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Richard blogged this before I could get to it. His article covers the gut reaction points, and pretty much gets it right by me. But I wonder, what would advanced humans do about this.

By advanced humans, I don't necessarily mean the crew of the Starship Enterprise, or some alien version of humans so advanced as to almost constitute another species. I mean you and me, and your kids and grandkids, if we can ever advance beyond politics, beyond the use of force to solve our problems, beyond mystical beliefs that teach us to fear progress and doubt ourselves and our judgement, beyond "we". I mean humans who say "I" and really mean it.

How would such people handle the problem of a Jennifer Willbanks?

Here's what I imagine a rational society would look like to Jennifer after an emotionally fraudulent stunt like the one she pulled. She'd wake up the next morning, alone, to a letter from her husband demanding the ring back, and explaining to her that the wedding is off. She'd call one of her friends for a shoulder to cry on, and the call would not be answered or returned. She'd go down to the 7-11 for some comfort food, or maybe cigarettes and whiskey, and she would not be served. She'd buy a copy of the local paper (from a machine, since nobody would sell her one) and see her picture on the front page, along with the facts, just the facts, and no excuses.

She'd stop for gas and find that her credit card was cancelled, but maybe that she could still use her debit card at the pay-at-the-pump. She'd return home and sit in front of the TV, but see nothing about herself. No shared grief, or even outrage, no long debates about her and the "issues" she must be dealing with that forced her to such a drastic cry for attention and help. Nothing, as if she didn't even matter.

She'd return to work only to find her desk cleared, her psersonal belongings in boxes, along with her final paycheck. This would go on, with everyone around her going on with their lives, but without her in them - with storekeepers and service people deciding they didn't need her business. She'd face no criminal charges, because everyone would realize that they expendedtheir time, effort, and emotions voluntarily in the search for her.

It sounds harsh, doesn't it? Well, it is, though not as harsh as the legal pound of flesh some people want from her. But there's a silver lining in this harshness, should she choose to take advantage of it. It's this: there's no one person, or committe, or law deciding that this must happen to her, and it doesn't have to be permanent.

What I'm describing is one of the oldest forms of punishment known to man: ostracism, or shunning. It was used in ancient Egypt and Greece, it was the central plot device in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter", and continues to this day in India, with the "Untouchables". Elements of it can even be seen, in a much abstracted form, in today's organized boycotts against companies seen to be doing wrong.

What all of these prior incarnations had in common was an element of force or central authority. The ancients legally banished offenders from the land, Hester Prynne was imprisoned and forced to wear a red "A" on her dress. Boycotts are organized by the likes of Jesse Jackson and rely on a collective effort aimed at pressuring the target company into chainging their policies.

But this is a rational society we're talking about. Obviously, the element of force is not an option. Less obviously, but still true, collective organization is right out. Even less obviously, but still vitally important, is that it isn't about how the target reacts to it.

Let's restate that last one, because it is key. It doesn't matter how the person being ostracized is affected by it, or even whether they are affected at all.

In a rational society, nobody would explicitly decide to ostracize someone. They might not even be aware that that is what they are doing, and they won't care one bit if they are the only one to do it. This is Jennefer Willbanks' silver lining, in our hypothetical rational society.

What rational people do is continually decide who they do and do not want to associate with, who they do and do not want as customers, as employees, as wives. They judge, not to condemn, but to control their own lives and their own quest for their values.

Rational people don't say to themselves "If I ignore this person, maybe they'll apologize, or change their minds, or learn their lesson." There might be a lesson to be learned, but it is not my job to teach it to you. It is my job to seek values, and if you cannot or will not provide them, or worse, provide a disvalue, I don't want you in my life. And when I say "I", I mean it - it's not about you, its not about punishment or what lesson you might learn, or how sorry you might claim to be.

In a society that has moved beyond politics, another thing rational people don't do is say "There oughtta be a law", or ask someone else to protect them from people like Willbanks, or to take out their revenge for them. Thye simply go about their lives without the people and things in them that don't contribute to it.

Our runaway bride (who, by the way, is conspicuouosly not blushing over this little social faux-pas) would face the fact that the majority of her neighbors have decided she is of no value to them. Even perfect strangers, due to the widespread publicity she very well might have been seeking, have decided they don't want her in their company, or in their mini-mart or gas station.

But not everybody. There will always be those who are less discriminating in who they associate with, or those who can't put logic ahead of sympathy, and will still do business with her. That's their choice, but those are the people she'd be stuck with, for a while at least. There would probably be enough of them that she can get by, though she might have to move to a different state to find enough of them.

But now she has a choice.

She can wallow in her misery, blaming everyone else for her problems, and start that downward spiral among her newly narrowed circle of questionable acquaintances. Or, she can try to redeem herself. There's no time limit on her exile from polite society, there's no central authority to convince to let her come back, there's no-one forcing her to wear a scarlet letter or stay out of town. She has to convince people one at a time, individually, that she can be of value to them, that she can produce values for others.

She has to re-earn their respect, but she can do it. The very self-interest that made people shun her to begin with will cause them to, tentatively at first, and then with gusto as she continues to prove herself, accept her again.

But she needn't worry. We're not that kind of society, yet. For now, she only has to play the media and the courts long enough to avoid serious legal action and get her book deal. She has to tell her husband, with the most sobbing contrite face she can put on, how sorry she is. But she'll walk into 7-11 tomorrow and her money will be as good as anyone else's. The clerk may be a little less polite, he may even be thinking to himself "How can she get away with this?" It won't dawn on him that when he puts that money in the cash drawer, that he has just allowed her to get away with it, at least as far as his values are concerned.


I feel that once you screw up your life trying to make other feel sorrow. It doesn;t work that way. If you want respect deep enough, a person would fight hard to keep it shining like gold. I live in a small town where my name is good as gold. All I do is walk in and say hi to one of my own townfolks. I am well known in my area, I would help any man or woman who is here that is lost. I even go out of my own way to get it done. What J. Willbanks did in her time frame was: ruin herself temporarily. Hardly any good or decent human being will not have anything to do with her. Her own employer packed her stuff as you see in this article. This is unjustifyable. but she brought it upon herself. Nobody's fault but hers.

Posted by Phill Texas at Sunday, August 28, 2005 05:58 AM

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