Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What I am learning at the coffee house


Hey guys, we've been having more coffee house salon sessions in Melioria, and it's been fun and interesting.  We've all been learning some things, not the least of which is a whole bunch of cool stuff about life and society in the 18th century.  A big part of what helps with that is that before each session, we pull together some readings and share them on a notecard with various groups whose members that are invited to take part.  For example, the most recent one, regrading crime and punishment, was preceded by a notecard with the following:

“The social treaty has for its end the preservation of the contracting parties. He who wills the end wills the means also, and the means must involve some risks, and even some losses. He who wishes to preserve his life at others' expense should also, when it is necessary, be ready to give it up for their sake. Furthermore, the citizen is no longer the judge of the dangers to which the law-desires him to expose himself; and when the prince says to him: "It is expedient for the State that you should die," he ought to die, because it is only on that condition that he has been living in security up to the present, and because his life is no longer a mere bounty of nature, but a gift made conditionally by the State.
The death-penalty inflicted upon criminals may be looked on in much the same light: it is in order that we may not fall victims to an assassin that we consent to die if we ourselves turn assassins. In this treaty, so far from disposing of our own lives, we think only of securing them, and it is not to be assumed that any of the parties then expects to get hanged.
Again, every malefactor, by attacking social rights, becomes on forfeit a rebel and a traitor to his country; by violating its laws be ceases to be a member of it; he even makes war upon it. In such a case the preservation of the State is inconsistent with his own, and one or the other must perish; in putting the guilty to death, we slay not so much the citizen as an enemy. The trial and the judgment are the proofs that he has broken the social treaty, and is in consequence no longer a member of the State. Since, then, he has recognised himself to be such by living there, he must be removed by exile as a violator of the compact, or by death as a public enemy; for such an enemy is not a moral person, but merely a man; and in such a case the right of war is to kill the vanquished.
But, it will be said, the condemnation of a criminal is a particular act. I admit it: but such condemnation is not a function of the Sovereign; it is a right the Sovereign can confer without being able itself to exert it. All my ideas are consistent, but I cannot expound them all at once.
We may add that frequent punishments are always a sign of weakness or remissness on the part of the government. There is not a single ill-doer who could not be turned to some good. The State has no right to put to death, even for the sake of making an example, any one whom it can leave alive without danger.
The right of pardoning or exempting the guilty from a penalty imposed by the law and pronounced by the judge belongs only to the authority which is superior to both judge and law, i.e., the Sovereign; each its right in this matter is far from clear, and the cases for exercising it are extremely rare. In a well-governed State, there are few punishments, not because there are many pardons, but because criminals are rare; it is when a State is in decay that the multitude of crimes is a guarantee of impunity. Under the Roman Republic, neither the Senate nor the Consuls ever attempted to pardon; even the people never did so, though it sometimes revoked its own decision. Frequent pardons mean that crime will soon need them no longer, and no one can help seeing whither that leads. But I feel my heart protesting and restraining my pen; let us leave these questions to the just man who has never offended, and would himself stand in no need of pardon.
Of the Origin of Punishments.
Laws are the conditions under which men, naturally independent, united themselves in society. Weary of living in a continual state of war, and of enjoying a liberty which became of little value, from the uncertainty of its duration, they sacrificed one part of it, to enjoy the rest in peace and security. The sum of all these portions of the liberty of each individual constituted the sovereignty of a nation and was deposited in the hands of the sovereign, as the lawful administrator. But it was not sufficient only to establish this deposit; it was also necessary to defend it from the usurpation of each individual, who will always endeavour to take away from the mass, not only his own portion, but to encroach on that of others. Some motives therefore, that strike the senses were necessary to prevent the despotism of each individual from plunging society into its former chaos. Such motives are the punishments established, against the infractors of the laws. I say that motives of this kind are necessary; because experience shows, that the multitude adopt no established principle of conduct; and because society is prevented from approaching to that dissolution, (to which, as well as all other parts of the physical and moral world, it naturally tends,) only by motives that are the immediate objects of sense, and which being continually presented to the mind, are sufficient to counterbalance the effects of the passions of the individual which oppose the general good. Neither the power of eloquence nor the sublimest truths are sufficient to restrain, for any length of time, those passions which are excited by the lively impressions of present objects.
