Lapidation and Apology

11 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2019 Last revised: 5 Jul 2019

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: June 19, 2019

Abstract

Groups of people, outraged by some real or imagined transgression, often respond in a way that is wildly disproportionate to the occasion, thus ruining the transgressor’s day, month, year, or life. To capture that phenomenon, we might repurpose an old word: lapidation. Technically, the word is a synonym for stoning, but it sounds much less violent. It is also obscure, which makes it easier to enlist for contemporary purposes. Lapidation plays a role in affirming, and helping to constitute, tribal identity. It typically occurs when a transgressor is taken to have violated a taboo, which helps account for the different people and events that trigger left-of-center and right-of-center lapidation. One of the problems with lapidation is that it often accomplishes little; it expresses outrage, and allows people to signal their identity, but does no more. Victims of lapidation might be tempted to apologize, but apologies can prove ineffective or even make things worse, depending on the nature of the lapidators.

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., Lapidation and Apology (June 19, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3407390 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3407390

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02138
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617-496-2291 (Phone)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
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