2013-01-13 07:45 pm (UTC)
he launched an ambitious scheme to hack into JSTOR's database and make a big chunk of the total scientific production of humanity available to anyone who wanted it, free of charge, on BitTorrent
We don't know that.
Yes, years ago, he advocating doing that. But in the meantime he mass downloaded other papers and analyzed them without releasing them.
Javert is our servant. Three strikes and you're out laws? Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime electioneering? Every newspaper that ever ran a scare story about the increase in crime, every TV network that ever did a 'prime time special', al the true crime cops'n'robbers programmes on The History Channel and others - those are our society demanding to feel safe, demanding that something be done.
And since it's easier to make big gestures like building more prisons or "I'll be the Minister for Justice who brings in tougher sentencing guidelines" rather than tackle the root causes of crime (and no, I'm not saying every criminal is a lost little lamb who has been failed by society), then we get those kinds of "go to the galleys for stealing a loaf of bread" laws.
And we need people to enforce them, so we get Javert, who is not a corrupt cop. He isn't on the take, and can't be bribed to turn a blind eye. He can't be bought off or scared off once he's on the trail. He's the one keeping us safe in our beds.
And he doesn't believe in second chances. Everybody has an extenuating circumstance when it's their story, but they don't give the benefit of the doubt to someone else in the same circumstance.
Javert is perfectly willing to accept punishment, because that's how he's lived his life: do the crime, do the time. But mercy breaks him, because he would rather keep his pride and be damned than acknowledge indebtedness and be forgiven.
He operates, in your words, on not-evil but he can't move beyond that to "good is more than not doing wrong".
And everyone who says Valjean was a fool and should have weighed the evidence, including Javert's declaration that he would never change, and do the sensible thing - what about our own laws and those who fall foul of them? Should there be second chances and clemency, or should we let experienced, honest policemen like Javert decide?
This punk may only have pulled a small robbery today, but let him get away with it and he'll pull a bigger one tomorrow, so we end up with today's equivalent of "go to the galleys for stealing a loaf of bread".
2013-01-13 08:17 pm (UTC)
I've always felt strong empathy for Javert.
What if by stealing the "mouthful of bread" (which sounds like standard criminal minimization to me - as I recall he stole an entire loaf) he may have condemned the baker or a member of the baker's family to death? As I recall everyone was on the brink of starvation in the book.
I don't remember anybody asking the baker how he felt about it. Maybe they should have.
Law and goodness do not have to work at cross-purposes. After all, it is always a jury's prerogative to decide they feel as you do - that the law itself in this particular application for the theft of eleven francs is un-just and therefore regardless of whether the person broke the law, the person should still go free.
2013-01-13 08:30 pm (UTC)
Re: I've always felt strong empathy for Javert.
No, I'm pretty sure that a baker isn't going to starve for lack of one loaf of bread. But if you're that worried about the baker, suppose it was a very rich man, in order to close loopholes for the moral dilemma.
What do you think of the argument that BitTorrent et al. are the 21st century equivalent of the printing press? As in, not only is it an improvement in how we reproduce and distribute information, but also that it's just as politicized and initially resisted by the authorities as the printing press (apparently/supposedly) was in Europe? I guess my question really is: do you that's an apt comparison or not?
I feel that it's a sad society that doesn't recognize that Javert is a good guy, just like Valjean, and that feels the need to blame society for every instance of good guys being at cross purposes, blaming every possible society for not being our impossible vision of perfection.
In so far as there's a villain in the piece, it's Enjolras, who engages in 'a game for rich young boys to play' in order to feel important & excited rather than figuring out how to actually win. He makes things much worse for everyone, and probably lacked a plan for what he was going to do if he did win, for the simple reason that he was NEVER going to win, and he knew that perfectly well. His strategy depended on a spontaneous rising up of the people of Paris, on hundreds of thousands of people who hadn't agreed to do so and who owed him nothing risking their lives for him...
By contrast, we have Aaron. Aaron was the embodiment of a rich young boy playing for real, fighting a war where the terrain and the available and relevant weapons Actually Favored His Side and where soldiers on his side might die but would definitely not end up killing innocents on the other side. Weapons like bitcoin that should be enough for a clean win against stealth fighters and ATVs and which produce no civilian casualties at all, but which still entail risks for the people who use them, if other people fight back with guns and if their allies don't defend them.
