Voltron Ethics: Defender of the moral code

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What does Voltron, Defender of the Universe have to do with ethics?  Nothing directly, but the term is fitting and hopefully it will all make sense by the end of this post.

I’ll just quickly bring up an extract of what Sir Gerard Brennan AC is quoted as saying to the Queensland Bar Association on 3rd May 1992.

If ethics were reduced merely to rules, spiritless compliance would be replaced with skillful evasion.

I do wonder how much skillful evasion currently occurs, or whether my concerns are caused by the protrayal of ‘TV lawyers’.  I have no doubt time will tell

Our textbook ‘The New Lawyer’ points out that the earlier Greek approaches to ethics can be frustratingly vague and generalised.  Certainly this can be annoying, but as critical thinkers do we not owe it to ourselves and to others to question that which is presented to us anyway? I find the idea of religious ethics to perhaps be the ‘easy option’.  I have no doubt however that the ideals they present have potential to be good and solid foundations for ethical structures.  Modern ethics certainly seem more defined, but still require critical thinking about the choices you make.

So at this point I feel it would be astute to talk about my own ethical background.  As a child I was taught and raised around Christian ethics, and during my early teenage years even would have been referred to as a ‘Churchie’.  At some point I came to the realisation I was acting to be someone that I was not, became Agnostic, and then an Atheist.  It was during this turning point that I began to forge my basic ethical foundations that I built upon over the years into young adulthood.  Some of this was built around fictional writings at the time, and some around my own experiences, thoughts and feelings.

In the mid 1980s (eerily close to the date I was born) a young programmer named Richard Garriott began designing a video game where in order to complete it, your character (aptly named ‘the Avatar’ in later sequels) must master eight ‘virtues’ (Honesty, Compassion, Valour, Justice, Sacrifice, Honour, Spirituality and Humility) drawn from three principles (Truth, Love, Courage).  Garriott spent some time researching existing ethical structures and theories to really define what he felt each virtue and principle truly meant, and so we can see many influences from modern, religious, greek and other ethics in the work he has done.  For those interested, the game itself starts with a series of ethical questions where choices are ultimately between one virtue and another in order to determine which virtues you begin favoring.  It’s fair to say that it’s from Garriott’s work that I built my own ethical foundations.

And this is what I mean by Voltron Ethics.  For those unfamiliar, the colloquial term to “Voltron” something means taking components of different areas, items, ideas etc. and putting them together to form your own ‘version’ of something.  And now looking at my own personal ethics that’s what I feel I have.  I can see influences from deontologist ethics, in that I do see doing things that I feel it is my duty to do as acting eithically.  However, I balance these choices with consequentialist ethics; yes I feel it is my duty to do this, but will doing this have the best possible consequences. Or, if there is no feeling of duty, I tend to run almost solely by consequentialist ethics. In hindsight, when considering “have I acted ethically” my self-opinion is much more heavily around virtue ethics.  This is because sometimes choices and consequences do not always go to plan.  If I make choices that at the time appeared ethically correct, but did not have the intended outcome and resulted in negative occurences, have I still acted ethically?  For example, using consequentialist ethics in a hindsight context does not feel like an apt application of it’s tenants.  And so personally I think, what virtues are displayed in your actions are more relevant in a hindsight context.

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‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere’

Any cursory search around people who have spoken of justice would bring you to a roster not to be taken lightly: Malcolm X, Winston Churchill, Aristotle, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, and more.  Before now if someone asked me who have I read about that has spoken most about justice, the answer would have been ‘Batman’.

justice1Yes I know it’s hard to take me seriously with Batman staring at you like that, but bear with me here.  The point I’m making is that for me, and likely for my peers, we all had an idea of what ‘Justice’ meant to us before beginning our foray into the world of academic Law.  For many of us I imagine that ideals and opinions revolving around justice are beginning to evolve, or change completely as study continues, but we’ll always have unique ideas of what justice looks like and what kind of justice we value most.  Whether it’s criminal justice, social justice, righteous(biblical) justice, the ‘Batman’ flavour of justice or any other form we will all have unique thoughts and opinions on exactly what is ‘just’ and what is ‘unjust’.

One thing I did find particularly interesting was the principle types of justice, in particular retributive and restorative justice.  Our textbook ‘The New Lawyer’ refers to the application of restorative justice in an Adelaide school dealing with bullying.  Bullying has been a more prominent topic of late and it appears that the school had considerable success with this approach.  What I do wonder is how beneficial the application of restorative practices to children and teenagers will be for them in the long term – will the short term success the school has seen translate to long term benefits to the outlooks on the futures of said students?  It appears research was only done assessing the short term benefits at the school – hopefully we see later studies along this train of though.

justice3I found it of important note also the the point that legality and justice are not one in the same.  It is a concept that I feel I will struggle to get my head around for some time.  It may very well be a source of much judicial activism however – the idea of a ‘just’ legal system is highly sought after.  As a judge, if making a decision within the strict letter of the law would be unjust, venturing into the realm of judicial activism certainly would be a tempting path.  The debate appears to be still raging on however as to whether or not such a decision would be appropriate, and can get rather meta.  Is the idea of making a just decision that is not legally correct, unjust in and of itself?   I wouldn’t presume to have the answer to that.

