Forgiveness Is a Kind of Wild Justice

Apparently there is a law in Britain against prospective employers asking job applicants whether they have a criminal record (which I find utterly amazing). Dalrymple addresses the resulting moral questions in New English Review:
But let us return to the questions of justice, mercy and forgiveness, tackling the latter first. The willingness and ability to forgive or overlook is essential to good human relations because we are none of us angels, we all do things we should not, and some of us even have habits irritating to those closest to us (in my case that of never passing a bookshop without buying a book, which my wife finds very irritating). If we did not have the capacity to forgive, every argument would end in divorce or murder, or at any rate in some very unpleasant consequence.
But it does not follow that what is necessary in some circumstances is necessary in all, any more than it follows that a medicine that is good for you in a certain does must be twice as good for you in double the dose (though I have met patients in my medical career who did believe that, often with near-disastrous consequences).
In order to have the locus standi to forgive, the harm that someone does must be done, at the very least in part, to oneself. If someone robs you in the street, I have no right to forgive him; only you have that right. Moreover, even if you do forgive the robber, your forgiveness, morally grand as it might be (though it might just as well be cowardly or pusillanimous), has no claim to determine the treatment of the robber by the law, any more than your vengeful feelings, if you had them, would have done. Revenge, said Bacon, is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought to weed it out; the same might be said of forgiveness, except perhaps that wild would not be the qualifying word to use of the justice that would result from it. The law is instituted precisely to supersede the effects of incontinent emotion, whether it is of the punitive or sentimental kind.
Forgiveness, then, unlike mercy, has no place in the law. A pardon is not forgiveness, it is an exceptional act which in no way lessens the guilt of the pardoned.
This will surprise some people:

For myself, having worked in a prison for many years, I have a soft spot for criminals – or at least, for some criminals. I am among those who would be inclined personally (and within reason) to give them a chance, if I had jobs at my disposition. I would even be prepared to be disappointed, to find that the thief whom I had found charming and thought wanting to turn over a new leaf had actually stolen from me. I would pat myself on the back because I would think that I had performed a good and charitable act by employing him. But I would also think it the grossest act of tyranny to require my neighbour to behave in precisely the same way. I can take a risk myself that I have no right to demand that others take. It is typical of governments that they should not understand the distinction.

13 thoughts on “Forgiveness Is a Kind of Wild Justice

  1. Jaxon

    Yes well, I think forgiveness can no doubt be too easy. One of the many things that I really dislike are attractive women who use their sexuality really badly (okay, maybe I’m largely irrational about this and sometimes plain wrong… I have my reasons, I dislike it very much and I think it does huge damage.)

    People (or socialites) like Emma Parker-Bowles http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Parker_Bowles and Patsy Kensit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patsy_Kensit are fairly typical examples of the type, without knowing much about them, who arouse my prejudice.

    But, and call me a sucker, there was a scene on a Reality TV thing (Famous Rich and Jobless) where so called celebs had a taste of joblessness in parts of Britain notorious for unemployment, Emma was I believe genuinely troubled by her experience… whatever the case, I immediately felt myself warming to her.

    Similarly Kensit was on Who Do You Think You Are? Okay, she’s an actress, the music is slushy, she confesses to being sentimental etc, but I think you’d have to be pretty hard or cynical to not be at least a little moved by this.. at around two minutes in

    reminds me, well, of lots of similar instances… but also of Dalrymple’s humbling experience (from A Taste For Danger)

    “In this unpromising environment, I discovered, the nurse had created an extremely comfortable and even pretty home for herself and her aging mother. Her tiny patch of land was like a bower; the inside of her house was immaculately clean, tidy, and well—though cheaply—furnished. I would never laugh again at the taste of people of limited means to make a comfortable home for themselves…”

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  2. Gavin

    Another really excellent article from Dalrymple, following a clear, logical analysis. It is articles like this that make me pleased I discovered his writing when I did, and they make me wonder how many have not yet had my good fortune.

    Jaxon, I am not sure how relevant your point are to this particular article, but nonetheless I agree with you about sociopathic, manipulative women. No doubt we have all met them (except any staff of Women’s Hour, for whom women are perpetual victims), but there is some consolation in that such women will have a serious shock when they enter their mid-thirties and the capital runs out.

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  3. Terry Wall

    I too have been perplexed as to why public servants so freely give of what is not theirs. Indeed they should be double dilligent as the Money is not theirs to give.

    I have come to the conclusion (some years ago now) that this is their way of offsetting the deep held guilt they must feel for receiving excessive wage reward, as compared to the real world.

    The day that they accept bottom up appraisal by their fellow workers, survey the private sector to compare pay and reward taking into account job security and financial risk, then they will stop being so generous with tax payer funds.

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  4. Jaxon

    Actually I’d just like to point out that this part is particularly interesting


    especially from about nine minutes in.

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  5. Louise

    ‘except any staff of Women’s Hour, for whom women are perpetual victim’

    Really? when was this?