Of the Punishment of Death.
The useless profusion of punishments, which has never made men better induces me to inquire, whether the punishment of death be really just or useful in a well governed state? What right, I ask, have men to cut the throats of their fellow-creatures? Certainly not that on which the sovereignty and laws are founded. The laws, as I have said before, are only the sum of the smallest portions of the private liberty of each individual, and represent the general will, which is the aggregate of that of each individual. Did any one ever give to others the right of taking away his life? Is it possible that, in the smallest portions of the liberty of each, sacrificed to the good of the public, can be contained the greatest of all good, life? If it were so, how shall it be reconciled to the maxim which tells us, that a man has no right to kill himself, which he certainly must have, if he could give it away to another?
But the punishment of death is not authorised by any right; for I have demonstrated that no such right exists. It is therefore a war of a whole nation against a citizen whose destruction they consider as necessary or useful to the general good. But if I can further demonstrate that it is neither necessary nor useful, I shall have gained the cause of humanity.
The death of a citizen cannot be necessary but in one case: when, though deprived of his liberty, he has such power and connections as may endanger the security of the nation; when his existence may produce a dangerous revolution in the established form of government. But, even in this case, it can only be necessary when a nation is on the verge of recovering or losing its liberty, or in times of absolute anarchy, when the disorders themselves hold the place of laws: but in a reign of tranquillity, in a form of government approved by the united wishes of the nation, in a state well fortified from enemies without and supported by strength within, and opinion, perhaps more efficacious, where all power is lodged in the hands of a true sovereign, where riches can purchase pleasures and not authority, there can be no necessity for taking away the life of a subject.
If the experience of all ages be not sufficient to prove, that the punishment of death has never prevented determined men from injuring society, if the example of the Romans, if twenty years' reign of Elizabeth, empress of Russia, in which she gave the fathers of their country an example more illustrious than many conquests bought with blood; if, I say, all this be not sufficient to persuade mankind, who always suspect the voice of reason, and who choose rather to be led by authority, let us consult human nature in proof of my assertion.
It is not the intenseness of the pain that has the greatest effect on the mind, but its continuance; for our sensibility is more easily and more powerfully affected by weak but repeated impressions, than by a violent but momentary impulse. The power of habit is universal over every sensible being. As it is by that we learn to speak, to walk, and to satisfy our necessities, so the ideas of morality are stamped on our minds by repeated impression. The death of a criminal is a terrible but momentary spectacle, and therefore a less efficacious method of deterring others than the continued example of a man deprived of his liberty, condemned, as a beast of burden, to repair, by his labour, the injury he has done to society, If I commit such a crime, says the spectator to himself, I shall be reduced to that miserable condition for the rest of my life. A much more powerful preventive than the fear of death which men always behold in distant obscurity.
The terrors of death make so slight an impression, that it has not force enough to withstand the forgetfulness natural to mankind, even in the most essential things, especially when assisted by the passions. Violent impressions surprise us, but their effect is momentary; they are fit to produce those revolutions which instantly transform a common man into a Lacedaemonian or a Persian; but in a free and quiet government they ought to be rather frequent than strong.
The execution of a criminal is to the multitude a spectacle which in some excites compassion mixed with indignation. These sentiments occupy the mind much more than that salutary terror which the laws endeavor to inspire; but, in the contemplation of continued suffering, terror is the only, or at least predominant sensation. The severity of a punishment should be just sufficient to excite compassion in the spectators, as it is intended more for them than for the criminal.
A punishment, to be just, should have only that degree of severity which is sufficient to deter others. Now there is no man who upon the least reflection, would put in competition the total and perpetual loss of his liberty, with the greatest advantages he could possibly obtain in consequence of a crime. Perpetual slavery, then, has in it all that is necessary to deter the most hardened and determined, as much as the punishment of death. I say it has more. There are many who can look upon death with intrepidity and firmness, some through fanaticism, and others through vanity, which attends us even to the grave; others from a desperate resolution, either to get rid of their misery, or cease to live: but fanaticism and vanity forsake the criminal in slavery, in chains and fetters, in an iron cage, and despair seems rather the beginning than the end of their misery. The mind, by collecting itself and uniting all its force, can, for a moment, repel assailing grief; but its most vigorous efforts are insufficient to resist perpetual wretchedness.
In all nations, where death is used as a punishment, every example supposes a new crime committed; whereas, in perpetual slavery, every criminal affords a frequent and lasting example; and if it be necessary that men should often be witnesses of the power of the laws, criminals should often be put to death: but this supposes a frequency of crimes; and from hence this punishment will cease to have its effect, so that it must be useful and useless at the same time.
Of Crimes and Punishments, Cesare Bonesana, Marchese Beccaria, 1764
The misfortunes of the wretched in the face of the severity of the law have induced me to look at the criminal code of nations. The humane author of the essay, Of Crimes and Punishments, is only too right in complaining that punishment is much too often out of proportion to the crime, and sometimes detrimental to the nation it was intended to serve.
Ingenious punishments, in which the human mind seems to have exhausted itself in order to make death terrible, seem rather the inventions of tyranny than of justice.
The punishment of the wheel was first introduced in Germany in times of anarchy, when those who seized royal power wished to terrify, by the device of an unheard-of torture, whoever would dare to rise up against them. In England they used to rip open the belly of a man convicted of high treason, tear out his heart, slap his cheeks with it, and then throw it into the fire. And what, very frequently, was this crime of high treason? During the civil wars, it was to have been faithful to an unfortunate king, and sometimes had to be explained according to the doubtful rights of a conqueror. In time, manners became milder; it is true that they continue to tear out the heart, but it is always after the death of the criminal. The torture is terrible but the death is easy, if death can ever be easy.
In 1749 a woman was burned in the Bishopric of Wurtzburg, convicted of being a witch. This is an extraordinary phenomenon in the age in which we live. Is it possible that people who boast of their reformation and of trampling superstition under foot, who indeed supposed that they had reached the perfection of reason, could nevertheless believe in witchcraft, and this more than a hundred years after the so-called reformation of their reason?
In 1652 a peasant woman named Michelle Chaudron, living in the little territory of Geneva, met the devil going out of the city. The devil gave her a kiss, received her homage, and imprinted on her upper lip and right breast the mark that he customarily bestows on all whom he recognizes as his favorites. This seal of the devil is a little mark which makes the skin insensitive, as all the demonographical jurists of those times affirm.
The devil ordered Michelle Chaudron to bewitch two girls. She obeyed her master punctually. The girls' parents accused her of witchcraft before the law. The girls were questioned and confronted with the accused. They declared that they felt a continual pricking in certain parts of their bodies and that they were possessed. Doctors were called, or at least, those who passed for doctors at that time. They examined the girls. They looked for the devil's seal on Michelle's body — what the statement of the case called satannic marks. Into them they drove a long needle, already a painful torture. Blood flowed out, and Michelle made it known, by her cries, that satannic marks certainly do not make one insensitive. The judges, seeing no definite proof that Michelle Chaudron was a witch, proceeded to torture her, a method that infallibly produces the necessary proofs: this wretched woman, yielding to the violence of torture, at last confessed every thing they desired.
The doctors again looked for the satannic mark. They found a little black spot on one of her thighs. They drove in the needle. The torment of the torture had been so horrible that the poor creature hardly felt the needle; thus the crime was established. But as customs were becoming somewhat mild at that time, she was burned only after being hanged and strangled.
