An alternative to Forgiveness – 4

In the last blog, I put forth the case that moral judgements are not a required part of any risk assessments, using the example of a crossbow. The same kind of mental process can be run about a person; my buddy Dillon, for instance.

Dillon’s potential to cause harm is probably greater than that of the crossbow; the crossbow needs to be manually reloaded, whereas Dillon is an automatic weapon. It is easier for me to neutralise the crossbow than Dillon; locking crossbow bolts in a drawer is an easier task than amputating Dillon’s arms and legs. The likelihood of Dillon to cause me harm, however, has been proven through experience to be lower than that of the crossbow.  The crossbow is cheap and nasty, has a pretty shoddy safety on it, and I’ve already had an accidental discharge; my aim is not great; and there’s always a possibility of bolts ricocheting. Dillon, on the other hand, doesn’t go off by accident and his targeting system is very accurate. I am absolutely sure that I could do things to make Dillon go off; but experience has shown that he has a pretty good warning system; I would have to deliberately ignore those warnings in order to cause him to explode. Overall, I judge Dillon to be safe even when he’s “armed”, which is just as well because I can’t disarm him; I can’t say the same about the crossbow.

That doesn’t make Dillon a good person. Or a bad person. Or any kind of person at all. I could spend a lot of time passing that kind of judgement about him, but I don’t in fact have to, not for this process. All I need in order to risk-assess him are data points as to his behaviour in various circumstances, and experience has given me that. By inputting that information into a risk assessment process, I can reach what I consider to be a reasonable conclusion as to Dillon’s likelihood of causing me harm.

I might read in the news tomorrow that Dillon got high snorting Coco Pops® and went on a rampage through the town centre, with great damage to property and people. That kind of data point is significant, and would require me to revisit my assessment. I would have to include a proviso that “Dillon + Coco Pops® = Danger”. I would have to work out a series of steps for preventing either the combination of Dillon and Coco Pops®, or the combination of me and a Coco Popped® Dillon. Wilfully ignoring that data in order to preserve the sanctity of my initial assessment wouldn’t be terribly clever. Kicking myself because of that initial assessment wouldn’t be terribly clever either. My assessment was not inaccurate at the time; it was based on the available data.

No part of that process requires me to pass a moral judgement; not on Dillon, not on modern cereal manufacturers, and not on myself as a risk assessor.

I don’t have enough information to judge whether Dillon is A Bad Person, anyway. Did he snort the Coco Pops® on purpose, or were they just crushed in the bag? Was he aware of the possible consequences? It doesn’t matter, though, because I don’t have to pass judgement on him. All I need to know is “Dillon + Coco Pops® = Danger”. That’s it.

If the event happens again, that’s yet another data point, and yet another situation in which my moral judgement is not required. I don’t have to know whether the Dillon chose to re-expose himself to Coco Pops® or has a medical condition hitherto unknown to science that makes him unable to resist sugary cereals. All I have to know is that this was not a one-off event. That should inform the steps I take in preventing such events from impacting me.

All the way through this, I don’t have to forgive Dillon, or condemn him. I just have to let his actions guide my assessments, and let them inform my future behaviour around him.


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