DEBRA KOMAR – THE BALLAD OF JACOB PECK – 2013
First of all this book is a
remarkable reconstruction of an old historical and judicial event whose archival
resources are particularly deprived. The author collects all she can and hen
crosses the resources and leaving the interpretation open when necessary,
though she wants to prove a point: the real person responsible for the crime
was not prosecuted.
Along with the story the author
manages to give us some at tomes frightening elements concerning justice in
these newly opened provinces in Canada.
For example she clearly states Justice is for the rich. The poor are at a
disadvantage. She also shows along this line that Blacks, Acadians and Indians
are all segregated against and can hardly expect any kind of real justice.
Thus the accused has to pay for a
lawyer if he wants one. No lawyer will be provided to those who cannot pay. But
at the same time they will be able to call for some witnesses to come to the
bar but they will not have the right to speak for themselves, hence to defend themselves.
These frontier provinces have no
jurisprudence, no legal system, no judicial institution really worth mentioning
in 1805, when the events take place. Of course they use the good old British
law, etc. But in this English or British tradition common law is essential and
there is no common law in this area of Canada. In fact it is the case we
are speaking of that will start building that common law for manslaughter or
murder in these provinces. That means the prosecutors and judges can then make
mistakes since procedures are not set, and they are very free in their
interpretation of the facts and the law since there are no common law
The book concludes that this led
to a typical miscarriage of justice because of two reasons according to her. First
the impossibility to really discriminate between sanity and insanity, though
the accused was at the time of the crime and still is at the time of the trial
obviously insane and delusional. This should according to her have changed the
approach of the crime itself. Though she does not say if the outcome could have
been different. Murder or manslaughter are hardly different at the time when
you know that the death penalty is imposed for burglary and she gives one
example of a black slave whose murder is changed to manslaughter (of another
black slave he raped first) and is hanged all the same. Could insanity have
excused the murderer from being tried but where would he have been detained in
his insane state? In what institution? Or just in prison for life? This would
be the negation of his insanity itself.
The second reason is what she
calls religious fanaticism. The word is probably very badly chosen. It is an
ethical judgment and it is not because Voltaire uses it for Mahomet that it is
acceptable. She should have spoken of fundamentalism: implementing the
teachings and rulings contained in the sacred book, the Bible in this case,
down to the very commas, refusing to take any metaphor or parable in any other
way than what the words themselves say and considering this meaning as a real
realistic description of the world or instructions to the believers. No matter
what you may think, if someone believes the end of the world is for tomorrow
morning there is no reason to feed the cattle. God will really take care of it.
Such fundamentalism exists in many religions. It is the negation of the
metaphorical mind of man. On the other hand fanaticism does not need to be attached
to any particular sacred text of any particular religion. You can be a fanatic
anarchist, a fanatic communist or a fanatic neoliberal believer: that always
means eliminating those who do not think like you. Fundamentalism is the full
implementation of the principles of a religion or a philosophy. That does not
imply killing them all, God will recognize his own, which is then fanaticism.
And that’s where the author
missed the real modern meaning we can see in this case.
The author’s book is a typical
case of miscarriage of psychological evaluation of the main characters. She
gives the data but she does not interpret these data in any modern way. We are
dealing here with second generation immigrants in America.
The first generation, more or
less willingly, emigrated to what is today New England
or New York
and was known at the time as the 13 colonies, before the American Revolution.
They were loyalists at the time and thus were confronted to their inability to
stay after the American Independence. The first migration was total uprooting
from their English environment. This can create in many people some trauma that
can develop into a Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that can be compensated by
some attachment to a stabilizing element, in this case the King of England.
They are Loyalists.
That determines for them and
their children, hence the second generation, a second uprooting episode that
can cause a trauma that can develop into a Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, less
important in the first generation people since they move to Canada and remain
tied up to the King of England, their stabilizing element. But this element
does not stabilize some of the traumatized second generation people because
they never knew England
and the King of England. Those PTSS subjects then are going to look for
elements that could stabilize them. The book gives a typical case for the
preacher himself Jacob Peck and for his main mental victim who is going to turn
murderer, Amos Babcock. Jacob Peck becomes an apocalyptic preacher announcing the
end of the world and creating around him and in the minds of the people taking
part to night long winter revivals fear and acceptation that they are going to
die within hours. I am sure that most people take that with a grain of salt,
but the most traumatized immigrants take it as if it were God’s own words. Then
you have to obey. Jacob Peck does not apply this prediction to himself but
builds it into other people’s minds and thus bring some to a breaking point. That’s
Amos Babcock. But note in the final and tragic sermon, Jacob Peck who pretends
to be a reincarnation of John the Baptist also pretends on that night that he
is in direct relation with the King of England who has announced that in ten
years there will no more be kings on the earth. That shows how much traumatized
Jacob Peck is: he is symbolically killing the main stabilizing element that the
previous generation and probably most of the second generation have kept and
cultivated in their traumatizing experience.
Of course, there is a discrepancy
in Jacob Peck’s preaching on that night: the end of the world is for daybreak
and there will be no more kings on earth in ten years. But that is not the
point. The point is that he has to get rid of the King as a stabilizing element
to make the acceptation of the end of the world at daybreak real.
When you add to that this second generation
has no land at all, or little land, no capital, and that they are poor leading
a hard life with the only physical compensation
of very numerous children up to twelve or even more in such families, you can
understand that this trauma is governing and commanding the minds of some of
these second generation immigrants.
So I will totally disagree with
the author’s conclusion. We do not have to judge or try the two people at stake
all over again. We cannot change history and this 1805 trial is history. But we
can try to understand, not to accuse. Jacob Peck definitely has a certain level
of responsibility in Amos Babcock’s crime but he is a victim just as much as
Amos Babcock is? Jacob Peck is living a mental drama in his trauma: the
conviction that he is forever condemned to suffer, be poor and his only hope
can be that the end of the world comes fast and if there is any way to make it
come faster, he is convinced he has to use them: he preaches to bring people to
his level of conviction and then he just hopes some of them are going to do
what will trigger that end of the world because it has to be triggered by man,
by Babylon. It is the crimes of men that will bring God’s decision to send
Archangel Gabriel to start the apocalypse.
Then Amos Babcock, who has the
very same traumatized psychology finds the lead he needs to bring that apocalypse
onto himself and everyone and this apocalypse is not a crime since it is a
liberation. To reduce these events to only one victim, Mercy, Amos Babcock’s
own sister, is reductive. The victims are practically everyone around, even the
less poor and the richer. They will go on, carrying that PTSS of at least two
uprootings and deportations under the name of immigration, which is a very long
historical trauma, and they will transfer their trauma onto victims, which will
enable them to stabilize their psyche: Acadians who are equal but kept on the
side, Indians who are not equal at all and kept in the margin and Black who are
not equal at all, still slaves in 1805 in this province of Canada, and are kept
in a property instead of human status.
It is of course to be regretted that the author did not
implement modern psychology to the two main characters to asses their mental aptitudes.
Let’s be clear: they are not insane, they are not sick, they are just
traumatized by history. This trauma has to be treated but not with some drugs
or prison time. It has to be treated in a very complex and long liberating
procedure because it is a liberation to get free from such a PTSS, what some
call a soul wound that can be so severe at times that it can cause death,
around the subject or of the subject himself, alone or in a collective
sacrifice with a vest loaded with explosives.
After all it is so clear that only
men can trigger God’s decision to bring the apocalypse.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU