By Robert Pruett 999411, aka Simple Man

Week 22 2006

June 4, 2006

The question of free will has intrigued me for a number of years. Not to get all philosophical on everyone (stick with me for a second), but do we really have our own volition? Are we truly autonomous beings? I think most behavioral scientists think that human behavior has both biological and environmental components. Of course, there are a few who are either on one side of the spectrum or the other; those who think that our genetic makeup wholly determines our behavior, and those who think that the environment in which we are reared totally shapes who we are. But I think most believe that our behavior is a combination of both of these, an interaction of the organism with its milieu. So where does free will come into play? That seems to be an area behavioral scientists shy away from; they would rather philosophers address it because of the political ramifications. But there are a few who have addressed it and, from what I've read, most think that our genes predispose us to certain basic behaviors and the environment works to shape and develop complex behaviors. The common consensus is that while these factors influence our behavior, they don't determine it. We can resist genetic commands, we can overcome our environment.

But I wonder. Let's say we got a kid who's genetically predisposed to addiction, such as alcoholism, and this kid is raised in a family full of alcoholics who passed this genetic makeup to him/her. If this person never touches alcohol, there's no chance he/she will succumb to alcoholism, but the likelihood of that happening growing up around booze is slim to none. So how much free will does such a person REALLY have? They have no control of their genes or the environment they are born into, and none of us do. A person predisposed to addictive behaviors has a much more difficult time of resisting or disobeying inclinations than someone who doesn't. I do think we have free will, and we can overcome whatever situation we are born into, but, more often than not, people give in to genetic inclinations and develop according to their genetic makeup. So yes, we have free will, but all of our decisions are influenced by a multitude of factors out of our control.

I've read studies on criminality and there being a genetic factor involved, as well as a socioeconomic one. I've been in prison over a decade and I've observed that most people here come from rough backgrounds and have numerous family members who were also convicts. That substantiates those studies in my eyes. But I've heard the argument, "What about the kid from the ghetto who makes it out and goes on to live a productive life in society?" Yes, that happens, I was once in love with a girl who I'm sure made it out, but, more often than not, it doesn't. Personally, I'm inclined to believe that it's an anomaly related to genetics when this happens; the person is wired to be strong enough to overcome his/her environment. Unfortunately, everyone isn't blessed to be like that.

So what's my point? Well, I think that we have the knowledge to correct a lot of wrongs, to provide each criminal an opportunity to rehabilitate, to overcome counterproductive inclinations. So why is the justice system adverse to rehabilitation? (There are programs in place in TDCJ that can be utilized and rehabilitation is possible, but each individual must dig inside and find it in him or her to try to change. Rarely, if ever, will the administration encourage this. Conversely, they promote just the opposite, and deny "chronic rule violators," or death row for that matter, any chance at rehabilitation.) Because, ultimately, it's not about rehabilitation, it's about revenge. If you do something wrong, you must be punished. Forget about helping you overcome your counterproductive behavior.

When I think about it (I try not to think about it, it makes me feel very violent when I do), what bothers me is that so many people, particularly politicians, assert that revenge isn't a factor in criminal justice. That is all it has ever been about. I'm not necessarily opposed to revenge (if you hit me, I will definitely hit you back, etc...), I just wish they'd be straight up about it and let the world know what it REALLY is: punishment; an eye for an eye.

I'm gonna say something here that will piss a whole lot of people off:  There wouldn't be a death penalty in these United States if it wasn't for conservative Christians. They are the ones shouting an eye for an eye, fuck some rehabilitation. It's not about helping humanity, it's about quenching a thirst for blood that has motivated them and their like for millennia. They can't bum "witches" at the stake anymore, they can't go on crusades and murder non-believers anymore, so they gotta satisfy their thirst for blood somehow and the death penalty does it for them. There's no doubt in my mind that more people have been murdered in the name of Jesus than any other being. It's not about Jesus to these people though. If it was, they would listen to his words: "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for-an eye, and a tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39) I guess they think Jesus was drunk when he said that?! :-)

