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Indiana Judges Association: Judges need to take control of cultural standing

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ija-dreyerInternet meme (pron.: / ’mi:m/MEEM): a concept that spreads from person to person via the Internet. Meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene,” as an attempt to explain the way cultural information spreads; Internet memes are a subset of this, specific to the culture and environment of the Internet.

Have you ever Googled “lawyer dog”? If you do, be prepared to see a limitless line of websites all featuring identical photos of the same canine seated behind his desk, along with various one-liners related to the law, dogs and just silliness. (“The judge is a man? We’re golden. I’m man’s best friend.”) Such phenomena are presumably what people mean when they mention the word “meme.” Although it was originally invented as a pseudo-academic name for social symbols, words or ideas that emerge and represent part of a culture (like the peace sign), it has apparently been appropriated by humans’ computer habits. Some thinkers now believe the Internet is the only way that memes, or any cultural activity, are invented, perceived or have any impact on people. On the other hand, many avid Internet activists today use “meme” to merely describe anything that is currently popular on the Web. Some consider memes as just updated versions of stereotypes, only spreading much quicker. But here’s the problem: What if the meme becomes the message, that is, becomes so ubiquitous that it gets stuck in everybody’s mind – whether we like it or not – or whether it deserves to be?

Sometimes meme activity just happens in speech and practice, like using “Google” as a verb. Commentators sometimes use “meme” to characterize broad popular images, like a quarterback dating a cheerleader or a judge who is male with gray hair. More commonly, running Internet jokes, forwarded photos, satirical YouTube videos, open-ended questions and posted answers, etc., all creep into some part of our public observation and thinking. Hence, “lawyer dog” and the like. When this happens, no one yet knows the result. The Economist, a leading international journal, recently featured studies implying memes not only affect individual behavior, they shape entire societies.

Lawyers and judges are prominent meme creators. In fact, the language of law itself is perhaps the ultimate meme:

“All men are created equal.” But not all memes are created equal.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Couldn’t they have added “regular vacations” as well?

“Right to remain silent.” If only more lawyers would take advantage of this.

“I cannot recall at this point in time.” 1970s Watergate lawyers developed this perjury-avoidant answer for clients testifying to Congress. It is still heard by judges every day.

“I know it when I see it.” Yogi Berra could not have said it any better.

The non-lawyer world unfortunately has found its own legal memes, and they are not as entertaining as “lawyer dog” sites. In fact, they should serve to alarm us, especially considering the instant power of memes. Pondscumandlawyers.com is a fairly typical example. It routinely ridicules lawyers with a different joke each day. The website is not necessarily popular, but its method is pervasive. The basic lawyer meme is anything that shows lawyers as rude, greedy, arrogant or just plain dishonest. This means that lawyers and judges are culturally misperceived. For lawyers, this may not be such a serious issue because clients and fees will come as long as there are people with problems. But the world depends upon public confidence in judges – and judges can do little to control the meme effect of the Internet.

The good and bad news is that Internet memes can be created and spread by anyone. So why shouldn’t we judges create memes to control our cultural standing? For example, why not post a succinct video of a judge talking about his or her job? It should promote a meme-like slogan, like “We’re judges, but we’re not judgmental.” Maybe we can spread the stories of judges who have given their lives in Mexico and Eastern Europe, in the name of justice, by finding an image of one grieving relative and asking for public comment? Perhaps we try to start a popular legal blog and forum where real judges answer questions about the system, what it’s like to be a judge, etc. As far-fetched as it can appear to those of us who were trained by actual books, the world today learns as much from Internet memes as anything else. Whether we like it or not, we judges risk peril if we avoid these realities.

All in all, law will not be decided by the Internet – at least not yet. So judges and lawyers will still have to think, write and argue just as before. Memes are part of our cultural experience and can form the basis of contemporary thinking. But law is more than contemporary culture. Judges may have to proactively market an accurate image to the public, but memes will never take the place of a fact well-proven or a judgment well-reasoned.•

__________

Judge David J. Dreyer has been a judge for the Marion Superior Court since 1997. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School. He is a former board member of the Indiana Judges Association. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
 

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  • Point Smith
    I concede, point to JS this round!
  • Less marketing more truth
    No lawyers are not the source of political correctness movement. Who is? I don't know for sure, but here is what William Lind says http://www.academia.org/the-origins-of-political-correctness/ As for who is the source of greed, the hallmark vice of lawyers, is it not our fallen nature? And the lawyers & politicians that founded this republic and disseminated such memes as "all men created equal" etc. down the decades right on up today, were not so much lawyers as plutocrats, marketing strategic wars for dominion in order to enlist the gullible colonials as cannon fodder. Maybe we need less memes and marketing and clever stuff like that and more plain simple Truth & Justice. As for who first told me there was no such thing as truth I recall that was a professor. Back to Bill Lind...
    • Caution, your honor, assumptions can make ...
      "The basic lawyer meme is anything that shows lawyers as rude, greedy, arrogant or just plain dishonest. This means that lawyers and judges are culturally misperceived." ASSUMPTION: That most lawyers and judges are just as reported. It that justified? What has the rise of the legal class since WWII done good for America? Has not our profession brought much of the modernist ills in governance, and is not most government corruption, financial or ideological (i.e. PC movement) not the fault of attorneys, by and large? Here is what Old Slewfoot has to say about that, and he is quite the expert witness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6bC9w9cH-M

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      1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

      2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

      3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

      4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

      5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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