Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Execute or imprison?

This is an extract from a book.
As a magistrate I performed prison visits in order to afford prisoners access to independent oversight. Notable was the attitude of condemned prisoners (those awaiting execution) about property. They were nearly always concerned with extracting a solemn promise from me that their property, or specified items of property, was to be handed over to a particular person upon their execution. Sometimes the subject matter of such concern would be something as mundane as a blanket worth just a few dollars. It was obvious to me that property is of huge significance in the African psyche and has strong links to spirituality. It is therefore not uncommon for a sangoma to advise, for instance, that the reason that misfortune has befallen a consultant is that ancestral spirits are angry on account of the fact that lobola has not been paid.
I also picked up a particular phenomenon that does not appear well represented in criminology. A long term prisoner gave me a story that was incredibly detailed and had what judicial officers term "the ring of truth" about it, on account of its detail and objectively verifiable factors. According to him he was still in prison because of an illicit deal, involving the sale of cattle and gold, which had gone wrong between him and the governor of the prison. He was able to furnish dates and full details of the governor's house where, according to him, clandestine meetings had occurred. The story covered a saga that had occurred over a three year period and he was able to provide complex details on all its aspects including the nuances that attach to stories that are true.
In all aspects he appeared to be what courts refer to as a "credible and reliable witness". Testing his story only induced him to clearly and calmly reveal even more supportive details. The point he was making was that he had been due for release many years earlier but was being kept incarcerated by the governor manipulating the system so as to ensure that he, the governor, could get away with having cheated him on their deals. A more convincing story was hard to find.
I called the prison officials, whom I always excluded from such interviews, so that a prisoner was free to divulge information, and asked them for his file. Only then did the truth emerge. His story was an incredibly fanciful invention of the mind which was blocking out the true reasons for his situation. The man had originally been convicted of a particularly horrendous double murder, involving the use of an axe, and sentenced to death. Fortunately for him he was reprieved, at the last moment, by the then British Governor and the sentence commuted to life imprisonment. Of this he had served about 10 years by the time I saw him. His mind had long since blocked out the horrendous events he had experienced in committing the murders, his trial, sentence and reprieve, and substituted it with the story he was now advancing.
I then discovered that this phenomenon was quite common to long term prisoners with similar histories, i.e., the psychological blocking out (hysterical suppression) of the terrible true reason for their incarceration.
For society the problem that arises is that, once the phenomenon takes hold of such a prisoner, he his utterly convinced, in his mind, that he is innocent and being victimized. He is in no different a position to a person who is actually innocent, and being unlawfully kept in prison. Both "know" that they are innocent. It can be strongly argued therefore that their continued long term incarceration, on both a subjective and objective test, constitutes "cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment" as understood in jurisprudence, and a human rights perspective. Put differently, to keep a human being in prison who neither knows, understands or accepts that he is guilty of anything, is cruel, inhuman and degrading. Facts are awkward things.
This has serious implications for the abolitionist camp that opposes the imposition of capital punishment and sees life imprisonment as acceptable. In terms of the phenomenon I discovered, long term imprisonment is cruel, inhuman and degrading once a prisoner's mind suppresses the reason for his/her incarceration. It therefore cannot be a credible substitute for capital punishment.
Now if you can't kill people as a punishment - and you also cannot keep them in prison for too long - what then? To this day I have not found an answer to these "awkward facts".
Order --- http://proudlyzimbabwean.orgfree.com/book_page.html

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Are you a sheep?

