Christianty, Basic Moral Law, Sin, and Human Choice

There are approximately 224.5 million citizens of the United States who identify themselves as Christian in religious affiliation and belief. The great majority of these religious adherents express an apparent sincere faith that the Holy Bible is the inspired word of God, as was delivered through revelation to ancient prophets and apostles for the purpose of being written and preserved for the benefit of future generations. Most of these individuals don’t question, or argue with, the authenticity of the theological doctrines delivered to mankind through these ancient writers. In fact, most, that is to say, approximately 90 percent, of church-going Christians believe in the account of man’s creation by deity, as recorded in the Book of Genesis; and that flies in the face of popular scientific empiricism holding fast to agnostic Darwinian evolution.

Among the 224.5 million Americans who consider themselves Christian, there are, however, an ever-increasing percentage of them (now approximately 5-10 million) who subjectively regard certain portions of the Bible as fiction, or fantasy. Somehow, these people can selectively believe that God parted the Red Sea through the prophet Moses, as recorded in the Book of Exodus, to allow the Israelites to escape an angrily ominous Egyptian army, but choose not to believe that Jehovah of the Old Testament destroyed the cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, because of the unnatural sins and abominations committed by nearly 100 percent of the inhabitants of those ancient metropolitan areas. For reasons that most of these, so called, Christians cannot rationally explicate, the most vile moral sins, punishable by death during the Old Testament period, should be tolerated, accepted, and indulged in a 21st Century world, even though these sinful practices were also condemned in the 1st Century A.D. by the disciple of Jesus Christ who wrote the bulk of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, who, supposedly, spoke for Jesus Christ.

Now, as I’ve pointed out in previous essays, the practice of the organized Christian religion has, since the early demise of Jesus’ twelve original apostles, been aptly comparable through the later centuries to a politically geared system fed by wealth and military power to almost the exclusion of godly purpose. The egregiously violent history of the Holy Roman Empire presents the secularization of Christianity in the religious wars and conflicts which, through the later centuries, displayed the greatest examples of man’s inhumanity to man. During most of the 1st Century A.D., while under Jewish and Roman persecution in the Holy Land, and in other places in the world ruled by the Roman Empire, the overt practice of Christian faith by the called together bodies of believers (churches) was, however, generally dedicated to the Apostle James’ proffered definition of “true” religion undefiled before God, which was to “visit widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (sin).” After the last Apostle’s death (or removal from the ministry) that is John the Devine, the expostulations and teachings of the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), Peter, James, Paul, and Jude were, more or less, codified into a doctrinal schema over the next two centuries. Though there were quite a few other inspired Christian writers of the 1st Century A.D. New Testament period, the current content of the Holy Bible was determined as cannon scripture almost 300 years after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., through the dictates of a pragmatic Roman emperor, supposedly a convert to Christianity, Constantine the Great. Surprisingly though, those basic moral proscriptions, which had been considered doctrinal rules in the 1st Century and in millennia before, were proclaimed as sacred law by the collective ruling body of Christians comprising the newly acquired state religion of Rome.

These basic moral rules for all of mankind, the keys to the continuation of the family of man, are believed by most Christians to have been laid down by the God of the Old Testament for the Patriarchs as recorded by the Prophet Moses in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Yet, these basic do’s and don’ts, as found in the Bible, are as readily applicable to every human civilization that has ever existed, or will exist (Jewish, Christian, or non-Christian) throughout all the earth. What are some of these basic moral rules? You shouldn’t lie, steal, cheat, lust, commit murder or inflict pain unnecessarily on other human beings, marry and, afterward, have an affair with another person’s wife or husband, and covet the possessions of other people. You should, however, honor your father and mother. If the four purely Jewish doctrinal commandments are removed from the Ten Commandments (commandments 1-4), the six remaining commandments, if obeyed, would benefit any human civilization; for they comprise a code of human conduct that, if individually observed, would result in the maintenance of peace and tranquility within any society.

The systematic disregard for basic moral rules by human beings is the substrate of the inexorable sin, and the lawlessness that it breeds, that may slowly creep over time into any human society to destroy, and replace, incumbent morality with its insipid opposite. The old expression that morality cannot be politically legislated is quite true, and has been proven true again and again throughout history. Though morality does not, in and of itself, have to originate from religious doctrine, it must essentially precede the formation of man-made law; and nature’s God has given certain natural laws unto man that are inherent to any lasting social system, which equate the fundamental rules of morality. For instance, it is inherently wrong in any human being’s mind for something that belongs to that particular person to be stolen and used by another person. Or, it is inherently wrong in any human social system, primitive or advanced, for a person to lie, or bear false witness, against another person. Even if laws and rules have been established making stealing and lying allowable in certain social systems, alarms still go off in the individual person’s mind when lying and stealing occur, telling that person that something is considerably wrong.

