Civilization and the Presumption of Innocence.

With the rise of the Me Too movement and with the notions of consent becoming blurred, with more and more factions of society requiring people to have a signed consent form at the ready, whenever such persons are questioned, ideas of innocence and such presumptions have come under increasing attack. This presumption is the driving force behind the idea that even if it may lead to a multitude of guilty schmucks being set free, no one innocent shall be jailed. The utilitarian/ rational person would argue that this does not seem the most practical and efficient way of going about addressing the world of crime. But such considerations are perhaps inept when it comes to the conception, punishment and purpose of crime, and the legal establishment forbidding it.

For this, let’s consider the opposite, yes? Let us say that there shall be no such presumption when it comes to crime, and therefore we are prepared to sacrifice that one innocent to go ahead and crucify the 10 guilty people. (Can be a 100 too.) What are the issues that arise from this? Numerous. To begin with, the only corollary action that the unfortunate innocent person has done, is to simply, exist. He is guilty by virtue of his existence. It is only his non-existence that could save him. That still may appeal to some, for at the end of the day, 10 guilty people are taken out of society. But then where do such principles stop? Why should the same not be applicable for racism? Racism is also predicated on the simple ‘mistake’ of being born a different color. Your existence is the reason you’re guilty. It is the same with sexism, and various other “isms”. Why should these be any different? This is exactly why when civilization came up with concepts of good and bad, with the help of religion, they landed on the principle that man inn inherently good and innocent. The State therefore does not have any arbitrary power to judge. The people are not simply sacrificial offerings to the Dragon that is the State. Further, this narrative also assumes that man is of questionable character. The three levels of such assumptions are 1) Beyond Reproach without Reason 2) Of questionable character 3) Guilty. The original system adopts the first assumptions. The #metoo movement assumes the third. But the concept we’re considering today assumes the second one. Why is that problematic? Its problematic because, if every person is of questionable character, then assuming the State has come about from an ‘agreement’ by the people, the State again is of questionable character. Ergo, the State has very little moral authority to go ahead and judge people as to their violation of principles of civilizations. The State is not beyond reproach. The State is of questionable character. Why should I then pay anything to the State? Why should I even help the State? Why should I abide by its laws? Finally, we come to the issue of branding. One of the fundamental by-products of the criminal justice system is branding of the person convicted. Not only of him, but also of his family.  This branding is not only a by-product but also an incentive for individuals to not commit crimes. Now the State effectively says that even if you’ve not done anything, we will brand you as a criminal. The same approach was adopted by Stalin, when he executed potential dissenters. Its better to be safe than sorry. Fascism and Racism, not a bad track record.

Alternatively, the presumption of innocence possibly is the greatest piece of philosophy humanity has produced.  It is not a rationally derivable presupposition. It is a faith-based assumption, but is essential to keep us sane. It was Lon L. Fuller who propounded that predictability is one of the essentials of law. Man must be able to go to bed in relative comfort. He cannot do so, if there exists no metric upon which he can live his life with peace. If he is said to be innocent until someone proves that he is guilty, after giving him ample opportunity to defend himself, then such predictability is met. But when you need not have done anything wrong, and yet you’re put in jail, it is a permanent atmosphere of fear. Much akin to that of Hollywood in the wake of the movement. Surely, we must hope for a better standard for maintaining order, than fear. Further, the presumption holds the State to a higher standards of moral uprightness. The State is not a mere mathematical calculator to calculate Benthamite utility, but is charged with a ‘holy’ duty to improve civilization, without forsaking the notion that the constituents of the civilization are inherently innocent. It is perhaps inherently rational to assume the opposite. That man deserves to be treated with suspicion. But the problem then accrues that a purely rational system cannot come up with a conception of good and bad. Further, there are multiple occasions in which murder may provide immense utility, and therefore would be permissible. (And I don’t mean State sanctioned executions.) The assumption further forestalls mob justice and the tyranny of hearsay. It is the prevention of the imposition of the majority and the epitomizing of the individual.  The protection of the individual without the arbitrary imposition of society on his life and his values. It acknowledges that it takes an exception tear in the fabric of reality, in the person’s spirit to commit a crime, to embrace the ever-enveloping State of Nature, to dig so deep so as to encounter Hell. Once that hole has been dug, there is nothing civilization can do other than to isolate him. Man is a social animal, and therefore social ostracisation both figuratively and literally, is the only solution. Finally society is delicately tethered together with the mechanism of trust. This trust, implies that individuals believe that people are good and that badness is a shift away from the norm, and to provide against such unfortunate eventualities do we have the law. This fabric of society begins to unravel when the law itself forsakes that trust and believes that man is inherently untrustworthy, and that is when civilizations begin to die.

GordonW

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