Nov
26

An Invitation From Sigmund Freud

"Having recognized religious doctrines as illusions, we are at once faced by a further question: may not other cultural assets of which we hold a high opinion and by which we let our lives be ruled be of a similar nature? Must not the assumptions that determine our political regulations be called illusions as well? and is it not the case that in our civilization the relations between the sexes are disturbed by an erotic illusion or a number of such illusions. ... [T]he author does not dispose of the means for undertaking so comprehensive a task..."

              Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, 1927.

It was enough, perhaps, for Sigmund Freud to disturb the sleep of Europe and North America with his observations about the role of the unconscious in our lives. Toward the end of his life, he took a penetrating look at our religious ideas and beliefs. The claims we make for the afterlife, for example, are compelling, but irrational. Experience teaches that we do not return from the dead or live beyond our last breath. But we cannot help but hope for immortality surrounded as we are round and about by not just intimations, but hard evidence, or mortality. The seedling of eternity is planted deep with us all. That so many of us water this inchoate and almost irrepressible desire until it becomes filled with saints, angels, gods, demons and the doctrines about the life to come, is understandable. Illusion is after all necessary. We all live and plan and hope as if each day were something other than a promise that might not be redeemed.

But what of the state, or, in more prosaic form, the United States? Are these but illusions as well? Is justice? Our legal doctrines about reasonable men and women? The broad place keeping terms we use to decide issues without realizing that resort to ideas such as "society," subjective standards and objective standards and the like, are but wind passing our lips?

I've litigated hundreds of cases on behalf of clients who sat across from me in my office. Each wondered what it was the government or the state could do to them. Some wondered why the state was pursuing them with such ferocity. I've seen some of these people cry in fear. A few have taken their lives.

In no case have I ever been able to sit and reason with my adversary. Oh, sure, I can pick up the phone and call a prosecutor any day. Most will return my calls. But when two lawyers meet to discuss a case, they represent their clients. All lawyers agree that only a fool represents himself. Thus, when I look at a prosecutor and ask to speak to his client I am almost always met with the vacant stare of an ox on the threshold of an abattoir. The simple truth is that in criminal defense, the prosecutor is a fool: He has no client. There is no entity with flesh and blood to whom he can turn and ask how to proceed. We make fools of prosecutors by requiring them to serve as both advocate and client. This slight trick transorms the criminal courts too often into dark comedic caves.

What I am saying may sound playful, but I mean it in dead earnest. If you doubt it, stand in the well of a court sometime and ask to call the United States Government as a witness.  Ask for your client to meet the State of Connecticut. After you have asked your client consider the state's offer, go back to the prosecutor and ask him to consult his client. You will be regarded as though you have lost your mind. But yet the prosecution is free to call all manner of witnesses to relay what your client has said about one thing or another. Statements against penal interest, or the admission of a party opponent, are almost always admissible evidence. Where do defendants go to garner the admissions of the state? The state is a necessary fiction we take all too seriously.

I am sometimes accused of hating the Government or the state. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am as indifferent to these entities as I am to the claims of Santa's wife. Were I to live for eternity, I will never meet either party. I cannot hate what I cannot see. I cannot hate a fiction any more than I can forward my mail to Hell, where, if the illusions some faiths teach are in fact true, is my next stop after passing though this vale of tears.

That the state is an illusion does not detract from its necessary role in our lives. So near as I can tell, the presence of the state in one form or another is a constant in our civilization and the civilization of others. I suspect the state is a function of a group's size. My hunch is that a small group can do without the intellectual gymnastics necessary to invest some people with the authority to harm others by depriving them of life, liberty and property. I've conveived an informal Rule of Ten: Any group larger than ten persons loses the capacity to manage its affairs by resort to fictions. Thus, in a school or even online, as a community grows, so do informal pressures to conform to standards that are soon invest with a reality and meaning that stand apart and over the relationship of one person to another. Once a group moves beyond the level of intimacy, roles replace relationships. In a large enough group, an apparatus arises to force others to adopt certain roles. This apparatus is, writ large, the state.

What I do struggle with is what becomes of the men and women who are assigned, or, more nearly, seek to become the guardians of role compliance. Who becomes a prosecutor other than a person who wishes to tell another how to live? And what becomes of a prosecutor who year by year so identifies his or her discretion with the state that they begin to think of themselves as the sovereign? The state is a poison many drink to their sorrow, I say.

Freud's pioneering work on the role of the unconscious and on the illusory character of religious doctrines is but an invitation to try to understand how these subterranean pressures express themselves in our public lives in the form of public authority. My hunch is that the rituals and forms of behaviour presented daily in the courts, especially the criminal courts, say much about how we seek to harness the terror with us all. Call me an anacharist if you like, but I say the state is a fiction more to be feared than the beast within when we take those playing at being the state too seriously. I wonder, really, whether the men and women who wear judicial robes have any idea that they are playing with fire. Perhaps so many of them are humorless because they've been consumed by the roles we've begged them to play.

Related topics: The State As A Fiction
Comments (4)
Posted on November 27, 2010 at 12:33 pm by Atticus
Ode to Immortality
I don't know how much this influences your thinking on this subject, but it seems unwarranted to assert that "Experience teaches that we do not return from the dead or live beyond our last breath."

As far as I can tell experience does not teach that; nor does it teach the opposite. The whole thing has been and remains mysterious.

There's as much reason to believe that life goes on in some unknown form after physical death as there is to believe it doesn't. Maybe more. The idea that whatever it is that animates the matter that constitutes the body simply vanishes into nothingness seems the more far-fetched of the two alternatives. I mean, both alternatives are unknown, but as a general rule things do not materialize out of nothing, nor do they disappear into nothing, so as between the two, based on experience, immortality is the more likely.

In other words, Freud and Christopher Hitchens are wrong if they claim that religious belief is illusion or made up. Religious beliefs may turn out to be untrue, but they are largely a function of empirical observations that cannot be explained empirically.

Posted on November 26, 2010 at 7:48 pm by John Kindley
Immortality
I'm glad to realize you're allowing comments on this new blog. I'd thought you'd decided against it, and would likely have commented on earlier posts if I'd realized this earlier.

I think it's rationally easier to believe in God than in personal immortality. It's hard to conceive of personal immortality outside of a literal resurrection of the body (in itself a difficult belief to swallow outside of religious revelation), since our individual personalities are so intimately tied to our mortal bodies, apart from which we have no experience.

To me, God's existence is enough, and a further belief in personal immortality is not necessary for life to be meaningful. If God exists, he is more us than we are ourselves. If God is eternal, whatever is lovely about our separate individual contingent existences through time in this world will not be lost but saved in God, the sum and source of all that is good.

Posted on November 26, 2010 at 7:02 pm by John Kindley
Immortality
I'm glad to realize you're allowing comments on this new blog. I'd thought you'd decided against it, and would likely have commented on earlier posts if I'd realized this earlier.

I think it's rationally easier to believe in God than in personal immortality. It's hard to conceive of personal immortality outside of a literal resurrection of the body (in itself a difficult belief to swallow outside of religious revelation), since our individual personalities are so intimately tied to our mortal bodies, apart from which we have no experience.

To me, God's existence is enough, and a further belief in personal immortality is not necessary for life to be meaningful. If God exists, he is more us than we are ourselves. If God is eternal, whatever is lovely about our separate individual contingent existences through time in this world will not be lost but saved in God, the sum and source of all that is good.

Posted on November 26, 2010 at 6:12 pm by william doriss
Freud Didn't Slip or Slide
Now we're up to Sigmund Freud on the list of The Great Classics. Pretty soon it will be Mark Twain, Robert Frost and H.L. Mencken. I trust we've left Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in the dust.

You spelled 'subterranean' correctly. I'm impressed! The best way to dispose of the necessary fiction of the state, as you call it, is to ignore it. That's what I do. I also call it an illegitimate fiction when it steps out of bounds of human decency and common sense. If more folks would do that, we could advance more rapidly to that state of necessary and well -deserved nonfiction identified in the Constitution as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"--previously identified as "life, liberty and property." Either way, I won't quibble over words like an anal-retentive judge or justice, as if they were the only ones qualified to speak and write the English language. The sentiments are clear as a bell and as true today as they were during the 'Enlightenment' period of the latter part of 18th century America.

When the State becomes too oppressive, you vote with your feet. That's what the fortunate did in the European theater leading up to and including the period of WWII. In CT, I voted with my feet as well. The handwriting was on the wall. The artificial entity which you call a 'necessary fiction' wanted me to go to prison for a v. long time. No way, Jose!?! Let's go! The rest of you nuttymeggers inherit the state you deserve, I suppose. Freedom is not free; it never was.
For Display:
What is 3 X 3?
Confidential:
(Won't be displayed with comment)

Link must be approved, then will show on this page.

x

About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

Personal Website

www.normpattis.com
www.normpattis.com

Law Firm Website

www.pattislawfirm.com
www.pattislawfirm.com

I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis

Disclaimer:

Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

Pattis Video