Renovation Philosophy

Social Morality and Law


This page is derived  Chapter 19 of BEING REAL; Human Persons, Violence, and Authenticity. BEING REAL may be purchased (unbound, 237pp, laser printed, double-sided, A4) from BOOKS

A Right to Cultural and Natural Integrity
Speaking Community to Those who do not Care
Spelling out the Boundaries
De-profitabilising Violence 
Holding Integrity in Trust
Closure
Equality
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All ethical reasoning whatsoever inputs a general value to a set of facts in order to output rules for how to act or not act in a situation. My general value for all ethics is a respect for integrity (see About Personal Morality).The set of facts is that of human relationships.

A RIGHT TO CULTURAL AND NATURAL INTEGRITY

An integrity-respecting social morality seems best narrated in the performer-centred culture of rights because rights talk gives us such an effective logic for evaluating balances of power and liberty among members of a community.

Rights prescribe that certain facts, held to be especially relevant/valuable to the well-being of an integrity, should be respected as the valuable property of that integrity. All rights are ownership claims and, because ownership confers a particular authority on owners, a right normally takes precedent over the various non-owner interests that might otherwise prevail. Thus to say that someone has a right to vote, for example, is a way of claiming that he should be treated as owning a particular and valued cultural instrument. This instrument is his property and, because he owns it, taking it off him would be theft. If someone has a right to vote then whether or not it is convenient to let him vote, whether or not he will use his vote wisely and so on, is irrelevant; he owns his vote and has an owner's authority to use or not use it as he sees fit provided only that his use does not violate the like right of others by, say, voting for a political group that intends to deny voting rights to a not-P moiety of citizens.
    The qualification 'provided only' makes rights talk a useful instrument for striking integrity-respecting balances in social relationships. If I and another have a like right to speak, for example, then the free exercise of my right extends to the point where it begins to violate her right; the free exercise of her right likewise extends to the point where it begins to violate mine. On that principle, both she and I can evaluate a fair balance of our rights as we go along. This evaluation extends to all others with an interest in speech or listening. So say, for instance, that I and another want to chat while attending a lecture at university. In this case our conversation is going to violate the rights of others, to hear the teaching that they have paid for, so rights talk prescribes that we have a duty not to chat in that circumstance and that, conversely, others deserve a right to stop us chatting in that circumstance.
    One way of picturing the logic of this balance is as a kind of boundary fence that both defines and defends a valued property. Approached from inside the property, this boundary is a right; approached from the outside, the same boundary is a duty. So to say that someone deserves a right to speak, for example, is just one way of saying that others owe her a duty of letting her say what she wants if she wants to say it. She does not have to speak, being able to speak is an instrument that she owns and may use or not as she pleases, but if the owner of any rights-protected instrument wants to use it then others have a duty not to inhibit or prevent that use. The right and the duty are in balance by being the same boundary - all that changes is the 'side' from which it is approached.
    A right to speech is a 'negative' right - a claim against destructive interference with someone's property. A 'positive' right is a claim for constructive help with someone's property. If someone claims only a negative right to life for example, and his claim is morally justified, then the rest of us have a duty only to refrain from killing him or depriving him of whatever means to life that he has. If he claims a positive right, and his claim is morally justified, then we have a further duty to provide him with any necessary means of life which he lacks. So a positive right is about what we should do, a negative right is about what we should not do.

If I narrate a social morality of respect for integrity, in a culture of rights, then I prescribe that, at the very least, all persons deserve a right to their cultural/natural integrity that is limited only by the like rights of all other persons and the proportionally equivalent rights of all integrity. Other rights, such as a right to self-defence or to participate in a community's government, emerge from this.
    A right to integrity entails ∙ ownership rights to a permeate project and any unstolen instruments that serve it, ∙ a right to self-government (which includes a right to give the government of your life away to a culture, community, or activity, should you so choose), and ∙ that liberty is a default position (i.e., it is not up to the individual to justify a chosen way of life to the community but for others in the community to justify communal restraints of ways of life).

Talking about people having rights and duties can imply that rights have a thingish character. This works for political rights, which are facts, but not for moral rights. Whether citizens of a society are or are not accorded political rights is just a fact about that community. A moral right to integrity, however, doesn't describe what is the case but prescribes what the case ought to be if a certain possibility is more valuable than the alternatives. So asserting that all persons 'have' a right to their integrity is actually a way of asserting that, according to an ethic, all persons deserve a right to their integrity. This is a moral response, to the discovery that the cultural/natural integrity of persons and their permeate projects is valuable to them and vulnerable to harm, which asserts that we should [it would be valuable to] respect that integrity as the individual's valuable property. It is only because, and to the extent that, the integrity of being a person is the world is served by liberty, self-government, and the use of valuable instruments such as your body, skills, and personal resources, that ownership of these aspects of being a person in the world are entailed by the basic right.
    Unlike political rights, moral rights attach equally and impartially to all persons. There are, however, no absolute moral rights. Even violating your right to exist can be justified by a rights-based morality if the way you live violates the same right in another or others (see below). Moreover, because the input value is that of integrity, and all that exists has an integrity, there is no dichotomy such that human persons deserve an unqualified right to their integrity and nothing else deserves any rights at all. Obviously only those beings which have a permeate project (i.e., persons) can deserve a right to own the integrity of that project. But this right emerges from the value of integrity generally and even non-persons, such as animals, plants, and habitats, have some integrity which can be weighed against of a given permeate project.

