We love a good stereotype; it does not require any critical thinking.
Question: What's the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?
Answer: One is a slimy, bottom-dwelling scum-sucker, and the other is a fish!
This joke reflects the verdict issued by the court of public opinion in the tragic case of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, who was declared brain dead nearly a month ago.
This case, which has received worldwide attention, has placed Christopher Dolan, the attorney who represented the family of McMath, at the epicenter of guilt. It has been reported that Dolan has received death threats and accused of exploiting a family's grief, making him exhibit A for the negative stereotypes commonly held for those who practice jurisprudence.
The efficacy of threatening violence warrants no further commentary. But the court of public opinion always possesses the benefit of rendering emotional decisions, based on what is often scant information, with little consequence.
At the heart of this tragic story is what French philosopher Albert Camus defines as absurdity. In philosophy, absurdity refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and the meaning in life.
Camus considers absurdity as a confrontation, an opposition, a conflict between two ideals. He defines the human condition as absurd, as the confrontation between one's desire for significance, meaning and clarity on the one hand -- and the silent, cold universe on the other.
Could one also surmise that Camus' description accurately addresses where the family of McMath have found themselves since Dec. 12, when the 13-year-old was initially diagnosed as brain dead?
"When parents die," as the late Sloane Coffin opined when eulogizing his son Alex, stated, "they take with them a large portion of the past. But when children die, they take away the future as well."
There has been a disruption in the circle of life for a family that was preparing for the holiday season, only to become a national story immersed in absurdity.
No one knows what it is like to walk in this family's shoes -- not even those who have faced similar can articulate with any authority how this particular situation should be handled.
If one accepts that this situation falls squarely under the rubric of absurd, why would one seek to selectively locate the genesis of logic?
If indeed Dolan is guilty of the charges levied against him by the court of public opinion, he is certainly not alone.
From ministers who disgracefully eschewed science and reason to hold placards and news conferences, placing themselves on the vanguard of justice, to myriad inaccurate reports by some of the world's largest news organizations, spreading false hope would seem to be the preferred modus operandi for anyone with egregious ambition or a deadline.
To select Dolan as worthy of public outcry could also suggest that McMath's family did not deserve legal representation. Should he have told them to let it go; she's dead? Or should he simply not have taken the case?
If Dolan has conducted himself in a manner that warrants disbarment, then the matter should be taken up with the State Bar. But if it is a matter of disagreeing with how he represented his client, which he is duty-bound to do, those are the yearnings of ignorance expressing what the law should be.
The court of public opinion has the luxury, armed largely with the knowledge forged by watching Perry Mason, Matlock, et al., to determine emotionally what is right.
These recent actions against Dolan only exacerbate the existing absurdity. It is to find a solution for which one does not exist, at least not one that brings comfort -- to fall prey to the elusive nature of the absurd that fuels arrogance and disregards logic in the pointless pursuit that leads to nowhere.
Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.