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Posted by on Sep 25, 2007 in At TMV | 15 comments

Disentangling Perpetrators from Victims

When someone is accused of moral wrongdoing, they have the right to procedural protection and a fair hearing, and should not be presumed guilty of the act without cause.

When someone has been morally wronged, they have a right to compensation and restitution, and should not be assumed to be lying about the wrong in absence of specific evidence to that effect (e.g., if I say I’ve been robbed, the first instinct of the police shouldn’t be “insurance fraud!” unless there is specific evidence pointing in that direction).

The right of the perpetrators to a fair hearing and due process, and the right of the victim to compensation and restitution, are in tension when they are joined as part of one proceeding. There is a dis-juncture between them — making sure the proceedings are fair probably means some “guilty” will go free, for example. If the only remedy for the victim is punishing the wrongdoer, or if the victim is only seen as deserving of remedy in conjunction with a punishable perpetrator, then this conflict is unavoidable. However, in most cases, one can compensate victims in ways that do not require punishing the perpetrator, and so victims should be seen as deserving compensation via proceedings that lie outside the proceedings used to determine whether the accused can be seen as guilty. In these situations, we should recognize paired obligations: to provide remedy and restitution to the victims so as to erase, as far as possible, the unjust harm they faced, as well as to not label any accused perpetrator as guilty of wrongdoing without proof. Recognizing this fact is crucial in constructing all ethical proceedings — racial and otherwise — in which there is a identifiable victim class which may not be able to muster evidence to “convict” their oppressors sufficient to satisfy our duties to the accused. A moral system grappling with these issues is only adequate when it recognizes and is responsive to both the “perpetrator” (accused) perspective and the “victim” perspective.

Far more analysis at the above-link.

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • DLS

    There is no case for reparations, collectively imposed (which is even more morally defective).

  • domajot

    DLS –
    “There is no case for reparations, collectively imposed (which is even more morally defective).”

    ….unless one has the capacity to see beyond a persoanl and limited viewpoint.
    That’s why productive dabetes consist of more thant just lofty pronouncements.

  • DLS

    ….unless one has the capacity to see beyond a persoanl and limited viewpoint.
    That’s why productive dabetes consist of more thant just lofty pronouncements.

    [sigh] You are the one demonstrating limitation here.

    It’s bad enough that we have real forms of government insurance out there where the private sector alone should be involved, such as with flood insurance. The last thing we need is what is worse, here, a perverse collectivist redistributionist entitlement scheme set up where the harm claimed often never exists. There is moral hazard in any such kind of program (even for well-meant reasons that could get a rare system like that brought to live, such as compensating people subject to harm from medical errors, separate from the system of disciplining doctors, something pursued by some health care activists for decades now), but it is truly defective when it is in support of a scam by professional “victims” and their activist fellow travelers. It’s no surprise that advocates of such a perverse objective argue as well for cutting various moral corners such as reducing the burden of “proof” (helpful when pre-conclusions don’t easily conform to reality). Pathological guilt complexes about past and present wrong-doing (that often is nothing of the kind) are hardly what would justify such a program, either. Go cry over real and imaginary wrongs yourself. Leave other people alone.

  • egrubs

    Man, that’s a lot of adjectives.

    Regarding the article itself, and I don’t mean to be picky, but the basic idea is that we can fix situations without having to spend all that time punishing people, yes? That the fixing part is the important part?

    And if that’s the point, I guess I’m confused about the detail. And if it’s not the point, I’m even more confused.

  • That is the point, and the detail is because whenever I try and talk about “fixing racism”, I run into a brick wall of folks wailing about how I’m just assuming the accused are guilty of racism, and that’s so unfair. Hopefully, this post will be the sledgehammer that convinces them I’m not all that interested in identifying/punishing racists, compared to my interest in compensating victims. I’m not convinced that it will (the ability of folks to shift the focus of the discussion back to the alleged perpetrator, whether she had racist “intent”, and the burden of proof before I can call her a racist, is well night amazing), but I feel like I’ve done my part for clarity’s sake.

  • C Stanley

    Well, consider me ‘sledged’, David.

    You’ve made your point, I just don’t agree- especially in the particular case we were discussing, claims of racism in political ads. I can’t see any possible way of separating the victim from the perpetrator in those cases, because as soon as you seriously entertain the notion that a campaign ad or negative statement about a candidate has racial undertones, you’ve assigned guilt to the person who made the ad or statement. You can say that you don’t necessarily think he meant it that way, but that is how it will be perceived anyway. As you yourself pointed out, there’s a problem there because it’s important that political criticism be permitted without restricting it against minority candidates.

    So in those particular cases, it doesn’t seem possible to address the alleged victim’s complaint without automatically punishing the alleged perpetrator. Even if the candidate who was supposed to have been wronged comes out saying that he didn’t feel the statement or ad was racist, the damage is still done.

