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Baroness Stern, Workman, Brooking, Pratt, culture war and the Sensible Sentencing Trust

  • November 12th, 2012

I thought I should go to hear Baroness Stern condemning imprisonment, just in case she had more to offer in person than appears to be the case from googling her public utterances. One should be open to argument. But listening to such people is often like sitting through bad church sermons.

This liberals' version of the evangelical revival meeting has a standard pattern.

A limited range of self evident "truths" are recited. They draw spurious support from:

  • anecdote (rehabilitations we have known)
  • folk myth (deterrence doesn't work)
  • straw man arguments ('prison doesn't work' because it doesn't reform) and
  • "research" which confuses correlation with causation and omits fundamentals like control groups and realistic counterfactuals. 

The sermon starts with recitation of universal desiderata such as, less crime, more rehabilitation, better parenting, money spent on "intervention" instead of punishment. Then there is the appeal to elite vanity (we who are unlike other men because of our superior compassion and intelligence) followed by identification of the enemy (the rude unwashed, the majority, rednecks). Cliche solutions arelisted but not articulated (much more early 'intervention', fences  at the top of the cliff, instead of…. etc). If they were articulated the preachers could be tasked with explaining what level of personal liberty compromise they'll accept for interventions that co work.

Then there will be some exploration of false alternatives with which to revile opponents (we're too quick with prison for minor infractions, they should have had more chances with 'community sentences. many are not dangerous, they should be left to care for their families) and the sermon finishes with denunciation of the sins among those who do not share the faith.

But I took the Stern address out of my diary when I was reminded of just how personally unpleasant so many of these defenders of the justice establishment can be by a long attack on Garth McVicar. So The Sunday Star Times  saved me from myself.

I like to assume that most New Zealanders campaign from a sincere wish to see a better world, and disagreement is just on how to get there. We should presume that local opponents are largely decent, if misguided. The Sunday Star Times reminds us not to be naive. To the left in the culture wars the key point is to identify the other tribe, to highlight tribal belief markers, and to justify personal dislike of its members.

I know from personal involvement how false are the SST article's attacks on Garth McVicar and the victims who have joined him. And some of the  SST critics quoted in the article have had plenty of invitation to test their theories directly with victims. Unlike the lamented Greg King, they've chosen not to.

I think those hostile to Mr McVicar don't want to risk losing their excuses for personal animosity. They've too much invested to risk letting reality (like the staggering fall in US crime rates) invalidate their faith. Hence my ruminating on the close paralells between left/liberal sanctimony, and religious bigotry. 

I suspect some of  the critics have a personal need to punish.So they must vilify neretics.


  • philob
  • November 15th, 2012
  • 8:17 pm

Yes Stephen, I see at the Club dinner is included. So I suppose it is a love-in. No criticism please.

  • Bruce
  • November 16th, 2012
  • 7:02 pm

Thanks Stephen. I have enjoyed your wisdom for a while and today I would like to congratulate you on the beauty of your writing. Your prose is something to behold. if only you were still in a position whereby your wisdom was recorded in Hansard for the edification of future generations. Thanks

  • Bruce
  • November 16th, 2012
  • 7:05 pm

Hi Stephen I have enjoyed your wisdom for a while and today it is conveyed in the most beautiful prose. It is a real shame you are no longer in the position whereby your words were able to be recorded in Hansard for the edification of future generations. Thanks.

  • Paranormal
  • November 18th, 2012
  • 1:50 pm

Having now heard her on State radio with the wet Chriss Laidlaw, I’m in awe of your ability to sit through such drivel in person.

  • M Steinberg
  • November 27th, 2012
  • 1:51 pm

Steven Levitt’s paper on the role of increased incarceration in reducing the US crime rate strongly supports McVicar’s argument. Increasing police numbers also helps.

Levitt, Steven D. (Winter 2004). “Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not” (PDF). Journal of Economic Perspectives 18: 163–190.

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