Saturday, November 5, 2005

self-experimentation on the incapacitative effect of dethumbing

las vegas mayor oscar goodman proposed "thumbing" graffiti taggers in a tv interview rebroadcast yesterday. i'm familiar with all manner of corporal punishment, but "thumbing" is new to me. more precisely, he's talking about de-thumbing -- cutting off a miscreant's thumb.

"I'm saying maybe you put them on TV and cut off a thumb ... That may be the right thing to do." Goodman also suggested whippings and canings for wayward youth. "I also believe in a little bit of corporal punishment going back to the days of yore, where examples have to be shown ... I'm dead serious," said Goodman. "Some of these punks don't learn. You have got to teach them a lesson." "They would get a trial first," he [very responsibly] added.

ah, the days of yore! contemporary advocates of corporal punishment, such as death penalty proponents, generally justify them on the following grounds: (1) retribution (imposing suffering to get even with the criminal); (2) deterrence (such that the costs of crime are perceived to outweigh the benefits); and, (3) incapacitation (physically preventing the offense from recurring). inspired by seth roberts' research on self-experimentation, i got curious about #3, the incapacitative effects of de-thumbing. well, not that curious -- i wasn't going to cut off my own thumbs or collect serious data as professor roberts would. instead, before coming to the office today, i stopped in the garage and played with spray paint.

how much tagging could a tagger tag if a tagger had no thumbs? i worked in kitchens and with tradespersons such as sheet-metal workers who had lost digits, so i knew that one could retain some degree of dexterity. true, without thumbs it was initially difficult to spray the full-size krylon cans favored by taggers. but i did just fine with the l'il 6-ounce can. more impressively, i needed no thumbs at all for the tiny automotive touch-up sprayer. i soon learned to spray without using my index finger or other digits that might also attract sanctions. emboldened, i went back to the big cans and soon perfected a two-hands/no thumbs approach (ha! do your worst, goodman -- i don't even need fingers to tag!). given my impressive tagging skills sans thumbs and my well-documented coordination deficits and my regular guy-sized hands, i can only conclude that dethumbing would have little incapacitative effect among serious graffiti artists. so, mayor goodman must justify de-thumbing as either a general deterrent or as vegas-style retributive infotainment (the mind reels with possibilities).

seth roberts doesn't say much about the side-effects of his self-experiments, but i observed a big one: i began to contemplate criminal activity. it could have been the fumes or my newfound dexterity with spray cans, but i felt a distinct urge to throw down some graffiti in my hometown of shoreview. it would certainly be clever, i thought for a brief moment, to change the "h" on each "Shoreview, Population 26,991" sign to an "n." a bit of green paint, or even removable green tape, would do the trick and only the most discerning drivers would notice. of course, i quickly got some air and came to my senses. what would my kids think if i were arrested for graffiti? my colleagues? oh my, can you imagine what my sociology of deviance students would say? or how much fun certain graduate students would have at my expense? who could i call to bail me out?

nope! i would not take the risk, even if i estimated the probability of being caught at less than .001. plus, "snoreview" didn't really seem so clever outside the garage. maybe i'll suggest it as a name for the lad's next band. i doubt shoreview's fine mayor would want to cut off my thumbs on channel 14 cable access (would you, sandy?). no worries, though. i'm easily deterred by the existing informal sanctions and the moral costs of making a mess for someone else to clean up.

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