Rebirth of Reason


Some Fallacies Underlying Tifft & Sullivan’s "Needs-Based Criminology"
by Michael E. Marotta

Some Fallacies Underlying Tifft & Sullivan’s “Needs-Based Criminology”
By Michael E. Marotta
CRIM 610: Theories of Criminal Behavior
Dr. Gregg Barak
Eastern Michigan University
April 8, 2009 

“Anarchist criminology is unique among the many criminologies because it grows out of a needs-based political economy of relationship and conception of justice.  Its advocates are interested not only in pointing to those persons, groups, organizations, and nation-states that deny people their needs in everyday life but also in fostering social arrangements that alleviate pain and suffering by providing for everyone’s needs. … This calls attention to the need to transform all modes of human interaction based on claims of superiority, whether grounded in reasons of class, gender, race, age, sexual preference, intelligence, meritorious achievement, rights or species.” – Larry Tifft and Dennis Sullivan, “Needs-Based Anarchist Criminology,” The Essential Criminology Reader, edited by Stuart Henry and Mark M, Lanier, Westview Press, 2006.

A world based on needs reduces us all to a population of beggars.  No one can have a belt until everyone has shoes.  No one can go to college as long as someone is illiterate.  No one can have three meals until everyone has two.  Whether by nature, or nurture, or choice, whether by accident or destiny, the person who needs the most becomes the goal of everyone else’s labor. 

Does anyone need tobacco?  Does anyone need meat?  Or milk?  Is there a biological need for marijuana or wine or coffee?  Does anyone need two shirts? 

Who says what you need?  If you can say, then you can demand whatever you want based on an argument of need, perhaps for relaxation, a moment’s peace or a year-long vacation.  And anyone else can come along and demand half of your time off – or all of it – based on a greater need because of illness or depression or inspiration.  If someone else decides what you need, then what is the standard?  And how do you make your plea for a new coat or a new computer? 

Humans lived for tens of thousands of years – and many still do – without a light bulb, a wristwatch, a television.  The world got along without millions of books, CDs, films, plays, concerts and operas.  Who decides if we need a new idea, a new work of art, a new labor-saving device.  We got along without the post and lintel to frame a door and once that was invented, was there ever a need for the arch? 

Who needs to read and write?  Not everyone.  Who needs long division, square roots or differential equations?  Why is so much human effort invested at these abstract tasks when the world needs sustainable farming?  Given farming, do we need fishing?

If you can say that everyone needs food and it must be provided to them on the basis of their need, whether by nature, nurture or choice they are unable or unwilling to earn it, then how do you deal with the fact that everyone needs love – whether they earn it or not?

In a world based on needs, every new mouth is a new lifetime of demands on the labor of others.  Giving “to each according to her needs” depends on taking “from each according to her ability.”  In a world of needs, who decides where her labor is best invested, whether writing poetry or pulling a plow?  Would a person of high intellectual ability design a jet aircraft or space station that no one needs?  We know from the archaeological record that even brain surgery can be performed without anesthetic and with stone tools. 

And the need for surgery is arguable to a practitioner of herbal medicine, chiropractic, chakra manipulation or homeopathy.  Who will decide which of those or any other medical practice you will need?  If you can decide that your need for medical care requires that someone else spend ten years learning how to treat you when you need it, then you become a slave-owner.  What motivation would there be for the person with such skill to be your slave?  If you think that they will want to serve your needs out of the goodness of their hearts, then are you willing to quarry stones for as many hours a day for as long as you are needed for the rest of your life? 

No one needs to live on the edge of a glacier.  This became possible to humans only as we successfully exploited animals by killing them for their skins and meat.  The food we now give to cows would feed whole nations.  There is no gentle way to raise cattle, fowl and swine and then kill them.  If humans were limited to the tropical band 23.5° North and South, the world would return to its state a million years ago before humans destroyed whole species – a task accomplished by the first Native Americans as it had been done by the first Europeans.  We would not need clothing.  We could live on vegetables.  There would not be a hundred thousand of us. 

A world based on needs is a world based on slavery and death. 

You never questioned it.  You learned instead to question the motives and morals of the people who provide you with cell phones and skyscrapers and with berries out of season flown to you on jumbo jet freighters.  You accepted cynicism as inquiry and doubt as the limit of knowledge and you learned to blank out of your perceptive fields those for whom inquiry serves a material purpose and for whom doubt is only the threshold of exploration.  You condemn greed as a sin of choice and excuse poverty as an accident of fate.  To that extent – according to a process of thought you have not discovered – you are right: Material wealth, comforts, and achievements are the result of conscious choices to think, while ignorance and pain, poverty and death are the consequences of not thinking. 

