August 2nd, 2009

Punishment and........Punishment

An eight year old boy has been missing from Boise for 8 days.  The search is "narrowing" and it looks like the most likely scenario is injury or death at the hands of mom or mom's boyfriend.  The suspicion has been growing over the past five days that the mom has all along known the whereabouts of her son, whether dead or alive.  There has been an outpouring of volunteers to look for the boy for hours at a time. 1700 turned out yesterday in 100+ degree heat to continue searching, even though everyone must suspect by now that the mother knows exactly what happened to the child and where he (or his body) is.  The boy is almost certainly dead, and very soon someone will confess or the evidence will lead to the truth.  At that point the focus will "naturally" shift from the victim to the perpetrator and talk of appropriate punishment will begin.

But is our focus on "appropriate punishment" indeed natural, or is it a product of an overly individualistic and "over enlightened" culture.  Certainly we are aware of other cultures (a few of which still exist) where punishment seems, by our standards, to be overly harsh or "misdirected" (e.g.where "innocent" relatives of the perpetrator are also punished.

We are less aware of other cultures where the focus is not on "punishment" of a "perpetrator" because offenses tend not to viewed as cases involving an "offender" and a "victim."  Instead what we call "offenses" are viewed as community problems which must be solved by and for the community with particular "victims" and "offenders" playing a part in that solution without being the center of attention.
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