Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Amanda Knox got 26 years in jail in Italy for murder. Predictably, the U.S. is in an uproar. How could this innocent young college exchange student who had fallen for one of the local cuties be the black widow she is portrayed to be? Is there a hidden side to Amanda that finally came out, or is there a hidden side to Italian courts that is coming out? Are the Italian courts really the mob in robes, or are we so unable to accept that other cultural systems work on different values than ours that we insist that our people be treated like we would treat them, even when they play in someone else's sandbox? Is this about Amanda or America?

On the same day on Good Morning America the news broke of potentially harmful amounts of the heavy metal antimony in the very popular pet-of-the-day, the Zhu Zhu Pet Hamsters. Antimony or acrimony, the watchdog group GoodGuide and the manufacturers of the very lucrative toy were at eachother's throats. But is this about a potentially hazardous material in a toy, a hidden threat to our kids' well-being, or is it about a hidden aspect of our society that is so scared of something scary that we spook at the slightest hint of danger? Is this about the toy or about us?

Today's GMA reported nothing on Amanda. Apparently the appeals process is going on predictably with nothing to report. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a statement that the testing process used by GoodGuide did not conform to industry standards, and GoodGuide has issued an apology.

So now we don't know whether it's about Amanda or America? The Toy or Us? But we do, really. It's always about us. Whatever we do reflects the values and assumptions we hold so deeply that they are no longer obvious to ourselves. One of those assumptions is that children should not be exposed to anything that can be considered a threat. But we hold that value in tension with other things like the need for transportation, so we put our children in cars (in safety seats, yes, but the argument still holds) and transport them at high speed down lines of traffic that have already proven to be infinitely more dangerous than antimony. So what's with the antimony thing?

And we've all seen the TV shows, "Locked Up Abroad," and the horrors foreign prisons can dish out. (Perhaps our prisons wouldn't be so overcrowded if they weren't so cushy!) Legal systems are icons of the value structure of the society that utilizes them. If in Italy functionally someone is guilty until proven innocent, then that's the way it is. That's the world Amanda chose to live in, and she had been there long enough to probably get an inkling of that fact. Ignorance is no excuse--nobody ever tells you all the rules. And it won't get you off in court, obviously. The appeals process is appropriate, and for her sake I hope it works for her. But getting upset over another country's legal system is to forget that all cultures are a mixture of glory and horror, nobody's perfect, and even our legal system's flaws are painfully obvious to outsiders.

Someone's got to figure out a way for Americans to be able to take responsible risks and bear the responsibility themselves. When they do, and if they can really sell it, it will solve the healthcare crisis, overcrowding in the prisons, and put a whole lot of sleazy lawyers out of work.

All that said, I'm glad that in God's eyes we're not guilty until proven innocent, we're guilty because we are and God knows it. But I'm also glad that that's not the end of the story. God forgives as only God can, so in the Kingdom we have the best of all worlds: We're guilty but forgiven, we get help dealing with the consequences, and strength to take responsibility for them!

Now, go sell that to Congress!

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