I Still Believe

These days, belief in innocence is unfashionable. There are good reasons for this: innocence is associated with a nauseatingly prudish view of the world and with deliberately keeping people ignorant so as not to "corrupt" them. People suffer greatly from this kind of forced ignorance and I'd be very glad to see the back of it.

There are worse reasons for it, too. Holding all members of a large and often unchosen group guilty of or responsible for something is a timeless classic, sometimes justified but mostly - especially when meting out punishments - not.

As you'd expect with collective punishment, the most vulnerable get the worst of it - the young, the poor, or the disabled, for example. Those who are more culpable also probably have the resources to mitigate their punishment, because the world is a horrible place like that.

I feel like one of the reasons that belief in innocence is unfashionable is because it means that these people did not deserve the punishments inflicted on them - that punishing them was morally wrong. If punishing these people is morally wrong, the person inflicting the punishment is wrong to do so.

In another demonstration of the world being a horrible place, the kinds of people who wish lasting collective punishment on millions of people are also the kind of people who consider themselves righteous and upstanding. Those kinds of people can't be wrong, can they? So they make up justifications as to why ordinary people struggling to get by are guilty, their hands steeped in blood.

We've tried moral systems where everyone is guilty. They never work.

So I'm going to stand against them and say: I believe in innocence. I believe that you can be functionally locked into a system that does terrible things, but also not want it, be actively working against it, or simply not have the capacity to understand it. I believe that there is some good in the world, however little of it there may be, and we need to be encouraging that instead of acting like everyone enjoys living under a cruel and exploitative system. I believe in the possibility of change and redemption. I've seen people change. I see no reason why most of us can't change. And I believe in forgiveness. Nobody is big enough to dismantle a complex, chaotic system on their own. We need all the help we can get. So what if someone's not morally pure enough for you? We can't afford to discriminate. Sure, we might not be blameless. I don't believe anybody is. But that in no way equates to everyone being a cackling villain deserving of hell on earth.

I believe in hope! I believe that even if the world is fucked up and people are stupid and cruel, we can get better. That's why things have managed to get better, even if very slowly and only partially, over the past ten thousand years. That's why we keep trying to ban slavery and institute workers' rights. That's why we keep fighting for the rights of anyone who isn't rich, straight, cis, abled, white and a man. That's why every once in a while we win a fight. And to be honest it's been a complete mess, but the progress is there. It's not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than sulking and condemning everyone to collective punishment because things can't be amazing for everyone right now.