10 December 2013

The Idiot and Jury Duty: A Relection by Me, thetimman

Let me begin with a shout out to the fine seminarians of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest-- if you're reading this, you probably need to pray more and/or get back to work.

I salute them because one of them (who knows who he is) was kind enough to give me, with a very kind inscription, a copy of one of Dostoyevsky's masterpieces.

The Idiot.

Yes, I note the title, and I am aware of the possible application.

But I will say that I am not worthy of comparison to the eponymous hero of the book, as he is far too holy for me. He is God's holy fool, while I am merely an idiot.

I was given this book in June, but I haven't had the chance to tackle it until yesterday, when I was forced given the opportunity to serve jury duty. Being stranded in the pool, and otherwise having time on my hands, was, I thought, a good opportunity to get some heavier reading done. Right, Mother Crab?

Without giving away too much, Dostoyevsky's idea was to explore the reaction of people to the purely innocent man. I can easily analogize this to the jury venire pool. If we substitute the trial-by-jury system for the purely innocent man, you get an idea of human nature.

It always astounds me, as a lawyer, how a court process prompts all sorts of people to tell all kinds of embarrassing things about themselves, in great detail, without prompting, and without them being in the least material. This process, like the purely innocent man, is something so out of the ordinary-- understandable as an intellectual proposition, yet so alien and provocative-- that it evokes responses outside of our usual mode.

Also common is the I Walked on the Moon phenomenon (credit to Brian Regan). No matter what another juror says they did, there is a person who has to outdo them. You got arrested? Oh yeah? Well, I was executed. And the memory of my death continues to haunt me to this day.

Then there is the groupthink that occurs when one person makes a particular statement, scads of others agree. There seems to me to be a sort of need to achieve a normal, or typical response. Over time the answers of the prospective jurors become extremely similar. Safety in numbers.

Over all of this is the sense (admittedly anecdotal) that there could no longer be a Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men figure to ensure a level of moral or intellectual fortitude to offset these tendencies. A smell of petroleum pervades throughout.

Taking the whole thing in its entirety, I can only echo the observation of the guy sitting next to me: "What I've learned today is to never allow myself to be put in the position of being tried by a jury of my peers."

I blame Oprah.


Fr. Andrew said...

I just read Brothers Karamazov this summer. Will have to add this to my Christmas break reading list. Great comment: "never put myself in the position to be tried by a jury of my peers."

Christophe said...

Did you get kicked of the jury when they found out you had a blog?

MotherCrab said...

All the cool people read Dostoyevsky at jury duty.

A Ferguson said...

The book you should consider bringing with you next time is "Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Constitutional Action." It shows that the rituals of common service can meaningful if understood correctly, and that a faith in democracy can be inspirational.

dulac90 said...

And don't forget to vote!