To get this knowledge of the past of each machine is the duty and work of the tribunal that passes on the fate of a man. It can be done only imperfectly at best. The law furnishes no means of making these judgments. All it furnishes is a tribunal where the contending lawyers can fight, not for justice, but to win. It is little better than the old wager of battle where the parties hired fighters and the issue was settled with swords. Oftentimes the only question settled in court is the relative strength and cunning of the lawyers. The tribunal whose duty it is to fix the future place and status of its fellowmen should be wise, learned, scientific, patient and humane. It should take the time and make its own investigation, and it can be well done in no other way. When public opinion accepts the belief that punishment is only cruelty, that conduct is a result of causes, and that there is no such thing as moral guilt, investigations and sorting and placing of the unfortunate can be done fairly well. The mistakes will be very few and easily corrected when discovered. There will be no cruelty and suffering. The community will be protected and the individual saved.
Neither will this task be so great as it might seem at first glance. Trials would probably be much shorter than the endless, senseless bickering in courts, the long time wasted in selecting juries and the many irrelevant issues on which guilt or innocence are often determined, make necessary now. Most of the criminal cases would likewise be prevented if the state would undertake to improve the general social and economic condition of those who get the least. Only a fraction of the money spent in human destruction, in war and out, would give an education adapted to the individual, even to the most defective. It would make life easy by making the environment easy. Only a few of the defective, physically and mentally, would be left for courts to place in an environment where both they and society could live. Perhaps some time this work will be seriously taken up. Until then, we shall muddle along, fixing and changing and punishing and destroying; we will follow the old course of the ages, which has no purpose, method or end, and leaves only infinite suffering in its path.
It is comparatively easy to get a penal statute on the books. It is very hard to get it repealed. Men are lazy and cowardly; politicians look for votes; members of legislatures and Congress are not so much interested in finding out what should be done, as they are in finding out what the public thinks should be done. Often a law lingers on the books long after the people, no longer believing the forbidden thing to be wrong, have repealed it. The statute stays, to be used by mischievous people and by those who believe in the particular law.