August 2nd, 2004


notes on thoughtcrime // linkage and commentary

so, this news article (which I've found repeated on other news sources, so it seems real enough) brings up an interesting topic. First, a summary: a guy convicted of child molestation is back on the streets (done his time) and he mentiones to his shrink how he went to a park and thought about sexually molesting the kids. The shrink tells the cops, the city bans him from going to parks, the court system upholds the ban. He did not actually commit any crime, he simply thought about kids, went to a park and continued to think about kids, then left and told his shrink. He was not banned from parks before this confession (parole conditions or somesuch), this ban is strictly as a result of his thoughts.

The question: Is thoughtcrime real? Can/should we punish certain people for having certain thoughts?

I've allways been a strong opponent to doing such. I don't care who you are, what your history is, I don't feel you should ever be punished for any thoughts you may have. Even if you later admit to having those thoughts, you shouldn't be punished for them. Whatever fantasies you're having in your head, however you choose to entertain your mind, if those thoughts don't materialize themselves in action I don't feel you ought to be punished for them.

The one occasion I could see for allowing thoughts to be punished would be if the thinker asked for the punishment as a sort of external method to bring about altered thoughts. If he comes and says "please punish me for these thoughts because I can't make them go away on my own", that's one thing. If he says "hey, look, I had these thoughts but I didn't act on them" then why the hell would we punish that?! If anything, we should pat him on the back and say "good for you for recognising those thoughts and not acting on them".

In this particular situation, his thoughts did generate some action -- he went to the park. Last I checked, going to the park is itself not a crime. The court arguments claim that the only reason he didn't grab a kid was because they were in a group and would have been too difficult for him to grab just one. My argument is that we don't know for certain that he wouldn't have simply stopped even if there was only one. Perhaps if there was only one lone kid, he would have walked up to the kid and right before he reached out he could have a change of heart and stop himself. We don't know, and now we never will.