Judge Alexis G. Krot is a district judge for the 31st District Court in Hamtramck, Michigan, appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to the bench in August 2016. In a case that has now gone viral, Judge Krot shamed a 72-year-old cancer patient for failing to tend his lawn despite being too physically weak to do so.
Here’s a purely verbal description of the case from The Washington Post. The verbal description is bad enough.
In the three years since he was diagnosed with cancer, Burhan Chowdhury has had a difficult time maintaining his yard and keeping his property in suburban Detroit in good shape. At a recent Michigan state court appearance over Zoom, the 72-year-old man struggled to breathe as he explained to a judge that he was “very weak” and unable to clean up the grass that had overtaken the property over the summer.
But 31st District Judge Alexis G. Krot had no sympathy for Chowdhury. Instead, she shamed the cancer patient for the neighborhood blight in Hamtramck, Mich. — and told him the punishment she wished she could have given him.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” Krot said on Monday. “If I could give you jail time on this, I would.”
After issuing Chowdhury a $100 fine for failing to keep up with home maintenance, Krot called the amount of grass on his walkways “totally inappropriate.” When Chowdhury reiterated that he was “very sick,” Krot said his inability to keep up with his property was inexcusable.
But you don’t really get a sense of Judge Krot’s behavior until you see it on screen.
Seeing is believing.
I don’t know how much discretion Judge Krot had to excuse Chowdhury altogether for the offense. If he’d been brought before me, and I’d had the discretion, I’d have let him off scot free. But even if she lacked discretion, the fact remains that her outburst here is malicious and gratuitously cruel. I propose, by the way, to take Judge Krot’s desire to give Chowdhury jail time at face value. A person ready to give jail time to a cancer patient for failing to maintain his lawn ought to be prepared to take what she dishes out. Verdict: cancellation.
Many people have agreed with that verdict, and have assembled a “woke” online “mob” to denounce her on Change.org, urging her removal from the bench. Though I thoroughly applaud the spirit of this move, I’m not sympathetic to details of the proposal (and confess agnosticism about the accusation of bigotry leveled against her). For one thing, it seems to me that removal from the bench is overkill for a single offense (if a single offense is involved). It also seems highly unlikely to happen. It would have been more sensible to demand either a reprimand or a censure of Judge Krot’s behavior (I’m not entirely sure which, but I’m willing to plump for the disjunction). Given the moral state of the legal profession, even that seems unlikely, but it’s more likely, and (in my view) more proportioned to the offense, than outright removal.
Even if the online petition doesn’t work, I think the firestorm of denunciation that’s come Krot’s way is a praiseworthy thing in itself. She deserves denunciation. Indeed, I hope the anger expressed at her intensifies, and hope it becomes personal. I’d be happy to see her denied service at, say, local eating establishments, and confronted on the street until she either apologizes for her behavior, or offers an intelligible rationale for it. She offered her little homily, after all, in the people’s name. The people are entitled to hear what she has to say in defense of it.
Street confrontations have to be done with care, of course. There’s a fine line to be drawn between initiating a foreseeably unwanted conversation with someone, and harassing the person–even a public official. But there is such a line to be drawn, and I’m all in favor both of drawing it and acting on it. (Practice makes perfect.) Given the elements of the offense (see the link above), one should not confront anyone intending to annoy or torment them, or in such a manner as to cause fear in a reasonable person. But no reasonable person should be afraid of having a conversation with another person who maintains a civilized distance from her.
For example: a person might, on recognizing Judge Krot on the street, ask her for a reason for her behavior. If she declined to continue the conversation, it ought to stop. But there’s no reason to pre-empt the conversation simply because one predicts that she’d decline to continue it. Confrontation is the only way real way to teach someone what it’s like to be confronted, put on the spot, and shamed. That’s the lesson the Alexis Krots of the world need to learn.
Obviously, public officials have the right, in their official capacity, to confront us on the street, to haul us into court, and to force us to answer for our misdeeds. They need to be reminded that while we don’t, legally speaking, have quite those powers, we aren’t powerless, either. There is no law against starting an unpleasant conversation. If Socrates could find a way to do it, so can you.
