What are some contemporary crimes and sinners?
December 5, 2011 10:25 AM   Subscribe

What is a good contemporary crime to add to "Dante's Inferno" ?

We have been discussing Dante Alighieri's Inferno in one of my lit classes. The epic uses something called "retributive justice" to deal sinners a punishment that "suits" their crime; for example, in the epic, people who were "neutrals" all their life (meaning they never took a stand on important political issues, etc.) are punished in hell by being forced to run endlessly after a banner of "nothingness," which is supposed to be symbolic of how they were stagnant and aimless when they were alive.

Our professor believes that the epic doesn't account for the more contemporary sins that occur since the epic was written, so we have been tasked with finding contemporary crimes and sinners that ought to be punished. I know most people in my class are going to write about the predictable ones (drugs, abortion, etc. etc.), so I've been wracking my brain for something more... original, I guess. I was thinking of writing about the whole Penn. State/Sandusky thing, but I don't know if I could stomach writing about that. :(

Do you have any ideas of contemporary crimes that seem to go overlooked and ought to be punished? I'd appreciate your input!
posted by glassrose to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
#OWS has been discussing some crimes as of late.
posted by caddis at 10:29 AM on December 5, 2011

Best answer: It’s wrong to create a mortgage-backed security filled with loans you know are going to fail so that you can sell it to a client who isn’t aware that you sabotaged it by intentionally picking the misleading rated loans most likely to be defaulted on.

Punish them with white-hot collars.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:31 AM on December 5, 2011 [13 favorites]

Identity theft, maybe.
Piracy--everything from recording movies to downloading music and copyrighted material online.

Arresting people who are exercising their right to peaceful demonstration...
posted by misha at 10:33 AM on December 5, 2011

Sexual harassment.
posted by griphus at 10:34 AM on December 5, 2011

Isn't Usury and greed and being uncharitable already crimes in the Inferno? The structure being those who hurt themselves (lust) being less worth then those who hurt others passively vs those who hurt others actively, with the ice pit reserved for traitors to the state, humanity, and god.

War Profiteering is totally an ice circle crime.
posted by The Whelk at 10:34 AM on December 5, 2011

I seriously literally just read Inferno.

Honestly, all the things I'm thinking of can get covered by some of the larger ideas already extant in the book (greed, gluttony, lustfulness, etc.). Even the Penn State/Sandusky thing would probably be covered in the Second circle (Sandusky was lustful towards the kids, yes?), and bankers' fraud could be addressed by the Fourth or Eighth Circles.

The ONLY exception I can think of is something having to do with intolerance -- in Dante's world, there wasn't quite as much of a notion of "diversity" as there is today. Quite the opposite -- remember the heretics in the Sixth Circle? Those were people who were being punished for thinking differently, if you think about it, and the idea of punishing people simply for thinking differently is a pretty alien one to us today.

Maybe something working with that? Some kind of way to punish the fundamentalists and the single-minded "my-way-or-the-highway" kind of thing?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:36 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was thinking of writing about the whole Penn. State/Sandusky thing, but I don't know if I could stomach writing about that. :(

Well, you would probably raise some eyebrows with any thematic punishment, so I think picking something else is the way to go.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:37 AM on December 5, 2011

Sending nuisance emails -- punished with an eternity of cleaning inboxes

Identity theft -- punished by having one's identifying features sanded off, regrow, resanded, etc

Trolling -- punished by immersion in facts forever

Menacing pedestrians and bicyclists with your automobile -- punished by crossing endless highways made of burning tar
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:38 AM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Isn't Usury and greed and being uncharitable already crimes in the Inferno?

Yes, and technically there are no new crimes because the definitions of misdeeds in the Inferno are so broad as to encompass anything done today. Nevertheless advances in technology, economic systems and politics make possible new examples of misdeeds.
posted by caddis at 10:40 AM on December 5, 2011

technically there are no new crimes because the definitions of misdeeds in the Inferno are so broad as to encompass anything done today. Nevertheless advances in technology, economic systems and politics make possible new examples of misdeeds.

Right, but those new examples are just new variations on those older themes. The "heresy" one seems most markedly different, because of the serious change in culture we've undergone (from 14th Century Italy, where the Church Was All, to a 21st-Century global village that values economic, social, cultural, and religious diversity).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:44 AM on December 5, 2011

Bigots get that Twilight Zone universe where they have to endure the suffering of every oppressed minority in all its forms.
posted by The Whelk at 10:47 AM on December 5, 2011

Environmental destruction - greed/wasteful consumption.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:48 AM on December 5, 2011

Best answer: And, these aren't really crimes, but you'd get a lot of sympathy for people who Gilbert and Sullivan would have put on their "little list"--those guilty of technically legal things that most of us would nonetheless want punished (by the way, that song is full of examples of "retributive justice", if you're interested).

*Cellphone users that carry on loud phone conversations in public places, like crowded waiting rooms.
*Drivers who zip to the front of the merge lane and then switch to cut you off at the last minute.
posted by misha at 10:48 AM on December 5, 2011

Oh, and if you want punishments, maybe the drivers have to wait in traffic for perpetuity behind the cellphone talkers, who cannot hear their very important conversations over the honking of the car horns.
posted by misha at 10:52 AM on December 5, 2011

I had a similar assignment my sophomore year of high school. We had to restructure Hell and create a diagram/model of it to present. For some reason I never deleted any of my school projects and still have them all in zip files that get transferred over when I get a new computer. Looking back most of our Circles weren't any good.

We had conceited people in the third circle. Their punishment was to be given an impossible task and then publicly humiliated when they failed.

In the 7th Circle we had anarchists who were forced to eternally build a perfect Senate building that was then demolished and restarted.

I doubt you'd want to use either of those though because they aren't that original.
posted by Deflagro at 10:57 AM on December 5, 2011

To me the greatest contemporary crime is preying on people's fears to justify evil. Eg: Iraq War, Afghanistan War, Guantanamo, crazy TSA screenings, Obama's drone war, PATRIOT act, waterboarding, extraordinary rendition, etc etc etc etc etc etc.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:58 AM on December 5, 2011

Best answer: Another way to put that would be "Moral relativism."

"These are our principles we believe in. But now we have to break them because those terrorists are just SO EVIL they don't deserve a jury trial/deserve to have their families bombed by robot planes/etc."
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:01 AM on December 5, 2011

the Lucas Arts sim game Afterlife had you build a Hell that catered to specific sins, this walk-through has a list of Fate Structures for punishments, from The Island Of The Yip Dogs to Middle School Forever.
posted by The Whelk at 11:02 AM on December 5, 2011

Sending unsolicited mail is a crime and while some of it is fraudulent, it isn't all and I don't feel its accurate covered by any of the crimes/circles already in Dante's Inferno.
posted by missmagenta at 11:05 AM on December 5, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for your responses. You've been immensely helpful :)
posted by glassrose at 11:05 AM on December 5, 2011

Geocide-- AKA Global Warming.

Punished by forcing you to watch the pitiful few of your descendants who survive live out their shortened lives in the toxic garbage dump you've made of the world until the end of time.
posted by jamjam at 11:06 AM on December 5, 2011

With apologies to misha, I believe this is the more relevant Mikado selection (although this subject is addressed throughout the operetta):
All prosy dull society sinners,
Who chatter and bleat and bore,
Are sent to hear sermons
From mystical Germans
Who preach from ten till four.
The amateur tenor, whose vocal villainies
All desire to shirk,
Shall, during off-hours,
Exhibit his powers
To Madame Tussaud's waxwork.

The lady who dyes a chemical yellow
Or stains her grey hair puce,
Or pinches her figure,
Is painted with vigour
And permanent walnut juice.
The idiot who, in railway carriages,
Scribbles on window-panes,
We only suffer
To ride on a buffer
In Parliamentary trains.

My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime
posted by milk white peacock at 11:17 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:07 PM on December 5, 2011

You might get some inspiration from a book Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote called Inferno. AS you can imagine from that title it deals with the geography of Dante's work.

Most contemporary crimes are at least addressed and assigned their own (preexisting) slot in hell.
The book is ok to good, with some minor editorializing thrown in. They recently wront a sequel that (imo) was complete rubbish.

The take away as far as this question is concerned, is most if not all modern crimes/sins can be fit somewhere already in hell. If I was in your position (and this is just me mind you) I would write a paper positing some examples of moderns sins (Identity theft, IP violations, crimes against humanity/genocide, environmental devastation...) but then show how they already have some place appropriate in Dante's structure.
posted by edgeways at 7:24 PM on December 5, 2011

You could go meta and create the crime of "Lit students who have the presumption to believe they can add anything to Dante's architecture of hell which is already broad enough to encompass every sin" and have them punished to write unsatisfying essays endlessly because they can only see that the sin they picked can be framed in one of the circles already only when they finish writing.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 1:59 AM on December 6, 2011

If you read Niven/Pournelle's Inferno, make sure to read their sequel (Escape from Hell) that was released in 2009. They mention several characters who are doing their time in Hell for recent "crimes".
posted by Fiat124 at 1:12 PM on December 6, 2011

Here is a very special level of hell from Firefly.

Also, people who steal other people's food from the community fridge.
posted by Deflagro at 3:04 PM on December 6, 2011

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