5.5 Changing Legal Systems
added 7/2015, revised 11/2015
5.5.1 Basic problems, basic prevention approaches
5.5.2 Gradually changing legal frameworks
5.5.3 Community building
5.5.4 Initiating broad, basic crime prevention efforts
5.5.1 Basic problems, basic prevention approaches
The legal system of the U.S. is largely based on an elusive, pre-Christian ideal of justice and on obsolete concepts of the human mind. Its adversarial and punitive principles are fundamentally unethical, and its application is often biased. Particularly poor people distrust the police and courts. Crime prevention efforts address few aspects of the problem. Particularly in Southern states of the USA, it is broadly accepted that people may take laws into their own hands, with a readiness for violence to defend property and preemptively when afraid of somebody.
Early childhood environments and genetic factors often predispose school-age children to behave in dysfunctional and antisocial ways. Media, older children and most disturbed peers negatively influence vulnerable children. By largely ignoring minor transgressions and irresponsible behaviors we encourage them, which may lead to criminal careers. War games and virtual unethical behaviors strengthen violent and criminal propensities in minors and adults. In unsupportive, unstructured environments, disturbed boys are more likely to hurt others, disturbed girls more themselves; when bad things happen, boys tend to blame others while girls tend to feel guilty and lose self-respect; however all family and community members are affected. Over the last few decades, particularly in the USA, parental figures and teachers lost influence and authority. Legislators and courts must consider that today entertainment industries, popular artists and respected leaders share a special responsibility in promoting an ethical culture in which people develop self-respect, broad compassion and social connectedness. Early parenting approaches and the role of schools must be reevaluated.
Basic preventive measures at a local level consist in fulfilling needs, adapting schools, etc.; these should be supported by legislators and include:
– Broadly offered and encouraged parenting classes, support of young parents within their neighborhoods.
– Poor parents need more time with their children, with financial support coming from governments, not employers.
– Efforts to reduce children’s exposure to media, video games and indirect digital communication, instead, exposing very young and school age children more to family and social group activities, natural environments and gardening.
– Schools should utilize talents and interests of teachers who can positively engage children and make learning facts and data interesting.
– Academic teaching must be avoided until the child is mentally-developmentally ready, usually around age seven; and, rather than focusing on narrow academic goals, schools must work to engage children in broad pursuits that include art, meditation, ethics (utilizing literature that emphasizes many perspectives and broad compassionate empathy) and sports that are reasonably safe and not overly competitive.
– Teaching materials should be designed to teach compassion and multi cultural/multi-ethnic perspectives.
– Religious teachings must be restricted, never contradicting science or claiming to express the will of God / a god.
– Broadly offered parenting classes, support of young parents within their communities (neighborhoods, schools, churches and other civic organizations).
– Poor parents need more time with their children, with financial support coming from governments, not employers.
– Efforts to reduce children’s exposure to media, video games and indirect digital communication, instead, exposing very young and school age children more to natural environments and gardening.
– Schools should utilize talents and interests of teachers who can positively engage children.
– Academic teaching must be avoided until the child is mentally-developmentally ready, usually around age seven; and, rather than focusing on narrow academic goals, schools must work to engage children in broad pursuits that include art, meditation, ethics (utilizing literature that emphasizes many perspectives and broad compassionate empathy) and sports that are relatively safe and not overly competitive.
Communities must work towards becoming involved in dealing with all transgressions; they must develop good relations with law enforcement and learn techniques of addressing people who are apparently disturbed. If institutionalized, perpetrators must be treated well and receive treatment and education that incorporates ethical issues in academic and vocational teaching, recidivism rates will then likely be minimal. As treatment becomes humane, respectful and effective, relatives and close friends are likely to fully cooperate with the enforcement of reformed laws. Young persons may turn themselves in, escaping entanglements with gangs and/or organized crime. Good residential treatment should replace incarceration.
Today, many children are not engaged in school and adolescents are hardly steered to apprenticeships and healthy activities. Extracurricular activities tend to be overly competitive, solitary and/or fostering a narrow area of interest. Adolescents often give up seeking meaning in learning and advancing their psychosocial development; many are preoccupied with earning money to buy luxuries, some start committing minor crimes, join gangs and/or become addicts, and they often influence each other negatively. If adolescents do not attend school, their parents are considered culpable; students may be expelled and possibly sent to schools for problem children. Adolescents also learn that local police generally make no attempts to find runaways or uncover thefts of bicycles and other smaller items, particularly if the stolen objects belonged to young, poor and otherwise as unimportant perceived people. Even violent crimes against the poor and mentally ill, if perpetrated in allies or private places, are not treated as high priorities.
Good teachers can make learning facts and complex information fascinating. Today there is a perception that all information is readily available on a cell phone or tablet computer; however, original thinking, inventing, evaluating situations and understanding others and ourselves require that we hold much information simultaneously in our minds. When learning, people may find any special branch of science, technology and/or art form fascinating, and thought processes used in one field help in solving problems in another. Handwriting notes and drawings may be particularly valuable when learning and processing data.
The broad failure of teaching ethics and particularly compassionate empathy while holding on to quasi-religious morals is illustrated by the example of early sexual behaviors in the USA. For girls, becoming sexually active often coincides with a decline in self-respect and worsening of psychological problems including drug misuse and abuse-addiction. While schools teach biology of human reproduction and/or advise sexual abstinence, boys are not taught to be compassionately empathetic towards girls. That adolescents often rape adolescents is hardly discussed. Teenage boys and young men are generally not held responsible for the frequent pregnancies of very young girls and the transmission of diseases, unless there are charges for an adult having sex with a minor. Typically, boys/young men are not expected to be supportive and help a pregnant girl get an abortion when an abortion is the most humane solution; the girl/young women is usually considered culpable unless violently raped. The suffering of a girl/young women is hardly considered when she carries an unwanted pregnancy to term, gives birth and gives up the new-born for adoption, being left grieving and worrying about the child the rest of her life. Even in the 21st Century it is considered normal for boys to be promiscuous, inconsiderate and irresponsible regarding sex, while for their young female partners, great suffering and lasting problems are often considered a just punishment for failing to live up to moral standards.
5.5.2 Gradually changing legal frameworks
Scholars and legislators must direct the legal system to abandon its adversarial, punitive orientation:
– As long as courts work with prosecuting attorneys, a panel of prosecutors that includes representatives of both genders and different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds should replace single prosecutors that often have no understanding and no empathy for defendants, and they should never be rewarded for being “tough on crimes.”
– Courts must foster mediation and, if mediation fails, refer to and/or offer ethical, independent arbitration.
– When dealing with severe offenses, the impact of the perpetrators’ past on their development must be acknowledged; and courts need to pursue a more humane, therapeutic approach and preventive measures.
– All minors must be treated as basically innocent and in need of help, even if tight structure and restriction of free movements are indicated to protect others. Often whole families must be involved in treatment and follow restrictions. Even if not imminently dangerous to self or others, treatments may be restrictive for years since relapse is very likely if treated short-term or in ‘least restrictive way’.
– Legal thinking must acknowledge that human behavior is governed by complex interactions of inborn propensities, many forms of learning, personal perceptions and experiences, and by present incentives, not by ‘insights’ into cultural notions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Consequently legislators must demand that, rather than relying on precedence, law schools and the legal system study and use such knowledge in responding to criminal or unethical behaviors.
– Courts, parents, educators and legislators must understand that weapon-imitating toys and any ‘entertainment’ based on virtual violent and criminal behaviors increase the risk of such actions in susceptible persons; courts should enforce that minors and adults that have committed crimes or are mentally disturbed have little or no access to such entertainment.
– Legal systems should relinquish the distinction between antisocial personality and substance abuse disorders confirming guilt and most other mental disorders mitigating culpability. Legal scholars and judges must develop a broad recognition of all mental disorders.
– Legal scholars and legislators must eventually abolish legal doctrines of culpability. Simultaneously, standards of proof may be decreased, if a suspected perpetrator is found to be disturbed, potentially dangerous, and probably benefiting from treatment. If the perpetrator of a major infraction is not found, multiple potentially dangerous people may be reevaluated, watched more closely, and/or referred to therapy of appropriate intensity (most young persons with propensity to violent or antisocial behaviors can easily be recognized and benefits from preventive treatment).
– Particularly in cases of major crimes against individuals, including terroristic assaults and ‘hate crimes’, mediation-like approaches, facilitated by specially trained psychotherapists, should be included and address the rift between perpetrators, victims, and their families: victim(s) and/or family work out requirements to be fulfilled by the perpetrator that helps alleviate negative feelings, give perpetrators a chance of symbolic restitution and foster sense of forgiveness. In such processes, the perpetrators’ problems that led to the ethics transgressions should be to some extent appreciated by victims, perpetrators are likely to feel empathy towards victims and regret, and the process may be meaningfully incorporated in the perpetrators’ and victims’ treatment.