Some news outlets have reported that Judge Krot currently serves as “the board secretary and a trustee for the Academy of the Sacred Heart,” a local Catholic prep school. The information comes from her official biography, which was–in a rather typical act of officialized cowardice–discreetly deleted soon after the controversy broke.* It’s not clear to me whether Judge Krot still serves in that capacity at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, but if she does, she should be removed. Indeed, the school itself should be pressured to remove her, and pressured to explain why.
And no, I don’t think that such pressure should be restricted to online space. I think it would be a nice idea to apply for a permit and have a physical demonstration outside the school. I’d like to think that a nice, civilized group of 100 or so could be assembled for the purpose. The law allows it, and in my view, justice demands it.
The school makes a big deal about its Catholic values. It also makes a big deal about its connection to Judge Krot herself. Well, according to Aquinas, the Doctor of the Catholic Church, misericordia is a Catholic value.** Judge Krot’s courtroom behavior is a public trampling on misericordia. If the Academy of the Sacred Heart can brag about Judge Krot’s supposed virtues (as it does, pp. 6-7), it can also denounce her for her vices and distance itself from her when the occasion merits, as it plainly does. Those who use morality as PR run the risk of being invited to live up to it. It’s a risk they’ve brought on themselves.
Could such a campaign get out of hand? Sure. Does it run the risk of descending into an orgy of unthinking hate? Maybe. But that’s not what I’m recommending, and as I’ve said before, if it happens, it’s neither my fault nor my problem. I regard Judge Krot’s behavior as reprehensible, but I don’t hold her responsible for anything beyond it. The same reasoning applies to those of us who want to hold her accountable for that behavior.
*Here’s a photo of the original, since deleted.
**For an excellent discussion, see Robert Miner, “The Difficulties of Mercy: Reading Thomas Aquinas on Misericordia,” Studies in Christian Ethics, vol. 28:1 (2015). See also Shawn Floyd, “Aquinas and the Obligations of Mercy,” Journal of Religious Ethics 37:3 (2009).
I agree with your conclusions and concur in your sentencing recommendation.
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Judges often react in something like this way (but not quite this shrill and moralistic) when they have concluded that they are being lied to or given a blizzard of lame excuses. I’m not quite sure why she would think that, here. Maybe there is some context that I am missing (many notices of violation sent out, an understanding that it is easy enough to hire someone or have a relative do the work, etc.)? It is easy to imagine someone giving this (facially pretty good) excuse when they have simply ignored the city notices and have finally gotten dragged into court. So I’d want to know more before leveling the worst criticism (let alone sanctioning or cancelling or leading a collective-cancellation effort). That being that she is just an asshole who would make a weak cancer patient go out in his back yard to pull enormous weeds due to some silly public-appearance property infraction.
My longer response to your comment is mostly included in my response to David Potts, but I guess I would ask: can you think of any fact pattern that would justify threatening (a) a 72-year-old cancer patient with (b) jail time (c) for a victimless legal offense against aesthetic order that (d) had already been rectified at the time of the hearing? I can’t.
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In general, it is permissible (whether advisable or not) for judges to berate and levy legal sanction against those who willfully ignore the law, legal orders, etc. So that would be the relevant fact-pattern. One likely problem with Krot’s action is that she assumed, but did not know, that Chowdhury was doing this. Maybe, even if this were the case, other factors not in question (old age, cancer patient, severeness of the berating and threatening, the violation have been corrected, the legal wrong being of a minor nature, etc.) would render Krot’s action impermissible? I don’t think this is right, but maybe it is. Of course, the permissibility of Krot’s action (in the hypothetical) would not excuse her engaging in the berating and threatening partly or wholly from morally questionable or vicious motives. This could be a moral problem here, too.
I actually don’t think it’s the proper place of a judge to berate anyone, except insofar as the person violates the norms that govern the courtroom itself.
But that aside, it’s hard to reconcile your description above with the actual facts in this case. The defendant obviously hadn’t “willfully ignored the law”; he had rectified the basis of the legal complaint against him before the hearing took place! Krot was berating him for a fact that obtained before the hearing, but no longer did. She knew this, but didn’t seem to care. What mattered was simply that she had the floor, she had the power, she had the incriminating photo in hand, and once upon a time…my God, there had been weeds in that alley. In other words, the pretext for her outburst was the catastrophic moral horror of previously-existing-but-no-longer-existing-weeds. I can see it now: “There Will Be Weeds,” the sequel to “There Will Be Blood.”
