The great balance

“Detectives and prison guards need criminals, social workers require that people should continue to be poor; there are, in short, many workers with a vested interest in the failure of institutions that employ them, and in the insolubility of problems they are paid to solve. The perfect instance occurs in the narcotics laws. A substance, cheap to manufacture, is addictive. It is outlawed. Being outlawed, it becomes rare and expensive. Immediately, and for the first time, it becomes profitable for someone, the seller, to make people addicted to it. The law generates a criminal apparatus which in turn generates a law-enforcement apparatus. With time, their personnel become the same.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark

Minuets at the ball of confusion

“The essential storytellers at the drab, frightening, but sometimes heroic, poetic hearth that is the court are, not the lawyers or the judge at all, but the plaintiff, the defendant, and their witnesses. And these, these almost never understand what is being asked of them, what answers are permitted, what is the point of what is being asked. And nobody in this place, least of all that strange audience that is the jury, understands this incomprehension. Just when plaintiff, defendant, or witness thinks he or she has the hang of it, begins to reply, sometimes, triumphantly, sarcastically, in what he or she takes to be the lawyers’ language, there is objection after objection from interrupting lawyers, reprimands from judges.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark

Injunction junction

“Even if I know to a virtual certainty that someone is about to commit what is, quite technically and literally, an illegal act, even a crime, I cannot normally persuade the courts to let me argue that he should be enjoined from going through with it. ‘A man must act somehow,’ Justice Holmes, quite often though by no means always cruel in his decisions, said; and our system favors leaving people free to act. If they choose to act illegally, they simply face the consequences of having done so. So, in one sense, every law is simply a codified injunction to prevent everyone from doing the illegal thing; while what are called injunctions are more rare, more narrow, more particular: this neighbor shall not build this dam this high lest his neighbor suffer the immediate and irreparable harm of being drowned.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark

What’s at stake

“In the law, as in everything, excellence is rare and often anonymous. And, in the law, as in almost everything, everything is stories. Under the American Constitution, in fact, everything is required to be, at heart, a story. That is the meaning of the phrase ‘cases and controversies,’ which is what, alone, the Constitution empowers the courts to consider. The courts may not, that is, consider abstractions, generalizations, even hypothetical cases; they may not render what are called ‘advisory opinions’ as to the legality of any possible situation or contemplated act. The courts may only consider concrete, instant cases that actually, concretely come before them—and even those cases can be brought only by those who have ‘standing’ to bring them, in other words, by the actual participants, with the most vital and demonstrable interest in the case. I may not bring suit, in short, because I think someone has done some injury to my neighbor. Only my neighbor himself can bring that suit. So what comes before the court is of necessity, and constitutionally obliged to be, a story; and the only ones permitted to bring the story to the courts’ attention, the only storytellers, are the ones to whom the story happened, whom the facts befell.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark

It hasn’t happened

“There never was a scheme against which objections might not be raised. But this alone is not a sufficient reason for rejection. The only line to judge truly upon, is, to draw out and admit all the objections which can fairly be made, and place against them all the contrary qualities, conveniences and advantages, then by striking a balance you come at the true character of any scheme, principle or position.” – Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”

Iraq and Ukraine furnish recent examples

“If there is a sin superior to every other, it is that of wilful and offensive war. Most other sins are circumscribed within narrow limits, that is, the power of one man cannot give them a very great extension, and many kinds of sins have only a mental existence from which no infection arises; but he who is the author of a war, lets loose the whole contagion of hell, and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death.” – Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis” (emphasis in original)

One would think

“When we take a survey of mankind, we cannot help cursing the wretch, who, to the unavoidable misfortunes of nature, shall wilfully add the calamities of war. One would think there were evils enough in the world without studying to increase them, and that life is sufficiently short without shaking the sand that measures it.” – Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”

Well, most do

“Mankind are not universally agreed in their determination of right and wrong; but there are certain actions which the consent of all nations and individuals hath branded with the unchangeable name of meanness. In the list of human vices we find some of such a refined constitution, they cannot be carried into practice without seducing some virtue to their assistance; but meanness hath neither alliance nor apology. It is generated in the dust and sweepings of other vices, and is of such a hateful figure that all the rest conspire to disown it.” – Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis” (emphases in original)

Hammer them into shape

“A substantial good drawn from a real evil, is of the same benefit to society, as if drawn from a virtue; and where men have not public spirit to render themselves serviceable, it ought to be the study of government to draw the best use possible from their vices. When the governing passion of any man, or set of men, is once known, the method of managing them is easy; for even misers, whom no public virtue can impress, would become generous, could a heavy tax be laid upon covetousness.” – Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”

Give them an inch

“There is a bastard kind of generosity, which being extended to all men, is as fatal to society, on one hand, as the want of true generosity is on the other. A lax manner of administering justice, falsely termed moderation, has a tendency both to dispirit public virtue, and promote the growth of public evils.” – Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”

Good luck with that

“It is a much pleasanter task to prevent vice than to punish it, and, however our tempers may be gratified by resentment, or our national expenses eased by forfeited estates, harmony and friendship is, nevertheless, the happiest condition a country can be blest with.” – Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”

The map of memory

“Were a man to be totally deprived of memory, he would be incapable of forming any just opinion; every thing about him would seem a chaos: he would have even his own history to ask from every one; and by not knowing how the world went in his absence, he would be at a loss to know how it ought to go on when he recovered, or rather, returned to it again. In like manner, though in a less degree, a too great inattention to past occurrences retards and bewilders our judgment in everything; while, on the contrary, by comparing what is past with what is present, we frequently hit on the true character of both, and become wise with very little trouble. It is a kind of counter-march, by which we get into the rear of time, and mark the movements and meaning of things as we make our return. There are certain circumstances, which, at the time of their happening, are a kind of riddles, and as every riddle is to be followed by its answer, so those kind of circumstances will be followed by their events, and those events are always the true solution. A considerable space of time may lapse between, and unless we continue our observations from the one to the other, the harmony of them will pass away unnoticed: but the misfortune is, that partly from the pressing necessity of some instant things, and partly from the impatience of our own tempers, we are frequently in such a hurry to make out the meaning of everything as fast as it happens, that we thereby never truly understand it; and not only start new difficulties to ourselves by so doing, but, as it were, embarrass Providence in her good designs.” – Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”

Men are so sensitive and fragile

“She [Olena Maksymenko] was angry. She trained to fight, but she told me that only women with the right connections were being allowed to do so. ‘If there is a choice between a woman with training and a man without, they will choose the man.’ Women like her, she complained, were being shunted into HQ paper-shuffling jobs or detailed to cook for soldiers.” – Tim Judah, In Wartime

Let’s hope they’re worthy

“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” – Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”

Another day at the office

“To live beneath the authority of those whom we cannot love, is misery, slavery, or what name you please. In that case, there will never be peace. Security will be a thing unknown, because a treacherous friend in power is the most dangerous of enemies.” – Thomas Paine, “The Forester’s Letters”