Saturday, October 03, 2009

Roman Polanski and consistent inconsistency


Never forget that the greatest flaw in people is their fanatical need for consistency. Moral consistency, ethical consistency, behavioral consistency. People would rather you be a murderer every day than a murderer some days and a saint others. Humans don't like the unexpected, it frightens them. And because we do so much driven by fear, humans aren't consistent. We are animals subject to whims and passions and very, very faulty reasoning that is often confused and mixed in with emotion and fear. The search for consistency is yet another dimension to the need for simplicity and as I've mentioned, some things are irreducibly complex. Always try to keep your mind loose and flexible to life's contradictions.

Take this director, Roman Polanski. He's rich and famous. He had sex with a 13 year old girl in 1977. This magnificent woman is all grown up, and while believing that what he did to her was wrong, she understands that it was one moment in time, that it doesn't invalidate all the good things he's done in his life, forgives him, lives her life, loves her family. She sees the long game for herself, her family, and she's seen what's most important.

But everyone else has a stake in this matter, on account of the human need for consistency. We created a legal system to enforce moral consistency. We created a news media to explore moral consistency. And when these systems find anything inconsistent, they go berserk.

So this famous director got a plea deal in 1977 for his crime, and the specter of inconsistency rose. A non-famous person wouldn't have gotten a plea for giving alcohol, drugs and (having consensual sex/raping) a 13 year old girl, some would've said. Polanski claims the judge was going to throw the book at him to make a point. Apply the law inconsistently to show how consistently harsh the law can be to pedophiles. Polanski felt the inconsistency breathing down his neck and fled. Fled to France for 30 years. Accepted an Oscar by satellite.

Now he was on his way to accept an award in person, this time in Switzerland. He's taken into custody by the Swiss from a request by the U.S. Marshals service on a 30 year outstanding warrant. Inconsistency, his supporters cry. Why pursue this old man, in his 70s, while letting other fugitives, violent fugitives, go by the wayside? What else could it be but a vendetta, on account of his fame and his flight from illegitimate prosecution? You see what happened there. The cry of inconsistency confabulates those two claims into one. Unprofessional, personal vendetta by a district attorney combines with illegitimate prosecution. But it is very, very hard to argue that Polanski should never be in front of a court for what he definitely did, things that even he admits he did (having sex with a minor, fleeing prosecution) even if the pursuit of Polanski is inconsistent with the norm of law enforcement officials. It's exactly the same as the situation that Polanski claims was rising against him in the California courts. The cry of inconsistency causes us to be inconsistent in our own pursuit of the truth.

This piece of news has a lot of elements in it but like most interesting things, the most interesting part is that no one really knows what happened and everyone has an opinion. Was it, as Whoopi Goldberg put it -- not "rape-rape", a forced act -- but the artistic "rape" in the original Latin meaning of the verb rapio, rapere: an older man "takes" a young girl and ushers her, willingly, into womanhood? If so, why the drugs, the alcohol? Statutory rape may have an inconsistent treatment in human jurisprudence (as George Jonas puts it, a seasonal crime, not absolute but relative to the norms of the society; and though his argument that law enforcement resources would be better spent hunting bin Laden than Polanski is practically sound, if you could get one but not the other, would you let the lesser criminal get away?) but it exists for a very consistent reason: irrespective of religion or philosophical stance, across the board, humans agree that children should be protected.

My 2 cents is that, irrespective of the spectre of judicial misconduct, a DA and jurisdiction with an axe to grind, overreach, plea confessions based on expediency or whether this was actually consensual sex between a 45 year old and a 13 year old, what I haven't heard anyone dispute is that 1) he had sex with a 13 year old girl, 2) he gave alcohol to a 13 year old girl, 3) while not illegal in Mexico, that is illegal in the state of California 4) he was in California at the time 5) while in California, he tacitly agreed to live subject to the laws of that jurisdiction 6) he plead guilty to having sex with a minor, 7) he fled the country after having been required to stand before a court.

Where are the voices saying that irrespective of all the things uncertain and wrong with the case that this man should see the inside of a courtroom before he dies? Where are the voices to say that U.S. federal marshals should pursue everyone who flees justice, not just famous ones? Where are the voices saying that, in societies tied together by laws, we get at the truth, not on the blogosphere, or the punditsphere, or the cinema, but in our courts of law? Isn't that why we have courts? Because we have faith that the truth will win out? Am I being horribly naive? Are the people that are so adamant in their indignation at this turn of events so disillusioned with the Western legal system that they would all flee justice if given the opportunity? I really didn't know it was that bad.

My problem with the Polanski defenders is that they seem to be arguing, not the few facts at hand, but rather that only two wrongs can make this situation right. It is wrong for the law to pursue certain criminals - famous criminals - with more verve, enthusiasm, commitment and tenacity than others...And because this inconsistency is wrong, the law shouldn't pursue Polanski at all. Even though he's broken the law. Even though he's plead to that effect. Even though he's fled from justice. They argue that the law should be more consistent in its inconsistency. Wouldn't it make more sense to demand that they pursue everyone as vigorously? Even if the man didn't do the things he admits to, how can anyone deny that he should, at the very least, stand for fleeing justice?

And not to beat a dead horse but, if he did do these questionable things, in the most awful way that they could have been done, and doesn't have to stand for them -- why should I feel compelled to go to court on an exponentially lesser crime, say, a traffic violation? He gets a pass for flying from prosecution because he raped a minor but a cop needs to make his quota so I have to lose out on a day's worth of work? Where's the consistency? :-)

- K

p.s. They say, two wrongs don't make a right...

Justice delayed is...................not such a big deal


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