Tempering Justice with Love

Complicity has been named one of the ‘words of the year’ for 2017. Complicity, collusion, corruption—collision! That seems to have been the trajectory of sociopolitical affairs in the Western world in 2017. Much of it is an overdue reckoning—bringing to light sexual predators too long hidden in the shadows. Exposing the lie of corporate complicity in government corruption at every level—whether it’s the scandal of Monsanto paying scientists to falsify studies certifying glyphosate as ‘safe,’ or fossil fuel companies buying up our elected representatives to slow down action on climate change. In a textbook case of seizing the narrative, the Free Market Gospel has for too long made us forget the principle of Conflict of Interest inherent in such corrupt transactions. ‘Follow the money’ thus becomes both an essential axiom and a clear path to truth. If we’re to move forward constructively, we need to walk back the capitalist narrative that claims there is no such thing as public interest or the social contract. “A house divided against itself will not stand,” goes the proverb. Civilization reaches its zenith through a thousand small acts of cooperation at every level. When cooperation breaks down, so does civilization.

Clearly, a social revolution is underway. However, in the spirit of peace and forgiveness that the Christmas season is supposed to foster, we may need to moderate our righteous fury. As one ecumenical minister I spoke with recently asked: “Can we not find a way to temper justice with love? Otherwise what we have is not justice, but revenge.” History is replete with cases of righteously motivated revolutionaries misusing their power and turning into the thing they hate. In particular I’m thinking of the current purge of prominent men due to allegations of sexual misconduct. To be absolutely clear: I look with disgust and contempt upon any man who sexually harasses or otherwise abuses a woman. These men should—and clearly will—suffer the consequences. My concern is that if our zeal for retribution is not tempered, in the name of complicity we risk punishing the innocent along with the guilty. Historically this has happened in every great purge. With the appointment of Anita Hill as chair of an enquiry into sexual harassment in American media and entertainment,[1] will we see even-handed justice? Or will the innocent have to suffer along with the guilty?

It has already begun to happen. In Britain, as part of the purge that rooted out notorious pedophiles like children’s entertainer Jimmy Savile,[2] the same righteous fury also caught up more obscure targets such as folksinger Roy Harper.[3] The case against Harper was so flimsy that after three years of investigation and court hearings, the prosecutor had to admit the Crown lacked sufficient evidence and dismissed the case. In the meantime, however, Harper, now 76 years old, has been broken financially by the ordeal. Given that he was far from the stratus of earnings of some of his superstar friends, this could mean an old age lived out in poverty. And his reputation—one built up over a 50-year career—is ruined. In the Supreme Court of Media, accusation equals conviction, even when the person is exonerated.

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You know things are getting bad when Facebook has had to take down hate speech such as “men are scum.”[4] Or when lesbian comedian Jessica Kirson can get away with saying things like, “Well I don’t always listen to my wife and I’m dead inside, so that must mean I’m a man.” Comedian Kayla Avery says she “routinely gets banned for comments such as ‘men are garbage fires,’ ‘the worst,’ ‘trash,’ and other derivatives.” I hate to have to be the one to break the news, but sexism cuts both ways. Case in point: the idea that simply by being male, I’m a “colluder and a beneficiary” of a “culture of sexual violence.” It’s the very definition of a sexist statement. And a textbook example of the cognitive error known to psychologists as ‘all or nothing thinking’: one subset of men is guilty so they all are. Of course, such an argument is specious on its face. No evidence is—or can be—offered to support it. It’s like saying all Muslims are terrorists, when clearly only a few extremists are. However, in ‘antisocial media,’ the ancient and honourable art of debate has degenerated into character assassination. Due process—the right to be presented with evidence, to be considered innocent until proven guilty—is no longer part of the dialogue. There are good reasons our courts are governed by this process.

By even wading into this arena, I’m likely to be criticized for ‘mansplaining’ or downplaying the seriousness of sexual harassment. I’m doing no such thing. When it comes to gender relations, men need to govern themselves with restraint, consideration and integrity, as do women. What we don’t need is to be written off, to be told, “you’re all the same.” Yet when Matt Damon stands up for men who have had no part in sexual misconduct,[5] he is lectured by the Guardian’s culture critic Hannah Jane Parkinson, who writes that he is “splashing back into a lake of ignorance like a dog which repeatedly forgets it is not good at swimming.”[6]

no_arguing

Parkinson’s article is representative of the sad state of public debate. First off, Parkinson launches her screed with an ad hominem attack (the shaggy dog comment), always the signal of a weak or spurious argument. Secondly, she missed Damon’s point: what’s not being discussed are the majority of the male gender who aren’t sexual predators. And what’s so awful about congratulating men who conduct themselves decently with women? How else do we model right conduct but by positive reinforcement? When is the news going to turn its fixation from human evil to what we actually do right? (By contrast, Positive News in the UK and Yes! Magazine in the US are refocusing the news to “accentuate the positive,” as the old song goes.) Parkinson is given a global platform to publicly correct a man for ‘mansplaining,’ yet her column, the very definition of ‘womansplaining’, gets a pass. Apparently women explaining things to men is acceptable, but not the reverse. Damon—and by extension all men, it would seem—is expected to just sit down and shut up. So who has no voice now?

The elites who control most of the world’s wealth and political power are all too happy to see social justice movements fractured, divided along a thousand fault lines. Right against Left. Race against race. Class against class. Nation against nation. And now, gender against gender. As long as this is so we will never be able to mount an effective, united resistance. Unless we each commit to acting with mutual aid and respect, in this or any other social issue, we are doomed to continued infighting and hopelessly stalled social progress. “A house divided against itself will not stand.”

This new year what we all need to be complicit in is justice tempered by love.

[1] ‘Anita Hill to chair Hollywood harassment commission,’ BBC News, December 16, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-42382106

[2] ‘Damning report on Jimmy Savile, Sex Monster of the BBC,’ Tom Sykes, The Daily Beast, February 25, 2016. https://www.thedailybeast.com/damning-report-on-jimmy-savile-sex-monster-of-the-bbc

[3] ‘Roy Harper angry at court fight as sexual abuse charges dropped,’ The Guardian, November 9, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/nov/09/roy-harper-cleared-historical-sexual-abuse-angry-court-battle

[4] ‘Facebook bans women for posting ‘men are scum’ after harassment scandals,’ Samuel Gibbs, The Guardian, December 5, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/dec/05/facebook-bans-women-posting-men-are-scum-harassment-scandals-comedian-marcia-belsky-abuse?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+main+NEW+H+categories&utm_term=255425&subid=15377526&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

[5] ‘Matt Damon: One thing not being talked about is men who aren’t sexual predators,’ Benjamin Lee, The Guardian, December 18, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/dec/18/matt-damon-sexual-harassment-weinstein-response-minnie-driver?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+main+NEW+H+categories&utm_term=257180&subid=15377526&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

[6] ‘Matt Damon, stop #damonsplaining,’ Hannah Jane Parkinson, The Guardian, December 19, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/19/matt-damon-sexual-harassment

 

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About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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