The Paradoxes of Punishment A Rigid Approach to Moral Questions Can Have an Unintended Result

By Schmookler, Andrew Bard | The Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Paradoxes of Punishment A Rigid Approach to Moral Questions Can Have an Unintended Result


Schmookler, Andrew Bard, The Christian Science Monitor


The two big news stories in the world today present a bizarre parallel that's worth exploring.

One story involves the gathering of United States military forces to strike Iraq. Saddam Hussein has been flouting the UN resolutions that were the terms of peace in 1991, and the US is determined - properly, I would say - that he not get away with it.

Meanwhile, the American political system is itself embroiled in an intense presidential scandal. Investigators and their political allies are pressing forward to further expose suspected wrong-doing by President Clinton with the aim of discrediting him. In each case we find a paradox: The effort to punish the wrong-doer may instead help him. There's a lesson here. The ethic of punishment rests on simple-minded, mechanistic notions of how the world works. The righteous blow, it's assumed, will have righteous results. What would hurt me will likewise hurt the object of my wrath. My rightful enforcement of the rules will discredit the wrong-doer in the eyes of all who witness. But what if it does not work that way? When punishment rewards In the case of Saddam, one aspect of the problem is a potential mismatch between our goals and the tool we are willing to employ to achieve them: Airpower, though relatively easy to use, is unlikely to eliminate either the weapons or the especially dangerous tyrant that constitutes the threat. But at least we can wreak destruction on Saddam's country, and show him and others that no one can get away with defying our righteous rules with impunity - right? Unfortunately, Saddam has shown himself pretty thoroughly indifferent to the ruination of his country and the suffering of his people. He does not feel pain about the things that we would find hurtful, and so our punishing blow fails to punish. Nor does the audience that matters most to him interpret this drama in the terms that seem self-evident to us. In the Arab world, evidently, it is the fact that Saddam defies us and survives - not that his defiance brings ruin to his people - that is salient. Our effort to cut him down can thus enhance his status. We're trying to teach a lesson. But we may misread our students. Meanwhile, in Washington, the people who have been working for five years to destroy this president are scratching their heads in befuddlement. "If only we can prove to the American people that this fellow is a philanderer and a liar," they have assumed, "we can either drive him from office or leave him so crippled that he'll be out of our way." Now half their wish is fulfilled - most Americans believe President Clinton committed some of these wrongs. But rather than be brought low, the president has been enjoying approval ratings far beyond anything he'd seen before the investigation began. The president who was supposed to be humiliated instead arose, after a few days of confusion, bold as brass to deliver a State of the Union message that dazzled a huge swath of the American people. He simply refused to slink away in the shame that his attackers, putting themselves in his place, assumed would overwhelm him. And most Americans, even when forced to wade knee-deep through the kind of muck that was supposed to compel them to turn against the president, have instead rallied to support him. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Paradoxes of Punishment A Rigid Approach to Moral Questions Can Have an Unintended Result
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.