Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why Isn't Ignorance of the Law an Excuse?

You know how they say "ignorance of the law is no excuse"? Have you ever thought about how messed up that is?

First let me preface this with one of my favourite acronyms: IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer). I don't know the legal theory behind what I'm about to discuss, and my assumptions about the law may be pulled out of my anus. But, as you'll see, that's kinda my point.

In theory, yeah, every good citizen of a city/province/country should know every law. It would be a better city/province/country if the law made sense and every citizen followed it to the letter.

In reality, nobody knows crap about the law. They know that a few things are obviously illegal — murder, say — but that's mostly because they also happen to be wrong. Most people have an inbuilt sense of right and wrong and, failing that, have parents that drill right and wrong into them from an early age.

The law, though? The law doesn't often (perhaps doesn't usually) line up with morality or common sense. And the thing is: nobody is trained in the law except the people enforcing it. There are no classes in school to teach people what is illegal and what is not. The average high school kid can recite the dates of historical events, but the average adult doesn't know which hours they can legally park on a city street.

A kid in grade 3 can do long division, but has no idea that he can get arrested for adding a dildo to a home that already has one (in Arizon, apparently).

If ignorance of the law is really no excuse, then I suppose the expectation is this: at some point in life, outside of school, of their own volition, every citizen of a city/province/country must seek out the laws of the city, province, and country, then memorize every single one.

That's likely impossible. And even if it were possible to memorize every law, it would be impossible to recall that information on cue in every relevant situation. "Hmm, I have this pair of dildos, and I'm travelling to Arizona...let me search my memory of thousands of obscure laws and see if the legal maximum dildo count was 2 or 3."

IANAL, but I am a psychologist, and my expert opinion is that such a feat exceeds the capabilities of the human mind.

That's a pretty damn good excuse.

So we're left with peoples' lives being ruined by other people, based on an expectation of non-ignorance that is literally impossible to live up to.

I don't know what the solution is, or if this is even a problem. We need laws, and generally the system, flawed as it may be, works pretty well. However, this is just one example of many that evokes the horror that many deep-thinking people often feel: the creeping realization that civilization is just a thin veneer of order, relying entirely on lies, illusions, and impossible expectations.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book Review: Glen, by Bryan Gorrison

It can always get worse. That seems to be the core message of Bryan Gorrison's debut novel. When it begins with the titular Glen getting shipped off to jail for violently molesting a child, it's hard to imagine how it can go down from there, but soon Glen is involved in a spiral of homelessness, drugs, crime, and, well, worse.

Glen was published through a vanity press, and in a lot of ways, it shows. Typos and grammatical errors on nearly every page are a major distraction, in addition to dialogue, info-dumps, and plot structure that could have used a few more rounds of editing.

That said, Gorrison has a shitload of potential as an author. His minimalist style can paint evocative images with just a few words of description ("their hip bones stuck out of their underwear like circus tents"). More importantly, he's willing to go places that few authors are. The violence is over the top, with no attempt to coat it with any happy upside. Even better, the plot goes places that are completely unexpected, pivoting in bizarre ways that are impossible to discuss without spoiling it.

My sister lent me this book because she knows the author. It's difficult to find too much information about this little oddity of a novel or its author, but I hope he's still writing. Glen is a flawed and fucked up debut that seems to come from a mind capable of great things.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Strange Case of Dicklessness, by Kitty Glitter

A letter addressed to Sherlock Holmes begins with "Dear Father." Then, A Strange Case of Dicklessness gets even weirder.

The "book" is only 12 pages long, so saying any more would give away crucial plot elements. All I can say is: read this. It's only a buck on Kindle, and if you're into dicks and horses and horse dicks, as I know you are, you'll dig it.

Kitty Glitter is a mysterious figure. Her stories are bizarre sequels to movies and tributes to pop culture icons that may or may not be legal. For example, check out the description for "Point Break 2:"

When Bodhi went under and drowned in that fifty year wave he left three cats behind, three cats that would go on their own adventure many years later...

"Point Break 2", another exciting thriller from the bestselling superstar author of "Wesley Crusher: Teenage Fuck Machine"!!!

I may have to buy all of her books.

The most shocking part is that she is actually not a bad writer. In A Strange Case of Dicklessness, she demonstrates a knowledge of the Sherlock Holmes mythos and style. Absurdity aside, it could've been a well-written tribute to Arthur Conan Doyle.

Let me make another shocking pronouncement: Kitty Glitter is the future of books. As I've said before re: episodic fiction, I think short squirts of literary goodness are going to grow in popularity. Many of them will be self-published. That is where someone like Kitty Glitter is a herald of things to come: she could not have existed even five years ago. No agents or publishers in their right minds would touch some ridiculous pseudonym writing ridiculous stories of questionable legality.

Now, it's not only possible to get ridiculous writing published, but it can find an audience with horsecock-loving motherfuckers like myself.

Mark my words, Internet. The future of books: Kitty Glitter. Kitty. Glitter.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Instagram Explosion

So, Instagram was just bought by Facebook, and may or may not die off or be swallowed as a result. I figure it's a good time to post some of my favourite Instagram photos here, both as a backup in case Zuckerberg hits his "destroy everything beautiful" button, and as a way to recycle stuff I've already done and call it a blog post. Here:

Filters = art. Love me, hipsters.

Oh, and shout out to Ed Jackman and Scott Webb, local photographers who have done great work using Instagram.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

On Lying

The first of April is probably a good day to talk about lying. I recently finished reading Sam Harris's short essay on the topic, which is called, no lie, Lying. In it, he explores the rationality of communicating things that are not true, and comes to the conclusion that it is wrong to lie.

Yeah. Obviously. But Harris goes further than what many people mean when they say "it's wrong to lie," arguing that even seemingly justified forms of lying, like little white lies, lying to protect someone, and false encouragement, are all wrong in their own way.

He's convincing, for the most part. Take false encouragement; the lies we tell without a second thought, like "yeah, I love your blog, you are such a good writer." It seems harmless, and it would be awkward to say otherwise to someone, but Harris makes a good point: "False encouragement is a kind of theft: it steals time, energy, and motivation a person could put toward some other purpose."

I've always been a big believer that the truth is the fastest route to success, both on a societal level (hence my interest in science) and on a personal level. It would be easy to get carried away with this, becoming one of those people who spouts his opinion whether asked for it or not, and is rarely invited to the next party. However, I think it is possible to tactfully express the truth whenever asked to.

I appreciate blunt people. Others may not, but even they can be served well by the right kind of bluntness. If I tell you that yes, you actually do look like a giant turd in that brown dress (like really, brown dress? What were you thinking?), it might hurt at first, but when you show up to the party in a different dress and get genuine compliments rather than awkward false encouragement, you're better off in the long run.

Harris also makes the point that lying is not only harmful to the people being lied to, but taxing for the liar. Keeping up a lie takes a lot of mental effort, since the lie was fabricated in the liar's mind. Every time the lie comes up, the liar has to check against his memory of previous lies, who knows what, how the lie affects everything else; he essentially has to store a new version of reality entirely in his head, often in real-time. When the truth comes up, though, it's easy to keep track of; the truth-teller only has to keep track of one version of reality. The real one.

Many of these examples assume the people involved are regular, sane people, who ultimately just want to get along. Where Harris starts to lose me is when discussing situations where this arrangement breaks down. He discusses a hypothetical situation of a murderer showing up at your door looking for a little boy who you are sheltering. Should you tell the murderer the truth? Harris argues that lying could have unintended harmful consequences; the murderer might go to the next house and murder someone else, or at best, it just shifts the burden of dealing with the murderer to someone else. Instead, a truth like "I wouldn't tell you even if I knew," coupled with a threat, could mollify the situation without a lie.

I'd argue that, when facing someone for whom cooperation and rationality have obviously broken down (e.g., a kid murderer), sometimes there are known consequences of lying (e.g., saving a kid's life) that are almost certainly less harmful than far-fetched unknown consequences. Harris later makes this same point on a larger scale, when justifying lying in the context of war and espionage, saying the usual rules of cooperation no longer apply. I think blowing up a city with a bomb and stabbing a kid with a knife are both situations where cooperation has broken down, and both situations where lying can be a tool used in good conscience.

There are no absolute moral principles that work in all situations. Life is too complicated for that. Trying to summarize it in simple prescriptive rules (as many religions have) doesn't work. So, the rule "lying is always wrong" can't work. There are extreme situations where the rule breaks down.

Luckily, most people will never encounter such an extreme situation in their daily lives. This is where Harris's main point is spot on: we should lie a lot less than we do. If everyone told the truth in every normal situation, relationships would be stronger, and people would be happier and more productive. I've certainly been more aware of my honesty since reading the book, so it's fair to say it literally changed my life. That's certainly worth the $2.00 it costs (buy it here). No word of a lie.