I’m thinking about what is the worst possible thing one can do. I think there’s a disconnect between acting morally and acting legally.
Legally speaking, the worst that one can do is murder. Depending on the circumstances, one can get 20 years to the death penalty. That’s because from a legal perspective, you have taken a life away and that is the worst that can possibly happen.
Another bad action in legal terms is rape. Rape is not only coercion, but it’s coercion of the worst kind. It’s a crime that really transforms the victim and it really traumatizes the victim as well. The consequences could also be disasterous (a pregnancy could come about).
Another bad action in legal terms is any violation of children under sexual means. This would be child rape, children pornography, and child sexual abuse. It’s similar to what I said above but it deals with children. Since children are so maliable, they can hardly recover from these crimes and they live the rest of their lives without their full potential as a human being. They live out their lives out of tune with the world and it seems almost impossible to lead a normal life again.
So in terms of the law, murder is the worst crime, which follows by rape being really bad, but not as bad as murder. And then any child crimes are bad. In the court of law, the people who commit murder usually end up in prison and usually get life in prison. With sexual crimes against children, it can range to being in prison but hardly does it come down to life in prison. Usually it’s probation and if there is a prison sentence, they usually can be let out for parole. In short, the order goes:
Child sex crimes–>bad
Are there exceptions? Of course, but I think that in general, this is how the law generally looks at these laws.
I claim that there’s a disconnect between these cases as they are treated legally as opposed to being treated morally.
In terms of murder, I think we would all agree that murder is wrong. However, I think there are cases where one says to oneself, “man, I really hate that person. If I could get away with it, I would get rid of that person.” Certain shows are popular that seems to present murder as no big deal: The Sopranos is one example. We as the audience see this and know that we could never do this in the real world, but I bet if The Sopranos was about sexually abusing a child, that show would never get off the ground. We often hear people say they would love to kill their worst enemy. In the obvious case, there are many people that would love to get Osama bin Laden. On the wanted posters, we often see them portrayed as “Dead or Alive.” So murder is one of those things that I would consider “understandable but disagreeable.” It’s something that we don’t want to do, but if provoked, I think many would consider it.
With rape, it gets a bit tricky. I think in general, people don’t like the thought of raping someone, nor desiring it. But I bet there are cases where people look at someone who’s attractive and they think to themselves, “if I could have sex with that person through any means necessary without any of the consequences, I would do it.” Granted, rape usually has to do with displaying power rather than fulfilling sexual desires. At the same time, I think there would be people who do think like that, but I think people would have the murderous thoughts much more frequently. As mentioned before, force and coercion is the principle moment. I think people do coerce people sexually most of the time and think nothing of it. I’m not talking about violent coercion, but enough subtle coercion and some sort of pressure to “force” the person to have sex with the other person. It comes to a moment where the victim wakes up the next morning questioning, saying to herself, “was I just raped last night?” To ask oneself that question means that the lines have been blurred about whether the encounter was consensual or coerced. But I think people do this sort of coercive sexuality and don’t think anything of it. But again, I think this is an issue that some people can relate to, others cannot. When it comes to murder, I think a huge majority can relate to it morally speaking. Thus, rape is also one of those “understandable but hugely disagreeable” as well.
With regards to sexual crimes with children, this is something that I don’t comprehend. If I try to imagine having sex with a child, my mind immediately flees away to something else. I have no desire to think about having sex with a child, I don’t even want to have the desire to have sex with a child. These are the worst of all crimes morally speaking. I can’t even think of a way to justify this: it’s too coercive, manipulative, and just plain wrong. It’s too much for me to comprehend. I can’t even try to think about it. In terms of child pornography, I don’t have a desire to look at a child in sexual terms. It doesn’t fill me with desire; on the contrary, it fills me with disgust and then remorse for thinking why or how a child can be convinced into doing such things. With these types of crimes, I find them the worst morally and anyone who commits these crimes is someone whom we can never comprehend. I can understand the person who murders, it’s one of those “understandable but disagreeable” actions. Rape is harder, but it would still be one of those “understandable but hugely disagreeable” actions. So in terms of murder and rape, we share some commonality, namely the understandableness behind those actions. We get it, we comprehend it, but we disagree with it. Sexual crimes against children, on the other hand, is something that I consider totally “unagreeable.” Because the person who commits these crimes are “unagreeable,” we will never understand this person. It’s too “out there” and too much for anyone to try and understand this type of action. Because we will never understand these types of criminals, maybe they should be locked up and punished even more so than the murderers or the rapists of adults. (By the way, when I say sexual crimes against children, I’m talking about obvious examples of children, say 9-14 year olds. I’m not talking about a seventeen year old who’s two weeks away from an eighteenth birthday.) Since sexual crimes against children are the worst morally, there’s the disconnect.
