Category Archives: Politics

My Life with Games (part 31)–Papers, Please

Are you nostalgic for the Cold War? Does the life of a petty bureaucrat sound thrilling and exciting? Want to grapple with the moral ambiguities of being the face of a system you can’t totally support? Then Papers, Please is the game for you!

Okay, yes, I could totally sell this one better. Like how this game is truly a game design tour de force. How the intersection of game mechanics made me feel more like I was playing a roleplaying game than a puzzle game. How there’s even something oddly enjoyable and thrilling about…well…doing paperwork.

But maybe here’s the best selling point of all. In his preface to The Screwtape Letter, C.S. Lewis writes:

“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.”

Papers, Please is, in part, an exploration of this idea in video game form.

First, here’s a link to the trailer for the game.

The core of gameplay is the view that you see in the trailer. You are behind a desk, interviewing the various people attempting to cross the border at your crossing. You have a rulebook, giving the details of the various items you need to watch for. If you discover discrepancies in the paperwork, you highlight the discrepancy to ask the applicant for more information. Sometimes this resolves the issue, while sometimes it necessitates a denial of entry or even detaining the applicant for further questioning.

So that’s the game. Review paperwork, then stamp “Approved” or “Denied” as appropriate. Or, rather, that’s the core of the game.

See, you’re on a clock. So you’re doing this processing in realtime. It’s not that any one applicant has a clock. It’s just that your workday ends when you’re out of applicants to process. 

And that’s where the next aspect of the game enters play.

You are paid piecework. So, the more applicants you process, the more money you get paid. Mess up, and you’ll get citations, and eventually your pay will be docked.

And each day, you have to go home and pay the bills with the money you made. Because you have a family to feed and keep warm. You have to pay the rent. Get lax on these duties, and your family can get sick and even die. It happened in my playthrough. I lost two family members to disease because I couldn’t afford both food and heat, and then I couldn’t afford medicine.

So, your performance at the checkpoint directly impacts your ability to care for your family. 

With me so far?

Now comes the next twist.

The applicants you’re processing at the checkpoint aren’t ciphers. They have personality. They’ll talk to you. Sometimes they’ll ask you for favors, or they’ll overshare. Like the woman who mentioned that her husband had just gone ahead of her in line. Or the other woman who slipped me a note, telling me that the man behind her was her pimp, intent on selling her once they entered the country, and please, oh please, don’t let him through.

So, what about that, right? The pimp’s paperwork is in order. I’m supposed to let him through. But should I? 

 But there’s even more! Your country is embroiled in a tense geopolitical situation, which means that the rules for crossing becoming increasingly arcane and difficult to enforce. And then there are the foreign terrorists, hopping the wall and throwing bombs. And then there’s the homegrown resistance movement who appeals to your patriotism to aid them.

There’s probably even more. I’ve only played through the game once. But, without a doubt, the core gameplay activity of processing paperwork is only a small part of the overall game experience. 

This isn’t just a game about playing “One of these things doesn’t belong”. This is a game about morality at the intersection of competing loyalties.

By my count, my character had at least four competing loyalties: 

1) His government 

2) His family 

3) His country (not the same thing as his government) 

4) Humanity in general 

 Following the rules of applicant processing demonstrated loyalty to the government. Making enough money to provide for his family’s needs demonstrated loyalty to them. Aiding the resistance movement demonstrated loyalty to his country (at least in my mind!) And sometimes bending the rules at the checkpoint demonstrated loyalty to humanity.

But these loyalties do not live peacefully with each other. And, as the game goes on, you are forced to make choices between them.
In my game, I tried to juggle my responsibilities. I tried to do good work at the checkpoint, though I’ll admit that much of this was motivated by my desire to pay for my family’s needs. So, yeah, I accepted some kickback from one of the border guards for detaining people, but I didn’t change my actions. I figured that if I could get a little bit extra for food for my family while still doing my job, then there was no harm. I wasn’t looking for extra reasons to detain people, though maybe I was a bit harsher than I might otherwise have been. I mean, maybe. And I was a patriot! So when the resistance movement contacted me, I jumped at the chance to help.

That was morally grueling in its own way. At first, the resistance only wanted me to look the other way when certain people were coming through. though, as the news came out about bombings against government buildings, I knew that I was culpable. And then came the day when they asked me to kill. And, God help me, I did.

