This morning’s London Times greeted us with news of a second political suicide, (literally not metaphorically) in the United Kingdom after a labour party leader’s transgressions with pornography were revealed. Rather than face the tsunami of publicity now surrounding personal and morally repugnant deviance, he chose to end his life.
I am reminded of Hawthorne’s classic novel that unveiled some of the more sordid aspects of “rule of law” in colonial America. In modern times, the harsh scrutiny that faced Hester Prynne by “God-fearing gentlemen” seemed disproportionate, over-the-top. But, as Hawthorne wrote, she accepted that “these were her realities, all else vanished.”
In our time too, the autumn of 2017 will be remembered as the time when for the many whose moral compasses lost their calibration, all else vanished. In the United Kingdom, it is not the show business glitterati who are under the microscope, rather the politicos have been caught in the wave of revelations that have gripped America for the last several weeks.
Lest my words be conjured to signal sympathy for those whose transgressions are toppling their worlds, know this–that is hardly the case. But neither is it the case that I will blindly get caught up in the wave that would pronounce guilt by numbers. If one person speaks out, there exists the possibility of truth, if several speak out, there is the likelihood of truth and if many speak out, certainty has been achieved and any trial thereafter is a mere formality.
As Miss Prynne walked among the “gazes of unrelenting eyes” there was a critical difference between the scorn she was subjected to and the scorn greeting modern day transgressors. Her walk was part of a sentence after a trial–albeit a trial that may not have itself met all the transparency one has come to regard as the norm in a civilized society. But, nevertheless, the public humiliation to which she was subjected was at the very least, meted out in the aftermath of the determination of guilt.
It should exceed worrisome when suicide starts to precede the words arrest, charge and trial. Caveat Emptor…the distance traveled from accusation to guilt-by-public-opinion, in cases where other moral issues are at play (like say ideologies or religious beliefs) can become alarmingly short.
Finally one admonition, which sadly requires mentioning. I am a woman. I know that there is much merit in many of the voices that have bravely spoken out, and needn’t have to say more for you to accept that my perspective is an informed one. But, I am also a lawyer and when the integrity of the legal process is on the verge of compromise, the depth of all our concern should be unfathomable.