Yes, our teeth and ambitions are bared Be prepared!

I’m just going to assume everyone can recognise a Lion King quote, despite thebe prepared text book telling me not to make assumptions!

This weeks topics were all centered around communication and self management, essential skills not just for a lawyer, but indeed for many career paths.  I felt that it almost read as a very comprehensive guide to the skills and traits that will require a reasonable level of proficiency. Personally I find that really useful as it can help to identify what you need to focus on.

The mention of the use of plain English and grammar was a relief to see, however I have had a habit in the past of point out how the English language can be mind-numbingly stupid at times.  One of my favorites to demonstrate is this ditty I have ‘borrowed from another online: Wouldn’t the sentence “I want to put a hyphen between the words Fish and And and And and Chips in my Fish-And-Chips sign” have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Fish, and between Fish and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Chips, as well as after Chips?.

All of the quotation marks that sentence had had had had no effect on it’s ability to be understood. On a more reasonable point regarding grammar one such under appreciated piece of punctuation is the oxford comma, or serial comma.  For written correspondence it can be a handy tool to remove ambiguity, however if used incorrectly it can potentially create ambiguity also.  It is important with grammatical rules and ambiguous wording that we review what we are saying to ensure it is clear and free of ambiguity.

I was very impressed to see the topics of resilience, hope and optimism, and mindfulness be covered in our notes and textbook.  Being pro-active with mental health is an important issue that I have endeavored to keep on top of personally.  Whether you continue with Law or not, if you only take one thing our of this week’s studies, take that!

All weblinks lead to Russia

or why not

∀x(x ∈ w) → x ∈ r
Because why not.

Some weeks ago, whilst working on the module regarding the History of Australian Law, I somehow ended up reading about the foundation and dissolution of the USSR.  I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but I hopped onto Wikipedia to read about double dissolution.  How did I end up reading about Russia you ask? Well I have a habit of following the blue-bricked Wikipedia path, and somehow instead of always ending up in Philosophy, as I’ve mentioned before, I end up with Russia, or at least somewhere in their circle of influence.

For those interested, the topics I found of interest that led me to them went like this: Double dissolution> Gough Whitlam> Malcolm Fraser> Bob Hawke> Ronald Reagan> Mikhail Gorbachev> dissolution of the Soviet Union> Soviet Union (or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  I clarify as I somehow had the wrong idea of what the letters USSR stood for).

I found looking into the various downfalls of faulty reasoning to be very enlightening.  Whilst I do consider myself a critical thinker, I did feel that I have fallen to the folly of faulty reasoning far more often than favorable (there’s extra points for creative alliteration, right?).  I would think Critically of my ability of Critical Thinking, but that might be a little too meta.  In all honesty though whilst I do certainly Critically think about the statements of others, I do feel that I need to Critically think about my own pre-conceptions more.  That would be my greatest task to work on here.

Oh and in case anyone missed it, important life lessons from ‘The New Lawyer’:

Note that, while it is a good idea to practise your ability to recognise these techniques in everyday conversations, it is probably not a good idea to become the kind of person who constantly points out the logical flaws in the claims and arguments being presented by your friends and family members.
You know who you are!
I find myself wondering whether the idea of Strict Formalism perhaps is an ideal currently advocated by those who would benefit the most, or those who wish to be a member of such class (we all know one – they have a habit of posting Facebook ‘selfies’ where they are shrouded in cigar smoke, sipping expensive whisky.  Whilst some may feel it to be a failure of Feminism that we may struggle to find an appropriate female ‘want-to-be’ comparison, or that I personally haven’t used one, I would argue that Strict Legalism and Feminist Legal Theory would be too much at odds for such a caricature to be considered ‘success’).
It’s not an original thought by a long shot, not even for Karl Marx, but he’s certainly the one who deserves the most credit for it.  And now we’re back to Russia.  This is how I keep ending up unintentionally researching Russia.  This time it’s the 1993 Russian Constitutional Crisis.  The weblink path was much simpler here: Karl Marx> Das Kapital> Imperial Russia> Russian Federation> 1993 Russian Constitutional Crisis.

Did your non-returnable outgoings for the first half..WHAT?!

