Hell on Earth

by 2900 2,900 words
  • Read later or Kindle
    • KindleKindle

Hell on Earth

A Hell of a future. Photo by Martin Barraud/Gallery Stock

What happens to life sentences if our lifespan is radically extended? A philosopher talks about future punishment

Ross Andersen is the Science Editor at The Atlantic and former deputy editor at Aeon. He has written extensively about science and philosophy for several publications, including The Atlantic and The Economist.

2900 2,900 words
  • Read later
    • KindleKindle

Even in my most religious moments, I have never been able to take the idea of hell seriously. Prevailing Christian theology asks us to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing being would do what no human parent could ever do: create tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures, pluck out a few favourites to shower in transcendent love, and send the rest to an eternity of unrelenting torment. That story has always seemed like an intellectual relic to me, a holdover from barbarism, or worse, a myth meant to coerce belief. But stripped of the religious particulars, I can see the appeal of hell as an instrument of justice, a way of righting wrongs beyond the grave. Especially in unusual circumstances.

Take the case of Adolf Hitler. On the afternoon of 29 April 1945, Hitler was stashed deep in his Berlin bunker, watching his Third Reich collapse, when he received word that Benito Mussolini was dead. Hitler was aghast at the news, not because he’d lost yet another ally, but because of the way Mussolini had died. The Italian dictator had been trying to slink into Switzerland when he was caught, shot, and dragged to a public square in Milan, where a furious mob kicked and spat on his body, before hanging it upside down on a meat hook.

Worried that he might meet a similar fate, Hitler decided to test the strength of his cyanide capsules by feeding a few of them to his dog, Blondie. By midafternoon on the following day, 30 April, the Red Army was rampaging through Berlin, and the Fuhrer's empire had shrunk to a small island of land in the city centre. Rather than fight to the end and risk capture, Hitler bit into one of his cyanide pills, and fired a bullet into his head for good measure. When the Soviets reached the bunker two days later, his body had been burned and his ashes buried, in a shallow bomb crater just above ground.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Hitler got off easy, given the scope and viciousness of his crimes. We might have moved beyond the Code of Hammurabi and ‘an eye for an eye’, but most of us still feel that a killer of millions deserves something sterner than a quick and painless suicide. But does anyone ever deserve hell?

That used to be a question for theologians, but in the age of human enhancement, a new set of thinkers is taking it up. As biotech companies pour billions into life extension technologies, some have suggested that our cruelest criminals could be kept alive indefinitely, to serve sentences spanning millennia or longer. Even without life extension, private prison firms could one day develop drugs that make time pass more slowly, so that an inmate's 10-year sentence feels like an eternity. One way or another, humans could soon be in a position to create an artificial hell.

At the University of Oxford, a team of scholars led by the philosopher Rebecca Roache has begun thinking about the ways futuristic technologies might transform punishment. In January, I spoke with Roache and her colleagues Anders Sandberg and Hannah Maslen about emotional enhancement, ‘supercrimes’, and the ethics of eternal damnation. What follows is a condensed and edited transcript of our conversation.

Suppose we develop the ability to radically expand the human lifespan, so that people are regularly living for more than 500 years. Would that allow judges to fit punishments to crimes more precisely?

Roache: When I began researching this topic, I was thinking a lot about Daniel Pelka, a four-year-old boy who was starved and beaten to death [in 2012] by his mother and stepfather here in the UK. I had wondered whether the best way to achieve justice in cases like that was to prolong death as long as possible. Some crimes are so bad they require a really long period of punishment, and a lot of people seem to get out of that punishment by dying. And so I thought, why not make prison sentences for particularly odious criminals worse by extending their lives?

But I soon realised it’s not that simple. In the US, for instance, the vast majority of people on death row appeal to have their sentences reduced to life imprisonment. That suggests that a quick stint in prison followed by death is seen as a worse fate than a long prison sentence. And so, if you extend the life of a prisoner to give them a longer sentence, you might end up giving them a more lenient punishment.

The life-extension scenario may sound futuristic, but if you look closely you can already see it in action, as people begin to live longer lives than before. If you look at the enormous prison population in the US, you find an astronomical number of elderly prisoners, including quite a few with pacemakers. When I went digging around in medical journals, I found all these interesting papers about the treatment of pacemaker patients in prison.

Suppose prisons become more humane in the future, so that they resemble Norwegian prisons instead of those you see in America or North Korea. Is it possible that correctional facilities could become truly correctional in the age of long lifespans, by taking a more sustained approach to rehabilitation?

Roache: If people could live for centuries or millennia, you would obviously have more time to reform them, but you would also run into a tricky philosophical issue having to do with personal identity. A lot of philosophers who have written about personal identity wonder whether identity can be sustained over an extremely long lifespan. Even if your body makes it to 1,000 years, the thinking goes, that body is actually inhabited by a succession of persons over time rather than a single continuous person. And so, if you put someone in prison for a crime they committed at 40, they might, strictly speaking, be an entirely different person at 940. And that means you are effectively punishing one person for a crime committed by someone else. Most of us would think that unjust.

Let’s say that life expansion therapies become a normal part of the human condition, so that it’s not just elites who have access to them, it’s everyone. At what point would it become unethical to withhold these therapies from prisoners?

Roache: In that situation it would probably be inappropriate to view them as an enhancement, or something extra. If these therapies were truly universal, it’s more likely that people would come to think of them as life-saving technologies. And if you withheld them from prisoners in that scenario, you would effectively be denying them medical treatment, and today we consider that inhumane. My personal suspicion is that once life extension becomes more or less universal, people will begin to see it as a positive right, like health care in most industrialised nations today. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that in the US, prisoners sometimes receive better health care than uninsured people. You have to wonder about the incentives a system like that creates.

Where is that threshold of universality, where access to something becomes a positive right? Do we have an empirical example of it?

Roache: One interesting case might be internet access. In Finland, for instance, access to communication technology is considered a human right and handwritten letters are not sufficient to satisfy it. Finnish prisons are required to give inmates access to computers, although their internet activity is closely monitored. This is an interesting development because, for years, limiting access to computers was a common condition of probation in hacking cases – and that meant all kinds of computers, including ATMs [cash points]. In the 1980s, that lifestyle might have been possible, and you could also see pulling it off in the ’90s, though it would have been very difficult. But today computers are ubiquitous, and a normal life seems impossible without them; you can’t even access the subway without interacting with a computer of some sort.

In the late 1990s, an American hacker named Kevin Mitnick was denied all access to communication technology after law enforcement officials [in California] claimed he could ‘start a nuclear war by whistling into a pay phone’. But in the end, he got the ruling overturned by arguing that it prevented him from living a normal life.

What about life expansion that meddles with a person’s perception of time? Take someone convicted of a heinous crime, like the torture and murder of a child. Would it be unethical to tinker with the brain so that this person experiences a 1,000-year jail sentence in his or her mind?

Roache: There are a number of psychoactive drugs that distort people’s sense of time, so you could imagine developing a pill or a liquid that made someone feel like they were serving a 1,000-year sentence. Of course, there is a widely held view that any amount of tinkering with a person’s brain is unacceptably invasive. But you might not need to interfere with the brain directly. There is a long history of using the prison environment itself to affect prisoners’ subjective experience. During the Spanish Civil War [in the 1930s] there was actually a prison where modern art was used to make the environment aesthetically unpleasant. Also, prison cells themselves have been designed to make them more claustrophobic, and some prison beds are specifically made to be uncomfortable.

I haven’t found any specific cases of time dilation being used in prisons, but time distortion is a technique that is sometimes used in interrogation, where people are exposed to constant light, or unusual light fluctuations, so that they can’t tell what time of day it is. But in that case it’s not being used as a punishment, per se, it’s being used to break people’s sense of reality so that they become more dependent on the interrogator, and more pliable as a result. In that sense, a time-slowing pill would be a pretty radical innovation in the history of penal technology.

I want to ask you a question that has some crossover with theological debates about hell. Suppose we eventually learn to put off death indefinitely, and that we extend this treatment to prisoners. Is there any crime that would justify eternal imprisonment? Take Hitler as a test case. Say the Soviets had gotten to the bunker before he killed himself, and say capital punishment was out of the question – would we have put him behind bars forever?

Roache: It’s tough to say. If you start out with the premise that a punishment should be proportional to the crime, it’s difficult to think of a crime that could justify eternal imprisonment. You could imagine giving Hitler one term of life imprisonment for every person killed in the Second World War. That would make for quite a long sentence, but it would still be finite. The endangerment of mankind as a whole might qualify as a sufficiently serious crime to warrant it. As you know, a great deal of the research we do here at the Oxford Martin School concerns existential risk. Suppose there was some physics experiment that stood a decent chance of generating a black hole that could destroy the planet and all future generations. If someone deliberately set up an experiment like that, I could see that being the kind of supercrime that would justify an eternal sentence.

In your forthcoming paper on this subject, you mention the possibility that convicts with a neurologically stunted capacity for empathy might one day be ‘emotionally enhanced’, and that the remorse felt by these newly empathetic criminals could be the toughest form of punishment around. Do you think a full moral reckoning with an awful crime the most potent form of suffering an individual can endure?

Roache: I’m not sure. Obviously, it’s an empirical question as to which feels worse, genuine remorse or time in prison. There is certainly reason to take the claim seriously. For instance, in literature and folk wisdom, you often hear people saying things like, ‘The worst thing is I’ll have to live with myself.’ My own intuition is that for very serious crimes, genuine remorse could be subjectively worse than a prison sentence. But I doubt that’s the case for less serious crimes, where remorse isn’t even necessarily appropriate – like if you are wailing and beating yourself up for stealing a candy bar or something like that.

I remember watching a movie in school, about a teen that killed another teen in a drunk-driving accident. As one of the conditions of his probation, the judge in the case required him to mail a daily cheque for 25 cents to the parents of the teen he’d killed for a period of 10 years. Two years in, the teen was begging the judge to throw him in jail, just to avoid the daily reminder.

Roache: That’s an interesting case where prison is actually an escape from remorse, which is strange because one of the justifications for prison is that it’s supposed to focus your mind on what you have done wrong. Presumably, every day you wake up in prison, you ask yourself why you are there, right?

What if these emotional enhancements proved too effective? Suppose they are so powerful, they turn psychopaths into Zen masters who live in a constant state of deep, reflective contentment. Should that trouble us? Is mental suffering a necessary component of imprisonment?