Thinking is not just memorizing – though keeping a few things in your head at once is helpful.  Thinking is the non-contradictory identification of the evidences of your senses.  Your senses evolved over billions of years to report to you the nature of the world around you.  The senses are automatic – and they can be trained and refined.  Thinking is not automatic.  It is a skill we have learned only recently, in geologic time, and many people survive without it because they are able to repeat the actions taught to them by others who learned to think.  This is why there are millions of years between the first stone tools and the microlithic revolution of the latest ice age.  Protohuman Neanderthals cared for their old and infirm and buried their dead with flowers.  But self-awareness came much later.  It has been theorized that the men of The Iliad had no egos, but that in the next generation, Odysseus did.  And the difference was the invention of writing. 

But there is no need for writing.  Neanderthals survived without it.  We survived for perhaps 100,000 years, certainly no less than 30,000 years as a species and most of that time without writing.  Without song.  Without dance.  Decoration is the active leisure of successful hunters.  You never questioned the myth that our great cities evolved from agricultural villages.  But tractors are not manufactured on farms.  The truth is that successful hunting camps led to the first permanent villages; and those camps attracted people whose intelligence and cunning and aggression were rewarded with surplus.  That bounty was the basis for trade. 

Trade began as mutual exchange of tokens as a substitute for war.  Trade has always been a substitute for war.  People do not kill for what they can buy – unless they have abandoned the ethic of trade for the glory of war.  When you exchange a dollar for a gel pen (which no one needs), it is not because they are equal, but because the pen is worth more than the dollar.  If it is not, you continue shopping.  It is by that same process that a jetliner with produce from South America lands in Detroit – not because 100,000 gallons of fuel is worth $200,000 but because the fuel is worth more to the people who own the plane – and the cost of the transport is worth more to the wholesalers and the dollar value of the grapes is worth more than their cost to the growers. 

At each step, the person who trades by voluntary exchange acts on the basis of self-interest to gain more.  The inventor and the discoverer are motivated by a selfish desire to know more.  They do not even care whether they know more than you because you and your needs do not figure into their primary equations.  If they cannot profit materially from their inventions and discoveries, they will keep them to themselves – and they have. 

We call those lost centuries The Dark Ages.  We know the pioneers of the mind as sorcerers and witches because we – not they – embrace the mystical notion that there is no science, but only a “scientistic discourse” to which any charlatan can claim credit by reciting an incantation he does not understand.  They worked alone, in secret, not sharing their discoveries of new metals and new acids and new herbal infusions and distillations.  Then came the Renaissance and the Enlightenment; and free minds flourished in free markets.  You think of artists and scientists – and do not even grasp that without global trade, there would be no spaghetti and no burritos.  Native Americans genetically engineered three grasses – one of which had a different number of chromosomes than the other two – into maize.  Without a selfish desire to discover the truth, you could only expect a short lifetime eating gruel in a world of huts scattered around the Equator. 

Instead, you can ride an elevator to the seventh floor of classroom on the edge of a glacier. Your need did not produce that machine and your need will not deliver the skills to the worker whose intelligence maintains and repairs it so that it does not fail and fall when you ride it. 

Within the last week, there were three armed robberies in our neighborhood, two on the street and another on the campus.  We learned in this class that the gunmen were motivated by their needs and that their salvation will come by meeting their needs, even if it costs us $100,000 per offender … or more… whatever they need… 

That is the final outcome of a needs-based justice system: a world in which some take what they need from others who were selfish enough to have produced it in the first place.  We learn that the harms of the perpetrator are evidence not of their inability or unwillingness to think, or to work, but of their needs. 

You accept without question that we must abandon the world of selfishness, profit, industry, technology, trade and commerce, for a world of needs, where a looter can demand whatever he needs – and if his needs are not immediately met, he can brandish a gun, as proof of his needs – and our response must be to meet those needs – first, his need for our cash and jewelry; and then his need for $100,000 in psychological counseling so that he can get over his problems.

Do the needs of the thug trump the rights of the elevator technician to a wallet and a cellphone?  What if the elevator technician goes into business, providing the service, hiring others, expanding into other cities, building a corporation whose first public stock offering earns several hundred million dollars?  How many decimal digits of income does it take to lose your right to property when it is demanded by a thug who needs it?  What if the thug lives in the best house in Washington DC?  What if he needs it not for himself, but for others who are even needier? 

Truth is absolute.  It is not a matter of decimal places.  It is wrong to steal from a shelf stocker in a retail store so that a banker who has failed can be spared embarrassment.  It is just as wrong to steal via taxation the earned income of the wealthy on the claim that they have more than they need – and that someone else needs it more.  Travel down that road and you go to a hell of needs where the least capable, least willing, least bothered, least interested, least intelligent, least caring, and least thankful demand whatever they need until nothing is left for anyone. 

In that world, there will be no one to discover, create, invent, build, and bring into existence that which was never dreamed possible and then suddenly became needed by all – concrete sidewalks, central heating and cooling, televisions, automobiles (with heating, cooling and television), grains, fruits and vegetables in or out of season, hundreds of styles of shoes, gloves, coats and hats … and so many brands of soap that no one knows how many there are. 

… but then, again, no one really needs soap …
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