In short, when it comes to moral actions, the order is:
Murder –> bad
Rape –> worse
Child sex crimes –> worst.
Now if this is true, then actions from a legal point of view is backwards from a moral point of view. Why the disconnect?
I guess murder charges carry the heaviest punishment because of the finality of the consequences for the victim.
Victims of sexual assault (rape or molestation as a child) are undoubtedly damaged, but are capable of recovering to varying degrees. Victims of sexual abuse are often taught to view themselves as survivors of sexual abuse. With murder, the victim doesn’t have this opportunity.
That’s why I think the law is the way it is. BTW, punishment of sex offenders is another interesting topic because of the potential repercussions for the still living victim.
So, you’re silence must mean you agree?
Sorry, I’ve been really busy and I’ve been meaning to get back to this.
So with the legal question, murder is the worst because it totally gets rid of the person. I guess I’m looking at it from the point of view of the one who commits the crime, not the victim. Undoubtedly all victims are in the worse position, but from the perspective of the accused, I’m more “sympathetic” to the murderer than the child abuser. It’s not as if I feel bad for the murderer, but I can understand where s/he’s coming from, even if it’s totally disproportionate, which is what I called “understandable but disagreeable.” So with murderers, I can understand rage, hatred, the passions going out of control, but I think they just took it too far. With child sexual abuse, I will never understand it. So from a moral point of view, the child sexual abuser is worse than the murderer. Legally, however, it’s backwards.
I’m not sure if you agree with me on the whole child sexual abuse is worse than murder on the moral aspect.
If we’re defining morality based on our ability to identify with a particular issue (which seems odd to me) then yes, to kill is more moral than to molest. Typing that feels weird! haha
Oh, and with the child sexual abuse are you saying you don’t identify with the perpetrator or that you don’t understand the motivations? I’d agree that you will probably never identify with the perpetrator’s actions (nor would I for that matter) but I’m certain you are capable of understanding the motivation even if it’s completely twisted.
Killer J says:
Both actually. Understanding motivations? It would be a challenge but the best I can think of is something like “I really, really want to display my power, or I just want to fulfill my sexual desires. Adults are harder to trick, but children are much easier to manipulate.” I don’t know if that’s what child sex abusers think but it’s still a challenge to think like that.
By the way, I usually think of morality as relating to other people. After all, being ethical deals with other people. So whenever I think of an ethical situation, I try to think as if I was the other person. Yeah, there’s a little bit of Kant in there, which is ironic but with ethics, I tend to “leap” out of my own skin and figure out what makes the other person act the way they do.
So you view empathy as a moral framework to base laws upon. Not a bad idea. We should put ourselves in both the perpetrator and victim’s shoes prior to making a decision then, right?
Killer J says:
I’m actually not sure. It’s a good question; I’ve never really thought about it before. I do think that laws need to be based on morality, but I’m not sure what that framework should be. I would like to say empathy, but I’m sure there are clear problems with it. So I’m not sure at the moment, I’ll have to think about it.
As I’m writing this, however, I do like Mill’s idea in On Liberty where the criteria of liberty is the Harm Principle: you can do anything you want as long as you’re not causing any harm.
I’ll bet the word “harm” would be scrutinized to the point of nausea. The criteria for what “harm” refers to would be ridiculous! I like it though, I just imagine a few pages in the dictionary/law books dedicated to this one word.
Yeah, “harm” is hard to define and Mill got a lot of flack for it. All Mill says that harm must be “obvious” which, to me, means physical harm. Emotional harm and mental harm is harder to determine.