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Reactions are deterrents and deterrents should be harsh

By: Gopal Alankar, Ph.D.
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(The writer is a retired freelancer. He holds a Ph.D. in Administration and Management in addition to degrees in engineering. He enjoys writing on community related issues.)

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In the social context, human behavior is a set of complex interactions between the individuals. The inherent complexity attracted many social scientists to pursue theoretical and empirical studies on the subject. They defined human behavior as a composite of actions and reactions-to-the-actions of individuals. While an action has a single independent origin, the reactions to it are different many. Consequently human behavior is an inexact science of social psychology. This may sound fuzzy. The examples below will throw some light on this fuzziness.

The reactions to an action are relative, contextual and unpredictable. I remember when my child in her "learning to speak" stage abruptly uttered "You, stupid." I was surprised but elated for her uttering the never uttered before. I gave her a smile and a hug. But it would have been different had it come from someone else. That would have created a scene of a verbal duel if not a fist fight. Imagine what it would be if a teacher directs those same words at his student! The student would be devastated, petrified and demoralized. What would you do if a wayside lunatic hurls those same words at you? Perhaps ignore and do nothing.

Some reactions begin late as in the case of the recent Mumbai massacre by terrorists from Pakistan. India is still pondering on how to react to this culpable act by Pakistan. Sure the political ramifications and international opinions will be foremost in the minds of the politicians contemplating an appropriate reaction. Sometimes the reactions fade away, as in the case of terrorists" attack on Parliament in Delhi. After a great deal of huff and puff and threats of retaliation against Pakistan, the much-touted reaction to wage a war simply got lost in time.

These examples go to prove that one and the same action can produce many different reactions, some null, some passive and some aggressive. Therefore, human reactions are incongruous, disproportionate and not time-bound. Two differing properties of human reaction as opposed to that of the reaction of Newton"s third law in Physics are (1) the equality and (2) concurrency. Newton"s law states that action and reaction are equal and opposite. I extend this theory a bit to include that action and reaction are concurrent. On a finite time scale, reaction occurs after an action and the process repeats. But on a larger scale they seem to occur simultaneously. Readers who are well versed with finite element analysis will find this logic correct.

The foregoing discussion supports the deduction that the law of Newton is precise, and the reactions thereof are measurable and predictable. These properties are harnessed for use in jet aircraft for the benefit of mankind. But the absence of this precision in human reactions brings up a host of issues related to justice, fairness and equality.

There are ample hints in nature to indicate that the reactions are necessarily built into the lives of all life. A mistreated elephant will destroy the whole village. A snake stepped upon will inflict venomous vengeance on the intruder. Honeybees will attack those who tinker with their honeycombs. So it is a moot point to fantasize the elimination of reactions while the heinous actions run amok. The fact of the matter is that the reactions are bound to stay with us forever. The corollary of this truth is that Criminal Judicial System, which is structured around reactions, is built to last forever.

The Criminal Judicial System in a democracy, simply stated, is a mechanism for creating and enforcing appropriate reactions to counter undesirable actions. In this sense it is a reactive body. It is constantly fine-tuned through legislation to embody fairness in dealing with criminal acts. But still it suffers from a severe deficiency in that it is the system of liberal justice. It does not aim at sizing the reactions in a manner such that the criminal acts are not repeated. Instead it tends to make the punishments lighter. O.J. Simpson went Scott free in the murder of his wife Nicole on a technicality. Afzal Guru who received death sentence for his involvement in Indian Parliament attack is still waiting for his execution because political preferences override the court verdicts. Presidential pardons, dismissal of cases on the grounds of insufficient evidence, paroles, fake claims of mental illness, lesser sentences for cooperating with the prosecution are all examples of liberal justice in our democracy. Unfortunately these drawbacks translate into incentives for further crimes. Bernie Madoff"s heldge fund scam, Enron"s financial scandal, and the Ramalinga Raju"s Satyam computers loot, are all examples of incentives for more crimes. It"s a shame that in democracy money and might have played a decisive part in overturning the truth in a judicial court.

Human actions are either good or bad. Bad actions breed bad reactions. The protests of the social activists, the writings of the liberal media and the passionate pleas of the human rights protagonists against the reactions of people or against the laws of the land for punishing those who act viciously, will all be naught if root causes are not nipped in the bud. Reactions will disappear only when the associated actions are either eliminated or prevented and not the other way around.

A punishment greater than the crime will serve as a deterrent to future crimes. A body hanging in the public square in Saudi Arabia for an armed robbery is an instance of disproportionate punishment. Nevertheless, it serves as a potent deterrent to future robberies and it makes Saudi a nation of low crime rate. America"s war on Al Qaeda and the war on Iraq are unquestionably disproportionate but they serve as necessary deterrents. Israel"s recent invasion of Gaza Strip no doubt was harsher than the Hamas rockets falling on Israel. But the invasion was a necessary must to prevent the further rocket barrages by Hamas. Prevention is better than cure.

So in a civilized society the focus should be in eliminating the bad actions and not vice versa. We should eliminate terrorists if we wish to stop people"s punitive attacks on persons harboring terrorists. We should trifurcate Kashmir into Jammu, Ladhak and Kashmir valley if we wish to bring everlasting peace and tranquility to Kashmir. The trifurcating should have no bearing on whether Kashmir valley integrates with Pakistan or stays independent. We should punish with all our might any nation that perpetuates on our destruction by infiltrating terrorists into our sovereign land. United States has done this in Afghanistan and Israel did it in Gaza strip. The media"s hue and cry that the Israel"s reaction was disproportionate does not lend credence to the contention. Reactions are meant to be deterrents and punishments meant to be harsh.

President Reagan in reference to economic malaise that America faced in 1981, said, "Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem." These words strike a chord with me. They powerfully reverberate at global terrorism. Governments can"t solve terrorism unless the courts deliver harsher punishments to the terrorists and their cohorts.

Alas, this is not happening! Our democracies for sure are at the height of dysfunction.

Gopal Alankar, Ph.D.

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