Does your conscience bother you

30 11 2014

“The reason I have a clean conscience is that I know that I did my job right.”

Darren Wilson killed an unarmed young man and his conscience is clean. He does “feel remorse”, and he “never wanted to take anybodys life, that’s not the good part of the job that’s the bad part”.

He just wants “to have a normal life.”

Others have discussed the shooting of Michael Brown, the way Ferguson policies its black community, the (un)reality of Wilson’s version of events, the unusual manner in which the Ferguson prosecutor approached his job in this particular instance, and the demonization of black bodies—all with much more knowledge and eloquence than I can.

So let’s talk about that “clean conscience”. Should someone who killed another person have a clean conscience?

Is it enough to say “I did nothing wrong” or “I was following my training” or “I was doing my job”? Is that enough to buff out the dents and scratches in one’s conscience?

Because shouldn’t killing someone dent your conscience?

I think it should. Even if it were justified, even if you kill someone who clearly and unambiguously was trying to kill you or someone else, even if the law and calculations of survival are on your side, it should bother you that you killed someone.

Maybe that’s the “remorse” Wilson mentioned, that he feels bad for Brown’s parents that “their son lost his life”—but Brown’s life wasn’t lost, it was taken. By Wilson.

I don’t trust clean consciences, and I don’t trust the ways in which we scrub them, be it via Jesus or training or even necessity. We should be burdened by our actions, should have to carry our deeds with us.

This isn’t to say that there is no way of coming to terms with those deeds or their consequences, that the weight should remain heavy and constant throughout our lives, or that we shouldn’t get help to figure out how to carry that weight. I am skeptical of redemption but atonement may be possible.

Atonement, at least, rests on the recognition of a banged-up conscience, on the recognition of misdeed and error and regret and wrong. It rests on the recognition of the weight.

~~~

I accept that there are some matters beyond good and evil, and I accept that one may act—including acting to kill—to preserve life.

But that something is necessary doesn’t make it good.

At that moment of survival, at that moment of killing, one may be beyond one’s own conscience, and that may be appropriate, necessary to one’s survival.

But that doesn’t mean you get to leave that moment in the moment. This is something you did, so that as long as you are you, you should carry that moment with you. It should mark you.

This isn’t a call to scorn those who kill, but to recognize the weight of killing. And insofar as we authorize some—police, soldiers—to kill to protect others, to protect us, then we ought to carry that weight as well.

~~~

Wilson’s words seem grotesque to me, but I understand the impulse, to say not just that “I got clean” but “I was never not-clean”, to reassure oneself that not only does one not regret what one did, but would do it again. To be untouched, weightless.

But what kind of human life is weightless?

I don’t know how long we should carry our deeds, good or bad, or how we should carry them so that we are neither crushed nor untethered by them. This is hard, to know how to live in the world.

This is the work, and this is how conscience gives us weight, in order to do the work and carry the weight.

Advertisements

Actions

Information

4 responses

1 12 2014
dmf

not sure he is saying that it doesn’t weigh on him, seems to be addressing the rightness (in terms of the job) of the shooting,

1 12 2014
2 12 2014
absurdbeats

I dunno, if you say you have a “clean conscience” and speak about the man’s life you took as being “lost”, then it’s not at all clear to me that he recognizes what he did.

That said, you may be right, and he may have spoken just in terms of the legality and professionalism of what he did, and he used those terms because, well, those words made sense to him.

Regardless, I still don’t like the idea of an adult having a “clean conscience”. Some trouble in mind seems to me the best indicator that one has a conscience, and thus may be in a position to make use of it.

3 12 2014
dmf

not saying I’m thrilled with the idea/reality of armed police just sayin that this is the lingo from cops and soldiers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: