Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


22.3.3  Xenopenology

Xenopenology is the study of alien forms of sentencing and punishment for infractions of the law. Xenopenologists have identified at least six distinct theories of punishment, though these by no means exhaust the universe of possibilities:

1. Revenge -- the being who has inflicted harm must himself be harmed in retaliation to assuage the suffering of the victim and his family.

2. Expiation -- wrongs can only be undone by the suffering of the wrongdoer, a means of atonement by which his "moral account with God" is brought back into balance.

3. Deterrence -- the threat of severe physical punishment will restrain potential criminals (all persons assumed to be acting rationally all the time).

4. Isolation -- public must be protected from the criminal, so all criminals must be physically isolated from the rest of society ("warehousing").

5. Rehabilitation -- "punishment" is designed to transform the values and attitudes of the criminal so that he no longer wishes to commit illegal acts (social reprogramming).

6. Restitution -- victims of criminal acts should be compensated by the criminal, who should do everything he can to place the victim in a condition as close as possible to that existing before the commission of the criminal acts. (See Hoebel,931 Sorokin,31 Sykes,934 and Tiryakian.855)

Among human societies, revenge certainly has the oldest pedigree. The ancient Sumerian code of justice -- "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" -- is perhaps the earliest known example of this. According to the Code of Hammurabi, §195: "If a man has struck his father, his hands shall be cut off." This Sumerian notion of "sympathetic" punishment was often carried to even greater extremes, as witness the following articles of the Code:

§229. If a builder has built a house for a man, and has not made his work strong, and the house he built has fallen, and he has caused the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death. §230. If he has caused the son of the owner of the house to die, one shall put to death the son of that builder.2595

The Koran, the holy book of Islam, prescribes the decapitation of murderers and the chopping off of a hand for thievery. (In North Yemen, the convicted thief is required to pick up his severed hand and raise it to his forehead in a salute to the presiding judge.3056) Adulterers are to be tied in a sack or buried to the waist and publicly stoned. Assyrian law includes execution, mutilation (by cutting off lip, nose, ear, or by castration), impalement upon a stake, deprival of burial, floggings, and "the pouring of asphalt" as proper punishments for misdeeds.2595 The ancient Chinese recommended decapitation, strangulation, and the so-called "lingering death" (slicing to pieces until dead) for numerous crimes.2589 The Ashanti of the Gold Coast of West Africa devised an even more hideous form of punishment by death for interlopers in the chief’s harem. The atopere, or "dance of death," involved the slow careful dissection of the condemned victim, accomplished with such surgical skill that the prisoner was not killed during two or three days of exquisite torture.3014 Among the Cheyenne Indians, the wife who was suspected of being unfaithful by her husband ("the wife who four times erred") could be "put on the prairie" or "be made a free woman."936 This involved a most brutal form of sexual revenge for adultery:

Her husband invited his military society cofreres to a "feast" on the prairie. The pièce de résistance of this stag party was his wife, who was made victim of a mass raping. Thereafter, if she survived, she was free game for any man -- in effect, an outlaw. The husband and his fraternity considered this to be their legal right.935

One highly unusual method of revenge is found among the Trobriand Islanders, among whom the victim of a crime often retaliates against the offender by committing suicide. The idea is that the victim will then be avenged by his angry ghost.2594 Punishment systems based on the blood-feud can give rise to peculiar results, such as among the Australian Dieri who slay the capital offender’s elder brother rather than the offender himself. Another anthropological curiosity is the blood-vengeance chain of New Britain islanders on the Gazelle Peninsula of New Guinea:

When a man of low degree has been killed by a person of high degree, his relatives will kill a member of a kin of slightly higher degree than themselves in the knowledge that the process will continue until the original offender is reached.2594

Alien sentients with different behavioral and ethical predispositions may have a long history of isolation or restitution techniques, in contrast to the revenge theory which humans instinctively seem to prefer.

Given high technology, many isolation techniques can be imagined for use by extraterrestrials. Entire planets could be commandeered as penal colonies, and outshipments of convicts of many different races begun.668 Penal planets might best be situated on worlds having poisonous air or lacking any atmosphere at all.3239 Another possibility is that the insane, the extreme social misfits, and criminals could be sent forward in time using suspended animation techniques in the hope that future biotechnology could salvage them. If sufficiently cheap to maintain, cryogenic storage might become the official method of "execution," satisfying both the proponents and opponents of capital punishment.1863,67 Says Arthur C. Clarke of this procedure: "Our descendants might not appreciate this legacy, but at least they could not send it back.55 Then there is Robert Heinlein’s idea of a penal Coventry. Criminals are given the choice between psychological readjustment of the offender’s mind and withdrawal of the benefits of an orderly society. If the criminal does not wish to choose mental reprogramming, he is placed in an untamed unsupervised wilderness environment with other criminals -- a lawless subculture physically separated from normal society.2874

A few have suggested that rehabilitation could best be accomplished by permitting the criminal to experience the suffering of his victims. To high-technology ETs this might include treatment with a biocybernetic "electronic telepathy" hookup. The penal authorities would project images into the prisoner’s brain which would cause him to relive variations of his crime from the victim’s point of view. The sentence for attempted murder, for example, might be to experience murder three times.3052

There may be many interesting complications when different aliens are involved in crime. Besides questions of choice of law and conflict of laws, the punishment must be made to fit the crime. Should the punishment for the murder of an ET whose lifetime is only 5 months be as stiff as the killing of a being who normally lives 5 centuries? There is Edward Wellen’s concept of pro rata sentencing: ETs with shorter lifespans or aliens whose subjective time passes faster than our own should be given shorter sentences.1209 Are instinctual behavioral responses valid legal excuses or justification for acts defined as criminal by the victim’s race’s legal system? The possibilities are delightfully complex.


Last updated on 6 December 2008