My friends ran this debate case when we were in college: a man committed and was convicted of a crime. Say that he changed so much in his time in jail that he is no longer meaningfully the same person. If there were some scientific way to prove for certain that he was a different person than the one who committed the crime and there is a 0% chance that he could regress to the person he used to be, do you keep him in jail.
I said yes.
I also lost the round quite badly.
It amounted to this: if the man is no longer the same person, keeping him in jail would essentially be the same as picking a stranger off the street and punishing them for a crime that they did not commit, merely so that the wronged party could feel some kind of sick retributive catharsis.
This could quite possibly be the only useful thing I learned in college.
As people, every day we make choices. Every day we gather information and every day we adjust our view of the world accordingly. Every next day we make different choices based on that new information.
We, in a word, learn.
Here’s another pseudo-paradox for you, straight from my college philosophy class: if you have a boat and every single day you remove one part and replace it with a new part from another boat until there are no pieces left of the original boat, is it the same boat?
Maybe I learned one thing in two ways from college.
It’s not the same boat. But the real question is: at what point does it stop being the same boat? Halfway? At thirty percent?
The answer is as soon as you replace one part, it is no longer the same ship. It’s been altered. Changed.
And every day so are we. I know I’m not the same person sitting in that college class listening to the identity paradox. I seem to be the same person as yesterday, but can I really say that? Nah. I’ve learned something. One tiny piece of stupid has been knocked out of my head and replaced with a little gold nugget of wisdom.
So why do we carry the history with us? Why do we punish people for mistakes of the past, piling on the griefs and complaints until our relationships can only decline? Until every new disappointment is another weight around our ankles? Until progress is impossible? Until the most we can do is slightly lighten the enormous burden? Gosh, so much shit.
In the words of my friend: “to feel some kind of sick, retributive catharsis.”
Let me stop beating around the bush.
The real question is not about punishing the man becoming a new man, or the boat becoming a new boat.
The real question is this: if Oliver failed to deposit a check a year ago– around the time we got married– is it okay for me to continue punishing him for this for the duration of our marriage/ lives?
You can stop holding your breath now, ladies and gentlemen.
The answer is no.