AQ&A10 27 November 2017 The Blowback from Punishment

Focus questions

(feel free to add more focus questions) . Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding. Note: clearly not all of these questions can be properly covered in a meetup, but they give us a conscious choice about what to talk about while making the background context clearer.

1. Does child beating create better adults or hardened punishers?

2. Do prisons create more effective criminals?

3. Do punitive welfare policies actually retard self-help [ref. Centrelink & American equivalents]

4. Do sanctions on nations actually assist their internal development? [ref. Iran improves industrial self-sufficiency, Russia boosts indigenous manufacturing and agriculture; Nth Korea makes its own ICBMs]

5. Do wars do more to corrupt & damage their perpetrators than their targets? [e.g. 120,000 American returned soldier suicides since 2001 (not old men) plus a majority of ex military personnel living on food stamps]

6. Does religious persecution encourage religious belief?

7. Is punishment always an act of revenge?

8. How valid is the idea of "tough love"?

9. What kinds of punishment are actually effective? - ... and effective for what?

10. When does it make sense to 'turn the other cheek' ?

Comments and Links

Thor May
1. The term 'blowback' was originally a CIA-speak description of the consequences of disastrous American military and political interventions. When the targets of American (or any nation's) aggression decline to have memories like goldfish and seek in multiple ways, maybe even generations later, to strike back at their tormentors, then that can be called blowback. The North Korean conundrum embraces cycles of betrayal on both sides. The North Korean regime is hard to love on any level, but their visceral distrust of the United States is grounded in repeated bitter experience, as this article makes clear: "North Korea and America's long history of broken promises to find peace", Brisbane Times, . The Trump administration has specialized in tearing up treaties, and that generates blowback not just in North Korea. Australian blowback has just come in the form of a Foreign Affairs white paper which re-evaluates the value of the American alliance ( )

Thor May
2. The selective use of law to punish dissent: "More than 200 people who were arrested on Trump’s inauguration day risk up to 60 years of jail. Meanwhile, the white supremacists in Charlottesville walk free" - The Guardian, 23 November 2017 @

Thor May
3. Some arguments against traditional kinds of child punishment (you might or might not agree) :
"Punishment Doesn't Work - Punishment doesn’t change the tendency to engage in the punished behavior." Michael Karson online @ . Also in a similar vein: "What Is 'positive Punishment'? Definition And Real-World Examples - Positive punishment is a popular concept in parenting. We'll explain what it is and how you can implement it with six examples". by, Inc. online @

Thor May
4. "A recent study by Professor Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock of the University of Colorado found that 88% of the nation’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime. The study, Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists, published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Crimonology, concluded, “There is overwhelming consensus among America’s top criminologists that the empirical research conducted on the deterrence question fails to support the threat or use of the death penalty.” A previous study in 1996 had come to similar conclusions." Online at

Thor May
5. "7-Eleven's wage fraud sparks $170 billion blow back" by Adele Ferguson & Sarah Danckert, Sydney Morning Herald (August 27 2016) - South Australia does not have 7-Eleven convenience stores, but in other states they have been on every second street corner. Their franchise system led to systematic wage fraud which remained unpunished until some heavy investigative reporting by SMH journalists. The government would have preferred not to see. This is a common pattern. Unfortunately South Australia lacks competent investigative journalism so ...

Thor May
6. Collective Karma and “Blowback” - by William Ferraiolo - a review of Chalmers Johnson’s book, "Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire" - ... yes, you were personally innocent, but you belonged to a society whose agents had caused suffering or resentment to those seeking revenge - so you too become a victim. Online at

Thor May
7. '"The Siege" and the Story of Blowback' by Cody Morgan @ This film review presents a very topical analysis of what happens when governments attempt the group punishment of whole classes of people (e.g. Muslims) or populations (i.e. countries). It is a reminder that foreign policy actions have unintended consequences.

Thor May
7. "Prisons: so what is to be done?" - 2016 outline for a discussion topic by Thor + many links at . “ It costs … taxpayers $109,782.60 a year – or $301.60 each day - to keep a prisoner "on the inside", according to the Australian Productivity Commission. Alternatively it costs $49,700 – less than half - to provide that prisoner with rent, food, a small four-cylinder car and money for any degree in Australia for a year”. [Brisbane Times 28 February 2016]

Thor May
8. "The End of Capitalism is Announced" - a 2008 essay by Thor on the staggering, unpunished financial crimes of the Great Financial Crash :

Thor May
9. "Déjà Vu and Wicked Stories" - a 2012 article by Thor at This story is just a grumble about living in a world of predictable villainy and occasional charm. As pretty as snowflakes piling up on a bleak field, I've accumulated a passable knowledge of world history and international affairs (especially Asian). Yet snow is snow, while the seven deadly sins don't really change their cloaks regardless of the weather. No matter where I look and no matter at what time in history, the same underlying stories play out. Good ideas/ideals get subverted by the bad guys (in fact, one-time good guys are apt to be bought out and enlisted in the Evil Empire of the age), wealth funnels to the few, classes are entrenched, sex is exploited, trust evaporates ... If you are young enough, you KNOW that this sorry tale was yesterday: NOW the possibilities are different, right? Why else would we tune into the story again each morning? .. The grumpy elder speaks: in truth, NOW the possibilities are worse, but only because the number of players (world population) is destructively larger and the tools of oppression chillingly more efficient. The Muse sooths us: just to keep things ticking over, "Good", whatever that is, always fights back and the whole cycle of heroism and romance starts over.

Thor May

10. "Fakes, liars, cheats, deceivers, animals in the forest" - a 2014 article by Thor, online at or . 'Fake it 'till you make it' is a much advertised nostrum. Well, anyone who is not pathologically naive and who has encountered the corporate-speak of today's urban living knows that the fake-it meme is already in the DNA of most institutional critters, large and small. The only news is that this virus might also be deployed by bus drivers and check-out girls. With this in mind, the essay takes the fake-it topic beyond some simple self-trickery sold as positive thinking, and looks at various extended mutations inside and outside of the law.

Thor May
11. "Crime without Punishment – the journey from means to ends". - an article I wrote (+ links) in 2014. See at or . Depending upon where you live, and too often on how much money or influence you have, not only does punishment vary hugely, but what counts as a crime can change like the weather. Many a risk taker gambles with crime and punishment. In the real world of events, as opposed to philosophical statements of “should”, decisions about ends and means always come down to who, if anybody, is responsible for consequences. Where consequences are not clear for actors, and especially if consequences are not personal, almost any ends can be argued for, and almost any means might be rationalized.

Thor May
12. "The Code of Hammurabi: The Best Rule To Manage Risk" - Almost 4,000 years ago, King Hammurabi of Babylon, Mesopotamia, laid out one of the first sets of laws. .. Three important concepts are implicit in Hammurabi’s Code: reciprocity, accountability, and incentives... "Whether a country is a dictatorship or democracy, one of the keys to any effective legal system is the ability for anyone to understand its laws. We’re showing cracks in ours and we can learn from the simplicity of Hammurabi’s Code ... " Read at



1. All past topic questions are now listed at

 2. From another meetup I run for English learners, twenty-four sets of 10x questions (from Thor) designed for students of  English as a Second Language are online at


The Blowback from Punishment Discussion Questions ©Thor May 2018

return to homepage