Norway's gentler criminal system uses something called "restorative justice," which appears to be potentially better at reducing crime than our own, but at a real cost.
Anders Breivik waits in his Oslo courtroom. (AP)
As an American, or maybe just as a moral human being, it's hard not to feel appalled, even outraged, that Norwegian far-right monster Anders Breivik only received 21 years in prison for his attacks last year, including a bombing in Oslo and a cold-blooded shooting spree, which claimed 77 lives. That's just under 100 days per murder. The decision, reached by the court's five-member panel, was unanimous. He will serve out his years (which can be extended) in a three-room cell with a TV, exercise room, and "Ikea-style furniture." The New York Timesquoted a handful of survivors and victims' relatives expressing relief and satisfaction at the verdict. It's not a scientific survey, but it's still jarring to see Norwegians welcoming this light sentence.
Norway's criminal justice system is, obviously, quite distinct from that of, say, the U.S.; 21 years is the maximum sentence for anything less severe than war crimes or genocide. Still, it's more than that: the entire philosophy underpinning their system is radically different. I don't have an answer for which is better. I doubt anyone does. But Americans' shocked response to the Breivik sentence hints at not just how different the two systems are, but how deeply we may have come to internalize our understanding of justice, which, whatever its merits, doesn't seem to be as universally applied as we might think.
The American justice system, like most of those in at least the Western world, is built on an idea called retributive justice. In very simplified terms (sorry, I'm not a legal scholar), it defines justice as appropriately punishing someone for an act that's harmful to society. Our system does include other ideas: incapacitating a criminal from committing other crimes, rehabilitating criminals to rejoin society, and deterring other potential criminals. At its foundation, though, retributive justice is about enforcing both rule of law and more abstract ideas of fairness and morality. Crimes are measured by their damage to society, and it's society that, working through the court system, metes out in-turn punishment. Justice is treated as valuable and important in itself, not just for its deterrence or incapacitative effects. In a retributive system, the punishment fits the crime, and 21 years in a three-room cell doesn't come close to fitting Breivik's 77 premeditated murders.
Norway doesn't work that way. Although Breivik will likely be in prison permanently -- his sentence can be extended -- 21 years really is the norm even for very violent crimes. The much-studied Norwegian system is built on something called restorative justice. Proponents of this system might argue that it emphasizes healing: for the victims, for the society, and, yes, for the criminal him or herself. Sounds straightforward enough, but you might notice that there's nothing in there about necessarily punishing the criminal, and in fact even takes his or her needs into account.
"Restorative justice thus begins with a concern for victims and how to meet their needs, for repairing the harm as much as possible, both concretely and symbolically," explains a 1997 academic article, by a scholar of restorative justice named Howard Zehr, extolling the systems' virtues. In the Breivik trial, this meant giving every victim (survivors as well as the families of those killed) a direct voice. Victims were individually represented by 174 court-appointed lawyers. The court heard 77 autopsy reports, 77 descriptions of how Breivik had killed them, and 77 minute-long biographies "voicing his or her unfulfilled ambitions and dreams." In an American-style retributive system, the trial is primarily about hearing and evaluating the case against the criminal. Norway does this too, but it also includes this restorative tool of giving space to victims, not as evidence, but to make the trial a forum for those victims to heal and to confront the man who'd harmed them. The trial itself is about more than just proving or disproving guilt, but about exorcising the victims' suffering.
What about the criminal? Of course, Norway is locking Breivik away in part to keep him safely cordoned off from society. Beyond that, the restorative "model encourages offenders to understand the consequences of their actions or to empathize with victims," Zehr explains. That begins with the trial, where he or she is encouraged to grapple with the wrongness of their actions; Breivik gave no sign of doing this, a remorseless, fist-pumping neo-Nazi to the very end. The process continues during the incarceration, which is treated less as a form of punishment than as a sort of state-imposed rehabilitation. It's not a categorial difference from the American model, which includes a number of rehab and therapeutic offerings, but, with Breivik about to enjoy some not insignificant creature comforts in his three-room cell, the emphasis is clearly distinct.
The pleasant-sounding experience of being in Norwegian prison isn't some sign of Scandinavian weakness or naïveté; it's precisely the point. A comfortable cell, clean and relaxing environment, and nice daily activities such as cooking classes are all meant to prepare the criminal for potentially difficult or painful internal reformation. Incarceration, in this thinking, is the treatment for whatever social or psychological disease led them to transgress. The criminals are not primarily wrongdoers to be punished, but broken people to be fixed.