I like to consider the basic social and religious similarities between the ancient metropolitan areas of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the current day metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Houston. You see, something went very wrong in those ancient cities that, over time, made Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, very angry with their inhabitants. According to the ancient record, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had been established and growing for, probably, hundreds of years before the Prophet Abraham was told by God, in Genesis 18:20-21, that, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know.” So, according to the Bible three men (angels) were sent by God to Abraham, and then, later, to Sodom and Gomorrah, in order to determine the sinfulness of the two cities, and whether the cities’ sinful inhabitants should be destroyed.

The necessary task of any sincerely inquiring mind is now to determine the type of human sins that had so severely angered God to the point of destroying two populous cities. The biblical record is quite clear that mankind had been permitted their free mortal agency to choose whether to follow the moral rules of God or the dictates of evil. It is good to remember that, according to Moses’ earlier record in Genesis, God had previously destroyed all of the inhabitants of the earth, with the exception of Noah, his wife, and his sons and their wives, with a great flood, and had, somehow, repopulated the earth through Noah’s seed. Some Biblical historians venture guesses that, probably, a thousand-or-more years passed between the time of the great deluge and that of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Of course, the cities of Houston and San Francisco have grown to their vast metropolitan population sizes in less than 200 years, which is much less than the time in which Sodom and Gomorrah grew to be heinously corrupted.

What could have developed, over time, in Sodom and Gomorrah that caused an angry God, according to Genesis 19:24, to “rain brimstone and fire from heaven upon the two cities, overthrowing them, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” Was it their lying, cheating, stealing, coveting, murdering, ordinary adultery, or dishonoring parents that really ticked-off the God of heaven and earth? Or was it something much more severely sinful? Certainly, if a person claiming to be a Christian can believe that God caused rain to fall from the heavens to flood, and destroy, the entire earth with water, why can’t that same person believe that two ancient cities became so sinful that God caused fire and brimstone to rain down upon them from the same heaven? Perhaps it was when God’s angels were in the city of Sodom attempting to evacuate the four only righteous inhabitants of the city (Lot, his wife, and his two daughters), and the men of Sodom, young and old, surrounded Lot’s house, demanding that the angels be brought out to them for some vile purpose that Lot greatly feared. Perhaps then the Lord God almighty was more than certain that he should destroy the cities. Moreover, Abraham pleaded with God, as recorded in Genesis 18:23-33, to spare the cities if only ten righteous people could be found there; but God, in his omniscience, knew that there weren’t ten righteous people in all the thousands, if not millions, of the inhabitants of both cities. What could all of these people have done to warrant such a horrible death?

After a great deal of study into these matters, I have come to a hearty conclusion that human acceptance and toleration of abhorrent sin and immoral practices, even if the people accepting and tolerating the sin and immorality do not, themselves, indulge in the immoral practices, has, throughout human history, been despised by God. What do the people living in Houston and San Francisco have in common with the ancient people of Sodom and Gomorrah? Do they, as did their ancient brethren and sisters, accept and tolerate heinous immorality? Do you suppose that the great majority of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah thought it politically correct to accept and tolerate the commission of vile immoral acts? Were, perhaps, civil laws enacted by the cities’ politicians, and endorsed by the majority of the residents, allowing the practice of these abominations? As I have aforementioned, these acts must have been something much more vile than lying, murdering, and stealing; for there were other cities at that time besides Sodom and Gomorrah, and all of them had their basic social problems emanating from lying, stealing, and murder. But only Sodom and Gomorrah became vile enough to destroy. Of course, this biblical record, and the New Testament admonitions of the Apostle Paul, may be regarded as fictional fantasy by millions of, so called, Christians in a 21st Century world. But it is quite interesting that most of these same Christians also believe that Jesus is eventually returning to the earth, as a thief in the night, to judge and rain vengeance on the human beings, the living and the dead, who have not chosen to follow the basic moral rules of God. This is a sobering thought, that the God and father of Jesus Christ has revealed through ancient scripture that he is reserving judgment of his children until the very end of time, which is a totally different way than he dealt with man anciently. Essentially, God has given the modern Christian world two opportunities through free mortal agency. These apparent options are: 1) enough time to change its evil ways, or 2) enough time and rope to hang itself. Though far from being morally and spiritually perfect, I am quite satisfied with my choice to honor, obey, and sustain the basic moral rules that God established when he created the earth and commanded men and women to multiply and replenish it. And though I can only speak for myself, the ancient words of the Prophet Joshua, found in Exodus 24:15, mean a great deal to me. He said, “And if you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Murder Is, Murder Ain’t

