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He felt compelled to imagine killers and their victims in the most graphic, even sickening ways.

Report to the United Nations on Racial Disparities in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Being alone with Dostoevsky and his perverse, troubled characters can be an appalling experience. But still we read on, unable to tear ourselves away from a world so miserable and so alien to our hopes. Dostoevsky shows us what subjecting ourselves to a book whose vision is extreme and uncomfortable can do for us: broaden our knowledge of others.

Increasingly, psychologists and neuroscientists have been focusing on empathy as a crucial part of what makes us human.

Moral life is unimaginable without the ability to identify with other people, to feel their experiences. Every day we gulp down headlines and lurid, tabloid stories about such bad people, but this is voyeurism, not an entry into another world. Dostoevsky actually portrays bad people in unrivalled depth, and over hundreds of pages: the terrorists, the murderers, the scoundrels. Lately, psychological studies have suggested that reading serious fiction increases empathy, enabling us to stand in the shoes of others.

This is especially valuable when we read about those who seem completely unlike us: not just people from a different nation, race or religion, but those who are morally different, who are, to use the inescapable word, evil. Dostoevsky is not alone among the great realists in his ability to depict evil. Sometimes, as with Dostoevsky, the reader enters a world that may seem foreign and even repulsive, but that also fascinates. At times a television series like Breaking Bad is able, like a realist novel, to make us sympathise with a hero whom we also want to condemn.

But novels, because they demand that we immerse ourselves in the lives of others more slowly and thoroughly than television or movies, give us a fuller portrait of the dark side. Reading a novel forces us to experience the lives of characters who are radically different from us, something we can't get from other art forms. Only by spending a long time inside the head of a character can we know something of the full range of human life. The more we can do that, the better for how we see the world, because we've spent serious time with otherness during our reading.

Novels deliver the unlike, the alien, as an antidote to our comforts and our day-to-day prejudices.

Crime and punishment in America - Los Angeles Times

Increasingly, we are snugly wrapped in our worldviews. Conservatives see everything in blue, progressives in red. We gang up on those we disagree with, rather than listening carefully to contrary opinions. When the web shows us the horrors of war and domestic violence, we take a quick look and move on. Distracted by snapshots of horror, we think we are following terrible events. Reading a novel means committing yourself, to the author and the characters. Glancing at evil and tragedy, as the internet encourages us to do, lets us avoid the hard questions about motivation and human personality that novels make us confront.

Because the internet molds itself to our whims, letting us go where we want, when we want, it prevents us from really experiencing otherness in the way that a novel, the longest of long forms, can offer. Sinking into a book and subjecting ourselves to the author is the shock treatment we need to break out of our habit of online distractions, which can numb our capacity to see how human beings develop over time.


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They intended it to be used only for the most severe offenders and estimated that only more people would ever qualify. But, by , more than 10 times that number had been incarcerated under it.

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Therefore, Harris and Bousell remain in a tunnel with no light. Harris self-harms to try to manage his situation. None of this inspires confidence in a parole board. How, for example, do you assess risk?

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If it is cars and traffic, you could probably have a decent go at constructing a workable model. But with people and communities, it is a godlike job. Of course, the shambolic nature of it all, and the suffering it breeds and embeds, is a result of underfunding — the endless competition between institutions, departments and systems for increasingly scarce resources.


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The unavoidable impression was of a creaking, cracking edifice full of people who, even if they had the ability, were denied the capacity to do their jobs properly. It is a wonder they muster enough hope to continue. We saw Harris through a brief good patch.