Oxford University student Lavinia Woodward, 24, punched and stabbed her boyfriend in a drunken rage, then hurled a jam jar, a glass and a laptop at him. This, in the U.S., would be called a criminal assault, and maybe even attempted murder. Ah, but British Judge Ian Pringle knows better. He agrees these acts would normally mean a prison term, but Lavinia is a star student, and wants to be a surgeon. He hinted that he would spare her prison time so that her “extraordinary” talent would not be wasted. As poor Lavinia’s barrister, James Sturman, argued, his client’s dreams of becoming a surgeon would be “almost impossible” if she had to serve time.
Well, we certainly mustn’t jeopardize a violent felon’s dreams.
This kind of reasoning is infused with The King’s Pass, also known as The Star Syndrome, the rationalization making the perverse unethical argument that the more talented, prominent, useful and important to society a miscreant is, the less he or she should be accountable for misconduct that nets lesser lights serious and devastating consequences:
11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”
One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head. In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others.
Judge Pringle is taking the King’s Pass/Star Syndrome to a new low: he’s arguing that Lavinia should receive special treatment based on how valuable to society she might be, given enough immunity from the consequences of her own conduct. This theory must have Kant doing somersaults in his grave. The philosopher argued that for a standard to be ethically valid, it must be applicable and just in all similar circumstances. This standard would give a near blank check to wealthy, smart, gifted “dreamers” to engage in sociopathic activity whenever the whim strikes. As for the poor, the challenged, the discriminated against and the mediocre, who cares what happens to them? It’s no great loss to society, unless you consider the loss of one more fungible truck driver, waitress, clerk or dole recipient a loss.
The King’s Pass is why Bill Clinton wasn’t convicted of obstruction of justice, and why Hillary Clinton wasn’t indicted by the FBI. It is why Bill Cosby got away with his rapey ways for so long, why Lindsay Lohan spent about 30 minutes in jail, and why so many of the rich, powerful and famous seem immune from prosecution. It is why there is racial bias in our justice system, and why so many of the “elite” believe, not without cause, that laws are for the little people.
And excuse my cynicism, but somehow I doubt if the good and wise judge would have given two shakes of a lamb’s tail if the defendant before him wasn’t the comely young blonde above, but instead looked more like this…
..which is completely unfair, especially since the gentleman above identifies as a lovely, blonde, female.
Sure, multiple offenders should face tougher sentences than first timers, and juveniles should be given more compassion than adults. Giving special dispensation for being talented, ambitious and lovely, however, strips the law of equality, fairness or justice. Two individuals who punch, stab, and throw a laptop at someone should receive approximately the same punishment, regardless of their other differences. The way for Livinia to preserve her dream of becoming a surgeon was to avoid committing violent crimes, and to be civilized.