What is the most expensive building in Walworth County, Wisconsin?
The jail. Biggest building in nearby Rock County? The jail. How did all this happen? When did our culture decide to spend more money locking away prisoners than in educating our children? The average payment to a 100% disabled combat veteran of the Marine Corps is much much less per year than to incarcerate one prisoner in Wisconsin. And the trend is to lock away more prisoners, not fewer. Did this wholesale locking up of people come from fear created by crime shows, where Hollywood hugely lies about the amount of violent crime (NCIS, Hawaii 5-0, Law and Order, and so many more)? And why do people almost always want harsher enforcement and more draconian punishments, no matter how harsh the punishments or enforcement already is?

Some of this steaming vituperation comes out of genetics and the severe (and almost totally unadmitted) competition for survival all humans struggle under. We are all, each and every one of us, set up physically, and wired mentally, to eliminate outside opposition (outside our tribe) as much as we can under almost any circumstance. This is reinforced by early Christian mythology rising out of the Pilgrim and Calvinistic religions of early America, much of which exists to this very day under practices performed by other orders. Most of the settlers aboard the first ships were Pilgrims, and the harshness and suffering they believed necessary to get to the next life was astounding, and much of it remains with us today. The Calvinists became known as Puritans. In the exacting language of the Presbyterian (Puritan branch) Church’s Westminster Confession of Faith (1649), “God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest to the least, by his most wise and holy providence.” The various Protestant groups that affirmed these and other similarly austere Calvinist doctrines longed to establish a purified Christian church independent of existing ecclesiastical institutions. This belief in the Lord God as all powerful and involved in all of life became part of the very rigid foundations of freedom, liberty, patriotism and capitalism that America is founded upon. One only has to briefly review current belief systems like ‘American Exceptionalism” to experience the rigidity and exclusivity these people felt toward all ‘outsiders’ and also understand how much of what they believed and expounded upon is still with us today.

The people of all cultures with the most rigid, extreme and harshly punishing religious beliefs are invariably rural social groups. The middle east serves as a perfect example of a bunch of rural societies living in close proximity. Believing in Allah is no more prejudicial or harshly extreme than believing in God. It’s all in the application of those beliefs, and almost every single religious scholar believes that.

In and across America, there is a distinct division in what are considered to be liberal and conservative views of almost all life, and the rules put forth by humanity to govern that life. This division can also be described, with little effort made by studying demographics, as the difference between those people who live in urban (highly developed and populated) areas and those who live in rural (sparsely populated and developed) areas. The people who live in less populated areas can generally be described as those having more limited social contact, and therefore understanding, of diverse social patterns than their urbans opposites. This distinct division results in attitudes of macho (particularly male) resolutions being more commonly recommended and believed in, than gentler approaches to discord usually recommended or pursued by urban dwellers.

Vietnam returnees can be used to illustrate a bit of this macho/gentle approach taken by so many (mostly) males. Two-point-seven (2.7) million young American males went to war in Vietnam and served in-country during its course. Of those men only approximately three-hundred-and-seventy-five thousand (375,000) participated or engaged in physical combat. Of that number about three hundred and sixty-two thousand (362,000) were killed or wounded.   Fifty-eight thousand (58,000) were killed.   From these numbers, one can get a pretty good idea that any Vietnam veteran spoken to about his beliefs in combat, war, violence or Vietnam itself is not going to be someone who participated in actual combat. What you will hear from most of the veterans who did not see action is that not enough violence was applied, and more should have been employed, right up to nuclear weapons. Not enough force was applied…that the leaders of America who led us into the war were weak and cowardly. You will never hear that from guys who actually were in combat. But then, you will likely never meet any of those (real deal) combat experienced men, and should you, the number returned with extreme mental problems is legend, so you might not hear anything at all.

Violence, and all crimes (breaking societies rules), are generally committed by mistake. Most people do not dedicate themselves to committing crimes and going to prison, or worse. How is the nation to fix a society when it is locking people up left and right, at huge expense? This year California will spend $75,000 per person to keep someone incarcerated, which is more than it costs to go to Harvard! This is much more of a rural/urban, experienced/inexperienced, macho/gentle, social problem of acceptance and understanding, than it is one of isolating the rule-breakers so they can’t or won’t break rules again, or laying down draconian punishments to try to accomplish the same result. Neither of those solutions work at all, and that has been proven in psychological and sociological studies time and again over the past seventy years.

The solution is not one of coming to understand the minds and motivations of the rule breakers, although that is important. No, it’s one of primarily understanding the rest of America’s human condition, and why we do the things we do, even when the obvious results are ridiculous in the view (and cost) to all of us.

~~James Strauss



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