Saturday, November 26, 2011

"The law is . . . a bachelor"

 Still life

Gare de Jasper

Yet another expert on the TV news yesterday shared an opinion: that bullying should be made a hate crime, in this case. She undoubtedly has a point; hate crimes relate not so much to the holding of hateful opinions as to the instigation of hatred in others. Public taunting is clearly a deliberate effort at besmirching someone’s reputation broadly, whether it be with a clique on the playground or attendees at a political rally, hockey game, demonstration, indeed, any event where others can overhear the taunt.  
               Laws regarding slander and libel could be applied and the designation, “bullying” dropped. Given that there’s a mile of difference between slander perpetrated by an adult or by a 10-year old in a playground, the crime is the same: one person’s chances in life are diminished as the result of a deliberate attack by another person.
               Furthermore, the law must judge—in cases of slander and libel—whether the attack was deserved or not: if you steal my cow and I publicly announce that you’re a thief, no slander has been committed. The question of deserved or not becomes extremely murky with the taunting that typically occurs on a playground: “faggot” refers to same-sex orientation, but it’s a pejorative just like “nigger”, and a case could be made that no such put-down expression is ever deserved, in the legal OR moral sense.
               (I have, by the way, tried to work out the etymology of “faggot” as it’s used today—without success. In older English, a faggot is a piece of firewood and I speculate that when burning was a standard procedure for doing away with heretics, witches and homosexuals, calling someone a piece of firewood was tantamount to indicating that they were deservedly headed for the bonfire.)
               I hold out little hope that elevating bullying to “hate-crime” status would make much difference. There is something animalistic and visceral in the expression of hatred and vengeance, and the cure has to be sought somewhere else.
               In Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble is told by the magistrate that he is responsible for the actions of his wife. He replies—famously—that: “If the law supposes that . . . the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”
               I’m sure there are thousands of good teachers out there who would say that if the law thinks it can effect better relationships on the playground through harsher treatment of offenders, then “the law is a ass—a idiot.”
               Have I just committed a libel by denigrating members of the legal system, in writing?
You be the judge.

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