Shakespeare, the Environment, Utah, a Hero and the Justice System

Conscience is but a word that cowards use, Devised at first to keep the strong in awe. Our strong arms be our conscience, swords and lawConscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devised at first to keep the strong in awe.
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords and law!”

(King Richard III, act 5, sc. 3)

Comment.  Richard III was right. Conscience is but a word – actually a dirty word, at least in the current judicial system, as the facts will here demonstrate.

To unequivocally prove the point we must first gather some apparently unconnected strands. It won’t be long, yet we must crave the forbearance of the reader.

The story starts in Utah and in no way the image shown above can reproduce the awe and beauty of the original Utah landscape – to borrow from Wordsworth, a view with “the glory and freshness of a dream”.

But five years ago the Goddess Democracy and her husband the God of Profit set their eyes on the magic Utah landscape. They sought the assistance of Chrysus, son of Profit and God of Gold. Together they set up an auction in Salt Lake City to buy tens of thousands of acres of the magic, irreplaceable land of Utah. They wanted to drill for oil, or do some fracking, or undertake whatever other diabolical operation designed to destroy both land and environment.

To their surprise, not everyone agreed with the idea (in Utah and elsewhere). Actually most didn’t, but Chrysus and his father Profit since long have converted Democracy into a useful trap where “the credulous fools are caught.”(Othello, 4.1)

And here enters the real hero of our story, Mr. Tim DeChristopher, a brilliant, clever and articulate young man who devised a genial procedure to foil the wicked plans of Profit, Chrysus and “Democracy”.  He attended the auction and, unbeknown to the rapacious and bidding hyenas, he outbid them all. Of course he had no money to sustain the bids but in the meantime he saved Utah.

The naïve reader may think that the state of Utah, along with Democracy (‘power of the people’, let’s not forget) should have honored the savior of her land. Instead Tim DeChristopher was promptly arrested and charged with the crime of “disrupting the bidding”. What comes next out-orwells even George Orwell.

The Public Prosecutor offered the Defendant a deal. He would admit to the crime and serve a nominal sentence in jail (30 days or thereabout), or go for a jury trial. Conscious of having done a duty to the State of Utah and to his conscience –  having sought no benefit for himself whatsoever – Tim DeChristopher chose a trial by jury.

A mistake, because in the system as it is administered today, the jury trial is rigged in such a way that the prosecutor almost always wins, as we will demonstrate in the topic instance.

Prior to the trial a pamphlet had been circulated to the jury. Besides the customary rules applicable to the proceedings, the pamphlet contained a quotation by John Adams, (for our international visitors one of the founders of the Republic). Adams wrote in 1771, “It’s not only ….(the juror’s) right, but his duty, in that case, to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, even if in direct opposition to the direction of the court.”

The Public Prosecutor, incensed by pride and resentment, took issue at the presence of the quotation in the jury pamphlet. Whereupon the Judge called the prospective jurors one by one in the presence of himself and the Prosecutor.

The reader can visualize the intimidating atmosphere of a tribunal, decorated with the splendid trappings of temporal greatness and government power. And for most jurors, being individually called to answer a Judge is a one-time “shock-and-awe” experience.

To each prospective juror the Judge said the following, “I will instruct you to follow the law and not your conscience. Now, if you can follow my instructions you can be a juror, otherwise you cannot. Are you capable of following my instructions?”

What average human being can refuse the intimidating instructions of a Judge, delivered in such imposing surroundings, with the high tide of pomp beating on the high shores of the court? We are all instinctively sensitive to the symbolic meaning of visible things. Who dares to disregard the landmarks of orthodoxy? All said yes, they would follow the instructions of the Judge and not the dictates of their conscience.

Conclusion. The savior of the Utah environment was found guilty and condemned, by unanimous decision, to two years in prison, to be spent in the company of common criminals. He was just recently released.

There are four, actually five considerations to be added to this episode. They show the tragic state of our so-called “democracy”.

One. Perhaps influenced by the knowledge of DeChristopher’s trial, another judge declared the sale (and the auction) of the Utah landscape illegal. A development that should have meant the reversal of the Defendant’s conviction – but it didn’t.

Two. John Adams was also one of the founders of the Constitution. The Judge’s menacing demand to disregard John Adam’s pronouncement shows at what level the respect for the Constitution has fallen.

Three. Notwithstanding all this it is still to be hoped that conscience not be considered “but a word”. Though clearly, he who does so today, swims against the tide of the times – as shown by the sober evidence of this and other similar cases.

Four. The reader will still remember the BP explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, an environmental disaster that words cannot even begin to describe. He may recall that the oil companies even supplied free girls to the regulators sent by the government to inspect the companies. There were months of investigations, extremely lengthy discussions on the meaning of this or that word, all to the purpose of a monumental and universal coverage of everybody’s bottom. Not one, not one individual was ever prosecuted or sent to jail. Same thing with the bank scandals and the Wall Street scams – the clear and illegal production of either fraud or forgery.

Tim DeChristopher, instead, spent two years in jail for doing something benefiting us all. So much for “law and order”, so much for “democracy”.

Five, and perhaps as instructive as four. Speaking of his detention, DeChristopher said that, during his two years in jail, he had met about 50 people who really deserved to be locked-up. Of these, five were inmates, the rest guards.

In the Play: King Richard addressing the troops before the final battle with Richmond’s forces at Bosworth field.

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  • Another great piece, Jimmy. God bless De Christopher and the judge who pronounced the auctioning of the Utah landscape as illegal. I hope it is still safe. This is the fate of “democracies” across the world- they are just selling out to corporations. Hope that De Christopher is none the worse for the experience and that his resolves have not been weakened by the system.

  • Sad but true, Jimmy. And fast pacing, all around us. You mention Orwell, I see Huxley. Is not the fear that will bring us the ruin, but our insatiable desire. And listening to the philosophers of the neuroscience, conscience is just an illusion, a cultural and religious convention (bad and dangerous). The new man must be free of it, by the legitimacy of evolution toward progress, must be confident that he deserves to live plenary “well”, now, no matter the costs for the future, and to reject all fetters of atavistic remorse.
    Of course the law protects the well-being of the powerful (who else made the law? ever).
    Nice quote from Old Will.