In an ideal restorative trial, the criminal will not just be passively punished for his or her crime, but actively take "responsibility for making things right with victims and the community as far as possible," as Zehr puts it. This "restitution" can include "money and services, to victims and the community." But that's just an ideal, and Zehr acknowledges that "society rarely achieves justice that is fully restorative." It's hard to imagine Breivik ever getting to this point (experts expect his sentence to be extended indefinitely), though others do, and he will be joining a prison system designed for those to-be-reformed.
Here's the tough thing about restorative justice: it works, as long as you don't consider retribution to be its own inherent good. Despite the lighter sentences, restorative justice systems seem to reduce crime, reduce the cost of imprisoning criminals, and reduce recidivism. There's no comparative data on which system better satisfies victims, but survivors and family members at the Breivik trial, at least, spent days of court time listening to, crying over, and applauding one another's stories. And this approach isn't just for well-off Scandinavian societies; Saudi Arabia has claimed considerable success applying the restorative models to terrorists and violent extremists.
But, even if we accept all of the data suggesting that society as a whole is better off under a Norwegian-style restorative model, those numbers don't account for the more abstract, difficult-to-define sense of justice as its own inherent good. Whatever you feel when you read about a criminal going free, see a wrongdoer get away with it, or hear that a mass murderer got sentenced to only 21 years, those emotions might be rooted in a basic human need for justice and fairness. A 2003 Princeton psychological study, for example, isolated a feeling of "moral outrage felt by those who witness transgressions." A German study from last year found that people who believe they've witnessed injustice become less happy, as if living in a just society were an intrinsic emotional need.
Norwegian-style restorative justice subverts those human desires for justice and fairness, which does seem to have found success in reducing crime's cost to society. Proponents, such as University of Oslo professor Thomas Mathiesen, say it's better for society overall because it isn't about "revenge, but sober, dignified treatment." But is the retributive-style need for justice and fairness really only about "revenge," or is it something more important than that? The retributive approach absolutely has its pitfalls -- the American system's heavy emphasis on punishment has a history of leading it to horrific excess and abuse -- but at least it's meant to be just. I don't know how you balance that against the overall social good, which Norway's gentler system seems to have found success in promoting, but the vastly different philosophies undergirding the two systems are a reminder that, even if right and wrong are universal, how society treats them is not.
The First Lady took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention, and united a divided hall.
Most convention speeches are forgotten almost before they’re finished. But tonight in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama delivered a speech that will be replayed, quoted, and anthologized for years. It was as pure a piece of political oratory as this campaign has offered, and instantly entered the pantheon of great convention speeches.
Obama stepped out onto a stage in front of a divided party, including delegates who had booed almost every mention of the presumptive nominee. And she delivered a speech that united the hall, bringing it to its feet.
She did it, moreover, her own way—forming a striking contrast with the night’s other speakers. She did it without shouting at the crowd. Without overtly slamming Republicans. Without turning explicitly negative. Her speech was laden with sharp barbs, but she delivered them calmly, sometimes wryly, biting her lower lip, hitting her cadence. It was a masterful performance.
When something goes wrong, I start with blunder, confusion, and miscalculation as the likely explanations. Planned-out wrongdoing is harder to pull off, more likely to backfire, and thus less probable.
But it is getting more difficult to dismiss the apparent Russian role in the DNC hack as blunder and confusion rather than plan.
“Real-world” authorities, from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia to FBI sources to international security experts, say that the forensic evidence indicates the Russians. No independent authority strongly suggests otherwise. (Update the veteran reporters Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite evidence that the original hacker was “an agent of the Russian government.”)
The timing and precision of the leaks, on the day before the Democratic convention and on a topic intended to maximize divisions at that convention, is unlikely to be pure coincidence. If it were coincidence, why exactly now, with evidence drawn from hacks over previous months? Why mail only from the DNC, among all the organizations that have doubtless been hacked?
The foreign country most enthusiastic about Trump’s rise appears to be Russia, which would also be the foreign country most benefited by his policy changes, from his sowing doubts about NATO and the EU to his weakening of the RNC platform language about Ukraine.
For the party elders, day one of the convention was about scolding the left back together.
Against a restive backdrop, the party’s top lieutenants were forced into the role of prime time peacemakers, tasked with encouraging Democratic unity in a party that has only lately acquiesced to tenuous detente. They did so through a combination of alarmist truth telling—borne from the reality of a Trump-Clinton matchup that has lately gotten tighter—and cold-water scolding about party division—driven equally by frustration and exhaustion.
