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Chapter 10. Some conditions for a low level of pain infliction

With these indeed all too short sketches as a common stock of information, we might be able to discuss some possible conditions for a low level of pain infliction. Let me organize that discussion around five basic categories: Knowledge, Power, Vulnerability, Mutual dependence and Belief system.

10.1. Knowledge

The importance of knowledge might be best illustrated in the contrasting features of a society of experts versus the subterranean pattern suggested through the stories from our valleys. All other things being equal, but obviously they are not, it seems to be a plausible hypothesis that the greater the amount of information on the totality of the life of the relevant system members, the less useful (and needed) are generalized concepts such as "sickness", "madness", -- and "crime". The system members come to know so much about each other, that the broad concepts in a way become too simple. They do not add information, they do not explain.

In Norwegian we have the word "bygdeoriginal". "The odd local character" might serve as a translation. Small-scale societies are not characterized by similarity in ways of presenting oneself, or in general behaviour. On the contrary, they exhibit a most colourful variation in the gallery of persons. A large amount of our older literature is filled with descriptions of them. These are not flat societies where everybody is and behaves just like everybody else. But such societies are often characterized by continuity in the highly individualized life styles. "Bygdeoriginalene" are persons created through a long period of interaction during which the parties get sufficient time to get to know each other. In this type of society, we find a great amount of variation between persons, but not so much in the person. Eccentricity is tolerated, but inconsistency is not. It becomes a tolerance of variation in the sense of consistent differences from the usual ways of behaving. It becomes tolerance of patterned behaviour so closely related to a specific individual that it might be called a personality trait. Strange people are tolerated, but their roles are not for hire.

But with so much information regarding the system members that the simple generalized abstractions do not suffice, the most simplified reactions towards unwanted behaviour do not suffice either. Crime and punishment. The two concepts are at the same level of abstraction. In a social system where the one is not useful, the other might not be useful either. Knowing the "bygdeoriginal" -- the odd local character -- the system members will understand his behaviour to an extent that makes one aware of the complexities in changing it. Simplified punishments will not be seen as natural and obligatory answers.

It is important to realize that not all small-scale societies have knowledge about their members. Smallness is no guarantee of knowledge, while at the same time some large systems contain considerable mutual information between the system members. A very important factor here is the question of how long the system has been in existence. Small societies without a common history will have no place for individualized deviance. There has not been the time, nor the encounters necessary, to create such roles. In a small-scale society with a limited amount of mutual knowledge between the system members, the demands will often be great for similarity in behaviour. Non-conforming will be categorized in abstract terms, and censured by simplistic actions. Systems with limited internal interaction will remain without a common history. Modern "dormitory towns" are exemplary cases. The extreme cases should probably not be called systems at all, since so little interaction is going on. Not even punishments will create interaction, since external police are called in and the rest of the procedure of punishment is done outside the system. To arrange the situation in a way that forced those who lived there in the non-system to cope with a breach of conformity without possibilities for exportation of the problem, would in itself help to create a system of the non-system. The need for pain infliction might thus be reduced through system-creating.

Another essential factor limiting common knowledge is segmentation. A small caste society might keep the participants efficiently separated. The effect of this will of course be increased through inequalities in power.

10.2. Power

People with power can deliver pain. Power means the ability to get other people to do what you want them to do, independently of their own wishes. The penal judge is above the defendant. He is protected by the symbols of the courtroom, the elevated bench, the robe, in some systems also the wig, the prestige of the building, the atmosphere, his training, affiliations, special class, and enjoys the advantage that the decisions are in reality made somewhere else; the judge is only carrying out a heavy task. His heart is bleeding, but he is obliged to act, to punish.

People without power are in quite a different situation. If they have no protection, or they are not strong, pain delivery is not a tempting alternative. The potential receiver would not take it. He would hit back. Intentional infliction of pain is easier the further away the recipient is from the deliveryman. Milgram (1965) has shown it experimentally. He hired people -- in the name of science -- to give electric shocks to other people. The hired ones were brought to believe that the object of the study was to find out whether people would learn faster if they were punished for mistakes. Few were hesitant to apply punishment, even when they thought the voltage was dangerously high. But they became hesitant the closer the victim was brought to them. I have similar data from a study of behaviour in concentration camps (Christie 1972). The more prisoners were able to define themselves as ordinary human beings vis-ā-vis the guards, the closer they came, the greater were their chances of survival. These prisoners were Jugoslavians in Nacht- und Nebel-camps in the North of Norway. Those who were able to learn the essentials of the language were protected, at least against intentional extermination. They made their guards vulnerable to the guards' usual standards of behaviour against usual humans. By talking, the prisoners became individualized and humanized. They came so close that punishment was seen to be what it really was.

