Monday, April 6, 2009

Presumption of guilt

I wonder if "The Trial" that Kafka wrote about was allegorical, a story of his inner life. Now I'm hesitant to reference him, because I find I'm not sure: was the Trial always pending? In the story was he actually on trial, or was he merely awaiting it as he tried in vain to discover what the charges even were?

A good deal of my life has been within a trial context. I've been the police (a 24 hr guard I imposed on myself in attempt to preempt any transgressions, or at least intervene before anyone else felt they had to: to even have my behavior corrected was cause for great shame.), prosecutor, judge. I've even been a (weak) defense attorney. Evidence is presented, and attempts to cast doubt on witnesses for my defense are employed. To prejudice an already prejudiced jury. Motives are examined minutely.

I've wanted to fire my defense attorney, who seems befuddled and fragmented in his (I call it 'he'? ???) thinking and can't present coherently a reasoned argument. I need him to convince a jury, and he seems unable.

It just now occurs to me that the field has so been tipped toward guilty that it doesn't really matter what the defense attorney comes up with. I'm imagining a field so tipped that the witnesses on my behalf, and my attorney, and I are clinging to it , even dangling from it. Something has never quite let me just let go, though, and completely believe the accusations. Still, it's kind of hard living suspended like this, amid the fears that maybe the accusations are in fact, true.

To be moving toward a life that's on a more level playing field brings a chorus of objections:

"Without the presumption of guilt you will run amok! You'll throw your weight around! You'll be a bully! You won't meet your obligations to your friends and family! You'll be abusive! You'll absolve yourself from your own mistakes and give yourself permission to do and say stuff that you'd think unforgivably rude if other people did it!"

As if I have a gorilla, or a Ms. Hyde in a closet somewhere that this presumption of guilt is employed to keep restrained.

What a curious thing; presumption of guilt as an organizing principle of a personal universe. It seems almost as fundamental as whatever mysterious forces are the organizing principle of the particles of matter that make up our physical universe.

How in the world do you undo that?

What are your underlying principles? How do you see the world and how do your own underpinnings influence that?

I'm very curious.

3 comments:

niobe said...

This is all so familiar. Though I presume that everyone -- not just me -- is guilty. Or if they're not guilty yet, it's only because they haven't had sufficient motive and opportunity.

Lori said...

"Without the presumption of guilt you will run amok! You'll throw your weight around! You'll be a bully! You won't meet your obligations to your friends and family! You'll be abusive! You'll absolve yourself from your own mistakes and give yourself permission to do and say stuff that you'd think unforgivably rude if other people did it!"

I find this fascinating, because this sounds like a trust issue. That the defendant is not someone to be trusted. That the defendant is inherently bad and must have her badness curbed at every turn.

Shed this belief. You are decent and good at your core. You are caring and compassionate and connected to others. Don't fire the defense attorney -- fire the guard. Free this innocent woman.

But you asked how, not what.

That, my shame-laden kin, I can't help you with.

Sadly!

Anonymous said...

I do not see everyone as guilty. Instead I tend to give everyone (except myself) the benefit of the doubt--I can understand or explain most transgressions.