Is It Ever Your Job to Provide Suffering?

Turner Killers

This is a post about how we allow hate to turn us into what we hate. It’s about how we look for human targets upon which to vent our hatred. It’s about how it doesn’t matter if the crimes our targets supposedly committed were real like Brock Turner’s crime certainly was, or imaginary.

Brock Turner, the swimmer guy who was convicted of felony sexual assault and got only three months in jail is back in the news. Now there are apparently armed vigilantes at his house waiting for his return.

I won’t defend Brock Turner. Fuck him. He did a bad thing. I won’t defend the judge who sentenced him. That judge ought to be removed.

I hope you read that. Just in case you didn’t I’ll say it again. Brock Turner did a terrible thing. There is no excuse for what he did. Not his age. Not alcohol. And certainly not the fact that he is an athlete. The judgement passed on him was entirely wrong. Turner should have been given a much harsher sentence. The judge showed no sympathy for his victim and the way she suffered. He is not fit to judge anyone.

Even so, I won’t join the chorus of those who are celebrating these guys with guns on his lawn and others who are trying to make their own brand of justice. Threatening to rape a rapist will not solve the very real problem of rape.

Here’s the deal. We all want to beat the shit out of someone. I know I do. I won’t tell you who it is or why. But I do. So do you.

I have no sympathy for Brock Turner. He looks like all of the guys who tormented me throughout my teens and early-twenties. I don’t really give a shit about him. I don’t want him to be forgiven. Karma is tough. Part of me feels a kind of perverse joy at seeing the rotten little douchebag get what he deserves. But I am scared by where feelings like mine can lead.

I sometimes wonder if it’s really that I want the simmer/rapist to get his comeuppance, or of it’s that I want to see (name withheld) who tormented me in the hallways of Central Middle School when I was 12 get his and the swimmer/rapist is just an almost adequate substitute.

Whether we are willing and able to admit it to ourselves or not, we all harbor a lot of hatred. All of us, without exception. Hate is part of the human condition. It is part of me. It is part of us.

And I wonder: Does someone do something terrible that triggers my hate? Or is hate always there waiting for justification to allow it to be unleashed? And does that justification have anything to do with objective reality? Does hate care whether it’s justified by real crimes like the one Brock Turner committed? Or would an imaginary justification work just as sweetly?

In every society, in every age, there has been some crime designated to be so heinous that everybody is allowed to vent their hate by beating the shit out of anyone who has committed that particular crime.

In the early years of what was to become the United States, that crime was the imaginary crime of witchcraft. Someone who did witchcraft could be subjected to the worst punishments the most sadistic minds in that society could dream up. Later, in some parts of the United States, the crime of choice was the imaginary crime of race mixing. If someone was accused of race mixing, no punishment was too terrible. In Germany, for a short but historically significant time, the imaginary crime was being Jewish. In some parts of the world today the crime of choice, the one for which no punishment is too terrible, is mere adultery.

In those societies, in those times, not many people would have openly questioned that the crime of choice ought to be punished in the severest way possible. To the people of Salem in the 1700s, the imaginary crime of witchcraft seemed just as wicked and dangerous as Brock Turner’s real crime appears to be to the mobs who threaten him today. They believed in the crime of witchcraft. To those who persecuted them under the rule of the Nazis, the Jews seemed just as evil, just as deserving of abuse. To some in the American South just a few decades ago, a black man who whistled at a white woman seemed to merit the most horrific treatment they could mete out. They believed in that just as unquestioningly as we believe that those who commit our own current crimes of choice deserve whatever clever ways we can invent to make them suffer.

Rape is a real crime with real victims. But might this be merely a side issue when we want a victim for the hatred we carry inside of us? Do we address the real issue of rape by engaging in mob justice? Do we prevent rape by threatening to rape the rapist?

Does our desire to hurt and cause suffering really have anything at all to do with the crime itself? Does it have anything to do with coming up with ways to insure that the crime of choice is not inflicted upon any more innocent people? Might it actually be better for the hatred we want to unleash if the crime of choice is committed even more often? Perhaps even as often as hate seems to need to be vented upon someone. Which is always.

These questions trouble me. I wonder if anyone else is bothered by them. Sometimes I think there might only be a few of us who ever even ask.

Is it ever our job to provide suffering? To anyone? Even to those who have committed our own society’s crime of choice?

I do not think so. Nobody gets away with anything. Not Brock Turner. Not me. Not anyone. There is no one to commit any crime against except yourself. I do not mean this figuratively. This is not some kind of poetic thing. It’s the way the universe you’re living in is set up. It’s always been that way. It can’t be any other way.

You may not believe that. That’s fine. It doesn’t change anything.

But even when my belief fails, I try to remember this. There are already plenty of people who will never hear this message. And they’ll take care of all the punishing and hurting and inflicting of suffering for me. They’ll stand in front of that guy’s house. They’ll post the memes that encourage the guys with guns to stand in front of that guy’s house. They’ll read all the impassioned blog posts and get just as murderously violent as I would if I read them. I know I can rest assured they’ll make sure it all gets done without my help or involvement.

I’m not talking about real protest against bad judicial decisions. I’m not talking about constructive action on an issue. I’m talking about how we vent our hatred upon whatever victim society allows us to vent it upon. I’m in favor of working for the rights of victims of crimes like Turner’s and working for a safer world. I just wonder if the eternal justification of hate will ever make a real difference.

Maybe if we chose to opt out of this cycle of violence and hate, we might feel a whole lot better. Hate takes a lot of energy. Anger is tiring and makes you sad afterward. Maybe there are better things to spend our time and energy on.

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