Every time I hear about public demands  for special “rights” I cringe. Such rights are neither given to a person nor inherent. A mother has no more rights than a childless woman. Homosexuals have no more rights, no less rights, no different rights than any one else. Animal rights are ridiculous because animals have no sense of right; instead, we humans have responsibilities toward them that we  must carry out but often do not.

 Victims of crime cry out that they have special rights, moreover that they have the right to be compensated, that society owes them an amount of money just for being the victim of crime. As I pointed out above, a state of being should not carry automatic special “rights,” whether that state is being a mother, a homosexual, a victim, a potato-headed stringbean, or whatever label we use to set ourselves apart.

Nor does the justice system, as representing society, owe compensation to victims of crime. A long time ago societies did work out compensations for crimes but those were paid not by society as a whole but by the perpetrator found guilty, or the perpetrator and his family. The man who stole your calf had to pay you what that calf was deemed to be worth or an equivalent in “goods or services.” The system worked well. (Remnants can be found in insurance policies that put a cash value on loss of a limb, an eye, etc.)

What happened? About a thousand years or more ago, the established Christian church became the predominant social system of justice. With it came a radical change in the perception of  “justice.” No longer would justice be based on adequate compensation to the victim of wrong doing by the wrong-doer; justice became a matter of the repentance of the perpetrator before God, the church, and society. Repentance from sin was uppermost. Acts of penance, be they a sequence of prayers, an act of service to the church, a public display such as a pilgrimage, became the result of social wrongs. Victims were swept away, discounted.

Our system is still dependent on that idea of penance, that the perpetrator become publicly sorry for his action. That’s why they are called penitentiaries, those places where we hold wrong-doers until they have shown, to our satisfaction, that they repent, that they are penitent. Such is the system with which we have saddled ourselves.

Now victims’ rights organizations want to go back to our pagan laws: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; a thousand dollars if I cripple your leg, seventy-five thousand if I take your life (unless an actuary decides your life is worth more, or perhaps less, to society and/or relatives.) You have to take one system or the other. If you want cash value placed on crimes (i. e. compensation for them) then you have to divest yourself of punishment to induce penitence.

Perhaps we’re ready for a totally new system of justice, one combining penance and compensation. But. We would have to begin anew, as a lawless society making the rules for ourselves.