So I was talking to X about the situation in the Suez Canal – something I only found out about through memes and second hand sources since deleting my news apps. A few lines from our conversation became stuck in my head:
“Did you hear that the investigation is going to take weeks and weeks?” – X
“Why, they know what happened?” – Z
“What do you mean?” – X
“Someone fucked up and caused a traffic jam.” – Z
“Yeah but it cost them billions.” – X
“So rather than spending more to blame people, surely the more effective thing to do would be to improve the system so it doens’t happen again?” – Z
Suddenly, in a tiny conversation abut the Suez Canal, I trigged an entire debate within my own head about the flaws of the criminal justice system and how retribution is often prioritized over solution. Perhaps I’m being too out-there liberal for some to say that. Perhaps I am. Let’s think of another example: a murderer is sentenced to death to teach him a lesson. What is the murderer learning? Answer: fuck all, they’re dead. What to the people around them feel? Momentary elation and sense of fulfilled justice? Okay, but does this undo the original crime? Is that closure? To feel a sense of accomplishment as you stand (metaphorically) over the lifeless body of the person who did wrong with a triumphant grin. Or is it just self serving?
I’m not perfect, in an act of petty vengeance I once orchestrated that someone who wronged me lose their placement in student housing. It was shitty, self-serving and helped no one but myself for a brief moment of triumph. It was short lived of course, the person adapted and was fine apart from a few weeks of panic and stress. What lesson was learned? Aside from that I can be devious meddling bastard if I want to be, nothing came of it. No closure, no sense of getting even. Just a deep guttural unsettling feeling, knowing that I was capable of Machiavellianism even on that tiny scale.
Back to our analogy for the death row prisoner: what lesson does the witness or wronged learn? Other than learning that they can stomach to watch the death of another human being? How about the executioner? What good does it do them? You may say, “oh it’s their job they are used to it” but is becoming disconnected from other human beings and compartmentalizing and quantifying life something we should be proud of being used to? That’s not a virtuous skill to develop, surely.
In my own life I was recently let down by colleagues I thought were friends in a breach of trust. Do I harbour blame for them? No, it was the trust I gave them that was broken so surely I was in error for placing the trust in the first place. Yet even then, what good is that blame? What retribution can I extract on myself? My opinion of them of course changed, now designated as undesirables: things in my environment I would prefer not be there. Like a drawing of a dick on the wall in marker pen that I can’t get rid of. I don’t interact more than I have to and I go about my business and work without blame or worry with lessons learned to not trust them again. They took my silence rather personally but I have nothing to say, I moved on. I now bring a book into a work – Meditations in fact – to read and study. It’s been a much more enriching experience for my lunch breaks.
“There is no blame. If you can, put him right: if you can’t at the least put the matter itself right. If that too is impossible, what further purpose does blame serve? Nothing should be done without purpose.” – Meditations 8.17
I read an article that reads that the Egyptian port authorities are looking to fine the firm responsible over $1 billion yet the process is difficult as it’s a multinational, multi-layered animal they’re trying to hunt based in three different countries. Surely then, the solution would not to waste millions on court proceedings for a chance at reparations, but to refine protocol to prevent this ever happening again? It would be more cost effective in the long term to have more efficient and process less prone to errors. The money would be much better spent on bonuses for the tireless engineers who got the cargo ship moving again, incentivising hard work and creative problem solving. Yet, to quote Thanos the Mad Titan: “reality is often disappointing”.