Things came to a head when my superiors announced that there would be an audit of my actions at the checkpoint. I knew that there was no way that I could come through that audit without incident. One of the regulars at the checkpoint had told me about a way to get forged passports to get across the border to a neighboring country. (It was an…unusual…relationship.) But it required real passports from that country as a base. So I began confiscating appropriate passports from people coming through the checkpoint. The day before the audit, and I’m still one passport short. I’m going to lose a family member.

I can’t risk it. I have to leave tonight. So I get three passports for me, my wife and my child. My wife’s mother heads for her hometown to try to disappear within the borders of our country. I don’t know if she made it.

As the game ends, I wait at another border checkpoint. This time, I’m the one clutching bad paperwork, praying that the clerk is unattentive. I hand over our papers. He goes back into the office.

I hear one stamp. I hear a second stamp.

Then there’s a pause. It feels like eternity.

And then a third stamp. I heave a sigh of relief. Then, we cross the border, safe but exiles.

Papers Please was a morally exhausting game.  I tried to do the right thing, but I’m not sure I always did. I know that I screwed over perfectly innocent people at the end of the game in my mad dash to get passports for my family.

Papers Please was also an amazing game. There are apparently 15-20 possible endings for the game, which means that your playthrough could be totally different than mine. I’m also impressed by its ability to take core gameplay that doesn’t seem all that interesting and make it fascinating.

But even more, I appreciate that this game managed to make an artful statement through the application of game mechanics, not merely narrative. And it’s an important lesson.

The System will not save you. The System will not give you the guidance you need. The System can never encompass the entirety of a situation. The System can never replace wisdom. The System cannot tell you what is right. And so, at times, the System must be resisted. It must be fought. It must be overturned.

Or, to quote from the Foundation series, “Never let your sense of morals stop you from doing what it right.”


Let’s chat about University and Main

Introduction

If you follow my Twitter feed at all, you may have noticed some discussion about the University and Main intersection. If you’re not in Peoria, then this probably doesn’t matter to you that much. But if you’re here, you’ve probably seen something about the reaction to the reconstruction of this intersection. Since I have thoughts, I wanted to capture all of them here. My primary audience for this blog post are my fellow Peorians, but if you’re interested in design (especially urban design), you might want to read this anyway. I’ll try to avoid making assumptions and bring you up to speed, so that you can follow along.

Who I Am

I’m pretty ambitious and hope that this blog post carries beyond my normal audience, so I figure I might need to explain a little about who I am and what shapes my opinions about University and Main.

My name is Seth Ben-Ezra, and I am a designer. My primary interaction with the principles of design comes from designing games, but I’ve expanded into process analysis, system design, user experience design, and even party planning and DJing, which is just another form of design. If I had to lump these various disciplines under one heading, I might choose “experience designer.” Yes, I agree, it’s not the best title, but it’s what I have for now.

This means that I’ve spent a large chunk of my life studying the concepts and principles of design, especially how human psychology intersects with designed objects and spaces.

Additionally, I am a Peorian. I’ve lived in this city for twelve years and, more specifically, I’ve lived in the University East neighborhood for the last eight years, having moved into the area back in 2006. I deeply care about this neighborhood and the West Main business corridor. I do what I can do support the businesses in this area, like Blue, One World, Mr. G’s, Leaves ‘n’ Beans, and Broken Tree. I love the ongoing efforts of the Renaissance Park Community Association in their work around Sheridan and Main.

In particular, I want to call out Blue and One World as being two of my favorite places in the whole wide world, and they are within blocks of where I live.

In other words, this area is my home, and I’m deeply invested in the people, businesses, and spaces of my home.

And, quite possibly, the most important intersection in this area is the intersection of North University Street and West Main Street. Two neighborhoods, Bradley University, and the Campustown shopping center all touch here. The rich, the poor, and everyone in between pass through this intersection. This is where the anti-war protestors gather. This is where college students do their fundraising.

I know that I’m biased, but I honestly believe that University and Main represents the heart of Peoria.

So, what’s all the hullabaloo about?

Let’s have a look!

