Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Classic Battle of the Sexes Moment: Justice v. Forgiveness

I loved this. Most of the comment on this has focused on Mark Haines' sexist wisecrack at the end of the exchange, but I am more impressed by the way it comically contrasts two ethical Weltanschauungen. Haines is incensed because Tigers pitcher Armando Galaraga is cheated of the chance to have his perfect game go into the record books, and Erin Burnett thinks it is "beautiful" that the ump hugged the pitcher and all was forgiven.

Actually, I think they both have a point. Yes it is very important that justice be done and excellence get the honor it deserves. On the other hand, I think it's great that the ump immediately apologized when his mistake had been proven, and that the pitcher accepted his apology. Yes, we do need more of that in this world. (Both these men contrast sharply with the officials who had the authority to correct the record retroactively and simply refused to do so.)

There is still a big issue here though. Which is more important: justice or forgiveness?

I vote for justice.

Justice is a fundamental virtue, forgiveness a derivative one. Without justice, there couldn't be such thing as forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the traits that fixes things when the process of justice fails to work or has regrettable effects. Ordinarily, it should not be substituted for justice.

That is because we need justice if life is to go on at all. You cannot base a civilization, or a complex institution like baseball, on group hugs.

As Heine said, "One should forgive one's enemies, but not before they have been hanged."


chidad said...

I love that last line
"one should forgive one's enemies, but not before they have been hanged."-I agree, but when you say forgiveness, ordinarily, should not be substituted for justice, do you mean that forgiveness can sometimes be a form of justice, or that justice can simply not be applied so forgiveness must be used?

Anonymous said...

Watching last night's Stanley Cup final, the Chicago OT ending was a bit bizarre because Kane's goal went in but it wasn't imediately recognized. Just like there are no second acts, the spontaneity of moment is what sports are all about.

Haines comment wasn't really focused on justice but his comment "They were cheated the opportunity to celebrate a perfect game". If there's a sexism to the remark, maybe it's that we as boys love spontaneity. It goes along with our sexual nature while no woman considers child birth a spontaneous action.

Lester Hunt said...


I think that forgiveness is never a form of justice. Any time you forgive, there is some "penalty" (like staying angry) that you have a right to impose. Otherwise, there is "nothing to forgive." To "forgive" a debt is to refrain from collecting, when you have a right to do so.

Somebody who imposes a penalty on a wrongdoer is producing a public good -- they are helping to deter future wrongdoing. If you forgive, you aren't doing that. For that reason I think forgiveness is sometimes (not always, of course) a sentimental self-indulgence.

Anonymous said...

The concept of "justice for the victims" is actually a touchy feely new one. Historicaly justice also meant "just punishment" or a penalty to society. The "hanged criminal", tortured heretic, person in stocks was mainly a warning to society, that if you do what they did....

The game of baseball is a game of laws or rules and the umpire is the judge. If the pitcher forgave the judge was he the equivalent of the "hanged"?

Lester Hunt said...

I agree. "Justice for the victims" would pretty much have to be tit for tat -- ie., revenge.

I'm not sure if this responds to your question, but I was thinking that the analogue of Heine's "hanging" -- ie., executing justice -- would have been retroactively correcting the record of the game.

Anonymous said...

I agree. The angry lynch mob out for revenge is not what the state wants. The state wants control which is why justice is a process of government. The concepts of closure, justice for victims or justice for victims families are new and I guess the pitcher in Haine's mind was the victim and the fans were his family.

If the baseball commissioner is the governor of the game, then a reversal of the ump's call would be equivalent to admission of an error by the state. It would also nullify the AB of the 28th batter which is also unprecedented. Just as in football the officials are considered physicaly part of the playing field and the umpire's mind/judgements are part of the noumenal world of the game.

Ironically the ump was instinctively doing his job as if the 27th batter was batting in the 6th inning of an "imperfect game"; and though the call was close, the commissioner would be undermining "the integrity of the game" which he lords over by reversing it.

The umpires own regret and remorse afterward also made him behave like a victim as well. The pitcher who appears to be Latin American was forgiving but I'm sure he realizes he gets paid more per year than 99% of the people in the Western Hemisphere so he has alot to be grateful for.

As Jaques Barzun said, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game and do it by watching first some high-school or small-town teams”

Anonymous said...

Forgiveness is personal since we often forgive to free ourselves from the corrosiveness of anger which is why forgiveness is often seen as weak. One who never forgives never stops the vent of anger and "bad karma" directed towards the accused.

Lester Hunt said...

Yes. Eric Hoffer once said "Compassion is the antitoxin of the soul." That's even more true of forgiveness.