This is So MUCH more ethical than any revolutionary I can think of, from any time or place in HISTORY. He was surrounded by friends, powerful friends who he might reasonably have expected to come to his aid... and apparently, he didn't know how to ask, and/or did ask and didn't get the help he was looking for. Frankly, that means that we failed him as a community. That we didn't leave openings, didn't offer him a way out that he could see. In so far as "The criminal proceedings, as Lessig put it, already put him in a predicament where "his wealth [was] bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge."" is true, in his case, the hacker community sucks as a tribe, and that fits my casual impressions, as I see us as a community AWASH in people who don't see any way to get help from one-another. And I read about Rachel Haywire getting freed from her psychiatric hospital by her friends from the internet, and I see other communities, out there, where people DO help one-another, and I wonder, what our tribe could do if we had balls.
Edited at 2013-01-13 10:20 pm (UTC)
I agree with everything you're saying except that Javart is a "good guy". He seems to be to be Lawful Neutral who is dedicated to fighting evil. The trick seems to be to reconcile the forces of Law and Good to do battle with Evil and not with each other. This cross purposes of Law and Good have problematic consequences and those need to be minimized, whether that means restructuring of society or something else.
I also feel like it's important to note that Enjolras is fighting on the side of good (while being the villain). He's incompetent and thus destroys a huge amount of resources for the side of good while getting nothing done. His flaw was to be stupid, not that he was evil. It seems possible that being stupid and good is worse than just being evil.
2013-01-14 03:08 am (UTC)
Comparing Javert and the prosecutors of Aaron Swartz is a great disservice to Javert. Whatever else you can say about Valjean, the legal, criminal case against him was on solid ground and Javert was unquestionably following the law in pursuing him. Which is more than can be said for the Swartz case (http://patterico.com/2013/01/13/attorney-for-aaron-swartz-prosecutors-arguments-were-disingenuous-and-contrived/).
Prosecutors inherently have discretion: in whether to pursue, in what claims to make, in what sentence to ask for. Whereas policemen like Javert who enforce court sentences have no discretion. So prosecutors can be far worse, but perhaps also far better.
If we gave police officers carte blanche to arrest the people they felt like arresting and release the people they felt like releasing, then why bother having laws at all?
Well, we (in the U.S. at least) have given certain people the power to pardon, or to refuse to prosecute, people convicted or accused of crimes, based on whatever criteria they think is appropriate.
Also, sometimes police officers in practice don't pursue a certain type of crime or a certain type of criminal, and that's just a fact on the ground.
I'd forgotten a lot of the details of the story, so I took "Jean Valjean saves Javert's life" at face value-- in this article, it's framed as "Jean Valjean kills Javert". Which is it, and does the difference matter?
It seems to me that you're leaving out that people in charge do make choices, partly because of limited resources. In Swarz's case, there was prosecutorial discretion.
What do you think of the people who helped slaves escape? Clearly illegal, and conceivably a slippery slope about property in general. If the issue is more specifically that people who enforce laws have no moral obligations beyond the law, what about people who enforced laws against helping slaves escape?
Javert was captured by the revolutionaries and slated for execution. If Valjean had not acted, he would almost certianly have been killed.
Valjean asked for the right to be the one to execute him. Then he took him out of sight and let him escape, and told the other revolutionaries he had killed him.
So he rescued him, but not at personal risk, or with an effort or a sacrifice.
What I don't understand is why he told him his address. Maybe I just don't remember the book well enough.
Edited at 2013-01-14 01:15 pm (UTC)
You make several good points, which did change my mind somewhat.
First, you point out that Javert was a good policeman: he implemented the law precisely and without fear or favor. This is true - a corrupt policeman would have been much worse.
A merciful one might have been better. I accept your point that ideally speaking, it's the unjust laws that should be fixed: we should not be relying on merciful policemen who will not enforce cruel laws.
However, Valjean doesn't have the power to change or even influence the law. He does have the power to kill Javert, or let him go. He must weight the outcome of this choice, separately from any future choices or actions.
Likewise, it's true that if he makes the choice to kill Javert, then he should consistently make the choice to kill most or all other policemen. But he does not have option to kill any other policemen. He has to weigh the marginal benefit or harm of killing Javert alone.
The question becomes: given the laws we have, would society (or particular people we care for) be better off if this policeman dies, and by how much? The policeman in question, Javert, also being a particular danger to Valjean himself, and to Marius (whom he saw on the barricade), and whom Valjean wishes to save.
I don't know what the "correct" outcome of this calculation is. How to quantify the different factors and derive a formula that tells us, for given preference sizes, what to decide.
But I do think deciding to kill Javert does not mean having to decide to kill all policemen. And similarly, deciding not to kill him does not mean endorsing the principle that the existing laws should be enforced fully and precisely without prejudice or mercy.
Edited at 2013-01-14 01:24 pm (UTC)
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