“While you’re on this legal tangent, why not refine what you’re doing here in the first place, Elie?” suggests the skeleton of my father helpfully, peeking out of the snow that today blankets his grave after yesterday’s heavy snowfall. “You know, the old ‘questions raised’ from your legal writing days.”
The question raised section of a legal argument frames the question you want the judge to answer the same way your persuasive argument, with its apt citations to precedent, will guide her to. Raising the right question, and then providing all the reasons the judge should agree with your answer, is a large part of the litigator’s art. Separates the winners from the losers, yo. Worth a shot here, I suppose.
Question raised: what is the best use of your time?
“Vague, but I like it. Ideally, if you did not have to work for a living, were content to live as a monk, did not buy into society’s notions of status and achievement, how would you spend your precious, limited time?”
I start to think of that old commie saw ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.’ The most satisfying and productive-feeling way to spend my time nowadays, seeing that without a wealthy backer one can’t launch even an ingeniously designed and cost-effective program to help the children of poor people, is writing. I love to play the guitar, and I love to draw, but writing is something most people can understand and something potentially useful. Let me put it this way– no matter how well you play music or draw, many people do not get it. Simply makes no sense to them. Words– there you go. We all basically agree on what they mean, everyone can follow them if they are set out in an order that makes sense.
“No offense, Elie, but who gives a shit?” said the skeleton.
Fair enough. If you have a strong point of view about how viciously the status quo is proceeding, as I certainly do, as you did, and you have the means to express it, to persuade– maybe that is a kind of moral imperative.
“Means relatively little if you express it to a handful of likeminded people who click on your blahg to read your latest expressions of the moral imperative,” said the skeleton.
No argument here, dad. I’ve noticed that the more devotedly vicious weasels among us, guys like Grover Norquist and his buddy Jack Abramoff and people of that ilk, are tireless in the mass promotion of their beliefs, or what they say are their beliefs.
“Well, you have to be careful about beliefs, people actually believe them. Like the beliefs of the millions who cast their votes for an angry, spoiled brat who can’t get enough attention or power. You can argue, present the facts, but you won’t get very far with reason. As you yourself have noted many times, as borne out by the sad story of my life, only direct experience that smashes your belief hard enough in the face can have any impact on what we believe. We are largely irrational creatures, much as it may pain us to admit this.”
Yah, mon. The beauty part is, we are geniuses at setting up rational looking structures to support otherwise idiotic beliefs. Think of libertarians– they believe in liberty for everybody to decide everything for themselves and that therefore the government should not intervene. They call the fire department when their house is on fire, call the police when they’re robbed, they drive on roads built by the government, and so forth, but the government has no right to charge them any kind of tax to maintain these things. The theory sounds reasonable if put abstractly enough: personal liberty is so important that we put it at the top of the list of what a human needs.
“Anatole France’s great line comes to mind, the one your friend the mad judge was fond of quoting: ‘the law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike from begging in the streets, sleeping under bridges and stealing bread.'”
Just so. Think of the liberty of somebody born in a tenth generation of inherited poverty, at the mercy of everyone else’s more fortunate liberty. There’s your living refutation of Libertarianism.
“No Libertarian will ever see one of those living refutations, except maybe on giant screen TV, being led away in handcuffs by a militarized police unit,” said the skeleton.
Question raised: how to get these writings presented to a larger audience?
“Next question, please.”
Question raised: how to present the story of my father’s largely tragic life as an uplifting tale publishers and readers will clamor to pay for?
“Now you’re starting to make a little sense. You know, if you type for hours every day, and make a certain amount of sense — even if you pretend you’re talking to a skeleton who can talk back to you — but you have no plan to market and sell what you write– what do you call that?”
“I’m glad you find this funny. Blessed is the man who amuseth himself, Elie.”
Amen to that, padre.