Beyond Absolutes: Justice for All
Megan Petrucelli, Institute for Anarchist Studies, 1/27/2016
Anarchism outlines egalitarian ways of relating. We are encouraged to denounce systems of domination and control in favor of structures of interaction that promote liberation, collectivism, acceptance of differences, and meeting the needs of all. In anarchism, there is an emphasis on inclusivity, listening to the voices of those marginalized populations who have been oppressed, demonized, and ignored. However, this promotion of belonging is limited and generally not extended to those who do not behave in ways that are aligned with the values we wish to uphold.
One such example is the way we respond when confronted with interpersonal abuse, be it physical, sexual, or emotional. We are quick to ostracize and denounce these behaviors, but little thought is given to the root causes that lead to becoming an abuser or to limiting further abuse from occurring. First and foremost, it is necessary to address the needs of the person who has been abused, but this focus often leads to a lack of consideration for the perpetrator. When it is suggested that we take the needs of abusers into account or begin to tease apart what causes a person to become an abuser, the conversation can quickly devolve into name calling (“rape apologist”) or dismissal (“It doesn’t matter why, only that the abuse occurred”). We mistake vengeance for justice without acknowledging that vengeance itself is a form of oppression. A culture of fear is created, fear that if we say what we believe or question how to respond most effectively we will be seen as aligned with the wrong person, fear that we will be ostracized by our communities, fear that we are not representing our beliefs and values with the same passion that we feel in our hearts. This fear becomes a divisive fissure that negatively impacts movements and drives communities apart. Furthermore, the needs of the person directly affected by the abuse are often ignored or diminished as the punishment of the perpetrator becomes spotlighted.
Aside from speaking to the potential strength and efficacy of shifting our social responses, this essay is a tribute to the transformative change I have personally witnessed and how I have come to support alternative justice models. I am influenced strongly by my practice in Zen Buddhism, an educational and professional background in systemic therapy, and most profoundly, by my own life history. Speaking from the perspective of a woman who has experienced childhood abuse and neglect, I believe that the stigmatization and punishment of those who abuse actually reinforces patterns we are trying to disrupt. If we truly want people to behave differently, we need to develop a new paradigm that more holistically addresses the needs of all, even those we believe we detest. While I am not an expert on the topics of justice, anarchist theory, radical politics, social construction, or revolutionary ideas, I have enough awareness to understand how my experiences reflect these concepts. My support for alternative justice is born from a theoretical desire for social change, as well as a deep faith in transformative processes stemming from my own healing and, ultimately, growth.