In my book1 I relate how, as young lads at boarding school, we all claimed to be having sex during which process the girl would faint at the moment of penetration, whilst emitting a huge sigh of unbearable pleasure and surrender. These claims were shared with general enthusiasm, contributing to social bonding, comradeship and friendship. Some even paid others a fag or two for their "secret" as to how to make a girl succumb more spectacularly!
The reality was very different. No one was having sex. The claims about penetration and girls fainting were fatuous rubbish!
However, no one placed these claims in dispute. They were accepted as truth. Acceptance was as natural and easy as breathing. 
Why? Why was fatuous rubbish and monstrous lies accepted without dispute in our group? The answer is very simple. Human beings are "social animals". It is by bonding, cooperation and pulling together that we have achieved dominance over all other creatures on the planet. Psychologically we need to feel loved and accepted. We love the feeling of "belonging". To disagree with others is to risk rejection. To disagree with a dominant group is to invite being marginalized, even ostracized. So we are "hot wired" to have a "herd mentality".
At school the older boys, at 17 years+ age, were of sexual maturity. It was natural for them to have a need for sex. Since sex was simply not available at a Roman Catholic school they simply invented a false reality. Having no experience of sex fertile imaginations filled in the gaps in a way that flattered their egos. Since they were the dominant group, what they put out was accepted as truth and promulgated by the rest of us --- unthinkingly --- because a herd mentality and the need to belong are natural to human beings.
In his classic work “Animal Farm”, George Orwell quite spectacularly portrayed how the views of a dominant group become the norm for the rest. Because the rest accept and propagate these views “unthinkingly”, he rightly portrayed them as sheep. Sheep do not think for themselves. They simply follow whoever is leading. They are concerned only to be part of the herd. They have a herd mentality. Just one sheep dog can drive a whole herd of a hundred sheep in whatever direction it chooses.
How right George Orwell was!! Really! We see this phenomenon repeat itself amongst humans with incredible regularity. Consider how the 3rd Reich used it with the German people resulting in the Holocaust. White folk in Zimbabwe individually were the very best I have encountered. In my book I relate as to how some of them gave up time with their own families to come and give us an incredibly happy first Xmas party at the children’s Home I was in. However, as a group, they supported and followed Ian Smith on a course of sheer madness. The apartheid system, a most extreme form of social injustice, was perpetrated on account of otherwise very intelligent White people acting as sheep.
We have had some spectacular examples in our recent history in South Africa. Not one ANC Member of Parliament voted against the banning of the Scorpions even though 84% of ordinary South Africans were against it! We saw the same phenomenon recently when all the Black ANC members voted to support the now internationally infamous Protection of State Information Bill. There are countless examples here and in other parts of the World.
What amazes me about these folk is that surely they know that this is the age of information and that their children and successors will come to know of the grotesquely unprincipled way in which they have acted? Do they feel no shame? Do they feel no compunction about bringing shame and disgrace on their pedigree?
So each of us needs to ask ourselves a question, and ask it repeatedly. “Am I now acting as a sheep? Have I consciously, or even subconsciously, stopped thinking for myself and simply following the herd?  Have I conveniently suppressed my ability to distinguish right from wrong in order not to lose my place in the herd? Am I now a sheep?”
A very good example is the issue of gay and lesbian rights. People in the anti gay/lesbian camp simply refuse to accept the reality that gays and lesbians are the way they are on account of the same natural phenomenon that made them “straight”, or White, or Ndebele, or Tswana …. over which no one has any control! What you are at the moment of birth is not in your hands. Typically they start off by putting themselves in the “traditional” or “African culture” camp and postulate all arguments in terms of the camp beliefs – not in terms of reason --- just as we believed the rubbish on sex as naïve school boys. I even had a friend in Namibia who candidly admitted that he and others routinely had sex with sheep and goats during puberty. However he was totally against gay and lesbian rights. He based his opposition on "African culture".
So too as regards politics. Most folk simply support the actions of the leaders of whatever political party they are in, or have decided to support, regardless of how wrong those actions may be. They consciously decide to abandon truth, and what is right, so as to ensure that they remain in their favourite herd. It gets worse. They will even set upon those who disagree, hound and persecute them just as dogs were set upon anyone seen as dissenting on Animal Farm. How many times has Archbishop Desmond Tutu been set upon and insulted for daring to simply disagree with the ANC herd and say - “on this occasion, you are wrong”.
Politicians, of course, take full advantage of this, just as the pigs did on Animal Farm. They rely heavily on the fact that their supporters will act as sheep and simply bleat “baaa … baaa … baaa … “ whatever they do or say. They demand that people should not think for themselves but simply accept whatever “the leadership” has cooked up. An extreme example is North Korea where the leader is institutionalized as a living God and the populace is denied the right to think at all! To a lesser extent Gadaffi, who so many of us sheep revered, was also trying this on a huge scale in Libya with his "Green Book".
If we perform an analyses of failed states we find that, in most cases, the failure became guaranteed once the populace behaved like sheep and put all its faith in leadership. We do not have to look far on this one! I also think that it is a sin to voluntarily forego your intellect, the most precious of gifts we have, that distinguishes us from other creatures. Hence my motto - "cogito, ergo sum".
So, with respect, you need to always ask yourself – “am I a sheep.? Am I unknowingly following a herd? Worse still, am I knowingly doing what is wrong just so that I can stay in the herd? Am I accepting fatuous rubbish and monstrous lies?
Am I a sheep?
 Postscript  ---- 
There’s an annual contest at the University of Arkansas calling for the most appropriate definition of a contemporary term. This year’s term was: “Political Correctness.” 
 The winning student wrote:“Political correctness is a doctrine — fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and rapidly promoted by mainstream media — which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end.”

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