Tessa is the teenage daughter of a professional couple known vaguely to me through the social network of a friend. A poolside announcement during a gathering last weekend that Tessa had decided to follow her father into law was greeted with congratulatory cooings and nods of approval by those present – at least, that is what I am told by an impeccably reliable source (happily, I was otherwise committed on that day and was not among the recipients of the glad tidings).
That Tessa’s abysmal career choice was applauded is hardly mysterious; once qualified in law, a rosy financial future is virtually secured, ladies in law are commonly glamourised in highly rating tv dramas, and reflex reference to ‘doctors and lawyers’ as status professions is globally commonplace. What parents would not be pleased at the prospect of their kids taking on law?
Hmm – maybe those who, like me, view lawyers as a particularly loathsome breed undeserving of their elevated social status and surreally inflated remuneration. With some inevitable and, I suspect, relatively rare exceptions, it seems to me that a moral lobotomy is a pre-requisite for the successful practice of law. I jest not.
As with politics and business, success in law demands a rewiring of the brain, a moral recoding processed gradually through years of study and exposure to the legal system. Why? Because successful legal practice is about victory in the courts (or preferably, out of them), not serving justice or maintaining personal integrity; a blinkered focus on winning, in which fact is often regarded merely as a bothersome incidental to the main game, is vital to the lawyer’s shady art. Lofty notions of justice sit awkwardly in the legal world, where success depends on strategy, presentation, exploitation of loopholes, and manipulation of perceptions of “the truth”, rather than the truth itself – in essence, spin.
What is a lawyer if not a wigged spin doctor, practising an art that is frequently malicious in its intent, focusing on touching up or concealing anything that might reflect badly on the client while seeking to discredit the opposition in whatever way possible, regardless of truth or fact, in the interests not of justice, but of court victory and professional reputation?
Yet, despite the sleazy reality of legal practice, daily observation of the law in action while working as a court monitor for a transcript firm left me with the impression that somehow justice prevails in our courts most of the time. The great casualty of law as it is practised today is humanity.
Like generals musing on their strategies in the comfort of war rooms far removed from the blood and stench of the battlefield and the fear and suffering of their pawns, lawyers develop a puppet master mentality, becoming uncaring of, if not oblivious to, their power to hurt and destroy. Their art is essentially reductive and thereby inherently lacking in humanity (which is by nature admitting of the complex): they seek to paint their cases black and white, to make their side all right, and the opposition all wrong. Their mission is to search and destroy. There is no room for humanity in that.
The personal toll of power is self-righteousness, pomposity and a bloated ego. And since society rewards its powerful with ridiculously outsized incomes and privileged status, they begin to believe that they are, indeed, superior beings, with the right – if not the duty – to sit in judgement of others, and where possible, impose their will for ‘the public good’ (which equates, naturally, with their vision of how things should be).
This dysfunctional mindset is not confined to lawyers, of course – it is viral and epidemic, and in my observations, especially rife amongst politicians (notice how many come from legal backgrounds?). Corporate management, gangster organisations and religious zealots are equally afflicted.
Scratch any tyrant, from dominatrix matriarch controlling her family through subtle manipulations and emotional blackmail to dictators whose levers are guns and propaganda, and the same mindset will be found. It is the mindset of the powerful and those who jealously guard their power, whether that power resides in a family, a court, a government, a fundamentalist religious group, a terrorist organisation. And it is ultimately morally corruptive in nature.
Which brings me back to Peter Garrett’s turnaround on US bases in Australia (the subject of my previous blog entry). Political party machines attempt to present an image of party unity to the electorate, because in unity is strength and policy cohesion, and that’s what the punters go for – focused, of course, in the party leadership. We can’t handle dissent. Keep it simple for us simple folk out here. We need to know what we’re voting for, right?
Well, maybe not. I don’t think I’m the only one out here who is heartily sick of political spin. I’m sick of politicians not answering direct questions directly, of people like Garrett forfeiting his right to express his true opinion to protect his place in the ALP and advance the party’s chances of triumphing at the next election under a united banner, even if that unity is a ruse. I’m sick of people like Howard and Ruddock who take the high moral ground with righteous lawyer-speak about observing due legal process on issues such as David Hicks’ disgraceful treatment, which is surely now an humanitarian concern above all else. I’m sick of having the world presented to me in black and white by lawyer leadership that is all about presentation and propaganda and nothing about truth and humanity.
Bin Laden is not the enemy. Neither is Bush. The real enemy is the lawyer mindset that demonises one side and deifies the other, unmindful and uncaring of integrity and honour. Therein beats the heart of the terrorist that is the true enemy of humanity.