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December 5, 2006

Great reads on SSRN

This morning I see these four new pieces on SSRN, all of which look very interesting:

December 5, 2006 at 07:16 AM | Permalink


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Maybe a reader has to have attended Law School to know while reading if Mr. Harcourt is joking in "Embracing Chance: Post-Modern Meditations on Punishment," but not since reading "The Lottery" has a piece of writing on punishment shocked so profoundly. The "leap of faith" argument is probably sound, sound as hell, and that is where it leaves us: in Hell. When Mr. Harcourt began his discussion of social physics and randomization in section 5, it had to be a joke, a "Modest Proposal." Alas, no, there is evidently real debate on the "issue." And the only way out of the labyrinth of Hell is not by following a string, but by accident.

It is, admittedly, a "leap of faith," indeed, a gut reaction, by a non-lawyer no less, when I say those who discuss sentencing and punishment, and they may even have the influence to sway policy, are evidently in an ivory tower high atop a sanitized hospital, playing tiddledywinks with lives, with a view overlooking the feebleminded masses as they debate The Truth . It is also a "leap of faith," a gut reaction, to say those in that ivory tower have no concept of either the suffering of victims or the suffering inherent in punishment. It is an abstract game.

It is not a "leap of faith" to say Weldon Angelos will spend 55 years in a social physics cage due to a series of chance events that led to the mandatory sentencing laws. He had no control over those events and was not responsible for the murders, drive-by shootings, and turf wars that led to these laws. No doubt, it was a "leap of faith" to link him to those crimes, and if Mr. Angelos beats his head against that social physics cell wall it might crack his skull. Maybe he can draw a straw and be lucky enough to visit the prison doctor.

Most shocking of all is that Mr. Harcourt is right: "There was always this moment, ironically, when the moderns—those paragons of reason—took a leap of faith."

That is as shocking as "God is dead."

Chance is ugly, and in our hubris and efforts to perfect the world, we are at the dawn of neo-eugenics. Maybe by embracing chance we can permit ourselves errors and flaws as the Greeks permitted, even celebrated, errors and flaws in their gods. Maybe embracing chance will psychologically allow us to realize life itself is chance and only hubris resents that. That is not to suggest punishment should be laid by the wayside, but is only to suggest perfecting the world is a series of "leaps to faith" founded on hubris. That could be the untold story in Mr. Harcourt's piece.

But there is probably a "leap of faith" in that possibility.

Posted by: George | Dec 6, 2006 2:37:17 PM

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