Law in Contemporary Society

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MaeghanMurphyFirstEssay 3 - 01 Jun 2017 - Main.MaeghanMurphy
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Addressing Societal Evils By Promoting Egocentrism
 
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What Is the Problem?
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Addressing Societal Evils By Promoting Egocentrism

 
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We live in a nation with persistent inequality, discrimination, and abuse. This is impossible to refute if you open your eyes and look around. The United States is marked with persistent wage inequality, high rates of homelessness, vast gender pay gaps and occupational gender segregation, vast racial gaps within education and high-skilled occupations, persistent housing segregation, stagnant income mobility, and absurdly high incarceration rates and class bias within the criminal system. Immigrants are being targeted, forcibly separated from their families, sent to detention centers, and deported. Families are unable to afford life-saving medical treatments for their sick children. Convicted criminals are denied almost all support and opportunity to rehabilitate after being released due to harsh collateral consequences. Despite these iniquities, we have adopted the philosophy that if it does not affect us, it does not exist. We only care about ourselves—our safety, comfort, and satisfaction, to the detriment of our neighbors.
 
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The Problem

We live in a nation with persistent inequality, discrimination, and abuse. The United States is marked with persistent wage inequality, high rates of homelessness, vast gender pay gaps and occupational gender segregation, vast racial gaps within education and high-skilled occupations, persistent housing segregation, stagnant income mobility, and absurdly high incarceration rates and class bias within the criminal system. Despite these iniquities, we have adopted the philosophy that if it does not affect us, it does not exist. We only care about ourselves—our safety, comfort, and satisfaction, to the detriment of our neighbors.

 
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What Can We Do to Change It?
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Egocentrism as a Solution

In an ideal world, we would stop focusing on our own interests and instead focus on how we can best promote social benefits. Unfortunately, our consistent refusal to do this indicates that such a change is unlikely to happen. If we are going to make any progress, which is vital if we ever truly want to live in a democratic, humane society, we need to start somewhere. Since we are incapable of a complete ideological overhaul, we must start with the easiest method: we need to take advantage of our egocentric focus on self-preservation and self-promotion to begin addressing inequality, discrimination, and abuse within our society.

 
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In an ideal world, we would engage in an ideological overhaul, moving away from focusing on our own interests to focusing on how we can best serve society and promote the greater good. Unfortunately, our consistent refusal to do this indicates that such a change is unlikely to happen. But, we cannot become complacent. The fact that most of our peers and citizens are unwilling to work on such a “radical” change in thought and action, does not mean that we can ignore the problem. If we are going to make any progress, which is vital if we ever truly want to live in a democratic, humane society, we need to start somewhere. History reveals that continuing to ignore the problem does not solve it. The problem does not go away or resolve itself if we ignore it and disassociate from it. In fact, it will grow in size and complexity. The longer we live in a society that is deliberately and selfishly blind to the immensity of evils within our nation, the more comfortable and routine our blindness becomes. The longer we remain complacent, the greater the likelihood we never make a change.
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What Does This Mean?

If our egocentric desires are exacerbating these problems in the first place, how can they solve it?

 
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Since we are incapable of a complete ideological overhaul, we must start with the easiest method: we need to take advantage of our egocentric focus on self-preservation and self-promotion to begin addressing inequality, discrimination, and abuse within our society.
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1: Combating Incarceration

Our societal push to harshly punish criminals is based on self-serving interests. We feel safe when criminals are locked up and vindicated when they face a lifetime of penalties. These selfish interests are better served through alternatives to incarceration. If we want personal vengeance and safety, we need to change criminals, not lock them up temporarily. We can best achieve our self-interests by advancing rehabilitative and welfare programs, fines, and community service. This improves the lives of those in the criminal system, while allowing society to continue its self-centered pursuits.

 
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2: Encouraging Pro Bono Work

Most big law firms promote the amount of pro bono work that they do in order to self-justify their main focus on big businesses and the elite. By claiming a commitment to pro bono work, they feel better about themselves. Encouraging pro bono work increases access to quality lawyers for those who truly need it, while allowing attorneys to continue their self-centered pursuits of wealth and validation.