Law statutes in most states classify the crime of murder as the unlawful killing of an individual that is both willful and premeditated. Premeditated implies that the act was thought of and planned before it was executed. It also means that it was contrived with the intention to cause death to another person or persons.

First Degree Murder

Murder in the first degree is a premeditated act that takes the life of another. A premeditated act means that the act was thought of and planned ahead of time. Malice is also included in the criteria of first degree murder. The defendant must have had intent to cause bodily injury, harm, or death when they committed the premeditated act of murder.

In many states murder that occurs while committing other felonies like rape, robbery, or arson is also classified as first degree murder. For instance, if Bonnie and Clyde are robbing a liquor store and during the escape the owner shoots Clyde, Bonnie can be held responsible for his death and charged for first degree murder.

Second Degree Murder

This code of criminal law could be considered as the ground that lies between first degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. Second-degree murder is typically defined as “an intentional killing that is not premeditated or planned, nor committed in a reasonable ‘heat of passion'”, basically the opposite of first degree murder. It can also involve a killing caused by dangerous behavior and the offender’s lack of concern for human life.

An example

Clyde arrives at his secret hide-away of a home to find Bonnie in bed with Billie the Kid. Clyde runs into Billie the Kid at a saloon the following night sitting next to a friend at the bar. Clyde takes out his pistol and fires three shots into the bar. He misses Billie, but shoots and kills his friend. Clyde has just committed second degree murder. He did not intend to kill the friend, but his reckless behavior or shooting gun displayed a lack of concern for human life and resulted in someone being killed.

Voluntary Manslaughter

This is the crime where the “heat of passion” comes in to play. In most states voluntary manslaughter is defined as an intentional killing in which the offender had no prior intent to kill. The circumstances that lead to this type of killing have to be such that they would drive a reasonable person to emotional or mental disturbance.

Recall the example from earlier. Clyde comes home to find Bonnie in bed with Billie the Kid and in the heat of the moment shoots the Kid with the shotgun he keeps on the side of the bed. Billie the Kid is killed, and Clyde has now committed voluntary manslaughter.

For more information on murder charges and defense, contact Rhode Island criminal defense attorney James P. Powderly at www.rhodeislandcriminaldefenselawyer.com

A Brief History of the American Felony Murder Rule

THE PENNSYLVANIA MURDER GRADING STATUTE

After our American Independence a number of the new states began legislative reforms to codify the crime of murder. One of the earliest states to do so was Pennsylvania. In 1794, that state enacted a murder degree statute which divided murder into first degree capital murder and second degree murder. The Pennsylvania legislature constricted the penalty for felony murder by imposing capital punishment only for such felonies as occurred in the perpetration of arson, rape, robbery or burglary. The statute further provided that all murder in the state other than ones committed in the perpetration of one of the common law felonies specified in their degree statute was to be second degree murder.

Later the felony of kidnapping was added to the list of specified felonies for purposes of felony murder. Only first degree murder served as a basis for hanging. The Pennsylvania statute did not actually formulate a felony murder rule or define the elements of murder. Instead the statute identified participation in certain felonies as a grading element that aggravated murder liability. The statute prescribed that:
All murder, which shall be perpetrated by means of poison, or by laying in wait, or by any other kind of wilful, deliberate and premeditated killing, or which shall be committed in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate any arson, rape, robbery, or burglary, shall be deemed murder in the first degree; and all other kinds of murder shall be murder in the second degree.

The implication of the statute is that murder in the course of one of the enumerated felonies did not require wilful, deliberate, and premeditated killing. The language of the statute does not suggest that the mere causing of death in the course of any felony was always murder. This idea is much more in line of what Lord Hale was proposing in his writings at the end of the seventeenth century and is similar to Judge Stephen’s jury instruction in the Serne case: that it would be murder only if the felonious act was known to be dangerous to life and likely to cause death. The word “deemed” in the statute implies the notion that a judge or jury could weigh the facts of the case and decide whether the conduct of an accused warranted a charge of murder for which the accused could be hanged.

