Thursday, November 23, 2006

Whither Individual Responsibility?

Canada as a country is beset by many problems, however, arguably none bedevils this country like the decline in individual responsibility. I could direct this particular line of thought towards the infantalizing qualities that bloated social programs have insidously inflicted upon the country. Yet while those are detrimental, wasteful and often misguided in their intentions its the constant news stories of kids in their early teens committing crimes which I happen to find chilling. (scroll down towards the bottom)

Youth violence has become a serious problem in this country. I've posted links to instances in both Edmonton and Winnipeg, as they happen to be the cities I know best. However, kids under the age of 18 are committing murder seemingly over the most frivolous of things and truthfully out legal system seems woefully inadequate to deal with it. The Young Offenders act is one of those sorry manifestations of the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau that Liberals love to embrace. Rousseau's claim to fame is that man himself was perfectable but it was bad systems of governance and social order that sullied his nature. Essentially - its society's fault, not the kid's fault but that their parents, community etc have failed them. Leading to the misguided notion that the response for the most part should be a slap on the wriste and a stern and earnest talking to, suggesting one not assault or murder any further people as that's undesirable behaviour.

I'm not entirely dismissive of environmental reasons for deliquent and criminal behaviour. I accept that broken homes and abusive parents can produce some screwed up kids. However, I refuse to accept that such a background as a "troubled teen" constitutes a get out of jail free card, or warrants the few years of jail time that teenage murderers recieve. Truthfully, its a farce that such outcomes aren't abnormal in what's entitled the "justice system".

Fundamentally, I consider the problem to be two fold with youth crime. Firstly, many of those committing offenses don't respect the legal system, the rule of law and the standard of behaviour expected of decent citizens. Secondly, they aren't afraid of the consequences of their actions, either in so far as getting caught or what they'll be subjected to should they be caught. To put it succiently the administration of justice in Canada needs alot less of Jean Jacques Rousseau and alot of more of Thomas Hobbes.

Hobbes' characterization of the human instinct, with its animalistic passions and nasty demeanour if not kept in check is likely far closer to the mark than the noble savage corrupted by the system that Rousseau espoused. He of course advocated the need for the corressive power of the state to keep peace and order where otherwise there would be chaos.

Being naturally inclined towards libertarianism I find it odd to find myself pitching for more government and more cohersive government at that. However, I've always found the cries for a privatized police force from some corners of that movement to be dogmatic and ill considered and a departure from thinkers such as Locke and Nozick. At this point in time, the state is failing in its one fundamental responsibility - maintaining the safety of its populace and subsequently in its administration of justice.

I applaud the efforts of Vic Toews to lower the age at which teenagers will be tried as adults serious criminal acts. However, I'm inclined to believe that more wide ranging action is necessary than that. I've never seriously understood how the claim could be presented that anyone over the age of ten short of mental defects could be unaware that murder and the like were fundamentally wrong. The reprehensibility of murder is culturally ubiquitious.

Beyond charging violent offenders as adults at a younger age, its necessary to raise the minimum sentence for violent crimes. I'd also suggest raising the maximum and denying parole for violent offenders. Aside from that the practice fo trebeling time served pretrial should be reduced to being credited on a one day to one day basis.

Increasing criminal sanctions applicable to youthful violent offenders (and violent offenders of all types for that mattter) is a very useful starting point to a comprehensive approach to turning the tide against the leniancy that has allowed this particular virus to incubate. Other measures are also necessary, including a substantial increase in policing across the country. Throwing the book at offenders is only useful, insofar as the offenders are caught. Furthermore, a substantial increase in law enforcement presences in communities will act to discourage those contemplating crimes due to the increased likelihood of being caught.

Finally, I lay alot of the blame for youth violence at the hands of the educational system. There are many fine teachers and would be teachers out there, I know I'm related to some of them. However, the educational system is first exposure that most kids have to the state and authority figures aside from their parents. As such schools play an important part in instilling children with the necessity of following the rules and discouraging anti-social and violent behaviour. Teachers, and principals for the most part are afraid of dealing with hostile parents and as such for the most part are notioursly lax in dealing with school yard bullies and misbehaving children. At this formative period children learn that the system coddles them and there aren't serious consequences for breaking the rules and one can get away with most anything. Schools need to take their disciplinary role seriously, and take stern action with misbehaving students and expell bullies. The need for the education system to eliminate the free pass, where one has to work hard not to pass one's academic course work also undermines the sense of responsibility that our education system needs to instill.

In short it should be a priority for Canadians to see that young offenders are punished more seriously in a court of law, that a larger police presence deters possible offenders, and that our educational system instills in deliquent youth a grudging respect for the system. Some of the people one reads about in the paper are likely lost causes, no alteration of procedures or deterents would set them on the straight and narrow. The sad fact is some people must be incarcerated to protect law abiding citizens from comming to harm and we shouldn't feel any compunction about doing so. However, many youthful offenders could likely be kept within the bounds of the law if fear and respect for the justice system were restored. Its time to start ingraining people at a young age with the concept that they are responsible for their actions.


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