In those days every tribunal of Christian Europe resounded with similar arrests. The faggots were lit everywhere for witches, as for heretics. People reproached the Turks most for having neither witches nor demons among them. This absence of demons was considered an infallible proof of the falseness of a religion.
A zealous friend of public welfare, of humanity, of true religion, has stated in one of his writings on behalf of innocence, that Christian tribunals have condemned to death over a hundred thousand accused witches. If to these judicial murders are added the infinitely superior number of massacred heretics, that part of the world will seem to be nothing but a vast scaffold covered with torturers and victims, surrounded by judges, guards and spectators.
It is an old saying that a man after he is hanged is good for nothing, and that the punishments invented for the welfare of society should be useful to that society. It is clear that twenty vigorous thieves, condemned to hard labor at public works for the rest of their life, serve the state by their punishment; and their death would serve only the executioner, who is paid for killing men in public. Only rarely are thieves punished by death in England; they are transported overseas to the colonies. The same is true in the vast Russian empire. Not a single criminal was executed during the reign of the autocratic Elizabeth. Catherine II who succeeded her, endowed with a very superior mind, followed the same policy. Crimes have not increased as a result of this humanity, and almost always, criminals banished to Siberia become good men. The same thing has been noticed in the English colonies. This happy change astonishes us, but nothing is more natural. These condemned men are forced to work constantly in order to live. Opportunities for vice are lacking; they marry and have children. Force men to work and you make them honest. It is well known that great crimes are not committed in the country, except, perhaps, when too many holidays bring on idleness and lead to debauchery.
A Roman citizen was condemned to death only for crimes affecting the welfare of the state. Our teachers, our first legislators, respected the blood of their fellow citizens; we lavish that of ours.
This dark and delicate question has been long discussed: whether judges may punish by death when the law does not expressly require this punishment. This question was solemnly debated before Emperor Henri IV. He judged, and decided that no magistrate could have this power.
There are some criminal cases that are so unusual or so complicated, or are accompanied by such strange circumstances, that the law itself has been forced in more than one country to leave these singular cases to the discretion of the judges. If there really should be one instance in which the law permits a criminal to be put to death who has not committed a capital offense, there will be a thousand instances in which humanity, which is stronger than the law, should spare the life of those whom the law has sentenced to death.
The sword of justice is in our hands; but we ought to blunt it more often than sharpen it. It is carried in its sheath before kings, to warn us that it should be rarely drawn.
There have been judges who loved to make blood flow; such was Jeffreys in England; such in France was a man who was called coupe-tĂȘte. Men like these were not born to be judges; nature made them to be executioners.
-- “A COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK, Of Crimes and Punishments,” Voltaire, 1766
“Laws too gentle, are seldom obeyed; too severe, seldom executed.”    
- Benjamin Franklin
more of interest: 

Fun stuff, yes?  We don't always have readings that are as long as those, but this was a really intriguing subject.  And we've learned that for people to have the readings in advnace helps a great deal in prepping the folks for the discussion, especially as the conversation is taking place "in character" in the year 1780.  And there is something else we learned.  Doing that--conducting the discussion in an historical context, conversing as if we are people looking at the issue in question as 18th century people, makes for an interesting exercise.  It also makes it more fun, and that, in turn makes the content more memorable.
The following is a transcript of the salon session about crime and punishment:

[08:05]  Aldo Stern: I suspect we shall have a modest turnout
[08:05]  Aldo Stern: perhaps the topic is considered by some a bit "dry"
[08:05]  Mercury Gandt: On the contrary, I fond it rather "juicy"
[08:06]  Diogeneia: I would think so
[08:06]  Aldo Stern: it is a topic that certainly affects us all...
[08:07]  Aldo Stern: after all, when you look at crime from a philosophical standpoint...