Roache: There is a long-standing philosophical question as to how bad the prison experience should be. Retributivists, those who think the point of prisons is to punish, tend to think that it should be quite unpleasant, whereas consequentialists tend to be more concerned with a prison’s reformative effects, and its larger social costs. There are a number of prisons that offer prisoners constructive activities to participate in, including sports leagues, art classes, and even yoga. That practice seems to reflect the view that confinement, or the deprivation of liberty, is itself enough of a punishment. Of course, even for consequentialists, there has to be some level of suffering involved in punishment, because consequentialists are very concerned about deterrence.

I wanted to close by moving beyond imprisonment, to ask you about the future of punishment more broadly. Are there any alternative punishments that technology might enable, and that you can see on the horizon now? What surprising things might we see down the line?

Roache: We have been thinking a lot about surveillance and punishment lately. Already, we see governments using ankle bracelets to track people in various ways, and many of them are fairly elaborate. For instance, some of these devices allow you to commute to work, but they also give you a curfew and keep a close eye on your location. You can imagine this being refined further, so that your ankle bracelet bans you from entering establishments that sell alcohol. This could be used to punish people who happen to like going to pubs, or it could be used to reform severe alcoholics. Either way, technologies of this sort seem to be edging up to a level of behaviour control that makes some people uneasy, due to questions about personal autonomy.

It’s one thing to lose your personal liberty as a result of being confined in a prison, but you are still allowed to believe whatever you want while you are in there. In the UK, for instance, you cannot withhold religious manuscripts from a prisoner unless you have a very good reason. These concerns about autonomy become particularly potent when you start talking about brain implants that could potentially control behaviour directly. The classic example is Robert G Heath [a psychiatrist at Tulane University in New Orleans], who did this famously creepy experiment [in the 1950s] using electrodes in the brain in an attempt to modify behaviour in people who were prone to violent psychosis. The electrodes were ostensibly being used to treat the patients, but he was also, rather gleefully, trying to move them in a socially approved direction. You can really see that in his infamous [1972] paper on ‘curing’ homosexuals. I think most Western societies would say ‘no thanks’ to that kind of punishment.

To me, these questions about technology are interesting because they force us to rethink the truisms we currently hold about punishment. When we ask ourselves whether it’s inhumane to inflict a certain technology on someone, we have to make sure it’s not just the unfamiliarity that spooks us. And more importantly, we have to ask ourselves whether punishments like imprisonment are only considered humane because they are familiar, because we’ve all grown up in a world where imprisonment is what happens to people who commit crimes. Is it really OK to lock someone up for the best part of the only life they will ever have, or might it be more humane to tinker with their brains and set them free? When we ask that question, the goal isn’t simply to imagine a bunch of futuristic punishments – the goal is to look at today’s punishments through the lens of the future.

Read more essays on ethics, law & justice and technology and the self


  • Ben Feddersen

    I think a better question would be: Do harsher punishments actually prevent crime? There's surprisingly little evidence that this is the case.

    Moving past this article's rather unsavory assumption that retributive suffering is a good idea, if "life extension technology" falls under the auspices of commonly-accepted healthcare, it would be immoral to deny this to prisoners.

    • G

      The best available evidence shows that what is most effective at deterring crime is the _swiftness and sureness_ of being caught and punished, rather than the _severity_ of the punishment.

      This is why community-based policing and neighbourhood watches work: the deterrence value is in the fact that street crooks are more likely to get caught. Something similar is needed to catch and penalise high-level white collar crime such as the kinds of investment fraud that nearly destroyed the world financial system in 2008.

      • Brown Skin Expat

        I agree with the first part of your comment. Where I live in Africa the formal justice system does not work and communities rely on the adage of “It takes a Village” to not just raise a child but also to discipline those children, and adults, who step beyond the boundary of what is considered acceptable behavior. Brown Skin Expat: http://brownskinexpat.blogspot.com/2013/12/african-justice.html

      • Ben Feddersen

        Very well put, thank you.

  • Gyrus

    How odd for a piece to begin with talk of "holdovers from barbarism", then proceed to spend a good portion of the time open-mindedly wondering if we should torture prisoners. I know the war on terror has softened our resolve on it, but I really thought we'd already answered that question in principle, with no need for sci-fi thought experiments.

    • G

      Barbarians are always 'someone else,' as the etymology of the word itself basically means 'outsiders' or 'strangers not from here.' This makes perfect sense: 'barbarianism' is _someone else's_ evil behaviour; _our own_ evil behaviour always manages to get a pass.

      The words we're looking for here are 'brute' and 'brutalism,' describing particularly violent persons and their actions and rationalisations. When those acts are truly historic in nature, the words 'monster' and 'monstrosity' are appropriate.

      (The word 'savage' comes from the French word 'sauvage' meaning 'forest-dweller,' so that won't do, and is arguably an ethnic slur against native/aboriginal peoples who do indeed live in forests.)

      And yes, it's the worst sort of moral self-contradiction to condemn the monsters of history and then comfortably consider acts that would partake of the some of the very same types of monstrosity. I was appalled, though it's possible that was the conclusion the author sought to provoke.

  • Michael Hanlon

    Rather strange piece. What would be the point of punishing Hitler forever? To deter other potential Hitlers? Hardly. The deterrence effect does not really apply to maniacal dictators bent on world domination. To make us feel better? Again, would it? Would torturing Hitler for eternity take away the pain of the Holocaust and WW2? No. We can agree that criminals must be punished and violent criminals must be punished severely, but concocting life-extension technologies merely to make them miserable for longer seems perverse.

    • http://wildernessvagabonds.com/ Mike Lewinski

      Presumably the relatives of holocaust victims would be living forever too, along with Hitler. So too would people who were liberated before they were killed.

      One point of retributive punishment by the state is that it acts as a proxy for the victims and their families who might otherwise feel compelled to take law into their own hands.

      So imagine that we've captured and tried Hitler and he's served his sentence out and been released in a world where millions of people still feel aggrieved that he lives. Arguably, in this case, releasing him to certain retributive murder becomes the cruel thing. He will probably need protective custody indefinitely.

      People are fond of saying that "justice isn't about revenge", but in some measure, I think that it actually is. Because if we don't feel avenged by the justice system, we're prone to taking it into our own hands. That can lead to greater civil unrest as family avenges family, even leading into larger race/class/religious war.

      • Ben Feddersen

        Thought-provoking response. Not sure I agree, though, given the inverse relationship between punitivity of a given justice system and the overall lawfulness of the corresponding society.

      • http://commonsensehumanism.blogspot.com/ Philipp Schaub

        "Because if we don't feel avenged by the justice system, we're prone to taking it into our own hands. "

        That, to me, seems to be the entire problem. We all know punishment doesn't help anybody. Ever seen somebody who has avenged their murdered family and was happy and content ever after?
        What we need isn't more appropriate punishments, it's a public trained in empathy and reflection. Teaching people to deal with their grudges would remove the need for punishment altogether, so that the justice system could actually focus on rehabilitation rather than the population's primitive lust for vengeance.

        • Adam Selene

          "Ever seen somebody who has avenged their murdered family and was happy and content ever after?"

          I consider myself fairly progressive on prisoners' rights issues; I say this so you won't take this as coming from some "tough on crime" draconian punishments fetishist.

          But as regards retributive justice, the point isn't necessarily that punishing the offender makes the victim or his family whole. It's that it diminishes the additional sting of seeing the victimizer walk away unscathed, or even gloat over his crime.
          Even if the victim or his family don't feel better seeing the offender punished, at least they don't feel worse for having not seen it.

          "Teaching people to deal with their grudges would remove the need for punishment altogether"

          If children urinated root beer, and defecated vanilla ice cream, we could solve world hunger with root beer floats too!

          I think you overstate your case here. Our "primitive lust for vengeance" served useful evolutionary and social purposes. I agree in principle that modern America works too hard to gratify that primal need, at the expense of gains from other emphases in punishment. But to completely discount the benefits to both victims and society from retribution takes it too far the other way.

      • Stan Astan

        You fail to see that uncivilized cruelty seems to have a way of filtering itself from the bottom-up and the top-down. Modern law must have the force to place a fellow human in bondage under the correct circumstances. Meanwhile, modern law has no right over life-and-death and eternal torture.
        We will leave that right to the "monotheistic know-it-alls." After-all, they have a direct connection with God - or whatever . . .

      • G

        All of which demonstrates that 'revenge' is an atavism that needs to be evolved-out of societies and individuals. This can be done by education and social reinforcement.

        The legitimate goal of the penal system is to remove dangerous persons from our midst. After that we should forget about them and get on with our lives, rather than nursing vengeances that only cause more stress and anguish to crime victims and degrade civilisation back to the level of brutes living in caves.

        • http://wildernessvagabonds.com/ Mike Lewinski

          In principle I want to agree, but in practice I have concerns. I would certainly counsel a friend against acting on his or her impulse for revenge, but I'm not sure I'd want to deprive them of that impulse altogether.

          The desire for vengeance is an emotional response that signifies our moral values of "fairness" and "harm avoidance" have been significantly violated. These morals are probably necessary for societies to properly form and function. So I'm not sure that vengeance-seeking emotions can be cleanly excised without damaging the fairness and harm avoidance morals.

          Further, I fear that if vengeance-seeking emotions were excised cleanly, there might be an increase in other kinds of violence. Pedophiles might be more inclined to act on their impulses if they know parents will not seek them out for revenge. Is an increase in rape an acceptable trade-off in eliminating vengeance? There are probably other unintended consequences that, even if desirable, are worth consideration (not all unintended consequences are necessarily unknown).

          I'm also doubtful of the ability for education and social reinforcement to function in an evolutionary manner as you suggest. I think truly eliminating the revenge impulse would require eugenics of some sort (be it GATTACA-style or more primitive).

          That's not to say I'm opposed to education aimed at teaching people how to suppress their impulse to revenge, only that I think such education will be necessary for each new generation, and will never be 100% effective.

          Finally, there are aesthetic issues that are worth at least mentioning. If we could use eugenics to eliminate vengeance-seeking emotions, how would that change our basic human nature? Would future generations still appreciate Hamlet the way that we can? If we could excise vengeance without harming fairness/harm avoidance, and without increasing other kinds of violence, I'd probably accept the aesthetic loss (but not without some sense of loss, that our descendants won't know the human condition the way we know it, warts and all).