Because a Right to Integrity morality emerges from an input value of respect for the value of all integrity, a right to cultural/natural integrity includes a negative right not to be violated, and a positive right to be respected, limited only and as always by the like right in all other persons and the proportionally equivalent right of all integrity. The right not to be violated is what is normally understood as a right to life. I express the 'right to life' as a negative right not to be violated because the value of integrity obliges me only to maximise respect for integrity; it does not oblige me to maximise the amount of integrity. If a tree exists then the value of integrity obliges me to count the value of its existing integrity in my moral evaluations. If a tree seed exists then the value of integrity obliges me to count the value of its existing integrity in my moral evaluations. Nothing in the morality obliges me to plant and cultivate every tree seed I can just because the seeds would produce more integrity to respect if I nourished them.
    By this reasoning, a tree deserves a right to be valued as what it is, a seed as what it is; I deserve a right to be valued as who I am, you deserve a right to be valued as who you are. This means that persons owe a duty to respect others and deserve a right to be respected by others. This does not entail that persons have like each other and/or enjoy each other's company. Whether I like someone or not is just a fact about me that may make it easier or harder for me to respect them but doesn't in the least alter their right to be respected. A particular respect for persons is just the respect for their integrity that emerges from a general respect for all integrity. Others do not have to earn my respect for their integrity because it is already owed to them; likes and dislikes don't come into it.

Relationship is the essence of community, so the integrity of relationships will be highly valued by any integrity-respecting social morality. Relationships, not being thingish, are easy to violate. Persons will lie to, deceive or cheat on a friend or partner, for example, and pretend that it does not matter just so long as the other person does not find out (“What he doesn't know can't hurt him”). This is false. A lie or other betrayal of trust, however small, violates the integrity of the relationship. This integrity is valuable to all folk living in community, and a right to integrity social morality opposes its violation.

There is no 'self versus society' politics in a Right to Integrity social morality. Because all integrity is valuable, such a morality favours integrating the value of individuals and the community and the relationships between them rather than choosing between promoting particularism at the expense of community or communalism at the expense of individual liberty and self-actualisation. If balances have to be struck then the two measures culture of 18.2 can be invoked just so long as no one's individual right to cultural/natural integrity is violated.


Spelling out the Boundaries. We cannot treat persons as owners of their own personhood without accorded them the liberty to use or misuse their own property in ways that seem most valuable to them. For this reason, it is not what others do or don't do with their lives that requires justification but any rules prescribing what they should do or don't do. According prima facie liberty to all citizens entails that each citizen owes all other citizens the duty of exercising their liberty in ways that respect the liberty of others. This means that boundaries, limiting the liberty of citizens, have to be drawn. A culture of rights is being-useful-towards this because the logic of rights is that the limit to the free exercise of any right is where the exercise begins to infringe on the comparable rights of others. If, for example, A and B both deserve moral rights to graze their goats on a Common, and each can feed her or his goats without the other's goats going hungry, then each can enjoy free exercise of his or her claim. But if A starts grazing so many goats that B's are going to go short then A has reached a point where his taking is beginning to violate B's right to take. At that point their mutual right rules that A should curb his exercise of the right. This logic gives both persons a mutually accessible boundary, to fair performances, within which they can strive for and actualise whatever states of affairs they value. On that principle they can recognise the boundaries to their own rights on an ongoing case-by-case basis.

