Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

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In praise of “accountabalism”

January 25th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Accountabalism” (says David Weinberger) results from “accountability” pushed too far–into the realm of “eating sacrificial victims in an attempt to magically ward off evil.”

Accountabalism tries to squeeze centuries of thought about how to entice people toward good behavior and dissuade them from bad into simple rules by which individuals can be measured and disciplined. It would react to a car crash by putting stop signs at every corner. Bureaucratizing morality or mechanizing a complex organization gives us the sense that we can exert close control. But grown-ups prefer clarity and realism to happy superstition.

Stop signs at every corner? Nobody wants that!

Centuries of thought about how to dissuade people from bad behavior, however, haven’t come up with great substitutes for punishment of the few people who get caught. Harsh punishment for drunk driving made that “insoluble” problem much less of a problem. The “insoluble” problem of men who beat their wives found a much better solution when researchers noticed that getting hauled off to jail even briefly cut recidivism better than years of counseling.

In the NH phone-jamming scandal, a NH judge sentenced warm-hearted family man James Tobin to ten months in federal prison. Sorry as I am for Mr. Tobin and his family, I think that such harsh “accountabalism” is needed to dissuade other politicians from breaking the rules on elections.

When our society has such a big stake in the outcome of individual decisions, we need to put up big stop signs and whomp people with big penalties if they go through them.

Update: David comments on my comment, says whomp-’em-if-they- ignore-a-major-stop-sign is accountability (good), not accountabalism (bad). What he’s against is magical belief that proliferates ever more, ever tinier stop signs. Well, of course, he explains it much better than that.

In fact, I doubt I’d have disagreed with his article at all if I hadn’t been doing that half-awake ought-to-be-packing-now-blogging-at-dawn from Kyoto.

Tags: Editorial

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