Here we are at the heart of the matter. We saw how the neo-classical approach objectified the process of punishment. The choice was in a way made by other authorities, and by the criminal who started the whole thing. The judge became only a tool, an instrument of destiny. Delivery of pain is converted to the appropriate scientific method, and the yardstick is the gravity of the crime. The whims and wishes of the judge are of no importance, nor are those of the criminal. With a little help from computers, they do not need to meet at all. In other words, the whole situation is unusually well designed for a process of pain-inflicting.

If there is a conflict, and some people are given the task of doing something about it, we are faced with two alternatives. One is to give those people power. If so, that power must be controlled. Neo-classicism is one way of controlling power. Elaborate possibilities for appeal from the decisions of the power-holders is a related one. So also are training, professionalization and all sorts of "objectifying mechanisms" such as rules of competence, protection by rank, and selection by qualifications. The solution at the other extreme is that those given the task of handling the conflict are not given power. The dwarf at the royal court symbolizes the idea; so small that he was unusually well suited as a go-between -- until he became a specialist, and was therefore regarded as potentially dangerous. The child might sometimes take on this role in a family conflict. Or one whose advanced age made him an outsider might take the role. The other symbol on this side is the independent third party -- asked to help, but not given authority to enforce, and with no possibility of personal gain related to the outcome of the conflict.

10.3. Vulnerability

A way of controlling power is to make the wielders of power vulnerable. Vulnerability might be established in several ways. Three are particularly important. They are vulnerability through equality in status, through equality in qualifications, and through close and available physical proximity.

The importance of proximity is exemplified in the recent discussion of neighbourhood-police. As a reaction against the alienated conditions in many urban areas, several attempts have been made to decentralize police services as well as social and health services. It is again an expression of one of the many pendulum moves in society. After having destroyed municipal police systems, the numerous small police stations, the small health units, and the general practitioners in so many areas of life, it is now in vogue to re-create them. Police cars and electronics did not quite make up for the loss of that old constable Bollingmo who patrolled my neighbourhood in my early childhood. So, we re-invent him. We do, as in Oslo quite recently, convert some caravans into local police stations, allocate a permanent squad to serve there, and make serious attempts to let the police come closer to those they ought to serve. It is at the same time an attempt to become able to control the controllers. Police cannot be controlled through bureaucratic means. As Stökken (1974) has underlined, police work leaves little trace on paper, if the police so wish. That makes control from above close to impossible. The alternative is control from below, from the public in contact with the police. But to make that type of control efficient, the police must be converted into a neighbourhood-police.

There are, however, sceptics around. Stan Cohen (1979) and Thomas Mathiesen (1978) are among them. The core of the critique centres on Focault's (1975) concept of the disciplined society. And they are right. These become uneven relationships. Prisons might be abolished by a method that makes the whole society into something similar to it. Within the police, it is not old constable Bollingmo we re-create. It is a stream-lined officer integrated in quite another way into a huge, army-like unit with great striking capacity. The electronics are there, and the cars. The new "local" policemen are only local in the sense of being there while on duty. They have no lasting commitment; they leave the beat after service-hours. They leave for a life unknown to those who remain. In other words, they are not vulnerable. The old local policeman was. He had of course his status as a policeman, and he could call for assistance. In bad cases he could mobilize the power of the State. But he would not call in external authorities all the time. He was in so many ways a hostage of his community. He lived there, or close by. His children were in their schools, his wife in their stores. This was not a case of the iron fist and the velvet glove (Cooper 1974). This was a case of real vulnerability. In contrast to this, a decentralized system of control by personnel anchored outside the system might easily convert into a system of espionage completely uncontrolled by the system-members themselves. To avoid a perversion, the idea of a decentralized police service presupposes a police force dependent on the neighbourhood it is to police, with weak links to the police force outside the neighbourhood and with important changes in the organization of the ordinary police. If we let the neighbourhood police expand, we must shrink the central police and block the communication channels between centre and periphery. The police must be seen as a total system. If we just add neighbourhood police, we come dangerously close to "the punitive city" so well described by Cohen (1979). The vulnerability of the police has to be preserved.

"Special qualifications" represent another shield against vulnerability. Experts on social matters have that form of defence. They are certified as more competent than-others on social matters. They are trained in a language peculiar to their equals. They will come to the local office for social matters to serve the community, but will easily end up as rulers. More than the policemen, they are out of control, seen from the locals' point of view. They are not designed to let people cope with their conflicts, but to solve the conflicts for them. And as judges, they are preprogrammed to disregard certain possibilities, and put emphasis on others. But in contrast to judges, they are not trained into a realization that they are handling conflicts. They will, like the old treatment personnel within crime control, easily convert into pain-delivering persons under the disguise of being health personnel.