All boundaries are two-sided. In the case of moral rights, what is a right, from one side of a boundary, is a duty from the other side of the same boundary. So if C deserves a right to privacy, for example, then D owes C the duty of respecting his privacy, just as he has owes to her. If D deserves a right to argue her opinions then C owes D the duty of listening respectfully to her argument, just as she owes him the duty of listening respectfully to his. Thus, if persons deserve a moral right to their cultural/natural integrity then every person deserves a right to be respected and owes others an equal duty to respect them. This duty is as extensive as the facts it protects, the fact of integrity is universal to persons, so the duty is universal and includes an obligation on every person to respect his or her own integrity as well as that of all other persons.
    Because a right to integrity defines only the boundaries of liberty, it allows the maximum fair liberty for each person to be-towards the kind of character she or he wants to be; it does not require that liberty within the boundary be used-towards a particular permeate project or cultural character. Liberty is valuable, and a right to integrity is valuable for the liberty it accords. Fear of liberty emerges from our uncertainty about how far others will take it; we are not sure what they will do with their liberty, and have little grounds for confidence that they will not use it to our disadvantage. A right to cultural/natural integrity narrative, just by balancing rights and duties at a definable boundary, can reduce those fears. I and others are free to be ourselves just so long as our performances do not trespass on the like rights in other persons.
    A trespass occurs whenever a property defined by a right is violated. According persons a right to privacy, for example, is a way of, in effect, drawing a kind of cultural boundary around certain kinds of space and information, held to be valuable to persons, and putting up a No Trespassing sign. If other persons disrespect this boundary - by eaves-dropping, peeking, reading private letters, tapping phones, and so on - then this trespass is typically experienced as a violation against persons, and synonymous with disrespect, even if no specific harm is done.
    The ethics of trespass crucially hinge around the notion of consent. Imagine, for instance, that on two occasions a sadist, performing for her own pleasure, strikes someone forcefully with a cane in such a way that the struck person suffers physical damage. In one case the victim does not consent to being struck. In the second case, the struck person is a masochist, getting pleasure from pain, who consents wholeheartedly. In both cases the facts of physical harm are identical, but only the first case is morally wrong (unjustifiably violent) because the struck person did not consent and, without consent, the caning trespassed against his right to be respected.


Holding Integrity in Trust. To hold a property in trust is to accept an obligation to take care of it on behalf of (as trustee to) the beneficiary or beneficiaries of the property. We are all beneficiaries of integrity, and an integrity-respecting morality entails that we hold all integrity in trust to everyone and everything who/that is or will be a beneficiary of integrity. We are, according to this reasoning, holding our own cultural/natural integrity in trust to every actual and possible fact in the present and future world.

A trustee performs as if she or he was owner of the property but discharges that power as one who has an obligation to care for, protect, and/or enhance, the value of the property to the another or others on their behalf. When it comes to the cultural/natural integrity of persons, no one has a better justified claim to being the trustee of a body and life than the person who is that body and living that life. Parents have the best justification for holding our integrity in trust while we are children because, just by bringing us into the world, they created responsibilities which we, as children, could not meet for ourselves; our parents held our integrity in trust for our benefit. The same consideration applies to ourselves. Having a right to our own cultural/natural integrity doesn't licence us to abuse, neglect, or destroy, it because we cannot do this without violating the input value of integrity from which our right emerges. It gives us only the right to do our best to each live our chosen permeate project, as trustees of our own integrity, and as we each believe is best from within the life that only we can live. This is because a Right to Integrity morality can reasonably justify that we each deserve a right to be the persons we are, limited always and only by the like right in others. We cannot justify a right to abuse, neglect, or otherwise violate, our own cultural/natural integrity without offering a parentocentric assumption against the value of integrity. If cultural/natural integrity is valuable in itself then a right to that integrity can only be narrated as ownership in trust by the person (the trustee) to the beneficiaries (everyone and everything). We deserve a right and an opportunity, under this morality, to actualise integrity to our best ability, but no authority to violate any integrity just because it is ours.

