This post builds on my previous posts on the recent revelations of distant past offensive behaviors of currently successful people. Instead of describing these cases here, I acknowledge that they range from unwelcome sexual attention to sexual assault. However, many of these complaints concerned behaviors for many years prior where the victim has not pursued further complaints about the matter. In current environment, the #metoo campaign gives encouragement for finally addressing the past injustice. The implication is there is an unresolved injustice.
These are cases that occurred in the past. Irrespective of my own experiences and behaviors, I question the notion that these cases represent unresolved injustices. Except for the cases where there were police reports filed at the time and are still under investigation, the accounts I have heard have found a just resolution at the time. The revisiting of these old and previously resolved cases are similar to double jeopardy although obviously not in a legal sense. In these cases the perpetrator and victim came to some informal understanding of justice being served to the point of closing the case.
The western civilization has a concept of justice that goes back centuries that is exemplified by the lady justice statue: blindfolded, holding in one hand a scale to weigh evidence, and in the other a sword to carry out the punishment.
The expression of the wheels of justice turning slowly makes sense only in the cases where the wheels were set in motion in the first place and that they had not halted already due to a just finding. The concept of protection against double jeopardy requires that the wheels eventually stop, never to start again for the same offense.
The success and relative stability of western civilization depends a lot on super-majority faith in the system of justice. We demand justice to be equal and fair. However, I think that over time we have narrowed the idea of justice to exclusively in the realm of official courts. For example, the above-mentioned prohibition from double-jeopardy in practice only applies to criminal courts. In modern practice, we allow for the opportunity to try the same offense in civil cases or even in public forums.
This modern practice of making past offenses perpetually open for further extraction of justice is corrosive to society. In particular, it makes natural human interactions a banishable offense if it come off as awkward or unwelcome. Any such conduct can be revisited for the rest of the offender’s life and used to extract further punishment by penalizing with public shame or denial of continuation of earning a livelihood.
Awkward interpersonal interactions are inherently a part of human nature. Such interactions include sexually suggestive ones including initiating contact in more intimate areas of the body. While in some cases these may result in physical fights or police reports, I believe most of such instances were resolved quickly with a stern assertion of the behavior being unwelcome and an agreement to not repeat that behavior with that specific person again. To the extent that the perpetrator repeats that behavior with others, the remedy is the spreading of that reputation to alert others of the possibility. Occasionally, the recipient of the behavior may accept the advances and go on to build a relationship from that encounter.
In the above scenario, society achieved an informal form of justice involving a reputation (or open-secret) about the perpetrator to warn future encounters and an agreement concerning future behaviors involving past encounters. In particular, the past encounters have reached a final just result where it would be improper to re-open the case for future additional punishment for that past event. The customs of social behavior closes the case even though it never reached civil or criminal courts.
I imagine that this was the norm for resolving these types of complaints in the past, such as in the 18th century enlightenment period. The calls for justice concerned larger crimes such as those involving major injuries or losses to persons or the state. These may include perpetrators who disregard past agreements to avoid interactions previously declared as unwelcome. The difference is that the initial offense is not revisited.
This may be facilitated by stratification by class where each subculture made unwelcome behavior less likely. When such behavior would occur, there would be a higher probability that it would be tolerated or more subtly declined. The unwelcome offenses would more likely come from trespassing class boundaries. Such boundaries do not exist today so there is more likely to be unwelcome interactions that we describe as sexual harassment or varying degrees of sexual assault.
The current panic about sexual harassment and assault involves natural human behaviors that become offensive depending on context, in particular on whether the recipient objects to the behavior. Swapping one person with another performing the same action will change the behavior from acceptable to offensive. Also, while we may prudishly insist that these behaviors have no place in modern life, forbidding these behaviors demands the people behave in a way that transcends basic human nature.
The current dialog expands harassment to include unwelcome glances or unwelcome greetings. The implied threat of the current panic is that any interpersonal interaction can be taken as an offense that can be used at any time in the future to penalize the person with a loss of social standing, all for doing something that is natural instinct at the younger age even as we try to control it.
I don’t like where I see this trend heading. This forces people to make a choice, to behave unnaturally where interpersonal encounters are likely, or to retreat in private spaces and interact with the world virtually with the modern conveniences of Internet.
From a dedomenocracy perspective, we need to maximize the free and unfettered interpersonal interactions in the world. Discouraging people from interacting in the world due to the threat of never-to-be-resolved offenses will deny us the ability to see what needs to happen to make progress toward are more harmonious society.
However, there is a more fundamental issue going on in the modern discourse. That issue is the perception that justice is lacking in many areas of life. This delusion of injustice is a result of the declining acceptance of informal forms of justice though inter-personal negotiations and understandings with corresponding forgiveness. These understandings may be completely verbal, or they may involve signed agreements with some exchange to remedy the offense. Even though these are not adjudicated in formal courts, they could be accepted as a legitimately just conclusion of the event.
Privately achieved justice is adequate justice. From many of the accounts I have read, there was some form of private understanding that satisfied justice being served for the offense. Bringing these cases back to public is a delusion of injustice.
Encouraging this delusion of injustice discourages mature development of learning to handle uncomfortable situations and negotiate for a lasting conclusion. In the cases of events when both parties were younger, they may accept an agreement to move on from some objectionable event with and understanding about future behavior. Implicit in this agreement is to forgive the behavior at least in terms of not bringing it up for further penalties unless the subsequent agreement were violated.
There is a level of maturity and honor to stand by an agreement to forgive someone of some transgression. Honoring such agreements further develops the persons involved to be more responsible and trustworthy in the future. Future human interactions will present more complex and difficult situations that will need similar interpersonal negotiation to address grievances in a beneficial way.
In contrast, this encouragement to bring up past complaints degrades the person’s character in a way that can disqualify them from future opportunities that may be as simple as being invited to a party, or when at a party being able to enjoy one that is uninhibited by fears preventing anything but the most superficial interactions between party goers. In the workplace, a similar consequence may be segregation of work by gender, race, or other markers in order to avoid the inevitable acting out of human nature in a way that has no option to be resolved privately.
The delusion of injustice is that there cannot be privately negotiated justice that may be acceptable only to the private parties based on the particular context that they agree to keep private. As a result of this, we overrule such private agreements and require a fresh trial in a public or formal setting based on current sensibilities and on lost information about the full context of the earlier event. In the re-airing of past events, society regresses to a more immature level where every human interaction needs adult supervision and every offense be reported to authorities for a formal justice.
One of the recent topics that bothers me is the descriptions of adult and adolescent interactions with sexual overtones as being forbidden. These are encounters that are fall short of sexual acts. We say that even minor sexual teasing between adults and adolescents amount to pedophilia. We insist that adolescents lack the capacity for consent and so all even remotely sexual innuendo is forbidden.
A characteristic of modern society is the extreme segregation of adolescents from adults. I support having minimum ages for various levels of adult responsibility, but I think we need to balance that with giving adolescents to begin to participate at some level of peer level interactions with adults. That should include unwelcome interactions because it gives the adolescent the opportunity to practice moral judgement and to assert boundaries with an appropriate yet effective response. Shielding adolescents from adult behaviors denies them the opportunity to develop as well adapted adults for modern life. I would rather allow adolescents to more fully interact with adults. Give them the opportunity to develop skills to resolve various offenses privately with a permanent agreement that the case has reached an acceptably just conclusion instead of accumulating a delusion of injustice.