William Raspberry, a columnist for The Washington Post, relates in a column that in Africa poaching of male Elephants is a serious problem and if continued will bring extinction to the species. In order to reduce poaching those concerned sent many of the younger male to a game park to spare them from poachers. In solving the problem they created another. The young males became destructive and attacked other animals. In order to solve this problem, they transported mature bull elephants to the game park and the result was positive. The mature bulls disciplined the teenage bulls and ended the youngsters’ anti-social behavior. Raspberry suspects that the high crime rate among blacks in D.C., where nearly half the adult black males are incarcerated, is owing to the young males there not having the disciplinary effect of the presence of mature males in the homes and in the society.

In response to Raspberry’s column, a reader asked: “Wouldn’t the herd (and wouldn’t America’s inner cities) be worse off with the introduction of adult males of certifiable bad behavior?” Raspberry considered it a good question and offered three responses.

“The first is that most of the crimes that account for the post-1980 swelling of America’s inmate population are nonviolent offenses: drug offenses overwhelmingly… .” That is, a large number of black males are serving decades of time in prison for the offense of using or having illegal drugs. A black male at age twenty caught with cocaine can expect to spend ten years or more in prison. Ten years of walls and bars at a cost of $40 thousand a year to taxpayers. And he loses ten years; and when he is out, he is in a different world from the one he left, a world with which he is ill equipped to cope. So more often than not he is soon back, walled and barred in. When one considers that nearly everyone is on some kind of drug, licit or illicit, and considers the draconian penalties for those caught and the cost of it, he feels the need to scream at this society: “What insanity!”

“The second response is that the men we are talking about, while they may not be paragons, are not necessarily dangers to their communities.” The city is a trap for the proletarian, particularly a black one. In the city a man must have a job and in the hinterland a man must own land. Otherwise, he has no means to make a living. In the city, no job means hours of boredom, a condition ameliorated positively only by creative and remunerative employment. Few of any race or color, denied by fate or whatever of such employment and faced with unending boredom, can refrain from something to make now endurable. Many good men succumb to a drug remedy for boredom. And they often, if black, get caught and get ruined by the punishment.

“And here’s the third: We are not inherently good or bad, law-abiding or criminal, but we are nudged by forces both within and outside us into becoming what we become.” This response conjures up into my consciousness a multitude of thoughts and questions: Is anatomy destiny? Is destiny chance or choice? Is it possible to make a choice divorced from history, from genes, from memories of yesterdays and hopes of tomorrows? Is it that history determines our acts and we think we chose to do them? Is free will an illusion? Is Fate the master of our destiny and not God? Is the man who stands before the judge to be sentenced, were all known as a god might know it, have a valid cause to plead that society is an accomplice and should be tried as well? Does every society have the criminals it deserves? There is enough indecision regarding free will to cause everyone with a sense of responsibility to consider that perhaps free will is an illusion and thus moderate his judgments with regard to men who have committed anti-social acts. Also moderate the penalties and try harder at rehabilitation. A man spared ten years of prison is cost effective, socially and economically. If he is rehabilitated, he pays for his keep and, through taxes, the government’s help.

The premise of criminal law for the most part ignores the question of whether man has free will or not. It is premised upon a maddeningly simplistic base: Man has freedom of choice to be good or bad; and if he is good reward him but if he is bad punishment him. Why, one can rightly wonder, would anyone be bad if he could be good and receive the rewards of being good and avoid the punishment of being bad? The law still recognizes that people under 18 should not be held to the same standard of conduct as those over 18. Why? Because many people recognize that a young person’s behavior is somewhat determined and thus beyond his control. But even this sensible policy is always under attack by those who would subject a 12 year old to capital punishment.

Some men think they are more god than animal. However, there is enough knowledge available, if they would deign to acquire it, to disabuse themselves of their romantic notion. Man is an animal and he lives in tribes, states and nations, which are nothing more than herds. So man, if he could just divest himself of the belief that he is godlike, he could learn from nature and from herds. William Raspberry has. His proposition that an adult male in the family has the same disciplinary effect that an adult bull elephant has on young male elephants in a herd is reasonable and just more evidence that adult males in society help stabilize it. Putting half of them in prison for using drugs is a crime in itself. Imposing the letter of the law without mercy or the insight that there but for the grace of God go I—is often as anti-social an act as the crime for which the letter of the law is imposed.

The weakness of democracy is that few politicians are likely ever to propose or vote to legalize drugs, to lessen penalties for drug violations, to sentence the addicted to clinical help instead of to prison and to consider crimes to be other than anti-social acts that people freely choose to commit and could just as well freely choose not to commit. And there are fewer who would even contemplate a program of amnesty, release and assistance to thousands of black inmates whose only crime was possession of drugs so that adult males could return to the herd and help to inspire the young to better ways. Australia is a nation whose forebears and founders were criminals shipped to the other side of the world to rid British society of undesirables. They created a nation.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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