I read Kieran’s post, essentially a pointer to Bruce Western’s work on the social effects of mass imprisonment, and I’m struck by how much the comments at Crooked Timber just make me sad. It is a virtual showcase of spirit-crushing commentary. We have:
the reflex appeal to Levitt: “You cannot carry out a cost/benefit analysis of maintaining a high prison population unless you seriously consider the benefits.”
the political-swipe-dressed-as-social-science concern trolling: “The author criticises “folk theory of immutable criminality” but we are only ever offered (by leftwing criminologists) correlations between criminality and poverty. I say that this failure to prove causation makes the poverty-causes-crime argument just as much a folk theory.”
the Kurtz-like “Exterminate all the Brutes!” response: “Things will have to get far worse before they can get better. The system will have to collapse before it can be replaced with something more equitable. The Crime of Punishment by Karl Menninger today reads like a alien history from a distant and forgotten past. Which I suppose it is. There is also a good deal of torture going on in those private prison. You’ll never hear about it in the press.”
the stupid-response-followed-by-borderline-ad-hominem attack: “[stupid response].” “If you read the article linked, which deals in part with the effects of the US’s huge prison population on those imprisoned, on those close to them and on society at large, you might appreciate why a response like this is so stupid.”
the imponderable: “Basically, you rent the underclass. You employ all your citizens and pay them decent wages and you invite starving people from abroad to do all the menial work for next to nothing. As soon as a ‘guest worker’ raises his head and gives you a look – you kick him out of the country, no prisons necessary.”
the possibly-though-not-definite bad-faith remark followed by a total slap-down: “[possible bad-faith remark].” “wow virgil, you witnessed it first hand on the nightly news!!? You are a brave soul, venturing so far from your couch to gain real intelligence on the problems facing other peoples’ posses “in the hood”. word!”
This is just a sampling in the 3 hours since the post was published – and this is actually not bad compared to some other threads. The frustrating part is that CT provides such good contributors, and it seems to consist of a large audience of diverse and smart people; it is a deservedly built-up social platform. But I’ve just never seen a comment thread there that carries through with something approaching dignity. I had all prepared this explanation, but I don’t think that covers it. What is going on over thar?