Friday, March 06, 2015

On Mob Justice

There's an hour long BBC documentary making the rounds on the Internet. No one in it shows any gore, but the descriptions of how a particular rape happened in India are enough to make most anyone question his faith in humanity. You turn cynical when you hear how defense lawyers justified the behavior of the rapists. If you plan to watch it-- assuming you can find it amidst copyright takedowns and calls to suppress it-- steel yourself, and take the time to pause the video, because you might have to.

A link to a CNN article about the documentary is here.

One of my Facebook groups had a thread on mob justice where this (from the  New Indian Express) was shared and discussed. The question on the poster's mind was, "Do you agree with mob justice?" TL;DR: My answer was "No."

I'm putting my longer response below.

Q. "Do you support mob justice? Or do you think it is justified?"

A. No. Angry mobs tend to punish crimes disproportionately. 

They serve as a kind of release for the people who join them (and only for this emotional sense would I agree that there is some justification for mob justice), but they're not just meting out punishment for one particular crime. An individual member of a mob could just be using the mob's desire to punish a criminal as an excuse to lash out against an entirely different issue, such as his own frustration with life or maybe his own poverty. (Ask yourself: Why is there a risk of looting when protests turn ugly?)


They might also be making the criminal a scapegoat. The fierceness with which a mob calls for a criminal's death might be a reflection of the fear each member feels about himself. The existence of the criminal implies the existence of criminal tendencies within the self. Punishing the criminal excessively (by demanding blood, for example) may be an act of denial. By asking for extreme measures, the mob member is saying "This is not me/my country/my culture!" 

This is neither fair to the criminal (being forced to bear someone else's sins) nor does it show that the mob is a group of brave, just, and thinking people-- the kind of people who have a right to mete out proper justice.

Mob violence satiates the crowd's bloodlust and allays its fear and anguish, but it doesn't really fix the problem of crime. In the case of most rape, the real problem is not that people feel sexual urges. It's the mindset that (generally) males have: women are objects (regardless of whether they should be 'protected' or 'used'), or that women are second class citizens who automatically come under the protection and authority of men. An angry mob is not subtle enough to deal with this problem. An angry mob cannot sit and think about what social reforms have to be made to address it.

It's Over Nine Thouuuusaaaaaaand!

My blog is old, and it has practically 9000 page views. By the time I'm done with this post, that Dragon Ball Z joke will finally apply.

I don't know how to feel about that. It's small change, given that the blog has been around since 2003. Thanks so much, Romanian reader who visited because he was maybe looking for something else! You and so many other search bots have allowed this Dragon Ball Z reference to happen.

I need a drink. What's good to drink in Romania?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Root of the Problem

Jordan's Queen Rania is concerned that Islamic Extremists are painting the Arab World in violent colors. I agree. I have a caveat, though.

Dear Queen Rania,

Here's the root of the problem, your Highness: there is something wrong with your source text. It's the same problem the Christians have with theirs. The same text that hands down your morality is the same text that excuses ISIL's lack of it. Anyone can read the text and pick the verses that reflect his own tendencies, good or bad, and say that his actions have been given God's approval.

I don't expect you to acknowledge that what's good in every moral system comes from our common humanity. ("Do unto others" is simply "give and take," and that predates Christianity, predates religion, even.)  But I would hope that every reading of Christian or Islamic texts takes this humanity into account.

Would a wise, loving, merciful God really inflict infinite punishment for finite crimes? For simple ignorance? Would the same God really  prescribe monstrous behavior toward people who are obviously also his children? Would a just God really prescribe behavior that is so patently unfair?

The texts are broken. Fundamentally so.  Because their human writers--however inspired they were--  were flawed.

Until people realize that their texts are fundamentally broken, this is going to keep happening. Every sect or faction disenfranchised by the modern world will hold more tightly to their text, more specifically to the verses which justify their retaliation against the people who are conveniently labelled "agents of the Enemy." 

Your Highness, here is where we can both agree: education. The same education  that (in conjunction with your position) has allowed you to speak out for women's rights and the cause of international peace: this is what's going to keep us all from killing each other. The more we know about and embrace other peoples, the more we can see our own humanity peeking out from under the foreigner's clothes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hell No


How does something like this wind up in my mail?



Saturday, September 06, 2014

Dear Ms Rivers

I must be the most hypocritical Philosophical Naturalist on the planet. I keep writing open letters to dead people, as if doing so would cause them to send me a reply. (They wouldn't have had the time or the inclination to reply to me when they were alive, what makes me think they'd want to now that they're ...dead?) This seems to have become my go-to method  of dealing with their passing. What ever so slightly disturbs me is that I often don't know these people personally, but they've obviously affected my life enough for me to care about their passing.

Take one Joan Rivers. I've tried not to watch Ms Rivers' show, Fashion Police,  but it was something I couldn't avoid, since my sister's a big fan, and we were sharing one teevee. I know I'm her brother because I also feel the need to cackle evilly at the latest atrocity Ms Rivers's celebrity targets were wearing to their award shows. (Hey, you can't be Pinoy without being a little bakya.)

Despite her kitsch and tackiness in her crusade to mock kitsch and tackiness, there's something to admire about  Joan Rivers. She defied her parents, left home and town to chase her dreams and catch them, hold onto them tightly, with both hands. If this isn't the quintessential American dream story, I don't know what is.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not about parental defiance for its own sake, but if something calls out to you to take a less-trodden path of which your parents may not necessarily approve, it might be worth looking into. (Have I justified people who want careers in what the Sims games call the "Criminal Career Track?" I hope not.)

What she and Ricardo Montalban, Robin Williams, Carl Sagan, and all these other dead people have in common is that they were symbols of normality for me. A kind of safety. Bombs may go off, floods may claim lives and property, but knowing that Robin Williams was making a movie, or that Khan was still around selling stones embedded in rosaries (or that our Joan Rivers was still cackling on the teevee) would make me feel as if there'd be another day. I dread thinking about what I'd think the world would be like if Captain Ham himself suddenly died by way of a stroke or heart attack-- or because someone dropped a bridge on him.

Their passing shakes up my status quo and reminds me all the more that life is short and that my number may be up sooner than I would want.

(So please finish your comics and stories, Dex.)