I find it amazing that I can’t seem to eke a straightforward condemnation out of any of you. What are you? A bunch of relativists?
Or rather, any of you except Sean. But Sean doesn’t believe that moral propositions are truth-apt. What did I do to deserve this predicament?
Actually, I suppose the film I proposed should be a prequel, and should properly be called, “There Once Were Weeds.”
Since this thread seems to be quieting down, may I ask you, Irfan, what I did to make you think I question the truth-aptness of moral propositions? I ask because I accept that that moral propositions are truth-apt.
I was more joking than serious, but your rejection of the premise behind our discussions of moral desert suggested to me that you rejected the truth-aptness of moral claims. But that may be a misunderstanding on my part.
I was thinking of this possibility: several (escalating) citations, none responded to until court appearance (including credible threats for not appearing) is required– at which point, on good advice but not necessarily from good will, the problem is corrected before the court appearance (the original citation was from August, the hearing in question was in Jan.). I doubt this is what happened, but it is possible based on what I know and I can easily picture a frazzled judge jumping to this conclusion. Krot was wrong, and worthy of condemnation/sanction, on this scenario, because she acted as if this (willfully ignoring/defying citations, orders to correct) was the case on insufficient evidence. And perhaps guilty of worse. So I’ll happily condemn. I’d have signed petitions demanding explanation and apology.
I guess we’ll see. The outcome I was defending leads, after all, to an inquiry.
I only wish I could truthfully say that he got the idea by reading PoT.
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At least this time we have an actual cancelation: An outraged mob moralistically calling for someone to be removed from her job. (But why do you call it “woke”? There’s nothing woke about the mob that I can see, or anything else political for that matter. Outrage at bad official behavior is nonpartisan.)
As such, it suffers from the problems I have been pointing to. Epistemically, it’s hard to evaluate Krot on the basis of this incident. Yes, she could be a horrible person who treats cruelly the people so unfortunate as to come under power. On the other hand, she could have been frustrated by any number of factors we are unaware of. From the article you linked:
She has apologized (as she should). (https://www.newsweek.com/judge-alexis-krot-apologizes-berating-cancer-patient-200k-sign-petition-1671651) In the account I linked, she doesn’t give any explanation for her behavior, which I suppose is to be expected. What’s she going to do, seek our pity by telling us all the pressure or frustrations or annoyances that got to her that day? I can imagine the reaction that would provoke.
And what’s the “crime” here? She was nasty to somebody—and in an official capacity where she should behave better. She really, I think, has a duty to be “judicious” in her courtroom. But well, you know, these things happen. In my opinion, she deserves some understanding and the benefit of the doubt as well as anyone else.
But not in your opinion?
Certainly, not in the opinion of the mob. As you point out, there’s an online petition to get her removed from the bench that has garnered 230,000 signatures and counting. If you search Twitter for the hashtag #JudgeAlexisGKrot, the first tweet that comes up reads, “Is she an evil kunt or just a racist evil kunt?”
So, we have here a nice instance of the pattern: a mob of people who have been triggered by news of an incident online react emotionally, and without further ado—and certainly without careful investigation of the facts or reflection on the possible mitigating circumstances or complexities of the case—viciously attack and shame the individual, who is a minor public official of no great importance, and call for her to be fired, at no cost or risk to themselves (they are not going to be “held accountable”), feeling no doubt a soupcon of the pleasure of “getting” someone and congratulating themselves on their supposed righteousness.
I realize that you’re not advocating these behaviors. But I don’t know why you can’t see that they are an inevitable consequence of encouraging a culture of moralistic shaming and “cancelation.” You say you’re not responsible for this sort of thing and it’s not your problem, but that’s like the proverbial denial of responsibility by one who has given a loaded gun to a child. I don’t buy it.
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I think my response to your comment can be summarized as either “Big deal,” or “All’s well that ends well,” or both.
First of all, you understate and minimize what Krot did. She threatened him with jail time for a pseudo-offense that had already been rectified, then bullied him without making a good faith attempt to hear what he had to say. As I said in the post, had she had the option of giving him jail time, she said she would have given it to him. That explicit statement of hers plays no role whatsoever in your accounting of her actions (or Michael Young’s). What you (both) focus on is the supposedly exaggerated, “emotional” response to it, and our supposed epistemic liabilities in judging her.
But what part of what I just said is in doubt? That she threatened him with jail time is part of the public record. That she failed to give him a good faith listen is transparent from the video. That she’s making too much of a big deal about weeds strikes me as pretty obvious. That her judgments are hysterical and unprofessional is also obvious. That the infraction had been rectified is an uncontested part of the record. It would be a radically revisionary conception of human life that implied that a person should do all of that but deserve absolutely nothing in the way of an accounting, indeed, that it’s somehow morally wrong to render one in any form.
So what we’re apparently puzzling over here is the exact nature of her excuse. “Did she have a bad day?” But having a “bad day,” whatever that’s supposed to mean here, is not a legitimate excuse for engaging in an official miscarriage of justice. And behaving like she did in a court of law is in fact an actionable offense, as she’s now prudently come to realize. Had the defendant told her to fuck herself in the tone of voice she used with him, he would have been up for jail time on a contempt charge. I don’t see why public officials, however “minor,” sit so far above us that they should enjoy total impunity for their like actions in public settings. If I abused you right here in this comment, no one would take seriously the excuse that I didn’t get very much sleep last night. But even defense attorneys seem prepared to offer such excuses for one of their own.
I don’t think the public response was, on the whole, exaggerated or hysterical. It was mostly appropriate and proportionate to the gravity of the offense. I say “mostly” because I do disagree with the proposal that she should be removed from her position. And of course, given the nature of free speech, one can always find someone who will say extraordinarily stupid things on any occasion.
But I’m the one calling for the “moralistic culture” that holds people to account for their actions. You’re the one endorsing a completely laissez-faire attitude toward non-legal infractions. I think people can be held to account for the stupid things they say, including the stupid things they say in the process of cancelling someone. That, after all, is precisely what I’m calling for: holding Krot responsible for the stupid things she said. You’re calling for a culture-wide attitude of impunity. But if so, can you really complain when people misuse the freedom you not only insist that they have, but that you insist that they should have without accountability? You complain about our moralistic culture, and deplore it, but you offer nothing in the way of effecting an actual change in your preferred direction.
General proposition: every proposal for change away from any status quo comes with risks. There is no way to eliminate them short of either defending the status quo as intrinsically valuable, or offering up diagnoses sans prescriptions. That includes the moralistic culture you find problematic. Set aside the fact that I don’t find it problematic. The fact remains that if you do, it can’t be wished away. If not, either you have to resign yourself to it, or you have to be part of the action that resolves it. In the first case, the evil you deplore is fated to grow. In the second case, you face the same risks as the people you’re criticizing. There’s no escape from this dynamic, because at the end of the day, there are only two options: action and inaction. Inaction is a form of moral abdication. Action requires a commitment to efficacy.
You describe the people who went overboard in this case as people who “are not going to be held accountable,” as though their non-accountability were an inalterable fact of nature. It’s not. The whole point of a culture of accountability is that no one is immune or exempt. Change your view of activism and cancellation and you yourself can consistently begin to hold such people (the hysterically over-moralistic) accountable. But you can’t consistently criticize those of us who believe in institutionalizing some modest form of accountability when your own position is (legal infractions aside) to stand aloof from the entire process of holding anyone accountable for anything.
You describe Krot as a “minor public official.” A district court judge is not a “minor public official.” In general, a person who has the power to imprison people, to judge the validity of search warrants, to decide tort cases, to sentence defendants (etc.) is not “minor” at all, and would not be regarded as such by anyone who was on the receiving end of her powers. But if we want to call that “minor,” so is the arduous “trial” supposedly visited on her. A bunch of people (even 250,000 people) saying mean stuff about you online, some of it exaggerated and false, is really not that big a deal.
You object to the fact that the process I’ve recommended seems unreflective. A legal parallel is instructive here. Police officers are empowered to detain a person on reasonable suspicion, and arrest or search on probable cause. Notice that these actions are imposed on people who are suspected of a legal infraction but presumptively innocent of any. In many, many cases innocent people are detained, arrested, searched, and jailed, then released. The idea of compensating such people, even apologizing them, is not even remotely on the table. It’s taken for granted that law enforcement requires such intrusions even when the subject of investigation is as trivial as, “Did you trim your weeds?” or “Do you have a permit for that toilet you’re installing in your bathroom?”
Setting aside these particular examples, no one–no one of any sense–bemoans the fact that enforcement action is taken prior to a conclusive finding of guilt. The reason is obvious: since wrongdoers often do their best to conceal their wrongdoing or evade accountability for their actions, inquiry into wrongdoing requires resort to some form of pressure that induces the target of the inquiry either to cooperate or to submit. Inquiries would otherwise never get off the ground, much less issue in determinate verdicts. We would harbor vague suspicions that would remain vague for lack of any way to begin an investigation. And we would indefinitely stay there.
I am not proposing that any private citizen have the powers of detention, arrest, search, seizure, imprisonment, or trial. I’m proposing that they have and actively exercise a right to judge, criticize, denounce, boycott, cancel, etc. But that right has to be exercised in a manner analogous to what happens in criminal procedure: we respond to suspicious behavior by marking it out as suspicious, and proceeding with some form of inquest. As evidence accumulates, the inquest proceeds. At the end of the process, we reach a verdict, and proceed to “sentencing.” If the evidence is indeterminate, we pronounce the person presumptively innocent. If it clearly indicates guilt, we judge and act accordingly. But there has to be a process along the way. The process to which Krot was subjected was far less “hysterical” or “emotional” than any detention or arrest to which I’ve been subjected. Could it be improved? Certainly. So could the behavior of hordes of cops, prosecutors, and judges. Nobody’s perfect.
Will there be miscarriages of justice? Of course. But inaction is its own miscarriage of justice. It’s not a legitimate objection to the legal system that there are miscarriages of justice, as though the sheer existence of miscarriages of justice were an indictment of the system itself. But that’s not a legitimate objection to non-legalized moral accountability, either. What both things require is a culture actively committed to moral improvement rather than one that views morally significant happenings as a spectatorial or quasi-academic matter, to be talked to death but never to be acted on. In this case, the two sorts of moral progress are intertwined: setting Judge Krot straight in this case improves the legal system.
But as I said, all’s well that ends well. Her apology–and her self-report to the judicial tenure commission–is welcome. It’s an open question whether she did it because she suffered an entirely personal crisis of conscience, or because she was on the receiving end of criticism, or both. But I regard this case as a success story, an illustration of how things should go, despite my disagreement with the particulars of the Change.com proposal. Practice makes perfect. A society committed on principle to refusing to connect moral judgment with moral action can never approximate competence at doing it.
At this point, I think Krot’s critics should let the matter go, in the spirit of knowing when you’ve achieved victory and not wrecking what you’ve achieved.
Two articles describing the “aftermath”:
Detroit Free Press: https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/wayne/2022/01/20/hamtramck-judge-alexis-krot-apologizes/6598996001/
I think it’s worth replying to this for the sake of a few clarifications, especially concerning my own point of view.
Frist, what I think is a minor point, you say I minimize Krot’s actions and make too much of the mob’s actions. It won’t surprise you to hear that I think you do the same in the opposite direction. You keep emphasizing the she threatened to throw Chowdhury in jail. You say she really meant it, but I cannot see what basis you have to know that. Since it would be ridiculous to throw someone in jail over weeds in his yard, I assume she didn’t mean it literally. It was just part of her pattern of berating him. She yelled at him and denounced him over the state of his lawn. That is not the end of the world. On the other hand, the petitioners want her fired and are heaping abuse on her in a very public manner. She now finds herself in the national news as the new poster girl for “evil kunt.” Speaking for myself, I’d much rather be in Chowdhury’s shoes than hers as regards what each suffered from this episode.
It is notable that we know so little of the details of this case. What was this hearing even about? It appears that Chowdhury is requesting that the fine be waived. Is that the reason for the hearing? That is, if he had just paid the fine, would there have been no hearing? Is it a matter of previous offences? Or did he have to make an appearance to show that the weeds had been cleared? If so, it’s weird that he doesn’t present a new photo or anything. He just says, in effect, “I have cancer so I shouldn’t have to pay this fine.” Maybe she’s heard many such excuses and is tired of hearing them. We really don’t know.
