10 DUIs, Then Life

In Texas, a man who pleaded guilty to his 10th DUI offense was sentenced to life in prison.  Is that sentence excessive?  After all, the driver wasn’t acting with the intent to harm anyone.

I don’t think such sentences are excessive.  There’s no doubt that driving while drunk is dangerous to the public at large.  Thousands die every year from accidents involving drunk drivers.  And while people might argue that an initial offense deserves some leniency — because the person might not be aware of their blood alcohol levels, or the degree of their impairment, or the risks — you simply cannot justify repeated offenses.

drunkdriverThe Texas man who pled guilty to his 10th offense, for example, was found swerving back and forth and driving on the wrong side of the road.  He had served time for his prior offenses, in both Texas and Colorado, and he nevertheless admitted to police officers that he had consumed most of a bottle of whiskey found in his car and then getting behind the wheel.  A person like that simply has no regard for the safety of the general public, and is engaging in recidivist conduct that exposes his fellow citizens to unreasonable risk.  Indeed, you might consider the repeat offenses to be a kind of perverse cry for help.

Drunk driving is one of those areas where society has seen a sea change in prevailing views.  People used to make jokes about drunk drivers, and police officers used to escort the over-the-limit driver home, rather than taking them to jail.  No longer — and for good reason.  Drunk drivers who are repeat offenders are dangerous to themselves and to the rest of us.  When someone has had nine prior offenses and still has not learned their lesson, I have no problem with saying that they deserve to spend their life behind bars.

An Ancient Perspective On War

Why do human beings make war on each other?  It’s a question that has intrigued philosophers and scientists, poets and peasants for centuries.

A more interesting question, though, might be not why, but when — because figuring out when the mass killings began might help us to isolate why the human species fights wars in the first place.

prehistoric-skull-discovered-nataruk-kenya-reuters-640x480A recent archaeological dig indicates that war is, unfortunately, much more ancient than we might have suspected.  The find at Nataruk, Kenya, on the east coast of Africa, reveals a horrific battle between two tribes of hunter-gatherers that happened 10,000 years ago.  One band captured the other, tied them up, and ruthlessly slaughtered every man, woman and child, including a woman whose pregnancy was far advanced.  The 12 victims of the attack were shot with arrows, beaten, and suffered crushed skulls and broken necks.  Their bodies were then shoved into a lagoon, where they sank into sediment and were preserved, to be found and studied by modern-day scientists.

Modern wars have been blamed on religion, nationalism, ideology, and quests for political power and glory by ruthless leaders.  One school of thought — reflected in John Lennon’s Imagine — postulates that if those causes of conflict were somehow removed, people would live in peace.  But the find in Kenya undercuts that simple premise, because 10,000 years ago was before the development of towns and villages, much less nation states, before the development of agriculture that caused humans to settle and begin to accumulate wealth, before the development of any known organized religion, and before any of the other attributes of modern culture that are typically cited as the causes of war.

The slaughter on the banks of the lagoon long ago occurred between two roaming bands of hunter-gatherers on what must have been a fertile and sparsely populated plain, with plenty of food for everyone.  So, why the slaughter of an entire tribe, rather than the decision to reach an accord, share the land, and live in peace?  It may be that humans, as a species, are just predisposed to war — which is a sobering thought, indeed.