I would like to say something about the moral transgression of Mel Gibson. I'm not talking about the anti-Semitism issue -- the issue that has people talking about how much harm may be done to Gibson's career and arranging private methods to punish him for his crimes. I am talking about the overshadowed charges of drunk driving.
The person who gets behind the wheel of a car when he is not fit to drive is effectively saying, "I do not really care that I might kill somebody's child/parent/spouse by my action. Your well-being does not concern me."
He is like the person who pulls a gun on a crowded street and empties the clip, firing randomly in all directions without aiming. Chances are good that he will do no harm. However, no morally responsible person would do such a thing. A morally responsible person would be concerned for the harms that become much more likely when somebody commits this type of action.
A person should be as willing to get behind the wheel of a car when impaired, as he would be to pull a gun under conditions described above and start firing.
This is the type of person that Gibson proved himself to be by his actions. Yet, as far as I could tell, Gibson suffered no threats to his career, no signs of a boycott, or any penalties at all other than what the law may provide as a consequence of his actions. For anti-Semitic comments, people ask, "What can we do to destroy his career?"
This is not to say that the anti-Semitic attitudes are morally irrelevant. That type of bigotry also puts innocent lives at risk. As such, that type of bigotry also deserves condemnation. (Note: I will have more to say on this issue tomorrow.)
Yet, in this country at least, I will practically guarantee that drunk driving will kill, maim, and otherwise harm more innocent people in this country than anti-Semitism.
The Sickness Excuse
Gibson has tried to excuse both of his actions -- his anti-Semitic comments and his drunk driving -- by attributing it to a disease.
This defense has no merit.
One of our obligations as citizens in a community is to monitor our own health and to note when we are a risk to others, and to take the necessary steps to mitigate that threat.
The child rapist can claim that a disease caused him to act as he did. However, his obligation is to monitor his own psychological state and to note that he might be a threat to others. At the moment he feels strongly inclined to take any action that may harm a child, that is the moment to note that his brain is not wired the way it should be, and to take steps to correct the problem. He should not wait until harm is already done.
Applying this same standard to the drunk driver, anybody who notices even a strong disposition towards drunk driving needs to note that he is a threat to the life, health, and well-being of others (including children). That is the moment when he should recognize that his brain is not wired the way it should be, and to take steps to correct the problem. If he waits until after he has caused harm (or until after he has put himself in a position of causing harm) he has already committed a moral violation.
Even the person who decides that his disease is beyond his control and gives in to it can make a responsible choice to minimize its impact on others. There is no law of nature that says that alcoholics have to drive while drunk.
Humans may well have a disposition to ignore the problem -- to deny it. However, this disposition towards denial is a disposition that our social institutions can influence. We can certainly decrease the likelihood that people will practice denial to the detriment of others by using the tools of condemnation and punishment on those who are guilty, and using the tools of praise and reward on those who are not.
I do not drive.
When I was a teenage driver I noticed that I had some bad habits. I found driving to be boring and my mind would wander. A couple of times I was off thinking about something when I rolled through a red light or a stop sign. I had visions of a child stepping out in front of me that I would have noticed if I had been paying attention. Eventually, these worries got the better of me and I decided to quit driving. I was not going to be responsible for any child laying in a grave or suffering any debilitating injury.
Nobody needed to tell me where my responsibilities lay. I did not need to wait for something bad to happen. I simply did not want to be responsible for somebody’s child being in a grave or a wheelchair or suffering some similar misfortune. I drove less and less and eventually gave it up entirely. When people ask why I do not drive, I tell them honestly that I did not consider myself a good enough driver.
A morally proper concern for the welfare of others must begin with an honest assessment of the self.
If a person feels tempted to participate in a plan to addict children to cigarettes for the purpose of profiting from a (shortened) lifetime of sales to the victim, that person needs to assess the relative strength of their desire for money compared to the desire for the health and well-being of others.
If a person feels tempted to set off explosives in areas where children may be playing, or where it may do harm to those who are important to the well-being of children (such as their parents), then that person is a danger to children and needs to be treated as such.
The person who has a few too many drinks and then drives 85 miles per hour in a 45 mile per hour zone is also putting others at risk and needs to be treated the same as anybody else who is a danger to children.
Somebody could have died.
Gibson has asked for forgiveness.
It is way too early to be talking about forgiveness. First, we need to see a determined effort to fix the problem. Then, and only then, does it make sense to talk about forgiveness.