One thing we do know is that her behavior was inexcusable. Maybe I wasn’t clear about this before. I said she should behave better as a judge and has a duty to be “judicious.” I meant she has a duty to treat people fairly and with respect, as befits her office. That’s her job. And I don’t want to go over the top about it, but in that light her behavior in this instance is really sort of disgraceful. So, it is good that she is made to apologize. And I don’t think there’s any question of excuses. It’s not that hard to control yourself. Rather, this is a question of having some understanding, that people don’t always do what they should, and a spirit of not casting the first stone. Which is not the spirit of this mob or any mob. (“But if she deserves ‘understanding,’ doesn’t Chowdhury?” Sure, that’s part of the problem with her behavior. “And doesn’t the mob?” Again, sure, except here we’ll need to wait until it has been acknowledged that the punitive moralistic condemnation of the mob is wrong. Until then, having (supposedly) done nothing wrong, they don’t need understanding.)
So, I think we need to distinguish two questions that are not getting clearly distinguished here. The first is whether her behavior deserves to be reprimanded. The second is whether she is a horrible person who should be cast into the pit of fire. I would say that the answer to the first is yes and the answer to the second is probably not but we’ll never really know. If this is right, then behavior predicated on a yes answer to the second question is wrong and probably quite harmful and unjust.
On my remark that the mob won’t be held accountable—indeed, is practically immune to any accountability—you write as though you take it that the reason is that I supposedly don’t think anyone should be accountable for anything. But the reason I say they won’t be held accountable is that while there’s just one of her, in an intense spotlight of negative attention, there’s a quarter million of them (!), many of whom are anonymous to boot. I don’t think anyone’s going to be tracking each (or any) signatory to that petition. The activity of clicktivists is cost- and risk-free, which is why it is so irresponsible. The notion that it has any potential “to be exercised in a manner analogous to what happens in criminal procedure” seems ludicrous. If you really want to defend cancel culture, you should provide some reason to expect realistically that this might happen.
On the question of my own attitude about accountability, I guess I sowed some confusion with my statement that I am against any and all cancelations. I would still say that’s true. But I was talking about cancelations. That is, cancelations as I have described them, where a large group of people recruited mostly online seeks to condemn and punish someone for supposed moral infractions, usually wrongthink. And the context of that remark was particularly ideological cancelation; i.e., Left vs. Right, culture wars, etc. That is the point of greatest concern. But even in non-ideological cases like this one or Justine Sacco or Walter Palmer, it seems clear, to me anyway, that these people did not deserve the pain they were put through. But to put people through this sort of ordeal is the very heart of cancel culture. That’s what it is.
However, this is compatible with saying that people who do wrong things should suffer consequences. The present case seems like a pretty good example of that. I have no general theory of “accountability.” Your description of how people should pursue moral criticism in the fourth-to-last paragraph seems okay. Except that you conclude the paragraph by apparently endorsing what happened to Krot (excepting only that the mob went too far in demanding that Krot be fired).
At this point I don’t have anything more to say but rehash what I’ve already said several times over the past month. I don’t think any of the other cases you’ve brought forward changes anything. I’m disappointed that apparently your whole answer to the criticism that vigilantism by its nature goes overboard is that we should encourage “a culture actively committed to moral improvement.” Yes, I’m sure that will fix everything. Your remarks on the imperfections of the criminal justice system, for me, work the opposite of the way you intend. The fact that the formal justice system often miscarries is a reason to increase the procedural safeguards it already employs, not to discard them completely!
This past weekend, I happened to watch The Ox-Bow Incident. It was purely by accident; it was just a famous movie I hadn’t seen; I had no idea what it was about. I was struck by the similarity between the lame excuses for discarding procedural safeguards offered by the posse members and by defenders of cancel culture: the crime is serious and so must the remedy be; inaction only allows injustice to go unpunished; the law is slow and uncertain; this is an emergency; people urging reason and caution just don’t actually care.
For me, what’s at stake here is liberal values, such as reason, tolerance, and (actual) justice. Particularly when it comes to ideological, intellectual, and cultural issues, instituting a regime of retribution, fear, and punishment doesn’t change anyone’s mind. It only drives unbelievers underground and stokes bitterness and resentment. To win hearts and minds—not to mention to find the truth—reason and persuasion are the only useful tools.
Re. “ You keep emphasizing [that Judge Krot] threatened to throw Chowdhury in jail. You say she really meant it, but I cannot see what basis you have to know that. Since it would be ridiculous to throw someone in jail over weeds in his yard, I assume she didn’t mean it literally. ”
You must not have seen Irfan’s comment: “I propose, by the way, to take Judge Krot’s desire to give Chowdhury jail time at face value.” It might seem ridiculous to throw someone in jail over weeds in their yard, but ridiculous things happen in courts fairly regularly.
Epistemically, it’s hard to evaluate Judge Krot on the basis of this incident because she offers no explanation, only an apology in which she doesn’t even describe her misbehavior, much less explain it. She doesn’t even refer to the person she mistreated by name, as if Burhan Chowdhury doesn’t matter.
“On the other hand, she [J. Krot] could have been frustrated by any number of factors we are unaware of.”
It is part of a judge’s job to explain why they are ruling as they are; J. Krot should know that. Judges don’t always do that, but if that omission becomes significant, its absence is on the Judge, not on the defendant. If J. Krot was having a bad day, imagine the kind of day Burhan Chowdhury was having!
“But well, you know, these things happen. In my opinion, she deserves some understanding and the benefit of the doubt as well as anyone else.” Cancellations happen too; shouldn’t we grant the “woke mob” the same understanding and benefit of the doubt you think J. Krot deserves?
She does not have to explain herself, but no one has to give her the benefit of the doubt.
As Deborah Gordon said (whom you quoted) “this type of thing does happen.”. That is not even the tiniest justification. The most horrible thing in that was that Ms Gordon, “wasn’t particularly taken aback by the clip”. It happens so much that she’s no longer shocked by it. That itself should be shocking.
Maybe that explains why “woke” people reacted so strongly: this kind of thing has been going on a long time, there have been many complaints about this kind of behavior, and they’re just not going to take it anymore. I see no fault in that.
You refer to these “woke” people as a mob, but it’s a “mob” that’s not damaged property nor assaulted persons. They have expressed their legitimate outrage against a public official. We could use this kind of “mob” more often.
You advocate “careful investigation of the facts or reflection on the possible mitigating circumstances or complexities of the case”. These are all fine; and if J. Krot had done so, perhaps she’d not have put herself in a place where she needed to apologize. Have you reflected, David, on the possible mitigating circumstances or complexities behind the “woke” reaction to J. Krot’s behavior?
I realize that you’re not advocating J. Krot’s behavior. But I don’t know why you can’t see that this kind of “cancellation” event is an inevitable consequence of encouraging a culture in which some persons (like Mr Chowdhury) had no recourse but to patiently endure abuse. Instead, they’re supposed to fret about hypothetical reasons why their abuser did as they did. There was a time when that expectation was acceptable, but that time is thankfully fading away. Good riddance to it.
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Agreed. I had never imagined us as a tag-team duo, Sean, but life is full of surprises.
Just to take the first line of Sean’s reply:
The question of the epistemic uncertainty that surrounds moral judgment of particular cases and individuals at second hand is that you’re judging someone you know really nothing about, in a case the particulars of which you know only a few and the context of which hardly anything at all. This is inherent in such situations, and it is not remedied by a few additional pieces of information, from the individual or anyone else, which would be only that person’s claims and to which yet further additional information might support a yet contrary judgment. Barring some astonishing revelations, we’re never going to know whether she’s a horrible person on the basis of news accounts. That is the problem I’m pointing to, and it is not addressed by the question of whether she made an adequate personal statement. Not to mention, of course, that the mob of two hundred thousand people did not wait to hear what she might have to say before calling for her to be fired.
So, this reply makes no serious attempt to address my point, and instead bizarrely tries to blame the victim for an epistemic problem inherent in the practice of cancellation. His whole comment is like this. I doubt there’s a fair point in it anywhere (though I haven’t reviewed it to make sure). Which is why I haven’t replied to it or to Sean’s other recent replies to me. Naturally, nobody gets everything the first time, and it takes a lot of back-and-forth before we understand each other. But there should be some progress. I’m done explaining Sean’s fallacies to him, only to be confronted immediately in the next comment with more of the same. I said I was done once before, but I didn’t stick to it. This time I will.
Regarding, “The question of the epistemic uncertainty that surrounds moral judgment of particular cases … is not remedied by a few additional pieces of information, from the individual or anyone else, which would be only that person’s claims and to which yet further additional information might support a yet contrary judgment.”
Really? Isn’t additional information precisely epistemic uncertainty is relieved or reduced?
Isn’t that exactly how courts of law work: remedying epistemic uncertainty surrounding particular cases by seeking additional information from the parties involved?
