Article > What do you want to do when you grow up?
Description :: Legislating intent just seems like such a bad idea.
I hear people tell me they're relieved each time we catch someone plotting to do something evil, someone planning something, someone intending to do bad things. It's a whole lot better than catching them after the fact (particularly in the case of suicide bombers) -- you catch the bad guy and nobody (that we care about) gets hurt. It shows off how good our police forces are -- so good they can catch a crime before it happens (though actually we make it a crime to plan something bad, separate from the crime of actually doing it.)

But then we hear about kids getting to have long talks with FBI or Secret Services agents because, while bored at school, they doodled something violent involving the president. And we're confused about this?

Maybe nobody else watched "Minority Report" (from a short story by Philip K. Dick who, by the way, was a really cool author) and noticed that part about seeing the future perfectly, yet still screwing up when trying to prevent it? Maybe everyone still assumes you'll do exactly what you want, or plan, to do? We don't have that kind of technology (assuming it's possible at all) -- and intent is a funny thing: it tends to change.

Now, sure, you'll have people out there whose determination is such they can't be deterred from going through with their plans. Maybe. I change my mind all the time. I think twice before saying something mean, I hold myself back when tempted to slap people. (Besides, I suck at being violent.) Are the thoughts not there? Was I not planning to do those things?

If I just about slap someone, with my hand stopping an inch away from their face, will I be sued for battery? No. I didn't actually beat anyone up. I was in the process of doing so, I didn't just stop at the "thinking about it" stage or the "intending to do it" stage or the "planning how to do it" stage -- I was in the middle of "actually doing it" and stopped. I showed restraint. Now, if someone finds me on the top of some building, sniper rifle in hand, aiming at a motorcade, who are they to say I'm actually going to shoot someone? I may still show restraint, after all. Why arrest me for something I haven't done yet?

I support trying to convince someone not to go through with something, or even annoying them temporarily so they can't. But arresting, charging, and convicting them of some big-assed crime? Maybe bombs are different: say you've got one in a school bus attached to a timer, and you've walked away -- it's not something you can just abort at any time by inaction, it takes action to disable the bomb. The "default" here is for your action to have happened. Maybe we just feel the "worst case" is always the default? Then again, the same would be true of slapping someone -- once you start swinging, it takes extra energy to stop short. But if we look only at fantasies, intent, or plans, we're all guilty in the sort of way that some God might care about, but our laws can't do anything about (well, without extra clauses I disagree with because they're founded more on safety than justice -- not terribly logically so, even.)