The sad death of Harry Dunn has given me cause for thought. This young, 19 year old, man was killed when his motorcycle was struck by a car driving on the wrong side of the road. Annie Sacoolas was the woman driving the car and she left Britain, before police had completed their enquiries, claiming diplomatic immunity. Attempts to coax her to return to Britain and take part in the investigation have so far proven fruitless.

This case is obviously sad : a young man has lost his life, his family have been left bereft and the investigation into this event has been stymied. The feelings of hurt his family must be feeling must be great. It is likely that now there are unnecessary feelings of anger and frustration which have been laid on top of this family’s already considerable suffering.

Anne Sacoolas may think she is avoiding hurt to herself by using the cloak of diplomatic immunity to flee from further involvement in this case but sadly this may not be the case. Were this a tragic accident with no culpability then an enquiry may have revealed this. By thwarting the enquiry she has removed the chance that she herself could ever be exonerated. Indeed, she has ensured that there will always be a cloud of suspicion around her; that not only was she involved in Mr Dunn’s death but perhaps she was implicated and in some way responsible or culpable. There will always be the doubt that she has evaded justice.

I would like to think that most people carry their moral code with them as part of their psyche as an integral part of their personality. When we do wrong we feel guilt and need to atone and make amends. We don’t see justice as something external to us, as something we can avoid, we need to own our own actions (good and bad) and to live with them. Mrs Sacoolas may feel that if she avoids the enquiry she might not be found culpable but I think it is very likely that this will not help her avoid feelings of guilt, though it may impair her ability to make amends. I presume Mrs Sacoolas has read the American classic Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”; she should then know that we can never flee our conscience, if we have one.

This is part of a utilitarian trend in our society to see our morals and ethical code as something separate from us. As if it were a tool to be used in the calculations of whether we will take certain courses of action. It is not strictly whether something is right or wrong which matters (whether it accords with our inner, integral moral code) but rather whether the action will benefit us or harm us, whether we will be caught and punished or if we may get off scot-free. It is often not fear of feeling guilty (an awareness of failing our own code of ethics) but fear of capture and punishment which curtail our baser instincts.

There is often a clamour for more visible policing, and stiffer sentencing of those found committing criminal acts, in the hope that this tougher justice will keep us better in line. But this is rather putting the cart in front of the horse. We shouldn’t ask to have more guardians of our behaviour we should be asking how can we change our selves and society so we have less need of them.

Poverty has always played a role in the genesis of crime. Hunger and want can drive people to do things they themselves hold as wrong, but thankfully absolute poverty is declining in the developed world (although problems of inequity are probably growing). But moral poverty, not having an adequate internal moral code to rely on, is growing. Our increasingly affluent but unequal society, fostering avarice and greed, has tended break up small communities and traditional family models which did help foster the development of morally aware individuals.

The basis for a better society in the future is to promote better individuals. We have progressed as a species and have learnt to control some of our bloodthirsty, rapine and debauched tendencies. We have done this by accepting, and internalizing, a moral code. Indeed, the whole history of man’s religious thought and actions probably reflect our growing understanding of morality and of the issues of right and wrong. We need to continue to foster and expend this if we want our society, and species, to prosper.

We can’t run away from this. We need an internal vision of how we view the world and decide which of our actions would be right and proper, and which would not, so that we can act without needing a policeman or guardian to tell us. Other people telling us what to do is for children. When we are mature, we take that onus upon ourselves and try to pass on our learning to our children in return. We all need an inner knowledge and vision of the good, no matter how many ‘o’s you spell that with.

3 thoughts on “However many ‘o’s you want to use.

  1. I only have a cursory knowledge of this. Does it appear she was in the wrong? You are quite correct about needing an interior moral compass. The Golden Rule does seem to work for most people. Even a small child can understand how it would feel if the other person did that to her. I think that is where they get the first sense of “wrong.”

    1. It is impossible to say, at the moment, if she was fully in the wrong. It seems clear that the crash occurred between him on his bike and Anne Sacoolas’s car. So far it has been confirmed she was driving her car and that her car was being driven on the wrong carriageway (on the wrong side of the road). The police interviewed her, the morning after the crash, and asked if she would stay and participate in the enquiries. She is reported as having said she would but later changed her mind and left for home in America claiming “diplomatic immunity” meany she did not have to participate in proceedings. Diplomatic endeavours have failed to resolve the situation and the young man’s family are considering legal action against the UK government as they feel that they were failed by them.

      Unless Mrs Sacoola changes her mind and participates the full story will never be known; whether this was a tragic accident, carelessness, or perhaps even culpably dangerous driving (e.g. after drinking) will never be known. Nor will any part of the young man’s actions be assessed. For all those involved, including Mrs Sacoola, this needs to happen or a dark cloud of suspicion and guilt will take a long time to dissipate.

      I hope that I, if I was ever unfortunate to be in tragic circumstances like this, would not try to escape justice. I think I could cope better with any guilt if it was in the open and I could try to atone.

      1. Thank you. This was very helpful. I nearly hit a pedestrian the other morning and have realized how devastating it would be to do that. I wouldn’t flee however.

Leave a Reply