• June 4, 2015

EvilI have written before about the fact that humans generally are not psychopaths or sociopaths but, on the other hand, we are universally capable of and guilty of evil or wrong-doing. It’s just a matter of degree.

Our minds have at least two separate pathways to rationalize wrong-doing. I call one “the selfish recalibration of the scales of justice.” As I pointed out in a post a few years ago, it is very easy for many of us to steal from people who have stolen from us. One might call this, “reframing the moral debate,” going from, “It is wrong to steal” to “I am righting a wrong done to me.”

So, for example, let’s say you worked for a very rich person for several years and you were never given a raise. Should we be surprised that someone in that position (particularly when given a tremendous amount of control over the boss’ finances), gave himself raises over twelve years to the tune of a few million embezzled dollars? (As set out in the linked brief, it appears that John Waters started working for Gerard Cafesjian in 1996, never got a raise from his starting salary, and started stealing from him in 1998 until he quit in 2012.) Waters now lives in prison and he is suing Cafesjian’s estate for Waters’ supposed “deferred compensation,” an entirely undocumented supposed agreement that Waters claims justified his misappropriations alleged “loan advances” from Cafesjian’s coffers.

ContortionistThe other rationalization pathway is more challenging, I think, for most people: the breath-taking mental contortion of denial. Someone who took someone else’s millions of dollars can actually simultaneously articulate, and (maybe?) can actually believe entirely inconsistent narratives. So, for example, it is not hard for us to imagine someone saying, with a straight-face, “I took his money because he said I could have it and, even if he didn’t say I could have it, I deserved it because (a) I was responsible for his being rich, and (b) he was an egotistical and narcissistic skinflint who never gave me a raise…” (kind of like this?).

This post has very little to do with “news and commentary about Minnesota civil litigation,” but, on the other hand, to the extent all of us have at least some elements of these flaws in rationality (not just plaintiffs and defendants but all of the actors on the legal stage), this explains how any “justice system” faces extraordinary obstacles to achieving justice.

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