11/26/2011 17:09

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

[Dick the Butcher. From William Shakespeare's "Henry VI, Part Two"]

The television was working the other day and I caught a bit of a lawyer show. It seems (based solely on the evidence of the TV script) that criminal courts are a venue for professional pleaders to argue social philosphy. Apparently I need to resume visiting courtrooms so I can reaquaint myself with the purpose and practice of prosecution and defense.

Prior to discovering this Truth on Television, I had been under the misapprehension that the function of prosecutors was to present facts in the most incriminating manner possible so as to make entirely believable the possibility that the accused is culpable. Contrariwise, I had thought the function of the defense attorney was to present the facts in the manner most favorable to the accused so as to raise all manner of doubt about the defendent's guilt. In my earlier understanding, it would be for the jury of citizens to pass judgement between the conflicting points of view.

My old, naive view of the law had this sweet and comforting feature: Were I ever accused of some heinous fault -- falsely, of course -- I would need only to find a skillful attorney to have my view of the case portrayed in court. The lawyer, I had imagined, would not prejudge my innocence, but would merely present the facts in the best possible light and would defer to the subsequent judgement of my peers. In this way, a player in the actual reality game is given some protection from certain egregious plays of other players by the concerted action of nearby players; the scope of play is constrained by local rules of law and government, for in my former view judgement cannot be made nor sentence executed until a best case has been made.

Now, however, I have learned the Truth on Television and see that this is not the way of things at all. Were ever I so accused, I know now that it would be incumbent on me to seek out an advocate who not only is skilled in the ways of court and in presentation to juries, but also understands my social philosophy and is in agreement with it. What's more, this attorney would need to be able to present this social philosophy in such a way as to justify my actions.

All of this is decidely problematic, first because (as I already said) I might be falsely accused and thus have done no action to defend. Then too I might have no coherent social philosophy relevant to the charge. Indeed, readers of this commentary will each have their own opinion on the question of whether I have a coherent philosophy on any matter. Supposing that I have such a philosophy, how would I go about the task of finding a skilled orator who both understands and agrees with me? It is, I say, decidedly problematic.

If the Truth on Television is the truth in life, then no one is safe from calumny and persecution under the guise of law. My only hope is that television does not portray actual reality after all.

My worst fear is that the portrayal of a lie so consistently may out of itself produce a truth which would be inimical to us all.