Girly Thoughts

April 12, 2008

bad assumptions people make in deciding what’s fair

Filed under: prison,privilege — judgesnineteen @ 1:18 pm

I just read a thread on Feministing in which one commenter said that if a woman falsely accuses a man of domestic violence, she needs counseling, not jail, and another commenter replied that if the falsely accused was the first commenter’s son or friend, the first commenter would feel differently.

It reminds me of when I asked someone what she thought of the death penalty and she said she was against it until she had kids.  Thinking about how she would feel if someone killed or tried to kill one of her kids, she decided she was for the death penalty.

Arguments like these are treated as valid.  But they’re only valid if you assume that punishment should be commensurate with the anger the victimized person or their relatives feel.  In other words, they rely on the assumption that the purpose of the criminal justice system is for the state to carry out revenge on criminals.  A lot of people accept that assumption.  But if you accept that assumption, you have to give up on the idea of inalienable rights.  Personally, I’m kind of attached to those.

I’m basically just rehashing my prison rape post from a different angle, but so many people act this way and it’s so counter-productive and destructive that I have no problem saying it once a week until someone happens across my blog and changes their mind.

You can’t have your revenge and a safe, fair society, too.  You can take out your (totally justified) anger on someone, but then you have to acknowledge that you’re contributing to the cycle of crime and weakening the human rights arguments that can be used to keep more people safe.  Because revenge is not conducive to rehabilitation, and it often involves at least an implicit violation of human rights.  If you give the gov’t the power to suspend human rights, you’ve given the gov’t the power to suspend human rights.  Your argument that they’re unconditional is GONE.  Only good people get protection, and good is defined by the government, which, last time I checked, isn’t free of bias or corruption (any government).

So which is more important to you?

I also have a theory that people don’t worry much about things they think couldn’t possibly hurt them.  By not worrying about it, I mean they don’t mind if it will hurt other people; it’s easier for them to be callous.


The person who thinks he or she will be abstinent until marriage who opposes legal abortion and/or accessible birth control and/or comprehensive sex ed.

The US citizen who’s ok with human rights violations of immigrants.

The modern person who doesn’t think the genocide and rape in the Bible was that bad because it happened so long ago and that’s just the way things were then.

I personally think it’s only fair to judge these things from the point of view, as closely as we can approximate it, of the people who are at risk in these situations.  It could have been you.  It’s not, but it could have been, and if it were, would you mind?  Would it hurt?  What makes you think those people have less feelings than you, need less than you?

This is closely related to the idea of privilege.  I’m working on a draft on that.



  1. Wow. This post makes me feel dumb because what you said is so pertinent and so well-put. I want to learn your skills. =D

    This post was a relief to me, because it made me realize that my stands on most issues are indeed taken with an eye to human rights. You pointed out some really wonderful things…that I am having a hard time forming words to discuss. Sorry. I think I need a break from blogs for a bit.

    But nice work. I always enjoy reading your blog.

    Comment by Amelia — April 12, 2008 @ 8:59 pm | Reply

  2. “I also have a theory that people don’t worry much about things they think couldn’t possibly hurt them.”

    I’m inclined to agree with you. In fact I was just having a conversation that included this theory, after a fashion.

    My partner & I were talking about surrogate mothers – how certain couples due to infertility or other reasons will select a surrogate mother to carry their baby to term. Sometimes though the surrogate will lay claim to the baby after the birth, saying that she does not wish to surrender the baby, despite having entered a deal with the biological parents.

    My partner was upset that some people defend the surrogate (“It’s the surrogate’s baby too, she doesn’t have to give it up, etc etc”) when the biological parents provided the surrogate mother with thousands of dollars and paid for her hospital care, and when the couple obviously does not have all the options the surrogate does.

    I just sighed and said something like, “Most people do not empathize with a victim unless it is a situation they themselves have been through.”

    Sorry for the tangent, I just thought it was funny that you wrote down a few of the things I have been thinking about. : )

    Comment by Venus — April 12, 2008 @ 9:01 pm | Reply

  3. Venus, that’s awesome. And I’m all about tangents, that’s why I can’t go three lines without a parenthetical statement.

    Amelia, thanks for always being so supportive, I really appreciate it. Haha take a break when you need it though.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — April 12, 2008 @ 10:31 pm | Reply

  4. Actually, I really love this post. Made me think a bit. Thanks for that.

    Comment by unusualmusic — April 15, 2008 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

  5. Thanks! By the way, sorry for the double comment on your site. I tried to switch from anonymous at the last second, and it was too late. I felt it would be ironic to add another comment apologizing for the extra comment.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — April 15, 2008 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

  6. Well said and I agree that justice should not be based on how the punishment appeals to the emotions of victims or their families.

    My grandfather was murdered when I was young and you can guess, it was very disruptive to the family and left some nasty psychic scars. Yet still, I don’t favor the death penalty. It is fascinating to me how many people, upon learning of my stance, will instantly try to play the “what if it where your family” card, not knowing my own family history.

    The looks on their faces when I reassert my opinion and then refute their knee-jerk justification for giving the government the ability to kill.

    Comment by James Landrith — January 1, 2011 @ 6:02 am | Reply

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