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post #1 of 34 (permalink) Old April 14th, 2006, 15:54 Thread Starter
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Rationality

I thought I'd translate a piece from wednesdays issue of 'my' paper. It is centered on very much contemporary issues in Denmark, but it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to spread the debate to most any western country that I'd consider myself familiar with.

So here goes (losely translated).



The delightful Danish rationality

We legislate against the recommendations of experts in Denmark: Are we stupid - or is democracy wrong?

By: Rune Lykkeberg
"It doesn't work," say the experts. But it continues. The experts refer to research, statistics and experiences from the social reality. But it continues. These remarks continously resurface when we discuss crime fighting: Experts point out that tougher legislation and more severe punishment do not prevent crime. Rather - it produces criminals. The politicians increases the punitive sanctions anyway.
Minister of Justice, Lene Espersen, has said what she thinks about the meddling of experts: She calls them "the wailers".

The same discourse is predominant in the wellfaire discussion. "It must be financially desireable to work", the government ministers say. "We have to cut back on social transfers to create 'economic incentives' to work."
Experts can again refer to research - and even research from the Ministry of Employment, which shows that it didn't help more people get jobs when kontanthjælpen (the lowest social transfer available in Denmark for those out of employment, often people who've been out of job for a long time, ed.) was cut a few years back. People evidently do not get more incentive to look for jobs because they are getting even poorer.
Actually - by far the majority of people out of work really want a job. The strongest incentives are, according to all available research, that citizens want recognition for their individual contribution to society at large, and the other is the social factor: Being part of a work place environment is seen as being part of the most attractive community there is. Experts patiently bring up these arguments every single time it is proposed to reduce social transfers and benefits. Yet we continously cut these payments. It's called 'being firm'. And the direct consequences
are, that those who have the least get less, and that more citicens are defined as criminals.

In a way the critique of the experts can be turned on its head and directed against themselves: "Your critique doesn't work." Statistics on approved legislative proposals and plain experience with Danish politics show as much.
You no longer hear the sentence: "It has been scientifically proven that..." This argument isn't valid currency in the Danish public anymore.
This leads to a dilemma: May the proponents of 'the Enlightenment' brand the Danes stupid, considering that Danes - despite an objectively speaking non-hegemonious public domain - elect politicians who legislate in contrast to theoretical and practical expertise? Or - if not - can they problematize democracy itself at a more fundamental level?
Moreover - haven't the proponents of the enlightenment cut off the branch they're themselves sitting on, if their rationality is not accessible to others?
One can claim that 'economic incentives' are defended by the science of Economy - often at odds with the other schools of social/political science as it is. But it's not conventional economic theory that shows itself convincing in public debate or confronting science based argumentation. No - its the anti-elitist, common sense household economics: "It must be financially desireable to work".

The dilemma cancels out itself: You don't have to brand the Danes stupid or declare yourself a principal opponent of democracy. These are rather two different rationalities clashing in the Danish public domain.
The scientific rationality clashes with the house-hold rationality that seeks common denominators in complex structures of society: Economy is a common denominator that everyone can relate to. Cost-benefit analysis is a prime example of this particular brand of logic: any problem or challenge can be put in an equation, that can be made to calculate costs and benefits for every single issue or problem. It's all reduced to money, and can't we all relate to money?
Opinion-polls offer the same compensation for reducing (or ignoring) complexity: Here you get the scores from the political exchanges stripped to an accessible essence. It's as easy as in sports.

At the same time - anti-expertise has grown strong as a sociopsychological tendency: It was manifested by the Prime Minister when he launched his assault on 'arbitors of taste' (when winning office two elections ago Anders Fogh Rasmussen had seething attacks on all the 'experts' - often inclined to vote and argue against him - telling 'normal' people how to think and act, ed.).

Danes aren't against Maersk (cargo/oil/daily goods conglomerate acccounting for 16% of the Danish GDP - true... 16%... - biggest single benefactor of Bush's Middle East policies measured in profit increase, ed.) the financial elite, but they are sceptical of the academic 'besser wissers'. A contemporary class struggle in Denmark seems to unfold between the house hold rationality of common denominators and the withering authority of scientific experts. Its a symptomatic conflict for an anti-authoritarian culture suspectible to being its own caricature. But it is also a democratic challenge to translate scientific argumentation to a politically accessible language that convinces people, that rational dialogue on social issues based on field experience, historical precedent and statistics creates a platform for a more sensible and coherent community: To be able to express that which is a convincing scientific argument also as a political argument that appears - convincing.

APATHY: A word now fallen into disuse due to a lack of concern for it.

