It also remains the only school I would ever give money to. It was a starting point, not an ending point, for how I think about the world - an incredibly formative experience where I learned how to think independently, and even independently of what is now known as the Chicago school of economics. It painted in me a deep philosophical streak embodying the foundational values of libertarianism, without the ideological hangtag. I believe the essence of being human is the freedom of choice, but that also, because lack of choice is the very definition of poverty, its taking should be a serious and tragic decision.
Over the past decade, I've become fascinated by the overt tension between principles and outcomes.
It's fascinating because at some level now, I think the debate is silly. Principles should be outcomes embodied, over a time horizon.
The example I think about often is incarceration. Long jail terms turn first-time offenders into repeat offenders, increases recidivism across all offenders, constitutes a relatively ineffective deterrent, and is dramatically more expensive than rehabilitation. But people have this hunger to punish, and our principles - particularly the powerful moral pillar of justice, which both the left-wing and right-wing share (according to Jonathan Haidt) - tell us a story that keeps us from bringing our principles and outcomes together.
When I go to Quora though, and hear the stories of prisoners in the San Quentin Last Mile program, I feel like there's a way to reconcile these principles and outcomes, and make this marriage maybe make a bit of sense.
Question: "What does it feel like to murder someone?"
Answer: Without a doubt this is probably the most personal question I think I could ever answer. This is a question I have been asking myself for a very long time now, and just coming to grips with the answers I have found. To say my answer is complex, and that I am going to have difficulties expressing exactly how I have felt, and still feel about murdering someone is an understatement.
I guess the beginning would be the best place to start. When I took another man’s life I was just nineteen years old. Looking back now, I can honestly say I felt immense peer pressure to go through with the murder. I felt like I would be seen as a weak punk if I let another man get over on me. I was a drug dealer, and I felt I had a reputation to uphold. I can see all this now, but at the time I could see none of this. I realize now I was in a very bad place in life back then. I was in the midst of a serious drug addiction. I felt worthless and unworthy of love, so in return I placed little value on my life or on the life of anyone else. All of these feelings combined, made feel so powerless in life, I lashed out.
My lashing out cost another human his life. I am ashamed to admit it, but at the time I felt a great weight was lifted off my shoulders when I pulled the trigger. I felt like I had finally stood up for myself. I was completely irrational. I realize now it is like my friend David Monroe always says, “hurt people hurt people.” I was really hurting and I didn’t know how to ask for help.
I continued to justify my actions for a long time, but somewhere deep inside I have always known that there was never any justice in taking someone’s life. Admitting to myself I was feeling scared, lonely, unworthy of love and respect was just too hard. Also, by admitting these feelings of mine, I would also have to come to grips with what I really did, and how I affected the world. This was a hard prospect for me, but I am finally there over fifteen years later.
Now I feel sadness over murdering someone. I feel I have robbed my victim’s family of the most precious thing in life. I feel immense sorrow for this. I feel I have robbed my family out of truly ever knowing me. I feel like I have inspired fear in my community. I feel that I have done the world a great disservice, and that I owe a debt that I can never fully repay. I am full of guilt and shame over my actions.
Without a doubt deciding to murder someone was the worst mistake of my life. I don’t believe I even possess the right words to fully express how it feels to murder someone, but I can say, I never want anyone else to feel the way I do.
Hearing this story, I have to wonder if it could have been me. A moment's impulse, a moment's mistake, a lifetime of denial, a difficult admission, and a hard road to redemption. There was a time when we were worse human beings, before we became better.
I understand how as individuals we can hunger for vengeance. And sometimes we make the data tell us what we want to hear, because we want to enforce the justice we want to see in the world. I don't know.
What I do know is that there aren't always answers, but sometimes there are, if we sit quietly, and listen.