    And, my comments in the other section about burden of proof also pertained specifically to this type of complaint (which I was under the impression was the topic of that discussion, not all racism in general). My point there is, if you aren’t going to try to discern the intent of campaign ads or statements, then what other basis is there for evidence? Aren’t you, as I suggested, leaving it strictly to the alleged victim to define whether or not an infraction even occurred, based only on his emotional reaction to the statements and his own perceptions of it?

  • C Stanley

    Oy…sorry for the poor sentence structure above, but I hope the meaning is still cipherable.

  • I mean, yeah, I kind of am allowing victims to declare their victimization, just like (by and large) when someone says they’ve been robbed, I assume they have been (possibility of insurance fraud notwithstanding), and when someone says their house has burned down, I assume it was (possibility of voluntary arson notwithstanding), and when someone says they’ve been beaten, I assume they were (possibility they fell down the stairs notwithstanding). Generally, one someone asserts they are the victim of wrongdoing, we assume they’re telling the truth — a moral “move” we are normally able to undertake without assuming any particular perpetrator is guilty.

    I think we have to develop that same sort of moral agility in racial cases too. If we don’t, we’re really screwed, for the above-mentioned reason. And if you look at my posts on the subject, you’ll note that I relatively rarely call any person “racist” (it happens, but it’s pretty uncommon), even as I reasonably frequently assail particular policies as racist. And in general, while I advocate policy reforms and restitution, I rarely call for punishment of “offenders”, for the twin reasons that a) assessing precise culpability is difficult and b) I’m more interested in victims than perpetrators. In the political ad context, I’m less interested in going off on some riff about how such-and-such ad proves Republicans are racist (although this ad, ironically, may be an exception, because I don’t even think it meets the “alternative reasonable explanation” test given Obama’s demonstrated intellectual pedigree). I just want these sort of ads not to be run. So the proper response, upon the call-out, is for these sorts of ads not to be run anymore, and to move on (admittedly, the original subject of the last post — about the difficulty in figuring out how to speak about marginalized groups in a polity saturated with racist history such that virtually any negative characteristic has a past association with White Supremacy remains a problem).

    But anyway, if we don’t figure out a way to do this sort of splitting of “punish the evildoer” and “compensate the victim”, we’re doomed on this issue, and in general I prefer to work towards heading off impending doom rather than just proclaiming its inevitability on street corners. So perhaps, in the vein of all social progress which begins with two folks hashing out a vexing problem, we can make a pact between the two of us (and anyone else who’s reading this thread), wherein we both agree to separate discussions of “labeling and punishing the racist/perpetrator” from “how to provide compensation and restitution to the victim.” Since my posts tend to focus on the latter, I’ll take care to not prejudge guilt of potential perpetrators (I won’t say “this politician is racist”, for example, unless I have clear and compelling evidence), and y’all will agree to focus on the degree of harm to the victim and what should be done for restitution. If even a few of us agree to take that very simple step, I think it could provide a massive increase in the space we have to discuss these issues, and would provide a model for what I truly believe is the only way forward in terms of racial discussion.

    So, do you sign on?

  • C Stanley

    David,
    In theory I’m willing to “sign on” to your separation of victims from perpetrators and focusing on the former, and that’s certainly preferrable to playing the blame game.

    But I don’t think it moves us much closer to agreement overall. I’m still very much in disagreement with your analogies on accepting a person’s victimization based on their declaration of it. First of all, in the cases you mentioned, there’s still some verification required: if a person claims to have been robbed of a $100,000 piece of jewelry, I’m not quite sure how the police handle it but if there’s no receipt to show that this person even owned the item, no sign of a burglary at the residence, etc, I’m not sure the complaint would go very far. If someone attempts to file an assault charge but has no visible wounds, no witnesses to the alleged assault, no doctor visit, etc, I’m not sure that would be taken very seriously either.

    So the problem with using these situations as analogies for the kind of racism that I think we’re discussing is that I don’t see how there is any evidence- it seems to be purely an act based on the perception of the alleged victim. It’s completely about how he/she believes he/she’s been treated (ironically, separating the ‘crime’ from the issue of intent almost makes it more so).

    Now, let me back up a bit and say that on an interpersonal level, I’m more than happy to entertain people’s feelings on this sort of thing. If I were ever to have made a statement which was perceived as racist by a person of a racial minority, I’d have no problem with retracting, apologizing, or whatever was appropriate to the situation, regardless of whether or not I truly felt the claim had merit (recognizing, of course, that my own perception would necessarily be different from this persons based on his/her life experiences). But this has to do with civil behavior (ie manners), not something which can be codified or handled on an institutional basis IMO. And I’m not even rejecting that out of hand, I’m just saying that I don’t see a way to reconcile the conflicting interests (of providing the recompense to the victim without automatically causing harm to the alleged perp- since the perp is automatically defined by the act itself, unlike in a robbery where you can say maybe someone was robbed, maybe not, but we’re not going to convict anyone without evidence it so there’s no harm in erring on the side of believing that the robbery occurred).

  • domajot

    It seems to me that this is too difficult to discuss when talking in a purely philosophical and abstract framework One has to imagine too many particulars and varianles without knwoing which may or may not apply.