The debute said it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guo5p...eature=related

Last edited by Glen; April 14th, 2006 at 19:03.
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post #2 of 34 (permalink) Old April 14th, 2006, 16:14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glen
Experts point out that tougher legislation and more severe punishment do not prevent crime. Rather - it produces criminals.
What do those "experts" suggest then? Not to punish criminals? And instead give them a reward, or something?

Besides, it's fallacious, circular reasoning. If it's punishment that produces a criminal, then what was such a person punished for before becoming a criminal?

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post #3 of 34 (permalink) Old April 14th, 2006, 16:50
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Never mind. It seems I missed the point of the article.

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post #4 of 34 (permalink) Old April 14th, 2006, 20:05
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Interesting piece, but fundamentally off the mark.

People by nature don’t buy an argument not because of any rationale lost in translation to Lehman’s terms. Or because experts’ statistics aren’t convincing to the public. Or because statistics fail to translate into political speak or policy (because it serves it just fine, and is in fact often (mis)used to push any given agenda). Or because people are stupid, dumb and daft. People deny convincing rationale for the same reasons politicos do. Which is, because they are stubborn, closed-minded, prejudiced, and have completely relented to preconception that best fits his or hers prejudices. In other words, they’re already convinced. And no amount of rationale, statistics or emotional pleading is going to convince the convinced.

In the end, our nature carries our way of choosing our arguments no differently than we do here, in this debate forum. Whether it’s the ballot box or some silly debate forum overrun by prepubescent pinkos and religious zealots, we relent only to our own predetermine conception, notion, beliefs, and resist only anything, regardless of rationale, to the contrary.

On a personal note, is this the typical style you write your pieces with?

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post #5 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 00:20 Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pila
On a personal note, is this the typical style you write your pieces with?
The plural 'you'? Yes and no.
I only did a rough translation so finesse and eloquence is somewhat lost, but as regards content you must remember of course, that this is an op/ed piece which means that many of the usual frames and boundaries are out the window. More so on the particular page this was on, as the articles appearing here are always more 'lofty' of sorts.
The writer in question is certainly an influential one at the paper, but - to answer the question - this kind of article is surely far from the norm.

If you ask about my style too - I don't get to write free columns like that. Yet .

I'll answer to your other comments when the red wine buzz wears off in the morning... well... later anyway, even if I laughed out loud seeing that 'people' aren't stupid, dumb or daft, when your justification is that they are instead:

"...stubborn, closed-minded, prejudiced, and have completely relented to preconception that best fits his or hers prejudices."



I think you misunderstand the motive (if not the point) of the article itself, though. But that may be none of your fault, and more to do with my translation - or the fact that I know the author very well.

APATHY: A word now fallen into disuse due to a lack of concern for it.

The debute said it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guo5p...eature=related
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post #6 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 01:45
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Careful with the red wine hangovers, they's the worst.

Oh, so that wasn't your piece? I got the impression you said it was yours...

While my observation of people was meant to be funny, it is also true for the most part. This forum here certainly does nothing to dispell that notion. I think even you would agree with that.

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post #7 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 14:45 Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pila
Careful with the red wine hangovers, they's the worst.

Oh, so that wasn't your piece? I got the impression you said it was yours...

While my observation of people was meant to be funny, it is also true for the most part. This forum here certainly does nothing to dispell that notion. I think even you would agree with that.
I said it was from 'my' paper - Information - where I worked until 1.st of February and will resume again on the 1.st of June. In the meantime I'm a corporate communications lacey .
The writer was credited in italics btw.

Anyway - the point here is that if we take a step back, agreeing as we are on what constitutes peoples' (broadly speaking) rationale for what constitutes desireable policy, then we have to ask as well what politicians should do in a representative democracy?

Because if we agree that people want what is best for themselves and not necessarily what science- or other knowledge/experience based experts believe to be better for the community, then we might as well allow for sms-polling on issues if we willingly accept that politicians legislate like that too.

We have representative democracies because it cannot be asked that people in general inform themselves adequately to be in the know on all the issues pertaining the well being of the state. That is obvious.
Any elected politician can count on civil servants and hired expertise to draft papers that keeps him/her in the know. What is more - politicians are payed to be in the know. It's their responsibility to be in the know.
It is their responsibility to do what they believe to be right (as opposed to doing what their electorates commom sense perception of right is - the public offers a time-specific mandate for the politician to do as he/she sees fit - if the electorate is displeased it can vote differently next time?).

Punitive sanctions is an obvious tough cookie here. On one hand we have ample evidence to tell us that harder pusnishment has not proven to be an effective deterrant against crime in itself (in general terms, no Rudy G. references this time please ), and on the other hand it is a normal human reaction to call for pusnishment, and certainly to get agitated when particularly cruel transgressions take place.

