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Punishment and validation

It’s among my longest-held opinions that punishment is messed up. Punishment is an antiquated mashup of some pretty un-thought-through concepts that are better thought of as distinct.

Some of these are bad on their own. Evidence-based crime prevention would make more sense than eye for an eye. Others are bad together: If rehabilitation is a supposed goal then prisons are a horrible way to do that. They’re only likely to further dehumanize and alienate you.

Sure, we need ways to lower crime rates and to rehabilitate perps and to protect the public. It’s just that punishment is a pretty bad way to do those things.

There’s a fifth part of punishment too that I want to discuss separately.


Having society acknowledge that what someone did to you was wrong can be so valuable, and it messes you up over the long term when that doesn’t happen. When there’s someone in the schoolyard kicking you and then teacher comes and says “now, now, children! Time to shake hands and become friends” treating you both equally. That’s harmful. I’m not saying the kicker should be locked up or shamed or beaten. They are fighting their own battle and have their own problems and reasons for how they acted, and hurting them isn’t going to help anyone.

I’m saying that the victim needs to hear “What they did to you was Wrong.”

Everyone needs validation; that doesn’t mean it’s right to hurt other people in order to do so. Two wrongs don’t make a right.