« Public borrowing, private lending | Main | Asset sales & deficit fetishism »

September 30, 2009


john b

a) you are almost certainly right that the main reasons these people believe Polanski should escape punishment for consensual sexual acts with somebody underage are the biases above, rather than a more general belief that consensual sexual acts with somebody underage shouldn't be punished.

b) however, the people who believe that Polanski is 'a rapist' or 'the committer of a rape' are guilty of the same logical error as people who believe that acquitted 'terror suspects' are terrorists. The prosecution asserted Polanski was guilty of rape; the court accepted that he wasn't and instead convicted him of a charge that requires consent.

Luis Enrique

I'm puzzled by your last para ... why not criticize Polanski's supporters, just because you choose to explain their actions with references to cognitive biases, rather than just calling them fools or knaves? If biases are everywhere, can't we praise people who rise above them and criticize people who don't? "loyalty to one’s friends is to be admired" - what, even when it comes in the form of letting friends get away with murder, so to speak?


"I would no more call Polanski a rapist than call Tony Blair a guitarist."

I take your point - even like it. However, I'm not sure what your definition of "rapist" is. Someone who habitually or repeatedly commits rape? Someone who is first and foremost a violator of women?

Surely this is wrong. A "rapist" is someone who have ever committed a rape; just as a "murderer" is someone who has ever committed a murder. Most murderers are not serial killers: why must a "rapist" be a serial sex-offender?

Besides, there are other disturbing indications as to Polanski's character, such as his remark to Martin Amis that "everyone wants to fuck little girls".


John B: your suggestion that "the court accepted that he wasn't" guilty of rape suggests you completely misunderstand the process of plea-bargaining. The court made no such determination. The prosecution agreed to drop the charges (mainly to spare the young victim a courtroom ordeal);at no time was it conceded that her evidence was false or exaggerated, nor was it put before a jury. The victim herself has always stated that there was no consent.

Luis Enrique

john, the transcripts from the court case do not describe a consensual act. Didn't he just plead bargain down to a consensual act?

It's not a "logical" error to believe an acquitted terror suspect is a terrorist if you have some sensible reason to think the verdict was wrong. Of course you might still be in error, and I'm sure that people do call acquitted suspects terrorists without good reason.

Matthew Sinclair


I agree with most of your post, but this bit seems problematic:

"But we shouldn’t see imprisonment in such morally-laden terms. Instead, we should take the title of Gneezy’s and Rustichini’s famous paper (pdf), “A fine is a price” one step further; a prison sentence is just a price. Polanski’s supporters expect him to pay for his suits or his dinners - so why shouldn‘t they expect him to pay for his rape?"

Suppose he wanted to commit another rape, or had your amoral theory of justice in mind before the initial rape, would it have been okay for him to check himself into prison then rape once he got out?

The whole concept of amoral criminal justice seems logically fraught.



as if a drugged 13 year old can POSSIBLY give an informed consent to anal intercourse...

David Michael

I agree with most of the post, but I'm not so sure about the "misperceiving punishment" bit. Punishment may not be a judgement on the individual, but it is true that Polanski has paid in money out of court. Surely by your rationale he has been punished sufficiently.


@ Luis - I don't criticize people for displaying cognitive biases precisely because this would mean criticizing everyone, at least sometimes (including me). And I must confess, given a choice between someone who was extremely loyal to a friend or someone with a prissy judgmentalism, my instinct is to prefer the former.
@ Heresiarch. It is a curiosity of language, isn't it? If we define "rapist" as you do, then fine. But this description needn't give us a good description of a person's entire bell-curve.
@ Matthew - I'm not saying it would be OK. (Though it would be improbable; the price of rape is prohibitively high). All I was getting at is that punishments are judgments of acts, not of character. And common language does regard imprisonment as a price: "he's paid his debt to society"; "he's paying the price", and so on.


"Do justice, though the heavens fall" was not coined as a moral statement. It is a statement about how governing powers should behave, and how we should all expect them to behave, to secure the rule of law and the cohesion of society. Roman Polanski is a fugitive from the justice that the himself admitted had jurisdiction over his deed. He should therefore be made to face that court again. If his friends oppose that, they are opposing the rule of law.

