It’s a good read from the founder of “Popehat”, which is on the blogroll.
One amusing thing for us are the references to the dramatic shift between the Andy Griffith Show and the Dirty Harry movies. It was only a few years, as White points out. But we are probably a bit older and remember even earlier Andy Griffith television shows that taught things like how it’s wrong to rush to judgment against ex-cons.
Today – and this is just one timely sample among many that could be cited – the media lesson is exactly the opposite: ex-cons are dangerous and do not deserve a second chance.
Our theory? It’s partly both deeper and shallower than Ken’s critique of prosecutorial “culture”. When people feel secure and prosperous and engaged with their society and government – as they mostly did in the 1950’s and early 1960’s – they are more generous to others, and that includes generosity and forgiveness extended to offenders. When they feel insecure, financially stressed and politically isolated and powerless – roughly 1970 to date – that generosity mutates into a desire to see harsh punishments inflicted as this is one of the few powers remaining, and people’s attention is more oriented towards escapist tripe like professional football and the Kardashians. In other words people are unhappy about their circumstances and feel powerless to change them, so the crude exercise of power over the person in the dock becomes more satisfying, kind of like a proxy or scapegoating; but ultimately people just want to tune out, thus the obscene amount of money and attention showered on professional “athletes” and celebrities.
That’s part of it.
Another part of it is a rotten intellectual foundation that rejects natural law (absurd, as a practical matter), and that provides pseudo-sophisticated cover to what is, in reality, uniform and contemptible pandering to the lowest common denominator. Because statistics and empirical “data”, or something.
That’s another part of it.
The first is, of course, not primarily a problem of the legal profession but rather a problem with the body politic; the second is indeed, however, an infection of the legal profession and the intelligentsia generally. We’ve written about it before, in its various aspects.
Ken White recognizes the difficulty of changing culture. So do we. He seems to think a change for the better is underway. We dare to harbor the hope that he is right – because love – and we labor in matters great (possibly) and small to make our own humble contribution towards that outcome.
We have no idea if our efforts will bear fruit; it’s like waiting for the jury to come back with its verdict. Whatever small measure of control and participation we had is over and it is now up to others.
As it should be.