Equality

Parentocentricity conditions us to fear any differences which are not sanctioned by parent-like authorities because such differences are out of parent-like control. Parentocentric cultures also condition us to vest our significance in overcoming. So both conformists and non-conformists are always trying to overcome difference with some kind of uniformity just to secure our political pseudo-significance. This cheats us of both difference and sameness as freely chosen instruments for actualising a valued self.
    Parentocentricity also obscures the truth that human persons endure the freedom to choose which value or values is settling which among their possibilities they are actualising by how they perform. Because we live in a world where performances have real and predictable consequences, our choices make a real difference and we can know what that difference is. This means that what we choose is significant. Indeed, only free beings, performing in a world that conserves inputs, can be really significant. What we do matters, and it matters only because it genuinely makes a difference and the difference 'sticks'. So, in conformity with the Laws of Conservation and because the world is an integrity, both we and everything else in the world have to live with the consequences of our choices. The integrity of human reality makes it impossible for any of us to use our freedom and power in a way that does not impact on the liberty, interests, and values, of others. This means that, if I choose to respect integrity then I am are free to act on that choice, pay for it, and live with the consequences. If I choose to violate other persons, trash the planet, and so on, then I am free to choose that, pay for it, and live with it. There is no magic karma trick, reincarnated second-chances, or cosmic grandparent, to come along and kiss it all better. If I make a mess, as I am free to do, then I both live with the mess I make and compel others to do the same. That is what makes me significant. I respect myself, and other persons, as significant when I perform in an understanding that significant persons are owed the caring liberty to be who we are rather than who others believe that we ought to be.
    I introduce the word 'caring' here because indifference also allows others liberty, but being indifferent does not treat others as significant; the indifferent do not care and treat others as insignificant. This is why motive matters and why any performance-governing social morality, such as procedural ethics or consequentialism, is best integrated with an performer-centred personal morality. A reasonable consequentialist culture can remind me of good reasons for performing, and reasonable rights talk can remind me of valuable boundaries to my performances, but performer-centred morality stresses the importance of performing from a valuable motive (respect for integrity), and of practising the skills I need to perform skilfully in enacting my respect for integrity. This being the case, an integrity-respecting morality will prescribe respecting both difference and conformity just so long as both are integrity-respecting (i.e., not coerced) and impose no preference or political values on other persons. Differences make us unique, so an integrity-respecting morality will value the differences by which persons are unique. Sameness is valued for the sense of belonging that it gives us, so an integrity-respecting morality will respect the conformities by which persons define themselves as belonging. This means that respect for integrity is a way of being a person that reaches out to integrate differences in shared variety [a larger integrity] rather than coercive unity. In terms of such a morality, a morally valuable relationship would connect [integrate] without homogenising. This does not require that I don't evaluate or discriminate between performances. It does require that I practice evaluating and discriminating between performances, honestly, carefully, and with equal respect for the integrity of all performers.
    This kind of morality would narrate that liberty includes both the freedom to dissent and the freedom to conform - and this, I think, deserves emphasis. Because we are all addicted to the same parentocentricity, all those 'under-parent-players', who try to engineer their political significance by dissenting from a dominant narrative, input their own coercive insistence that the moiety with which they identify should conform with their values. Those who proclaim 'liberty' for women, the workers, an ethnic group, or whoever, always have another cage into which they insist the 'liberated' enter immediately on escaping the cage which the 'liberators' don't like. This 'changing cages', often temporarily, is all that parentocentric dissent can achieve by all its violence. Liberty, however, if it means anything at all, must at least mean the freedom to choose our cage; to choose to dissent or conform as we please rather than as any parent-player inputs that we should.

The hierarchies, institutionalised a parentocentric cultures of social relationships, are systems of inequality in which differences of value are prejudicially attached to differences of moiety-membership rather than the cultural character of individuals - such as, for example, when certain valuable opportunities are open to members of a P moiety, and closed to members of a not-P moieties, regardless of individual merit or talent. This kind of inequality between sexes, races, and/or classes, is not an issue of differences but of fairness. Differences of race, sex, social class, and so on are just the vehicle for carrying a load of unfairness. So any moral objections to the violation of social inequality are not addressed by suppressing differences of fact but only by reducing the unfairness (the pre-emptive inequities of value).

Fairness [justice] is a measure of the valued state of affairs achieved by respecting the conservation of values in the integration of inputs [costs] and outputs [benefits]. If one person inputs hard work to a project and another doesn't, for example, then equality-as-sameness would demand that both (unfairly) share the output of the project equally. Equality-as-fairness would integrate the output [profit] with the relative inputs by giving the harder worker a greater (unequal) share of the output.

Human persons are not equal in fact. We are all born more or less intelligent than each other, more or less healthy, rich, whole, strong, lucky, and so on. In a more serious sense, persons are not equal because both the project and product of actualising personhood is so uniquely different for each of us. Our individual permeate projects, however, depend on more than just our own efforts, they depend also on the extent to which we are at liberty to govern our own permeate project within the larger integrity of our community. This is the liberty that is denied to not-P citizens by systems of inequality. We actualise our cultural characters being-with other persons to whom our personhood is vulnerable. If I am going to be the best I can then it helps to cultivate in a society and social morality which allows all of us both the liberty and security to grow as persons within the larger integrities of family, community and human society.

If the above reasoning is reliable then inequalities of ability, income, and opportunity, are banal unless they result from, or are used as vehicles for, systems of unfairness. Women and men, for example, are different kinds of human being in ways that are interesting, valuable, and irrepressible in fact. The politics of gender (patriarchy, feminism) unfairly, and illogically, turns these differences into a P/not-P system of value. Equality-as-sameness ideology (androgynarchy) tries to suppress difference. But contingencies of fact are not the problem; the problem is with the system of differences in value riding as political parasites on the back of contingency.
    The bigotries which drive social inequality all treat contingencies of fact as systems of value. That is why bigotry is illogical (contingencies are not systems, and facts are not values). What makes them unfair is that the systems of value are always parentologically stacked 'P over not-P.' Equality-as-sameness 'attacks' bigotry by violating the difference [the natural host] in a vain and violent effort to free it from its political parasite - both the hard worker and the shirker get equal shares of the hard-worker's labour. But neither women nor men, for example, enjoy liberty unless each man and each woman is allowed to be responsible for her or his own individual contingencies without having to endure the violation of systematic distortion of those contingencies for any political purposes - no matter how well intended those purposes are supposed to be. Women and men will not and cannot be social equals just so long as any moieties of sexual characteristics (feminine, masculine or androgynous) are treated as more or less valuable than any other moieties. Only when gender-membership carries no political value into any projects of reasonable [integrity-respecting] discrimination will the sexes be equal in any moral sense.

