2020/06/09 - legal
In a world that is becoming increasingly automated, let's take a minute to think about where we have been, and where we are headed.
In the movie Jupiter Ascending, and of course, dozens of sci-fi novels/movies that came before it. We witness a genetic princess trying to obtain citizenship. As someone who has personally tried and succeeded at obtaining multiple citizenships, it's a pretty funny skit. Our heros arrive and are greeted by an android to guide them through the process. They reach counter after counter, civil servant after civil servant, and eventually she gets a tattoo identification imprinted on her arm. What makes this scene, and the Vogon scene from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so funny is the nonsensical bureaucracy that takes place.
In Hitchhiker’s, they are trying to get Trillian released from Vogon jail for kidnapping President Zaphod Beeblbrox. The Vogon clerk tells them “[they] have the wrong form,” as Trillian is about to be sliced and diced into pieces by the deaf, dumb, and blind government machine.
For many people, this scenario couldn’t be closer to the truth. Let’s review some common legal situations! Let’s say you get stopped by a police officer hiding in the bushes for a minor traffic violation (running a stop sign). The cop writes you up knowing full well that a tree is blocking the stop sign and tells you “argue about it in court.”
You try to do just that. The court sends a piece of mail that you have been rescheduled. Great! You’ve got another month you don’t have to think about a fine. A week before the set court date, you get a friendly reminder. The court explains that you have less than a week to resolve your court fine. You can take a driving class, you can pay the fine, or you can request a hearing. But due to COVID-19, you can’t request a hearing. You go to their website like their phone operator instructs. On the website it says write an email or send a fax or send a written response 7 days prior to the court date to request a hearing. You do that. Just like you were instructed by the police officer, you try to make it right.
A week goes by and the court AUTOMATICALLY accrues fees. This infraction of the law will be a part of your permanent record. Every employer can see that you had a traffic ticket. FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. This shit will never go away. The point of paying a fine is to PAY BACK society for your fuck-up. I respect that. But why should a minor traffic incident affect your entire career for the rest of your life? This is, in and of itself, cruel and unusual punishment.
Aside from the police pulling you over, every part of this consequence can, and has been automated. There is zero human accountability, because there are zero humans. Only robots and vogons know how to “work the system.”
Here’s another example. If you have a credit card that you can’t pay because of an injury, the credit card company has no terms in it’s contract that will help you. At most, there is a clause that states “you may negotiate the debt owed.” If you default on a debt, 6 months go by and they might send you a settlement offer. You call the credit card company and explain you would like to take the settlement and will pay it off as soon as possible, but you can’t afford continuously compounding interest. The account is “charged off”, which means the credit card company writes off the dollar amount that you owe as a loss, and deprives every American tax pay of taxes that the company would have paid if they were making money off of you. It’s possible for you to be sued, even though the credit card company hasn’t lost a penny. The debt collector will first send a copy of the account bill to you and the court as evidence that they own your debt.
It is your responsibility to ANSWER the debt collector. So you send them explaining that you and your credit card company had an agreement; you would pay it off as soon as your financial situation improved. Even though the amount changed, the credit card company offered a lower settlement amount, and you disagree with their claim. The court responds with “Compulsory Arbitration”. What does that mean? Who knows because it never happened. The debt collector then uses an automated system to send the court a “Request for Summary Judgement”, claiming that you admitted to the debt and it is valid. The court responds with a judgement and the case is closed. The debt collector can now raise all hell in your life, and even kick you out of your place of living using a lien and forced sale of your home. You owe them the amount of the original debt (even though they bought a bunch of defaulted debt for a lower price, since Citibank wrote it off as a loss, what do they care?) plus court fees. How is it legal that I should pay court filing fees initiated by an automated system. I don’t have an automated system. I can’t automatically defend myself every time someone attacks me. I can’t send out court cases en masse like a lawyer’s office can. But I still have to pay their court fees, despite the hours I wasted trying to litigate?
But these systems don’t only exist in courts. They exist in everyday life. Everytime you go to a retail store and try to return a defective product, the customer service representative tells you “it will take up to 2 weeks for the money to be returned.” This is an automated system, and SOP (Standard Operating Procedure, God I fucking hate that term). This system makes it easy for a store to TAKE your money (seconds even), but then intentionally delays RETURNing your money. Why do they do this? Maybe you realized the money would be better spent on food, is your stomach going to wait 2 weeks for its next meal?
I think about the abuses of technology every time I see a “no-reply” email address. I have written about it before. I think about someone outside my house screaming at me with a megaphone, but they don’t care if I respond. Why should people be allowed to advertise, but not be forced to accept criticism? This is, in theory, why we have a regulated free market. Capitalism is supposed to be 1 step better than communism because “the market decides” what is wrong and right. Take talcum powder for example, Johnson & Johnson stopped selling Talc based powder after the free market sued them for causing cancer from use on babies. I know a woman that died from ovarian cancer and this was proven to be the cause.
The market has done its job. It has successfully demoralized, lied, and in the name of safety, penalized all possible competition. How in the Capitol Fuck am I supposed to care about #BLACKLIVESMATTER when there is so much other bullshit being flung at me from across the bench? To put it another way, I can't focus on lifting other people's privilege when my privilege to a fair justice system is constantly being deteriorated. Fines and the forever punishement of a permanent record is unconstitutional. What is the point of punishing people who just need discapline. My own parents don't know the difference between punishment and discipline, I can't expect the Judicial branch to know either. How do you measure, in dollars, how much hatred I have for money and fear being used to hurt people?