[08:08]  Aldo Stern: it is an attack on that social agreement that makes society function
[08:09]  Diogeneia: I have been looking at what various thinkers have written on crime, and they all seem to agree that human nature is inclined to do things we would call crime, and it must be punished
[08:10]  Aldo Stern: oh I am sure that there are those who think man in his ideal state would not turn to crime, but I fear our practical experience suggests otherwise
[08:10]  Aldo Stern: what do you think Donna Sere
[08:10]  Sere Timeless: The notion of punishment is deeply seated in religion.
[08:10]  Aldo Stern: is human nature inclined more to be good, if given the chance, or are we naturally selfish?
[08:11]  Sere Timeless: The fallible nature of mankind goes back to the original sin in the Garden of Eden.
[08:12]  Diogeneia: so you think we are naturally inclined to pick pockets and cheat at cards because of Adam and eve?
[08:12]  Mercury Gandt: I can only tell you, what I have seen in my life:
[08:12]  Mercury Gandt: I know so called criminals, who
[08:12]  Mercury Gandt: after committing crimes, never feel shame or regret - ever
[08:13]  Mercury Gandt: They are only bothered by the possibility of getting caught
[08:14]  Sere Timeless: And yet there are so many other people who would never even consider breaking the law unless their life and well-being depended on it.
[08:14]  Aldo Stern: so should we work harder to teach people that they should want to obey laws, or is the threat of being caught and punished more useful?
[08:15]  Diogeneia: maybe a bit of both
[08:15]  Mercury Gandt: Or is it in their character maybe?
[08:15]  Aldo Stern: Well Donna Sere is saying it is the character of some to never wish to break the laws
[08:15]  Sere Timeless: Certainly one cannot underestimate the value of punishment as a deterrent. Some people obviously need more deterrent than others.
[08:16]  Aldo Stern: and the nature of others to be criminals
[08:16]  Aldo Stern: so perhaps Baronessa is correct we need both encouragement--or prevention and punishment
[08:16]  Mercury Gandt: What most surprised me in these readings is, that the authors believe in the good nature of people
[08:16]  Aldo Stern: but how much punishment
[08:16]  Aldo Stern: and what kind is necessary?
[08:17]  Diogeneia: in the Prussian army, the worst crime was desertion...
[08:17]  Diogeneia: you know how the great king worked to prevent it?
[08:18]  Sere Timeless: And what was the punishment for desertion?
[08:18]  Diogeneia: first he made sure the soldiers were fed well and had pride in their profession
[08:18]  Diogeneia: then he reduced the chances of deserting...
[08:18]  Diogeneia: for example he would never set up a camp near a forest if he could help it
[08:18]  Diogeneia: the woods are a deserter's best friend
[08:19]  Diogeneia: and then of course if you deserted and were caught by the gendarmerie, you were flogged
[08:19]  Diogeneia: so it was prevention AND punishment
[08:19]  Mercury Gandt: Very wise, I think
[08:20]  Aldo Stern: On the other hand, you have penal code such as in England, where pretty much everything you technically can be executed for is everything:
[08:21]  Aldo Stern: Theft of property is treated as seriously as treason or murder
[08:21]  Sere Timeless: Which gets to the question of how one decides the appropriate extent of the punishment for a certain crime.
[08:22]  Diogeneia: ah but if your crime is not serious in England, can't they transport you instead of hanging you?
[08:22]  Aldo Stern: well they were doing that, but now that their American colonies are in rebellion they will need a new place to send convicts to.
[08:23]  Aldo Stern: Let us go back for a moment to Signor Gandt's comment
[08:24]  Aldo Stern: you observed that in the readings--Rousseau, Beccaria and Voltaire, there was an emphasis you thought, on the goodness of human nature?
[08:24]  Mercury Gandt: Yes - they believe, every criminal can be useful or good in the future
[08:25]  Mercury Gandt: And they are able to make self-improvement by the punishment
[08:25]  Diogeneia: ah but I think Voltaire was also saying some you can't make them good themselves...
[08:26]  Diogeneia: but you can turn them into a useful thing for society by sentencing them to labor in the dockyards or rowing a galley or something like that
[08:26]  Aldo Stern: which the French do of course...