For severely disturbed people, long-term residential treatment and secure therapeutic communities are needed. These may resemble monastic institutions with no specific religious orientation but should incorporate the teaching of different forms of meditation and broad ethics. Their structure reduces the likelihood of patients doing harm to others or themselves and fosters emotional growth. The main ethical requirement is that the environment is humane, and fulfills the patients’ emotional and physical needs and gives a sense of meaning in life. [[ minor change here]]
In early childhood, children must deal with the realities of suffering, apparent injustices, interpersonal aggression for reasons they may not understand and consequent fears. They go through stages of experimenting with lying, cheating, practicing revenge, etc. However, in school age, children need to broaden natural compassion and empathy and practice forgiveness. Choices of stories and games greatly influence emotional learning and growth.
Tendencies to unethical aggressive, sexual and criminal behaviors are strengthened by frequent watching or imagined participation in television and other entertainment; on the other hand human dramas with unethical behaviors in classical literature and art generally provoke thoughtful consideration and may strengthen ethical values.
5.5.3 Community building
Neighborhoods and local grassroots organizations should see to it that virtually every significant transgression is dealt with. For instance, returning stolen and lost items to the owners should be a high priority and include working with communities, markets of used goods, etc. Owners may have to pay small fees to the person(s) recovering items, to police and/or to a lost-and-found office.
For local actions to work, neighborhoods should be organized into units of up to 1,000 inhabitants, with representatives and people close to borders of a neighborhood keeping reasonable contact with people of the adjacent neighborhoods. People should encourage each other to spend more time walking within neighborhood streets and local parks and sitting in front of their houses to enjoy good weather and visit with each other. Apartment buildings may include sitting areas that are open to neighborhood streets. Within a neighborhood, playgrounds, public transportation stations, small shops, coffee houses, etc. help people essentially recognize who is a local and who is a guest from a neighboring area, a tourist or other stranger.
Communities need to learn to take responsibility for and take appropriate actions in cases of any serious problems of individuals and families, particularly violence of any kind. Since runaway behaviors of youth is a family crisis and may involve unethical behaviors and since abductions in family break-ups are not uncommon, all community members have an ethical obligation to observe young people and immediately work with families and law enforcement if a child or adolescent is missing. If a young person appears seriously distressed, community members may closely observe and possibly offer help and/or make efforts that a school counselor becomes involved. To protect individuals from gang violence and organized crime and to help prevent formation of gangs, neighbors should always be vigilant towards each other and maintain friendly connectedness. Similarly, in case of apparent family violence, a neighbor may knock at the door and ask compassionately if he/she can help; this usually disrupts escalation; an abuser is likely to pretend there was an accident or start justifying his behavior, which may be an opportunity to express empathy and do rudimentary mediation. However, in many situations, persons trained in diffusing escalation of violence, emergency mediation and family therapy should be called.
Steps to protect people need to be adapted to apparent dangers. Neighbors, builders of residences and apartments, and owners of rental property, may set up alarm systems where persons who are or feel threatened or at risk, can call on neighbors and police with no delay. Video cameras should be used to monitor dangerous places. If some groups of persons, such as poor young women, appear targeted for abductions, they may carry hidden devices that continuously send signals to help track them. [If the likelihood of abduction is particularly high in some group, such tracing devices may be implanted in places within the body only known to the team of surgeons.] If persons are found to obstruct investigations of any crimes, communities may help investigate why there is resistance to examine unethical actions.
Drug abuse-addiction must always be treated in a comprehensive way; long-term treatment is usually needed. Treatment usually must address personal growth, ethics, other psychiatric problems, teaching of meditation techniques, etc. Spiritual practices may be helpful but treatment should not rely on religious beliefs since religious teachings are usually only temporarily adhered to, often twisted or perverted and later lost when situations change.
Children who are orphaned or who can temporarily not live with their parents may be placed with relatives or close friends, but these need significant support, emotional-psychological and material, with temporary relief as indicated, and possibly supervision. Relatives often agree to take in children out of a sense of duty but soon resent them. In place of foster care, group home clusters are probably preferable, following Hermann Gmeiner’s SOS Children’s Villages model.