What Happened to University and Main

Through the magic of Google Maps, we can have a look at what University and Main looked like back in July 2011. Click here to check it out. The perspective is essentially from the southwest corner. You can see Avanti’s on the northwest corner and One World on the northeast corner. Nothing too dramatic, right? Four lanes of traffic intersecting with four lanes of traffic.

Here’s another image of the front door of One World. Note those sidewalks. We’ll come back to those in a little bit.

Back in September 2013, there was a water main break at University and Main. It was patched up, but it was a temporary fix. The intersection needed to be dug up to enable a full replacement of the water main. According to Chuck Grayeb, the 2nd District City Councilman, who represents this area, the city manager Patrick Urich suggested that this could be an opportunity to perform additional changes to the intersection.

For a while now, various groups have been pushing to make West Main more walkable. This isn’t just a hypothetical issue. There have been a couple of pedestrian deaths in recent memory at or near University and Main. And, if you’re already tearing up the intersection, why don’t kill two birds with one stone?

Several public meetings later, the designs were finalized, and work began. For most of the spring, the intersection was closed, both for the water main work and the reconstruction efforts. Finally, on May 12, the City held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new intersection.

Now, check out the pictures on this article. What a difference! The intersection is raised to slow traffic, and the traffic has been narrowed to two lanes. When pedestrians signal for crossing, there’s an included four-way stop to allow them to cross, including crossing diagonally from corner to corner. Also, the sidewalks have been widened and low walls have been added to increase safety for pedestrians. Now, instead of cars whizzing by just feet away, pedestrians can be at a safe separation from traffic.

For another view, here’s a map of the design for the intersection. They didn’t put the giant Bradley insignia in the middle of the intersection, but it’s close enough to get the idea.

And then, the complaining and arguing began. And I have things to say to both sides!

So, let’s get to it, shall we?

To Those Objecting

Hello, neighbors! (Why do I call you neighbors? Because we all live in the same city and share the same space. That makes us neighbors.)

After having read some of the arguments and complaints about this intersection, I have some thoughts I’d like to share with you. I hope that this will be helpful to you as we continue to work through this issue together.

I’d like to start by discussing a basic concept of design.

When something is designed–an object, computer software, or a place–the design empowers the users to engage in certain activities and constraints them from engaging in other activities. For a simple example, think of a window. On the one hand, a window enables you to see through it. It also stops you from moving through it, as those who have walked face-first into a sliding glass door can attest.

This means that no design is neutral. Whenever something is designed, it is attempting to accomplish certain goals. Always. The old design of University and Main was aimed at accomplishing certain goals. The new design of University and Main is aimed at accomplishing certain goals. That’s what it means to design something.

Over on Facebook, Erik Likerson wrote:

Great! Everyone loves it except the group it should have been designed for. That is called a failure. Spin it how you want.

That’s a premature conclusion. Before we start talking about whether or not the redesign of University and Main works, we need to first ask: what were the goals of the new design?

The answer is found in a philosophy of urban design known as Complete Streets. Wikipedia offers this definition:

Complete Streets is a transportation policy and design approach that requires streets to be planned, designed, operated, and maintained to enable safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation.

In general, transportation and street design has been mostly focused on the automobile for a long time, making it the status quo. As a result, pursuing a Complete Streets design, of necessity, means that there will be takeaways from the automobile to support alternate forms of transportation. This is because the design features that support high-volume automobile traffic (e.g. wide, multi-lane streets) also threaten pedestrian and bike traffic.

So, Mr. Likerson is incorrect. Or, at least, he is in conflict with the Complete Streets approach that the City has adopted. Who should the streets be designed for? Everyone, not just automobiles.

Honestly, this means that the frustration that many of you are feeling isn’t a sign of failure. It’s actually a sign of success. The design is producing the desired outcome: making it harder to use the intersection as a major thoroughfare.

The design of University and Main is working. It is accomplishing its stated goals.

But are those the right goals?

I’ll admit that’s a larger question. However, I will note that I have yet to speak to any of my neighbors who are opposed to a more walkable neighborhood. In fact, the only neighbor who I can recall has expressed concern has done so because she is concerned that the current design will not produce walkability in the area. Whereas, as I’ve spoken to members of the local business community or the neighborhood association, there is unanimous delight.