          As with every "negative" emotion, there's positive benefits that come from the attendant suffering of vengeance-seeking. I'm glad that the criminal justice system is able to mostly fulfill the need for vengeance, as it ensures protections for the innocent who are wrongly accused, and prevents disproportionate, "cruel and unusual" punishment that is meted out by the vengeful person who cannot ever be sated. As much as I might argue for the existence of the vengeance-seeking emotions, I'll argue against their actual exercise in favor of proper criminal justice that also includes the goals of crime deterrence and criminal rehabilitation. There's no reason our justice system shouldn't aim to accomplish it all: punishment that satisfies the victims' needs for vengeance, deterrence of other would-be criminals, and rehabilitation of offenders so they don't re-offend.

          • G

            Interesting & thoughtful points.

            I'm not proposing to genetically re-engineer human brain/minds, but instead to use social and educational means to redirect atavistic emotions away from brutal acts and toward reinforcing civilised behaviour.

            Agreed, fairness and harm-avoidance are important values to maintain. But there is a difference between wanting to have someone arrested and prosecuted, and wanting to cut their throat.

            You make a good point about the deterrent value of the threat of personal retribution, for example with pedophiles. I should like to see the example extended to high-level psychopaths (USA term 'sociopaths') such as the ones who robbed investors and triggered the financial crash and the resulting depression ('deep recession' my arse).

            Instead, we agree that we must seek recourse via rapid prosecutions and long prison sentences, and accept those as our available remedies, lest we risk devolving into a spiral of brutality. Only when the prosecutions are not forthcoming, does the thought of taking matters into one's own hands reach the stage of discussion as a remedy.

            In the end, this is an example of what's at stake: Advances in various areas of technology have made possible what in military theory (John Robb, who I know personally) is called 'the super-empowered individual.' What this means is, individuals and small groups who have the capacity for mass casualty attacks. 9/11 and 7/7 were early examples and frankly small ones compared to what is becoming possible.

            At the present state of genetic science and technology, an aggrieved person or group with access to a basic biology lab and a budget equivalent to the price of a used automobile, can create usable biological weapons. As genetic science progresses, this will become trivially easy. Consider Al Qaeda armed with smallpox created from scratch in a lab.

            That's why we as a species and global culture, have to outgrow a whole range of emotional atavisms.

            We've already done so in the relations between nations. This was forced upon us by the development of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, as the price of preventing the mass destruction of civilisation.

            As the scope of destruction widens, the scope of lawfulness widens, and at present we solve most international conflicts by diplomatic and economic means. As the capacity for mass destruction descends further down the hierarchy of complexity from the nation-state toward the individual, we shall have to do likewise at those levels. This is not optional.

    • http://facebook.com/thelaughingonebelow The Devil

      If you became a criminal because of some new law, how would you prefer to be treated?

  • Michael Hanlon

    OK, punishing Hitler forever may be odd, but I guess that does not mean it would not be tried. And there is another possibility. One of the issues surrounding simulated (or actual) machine consciousness is that, should this prove to be possible, it would, in theory, be fairly easy to create an almost limitless amount of suffering in a machine. You could generate the qualia for extreme pain, and set the clock speed to almost zero, and get an eternity of suffering with ease.
    Henry Markram of the Blue Brain Project in Switzerland says that the local Canton has insisted that ethical considerations must be taken into account in the creation of any kind of artificial sentience.
    Worse, should the Singularitarians be right and it proves to be possible to augment of even completely download human consciousness into a machine (in the hope of living forever, or at least until a new body can be made), then it surely also becomes possible to do all sorts of appalling things to that downloaded consciousness, such as sending it to Hell. Iain M. Banks used this idea well in Surface Detail ...

    • G

      Most interesting about Markram and the Canton in Switzerland. Yes this is exactly correct: if it ever becomes possible to create machine consciousness, we must, must, must, address these moral considerations. I've written on this topic as well, to say that the moral implications of creating a machine mind are identical with those of having a baby.

      The Church of Singularity however is 'not even wrong' about uploading minds from human brains to computers. In essence they are promoting a kind of reincarnation belief, and claiming it to be science because it's dressed up in technological garb. If you can reincarnate into a computer, you can also reincarnate into a cat. If given the choice, I'd take the cat. But in reality we won't have to worry about this, other than trying to dissuade gullible humans from falling for having themselves killed in the process of acting on the false hope that they will achieve eternal life through the Borg.

  • Ingolf Stern

    simply - no. who do YOU know and trust enough to make such a decision? who has the foresight, the wisdom to make such a decision? no one. not a single human being. if you want tougher criminal sanctions - remember this: today you think you are safe from ever being subject to the hell you would impose on another. but tomorrow "crime" may be redefined to inculde YOU, mister throw-the-book-at-him.

    • Kevin MacKay

      People never seem to ask "what happens when someone with a different value system than mine gains control of this retributive government?"

      • G

        To quote a famous philosopher, 'Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!'

    • Anon

      I agree that no human will ever have such wisdom, but it's not without the bounds of possibility that we create an artificial intelligence that has the wisdom and values that are necessary to adjudicate. Sort of like creating God.

      • skorpia

        If you create such God, I will be compelled to invent the atheism - for good balance, see?

  • Paul Hughes

    Using the same biotech that could be used to cure criminality and psychopathology forever, rendering the whole issue obsolete, and instead using it to exact some kind of perverse neverending torture fantasy? #atavistic #dumb # speechless

    See: http://www.hedweb.com

    • G

      Nicely said, all the more so because you did it so concisely whilst a number of us, myself notably included, have been writing lengthy paragraphs to achieve the same result.

  • Pierre Menard

    reminds me of an old Tales from Darkside ty show entitled "A Choice of Dreams" where a mobster spends an eternity listening to the cries of his victims.

  • The_Doorman

    This is one of the best articles I think I've seen on the internet, ever.

    Ross, you are seriously throwing off the bell curve regarding the quality of the writing. Keep it up, and people may ask you to leave (the internet).

    I, however, won't be among them. Keep up the great work.

  • idespair

    The reference to Robert G Heath’s experiments in
    modifying behavior by modifying the brain leads me to ask if isn’t time to
    think more deeply about the ethics of such an approach. I am thinking
    specifically of those individuals suffering from Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) which is caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb.
    One of the characteristics of its sufferers is a lack of impulse control
    which can lead to violent anti-social behavior that often results in
    incarceration. If we can modify the brain to make time seem endless, is it
    inconceivable that we couldn’t also modify the brain to counter the effects of

    Heath was condemned for suggesting he could “fix” homosexuals
    but what if he had instead been trying to “fix” people with FASD? (Maybe he was
    without even knowing it.) Is it somehow more ethical to come up with “appropriate” bio-technical punishments rather than cure the underlying conditions that result in criminal behavior in the first place?

  • JenJen10

    To make a point of clarification not related to the article's subject, Hitler wasn't reduced to "ashes" and buried, his burned body was found by the Soviets & examined. (The report said he had only one testicle.)

  • Yousef Ergonenc

    What the Hell? (no pun intended) what a weird piece. Absolutely not, that would be legalizing torture and sending us towards to stone age. How cruel to even have the thought..

  • Aaron

    Somewhere I read that evil is punishment that continues once the lesson has been learned. I'm guessing the dilemma is what to do with the concept of a life sentence once life expectancy reaches beyond decades and starts to be best measured in centuries. If that every becomes the case, you will probably discover that there's another wrinkle to think about. For instance, what's the correct punishment for killing someone who has a backup copy of their consciousnesses stored somewhere that can be readily restored in a new body created from their own DNA? If death isn't permanent, why should the punishment for it be?

  • Paul

    This subject has scared the hell (no pun intended) out of me for a long time. To think that as soon as immortallity is possible, I could somehow make my way to someone's eternal dungeon of torture.

    • Rob Dowdy

      Not only could they keep you "forever," they could speed up your internal clock by a few orders of magnitude so that "forever" would be a long, long time indeed, each day stretching into centuries ...

      The NSA is probably funding this research right now, to use as part of their "enhanced interrogation techniques" ...

      • Leopold Bloom

        Are you confusing the NSA with the CIA?

        • Rob Dowdy

          LOL, wow, yes. Weird, I was thinking CIA when I typed NSA ... I wonder if they've already gotten to me ...

          • G

            I'll bet you also believe Dick Cheney flew the planes into the World Trade Center by remote control from his secret bunker.

          • Rob Dowdy

            Did you know that the ability to detect and appropriately process sarcasm is directly linked to intelligence level?

            But, no, Mr. Cheney would never do anything like that. It'd be too much like actual work.

    • G

      You can relax, because immortality is not possible. It's BS dreamed up by quacks. We may reasonably be able to achieve lifespans in the range of 110 years, but that's about it. But what matters more than the quantity of life is the quality of life.

  • Pablo

    Sure, if as long as we include ALL criminals like bankers, politicians, wall street. You know, the ones who really destroy peoples lives EVERY day.

  • Jake O’Donnell

    Short answer: No.

    Long answer: Hey Hammurabi, you can't be serious about this.

  • cryptical

    I think this is pretty ironic. To dismiss the idea of a God who punishes people in hell as barbaric and laughable, then proceed to foment the idea of humans doing the same. I'm thankful I still believe in a God whose justice is perfect and eternal. Hitler didn't escape that.

    • Rob Dowdy

      The Bible teaches us that all sin is equal and all sinners who don't repent get exactly the same punishment, so according to you Hitler is suffering no more or less than anyone else. He gets the exact same punishment (eternal torment in the fires of Hell) as someone who divorced and remarried (adultery), shacked up outside marriage (fornication), lusted, lied, stored up treasures on earth while ignoring the poor, etc.

      The Biblical notion of "one punishment for everything" is not "perfect justice" it's abject stupidity and cruelty, a throwback to the thinking of savages and barbarians, and is thankfully an anachronism in the modern world.

      Apply that "perfect justice" system to everyday life: oh, you just jaywalked. Sentence: Execution! Littering? Execution! Breaking the law is wrong, you see, and there's only one punishment! Oh, that guy just raped and devoured a baby? His sentence is ... execution! Executions for EVERYBODY!

      Perfect and eternal. What a joke.

      • cryptical

        Where do you read that in the Bible?

        • Rob Dowdy

          1 Cor 6, for instance:

          Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

          Jesus says that to divorce and remarry is to commit adultery (Matthew 19). Jesus says that to deny the needy is to deny him, that to keep for yourself more than you need is to invite the fires of hell... well, you read it:

          “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

          40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

          41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

          44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

          45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

          46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

          So, not taking care of the needy? Fires of hell. Slaughtering people by the millions? Same fires of hell.

