Justice and Moral Artistry in the Land of Wut

Modern Law is a very blunt instrument. Made necessarily abstract in the aims of fairness. Administrative. Purportedly universal. Cold. Expressionless. Without an eye for poetic solution. The Judge hands down a sentence— a number, an institutional reflex— mostly to punish, rarely to mend, even more rarely to ameliorate. Even in civil cases, which could be settled more imaginatively between individual parties, the court lacks moral artistry. In the Land of Wut, throughout that exemplary nation, and on every juridical level, a long established practice makes the courtroom a far more human, prudent, fruitful encounter (and without any additional burdens on the legal system). In Wut, Judges still hold a recommended sentence ready at hand if necessary, but they always hope that it won’t be. Instead, the Guilty Party is given the opportunity to propose their own sentence— the so-named “Offer of Redress”— that (in civil cases) the victim or (in criminal cases) the judge and jury can then accept or refuse.

The court gives the Guilty Party two weeks from the day of their conviction, with legal and literary counsel, to pen their offer. This offer can be one of punishment, reparation, remuneration, humiliation, reconciliation, confession, education, utilitas publica, entertainment for the victim, or an article of pure poetry. For a theft: “three months in the desert heat, only hot coffee to drink.” For destruction of property: “licking their driveway from front to back, twelve times, and a new addition of the house built by hand.” For sexual assault: “an extended written confession on the realities of their crime and self-imposed exile from the Land of Wut.

The Guilty Party themselves, and not the legal system, must try to bridge the gap between the abstractions of law and the prudence of moral sense, and in so doing, think through their crimes (rather than merely through their defense before and during the trial). The “rightness” of their Offer of Redress should do more than simply rebalance wrongs. It should demonstrate a deeper understanding of their wrongdoing, their errors, and thereby signal something in the way of reform and repentance on their part. How, the people of Wut wonder, could a criminal ever become moral without the moment of moral agency?

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