The City didn’t foist this idea on us. We wanted it.

And, at the risk of being a bit pointed, we are the ones who live and work here. Please give us the space to shape our home, just as we ought to give you the space to shape yours.

To Those Approving

Hello, neighbors! (Why do I call you neighbors? Because we all live in the same city and share the same space. That makes us neighbors.)

After having read some of the arguments and complaints about this intersection, I have some thoughts I’d like to share with you. I hope that this will be helpful to you as we continue to work through this issue together.

Something I’ve learned in design testing is that a user’s perception of his emotions is always true. His understanding of why he feels a certain way may be suspect, and his insight into how to make changes to the design may be limited, but his reporting of his emotion is always true.

So, when these drivers say they feel frustrated, let’s give them a little space. They really are frustrated, and, honestly, that’s a reasonable response.

After all, their world just got changed.

In their book, Made to Stick, the Heath brothers introduce the concept of the “curse of knowledge”. This is what happens when someone is so close to a topic or body of knowledge and has internalized so many assumptions that they forget what it’s like to be a beginner. This is why many knowledgeable people can be terrible at teaching. They have forgotten about the curse of knowledge.

Let’s be honest. Most of us who are excited about this new development are neighborhood activists, New Urbanists, or simply design nerds. We eat this stuff up wherever we can get it. We understand the goals of walkability. We know the difference between use-based zoning and form-based zoning. We know the advantages of mixed-use spaces, and we hope to encourage more eyes on the street to reduce crime. Some of you may even have learned rebuttals to the concepts that I just outlined.

In other words, we are experts in this area. Some of us have been pushing for these changes for literally years, and this intersection and the surrounding work is validation of a decade spent in the wilderness. (Anyone reading this remember the Heart of Peoria Commission?)

But, most of our neighbors who oppose this development aren’t aware of these larger conversations. And really, do they need to be? I am confident that there are rising schools of thought in engineering that deeply impact work that is happening right now at Caterpillar, and I have no idea what they are and why they matter.

In the same way, our neighbors don’t understand the philosophy and nuance that lies behind the new intersection. All they know is that their world suddenly changed, and it got harder.

So, now, it is incumbent on us to try to be persuasive. In particular, I’ve appreciated the work that Nick Viera has done to inject some actual data into the discussion. Perception can be a weird thing, and sometimes objective data can be just the thing to help someone see the truth.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it, the new design has actually been implemented, for better or worse. No one is going to tear it out and return it to its previous state, at least not in the foreseeable future. Now, we all have to live with it.

So, let’s live with it. Let’s get out into our neighborhood. Let’s walk our streets and enjoy the increased safety that we can now experience. If you bike, get out there! If not, maybe this is a chance to pick it up. (I’m thinking about it myself.) Patronize local businesses by walking or biking to them. Get out to the First Friday events near Main and Sheridan. Let’s live the life that we’ve wanted to live for so long. And maybe, our enjoyment and the giant smiles on our faces will offer more persuasion than any words can provide.

Personally, I am ecstatic about the ongoing changes in my neighborhood, and I am eagerly awaiting the bright future that seems to be heading our way. But, more than this, I want to be able to live at peace with my neighbors–all of them. So, above all, let us be at peace with each other as we continue to live together and share the city that we call Peoria.


Free Sleezy D

Last Saturday, Crystal and I took one of the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood. As we rounded University and Main–well, more or less, because of construction–I consulted my iPhone to get the correct address. That way, as we passed the unassuming green house, I could point at it and say, “That’s the house that was raided because of the Twitter thing.”

Yep. It’s making national news, and it happened just a few blocks away from where I live, just a few doors down from a vacant lot where once Youlandice Simmons lived.

It’s an ill-omened block, apparently.

If you’re not up on the news, here are some relevant links:

Fake Peoria mayor Twitter account prompts real raid of West Bluff house

THE POLICE RAIDED MY FRIEND’S HOUSE OVER A PARODY TWITTER ACCOUNT

Luciano: Controversy snowballs around Mayor Ardis’ response to Twitter parody

The search warrant, plus an inventory of what was seized in the raid

In particular, pay attention to the Luciano column, because he was actually able to get Mayor Ardis to comment on the record. And, from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t look very good. Mayor Ardis talked a lot about how the content of this Twitter account–with 50 followers at its height, remember!–was “vile” and unprintable in the local news. He talked about the effect on his family. He called out the perpetrator to reveal his name. But he failed to speak to the one thing that is actually on everyone’s mind:

By what right can you do this?

