Power, Punitive Proceduralism, and Sensemaking

The other day, I was on an online forum. On the forum, another writer and I were discussing the popularity of “punitive proceduralism”. The argument was, as backwards and against moral development as it may be, punitive proceduralism wins a lot of votes.

Why? Given that WSS does not endorse domestic violence, and given that punitive punishment often is a great fit for an institutionalized version of such an act, we validate that the cost to the nervous system is extremely expensive for both individual and society. Why would we love being made to pay in the future? Why would we love and vote to have our collective mechanisms of comprehension unnecessarily slowed down by trauma?

Really, why?

To make quick of it, punitive proceduralism is the process in which a set of laws or rules dictate access to the punitive mechanism a society is authorized to bring to force. Of course, the laws that dictate this access are subject to the tensions of interpretation; different interpretations will mean different clearances of course, unless someone can draw a tight common theme between the discrepancies (and that common theme must also be generally intelligible otherwise clearance will be caught up in endless educative frivolity. This means clearance itself is a socioeconomic conversation, as the average level of education in a country certainly is informed by its financial state, and its financial state deeply linked to its forms of retribution/justice.)

So let’s make a quick picture of the “prison of things” I am drawing here. Trauma → financial state → education quality/retention quality → ability to understand different rationalizations for the use of force → less/more nuanced applications of justice → culture-endorsed traumatization of agreed upon individual → collective financial state. And on and on the self-imprisonment goes. For more on the link between finances and trauma, there is a whole body of work. You can read one such work here.

The default to punitive proceduralism stems from two notions; the conservation of power when it is under high contention, and the idea that retaliation acts as a preventative mechanism. As far as retaliation goes, research shows that children love to punish the bad guy, and reward those authority figures that punish in the way that they collectively feel to be just. Obviously these sentiments are pathos-logical for a child does not have the logical cognitive constructions in place to understand the self-consistency inherently crafted (to some suitable extent) in legality.

For instance, in the case of “inconsistent” and “consistent” justice, children tend not to agree with individuals that punish the victim and when asked to recreate the experiment will punish who they believe to obviously be the perpetrator, not the victim instead. Of course, my analysis brings institutionalized domestic violence into the picture, equating both with victimhood nevertheless bringing weights to the component parts (a rape victim would obviously have more victimization than the perpetrator of the rape unless there was a very notable element like entrapment to the story, and exceedingly more if they were made to be the one who received punishment by a very lost injustice system.)

Essentially, there is a sense of prevention in watching such violence. “If I fit the bill of being suitably like this person, I can expect that.” It also makes the person who did in fact commit the crime less likely to engage. Whether or not they put together the logic of the legal system does not matter — they simply know the core theme, and avoid it to avoid pain. People reflect this avoidance as understanding, but I think it is fair to say after trauma comprehension is low and people are simply avoiding pain, not understanding principles. Given the long term effects of trauma on the populace, short term comprehension has not meaningfully gone up as a strong causal link cannot be made between crime and punishment in the face of trauma and long term comprehension has meaningfully gone down in the presence of trauma. Those subject to trauma are less likely to engage in general, proactively or antisocially, especially if the whole procedure made no sense to them.

Similarly, authorities who come to power under high contention often draw upon extreme cruelty and violence to instill a fear of wrath that buys them time away from harassing underminers/contention. Of course, if this wrath is not sufficient, it will only hearten people who feel they could outbid the force applied. But should the application of force be much higher than any other application, it does in fact buy some time for the authority to have space for uncontested sovereignty. We must remember, of course, these bids are informed by the recognition of power; those who have an appearance that is in bad collective credit with power (whether or not these credit applications are just or unjust) will therefore have more force required to apply in achieving power, earned or unearned. This higher cost for recognition may be equated with higher pathology by the inflexible who do not notice their biases against who they do or do not give contention when they arrive to power, all merits weighted.

The problem here is the cost to coming to power, as popular as this force may be, is the intelligence, clarity, and comprehension of the populace. The alternative, however, may be even more expensive — authorities that see no contention based merely on appearance may continue to be installed, despite their comparative incompetence to these notable but contended exceptions.

Let’s quickly draw a theme between voting and sensemaking to wrap this up. People vote because a position makes sense. A position makes sense to an individual at the level of their understanding. If their understanding is informed by a process of domestic violence, trauma, poor education and poor financial padding, what makes sense to this person may not be what would ultimately make the most sense for them. So they vote with their somatic intelligence, not their potential intelligence. They do not actually maximize the sense made by this vote, they simply vote with the limited constraints of their collective somatic intelligence informed by the above processes.

So how do we get ourselves out of the prison we unwittingly may vote or buy ourselves into?

  • Trauma-informed analysis
  • Class-conscious therapy
  • Subunitized and exceedingly clear legal, logical, and educative material
  • Realization of bias
  • Openness of mind, acceptance that DV is more costly in the long term than it is effective

To those that continue to fight for higher collective sense-making from a safe and more effective place of positive regard, you are seen and heard. Thank you immensely.

If you found this piece insightful, please donate to We’re Solving Society. gf.me/u/y47m8d

Seriously Passionate Activist and Math Education Practitioner. Nonperformative // noncoercive // mental health affirmative.