The downside to this week’s vacation was unquestionably a car accident. While at dinner in Wellfleet, Ma (at an excellent place called Winslow’s Tavern – I strongly recommend it), a car knocked off my drivers side mirror while I was parked and then left the scene of the crime.
Since I happen to be deep within a spell of justice books, let’s take this hit-and-run as an opportunity to analyze why situations such as these are so frustrating.
The immediate reaction to something like this is anger. Anger at the perpetrator, anger at myself for not pulling more tightly into my parallel parking spot and even anger at my waitress for not getting me the bill sooner so that I could have avoided the hit altogether.
But that’s rash emotive response. Let’s try and look at it more analytically. The perpetrator was reported by witnesses as being a woman driving a silver honda. Let’s call her Ronda. Why does Ronda’s action trigger my anger response?
The obvious answer is that because Ronda drove away I am now responsible to pay for my car… actually, not even my car. It really comes down to me paying an insurance deductible.
But the injustice is deeper than a $500 deductible. I’m emotionally frustrated more by this than I would be a $500 brake job. I feel as if I have been violated. It isn’t the money as much as Ronda not taking ownership of the damage she inflicted that truly furrows my brow.
Still, is my anger justified?
Immanuel Kant’s theory of justice centers to a fair extent around the motive of an act. It is Kant’s belief that when something happens, anything really, we should act out of duty. Not self righteousness but duty. Kant argues that any act of good nature is only truly just if its done out of duty without any tie to personal benefit. That time you gave an elderly woman your seat to better favor your social standings to your date? Yeah, you get no moral credit for that action. Kant says motive is the top dog. By Kant’s reasoning, Ronda should have left her contact information for me out of pure duty – nothing more. Not out of empathy or apology, simply out of duty towards society. But she didn’t.
Why didn’t she?
This first step to understanding my emotions involves trying to dig into Ronda’s motive. My reaction would be dramatically different if Ronda was rushing to a hospital to get her pregnant daughter medical attention. But in fact, we know this was not the case because when I left the restaurant I inadvertently saw Ronda in her silver honda inspecting her car as it was pulled over before she drove off.
Oh the fury! This was a fully intentional hit and run! Kant would be reeling!
Well, probably. We can’t discount other motives. Perhaps she can’t pay for such an accident because she needs to feed her family. This motive would certainly lesson the accident’s sting.
BUT, if Ronda burned me intentionally, we totally have a right to be angry. There’s two levels of anger. Anger at the lack of restorative justice, and anger at the lack of retributive justice.
That $500? That’s restorative injustice. I was wronged in such a way that I can not seek reparation for the damages. If Ronda had left a note, I would have been financially compensated. This is the blander of the two injustices.
The insult lies in retributive justice. This is a lot like the old adage “an eye for an eye.” The punishment should equate with the crime. Rhonda should be punished for the unfairness that was imposed upon me. Ronda’s action violated my freedoms by forcing me to visit a police station twice, miss some time at work getting my car to a shop and, of course, there’s the dollars spent fixing the vehicle. And yet there is no retribution. Ronda got off free.
I think these compensatory arguments provide a nice summary of the distaste for such a situation. That said, I’m no expert. If any of you folks have a better understanding of the philosophy or psychology (Theresa?), I encourage you to add to the conversation.