    And could you tell me precisely what you mean by ‘sociopathic’?

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  6. Gavin

    I suppose I was too general in my remark above, Louise, but it just often seems that Woman’s Hour is keen to present women as eternally prejudiced against and doesn’t fully appreciate that they are in fact quite as capable as bad behaviour as men are.

    I’ll give you a hand with “sociopathic”: “a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behaviour is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience”. I believe this kind of outlook is more common than often thought, especially in cities, and it is encountered in both men and women.

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  7. Louise

    I wasn’t looking for a dictionary definition. I wanted to know what your personal definition is. Just plain old evil perhaps? And yes, I agree that it is an equal opportunities sport.

    As for Woman’s Hour – I’m not sure it’s really all that influential. I don’t see the necessity for it myself.

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  8. Jaxon

    Hi Gavin, true enough, I strayed from the path… will you forgive me? Yes, you WILL forgive me because it is good to forgive, that is what we do in the Good Society… I’ll help you out, repeat after me I… for… give… you!
    Now you feel a lot better, have a happy (smile or die) new year. ; )

    To improvise on How To Read Society:

    Because any superior discernment leading to unforgiving in the Good Society is treated as a threat to the Good Society, because to forgive indiscriminately, is a good in itself, is to protect the social order, to not forgive is to destroy the Good Society…. blah blah blah something like that.

    For what it’s worth my other comments were partly in response to someones recent remark, something about Dalrymple not being his, supposed, usual misanthropic self, having had too many sherries (sp?) maybe… and the comment above “This will surprise some people”

    On the nature of forgiveness, and tolerance… I think perhaps it’s too easy, at a remove, to form and express opinions that can fuel too much a cynicism, and unhelpful prejudice perhaps.

    Sociopathic, for instance, seems to suggest people who can’t be otherwise, and perhaps that is the case… the youtube clips I linked to may offer some cause for optimism… maybe it’s patronizing of me to suggest that people need reminding or something… I think perhaps I do.

    about their capital running out.. hmmm, I’d be a liar if I said I was immune to somewhat idly entertaining the thought; what I’m really thinking though is that this (manipulative women, stupid men) is the primary cause of capital, per se, running out.

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  9. Jaxon

    “I wasn’t looking for a dictionary definition. I wanted to know what your personal definition is”
    Why, is the dictionary a catalogue of definitions derived from superior discernment… elitism?

    That’s why I value the dictionary, even if my writing sometimes fails to reflect that, that’s my failure.
    But if dictionary definitions cramp your style, you might make up your own definitions and assume as much of others… Louise, maybe you’re a bloke who agrees with virtually everything Dalrymple has to say (just not his methods) so you make up these absurd comments to give extra weight to what he has to say.

    “As for Woman’s Hour – I’m not sure it’s really all that influential. I don’t see the necessity for it myself.”

    I don’t know Women’s Hour, I had a brief look, an interview with Joan Collins, she said something about one ex husband’s serial adultery (she didn’t use that word) being an ‘addiction’ as if that explained everything and described how another ex husband ‘fell’ in with the wrong crowd, and became addicted to drugs etc, I gave up.

    Anyway if what Gavin says is anything to go by then am I suppose to congratulate you?

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  10. Louise

    ‘Why, is the dictionary a catalogue of definitions derived from superior discernment… elitism?’

    How on earth did you deduce that?

    I was actually making the observation that people tend to throw medical terminology around when they have no real idea what they are talking about?

    (I believe Dalrymple himself has made a similar point.)

    And what in the name of G-d do you mean by this:

    ‘Anyway if what Gavin says is anything to go by then am I suppose to congratulate you?’

    It is this kind of non-sequitur hat makes your posts incoherent.

    ‘Anyway if what Gaving

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  11. Louise

    ‘Louise, maybe you’re a bloke who agrees with virtually everything Dalrymple has to say (just not his methods) so you make up these absurd comments to give extra weight to what he has to say.’

    It is equally possible that you are the agent provocateur and your wildly inaccurate accusation and your rather incoherent posts are an attempt to discredit the good doctor. There are many who would judge a man by his admirers.

    (or should that be: a messiah by his disciples?)

    Don’t forget your sten gun and your L-Pill.

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  12. Jaxon

    “rather incoherent posts”
    Fair enough, that’s also my failure… as to the likely hood of people genuinely seeing that as reflecting poorly on Dalrymple… I doubt it, in my experience people choose to dislike and ignore him for reasons of bad faith, bad conscience.

    When you said “As for Woman’s Hour – I’m not sure it’s really all that influential. I don’t see the necessity for it myself.”

    I read the question of influence in terms of what Gavin said:
    “it just often seems that Woman’s Hour is keen to present women as eternally prejudiced against and doesn’t fully appreciate that they are in fact quite as capable as bad behaviour as men are.”

    You seemed to imply that you’ve achieved similar attitude, reasoning or unreasoning, without the help of Women’s Hour, as though it were something to be proud of.

    Reply

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