It is important to stress here that there is nothing morally objectionable with discrimination as such. Indeed, not to discriminate between honest and dishonest or trustworthy and untrustworthy folk, for example, would be as foolish as not discriminating between safe and unsafe foods or housing. We sometimes achieve value only by discrimination; as when we discriminate between those physically competent to be firefighters, or intellectually competent to continue occupying a sought-after place in a university course, and those who are not; or if we pay traffic police to discriminate between safe and unsafe performances among those using our roads. Discrimination is a disvalue only when we discriminate unfairly in some way. Attaching general merit or demerit to membership of a preferentially and/or politically defined moiety is unfair - and irrational - because being male or female, for example, does not tells us whether a given person is a competent or incompetent driver. Values attach fairly only to individual virtues; what matters, both for fairness and for being-useful-towards the value of a community, is not whether men or women are better drivers but whether this particular woman or man is competent to exploit a possibility which her or his community provides.

Addressing inequalities of wealth or opportunity by trying to institutionalise an equality in fact (equality-as-sameness) penalises both those who have more because they are lucky and those who deserve more because they have earned it. This is unfair. If fairness is valuable then suppressing differences of fact, in pursuit of some equality-as-sameness ideal, is not valuable.
    Equality-as-sameness also commits the very same sin to which its proponents object: systematically distorting contingencies of fact into political moieties. It is true, for example, that one of the ways in which any man is different from any woman is a set of features by which all women and men are different. This is the true 'half' of the half-truth. But, while part of gender differences is biological fact, the larger part is ideological value. You and I do not deal with moieties; we deal with persons. And the reality of persons is always violated by being be subsumed into a dichotomy of P/not-P. Say, for example, that a community needs a particular job to be reliably done well and that doing this job well requires considerable upper body strength. Stopping strong women from applying for this job, just because women generally have less upper body strength than men, would discriminate unfairly. To make the employer hire weaker women over stronger men would erode the possibility of the job being reliably done well. Only letting any man or woman, who wants the job, apply for it, and then not hiring any man or woman who is not strong enough, discriminates fairly and rationally by using the 'necessary for the job' basic principle of personal morality. The community has nothing to fear from this. If the gender bigot is right, and women aren't strong enough for the job, then no women are going to get it anyway; if any woman does get it then that will be because she is strong enough - and there's nothing unfair or irrational in either case.
    Suppressing differences of fact is also less than valuable to the extent that differences themselves are valuable. Differences, being the basis of reality, are valuable in any case. It is differences in energy states such as hot and cold that allow machines and other energy systems to work, and it is entropy (the decrease in differences) that leads to the loss of structure [integrity]. Our differences from each other, and all that is not us, are also especially valuable because they are what makes each character unique. Personal differences, being the basis of our self-identity, are both valuable to, and valued by, persons in fact.


SPEAKING COMMUNITY TO THOSE WHO DO NOT CARE (MAKING LAWS)


A Respect for Integrity morality justifies laws only to the extent that the laws allow more liberty than they restrain. A difficult question for any social ethic concerns what to do with those who do not respect their fellow citizens and the shared rules which make a society possible. In a small number of cases, violation flows from a dis-integration of character and/or brain function that deserves therapeutic treatment. There are also a few persons who, for whatever reason, are so dangerous that legitimate social self-defence requires them to be, in effect, kept in quarantine. These are a tiny minority of the population. Most violence flows from nothing more than self-righteousness conditioned by our addiction to the myth that violating integrity makes us significant. Responding to this violence is an ethical issue, rather than a therapeutic one, because such violation is driven by beliefs about values rather than any sickness or injury.
    To do nothing, in the face of violation, is to reward the violent at the expense of everyone else. We do not treat integrity as valuable by allowing those who violate it to profit from the violation. Nor do we respect integrity by ignoring its violation or joining in 'tit-for-tat' violence. So these options will not be considered in this section.

De-profitabilising Violence. Those who violate the integrity of a society, by theft or cheating at exams for instance, do so to gain a benefit unfairly. This suggests that it would be fair to de-profitabilise violence where possible by offsetting any benefits that accrue to the violent from their violations of integrity. The de-profitabilising of violation is what we commonly call 'punishment'. Punishment denies certain benefits of a community to those who violate the integrity of that community. If someone cheats at an exam, for instance, fair punishment would do more than take from the cheat what would otherwise be an unfair benefit; it would replace an unfairly gained profit with a cost held to be deserved by the cheating (a cheat, for example, may be dismissed from the educational community in which the cheating took place).
    What makes a fair punishment 'fair' is respect for the Rule of Conservation. The violent violate the Rule of Conservation by taking unfairly from a community. Fair punishment cannot change a violent input, which is already in the past by the time it is discovered, but tries to restore an integrity-respecting balance of inputs and outputs by adjusting the outputs of violence in a way that conserves the value of the violent input. In this project, the Rule of Conservation provides a culture of fairness by which we can try to evaluate punishment so that a wrongdoer gets all of and only what she or he deserves. How well values-equivalence is conserved, by adjusting outputs through reward or punishment, is the measure of fairness. For human persons, skills to be learned lie in doing this without succumbing to the blame game and/or the moral violence of punishing those whose only 'crime' is a disinclination to bow before our parentocentric idols of politics or fashion.

