Let’s do a thought experiment.
Imagine on your table, desk or even in your pocket you have, within reach, a box. Imagine this is a magic box. Inside is a very powerful weapon which will only operate when you open the box and show it to the world.
Now imagine this magic weapon has the power to utterly destroy someone. Not kill them, perhaps, but completely destroy their life and that of those near and dear to them. And imagine that weapon would only target one specific person. It was, for that person and to borrow from Kafka, “made only for you”.
Now, before I pose my question, imagine one final thing. That person, for whom the magic box is made to destroy, has themselves attempted to destroy the lives of others. Why they did it, who knows? A sickness of the mind (but not so sick that they can’t be held responsible for their actions)? a craving for attention maybe? Or perhaps destroying others made them feel better about the inadequacies of their own life? Whatever the reason, they tried to do to others what this weapon will do to them. When you open that box all their misdeeds will become known to friends and foe alike, the sins revealed, the reputation ended, lifestyle altered forever and freedom taken from them.
Assuming all of this – would you open the box?
Would you knowingly and willingly let loose the weapon which will ruin another human being’s life even knowing what they had done? Would it be justice? Would it be vengeance? Or would it simply be inhumane?
Now let’s imagine that you believe in a certain set of principles which normally run alongside one another wonderfully but here they clash. Maybe you follow one of the major religions or perhaps you have no faith but these values are so deeply instilled in you that to deny them is to deny your soul.
One of them is your sense of justice. You believe in standing up for the little man, defending the weak, protecting those who have been damaged by others. You believe that those who do wrong should be punished and those who have had wrong done to them should be justified and restored.
But you also believe in forgiveness, turning the cheek, doing unto others what you would have them do unto you and so on and so forth. You believe that the bigger man is the one who doesn’t retaliate, who won’t react when someone does them wrong.
As I say, normally these two values work in tandem – if not even strengthen one another as you seek restorative justice – but here they conflict. You cannot both forgive this person and see justice for those they have wronged.
Would you try to warn that person that you have such a box and to desist from their heinous activities? What if that made things worse and they sent their henchmen after you, thugs of different types intent on bullying you into inaction? What if your actions, intending to bring peace and forgiveness to the forum were misconstrued as threats and escalated the issue? Would you try anyway? Or would you sit quiet, say and do nothing and hope that one day you’re not forced to open the box anyway or that someone else opens it for you?
Now let’s add something else to the mix. Imagine you know this person well. Imagine you know from past experience that they have been building up to this kind of destructive desire and you know that having tasted it once they will try it again on others. Perhaps those others are currently supporters of this person unaware of their past and the danger into they are putting themselves. Perhaps it will be someone that evil person hasn’t met yet but when they do they will set their sights on the poor unsuspecting soul and the innocent will be doomed.
Would you now open the box?
One last idea for this philosophical conundrum.
What if keeping this box closed had a side effect? What if in keeping it closed it was weeping cancerous odours which will claw at you and seep into your blood? What if slowly that box was killing you? You can’t escape it, you can’t throw the box away for then anyone could find it and open it and the box is indestructible. For as long as you exist, the box will exist and for as long as it remains closed the cancer inside you will grow and grow.
Would you now open the box?
This is simply a thought experiment.
God forbid that anyone should have just such a box in reality.