    In the previous thread, what I gleanded from this debate was that CStanley was simply starting out from a different premise, and, that, of ourse, will prevent the two prerspectives from meeting.

    One starting point would be to assume that two people in the same situation have equal protection under law and are vulnerable to the same harm due to wprmgful accisatopm simply by virtue of the fact that they are subject to the same laws. Since laws are no guarantee of equal justice, and demosrably do not porduce equal justice in our society, that’s a premise I can’t accept.

    David’s idea of separating perpetraors from victims makes a lot of philosophical sense to me. But I have to admit to huge doubts about how that would work in real cases. Before being able to assess appropriate restitution (who would be sesponsible for carrying that out, the state?) there would be the need to determine the level of appropriate restitution, and that takes a lot of rules and laws and investigaions and the political wars to institute them.

    David is right in that this would take a tidal shifti in moral outllook. In the face of the moral tone in this country, I’m very gloomy about the prospects for that happening.
    EXhibit A is the outcry when apologizing for slavery as a nation, not persoanlly, is suggested.
    Exhibit B is the fact that a tepid apology for the interment of Japanese American is the only restitution for it, and that came glaringly late.
    Exhibit C is the treatment of Native Americans vis-a-cis land treaties and trusts.

    This is not a nation prone to great moral shifts when it comes to acknoeledging injustices done to minorities. In fact, I see a growing trend for the power sector of society – whites. especially well-situated whites – trying to paint themselves as the true vicitms in these conflicts of viewpoints and premises.
    I remain colored gloomy.

  • C Stanley

    In the previous thread, what I gleanded from this debate was that CStanley was simply starting out from a different premise, and, that, of ourse, will prevent the two prerspectives from meeting.

    One starting point would be to assume that two people in the same situation have equal protection under law and are vulnerable to the same harm due to wprmgful accisatopm simply by virtue of the fact that they are subject to the same laws. Since laws are no guarantee of equal justice, and demosrably do not porduce equal justice in our society, that’s a premise I can’t accept.

    Fine, but if you’re saying that this is the premise I started from then you’re incorrect. I don’t know if you saw my last post at that other thread, but I explained that I was commenting to the discussion at hand which focused on racism in political discourse, not on legal or justice issues (I probably wouldn’t completely agree with the idea of bending ‘equal justice under the law’ either, but I wouldn’t say that I start from a completely different premise on those questions).

  • domajot

    DStanley –

    I resorted to using the justice system as an nalogy simply because I found that phrasing thought about sppech in the abstract led me to many run-on sentences with caluses upon clauses. My language skills could use impovement.

    It’s always dangerous to infer maning from text when meaning is not explicitely stated. If I was wrong, I was wrong.

    It just seemed to me that you and David were approaching the topic of your debate from totally different angles. In general, the angle from which one views one poblem is likely to carry over when viewing other issues.
    That’s why there are liberals and conservatives.

    Luckily, people do peelk into the other’s line of vision sometimes, and understaning, if not agreement, then has a chance.

  • C Stanley

    Doma,
    I do understand your general point, and agree that we each tend to start from a particular perspective on any given issue and sometimes our divergence occurs right from the starting point so that there’s no way we’ll come to agreement (mikkel talked aobut that a while back and I think he was considering a project to try to explore it further- to see if there was a way to find those points of divergence to help people become better able to have productive discussions).

    When you do put the conversation in the context of the justice system, and example would be the situation in Jena: if I were of the mindset that equal justice under the law always meant that we should discount any considerations of the individual experience, then I’d say that the nooses being hung in the tree were no big deal. After all, if black kids did that to white kids, there’d be no harm.

    But that is very much not the way I see it; you definitely have to consider context and then it becomes completely obvious why that was indeed a ‘big deal’, and not a harmless prank.

    So I think that’s an illustration, that I really don’t start from a different perspective on the issue of racial justice- even though you and David might take the concept of extenuating circumstances further than I would, I still agree that those things should be considered. In fact I’d go farther than some conservatives on the Jena case, because I think you do have to consider the aggravating circumstances in assessing the guilt of the blacks who beat up the white kid- but of course I also still say that they shouldn’t be exonerated based on those extenuating circumstances.

  • C Stanley

    mikkel: I’ll check it out more thoroughly when I get a chance, but don’t worry, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does shake out that the D pres/R congress combo works best for fiscal prudence. And your last comment along with Marlowe’s observation explain why that might be: if the pres is the one doing the vetoing, there’s a human target for the ‘heartless’ rhetoric to stick to. If the liability for that is spread out over Congress, it might be ameliorated.

    Tully: not only is it a good fable, but when I moused over and saw the wiki link, I was reminded of the great illustrator Milo Winter. I really have to track down a copy of Aesop or one of the other works he’s illustrated for the kids’ library, as unfortunately I have no idea what became of the copy I had as a kid.

  • C Stanley

    Oops, please forgive the misplaced comment above.

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