Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jury duty day 8

Jury duty's not finished teaching me things, although a second, full, day of deliberation has not moved us closer to consensus. Lines have been drawn in the sand by some, while the rest of us worry over what would qualify a doubt as "reasonable." Should the view of a fellow-juror who claims to have stopped listening ("my mind is made up, nothing can change it!") be considered a doubt, not to mention a reasonable one? Or would that simply be caving in?

It really is a quite extraordinary thing we're tasked with doing: twelve strangers asked to arrive at a unanimous view about a difficult matter with minimal instruction. When, in normal life, does one ever need to arrive at final unanimity like this, even with loved ones? In democracy we basically vote what we think, and accept the consequences, whether we find ourselves in majority or minority. We've done our bit by drawing our line in the sand. (In theory but without opportunity for practice, I've long thought more mutual accounting and listening is required.) But having to "keep an open mind" until a consensus emerges is somewhere between unimaginable, impossible and totally radical.

I may or may not be the only one to be thinking about other jurors as the arbiters of the "reasonable" - even if their doubts don't make sense to me, do I owe it to them to assume they are reasonable? What I am confident is true beyond a reasonable doubt is that I'm the only juror in Brooklyn at the moment reading Thomas Aquinas' discussion of "prudence" in breaks between deliberation (topic of tomorrow's Exploring Religious Ethics class)! Prudentia, you'll recall, is the rather mysterious virtue which allows us to live out all the other virtues, by connecting our knowledge of principles with the particularities of actual situations: a prudent person needs to know both the universal principles of reason and the individual things that are the objects of human action (ST II-II Q 47, Q 3). It is a rare and nearly indescribable virtue. (For Aristotle, Aquinas' inspiration here, phroneisis is something best learned by imitation.) Premoderns knew as moderns often forget that reality is complicated. Each individual event or circumstance is singular enough that the application of principles to it is no simple thing - try asking a jury!

Interestingly, prudence also preeminently belongs to rulers - if they are raised to achieve great virtue and discernment, at least. (The virtue of subjects is to obey.) But what if you didn't trust rulers, even while thinking that particular cases have a complexity likely to exceed the comprehension of any normal person? Maybe you'd think gathering a dozen such people and asking them to act as one mind could work. Let's hope it does! For this one normal person - like many of his fellow jurors - continues as an individual to be baffled and even disheartened by the opacity of the particular case they been charged with determining.

[Jury duty update: deliberation continues tomorrow. It feels like a stalemate, and some of the jurors think that if we tell the judge, he'll let us go. I'm not so optimistic, or pessimistic.]

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