Two wrongs don’t make one right – Memory, History and Rebalancing Actions: A Reading on ‘Cancel Culture’ through the Lens of a Restorative Approach

The following contribution focuses on how to match the lens of restorative justice with the concerns of (also structural) past imbalance, today commonly considered as forms of injustice which need to be rebalanced through a variety of measures. Nowadays these situations are considered part of history (e.g., colonialism, various forms of discrimination and inequality), however, the conscience of their injustice still influences the current debate, involving the importance of publicly taking distance, or even condemning, those phenomena or behaviours, mostly in public discourses. History, memory, equity, and a sheer sense of justice are confronted with the possibility of dealing restoratively with such issues, considering that they might instead involve forms of removal or even retaliation (as it happens, e.g., within the so called ‘cancel culture’). The question that arises is whether a restorative lens can positively affect actions taken in order to ‘correct’ past mistakes. Secondly, such perspective, could also help to show when, and under which conditions, some actions that apparently are meant to ‘rebalance’ things might result in contradiction with the values of justice as restoration. This helps highlighting how this approach could also act as a safeguard against the risk of undermining or even denying fundamental democratic values, albeit apparently (or admittedly) acting to promote them. A core theme is the role of memory and narratives and their connection to a relational and reparative approach to ethics. If, on the one hand, the following reflections place their focus outside the field of criminal justice, on the other hand they assume – as a premise – Howard Zehr’s suggestion that restorative justice can be interpreted as a way of life, involving a perspective able to affect someone’s way of thinking and acting. Among restorative justice’s fundamental principles, there is the core-idea that justice should not ‘imitate’ the violent logic which underlies wrongdoing. Therefore, the restorative way of ‘rebalancing things’ cannot happen in a manner that violates important values, such as those which promote dialogue, empowerment, active responsibility, mutuality and respect.

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