Two stories out of Calgary this week deserve comment. The first we shall have to gnash our teeth through, but the second provides some opportunity for levity, though in the end they speak of the same thing.
- Misplaced Vigilance:
The worse news first. A young man was convicted and sentenced for having ‘sexually interfered’ with a yet younger woman. The ninety days less one could be served on a part time basis. This fellow has for three years been attempting to get on with his life, and is now a university student. The mother of the victim has supported a petition to ask that this school bar him from attending. The father of the perpetrator has publicly defended his son in the media, with the sense that this latter has paid for his mistake through the courts and no further action is admissible. Agreed.
Not being a parent, I have only a partial understanding of the emotions involved. But I do know that they can be overwhelming. Case in point: I was enraged when I read of the two parents who were convicted in BC of assaulting their daughter with weapons back in 2015. I was almost as infuriated with the ruling; a suspended sentence, one year’s probation, and some other limitations which under the law were illegal anyway. (You can read a more measured and detailed response to this in another of my posts to come). My desire was to rescue the young woman and, with my wife, provide for her a safe home with decent civilized parents. I wanted her actual parents imprisoned, at best. I, like the Calgary mother, was entirely dissatisfied with the ruling of the courts.
Such disparities remind one of Churchill’s apt, if over-quoted, comment on democracy, it being the ‘worst of all possible systems, except for all the rest.’ In a democracy, we must not only trust that the legal system is just in itself, but that it can as well enact justice. Equally, we must feel free to question it regularly. But though I exercise this last as part of my job as a social philosopher and culture critic, – which is merely a professionalized version of what any citizen of a democracy must do – I do not act on my personal sense of what I imagine should have occurred in the courts. I am not my own justice. Neither is the Calgary mother, nor are any of us. While it is sometimes difficult to digest the proceedings and rulings of the courts, we must trust that they have reviewed the evidence as fully as possible and produced rational decisions based upon it. Indeed, we may seek to alter the law, and that too is a democratic act. But this adjustment, whatever it may consist of, must be effected through the due process of politics and law, and cannot find a home in vigilantism of any kind, petitions or otherwise. Indeed, if we are so strongly offended by this or that aspect of the current justice system, we must seek ourselves political or legal office, and be tempered by all that stands between ordinary citizens and the robes of the courts or of parliament. If we did so, we might well find that the system we imagined we disdained has been constructed in a certain way for good reason.
Certainly any institution can be corrupted, and my reaction to the BC ruling of early 2016 hedged towards imagining that the courts were in collusion with abusive parents, perhaps because many families practice such clandestine abuse and indeed, since ninety-five percent of child abuse happens within the family home, were merely protecting their own, the rest of us, perhaps, by firing a warning shot over the bows of parents who too publicly injure their apparently precious children just to warn the rest of us to be more careful about hiding our domestic iniquities.
However this may be, the principle that we must accept, in a democracy, is that the ruling of the court is the final word regarding this or that case. The Calgary case is no different. It has been three years since the incident; has an appeal been launched? If the victim’s family is offended by the ruling, this must be the first resort. Every one of us, in a democracy, deserves both the give and take of restitutive justice. We must do the time if we do the crime, but no more than this. In this age of fashionable ‘shaming’ and mere accusations which seem to already and always carry all the weight of conviction at their back, we must be all the more vigilant against overcompensating for and second guessing the courts. We deserve a second chance, a chance to get on with our fragile and finite lives. Collectively, we also must trust that the perpetrators in these and thousands of other cases will not re-offend, that they have, to borrow the father’s words, ‘learned their lesson’. We may hold our breath in the case of a murderer or rapist, snort in the direction of an exhibitionist, or gnash our teeth in the face of an abusive parent, but nevertheless we must exhibit both trust and forbearance, no matter the emotional cost. Another bit of the quotable Churchill: ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.’
If we do not trust, we retreat into Salem, MA. Worse still, Dachau. Vigilantiism of any kind is a more or less mild guise of anti-democratic fascism, and must be spoken out against. Though it is the professional duty of people like me to do so, it is actually everyone’s civic and ethical duty to stand against ‘private justices’ of all stripes and creeds. (Such an ethics could well be extended to private and charter schools, clubs, and other exclusionary social contexts, but that topic is for another day).
