I recently finished a long stint as a juror. It was a criminal case and a pretty bad one–dead bodies with multiple bullets to their heads. There was no direct evidence, but a lot of circumstantial stuff and testimony that pointed to the defendant. Guilt seemed pretty clear, but it was hard for the Jury to come to a verdict. In the end, we were deadlocked on most of the charges. While we found the defendant guilty of multiple counts of conspiracy to murder, we could not all agree–beyond a reasonable doubt–that he was the conspirator who pulled the trigger.
The problem wasn’t the circumstantial evidence, as that collection of details–at face value–made a pretty good case. No, the real problem was that almost everybody–every witness, the State’s Attorney and the Defense Attorney–seemed to be an unreliable narrator.
Everybody was blowing smoke. Everyday buckets of red herrings were dumped on our laps. Issues, names and meaningless data points were mentioned without any attempt to back them up or even making any effort to link them to the case. The purpose was to confuse the jury and pull focus from the facts of the case. Statements were twisted in real time. Attorneys selectively rephrased testimony and words never spoken by a witness were then presented as “facts”. Witnesses and attorneys made shit up and sometimes, clear nonsense was offered up as something we should remember. We had to wade through a sea of intentional and unintentional contradictions.
I found that years of blogging and paying attention to our Nation’s politics and politicians made me a better juror. This world I follow is filled with unreliable narrators. It is filled with folks who make shit up, who prefer drama over facts and who are willing to say almost anything if they think it helps them score a point, secure a vote or win a battle.
In the days since this long and draining trial ended I have been catching up on weeks worth of missed work at my day job. I’ve been following the news and blogs, but I’ve had little time to post. And while I’m not surprised, I have been struck by how much of our political discourse is driven by unreliable narrators. It is a world of nonsense and overly spun factoids that turn out to be half true at best.
For example, the other day I was driving home from work and there was Alan Greenspan on the radio explaining how efforts at stimulus spending had prevented our Galtian Overlords from investing in the recovery. I listened for a few moments. Does anybody really still trust this guy about the economy–or anything? Is there really any word string he could utter that should be taken as reliable? And yet, this walking epic failure and liar still gets a platform for his Galtian nonsense.
So called news organizations like Politico and Fox have built their business models on being unreliable narrators. Many others are following their lead. Dirtbags like Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed are treated as a serious persons. Being epically wrong is job security for the pundit class.
It is easy to throw one’s hands in the air, turn it all off, take the dog for a walk, work in the garden, cook a meal or anything to avoid the bullshit. And yet I can’t walk away.
When called to serve on a jury, I took my duties as a citizen seriously. Sure, it was a pain in the ass and a time suck. Worse it was a pretty disturbing case with a thicket of bullshit surrounding just a handful of facts. It was not easy, but I took it as my duty. So did the other Jurors. We were very serious about our responsibility to the law, the defendant, our community and justice. I found the experience to be a very hopeful sign.
We were a random group that took being citizens as a serious duty. The experience proved to me that folks still care. That they recognize that being a Citizen of the United States comes with duties and obligations. That each of us has an active role role to play and that we have a duty to be informed–and to be engaged.
Maybe my experience was unique, but in a world gone seemingly mad I took my service as a juror as a sign of hope. Perhaps we will survive. But then again…
Anyway, take this as a long-winded open thread.