I can't say that I'm against a death penalty, per se, but I am opposed to what's been going on in America, especially the murder of innocent people. There are flaws in the system and they should be corrected, I think. But I won't say I'm totally against a death penalty. Why not? Well, if I had a kid and he/she was raped and murdered, I would hope to be able to wrap my hands around the murderer's throat and squeeze the life out of him/her myself. But I'd like to put my boots on first and do me a little dance atop the murderer. That's just me, I'm vengeful like that. And that's the reason we have a death penalty, people want revenge. But shouldn't we make sure a person did the crime first? If there's the slightest possibility that the accused didn't kill the victim, then I think life in prison is appropriate. And if the accused has been incontrovertibly proven guilty, then I think it should be up to the family of the victim to decide if death is the penalty. I mean, it's about vengeance, right? Well, let the family members kill the condemned, if they want to kill them. A lot of times it isn't the family members wanting death, it's a bloodthirsty public. I think the new Tool song sums it up nicely, "I need to watch people die from a distance....vicariously." It's sick, I know, but that's how a lot of people are. They have no connection to the victim or the family, they just like death. Sick. Perverted. Depraved. It's humanity at its finest.

But I’m about rehabilitation, I really am. I think we have the knowledge to ascertain and heal people's psychological problems and reintegrate criminals into society, if we really want to that is. Problem is, a lot aren't about that, as I've said, and those who are haven't taken the right approach, at least not from what I've seen. I've yet to read any literature discussing the many influences on the psyche of the criminal (and how his/her behavior is shaped and influenced by factors outside of his/her control; i.e genetic makeup and socioeconomic status) and its relation to criminality, particularly the death penalty. Why aren't opponents to the death penalty (and the non-rehabilitation methods being employeed by the justice system) using the abundance of evidence from the field of behavioral science to fight their cause? I recently heard that these people tried to in the 70s, but abandoned that approach because of a lack of evidence back then to support their claims. It's 2006, there's plenty of evidence now and it's easy to find. But I wonder how those who are hell-bent on vengeance would respond? What would be their new approach if the anti-Dp movement were to utilize the information provided by the scientific community to propagate their cause? You think they'd say, "Okay, it's not REALLY about anything except blood, now step aside so I can watch this motherfucker die!" It would be interesting to see their reaction.

Have I managed to piss enough people off yet?! :-) Not my intentions, but that happens when you defend any position. You upset the ones on the other side of the fence and you incite the ire of some of those on the side you're on when you tell it like it is. I really don't give a shit. These people are most likely gonna kill me soon anyhow. I just felt like stirring some shit up. If you're about social reformation and ending the death penalty, then be about it seriously. How do you think civil rights leaders accomplished their goals? The observations that there wouldn't be a death penalty if it weren't for conservative Christians and that anti-death penalty/prison reform activists should employ similar tactics as civil rights leaders from the 1960s are those of the OLD SCHOOL. Desperate situations call for desperate measures. And, of course, it helps to have a sound argument and people willing to sacrifice for their beliefs. You want some firepower from the field of psychology? I can list the sources. But hey, what happens if the death penalty is abolished and serious measures are taken to circumvent criminality? What do you have to "fight" for then? Where goes the people you loved gossiping with? The truth is a bitch, I know it. The fact is, if the death penalty was abolished and the justice system worked out its current problems, there would be a lot of lonely people left in the wake. Ouch. ;-)

Everything is good in the eyes of god, or so they say. I don't know. I'd like to climb a mountain, go skydiving, explore the pyramids, study with particle physicists, dive into a pool, visit the Grand Canyon, have sex, drive a car, go see Shinedown in concert! ;-) But, I know, there's something here to learn. I sincerely hope to learn what I'm supposed to learn, and maybe in my next life I can do some of those aforementioned things. I truly wonder what it must be like to experience the polar opposite of my position(s), the other side of the fence so to speak. Or maybe I already know, I just forgot? Maybe I'll remember when I transcend this wasteland.

Life here is the same as usual. My autobiography is humbling me, truly kicking my ass. But I'm innately a fighter, I will prevail. It might take longer than I had initially hoped though. But hey, I knew going in the nature of things.......

One Day at a Time,

Simple Man