Sunday, July 27, 2008

“We get the level of justice we deserve…..”

I just saw the latest Batman installment, The Dark Knight, last night. I cannot say I liked it. Indeed, that's probably an understatement. It's bleak, way too long and far too graphically violent for me. increasingly I find that movies like that late at night give me nightmares. As my octogenarian friend Fr. Warren Thompson notes, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.”

But, I came away from the film with two thoughts gnawing away at me. First, in a scene where the Joker had wired two ferries full of people, one evacuees from a hospital and the other evacuees from the county jail, each with the trigger allowing them to blow the other ferry full of people up rather than be blown up, neither chose to detonate the other. What occurred to me is that while our lowest common denominator of humanity might well gravitate toward avoiding punishment (Kohlberg stage 1 - what must I do to avoid punishment), we are not slaves to our lowest levels of moral functioning. Our moral decisions are not foregone conclusions dictated by self-interest. We have choices. We know the right and we can choose it, even if we don't do so with any regularity or predictability.

The second thought has centered on the ending commentary in a film marked by wave after wave of destruction, death, betrayal and vengeance. The new police commissioner assesses the situation in Gotham and the now demonized Batman with the statement "We get the level of justice we deserve." That line sent chills down my spine.

What might that mean for a country like America which has chosen the dark side, as Jane Mayer so well documents in her new book by that same title? What kind of justice does a people deserve whose representative government has opted to torture human beings, presuming guilt contrary to our own jurisprudential principle as well as buying into the myth that torture by definition produces actionable intelligence? What kind of justice does a country, professing notions like due process of law, the loathsomeness of cruel and unusual punishment and the human rights its own countrywomen crafted for the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but practicing special rendition, waterboarding and psychological torture, deserve?

The implications here are troubling. There is a karmic element to this maxim - What goes around comes around. It's the notion at the heart of Warren Apel's assessment of the 9-11 attacks in his troubling essay “Why Do They Hate Us?” when he notes that they did not occur in a vacuum but rather a pattern of American intervention and economic exploitation around the world. Apel ably notes that there is a reason that the targets were symbols of American military power and global corporate domination. You can read his entire essay here:

It is hard to look at this picture. I love my country and I do not want to see it hurt. We are a good people. We have the ability to choose the right even when we don't do so with any regularity or predictability. Indeed, we have an enormous capacity for recognizing our own wrongdoing and seeking to right it, as we have had to do over and over in our nation's history.

But what kind of justice do we deserve in the light of our transition to the dark side? Perhaps more importantly, what kind of justice should we expect?

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.

Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bites.


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