The Crime That Can’t Be Charged: Humiliation And Harm For Money

I hate this topic with a passion. It has come up often: the exploitation of desperate attention-addicts in celebrity reality shows, dwarf-tossing, the ancient pastime of paying geeks and the deformed to present themselves for public ridicule and dehumanizing treatment, and more. The problem is that the phenomenon is indistinguishable from other, societally-approved examples of paying individuals to harm themselves or be humiliated for our entertainment. Pro football, of course, harms more human beings in one game than all the dwarf-tossing since the beginning of time. Child actors are harmed for money, and often they don’t even get the proceeds, or give meaningful consent.

Every example I can imagine feeds directly into the vile Rationalization #22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.” The problem is that all of those worse things are legal, and likely to remain so. Yes, there are worse things than paying a drunk to dance like fool in exchange for a few dollars to buy his next drink, like paying young men millions of dollars to pound their brains into jelly. That’s our national pastime!

And yet—how can a society tolerate this? From the AP...

LAKEWOOD, N.J. (AP) — Police in New Jersey say no charges will be filed after a stranger paid a homeless man $5 to pour coffee on himself twice. Police say that’s because Ronald Leggatt consented even though he was embarrassed. The 65-year-old tells the Asbury Park Press he let a stranger videotape him pouring coffee on his head on Monday in Lakewood because he needed the money….

I wish I had a solution. I’d like to know the name of the scum who did this, but then what? Post his name for vigilante justice? I would argue that there is no valid consent when an individual agrees under duress and desperation, but then what is society saying—that a man can’t exchange a humiliating act for money he desperately needs?

This kind of story fills me with despair, and frustration at my own impotence. The only way to eliminate these horrors is to have an ethical culture in which people know that such conduct is wrong. Unfortunately, powerful forces in the nation send the opposite message.

Oh, there is a heartwarming end to this story. After the homeless man’s humiliation was publicized, the community rallied to help him with clothes, food, a haircut and temporary shelter. even reported that the man responsible for humiliating episode returned to apologize, and offered to let his victim pour coffee on HIS head.

“No, I wouldn’t do that,” was the response. At least someone’s ethics alarms are working.


Pointer: Fred

Facts: AP

24 thoughts on “The Crime That Can’t Be Charged: Humiliation And Harm For Money

  1. Wow. You know, the ending of that sorry tale kind of transforms it, into one of redemption and humanity.

    “No, I wouldn’t do that.” What a great example of forgiveness and overwhelming ethical-ness. And the perpetrator felt properly shamed and humbled. What a great ending.

    Silver linings. Thanks.

    • I did it to my college room mate.

      Well, not THAT, and not my college room mate, but a good friend from college. He boasted that he could tolerate any spicy food. I bet him, in a Hunan restaurant, 10 bucks that he couldn’t eat a three inch long, red-black pepper. He popped it in his mouth, I paid him, and I nearly had to take him to the hospital.

      • Jack,
        There’s really no comparison at all; the homeless guy did not goat others into betting with him with boasts of how he can tolerate hot coffee poured over his head like your friend did, these sadistic bastards literally took advantage of a needy homeless man in the name of sadistic fun.

        There is a HUGE difference in these things; one is someone being taught a hard lesson about their ignorant boasting and the other one was sadistic fun.

        I’ve done that little red pepper thing to a close friend that boasted all the time about how he could eat any pepper on the planet raw. My granddad grew some insane ones, so I got one; my friend was thoroughly warned before I gave him the pepper, he put it in his mouth, he chewed it up for as long as he could tolerate it, spit it out and then he literally drank a gallon of milk to kill the intense pain; he paid for it a second time the next day. This was one of those peppers that if you touched it and then by chance rubbed your eyes before your hands were thoroughly washed multiple times, an emergency room visit was mandatory.

  2. How about Opie and Anthony, who gave 12 homeless people $200 each and turned them loose in the Short Hills Mall? Several listeners showed up to cheer them on, resulting in the closing of several stores and finally them getting kicked out by security.

  3. Like strippers, I think. Though we tend to be less outraged, probably because we are more used to the idea.

    A few “gentlemen” at my high school caused some outrage when it was discovered that they had taken to driving around the city on weekends, and paying homeless women $10 to take off their clothes and jump up and down. They were sons of some prominent people, and the actions were not in school, and not illegal, so the matter was suppressed, but I always wondered how they could look at themselves in the mirror after doing such things.

    • Strippers…excellent example. I had a roommate who liked strip clubs. He persusade me to go once, and I left after about 10 minutes. The women looked so sad; I was embarrassed for them.

    • Are strippers the same, though? This man, and most homeless, literally have no to very few options. For this man, this was the only conceivable way to acquire $5, based on his current, limited circumstances, mixed with his ingrained worldview. I don’t know that for a majority of strippers, that stripping is their only way to earn money. It may be their only conceivable way to earn a large amount of money (just a quick Google search returned the following: “A talented stripper at one of Sydney’s premiere gentlemen’s strip clubs will earn considerably more, up to $2,000 per week.”), so in order to maintain a $2000/week lifestyle, they may feel like they “have to”.

      But, I’m guessing that if you took the average homeless person and the average stripper, and told them that if someone said to them “everything you’ve done today to earn a buck, you are no longer allowed to ever do again…now list all the other ways you think you can earn an income”, that the stripper’s lists would be much, much longer.

      Ok, maybe the rule should stipulate that the potential jobs have to be legal….

  4. You’re right; laws are an insufficient tool to solve this problem. They tend to create limits rather than possibilities.

    The “dilemma” of exploitation relies on a false dichotomy. Should we allow people to accept the lesser of two evils, which involves them degrading their emotions, minds, or bodies for money? Or should we “help” them by taking away that option, so that they are forced to accept the greater of two evils? People argue back and forth between the two over which of those options is itself a lesser of two evils for we who offer the less evil choice. Some feel that offering a less evil choice is better, because rationally it is better for the exploited person. Others feel that inaction towards the greater evil is better than complicity in the less evil.

    That is an interesting ethical question when those are the only two answers, but in exploitation they’re not. We have the power to create positive options for other people (such as through education and infrastructure) rather than “less negative” ones, so that they don’t have to accept any of the evils. We have the power to give them the power to make their own options.

    Why don’t we do that? Partially, because it takes creativity, critical thinking, logistics, and effort. In short, it takes the ability to be constructive. That’s an ability that, only a very small portion of humans ever learn. Most modern societal and ethical problems can be traced back to the fear of having to be constructive. To be actually good and ethical, you have to be confident that you can withstand the consequences of doing so (or so consummately noble that you consider your own survival irrelevant, which is rare due to millennia* of natural selection).

    Relatedly, the vast majority of humans instinctively want everything to stay cheap (meaning exploitation must continue) because they’re afraid of not being able to earn what they want if it were more expensive. They don’t realize that if people learned to give more than they took away, both freedom and security would increase. Technology also helps by making everything easier, removing limiting factors on getting what we want; the percentage of the population required to grow food to support everyone has decreased drastically over the past few centuries.

    People might realize they would benefit from being constructive if they framed the question differently, but they don’t know how, so they accept questions framed by people who are desperate to sell people things they don’t really want so the sellers can likewise acquire luxury without change.

    My job is to break the pattern, starting by naming the addictions we need to overcome and the abilities we need to develop in order to create an ethical society. Well, that was the easy part. Phase two is still in development.

    *Squiggly red line says “millennia” isn’t a word, and “millenniums” is. Apparently the Internet is illiterate, but of course we knew that already.

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