Ethical Loneliness: The Injustice of Not Being Heard
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Ethical loneliness is the experience of being abandoned by humanity, compounded by the cruelty of wrongs not being heard. It is the result of multiple lapses on the part of human beings and political institutions that, in failing to listen well to survivors, deny them redress by negating their testimony and thwarting their claims for justice.
Jill Stauffer examines the root causes of ethical loneliness and how those in power revise history to serve their own ends rather than the needs of the abandoned. Out of this discussion, difficult truths about the desire and potential for political forgiveness, transitional justice, and political reconciliation emerge. Moving beyond a singular focus on truth commissions and legal trials, she considers more closely what is lost in the wake of oppression and violence, how selves and worlds are built and demolished, and who is responsible for re-creating lives after they are destroyed.
Stauffer boldly argues that rebuilding worlds and just institutions after violence is a broad obligation and that those who care about justice must first confront their own assumptions about autonomy, liberty, and responsibility before an effective response to violence can take place. In building her claims, Stauffer draws on the work of Emmanuel Levinas, Jean Améry, Eve Sedgwick, and Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as concrete cases of justice and injustice across the world.
sheer stupidity.” The interviewer counters, “Well, but you stepped back in line.” Hanna responds, “I just, you know . . .” And then one of the interviewers stands up, blocking the camera, and says, “I am going to take your microphone,” ending the interview. It is a curious exchange, one in which failure to hear abounds. An interviewer tells Hanna that she was plucky; she hears “lucky” and responds to clarify that luck had nothing to do with it. The interviewer doesn’t catch the miscommunication
widespread will to revision. If he does want payback, he wants it not (or not only) out of a will to harm others but in order to regain a moral equivalence stolen from him by abuse. At first glance Wajs at the firing squad accomplishes that; he joins Améry in wishing the past were otherwise. But Wajs at the firing squad is successful revenge only if we isolate Wajs from the conditions that formed him and gave him power. We should not, and Améry could not do that. Améry explains that if everything
about who owes what to whom and for what reasons. We are all responsible for building worlds where a life’s ordinary rhythms might resume or originate. Why? Because how else will it get done? Conditions where positive rather than negative revision is possible will likely be created only by a plurality of persons who don’t rely only on law to declare where responsibility lies. No one can rebuild a broken world on her own. It is that kind of reconstruction that we are called upon to participate in
involved rebuild the world they inhabit together.18 The case—in which nineteen-year old Conor McBride killed his girlfriend, Ann Grosmaire— brings to the fore all the complexity of violent crime and its aftermath. The McBrides and the Grosmaires are exceptional in that they kept contact with one another and worked together to insist on using restorative justice processes instead of just letting the system take over. It happened only because a prosecutor let slip that he had wide discretion in
(Austin: Drafthouse Films, 2012). 33. Gobodo-Madikizela, A Human Being Died, 86. 34. Spelman, Repair, 53. 35. Ibid., 55. 36. Phelps, Shattered Voices, 66. 37. Tristan Anne Borer, “A Taxonomy of Victims and Perpetrators: Human Rights and Reconciliation in South Africa,” Human Rights Quarterly 25, no. 4 (2003): 1092. 38. Ibid., 1102. 39. Ibid., 1103. 40. Panu Minkkinen, “Ressentiment as Suffering: On Transitional Justice and the Impossibility of Forgiveness,” Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature