Cornell professor Joseph Margulies discusses the controversy surrounding Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis writing character letters in support of their friend and fellow actor Danny Masterson, who was convicted of rape. Professor Margulies argues that while Kutcher and Kunis should be allowed to plead for “social forgiveness” for Masterson, they crossed a line by encouraging the judge to doubt the jury’s verdict; the challenge lies in how society can adopt a more forgiving attitude without diminishing the severity of wrongdoings.
Cornell professor Joseph Margulies explains that social forgiveness—that is, restoring membership to someone who has committed a wrong against society—is, in the words of one reader “being left alone, free of probation, registration, or record.” Professor Margulies points out that respect for the rules of the group and tolerance for others are essential components of membership in (and reentry into) society.
Cornell professor Joseph Margulies describes a choice that Jack Teixeira—the 21-year-old former member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard accused of leaking classified documents on Discord servers—now faces: paint himself as a heroic truth-teller martyred by a war-mongering liberal political establishment, or as a chastened young man who made a terrible mistake but who loves his country and would never intentionally do her any harm. Professor Margulies points out this choice leads to the further question whether can society forgive Teixeira, or any wrongdoer, if they insist they have done no moral wrong.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies observes that complaints about American life seem always to reinforce our ruthlessly unforgiving society. Professor Margulies describes one example of our tendency to reduce our most serious problems into simple but existential tribal grievances and another example of our inclination as a society to turn reflexively to punishment and eschew compassionate understanding that seeks to create a diverse community bound by shared values—both characteristic of an unforgiving society.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies explains why social media is, by design, inimical to the idea of a forgiving society. He points out that, in general, we appreciate that a person makes choices not in a vacuum, but in the context of a combination of individual and societal factors, but social media eliminates this nuance and forces us to ignore what we ordinarily accept as the lesson of universal experience.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes a recent piece of hate mail he received from someone who apparently saw him quoted in an Associated Press article about what a Biden administration might mean for the 40 remaining prisoners in Guantanamo. Professor Margulies explains that he can forgive the writer because he knows the writer’s rant most likely comes from a place of psychological and cultural insecurity, but at the same time he also holds the writer accountable for his behavior.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies wonders whether we can—and specifically whether he can—forgive President Trump for all of the bad things he has done. Margulies reflects upon his career of representing those people many regard as monsters and concludes that he cannot and will not join in demonizing President or anyone else. Margulies points out that there are no monsters; we create monsters so we can demonize others as different from “us.”
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies discusses the public dimension of forgiveness and explains why politics are inherent in the act of forgiving. Margulies describes numerous examples of people whose arguably comparable transgressions resulted in society’s vastly different degrees of willingness to forgive them.