The notions of truth and reconciliation – from post-Apartheid South Africa to post-genocide Rwanda to post-residential schools here in Canada – have always been an oxymoron. The idea is that first we elicit a confession of wrongdoing. Next the victim of that wrongdoing forgives the miscreant. And then – something like Christ dying on the Cross for our sins – the two are miraculously reconciled.

The confession without the forgiveness doesn’t do it. Neither does the forgiveness without the confession. And maybe even the two together don’t do it, without their engaging in activities representative of reconciliation. But presumably without the confession and forgiveness those actives alone won’t do it because they’ll be forever contaminated by seething resentment. The resentment of those whose mistreatment has yet to be acknowledged, and/or the resentment of those who continue to think they have nothing to be forgiven for.

The thinking would be impeccable, were it not that ‘victims’, real or imagined,  seem equally content with what they know to be false confessions, false in the sense of either actus reus or mens rea or both. That is, I didn’t do it, or if I did it was the right thing to do, but you won’t let me out of prison – or the dog house – until I admit that I did do it and that it was wrong. And notwithstanding you know that my confession is under duress, you forgive me and we can move on.

That is, you don’t just pretend to forgive me. Why? Because what you want is not the truth. What you want is the confession. That’s your pound of flesh.

This is not to say there aren’t miscreants who are truly contrite. But given they’re confessing under duress, how would we know?

In Rwanda there were so many accused that the incarcerated delay in arguing one’s innocence was far greater than the sentence if one confessed his guilt. Hence most of the accused pleaded out and were immediately released. The current situation in Canada is not that dissimilar. If one either denies there was systemic culpability in the residential schools, or refuses to inherit that culpability, one isn’t just declared persona non grata in polite society. She can lose her livelihood. In fact many have. So as in Rwanda, the smart money goes to rehearsed and vetted self-flagellation. Why? Because it’s not unjust to lie under duress. The injustice, if any, accrues to the duress.

Right now I’m counted as a residential school denialist, and I’m under only limited pressure to recant. But if I ever do recant, it’ll be that the pressure got too great in the interim. Either that or I finally saw the truth. Honestly I did. No, really!

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy

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1 reply

  1. Good. A Freakenomics take on T&R. Curiosity is stimulated.

    So, OK, the public confession is the pound of flesh after which forgiveness is granted, …until next time. But what is the *value* of that prize to him to whom it is given? Shylock, Antonio, and Portia all knew that Antonio would surely die if Shylock obtained his collateral — that was Shylock’s motivation in offering the deal in the first place. (As an aside, I think that’s what is overlooked in colloquial use of the expression to indicate a bargain thought by one side to be unconscionable where the security is actually enforced Rather, Portia’s demand that Shylock stick to the literal terms of the bargain saves Antonio’s life by “frustrating the contract” as we would say today. To preserve the point of the story, the expression we remember shouldn’t even be “pound of flesh”, it should be “Portia’s triumph” (or something catchier.))

    Anyway, what is the gain to the Indigenous, and to us, from our confession, sincere or not, coerced or not? To the black tribes of South Africa, the performance of T&R was part of the process toward majority rule as it reduced white fears of lethal vengeance and thus demotivated their armed resistance to the inevitable transfer of power. But we already have majority rule in Canada. With no Portia to exclaim, “Tarry a moment!”, let’s say we give up our pound of flesh. What is that worth? It is it worth anything for its own sake? Is it of sufficient value to the other side that they consider the dispute settled and give us a written release to get us off all further hooks? Or is it just a down payment? Or is it, (just as the Hamas rocket barrage was a test of Israel’s Iron Dome, specifically to probe its saturability for next time), a *test* of what we settlers can be manipulated into acquiescing to, sincerity on either side being entirely beside the point? What’s the big picture, the long game?


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