Theodore Dalrymple on choice, crime and the importance of punishment:
One of the explanations of ill behaviour, if you like, is a kind of mechanical one. People have certain experiences and they react to them in a certain self-destructive way, as if their behaviour was that of a billiard ball being impacted by another billiard ball… [But] agency is extremely important. You don’t deny that things are more difficult for some people than for others, but if you deny the agency of people, then you begin to treat them as objects rather than as subjects.
There’s been a very strong current in British intellectual circles that criminality is akin to an illness, and therefore it’s wrong to treat it as something that people have any control over. And of course this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In England, the leniency of our criminal justice system - precisely, I think, because of our tendency to sociologise everything, to say that people are not agents… this actually promotes criminality… It’s as if criminals didn’t have thought processes like us, [as if] they’re completely different from people like us. But they’re not different from people like us, on the whole…
It’s very curious how people say that prison doesn’t work because a high proportion of prisoners when they come out commit offences again, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere in a British publication that this might indicate that actually they should be in prison for longer. Another very obvious consideration, which is completely beyond the British intellectual class, is that the number of victims of crime is very much greater than the number of perpetrators. So each perpetrator actually creates large numbers of victims, and therefore it’s not kind to people who live in areas where there’s a lot of criminality not to deal properly with the criminals. We deal with criminality as if it is a benefit received by the poor, instead of what it is, one of the great hardships of being poor.
Mr Dalrymple’s views are somewhat at odds with those found in the pages of the Guardian, where readers are told with great certainty that burglary is “really quite inconsequential,” unworthy of punishment, and that anger at being burgled and the subsequent sense of violation are somehow trivial, plebeian and unsophisticated. Such that expectations of lawfulness and justice - and not being preyed upon, repeatedly, with impunity - are airily dismissed as “idiotic attitudes.”