Law in Contemporary Society
What if the government is purposely creating a system that does not sustain peace in order to consolidate its control over non-conformists and to garner financial and political power to maintain control. It would be akin to planned obsolescence: A system where manufactured goods intentionally breakdown in order to increase consumption regardless of inefficiency and waste. Is the government promoting failing models to that the citizens will have to buy into the system again?

In law, the obsolescence of the criminal system as a deterrent and insurer of justice continues the prison industrial complex. If the law worked the way it is purported to work, then many jobs would be lost. Let's take Cohen's idea that courts maintain inequality: If most violence is caused by inequality and the legal system supports inequality, then the legal system maintains the violence under the guise of trying to mitigate it.

How do we move away from planned legal obsolescence? It would begin with Cohen's idea of basing legal concepts in either morals or empirical facts in order to make them realistic. To move away from systematic failure would mean acknowledging the failure. Then what? How do you use a failing system to change systematic failure?


-- RachelGholston - 31 Jan 2012

It seems like the first step would be to modify the goals of the criminal system. If your main premise is true: that the criminal system maintains the prison industrial complex – possibly a cog in government machinery seeking to achieve and maintain political and financial dominance through a regime of intentional failure and waste, then acknowledging failure would be unnecessary since the system has succeeded in its goal. Ultimately, society would have to recast its idea of failure. Only then will a “failing” system be willing to change.

We understand the facts: many interest groups have an incentive to keep the machine running as it does. But to pose a Cohen(ian) question: how can we use a functionalist approach to possibly change the system? One suggestion may be simple experimentation (if the system would permit such a scandal). Our northern neighbor Canada has half the crime rate we do. And here’s another fun fact: Canada abolished the death penalty over 30 years ago and it still has a better crime rate than the US (who was it that said the death penalty was a deterrent?). I realize that there are differences in jurisprudence, history, crime classifications, and reporting but on balance we have a lot to learn from our peers, including Canada. If the US made a robust effort to engage in more experimentation with different criminal justice systems on a small scale to start, we might see some progress. r2 - 01 Feb 2012 - 04:18:56 - CrystalVenning?

But, Rachel, what do you mean when you say "the government?" I don't understand how all the different people who compose the government, most of whom turn over frequently, could "purposely creat[e] a system" that does anything, let alone perpetuates a conspiracy. I find it more likely that we have a population that tends to accept the status quo. I have a similar problem with your statement, Crystal, about the "system" having to permit experimentation. What system? How can a "system" do anything? Who is really responsible for giving permission for such experimentation? -- SamanthaLiTrenta - 01 Feb 2012

Hey all - sorry to butt in - I took this class in '10, and wrote my first paper on a related topic. On that note, something that I enjoyed when I was in class a few years ago was reading archived material. Even if you don't like my paper (feel free to comment on it, I'd love to hear your thoughts), maybe you'll get something from the discussions my class had. -- DRussellKraft - 01 Feb 2012

Samantha,that is what the interest groups/people who control "the system" or "the government" want you to think. As Thurman Arnold declares, citizens are made to believe they are acting with their own free will because they need that illusion to remain content in "the system" or "the government." Similar to how administrators at Columbia Law School turn over or professors leave, since norms have been created the system continues to run as before. However, if a "new set of administrators" violate the norms, the trustees who control the university or "the system" may refuse to support it until there is a change in leadership. Therefore, although there are new presidents "elected," for example, there are people who allow them to be elected (e.g. campaign funding) who ultimately have crucial sway on how the system is run. These people make sure that whoever is elected understands that the social order should remain intact or they will take away their support. If a person threatens that social order, they are assassinated (e.g. JFK) or not elected again, if possible. There are families over the course of the history of the U.S. who have amassed incredible power, whether through corruption or otherwise (e.g. Rockefellers). Some family members may die but there are children and/or relatives that keep the wishes of their ancestors intact. So, you are right in thinking they accept the status quo. It is unfortunate, however, that the status quo is corruption. As Eben mentioned in class, less than 1% of the nation has a majority of its wealth. These people control "the system" and "the government." Therefore, they are "the system" and "the government." I believe that is what Rachel and Crystal meant by those words.


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r6 - 22 Jan 2013 - 19:58:10 - IanSullivan
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