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University of Chicago Legal Forum

Article Title

Lapidation and Apology

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. Some forms of lapidation can and should be regulated, consistent with First Amendment principles, but the primary responses must come from the private sector

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