          For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10)

          Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5)

          Where does it say any sinner will be punished differently than any other in your bible? I mean, Hell is Hell, right, and if you "keep the whole law but fail in one point" you are "accountable for all of it," right?

          How will Hitler be treated any differently in Hell from anyone else?

          • cryptical

            Those are good questions, and I have to honestly tell you I don't know the answers to a lot of them. The Bible doesn't give a lot of detail about hell. Some descriptions talk about a lake of fire, some about darkness and emptiness. I personally believe that God judges according to what people have done and there are different degrees of punishment. I am honestly happy to leave what I don't know to God.

            As for the simple fact of God judging humankind...it seems you have a lot of anger about that. The way I personally see it, as our Creator he has the right to judge us. But the absolute bottom-line message of the bible and the story of Jesus is that he'd rather not. He loved us enough to come to earth and die for us so that we could be reconciled back to himself. The message of the Bible is not that God wants us to go to hell. It's that even though we're sinners (including me) who merit his judgement, he loves us enough that he'd rather be in relationship with us and he did what it took to make that happen.

            I used to struggle a lot with the idea of hell, but probably the best explanation I've heard is that nobody has to go there. People in the end will get exactly what they want. If you reject and have no desire for God in this life, why would you want to spend eternity with him?

            Anyway, thanks for the questions and the challenge. I sincerely hope it's a helpful discussion for you, as it is for me to think through this stuff.

          • Rob Dowdy

            No, not anger, I just find it all quite silly, that's all.

            Besides, we've both overlooked the obvious: this might be a conversation about nothing.

            For all we know, Hitler repented of his sins at the last moment, accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and is smiling down on all of us from Heaven right now.

            Romans 10:13, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."

            So Hitler can be saved if he repents, just like anyone else, and he gets to go to Heaven, but the unrepentant rich dude who only gave some of his wealth to the poor instead of all of it? He's gonna burn forever and ever, amen.

          • cryptical

            That's the outrageous grace of the gospel. I suppose it's possible, though unlikely, but literally only God knows. That's another thing I'm happy not to waste brain cells speculating about.

          • Rob Dowdy

            Thank you for the conversation, and for responding to my initial message with more understanding and patience than it deserved, given its dismissive tone. I mistook deep, thoughtful faith for blind, unthinking faith and I was wrong.

            I still totally disagree with you, however, but look at the bright side: if you're right and there IS an afterlife, you can gloat. If I'm right and there is NOT an afterlife, you never have to hear ME gloat. You win either way!

          • cryptical

            Thanks, my friend. And trust me, I'd FAR rather rejoice with seeing you there than gloat about you not. There'd be no gloating. And I mean that very sincerely.

          • Brian Cox

            That is precisely the point of Christianity; that even a man like Hitler can be with God for eternity. All he has to do is surrender himself and acknowledge that he belongs to God and not to himself. For a mature understanding of what Christians believe about Heaven and Hell, I recommend "Mere Christianity," by C. S. Lewis.

  • Daniel R. Luke

    The question cannot be properly considered without considering how a future, and presumably enhanced, or maybe enlightened consciousness would consider criminal acts conjured in a paleo consciousness. Funny how Hitler often comes up as the ultimate symbol for evil. Was Ghengis Khan no less evil, or what about some ancient Persian King? We look back on atrocities committed in a former age and think that's just how things were done. Let's not also forget that the only person Hitler ever really killed was himself. The murders ascribed to him were actually performed by other people. By focusing only on one person we easily forget the barbarity we are capable of.

    • http://discombobula.blogspot.com/ Sue

      Great points. I wonder if there is a link between our demonisation of people like Hitler as something beyond human and between the amount of people who were willing to do his bidding?

      If he wasn't demonised as something beyond human and therefore beyond our own capability, but as someone operating out of a worldview where his actions made complete sense, wouldn't that give us cause to examine our own views a little more? To know that humans are capable of evil is a given, but yet it seems that we have a hard time linking that thought back to ourselves. I wonder if it's not that kind of suppression which makes peoples pawns and patsies to do the bidding of others?

      • Daniel R. Luke

        I have a great deal of problem even with the concept of evil which I think has very strong religious overtones. We hardly have a vocabulary to describe human misdeeds without resorting to verbiage like "demonize", for example. That's not to point out poor usage but rather to demonstrate the framework within which we subconsciously evaluate certain things. Not that there's necessarily a substitute, but I honestly do not know what place it has in an age supposedly guided by scientific inquiry and reason.

        To get people to agree that something or someone is evil is to make further understanding unnecessary. If we are able to declare something as evil, what more is there to say? Hitler was evil. We are not permitted to further inquire what influence being exposed to mustard gas during the First World War may have had on his psyche, or the extreme deprivation he suffered after this war, or his less-than-ideal childhood. To describe what he did as anything other than evil is to risk being called an apologist. Yet if a kind of moral progress is ever to be made, maybe we would be better off by jettisoning the same cognitive tools that were used during the 13th Century to understand things that were considered evil during that time like witchcraft? That said, if one were to insist on such a label, I would argue that one would have to believe that evil would only apply in cases when people were doing something that they consciously believed was evil. But if evil is a religious construct, their first error would be to believe in something that doesn't exist? If no one believed in evil, then no one could ever do something because they thought it was evil.

        For the sake of fairness and consistency we would also have to exclude various pathologies, organic or otherwise. How else could someone be evil if they were unaware that what they were doing was evil? If someone sincerely believed that what they're doing was in some way, on balance, a benefit to humanity, how are they evil instead of profoundly misguided? If Hitler was mentally ill is he still culpable? And how could anyone reasonably argue that he wasn't?And again, if Hitler was evil, what is there to say of the millions upon millions of people who had some part in his overall scheme--whether lining up Jewish babies and tossing them into gas ovens or simply driving the bread truck to Auschwitz? If there had never been a war would they still have been evil? Are there still as many evil people in Germany now as there were when Hitler was in power? It would seem odd, by the logic of evil anyway, if there weren't.

        Given the the heavy numenistic freight of such a concept as evil, we might conclude that it is a concept reserved only for others. But by raising the stakes of self-identifying so high--who, after all, thinks of themselves as evil, Stalin and Hitler included?--we have the perfect mechanism by which to elide our own trespasses and misdeeds. Given the dire implications we cannot allow ourselves to think of ourselves in this way.

        On the other hand, if we're self-examined enough to imagine that we might be capable of what everyone else is capable off--to consider the possibility that we are less exceptional than we may suppose, in fact that others are less exceptional than we may suppose we then will have taken a step toward placing ourselves in various hypothetical scenarios--what would any of us done if we had been born as Germans and were of a certain age during Hitler's reign (without the luxury of hindsight, of course)? And for having been so placed, we will be more likely to have only imagined the things we might otherwise have done.

        • G

          'Evil' is a useful word for describing 'taking pleasure in cruelty toward others.' Both 'pleasure' and 'cruelty' can be operationalised and measured, if not on an interval scale, then at least on a categorical basis. This does not require belief in a deity or other causal elements above or outside of nature.

          For purposes of criminal justice, one needn't prove that a perpetrator is 'evil,' only that s/he has committed unlawful 'harm' toward others. Willfully harming others is sufficient to justify confining the perpetrator to protect society.

          One can seek to understand 'evil' on a scientific basis, in the same way as one seeks to understand other psychological and social characteristics of humans. This is actually a useful exercise, and the normative nature of the word 'evil' does not render it any less amenable to scientific examination.

  • Peter Smith

    Speaking as someone who spent over 750 days in a US prison on a false conviction, and won his appeal, are YOU FUCKING INSANE.

    Seriously, are you FUCKING insane. One day will make your skin crawl... one week is fucking hell in prison.... a week turns to two, then four, then four to eight, three months, six months, a year... after about a year and a half... of sleep deprivation, starvation, heat and cold extremes, humidity, slavery, and constant noise... your mind is reduced to fucking pulp.

    There is a reason everyone in prison is operating at the level of a 6th grade mentality... the place beats your mind into a pulp. Its like trying to swim and stay afloat in an ocean... eventually, no matter how resolved you are to keep your sanity and survive the place, you drown in the end.

    Seriously, this asshole needs to spend two weeks in prison before he goes writing this mind numbingly stupid garbage, or even proposing it. If he thinks free prison food, room, and board, and free cable is a cakewalk... let him try it for a few weeks.

  • Rob Dowdy

    In a future where we have all this technology, to radically extend life or perhaps alter brain perception to give someone a "life sentence's" worth of punishment in a short amount of time, the more hopeful view would be that those things wouldn't be necessary -- maybe the same science that would let us screw around in a person's mind for punitive reasons would let us take a damaged, cruel, sociopathic person down a better, healthier path.

    The article keeps asking, "How do we punish 'bad' people as much or as efficiently as possible?" Why not ask instead, "How do we use all this fancy new technology of the future to help these people not need punishment in the first place?"

    Look at the insane incarceration rate in the US. Now, imagine sentences that last for centuries, prisoners who never die, the population of prisoners growing and growing and growing ... are we going to turn Mars into a prison planet to hold them all? And when Mars is full ... ?

  • Lourdes C

    Umm just for the thought process here, If we can extend life to 500+ years at some point, *I* want that technology.

    *I* would prefer to be extremely long lived or immortal, not for criminals to be. If the only way to stay alive that long is in a prison.. you essentially create a situation where an atrocity gets *rewarded*.

    "Sure Miss, just go and commit an atrocity and we'll reward you with a quintupled or immortal lifespan! Yep, free healthcare. Yep free food, room and board. And we'll let you go in the end because we have to.. civil rights. How can this possibly go wrong?"

    I think if we knew something like this existed, even with the mental anguish, you'd find an uptick in criminality from seemingly normal people, not a deterrent.

    Interested in what happens when something like this is done? SEE: Demolition Man, Knight Rider 2000. Two movies where something on this order is done and the criminals escape or are released early or released by accident or on purpose and havoc ensues on a time period full of people who never asked for and aren't prepared to handle that.

    In my opinion, you want to give criminals a drug that make's a day feel like a year, go on ahead.. but don't push our criminal problem on future society.. you know.. the ones made up of our children and grandchildren.


    • Rob Dowdy

      If you are immortal and having children and grandchildren you're really, really doing it wrong.

      • Lourdes C

        Not really.. one might say that's the proof you're doing it right ;)

        • Rob Dowdy

          A bunch of immortals breeding more immortals ... I hope they've invented some method of growing a few new Earths to hold them all, let alone grow enough food for them.

