Blurring the looking glass


I prefer to avoid conclusionary statements. More often than not their development is enshrouded in dogmatic rhetoric and, inevitably, they tend to flourish on the flesh of chauvinism. These characteristics, I find, cause the proponent’s arguments to drift chaotically between the delicate nexus dividing the credible and the chimeric, convincing us of the logic of the position one day, and causing a nervous chuckle for its dubious inclination the other. On occasion though, if only for effect, it can be useful in inciting a particular reaction from the reader. A reaction the author believes is necessary to properly situate his audience within a desired paradigm or sphere.

With this in mind, I tell you today that in my opinion, the law, and everything associated with it from schools to world courts, represents a colossal contradiction. In our worlds, southern, eastern, western, and northern included, the law serves a dual purpose: from a moral standpoint it seeks to govern society, to reach a compromise between the acceptable and the improper – from a martial perspective it uses an allegedly algebraic set of rules to impose a mathematically advantageous lifestyle. Thus, with its elemental balance of virtuosity and narcissism, the law operates as both guard and prisoner, or more appropriately, both shepherd and sheep. This reality, a de facto reaction to the appetite for leadership of the few, melded with the remorseful comfort of servitude of the many, has resulted in the gradual metamorphosis of our legal machinery into an autonomous entity, no longer dependent on the human hand for life, rather, subsisting on a self-justifying authority (! not unlike schizophrenia). Its creators, ironically enough, not only revere its deranged existence but also take that very existence for granted. Varying levels of society have experienced this phenomenon; from the lowly panhandler incarcerated for a government’s subtle failures, to the legal practitioner berated by a judge for not operating within the proscribed, though often discretionary, rules.

I raise this issue because I’ve both witnessed and experienced the increasing sense of alienation we feel towards an apparatus originally conceived as servant not master. As mentioned earlier, the law’s right to exist (as part of our latest administrative institution) is now beyond question. Consequently, it has become customary to address, to discuss, and, most frighteningly, to regard the law as deserving of grandparent like respect, or, in the jingoistic minds of legal agents, a type of teenage adoration (bordering on Napoleonic allegiance).

Secular anthropology may define this as the normal progression of civilization. In attempting to attain common goals for a growing population, it is necessary to create consistent bureaucracies capable of managing our affairs and withstanding the undeniability of human mortality. Let us assume for a moment that this is true, do we just accept stale fortune-cookie wisdom as sacrosanct? Are we satisfied in merely redressing conventional ideas and policies? Do we limit our debates to single subjects, thereby ignoring the historical, the social, the cultural, or the economic implications likely to have been somewhat, if not more controlling than we are permitted to discover? Are we to see the world only in terms the establishment has set for us? Do we even know that there is an establishment?

Now let us assume that the anthropologists are wrong, that progress is achieved not by narrowing our view of the world, not by blurring our looking glass, and not by merely accepting that which has been imposed, rather, by expanding, by learning, and by developing new ideas, new thoughts, and new systems – will this second option allow for greater or less cooperation? Will it make us more or less willing to consider the ramifications a limited outlook will have on the crafting of public policy? Is asking a person to be more informed, more involved, and more insightful asking too much?

In today’s world, we are taught to believe that a degree is required to understand the law, a doctorate to comprehend the policy on which the legislation is based, a team of experts sufficiently disconnected from the worlds they influence to feign reform, and a steady stream of salespeople (politicians will do) capable of ‘closing the deal’ both domestically and internationally. Because of the finicky level of sophistication needed to discern the dynamics of any domain, cross-disciplinary work, previously presumed compulsory in all research undertakings, is now brutishly brushed aside in the alleged interests of detail and progress (musical euphemisms for ineptitude and mediocrity). To allow ourselves to be bamboozled by blatant ideological attempts at prettifying a failing system is to saunter on the very edges of sanity: "we must know less to understand more". Kind of like watching a butcher tenderize a steak with a sledgehammer and an anvil, seems a little absurd but w! ho’s going to tell the butcher wielding the hammer?

In our abundant attempts at fostering order, we’ve achieved little more than chaos. First there was imperialism – legal according to laws of "natural justice" and righteous according to laws of faith. Then there was colonialism, a less obvious but equally arrogant form of administration, achieved with the support of international ‘law’ and the approval of the ‘civilized’ world (of course with the ultimate goal of spreading their cherished civilization and benevolent law, minus the justice). Next, neo-colonialism – no need to even change the appellation, a simple prefix should have convinced us that their intentions were different. These systems failed, in part because imperialist bias overestimated the command value of pale pigmentation and underestimated the morality and strength of resistance and freedom, but also because issues of governance were separated from those of culture, land allocation was separated from practicality, agriculture was separated from hunger, an! d, in the end, law was separated from justice.

And today we are asked to believe that globalization, free trade, the world bank, the international monetary fund, and the world trade organization, have all joined together in a cappella of philanthropic enlightenment to serenade us to the tunes of altruism, cooperation, understanding, sisterhood, brotherhood, compassion, freedom, democracy, leadership, and cross-cultural respect. Pardon me if 500 years of thunderous rapacity have left me skeptical. To debate these topics without acknowledging that current levels of economic disparity (favorable to the North) and current levels of cultural disparity (favorable to the South) stem from similar rhythms previously played from man-o-wars, is a purely academic exercise for it ignores the very essence of the divisions. To frame existing imbroglio in a solely South/North context is to minimize the extent of the damage being caused, especially since the geo-climatic, geo-political, and geo-economic issues plaguing the world today! have demonstrated their capricious willingness to transcend borders and, quaintly enough, trickle into the lives of the instigators (or at least the lives of their heirs). Lastly, to confine ourselves to segregationist analyses of germane topics is to replant the fading footsteps of 19th and 20th century foolishness.

At the beginning of this essay, I stated that the law was a contradiction. My goal was to put you, the audience, and myself, the author, on the defensive. The paradigm I wished to encourage was one of cynicism and mistrust, to help us experience the sentiments expressed by many others who do not share western confidence nor western benefits in an increasingly western world. I also hoped that this paradigm would allow us to realize how anxious we are to defend or even justify the current inequalities, and to see that the indoctrination I described earlier has not only affected us collectively, but also individually.

Perhaps it would have been more accurate for me to say that the law today is a contradiction. In the past, pleas of ignorance and claims of good intentions could have been semi-persuasively made. This is no longer the case. We are now aware of the consequences of a narrow vision, and, unfortunately for some but fortunately for most, we cannot become unaware. Thus, regardless of the ideals espoused or the promises made, the truth is sitting there right in front of us…next to the pink elephant of course. Choosing to ignore them, choosing to limit our discussions to the abstract is itself a choice and a statement. The results of which we should, and one way or another, will, be held accountable for.