The pressures of national academic standards have pushed character education out of the classroom.
A few months ago, I presented the following scenario to my junior English students: Your boyfriend or girlfriend has committed a felony, during which other people were badly harmed. Should you or should you not turn him or her into the police?
The class immediately erupted with commentary. It was obvious, they said, that loyalty was paramount—not a single student said they’d “snitch.” They were unequivocally unconcerned about who was harmed in this hypothetical scenario. This troubled me.
This discussion was part of an introduction to an essay assignment about whether Americans should pay more for ethically produced food. We continued discussing other dilemmas, and the kids were more engaged that they’d been in weeks, grappling with big questions about values, character, and right versus wrong as I attempted to expand their thinking about who and what is affected—and why it matters—by their caloric choices.
The Democratic chairwoman had few supporters—but clung to her post for years, abetted by the indifference of the White House.
PHILADELPHIA—As Debbie Wasserman Schultz made her unceremonious exit as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, what was most remarkable was what you didn’t hear: practically anybody coming to her defense.
The Florida congresswoman did not go quietly. She reportedly resisted stepping down, and blamed subordinates for the content of the leaked emails that were released Friday, which clearly showed the committee’s posture of neutrality in the Democratic primary to have been a hollow pretense, just as Bernie Sanders and his supporters long contended. She finally relinquished the convention gavel only after receiving three days of strong-arming, a ceremonial position in the Clinton campaign, and a raucous round of boos at a convention breakfast.
Psychologists have long debated how flexible someone’s “true” self is.
Almost everyone has something they want to change about their personality. In 2014, a study that traced people’s goals for personality change found that the vast majority of its subjects wanted to be more extraverted, agreeable, emotionally stable, and open to new experiences. A whopping 97 percent said they wished they were more conscientious.
These desires appeared to be rooted in dissatisfaction. People wanted to become more extraverted if they weren’t happy with their sex lives, hobbies, or friendships. They wanted to become more conscientious if they were displeased with their finances or schoolwork. The findings reflect the social psychologist Roy Baumeister’s notion of “crystallization of discontent”: Once people begin to recognize larger patterns of shortcomings in their lives, he contends, they may reshuffle their core values and priorities to justify improving things.
Two new novels ponder the still-urgent question of what could have compelled young women to do such terrible things.
The most fascinating part of the Manson story has always been the girls.
Not the man who cobbled together bits of hippie philosophy, Scientology and How to Win Friends and Influence People to gather followers who’d do his bidding and help make him a star (and when that didn’t work out, kill people to try to start a race war). The ones willing and vulnerable enough to be gathered. Who wanted a community to belong to.
Even now, no one knows whether Charles Manson believed his own insane manifesto, or was just using it as a tool to get what he wanted. But the girls believed. Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins—they believed. They belonged. And then, on two infamous evenings in 1969, they helped kill seven people.
Stock-market crashes, terrorist attacks, and the dark side of “newsworthy” stories
Man bites dog. It is one of the oldest cliches in journalism, an acknowledgement of the idea that ordinary events are not newsworthy, whereas oddities, like a puppy-nibbling adult, deserve disproportionate coverage.
The rule is straightforward, but its implications are subtle. If journalists are encouraged to report extreme events, they guide both elite and public attitudes, leading many people, including experts, to feel like extreme events are more common than they actually are. By reporting on only the radically novel, the press can feed a popular illusion that the world is more terrible than it actually is.
Take finance, for example. Professional investors are fretting about the possibility of a massive stock-market crash, on par with 1987’s Black Monday. The statistical odds that such an event will occur within the next six months are about 1-in-60, according to historical data from 1929 to 1988. But when surveys between 1989 and 2015 asked investors to estimate the odds of such a crash in the coming months, the typical response was 1-in-10.
Physicists can’t agree on whether the flow of future to past is real or a mental construct.
Einstein once described his friend Michele Besso as “the best sounding board in Europe” for scientific ideas. They attended university together in Zurich; later they were colleagues at the patent office in Bern. When Besso died in the spring of 1955, Einstein—knowing that his own time was also running out—wrote a now-famous letter to Besso’s family. “Now he has departed this strange world a little ahead of me,” Einstein wrote of his friend’s passing. “That signifies nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Einstein’s statement was not merely an attempt at consolation. Many physicists argue that Einstein’s position is implied by the two pillars of modern physics: Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric—that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called “time” increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call “now”—a special moment (or so it appears) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a “block universe”—a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it, must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion.