I read a quote once, which I can’t find now, about how after a crime has been committed police are simply in the business of revenge. I think about it a lot and in our social media age how we’ve all entered the revenge business. So I was thinking about what is justice and what is just revenge?
Example 1. A millionaire CEO is seen on camera kicking his dog and he’s forced to resign. Is the world a better place because of that, is it any safer or cleaner? Is the medical supply industry better off without him? Being cruel to an animal doesn’t mean he’s bad at his job it’s simply that losing his job is the strongest punishment social media mob justice could distribute. And if losing your job is our desired punishment for animal cruelty is it the same if we do it to a CEO and a bus driver? I imagine if a bus driver was on camera kicking a dog there would be similar public outcry and he’d lose his job but are losing your bus driving gig and losing a million dollar company the same thing?
Maybe animals of the world are a bit safer because this sets a precedent and an example, does that mean justice was served? Or did a digital mob just get cathartic revenge by finding an excuse to tear down a rich man? And I think my deepest question about things like this is – did this guy learn any empathy for animals in this experience and therefore grow and become a better person or did he learn not to be cruel to animals just out of a fear of punishment? Did we as a society change him as a person or just change his behavior?
I find it odd now that I’m talking about it that kicking a dog in Canada is a crime but shooting a lion in Africa isn’t. Anyway I’m bringing up Cecil the Lion, remember that, everyone was obsessive and angry then no one followed through or followed up and we all moved on. The hunter ended up losing his job, facing death threats and vandalism for something that technically wasn’t illegal. The public made a moral judgement and went into revenge mode. I don’t see how spray painting MURDERER on someone’s garage fits into anyone’s idea of justice so why do we feel compelled to act that way? And I say we because I included myself, I have an emotional reaction to someone kicking a dog or shooting a lion, not to vandalize or send death threats but certainly to see them punished and to know that they know – that they feel – that what they did was wrong. What an odd human drive that we want to make people deeply regret behavior just because we don’t approve of it. I guess that’s revenge in a nutshell. Forcing someone to regret a behavior they otherwise wouldn’t.
Another idea of justice, or particularly the justice system, is that it’s to protect us from dangerous people. Stalkers for example, fixated on one person with disregard for anyone’s health or safety including their own.
Any enlightened person knows that helping rather than punishing drug addicts is better for society as a whole but how far can we take that mentality? With stalkers can they be fixed to the point where they can be a productive member of society? Or do we lock them up to protect innocent, productive people from them?
Example 2. One shocking and devastating case is Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver (who legally changed his name to War Machine in 2008 for his UFC career) and Christy Mack. They dated and when they broke up he acted like a delusional stalker. And this is a guy who spends his professional time focusing on how to hurt people, he’s clearly an extreme danger. He would have, and might still, kill the object of his affection or someone he imagines is coming between them. The question that really sticks with me here is – if we could help Jonathan by treating him as someone with a mental illness and we could return him to being a member of society would that be justice for Christy? It doesn’t feel like it. I feel a bit ill imagining him out of jail ever. Not out of a vengeful feeling against him but out of empathy for her. How can justice balance what might be best for society and what might be best for victims?
A friend of mine bases his idea of justice on “Whatever the victim wants.” so if a victim of rape wants the death penalty for their rapist society should honour that, in his view. And while I see the logic in that, what if the victim of a minor traffic accident wanted the same thing? That would be insane. That would be revenge and revenge is always a drastic and overblown response.
In the end I think justice is about balancing power. When one person uses their power do to harm – like a man having power over a dog, a trained fighter having so much more power than a defenseless woman, or is reckless with their power like the driver of a car having more power than a pedestrian – justice and the mechanisms of it should step in to balance that power.