Daily Archives: January 18, 2013

Aaron Swartz

The tragic story has been everywhere over the last week.  I don’t have anything interesting to add, but I thought Lawrence Lessig did:

Why was he being charged with 13 felonies?

His motive was political — obviously. His harm was exactly none — as JSTOR effectively acknowledged. But he deserved, your “career prosecutors” believed, to be deprived of his rights as a citizen (aka, a “felon,” no longer entitled to the political rights he fought to perfect) because of what he did.

Yet here’s the thing to remember on MLK weekend (even though my saying this violates a rule I believe in firmly, a kind of inverse to Godwin’s law, because though I believe these two great souls were motivated by exactly the same kind of justice, King’s cause was greater): How many felonies was Martin Luther King, Jr., convicted of? King, whose motives were political too, but who, unlike Aaron, triggered actions which caused real harm. What’s that number?

Zero.

And how many was he even charged with in the whole of his career?

Two. Two bogus charges (perjury and tax evasion) from Alabama, which an all-white jury acquitted him of.

This is a measure of who we have become. And we don’t even notice it. We can’t even see the extremism that we have allowed to creep into our law. And we treat as decent a government official who invokes her family while defending behavior which in part at least drove this boy to his death.

 

Emphasis supplied.

I’ve dealt with this aspect of the Aaron Swartz episode numerous times – at least once in official court filings no less – but it seems to have always fallen upon deaf ears.  Yet the coarsening of our humanity in the past few decades is as unmistakable as it is disturbing.

In 1952 the US Supreme Court was outraged that in order to secure evidence some cops in California took their suspect to a hospital to have his stomach involuntarily pumped.  So outraged they overturned the suspect’s conviction.  But almost 50 years later in 2003, the SCOTUS (other than Justice Stevens in dissent) didn’t bat an eye at police ignoring repeated pleas – from a man they themselves had shot and seriously wounded – to stop questioning him and give him medical treatment.

I suppose it has something to do with the immediate aftermath of WWII.  We were more sensitive to tyranny and official cruelty then, and not blind to the potential that we might be guilty of it just as others had been.  As our collective memory of those events has receded, though, so has our awareness of the hidden dangers of power, prominent among them being the glib indifference to conduct that plainly constitutes official torture.

Torture is as torture does, you know.

 

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Lance Armstrong and Tom Moran

It isn’t that mysterious.  They’re both pathological narcissists.

The most revealing thing is the bullying behavior, specifically in response to being found out.  Normal people do not behave this way, but it’s the first resort of pathological narcissists.  Yet it only applies when the person or persons who discover them are amenable to being bullied.  In the mind of the narcissist this is anyone who is below them in the pecking order.

For Armstrong this was very easy to do.  As a world famous athlete, legend  and folk hero his status was almost unimaginably high, thus he could shout down, sue, intimidate and otherwise smear almost any of his detractors, branding them as liars even as he knows that he is the liar and not them.  As his story shows, high status alone will enable someone to succeed at this faux bold tactic for a surprisingly long time.  People are invested in their heroes, and reluctant to believe the emperor has no clothes.

But, you know, facts are stubborn things.

One distinction between Moran and Armstrong that should be noted:  Armstrong’s pathology, while on a much grander scale in terms of notoriety, is so much less destructive.  He’s not imprisoning people and branding them criminals, for example.  His pathological behavior is defensive, not offensive.

By virtue of his office Tom Moran, on the other hand, unleashed the power of the state to harm others in his quest for narcissistic supply.  Being incredibly self-interested and self-absorbed (as pathological narcissists are), of course, these “others” do not really exist for him in any meaningful way.  Oddly, it really doesn’t matter to him how much harm he has caused others, and will not matter unless and until there is some consequence to him.  Just as Armstrong would have gone on forever unless or until higher ups began denting his armor and revoking his awards, so Moran will continue until some consequence is visited upon him.  At that point there may be faux lamentations or faux contrition just as Armstrong has demonstrated in his Oprah confessional.  But what’s driving it is not a genuine appreciation for the wrong done, but rather an increasingly desperate effort to preserve the narcissistic self image.

A lot of criminals are like this.  It’s all about them.

By the time I appeared before the Livingston County grand jury on October 13, 2004 Moran had been peddling the mendacious narrative that “Sephora was the driver”, unchallenged, for nine months, and had just gone out on the limb of presenting it to the grand jury a week earlier.  Although he had not been found out personally at that point, his lie had been.

But only by me.  So far.

So he reacted the way a narcissist does when unexpectedly confronted by an adversary perceived as lesser status:  he began verbally bullying me, and when that didn’t work because I forcefully brushed him off, he threatened to beat me up.

In a way that should be astonishing but unfortunately is not, the powers that be ratified Moran’s pathological behavior and attacked me, mimicking Moran’s narcissism perfectly.  This is one of the reasons it became necessary for me to persist the way I have.  A lawyer cannot permit the whole system to become a pathological menace on his watch:  rewarding lying, cheating and criminal behavior while it punishes true accomplishment, personal integrity and innocence.  Inversions of reality of that magnitude must be opposed.  To the death, if necessary.

If the trend to pathological narcissism isn’t checked in the justice system how can it be checked in the wider society?  See the problem?

Lawyers have a lot of responsibility, don’t they?

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