Links: 16 July 2013: Finland, voir dire, etc.

1. This article at Slate talks about the voir dire in Zimmerman trial, and why people who know the least end up on juries. This description of the juror’s epistemological attitude struck me:

It’s not that juror B37 is a miscreant or a fool so much as a reflexive doubter that truth and facts are really knowable anymore. She speaks for the millions of Americans who believe that everyone is lying about something and the media lies about everything. The Internet, she explains, is for getting to the next level on Candy Crush Saga, not for getting information. And since everything is a lie, she doesn’t care enough to learn that the riots she believes to have happened did not. One wonders whether she would buy her own book about the truth behind the Zimmerman verdict.

This attitude seems cynical to me. And while I myself often adopt a perspective of doubting assertions of truth, I also acknowledge that some times, as in a criminal trial, we must at least seek truth, and try to get as close to it as we can. We must be skeptical even of our own claims of skepticism; we must not make assertions-of-truth about how all truth is relative.

2. An overview of Finland’s public-sector sharing and equality as it relates to government support and education.

3. Hannah Arendt and “the banality of evil”: “joiners” who set aside personal morality for group inclusion.

“The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of someone else.” His evil acts were motivated by thoughtlessness that was neither stupidity nor bureaucratic obedience, but a staggering inability to see the world beyond Nazi clichés.


The insight of “Eichmann in Jerusalem” is not that Eichmann was just following orders, but that Eichmann was a “joiner.” In his own words, Eichmann feared “to live a leaderless and difficult individual life,” in which “I would receive no directives from anybody.” Arendt insisted that Eichmann’s professed fidelity to the Nazi cause “did not mean merely to stress the extent to which he was under orders, and ready to obey them; he meant to show what an ‘idealist’ he had always been.” An “idealist,” as she used the word, is an ideologue, someone who will sacrifice his own moral convictions when they come in conflict with the “idea” of the movement that gives life meaning. Evil was transformed from a Satanic temptation into a test of self-sacrifice, and Eichmann justified the evil he knowingly committed as a heroic burden demanded by his idealism.


That evil, Arendt argued, originates in the neediness of lonely, alienated bourgeois people who live lives so devoid of higher meaning that they give themselves fully to movements. It is the meaning Eichmann finds as part of the Nazi movement that leads him to do anything and sacrifice everything. Such joiners are not stupid; they are not robots. But they are thoughtless in the sense that they abandon their independence, their capacity to think for themselves, and instead commit themselves absolutely to the fictional truth of the movement. It is futile to reason with them. They inhabit an echo chamber, having no interest in learning what others believe. It is this thoughtless commitment that permits idealists to imagine themselves as heroes and makes them willing to employ technological implements of violence in the name of saving the world.

4. “Fake Intimacy”: A “Quote For The Day” from “The Dish” that matches some of my ambivalence about online communities:

“I don’t think anyone’s really inclined to ‘share’. My thing about social networks is that it’s fundamentally insincere. I know from the record company perspective it’s part of the marketing process, and the fans can communicate with you… but it creates a fake intimacy, which in my opinion results in frustration and ultimately makes people angry. And I think that’s why, on Twitter, or indeed in the Guardian comments, everything turns into a row, and it’s because it’s presented as though they care what you think, but you realize they don’t, and then it turns nasty. It’s a sort of fake democracy. And we prefer to be not fake,” – Neil Tennant, pop genius.

3 responses to “Links: 16 July 2013: Finland, voir dire, etc.

  1. I’m not a trial lawyer–so I don’t have any experience with picking a jury–but I have been on the other end of it. I’ve gone through voir dire twice, and served on a jury in a federal criminal case once. It’s surprisingly easy to end up on a jury: get a low number and then avoid saying anything that will get you excluded through a peremptory or “for cause” strike. All you need to do is to sound impartial. You can come in there with prejudices and biases as long as you say you will put them aside. Usually, there’s only a set number of peremptory strikes (I don’t know what they do in FL) and “for cause” strikes can only be used in limited circumstances, and so you’re going to stay if you’re just not as crazy/prejudiced as some of the other people in the pool. It’s important that voir dire is extensive enough to uncover biases, but it’s never going to reveal everything. Still, even with its limitations, I will say that the jury trial is one of the best parts of our justice system. It’s one of our checks on the application of the law.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. I, too, was once on a jury for a small case — the charge was assault, whether a boyfriend had grabbed his girlfriend hard enough to bruise her, but we could never figure out what actually happened, so we said not guilty (by the way, this trial had — in truth — a baggie of dirt that the defendant claimed was an attempt by the girlfriend to put a spell on him). I agree with you about the value of the jury system (and I read an article recently about how Magna Carta introduced the jury trial into English law), and I see how voir dire takes the best of what can be a mediocre lot of candidates. But it seems weird somehow that a murder-two charge, as in Zimmerman trial, would have only 6 jurors. There were, I think, 12 of us on the assault jury I was on. Six seems too small to be an adequate community-sample size.

    • Yes, six jurors feels too small for group deliberation (I guess I disagree with the US Supreme Court on this because I think there’s a case on it), but I suppose that’s Florida law for non-capital cases.

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