Some questions about punishment

In 2018, two Argentine researchers, Sandra Gayol and Gabriel Kessler, published a book in which they began by asking themselves what the death of an individual must have to be politically relevant, to be able to question public powers, or, in other words , why some deaths generate social commotion and others, similar ones, do not provoke the same reaction. Specifically, they raise why some deaths managed to get a significant group of the population to become emotionally involved with them, to participate in the demand for justice and to demand justice. Unlike the common component that the events that Gayol and Kessler explore in this work have, which is the direct or indirect intervention of state officials, in the murder of Fernando Báez Sosa the latter does not occur. It is a death that had an impact, it is a death that ended social perplexity, it is a death that matters, but in which young people as young as the one whose life was taken participated.

In this regard, the French sociologist Bernard Lahire argues that in the face of certain reprehensible events there is a risk of wanting to punish them without understanding their authors. For this reason, from the social sciences, one would first have to ask where these behaviors come from, what motivates them and under what conditions they take shape.

Now, could we use Lahire’s argument to analyze the murder of Fernando Báez Sosa and the behavior of its perpetrators? Without exonerating them, without minimizing what they did, could we understand why the rugby players did what they did? Could we think under what circumstances they were able to do it? It seems difficult, no doubt.

It is necessary to avoid wanting to punish the defendants without understanding why they did it

On the other hand, it is likely that, in the face of such painful and traumatic events, proposals like Lahire’s are not always enough, not only for the family and friends of Fernando Báez Sosa, but for the community in general. Given these limitations, it may be useful to incorporate a normative view of the act, a view that seeks to justify why those who have committed the murder should be punished. These justifications, known as punishment theories, are usually distinguished in two main perspectives. These are the remuneration and utilitarian criteria, which separate those justifications that are based on the past from those that are oriented towards the future. Very schematically, the retributionist criterion maintains that someone who has caused damage deserves to be punished for the very fact of having caused it, while utilitarianism –in all its variants– focuses on the subsequent consequences that can be extracted from the sanction. of the penalty, consequences that may have on the offenders -for example, to carry out a successful treatment in prison-, or they can be directed towards society as a whole -either to reinforce in it the importance of legal norms, or to deter potential offenders. Although there are other theories about punishment, the retributionists and utilitarians adequately condense the most relevant ideas about why those who have committed a crime should be punished.

Having said this, is it possible to propose some questions regarding this case? Leaving aside the relatives and friends of Fernando Báez Sosa, people who today might find it offensive to ask for a refined point of view about punishment, its risks and justifications, could it be beneficial, although difficult, to ask ourselves some reflections?

Even for shocking cases such as that of Fernando Báez Sosa, it may be convenient to avoid the temptation of wanting to punish the defendants without understanding why they did what they did. It might also be worth making the effort to understand how they were able to do what they did. Even more relevant, would it be pedagogical to think about what we intend to do with the very act of punishing them? In short, do we intend to look at the past as retributionism? Do we intend to look to the future as utilitarianism? Do we intend to only look at the defendants? Or do we also intend to look at ourselves as a community of which the defendants are still a part?

*Conicet researcher.

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