Wednesday, October 04, 2006

New York's Justice Courts

The New York Times last week ran a three-part series (here, here, and here) on New York’s town and village courts. The portrait is of a system that is up to its task in virtually no respect: the judges are largely untrained laypeople paid a pittance and provided with little support. What results is frequently arbitrary and only sometimes just. My initial reaction to the series has more to do with themes elsewhere within the seamless web of the Jurisdynamics Network™ (see here, here, and here) than with our articulated mission here – namely, that this is the sort of thing that illustrates how one’s social class of origin can impact one’s view of the law.

If I may engage in a bit of caricature for purposes of illustration, to the extent I’ve seen a reaction from the middle class perspective, it’s along the lines of “Oh my word! I simply can’t believe this! It’s horrible! Someone must do something!” The unstated assumption, which drives people to do things like complain about the form in which straws are delivered in their kids’ school lunchrooms (as actually happened at my daughter’s school recently), is that they are sufficiently empowered to bring about change if they complain loud and long enough. If you’re from the other side of the tracks, in contrast, I suspect your reaction tends to contain an element of, “Well, duh. That’s how the world works, and there ain’t much use in trying to change it.” The sense of empowerment that’s so fundamental to the middle-class perspective is largely lacking. And I imagine that’s the sort of worldview that has to be experienced directly to be fully appreciated.

3 Comments:

Blogger Lori Ringhand said...

I've noticed a similar thing in watching people's reactions to condemnations (on display for all to see after Kelo). People who grew up in blighted urban areas generally seemed to have a positive view of condemnation: it was the only way to get ran down properties, often owned by absentee landlords, replaced by livable buildings, businesses, or parks. This, needless to say, was not the reaction of many other people outside of urban areas.

10/04/2006 6:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude,

You need to find a new school for your child...

10/04/2006 9:21 PM  
Blogger Chad Oldfather said...

Anonymous Dude:

It sounds worse than it is. As I understand it, the complaint arises from the fact that the only way to get a straw is as part of a sealed plastic pacakage of utensils. So if all you need is a straw, you end up wasting a fork, knife, and spoon in the process. You can come at it as a tree hugger, someone who was raised to appreciate the value of a nickel, or as a more generic opponent of wastefulness and end up in the same spot.

10/05/2006 11:45 AM  

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