The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, July 30, 2005

LAWYERS AND HORSES: There is, unfortunately, no known scientific rationale, no appeal to the ordered logic of Mendelian genetics, the somewhat less ordered logic of Freudian psychology, the rigor of Darwinian natural selection, or even to some Durkheimian examination of the sociological origins of societal phenomena, which adequately explains why children of perfectly respectable parents choose to become lawyers. To knowingly and of one's own free will enter such a universally despised profession is something beyond the grasp of most rational human beings. One can understand, even sympathize, with an honorable man compelled by some dreadful concatenation of social and economic forces to become a criminal, or of a virtuous woman forced into concubinage to feed her family, but to actually want to be a lawyer strikes the disinterested observer as an unnatural and degenerate perversion somewhat akin to the compulsion to sell term life insurance to dwarves.

Whence this sudden need to practice law? Practicing before the bar is certainly remunerative, as is practicing behind the bar, especially on long weekends and before certain sporting events, but so are bank robbery, swindling old ladies out of their savings, and pandering, and these come without the personal obloquy that attaches itself, and rightfully so, to the practice of law. For some of these poor, unfortunate wretches passing the bar exam is the first step down a long and shameful road that leads to self-loathing, familial disgrace, and, horror of horrors, politics, the practice of which besmirches even the finest of reputations and leads inexorably to corruption, incarceration, and Congress.

One must wonder, given the heartbreak attendant to the subject, why anyone would study law when there are so many other, more useful subjects one can study. Life's syllabus groans under the weight of everything from African-American anthropology to the social history of Zen zymurgy in New Zealand and its effects on that nation's foreign policy, which are honorable and useful pursuits, benefiting humanity as a whole and at the end of the day providing the practitioner with a sense of having contributed, in some small measure, to the betterment of their community. A lawyer, by contrast, must make do with the feeling that, having had a major role in the making of society's rules, they have found new and innovative ways of helping their clients circumvent the very rules other lawyers helped create in the first place. The negative effects of this, on both a personal and societal level, are shocking.

If there were only a few of these intellectual pretzel makers, and I apologize to all real pretzel makers for using their ancient and honorable profession in this metaphor, then perhaps the rest of us would not mind their presence so much. All human societies, and many non-human societies as well, keep, for reasons best known to themselves, a class of parasites that feed off the host species. In beehives there are drones; sharks have remora; humans have lawyers when there are no civil servants available. But we have gone beyond what any host body can support; this country is plagued with an epidemic of lawyers. At last report there were more lawyers making and breaking the laws of this country than there are police officers to enforce those laws. No good can come of such a situation, what with tens of thousands of lawyers inventing new rules and then suing when some poor dolt does what his common sense tells him to do, not knowing that common sense is a poor substitute for having a lawyer. And so people and institutions must take steps to protect themselves from the ravenous flock of lawyers circling high above waiting for a chance to pounce on the poor would-be defendant. The differences between now and almost any period not awash with lawyers are easy to document.

Once upon a time, when luxuriant Republican beards and their teetotaling wives occupied the White House and there were no unclean ideals in the land, most public libraries, to use a familiar example, did not have to put up signs telling the public not to do things they should have the good sense to know not to do in the first place. These were times, for instance, when librarians did not have to put up signs saying, No Bicycle Riding in the Library, in the library’s front windows; the staff of that innocent time simply assumed, in their naïve way, that the public would know without being told that the nonfiction stacks were an altogether inappropriate venue for such an activity in the first place, and that secondly, no member of the bicycling public would want to ride a bicycle in the nonfiction stacks when the municipal solons provided paved streets for them to ride their bicycles on.

This golden age is now one with Nineveh and Tyre now, of course, succeeded by an age of dross in which the library must attempt to control every niggling detail of the public’s behavior. This largely futile effort necessitates a huge increase in signage everywhere that the eye can see, signs warning about the ill effects of this or that activity, until every square inch of wall space is covered with warnings for fear some bicycling enthusiast with more pedal power than brains should attempt to turn the reference area into a sporting venue and injure themselves whilst doing jumps over the Oxford English Dictionary, a scenario which quickly leads to the lawyer’s office and the courtroom in our litigious times. And the ban itself is causing some issues here; is banning bicycling riding a blatant act of transportational discrimination? The library, after all, does not ban roller-skating, skateboarding, wind surfing, pogo sticks, or racehorses inside the building; why then the emphasis on the hapless bicyclist?

As a civil rights issue I don’t think that this has much merit, although I would like to see Shetland pony races around and through the fiction stacks. The betting proceeds would ease the burden on the local taxpayers and as we are much closer to the great metropolis than Saratoga is, for example, library horse racing would make an ideal family outing for the jaded city dweller who doesn’t have the time or the energy to make a day trip up to Saratoga to play the ponies. And the library could clean up, figuratively and monetarily, by selling the manure off to local gardeners. Anything is possible, you know, if you just put your mind to it.


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