« What if demand for graduates falls? | Main | Invisible enemies »

April 22, 2013



Wanting Suarez to face punishment for his misdeeds is also related to the intent behind his actions. It reflects a malice that makes him dangerous, while a player who does more harm to someone might be guilty of mere thoughtlessness or miscalculation. Similarly, many of us would expect someone who aims a punch at the back of our head and only strikes a glancing blow to face sterner prohibitions that someone who takes their eye off the road and cripples someone. This might, of course, be wrong.

I can't help feeling a bit sorry for Suarez. His genius hasn't merely allowed him to get away with gross behaviour but to avoid addressing what must be dramatic personal problems. Either that or a taste for human flesh, anyway.


@BenSix - generally speaking, you have a point. However, I used the example of reckless tackling as a case where your point is questionable. The reckless tackler (eg Shawcross on Ramsey) doesn't deliberately intend to hurt his opponent, but nor is injury wholly accidental. In this sense, he's more guilty than the motorist who momentarily loses concentration. And whilst Suarez intended Ivanovic some pain, he could not have intended serious injury. I'm not sure,therefore, that intent gives us a clear distinction between Suarez and bad fouls.


I imagine banning Suarez is not meant to be punitive but rehabilitative. Generally the aim of banning a player is deterrence, but in this case, who would we be deterring? Who else do we think might do this? We don't want Suarez to pay, we want him to be normal. Was his intent malicious? I don't think that's how it's seen. Malicious we can handle, malicious we get. The problem with Suraez's cannibalism is that it's off-the-radar weird. If he had grabbed Ivanovic's arm and licked it, the response I think would be similar. The problem with what Suarez did is that we don't know what to make of it. He hasn't just broken the rules, he's jeopardised them. He's thrown into doubt what one might expect when men step onto the pitch together (biting wouldn't be as shocking in UFC), he's upset the rule-governed (homo)sociality of football. Suraez's act was transgressive - the aim is not to correct his behaviour but erase it.


Having heard that 10 Downing Street have commented, I think you're right after all.

Joe Carter wrote a provocative article on this a while ago.



Good post on an important topic: the justice system is surely designed to assuage public disgust at least as much as it is intended to provide a sensible (in the sense of a cost-benefit ratio) approach to reducing crime.

To guess at the the evolutionary explanation, one might try to translate the whole thing to the sort of small community where that humans evolved. There, someone subject to the sort of uncontrollable rage that Suarez seems to exhibit is bound to be treated as a serious danger. Who knows what he might do in his next moment of madness? Whereas the reckless tackler's actions are more constrained in scope: they're making a semi-calculated decision on unfair tactics, rather than momentarily losing their mind.

Similarly, a terrorist on a rampage could potentially wipe out the entire community, whereas ordinary violent crime is usually one person at a time - a burglary gone wrong here, a vengeful lover there - none of which is existentially threatening to the society at large.


In Mary Douglas' books, Purity and Danger, she argues that disgust is a reaction which condemns any object or idea that might undermine or confuse established classifications - 'Where there is dirt there is a system.'

Richard Gadsden

I think there's a big difference, not just in the mens rea of the reckless tackle and the deliberate biting, but also in the risk-acceptance of the victim.

When you go onto a football pitch, there is a chance you could be fouled, a risk you have chosen to accept.

If you get bitten, then that's completely outside the basis of the game.

In my opinion, the question is not the sporting penalty that should be applied, but the criminal one.

A reckless tackle is part of the game. There's an agreed, accepted sporting penalty; the victim consented.

Biting isn't. It's entirely outwith the game. It belongs in the criminal courts as a charge of Assault occasioning actual harm. Given the circumstances, he'd get some sort of community order (it's category 3, as it's neither that much damage, nor premediated, and he has quite a lot of mitigation being a first offender, etc)

Mens rea is normally a question of three parts: culpability (premediated-intentional-knowing-reckless-negligent-accidental), responsibility and depravity; Suarez is more depraved than the reckless tackler, and thus the mens rea is higher, he's also more culpable, being intentional, and more responsible, as a reckless tackle is relatively unlikely to break a leg, where a bite is pretty certain to remove part of someone's ear.


