The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House: Kavanaugh's Confirmation Hearing and The Perils of Progressive Punitivism
This essay proceeds in four parts. In Part I, I problematize the idea of the accused’s demeanor as evidence of guilt, remorse, or entitlement, arguing that we tend to overestimate our ability to deduce internal states of mind from people’s behavior and expressions. Part II assesses the potential (or lack thereof) of public performances of reckoning to produce a valuable expression of remorse, discussing the value of contingent apologies. Part III expands the framework to examine the way our politically fractured field responds to partisan efforts to excoriate culprits, arguing that “starting a national conversation” on the basis of excoriation and stigmatization is not a realistic expectation. In Part IV, I situate the Kavanaugh incident in the overall context of progressive punitivism, offering an initial and generative sketch of the ideology and its mixed effects. The conclusion offers a modest proposal for a better way to start a bipartisan conversation about gender-based inequities and iniquities, as well as a future agenda for research on progressive punitivism in its other manifestations.
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