 
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What Does That Mean?
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Criticisms and Defining “Self Interest” and “Social Benefit”

We can mold our selfish interests into useful actions that target societal problems. However, this is not a complete solution. The issue becomes how we define “self-interest” and “social benefit”. The solution I present does not resolve the fact that we disassociate and ignore endless evils. It does not eliminate our selfish, self-promotional focus nor will it eliminate criminal activity. It does not perfectly guarantee that every self-interested individual will define their interests and pursuit of such in the exact way we need to attain desirable outcomes for the majority. But, regardless of individual preference and potential criminality, self-interest achieves desirable social benefits.

 
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If our egocentric desires are exacerbating these problems in the first place, how can they solve it? I present two examples:
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“Self-Interest”

People may prefer alternative methods of obtaining societal goods. An attorney might not reflect at all on positives he derives from pro bono cases, and instead uses his paid work, his relationships, and his hobbies, to foster happiness and self-satisfaction. A robbery victim in a high-crime neighborhood might not care at all about incarceration or rehabilitation of the criminal, and instead obtains safety only through locks on her doors and a camera outside her front porch.

 
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1: Combating Harsh Incarceration and Collateral Consequences
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In these instances, the self-interested individual does not see my proposed solutions as the answer to their needs. However, this is not detrimental. The attorney, regardless of what he personally derives from it, continues to take pro bono cases because his boss expects him to. Even though he may not identify pro bono cases as a self-interested pursuit, it becomes implicit, in that it is an expectation of his job, and he subconsciously seeks to perform positively in his work, so as to ensure an income and security for himself and his family. He continues to produce socially beneficial services; he just does not explicitly identify his self-interested actions as his means for achieving his desired outcomes.
 
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I worked with a criminal defense attorney for a year and researched the effects of collateral consequences on recidivism rates. As a result, I grew accustomed to the fact that our societal push to harshly punish criminals is based on self-serving interests. While many present a fašade of want for “retribution” and “reform”, we advocate for these policies truly to protect ourselves, and our loved ones, and to gain vengeance and a peace of mind. We feel safe when criminals are locked up. We feel vindicated when they face a lifetime of penalties. Although these thoughts are problematic, the point of this approach is not to challenge the thoughts. Rather, we take advantage of them. Let’s address the fact that those selfish interests are better served through means outside of incarceration and harsh collateral consequences. If we really want personal vengeance and safety, we need to change criminals, not lock them up for a period of time. Prison does little to change behavior, and collateral consequences may very well increase recidivism. Do you want to feel safe in your neighborhood? Invest in rehabilitative programs and welfare programs that promote secure jobs and housing for released criminals! Do you want to feel like criminals are atoning for their crimes? Advocate for community service rather than fines and jail sentences! This improves the lives of those in the criminal system, while allowing society to continue its self-centered pursuits.
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“Social Benefit”

Similarly, the issue of criminality hinges on our definition of “social benefits”. Crimes can benefit society. Prisoners provide labor, and fines paid in retribution of crimes help fund the system. Robberies, for example, might increase manufacturing jobs in order to replace stolen goods, while general crime increases law enforcement jobs and legislative work. Not only that, but a criminal himself may benefit from receiving food and shelter while incarcerated. These are all social benefits, in the broadest definition of the term. It is when we begin to narrow the definition, into benefits that are derived from positive actions, for example, that my proposed solution becomes problematic.

 
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2: Encouraging Pro Bono Work to Help Affected Individuals
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Ultimately, we may want to find a way to encourage positive pursuits of self-interest, while limiting detrimental pursuits. How that may be achieved, I am not yet sure. My proposed solution is broad, and assumes that all pursuits will be in the interest of society—it fails to consider instances where a person might pursue wealth, for example, by stealing or killing another. Thus, the path forward must consider these implications and identify how we can best foster positive pursuits.
 
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Most big law firms promote the amount of pro bono work that they do. In talking to attorneys, I got the impression that firms do this in order to self-justify their focus on big businesses and the elite at the expense of those who truly need quality legal advocacy. By claiming a commitment to pro bono, they feel better about themselves. A few attorneys have gone so far as to express their happiness with the fact that they can count pro bono hours towards their billable hours—they do pro bono work because they can get paid for it. It would be ideal to change the focus from income and self-validation to helping address societal needs, but again, that is not my goal. We can take this egotism and use it to our advantage. If a partner at a big law firm wants to feel better about himself—let him! Encourage pro bono work. Incite competition amongst the firms over who can perform the most pro bono work. This increases access to quality lawyers for those who truly need it, while allowing attorneys to continue their self-centered pursuits of wealth and validation.