The sentences he should face for the original deed, and for fleeing from justice are for the court to decide. Pleas for clemency should be directed to the sentencing judge; and after her to the executive with powers of pardon (one Mr Schwartzenegger I think). As for the basis of any clemency pleas, "Errare est humanum";
and Chris has set out these errors admirably.

Anyone who acts outside that framework is putting themselves above the law; the Government of the French Republic included.


John b,

Polanski took a PLEA BARGAIN in which he got statutory rape. The Grand Jury testimony was very clear. The victim said "no" throughout the entire episode and repeatedly asked to go home.

This is pure, unabashed, non consensual child rape. There are no shades of gray, Polanski must be punished for his crime.


I suspect most people who understand English would define a rapist as Heresiarch did.

While I agree loyalty to friends is important, surely that should be affected by their actions, if they do something despicable then your friendship should be 'lessened'?

Whoopie Goldberg is woefully wrong and should try reading up on what happened, as should anyone who is tempted to defend this utter git.

I hope he gets locked up for the rest of his days.

Oh and he might not have raped her but the fact that he had a sexual relationship with Natasha Kinski when she was 14 does add a second data point to the 'shags young girls' bell curve.

Just what is the difference between this guy and Gary Glitter, except his art is a bit more high-brow?

Luis Enrique


well, what's wrong with "criticizing everyone, at least sometimes"? Doesn't everyone do something that merits criticism, at least sometimes? I fear I'm descending into unhelpful semantics here ... I just meant (something like) that explaining behavior in terms of biases needn't put that behavior beyond criticism. We're not just talking about a cognitive bias revealed in some laboratory experiment where somebody has to guess the population of Mexico here ... what if I was explain racism in terms of cognitive biases, would that mean I couldn't criticize racists?

I'm puzzled by your use of "prissy" ... I also prefer loyal friends to prissy ones, but there are some things that if I found out my friends had done, they would stop being my friends. We're talking about getting a 13 year old girl wasted and forcing her to have sex ... are you sure "prissy" is the word you want to be using? If you are saying loyalty-no-matter-what is a virtue, I'd have to disagree with you there. Would you want people in power to display that trait, for example?


I was with you up to the last paragraph. A fine imposed outside the criminal justice system, like the ones described in that paper, *is* a price - that's what it does, it disincentivises behaviour by putting a (higher) price on it. But a fine imposed by a court is an adjunct to an authoritative pronouncement of censure; it's a real disincentive doing the job of a symbolic prohibition (so whether the fine actually has a disincentive effect is secondary). And what Polanski is presumably looking at is a prison sentence imposed by a court; that's a pronouncement of censure so severe that it has to be enforced by actual prohibition - of the censured behaviour and much else.

No wonder he'd rather avoid it.

(I'm reminded of Woody Allen's guide to organised crime, where he says that the punishment for infringements of the Mob code is death, then adds "Death is generally regarded as the worst thing that can happen to a mobster, and many prefer simply to pay a small fine.")


No one else could put up a case like that, Chris.


I think the most appalling thing is that NOBODY from Hollywood took a position that majority of Americans share. This just shows how afraid are they of jews who run this outfit.

Richard Gadsden

Polanski certainly preferred - and may still prefer - sex with young women. Immediately after fleeing to France, he started a sexual relationship with (then 15) Natasshia Kinski.

I think there's a pattern of behaviour there that makes "rapist" much easier to sustain.

Thomas Hawk

A good post. I've created a petition that people can sign supporting Polanski's extradition here: http://thomashawk.com/2009/09/petition-supporting-the-extradition-of-roman-polanski.html

john b

@Heresiarch: "The victim herself has always stated that there was no consent" - well, it *must* be true then. Let's not have courts, let's just accept that everything anyone claiming to be the victim of a crime contends is Absolute Truth. To do otherwise would be Condoning Vile And Evil Acts.

