Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman has apologized amid backlash from his private-made-public harassment of Boston-are Sichuan Garden manager Ran Duan.

Edelman made headlines after lambasting Duan over a $4 overcharge on his Chinese takeout order. After realizing that the menu prices posted online differed from what he was charged by $1, Edelman sent Duan a series of e-mails threatening agency action and demanding damages (yes, damages) for the incident. The Boston Globe has the exchange:

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A serious violation, I tell you!

It just keeps getting worse:

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Your theory, sir, is REJECTED!

I’ve been told you shouldn’t trifle with a Harvard Lad, and judged by this exchange, it’s because they have a tendency to lose their minds at the slightest provocation (Legal Insurrection company excluded, of course!)

But is this just a Harvard Lad gone rogue? Or is society staring into a mirror as they read this exchange and the ensuing apology from Professor Edelman? Here we have a man who has the privilege to instruct students at one of the finest institutions for higher education in the entire world, and he chose to use his wonderful, learned, miraculous brain to threaten the livelihoods of an entire family of small business entrepreneurs.

I don’t care that he apologized; what I really want to know is what possessed this man to give the local Chinese restaurant hell over a $4 overcharge that probably could have been taken care of with a phone call to the establishment, a receipt, and a screenshot of the website.

Instead, this guy engages in behavior that is mostly reserved for $500-an-hour lawyers trying to nail Fortune 500 companies to the wall over systemic advertising fraud, spews some ethics rules, and threatens to bring down the fire and brimstone of the government unless he is awarded treble damages for his trouble.

We ask ourselves far too often “well, what can be done?” over petty slights that have no actual consequence in the real world. Instead of addressing the problem, we threaten regulatory action; instead of having a conversation about what we may be sensitive to, we sue for harassment and infliction of emotional distress. Judging by the tone of the e-mails, Edelman would have been perfectly happy to destroy this family’s business in order to prove a point.

We have created a nightmare society where we’ve conditioned and encouraged the general public to take personally and to heart what a reasonable person should let go; and if we don’t stop this ridiculous trend of scorching the earth over irrelevant inconveniences, we’re not going to recover from it.

Update:

Apparently this isn’t the first time Edelman has gone completely off the deep end in the name of “consumer protection.” The Globe has the tip:

Boston.com received a tip from a “former manager” of a “Back Bay sushi restaurant,” who stated that he had read the Edelman email exchange published on this site, and that when “it sounded familiar” he realized he had seen a similar email exchange several years prior.

The restaurant manager declined to give his name or the name of the restaurant, but described both emails and phone calls with Ben Edelman over a dispute related to the use of a Groupon promotion.

We were then sent copies of several emails exchanged in August 2010 between Ben Edelman and Osushi Restaurant management.

Boston.com confirmed the authenticity of these emails with Tim Panagopoulos, one of three partners who owned and operated Osushi, which has since closed.

Click through and read his e-mails. This is real life.

Part of me really wants to believe this is an elaborate scheme to teach his students a lesson about judicious use of the ax; the other part of me keeps picturing Edelman as some sort of power-hungry madman who holds a serious grudge against duck sauce.