Sunday, September 01, 2019

A path to redemption

We need to talk about redemption, and of scale. This is about more than just politics, it’s also about the way we treat other people, especially prominent people, who are accused of misdeeds of one kind or other. We need to accept that not all of these transgressions are equal, and also that we need to find a way to allow people to redeem themselves. Our common humanity requires us to gain some perspective. Which is why we need to talk about it.

During the height of the “MeToo” frenzy, there was a simple equation: Accusation meant guilt meant certain punishment. There was seldom any chance to evaluate the allegations, nor any opportunity for the accused to receive a fair hearing, much less do anything to redeem themselves. I talked about this in an answer to an “Ask Arthur” question back in 2017:
The problem is, first, not all allegations are equal, no matter what the Left says. There’s a HUGE difference between someone accused of rape (actual or attempted), child molesting (actual or attempted), and someone accused of making sexually-suggestive remarks/propositions. Yet at the height of the frenzy, they were all treated as if they all carried exactly the same seriousness and had to be punished equally seriously.
That attitude set the stage for several high-profile cases. I talked about that in that 2017 post:
The allegations against Conyers were very serious, and his resignation seems like a good outcome. But unless there were more allegations against Franken that we weren’t told about—which is absolutely possible—forcing him to resign seemed excessive (I certainly raised my eyebrows at what seemed like an over-the-top response from Kirsten Gillibrand). Still, maybe there’s more that we don’t know about, but, if so, forcing him to resign seems like a good way to prevent those allegations from being reported. Which is why I have my doubts that forcing him to resign was the right move. But, I can certainly be persuaded.
We’ll probably never know if there were more allegations against Franken that justified the harsh reaction to the ones we knew about, but, at the time, the response seemed all out of proportion to the alleged transgressions. However, we do know that we’re still dealing with the consequences of that saga, with Gillibrand’s role in it being part of the reason her presidential campaign never got anywhere and she had to drop out.

The issue that became obvious is that there was no permitted way for Franken (or anyone else) to adequately apologise or to find a path to redemption. The equation created in those fevered days, that allegation = guilt = need for severe punishment, is with us still, and it’s a huge problem.

The first problem with the harsh punishment that results from allegations alone is that it could make victims of behaviour that, while objectionable, was neither violent nor criminal, and that fact could easily make them refuse to come forward because doing so could destroy someone who made a mistake. That, again, is because the perpetrator could have no way to apologise or atone. So, this determination to punish at any cost can actually discourage victims from coming forward.

There’s a bigger problem, though, and it’s this: If we’re forever trapped by the wrong things we’ve said or done, we’ll never have any incentive to do better or become better.

I doubt very much that there are or ever have been any humans who haven’t said or done something they later regretted. Many people have even done or said things that they’re later ashamed of. Were they prominent, their transgressions may become public, and their chance to atone could be taken from them.

But suppose, for example, a perfectly ordinary, non-famous person made inappropriate sexual remarks. Later, they realise how wrong they were, and they try to educate other people about how bad that sort of behaviour is. Maybe they also donate to charities that deal with victims of sexual assault. As a perfectly ordinary, non-famous person, that would probably be the end of it. They would have come to the realisation that they’d behaved inappropriately, they’d learned from that, and they tried to atone for it.

In recent years, when has any famous person ever given the chance to do anything similar?

And that gets to the third problem: It’s bad politics. That sounds crass, absolutely, crude, sure, and it’s even more than a little cynical. But, it’s also true: That vast majority of voters who are not “woke” don’t care that someone made inappropriate sexual remarks, and they’re not interested in seeing such a person harshly punished for their past, especially if the person had come to the realisation that they’d behaved inappropriately, they’d learned from that, and they tried to atone for it. “Move on,” ordinary voters would say.

One of the things driving ordinary voters away from the Left are those demanding harsh punishment for even the smallest transgression (that's not the only factor, obviously). That happens, first, because they perceive the reaction as an overreaction and as grossly unfair. Part of that reaction is because they’re well aware that there are not now, nor have there ever been any humans that haven’t said or done something they later regretted, and that many people have even done or said things that they’re later ashamed of. Perhaps they have, too. By demanding harsh punishment for even minor transgressions, plenty of ordinary people will see themselves in the crosshairs, and that makes progress on the larger issues unlikely or impossible: They've not only stopped listening, they've tuned out completely.

None of which is to say that we shouldn’t punish crimes like sexual assault and rape—of course such charges should he heard in court and, upon conviction, the person should be punished. But that relies on due process, a fundamental concept underlying everything democracy is built on.

A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that’s the same for any alleged crime. Their guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before they’re punished, and that’s what’s been missing from all this.

On the other side of the equation, we’ve been told we must believe the women, always, and without question—a standard we’d never accept for any other alleged crime. We must listen to the women, and also take their allegations seriously—but we’re under no obligation to assume that allegation = guilt, regardless of whether the accused is famous or not. This isn’t because of the myth of “false rape accusations”, which are so statistically insignificant as to be pretty much irrelevant. Instead, this is about due process, the fundamental concept to which everyone, accuser and accused alike, is entitled.

If we’re forever trapped by the wrong things we’ve said or done, we’ll never have any incentive to do better or become better. We must always strive to be better people, and for most of us, that will mean attempting to atone for the things we’ve done or said that we’re now embarrassed by or ashamed of. How can that ever happen if there is no path to redemption?

We need to talk about this a lot more.


rogerogreen said...

It's tricky, because you need time and sincerity. I thought Franken had that. Joe Walsh, the guy running for President on the GOP side, does not. He was using Trumpian statements as recently as last year. His apology that he helped to make Trump, runs hollow.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Completely agree. I also think that when someone has said or done something wrong, there has to be real contrition, and not the much-hated, "I apologise if anyone was offended" nonsense. The person who did something has to own it and say that what they did was wrong. I'm less concerned with what specifically they say than I am about the fact that they acknowledge they did something that was wrong, something beyond merely offending people who heard about the wrong thing.

I do think that Franken meets that test, and that Walsh doesn't, but that gets at personal perception as much as anything else: For some people, no amount of contrition and apology will ever be enough, no matter how sincere, and no matter how minor the thing done was. I'm much less rigid in such things, more willing to forgive.

And that gets back to the point of this post: We have to gave a path to redemption for people who did or said stupid things, and that's still lacking at the moment.