Culture and Imprisonment
"If nonviolent criminal laws were enforced on college campuses or investment banks for just a single day in the same rates as in poor communities, there would be twenty-four-hour news vans outside of every local jail and immediate public hearings about the harshness and efficacy of our legal system. .... Instead, tens of millions of arrests later, we’re starting to have symposia in which people talk about whether everything will be better if we give police more money to buy cameras for their lapels."
– Policing, Mass Imprisonment, and the Failure of American Lawyers, Harvard Law Review
Its interesting to think of lawyers as people whose job it is to guide and govern a society's ethics in some ways. And how in that sense, in America they've totally failed in their charge. How is it that the Scandinavian countries get it so right, and the USA gets it all so wrong? Why? What happened? Maybe instead of London I need to move to Sweden, Norway or Denmark as a political chaser to living in the US.
I read a post on reddit the other day about how extreme poverty during the Chinese Cultural Revolution taught several generations of Chinese people to horde and act selfishly simply to survive. Something like that has crazy huge long term cultural implications that are still alive today.
As sad as that slice of history is, I wonder if maybe the opposite effect is possible too. Like, if we could ever get something like universal basic income in place, would it end up nurturing entire generations' ethical compasses? Maybe if we didn't have to struggle just to pay rent, people would have more inclination to think win-win instead of zero-sum. And this lines up with my intuition that I suspect that the neverending quest for more money crowds out some intrinsic tribal instincts we have to just be nice to everyone. Its an ironically hippy / communistic idea to think about in opposition to the effects of the cultural revolution. I wonder if this is exactly the same mistake Mao made in 1966 to kick off the cultural revolution in the first place.
In the meantime I can't help but despair for the USA. I don't think the country will collapse, or change how their government works or have any large scale change any time soon. Instead we'll probably just get lots and lots of small changes happening over decades - just like we're seeing with the legalisation of pot and gay marriage. And I'm torn - Slow cultural change is pragmatic and sensible. Here in Australia we talk about how the handful of abused children need to get out of detention now. There's about 2.2 million people in american jails. An estimated 80 000 of those people are in solitary confinement. (Amazing to think that thats all happening right this moment. I can't really even imagine it). They shouldn't have to wait decades for the system to change. It needs to be fixed immediately - and it won't be. I don't quite know what to think about that.