Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Elsewhere

Over at the Art of the Possible I've got a fairly straightforward piece about the political nature of drug crimes.

***
LATER EDIT: The essay is archived here.

Cocaine is a Hell of a Drug (Political Crimes Edition)

Advice for aspiring criminals looking to reduce the opportunity costs of time spent in prison: if you’re given a choice between selling drugs or murdering a young woman, choose murder so you’ll get a shorter prison sentence. Consider the example of Robert Chambers, the so-called “Preppie Killer” who in 1986 strangled Jennifer Levin to death in Central Park. He got 15 years for the deed, served it, got out and just returned to serve a 19-year sentence for selling cocaine. And that was a plea bargain; he could’ve gone to prison for life.

Fifteen years for killing someone; 19-rather-than-life for selling illicit feelgood powder. If you run a poll asking people “Who deserves the harshest punishment: someone who strangles you to death, or who offers to sell you some drugs?” 5 percent of respondents will say “the strangler” and 95 percent won’t say anything because they’re busy giving you that look folks reserve for stupid questions. Similar responses follow if you ask college students, “Who would you rather have living in your dorm: a guy with a drug conviction on his record or a guy with a conviction for rape or murder?” But rape or murder won’t disqualify anyone from receiving financial aid. A drug conviction just might.

Why should victimless drug crimes result in harsher penalties than those which inflict actual suffering upon innocents? Aldous Huxley explained the rationale in 1932, when he published Brave New World. Check out chapter 10, where the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning explains why Bernard Marx should face harsh penalties for being a misfit who criticizes the system:

“Consider the matter dispassionately, Mr. Foster, and you will see that no offense is as heinous as unorthodoxy of behaviour. Murder kills only the individual – and after all, what is an individual? … We can make a new one with the greatest ease – as many as we like. Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself.”

In the days of the Russian gulags, those who criticized the Communist regime faced much harsher penalties than those who merely robbed or killed the regime’s citizens. Alexander Dolgun, in his book Alexander Dolgun’s Story: An American in the Gulag, reported that Soviet political prisoners convicted of crimes like “having an anti-Soviet dream” floundered at the absolute bottom of the prison-camp hierarchy, while murderers and thieves reigned near the top.

Why should pot sellers rather than rapists be kept off college campuses? Why does selling coke give a man a stiffer sentence than strangling a woman half his size? What do drug offenders have in common with the anti-Soviet dreamers?

Simple. Any government that cares enough to establish a class of political crimes will care enough to treat such crimes with special harshness. After all, unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself.

15 Comments:

Anonymous smartass sob said...

At the moment I'm getting by on occasional generator power, so I'm not certain if or when I will have an Internet connection, and I don't know if I'll be online tomorrow. I realize this is a day ahead of schedule, but I'd like to wish you a Happy Birthday for tomorrow, the 18th. I'll refrain from any snide or snarky remarks in honor of your anniversary. ;-)

7:03 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

At the moment I'm getting by on occasional generator power, so I'm not certain if or when I will have an Internet connection, and I don't know if I'll be online tomorrow. I realize this is a day ahead of schedule, but I'd like to wish you a Happy Birthday for tomorrow, the 18th. I'll refrain from any snide or snarky remarks in honor of your anniversary. ;-)

7:03 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

Well shoot! Guess you can delete one of those.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I guess Ike got you too, Smartass? Hope things get back to normal soon.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

Yes, I'm afraid it did - though I was quite lucky compared to many. No serious damage of any sort. The center of the storm passed about 30 miles to the east of me, which means I was on the relatively "clean" side. Even so, 70 to 90 mile an hour winds all night and half the day are no picnic, nor is 10 inches of rain. I have some small trees down and lots of debri, but it's nothing compared to some of my neighbors. And other areas were hit even harder. Thanks for your concern though. Yes, it will be very nice for things to get back to normal.

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Jennifer.

Speaking of high school...I don't think Mr. Norman has found his desk yet...

Your articles are great. No surprise though.

- the politically connected guy you despised.

:-)

8:14 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Mr. Norman? Good God, I'd forgot all about him! (That desk trick was awful of us, really it was.)

Dunno who you are, Anonymous, but by all means send me an e-mail. I want to see if any of my guesses about your identity are correct.

8:35 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

Sorry I missed your birthday, Jennifer. Been busy so I've been negligent in checking blogs, though I see we have some blog faithfulness issues again. Tsk tsk.

If it's any consolation, SASOB, I just had to pull the plug on a training thing we've been planning for months down in Houston. We'll have to see if we can figure a way to have a beer or something when I'm down there, though I don't know when that will be now.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

If it's any consolation, SASOB, I just had to pull the plug on a training thing we've been planning for months down in Houston.

Hm, I thought that was several months ago. I almost never drink anymore, but I'd probably make an exception in your case. Chewin' the fat is dry work. :-)

7:45 AM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

Happy Belated Birthday Jennifer.

You are so hot, I bet the candles kept re-igniting when you blew them out.

7:55 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

You are so hot, I bet the candles kept re-igniting when you blew them out.

Cheesy line of the month award contender?

WB Nostar. Good to see you, such as it is in blogland.

Hm, I thought that was several months ago. I almost never drink anymore, but I'd probably make an exception in your case. Chewin' the fat is dry work. :-)

Was supposed to be, long story. The owners of the company I work for give procrastination a good name at times.

Jennifer, please send SASOB my email address if you would be so kind, assuming you have his.

4:50 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

assuming you have his.

She doesn't have, I believe. But if she examines a certain list where she recently left her own, she will probably find one of mine there as well.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

She doesn't have, I believe. But if she examines a certain list where she recently left her own, she will probably find one of mine there as well.

List? That went over my head.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

List? That went over my head.

A list of people leaving sympathies and condolences a few weeks ago at a certain online site that is not H&R.

4:42 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

....at a certain online site that is not H&R.

The pickle jar has left the freezer. I repeat, the pickle jar has left the freezer.

5:07 PM  

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