The Pennsylvania statute was enormously influential, shaping homicide reform statutes in two thirds of the then existing states during the nineteenth century. Twelve states adopted Pennsylvania’s grading scheme with little or no modification, the states which adopted the Pennsylvania statute as drafted were: Virginia in 1796, Kentucky from 1798 to 1801, Maryland in 1810, Louisiana from its admission in1812 to 1855, Tennessee in 1829, Michigan in 1838, Arkansas in 1838, New Hampshire in 1842, Connecticut in 1846, Delaware in 1852, Massachusetts in 1858, and West Virginia, entering the Union with such a statute in 1863.

Another nineteen states adopted a somewhat modified grading scheme. The States that adopted the Pennsylvania statute with a somewhat modified grading scheme were: Ohio in 1815, Maine in 1840, Alabama in 1841, Missouri in 1845, Iowa in 1851, Indiana in 1852, California in 1856, Texas in 1858, New York in 1860, Kansas (entering the Union with such a law in 1861), Oregon in 1864, Nevada (entering the Union with such a law in 1864), Nebraska in 1873, Montana (entering the Union with such a law in 1889), Washington (entering the union with such a law in 1889), Idaho (entering the Union with such a law in 1890), Wyoming (entering the Union with such a law in 1890), North Carolina in 1893, and Utah (entering the Union with such law in 1896).

LATER DEVELOPMENTS IN FELONY MURDER STATUTES

The first true felony murder rule statute was passed in Illinois in 1827. The Illinois statute defined murder as unlawful killing with express malice, or acting with knowledge that the acts will or probably will result in death or great bodily harm, and felony murder. The statute added that an “involuntary killing… in the commission of an unlawful act which in its consequences, naturally tends to destroy the life of a human being, or is committed in the prosecution of a felonious intent… shall be deemed and adjudged to be murder.” Again, we see the influence of Lord Hale and not Lord Coke. Illinois’s statute is a true felony murder statute. Yet, it is not a strict liability statute in that it limits liability for an involuntary killing in the course of a felony that “tends to destroy the life of a human being.” It is not applicable to all felonies. Hale thought that it would be murder only if the felonious act was known to be dangerous to life and likely to cause death.

In 1829 a statute enacted in New Jersey included within murder killing ” in committing, or attempting to commit, sodomy, rape, arson, robbery, or burglary, or any unlawful act against the peace of this state, of which the probable consequence may be bloodshed… ” During that same year New York passed the strictest of the new felony murder rule statutes. Their statute defined murder as killing “without any design to effect death, by a person engaged in the commission of any felony.” At the end of the nineteenth century, nineteen states had adopted such differing kinds of felony murder statutes. These states were: Illinois in 1827), New Jersey in 1829, Georgia in1833, Mississippi in 1839, Alabama in 1841, Missouri in 1845, Wisconsin in 1849, California in 1850, Texas in 1857, Minnesota (entering the Union with such a law in 1858), Nevada (entering the Union with such a law in 1864), Oregon in 1864, Nebraska in 1866, though repealing the law in 1873, Florida in 1868, Colorado (entering the Union with such a law in 1876), Idaho and Montana (both entering the Union with such laws in 1889), and Utah (entering the Union with such a law in 1896).

The twentieth century began with most states having various ways for defining felony murder: predicating murder liability on implied malice, as well as a felony; predicating murder liability on dangerous felonies, sometimes called enumerated felonies, or predicating murder liability on any felony. Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century we continue to see American states defining felony murder in the same ways. The growth of felony murder in the United States had more to do with Pennsylvania’s 1794 murder grading statute than it did with Lord Coke’s notion in the seventeenth century that a death caused by an unlawful act is murder.

The felony murder rule in the United States has been more expansive than that employed in England due to the pairing of two concepts. One, the concept of felony murder itself and the ways it may be defined by statute and two, the concept of vicarious liability used to hold all co-conspirators liable for the substantive crimes committed by any one of the conspirators in the course of executing the unlawful agreement that may have led to the American felony murder rule.

Such a situation may obtain when Bonnie and Clyde decide to rob the local liquor store and they enlist Clyde’s brother Buck to drive them to the liquor store, stay outside to act as a look out and to be their getaway driver. Buck agrees. If during the robbery the store clerk reaches for his.38 revolver under the counter causing Bonnie to fire her tommy gun at him but she misses and her bullets kills an innocent patron of the store, then Bonnie, Clyde, and Buck would all be held liable for and could each be convicted of conspiracy to rob, armed robbery, and felony murder. The felony murder rule was never applied this way in England.

Child Abuse Goes Unpunished As Existing Laws Allow Murder of Children to Occur

Child Abuse, Murder and Honour Killings

Some horrendous cases of child abuse go unpunished as authorities fail to see the danger or even investigate complaints lodged. This is the problem in so many recent murders of children in Australia and the United States.

From the time of birth many infants face abuse and retaliation from one or both parents who are inept at caring for them or even loving them. The problem has certainly worsened in recent years as people chase after money, fame and fortune and the kids simply get in the way. Fathers who are absent more than they are at home may retaliate against their wives who eventually divorce them and get custody of their children.

There are now incidences where fathers have been tried and found guilty of some rather horrendous murders. These range from drowning their children in mock car accidents to take revenge on ex-wives to the honour killing of girls who dare to show affection for boys not of their religion. One mother wanted desperately to get into the Olympics and is probably guilty of disposing of as many as three infants but has been found guilty of murdering just one of them.

Drugs are big in the picture of child abuse and many infants born to drug addicts have to face withdrawal soon after birth. Parents of this nature are allowed to keep their children even though there is a huge risk of abuse. One such couple got joy from tossing their baby up to the ceiling and watching it crash to the floor. The little body was broken into pieces and the bruising tells of the horror.

Overpopulation is another elephant in the room. Parents may struggle to maintain large families when the wife is almost constantly pregnant. In many religions contraceptives and family planning are banned or ignored and authorities are helpless to stop the production of unwanted children.

So where does control of these situations start and end? Who is to blame when children known to authorities are murdered or at best bashed and broken? Why are we not crying out for laws to be changed to stop some parents even having children when it is obvious from the beginning that they cannot cope with the burden of rearing them? Why are so many young teenagers now bearing children and destroying their lives as governments support them with money?

These are questions responsible citizens must ask and we need answers.

Making a Murderer, Anonymous and Trial by Social Media

The online audience is a powerful entity. We are now fairly accustomed to getting what we want. Companies ask for our input in creating the products we would like to see. We can customise our own t-shirts and mugs. We made a Veronica Mars movie happen, we revived Arrested Development, we bought a chunk of the Abel Tasman. Activism is literally at our fingertips. When we hashtag, it trends. When we speak, the decision-makers listen.

Now we would like to determine guilt and innocence.

A well informed public is not a bad thing. A politically active, vocal population is not a bad thing. Mob justice is a bad thing.

Netflix hit docu-soap Making a Murderer aims to point up corruption in the judicial system. It exposes systemic failures caused by human error and prejudice. It reminds us that the law is fallible when corruption is allowed to flourish. The problem here is that the public reaction was a desire to circumvent ‘the process’ altogether, exoneration by petition. We can’t determine guilt or innocence via public opinion, especially when we’re getting our information through a skewed source.

And in the age of change.org and KONY2012, we’re not content to simply discuss the case as entertainment. This is happening right now, and we’re accustomed to being able to exert some authority over our on-screen narratives. We want our new favourite show to end in a way we’ll enjoy. And so we unite for action, bring power to the people.

In January 2016, a petition calling for a presidential pardon for Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, reached the required 100,000 signatures. Although it seems the pardon isn’t applicable in this case, it demonstrates the strength of our collective conviction that it’s our role to circumvent the legal process.

Carried away on a wave of righteous indignation, we use our keyboards to seek a raw form of justice. We don’t want the slow gears of appeals and motions, we want to cut through the red tape and bring down the guilty.

The problem is, no person, or unregulated group of people, gets to be judge, jury and executioner. We have these complex institutions for a reason; accountability. Within each branch of our legal systems, there are safeguards, scrutiny, paperwork, reviews. There are processes in place to prevent abuses like those that have occurred in the Avery/Dassey case, so that these things are aberrant and only happen when there is a large-scale collusion. There are also processes to correct and punish when miscarriages do occur.

