Dante was consumed by the sadness and mystery of sin — and what it did to the sinner:In Dante’s frightful underworld, sinners face a descending funnel of worsening torments keyed to their sins. The lustful are blown about in a whirlwind; the violent boil in a river of blood. But betrayers, alone at the bottom, are savaged by the one called emperor of the realm of grief, in person.
“You’re buried in ice, because you’ve buried yourself in ice,” Mr. Pinsky, the nation’s poet laureate from 1997 to 2000 and a Dante scholar, said in an interview on Thursday.
Poetic justice, indeed. It is fitting, Mr. Pinsky says. Betrayal destroys the trust that binds humanity, and with it, the betrayer himself.
It certainly is a fair description of Madoff's crimes to call them "betrayal." That's what separates honest investment brokers from their look-alikes among the con-men. Carried to its conclusion this line of logical reasoning has some betrayers punished more than murderers.
Exactly, Mr. Pinsky says. To Dante, sin is an absence of energy and moral force — freezing cold and darkness — and betrayal is an ultimate shutting down, a failure to exist.I have a problem with that logical thinking. To me, punishing a con-man, regardless of how prolific, more than many murderers is to create a travesty of the entire system. I go even further and say the no white collar criminal belongs in jail. There are better ways to punish them. Fines and restitution to the point of penury followed by strict government supervision to avoid recidivism is the answer. Even Dante might find that appealing: Madoff made people broke by taking their money, now the government does exactly the same thing to him.
“Even murderers may be feeling something in other ways,” he says.Which could explain why the 70-year-old Mr. Madoff faces a sentence harsher than that given some killers. (He offered a brief apology in federal court in Manhattan without shedding much light on where the money went, how he stole it, and who may have helped him.)
There's another line in Dante, which is one of my favorites. It comes in a much higher circle of hell than those reserved for either the betrayers or the violent.
E quella a me: "Nessun maggior dolore
che ricordarsi del tempo felice
ne la miseria; e ciò sa 'l tuo dottore.
This is from Inferno V, lines 121 - 123. It's the story of Francesca and Paolo, ill-fated lovers who are being punished for lust when Dante meets them. Francesca's famous speech begins with the idea, "There is no greater pain than to remember happy times while suffering." She goes on to recount a story of such deep sadness that listening to it, Dante faints with pity.
I would say Mr. Madoff could sing such a sad song from a two-bedroom apartment on Long Island, his assets completely seized, and the government spared the expense of incarcerating him for the rest of his life.
What's your opinion? Does it serve any purpose to lock up a man like this? Is the $800M that's left going to be used to maintain the family in the lifestyle to which they've grown accustomed? Would that be fair?
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