Editorial: Vengeance has caused society more harm than good


The old Irish adage “don’t get mad, get even” is often bandied about, particularly in political circles and in that context generally means don’t waste your time on anger over your loss at the polls, just get to work winning next time. 

Unfortunately, the sentiment expressed in that adage is too often the basis for much of western society’s approach to social ills and there it fails demonstrably miserably. Yet we cling to revenge and retribution, instead of making any meaningful attempt to deal with the social and psychological underpinnings behind the actions of most offenders.

Reams of evidence clearly demonstrate that such an approach not only fails to purpose, but is actually counterproductive. Jails not only become overcrowded warehouses with the simple purpose of isolating offenders from society, but by placing younger offenders into close contact with hardened practitioners of crime they become crime colleges, with degrees in advanced crime techniques upon graduation.

Our prisons and jails have also become fertile recruiting grounds for criminal gangs and hate groups who prey on society’s alienated. Younger offenders return to their communities with those ties intact and a new set of job skills focussed on crime. It’s a lose—lose situation.

Unfortunately, a large part of the public has bought into the “do the crime, do the time” mentality making a tough on crime stance popular at the polls. Any attempt to tackle the source of the problem is labelled as being soft on crime—and the cycle continues unabated.

The best example of where this approach is illustrated can be found south of our border, where the US not only boasts the largest percentage of its population in prison, a whopping 655 per 100,000, but also boasts the largest number of people incarcerated—the much ballyhooed oppressive state China falls far short in real numbers.

Like the US, our own prison population is skewed heavily towards indigenous and other visible minority populations. Social activists like to point that fact as an indication of systemic racism, but its actual root cause could more appropriately be called social racism.

What is perhaps most surprising is that both the US and Canada, despite ostensible moves to greater secularism, still largely identify as Christian populations. “Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord,” is obviously honoured more in the breach than in observance.

Yet time and again the science of social behaviour points to better ways, as does traditional Anishinabe justice. Our nation could take a huge collective leap toward creating a more just society by looking to the foundational principles of our country’s first people for a template.

Those principles focused on reconciliation and re-integration into society, rather than retribution and punishment.

In few areas is this more apparent on the so-called war on drugs. With nearly a century of focusing on retribution in this pseudo war, not only has little to no progress been made, the numbers make it clear that we are losing. It is time to find a better way. That approach will be more expensive in the short term, always a poor political fuel, but there are plenty of examples to be found across the globe that clearly demonstrate those savings over the long term.