Tuesday, July 16, 2019

#197 / The Politics of Forgiveness

To err is human, to forgive divine.

The quotation above is from Alexander Pope. In an article published in Verdict, an online legal journal, law professor Joseph Margulies cites to Pope's observation as Margulies provides various examples of how forgiveness has either been provided, or denied, in the world of law, politics, and society.

For instance, society seems to have forgiven the comedian C.K. for his alleged episodes of sexual misconduct, while Peter Yarrow, the "Peter" in "Peter, Paul, and Mary," was not forgiven for his role in the single incident in which he was involved. Ronald Sullivan, the attorney who went to work on the defense team of Harvey Weinstein - and was then hounded from his job as a faculty dean at Harvard - is another one of Margulies' examples.  

Margulies' article, "The Curious Politics of Forgiveness," is worth reading, though he comes to no specific conclusion. Margulies ends his essay as follows: 

There is more to the politics of forgiveness than we may have thought. Political forgiveness depends on unstated and shifting value judgments that society makes without conscious awareness, including assessments about the person who seeks readmission, the person or group he wronged, the norm he violated, the harm he caused, etc. These are all political judgments. People have not given enough thought to the hidden politics of this universal experience. My goal is to get people to ponder the politics of forgiveness.

Since I write a blog called, "We Live In A Political World," I am, of course, quite ready to agree that social decisions are, or at least can be thought of as, "political judgments." However, the essence of political decision-making, in any system of democratic government, requires a rather formal and well-defined process that includes free debate and discussion, followed by an official decision. Any such decision is always subject to revision, too! 

Margulies' examples do not include this feature. They represent, rather, what the Framers of our Constitution were worried about, the likelihood that a "mob" mentality might usurp the processes of genuine democratic debate, with the result that those most exercised and outspoken would get their way, penalizing or "forgiving" people in a rather random way, without relying on any particular principle.

As it turns out, and as Margulies' examples show, the most outspoken and exercised are often those who could star in a new Clint Eastwood film called "The Unforgiving." The real Eastwood film, you may remember, is called "The Unforgiven." 

Personally, I tend to think that both Alexander Pope and Jesus were onto something, and that our politics should always aim for the divine, with forgiveness being our political default. 

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