By Chuck Rogér
Ideology can be and often is a terrible thing. Emotionally-invested dogmatists of all stripes share at least one common behavioral flaw, the propensity to be absolutely sure that whatever the ideology deems true must be true.
After reading my article, “The Latest Education Fad Inverts Justice” (June 21, 2011), a government employee with a city’s “restorative justice” program sent me an email which started off cordially, giving the impression that the discussion might proceed in a levelheaded manner. Starting by suggesting certain studies and claiming that he “had some questions” after reading my article, the emailer even admitted that “it is true that some ‘restorative’ practitioners are not well trained and do not always ensure the most restorative processes.”
The man called my attention to studies which allegedly show wonderful effects of restorative justice-based approaches in reducing jeuvenile crime and increasing victim satisfaction with the justice process itself. He claimed that “restorative justice is an excellent process when applied and executed correctly. It keeps kids in school, holds offenders accountable to victims and community members, and intervenes to teach valuable lessons while there’s still time to make an impression on young people.”
But the veil of cordiality then disintegrated. The man wrote:
It’s unfortunate that some people choose to disparage the concept without understanding (or perhaps while ignoring) its application and benefits. Even worse is doing so while trying to flare partisan flames, ie: labeling restorative justice as a “progressive” practice. This smacks of muckraking. Restorative justice is practiced in an attempt to improve communities and reduce recidivism, not to practice “progressivism”. I believe you characterize it this way in an attempt to ignite your audience and thereby increase your exposure by writing inflammatory articles.
Alrighty then. My admirer continued:
I thank you for taking the time to read this email and consider the source materials available through the above studies. Perhaps a perusal of the materials will convince you that there is merit in an honorably applied restorative justice approach, especially considering the failure of current zero tolerance and exclusionary discipline policies.
I look forward to hearing your response to my concerns about your article. Perhaps you would consider researching this topic more thoroughly, then printing a retraction, or at least an updated article that reflects your new learning on the subject.
Indeed. Here is my reply:
Judging from the material on the web concerning your efforts in restorative justice and in such events as the Boxing Day Tsunami, I’m guessing that you are generally an honorable man with good intentions. Unfortunately your initial email tells me that you have allowed yourself to fall into a trap—a trap constructed by people who allow zealotry to blind them to the consequences of their ideas, strategies, and tactics.
Your email comes across as a bit condescending and a lot preachy. Accusing me of muckraking for using real-world evidence to illustrate points that you don’t like is one illustration of the effects that blind enthusiasm can have. Again, I do not doubt your good intentions with respect to the use of restorative justice, but your email fails to address any of the concerns that I raise. You have instead chosen to focus on areas in which you claim RJ is effective. My article specifically focuses on the MISUSE of RJ in schools and the effects that this misuse has on children who become adults ill-equipped for the real world. Why should I retract what is true based on actual events?
Thank you for your concern, and I wish you good luck.
My email buddy responded by accusing me of writing a “bully blog.” He expressed mystification that I would interpret his “referencing recent research” as “condescending or preachy.”
Here we have a familiar behavioral trait in dogmatists. The man considers it okay to accuse me of “disparag[ing]” restorative justice “without understanding (or perhaps while ignoring) its application and benefits.” It seems that I am “trying to flare partisan flames,” “muckraking,” “ignit[ing]” readers, and gratuitously “writing inflammatory articles.” But from the same mind that sees no fault in such character assaults leaps the contention that I felt condescended to and preached at when offered new research. Such thinking is hard to fathom.
The man continued to ignore the thrust of my article, which was the misuse of restorative justice in schools. I had pointed out the long-term bad effects that this misuse is likely to have on the moral fiber of chidlren as they grow into adulthood. I further expressed concern over the disservice that RJ does to kids by giving them unrealistic expectations of how the real world operates. He addressed none of these concerns.
And then the man put forth these gems:
You’re attempting to disprove that restorative justice is ever a possible approach with your poorly woven references to Samenow and Yochelson. You’re trying to lump every single youthful misbehavior into the framework of a professional criminal mind. You’re then trying to link restorative justice with crazy liberalism.
That is disingenuous and bad form. Your response to my email says that I haven’t answered your concerns. I believe I have. What has not happened is that you have not answered mine.
Ah, the gall. The blissfully clueless gall.
His recommended research is highly relevant while my references are “poorly woven.” He ran completely off the rails when he posited that behaviors in people with “a professional criminal mind” constitute criminal actions while criminal deeds in youngsters merely manifest “youthful misbehavior.” My accuser should clearly be allowed to parrot such crazy liberal contentions even as he accuses me of “trying to link restorative justice with crazy liberalism.”
Furthermore, it seems that my article is “disingenuous and bad form,” while preachy reprimands are precisely what preachers’ unreceptive audiences deserve. This particular preacher is entitled to ignore my article’s messages, claim that he has acceptably responded to the article, make ad-hominem attacks, and throw the ball back into my court to address his contentions.
The ravings of a heels-dug-in ideologue are a sight to behold.
In a subsequent email, this man asked me not to “use restorative justice to muckrake anymore,” suggesting that if I do write about RJ, I should “email [him] so we can have an online exchange based on the facts and the research and let people decide honestly for themselves.”
I doubt that such an exchange would be characterized by either civility or honesty. And really, how was I to know that authors must never draw conclusions based on evidence, but merely report “facts”—approved-of facts.
I responded to my fan:
Must be a tough job, being you that is. You know, being right all the time and having to referee other people’s thoughts so that they too can be as right as you.
Good luck with the belief in falsehood and the anger that drives you.
Have a nice life.
Yes, I was a bit testy in that one, and probably got what I deserved in his next response:
I guess it takes an angry misanthrope to know one. Good luck yourself. I’ll be keeping an eye on your muckraking column and from now on the discussion is public since you’re obviously not willing to trade ideas in a private forum like email without name-calling.
Wrapping up with a threat seems to be a cherished tactic of dogmatists. With some religious fundamentalists it’s the threat of eternal damnation and suffering if you don’t toe the dogma line. With certain other zealots, the threat of public abuse seems to be a favorite punishment for opposing the respective doctrines.
At this point I offered the man my final reply: “Are we having fun yet?”