(This is sort of what Juliet has in mind, I think...)
Juliet Macur’s column in the New York Times calling for what was essentially Old Testament Biblical vengeance against one of the more recently accused sexual harassers disturbed me greatly, and the resulting Ethics Alarms post reflected my reaction. Steve-O-in NJ picked up the baton, and the result was this, his Comment of the Day on the post, I’m Curious: Do Women—Any Women, A Lot Of Women, Adult Women, Rational Women—Think This Times Column Makes Sense? (Because It Doesn’t):
The principle that those who do wrong should not be allowed to profit from their wrongs is not without basis in either ethics or the law. It is that principle which gave rise to the “Son of Sam” laws that allow suits against convicted criminals by their victims or the victims’ families if they receive assets from the sale of their stories. It is also that principle that sometimes leads to “Son of Sam” clauses being worked into plea agreements, whereby any profits made from the sale of a pleading wise guy or terrorist’s story goes to the government. Much more than that, and you run into First Amendment problems. It’s also a given that courts can order restitution to victims as part of a sentence or as part of a plea deal.
However, as pointed out above, all of these legal principles involve, presumably, a wrongdoer who has either had his day in court or decided to forego his day in court in the hopes of better terms. Even in an employment or other civil setting, an accused wrongdoer is not without rights. A company who not only terminated an accused harasser but stripped him of his pension and whatever other assets came with the position, all without so much as an investigation, would almost unquestionably find itself on the wrong end of a lawsuit, and could conceivably lose, which is why a lot of those situations resolve with a more favorable deal. In this case, the accused is choosing to walk away before it even comes to that, and cash out.
Juliet Macur is looking for blood, or the equivalent. I know the feeling, we all know the feeling, and writers and sports entertainers the world over know how to exploit that feeling very well. That’s why thrillers almost always end with the initial wrongdoer dead and WWE kayfabe angles always end with the heel badly injured and humiliated. We all have that urge to jump to revenge, that snap reaction of “why that blankety-blank, I’ll teach him!”
This isn’t the Middle Ages, where knights ran around in chainmail banging each other on the head with battle-axe and mace over any old dispute. This isn’t Tokugawa Japan, where the samurai cut off each other’s heads if they looked at each other cross-eyed or didn’t bow QUITE right. This isn’t the Wild West, where if someone won one too many hands of poker you could call him out for a showdown with clinking spurs and whoever was faster on the draw won.
Actually, I’m not sure even those are valid comparisons. The challenged knight, the samurai who accidentally ticked off another one, and the suspicious gambler all had equal standing and a chance to defend themselves. There’s always a chance that the chivalric comer who was a little too full of himself might be the one who ended up on the jousting field with the side of his head smashed in, or the samurai who drew his sword first might not live to sheathe it, or the gambler who issued the call might be the one lying dead on a dusty street with a bullet between his eyes.
Juliet is looking to figuratively take us back to even darker times: the Troubles, where anyone accused of saying or seeing the wrong thing was killed or maimed, the Red Terror in Russia, where anyone accused of being a White (czarist or Keresnkyite, it mattered little which) was quickly shot, or the Reign of Terror in France, where anyone accused of being against the revolution “won a prize in the lottery of St. Guillotine.” No one conducted hearings. No one investigated. No one even asked more than a few token questions if anyone asked any at all.
We’re not yet dealing in life and death, only in destroying lives and confiscating what others earn. However, the idea that anyone should have his life destroyed or what he has earned taken away purely on an accusation, without anyone even bothering to ask “did something happen?” “what really happened?” or “what should the punishment be?” is repulsive and should be repulsive to anyone who adheres to the principles of the Constitution.