Saturday, January 15, 2005

"Raising the Bar" as an Internet Consultant

Shortly after I bought my first house, I decided that I wanted to quit working for the engineering company where I was then working and start selling real estate for a living. After all, I was the one who did most of the work when I bought my first house, and there was nothing particularly difficult about it. And the idea of helping people become homeowners seemed like it would be rewarding work. Moreover, I was sort of a workaholic at the time, and the prospect of being self-employed was one that I found quite agreeable.

While studying for my real estate license exam, I quickly realized that what I really wanted to do was be a lawyer. After all, lawyers could do everything that a real estate broker could do and more, so being a real estate agent would probably be nothing more than a stepping stone to someday becoming a lawyer. Even so, becoming a lawyer meant going to law school full time for three years, and it took me quite some time to actually get around to it. In the meantime, many other business opportunities presented themselves until I eventually came to terms with the fact that it was time for me to go to law school.

I've written extensively about law school in a very popular FAQ that I compiled shortly after my graduation from King Hall Law School at UC Davis, so I won't go into too much detail about it here, other than to say that at the very end of my law school education I realized that I didn't want to become a lawyer anymore. Rather, I wanted to become an Internet consultant for attorneys. Even so, I was glad to have a law degree, as it was a credential that people truly respected, even if they didn't understand my predilection for working as an Internet consultant.

I have not entirely given up on the idea of actually opening up my own law office someday. During and after law school, I had a small taste of what this would be like by virtue of my work as a Certified Student Attorney for the King Hall Civil Rights Clinic and during the lean times when I did part-time, contract, and temporary work for various attorneys and law firms. However, if I do open up my own law office someday, it will be because I want to do so and not because of the enormous pressure to conform that once came from my family, friends, and peers, as well as from total strangers.

To a certain degree, I still feel this pressure to conform, but it is not as strong as it once was and nowhere near as constant. In fact, I often have to remind myself that I am not a lawyer by virtue of the fact that I speak the language of lawyers, and the lawyers with whom I work treat me as a colleague. I have also met my share of colleagues who, like me, have chosen not to practice law, finding their niches as corporate executives, politicians, and lobbyists. Even so, the niche that I fill as an Internet consultant is somewhat unique, and I have a very difficult time explaining myself to people who see the practice of law as the logical and inescapable result of a law school education.

In a previous blog post entitled What is the Law? I asserted that while we are supposed to live in a nation of laws in the United States, in reality we live in a nation of police, prosecutors, judges, and politicians who pretty much do what they want, the rule of law be damned. This viewpoint didn't quite crystallize for me until well after I graduated from law school and made the decision to become an Internet consultant. In the meantime, I saw for myself how some of the most cowardly and incompetent attorneys I met were also some of the most outwardly successful members of the legal profession. In time I realized that even the most noble and competent attorneys are also part of the problem because they validate a system that routinely denies justice to the vast majority of people who place their faith in that system.

Outside of television dramas, traffic stops are the most common encounters that John and Jane Q. Public have with "The Law." And John and Jane are usually the essence of cooperation when they are pulled over. Indeed, they are often strangely comforted by a traffic stop because it means that the police are hard at work keeping everyone in line. More recently, John and Jane have also been "comforted" by the cameras that purport to capture red light violators in flagrante delicto. The only problem is that quite a few innocent people are being convicted along with the guilty.

If it were just a matter of a few people paying an undeserved fine, an argument could be made that "the system," such as it is, is working within acceptable parameters. After all, how many times have you run a red light and *NOT* been caught. However, I have watched the so-called justice system at work, and I know that it routinely denies justice to the vast majority of people who put their faith in it. And as I stated previously, even the most noble and competent of attorneys are part of the problem. After all, how many cases can one attorney handle? And how many people will die waiting for help from one of these noble and competent attorneys? Meanwhile, there is no shortage of cowardly and incompetent attorneys whose only real skill is making false promises.

Facing the truth without panic, I realized that there was no chance that I could ever have an appreciable positive impact on the system if I were to work for reform as an attorney, no matter how successful I might become, and I am not at all comfortable with that truth. Rather, I hold out a spark of hope that as an Internet consultant I might be able to "raise the bar," both literally and figuratively, by selling my services to noble and competent attorneys. I think I definitely have my work cut out for me.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

What is the Law?

Most of my recent blog posts have focused on the nature of my religious beliefs and the relation of those beliefs to a wide variety of topics, including ethics, human sexuality, and science. By virtue of this post, I intend to effect a transition away from a focus on religious topics and towards a focus on the law. To this end, I intend to disambiguate various concepts that are referred to as law, laws or the law and concomitantly offer an operational definition of what the law is in this post that will form the foundation for a wide variety of posts on seemingly unrelated topics. This transition seems quite natural to me because I see a close alignment between topics that are commonly perceived to be the province of religion, such as ethics, and topics that fit under the conceptual rubric known as the law.

In its most commonly-used and general sense, the law is an institution that defines and governs human affairs -- i.e., a collection of laws that comprises a particular legal system. To distinguish between this concept of the law and other concepts that are referred to as law, laws or the law, I sometimes refer to the institution of the law as "law qua law." In the context of a particular culture or society, laws may take many forms. The most common and easily recognized laws are the ones that are established, codified, and enforced by secular state authorities -- i.e., man-made legislation. These man-made laws can be distinguished from purportedly divine law, such as Halakha (Jewish law) and Sharia (Islamic law), and from natural law, which is purported to be inherent in the natural order.

Both man-made laws and divine laws can be distinguished from physical laws, i.e., scientific generalizations based on empirical observations that most scientists would agree upon as valid assertions about natural phenomena. In turn, physical laws can be distinguished from popular adages that are frequently referred to as "laws," -- e.g., Murphy's law. In the final analysis, any principle or rule can be and often is referred to as a law or the law, and a number of idiomatic references equate "the law" with any type of authority or force that imposes its will on others, and closely related to the institution known as the law (i.e., "law qua law") are the institutions of politics and government.

There is a great deal of overlap between the institutions of the law, politics, and government. The law is the most vague and general of the three, as set forth in greater detail above, whereas government is the most specific, typically referring to a formal system of laws (i.e., law qua law) with well-defined units and processes. Somewhere in the middle is politics, which can and often does refer to any sort of social relations involving authority or power, but is perceived by many people to be more or less contiguous with the formal institutions of government. At the same time, politics can and often does refer to a wholly personal take on issues of law and government and/or a viewpoint held by a discrete and insular group of people as to what the law is and/or what the law should be.

Even within the limited context of a particular legal system or tradition, the law has many different sources and many different interpretations. To this end, the primary question to be answered by the law is who has jurisdiction over a particular territory, a particular person, a particular subject matter, or a particular dispute. Assuming that the question of jurisdiction can be decided, a party who has jurisdiction is presumably entitled to make the law (i.e., pass legislation), administer the law, enforce the law, choose between conflicts of law, apply the law, interpret the law, and/or adjudicate particular disputes. Depending on the context and degree of success that one has in challenging assertions of jurisdiction by a particular authority, one can assume a wide variety of socially defined roles, ranging from litigant, reformer, and martyr to criminal, traitor, and revolutionary.

I often hear it said that in the United States we live in a "nation of laws" and/or that we live under the "rule of law." More correctly, we are supposed to live in a nation of laws, but in reality we live in a nation of police, prosecutors, judges, and politicians who pretty much do what they want, the rule of law be damned. Traditionally, the rule of law was supposed to be a limit on the exercise of power by the state and state actors. Moreover, at its core, the concept of the rule of law is based on the notion that the law should be fair and just, which is why most people should feel obliged to obey the law even when they disagree with it. Upon closer inspection, however, such noble concepts as judicial restraint, due process, and the duty of a prosecutor "to seek the truth and see that justice is done" are routinely circumvented by state actors with a personal agenda and/or a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, making it relatively easy for most people to rationalize a general disregard for any law with which they disagree.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Religion and Science

As I noted in my previous blog post entitled What Is Religion? most of my recent blog posts have focused on religion, specifically the nature of my Christian beliefs. In the above-referenced post, I narrated the fact that science and reason have emerged as the adversaries of religion in Modern Western Culture, and I attempted to demonstrate how I have reconciled my religious faith with my faith in science and reason. Simply put, once again, I am prepared to accept mysticism as the most daring and radical consequence of rationalism, but I am not prepared to accept religious explanations for natural phenomena. Nowhere is this principle more apt than when it comes to the Theory of Evolution.

I grew up in a home where the often adversarial relationship between science and religion was not readily apparent to me. It was not until I reached junior high school that I first encountered people who questioned the validity of the Theory of Evolution and pointed to the biblical story of creation in the book of Genesis as their preferred explanation for the origin of life on the planet Earth. It was years later before I made any serious attempt to reconcile these opposing viewpoints. When I did, it seemed pretty clear to me that people who believed in the story of creation found in the book of Genesis were deluding themselves, and I still find it very hard to believe that any person of reasonable intelligence can accept that story at face value.

Notwithstanding the amazing insight that science has given us into the origin of life on Earth, the puzzle still has many pieces missing. Even so, most scientists will tell you that life as we now know it first evolved on the Earth billions of years ago. As proof of this assertion, they will point to the Earth's fossil record and note that geology offers a very straightforward explanation as to how that fossil record was formed, a process that took billions of years. It is at this point that the story of creation found in the book of Genesis begins to lose its credibility with people like me, as that story provides a chronology that would make the Earth no more than 10,000 years old.

Rather than capitulate to the scientific evidence found in the fossil record regarding the antiquity of life on Earth, some very intelligent people still favor the story of creation found in the book of Genesis. With all due respect to the people who hold these views, I have yet to hear any reason why any book in the Bible should be accepted as an accurate source of historical information, much less any reason why the story of Genesis should be believed in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence tending to disprove its chronology of life on Earth. Rather, after very careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that people who accept the chronology of life on Earth as it appears in the book of Genesis do so because they perceive secular scientific inquiry as a threat to their moral values.

As I outlined in my previous post, referenced above, people in Modern Western Culture tend to conflate religion and morality. This gives rise to a false dichotomy wherein any assertion that brings religious beliefs into question is seen as an attack on the morality of the individual who holds those beliefs. In striking contrast, all advances in scientific thought are the result of someone challenging the status quo and exposing the flaws in scientific theories that were once widely accepted. In other words, the moral values of most people in Modern Western Culture are based on backward-looking religious views, and science (i.e., e.g., the Theory of Evolution) has become an inadvertent adversary of morality. Indeed, some very intelligent people have suggested to me that scientific inquiry is inherently immoral, citing biblical references to the Tree of Knowledge as the vehicle for mankind's original fall from grace. However, if thinking for oneself is a sin, then I will gladly withhold my worship from God and proudly walk through the gates of Hell, for:

"The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."
(John Milton, Paradise Lost.)