Buddhism and Donald Trump, Criminal Intent and Modern Justice

img_2116Intent is the elephant in the courtroom of modern justice, beyond forensics and beyond genetics, the need to know what someone was thinking and why they thought it, at such-and-such a time and such-and-such a place. But isn’t this a system doomed to failure? And is it really necessary? Only we European-derived Westerners could invent a term like schadenfreude, delight in the misfortune of others, not so much the passive enjoyment of something such so strange, but that we do it so often that we have a name for it…

But that is indeed the case, that we are so obsessed with our feelings that our whole system of justice is based upon it, such that if someone is supposedly repentant, then that counts in his favor, whereas without it he is doomed to longer incarceration, as if we could really know the difference, so to make ourselves feel good we reward the best actors, and maybe the most honest are doomed to perdition…

So why don’t we just prescribe and proscribe and leave it at that, without worrying about what someone’s thinking, since we can never be sure anyway? I suggest that it is a Christian hang-up, and possibly derived from Judaic roots. After all, who’s worse about this than Israel? We’d probably have a two-state solution there today with the local Arabs and Palestinians, except that Netanyahu insists that they grovel, i.e. submit in writing that they acknowledge Israel’s right to exist–and then we’ll draw the lines…

So why not just draw the lines and leave it at that? Good question. So in this case the intent is not revealed but prescribed, just in case you were thinking that this revelation of intent was a high and noble cause. No, I think much of the intent is that we want to see the guilty publicly grovel, to which we’ll then turn thumbs-up, or thumbs-down like the Roamin’ emperors we are…

But ICE, aka ‘la migra’, has to be the absolute worst, such that they want to interview you every time you enter the US, so as to measure your true intent, or catch you in a lie, i.e. Trump-like mixing your metaphors so you can’t remember how you lied before, and so lie incorrectly this time. But what if you don’t speak English? What does ICE do then? Do they not allow you into the country for lack of English skills? UK has done precisely that, or something like that. I can’t remember the details offhand, and it may just apply to long-term residents, but still…

Buddhism should come off better in this regard, but struggles with it, especially as pertains to karma, the notorious generation-jumping battle-ax of retribution, which reportedly will come hunt you down like a thief in the night for some alleged transgressions of which you might not even have a clue, since it supposedly happened in a previous life for which you have no proof nor clue. Or anyway, something bad has happened to you, so there must be a reason, and this somehow makes it all right and reasonable…

But the Buddha never said any of that. From its humble but definitive origins as simple ‘actions’, as in ‘what you receive is in accordance with your actions’, the Buddha added a simple requirement of intent. So all actions are seasoned with the flavor of your intent. And this is as it should be, since there is no standard of proof, anyway, so if your heart is pure, then you will be so purified. Now that’s a long way from a karma of divine retribution, and that’s the way I like it…

Bottom line: I think the law should probably shy away from intent due to the problem of verifiable forensics. It merely muddies the waters, mixing in emotions where actions are paramount. But that’s what seems to matter most to us, the ‘feel-good’ factor, for lack of a better phrase. If a criminal seems to show remorse, then we want to factor that in…

And then there are situations, especially with regard to politics, where intent is paramount. If so-and-so pays off a porn star to influence an election, it’s one thing. If he does it to placate his wife, then it’s another. That gets complicated, and will likely always be the subject of disputed court decisions, especially when the parties involved are pathological liars. Why not just require certain actions of all political candidates and prohibit others, clear and distinct?

Intent is properly the realm of morality and ethics, philosophy and religion, salvation and refuge, something between you and your higher essence. This is the realm of conscience and consciousness. This is the realm of long and lengthy chats about self, impermanence and change. This is the realm of Buddhism….