Put yourself in the shoes of the occupants of 1220 N. University (aka the “Stately Wayne Manor”). You answer a knock at the door to find police yelling at you, forcing themselves into your home, searching through your private spaces, and taking some of your most expensive stuff. But that’s not all. For some, police showed up at their workplaces to arrest them. For Jake Elliott, one result of this mayhem is that the job he’s had for twelve years is now in jeopardy. (Source)

Lives have been shattered over this. The sanctity of someone’s home has been violated. Peace of mind has been exploded. Or, to put it another way, their right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects was violated.

And essentially, the only defense Mayor Ardis makes is that he didn’t like what they were saying.

That’s not good enough. As a public official, Mayor Ardis is limited in how he is allowed to respond to such issues. That’s pretty much the point of the First Amendment. Admittedly, most Americans appeal to the First Amendment to argue that they can say whatever they want without repercussion, a belief that XKCD recently skewered. But the First Amendment does mean that citizens are free to engage in speech about their government without repercussion.

You know, like saying that the mayor does drugs.

So, why does this matter?

As I type, I’m just a few blocks from where this happened. The victims of this raid all live in University East. This means that police raided my neighbors. These are my people. And that’s reason enough.

But let’s go a step further.

There’s a famous poem about the Holocaust, written by Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Whenever force is used to suppress political dissent–even juvenile dissent–it harms the entire community and creates a chilling effect on other forms of political speech. Because we all received the message: say something the mayor doesn’t like, and you too could be raided.

There’s a public meeting on Wednesday about the traffic diverted in my neighborhood. Is it safe for me to air my opinion? What if my opinion is that I don’t trust the City to actually finish a project well and that they need to sequence any updates to make sure that my neighborhood doesn’t get screwed by a half-assed job? Can I say that safely?

Some of you might brush that away as hypothetical. Of course that sort of speech is protected. But how am I supposed to know that?

Or, to put it another way, a couple days ago, I mentioned to my wife that I was going to blog about this. And she was afraid, because I was going to criticize the mayor, and I have more reach than this silly Twitter account that we’re talking about. She got the message from the mayor, loud and clear.

But here I am anyways, asserting my First Amendment right to engage in political speech.

Mayor Ardis, you need to fix this. You have overstepped your bounds. I don’t care what was being said about you. You are the public servant holding a sacred public trust. A trust that you have violated. You need to apologize to the inhabitants of 1220 N. University. You need to drop all related charges. You need to return all items seized, plus restitution. You need to go public and admit that you were wrong and acted improperly.

You can still fix this.

Because, if not, I know that I’m not alone in thinking that this incident is reason enough to try to get you run out of office. If we can’t trust you to safeguard our basic rights, can we trust you with anything else?

The city awaits your reply.

The title for this post comes from comments by Jon Daniels, the author of the fake Twitter account.

“Tell them my name. Tell them I did it,” he said, acknowledging the cops have him cornered. “But when they lock me up, tell them to tweet using the hashtag #freesleezyd.”


Merry Christmas!

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

The kingdoms of the world are founded on bloodshed. One nation holds supremacy until another is strong enough to overcome it. They are like rabid dogs, tearing at each other in a perverse game of “king of the hill”.

But there is another kingdom, a holy nation. One whose law is love and whose proclamation is peace. In its borders there is room for all, as all are welcomed as brothers. And today, we celebrate the birth of the king of this kingdom, the inaugurator of the coming golden age, when all will rejoice together in the peace of God and rest beneath His blessed reign.

And the guns will fall silent forever, overcome by the sound of singing.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Quote of the moment

Over the years of conducting my research, I’ve been a leadership skeptic, influenced by the evidence that complex organizations achieve greatness through the efforts of more than one exceptional individual. The best leaders we’ve studied had a peculiar genius for seeing themselves as not all that important, recognizing the need to build an executive team and to craft a culture based on core values that do not depend upon a single heroic leader. But in cases of decline, we find a more pronounced role for the powerful individual, and not for the better. So, even though I remain a leadership skeptic, the evidence leads me to this sobering conclusion: while no leader can single-handedly build an enduring great company, the wrong leader vested with power can almost single-handedly bring a company down.

Choose well.

–Jim Collins, How the Mighty Fall, p.61-62


Vote C.J. Summers!

At last, C.J. Summers of the Peoria Chronicle announces his candidacy for Peoria City Council.

It’s late and I’m tired. Otherwise, I’d have some glowing words here about C.J. When he announces more details on his candidacy, I’ll say more about why I think voting for him is a no-brainer. But for now, I’ll just say that I’m really excited to have a candidate on a ballot that I can actually be excited about voting for.


A quick thought on hip-hop culture

This is one of those thoughts that has been kicking around in my head for a while that hopefully won’t get me in trouble.

So, since I was exposed to Christian hip-hop recently, I’ve been thinking about hip-hop culture. Folks like Lecrae, Trip Lee, or Thi’sl are always decrying the state of the black community, especially the glorification of sin that is a part of hip-hop culture. Just think about the stereotypical rap video: barely-dressed women draped over some rapper who is dripping with gold chains and giant jewelry, maybe driving down the street in a car with shiny rims, maybe smoking a joint or drinking from a champagne bottle. (Now, perhaps I’m a bit out of touch with the current scene, though, honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to go poking around too much for music videos to illustrate my point.)

And so, we look at this sort of thing and shake our heads in disgust. The filth! The depravity! The degradation of women! And, yeah, it’s all true.

Ah yes, the hip-hop dream: money, sex, and power, all on display. But then I ask myself, “How is this really different than rest of America?” Look at the mainstream culture. Think about the movies, the music, the magazines. Maybe the skin color is lighter, but aren’t there the same trends? Barely-dressed women, offering themselves? Fast cars? Pompous displays of wealth and power?

When you stop and think about it, we’re all chasing the same paper and lusting after the same things. Hip-hop culture is just more honest about it. (Well, it’s also gaudier in its pursuit, but that’s not really relevant.)

So, once again, the problem isn’t race or class or wealth. The problem is sin. And the answer, for both black and white, rich or poor, is repentance and faith in Jesus.


My jurisdiction question

In this blog post I asked several questions:

1) Orange Street isn’t on Bradley University’s campus, nor is there off-campus housing located on Orange Street (that I know of). How does the Bradley University Police Department have jurisdiction in front of my house?

2) Was this situation really resolved in a professional way by the Bradley University Police Department? Couldn’t they have prevented this from escalating? Better yet, was this really the best problem to focus on at this time?

3) Am I really required by law to carry identification on me at all times? Do I need a license to ride a bike?

I’ll grant that #2 is mostly rhetorical, but I’m serious about the other questions. In particular, I’d like to know the answer to question #1. What are the limits of the Bradley University Police Department’s jurisdiction? Can anyone answer this question for me?


A quick thought on prisons

I stumbled across an article today on the “pay-if-you-go” prison proposal. The short version of the proposal is that the government should force wealthy inmates to pay for their prison stays. The current example is the incarceration of the fraudster Bernie Madoff. As Daniel Freedman writes in Forbes:

In April of each year, the victims of Wall Street fraudster Bernard Madoff will write out checks to pay for his upkeep.

They will do it every time they pay their taxes–so that means ordinary taxpayers, too, deserve to feel aggrieved about Madoff’s offenses.

Freedman is right to be outraged; this is indeed an injustice. However, his solution is simply attempting to apply duct tape to a sinking ocean liner. The problem is systemic, and its roots are found in our flawed penology. We punish thieves–and Madoff is simply a clever thief–by warehousing them in prisons. Instead, what if we were to apply the penology found in Scripture?

If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.

(Exodus 22:1)

Restitution and punitive damages are the focus of a Biblical penology. The thief had to pay back what he stole, and then some. The thief didn’t owe “society”, which really means the government. Rather, he owed his victim.

If we were more concerned about addressing the wrong done to victims and less concerned about the harm done to the system, we would be able to make real progress towards doing justice in this nation. Until then, we will continue to have more and more desperate schemes like “pay-if-you-go”.


Quote of the moment

“Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.” (Augustine of Hippo)