Riddle: When Is a Lawyer Not “Thinking Like a Lawyer”? Answer: When He Hits His Thumb with a Hammer While He’s Watching Himself in a Mirror

Lawyers I avoid like the plague, unless, of course, I have to have one, and then, of course, I want a very good one.

That’s because in the domains of the Alpha worldviews, which includes most of the world’s population, lawyers are a world (and a law) unto themselves. Everyone else—plaintiff or defender, victim or accused—is an outsider, and the legal “system,” like most systems, often deals harshly with outsiders. The damage that lawyers do has been getting worse and worse. You might say that the world has become much too complicated for lawyers to litigation and adjudicate, but of course every day, they are still out there in massive numbers litigating and adjudicating their little hearts out and billing for it by the fraction of an hour.

And to now, it’s all been built on a phony assumption that the world is totally and completely a rational kind of place. That people do what they do because they think about it first. Reflect on it. Deliberate about it. And then make a selfish choice or act on precisely calibrated assumptions about probabilities and about the future that—to use a phrase from economics—mazimizes utility.

How inobservant and inaccurate.

But then the history of the worldviews of Alpha is, in many hurtful and thoughtless ways, a history of inobservant and inaccurate assumptions and assertions.

The new Beta worldview is giving us new, more complete ways to look at things because the Beta mind is a much bigger kind of place. There is room in the Beta thinker’s world for the psychologist to stand comfortably alongside the economist. And the neuroscientist to sit naturally alongside the law professor. And talk to each other in earnest, inquiring and trustful terms.

As evidence, I offer the July, 2005, issue of the Chicago-Kent Law Review. The entire issue is about challenges that are emerging to the view that rationality adequately explains how and why laws are made—and how the people in the legal profession and the people who find the law being applied to them behave.

The issue’s lead piece is a 45-page article by law professor Jules Lobel and economist/psychologist George Loewenstein that argues “emote control” (emotional control) is usually a more important determiner of why people do what they do than rational control. And that emote behavior is old-brain behavior and nearly always trumps rational behavior because it is faster and brings psychological relief quicker and offers more clear-cut outcomes than new-brain behavior. This makes emotional control the default controller.

Now, this is ho-hum stuff to psychologists and therapists and brain/mind scholars. But this is a law journal refereed by lawyers and talking to lawyers.

This is great stuff!

And it becomes totally intriguing stuff when you see what Lobel and Loewenstein do with what they have come to accept as a new dual-controller paradigm that they call “behavioral law.”

These experts put their behavioral law theories to immediate use by shining their new explanatory spotlight on politicians and judicial decision makers who, whether instinctively or rationally, use “emote control” to manipulate the development of the law.

The key, these scholars note, is substituting symbols for substance. Symbols will trigger the old brain emotions, they note. Substance is more the feedstock of the newer, rationality-producing pre-frontal cortex.

I can’t begin to do justice to their ideas and evidence in this space. But let’s pick up a thread or two. They note that in Jon Krakauer’ bestselling Into Thin Air, he recounts the extreme shock he experienced the first time he encountered a climber’s dead body on Mount Everest. It left him shaken for several hours. Then not long after, he encountered the second dead body. And the shock wore off almost immediately.

That’s because, say these authors, the brain’s affect systems are sensitive to changes in things—to situations that appear to be new. And then adapt quickly to ongoing or repeated stimuli.

They point to President Bush’s response following 9/11. Whether the President rationally made a decision to use “emote control” following 9/11, he most assuredly and rapidly tapped its powers when he began to say things like this to the nation and the world: “In the new world we have entered, the path to peace and security is the path of action” and the “war against terrorism ushers in a new paradigm … ushered in not by us, but by terrorists.”

The law journal writers say:

“The perception of the September 11 attacks as ushering in a new era was a powerful emotional motivation for changes in legal doctrine that might not survive rational scrutiny. That the United States is facing a new situation has been utilized to justify (a) changing international legal rules on the use of force to permit preemptive self-defense; (b) not applying the Geneva Conventions to alleged terrorists; (D) detaining people without charges or trial; (d) a very narrow definition of torture permitting coercive interrogation….[The] perception that the problem of terrorism was in some sense ‘new’, encouraged an affective response to the problem that discourages and distorted rational debate….”

Their conclusion: a little “emote control” can be a very dangerous thing when it is left unchallenged as the default controller of behavior. Especially, in the profession that makes laws, litigates and adjudicates.

This is just one juicy bite out of Lobel’s and Loewenstein’s hefty, thoughtful apple. Go here to read the whole article: “Emote Control: The Substitution of Symbol for Substance in Foreign Policy and International Law”

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