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Q: When Is It OK to Commit Murder?

| 9 Comments
A:  When the murder victim is a white frat boy.

If you find that repulsive, good for you.  But that's the reaction of the poisonous, race-obsessed ideology behind much of the radicalized thinking on crime now in vogue in academia and the "entertainment" industry.

I take my cue here from the recent horrible death of 22 year-old Otto Warmbier, formerly a University of Virginia student, who was returned declining and comatose from his captivity in North Korea.  He died a few days ago.  As noted in this Commentary article, "Warmbier's death at the hands of a criminal regime is perhaps the most vicious crime directed against an American citizen by [North Korean] authorities since two U.S. officers were murdered by an axe-wielding mob...in 1976. This is an offense to American dignity and sovereignty--and it is proving a revealing moment in American politics. Warmbier's capture and his fate have exposed again the utter moral perversion of the social justice left."

The following are two examples of reactions to Warmbier's treatment*  normal people could not imagine would be given by anyone with decency.  But that's because normal people don't usually read what passes for intellectual refinement on the "social justice left."

[Ed. note:  I originally said "death," but our first commenter correctly notes that Warmbier, though in captivity, was still alive when the comments were made].


It wasn't the extrajudicial nature of Warmbier's capture that caught the attention of the liberal commentary class. Nor was it the triviality of his supposed "crime." In fact, the only thing that appeared to intrigue some influential members of the identity-obsessed left was Warmbier's background.

"It's just tough for me to have much sympathy for this guy and his crocodile tears," said former Comedy Central host Larry Wilmore amid what was billed as a comedic monologue on his now-cancelled show in March 2016. He noted that, according to reporting, Warmbier had committed the "international crime" of poster stealing as part of an initiation into his UVA fraternity. "You've got to read the fine print on your American frat bro warranty," Wilmore noted mockingly. "It says, 'Frat Bro Privilege not valid in totalitarian dystopias.'"

This is from the side that lectures us endlessly about its compassion.

The Commentary article continues:

Wilmore was cautious, but the adoring write up of his remarks in Salon was less coded. "This might be America's biggest idiot frat boy," the post was headlined.

**************************

University of Virginia's fraternity system is the source of much progressive angst. That angst motivated the serial fabulist Sabrina Rubin Erdely to publish a fictional account of a gang rape initiation system at the frat--a piece that subsequently cost her former publication, Rolling Stone, $1.65 million in damages.  "Privilege" is how social-justice advocates describe those who they think should be found guilty under a Rawlsian ideal of distributive justice. So what made Warmbier so deserving of his captivity and mistreatment at the hands of a famously brutal Stalinist regime? 

Huffington Post blogger La Sha was more direct than Wilmore in March 2016: his heritage. Specifically, his "white male privilege."

There have been a number or C&C entries of late about liberals' willingness to cast racial aspersion on those who favor resolute enforcement of existing law.  This, however, is the most vile item I've seen for quite a while:

In Sha's estimation, the accidents of Warmbier's birth afforded him a "shield" from justice in the United States. His heterosexuality, white skin color, and male genitalia rendered him functionally above the law. "That kind of reckless gall is an unfortunate side effect of being socialized first as a white boy, and then as a white man in this country," she wrote...The author of this deluded, bigoted rant makes no effort to understand the conditions in North Korea. Why should she? Her appeals to identity politics and the historical grievances she invokes are enough for her baseless opinion to be taken seriously and published in a national political blog.

For those who wonder why I refer from time to time to the "America Stinks" crowd, or to those who hate "Amerika," now you know.  You won't have to ask again.

This horrifying zest to attack this young adult, now just another victim...has exposed social justice for what it is: the precise opposite of objective justice. There is no theory of justice, no school of thought that would justify the treatment to which Warmbier was subjected. There was nothing just about his ordeal. Those who would excuse the regime's conduct, even going so far as to adopt its language (the grave "international crime" of poster theft) have abdicated all moral authority. 

9 Comments

While the comments aren't good, it's unfair to characterize them as "reactions to Warmbier's death." Wilmore's monologue was from before Warmbier was sentenced, and La Sha's post shortly after. Both from March 2016.

That's a fair criticism. I will change the word "death" to "treatment," although no realistic person could think that his torturous treatment could, or was designed to, produce anything other than death.

Beyond that..........."the comments weren't good"??? That's the extent of your response to them?

Thanks for the correction. I shouldn't have included that first part of the response at all -- I'd want to read the whole La Sha blog post in context and not just take Commentary's word for it before responding, and I really have no interest in reading La Sha's blog post.

The fact that Maggie W. cannot bring herself to read La Sha's blog substantiates Bill's argument.

I've never heard of La Sha prior to just now, but I read her piece and found this paragraph interesting when juxtaposed against the philosophy of this blog and your post. La Sha wrote:

"Coming from a country filled with citizens who lambaste black victims of state sanctioned violence by telling us that if we obey the law, we wouldn’t have to face the consequences, Warmbier should’ve listened. If he had obeyed North Korea’s laws, he would be home now. In fact, if he had heeded the U.S. Department of State’s strong advisement against travel to North Korea, he would be home right now. And if Eric Garner is to be blamed for his own death for selling loose cigarettes or if Sandra Bland is dead because she failed to signal when changing lanes, then Otto Warmbier is now facing a decade and a half of hard labor because he lacked both good judgment and respect for the national autonomy of a country which has made its hatred for and vendetta against America unequivocally clear."

The philosophy of this blog, stated on the "About C & C Blog" section, is:

"Like most blogs, this one has a distinctive point of view. We approach criminal law issues from the perspective of victims of crime and the law-abiding public. As most of the existing criminal law blogs are defense-oriented, this is a step toward balance in the blogosphere as a whole.
Why "Crime and Consequences"? The name reflects the underlying philosophy about crime. People have free will. People make choices. Those choices have consequences. When people choose to commit crimes, there are consequences for the victims, for the perpetrators, and for society. When society chooses how to punish crime, those choices also have consequences. Exploring these choices and their consequences is what this blog is about."

It seems as though you have done a role reversal in this post, or perhaps a perspective change, in that you frame Warmbier as the victim. The paragraph quoted by La Sha places Warmbier in the perspective of the criminal. The latter perspective is that which this blog claims it is devoted to. According to my understanding of the situation Warmbier supposedly ripped down a poster, which was a violation of North Korean law. I don't know North Korean law nor do I have any belief that their legal system is any near what ours is. But I'm curious why this situation is not viewed from within the philosophy that underpins this blog. Warmbier was a person who had free will. He made choices and those choices had consequences. Why have you not explored his choices and their consequences in this post? It would seem, at least to me, that your philosophy as written may require some caveats, such as a claim that it only applies to American law. Or perhaps a punishment grossly disproportionate to the offense, regardless of the society in which it is committed, is not an appropriate consequence under an objective standard of morality, and as such an examination of an individual's choices is not pertinent. I'm not sure what exactly the changes might be, but I'd be interested in reading your thoughts on the subject.

As I see it there appears to be some conflict though between your stated broader set of beliefs regarding crime and the perspective that you have chosen to view this case from. Obviously its your blog and its your philosophy and you may see no tension between the philosophy and the analysis of this specific situation.

Your idea that there is ANY degree of equivalence worth discussing between (1) the operation of democratically enacted law that is central to C&C; and (2) getting beaten to the point of senselessness, then death, by a grotesque system that fails even to imitate law, and that regularly fabricates its accusations and public statements, speaks for itself.

In its own way, your comment is, forgive me, as vile as those on the Huffington Post, although lacking the race-huckstering angle (which you wisely and slyly omit).

I'm going to leave it up nonetheless, not because it's anything other than astonishing, but because it's better evidence than anything I could have written that the Amerika-Stinks-Just-Like-North-Korea ethos has spread well beyond leftist academia.

P.S. Your statement that it's my blog is incorrect. It's CJLF's blog. I am a guest contributor.

Bill, I agree that there is no equivalence between US law and North Korea law, but there is an important insight here not to be overlooked ---- that when one disrespects the law/state, it becomes much easier to view anyone branded a criminal in that system as a victim.

I say this not to criticize your important comments here, but merely to note how "criminal as victim" thinking readily flows from any disrespect for the legitimacy of a system's law and its enforcement. And that is among the reason I think it so important for the US to always be doing all it can in all ways to enhance respect for our justice systems. I think the US system the best in the world, but I also think it could and should continue to strive to be better.

I don't disagree with what you say; my problem is with the level of generality. There is no system human beings have invented that can't be improved. No one disputes that.

We vastly improved the criminal justice system over the last 25 years by the enormous decrease in the number of crime victims. I would continue with what has succeeded, understanding that it has flaws. The question is whether it has fewer flaws than the alternatives (most of which have been tried before under different names). The answer in my view is yes.

You probably will not be surprised to hear that the most important reforms I support are (1) not putting people in jail for things a normal person would not know are wrong, much less illegal; and (2) adjusting the excessive client-orientation of the legal profession more toward a truth-orientation. We lawyers should be alarmed that fewer than one person in five thinks we're honest and trustworthy. We should do something about it.

You probably will not be surprised to hear that I largely agree with (1) and also with (2), though I wonder how much your suggestion (2) creates some inherent tension with the adversarial process.

That said, I have come to think that the relative punitiveness of US justice systems is linked in some ways to, as you put it, "the excessive client-orientation of the legal profession," and that provides for me a willingness to consider more European-like inquisitorial elements to our justice system. (I think it would be especially valuable if, as I surmise take place in England, lawyers spend considerable time as both prosecutors and defense attorneys.)

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