instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Inconsequential wrongs

I'm not much of a baseball fan, and my interest in Pete Rose ended the day he left the Phillies. I don't care whether he returns to baseball, or is made eligible for or elected to the Hall of Fame. I think he's trying one last hustle, but if Major League Baseball lets him pull it off, that's their decision.

That said, I do think it's worth noting something about this story. Rose did what in context was an awful thing (betting on baseball games while managing a baseball team), denied it publically for fifteen years, then admitted it was true. Much of the discussion about what to do now centers on the seriousness of his actions as a manager, and on his waiting so long to admit the truth. What seems of less concern is that, by denying the truth for fifteen years, he was effectively calling those who publically said they knew he was gambling liars.

Again, whether such calumny affects his eligibility for the Hall of Fame isn't for me to decide. But a lot of people seem to accept it as simply par for the denial-of-wrongdoing course.

In other words, many people seem to discount what you might call "consequent wrongs" when judging others. If a person does something wrong, then anything else he does wrong as a consequence -- usually including lying, possibly allowing others to be punished in his place -- somehow doesn't count against him. After all, of course an adulterer is going to lie to his wife, of course a corrupt politician is going to smear his accusers' reputations, of course a misbehaving child will deflect the blame to some other kid at school. It's as though lying, calumnating, and deflecting blame aren't wrong in themselves, and are no more blameworthy if done as a consequence of some initial wrong than is tuning the radio to a different pre-set station in a car you've stolen.

The problem with this, obviously, is that, if we are willing to dismiss the consequent wrongs of other people in relatively big things, we are almost certainly willing to dismiss our own consequent wrongs in relatively little things. Then consequent wrongs become habits, and we become vicious people. People who are vicious in little things will be vicious when big things happen, too.
And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil. Amen.

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