Sunday, May 2, 2010

Justice, Mercy, Expedience: Long Post, Shortened Unmercifully

It is in our Christian culture, our religious beliefs, to forgive. We can be redeemed. We can, in some formulations, only be forgiven if we ourselves forgive. Yet in this belief system there is also heaven and hell. Souls that go to hell have done the unforgivable. That's latent in this formulation too.

I have re-written this post at least a hundred times. I left in all the extremes, because that's the fast way to get to the point.

After atrocities like Rwanda, international courts seek to bring justice. In such cases, the scale is always so huge. You cannot put half of a country in jail or execute them (anyway, the international courts don't use the death penalty.) So there is always a huge push for every victim to forgive. To move along and rebuild courtesy of global aid networks. It avoids reprisals, a re-escalation to civil war. Because there won't be any justice in another war. More kids will starve. More people will be violated.

But it is also convenient. It is a move that stops justice early, to avoid stopping justice too late. All forms of expedience in law stop justice too early--or too late.

The Death Penalty
Many people are against the death penalty because it is unhappily expedient. It ends the chance of re-education, reconciliation, societal forgiveness or personal redemption; it can be applied to the innocent, used to prop up bad regimes and express old prejudices. These charges are true.

These anti-death penalty people are cautious. They also, by limiting the risk of a wrongful death, allow the unrepentant to continue to live, sometimes repatriate to society at large. That is also a risk, a human-rights violation that is not considered in the formula.

We have not stopped risk, or even expedience, by privileging a commutable life sentence over a death penalty. We have only shifted the burdens of risk and expedience around somewhat, onto a different group. This may or may not be advisable.

Expedience, or Exhaustion?
Crime victims have always had to cope, because nothing can fully remedy the loss. Law enforcement knows that however well-supported, they enter situations of risk. Shut the hell up and endure: nothing new there.

It's just that more areas have less and less order, more and more victims. Law enforcement has less and less resources, more and more rules of engagement. An overrun system cannot handle crime. And the lack of capability is now supported by a virtuous principle, falsely applied. Crime victims and law enforcement are often hit with a societal expectation--to forgive, or to accept--by people who have never known the pain. Or who inflicted it.

We put the burden on the already-burdened. That's the rape victim, the parents of a murdered child, the store-owner who's going out of business because of shoplifting and repeated aggravated burglary, the stressed police officer or health official or police orphan, and, on a much-larger scale, the survivors of Rwanda. On top of everything else, these victims are supposed to forgive and forget.

A New Idea
Recently I found  this book, with the dubious title Resentment's Virtue. It's very true that you can find a book these days that will support anything. Nevertheless, I am going to order it. It's about mass atrocities such as the Holocaust or Rwanda. Here's a quote. It may even apply to criminal justice:

When societies try to “move on” after mass atrocity, victims who cannot or will not abide with the call to forgive and reconcile are often pictured as “prisoners of the past”: traumatized, self-preoccupied, resentful, and vindictive. 

To be able to forgive or forget is generally taken to be morally and therapeutically superior to harboring resentment and other “negative” emotions.  
But, perhaps,sometimes, when one is dealing with extreme horrors and evildoers, it could be the other way around. Possibly, there are circumstances in which forgiving is a temptation, a promise of relief that might be morally dubious. 
Indeed, the refusal to forgive may represent the more demanding moral accomplishment.
Perhaps even long-standing resentment has to be judged differently when societies abandon survivors and grant amnesty to the perpetrators of heinous deeds.
So I suggest that much of the massive support for victim's rights is a false reparation for injustice, an unmerciful act.  I think the vast majority of victim advice covers a grand lie--it is victim indoctrination.

Society can say this to the victims of Rwanda or a heartbroken family member or devastated crime victim: we privilege order over disorder. You may not seek revenge, because it is disorder. But society does not have to intrude on people's emotions, force them to un-think or un-feel.

Mercy is personal. It has a place in court, on the curb, and in the heart. But mercy has requirements. Mercy requires remorse.

It is possible to 'get on with life' without forgiving atrocities, forgetting them, or permitting them. Forgiveness, in many senses, is the death of reform, revision, and renewal. That too seems to have been forgotten.

I think I see less remorse and more calls to forgive.  I think expedience represents a failure, a limitation, a curtailment of life. We undoubtedly have to employ expedient measures. The question is always which ones. 