Occasionally, Law is very, very confusing.  The New Lawyer gives us an absolute gem of an example with this excerpt from the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (Cth)below:taxes

A car is a predecessor of a second car if a third car is a predecessor of the second car and the first-mentioned car is a predecessor of the third car (including a case where the first-mentioned car is a predecessor of the third car by another application or applications of this paragraph)

Thankfully I have found that section has since been repealed. It does however remind me of the ‘taxes’ scene in ‘Black Books’ (fantastic English Comedy series, worth a watch if you’re into that kind of thing). Looking into case notes, discovering how important Headnotes are to determine if a particular case is relevant and to also assist to determine legal issues involved is a very handy tidbit that I honestly overlooked prior to this chapter. In Hindsight it would have been invaluable to read about this before handing in the first assignment, Although I’d imagine we all did reasonably well regardless. In particular I did really enjoy this chapter and module of my Law study.  Common Law Presumptions lay out a set of rules with which to provide groundwork when interpreting law.  I can see how I will be referring back to these again and again in my future studies.  Having a deeper understanding of how laws are interpreted is an integral tool to success in the legal field. I have spent a little spare time that I’ve had to look into a case or two and attempt to determine the ratio decidendi and the obiter dicta  of the respective Judge’s decisions.  It’s certainly something that will take some time to get my head around, but I would highly recommend fellow Law students grab a few cases and give it a good go. rulesAs someone who identifies themselves as a “gamer” when it comes to my pastime, particularly table-top, collectible card and board games occasionally on a competitive level, I found this topic quite close to home.  Some games are very rules intensive on competitive levels, but there’s a term that is used (in both a positive and negative light) regularly among ‘Gamers’ particularly at competitive events called ‘Rules-Lawyering’ (or referring to a person as a ‘rules-lawyer’). It may or may not be true that the term has been used to describe me on more than one occasion (There are shirts for it and everything!).  It essentially means that you are using the rules to effectively give yourself considerable benefit over your opponent (positive) or that you are abusing or exploiting loopholes in order to create an unfair advantage for yourself, or to ‘wriggle’ your way out of a situation that would be detrimental to your plans or strategy. I bring this up as our text talks about how the nature of language makes law naturally ambiguous.  The same is true for many games that have rules more complex than say the traditional Monopoly, or the award-winning ‘Settlers of Catan’.  Interpreting the rules for these games can be a key point of argument in many situations (most predominately in table-top games such as ‘Warhammer’ and ‘Warhammer 40k’)  and there are two terms used to describe the way the rules “should” be interpreted (though there is no consensus as to which is the ‘correct’ approach). They are ROW (Read as Written) and ROI (Read as Intended) – at this point this should be sounding eerily familiar! I am cautiously anticipating an opportunity to attempt interpreting some complicated cases or legislation, it seems like it could very easily swing from interesting and challenging, to nightmarish in a heartbeat!

Edit: 16th May 2015

I think at this point as well I’ve been having some great interest in the Hot Topics each module.  It’s been great to look a bit more deeply through the news relevant to the legal field and being able to discuss with our fellow students what has been happening recently and the challenges we will eventually embroil ourselves in.  I think it is what I look forward to most each module, answering the hot topic and reading other’s responses.

Law Sources and Research – Law Google is not Lougle

hot-tub-time-machine-2-rob-corddryJust for a change of pace, I’m going to leave the movie references towards the end this time, and for one of them try to make it a bit more relevant!

Politics has always been an interest for me that I have had little time to look into, so Chapter 4 of ‘The New Lawyer’ was certainly of much interest to me (to the point that I found myself reading about past double dissolutions, various prior Prime Ministers and the such for a few hours).

trialbycombat

I did particularly find the diagrams showing the flow of cases from the Original court to the Appelate courts to be particularly helpful.  Understanding which court do what and why has already provided some handy points in discussion with colleagues at my current workplace involving legal matters.  I can see clearly how legal knowledge becomes important in maintaining working relationships with other law students and lawyers etc.  as is mentioned in ‘The New Lawyer’ in a prior module.

With a bit more background on the history of law, namely Trial by ordeal and trial by combat, I am reminded that the next season of Game of Thrones is on soon.  More importantly though, ‘The New Lawyer’ asks us what benefits there could be of ‘Trial by Combat’ as a legal construct.  Certainly I would imagine the costs would be much lower than a normal trial.  The chance of appeal is considerably reduced too! (although not completely as you might think, it appears that you can ‘tap out’ in Trial by Combat historically).

As a quick aside on legal research, apparently ‘My Cousin Vinny’ is one of the more accurate courtroom movies around (see entry #4 on this list) and has been moved to the top of my ‘to watch’ list.  If you’re interested in these comical numbered list style articles, for the sake of relevance here’s another 5 movies, this time with the most illegal court rulings in legal history.

