During an interview with Greta van Susteren, one of the Trayvon Martin family’s lawyers described herself like this: “I have a greater duty beyond being an attorney, and that’s to be a social engineer.”
There, in one brief, clear sentence, is both a description of why the US has drifted so far from being a constitutional republic and who’s fundamentally responsible. No, not the near-nullity who is Jasmine Rand, but the legal profession in general and elite law schools in particular, which seem to have the same view of themselves as Ms. Rand. So let’s use her as a case in point.
Jasmine Rand received her undergraduate education at the University of Georgia, where she majored in African American Studies and Political Science. She then attended Florida State, where she got her law degree. Now, I have no doubt that these are both fine programs, but I do not believe that they can possibly provide the educational training necessary to “engineer” a society as complex as the US. In fact, about all that one could really hope to learn about social engineering in the course of four years of college is that it’s impossible at best and fatal to millions at worst.
Consider all the things a minimally competent social engineer must know reasonably well. First of all, she’d have to know lots of actual engineering, just to figure out how to build and maintain roads, bridges, harbors, tunnels, airport control towers, and all the other parts of our infrastructure. She’d also have to figure out how to pay for all that stuff, and so would need to know a lot about the economic effects of taxes–which are much more complicated than the laws written to put them into place. Then, of course, she’d have to know a lot about statistical inference, so that she could read and evaluate all those studies of the impact of guns on crime. Mere scanning of the news, where she’d notice that lots of people get killed by guns, would be grossly insufficient for a social engineer.
And there’s lots more our social engineer has to know. Nutrition (gotta figure out what every kid in America should be eating), physiology (how much should we exercise?), medicine (how many more lives could be saved by getting more people to become doctors?), and on and on. Ethics, too: whose life is worth saving?
This should all be daunting enough to dissuade any reasonable person from even aspiring to be a social engineer, let alone proclaiming to be one. But Jasmine, and I daresay too many other lawyers, are not dissuaded. How did it happen that so many have confused the ability to impose laws with the ability to dictate outcomes? How did they come to acquire this pretense of knowledge about a set of problems that have humbled great scholars who’ve devoted their lives to their study? I don’t claim to know, but I’d like to. I’m guessing it has something to do with a particular interpretation of John Rawls, but I don’t really know.
What I think I do know is that the temptation to engineer a society makes one far too willing to harness the darker forces of human nature in order to achieve the goals the engineer sees as proper. Fear, envy, and hatred seem to have worked pretty well at getting people to do what El Jefé wants them to do. Of course, outright lies are also an important part of the mix. In the Zimmerman case, they’ve been essential to the persecution. On the other hand, the rules of evidence and the presumption of innocence have always been annoyances to angry mobs in possession of the “truth”. So it’s truly frightening to see the forces of the state–from Seminole County to the State of Florida to the US Department of Justice–encouraging an angry and ignorant mob. But it’s probably not frightening at all to those who fancy themselves social engineers.
So in a way that she does not intend, Jasmine Rand is right. She embraces the tactics of a social engineer. Maybe that’s what she learned in school.