[08:26]  Aldo Stern: they have gotten away from executing men and instead send them to work in the royal dockyards and arsenals
[08:27]  Aldo Stern: basically as slaves
[08:27]  Mercury Gandt: Very economic (smiles)
[08:28]  Aldo Stern: but are you suggesting Signor Gandt, that the criminal more than likely can't be changed in his ways? that the leopard may never change his spots?
[08:28]  Mercury Gandt: I doubt that this kind of work would be useful at all, done by people who hate it, living in chains
[08:28]  Diogeneia: ha you are probably right
[08:29]  Mercury Gandt: and all their thoughts are around eloping
[08:29]  Diogeneia: I am not so sure I would wish to sail on a ship that had been repaired by angry antisocial lunatics
[08:29]  Mercury Gandt: One of the authors said: give them work and they will be honest
[08:29]  Mercury Gandt: but I would say: give them a goal in their life to reach
[08:30]  Mercury Gandt: and they won't be criminals
[08:30]  Aldo Stern: oh?
[08:30]  Mercury Gandt: give them a reward for their work
[08:30]  Sere Timeless: Voltaire, I believe, said that
[08:30]  Mercury Gandt: which they cab gain realistically, though not easily
[08:31]  Aldo Stern: so then, Signor Gandt, do you basically agree with the idea that the death penalty should not be used as often as it is in some places such as England and a few of the various Italian city states?
[08:32]  Mercury Gandt: I have never met anyone committing such a serious crime, so
[08:32]  Mercury Gandt: I cannot imagine who this man or woman could be...
[08:32]  Mercury Gandt: but
[08:33]  Mercury Gandt: I remember one of my older friends telling about the execution of Damiens
[08:33]  Mercury Gandt: And I never forget it, though I hadn't been there at all!
[08:34]  Diogeneia: I think I agree that if you execute someone, it must be for the worst thing possible...
[08:35]  Mercury Gandt: Yes, exceptional and very rarely done - to remember us what happened in that case
[08:35]  Diogeneia: in a place like England I think hanging is no deterrent, as you get hung for stealing a watch or shooting a man dead
[08:36]  Diogeneia: so if you are a highway man, might you not figure, "well I just stole this fellow's watch, I may as well shoot him so he doesn't tell on me...I get hung either way"
[08:36]  Sere Timeless: If laws are created to ensure that everyone is behaving consistently with the common good, shouldn't punishments also be consistent with the common good?
[08:36]  Aldo Stern: a good point Baronessa
[08:37]  Sere Timeless: A dead criminal can't contribute anything, but a thief forced into labor to repay can contribute something.
[08:37]  Aldo Stern: could you elaborate on that idea, Donna Sere?
[08:38]  Aldo Stern: so you are saying that as Beccaria suggests, the punishment should fit the crime?
[08:38]  Sere Timeless: I do think that is best for society, Professore.
[08:38]  Sere Timeless: And the punishments need to be consistent for whoever commits a certain crime.
[08:39]  Sere Timeless: I find that the wealthy can get away with quite a lot because of their status ins society.
[08:39]  Diogeneia: this is why in Prussian army they flog the deserter, they don't shoot him if they don't have to....they hate to waste a trained man
[08:40]  Aldo Stern: yes, laws are not applied evenly in most cases
[08:41]  Diogeneia: I think punishment works best as a deterrent if the law is applied justly for all
[08:42]  Diogeneia: but I might say differently if I was actually wealthy
[08:42]  Sere Timeless: And what should the punishment be for the judge who does not apply the law equally?
[08:42]  Aldo Stern: a good question
[08:43]  Mercury Gandt: Well, there is everywhere a monarch and a government who makes the law
[08:43]  Diogeneia: *shrugs* if he is wealthy then he should be punished where he would feel it most...his backside is probably too well padded to feel much sting of a flogging, so fine him and hit him in the pocketbook
[08:43]  Mercury Gandt: The monarch is above the law
[08:44]  Mercury Gandt: I'm afraid, the monarch's tradition is defining the philosophy of punishment in his country.
