May 27, 2014
Our Broken Fiddle

Poking through the archives I just came across this post from January 2 of 2003. Unfortunately it remains relevant, and so I put it up again:


Could That Shining City
On the Hill Be Helsinki?

For your contemplation, I offer this story by Warren Hoge in today’s New York Times. It is on the front page where it ought to get all our attention, but won’t.

This is because we were raised to withstand all evidence that ours might not actually be in every respect the noblest nation ever to bathe God’s little green footstool in such supernal effulgence.

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at Finland’s system of criminal justice, as Mr. Hoge has…

All done? Interesting stuff, but it would never work here, would it? For one thing Finland is full of Finns, and the United States is full of Americans.

But aren’t those Finns pretty similar to us genetically?, you ask. After all, Doctor Science, aren’t they Christians? Lutherans or something?

Actually, children, religious faith is one of many things that are not genetically determined. Let’s look for others in the story. Did you notice where Mr. Hoge says Finland has “a relatively classless culture with a Scandinavian belief in the benevolence of the state and a trust in its civic institutions?”

No genetic marker for these disorders has been discovered so far either, and we scientists are in pretty general agreement than none ever will be. We say, instead, that such conditions and attitudes grow out of our “culture.”

Okay, enough with the Doctor Science.

I once heard a political consultant describe American democracy as “that system in which you give the people what they want, and you give it to ’em good.”

So think of our culture as a violin, and our politicians as musicians. Any one of them might think he could get better sounds out of a clarinet or a flute, but that isn’t what we’ve given him to play. The only thing that can come out is fiddle music.

And so we ourselves have actually chosen a society with shameful extremes of poverty and immense wealth. We have chosen untrustworthy civic institutions. We have chosen a state that is no more benevolent than it absolutely has to be in order to avoid revolution.

These are the things we demand or permit — it comes to the same thing in practice — on November the fifth of every even year. Because we are this kind of stupid, we have 702 Americans out of every 100,000 in jail. Because the Finns aren’t, they have 52.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at May 27, 2014 07:28 PM
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