Odium Surplus/Odium Deficit


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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28 Responses

  1. Avatar Erik Kain says:

    Remember, no hot-linking pictures. I fixed it.Report

  2. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “I think society may be better off leaving some punishment in the hands of citizen bystanders…”

    Yeah, everything was much better when we left it to the mob to determine how best to punish wanton sluts.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

      If you disagree, kindly specify a state-administered punishment for these wanton… um… young ladies.

      I wasn’t calling for mob violence.  I was only pointing out that our moral intuitions about crime and punishment turn out to be fairly complex, and that “debt to society” reasoning doesn’t come anywhere near capturing them.  If anything, the way it plays out in suggests that our punishments are too harsh in general, not too mild.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I’m not suggesting they should be punished at all.  But I wanted to point out that there’s some half-baked thinking in your post.  “Leaving some punishment in the hands of citizen bystanders” is an idea that goes real bad real fast.  If you weren’t calling for mob violence then what exactly were you calling for?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

          I wasn’t calling for anything that we don’t do already.

          We already find it a bad idea to let a convicted embezzler manage our money.  So we don’t let him.  This points up the inadequacy of debt-to-society reasoning about criminal justice, exactly as I said in the post.  Some aspects of that debt — or rather, some consequences of the act — are (and should be) private.Report

        • Avatar BSK in reply to DensityDuck says:


          I think he might have been getting at what I touched on before.  There are many ways in which the public can mete out justice that does not involve violence.

          Act like an asshole without breaking any laws?  You’ll spend your birthdays alone.



          • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to BSK says:

            Perhaps I was wrong, but when I read Jason’s post, I thought he was referring to citizen-initiated civil suits.  I realize now that’s not the only possible extrapolation of what he intended, but that was my go-to.  Of course, recourse to civil suits is (at least usually) not mob violence.Report

  3. Avatar BSK says:

    I’m not sure I understand the point here… all actions, criminal or otherwise, have consequences.  Some just, some not.  While we would be well served to seek proper mechanisms to eliminate unjust consequences (such as permanently disenfranchising felons), we ought not seek to eliminate just consequences just because they are extrajudicial.  In some ways, these “natural” or “inherent” consequences (as we call them in education) are often the most powerful ones.  The biggest question is how do we determine which are just and which are not.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BSK says:

      I think you understood it very well.Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


        As a teacher, there are actually a lot of behaviors I leave to the “free market” to correct (though I reserve the right to nudge as necessary).

        For instance, in my class this year two children (Joe and Jill) vie for the attention and affection of a third (Belle).  Belle does not do anything overtly mean, but she is not as caring or responsive to her friends’ needs in part because she doesn’t really have to be… if Joe is upset with her she goes to Jill; if Jill is upset with her, she goes to Joe.  Belle will often go back and forth about who she wants to play with on a given day, which is often motivated by a desire to play with both but not having the skills to manage such complex play (for those who don’t know me, I teach Kindergarten).  One day, after several rounds of flip flopping, Jill became incensed.  I pulled her aside to have a talk and explained that Belle was within her rights to decide who she wanted to play with and, technically, she was allowed to change her mind as much as she wanted.  I also explained that this can be very frustrated and if it makes Jill feel that way, she ought to seek out friends who make her feel good.  I called Belle over and helped Jill explain this to her and reiterated to both children that Belle was not doing anything against the rules (i.e., illegal) that I could or would correct for BUT her actions did have consequences which she ought to be mindful of.  If they were consequences she did not want to endure, then she needed to correct the behavior for herself.  If she was okay with that, so be it, but she is going to bear the brunt of that and will get little sympathy if/when she drives more of her friends away.  My hope is that she chooses the former route and, as her play and social skills develop, she is better prepared to navigate such nuanced relationships.  I knew though that no amount of my exerting control over the situation was going to lead to any solutions that lasted beyond my immediate sphere of influence.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BSK says:

          Some places would call that “harassment” based on “anti-bullying hysteria” and say that since nobody was actually physically attacking anyone then there wasn’t any problem that you needed to fix.Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to DensityDuck says:

            Call what “harassment”?  One child saying to another child, “I don’t like the way you play.  If you continue to play that way, I’m going to play with others”?

            There are many ways to define a “problem”.  It is entirely possible for problems to arise without anyone doing anything “wrong”.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BSK says:

              “I called Belle over and helped Jill explain this to her”.

              We live in a world where people get hazed into killing themselves, and the response is “hey life is tough and he just needed to learn to deal”.

              Note that I am not supporting this attitude.  I’m just pointing out that what you did wouldn’t necessarily be agreeable to everyone.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to BSK says:

      Which is, of course, the problem.

      I may think that slapping the label of Sex Offender on the 18 year old who was sleeping with his 16 year old girlfriend to be unjust, but her dad, who hated the little bastard from the start, might find otherwise.

      But I guess that is what that political sausage factory is all about, right?Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        What interests are served by slapping that label on him?  (Or what interests are violated in doing so?)

        What interests are served by not?  (Or what interests are violated in not doing so?)

        Answer those two (or four) questions and I think we are on our way.Report

  4. Avatar Morat20 says:

    Hmm. You might want to expand on this and consider the implications for criminals AFTER they have served their time — the legal implications.

