I’m having a paranoia moment. My bank statement teems with bits of data and numbers I don’t recognize. Are they important? Are they dangerous in the wrong hands? My impulse is to redact the whole thing save for the relevant bits of data (identifying name and balance) except that a) that’s a lot of toner and b) I’m not sure which marks and numbers identify this statement as authentically coming from my bank. And then, would adversarial lawyers successfully convince the judge that my redactions indicate I’m hiding something?

Really, I’m terrified of people being as I’ve seen people behave, e.g. I know Frank. A little sleazy but a good trustworthy fellow. I don’t know who this other guy is and poor people are always trying to work the system for another free lunch. Frank probably right and good and this guy is probably lying. News comes in almost daily of multiple judges making poor rulings based on who they like, or who they know, or because someone is a police officer, or because someone is an unfamiliar minority, or because the judge holds stock in the defendant and didn’t recuse himself based on vested interests. We have a deluge of anecdotal evidence that judges, even the allegedly wise old guys who are put into position for their alleged wisdom, are really incompetent at wisely adjudicating. (We don’t have stats.)

I don’t have faith the system is going to be impartial and fair, because I’m used to systems that are not impartial and fair. And yes, that is because I’m blind to, and take for granted, the countless systems I use every day that are completely impartial and fair, and sometimes even generous. And while I can respect that I live in a society in which most things work most of the time, the justice system in the United States is not one of them, and we do take for granted that it allegedly works when it doesn’t. (Our notoriously high incarceration rate presents a strong indicator that we like to throw people in prison. And then there’s the continuous flow of — again anecdotal — heinous, often fatal, abuses of inmates in prison by guards and administrators.) But we have no choice in the matter but to capitulate to the justice system, or be outlawed and hunted when we don’t.

I think a working justice system is a thing the people should be able to take for granted in a functional society, much like we should be able to take for granted the air we breathe in a functional ecology.

And I know I’m being dysfunctional because I’ve actually talked to the person adjudicating my case, and this really is a shoe in. If there’s a paperwork problem she’s not going to whack down a gavel and tell me I lose. She’ll inform me of the discrepancy and give me time to fix it. This is not a paperwork filing contest, but an effort to show I qualify for a hardship excuse (which I do to a ridiculous extent). Even if I’m incompetent at filing paperwork (which I may be given conflicting orders of how this all should be filed.)

That becomes a problem when dysfunction prevents me from filing.

I’ve been bitten a whole bunch, so I’m super-duper shy. Notably, most of those bites come from a childhood of unjust adults who favored adjudication that was convenient to them rather than actually just. This has lead to a history of undeserved punishments, of getting preyed on by my peers while authorities refused to act, and numerous agreements with adults that were ignored once I did my half. And the institutions told me I could tell them and they’d do something about it and I believed them.

The end result in this case, is a grown up person who finds compelling the notion that fairness cannot be found in human systems, because humans. Because (as I’m compelled to feel) humans in authority cannot mean well for others: they can only adjudicate for what they personally want. And when that comes down to (typically) being left alone, it can end up meaning massacring the belligerents to preserve the peace.

This might be why the police and many Christian churches behave as if they can only trust their respective flocks when everyone has a gun to his head. Maybe they don’t trust people either.

I do think we could do better. We can be better. I chose to trust and risk betrayal. Again. Despite my impulse to just hide in a bunker. (Having real bad-guys to spite helps.) But if my childhood is exemplary of how our adults regard our kids (and news continues to come in that it’s exactly what is happening), then that is the message we’re delivering to our babies. Screw fair play: Reciprocity is for chumps.

For right now, though, I want to just get this paperwork done so that I can stop being anxious about it. Sometimes being crazy and overwhelmed is frustrating.

Clarification: Problem Machine made an observation by which I realized there are multiple, separate meanings for the verb to take something for granted and I used one in a confusing way.

One meaning, the one I meant when referring to the US Justice System and taking it for granted, is to presume that the system will work the way it’s supposed to when called upon. In the case of the justice system, this would mean that the court would be adjudicate impartially and produce a fair result regardless of social standing, resources or reputation.

However, to take the US Justice system for granted can also mean to presume that it will work and continue to work without maintenance or oversight, which is a thing we do here in the US — At least our maintenance and oversight of the US Justice System has been insufficient to prevent it from becoming riddled over time with incidents of corruption. — I didn’t intend to suggest our people should be able to expect a justice system to not degrade, though one could argue that our Constitutional framers didn’t realize it would, or that they felt it would degrade slowly enough to be caught and fixed by future generations…or that reform by revolution, probably via the blood of patriots and tyrants is inevitable

All systems, including bureaucratic ones are subject to deterioration over time, and the Justice system is just as susceptible to Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy as any other.


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