[08:44]  Mercury Gandt: I mean if the monarch is practical, like your Prussian King the system of punishment is about preventing, in a practical and economical way
[08:45]  Aldo Stern: perhaps the monarch is one class of citizen where the best course is to educate them and make sure they understand civic virtue and their responsibility to society
[08:45]  Sere Timeless: And if the monarch does not apply the laws equally will there not be revolt as there is in the English colonies in North America?
[08:45]  Mercury Gandt: Yes - if the monarch is not sure about his own rule...
[08:46]  Aldo Stern: though there have been examples of King who has been punished...your English parliament cut off King Charles head after all
[08:46]  Mercury Gandt: he will force punishments by pure power
[08:46]  Mercury Gandt: Punishments will all about the monarchy's power
[08:46]  Mercury Gandt: and about people or our society
[08:47]  Diogeneia: perhaps you punish a monarch by taking away some of his power
[08:47]  Aldo Stern: let us go back to the issue of death penalties
[08:47]  Aldo Stern: what do you think are crimes for which it should be applied?
[08:48]  Mercury Gandt: Yes, I think, Beccaria was implying King Charles when writing about the death penalty....
[08:48]  Aldo Stern: Rousseau too, perhaps...he was saying that you only execute someone who has the power and the will to hurt the state
[08:49]  Mercury Gandt: Yes... they describe a kind of dictatorship
[08:49]  Diogeneia: Like a King who is acting badly?
[08:49]  Mercury Gandt smiles on the boldness of the Baronessa
[08:49]  Aldo Stern: what about murder?
[08:50]  Aldo Stern: Donna Sere you mentioned the religious origins of our sense of crime and punishment--is an "eye for an eye" just?
[08:50]  Sere Timeless: That is the Old Testament view of punishment, Professore.
[08:50]  Aldo Stern: so then would it be right for society to kill a man who had killed one of his fellow citizens?
[08:51]  Sere Timeless: The more Christian view is to have a criminal redeem himself by penance and good works.
[08:51]  Mercury Gandt: And now we see the moral point of view of punishments :)
[08:52]  Diogeneia: if good works is being an unpaid workers in the royal shipyard, I still don't want to sail on a ship that has been fixed by a crazy killer
[08:53]  Aldo Stern: always the pragmatist, Baronessa
[08:54]  Diogeneia: you bet. I didn't get this old by relying on an idealized view of human nature
[08:54]  Sere Timeless: I should rather sail in a ship whose timbers had been hewn by a criminal in the royal forests.
[08:54]  Mercury Gandt laughs - And pragmatism will always conquer the moral point of view
[08:54]  Mercury Gandt: Better though, than a power-centered point of view conquering
[08:55]  Aldo Stern: but what about deterring crime?
[08:55]  Aldo Stern: what do you think Signor Gandt, you say you know some criminal types--what would turn them away from a life of crime?
[08:56]  Mercury Gandt: Hmmm... some of them are in the Debtors' Prison :)
[08:56]  Mercury Gandt: Maybe laws would prevent them to choose crime
[08:57]  Mercury Gandt: That kind of laws can allow them to follow their plans - for example, new laws about inheritance, marriage
[08:58]  Diogeneia: well to me, and this is as a pragmatist...
[08:58]  Mercury Gandt: Laws that can offer them the possibility to earn their living
[08:58]  Diogeneia: I think you make sure people have enough to eat, they are protected from abuse, and they know their role in society is important...
[08:58]  Diogeneia: less so they will be to turn to crime
[08:59]  Sere Timeless: Wise observations, Baronessa.
[09:00]  Diogeneia: not so wise I think--I just know what I know from watching people
[09:00]  Mercury Gandt: And I agree, you are right
[09:00]  Sere Timeless: What does the group think about the practice of branding criminals like livestock so that they carry the stigma of their crime for the rest of their lives?
