Friday, 30 January 2015

Your Freedom Ends Where It Impacts Mine, Mate

Yesterday I rambled on about lines and limitations with regard to personal eccentricities and taste and how it all affects others. It isn't a big deal until there is power and authority involved. And then it's a very big deal.

Here in the west we have a lot of laws and social norms that focus on the rights and freedoms of the individual. This is how we have reached the point where most people really are free to "be themselves", so long as they don't harm others. Much of the time this limitation, the one I base my own ethical system around, concurs with the law of the land. We say things like "it's a free country". We resist anything that infringes on that.

Outside of the west that isn't always the case. How it plays out ranges from social taboos to severe authoritarian rule of law, but in many countries "being yourself" can get you into a lot of trouble. We're not just talking about hats either. Being homosexual is still punishable by death in a number of countries.

I mentioned yesterday the honour/shame system. You may or may not have come across this before, but it's high time you learn about it if you haven't, because it's a huge and powerful part of our world. It's not bad or wrong, neither is it right or good. It's just a different type of society. Just like our system, it works when it works, and when it doesn't it causes great suffering.

Our system is based on the idea of guilt, which in religious terms has often been framed as sin, even though the concept of sin is theologically far more complex than that. What happens in our society is that this guilt forms the basis of our legal system, so there are obvious consequences, but even if we are not "caught" we are still guilty.

The difference between shame and guilt may seem subtle, but it is significantly different in that the person who is shamed is told that his transgression affects the whole of society. To us this is hard to understand. How can it? They may not even know of his actions, let alone be harmed by them. An example we read about in the media, which baffles us, is when a woman in a shame society is raped, and then then shamed for it. This angers us. We see her rapist as the guilty party. We are horrified by her treatment.

Here we place the guilt on one person, and even then we give him certain rights. Such is our fierce protection of the rights and freedoms of the individual, he may get off. He may get a short sentence. He may get therapy. His victim may go through the wringer to get a prosecution, and then society forgets about her. This angers us too, for reasons I don't need to explain. There is always an "out" with guilt, if you are lucky enough to get it.

In both versions, free thinkers see a problem, see a great injustice, but what we fail to do extra in the west is see how the actions of the guilty party affect the whole of society, even when they literally do. This aspect of it is constantly overlooked.

If you think this means I favour the shame system, then you're doing it again. I've caught you doing this before. Stop it. Think outside the box. This is not an either/or situation. There is a better way.

The problem in the shame society is that an individual is held responsible for the damage to his entire society over things that actually don't harm it.

The problem in our society is that we forget about the damage individuals do to our society.

What's needed is a third way, a middle way perhaps, or a blend, but certainly both systems as they are, are failing, and the misunderstandings of each other are a large part of why east and west are frequently at odds.

When this is mentioned there are usually those who say that the western way is more popular, and that those in the east are eager to get it. Not necessarily. Even democracy, which in theory should appeal to those whose interest is the whole of society and not just an elite few, is not always welcome. One reason is that it isn't understood. But a bigger reason these days is that the flaws in it are seen. The cracks, if you like. In many ways modern western democracy has been the breeding ground for the runaway capitalism that has led to the current dramatic inequality in distribution of wealth in general, and the oligarchy that the United States has become in particular.

Does this mean I oppose democracy? No, you're doing it again. Get a grip. Democracy is the best system we've ever come up with, but it's every bit as open to corruption as any other system, and it is corruption that causes the problems, not the choice of system. Any system ultimately works without corruption.

In fact if you remove the corruption, democracy is a damn fine system. It is based, after all on the concept of equality. The rule of law within a democracy is as close to fair as any rule of law can get. And fair is good. I think we all agree with that.

The question is, how does the idea of the rights and freedom of the individual square with the democratic principles of equality? What happens (at least in theory) is innocence until proven guilty. If you are the accused you'd be very glad of this too. You get your "day in court". We are used to this system, very protective of it, and we fear and oppose anything to the contrary.

Unfortunately what happens all too often is that the rights and freedoms of the accused, in the name of equality, actually become excessive. Unequal. All too often if he is wealthy he can buy his freedom. All too often there is victim blaming. All too often dangerous offenders are set free. All too often the poor and powerless are targeted as criminals and are incarcerated needlessly. All too often there is no justice, the financial crooks, polluters, and serial offenders cause great harm, and the rights and freedoms of many people are negatively affected by the actions of one. That is not democracy at all.

And these people have no shame. They were lucky enough (in my opinion) to have been raised without that shame being put upon them, but they are sociopathic enough to have no natural feelings of remorse, and instead of recognizing that, and dealing with them appropriately, our society allows them to have all the same rights and freedoms as the rest of us. Or more.

I think it's crazy to be flogged for shaming your society by being raped.

I also think it's crazy not to recognize the harm that one individual can inflict on a whole society, and allow him to continue doing it, either because he's wealthy enough to get away with it, or because we are too afraid of being excessive in our treatment of a known offender.

You cannot have failed to notice, especially when I mentioned sin, and the "out" of guilt that there is an obvious religious connection here. But it's complicated. Culture still impacts the system, even when the exact same religion exists in two types of societies.

Religion has more impact in how an individual's actions are seen morally. If the law that is broken is "God's Law" and nobody else is harmed, this becomes an ethical issue that makes no sense outside the religious context. I think I'll save that theme for another day.

1 comment:

  1. I very much agree with you that we/society ought not to victimize the victim. In fact, as much as we see growth in understanding these days, there ought to be greater support for victims of all types of crime, as a caring and compassionate society may be moved to help ease the pain of another.

    When it comes to the most horrible among us--those serial offenders, be they rich or poor, there needs to be greater impact on THEIR way, rather than our own. You mention a very real truth, in that we here in the west tend to consider ourselves 'above' taking on much of the guilt when a crime is committed. We fight for those inalienable rights then, for sure.

    Since we are biological beings, perhaps it would be worthy of us to do a few sessions of 'biofeedback,' to come to grips with how some of our actions, crimes, and other infringements do have an effect on our society. We may be going through a bit of that right now, as more of us are becoming aware of the 'dangers' of technologies that have a negative impact...those larger crimes...the wars, death, and destruction of our environment and species.

    In truth, we are all the victims of these larger crimes...and need proper support and insight to move beyond the devastation of these crimes to humanity and our environment. Holding the proper "persons" accountable would be a step in the right direction; all religion aside.