Provincial Letters

Far from the mad crowds of the city, Blaise Pascal passed comment on the strange behaviour of this urban contemporaries in his Provincial Letters. The connection between them and this blog is somewhat tenuous.

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Location: Grimsby, N E Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

My star sign in Superstition. And I didn't believe in reincarnation last time, either. The only thing I can't tolerate is intolerance. I am a fanatical ant-fanaticist. I am bigotted only where bigots are concerned. I am a fundamentalist atheist. I'm proud to be a product of evolution; I know it in my genes.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Posted @ 23:17Letter II

2nd March, 2007

Dear J,

Another month has come and the world doesn't get any saner. Not that I really expected it — not that anyone should seriously expect it. It's probably not less sane, but that's debatable; we'll just have to all struggle on and hope we all get through the experience without too many bruises and as few broken parts as possible. With so many events in the last couple of weeks it's difficult to stay away from commenting on particular events rather than sticking — as I intend — to more general considerations. Please excuse any of my lapses in this regard, sometimes the events of the day do get under my skin.

So, what is it, outside the contents of the news reports, that has got under this bee's bonnet just recently? It would be nice to tie my subject to some, singular object or happening. But this can't always be, so we'll dive right in.

But, perhaps, let's start from the news that the couple who were charged with poisoning their foster-child with salt have had their convictions overturned. One phrase in particular has stuck in my mind from the reports, the wife's comment that "the case will be decided by 12 people who don't really know us". Her point seemed to be that, if the jury really knew them, then all this evidence stuff would be unnecessary; that facts were far less important than the personality of the people involved. Such attitudes appear to be more and more common these days: that guilt or innocence could be more swiftly determined by simply knowing the people concerned better; that people who are "nice" don't commit crimes, only "nasty" people do.

I've found this attitude in many guises. One of the favourite protestations against the being prosecuted for exceeding the speed limit is that the police should be "catching real criminals". A further manifestation is the idea that the police always know who committed a given crime but are prevented by manipulative, greedy and immoral defence lawyers. And, there's the idea that I've heard expressed that the police should "have let me off, because it's not as if I do it all the time".

I'm very, very worried about the growth of this idea. Justice is seen as simply a matter of catching — and punishing — all the bad guys, no matter what, It doesn't matter how you get them, so long as you get them. But, on the other side of the coin, people seem to expect the police to accept a smile and a "nice" demeanour as sufficient evidence against their involvement. It seems to me that there is a widespread belief that spotting the guilty is blindingly obvious and we shouldn't have to prove it particularly rigorously — but that doesn't apply to me, of course, because I'm a generally nice person.

We may be moving into an age where the process of justice is no longer a matter of proof but one of vague supposition; where the very fact that you are the sort of person who might have committed the crime is enough to get you imprisoned for it. And lawyers: all they're good for is corporate, business law.

I suppose it's a matter of debate whether the world wants to be like this. It's probably also not for me to stop it if that's the way it wants to go. But such resignation to the inevitability of the rise of the selfish state, doesn't — and can't — make me like it.

Take care, love,



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