By Hudson Kingston
Last month a judge in the UK caught a fair amount of flak from everyone, up to and including the prime minister, for saying that it takes a lot of courage to commit a burglary. He received a formal reprimand, and piqued the attention of satirist David Mitchell, who said: “David Cameron said that burglars weren’t brave at all but were ‘cowards’. I don’t know how he knows that but it’s a good job because presumably, if they were braver, they’d break into loads more places.” Mitchell went on to explain that words mean something and Prime Minister Cameron made the classic mistake of assuming bad people are bad all over, and goes on: “Having established that burglary is a bad thing, he thinks linking it or its practitioners with any positive attributes, however incidental, is an idea too sophisticated for the British public to grasp.”
After reading this I tried to apply Mitchell’s ultimate thesis — “[a]t the risk of sounding like those people who go on about how the Nazis had nice uniforms, it’s worth remembering that bad things often have good aspects to them” — to other situations, and found it difficult. It is not easy to read about someone who robbed old folks in a Ponzi scheme and then tried to bribe a court 19 million dollars, on the record, to get out of it, and then think of a nice thing to say. Granted, some recent crimes have the potential to make motion picture history (especially this one), but it truly is — as Mitchell suggests — a rare skill to be able to point up exactly what was difficult or laudable in something that, on the whole society, views as evil.
The judge in question must have seen quite a few more “bad” people in his court than most of us are used to confronting in one lifetime, and that could be the source of his unexpected point of view. This debate in the UK, and the judge’s ability to see the humanity in an accused criminal, are heartening given thelopsided judiciary appointments we have seen in this country. It is nice to believe that (some) judges continue to evolve as people even after the day they were nominated. Not to be a Pollyanna, but sometimes intelligent people will surprise you, even if it may be as frequent as Halley’s Comet.