I watched Martin Scorsese’s film, “Taxi Driver”, again the other night and I was reminded of the arguments surrounding justice and vigilantism.
Lets define the terms:
Justice—just treatment and moral rightness.
Vigilantism—taking the law into one’s own hands and attempting to effect justice according to one’s own understanding of right and wrong.
The taxi driver, Travis Bickle(Robert De Niro), cruises the city by night and sees all the scum on the streets(prostitution, drug use, criminals). He would like a heavy rain to wash it away.
Travis is a lonely man and he’s looking for someone to be with. By his voice-over thoughts, we don’t know whether Travis is entirely sane. He feels somebody has to do something about the scum but it seems nobody is doing anything, so he has to take responsibility.
He meets Betsy, a pretty woman who works for a politician. He dates her but she rejects him and this unhinges Travis and he plans to assassinate the politician against all logic, but he doesn’t go through with it.
Then he meets Iris, a young prostitute, who is trapped in between her pimp and his boss. She says there is no way out.
Travis sees the police can’t be counted on to help her and she certainly can’t help herself. So, it is okay, in his mind, to help her out of the criminal’s clutches. He didn’t kill the politician, which would have been insane, but rescuing Iris is justice in Travis’ mind.
Is Travis going to do the right thing by killing the criminals? The law isn’t doing the job so, he thinks: “We the people must take charge.” He is the people.
After freeing Iris, by killing the pimp, the room keeper and the big boss, he tries to kill himself, but runs out of amo.
So, what can we conclude about vigilantism?
It has been said that in a civilized society people give up the right to private revenge, they give that right to the government for purposes of objectivity. So, citizens can’t go out of their way to enact revenge.
One of the problems is that law enforcers are NOT held in high esteem today. Why?
People see criminals getting off lightly in the courts and consequently they don’t feel justice is done. So, is there any rightness to vigilantism?
Well, I guess in the end the world has always acted on the principle that one good kick deserves another!
Also published on Medium.
“One of the problems is that law enforcers are NOT held in high esteem today” – this is a sweeping generalisation and I would suggest unhelpful. I expect some people have a huge amount of respect for law enforcement.
“People see criminals getting off lightly in the court…” – in part because some people do not understand how sentencing works and equate jail and justice.
Many generalisations are true. Even scientists will tell you this.
Someone once said: “All generalisations are false: Including this one!”
I can honestly say that I have taken 2 days to respond to this blog. I have started to write at least a dozen times and have gone back and deleated what I had written. I have no comment.
Tom, I wish you had given us your comment. I have a feeling it would have been extremely interesting and thought provoking.
We can not allow vigilantism. Two wrongs do not make a right.
Without laws there is no justice. And yes a lot of times people
get away with more then they should. Great blog as usual.