So - this is about striking a balance between what we believe will work in terms of reducing or keeping a lid on crime, and at the same time satisfy the public's sense of justice. The latter is and can never be the task of science. But it is only right that crime-scientists, law-professionals and professors chip in when legislative changes in their estimation actually produce MORE criminals.

And this isn't just fallacious, circular reasoning, because most our prison/correctional facilities systems in western countries (we have ample statistical evidence here) serves to harden first time offenders and minor criminals and their criminal records obviously makes it harder to reform them, as many employers understandably won't take a chance on them.

But the point of the article itself isn't that there's an easy solution as regards crime, or that we should stop 'punishing' altogether.

APATHY: A word now fallen into disuse due to a lack of concern for it.

The debute said it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guo5p...eature=related
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post #8 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 16:21
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The reasons for a representative Democracy isn't because the people aren't adequately informed, but because it isn't possible to put every issue that crosses the legislation to a public vote.

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post #9 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 16:39
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glen
And this isn't just fallacious, circular reasoning
Of course it is. As I said, if it is punishment that causes people to become criminals then what were they being punished for the very first time? Obviously they were already criminals before they were send to jail. Them ending up in jail is the result of their criminal behaviour, not the other way around.

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post #10 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 19:12 Thread Starter
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Sure Boyo.... if you want to play it that way.

If you're charged and convicted with a criminal offence, then of course you're by default a criminal. That is obvious. But the thing is that when it's said that tougher punishment causes more crime, what is meant is that it causes more instances of crime and more serious crime - because the criminals become MORE criminal after having been inside the system, getting connected to other criminals and at the same time getting that much further away from 'normal' society. I suppose you could solve that by locking every offender up forever or close to that effect though....

Noone's saying there's a simple solution to solving crime, or that we should let miscreants or first time offenders off compeltely. Fighting crime isn't the point of the article of course as you identified yourself in your second post.

But while we're trying to find a solution it remains paradoxical that legislation in direct conflict with the findings of the experts in this area is the only answer we have.
Obviously - when saying 'the experts' I'm pointing to the uniquely homogenous findings on the issue in Denmark. I believe (but I couldn't be sure) that similar results hold true in most other western countries.

Pila: Sure, that too, but that is a red herring in terms of the overall discussion.

APATHY: A word now fallen into disuse due to a lack of concern for it.

The debute said it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guo5p...eature=related
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post #11 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 19:21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glen
But the thing is that when it's said that tougher punishment causes more crime, what is meant is that it causes more instances of crime and more serious crime - because the criminals become MORE criminal after having been inside the system
...in other words, the problem is when punishments are chosen based on their severity (e.g. lock 'em up and throw away the key) rather than on their constructiveness (e.g. work on rehabilitating criminals and on reintegrating them into society successfully).
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post #12 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 19:54 Thread Starter
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Exactly Tim.

...or in yet other words to broaden the context...

When we face a dilemma for which we have no obvious answer with a solution we know the public at large will buy - even if also knowing full well that it's unlikely to improve the situation and might foreseeable even increase the problem.
But at least its seen as 'action'.

It is this precarious dilemma that the article wants to hint to (no solution though).

APATHY: A word now fallen into disuse due to a lack of concern for it.

The debute said it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guo5p...eature=related
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post #13 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 20:57
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glen
Sure Boyo.... if you want to play it that way.

If you're charged and convicted with a criminal offence, then of course you're by default a criminal. That is obvious. But the thing is that when it's said that tougher punishment causes more crime, what is meant is that it causes more instances of crime and more serious crime - because the criminals become MORE criminal after having been inside the system, getting connected to other criminals and at the same time getting that much further away from 'normal' society. I suppose you could solve that by locking every offender up forever or close to that effect though....
I think these so called experts see prison in a different way then most people do. Prison's main priority isn't to rehab its prisoners it's to protect society. Rehabilitation should take a secondary role to guarding society against criminals.
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post #14 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 21:11
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That's the problem. People are afraid of criminals being released back into society. Rightly so, because very many crimes are committed by repeat offender. Yet, at the same time, the more emphasis the system places on punishment over rehablitation and the worse it punishes criminals -- at least those locked up for things like assault, theft, and so on -- the more likely it is for the criminals to go back to being criminals when they get out of prison.
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post #15 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 22:06
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glen
But the thing is that when it's said that tougher punishment causes more crime, what is meant is that it causes more instances of crime and more serious crime - because the criminals become MORE criminal after having been inside the system, getting connected to other criminals and at the same time getting that much further away from 'normal' society.
That's an often heard opinion. But I don't believe it to be true. It would seem more likely to be repeated short sentences that contribute to such a mentality. Criminal justice systems in western Europe are pretty much the same everywhere, in that they don't punish criminals severely. And it's been like that since the 70's. Yet, it's in that same western Europe where you have people out on the streets who have been convicted of over 300 times. If anything, that would be proof that lenient sentences don't work.

