Daily Links


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Read the Dawkins piece, which was impressive, but flawed.

The flaw is this: perhaps unlike chicks (who may or may not think at all), juries and judges are rarely independent thinkers. Humans may or may not begin as blank slates at birth, but adult individual humans have socialized and enculturated in such a way that certain patterns of thought are predominant. Two judges, having undergone the similar training (and hence enculturation) in the law and experiences on the bench, particularly in countries other than the USA where professional associations are smaller and the chances of having met prominent thinkers are higher, are likely to give the same verdict not only because of the Principle of Independent Thinking but also because of the probability of similar thought-training.

This may often be a good thing, because (as Shakespeare observed most eloquently long ago) groups are fickly easily swayed by eloquence such as his. Not always; the whole point of plays like Twelve Angry Men is that on juries, one independent thinker out of twelve, if he or she is vocal enough and persuasive enough, can in theory counteract the bad side of group-think, or can turn group-think to the good.

But when a system of enculturation is biased or oppressive, it is a bad thing, and this is why juries were a good idea in the beginning. In societies made of hugely different kinds of people (multicultural, multiethnic societies, for example) judges and people like them generally come from the privileged classes, from the mainstream, and their enculturation is not ulikely to be biased towards certain situations (or people, manners, beliefs, or behaviours) or against others. This is most patently not independent thought.

Other than that, I enjoyed Dawkins’ piece.

I mainly thought it was interesting to see someone approach the question from a different angle.

I do think it’s quite hard to convincingly argue that a jury is the best possible system for reducing the rate of errors. There’s an emotional appeal to the idea of being tried by your peers, but that seems like a concession that the appearance of fairness is more important than acutal fairness. Rather like democracy: there’s no guarantee that it’ll produce the best result, but at least it shares the blame.

I’m not sure that would make me feel any better if I was the one on trial, though. In medieval England, I certainly would have preferred a jury to the whims of the judge; these days, with the judiciary being more independent and more professional, and a full appeals procedure in place, I’m not at all sure I feel the same way.

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