    Third strike laws, for instance –even if you have served all your legal punishment (jail and probation), you might find yourself harshly punished for a new crime, based on one you have already paid for — sometimes far out of proportion to the offense.

    Or voting and other rights — some states never take those rights away from felons, others never return them. Some states (*Florida*) are a complete mess about them.


    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Morat20 says:

      Indeed.  Debt-to-society reasoning may lead to the following sorts of arguments:

      1.  We still don’t like or trust the guy.

      2. If we don’t like or trust him, that indicates an unpaid debt.

      3. Let’s impose another punishment.

      4.  But we still don’t like or trust the guy….

      The point being that financial debts, once paid, carry no residual odium.  Crimes both do and should.  (Though we should certainly argue about how much, and for how long, and why.  Just in a venue removed from the criminal justice system, I would say.)Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I always thought the whole point of debt to society type of intuitions were that this guy wronged us. he has been punished for it and has paid his debt. Now we welcome him back and let him start anew. i.e. the whole aim of the debt to society intuition is that once you have suffered in proportion to the harm you have caused, society ought not to make you suffer anymore. Also, the whole debt to society bit is aimed at not criminalises victimless acts as there is no debt to be paid in such cases.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

          Theories of restitution to the victim have a difficult time accounting for victimless crimes.  If smoking marijuana in private is harmful, at least it’s primarily harmful to me.  The crime inflicts its own punishment.

          But if “the victim” is society, and if I can wrong society by hurting myself, then potentially society can get restitution by taking something further from me.

          Of course, that action conveniently forgets that, in suffering a second harm, I may actually have caused society to suffer even further.  But debt-to-society reasoning isn’t premised on making an individual victim whole or right again.  It’s premised on something a lot less coherent, I think.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Profound thoughts.

            Debt to society I think made more sense when a lot of “charitable” work was ostensibly unpaid. Even for crimes where there is a victim, you can’t exactly give back a person’s dignity, respect — or the black eye you just gave them.

            I do believe that there are ways to make debt to society work — just that America does them quite rarely. I’ve seen a “learn english” guidebook based on Full Metal Jacket. Colorful and fun community service for an artist.

            I could see a graffitti artist employed to make murals — work like this enhances the dignity of an individual, and channels something creative into something socially acceptable.Report

          • Avatar Jeff in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            I’m surprised that in a group this nerdly, noone has brought up were-gilt.

            Re debt-to-society: I can see where helmet and seat-belt laws can fit in here.  Is there cost to society from someone splattering their brains across the highway?  Is the cost more than would be extracted from a ticket?  I like to think yes to both, but we all know I’m a bleeding heart liberal..Report

  5. Avatar MikeSchilling says:

    Many (perhaps most) cases of “odium surplus” amount to this:

     Having done X, you’ve revealed yourself as an X-doer.  Punishment will not erase that.  In our eyes, you will always be an X-doer.

    This is the rationale behind sex-offender registries. Also behind three-strikes laws: it’s not the crimes themselves, but that you’ve shown yourself to be a habitual criminal.  Unless you believe that punishment will change future behavior, the amount of it is irrelevant: you still wouldn’t trust an embezzler to handle your investments.Report

    • Avatar BSK in reply to MikeSchilling says:

      Which is why it’d be great if DISCIPLINE with its basis in teaching was utilized instead of punishment and criminals and other ne’er-do-wells were given oppourtunities not only to change and grow but to prove gptheir change and growth to society. Not everyone would take to it and some would remain untrusting (we have people who don’t trust law abiding folks because they share traits with law breaking folks) but it’d be a step in the right direction, no?Report

      • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to BSK says:

        This begins to sound suspiciously like “rehabilitation”, which we are all too tough-minded to believe in these days.  Lock them up, and if that doesn’t work, lock them up longer.  And kill a few, to encourage the others.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One of the first things to my mind are the mismatches I come across (or have come across in the past) that seem like a mismatch to me.

    Someone enjoys smoking marijuana on Saturday evenings.

    Someone is homosexual.

    Someone had an emotional affair.

    Someone cheated on her husband.

    Someone cheated on his wife.

    Someone published a fabricated news story.

    Someone killed someone else in a drunk driving accident.

    Many of these have more than one person I’m thinking about when I think about them. The gay guy in Michigan? Pariah. The same guy moves to Key West? He’s an upstanding member of the community. This pothead went to jail (again… he considered it a vacation). That pothead has a card and enjoys Saturdays like you wouldn’t believe.

    It’s a debt here, it’s a war story there.Report

  7. Avatar BSK says:

    Jason et al.-

    I watched “A Time To KIll” the other day and got to thinking more about this post.

    If you are not familiar with the movie, Samuel L. Jackson guns down two men who raped his young daughter and left her for dead.  The movie follows the trial and surrounding issues.  The defense claims temporary insanity.  He is acquitted, but since the verdict is never read on screen, we don’t know if it was a case of jury nullification or if they believed the insanity defense.

    Anyway, my question is this: Was SLJ’s debt-to-society mitigated by the fact that he killed two rapists, men who had their own unpaid debts?  Perhaps it wasn’t eliminated entirely, but what do you make of such “vigilante justice” and how it impacts the debt equations?Report