I have been meaning to write on vigilante and justice for quite some time, but somehow it has never felt right. Not that this is the right time now (although I can cheekily exclaim May the 4th be with you!), yet I feel more compelled than ever to write about this topic, so there you have it.
I think I should start with the notion of justice. It is a tricky concept, tricky to describe or define, but everyone knows what it is and more importantly I am certain most - if not all of us - can give at least a couple of our own examples when justice was not served.
When something wrong happens to us or to our loved ones, and we feel slighted, we want a form of compensation for it, be it of the monetary kind or simply a gesture, a word of apology in smaller cases, while we may expect to see jail time in much more serious incidents.
Injustice happens all the time and on all the different scales and levels. It can happen on the school ground and at work, and if we cannot resolve the issue between each other, we turn to the relevant authorities, such as parents, principals, bosses; if still remained unresolved, we may turn it over to the lawful authorities, such as the police and the law courts.
The problem with the higher authorities is that more often than not they demand evidence of the event. I understand that this is necessary for one's own protection, but in many cases evidence may be hard to come by. It then turns to so-called he-said/she-said accusations, and the judge takes no side whatsoever by dismissing the case wholesale.
In my own - admittedly rose-colored but also principle-bound and ethical - world of justice, this need for evidence should become redundant. I believe that if you have committed a crime and especially considering that you are under oath, you simply should not lie.
When defendants are asked to give a plea, they should say the truth and plead guilty when actually guilty; only when they are effectively innocent should they take that route. Trial and judgment then heavily depend on the integrity of the individual, and this would save our whole justice system time and resources, let alone headaches and mistrials.
But in the real world, people lie and claim to be innocent when they are not. I was personally appalled to see how our resident managers who had committed a misdeed against us could with tranquility lie through their teeth. In our case, they were represented by a lawyer who kept rubbing in his thirty-odd years of experience and a clearly corrupt arbitrator who constantly sided with the accused and dismissed our case with little or rather no thought whatsoever. In other words, I did not see the point of having a hearing in the first place except for pretending or giving the illusion that the needs for justice were being met.
Justice was not served in that case and those who had perpetrated evil got away unpunished and scot-free. What bothered me with our justice system is that I was telling the truth; yet honesty and integrity were not rewarded but in fact discouraged by the so-called higher authorities. I was told that I could appeal with the Supreme Court, but I did not want to go through another mishap and see the bad guys win once again. After all, the slates of justice tend to favor those with money and power, and I, sorry to say, possess neither.
Of course, this is a frustrating experience, but my only solace is the personal belief that there is karma and a spiritual world that will set things right in the end. It may not be an immediate and visible type of reaction or punishment if you like, but one that would catch up with those who do wrong. In the meantime, I do wish them well.
That said, I could see how people in certain situations would prefer to take the law into their own hands, especially in its weaker and failing moments. Hence our fascination with vigilantes. In those moments, when we are let down, we would like God to punish the evil doers with a ray of lightning and if that cannot happen for whatever reason (physical laws mainly), then we turn to good old Batman.
Another reason why justice fails is also the issue of corruption and who would be better to fight against those incidents than our caped crusader. In the past, we had Robin Hood who stole from the rich to give to the poor, but in the case of our “anonymous” masked superhero we are dealing with somebody who sets all the wrongs right. That is what makes what he does heroic indeed.
In its purest form, vigilante justice will ensure that everyone gets what they deserve and that no wrongdoing goes by unpunished. They are the laws of karma made flesh. At the same time, they must follow strict ethical guidelines themselves and be beyond temptations and corruption. Batman did not do it for money nor necessarily recognition as both had been already inherent in and represented by his original persona as the highly successful and very wealthy Bruce Wayne.
Another interesting and intriguing example would be Dexter Morgan from his eponymous TV series. He is a serial killer, which is definitely not good or ethical in itself, but he turns his desire against those who have escaped through the cracks and loopholes of the law. (Note: Using loopholes to me is not that different from breaking the law, except that it is done in a more surreptitious manner).
So Dexter kills those who are evil to begin with and who are released because of lack of evidence, circumstantial or what-have-you, or because they had a strong lawyer who had twisted words to the client's benefit. Or worse, they may have been released because officials were bribed or because of incompetent jury members and / or a corrupt judge. The end result is that the evil person is free to roam and to commit more evil.
Before killing them, Dexter follows a clear ritual and presents the bound evil-doer (and current victim) with his own victims of the past by putting up photos of them all around the gasping perpetrator pleading for his own life. Dexter's killing, although personally enjoyable for him and not considered a chore nor a bore, is righteous in the sense of setting wrongs right again and of eliminating a life that is not worth living from a person who has lost the human right to exist anymore.
At this point I do not want to go into discussions of death penalty or capital punishment. Suffice it to say that in his own twisted way Dexter has turned - or at least tried to turn - his evil instincts into doing “good,” and he is the ultimate dark vigilante.
All of this presumes that it is all right to take the law into one's own hands. Is it then? That is a tough question to which I do not have an answer except to say that it depends. Two wrongs they say does not make a right, and there is a definite truth in that.
The ideal would be to be a moral person yourself and let everything out of control simply be and roam its course and not be caught or necessarily be affected by it just like the just and aptly named Abel Morales in A Most Violent Year who would refuse to adapt to the changing and more violent and corrupt climate of his times and who stubbornly walked the straight and narrow path of the righteous. That is, of course, harder said than done in real-life situations.
Also the vigilante can choose other weapons at his disposal, and they do not have to be of the violent kind. I am thinking of using one's pen to create justice the same way courageous journalists and writers unearth the truth and present it to the masses, which then brings down the evil and corrupt like a house of cards. Again, we are thinking in ideal terms.
And the other issue would be, how far do we take this vigilante business? If the laws are not doing what they are supposed to do and their representatives are corrupt or simply do not care, is it our own responsibility to make sure justice is happening? Would this not lead to chaos and even anarchy?
That is my concern. I respect the law because I expect it to be just. But more often than not it serves to protect a few and punish the multitude. It seems that there are often cases of innocent poor people being punished and guilty rich people being exempt from the law and being deprived of the natural right of justice.
Part of me may applaud re-actions of organizations like Anonymous who fight back in their own way; yet at the same time, they are breaking the law too. And stealing is stealing whether you steal from the poor or the rich (although we may generally feel more sympathy for the underprivileged former).
Yet instinctively, we prefer moral justice so that the ones who have wronged ought to find their punishment, while the good should be rewarded. And ideally, we would like to see it with our own eyes in this world of ours and not in a vague afterlife that we are not completely sure of.