But all that moves too slowly to soothe our moral outrage. This is the same corner-cutting mentality makes online crusades like Anonymous problematic. In collective structures like Anonymous, there is no editor, no fact checker, no safeguards. It’s a beautiful idea; true transparency, freedom of information, abolishing bureaucracy. Except that people are emotional and trigger-happy, and when we start seeing ourselves as Batman, problems arise. Here’s some examples:

Steubenville, January, 2013. After the rape of a high school girl, an Anonymous subsidiary, LocalLeaks, releases damning footage of a former Steubenville High student joking about the rape. However, they also release false information about the case and the rape victim’s name. The anon at the head of the operation shrugs it off as full disclosure.

The treatment of Jon Belmar, Chief of the St. Louis Police Department, in the wake of the Ferguson shooting. Twitter account TheAnonMessage ‘doxxes’ Belmar, tweeting contact details and photographs of his family to an enraged public when he declines to name the shooter.

Shortly afterwards, self-appointed social media investigators release their conclusions that Michael Brown’s shooter was a man named Bryan Willman. Willman is in fact a dispatcher from another state. His photo and personal details (some inaccurate) are circulated online by Anonymous. Willman’s social media accounts are flooded with so many threats that he shuts them down. He stays in his house for six days, on ‘lockdown’.

There’s also the infamous overzealous misidentification of Boston bombing suspects, and the young Australian man who was falsely identified online as a bomber in an attack in Bangkok last year. These are some of the largest scale instances of false information and irresponsible vigilantism, but there are plenty more.

And these were attempts at justice, however misguided. Similarly passionate demands for justice have been provoked by Making a Murderer. The Yelp page of Ken Kratz’s law firm has been effectively wiped clean after a torrent of abuse from disgusted viewers. Massive online communities like Reddit have fostered rumours and speculation about the identity of Teresa Halbach’s killer, rumours which will likely dog Bobby Dassey, Scott Tadych, Ryan Hillegas and Mike Halbach indefinitely. In a more extreme reaction, a bomb threat was called in at the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department on February 3rd in the name of “getting justice” for Steven Avery (1). And there were even rumours that Anonymous themselves were taking up Avery’s cause.

It can be easy to forget that in documentary film-making, our perceptions are always being manipulated. Documentary can even be more dangerous than other media, because it presents itself as impartial fact, when in fact it is filmed, edited, scored and structured to make us see and feel a certain way. Making a Murderer has an agenda, however well-intentioned, and tells a distinctly one-sided story. It certainly exposes questionable police conduct and is often shocking and frustrating, but there is plenty that the series omits. Avery’s new lawyer Kathleen Zellner has clearly recognised the power of the masses, and has been extremely active with publishing new information about the case via Twitter with the hashtag ‘#makingamurderer’. But is Twitter really the place to look for justice? Haven’t we seen enough damage done by these online witchhunts? Calls for greater scrutiny and fairness in government are always valid, but we are spectators and it isn’t our job to interpret evidence or to allocate blame.

According to James Surowiecki, the very nature of the ‘network’ (ie online communities and social media) creates a risk of groupthink. “Collective intelligence… requires a form of independent thinking. And networks make it harder for people to do that, because they drive attention to the things that the network values… once an idea gets going, it is very easy for people to just sort of pile on, because other people have, say, a link. People have linked to it, and so other people in turn link to it, etc., etc. And that phenomenon of piling on the existing links is one that is characteristic of the blogosphere, particularly of the political blogosphere” (2).

While freedom of speech is essential to democracy, the problem with the internet is that anybody can use a highly visible platform to say whatever they want, enjoying ease and anonymity, not being filtered or fact-checked before they are published, and with no guarantee of being held accountable for their words. Like most other things, the criminal justice system doesn’t work when it is abused. And, like Avery says, poor people lose all the time. But that is the result of a larger, societal issue, not restricted to this branch of government. And it doesn’t mean that trial by social media is a preferable alternative. The internet is an environment that proves the power and danger of ideas, of names. And an accusation as weighty as murder, or shooting an unarmed man, or planting a bomb in public space, demands methodical examination, compelling evidence and liability.

A passion for justice is admirable, but justice by nature needs to be dispassionate and impartial. There must be an objective, complex system in place. Or else, amidst all the shouting, finger-pointing and righteous indignation, we will commit the very injustices we want to prevent.

(1) http://www.thewrap.com/8-making-a-murderer-updates-since-steven-avery-got-a-new-lawyer/

(2) https://www.ted.com/talks/james_surowiecki_on_the_turning_point_for_social_media?language=en