Don't Punch Nazis, Don't Slap Sex Offenders

Don't Punch Nazis, Don't Slap Sex Offenders

In case you’re brand new to the internet and have missed it, let me be the first to break the news. A man slapped Harvey Weinstein in a restaurant in Arizona.

I could describe it, but it’s probably better just to let you take this in. It’s only about thirty seconds, replayed in slo-mo for dramatic effect because TMZ makes those kinds of hard-hitting editorial choices.

So, there are a couple of things I want to make clear right out of the gate, so I don’t read them in the comment thread later.

  1. Harvey Weinstein is a reprehensible human being who abused his power to cruel and criminal ends. He should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and all damages incurred to his career and reputation are richly deserved.
  2. I enjoyed watching that, as I assume the rest of you did.

That being said, the ramifications of the slap and the apparent delight the internet is taking in it are problematic, to say the least.

The first issue I take with the reporting on this so far is that very few outlets relay the information that TMZ (regrettably the publication that broke the story) included in their initial report. The man who slapped Weinstein, identified only as Steve, only did so after becoming drunk at the restaurant. His initial interaction with Weinstein was amicable, at first approaching the disgraced mogul to shake hands and sit together. Things only soured after Steve asked for a picture, Weinstein declined, and the rest is in the video.

The problem with missing that context is that it is tempting to view this video as a heroic act of public catharsis, one man boldly doing what so many of us would like to. But that’s not the real narrative. This was a drunk guy who lost his temper and did what all angry drunk guys do, attacked the thing he thought would hurt most. If this behavior were directed towards anyone else, it would be embarrassing and ill-guided. So, when the internet celebrates like this:

In all fairness, I don’t think a couple of giddy folks on Twitter constitutes a national crisis of morality. I smiled when I watched it after all. However, there is a different breed floating around that are potentially dangerous. This ilk.

I thought we had this ‘punch a Nazi’ thing settled, when did it become alright to behave in a reprehensible way to those we find reprehensible? Has the moral high ground sunk into an unrecoverable swamp?

It is not okay to punch a Nazi, it is not okay to slap a sex offender. When we, the disgusted public, react to these repugnant human beings with violence we degrade ourselves along with them. This is not the way to create a more tolerant society.

The reason we find people like Harvey Weinstein so offensive is that they have violated the social contract. We, as a society, established the principles of consent, abuse of power, equality for women and the criminality of assault and decided those were things we value and can adhere to. When Weinstein behaved in a way that ran contrary to these fundamentals, he was correctly reprimanded.

He is currently the subject of investigation in three cities, with more than 80 women leveling accusations against him. The LAPD has sent two cases to the district attorney for review. This is how accusations are dealt with in America. An investigation by the proper authorities, prosecution based on evidence, a trial, justice meted out by judge and jury. These values are what protect average Americans from mob justice.

I am particularly hurt by my friends on the left who are embracing violence as retribution for the crimes of prominent men. The notion that they “deserve” what is coming to them is the worst kind of false equivalency. They “deserve” justice, as described above. Anything else is a crime, making the perpetrator no better than the Weinsteins of the world.

I think this reaction is endemic to the current state of discourse in America. It is easier to doll out judgment individually than to rely on the institutions which work with frustrating complexity. Justice, as it should be carried out, is slow and dissatisfying. When Harvey Weinstein finally faces trial for his crimes, there will be some new outrage fresh in the minds of tweeters and slappers nationwide.

It will not feel as good as it does to slap him, film it and drag him through the mud right now.  We’re going to have to make our peace with that.

Because when we sacrifice the moral high ground, we sacrifice the (please forgive me for using this word, but it is appropriate) noble principles of justice in the United States; the principles which bind society and allow us to identify, remove and prosecute those who transgress.

So don’t punch Nazis, don’t slap sex offenders, let the slow arm of Uncle Sam do it for you.