May 15, 2023

state of exception

I found this conversation between Agnes Callard and Elizabeth Bruenig instructive. It’s on the nature and difficulty of forgiveness. Bruenig is spending a lot of her journalistic energy on the death penalty, and she’s been thinking about it all—personal and social forgiveness, the whole range. Most useful is her naming of the “state of moral exception” that accrues to someone who’s been wronged: that person is, at least temporarily, excused from the ordinary mandates of strong forbearance and trust in social relations. They’re allowed behaviors and statements and modes of withholding in this state.

But the question is when and how that state of exception fades or expires. What calculus would describe the math of transformation? What source would generate the resources to return to relations as moral equals? When does the state of exception create enough, well, distorted pleasure in its temporary superiority to tempt one who’s been wronged to hang onto its privileges?

I’m also following along with the work of Tyler van der Weele and others at the Harvard Human Flourishing Program. They’re rolling out global and comparative studies on forgiveness practices and how they affect health and wellbeing.