5.5.4 Initiating broad, basic crime prevention efforts
Mental health professionals, educators and scholars of law enforcement and judicial systems should work towards a consensus as to what can be done to decrease unethical behaviors. Of particular importance should be a broad recognition that television and other entertainment provides much of the education that children and adolescents get and that vicarious enjoyment of unethical acts is not o.k.: it damages human relationships and it is dangerous. People may argue about and must explore the advisability of large armies, large police forces with officers always ready to kill criminals and common people practicing to shoot images of humans, asserting they must be armed to protect themselves or their property. And, should entertainers and artists be concerned about how rape, murder and torture are portrayed in their works?
Crime prevention starts with support of nuclear families, excellent schools, and opportunities for students to be active in many pursuits, within school curricula, after schools, on weekends, and during vacations. Sports ought to be enjoyable, not violent and not overly competitive and/or dangerous. Many activities and games should emphasize cooperation. During school age, students’ days should be filled with meaningful activities that fully engage students, teach academic, artistic, vocational, basic life, and other skills while stimulating the young person’s contemplating present and past cultures. Teaching language skills and literature must incorporate teaching ethics, empathy, human relationship skills, conflict resolution and parenting; and schools should also teach meditation and forms of artistic expression. Teenagers must experience that this phase in life is formative and relevant to their future, not the last opportunity to be carefree and enjoy themselves in irresponsible ways. The goal is that the young adults develop a personal culture based on ethics, personal talents and inclinations, and that they enthusiastically develop skills and knowledge areas that particularly impressed them.
Ethics as meaningful and basic aspect of all cultures must become separate from religion. Religious institutions may have ceremonial and social functions, they may broadly encourage contemplation, meditation and living according to universal ethical principles, but religious beliefs divide people and must be personal, not emphasized as part of a broad culture that people are expected to accept and adhere to.
Societies must make efforts to offer many opportunities of meaningful employment and further education for adults of all ages. Governments, local and in extraordinary cases federal, must always function as employers of last resort. Local governments are to provide or support availability of meaningful apprenticeships and vocational courses for adolescents who do not find commercial placements after completing an appropriate level of school education (for many students, interesting and intense teaching for eight to nine years after kindergarten is appropriate). Ongoing education courses addressing sciences, arts and approaches promoting physical and mental health, including happiness research, should be available and encouraged for adults of all ages.
Areas may establish non-religious monastic institutions (not forbidding private religious activities, but not teaching or proselytizing religious beliefs). Such institutions may have the function of therapeutic communities or residences for former drug addicts, previously sexually abused or exploited persons, former gang members, and people with minor mental disorders that make independent living difficult.
In order to prevent repeated offenses by dangerous persons not receiving adequate treatment and supervision, and to find mentally disordered patients who refuse contacts with families and therapists, a government agency should keep records of individuals: where people live or spend the night if registering in a hotel or camp ground, where they receive government sponsored services, fill prescriptions, use debit cards or cash checks, etc. Records also should include purchase files of abusable substances and weapons. Though generally never compiled and looked at, these records may be made accessible to government agencies that uncover crimes, personal physicians, and/or therapists. Others must never have access to such files. Concerned family members and friends of a traveling or missing person may be able to leave messages that government agencies try to deliver.
At least in the USA, most people erroneously believe that it is acceptable and safe to enjoy vicarious unethical behaviors. Grossly unethical behaviors, for instance major vindictiveness, exploitative or violent sex, cruelty towards people or animals and drug abuse, should become “taboo”, which means that even thoughts of such behaviors cause immediately disgust or shame, or, if such thoughts feel enticing and tantalizing, guilt. Obviously, what is enjoyed in fantasy may, in extraneous circumstances, be enjoyed even more in reality, and such fantasies and behaviors have addictive qualities. Hateful or violent thoughts towards a person or a group of people (strengthened by “us-versus-them” thinking) interfere with developing a friendly and empathetic relationship; and it is essentially impossible to have a compassionately empathetic relationship with a person as a parental figure, friend, teacher or therapist while having at times seriously unethical fantasies towards the person. There are circumstances where somebody may kill another person, but homicides should only occur in extremely unusual situations, and they may require certain meaningful work and/or complex rituals to ‘cleanse’ the ‘stain’ of the transgression against our natural inhibitions and ethical principles. Even when seemingly right and psychologically excusable, compassionate people feel guilt and conflicting emotions when overstepping this basic inhibition, at least when there is no (or no longer) ‘us-versus-them’ thinking (‘us-versus-them’ thinking inhibits empathy by dehumanizing outsiders, “others” or “them”). Even the justifiable killing of animals, e.g. culling animals that would overgraze and destroy their habitat if not hunted, should never become normal or routine and such killing should always occur in the most humane way that is feasible. Inhumane treatment of higher animals is unethical and it easily desensitizes people, increasing the risk of inhumane treatment of other humans.
If children and adolescents are fully engaged in broad learning, exploration of nature and artistic pursuits, they are likely to enjoy continuous constructive activities and hardly have time to pursue inappropriate sexual experimentation, drug abuse and other dangerous and ethically questionable behaviors. Young people should learn to interact and form close friendships, but even if loving a friend, they should have learned appropriate sexual inhibitions based on ethical considerations rather than hard to understand religious concepts.
In order to broaden children’s perspectives, creativity and empathetic thinking, schools and families should make efforts to offer bicultural (or multicultural) education. If feasible, children should become familiar with two languages and cultures during or before grade school.
Society must make efforts to deal with all transgressions of juveniles and young adults. Directing people towards ethical behavior should include behavior modification approaches within families and schools: rewarding good behavior in ways that appear spontaneous rather than earned, setting up negative consequences for unethical behaviors which are implemented without anger or other negative emotions except possibly sadness; there may be limited use of charts that monitor behaviors and encourage students to be proud of their improvements. In any case of transgressions, schools and law enforcement must treat student humanely and in therapeutic ways, as feasible.
Since preschool age, children should be encouraged to be accepting and always friendly towards children that are different, may have handicaps and/or do not seem appealing or interesting.
School and vocational counselors may follow adolescents who prematurely leave formal education. People who do not seem to find meaningful ways of structuring their time, which may include artistic pursuits and/or some traveling, should be observed with regard to signs of emotional problems, utilizing programs such as ‘big sister’ or ‘big brother’, and peer support through civic organizations (e.g. religious and church-like organizations that focus on healthy and ethical living, possibly Asian techniques such as yoga or Tai Chi without religiosity). Communities should develop and teach locally adapted cultural rules to prevent the development of destructive peer groups; premature, exploitative sex; abuse-addiction behaviors; development of gangs; etc.
Generally, communities have a responsibility to follow all community members in a caring way. If outsiders move into a community, members are expected to welcome them and show interest in them. Similarly, travelers shall be welcomed as guests. All individuals are encouraged to stay in contact with some old and new friends and with family members.
Religion is, from the perspective of global ethical principles, at times positive but at other times very problematic. Religious practices may include meditation, art, rituals and examining global ethics; a spiritual attitude may open aspects of the mind that encourages self-healing and contentedness. Many religious people understand their ethical principles to be part of their religion, for instance as part of the teaching of Jesus or Buddha. Religiosity may encourage ethical work, including humanitarian help to the poor, sick and victims of violence, accidents and natural disasters. However, specific beliefs should be limited and personal: all religious beliefs and interpretations of sacred texts are, by definition, not supportable by science.
Religious leaders must never claim to know the will of God or gods. Religious teachings divide people, often lead to unethical pursuits, poison relationships and politics and cause wars, unless they emphasize teaching universal ethical principles including acceptance and tolerance towards other beliefs. (Basically, it is unconceivable to truly believe in the dogmatic teachings of a complex religion, such as a Christian or Muslim sect, and be genuinely tolerant: if believing that people living by different morals and following different religious teachings cannot reach paradise and may suffer in an afterlife because of their beliefs, a normal compassionate believer would want all others to convert to his/her religion.) Many religious beliefs create fears and uncertainty; teaching about cruel and even permanent extreme punishments after death must not be condoned; such beliefs can be traumatic and paralyzing: a child may feel terror whenever thinking about the possilbility of temporary or endless torture after death; the image of people in heaven being happy without caring about people in hell contradicts ethics and teaches that cruel vindication is good. In addition, virtually all cultures incorporated ancient superstitions, biases and inhumane traditions into religions that otherwise endeavor to advance ethics. People usually doubt and ignore much of what a religion teaches but may feel pious when focusing on some aspect of a text. An additional problem is that religious people tend to think that agnostics and atheists are not capable of having genuine enduring ethical values.
Worldwide standards of basic education regarding ethics, rules and habits is likely to reduce tension and hostility between different groups of people that mix for instance as a result of immigration. They should include that students and people in general always
– communicate in a respectful and considerate way, not degrading others and refraining from arrogant, snobbish or boisterous behaviors;
– observe strict honesty, not making promises that may not be kept, and punctuality;
– make efforts to be careful with any type of work, treating animals with consideration and never in cruel ways, treating objects carefully, avoiding waste and keeping home, public places, school and work environment clean;
– always behave respectfully, never being aggressive in the pursuit of relationships and sex.