Someone committed to respecting the value of integrity thereby commits herself to respecting the right of each person to actualise her or his own potentiality in her or his own way. It might be thought, in this case, that debate about punishment should revolve around whether or not those of us who respect integrity deserve a right to impose our rules and values on those who do not care. That is not the issue. What matters is stopping the violent from imposing their values on us.
    Restraints on liberty that are necessary for folk to live in relationships with each other are justified by the benefits that accrue to persons from those relationships. The restraints on liberty imposed by the violent are unjustified by the very character of violation, and that is why they give rise to the need for a de-profitabilising response. I would not, for instance, be justified in asking another to reduce a noise he was making unless it was loud enough to be disturbing me. In asking him to reduce a noise that is trespassing on my way of life, I am not imposing my preferences on him but asking only that he stop imposing his preferences on me. There is no issue unless he violates my way of life, and then the issue is only an end to imposition; not a trespass on his liberty to be himself but only an end to his trespass on mine.

It is sometimes objected that, especially in cases of violence against persons, punishing wrongdoers does little or nothing to right the wrong (restore the facts of integrity to what they were). Punishing a killer, for example will not bring his victim back to life. That is true, but it is also true that no response will bring a murderer's victim back to life. Even if stolen property is returned, nothing will restore the many intangible losses incurred by having been violated. If we are going to object to punishment on those grounds then the same objection stands against therapy, restorative justice, doing anything, and doing nothing. But de-profitabilising violation is not about restorations of fact; it is about restoring cultural integrity, as far as possible, by offsetting any unfair advantage that would otherwise accrue to the violent.
    Punishing someone is undoubtedly a violation of their integrity, and it can be significant. Some folk argue that no response to violation is justified if it itself violates integrity. This objection also rules out any therapeutic, restorative, or self-defensive, response to violence unless the violent consent to the response. This is not justified, under an integrity-respecting morality because the violent very seldom consent to therapy or justice, and there are times when the only way to defend a vulnerable integrity from violation is by violating what would otherwise be the rights and liberties of that integrity's attacker.
    Perhaps I should iterate that it is respect for the value of integrity, rather than an antipathy for violence, that is the input value for this morality. Violence is a disvalue only to the extent that integrity is valuable and violence violates integrity. There is a significant difference between being anti-violence and being pro-integrity. If am anti-violence, for example, then I should not use force against an attacker in defence of any integrity, even if that was the only way to stop the violence, because that would be for me to be violent. To not use integrity-violating force against the attacker places the value of the attacker's integrity above that of the victim, myself, and the whole human 'workshop' of being a person. If, however, I am pro-integrity (which entails caring about the integrity of the victim, the violator, myself, and our community), and force is the only way to defend an integrity, then I should employ as much force as is necessary to defend it. To not do so disrespects integrity. I may 'turn the other cheek' if I am the one paying the price of that. But if I am not prepared to defend my children against violation, or fight in defence of rights and liberties if that is made necessary by the violation of others, then it is hard to understand what I could mean by any claim to be living a life of respect for children, society, justice, liberty, goodness, and so on; a man who would not defend his children, by violence if necessary, may be a good pacifist, but he is also a bad parent. The value of integrity demands better than a simplistic prohibition on violation. Respect for integrity turns me towards the [admittedly difficult] skills of trying to get justice right rather than the pseudo-innocence of implicitly or explicitly performing as if de-profitabilising the injustice performed by others is not my responsibility.