Doesn’t Judge Krot work in a court of law?
Does she not spend much of her time doing the very thing you say can’t be done?
“Barring some astonishing revelations, we’re never going to know whether she’s a horrible person on the basis of news accounts. That is the problem I’m pointing to
Whether J. Krot is a horrible person or not is beside the point: she did something that appears to have been quite horrible to another person, and she offers nearly nothing in explanation.
If we apply your standard to woke persons, your moral evaluations of them or their cancellations would be invalidated. I appreciate your effort to take care, but your concerns need to apply to everyone, not just those you sympathize with. This is a point Irfan and I have made repeatedly, and which I will continue to harp on. Your concerns are valid but then inequitably applied. That is an error on your part.
You say that the problem you are pointing to, “is not addressed by the question of whether she made an adequate personal statement.”. Actually, it is. J. Krot had (and still has) an opportunity to clarify what happened and why she did what she did. Part of her job is to evaluate parties to disputes based on their personal statements. She is familiar with this.
J. Krot’s words or her silence are part of the “news accounts”. She is not obligated to explain, but whether she does and how she does is much better evidence of her character than anything else. It’s the kind of thing she does every work day, so she understands this.
“So, this reply makes no serious attempt to address my point”
I think it did, but maybe you need to clarify what I missed.
As before, Take Care.
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In regard to the dialectic of the public debates (or shouting matches or mutual denunciations) regarding cancellation, your point about consistency in the epistemic skepticism (regarding when someone has done wrong) is spot-on: the same standards that apply to knowing (or being certain enough) that the first-order wrong has occurred apply to knowing that the enforcement or “moral hygiene” moves of cancellation (or other form of sanction) are wrong. So the good (not blatantly inconsistent) move here for the cancelling skeptics should be to say something like this: the salient first-order wrongs (that might warrant cancellation or other sanction) are harder to be sure about than the salient second-order inappropriate-enforcement type wrongs of (that sometimes characterize) cancellation. Of course, the asymmetry could go the other way (as is more friendly to those who are all about cancelling or sanctioning this or that type of moral wrongdoer). We need to know, then, what the putative first-order and second-order enforcement-action wrongs are and how easily they are known. I think that is the way forward even if the “easy” or “default” position on either side at least looks a lot like an inconsistent application of skepticism. Not all wrongs are equal and not all wrongs are equally easily known to be wrongs.
However, some of the important action might be elsewhere. It might be that, because our obligations not to participate in social norms and institutions that yield unfair or unjust outcomes are often pretty weak, the “social justice warriors” systemically confuse morally admirable social-justice action with morally-required social-justice action. In which case, it is not epistemic concerns about adequate access to an agreed-upon first-order wrong that is driving the debate. I tend to think that both this point (“that wasn’t a wrong thing, just a bad or offensive or not as morally good as it might have been thing”) and David’s point (“that might be a wrong of type X, but we don’t really know”) can and do do a lot of work in undermining claims of justified sanction, cancellation, etc. My point here, though, is mainly to distinguish and clarify, not to plump for the direction that canceling-skeptical intuitions take me. Going through individual cases, as Irfan is doing, can only help. Maybe my remarks can help in developing a framework for evaluating his cases.
I think your first paragraph is probably correct, but I’d also like to add that a first-order wrong cannot be considered in isolation. History and context are part of that consideration.
If your goal was to distinguish and clarify, I think your comments about “morally admirable social-justice action versus morally-required social-justice action” introduces a good deal of ambiguity.
Perhaps “social justice warriors” are not confusing anything; perhaps they just disagree regarding where the demark lies between morally admirable and morally-required social-justice action.
Perhaps it is “anti-woke warriors” who confuse “morally admirable with morally-required social-justice action taken by SJW.
Of course, “perhaps …” is not a good way to make a claim, but it is a good way to illustrate ambiguities, which is the whole of my point at this moment.
Likewise, giving force to David’s “but we don’t really know” arguments undermine clarity. Arguments from ignorance can always be feigned. Judge Krot said she wanted to put Burhan Chowdhury in jail. Nevertheless, some here insist we don’t really know if she wanted to do that or not: this appears to be feigned ignorance.
We should take her at her word: she said she wanted to, therefore she wanted to. Full. Stop.
I look forward to further discussions on this topic.