          • Lourdes C

            Grow new Earth's? What on ever for? We terraform Mars, then move on out into space. Use the raw materials from asteroid belts, etc, to build ships of massive size and take a leisurely 36 year cruise (Local ship time to and back) to Zeta Reticuli and beyond.. or a quick jaunt to Alpha C only 4 years away at lightspeed.

            You really haven't thought short term on this?

          • Rob Dowdy

            Humans don't work that way. If we did there wouldn't be so many people starving all over the earth we have now, today.

            All the things you describe would be amazing and make me deliriously happy, but we wouldn't do any of them. People like us would argue that we SHOULD do them, then other people would argue about how expensive that would be, and that would be that.

            For proof, just take a look around at how things are, how they have always been ...

          • Lourdes C

            So, what say then you and I and the few that think like us, leave the stick in the mud normals behind and go anyway. Its not exactly like we wouldn't have the time to figure out how. And there's no rule that says we have to stay earthbound.

            Will everything be perfect.. No. Does it need to be? NO. Where people get the idea that you must have a perfect utopia ( or all the money in the world) to step beyond the surface of the earth is well beyond me.

            "You 7.x billion don't want go, fine. But um, we few hundred thousand.. we're going.. see you out there someday maybe. Don't call us, we'll call you."

          • Rob Dowdy

            These losers can't even be bothered to go back to the Moon, let alone Mars or the asteroids, even though even one medium-sized asteroid could provide enough precious metals to make platinum the new aluminum ... maybe we DO need immortality, so that humans could become a little more long-term in their thinking.

            Those in power now don't give a shit about the next 100 years because they'll be long gone, right, but if their own sorry asses will still be around in 200 years dealing with the policies they made today ...

          • Lourdes C

            Agreed on all points there, Rob, but ah, thats them, not me. I'm sure there are a few hundred thousand at least that think the way we do.. and Elon Musk and Sergey Brin and a few others are included in that list, I imagine (from their public statements).

            And if the Mars Project's application list for a one way trip to mars is anything to look at (and it is) I'd say we have no shortage of volunteers.

            People that don't want to go.. fine.. stay here.. mortal or immortal, but in 6 Billion years, most of whomever is left is going to probably have to move to an out system colony.. and oh look... they'll exist.. how lucky for them :)

  • charles000

    Lourdes - I can appreciate your utopian optimism, but just for a moment, ponder this.

    What would likely evolve from your " *I* want this " perspective would become the new dividing line between the haves and the have nots, the Elysium model as it were. Now, if you happen to lucky enough to be one of the newly defined, genetic landed gentry of the utopian transhumanist future . . . how lovely. However, be careful what you wish for. Be very careful . . . the vision you so passionately lust for at this moment may not turn out as expected.

    • Lourdes C

      Hi Charles, not a Utopianist here actually. Its something to shoot for, but not practical in actuality to attain.

      However, you are correct in your warning, and I should say that everyone should have the option presented to them to accept or reject that way, its your choice not someone elses. But if it's my choice.. see previous comments :)

  • itsashame

    What is prison for ? Rehabilitation, menace to society, punishment are vengeance. Its seems to be vengeance. I know that people who commit crimes should some how pay. But prison life is so very damn harsh. That being said, the harshness is to punish them so they don't do it again.

    But case in point, there are those in prison who get so many years of that living hell. That really should be let out. But many say, no they should have that pain and that harshness of the hell of cell walls.

    But the prison life of being raped or stabbed. The daily idea you could be cut and stabbed. I mean come on. Does not a human being living in hell behind the stone walls and away from family and life. Should they live daily with the idea of being stabbed or beaten.

    Look at maximum security prisoners. These folks are locked in a cell 23 hrs a day. No contact with people. For 1 hr a day they are let out to shower or walk away totally alone. They live 24 hrs a day with nothing but themselves walled in 8 by 10 cell. Now here is the crazy part. If I was to take a dog, place it in a 8 by 10 cell. Slide food in a slot under the door. Never talk or pet the dog. They would lock me in jail for cruel and unusual punishment towards a dog. But we did this to human beings.

    The cost is what blows my mind. They say it cost from $15,000 to $30,000 a prisoners a year. With that we could lock them in a apartment. With cable TV and have food delivered.

    Strange that this story is on the same day as this one.....

    80,000 Americans Suffer From A Cruel And Unusual Practice Most Countries Abolished. We are warehousing human beings.

    • ManlyMiketheCOWARD byLOOKS

      Well people that do things like rape children and mass murder simply deserve to be executed. I could care less about their rights as long as they do not hurt other people again. Would you think that mass child rapists and murders should be released if you knew that they had their sights set on YOUR family?sometimes i swear people think we are living in a Disney movie

      • Leopold Bloom

        I think you're on the wrong website. This is a website for philosophical conversation, not childish strawmen.

    • EliyahuBenYisroel

      You're quite correct. We do things to our fellow human beings that would land us in jail if we did them to animals, and all in the name of justice. And if we treated a dog like that (isolation for years with no positive interactions, etc), would anyone be surprised if it bit someone when it was released?

      Part of the problem has been our tendency to view prison as the punishment of choice rather than as the punishment of last resort. It's clear to everyone that there are some people who need to be locked up for their own good as well as the safety of the rest of us. There are also, however, a lot more who would do a lot better under community supervision, where they can support their families, hold a job, pay taxes, and become a productive member of society.

      I realize this wouldn't satisfy people who have a strong need for revenge. Friedrich Nietzsche talks about revenge and those who seek it in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
      "But thus I counsel you my friends: Mistrust all in whom the urge to punish is powerful. They are people of a low sort and stock; the hangman and the bloodhound look out of their faces."

      For those who think that prison isn't punishment enough or is an easy life, I also suggest this as an experiment: Lay a 4x8 foot sheet of plywood on the floor (this is the size of many single cells in our prisons). Enclose it with walls on three sides and bars on the front. Put a small cot in there and a toilet. Now spend a week in there. You're allowed to have the clothes you're wearing, bedding and maybe a small radio and a Bible. Have someone bring you TV dinners three times a day. They're not allowed to talk with you or touch you. For an hour a day, you're allowed to get out of the cell for exercise in an enclosed yard. The rest of the time, you're in the cell. Now imagine spending years or the rest of your life inside there. Seems unbearable? Well, this is what we are doing with over two million citizens in the name of justice.

  • http://artbeyondboredom.blogspot.in/ Ankush Samant

    One important point that this essay misses on is the fact that the concept of bad or evil changes over time and so do the punishments for those deeds.

    For example, once slavery was a given and a slave running away was considered the 'bad' person; and the punishment was given accordingly, sometimes as severe as the punishment for stealing prized resources. Imagine if that slave would have still been alive serving his/her punishment. Will that person be asked forgiveness in modern times and what will we do to give that person back the years spent in slavery and then in prison? Then, who will be more 'evil' and who needs to be punished?

  • Andross

    No one deserves this. When we can move past the mentality of this, people like Hitler and otherwise will stop being produced... That and rid the world of poverty and lack of education.

    Complete nonsense.

    • ManlyMiketheCOWARD byLOOKS

      people like hitler simply deserve to die. to say otherwise is naive.

      • Josh Atkins

        He's been dead for coming on 70 years in case you hadn't noticed.

  • Joe Joejoe

    No is the obvious answer. Some people see prison as an alternative to welfare, as in, they want to be in prison just because of how simple and easy life can be there. To extend their life would just be a perk for these people. Some people even commit crimes just for the prison healthcare, and that's not a joke. Some people have stuff that would put them in a mountain of debt or is completely unaffordable to them entirely....prison is the only way they can get access to these medical treatments.

    It would also be a bit of an insult for a killer to end up outliving even the immediate family members of the person they killed.

    Another problem, is it gets tricky keeping people in prison when all the people that gave a damn about what they did are long dead. Many old cases that were tried before the advent of DNA, the prisoners try to use the lack of DNA or presence of another persons DNA as an excuse for release. But that doesn't mean they are innocent or that there was any reasonable doubt.

    Let's say you have 2 murder rapists working in tandem, one gets away but leaves DNA, another gets caught but leaves no DNA.....gets convicted, rots in prison for 30 years....then at appeal gets off on the technicality that he didn't leave DNA. This has already happened. With all the time passed, It makes it easier to twist old facts too.

  • ghostluvblood

    Yes, what a timely and relevant article. I see that any day now we will be living for hundreds or even millions of years and this should be addressed immediately. Could we first please discuss the ethical use the warp drive I use in my personal car when the poor third world countries only have impulse drives? Or the fact that I regularly will use the transporter to beam me from the couch directly to the toilet while those less fortunate than me are forced to walk to the loo?

    Thanks for the good read - I think we can all agree it was germane and worth the 5 min of our lives it took to read it (and the 3 min it took you to pen it)

    • ManlyMiketheCOWARD byLOOKS

      ahahahah thank you for that.

    • Leopold Bloom

      Have you considered that the thinking involved in preparing for the future might give us perspective on our motives and values in the present?

      • ghostluvblood

        yes, i'm currently writing a rather brilliant article (long form) on our options when our sun dies - my aim is to both educate the daft public on the upcoming catastrophe as well as use the calamitous event to mirror our own spoiled value system right now. i think you shall find it particularly fascinating how i work Hitler and funny-uncles into it. i do hope you read it mr. joyce.

        • Will Navidson

          My last act before the sun dies will be to pre-order George RR Martin's all encompassing closing chapter to Game Of thrones.

          Well that and World Series tix for the Cubs!

      • G

        The point of the preceding comment was that immortalism is science fiction at best, and quackery in every practical sense. Yes we should be preparing for the future including the long-term future. But no, there is no point at all in considering scenarios that are not even possible given all the relevant scientific facts. There will never be 'transporters,' and there will never be 'immortality,' as both of those contradict all relevant science.

        By analogy it's like asking whether the public health system should cover the cost of homeopathic remedies. Homeopathy is sheer quackery, so the question is a meaningless non-sequitur. One may as well ask if the public health system should cover the cost of bricks used as door-stops.

        The only value in such exercises is that they offer a 'safe zone' or 'sandbox' for conducting thought experiments. Thereby they enable clarification of values and choices. Coincidentally and conveniently, such thought experiments also expose those whose values or agendas are illogical or inhumane or otherwise beyond the pale.

        In which case what we have just discovered is that certain individuals today are engaged in the same kinds of monstrously evil thinking as Mengele, the famous Nazi doctor who conducted outrageous 'experiments' on concentration camp inmates.