A culture of rights can be-useful-towards calculating fair responses to violation because of the way that the culture holds rights and responsibilities in balance. Criminals input to their relations with others that persons ought not be treated as holding various rights to their own integrity in trust for good. If others pay the criminal the respect of conserving his input values and playing by his rules, then his ethic obliges them to accept that he has disowned the same or equivalent rights to live his own life free from coercive interference. This surrender of rights, by persons who violate the justified rights of others, gives other members of the society (other players in the game) a defined ground on which they may perform fairly out of respect for the criminal's integrity. The conservation of value gives us the measure of fairness. If a criminal has surrendered her right to live without coercive interference, by violating that right in another, then no right is violated by performing according to her rules (i.e., performing as if she does not deserve a right to live her own life in her own way).
    To a people conditioned by parentologic, the surrender of rights can all too easily slide into an excuse for violence under which criminals become not-P. This is why a respect for integrity needs always to be stressed. Taking care of your health, for example, is not less important when you have been injured but more important. Analogously, if we are to take the moral 'health' of integrity seriously then the fact that others injure it invites us to take it more seriously, not less. So the violation of others is an invitation to repair and/or compensate for the harm that they have done, not an excuse for merely inflicting further harm of our own. If a citizen surrenders the rights and privileges of citizenship by violating those same rights in another or others, what stops that surrender from becoming an excuse for behaving as badly as she has done is that we and our agents (the makers, processors, and enforcers of law) still retain a general obligation to integrity. The criminal has abdicated his or her responsibility, but we have not; and that the criminal has abdicated is no justification for us following suit. We and our agents still have an obligation to all integrity: our own, the criminal's and the criminal's victims, as well as that of justice and the society in which we, the criminal, and the victims of crime, all live. So we and our agents are justified in performing coercively in defence of integrity, and on surrendered ground, but only in whatever way and to whatever extent will serve to restore, preserve and enhance the integrity of the victim, the criminal, and the society in which criminals, victims and punishing performers live.

Closure. If a punishment is fair then it can bring closure to a project of violence by harmonising outputs, for persons affected by the project, with their inputs to the project. This respects the conservation of value and is why fair punishment is more just than supposedly therapeutic regimes aimed at modifying the performance of wrongdoers. Atonement by the guilty party can do the same. Both of these, in effect, treat violations of integrity as incurring a debt to integrity that must be paid if the integrity is to be respected and the violation project closed. The victims of violence have the power to close a project of violence by ∙ insisting that the debt be fairly paid or ∙ discharging the debt by forgiveness.

To illustrate the logic of closure, consider a case in which you witness a culprit (C) mistreating a victim (V). To absolve C from responsibility for violating V (by making excuses or blaming society and so on) patronises him as being less than a person. If C deserves a right to cultural/natural integrity then he deserves the right to be held responsible for his performances. So to hold C to account for his violation shows greater respect for his integrity as a person than you would by treating him as less than a person by holding him as less than responsible.
    In terms of an integrity-respecting morality, punishing C on V's behalf is justified if V wants the debt owed to her integrity paid and is unable to compel payment without help. Making C meet the costs of any trial, rehabilitation and restoration, is also justified. 'Making an example' of C, by over-punishing him to deter others and/or express our abhorrence of his crime, is not justified. If C regrets his violence then he may voluntarily bring the project of violence to a close by making atonement [repaying V, and the community of which V and C are both members, any debt owed].

From the victim's point of view, and regardless of how much or little happens to V, closure seems to require forgiveness. In political societies, such as humans inflict on each other, violence is equated with status and forgiveness with a acceptance of powerlessness. However, to not end a project of violence, by forgiving the violator, gives the violator continued power to harm the victim. Forgiveness can, therefore, be an instrument by which the victim, in effect, takes the government of her own permeate project back off the trespasser who laid violent hands on it.
    To forgive, in the sense needed to close a project of violation, is to acknowledge that some kind of debt is or has been owed but then to write-off that debt as fully and finally discharged. Sometimes the debt will have been paid in reparation or punishment; sometimes an apology is enough on its own, but, because the debt is owed to the victim (as the trustee of her integrity), only the victim deserves a right to write-off an unpaid or unpayable debt as no longer owed.
    Only when the debt is both acknowledged and discharged can the victim be said to have fully respected the conservation of value. So if V truly forgives C, and is subsequently called upon to testify against C, then V will testify that a debt to you was incurred V but has been paid in full. For C to not admit that V has incurred a debt is to make excuses rather than to forgive, and this endangers both violator and victim.
    Excuses threaten violators with freedom from responsibility [freedom from the conservation of their input values]. To excuse someone who has violently mistreated a fellow citizen not only patronising, and cheats her of dignity, it also denies her an opportunity, that she deserves, to actualise her personhood by paying for what she has broken.
    For victims of violation, the temptation of excuses is that of denial. Violation invalidates us so much that we are often tempted to banish it from memory or, at least, from being spoken (folk in my society sometimes literally describe a violation as 'unspeakable'). This denial inhibits closure, and the inputs of violation come back to haunt the violated in much the same way that injuries we fail to deal with properly in our youth result in pain and/or disability in later life.

For both societies and individual persons, being aware of the reality of a violation is a prerequisite not only to revisiting it (keeping hate alive) but also to recovering from it. Forgiveness lets remembered hate die. Excusing violation is counterfeit forgiveness; it denies C the opportunity to name a debt, express her hurt and then, if and when she chooses, input her power to end the project. Continuing to perform as if a paid debt was not paid (for example, by playing the blame game and/or otherwise revisiting it) is to continue the violation project. To forgive conditionally may also be to continue the project rather than end it (there is a lot of seductive 'power over' in conditional forgiveness), but is more often a clumsy way of restructuring the debt or insisting that it be 'paid in other coin'. The value of integrity demands that C names the debt and deals with it, one way or another; only this takes the conservation of values seriously. Anger and revenge do this at the expense of continuing the project of violation. Atonement and forgiveness, however, are inputs that end the project - and, of these, only forgiveness is a power of the victim. Moreover, and whether C is punished or not, forgiveness is a values-inputting performance with profound moral and emotional consequences. As violators, we do not begin to recover from a violation until we atone for our wrong. As victims, we do not finally recover from a violation until we forgive.