[09:02]  Mercury Gandt: Very medieval?
[09:02]  Aldo Stern: I think that goes against Signor Gandt's point that you have to enable people to make a living to keep them from crime...if you brand someone and mark them forever, will it not be harder for them to find work?
[09:02]  Sere Timeless: Do you think it is unnecessary or counter-productive Signore Gandt?
[09:02]  Aldo Stern: not many people willingly will hire a branded thief, I suspect
[09:02]  Aldo Stern: so that person will have no choice but to turn to crime
[09:03]  Mercury Gandt: That stigma will force him to stay on the way of crime....
[09:03]  Diogeneia: yes, exactly
[09:03]  Diogeneia: it is silly, where is the sense in branding someone? it is just being cruel and stupid
[09:04]  Mercury Gandt: Well.. (looking at the fingers of the ladies, searching for a wedding ring...)
[09:04]  Aldo Stern: alas Baronessa, cruelty and stupidity are hallmarks of many legal systems throughout Europe
[09:04]  Mercury Gandt: Branding someone...
[09:06]  Aldo Stern: it is like the old practice of cutting off a thief's hand--probably another Old Testament carryover, do you think, Donna Sere?
[09:06]  Aldo Stern: that is another form of branding
[09:06]  Aldo Stern: and one which made it even harder for the miscreant to find useful work
[09:07]  Sere Timeless: It seems quite similar in intent, though branding does make it possible for the former criminal to do honest work in the future.
[09:07]  Sere Timeless: Cutting off a thief's hand renders him incapable to doing much useful work.
[09:08]  Diogeneia: maybe all a fellow is good for then is begging
[09:09]  Aldo Stern: I know some people might argue that such punishments serve as a lesson tithe public and discourage others from turning to crime...
[09:09]  Aldo Stern: but I have not seen crime greatly reduced in places where the punishments are cruel and numerous.
[09:10]  Mercury Gandt: :) Except, there are no more assassination against the French King since the execution of Damiens
[09:11]  Sere Timeless: Not yet at least, Signor Gandt.
[09:11]  Mercury Gandt: :) not yet
[09:11]  Diogeneia: and who knows maybe there are none for other reasons
[09:12]  Diogeneia: just because one thing follows another, does not mean the one caused the other
[09:12]  Mercury Gandt: For instance? what other reasons can be considered?
[09:13] Aldo Stern: perhaps the king's network of informers is doing a better job ...
[09:13]  Mercury Gandt: I would never think of that... (laughs)
[09:14]  Aldo Stern: perhaps the king is staying in places where it is harder for possible assassins to get at him
[09:14]  Aldo Stern: he avoids going to Paris
[09:14]  Aldo Stern: he avoids contact with people outside the inner circles of the court
[09:14]  Mercury Gandt: Indeed it's true
[09:15]  Mercury Gandt: Because the conditions in his country are hardly any better...
[09:15]  Aldo Stern: yes
[09:18]  Aldo Stern: although he was probably a bit mad
[09:18]  Sere Timeless: Professore, this has been a fascinating discussion, but I'm afraid I must take my leave.
[09:18]  Aldo Stern: Donna Sere, thank you for joining us
[09:18]  Diogeneia: Auf wiedersehen
[09:18]  Sere Timeless: Signore Gandt, Baronessa it has been lovely to see you. And Professore also.
[09:19]  Mercury Gandt: It was my pleasure
[09:19]  Aldo Stern: thank you for your contributions to the discussion
[09:19]  Sere Timeless curtsies.

Finally, let me conclude with one other thing we seem to be learning: having modest attendance is not necessarily a bad thing.  Some of the best discussions have been with very small groups of participants.  But then that is one of the beauties of the platform, isn't it?  Doing this in virtual space is very cost effective compared to running an event in meatspace.  Therefore, you don't need to worry about having a big hairy audience in the same way that you do when you are meeting in a bricks and mortar space, and you feel a need to justify the expense and effort that goes with using that type of venue.