        This, by the way, is why we use the singular article 'The' in the phrase 'The Holocaust.' Stalin and Mao each may have killed more people than Hitler, but the ruthless calculation and supreme 'efficiency' of the Nazis, their thorough obsession with the complete elimination of targeted sectors of humanity, and their elevation of brutality to a science and engineering discipline (I am an engineer, I do not use that word lightly in this context), are what make the Nazi regime and Hitler as its head, the supreme example of distilled essence of evil in human history.

        And lo & behold, we have just seen a comparatively tiny but unmistakable piece of the same sort of thinking, right here in these pages.

        We should take that as a vaccination, a tiny dose of virus stripped of its lethality, that alerts our collective immune system to prevent the disease ever taking hold among us again.

  • twill

    Well, that was horrible from all angles.

    • twill

      (Not the writing, which is admirable.)

  • Jesse

    It would be wrong to introduce even more suffering into the world than the suffering that such monstrous people bring to it already. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. If capital punishment must exist, it should be carried out swiftly and at a minimal financial cost to society so that people can move forward at a quicker pace, hopefully toward a better world. Even the most monstrous of people have a backstory that would break your own heart if you only knew it. It is terrible that the families of the inflicted must go through a conflicted feeling of justice, but truthfully the prolonged desire for the suffering of the original perpetrator is an added form of violence/hatred/uneasiness in and of itself. Perhaps if we tried to harder to replace all hatred with fascination for everyone (especially younger people) we'd all do better as a whole.

  • danwalter

    "I had wondered whether the best way to achieve justice in cases like that was to prolong death as long as possible. Some crimes are so bad they require a really long period of punishment, and a lot of people seem to get out of that punishment by dying. And so I thought, why not make prison sentences for particularly odious criminals worse by extending their lives?"

    This is a sick person.

  • kurt9

    Therapy for treatment of crime, could involve the use of nano-surgical robots in the brain to "rearrange" or shutdown the offending loci in the brain. This, of course, requires a legitimate science of personality and psychology which we do not have yet. A comprehensive theory of human personality might be based on it being a system of sub-self components. One example of such a theory is Eric Berne's "Transactional Analysis" with its emphasis on ego states (parent, child, adult - first, second, and third order). Another is Marvin Minsky's "Society of Mind" with its emphasis on "talents" and "agents".

    Of course, this will not satisfy those who believe that crime must be treated with more than just therapy. Such people believe in retribution. Such people might resort to the use of "hellcrowns", which are mind torture devices that recreate simulated hellish mental environments with vastly increase time dilation (e.g. 5 minutes in the clamp is a life-time of simulated environment). Those who undergo the clamp never repeat their crimes.

  • ummm

    Truly stunned by the assumptions in this essay/interview, e.g. that retributive justice is obviously good, that being as cruel as possible to prisoners is good, etc. It's ironic that you fantasize so much about punishing Hitler, since this program of scientifically-respectable mass torture calls to mind the efficient Nazi death camps and human experiments. And the lack of concern with the actual conditions in U.S. prisons is worth noting.

    This whole piece bears the mindset of a vengeful adolescent.

    • perry

      Yes this article is based mostly on beliefs without any kind of evidence, they assume that punishing someone will actually reform someone, and that revenge is good yet these points have nothing good to back them up.

  • Brad

    Interesting caption, silly article.

  • jak

    Cute how they lump American prisons in with north koreas. For God's sake!

    • twentytwo

      Have you been to any of them?

  • Ed

    People should not be punished, but rehabilitated. It's been shown that sending people into prison who have never committed a violent crime come out and later commit violent crimes. The media has been increasingly pushing society into being more retributive and revenge seeking than ever before. Revenge is only sought out by the uneducated. Much like most crime is committed by people who either don't know better or feel like they have no alternative. Also, what happens when we "punish" the wrong person? Or due to a clerical error dole out the incorrect punishment for the crime? Hell is other people. If we dole out the same/similar/worse punishment that the criminals inflicted on their victims then we are the same/similar/worse as they are. How will the criminal element ever learn compassion if it is not shown to them?

    • Ed

      Also, people put other people through hell after they've been through some kind of hell already themselves. We're just going to continue the neverending cycle?

  • cr0ft

    What kind of question is this, anyway? It makes about as much sense as asking "Roasted babies for breakfast - should we?" We treat criminals with respect at all times, because ALL HUMANS DESERVE RESPECT AT ALL TIMES. If we start making exceptions, we become monsters sooner or later. Sooner, judging by this article.

    • Hollif50

      "ALL HUMANS DESERVE RESPECT AT ALL TIMES." Bull, not in my book.. You earn respect.

      • G

        The problem is with the multiple meanings attached to the word 'respect.' The language needs clarification.

        What all humans clearly deserve, as 'entitlements' that inhere upon personhood itself, are human rights including the various process rights that bear upon criminal justice, and including freedom from cruel and inhumane punishments.

        What humans must 'earn,' but are not 'entitled to,' is the positive esteem of others.

  • Bob Laird

    Three points:

    1) The original Quaker meaning of 'Penitentiary' was 'a place for enforced contemplative penance' (including solitary confinement), before rejoining society. We in the U.S. have come a long way from that by asking private contractors to operate our prisons - contractors in need of plenty of warm bodies to enhance their bottom line in perpetuity. And, no surprise, we have worldwide by far the largest percentage of our population incarcerated. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_incarceration_rate

    2) The concept introduced in the article of a changing 'I' (as in many years later in the body's incarceration de facto punishing the wrong 'changed' 'I') is accurate but myopic. The fact is that daily and hourly we each evidence and experience many 'I's. In an effusive moment one 'I' will make a grandiose promise. Later another 'I' will be stuck with the obligation incurred by the previous 'I'. The same occurs with an 'I' that commits a criminal act. to be paid for later by another 'I' who barely understands the moment of the earlier 'I's poor judgment.

    3) Dealing with considerations of 1) and 2) above would be any meditative practice or mindfulness practice that allows the prisoner to become less identified with his random 'I's and more on the side of dispassionate attention or observation. This has many salutary effects, including the relief of stress and the gaining of a default alert calm. Such programs are available in a few prisons, and TM in particular has also been shown singularly effective in Producer David Lynch's "Wounded Warriors" PTSD program. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JeCxgU93LHs

  • Bonne Nouvelle

    You are focusing on the wrong piece of the problem. The question is not to know whether or not someone deserves this, or does not deserve that.
    Whether doing this or that is good or evil. "Good and evil" never existed; and there is no "merit" anymore. Nobody deserves nothing from this world; as Twain would say, the world was here first. We are merely its parasites, trying to make the better of it, and many of those who end up living prosperous and enjoyable lives are the most disgusting people we've ever seen. Millionnaires are merely people who successfully steal a lot of money off everyone else, and the poor fucks who end up being buttraped every single damn day God makes, are just those who failed ripping off some of that same money. T

    There is no such thing as merit, at least not in your everyday antlike, money-driven post-industrial human society. The "real world", where "people work to earn their living", as you have heard many times. The real world is actually very fake, but anyway, moving on.

    What people should really focus on when thinking about the 21st century carceral crisis is, simply enough: "how do we make human society a better place to live in?"
    Most of the trouble in this society comes from people that "don't fit" there. People like psychopaths and other extremely violent and/or emotionally handicapped personalities. How can we "fix" those people in a way that they can then learn to live with others? It has never really been possible up to now, but it in a near future it may very well become possible, and way sooner than we think. This is not merely an act of mercy to try to "fix criminals" with experimental technology; it is really for the greater good of all. Most psychopaths are already living in hell, and lash some of it unto others in a more or less regular fashion to satisfy a vast range of morbid pulsions that are normally suppressed most of the time in a "normal individual". Saving them is saving everyone else some of that hell.

    You may think, "here is yet another reactionary, why would we want to fix a guy who rapes teen girls", but what I am truly talking about is closer to the western european humanist thinking current (ie. that good things grow from educating mankind in the proper fashion);

    to summarize, what you must think is not "What kind of torments should I inflict upon this person to make up for what he did", which if you think about it is also a form of nihilistic, morbid pulsion; but rather, "what torments is it necessary to put this person through in order to make him come out of them better than he was, less broken, more complete?"

    Think on it.

    • G

      You start from what sounds like a kind of nihilism, and end up with something like a utilitarianism that none the less lacks what the nihilism left out.

      Good and evil exist in the minds of humans. The minds of humans are a part of nature. Therefore good and evil, via human minds, exist in nature. The same can be said of merit, meaning, purpose, and so on.

      Do you see the colour blue? You can learn all that modern science knows about photons, electromagnetism, wavelengths and frequencies of light, and so on, but from those facts you can't predict the subjective experience of seeing the colour blue. Yet the experience of seeing blue is undeniably real. If it were not real, then you would be insane for claiming to see blue. Good and evil, merit and meaning and purpose, are like that: neuroscience can elucidate how they work in the brain, and subjective experience affirms that they exist.

      When a medicine becomes available to restore emotional health to psychopaths, we should give it to them as early as they are diagnosed (often in childhood) for the same reason as we vaccinate people against horrible diseases: 1) To protect the person against the effects of the disease upon themselves, and 2) to protect the public against the effects of the disease as it would be spread by unvaccinated persons. This is not about punishment any more than vaccination is about some hypothetical moral purpose in the fact that needles are (briefly) painful.

      The legitimate purpose of incarceration is to confine proven-dangerous persons and thereby protect the public. This should be done with humane treatment as its norm. Gratuitous cruelty toward prisoners only degrades the rest of us and debases our morals. To the extent that psychiatry can offer criminals potential treatments that make it safe to release them, that would be all to the good, just so long as the treatments do not destroy their minds or rob them of agency.

      Aside from that, the justice system must also come to grips with the issue of seeking to make victims whole and healed, as far as that could be done. One can't restore a murder victim to life or erase the existence of an act of rape, but one can help a family to work through their grief, and one can help a rape victim to overcome their trauma.

  • Stephanie

    There should only be one use of this technology, and that is to create awesome video game simulations.

  • preceltic

    Just because something is possible, doesn't make it desirable. This 'angels dancing on the head of a pin' debate of the possibilities of legitimised torture is chilling. Humanity is not served, the dead are not avenged, justice is not done by even contemplating taking us down such a route. This could never be legitimate, even in the 'right' hands, let alone the 'wrong' ones. Sometimes it is possible to be to be too clever yet ineffably stupid at the same time..