While if you look at nations such as Thailand, where the sentences are very severe, people who've been in jail for 30 years for drugs trafficking, wouldn't dream of ever doing so again.

And of course there's a certain former mayor of New York City... but you naturally don't want to hear about that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Glen
I suppose you could solve that by locking every offender up forever or close to that effect though....
Not every offender. But I would prefer the 'three strikes, you're out' principle. Where a repeat-offender, after his third felony conviction, is indeed locked up for life.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Glen
Fighting crime isn't the point of the article of course as you identified yourself in your second post.
Yeah, but when you replied to what I posted anyway, I figured I might as well discuss that aspect instead.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Glen
But while we're trying to find a solution it remains paradoxical that legislation in direct conflict with the findings of the experts in this area is the only answer we have.
Maybe they should talk to the criminals themselves. Often these 'experts' are university professors who've never even spoken to an actual criminal.

Also, you'll find that legislation is also made by 'experts'. So it isn't really paradoxical.

Which is what I, upon reading it the second time, took to be the point of the article. That 'expert opinons' aren't really worth much, as for every research that says one thing, there's other research that says the complete opposite.

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Last edited by Boyo; April 15th, 2006 at 22:11.
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post #16 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 22:56
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Well you could shoot every criminal. Or at least cut off their hand. That would solve the problem.
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post #17 of 34 (permalink) Old April 15th, 2006, 23:09
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Thing is, you'll always have criminals who make one mistake in their lifes and others who are repeat offenders. How do you protect society from the later without taking away basic rights from the first? Sure, it's easy to suggest extremelly strict penalties and no weekends home (a favorite for the press), but think of all the people who have regretted their actions and want just another chance at normal life. I'm afraid most people see prisoners exactly as they see civilian losses in wars... as numbers. But they are people with friends and family and some of them deserve a fresh start.

It's not an easy issue, for sure.

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post #18 of 34 (permalink) Old April 17th, 2006, 01:18
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Originally Posted by AMOROSO!
Thing is, you'll always have criminals who make one mistake in their lifes and others who are repeat offenders. How do you protect society from the later without taking away basic rights from the first? Sure, it's easy to suggest extremelly strict penalties and no weekends home (a favorite for the press), but think of all the people who have regretted their actions and want just another chance at normal life. I'm afraid most people see prisoners exactly as they see civilian losses in wars... as numbers. But they are people with friends and family and some of them deserve a fresh start.

It's not an easy issue, for sure.
Criminals aren't the victims in life. In many cases life wasn't good to a criminal bad childhood, no parents, no money etc. But protecting society and giving justice to the victim should be the main principle of the criminal justice system.

I don't mean to just point to you Amoroso but would really you want a convicted child molestor living next to you? Or a rapist murder etc. Would you give them the second chance as your nieghbor? People make mistakes in life we all have but their some mistakes that are almost unforgivable and really sometimes sadly can never be taken away. Thats just life.




Back to Glen's main point about government not being rational. I think what your trying to say is that government doesn't look to do what is right but try to do something that feels good. Glen i think you should look at the electorate when it comes to rational. Figure this out. Something like 2/3 of Americans want lower taxes. Yet at the same time 2/3 of Americans want more spending in government programs. Can't have the best of both worlds. Even in Florida where my grandmother lives. All those old farts run to the polls to vote for people that will pay their medicine. Yet at the same time when a tax proposal of raising taxes 5 cents to help build a school they shoot it down real fast . And i'm sure these patterns are true everywhere in the globe. Many times the the electorate puts unfair goals for the pols. I think you should take that into account before just point the entire blame on the pols.
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post #19 of 34 (permalink) Old April 17th, 2006, 01:30
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Well as they say, nothing new under the Danish sun. The ramblings of a Danish intellectualoid are quite entertaining in light of their particular position in this moment in history. Lucubration is an easy past time for someone or some nation enjoying the full protection of the bloody efforts of a better man or better nation. Go on and talk, issuing forth mephytic brain flatulences of no real consequence and of no value to anyone other than the author or intimate circle of sycophants.

Even the wine has to come from Italy. At least that has some true social value. Wine is medicine.

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post #20 of 34 (permalink) Old April 17th, 2006, 01:32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by croatian batman
I don't mean to just point to you Amoroso but would really you want a convicted child molestor living next to you? Or a rapist murder etc. Would you give them the second chance as your nieghbor?
As long as they have served a sentance according to their crime and have displayed a good behaviour and remorse, yes, I would give them a second chance.

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