||The McGILL DAILY
JANUARY 20, 1956
Justice and Morality
by Donald Kingsbury
Modern criminal law is an essential ink in our society's crime cycle.
True, the law and the criminal courts do prevent some crime by instilling fear
of the law's callous brutality, but the law also breeds crime and faithfully
supports the underworld and fashions fiendish webs of human misery. The
crime rate is a balance between the two forces of the law, the one which
discourages crime and the one which cultivates it.
If you think I exaggerate when I say the law is brutal I will say this
about your heart; you have closed it off completely from a whole class of
people. You lack the emotional range, the depth, the perception to reach these
human beings. You reject what you have no right to reject. You may be
wonderful with babies, you may be an upstanding citizen, you may even have
tried to help someone who was falling by the wayside. But when it comes to
the unrepentant sinner, the denizen of hell you are an emotional monster. An
essential part of your personality is frozen, empty. And I say to you, that
part of you which rejects the criminal is immoral. Get this straight, the
courts of our society are brutal. Only the emotionally blind do not know
Western law has a long and interesting and very filthy history, but it
has made progress in the last ten millenniums. It has made a fantastic amount
of progress considering the obstacles it had to surmount Man started off with
a billion years of physical heritage, a tremendous thing, as any poor
med-student will tell you, but man's emotional, moral, and intellectual
heritage was nil. Man has had no father and no mother to teach or comfort,
no society to back him up with its collective experience. He started with
no heritage but made a heritage. Where it is evil, it is his, where it is
sublime, it is also his and his alone. Man came from nowhere and tho he has
not yet reached any significant height, do not underestimate his power to
-upgrade himself. We are pathetic because we have accomplished so little,
majestic because we have made so much of nothing, amusing because we have
attributed some of our faint moral concepts to an all-wise God, but we are
Therefore do not condemn a lawyer simply because he is filthy and
immoral. You can't get someplace from no place without going thru the
intervening space. Lawyers can't either. The law was `brutal and is brutal,
but it is also better than it ever was and it is upgrading itself. Eventually
some brilliant lawyer is going to discover soap.
At the roots our law system is the Judaic-Roman code as modified by
Christians. With this virile, if wicked, base we can asily see why the
philosophy of our Jaw is callous. Roman justice was blind as our justice is
blind. Human compassion was not supposed to play a part in the courts. Some
times it did; mostly it did not. the guilty were required to pay their "debt
to society" the poor no good slobs. Goddess of Justice, take off your blindfold
and be ashamed by what you see.
Jewish law is enough to curdle an honest man's blood. As a creative
genius in man's moral progress Moses was an interesting figure; that he is
still taken seriously by Jews and Christians alike has unfortunate human
consequences. Moses said, "You shall not kill," and then proceeded to give
detailed instructions on how to kill certain types of sinners (all in God's
name, of course.) His Fifth Book is full of such brutalities as, "and -the men
of her city shall stone her to death with stones . . ," ". every man shall be
put to death for his own sin," " then you shall cut off her hand; your eye
shall not have pity," ". . but in the cities of these people that the Lord
your God gives you, you shall save alive nothing that breaths (people that
is)." Nice fellow. For some -bedtime horror reading I recommend Deuteronomy
13-5, 10; 18-20; 19-11, 21; 20-10, 20; 21-18, 23; 22-20, 27; 23-5; 2446;
25-11; et cetera. Sorry Moses. my eyes do have pity.
Though modern law does not accept to c-hop off the hand of a woman who
"seizes (a man) by the private parts," it certainly does accept Moses'
ruthless attitude toward the unrepentant sinner. Even Jesus, who had more
compassion than Moses, never was able to chuck the strong Mosaic tradition he
was born into. Jesus bad no use for unrepentant sinners either.
Reflection of Society
Briefly, that is the intellectual base for the excesses of Western law.
It is time that our barbarian civilization recognized that to reject its
criminals, to scorn them, to try to extract a debt from them is an
impractically disastrous philosophy. It works this way. A child first 5udges
his society by the 5ub-unit of the society that he grows up in. He is a
reflection of its conflicts and `his position within this sub-unit. Later, as
he graduates into larger and larger groups, he tends to react to the new
group much as he did to the more familiar one, tho the newer group is capable
of, and does, modify him. Suppose in one of these early groups he develops
certain anti-social traits because he finds `himself rejected or because he
identifies `himself with his group which by tradition is "outlaw". Eventually
he contacts the law, either indirectly thru association with someone who has
been brutalized by the law, or directly.
What happens when he gets into trouble with the police? Here is the crux
of the crime of our courts. The due process of the law is so designed as to
confirm the criminal's belief that society is run by a lot of lousy bastards.
He is exposed to contempt -and' humiliation all along the line. He ends up in
that most degrading of places, the prison cell, which is stripped bare of
everything the warped criminal mind needs to evolve into something higher. Is
society extracting a debt from this man? Horse dung! -But the law believes it
is. The law is criminally naive.
Society has masochistic tendencies. It takes a soft criminal and hardens
him in one of its crime institutes. It makes sure he feels rejected. It makes
sure he knows that society wants no part of him. It makes sure he hates
people. Then it lets him out of prison. The law approves of this procedures
Our sublime institutions of morals, the churches, sanctify it. I have contempt
for these philosophies.
Our prisons are like the old hospitals used to `be. They are houses of death,
not of cure. They are disease centers where crime is incubated to plague
society with a high crime rate. You lawyers must take the brunt of the
responsibility for this. You can't chicken out of it. You are as immoral as
the men you lock up.
Reinhold Niebuhr, the great protestant theologian, thinks that sin is
here to stay. He is the distilled essence of the sidewalk cynic who identifies
cynicism with realism. Cynicism is as naive as idealism. Sure, assuming a
Western-Christian society, crime is inevitable. But there is something beyond
the Western way of life. There is a compassion beyond the feeble compassion of
A human personality is always in flux. You have continuity with the
person you were in the past, but you are not now that person. You have
changed. The personality of the criminal is always in flux. He needs to be
placed in an environment which recognizes this flux, which forces him to the
realization that society accepts and wants him whether or not he accepts the
society, which prepares him for the role in society that his childhood did not
prepare him for. The society must pay to the criminal the debt it owes his
broken life. Only by loving the hitlers and the capones can a society
eliminate the disease which produces such monsters. A society needs
disciplined members, but punishment is immoral.
New Moral Base
My hope is not impossible to achieve. Crime can be eliminated. Societies
can be, and have been, restructured. Today ours is boeing rapidly restructured
by men with strong minds and strong backs. The law needs such men men who are
capable of laying a new moral base for law, men unafraid of failure, men of
action who can set up goals which may not be achieved for centuries, men
unafraid to assume the shame of their profession, men willing to do penance
for their fellow lawyers.
If you happen to be a lawyer type, I trust I have not offended you. I do
not bear you any malice. I only hold in contempt the present form of your
profession -- and there is a big difference between hating a man and hating a
thing. You I love -- I press your filthy self to my pure bosom without even
shuddering. I love you for the very same reason I love criminals, and
prostitutes, and murderers, and drunks, and safe crackers, and peddlers who
sell dope to wide-eyed children. You lawyers are, after all, `human beings
just like the rest of us.