Monday, August 12, 2013

Moral Ambivalence of Crime in an Unjust Society

A society could be unjust if it fails to give what is due to every citizen to experience a decent living. However, there is an unfair observation of rights and privileges and an imbalance distribution of goods within the society. Only few people are enjoying all the luxuries of life while massive of them are doomed to poverty and cannot even secure the basic needs for life preservation.

On the other hand, we may also ask, what is the Moral Ambivalence of Crime all about? Practically, there is a sort of complication in understanding this phenomenon. A crime, if committed in this context, may be seen as not an actual crime in its moral sense. Maybe in its legal sense, it is. The author presented this example: “Supposing I have seen someone sawing the chain of a bicycle which is locked to a post, and after the chain is severed, the person jump over it and take it away”. Definitely, I would say that I have witnessed a crime before my own eyes. However, one thing that I’m unaware of is that, the person who just took the bicycle was actually the owner of it. It was just stolen from him some earlier time and that he is just reclaiming what rightfully belongs to him. Hence, at this point, what I judged to be a crime is not a crime at all but rather a sort of restitution.

Indeed, theft and robbery are prevalent crimes in many societies. Somehow, these destroy the reputation of some places and loosen the trust of many people. Yet, considering the given situation above, have we ever come to realize that these people who are engaged in such crimes are, in one way or another, not actually stealing anything in a strict sense, but just unconsciously claiming what is rightfully theirs? Well, we might have a difficulty in understanding this phenomenon. It needs a delicate examination. However, it seems that, those people have been deprived of something which is supposed to be their property thus, they seem to have the right to claim it by any means. At this point, I’m not saying that criminals can do whatever they wanted just to have back their share because I believe by nature, they are aware of their moral obligation not to cause any harm to their fellow. However, just as the state has the right to use force in taking what is not mine and give it back to rightful owner, so I believe that these people who have been victims of injustice and violence has also the right to do what is necessary to take back what are theirs. After all, there is always an inclination for the victims of injustice and violence to act unjustly and violently in return although, this is not the point.

Yes, at some point, they are right. However, this exclusive attitude towards themselves is in itself a manifestation of selfishness and self-centeredness. They are just thinking of themselves and for their own sake thus, denying any responsibility towards their fellow. Definitely, this attitude is the starting point of greediness and at the same time, the ground of injustice. Since from this context arises the desire to possess earthly goods and services without limit even to the extent of depriving others. In fact, this is forbidden in the 10th commandment and in the 7th one because earthly goods are ought to be distributed properly, not just for the benefits of some but for the common good all.

Sem. Mamerto Caliwan Jr. is a first year Theologian from the Diocese of Borongan. He is currently enrolled in the STB Program of the UST Faculty of Sacred Theology. This article is an excerpt of his reaction on Jeffrey Reiman's, The Moral Ambivalence of Crime in an Unjust Society during his class in Moral Theology.  

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