remorse-manuscript-socialandlegalstudies-websiteedition.doc

But there is a reason why it is the showing of

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define who they are- the self that committed the offending act is the true self. But there is a reason why it is the showing of remorse rather than the offering of apology that is claimed, contested, and closely scrutinized in legal discourse. The remedial work of the offender before the court takes place in a context of suspicion. Where Goffman, Tavuchis(1991) and more recent interpreters of the ritual of apology(Lazare, 2004) contemplate an interaction in which victim and offender meet each other as free agents, the substitution of the state for the victim in modern Western law vastly alters the conditions for remedial exchange. Moral performances in law are affected by their proximity to law’s own coerciveness, that is, the power of the court to confer benefits or 6
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to impose punishments. Because, for the transgressor, such grave consequences as freedom or liberty, length of sentence, and even life or death in capital cases in the United States are contingent on a successful performance, there is always the possibility that expressions of self-condemnation will be more strategic than authentic, more calculated and ulterior than spontaneous. It is under these circumstances in which there are strong incentives towards impression management that the courts have come to look to remorse rather than to apology as the primary means of distinguishing being from doing. The very expression- “showing remorse”- suggests that in conventional usage, it is through gestures, displays of affect, and other paralinguistic devices that remorse is communicated. Both the apology and the expression of remorse may rely on the same verbal formulae such “ I am sorry for what I did” but the work of remorse is to call attention to the feelings that accompany the words even more than the words. It is illustrative of this usage that the jurors in the National Jury project found awkward self- presentations more credible as expressions of remorse than presentations that were more competent or controlled(Sundby, 1998, pp.1564-1565) or that popular usage as exemplified in the description above will typically refer to such body glosses as tears or broken speech as evidence of remorse. Such surface descriptions mesh well with legal and psychiatric discourse 3 that define feelings of remorse as painful and unwanted rather than deliberate or planned. The belief that feelings of remorse are involuntary and therefore spontaneous adds to the perception that they are less susceptible to impression management or other manipulations than expressions that are merely verbal. It is this epistemological privileging of feelings over words that contributes to the widespread 7
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belief in legal discourse that demonstrations of remorse reveal the core attributes of the person who has offended. Yet, paradoxically, it is this same belief in the authenticity of expressions of remorse that makes the process of validation so volatile a site of conflict in legal discourse. Ultimately, reliance on expressions of remorse as the true measure of character does less to dispel suspicion than to aggravate it. On the one hand, what makes a show of remorse credible
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