With increased insights regarding the dangers of power and the needs for vulnerability maybe the time was ripe to re-establish the respectability of the Child Welfare Boards and the Temperance Boards we have in most of Scandinavia. Again a pendulum move; after heavy criticism of the boards, now back to the boards! But it would have to be back to a different type of boards than those operating today. It would actually be a form much closer to the law-makers' original intentions with these boards, only with some changes due to our experience up to now, and because they are to function in a different society. These new boards would not be the domain of the child savers (Platt 1969). We have gained experience. We will man them with equals. Nor would they get power. We know more now about the paralysing effects of power on social systems. Respectable boards would not get functionaries either. They would consist of members, not rulers. And lastly, but important for the boards' possibilities for useful functioning, they would operate in a completely new social setting. The old boards came into being in societies where poverty was still an important fact of life. The child savers from the last century are probably less open to criticism when evaluated according to their own time. Ours is the post-welfare state in the sense that the supply of basic social needs is to a large extent taken for granted.

10.4. Mutual dependence

Social systems do not waste essential members. Verner Goldschmidt (1954) was instrumental after the second world war in writing down the first "non-penal" criminal law of Greenland (or Kaladlit Nunat -- "the land of the human being" as that continent is called after the establishment of some independence from Denmark). The law represents an attempt to codify Eskimo traditions and views. And a strong theme in Goldschmidt's writing is the emphasis on peacemaking and limitations on loss of system members. To create a situation where a good hunter loses face means a risk that the local community loses the man. The community would therefore resort to other means.

Emile Durkheim (1933) differentiates between societies based on organic versus mechanical solidarity. He finds organic solidarity in societies with a highly developed division of labour. Here participants become dependent on each other; they exchange services, and thereby become mutually controlled. The contrast is a society of equals, where the members are in a way glued together through similarity. Durkheim calls it a society based on mechanical solidarity. With modernization, societies move, according to Durkheim, from mechanical solidarity towards organic solidarity, and punitiveness decreases.

I can follow Durkheim all along, with the exception of the last sentence above. Durkheim was indeed a product of the French urban culture. He quotes with approval a statement that if one has seen one Indian, one has seen them all, while it is obvious that among civilized people two individuals can immediately be seen as different. This bias has probably made him blind to the amount of variation in small-scale societies, and also to the problems of control within the large ones. Since he believes that small "primitive" societies consist of equal persons, he sees limited reasons for exchange of services. But then he is losing what could have been his best example of organic solidarity: a small-scale society with lots of mutual dependence and where the participants cannot be replaced. Here organic solidarity can be said to function at its maximum, and so does also the parties' possibility of exercising mutual control. In large units, conditions for solidarity are more limited, since roleincumbents might so easily be exchanged. We can buy them at the labour market and use the leftovers as targets for pain.

10.5. Belief system

The collectivities described in Chapter 9 allow us to approach this problem. Tvind does, to a certain extent, apply punishments, even though eviction is its major form. But Tvind is a highly centralized system with inequalities in authority and a great circulation of members who do not come to know each other that well. Christiania cannot punish because there is no one in authority. Vidaråsen cannot, because the idea is impossible.

That is no explanation, I know, so let me try again. Let us move back to the supper-table. Let us think that Vidar drops the teapot, intentionally. I cannot think he ever would, but let us nevertheless try to think of it.

First, to inflict pain on Vidar -- what might that accomplish? To Vidar, who is so kind, so complex, who has problems enough, whose total biography many know and whose total existence just now is known to everybody around the table: delivery would not just be delivery, and the pain would be everybody's pain. There is too much shared knowledge in the system.

On the other hand: In a system like Vidaråsen, power is not equally shared. It cannot be denied that some people are in many ways quicker than other people. They are thereby able to get their way, and they are protected against counter-sanctions. This is obvious, but compensated by a beliefsystem. Vidaråsen has one which keeps power under control, which makes people equal. If the body is only a shelter for a dignified soul, the system members are brought into positions of mutual respect. They become respected equals to an extent that makes pain-infliction a rather far-fetched idea. In addition, they have ideas that it is more right to serve other people than to use them as servants. This again restricts the possibilities of using other people's suffering as a means for the upkeep of law and order.

But of course, this opening for the importance of beliefs is also an opening for the importance of beliefs that ask for pain. The Palace of Inquisitions at Cartagena is such a beautiful building. Here they lived in dignity and comfort the kind priests, with the chamber of torture just one floor below. And I use the word kind without any irony. I am convinced that many among them were just kind believers in God, rescuing the poor souls. To the inquisitors, Hell was a reality, and they delivered pain with a preventive purpose.

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