Sunday, October 14, 2012

Thoughts on Ready Player One: Prison

Ok, Wade, the main character in the book Ready Player One, does not actually go to prison.  But when he is unable to pay his bills, he is sentenced to an alternative.  Wade sets himself up to owe a massive debt to Innovative Online Industries; an antagonist company out to turn the virtual world into a new, expansive revenue stream.  This parallels the real world concern of maintaining an open internet.  That is the theme of the majority of Ready Player One, and there are likely several discussions on it.  What I will dive deeper into is a look at the consequences Wade experienced for not paying his bills.

Because the debt he owed was to Innovative Online Industries (IOI), he became employed by IOI. He describes the system as indentured servitude. Representatives of IOI came to pick him up from his apartment. He was indoctrinated to the processes that would become his day to day life.  Wade would work as a help desk rep.  He would answer calls to help people so they could go back to enjoying their lives in the virtual world known as the OASIS. When he was not answering calls he would either be in the cafeteria or in his cell, or dormitory.  The food he ate and living expenses were deducted from his wretched pay.  As such, most people could never afford to pay off their debt and would be forced into servitude for the rest of their lives. To monitor Wade's activities there was a security camera in his room and he was forced to wear an ankle bracelet and ear tag. 

That's not so bad right? It's easy to hear the arguments on both sides.  Some people would be for it saying:
Those people never should have gone in debt in the first place. Or..
By keeping them locked up those people can't be driving up the prices I pay. On the other hand..
They are being kept from their friends and family. And..
They could contribute to society much more and pay off their debts sooner in other industries.  And..
The company takes such advantage of them. And..
When they come back to the real world they are less prepared because it would have changed so much. And will make it more likely they will have future debt.

Those are all arguments applied to our prison system.  Outside of those, I like The Shawshank Redemption quote,

"I had to go to prison to be a criminal."

Another issue in our real world scenario is that their living expenses come from taxes.  Because prisons get increasingly over populated, the amount of tax keeps increasing.

National Prison Expenses
Year Cost
1985 $9.6 billion
1990 $12 billion
1996 $22 billion

The main purpose of prisons is to punish.  This point can be argued; someone might say it is to rehabilitate or to protect society by removing the individual.  But as far as being locked in a cell and forced to a limited schedule and structure, that sounds closest to punishment to me.

By invoking the Principle of Shawshank it is observed that prisons are counter-productive to reducing crime. So, what would a prison look like if the primary purpose was to reduce crime with minimal drain on societal resources? What would it look like if punishment was not the primary consideration?

It would look like a society. Personally, I believe everything happens due to cause and effect. If someone commits a crime, there is a reason they committed the crime. A series of events observed by an individual that are interpreted by a series of chemical reactions in an individual's body that result in a consequential action. As such, when the person is arrested and found guilty, they would be offered a choice. The status quo; go to prison for a defined period or enter a new society where privacy would be minimal and potentially need to take a drug regimen. The fabricated society, lack of privacy, and potential therapy and drug regimen would all be to ensure the causes of crime do not enter into the effect; to ensure the individual does not have motivation to commit the crime.  As much as I would like to see this in practice, it is easy to see several fictional plots developed around it with tales of how it would go wrong.

In this society people could work at real jobs making real salaries rather than the pittance of a conventional prison.  People could utilize their time to work and develop a skill rather than working out and developing relationships, forming criminal clubs.  The state funded facilities would cost less because the housing expenses, food, health care, and other necessary amenities would largely be paid for by the inhabitants.  Finally, because most people in society would not go for this idea so far as it has been presented there is one final benefit to mention.  Since the people who committed the crime are able to live normal lives for the most part, the terms of a societal sentence could be longer than the terms of a prison sentence for the same crime.  This means they would be off the streets of main stream America.  Admit it, you can see the benefits, but have already started writing a screen play in your head to catalog the horrific scenarios of how it would pan out.

Those mental screen plays are why this problem cannot be solved.  Think of any water cooler conversation you have had, or maybe over heard, where people complain about the problems of the world, mock the politicians for their horrible decisions, then come to the conclusion of ,"but what can we do?"  People are always far more ready to discuss how bad a decision can be and dismiss it from the beginning rather than discuss a plan in depth, and see how it can develop to improve the world.  Again, it comes back to cause and effect.  This is a perfectly natural response for people to have.  The behavior has its roots in risk aversion that has served most humans so well for centuries.  That, in itself, is a crime and why the risk takers will be the ones who make a difference in the world.


Gangs form for protection.  People who do not feel safe in their environment form together to look after each other.  If a person feels disadvantaged in society they might reach out to the gang for support.  If you are not with the gang, you might be a target for the gang, therefore join the gang.  Then, for whatever reason, a gang member gets sent to prison, now even more unprotected.  This causes the gang to spread further.  The inmates get released and the gang has spread.  I believe gangs should be eliminated, but it is not going to happen by trying to imprison all members.  It should happen by providing everyone with a protected option.  This currently takes the form of community activities.  This is great for prevention, but once in the gang, there needs to be a protected alternative.


With the current prison system, cause and effect make sense for what is observed.  People spend days or years in prison.  Time is largely not spent in productive endeavors.  While in prison, society moves on.  The individual is released back into his original environment, has a huge hole in his work history, and is less knowledgeable about the latest societal trends.  What possible effect could be expected?  If he was on drugs, he has the same drug using acquaintances.  So he goes back to using drugs.  The positive friends may or may not still be around.  Any void there will likely be taken up by more negative influences.  Because life is going to be especially difficult, the same crimes are likely to be taken up.  Cause and effect.  Prison cannot be effectual if it is used primarily as a means of punishment.

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