Dec 8, 2009

Mercy and Justice and Circumstances

I'm still enjoying our conversation from the previous questions and I am sincere when I tell you I'm just muttering out loud, with no real agenda in the questions and mullings that arise. Here's my latest take-away from the horse-thievery thread, which predictably brings out a new question, a new tack that I'm fleshing out from my last reply:

Okay, horse thieving used to equal inhuman hardship on a physical and as ExD pointed out, an emotional level as well. It was considered a dangerous and evil thing to do. Out in the Wild West.

In New York City or any other urbanized area, it likely wasn't a hanging offense to steal one's horse, at some point. Cars and trolleys were coming online. Horse theft may have sent a man to the poor house, took food out of his child's mouth, but he could possibly recover because resources and jobs were more plentiful and at hand. So resources and external circumstances may have an effect on our sense of equal justice.

Moral equivalency matters, don't you think? We've come from having pity on a man for stealing a crust of bread to feed his starving family, to having pity on a man for stealing a horse for his own profit or survival or whatever self-interest. We don't hang them under those external circumstances, but we still recognize it as a moral wrong. Just barely, though.

Unfortunately it seems that when we introduce external circumstance as a rule of law instead of a guide for mercy, we have suborned solid justice to a transient moment, an expediency that will pass. And we have ungrounded the cornerstone of our justice, made the plumb untrue, and better than any Samson could imagine, are in danger of bringing the temple down on our own heads.

Now, our external circumstances have continued to change dramatically and our corporate safety net has expanded so far as to make thieving for survival almost a thing of the past. It makes theft appear less of a crime and more of an aggravation, or at worst, a violation of personal peace.

Is this progress?

Do we want judges who mistake sentencing guidelines for the hard plumb line of the Law?

Nobody ever really wants justice for their own mistakes, they want mercy.

"Judge not, lest ye be judged" seems to come across as something more than good advice. It seems a warning. And yet, how to reconcile the need for corporate Law and Order and the wisdom of personal Mercy?

6 comments:

ZZMike said...

One thing we all forgot about: how much did a horse cost in those days? (And there weren't no "E-Z Pay" installment plans.) S'poze it cost $20 to $50 - what was a day's wages?

If a horse cost a considerable sum, having one stole out from under your saddle amounted to a severe hardship.

Also, from what I remember of Authentic Western History ("High Noon", "Shane", "Man With No Name", &c, a horse-thief was just about at the bottom of the social ladder.

Now back to the effect of social justice on our legal system.

ZZMike said...

I defer to the Label: "Socialism kills".

I think maybe in "we have suborned solid justice to a transient moment" (a delightful phrase) you're alluding to putting the Law on the Procrustean bed of "social justice". Or maybe the opposite ("... judges who mistake sentencing guidelines ...").

Most of the time, it seems that judges' hands are tied (there's an image for you) by sentencing guidelines. If that's the case, why bother with judges. Click on the crime, get the printout sepcifying the penalty.

"It makes theft appear less of a crime and more of an aggravation, or at worst, a violation of personal peace."

That's certainly true, and seems a more than adequate explanation for reducing the penalty from capital punishment to temporary loss of liberty.

"Is this progress?"

I would say it is, if for no other reason than that we no longer "string 'em up" for theft - even Grand Theft Rolex.

"Nobody ever really wants justice for their own mistakes, they want mercy."

I rather think they want everybody else to say, "There, there, it's OK, just don't do it again".

It's the victims who would sooner temper mercy with justice.

""Judge not, lest ye be judged" seems to come across as something more than good advice."

There's at least a book that needs to be written about that one. Other parts of the Bible have us judge left & right. Every day, we judge - in the form of discriminating (I like Sam Adams beer better than Miller Hi-Lite; I like Bob better than Nellie; I'd sooner die than live in Albuquerque; "You want me to join the Rotary? Forget it!"; &c., &c.)

I don't know if this is part of the thought, but it's certainly the case that a lot of Law is written because of specific incidents, specific people (we see that every year at the State of the Union address, where the President will single out some specifc person or event, and eventually they'll pass a law about it). Should we make general Law because of exceptional cases?

patti said...

Steel my horse and the dirty thief is gonna wish he'd gotten off easy with a hangin' - just sayin.

Velociman said...

I once told my friend that if I caught the guys who broke into my house I'd kill them. He was appalled. "That's what insurance is for!" he cried.
"No," I told him, "that's what fucking guns are for."

Not sure that was helpful, but it's the thought that counts. And, yes, stealing a pioneer's horse could lead to the death of him and his family, so there is a moral equivalency in effect.

Having said that, I still would have killed the punks that broke into my house. For deterrence alone.

Froth said...

Boy. You don't ax easy questions. The judge not lest ye be judged thing is often not interpreted correctly. It's not meant to apply to any situation willy nilly if you're dealing with Christian tenets. Yes, you can judge if you're abiding by Christ's precepts.etc., and I have a problem with filters that are manmade, blah blah blah

Be that as it may, mercy is something to be applied regardless.

Then ya got your "being in this world but not of it" and separating theocracy or whatever you believe in from the public, day to day get the machines operating and the food provided and the airplanes flying and like that. Without imposing your judging/lack of belief/eco belief/gaia belief/climate belief.

That's the problem. The socialistic/bureaucratic apotheoses of whatever nutjobs' minds out there can't distinguish being "in this world but not of it" and can't realize that they have their own religiosity directing them.

Sorry. I rant.

Froth said...

AndJoan, I may have to actually post a blog post about this. You've perked up my brain and I will attribute the post to you once Ido it. It's just that, crap, it's 11:30 and now I want to do this post but I gotta wait til tomorrow.