  • Corey F

    "Prevailing Christian theology asks us to believe that an all-powerful,
    all-knowing being would do what no human parent could ever do: create
    tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures, pluck out a few
    favourites to shower in transcendent love, and send the rest to an
    eternity of unrelenting torment."

    This is, if you'll pardon the pun, damnable nonsense. Clearly Mr. Andersen has no sense at all of what "prevailing Christian theology" is or what it entails; otherwise, he wouldn't offer such a blithe and unsubstantiated generalization about it. In fact, certain extreme strains of Calvinism excepted (which are arguably heretical, anyway), the soteriological vision the author presents as "prevailing Christian theology" bears no resemblance whatsoever to the understanding of Hell that most Christian theologians throughout time--Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant included--have held. Of course Mr. Andersen can't subscribe to such a belief: the belief itself is ludicrous and portrays God as a capricious and unjust tormentor. That is not the God in whom most Christians believe, either. Perhaps before generalizing about Christian belief in the future, Mr. Andersen could be bothered to understand what it involves?

    • G

      At some point, the mainstream Christian denominations should stand up and issue a statement declaring those particular Calvinist beliefs to be heretical and unChristian.

      There remains the issue of 'the problem of evil', involving the critique that there is a contradiction between the idea that the deity is omnipotent, and the idea that the deity is omnibeneficient or all-loving, given the prevalence of real suffering in the world. To my mind the best resolution of that is via recourse to Deist principles, wherein a deity sets the universe in motion, after which point the universe operates according to its own internal consistency & lawfulness as elucidated by science.

      The issue might also be solved via a kind of dualism in which the deity's omniscience and omnipotence extend only to the realm of souls rather than including the realm of physical matter and energy.

      I'm saying this as someone who stands in the gray zone in-between belief and scepticism, by way of seeking common grounds.

    • Josh Atkins

      Oh for Christ's sake, that's precisely what Christian theology says. The tired old shtick about hell being "eternal separation from god" is just evasion from the despicable description of hell in the bible. It really boils down to this: are people in hell conscious, and are they there forever? It's completely beside the point whether the torture being inflicted on them by this loving (and imaginary) god is physical, psychological, or some strange combination thereof. Either you believe in hell and Christianity, or you don't.

      The other alternative is to grow up.

  • http://discombobula.blogspot.com/ Sue

    Punishment will never, ever fit or fix crimes, ever. The effort to do so is revenge, and it doesn't do anything except make the whole world blind. It doesn't change the situation, it doesn't bring anyone back who should be here, it doesn't fix what's broken, it doesn't heal what's bleeding, it doesn't bind up the busted.

    Justice isn't about punishment. It's about righting wrongs. This idea is just so so so so revolting to me. It appeals to the very lowest common denominator of humans, the one that's so bloody low you can sometimes forget that our highest is pretty kinda damn awesome.

    "Hell is empty, all the devils are here" ~ William Shakespeare

    • Hollif50

      They certainly are...

  • polistra24

    The author knows exactly nothing about criminals, and nearly nothing about human beings. I've never seen such a pile of monstrous ignorance masquerading as wisdom.

    Any discussion of criminality and prisons has to start with the simple fact "Prisons hold the bad, the mad and the sad." Google this phrase and you'll find a variety of discussions, coming from various positions but at least starting with FACT.

  • Stan Astan

    Wow! Just when I thought the ghoulishness of capital punishment might be peaking and on the verge of decline, I am blindsided by an even more ghoulish alternative.
    Yeah, placing offenders on life support to torture them longer is a small step for man - a giant leap for the evil in men.
    When will we learn that just as individuals can be psychopathic societies can be psychopathic? What about the many Hitler left behind? See where I'm going?

  • Greatnamehere

    Reminds me of that old Harlan Ellison story...

  • Project Pete

    You and everyone else advocating or even considering this are morally bankrupt, evil, vindictive animals. To even contemplate such a radical, debased system of punishment tells rational people everything they need to know about the pervasive rot endemic in American society.

  • disqus_KGu5OxIxou

    Roache sounds like a sadistic kunt who might benefit from psychotherapy.

  • Simon Necker

    Middle Ages Digital...No Thanks!

  • Cypressclimber

    It would help if the author actually were familiar with Christian theology, rather than merely think he is. When he says:

    Prevailing Christian theology asks us to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing being would do what no human parent could ever do: create tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures, pluck out a few favourites to shower in transcendent love, and send the rest to an eternity of unrelenting torment.

    Well, that's embarrassingly wrong. In more than one way.

    The view he described may correspond to some theology, but it's hardly "prevailing." It's not what the largest Church -- the Catholic Church -- teaches, not by a longshot. The Catholic Church teaches, first, that God "showers" everyone "in transcendent love" -- seeking to save everyone. Second, the Church never teaches or proposes that most end up in hell.

    In fact, the Catholic Church is very circumspect about this -- not ever claiming anyone, other than the devils, are in hell.

    Third, the author seems to think God forces people to go to hell.

    It never seemed to occur to the author that people might, in freedom, refuse God's salvation. Hasn't he ever heard of free will?

    • Hollif50

      Ever read about the purpose of Christ coming to Earth in the first place? To allow the "tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures" to be forgiven for their sins and appear as clean, worthy and righteous to a God who can suffer no sin or unsaved sinner in his presence?

      • Ingolf Stern

        Very few humans engage in "sin". That is NOT why the Creator came here as a normal man. He came here to make a new deal with us, and to further his own progress. He came here to show us that we are NOT fallen, but that we are rising, and that is ALL we are doing. This is a nest, a nursery. We are new personalities, born as animals with the opportunity to transcend our animal nature and BEGIN the process of growth into something - MORE. The King James and its ilk is an incomplete record and testament, and almost useless dues to eror and intent. THe new revalation is here, but almost no one knows of it. You can see it and, if you actually read it, you will be amazed. Please don't flame me unless you actually read it. The Urantia Book.

    • G

      It has unfortunately become acceptable in some circles to engage in a kind of bigotry toward Christians and Christianity that would be abhorrent if aimed at any other denomination or its members.

      What I often do when I encounter it, is to tell the commenter, 'substitute the word "Jews" (or "Judaism") in that remark, and see how it sounds.'

      The point being, we all know by way of history, that bigotry aimed at Jews and Judaism, motivated The Holocaust. Those who use bigoted language against Christians and Christianity might consider themselves morally superior to Nazis, but in point of fact they are engaged in the same sort of mentality as that which contributed to the Nazis' rise to power. The fact that 'it couldn't happen here' is irrelevant: the sin is the same in type even if different in degree.

  • Charles

    I am amazed because I've never really truly felt sick reading an article before. I realize this is speculative but this kind of cool, detached discussion of sadistic punishments is really too much.

    • G

      It is sickening because it embodies a tiny piece of the type of thinking that Mengele used to justify his experiments on concentration camp victims. The fact that we are sickened by such a tiny dose is reason to have hope for us after all.

  • Richard

    No doubt this cultural argument has been raised already. If so I'll emphasize it, anyway. Eastern philosophies do not recognize death as any sort of escape from punishment. The transgressor, post physical death, will, by his own failings 'wake up' in an atmosphere conditioned by his weaknesses and will stay in this uncomfortable environment until his sensitivities have begun to aspire to an improved condition - empathy, compassion, etc.

  • Hollif50

    Ok... So now we can make people suffer for a 1,000 years; the really bad ones at least. Tell me, who's going to cover the cost of keeping this evil person alive that long, when a 50 cent bullet behind the ear will put an end to it for them and for any others that are not quite so evil?

  • teo

    The hypothesis of an aeternal punishment will bring us to reconsider our position about the limitation of personal liberty in itself?
    This is the way of thinking that can make our societies go further: don't forget the death penalty was mostly accepted all over the world, and it was just one century ago.

  • Segway

    You have something wrong with you mate, you need treatment about this, I just hope to God you aren't in any position of power

  • http://zenshaman.com/ Zen Shaman

    Oops it turns out that newly declassified f.b.i. Documents show that hitler and Eva Braun escaped by submarine to Argentina, and the f.b.i. Tracked and monitored their progress. What. You don't believe me? Read the documents online at the f.b.i. Own website. Wake up people, nothing is what it seems, especially your own government.

  • xyz234

    And of course, all the people convicted and sentenced to these hellish punishments will definitely be guilty as charged, and the system will also never be used to suppress political dissidents...if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.

  • William St. George

    Kind of a silly article revealing all sorts of hidden presuppositions. Ultra materialistic point of view. Shallow thinking.

  • Segway

    Good thing we've been torturing this child murderer for 500 years!
    What's that? Wrong person and this man is innocent? WHOOPS!

    Also I'm sure the public will just loove paying taxes to keep criminals alive for hundreds of years, great use of money there.

  • geobill

    Medical advancements will probably come at a
    much faster pace than reforms to the justice system, so it's very likely that
    the biotechnologies discussed as hypotheticals in this article will one day
    coexist with a system where those accused still only get as much justice as
    they can afford.

  • FancyLad

    "Prevailing Christian theology asks us to believe that an all-powerful,
    all-knowing being would do what no human parent could ever do: create
    tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures, pluck out a few
    favourites to shower in transcendent love, and send the rest to an
    eternity of unrelenting torment. That story has always seemed like an
    intellectual relic to me, a holdover from barbarism, or worse, a myth
    meant to coerce belief."

    And here, in a nutshell, is the problem with many of today's armchair philosophers. They have no understanding of the basic theology of the religion that forms the basis of western culture.
    /r/atheism isn't the best place for pundits to learn Christian Dogma and creed. Even spending 40 minutes reading a Christian New Testament would inform him that the above statement is not a mainstream Christian doctrine. If that can't be managed, a brief email conversation with a vicar or priest would clarify the matter.

    To begin an article with such a profound display of ignorance in basic theology is disheartening, and makes one wonder what other major errors are present in the article.

    • G

      Agreed. Those who are intent on criticising religion should at least have knowledge of the subject matter. Otherwise they come across more or less as bigots engaged in bashing. Thoughtful people (whether thoughtful theists, agnostics, or atheists) will dismiss them.

  • http://roguepriest.net/ Drew Jacob

    I agree with many of the comments here that this piece shows a startling lack of critical thinking for a philosopher, especially one who focuses her work on practical ethics. The number of problems with Roache's thinking are astounding—so much so that I found it necessary to tear them apart in detail. You can find my rebuttal here:
    A Bad Philosopher Answers a Bad Question Badly

    • maynard

      I am having a hard time believing this passes as philosophy in England.
      "Milton thou shoudst be living at this hour, England hath need of thee!"