You seem to be assuming that 'plea bargaining' means 'people who are guilty of something serious plead guilty to something much less serious; prosecutors offer this because they love defendants and hate trials'.

It doesn't: it means 'people who are *accused* of something serious plead guilty to something much less serious; prosecutors offer this because it means they don't have to prove their case'.

People who're innocent also often take plea bargains, because if you're falsely accused of a crime 'conviction and suspended/short sentence' beats 'possibility of 10 years in maximum security prison without parole'.

And prosecutors often overcharge initially, so they can plea bargain down to the actual offence committed (hence Gary McKinnon being charged with terrorist-y offences rather than being a minor vandal - he was expected to plead guilty to the latter and take 18 months).

"taking a plea bargain doesn't imply guilt of the most serious offence originally charged" and "witness statements untested in court shouldn't be proclaimed as true" are both pretty basic liberal tenets. And they should be held to, no matter how dodgy the character of the accused, and no matter how vile the most serious offence originally charged is.

john b

And deeply disturbed by Richard's point, which seems to be "if you have consenting sex with young women, you're also likely to rape them".

I've had consenting sex with various adults, and yet have so far managed to avoid raping any of them; I suspect most commentators here have managed similar feats of self-control.

Luis Enrique


okay, I buy your "pretty basic liberal tenets" as a general rule, but I'm not sure you've changed my belief from Polanski probably guilty of rape to Polanski probably innocent of it. What probability would you attach to the proposition that he did pretty much what his alleged victim says he did? You almost sound like because plea bargaining doesn't mean he's guilty of the more serious crime, we ought to believe he's innocent of it (probability = 0), and form no view based on things that have been said by both Polanski and his alleged victim during and since the trial. Now that might be the right way to proceed from a procedural point of view [our ill-informed opinions are neither here or there, and the wheels of justice ought to turn in accordance solely with the what organs of justice (urgh!) have determined] but there's no reason to constrain your own private beliefs in this way ... aren't you somebody that often argues that the chap convicted of the Lockerbie bombing is probably innocent, for example? Aren't you making a "logical error" there?


Luis — not if one accepts that the burden of proof is on the prosecution in both cases.


Kirstie Alley spoke out against him.
She cares.


It's a breach in the cosmic fabric of justice that simply has to be repaired before the world can move forwards (rolls his eyes).


The comments above, as intolerant as expected in their vehemence, are samples of America's more recent punitive, prudish mood.

They reflect the neocon dogma that took hold over the "minds and souls" of that country and which its people now obey by.

Yet the incident that served as an alibi for P's indictment took place many decades ago, when the mood of America's was definitely more liberal, permissive.
It was a more jocular America, a less rigid
playground of many social, cultural experiments.

It's an error (and crass lack of understanding)to judge Polansky's errant behaviour
from the narrower, stricter perspective of
year 2009 A.D.

Polanski felt he is not given a fair trial in the US and rightly so chose to leave the territory of that country (that was not his place of birth anyway in the first place).
Who would have he behaved differently given the opportunity?
Did anyone expect some sort of loyalty (or sense of guilt) from him?
And given his track record of moving around the world and
allegiance switching, this should come as no surprise.
No-one should feel obliged to willingly expose him/herself to the vagaries of a judicial system (that BTW fries people on electric chairs or terminates them by means of lethal injection)just out of an expected loyalty to a system/country/way of doing things.
So Polansky did the right thing and left for
good the land of prudishness and prohibition only to see himself obsessively haunted by the long hand of impulsive
Hopefully US, weakened as it now is, is currently not in a position to force the hand of those couple of European countries that act as protectors of Polanski's.
I hope Polanski, a victim of the Holocaust, shall not have to spend in the Gulag across the Pond the rest of his days.


To CompayEE.
Your attitude has been dissected, analysed and condemned by the blog's author ) You are either not on very friendly terms with logic or don't bother to read things you answer to. And you, obviously, do not have children ) Stop writing nonsense - go make some kids ) and... why not borrow Crime and Punishment by Dostoeyvsky? It is known to change even weaker minds!

Sarah Danes

nice post...
i really like this...



The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad