Lack of emotion proves frightening
August 12, 1999
A nephew of mine was once told by his mother, when he was 4, not to eat any of the candy that was put out for company on the coffee table.
“What will you do to me if I eat it?” he asked.
“You’ll get a spanking,” his mother told him.
David’s 4-year-old mind weighed the alternatives. He decided to take the candy and risk the spanking. He knew his mother’s spankings were never very hard.
The criminal mind works like that. It has learned to count on the leniency of our legal system just as David learned to count on the leniency of his mother. Punishment meted out by the courts for wrong-doing is often so slight that even the fear of being caught and convicted acts as no deterrent.
I sometimes wonder whether a lot of our crime doesn’t stem from the disappearance of fear in our lives. We used to be afraid of hell but we don’t believe in hell any longer. We used to have a fear of God but today we have a God who is all love. Offending him doesn’t frighten us anymore.
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Neither does breaking the law unless that law has real teeth in it as it does in Saudi Arabia. There they cut off your hand for stealing.
That may sound like cruel and inhuman punishment, but what impressed a U.S. lawyer who spent several years in that country was that almost nobody got his hand cut off.
The reason is that everyone knows the law isn’t kidding. They really will cut your hand off if you are foolish enough to steal. Consequently, there is very little stealing in Saudi Arabia. Auto thefts are unheard of.
It is not an altogether heartless law. If the victim asks for mercy for the perpetrator of the crime, the penalty is waived. But what terrorist would count on his victim coming forward later to put in a kind word for him?
Stephen King’s story “Quitters Inc.” is a spine-tingling thriller about how fear can be put to use in a good cause and even save your life.
As the story tells it, Quitters Inc. was a program for people who want to quit smoking. It was only after a person signed up that he learned the organization is run by the Mafia. But then it is too late to drop out.
He is told that the first time he smokes after enrolling, the Mafia will snatch his wife and torture her.
One man in the program once found himself stalled in a traffic jam in a tunnel in New York. Traffic didn’t move for what seemed like hours. He felt in need of a smoke to calm his nerves. Certainly no one could see him here. So he lighted up.
When he arrived home later he found a note in the kitchen that said, “We’ve got your wife.” There was an address where he could find her. After he got there he was taken to a room with a one-way window that looked into a laboratory. There he saw his wife being tortured by electrical shock.
The punishments got successively worse.
After the fifth offense, Quitters Inc. absolutely guaranteed that the enrollee will never smoke again because he will “wake up dead the next morning with a bullet in his head.”
Is this carrying fear too far? Maybe.
But if we ever get to the point where we feel there is nothing to fear that God no longer makes us toe the line that a smart lawyer can always get us off no matter what we’ve done that our country has gone soft on wrong-doing at that point society will be in grave danger.
Are we approaching that point now?
(Copyright 1999 Newspaper Enterprise Assn.)