- Wanted: Naked Cops
Ditto for the second story. Another context, apparently not criminal, another petition seeking to redress. This time, a nudist group plans to hold a water-park evening for all ages and genders at a local leisure center. This event has now been cancelled. The objection is that children would have been present, which is in fact par for the course at nudist gatherings, so I’m told. The defender reminds us that nudity is not sexuality, but under the lens of aesthetic discourse, this is in fact not correct. We can instead remind ourselves of Kenneth Clarke’s famous distinction. On the one hand, the nude is at the very least a body that has been transformed into a sensual object, perhaps even sexual. Nakedness, on the other hand, is simply an unclothed body; you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, as a woman once explained to me regarding her vagina. Though I know of no male who has ever quite accepted this potentially home truth, she had a point.
Admittedly, I raised my very much non-puritanical eyebrows when I read of the event being ‘all ages’. Wondering if what the petitioners claimed had any merit, I searched through the net. In no time at all I was directed via dubious links to equally dubious imagery. Given that one can easily find still photographs if not rolling stock of minors, the kind the petitioners were concerned would be taken at this event– indeed, it seems some nudist groups deliberately transform their mere nakedness into a very much objectified nudity by holding beauty pageants for adolescent women; one sees them parading quite happily holding little numbers up as they pass whoever the judges may be, receiving bouquets of flowers and even trophies etc, and one also wonders if this might fit the definition of child pornography, though the young women appear to be quite consenting to all of this rapturous attentiveness and it is likely such events are taking place in nations where the laws are different from our own – we must exercise some caution, I think, in imagining that what occurs at this or that nudist event is only nakedness, unadulterated with any adult dross. This would include, most tellingly, the neuroses we adults harbour regarding our waning sexuality and thus the resentment we project against our youth for so effortlessly parading theirs around. This parade is, by the way, most evident not at nudist events but in local schools and malls where wearing clothing is not optional. In any case, the petitioners taking umbrage and calling for caution might well, as did one of my former intimates, have a point.
Two options present themselves that shy away from Salem or worse: one, hold age-graded nudist events. Children, teens, and adults all separate. One might perhaps have a couple of life-guards on hand for the children so that they don’t go about drowning one another, but that should suffice. The older minors should simply be left alone. Not knowing how teenagers converse, naked or otherwise, I can only imagine dialogues such as:
Boy: ‘Hey there you stunningly beautiful young thing, you, wanna get it on?’
Girl: ‘Absolutely, you studly well-hung colt of my dreams, fire away!’
And so on. Ah, to be Jung again. However this may be, it is clearly adults who spoil the party in these cases. By an extension, one might imagine erotic web-sites for minors only. Educational, one might say, without the leering perversity of adults impinging on the nakedness of youthful freedoms. Indeed, given that the term ‘libertine’ in the 18th century simply meant free thinker – and not what the 19th century came to associate with it – we could do with backing off our neurotic vigilance of young people in all quarters in view of a healthier democracy. It’s Calgary folks, not Calvary. Don’t martyr yourselves. The other option? Let the all ages thing go ahead and have a few of Calgary’s finest in attendance, naked of course.
All nay-saying aside for a moment, it is a sign of health in a democracy that persons feel that they can object publicly to what their fellows are getting up to. We need more of that directed at whatever is taking place behind the closed doors of our suburban society, but we also need to be alert to the manner in which we do it. Private justice is inadmissible. It also tends to be hypocritical and cowardly to boot. Do we see citizens banding together to take on organized crime? Thought not. Those people fire back, unlike nudist groups and tried and convicted university students. But public justice through formal legal processes is a hallmark of a democracy and we are duty bound to support it no matter our personal enmities and prejudice. At risk of redundancy, we can iterate that it is only in a free society that we are both free to subject ourselves to due process and object to it simultaneously. It’s either that or very much not naked cops on every street corner and in every bedroom. The vestments of fascism are hanging in each of our closets. In lieu of burning them, let them hang there undisturbed.
G.V. Loewen is the author of over twenty books in the areas of ethics, education, religion, art, social psychology, science and health. He remains a fan of Mark Twain and Stephen Leacock.