If you're a self-deprecating Gen X/Zoomer with a Netflix account, then you've almost certainly seen Bo Burnham's fantastical new special: Inside.
While marketed as a "comedy" special, Inside is something far more sinister. Burnham delves much deeper into the human psyche than any normal 90 minute stand-up routine would allow. Inside is chock full of cutting social critique, regular mockery of privilege, and some really amazing songs - all of which make it perfect viewing for anyone studying sociology (and wanting a new set of songs to obsessively put on repeat).
While watching Inside with my sister (again) I fell in love with this amazing segment where Burnham does a reaction video to his own song, and then continues reacting to his own reaction videos. With every new "reaction", he further analyses himself with new, brutally honest critiques. It's hilarious, watch it here:
There's one part where Burnham explains his desperate need to be seen as intelligent, and how "unlikeable" this quality is in himself. On the next loop of reacting, he twists the knife -
declaring that "self awareness does not absolve anybody of anything".
I found this super fascinating. We can see in our society that recognising what's wrong with us is held in really high regard, like the now ubiquitous phrase: "check your privilege". What this phrase doesn't elaborate on is what to do once you've realized your privilege. Which is exactly how I interpret Burnham’s self-absolution quote.
The hard work isn't just recognising that you benefit from oppressive power structures every day in a million different ways (not being stopped by police while running in the street/having higher rates of social mobility/longer life expectancy/not having to fear for your life in police custody/etc).
The hard work is doing your part to dismantle these structures.
I know that I'm guilty of trying to figure out how I'm a shitty person, and then feeling that because I've identified these qualities that I've somehow fixed them. But it also got me thinking about how self awareness of criminal acts works in the CJS - like a guilty plea resulting in a lesser sentence.
Whilst socially, self awareness does not absolve anybody of anything, in the criminal justice sphere if an offender shows remorse, then it seemingly does absolve them - at least a little.
If a murderer pleads guilty in court and states that they feels bad for what they've done, then they'll get a lower custodial sentence. Similarly, the CPS often offers reduced sentences if the defendant writes an apology to the victim, or tries to reimburse the victim for any harm caused (e.g. pays back the monetary value of stolen goods).
In America, some restorative justice programmes try to recover stolen property and give back to the victim as a form of punishment, rather than a custodial sentence (see Adam Foss' TED Talk).
Perhaps a reason why the CJS rewards self-awareness of wrongdoing is that it's severly underfunded. If we claim a defendant feels remorse for their actions, then it means we save £34,000 for every year we take off their sentence. For the public purse, it's beneficial to believe that self awareness does absolve people.
In general society, however, we don't have to lie to ourselves to adhere to budgetary restrictions.