17 June 2007

It's Too Much

I suppose we may owe a debt of gratitude to Roy L. Pearson, Jr.

In case you've been living under a rock, he is the person suing his dry cleaner for $54 million. Living where you do, one could imagine that you are suspicious of your own eyesight, so let me assure you that you just read "fifty-four million dollars." US Dollars, in 2007 dollars. There is no catch here, no punch line.

Mr. Pearson may be mentally ill rather than incredibly evil and greedy. He may be all of these things. Whatever his motivation, he may have created enough public distaste and disappointment with the tort system in the United States to actually give the citizens of this country some hope that perhaps it will be changed for the better. On his way to becoming a household word, Roy L. Pearson, Jr. might be doing us all a favor.

We do not need more laws, we simply need judges with a sense of smell. (It is worth mentioning that Pearson is himself a type of judge, albeit a rather obscure type known as an Administrative Law Judge.) With olfactory powers engaged, such courageous upholders of the Constitution could say (sniffing a bit), "What the hell are you doing in my courtroom? The taxpayers of this [city, county, state, nation] pay a lot of money to convene this court for the purpose of dispensing justice under our time-honored system of fairness and equality. The cleaners offered to pay for your damn pants. You didn't take the money. Get out of here before I hold you in Contempt." One imagines the sobbing Mr. Pearson staggering from the room with his hand over his eyes. One smiles with pleasure.
"Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
I do not know the exact nature of the consumer protection law or laws invoked by Pearson in this case, and I do not care. If laws have been passed that make this type of action possible, it is the proper function of the court system to declare them null and void, dead on arrival, unconstitutional, and ridiculous. The bureaucrats who proposed, wrote, and enacted such laws should be publicly ridiculed and made to work at a dry cleaner's shop.

Mr. Pearson most likely deserves more pity than contempt. As I, and many others wiser and more articulate than I, have said elsewhere, the cost of untreated mental illness in our society is impossible to know because it is so often reflected in bizarre occurrences such as this.

Boston Globe Editorial, "Ludicrous Lawsuits," by Jeff Jacoby 17 June 2007.

Fashion perspective on this story from The Washington Post 14 June 2007.

12 June 2007

You'd Better Watch Out

I have an imperfectly formed idea that I am hesitant to express, but I'll try. Many of us, perhaps even all of us, at times are frustrated by what seems like God's perversity -- if such a thing may be thought of.

Without going into my personal beliefs, which I might describe as skeptically agnostic Buddhism, I am at a loss to explain why we all insist on expecting that which we have no reason to expect. That is, given history, and our own personal observations of life as we know it from living, we know that random senseless negative things often happen. Oftentimes these come as acts of our fellow human beings, and we are astonished at the mindless evil that seems to infect our brothers and sisters on Earth.

Since these things have happened since time immemorial, and continue to happen, why are we surprised and offended when they happen near to us? (And I don't mean to be cold or unsympathetic in saying this -- remember, this is not a well-formed thought or argument. I am indulging in thinking "out loud" here -- although it's more of thinking "in print." ) What I mean to say is, we are quick to abandon logical thought when our emotions are involved. And we (that is to say, many of us) are often quick to point the finger at whatever Higher Power we believe in and chastise Him/Her or Them or It for being cruel to us.

But if there is an HP, and if such a being is omnipotent, then must we not accept that He, She, They, or It is or are (at least in our perception) incredibly cruel at times?

Or -- and this idea comes from Harold S. Kushner, who wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People -- perhaps we need to understand that there is Evil, really, and that it is a force. Perhaps our "good" HP is not actually responsible, at least not directly, for everything. Perhaps even God must obey natural laws. Einstein, a notable agnostic, reported that the more he discovered about the laws of nature, the more he saw the unmistakable hand of God.

I am certainly not a traditional "believer," in any religion. But in spite of the presumption implicit in my agnosticism, I find myself looking askance at those who are, the Theists that I have heard throughout my life who are ready (it seems) to drop their trust and belief in their God when tragedy strikes them. Why would a rational, thinking person observing the world around her or him "adopt" a God and then blame that God for all the evil that was going on before, and that which transpires after, such adoption? Of what is Faith made? Is it a sort of love blindness that is cast aside when the Heavenly Paramour proves untrue? And of what use is such a faith?

The idea of God that was prevalent in my youth was nearly the same as the idea of Santa Claus. If you are good, God and Santa will reward you. Now, as we grow up, we learn that Santa was just a fairy tale, but perhaps we miss the idea that God as Santa is just as much of a fairy tale. Many, I fear, never drop the childish conception of Santa/God until one day they are disillusioned by an injustice that gets their attention. This is often an event in their personal life, but it can as well be something far away, perhaps in another country such as Sudan, where the enormity of atrocities is more than our minds can really grasp. Such a shock knocks the Santa/God out of his sleigh in the sky, and we are left with an angry, disillusioned pseudo-atheist.

One should be as positive as one can be in the face of painful tragedy. If life goes on, one day it will be behind you, and perhaps you will be able to forget it, at least most of the time. But (in my humble, heathen, skeptically agnostic Buddhist opinion) one must look for whatever wisdom and strength might come from the action of Evil in our lives, because it seems to me that therein lies redemption.

What Kushner and others would have us learn is that acceptance is the key. The world, reality, is what it is. We can fool ourselves and think that when things are going along in a fashion that is pleasant to us, that that is the way things "ought" to be, but in reality, things are what they are at any given time, without regard to our judgement or opinion of them. When we make the effort toward accepting that which we cannot change (yeah, I know, it's the Serenity Prayer), it seems to me that we are the closest to It, Them, Her, or Him as we ever get.