Should We Bring Back Flogging?

If instead of tugging poor people’s arms behind their backs and encircling their wrists with steel locks a belt or rod was used — would there be meaningful outrage? Would people fill the streets if it was announced that flogging and other “corporal” punishments were to be re-established in place of arrest for petty offenses? Couldn’t there be an argument that corporal punishment was greener? Less ableist? Leaving less of a carbon footprint? It’s at least arguable that temporary pain is preferable to longterm captivity, enforced submissive positioning, discomfort, loss of leisure and labor-time etc.? 

Flogging or “thrashing” was the preferred choice in Kenya Colony where imprisonment meant a loss of native labor on settler farms and public works projects. Perhaps it would be better for our economy as well? Imagine how much work could be done without chains in our prison farms. Explorers even argued that for some “tribes” imprisonment would actually be more inhumane as the native, like an animal, did not have the European’s sense of time nor could he understand imprisonment as a consequence for their actions. Sitting in jail for the native was like sentencing him to an eternity. Maybe confinement is unnatural and anti-human. Wouldn’t you, yourself, go for a quick 10 minute whipping rather than be taken from society and your family altogether for years, spend decades in prison, be billed, and be guaranteed a much more difficult life post-incarceration?

With flogging you might be able to do away with much of the red-tape and record-keeping of arrest. The disobedient might not have to be as intensely processed. Punishment could be enacted almost immediately and “on the spot.” A police officer could strike someone’s back with their baton after jay-walking and then send her on her merry way. The fear and the humiliation of being publicly flogged would serve as a greater deterrent than the long-term social, psychological effects and financial limitations which might not be as easily appreciated. And if equity in punishment is an issue one could modernize a design like Bentham’s whipping machine:  “A machine might be made, which should put in motion certain elastic rods of cane or whalebone, the number and size of which might be determined by the law: the body of the delinquent might be subjected to the strokes of these rods, and the force and rapidity with which they should be applied, might be prescribed by the Judge: thus everything which is arbitrary might be removed. A public officer, of more responsible character than the common executioner, might preside over the infliction of the punishment.” Pain on the body, admittedly imperfect, might well be more fair than putting people in jail who have very different relationships to time, employment, family, fear of insects, people, dark rooms, loneliness etc. That physical violence might evoke too much of slavery is not a convincing argument in a country where the Louisiana State Penitentiary exists. Our concentrations camps are dangerous, diseased and deleterious. We’ve spared the rod and forced people into the zombie-like existence of parole surveillance. 

It took a long time to teach people that it was alright to chain them, lead them, push them into vehicles, dress them, take their information, and then put them into confined, uncomfortable spaces with strangers. It took a long time for that to be normal.  It took a long time to teach that captivity and chaining was not necessarily slavery. Today we don’t even think of arrest as physical and corporal punishment or indeed punishment at all. Being jailed is not even considered punishment if you are awaiting trial — it is punishment only after trial. That, in itself, is a remarkable feat of consciousness. Could we not normalize, in like manner and more easily, a more healthy and green form of punishment? Why not abolish what, if we are honest, is just a fancy and technologically sophisticated chain gang? 

Those that would criticize flogging as a reversion to barbarism would have a hard time justifying incarceration. If arrest and incarceration wasn’t barbaric how do we explain Kalief Browder, Alesia Thomas, Sandra Bland (whether she committed suicide or was murdered) and the millions of survivors of the state’s assault, languishing in the state’s assault.