As good be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.
That is to say - if the consequences of getting caught committing your crime are sufficiently severe - if, say, they are fatal - then from a standpoint of deterrence, all crimes subject to those consequences are equal.
If the Catholic church tells its priests that they must remain celibate or burn in eternal hellfire - well, then, those who violate this rule have nothing to differentiate between consensual sex with an adult and raping children. Which is not to say that this is the cause of priestly pedophilia; it could be a significant element of the culture that fosters the practice. Were the church to make normal adult sexual relations "less" sinful, fewer of its priests might find themselves abusing kids.
I heard on NPR the other day that, "as soon oil hit the water, BP was in violation of the Clean Water Act" and possibly other laws. And Rachel Maddow has been telling us for weeks how oil extraction technology has been improving, while disaster cleanup technology has remained unchanged for 30 years.
I don't know what consequences the CWA imposes on violators - though I'm reasonably sure neither execution nor eternal hellfire are among them. But I worry that the consequences - or oil companies' perceptions of them - may be sufficient to drive them to focus whatever resources they may dedicate to disasters, strictly to prevention. If leaking oil into the environment is sufficiently unthinkable, then what to do about leaked oil becomes not simply an unnecessary consideration, but actually a harmful one. Can't you see the conversation happening? "I see you're designing a system to get oil out of the water. That must mean you think our leak prevention efforts aren't sufficient - so please address that!"
And, of course, the only way to make a leak prevention strategy 100% solid is through the powerful mechanism of denial. Having disaster recovery technologies threatens that denial, so we don't.
Our natural inclination is to say: we must prevent a leak, therefore there is no need to consider the consequences of a leak.
How can our laws be revised to continue to provide incentives for preventing leaks, while not providing disincentives for preparing for them? I don't have an answer, but I think it's a pretty good question.
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