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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/15/13

The Zimmerman Trial: Evidence that the South Has not Outgrown its Lust for the Finer Fruits of Faux Righteousness

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Message C. S. Herrman
Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, Carey, Ohio
Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, Carey, Ohio
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Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, Carey, Ohio by danxoneil

Thomas Jefferson, as astute an observer as he was a witty wordsmith ("felicitous" was Washington's word), once wrote in his Notes On the State of Virginia several conclusions in support of a   psychological basis for profiling writ large. Know-it-all types (including yours truly) call it "typology with binary predicates'. Jefferson did everything   according to Hoyle except for failing to state the essential binary formulation, which we will do on his behalf. Improving on the most promising efforts   by anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict's shame-guilt binary -- unceremoniously trashed by an academic universe in self-absorbed desuetude ( politically correct, moribund and   increasingly irrelevant) -- we can confidently say that Jefferson described the South as honor-based and the North as dignity-based (the mythic sources for shame and guilt, respectively).

Under the dictum that political correctness disposes to trimming of the truth, especially where inconvenient (most truth is), we restate Jefferson's summary with what is both more realistic and morally accurate an appraisal. Aesthetically pleasing it is not, so keep the kids away (goes the academic refrain -- on second thought, please pass this article on to them when you're done). Mass justifications for morally questionable conduct tend to be culturally inspired and seem to work best when defended as legitimate expressions of cultural myths. Slavery was the one glaringly inglorious example in our nation's history. The same fanatic devotion to lifestyle that resulted in a life-threatening civil war was not then, nor now, it seems, easily stamped out.

Ideologies, rather than tolerating extirpation, transfer expression to more palatable forms more easily defended under cover of law and righteousness. Voter registration acts, quasi Blue Laws, moral legislation intended for everybody beyond those actually believing in their utility, and gun advocacy suited for primitive modes of authoritarian regimentation justified on a Constitution's reminder that the age of slavery and cupidity which it reluctantly reflected is, by both social and legal forms of "originalism", fair game for today's world. Add racial profiling, selective application of the law, stand-your-ground laws, and the highest incarceration rates in the world   amounting to the attempted ideational genocide of blacks -- and you have a picture of a culture that is self-absorbed, self-righteous, egoistic, and delusional (but for the amazingly easy advocacy of it all).

It is a culture that glorifies unimpeachable individualism, a work ethic on steroids ( - la Gertrude Himmelfarb ), a "stand-your-ground' frankness of expression (actually rather charming but taken to extremes by the Tea Partiers), and, on the reactive side of the ledger, the fanatical quality of fear at loss of control over reality that prompts both knee-jerk denials from climate deniers to bald-faced lies about evolution, as well as to pre-emptive tactics in the form of legislation against others not sharing their modalities of true and correct devotion. Strategically and politically, it leads to, amongst other things, covert stacking of closet Republican moralizers throughout the Federal Bench (Citizens United a thirty-year culmination begun with Louis Potter, Jr.'s memorable memorandum). 

And, when we have a George Zimmerman on trial for trashing the norms of offices and the stewardship intended to protect from precisely the collateral damage he inflicted on an unarmed black kid, we have good Southern woman-folk breaking all the motherhood sentiments on behalf of the culture that worships the right to be in charge regardless responsibilities, a consequence of hyper-vigilant fear of losing control of self-determination or property, never mind that lives are typically expendable under such a doctrine.

These life-denying self-vigilantes are the same Southern Republicans who will shut down eighty-percent of abortion clinics (of course they do this part of their business everywhere) on the ostensible rationale of sanitation and all good medical decency that shine Constitutionally if only on paper, but in reality all but destroy a woman's choice for abortion. A life easily taken without awareness of the event and which saves a woman's life-long torment or difficulty is not okay, but terminating an adult human because threatening God's highest expression of dignity, well, that's just another matter. And the courts, led by Republican sympathizers, can find such arguments on both sides acceptable for they cannot in good conscience bring themselves to declare law upon the actual social reality as opposed to carefully and cleverly drafted legislation.

Of course, few lawyers or judges could care less that the actual, the jural source, of law is never the written form of it but rather the shared notions of responsibility that require protection and that are these days thought to be reasonably summarized in positive statements on paper. But then, what law school worthy of its heritage would teach students to stand up for law as opposed to the Southern doctrine of self-interest without regard for responsibility? Few legal codes in the world have stressed in writing the responsibilities that ground the ulterior objectives against killing and so forth, and of their consequences that both are in writing. That is why so many feared, correctly, back when written law became the vogue. But written law was ultimately necessary if only because the powerful could influence others to enforce interpretations never intended by the culture, whence written law was intended to put an end to that. Out of the pan into the fire: for the powerful never cease to intrigue for their own benefit.

As witness after witness took the stand in the Zimmerman trial, you saw the calm, cool and determined expression of a cultural agency, an ideology that Southerners bring into all aspects of life regardless whether the law permits it or not. No, the South hasn't changed all that much. Witnesses were all the more stolid in supporting the Southern life-style when the country's loud declamations against the police for not arresting him were thought to mean that a Southern jurisdiction had relented to (Northern) demands that were then defended against as if Yankees had come down to teach Southerners a lesson. Last time that happened in a big way was, well, that Civil War business.

There are two lessons here, neither of which will soon be acknowledge let alone addressed. The first is that cultural behavior has to be better understood for what it is and is not, and how far its extremities can be tolerated without frankly breaking the law. The second is with the legal system itself, lately permeated by the agenda of Republicans hell-bent on having their own laws, whether on the books that disfranchise millions of rights, of off the books, where they can lead their faux aristocratic life-style even while poor and getting poorer, both spiritually and materialistically.

Of course, while we opine upon these finer points, we must always observe the good in everybody so far as is reasonable. The South is justly known for its hospitality (to fellow Southerners at least). They live the doctrine of honor which redounds most of all to self-repute and other-repute. This is why they could care less about other people's laws. By the same token, it affords them a liberty many liberal Northerners will not embrace, one that allows aspects of reality to be taken stock of -- out from behind blankets of political correctness. There is a reason why Republicans have always been the party of business; this endeavor requires not merely steadfastness and enterprise, but a sterling respect for reality, the same reality that requires protection of the border from villains and gangs and drug lords as also from illegal immigrants (so-called).

Liberals would do well to heed these last words no less than requesting Southerners to be more respectful of democratic rule while taking ripe advantage of its opportunities. The way many Southerners think and act I am reminded of some Arab folks who took similar advantage some years ago and caused 9-11. The Southern gamesmanship and cowboy capitalism that has pervaded American business caused a world-wide financial catastrophe. Sooner or later, this country must learn the lesson that law and society have to come to grips with basic responsibilities, nearly all the important ones of which are embraced by the stewardship of offices.

The progress of dignity that grounds American law and religion and denominates our culture over-all, is best seen alongside the gradual death of English law, a process in three stages, each further facilitated in American hands. The first thing to be trashed was the "form of action", the one written statement attempting to fully express their unwritten constitution, and that stood a chance of getting true jural concepts into a charge meeting tests of standing: "The possibility of obtaining relief, then, depended on the plaintiff's ability to fit his grievance into one of the available writs." -- meaning, a n explication of legal relevance and significance both private and public. This recitation likewise commanded the assent of the judge (who today accedes to a modern devolution of strategies rarely reflective of law, dignity or justice). Had this old form been utilized in the Zimmerman trial the prosecutor's job, and that of the jury, would have been expedited.

The second process was the demise of bailment law, which was in fact (if not in those words) the law of the offices, and would encompass what passes today for tort law. It defined, and was easily amenable to, form-of-action categorizing of what today are meaninglessly amorphous variations upon negligence. A correctly administered resurrection of bailment law would recognize the stewardship of offices as did the early law, while specifying sub-types, necessary to bring astoundingly clear and effectual forms of action by which to restrain lawyers and judges from their favorite flavors of nonsense. Had we these simple straightforward guides we would not be suffering under either a healthcare crisis or a financial crisis, for neither would have progressed beyond the first challenges to miscreants: where courts would actually rule on real harms resulting from real stewardship violations, rather than politely cowing and caving to power lawyers arguing the saintliness of all things corporate.

The final process is the desuetude of equity jurisdiction under the fear of those in power that it would mean a loss of control and/or income. Geez, they'd have to settle for tens of millions instead of hundreds. Gotta feel sorry for the people who don't feel at all sorry for anything or anyone but themselves. And the law, by ditching equity, ditched stewardship and principles of unjust enrichment at the same time. The powerful are now in a reign of terror and there is nothing in regulation or law remaining to stop them. Now ask yourselves what this portends.

The dignity underscoring our culture used to be the dignity inherent in our legal idioms and adages. The loss of forms of action, bailment law and equity were the rock on which that dignity took its stability and durability. Given dignity's weakness as expressed through the legal system, there was little reason to believe that a Southern trial would reflect such over local principles ones flying in the face of dignity, reliant instead on a self-serving honor of the very worst sort. We would prefer a return to "true' honor, which worshiped responsibilities and was the original birth-mother of all the professions, from police departments to legal institutions to medicine and religion and education and beyond. You wouldn't know it these days. It's time to go backwards a bit and reclaim what has been lost -- nothing less than the true fabric of our dignity.

The Zimmerman trial is not merely a reminder that the South hasn't changed; it is a still more worrisome reminder at how much the nation as a whole has changed. Dignity is being undermined by false honor, the same that pokes through the clouds when a zealous agenda-pusher wastes an innocent black boy. All in the world George Zimmerman did was desire credibility and repute -- honor -- from his friends and neighbors. There wasn't much else he might do, being something of a wastrel in the mental sense of that term. But in the Southern agenda he saw a way to shine, and those who saw the same way came to his defense at court.

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Mr. Herrman is a liberal philosopher specializing in structural metaphysics, where he develops methodologies enabling him to derive valid and verifiable answers not only in matters of the ontology of reality, but also in real-world concerns for (more...)
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