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If there is one thing this blog is good for, it’s reminding me how much of a difference mental frameworks make.

A couple of months ago, I made the statement that I thought that justice resides in the process, not in theoutcomes.  And Robert responded that he did not agree, when the guilty are let free there is no justice.

But when I made my statement about process and outcome,  I wasn’t thinking about the guilty going free, I was thinking about the innocent who are wrongly convicted.  Certainly there are some cases–negligance on the part of the investigators, incompetence on the part of defense counsel, corruption, whatever–where an innocent man wrongly convicted is a case of injustice done, but these are all cases in which the process was not correctly carried out. 

And, of course, letting an innocent man rot in jail once h is innocense is known is also an injustice, but it’s again an injustice of process–once innocence is known, the process is in place to rectify the wrongful vredict.

It’s not that I think there are more cases of wrongful conviction than of wrongful acquittal.  It’s that I think the evil done in wrongfully convicting and punishing an innocent man is vastly more serious than that done in letting a guilty man go free.  To me, no system is inherently just unless the number of wrongful convictions approaches zero.

Yesterday I said something about revolutionary panic, and this time Robert felt that I was giving an excuse for the way these people behavie.

But I don’t think I was making exuses for their behavior.  I was just trying to explain two things to myself, because they’re things that I find inherently puzzling.

The first is the level of personal hysteria that exists in some many of these movements–the wild hyperbole that equates bleeping a few expletives from a sitcom or being turned down for an NEA grant with jackbooted thugs raping your soul.

The other is the inevitable–and it is inevitable, in all utopian esperiements–volcanic explosion of violence and terror. 

It cannot be a coincidence that every single one of these things, from the French Revolution onwards, has ended in the same place, in the trial and elimination of heretics.

And that is what this is, a decent into heresy hunting.  Calling the heretics “class enemies” doesn’t change the nature of what they are for the system that persecutes them.

But think about this for a minute–why bother?  The search of power isn’t enough of an explanation, because very often the resort to terror undermines the power, and it always undermines the wealth and viability of both theleaders themselves.

It’s the difference between Saddam Hussein and Mao, or Pol Pot–Hussein stole from his people and let them starve, tortured his enemies and confiscated anything he could get his hands on , all in aid of living high on the hog and getting to screw more women.  Mao destroyed the technological talent of a generation, and Pol Pot did that and took the agricultural economy along with it–and for what?

It’s difficult to maintain that a Mao wants only what a Hussein wants.  And “power” is less of an explanation than it is another symptom.  There’s something psychiatrically peculiar about this business of “I’d rather have us all dead than admit the possibility that there are people in the world who do not believe that what I believe is true.”

There’s a thought in here somewhere, although I seem to be expressing it badly today.

Written by janeh

October 28th, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Bemused'

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  1. Justice is punishing the guilty and defending the innocent. A process is at best a means to that end. An inocent man imprisoned or a guilty man going free are both injustice no matter how carefully the process was adhered to. And I suspect you believe that too. Otherwise, you’d have no interest in improving the process.

    And I wouldn’t brush to one side letting the guilty off to spare the innocent. This is not a small thing. Try having a loved one’s killer go free and brag about it, then think again where the balance of justice lies.

    I would keep in mind that the only certain way never to punish the innocent would be to never punish the guilty. We may be as painstaking as our conscience drives us to be, but the fact of having a judicial system implies that we are better off with some innocent people punished than with so many guilty going free that ALL the innocents are punished.

    I would also say it expresses a remarkable faith in the process of justice to imply that every failure of justice derives from a failure of the human agents. Surely sometimes crime goes unpunished because of our process itself? The legal system itself can be and has been an obstacle to justice and a system of extortion, and not because a judge was incompetent or a lawyer violated the law.

    Many of us will have read of the dry cleaning establishment in the District of Columbia sued by an idle lawyer for a sum approaching a hundred thousand dollars. The couple who ran the dry cleaners “won” eventually, but the price of winning bankrupted them. The unusual aspect of the case, please note, is not that a lawyer tried to extort money from innocents, but that they didn’t pay.

    The bulk of the working population cannot serve as their own lawyers, and can’t afford professionals. Justice–modern American style–is for the rich and the desperate. That’s the process. And we’ve built it one step at a time. It will–sometimes–deliver justice, but the process itself is not justice, and cannot be. Recipes are not food.

    As for utopian revolutionaries’ propensity to massacre, “panic” implies fear, and acts committed out of fear are to some extent mitigated by that. But the “heresy hunts” aren’t conducted in moments of crisis, but in moments of strength. Nor are they limited to heretics: apart from Nazis, French, Chinese, Russian, Cambodian and Korean revolutionaries have been happy to define enemies by bloodline and marriage, and many heresy hunters have prosecuted children, the senile and the feeble-minded.

    This is not fear. This is not leaving behind comrades as one flees a battlefield, shoving women aside as one scrambles for the lifeboat, nor trampling children in a rush for the fire exit.

    Fear is not the cause of the massacres. Fear is the massacres’ purpose.


    28 Oct 09 at 4:35 pm

  2. I think the hysteria is related to whatever it is that makes people invent fake ‘evidence’ to support their theories. You run into it sometimes in science – there are some famous examples. I can’t quite get my mind around what it must be like to think that because X is clearly true, it’s practically a duty to put the numbers that should be there in the table of experimental results so other people will also be well-informed of the truth of X. But obviously some people do think like that.

    Some political theorists seem to move from simply convincing non-believers with fake data to moving non-believers from the “human” to the “non-human” category – and then anything goes, especially if you’ve convinced yourself that your state is infinitely more important than any individual.

    There also seems to be an even more commonplace human characteristic – people think that the emotion and level of rhetoric with which they try to make their point is far more important than the accuracy of the rhetoric – because if you really, really believe something you almost have to willing to go to any lengths to promote or defend it.

    I don’t think I’m making a lot of sense either, because I really don’t understand why people even bother lying and killing to promote their agendas. To me, such actions are practically proof that the agendas are highly questionable.


    28 Oct 09 at 5:34 pm

  3. Eric Robert Rudolph– bomber of the Atlanta olympics and the women’s clinic in Birmingham, AL (a couple of blocks from where I was working in 1996–grew up in a family who were suspicious of government, aligned with the Christian Identity movement. Rudolph gave varying reasons for why he did what he did: anti-abortion, anti-gay, against new world order (whatever that is). One fatal example of “my way or the highway.”
    The other is a little more convoluted and speculative on my part. A minister of a Church of Christ in Tennessee was shot to death by his wife a couple of years ago. His wife drove herself and their three daughters to Alabama, where she was caught and confessed. Her reason: psychological, sexual and physical abuse by her husband over several years of their eleven year marriage. I grew up in a Church of Christ. I got over it. Their main message, at that time in that church, was that only the Church of Christ teaches the truth. You have to be a member if you want to be saved. This was emphasized at every opportunity. Also, the husband is the head of the household as Christ is the head of the church. Women can hold no positions of authority in the church, including teaching a Sunday school class to boys past puberty. I think to some extent that’s still true. One member of the congregation in the murdered husband’s church said that it was evident who was in charge in that marriage. In the same situation, I might have shot him sooner than that.


    28 Oct 09 at 9:00 pm

  4. Actually, I think ‘my way or the highway’ is pretty sensible. It’s ‘my way only’ that annoys me.

    I can – a very little – understand someone staying in an abusive relationship because they have good reason to think they’d be tracked down and murdered if they left. Or because they’re afraid of the unknown, or because they don’t want to lose the only human relationship they have, even if it’s a bad one. I don’t think I’d do it – I’d hit the highway. And if you’re going to do that anyway, why kill the person you’re leaving behind? Unless, of course, you do it in a fit of rage or terror and are really fleeing justice, neither abuse nor a way of life you no longer believe in.

    Lots of people are anti-abortion and anti-all sex outside marriage, including gay sex; are suspicious of government or suspicious of everyone outside their own community or church or family. Almost all of them do NOT kill others to promote or publicize their views. Why do some think it necessary to murder? Unless the killings ALL occur in the heat of the moment, which I doubt, I can only conclude that the killer’s terror at walking out and being alone in the world is greater than their terror of killing another human being. And that’s a terrible thing to say of anyone – that they put their own insecurities and fears over another life, even that of someone they hate.


    29 Oct 09 at 6:23 am

  5. It has less to do with fear of being alone than wanting to impose what they feel is the truth in any way possible on those who believe differently. It’s power, not fear.
    Rage and loss of control that leads to violence often happens when abused spouses are subjected to behavior stemming from the other’s spouse’s belief that he is always right and ordained by God in this belief. Certainly not in all situations. And not be condoned by any means.


    29 Oct 09 at 9:46 am

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