A debt can be forgiveness only by those to whom it owed; no third party has any authority to forgive a wrongdoer on the victim's behalf. The debt may be paid by someone other than the person who incurs it but, regardless of who pays, if we owe respect to integrity then violation owes a debt to the violated and, as with other debts, only the victims of a violation can write-off the debt (forgive the violator).
    Consider again the case of witnessing C mistreating V. An integrity-respecting morality is being-useful-towards taking responsibility for what the evidence justifies you believing. It does not give you an authority to forgive C the wrong he has done V, even if you are a priest or properly appointed law-enforcement official and C asks you for forgiveness. Only V can forgive C. It is, after all, her right to trusteeship of her own life which C has trespassed against. So it is to V that C owes the largest debt incurred by his violation. You can forgive C any wrong that he has done you as a 'fellow player' in the society. It would be valuable both for him to ask for you forgiveness for that, without making excuses, and for you to freely give it without making conditions (anything other than this is not forgiveness but politics). But neither you nor I nor any other member of society can forgive the trespass against V because that debt is not owed to us. Neither do you or I or anyone else deserves a right to pressure victims of violation by making punitive responses sensitive to forgiveness. If, for example, C could get a reduced legal penalty if forgiven by V then V comes under pressure to forgive. The pressure is unfair because V is, after all, a victim precisely by having the trusteeship of her own life violated. It is up to the rest of us, therefore, to be especially sensitive to her injured rights just as we should be to a physical injury (we take better care of an injured body, not less). V's ownership of the power to forgive is not respected if she is pressured to use it as others want her to.
    Forgiveness therefore, although valuable, may be asked (but not demanded) only of the victim and only by the victim's violator. And it may be freely offered to or withheld only from the violator and, again, only by the violator's victim.

It can take time to recover from a violation, and a person who forgives prematurely can find himself in the position of someone who returns to work too soon after an injury or illness - a performance valuable to, and lauded by, those who profit from it but not one conducive to maximising the restoration of injured integrity. A victim who forgives while still harbouring unresolved anger, for example, will likely end up feeling not only anger but also guilt for feeling anger. For this kind of reason, forgiveness needs, like all instruments, to be used skilfully.
    Skilful uses of forgiveness can be guided by the input value from which forgiveness itself emerges as a valuable rule. Forgiveness, as an antidote to violation, is premised on the notion that respect for integrity is more valuable than is it's violation. The purpose of integrity-respecting forgiveness is to complete the healing of violated integrity. If integrity is valuable then we have an obligation not to facilitate violations of integrity even in the cause of restoration. To meet this obligation requires two conditions: first, that a debt is owed (to forgive someone who owns that they have done no wrong is to attribute to them a debt which may not have been incurred), and second, that the violated integrity is healed to the point that it would be beneficial to the victim to close the project and put the violation behind her. This may be almost immediately in the case of minor violations and/or robust victims, but it can also take some time. Projects of closure have their own logic and timetables. To impose premature closure on the project does not respect that anymore than does dragging the project out for some political advantage (to feel special, get attention, etc. - all anathema to the authentic person). However, to avow forgiveness, while continuing to harbour anger or resentment, or while trying to wring some return from the act, is an investment in hypocrisy (which may be valuable socially but is of no personal value to the authentic person). Likewise, to avow forgiveness out of cowardice, self-abnegation, or as an excuse for turning away from emotional responsibility for anger, would not be a valuable performance because it does not respect integrity.

Where forgiving is a skill, being forgiven is a responsibility. The violent all too often covet forgiveness as a licence to trespass without cost or consequence of responsibility for their performances. So if someone borrows a book, for example, and fails to return it or returns it in a damaged state, then that violation of property may be forgiven. However, unless there is an improvement in the borrower's personal ethic, it would not be valuable to go on lending her more books. One test a wrongdoer's ethic is their willingness to take practical responsibility for any harm done. If, for example, C feels sufficient remorse for his violation to confess his debt, admit his responsibility, apologise and to make such reparations as he can in restoration of violated value, then it would be a virtue for both you and V to forgive him. If this is not the case, it would be most integrity-respecting for you and V to both testify against C in a court of law and, assuming that he is fairly judged and punished by suitable authorities, forgive C his violence preparatory to putting the whole affair behind you.




Steven Foulds. Last modified on 25 August 2011

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