Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Trust And Justice - Part Two"

It all changed with the move to the cities.

That’s what I was talking about yesterday.  Unfortunately, I got bogged down on “trust” and I never made it “justice”, so I shall continue with that today.  Incidentally, this is exactly the way they originally planned Law & Order to be broadcast, one day, “Law” and the next day, “Order.”  So I am following in the footsteps of (tied with Gunsmoke) the longest-running series in television.  Rather than stretching one blog post into two.

Okay:  History Time.

In the late eighteenth century, only one out of twenty Americans lived in a big city (defined back then as a municipality with over 5000 inhabitants), meaning, if my subtraction skills have not deserted me, that 19 out of twenty Americans lived in rural/agricultural areas.  (It is reassuring to know I can still do things that I did when I was seven.  That was a long time ago.)

The Industrial Revolution encouraged the demographic relocation to the cities.  By 1870, one in four Americans were residing in urban areas.  By 1920, it was one in two, and in the 2000’s, it is four out of five.  (This hegira from the hinterlands was propelled by more than just the Industrial Revolution.  There was also the question of, as my brother once pithily put it,  “How’re ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen the farm?”)

With the massive move from the country to the city came a commensurate change in rights and expectations.  (Writer’s Note:  I am aware that though I am sounding professorial here, I am making all of this up.  But that does not necessarily mean it’s wrong.  For me, it is merely an alternate process of understanding, thinking about things rather than learning about them.  The two may not hold equal weight; writing that sentence made me somewhat queasy myself.  Anyway, think along with me, and see if it makes sense.)

Tillers of the soil throughout history, it seems to me, required families to participate as a cooperative economic unit, every member contributing to the benefit, wellbeing and, it is not overly dramatic to say, survival of that family.

The objective was to make it to the following year, and, to that end, everyone pulled their own weight. The males performed the more demanding physical chores, and the women managed the “home front” and risked their lives having babies, which they often did in substantial numbers, less perhaps because they loved children than because each offspring was a welcome addition to that family economic unit’s labor force. 

Aside from the occasional “Mom and Pop” grocery store, the move to the city blew the family economic unit into oblivion.  The kids may have helped out after school and on weekends, but mostly they were studying, preparing themselves for careers that would liberate them from the family economic unit forever.

It is not surprising to me that women’s suffrage demands escalated with the move to the Big City.  On the farm, the “head of the household” – yes, it was a man – inevitably voted in the economic best interests of the farm.  But, had they not been disenfranchised, can you imagine a woman voting against the economic best interests of the farm? 

Giving women the vote earlier would have simply doubled the “farm vote.”  But with the migration to the city, independent adult women demanded the right to vote in their individual economic best interests.  It was now entirely reasonable for women to have the vote.  (Plus, women being people, it was also the right thing to do.)

As mentioned yesterday, the move to an urban arena of strangers obliterated any sense of inter-relational trust, which in rural communities was developed through one’s direct experience with people you knew and grew up with.  Now you were negotiating with unknown quantities.  Is there any reason that should make you feel comfortable?

“Can I trust you?”

“Of course.”

“Well that’s good to hear.  But I’m still not so sure.”

Urbanization also blew up cultural homogeneity.  People from the same place have similar backgrounds, generating similar understandings and expectations.  And here we arrive (finally) at the issue of justice.

In my view, in the big cities housing citizens with widely diverse backgrounds and therefore understandings and expectations the idea of a “jury of your peers” makes considerably less sense that it did when nineteen out of twenty of us lived on a farm.

“Jury of your peers” generates from a worthy intention, this enlightened principle of law being substantially more just and democratic than, “the laird decides and we follow his bidding, often to the noosey end of a rope.”  But “Jury of your peers” presupposes a premise that made sense when it was instituted, a time when the jury pool was made up of similarly acculturated members of the community.  In big cities, such cultural homogeneity simply does not exist.

Instead of doing what I might propose – which is to assemble panels of actual peers to pass judgment on their comrades – today, fearing prejudice, potential jurors with a background in the proceedings under adjudication are often peremptorily dismissed from serving on those juries.

“It would appear you know something about what we’re talking about here. Excused!

I say,

Let gang members judge gang members.  Those guys “get” it.

“Yes, we can be nasty.  But that dude definitely crossed the line.”

Let accountants judge accountants.

“The defendant’s bookkeeping is indecipherable.  And I am not talking about his handwriting.”

Let police officers judge police officers.

“’Profiling’ is not always easy to determine.  But ‘Face down and spread ‘em, you despicable Muslim Towelhead!’ kinda lets it out of the bag.”

Let doctors judge doctors.

“The man got straight “C’s” in medical school.  I’m surprised the patient’s still alive.” 

And let murderers judge murderers.

“‘Premeditated Attempted Murder’ – I guess it’s possible.  If he didn’t 'premeditate' good enough.”

This proposal will never happen.  America loves its traditions.  Even when they no longer make sense.  In rural days, it was,

“Oh, yah.  He’d steal a heifer.”

Today, it’s

“How should I know?”

And yet we are still asked to decide.

The move to the big cities changed everything.

Though, with many of our longstanding institutions, we are still required to behave like it didn’t.


Anonymous said...

Not to nitpick, but:
Gunsmoke had 635 episodes over twenty years, while Law & Order only had 456. Tied? I think not.

Canda said...

It's ironic that Detroit is now considering leveling much of their abandoned housing and creating agricultural areas where they'll grow food.

Please read "Last Call", by Daniel Okrent, about how prohibition started. One of the things the prohibitionists wanted was to push for the women's vote, knowing that women understood how alcohol led to domestic violence, and how their husbands' wages were being lost at the corner saloon.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Urbanization is only one factor. Mobility is an even more important one; in all directions, not just toward urban centers. If you look at Agatha Christie's early-to-mid-career books, you'll see that the big thing she capitalized on was that after World War I (and II) the stability of those small villages began breaking down. When someone new arrived they didn't (as she often writes) now bring with them letters of introduction; instead they'd show up and tell their own stories, and you had no reference point telling you what to believe. You had to take them at their own valuation - and so her books have a lot in them about identity theft and learning to read character accurately, problems that have arisen again in a new form on the Internet, where you may not have the real-life context to accurately place the person you're corresponding with. That all has benefits, of course, in giving people who would fail the old tests a chance, but as you say it opens up difficulties as well.