Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jessica's Revenge

"Our focus has changed from the search for Jessica to a mission of justice for Jessica," Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk said Friday.

The body of ten-year old Jessica Ridgeway was found yesterday (10/13/12) after a week-long search in the Denver area. The Chief concluded, “We recognize there is a predator at large in our community.”

Colorado seems to have had more than its fair share of horrendous events lately, of which this is just the latest example. I have no doubt that it’s nothing more than a statistical aberration; nonetheless, I’m sure it gives Denverites pause for thought.

Aside from sympathy for the poor parents to whom the unthinkable has happened and for all the people affected by similar tragedies, I worry about the phrase “mission of justice.” I shudder at what that means. Justice for whom? Jessica is dead, there will be no justice for her; justice is for the living. For the parents. For you and me.

Indubitably, we need protection from predators, but can we ever extract justice from them? How would we tell justice from revenge? What form would justice take if not punishment? And what, precisely, would we be punishing them for? Their crime?

I would be more of a fan of free will if I understood it, if someone could explain to me exactly how it works. Do you understand how thinking works? I sure don’t. I cram all the facts and the equations into my head, ask a question, and stare at the wall until something pops into my head. I have no idea where that something comes from or how it manifests itself in my mind’s eye, but it does. Pop! It’s there. I wish I could watch all the little gears whirling around until they come to an answer, but I can’t. I can’t even hear them over my tinnitus. Synapses firing? Poof! I have no idea. They’re soundless, invisible to me. Often as not I’m astounded at what they come up with—that’s not me!—but there they are, cockroaches of the mind creeping under the door. Too late; I blurted it out already. The thought was passed my lips before I’d even thought it. How fair is that?

I don’t understand how the pre-cellular consciousness of a strand of DNA or RNA or whatever could be any more or less conscious than you and I are, give or take a neuron or a feedback-loop or two. The principles, I would imagine, would have to be the same: input, process, output. Data is input and processed and operational directions are sent to the terminal. Consciousness is the input and output devises; processing is done internally. The actual processing can’t be observed by the terminal; there’s no need for its being able to do so. The processing is so fast and transmitted to the terminal at such speed that the terminal has the illusion of doing the processing. If the terminal had to think about how it was processing data, it would crash to a halt. Thinking has to be subconscious to be fast enough. If you truly had to think about what you were going to say, you couldn’t hold a conversation. But you’d never know it. You have to go on thinking your consciousness thought those words up all by itself. Pshaw! Smoke and mirrors. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

What you think is thinking is your processor processing the data it has at hand, which includes memory and current conditions. The processor will tell you whatever it thinks you need to hear. It decides that; you don’t. But for efficiency’s sake, it works best if the terminal thinks it’s doing the thinking. That’s you and me; we think that. So do howler monkeys.

What I’m trying to get at here is what is guilt and what is sin and what is responsibility and what is practical. That’s a lot of baloney to stuff into one casing.

What I’m thinking is that, if all thinking is done at an unconscious level, who’s responsible for it? Does it make any sense to have blame? Who are we going to blame for a lousy processor? Either the processor was lousy to begin with, or it had lousy input, right? Remember, this processor, even if it’s inside us, is basically just a machine mulling over the input, filing things away, making comparisons, evaluating, right? It doesn’t really think, either; it merely processes data at an incredible speed, fast enough to make our neurons zing and our mouths talk.

It’s certainly true that punishment is a whole new stream of data, and it might be enough to change some of the processor’s algorithms, but it’s equally liable to have unintended and undesirable consequences. The algorithms might not be changed to society’s benefit.  It may well be that the cost of justice/revenge is higher than the cost of rehabilitation. That’s when we have to make what is essentially an aesthetic decision: which do we want more, justice or safety?

Necessarily, this is complicated by the fact that most of the solutions to bad processors or bad data require deep changes at the societal level, changes which are not about to appear anytime soon. Poverty, for example, is bad data. Totalitarianism is bad data. Unconscious myth is bad data. Pollution is bad data. Capitalism is bad data. War is bad data. Violence is bad data. Hate is bad data. Racism is bad data. Bigotry is bad data. Misogyny is bad data.  Shall I go on? Until everyone is freed from bad data, how can we not expect processors to run amok?

But doesn’t it make more sense to try and fix the processors rather than smash them or feed them even worse data so that when we release them, they are more of a menace than when they went in for repairs? Of course, we can always enslave them or kill them, if we think it’s hopeless, yes?

Well, then, if we can’t do that, surely fixing them is the better option. That means getting rid of the blame, getting rid of the sin. Then getting rid of the problem.

See what I mean? That’s never going to happen. Not in my life time, and not in your, either. Not so long as we’re trying to find justice instead of cures. I would be happier, not that there was justice for Jessica, but that she didn’t die in vain.

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