Conclusion

The takeaway is that we can take our selfish interests and mold them into useful actions that target societal problems. While only two examples have been laid out here, it is possible to apply this framework to every sector of work and every issue in society, to creatively twist self-interest into operating to help others.

A Final Warning

This cannot, however, be the permanent solution. While it is a way to initiate change, it does not address the deeper issues. This solution does not resolve the fact that we disassociate and ignore endless evils. I do not offer a method for eliminating our selfish, self-promotional focus. A change in action often comes before a change in thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are much harder to change than action. Let’s start somewhere. Let’s start today.

At least since Mandeville and his bees, a distinctive element in what we call Western thought has been the idea that unfettered self-interest spontaneously self-organizes into the optimum or at least some sort of pretty good overall. The discussion here pretty much leaves out all the various objections that have been posed over the last three centuries, at least some of which it would be germane to address. It is not clear in this version of the argument, for example, why people pursuing what is defined as exclusively their own interests will agree to define those interests, and the means of pursuing them, precisely as would be necessary for the attainment of a socially-desirable outcome. In your examples, it is easy to predict that, at the very least, no small minority of people presented with your narrative of how they can get what they want—security, for example—will prefer other means.

The route to improvement, I think, is to get a little further into dialog with those who have thought about your point and come to other conclusions. Essays are an ideal form for acknowledging objections and maneuvering around them, which is what I think you are called upon just a little more to do.


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Conclusion

We should take advantage of our egocentrism in promoting social benefits. However, we must also recognize the limitations of such pursuit, and identify how we define “self-interests” and “social benefits”. It likely does not matter whether an individual explicitly or implicitly identifies his actions as in pursuit of his needs; all that matters are the residual effects the actions have on society. We do, however, need to work on isolating and encouraging positive self-interest pursuits, while simultaneously continuing to work on ideological shifts and a growing focus on the importance of addressing discrimination, inequality, and other issues within society.

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MaeghanMurphyFirstEssay 2 - 09 May 2017 - Main.EbenMoglen
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 Addressing Societal Evils By Promoting Egocentrism

What Is the Problem?

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  This cannot, however, be the permanent solution. While it is a way to initiate change, it does not address the deeper issues. This solution does not resolve the fact that we disassociate and ignore endless evils. I do not offer a method for eliminating our selfish, self-promotional focus. A change in action often comes before a change in thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are much harder to change than action. Let’s start somewhere. Let’s start today.
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At least since Mandeville and his bees, a distinctive element in what we call Western thought has been the idea that unfettered self-interest spontaneously self-organizes into the optimum or at least some sort of pretty good overall. The discussion here pretty much leaves out all the various objections that have been posed over the last three centuries, at least some of which it would be germane to address. It is not clear in this version of the argument, for example, why people pursuing what is defined as exclusively their own interests will agree to define those interests, and the means of pursuing them, precisely as would be necessary for the attainment of a socially-desirable outcome. In your examples, it is easy to predict that, at the very least, no small minority of people presented with your narrative of how they can get what they want—security, for example—will prefer other means.

The route to improvement, I think, is to get a little further into dialog with those who have thought about your point and come to other conclusions. Essays are an ideal form for acknowledging objections and maneuvering around them, which is what I think you are called upon just a little more to do.

 

MaeghanMurphyFirstEssay 1 - 10 Mar 2017 - Main.MaeghanMurphy
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META TOPICPARENT name="FirstEssay"

Addressing Societal Evils By Promoting Egocentrism

What Is the Problem?

We live in a nation with persistent inequality, discrimination, and abuse. This is impossible to refute if you open your eyes and look around. The United States is marked with persistent wage inequality, high rates of homelessness, vast gender pay gaps and occupational gender segregation, vast racial gaps within education and high-skilled occupations, persistent housing segregation, stagnant income mobility, and absurdly high incarceration rates and class bias within the criminal system. Immigrants are being targeted, forcibly separated from their families, sent to detention centers, and deported. Families are unable to afford life-saving medical treatments for their sick children. Convicted criminals are denied almost all support and opportunity to rehabilitate after being released due to harsh collateral consequences. Despite these iniquities, we have adopted the philosophy that if it does not affect us, it does not exist. We only care about ourselves—our safety, comfort, and satisfaction, to the detriment of our neighbors.

What Can We Do to Change It?

In an ideal world, we would engage in an ideological overhaul, moving away from focusing on our own interests to focusing on how we can best serve society and promote the greater good. Unfortunately, our consistent refusal to do this indicates that such a change is unlikely to happen. But, we cannot become complacent. The fact that most of our peers and citizens are unwilling to work on such a “radical” change in thought and action, does not mean that we can ignore the problem. If we are going to make any progress, which is vital if we ever truly want to live in a democratic, humane society, we need to start somewhere. History reveals that continuing to ignore the problem does not solve it. The problem does not go away or resolve itself if we ignore it and disassociate from it. In fact, it will grow in size and complexity. The longer we live in a society that is deliberately and selfishly blind to the immensity of evils within our nation, the more comfortable and routine our blindness becomes. The longer we remain complacent, the greater the likelihood we never make a change.

Since we are incapable of a complete ideological overhaul, we must start with the easiest method: we need to take advantage of our egocentric focus on self-preservation and self-promotion to begin addressing inequality, discrimination, and abuse within our society.

What Does That Mean?

If our egocentric desires are exacerbating these problems in the first place, how can they solve it? I present two examples:

1: Combating Harsh Incarceration and Collateral Consequences

I worked with a criminal defense attorney for a year and researched the effects of collateral consequences on recidivism rates. As a result, I grew accustomed to the fact that our societal push to harshly punish criminals is based on self-serving interests. While many present a fašade of want for “retribution” and “reform”, we advocate for these policies truly to protect ourselves, and our loved ones, and to gain vengeance and a peace of mind. We feel safe when criminals are locked up. We feel vindicated when they face a lifetime of penalties. Although these thoughts are problematic, the point of this approach is not to challenge the thoughts. Rather, we take advantage of them. Let’s address the fact that those selfish interests are better served through means outside of incarceration and harsh collateral consequences. If we really want personal vengeance and safety, we need to change criminals, not lock them up for a period of time. Prison does little to change behavior, and collateral consequences may very well increase recidivism. Do you want to feel safe in your neighborhood? Invest in rehabilitative programs and welfare programs that promote secure jobs and housing for released criminals! Do you want to feel like criminals are atoning for their crimes? Advocate for community service rather than fines and jail sentences! This improves the lives of those in the criminal system, while allowing society to continue its self-centered pursuits.

2: Encouraging Pro Bono Work to Help Affected Individuals

Most big law firms promote the amount of pro bono work that they do. In talking to attorneys, I got the impression that firms do this in order to self-justify their focus on big businesses and the elite at the expense of those who truly need quality legal advocacy. By claiming a commitment to pro bono, they feel better about themselves. A few attorneys have gone so far as to express their happiness with the fact that they can count pro bono hours towards their billable hours—they do pro bono work because they can get paid for it. It would be ideal to change the focus from income and self-validation to helping address societal needs, but again, that is not my goal. We can take this egotism and use it to our advantage. If a partner at a big law firm wants to feel better about himself—let him! Encourage pro bono work. Incite competition amongst the firms over who can perform the most pro bono work. This increases access to quality lawyers for those who truly need it, while allowing attorneys to continue their self-centered pursuits of wealth and validation.

Conclusion

The takeaway is that we can take our selfish interests and mold them into useful actions that target societal problems. While only two examples have been laid out here, it is possible to apply this framework to every sector of work and every issue in society, to creatively twist self-interest into operating to help others.

A Final Warning

This cannot, however, be the permanent solution. While it is a way to initiate change, it does not address the deeper issues. This solution does not resolve the fact that we disassociate and ignore endless evils. I do not offer a method for eliminating our selfish, self-promotional focus. A change in action often comes before a change in thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are much harder to change than action. Let’s start somewhere. Let’s start today.



Revision 3r3 - 01 Jun 2017 - 17:44:45 - MaeghanMurphy
Revision 2r2 - 09 May 2017 - 22:21:12 - EbenMoglen
Revision 1r1 - 10 Mar 2017 - 03:38:03 - MaeghanMurphy
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