Just so y’all know, this is not the article I WANTED to write this morning. THERE IS CURRENTLY A CONSPIRACY IN GREAT BRITAIN WHICH ARGUES THAT ALIENS ARE GOING TO INVADE THE LONDON OLYMPICS, and I’m fucking writing about a god damned bus monitor who didn’t do her job again. I resent this ENORMOUSLY. ALIENS, people! I shed a single tear in your direction. Pout. Meh.
So here’s what’s happening (although I’m sure you’ve been keeping track of this story independently): the mean ol’ kids are being suspended for a year, and can no longer ride the school bus during that time. The statement from the school district read: “Following individual meetings this week with school and district administrators, each family waived their right to a hearing and agreed to one-year suspensions from school and regular bus transportation.” They won’t be OUT of school for a year, but will be attending an alternative school instead. Karen Klein says that she is satisfied with this punishment, and at last report had accepted the apology of one of the children. The original fund set up to give her a “vacation” has (as of three days ago) reached almost 670,000 dollars. Klein said that she will donate part of the money to support Down’s Syndrome research. She does not plan on pressing criminal charges in this case. You can read the full HuffPost synopsis here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/29/karen-klein-bullied-bus-monitor_n_1639076.html. There’s also a short summary on TheDailyBeast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2012/06/30/bus-bullies-suspended.html.
There you go: fairy tale ending. Bad guys punished, “nice” person vindicated and rewarded. Whee hoo! Whoot! Amazing how life can turn out like a poorly written comic book, huh? Case (MOSTLY) closed.
However, I promised the other day that I would make the purpose of inserting ethical story problems into my last Weekly Wrap Up clear to everyone, and (UNFORTUNATELY) that clarification applies to the Karen Klein case – BUT ONLY IN A GENERAL WAY. I know, URRP.
Here it goes: what I learned from reading the comments on the original post: http://rubberchickensociety.org/2012/06/22/you-got-400k-for-what-rcs-forced-to-call-bullshit-on-bus-monitor-debacle/ WAS that people seem to have a genuine psychological need to make the victim of a crime as (to coin a term) victim-y as possible. The point that I was trying to illustrate with the story problems is that, IF IT MATTERS WHO DOES WHAT TO WHOM, the concepts of right and wrong aren’t as black and white as many people claim. To put it more simply: if something that is wrong in one situation is right (or even less wrong) in another, then the concept of morality as UNIVERSAL is thrown out the window. We are living in a world of hypothetical imperatives and we refuse to acknowledge it because doing so would tear away at what we think of as our “rightful moral advantage.” However, I believe that unless we can apply a UNIVERSAL premise to our morality we’re not moral at all – we’re merely opportunists.
Kant said it best: “”Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” That means that if something is wrong, it is equally wrong in all situations at all times NO MATTER WHAT.The question then becomes: How can we reconcile the idea of a universal morality with a legal system that judges crime in a utilitarian manner? I think the answer to this question involves looking more closely at what happens when a crime is committed.
The more powerless or innocent a victim is, the sorrier we feel for them. We express this feeling in a number of ways, not the least of which is assigning a status of impotence to people who really aren’t. Doing this allows us both to make the crime perceptively worse and it allows us a psychological out. If a victim doesn’t have power, and we do, then we can never be a victim. The converse of this is true as well. When we assign a victim more options than they actually had, we’re equally guilty of stretching the truth in order to answer our own psychological needs – i.e. the victim made wrong choices, I would have made right choices; therefore I can’t be a victim. The problem with looking at crime this way is that the issue ultimately becomes so entirely subjective that any opinion on the topic is rendered useless, and the morality of the situation becomes utterly organic (who does what to whom again).
I think that when a wrong doing happens within a society there are always at least TWO victims. The first, of course, is the person the crime was directed at (the person on the receiving end of the criminal action) and the second is society as a whole. When we agree to live within a society and accept the bonuses of safety, food, shelter, and companionship it generates, we tacitly agree to a social contract that prohibits us, whether through structured laws or taboo, from committing certain acts against others within the group. If one person murders another person within a society wherein murder is prohibited, the murderer has not only committed a crime against the person they killed, they’ve committed a crime (on a more microscopic level) against EVERYONE ELSE within that community. That’s why people who wouldn’t normally be described as the victims of a crime get all up in arms about criminal activity – it’s because on a very small, but very real level that crime was committed against them. This is where universal morality grows possible, and the maxim that wrong is wrong becomes tenable. If we agree as a society that certain crimes are wrong – no matter what – then we have to treat everyone who commits those crimes with an equality that translates into punishment. Remember, even if we feel that a crime is “justified,” someone who stepped out of the bounds of the social order to commit one is still wrong, and can’t really be trusted by the rest of us – if WRONG is WRONG. This idea completely eradicates the psychological need to martyr or question a victim because what that person did or did not do DOESN’T MATTER.
Okay, that’s what I’m thinking about (as promised), and that’s the end of it. I’m writing about aliens in London next, or maybe more zombies. Something FUN! If you guys want to argue Kantian vs. utilitarian ethical structures, have at it. You can read more about Immanuel Kant’s theories here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/ and social contract theory can be more closely examined here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/.
Happy Early 4th of July (in case I don’t have time to write tomorrow) everyone! Have fun and try not to blow off your thumbs – you need them to hit the space bar!
Cheers. Don’t forget your rubbers and bail money!