Bringing More Consciousness to the Legal System
The Rise of Legal Self-Consciousness
In the Wall Street Journal's editorial of January 26, 2009 titled "How Modern Law Makes Us Powerless," Philip Howard describes the rise of a "legal self-consciousness" that is eroding the freedom of people throughout the United States and stripping us of one of the defining characteristics of American culture: a proud heritage of individual self-determination and personal responsibility. Plymouth State University criminal justice instructor Mark Fischler and Integral Life CEO Robb Smith discuss Howard's editorial in this wide-ranging audio conversation about living integrally in a time when law and ethics have become unhinged and legal self-consciousness is leaving people more alienated than ever.
"After I had this discussion with Mark, I immediately called my legal representative on a real estate transaction that had been tied up in mediation for 2 months and directed her to settle the dispute. This conversation reminded me to consider that on the other side of the dispute were living, breathing people that were under the strain and stress of a collapsing economy and that, despite my clear ability to win the legal action on its technical merits, what I felt to be "right and fair" changed from winning outright to winning a higher peace for everyone involved. The decision became just so obvious when I expanded my view of winning to include every human being in the entire system of the dispute that had arisen." - Robb Smith
Freedom and alienation...
How often have you wanted to help a stranger or do something that really helped someone else's suffering, but a quiet voice in the back of your mind whispers, "but what if I get sued?" America has become a country that for many people no longer feels free because the law is failing to define a positive landscape of civil action. The negative landscape of civil action is necessary and well understood, telling us about our constraints, about what is illegal and what we are prohibited from doing. What has gone missing is a positive landscape of civil action, a landscape of action that tells us what we can do without worrying about legal repercussions. In a negative landscape, we know we're prohibited from committing murder. In a positive landscape, do we really know under what conditions we are free to defend ourselves from a criminal who breaks into our home? At least not without threat of losing if the criminal sues us later?
This loss of this sense of freedom is caused in part by the fact that human consciousness has evolved 4 stages - traditional, modern, pluralistic and integral (see addendum below) - since the founding of America, which in turn has impacted our legal view of the world. The dominant emerging level of consciousness in broader culture today is pluralistic (Green), which generally privileges an anti-hierarchical value structure. The upside of pluralism is this: by making everything equal it is the consciousness substrate upon which, in general, sit the equal rights movement, racial equality, the environmental movement and multicultural sensitivity. But everything being equal is also its downside: it has a very hard time saying what is right and wrong. If everything is equal, then our values must be flat, with no depth, no greater or lesser significance, and no ethical framework upon which to hang our society's best intentions. This in turn has abolished the presence of a positive landscape of civil action because we no longer accept that there are better and worse versions of ethical conduct. Instead, we leave it to the courts, and the decisions of juries will generally have some reflection of the weighted average of each jury member's stage of consciousness.
The irony of pluralism's "flatland" view, Robb points out, is that by trying to protect everyone's self-esteem and internal sense of fairness, we are in fact subtly denying the very human interiors we're trying to protect (which is grossly unfair to the human race). When a teacher is no longer allowed to comfort a child with a hug because of fear his actions be misinterpreted, we might as well be telling that child that their feelings, their very sense of humanness, is alien to us. We might as well tell them that we are now too afraid to be human ourselves. We might as well tell them that they, too, need to be afraid of a world that is only out to hurt and marginalize but which can offer no solace in return. And this is how we expect to build a model society constituted of empathy, love, compassion and human interconnection?
The path through legal self-consciousness is a path of awareness and love, being willing to consider the "other" in every civic interaction. We accept real and deep responsibility for the well-being of all of the participants in any legal matter, and though we know we will never satisfy every person in every situation, we can strive for far more than the narrow self-interest that currently satisfies our prevailing moral reasoning. As Mark concludes in this discussion, here are three things we can do to live a more integral life when engaged in legal matters, helping to free us from the fear and alienation of a world afraid of itself:
- Take self-responsibility: Take responsibility for the health and well-being of the system you're involved in. Almost everyone will be the client of a lawyer at some point in their lives. Will you be part of the problem or the solution?
- Expand your perspective: Remember that there are living, feeling people behind all legal interactions, and that moral reasoning should extend beyond just the self-interest of the personal. Be willing to consider the health of the whole and the example we set for other people and our children.
- Be imaginative, not afraid: Be willing to extend your imagination to new solutions, beyond fear and lack to abundance and creativity. Human resources are the most undervalued and underused resources in the known universe, and we do everyone a disservice if we expend all of our energy in the petty offense and defense of zero-sum reasoning.
Addendum to "The Rise of Legal Self-Consciousness"
An Overview of Stages of Consciousness
Mark James Fischler has been teaching undergraduate and graduate courses at Plymouth State University in Plymouth NH since 2003. His focus is ethics and criminal procedure. Mark has written papers and given presentations on what is integral law from a theoretical and practical perspective, some of which can be found in the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice.
Robb Smith is co-founder of Integral Life, Inc. and currently is the CEO of Chrysallis. He is the former Chief Executive Officer of Integral Institute, Inc.