      • G

        Not to worry; this will not harm philosophy, Oxford, or England. As an American, when I think of England's intellectual contributions to the world, the first name that comes to mind is Professor Higgs, who is also by all accounts a kind-hearted and reflective man of good will.

        Roache's defence of monstrosity is an aberration, but perhaps a useful one, in that it can help vaccinate us against precisely the kinds of evil that she appears to endorse. There is no doubt in my mind that even though immortalism is quackery, the rationalisation of cruelty toward various groups of people is creeping further into public discourse over time, and we should be prepared to fight it with all our will.

        That, or, if cruelty to prisoners becomes normalised, cruelty toward other targeted groups will follow, until it eats us alive and regresses us to a caveman mentality.

    • G

      I read your other article. You speak for me on this. I'll be getting in touch via email, and you'll recognise it by the subject header.

      Though, I wonder if the author might have intended this piece as a kind of meme-vaccine, to give us an attenuated dose of the same evil virus that was most clearly manifest in the Nazis and in Mengele's experiments on concentration camp victims. This by way of making us sick to our stomachs, that we might learn to recognise these sorts of monstrosity when we encounter them elsewhere. That strategy would entail not going 'meta,' or otherwise critiquing in any substantive way, the monstrosity that is being proposed.

      One of the most important axes of morality is between kindness and cruelty. The fact that criminals practice cruelty toward others, very often for extractive purposes (to extract money or other valuables from their victims), should alert us that we as law-abiding people should not do the same in return. We can of course legitimately confine criminals to protect society from them, but this can and should be done in a humane manner.

      More to be said about this and other topics via email.

      • http://roguepriest.net/ Drew Jacob

        Thanks G. I'm looking forward to your email.

        I wonder if the author might have intended this piece as a kind of meme-vaccine, to give us an attenuated dose of the same evil virus that was most clearly manifest in the Nazis and in Mengele's experiments on concentration camp victims.

        If so, she's done a helluva job of playing the straight man.

      • http://roguepriest.net/ Drew Jacob

        Thanks for this G and I look forward to your email.

        I wonder if the author might have intended this piece as a kind of meme-vaccine, to give us an attenuated dose of the same evil virus that was most clearly manifest in the Nazis and in Mengele's experiments on concentration camp victims.

        If so, she had me fooled.

      • http://roguepriest.net/ André Sólo

        G, she agreed to do a followup interview with me and her answers explain more of the motivation behind her work. You can find it here.

  • Mina

    I think that a great example for the last point (alternative punishments) is A Clockwork Orange, came to mind immediately after reading that part!

  • PaulKinsky

    Have you read Surface Detail, by Iain M Banks? The book deals with a far future where the digitization of minds allows for the implementation of virtual afterlives. Most civilizations build virtual heavens for their dead, while a few build virtual hells.

    The book deals with the war to dismantle these virtual hells.

  • Adam

    Iain M. Banks' book Surface Detail
    "Some of the plot occurs in simulated environments. As the book begins, a
    war game—the "War in Heaven"—has been running for several decades. The
    outcome of the simulated war will determine whether societies are
    allowed to run artificial Hells, virtual afterlives in which the
    mind-states of the dead are tortured.

  • David Abernathy

    You don't imprison someone to "punish" or "torture" them. The sole job of a prison is to protect society from dangerous people and, hopefully, rehabilitate some of them. The person who conjures up some brilliant way to antagonize another human is one of those dangerous people, in my opinion.

  • Colin

    A few points I wanted to make on this issue:

    -The Star Trek DS9 episode entitled "Hard Time" is all about this very idea.

    -The criminal justice system (in the USA at least) purports to dole out punishments that serve 3 complimentary purposes:

    1) Remove a person harmful from society so they cannot inflict further damage to others.

    2) Retributive justice (i.e. revenge).

    3) Rehabilitation of a criminal offender.

    This perception of time dilation punishment does not seem like it would necessarily serve all 3 purposes. It does not further remove a person from society so it fails to meet the 1st criteria. I suppose it is retributive, (assuming the prisoner does not prefer prison to "life on the outside"). As for rehabilitation it is dicey at best to think doping someone to perceive additional time will improve their behavior/mental state.

    Personally I think that if a person's crime is so reprehensible that they will never re-enter society and they deserve an extra long prison stay. I'd rather not allow them to further burden society by paying to food, clothe, and torture them. Just end them and be done with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667387195 John Truman Lardner

    The first thing I can scarcely believe about this piece is how retrograde the thinking is . Oxford ? Really ?
    Secondly , there is no future in punishment so what did you debate ? There is no debate because there is no future in punishment . Designing an envirnoment to have the prisoner believe they're literally living in a Hell is abhorrent . What an awful contemplation ? Society needs to be protected from dangerous or otherwise antisocial behaviour that harms innocent others there's no denying that but to then torture the prisoner is something else altogether . Isn't that called hypocrisy ?

  • FistOfGaius

    Well, remember classic "Superman" comics?

    They had this "Phantom Zone" that was created/discovered by Jor-El and used to exile their worst criminals. They had a strong ethic of no death sentence, and indeed their society people could live in prosperity and leisure and their crime rate was fractional, but those that did commit crimes tended to be horrific and the most intelligent, ruthless people ever. So they were good at escaping, even high technology prisons and committing acts of horror.

    But, when Krypton was destroyed the most horrible of that race survived, thanks to the Phantom Zone. If not for Kal-El (Superman) surviving also...

    Chemical torture would just lead to criminals fighting to the very end, setting up networks of extortion, butchery, torture to scare even their victims into being more afraid of them than the police. As it is now, most of them lawyer up and go through the merry-go round, the long sentences tend to be when the killer is long gone so the police try to talk and talk and talk till he contradicts himself with the person who called in the murder, "Justice by Points" trying to convict an innocent man rather than chase a murderer who might fight back. It's horrible enough there are tons of people released, even from death row, innocent thanks to this.

    Frankly, only God has the knowledge and wisdom to dole out any punishment like this. Humanity is flawed, and if there is no God then there is no 'ultimate justice' beyond our ideals.

    The real focus should be to prevent crime. And not by fear of punishment, but by asking why they commit crimes, what causes them.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/MrParkerEast Parker East

    Surely the worst possible treatment for a violent, antisocial person with poor temper control is to subject them to extended isolation and discomfort.

    Did you even begin to think this through, or did you simply stop at your sadist, vengeance fetishes?

  • Trey Wilson

    Well, considering how much America is becoming a Police State, and Obama is doing everything he can to uphold, and in many cases, expand on Bush's terrible policies which are designed to erode our rights and liberties, I can see something like this happening very soon. The private prison industry in America is an insidious, secret industry that has been completely monetized, and is now driven by a need to fill these sprawling complexes up with people in order to generate profits. We have people serving life sentences for dealing weed. Something is wrong here.

  • https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQqe7I26UPnsVGJuXHSXlZA/videos Nate Herrell

    Torture is WRONG I don't care what the person did.

  • Roger

    The problem is that justice is just a human concept. It doesn't really exists. When a murder occurs the only way to do justice would be to send the murderer back in time to literally undo the deed. It just isnt possible. The focus instead should be on engineering a society that doesnt produce people that murder, rape, torture, etc. People that commit those kinds of crimes should be separated from society, and reformed (if possible). Punishment is vengeance, nothing more. Its hard to think clearly about these issues because they evoke passional reactions in us, while we should deal with them rationally.

  • Ingolf Stern

    Riddle me this, Batman - if it were possible to punish a criminal with a long sentence away form the population, to serve the stated purpose of the criminal "justice" system which is to protect the good guys from the bad guys, but without creating any memories of the incarceration, with the criminal being in suspended animation, for example, like sleep, such that he does not actively experience the period of incarceration - would you agree to that?
    If not, then you are not in favor of justice, but of retribution and pure punishment - you want the criminal to suffer more than you really want the rest of us to be protected from his behavior because a suspended human cannot harm us, and so it seems like that would be the best case - get the person away from us, but do not create an insane, paranoid, angry mind like prison does now, only to later release it into the population as a more dangerous thing than it was before you applied your justice.
    Check your motives.

  • http://roguepriest.net/ André Sólo

    For those interested, after my critique of this piece Dr. Roache agreed to do a followup interview with me. I asked her seven questions focused on why (and if) she feels criminals need to be punished and whether she believes in retribution. I found her answers quite telling. You can read the new interview at Rogue Priest.

  • 0000

    Rebecca Roache is free to try it on herself first.

  • http://unifiedpoptheory.com/ Dennis Bonilla

    So many missed opportunities with this piece. How about accelerated learning? 12 hours of school in only 1 hour. Or in the opposite direction for space travel, what if you could go on a 12 month journey in only 12 minutes?

  • http://napomartin.wordpress.com Napo Martin

    I am a little surprised that at no point in the essay (and although I have read many of them, neither this appears in the comments) is discussed the cost to society. Punishing someone for eternity, or even a very long time, means that society needs to be ready to support incarceration for such period.

    If we assume a 1,000 years long sentence and that every year 100 person are condemned to it, by the end of the first 100 years, there will be 10,000 serving a 900+ years sentence. By the end of the first 200 years, it would be double that amount of inmates and they would still have at least 800 years more to serve.

    It does not seem very sustainable.

    I think the prison system is intended more for separating someone dangerous from society and the research be done on how to measure if someone has changed. It seems we are not doing a very good job at that but I admit not being to cite empirical evidence of this assumption.

    If we can achieve that, then we can think in terms of sentence renewals and revocations, which I think is better than a time limit that gives no incentive to the inmate to change, but only to wait to be released.

  • http://www.wirenews.co/ WireNews+Co

    While most people want to debate the pros and cons of the subject matter of (philosopher) Rebecca Roache's theories on the prospect of tweaking with people's minds, I want to address the fact that the University of Oxford provided this woman with a budget sufficient to permit her to waste time considering the subject in the first place. This is why parents are now having to make hard choices about their children's higher education; the increased costs associated with attending college or university; because people like (philosopher) Rebecca Roache waste time and money (someone else's money) on this rubbish instead of providing a grounded education to young minds that might be useful for them in future. Roache and her colleagues Anders Sandberg and Hannah Maslen should have their budget more closely examined.

  • Don DeHart Bronkema

    Absent Toba II, de facto immortality is ineluctable via uploading mind & memory to clones, storage or transmission [e.g., to Colonia Martialis Muskens]…get used to it--& burn down the churches for fun!