Archive for January, 2018

Moral Obligation

What is all the current public angst about? The screaming, the waving of “MAGA” signs, the eruption of open racism and xenophobia? It seems as though, since the rise of Trump, society is being ripped apart at the seams. It is on the ideals of moral consideration that, over centuries, civil societies have been built and upon the abandonment of those that societies ultimately have destroyed themselves. By any measure we seem to have become a society on its way to becoming devoid of moral consideration over any sort of operational advantage, financial, political, legal, or otherwise. Consequently, when looking back at the idea of such obligation one wonders, if moral obligation can even be a part of our current political and social discourse. We presently have a president who, with his physical posturing, defiant simplistic and infantile rhetoric, and unhinged “Tweets”, has more in common with Mussolini than any other American president. This is a president whose power and ascension to office was borne on the back of resentment and his ability to manipulate it. This is a president whose complete lack of morals has been revealed in one salacious tell-all after another. I believe one can rightly ask if the president, his family and staff, and his Congressional accomplices have even heard of moral obligation. This question must be asked because there doesn’t seem to be a trace of such consideration. It is clear that their actions, motives, and behaviors have been put through a wash and rinse cycle eliminating all moral engagement. What we are witnessing is a complete lack of moral obligation an absence of moral consideration of the effects of their actions on the lives and welfare of others. It is as though these people live in a moral vacuum. This is, in its effects, sociopathic, the consequences of which are consequential. This is, in effect, sociopathic. The inevitable question then arises: Will this society ever consider the moral dimensions of behavior in matters such as politics, social welfare, or war in places where there is no demonstrable national interest aside from the business of war the cost of which when measured in national treasure and the lives of young men and women is immense. According to an international organization that monitors wars around the globe, the United States has killed something on the order of 2 million people post 9/11. Young men and women who could be making positive contributions to the betterment of this country right here, at home, are being used to make profit for the war industry. The F-35 fighter alone has cost in excess of $406 billion to date! The proposed military budget for 2018 is another $406 billion! Imagine what that money would do for public education, civil infrastructure, medical research and care, and so many other socially valuable activities. Our national fortune is being squandered not to make life better, here on this continent, in this country, where needs are demonstrably great and infrastructure is in disrepair and crumbling. It goes beyond the exercise in dribble-down economics because the dribble inevitably disappears as manufacturing jobs are shipped to countries where lower wages prevail. What then when the population of unemployed Americans reaches a critical mass? What then when social services are diminished and disappear? What then when there is no one left able to purchase the goods made overseas? That then is the definition and expression of a zero sum game. The question of moral obligation and engagement goes even further and deeper than the commercialization of war as billionaires and millionaires are currently sponsoring a war on public education. Everyone is an educational expert once their fortune exceeds some arbitrary amount. The most vocal of the self-appointed school reform zealots have zero qualifications as educators yet they exercise sufficient influence to destroy public schools. Where is the moral consideration in this? Public education is a foundational institution that has served this country since 1635 when the Boston Latin School in Massachusetts opened it doors. To attack public education for the purpose of profit goes beyond greed which is only one motive. What the self- anointed reformers are really after are children educated to be compliant and manipulable. Will this then be the death of democracy in this country? Could it be that Hayek was right, that we are on “The Road to Serfdom”? Can that possibly be inevitable?

What’s Justice Got To Do With It?

The problem with lawyers can be expressed in three words – Truth, Justice, and Winning. Simple sounding words alright but words that govern a great deal of what transpires in this American society in the guise of civility. The three words and their opposites follow us through life like a pack of hounds. Winning has become all in this competitive American society. Whatever it takes to win is the battle cry. Children are conditioned almost from birth to compete at whatever activity they engage in and to achieve it at whatever cost. We have popular sayings to characterize both poles of the dynamic – winners and losers. Champs and chumps. And as the memorable Vince Lombardi put it, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

When lawyers convene in a courtroom the word Winning looms like a scimitar. Forget about Justice – it’s all about winning. If lawyers don’t win they will soon be out of work not unlike coaches of losing professional sports teams. In fact, court trials are not unlike sports events as each side competes for the same trophy – not always Justice but, always and ever, Winning. Are there two or more truths in these matters? Truth is irrelevant.

What this Sophistry does is reduce Justice to a very low status. Seeking Winning over Justice naturally demeans the legal processes and, even, worse destroys public belief and faith in the fairness of civil justice and civilized recourse. This is why we must have ACLU lawyers and the other exceptions who fight bravely and intelligently for social justice and a manifestation of Truth. On the other hand, those who vigorously oppose the ACLU and its lawyers are just as interested in defending a vision of society that does not necessarily include Truth or Justice but generally advantage and venality. Of course the irony is that those hired to oppose the ACLU are also lawyers.

According to social philosophers, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, “reality is socially constructed”, thus we find ourselves in courtrooms confronted with conflicting realities as constructed by the opposing sides. These combating realities are presented as Truth, so help us God. It is not as much legal philosophy being played out as it is a pathology. What we are witnessing is sociopathic behavior which destroys the social contract that has kept this country on a more-or-less even keel since the end of the “Great Depression”. I was recently informed by a lawyer that there is no Social Contract. I took it he meant that it’s, “everyone for themselves, it’s all “dog-eat-dog”. This is the socially constructed reality being played out in courtrooms today.

As the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt so elegantly put it, “The most irreducibly bad thing about lies is that they contrive to interfere with, and to impair, our natural effort to apprehend the real state of affairs.” Absent Truth, the “real state of affairs” is rendered irrelevant. There cannot be Justice in this, and in the end the most serious moral flaw in the adversarial legal system is the making of Truth simply another victim. What kind of a world will we then have if the liars prevail?


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