Vintage Justice


Harvey Weinstein and crumbling case for ‘vintage leniency’

Harvey Weinstein and crumbling case for ‘vintage leniency’


Following the recent controversy regarding Harvey Weinstein’s treatment of women, the above article was one of many that popped up in my newsfeed and it includes the following quote:

“I would like to take us back to the original excuses Weinstein and his enablers, namely his now former lawyer Lisa Bloom, initially offered to manage the scandal. Why? Because they are part of a growing trend of serial sexual predators of a certain age attempting to paint themselves as “retro sexists” to whom “vintage justice” should be applied. And in doing so, they are trying to normalise the idea that there is some “new” – only recently agreed upon – standard in relation to sexual harassment and assault.”

The article touches on an issue that seems to have become a hot topic in recent years. Namely, how are we to approach the wrongdoings of the past? This includes not just actions by celebrities who are still alive, but also ties in with the tearing down of statues in the US (& a similar controversy here in Australia), Prime Ministerial apologies (see also here) for the actions of previous governments, or holding Nazi’s morally accountable for “just following orders”. This concept of people not only being blamed, but also held accountable, for actions that occurred many years ago, and in a different culture, seems to suggest some kind of objective basis of what is right and wrong, and that those people should’ve known better, even though what they did was probably legal, and considered acceptable by the wider community. These actions were still wrong, even if no one believed them to be wrong at the time. The Holocaust would still be wrong, even if the Nazis had won WWII.

But this then raises the question of what that concept of objective right and wrong is grounded on? Is there something outside human opinion or cultural norms that is the standard against which we can judge the actions of people past, present, and even future? If so, what is it? I can’t see how an objective basis for morality, valid across history, can be derived from a blind, physical process such as evolution which has as it’s only “purpose” survival and reproduction, and I find it hard to conceive of any purely naturalistic explanation as to why these wrongdoings of history are “actually” wrong.

Now as a Christian, I do believe there is an objective grounding for what is “good” & “bad”, “right” & “wrong”, and that these are grounded in the very nature and character of God, and how that is expressed through his commands. Without this kind of objective grounding, which is outside of human opinion and history, it seems that all we are left with is the so-called Shifting Moral Zeitgeist that changes across time and cultures, and if that is the case, what position are we in to so harshly judge the actions of those who acted in a different Zeitgeist? How do we know that we are not captive to our own Zeitgeist, and will we be judged just as harshly by future generations for actions which we consider well intentioned, legal, and culturally acceptable? What objective standard do we have to turn to, as some kind of reference point, when reflecting on our own actions, and those of our society?

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