Wikipedia is becoming a more prevalent source of information for the masses, and commonly many searches lead here (and then ultimately to Philosophy. No, really).  ‘The New Lawyer’ asks us to consider the validity of information from Wikipedia and it’s sources.  Ultimately whilst Wikipedia is vetted by other contributors to the site, all contributions are provided by any multitude of keyboard warriors, or potentially accredited experts, without the use being any the wiser.  Wikipedia is not, however, any less useful as a tool, it just needs to be used differently.  Wikipedia requires citations and references to be provided by all contributors, and this is what we can use as pathways to more potentially viable sources of information.  It can also be used as a place to mine for better search terms  to be used at more reliable sites.

The important lesson here is to be aware of where information comes from originally, how it is referenced, and whether it has been correctly repeated or interpreted by the site in question.  Let’s suspend our belief for a moment for the following example; while this linked article explains that Bilbo Baggins’ contract is legally valid and correct, referencing Cracked.com is probably not going to curry much favour (despite it being far more amusing to read than the atypical legal reference), I could however directly reference James Daily, a licensed attorney in Missouri who originally made the observation on his law blog ‘law and the multiverse’ linked here (the first of a few length posts on the topic).  Why I’d be arguing such a matter is yet to be determined, however whilst it’s a secondary source, and a foreign one at that, it’d certainly be a good place to start. If I wanted to really argue it, I could use Daily’s blog as background reading to mine for relevant search terms and determine the validity of the contract under Australian law.  Such an activity done correctly could potentially net me some primary sources to reference, or at the very least some more local secondary sources.

In short, yes I am definitely purchasing a copy of the contract from The Hobbit (already the research skills I am working on have come to fruition!)

As always, feel free to discuss and comment at your leisure 🙂

Thanks,

-JP

History of Law (the non-Python version)

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For the sake of consistency I’m going to open with my tangential thoughts.  Which of course, being a bit of a movie buff was that I feel the various iterations of Robin Hood would be apt for a revisit about now.  If I had the time that is.  But of course I would save the best for last (although that being said I haven’t seen the Russel Crowe version yet, for fear of it being terrible).

My first thought though, on opening up The New Lawyer and this module’s notes was ‘history? really?’.  After which I was again promptly put in my place within the opening paragraph of Chapter 4 (and again when I decided to see what this module’s tutorial questions were).

From the British law history component I certainly found the information about the British feudal system and the signing of the Magna Carta to be most interesting (in case my opening paragraph didn’t give that away already). Quite honestly I found it difficult to interpret in some circumstances.  The New Lawyer asks us what rights the Magna Carta gave to English citizens and whilst some were fairly clear, others I did find myself reading multiple times.  That being said, interpretation of documents such as this is not really something I have done before (beyond interpreting insurance PDS’s) and I feel with the examples and research questions given in The New Lawyer it is something I am improving with, but will have to focus on also.

An issue that tends to be in fairly prominent discussion on a recurring basis is the many issues surrounding law and Indigenous Australians.  Working through this module I learnt much about the systems currently in place designed to help, and was reminded of the systems we’ve had in the past that we’d perhaps rather forget.  It would not be unusual, I think, that we may see some strides forward (hopefully) in this area of law particularly in the coming years with the success of the Murri court and Circle Sentencing from QLD and NSW respectively.  I wondered whether signing of a treaty would be much of a useful tool in resolving many of these issues.  Having our textbook discuss this in detail only a few paragraphs later gave me a much greater insight into the background and potential of this issue.

Lastly I wanted to share my answer to a question asked by The New Lawyer

Who are the traditional owners of the lands on which you live? What can you find out about these owners?

This was not quite as easy as I had perceived.  Initial searching on Google led me wrongly to a website inferring that the Darkinjung may be traditional owners, however it was not clear on the matter (Although I did discover the Darkinjung language is extinct).  Further searching led me to Wikipedia (where I for a change did not end up reading 11 other unrelated entries) that indicated that they did not claim to be the traditional owners.  The Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council are though the self-appointed caretakers of the Central Coast of NSW.  The Traditional Owners of where I live in Lisarow were the Guringai (named Kuring-Gai by John Fraser).  Further Norman Tirdale suggested that the tride Fraser had called Kuring-Gai, were in fact a small part of a much larger central tribe, the Awakabal.  The only maps I could find however suggest that the Guringai land was from Tuggerah lakes and South, the Darkinjung actually are noted as having a small tract in the middle, before the Awakabal land starts to the North, so there has been some conflicting information here that I was, so far, unable to resolve.
As always feel free to comment and discuss.
Thanks for reading!
-JP