Suicide..after all the “townspeople assembled and leveled their stern regards.” -Hawthorne

 

pale blue dot blogThis morning’s London Times greeted us with news of a second political suicide, (literally not metaphorically) in the United Kingdom after a labour party leader’s transgressions with pornography were revealed.  Rather than face the tsunami of publicity now surrounding personal and morally repugnant deviance, he chose to end his life.

I am reminded of Hawthorne’s classic novel that unveiled some of the more sordid aspects of “rule of law” in colonial America. In modern times, the harsh scrutiny that faced Hester Prynne by “God-fearing gentlemen” seemed disproportionate, over-the-top.  But, as Hawthorne wrote, she accepted that “these were her realities, all else vanished.”

In our time too, the autumn of 2017 will be remembered as the time when for the many whose moral compasses lost their calibration, all else vanished.  In the United Kingdom, it is not the show business glitterati who are under the microscope, rather the politicos have been caught in the wave of revelations that have gripped America for the last several weeks.

Lest my words be conjured to signal sympathy for those whose transgressions are toppling their worlds, know this–that is hardly the case. But neither is it the case that I will blindly get caught up in the wave that would pronounce guilt by numbers. If one person speaks out, there exists the possibility of truth, if several speak out, there is the likelihood of truth and if many speak out, certainty has been achieved and any trial thereafter is a mere formality.

As Miss Prynne walked among the “gazes of unrelenting eyes” there was a critical difference between the scorn she was subjected to and the scorn greeting modern day transgressors. Her walk was part of a sentence after a trial–albeit a trial that may not have itself met all the transparency one has come to regard as the norm in a civilized society. But, nevertheless,  the public humiliation to which she was subjected was at the very least, meted out in the aftermath of the determination of guilt.

It should exceed worrisome when suicide starts to precede the words arrest, charge andcaveat-emptor trial.  Caveat Emptor…the distance traveled from accusation to guilt-by-public-opinion, in cases where other moral issues are at play (like say ideologies or religious beliefs) can become alarmingly short.

Finally one admonition, which sadly requires mentioning. I am a woman. I know that there is much merit in many of the voices that have bravely spoken out, and needn’t have to say more for you to accept that my perspective is an informed one. But, I am also a lawyer and when the integrity of the legal process is on the verge of compromise,  the depth of all our concern should be unfathomable.

 

 

 

Breaking the fourth wall

4th-wall“Oh, you’ve gotten tickets for the inauguration…what a thrill. I’m so happy for you.”

These words were not said to me, nor do I think that they ever will be directed towards me, for you see, I voted for Mr. Trump, now President-elect. Even as I pen this blog, I have some trepidation. Those colleagues and friends, for whom I have only the greatest respect, will  judge me harshly. I have some confidence that their high regard for me will lessen, in some instances, substantially. Forget that I have the benefit of my own personal interaction with the man, as my guide, they will not want to hear that, nor will it affect their opinion of me, or of him or those other 60+ million people who voted for him.

The words in the opening sentence of this blog, reflected my actual delight that a good, intelligent, well respected colleague of mine obtained tickets to President Obama’s second inauguration. She was deliriously happy, and I was happy for her. I had my own feelings toward the man, but that did not get in the way of my realization that millions of intelligent people placed their faith and hope in him and his capacity to deliver hope and change. My candidate did not win. I was disappointed. As an advocate for rule of law around the world, it did not elude me that like charity, belief in the the rule of law and the orderly of transfer of power, “starts at home.” And so, with my long list of reservations, I demonstrated publicly and privately, respect for the man we have called Mr. President these last eight years.

Now the scene switches. The tables have turned. It is I who am not only decidedly not deplorable, but a thoughtful and intelligent person, also hoping for change. I watch with quiet contentment as my preferred candidate begins to make his way to the White House. As a resident of the east coast, there are few places where one can publicly display the pleasure at that prospect.  Make no mistake, I am disappointed  that I will likely not see a woman be President of the United States in my lifetime. But, I am equally determined never to vote along any line, party, race or gender, simply to break a ceiling or other metaphorical barrier.

Speaking of barriers, comes the perfect segue to the title of this blog:  The fourth wall…a dramatic convention often used in pantomime or children’s theater, rarely broken without artistic purpose. Once a tool  used to “heighten the comedic tone of a show” last week’s fourth wall break in the Broadway show Hamilton instead  reflects something of a tragic milestone for democracy. Recognizing the futility of discourse on the subject, I leave you with this quote from Toni Morrison’s Beloved:

“He licked his lips. ‘Well, if you want my opinion-‘
‘I don’t, ‘ She said. ‘I have my own.”

Human Rights: To say is not to do.

Lately my work has taken me to examining the roots of some basic human rights concepts, among them, freedoms–freedom of assembly, freedom of speech–freedom to be the person you are, to explore your passions, and express yourself in the myriad of ways that humans do, without arbitrary restraint.

What strikes me is how basic the concept of freedom is, and how far back efforts by persons, leaders or political movements have gone to restrict it. My readings have late are focused on  the ancient Persian Empire in the days of Cyrus and Darius. Then, and even  before in the glory days of Babylonia, the concept of freedom, represented in the cuneiform word or phrase “ama-gi” found expression.

It is said that the word and concept of freedom first appears in written form when the new king, upon ama-giinvestiture (or thereafter, as an annual gracious ritual) would grant a form of amnesty to young males in servitude for unpaid taxes to the king, granting them “ama-gi” –permission to “return to mother.” The phrase eventually evolved into the concept of one being set “free,” thus, the very early iteration of freedom as we know it today.

What is striking about working in human rights in this century is the utter failure of modern day leaders to recognize freedom as an entitlement, an essential part of humanity–something individuals have sought and valued for  thousands of years.  As far back as we can tell, people eschewed servitude and honored those who saved them from it.

Assuming that many of today’s leaders are literate and have some basic understanding of history, leads one to wonder if they aren’t truly delusional, somehow believing that eventually they will escape the fate that all human kind faces:  Dust.  Perhaps they have never visited a museum and found themselves in the company of a “great” Pharaoh resting in a temperature controlled glass case being  gawked at by the masses–and those were the good guys.

Climbing the hill to get the world to recognize basic human rights is presumably  a challenge that was met long ago, now embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).   Incredibly, in 2014 with several thousand years of civilized societies under our belt, there is  still an inordinately large number of persons who dictate to others what they can or should do with their lives, following an agenda that eschews every morsel of basic  human rights as we know it.

One would have thought that with all the technological and scientific advances, collective mankind would have figured out a mechanism to identify and remove those who  fail to honor basic human rights. Quite the opposite. In fact, there are wolves among those charged with guarding the hen house. Consider carefully the countries which have been selected as caretakers of human rights by selection to the UN Human Rights Council.

Were Klout  to give  the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights a score,  it would be low, very low.  If the document  is to be anything more than words on paper paying lip service to an aspiration, there have to be real consequences to those who derogate it.  To that end, there is some encouragement in the fact that a petition is currently in circulation that calls for the  removal from the United Nations Human Rights Council to say is not to docertain countries with dismal human rights records.

To those who stand up to tyranny, your voices are being heard. Do not give up. You are asking for nothing less than to live the precious few years we all have on this planet as the human being, with all your frailties and strengths, motivated by the hope of leaving a mark or legacy on the planet that represents the best humanity has to offer. We are with you. Your struggle is our struggle.  And to those working in the human rights arena be guided by this:  To say is not to do.