentham believed that a hedonic calculus is theoretically possible. A moralist, he maintained, could sum up the units of pleasure and the units of pain for everyone likely to be affected, immediately and in the future, and could take the balance as a measure of the overall good or evil tendency of an action. Such precise measurement as Bentham envisioned is perhaps not essential, but it is nonetheless necessary for the Utilitarian to make some interpersonal comparisons of the values of the effects of alternative courses of action.


Inspired by MATTHEW PRIOR: AN EPITAPH Interred beneath this marble stone, Lie sauntering Jack and idle Joan. While rolling threescore years and one Did round this globe their courses run, If human things went ill or well, If changing empires rose or fell, The morning passed, the evening came, And found this couple still the same. They walked and eat, good folks——what then? Why then they walked and eat again. They soundly slept the night away; The did just nothing all the day; And having buried children four, Would not take pains to try for more. Nor sister either had, nor brother; They seemed just tallied for each other. Their moral economy Most perfectly they made agree; Each virtue kept it proper bound. Nor trespassed on the other’s ground. Nor fame nor censure they regarded; They neither punished nor rewarded. He cared not what the footmen did; Her maids she neither praised, nor chide; So every servant took his course, And bad at first, they all grew worse. Slothful disorder filled his stable, And sluttish plenty decked her table. Their beer was strong; their wine was port; Their meal was large; their grace was short. They gave the poor the remnant—meat, Just when it grew not fit to eat. They paid the church and parish rate, And took, but read not the receipt; For which they claimed their Sunday’s due, Of slumbering in an upper pew. No man’s defects sought they to know So never made themselves a foe. No man’s good deeds did they commend; So never raised themselves a friend. Nor cherished they relations poor, That might decrease their present store; Nor barn nor house did they repair, That might oblige their future heir. They neither added nor confounded; They neither wanter nor abounded. Each Christmas they accompts did clear, And wound their bottom round the year. Nor tear nor smile did they employ At news of public grief or joy. When bells were rung, and bonfires made, If asked they ne’er denied their aid: Their jug was to the ringers carried Whoever either died or married. Their billet at the fire was found, Whoever was deposed, or crowned. Nor good, nor bad, nor fools, nor wise; They would not learn, nor could advise: Without love, hatred, joy, or fear, They led——a kind of——as it were: Nor wished, nor cared, nor laughed, nor cried; And so they lived; and so they died.

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