Sunday, September 19, 2004
On the rail I found a seat in a crowded car. It was nosier than normal, so I was forced to become engaged in a conversation that was occurring. From a couple benches apart two black teenage boys were arguing with each other. It started with little snide jokes and soon escalated into a full blown fight. The tension seemed to be near the point of blows being thrown. Before it reached the boiling point they exchanged a conversation that I thought was interesting.
In the form of an insult one boy, probably 15-years-old, said to the other the following three things. First, turn around Kobe; second, turn around Michael Jackson; and third turn around O.J. Simpson.
All of these were meant as insults which was sort of interesting. Normally insults are ordered from the least to the most insulting. Did this young guy attach moral culpability to the crimes that these people supposedly committed? Or was it random? The crimes would be rape, child molesting, and murder. In another situation being compared to any of these people could be a compliment (ok, perhaps not Michael Jackson). But if you were playing basketball and somebody told you that you had hops like Kobe, it would be cool. If you were juking on the football field and someone told you that you're game was similar to OJ then it would be great.
In the context of an insult the comparisons change dramatically. No longer is it good to be called Kobe or to be called OJ. Rather it is someone saying that you are no better than a rapist or murderer. One of these is worse than another in a teenagers mind. Someone who probably has little knowledge of the sentencing guidelines This is someone who wouldn't know, at least if he has any life, what Blakely is or what Booker and Fanfan mean. Yet, he has an innate sense that one crime is more morally culpable than the other.
Why is it that people know that one crime is worse than another? The bible teaches Christians that one sin is no worse than another sin, right? If you are a sinner than you are a sinner. That seems to go against the human nature that one crime is worse than another sin. You are less a person if you are compared to OJ than if you are compared to Kobe Bryant. Why? Is the victim any better or worse off in one situation than another?
I think this sort of an exchange is fascinating. Probably because I'm a dork, but I still enjoyed it. Everyone else in the car, at least those trying to maintain there distance, seemed to be more concerned that a gun would be pulled. And here I was sitting there considering the social aspects of criminal culpability.