Momma Fargo said...

Best.Post. Ever.

You are a brilliant writer. I can't express enough that this is truly a much awesomeness post.

You rock. I salute you.

Linnnn said...

This is right off the top of my head, and forgive me please if I am off point, but perhaps the rage the victim of violent crime or genocidal horrors cannot "let go of" is a form of natural selection. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to encourage victims to "let go and let God" when all they want to do is act on that rage against the aggressor. Survivors of horrific events have/had perhaps something somewhat stronger about them, and they apply the rage to taking steps to 1. Self preserve and 2. Remove the threat permanently i.e. revenge, capital punishment. What a post Anne! Got me thinkin'..

Ann T. said...

Dear Momma Fargo,
To have you say this means a lot. It was hard to write the way I wanted.

Thank you very much.
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Linnnn,
If thinking comes from the post, I can't be but flattered!

I do think we are training ourselves out of the self-preservation of a lawful society.

To me, stopping revenge is one thing--we give that job to the state--otherwise, we would have anarchy. Stopping self-preservation is another--we reserve that to ourselves, with more than one part of the Constitution, and many law systems before it.

Is that kind of where you're going?
Thanks for a great compliment!
Ann T.

Slamdunk said...

Victims' rights is more like victim indocrination? Fantastic individual thinking Ann T.

Though I am not a supporter of the death penalty, I certainly see oth sides of the issue.

And on Rwanda--I participate on a site where we read and are quizzed on Dante's Inferno. Fortunately, the pace is only 2 cantos per week so I have been able to keep up.

In Dante's journey, I can substitute Dante's characters for much of the monsters of Rwanda and other evil men being tortured for eternity.

Bob G. said...

There are wome marvelous observations here...

And if mercy requires remorse, then there just HAS to be a level of morality within an indivudual in order to properly administer it.

One thing we have to ascertain when it comes to victims and the whole victimology mindset, is whether or not there is justification FOR reparative measures, and many times, our judicial system weighs heavily against it.

Other times, it rewards it unjustly...the other end of the spectrum. There seems to be a lack of balance in that regard.

Granted, not every victim IS a "victim", but keener eyes and open ears could tell as much.
Still, it's better than granting the same accord to the perpetrators in like degree.

But hey, that's just *my* opinion.

Brilliant post.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
Thanks for a great compliment. Wow.

Like you, I can see both sides of the death penalty, although I lean cautiously for--provided it goes through heavy review and ceremony. Mostly I am thinking about where the unassigned costs of "whatever" seem to fall. I want a better model of cause and effect.

I envy you that Dante group! I have tried to read it alone, and it is not easy to get everything that way.

Thanks for writing in!
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
I wondered about that. I was leaving out civil court for the most part in my thinking. But even in criminal court, many victims are part of the boom-and-go culture that makes them perpetrators one day, victims the next.

In such cases though, the call to forgive is directed more publicly, if I'm not mistaken. And that happens at all classes and price points, in my opinion.

We have corporate/government assholes who are forgiven by giving donations and hiring p.r. and we have thugs forgiven by politically-minded street ministers and cub reporters. That's just two examples.

A second thing: the use of forgiveness in bad neighborhoods is killing what's left of decency in those neighborhoods, washing evil away with a prayer session, making everyone the same, because those who want the right and wrong thing are inundated and made bankrupt/bereft by the predators around them. They are the real victims, regardless of who got shot.

These real victims are the ones who are invited to forgive, every day, minor charges, b/c of compassion. No one has compassion on them though--or remorse--they just "get away", leaving the righteous to make of it what they will. These vics are just supposed to suck it up. That is what I am against.

At least that's what I think.
Whoa, my soapbox--

Thanks, Bob, as always!
Ann T.

Bob G. said...

..You think WELL.


The Observer said...

Ann T:
Oh, wow. Just wow. And guess what? Our pastor has been preaching on FORGIVENESS--finishing the series next week. So I was bouncing off this post when I was in church yesterday. Unfortunately, I don't have my notes with me about the sermon. Frankly, he wasn't far off from you. If you are ever curious, the sermons can be found on the website,

A lot to think about, more probably then I can do in the comment section. Thank you for making me think (some more; to his credit, my pastor makes me think, too).

The Observer

world verification: splay--which is what I feel like this comment does--second cousin to splat.