Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Had Never Heard of Casey Anthony or her Dead Daughter

Until I heard the verdict reported on NPR yesterday.  It was, a big deal to people, apparently?  I'm not trying to be callous here, especially after reading the NYT article today and learning that Anthony was subjected to the Mersault strategy of prosecution; her own outward callousness towards the death of her daughter being the chief 'evidence' against her. 

Whatever legal protections a defendant in any jurisdiction may have, the psychological advantage is always with the prosecution.  We want suspects to be guilty.  We want our selves and our own social groups to be the only creatures on Earth who are not monsters; so that we may be exceptionally good by essence, and therefore need not put any effort into actually doing good. 

True, Anthony's behavior was very much outside the norm.  There aren't many good reasons to lie to the cops about a copse's whereabouts. But the fact remains that it was and shall remain impossible to know how the poor child died.  Therefore it is impossible to prove that she was killed; therefore impossible to prove who specifically killed her.  That's the whole of the legal story.  The jury had to acquit.  And everyone on Facebook, Twitter, et. al., who expressed Shock, and Outrage that the jury made the only decision that honest adults could possibly make are not really concerned with justice or the law. They are concerned with seeing themselves as exceptionally noble for being anti-toddler murder.  They need to 'know' that that filthy slut killed her daughter and hate her for it so that they can pretend that not killing their own children makes them great parents.  And I would even go so far to say that they don't really feel any particular empathy for the late Caylee Anthony.  It isn't in human nature to mourn for dead strangers, even children.  We would go mad if we truly mourned for all of them.  No, what they love about Caylee is the pretense of being big-hearted enough to love a dead girls photograph and be filled with a sense of righteous vengeance by it.

I foresee a fresh batch of folk bullshit arising from this incident.  The same gripes against criminals getting off easy These Days because of weak liberals and demonically clever lawyers that were common in the eighties and nineties.  And of course to bring up the nineties is to bring up the unavoidable comparison to the OJ Simpson case.  Another instance in which the death of one or two people in a nation of three hundred million dominated the national media.  The great irony of both cases is that those who indulged themselves in these orgies of condemnation porn were in effect acting as free defense lawyers for their hate objects.

Recall that Simpsons preliminary hearing, which in most cases lasts less then an hour, took an entire week.  Whenever the national media sensationalizes a criminal case it creates an artificial air of sublime social portent that infects everyone involved; judge, jury, prosecutors and defenders.  This will lead the jury to think beyond the level of dry facts and at the level of grand moral statements.  They will think harder and give serious thought to every theoretical occurrence.  And every good defense strategy aims to achieve nothing more than this.  The  National Enquirer crowd should know that this ritual or proving themselves anti-murder is at least partially responsible for the continued freedom of several probable murderers. 

And finally I must say that I find it fitting that I learned the details of the Anthony story on the same page where I read about the 'News of the World' phone hacking scandal in the UK.  It seems that some intrepid reporter got control of a missing thirteen-year olds phone signal, for the sake of catching any juicy bits from worried family members, something to tug the heartstrings for the readers.  It turned out that the girl was missing because she had been murdered, and the intrepid reporter added to the families grief by deleting old messages and leading them to believe their still living daughter was still controlling her phone.

This is the sort of real life-pain that mindlessly grasping on to sensationalized criminal cases will invaribly lead to.  While you pat yourself on the back for having the horse sense to know that murdering children is just wrong and your willingness to hang the bastard that did it, you are also part of a giant heat lamp being shone down on survivors who are hellishly burdened and aggrieved, and would most certainly prefer some privacy to your cries of support through the t.v. 

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