Disgust is surely bound up with the limits of empathy. Every footballer has made a bad tackle, and every player has felt momentarily angry enough to go over the ball and risk breaking an opponent's leg. Consequently, though we suspect Shawcross is a nsty thug, we give him the (grudging) benefit of the doubt.

With Suarez, the instinctive response is "I'd never do that under any circumstances". We cannot empathise with him because of the act (so this is more about actus reus than mens rea). Similarly, gun-owners have a hidden fear that they might one day "go postal", but cannot imaginatively identify with the "cold-blooded" intent of a bomber.

It's worth noting that there is a geographical as well as a temporal aspect to changes in empathy. Witness the horror when Patrick Vieira spat at Neil Ruddock back in '99, prompting talk of filthy continental habits.


Most of us can imagine taking our eyes off the road for a second when driving (to use Ben Six's example), so we do not regard such an action with disgust. Most (I hope) of us can't really imagine making an unprovoked attack on someone.

But does it also depend who does it?

gastro george

"The reckless tackler (eg Shawcross on Ramsey) doesn't deliberately intend to hurt his opponent, but nor is injury wholly accidental."

Much more the latter than the former. "Characters" like Shawcross know full well that their playing "technique" will result in hurt and injury, and their game is designed to do this, but only rarely will the injury be serious, and even more rarely will it be taken seriously. They expect to get away with it.


The counter argument (at least the one you often hear in the United States) is that while we see the harmful effect of guns, we can't see the enormous benefits they provide. I'm not going to justify that statement but it is the basis on which gun policy is often subverted in my country.


I think you could argue that biting is a form of bodily injury that carries a risk of infection and so it is not an irrational reaction to wish to prohibit it although the likelihood of infection is small. And the basis of disgust has been argued to be in an aversion to contamination and thus a evolutionary reaction, which reduces the danger of contamination. But emotions in humans often have out grown their biological roots.

I wonder if the assumption of utility is valid? There are other ethical systems after all and it may not be correct to reject them. There are also different forms of Utilitarian theory. Your assuming that all such theories are marginal in character rather than absolute.

"The counter argument (at least the one you often hear in the United States) is that while we see the harmful effect of guns, we can't see the enormous benefits they provide"

I wonder what these hidden benefits of Gun ownership are? American obsession with private gun ownership merely seems to show a widespread fear of other Americans and conspiratorial fears about the American Government. The advantages of mass Paranoia and constant fear of violence from your fellow citizens seems to have no benefits at all. The loss of security from private ownership seems to far exceed any gain taken over society as a whole and so seems a good argument for the applicability of statistical proof that fewer Guns is better than more.


Let's take two cases.
A man has commited a murder and he will never will do it again. We know that he is what we call rehabilitated.
On the other hand, a petty thief that cannot and will not stop commiting one small robbery after another.
What would be the adecuate utilitarian response for each case?


@ Richard, FATE - you both seem to hint at a common point - that disgust is something we feel about outsiderness, something that's "outwith the game" or outside our range of empathy. It's easy to imagine that there's an evolutionary reason for this - to promote ingroup unity, say.
This can come close to mere anti-foreigner feeling - as with the outage over Vieira's spitting at Ruddock, or with the lack of reaction to Defoe biting Mascherano.
But this simply sharpens my questions. Is disgust a rational or efficient feeling for more open societies?

Igor Belanov

Shawcross's tackle on Ramsey wasn't that bad really, slightly mistimed but not with real force, and the injury sustained was essentially a freak one. In general Shawcross's 'crime' as a footballer is not any thuggishness but rather repeated shirt-pulling, holding and blocking, following the example of the likes of Dabizas and Keown.


I'm not sure it makes sense to talk of feelings like disgust as rational or otherwise because they are reactions rather than actions, they just happen. But is it rational to act on those feelings? It depends on what your ends are. If you prioritise community, then it is rational. If you prioritise tolerance and equality, then it isn't. But what about the more basic question: is it good? i.e. is it conducive to good? I suspect that like envy it is an utterly destructive emotion. It involves seeing others as contaminants (which is why it might have a tacit role in liberalism - the individual is a bordered entity) and is perhaps the opposite of kind-ness. It is not good to be disgusted by the slave trade.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad