July 18, 2010


Schulz, Kathryn, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (New York: Ecco, 2010 ("To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story. Who really wants to stay home and be right when you can don your armor, spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world? True, you might get lost along the way, get stranded in a swamp, have a scare at the edge of a cliff; thieves might steal your gold, brigands might imprison you in a cave, sorcerers might turn you into a toad--but what of that? To fuck up is to find adventure: it is in that spirit that this book is written." Id. at 43. On a different note: Here is something for law students, who are trained in the professional- and self-conceit that they are always right and always good judges of the facts and of other people's character. "Most victims of violent crimes who have misidentified their assailants--a small and terrible fraternity--have tremendous difficulty accepting their mistakes. In 1991, a man named Glen Woodall was released from prison in West Virginia after serving four years of two life sentences for two rapes he did not commit. In Woodall's case, the workings of justice had gone particularly awry. It was bad enough that the victims, who had barely been able to see their masked attacker, had been hypnotized to 'enhance' their memory, a practice dismissed by most legal professionals as manipulative and unreliable. Far worse, though, was this: the conviction hinged on an act of scientific fraud. The man responsible for blood work at the West Virginia crime lab had simply faked the results. Woodall was exonerated by DNA testing and awarded a million-dollar settlement by the state--itself a remarkable acknowledgment of error, since people who have been wrongfully convicted seldom receive significant compensation for their ordeal. Coverage of the case filled the local newspapers and airwaves. Discussion of what had gone wrong dominated the state legislature. Multiple investigative committees were formed. Nonetheless, on the day that Woodall left prison, one of the two victims ran up to the van that was transporting him and, weeping and banging on the door, prevented it from being opened. Despite the discredited scientist, the massive public outcry, the legislative hearings, and the DNA, she remained convinced that Woodall was the attacker she had never seen." "This woman's response was unusual in that it was exceptionally public--and, in a sense, exceptionally brave. But enduring belief in the guilt of the exonerated is common among those who have faced similar situations. It's easy to understand why, and impossible not to sympathize. To go through your own terrible ordeal only to learn that you have played a starring role in someone else's terrible ordeal; to see somebody as the perpetrator of an atrocity only to find out that he is, like you, a victim; to assign all of your rage and terror and pain to the wrong person; to have whatever 'closure' you may have reached be wrenched open again--who among us is confident that we could face all this with acceptance and grace? Indeed, who could be expected to? It is far more likely that we would face it awkwardly and in agony; far easier to choose, through denial, not to face it at all." "Denial has a bad reputation. We are quick to sneer at it, to regard it as the last, sorry refuge of those who are too immature, insecure, or pigheaded to face the truth. But, as we see in the story of the rape victim who tried to stop Glen Woodall's ride to freedom, denying our mistakes is sometime an understandable reaction, one that deserves sympathy rather than censure. Denial is not, after all, a response to the facts. It is a response to the feelings those facts evokes--and sometimes, those feelings are simply too much to bear." Id. at 227. I would recommend this book to law students. Humility is something that few lawyers get right. I am no exception to that dismal truth.).