Cancel Culture, Critical Thinking & Philosophy
My conversation with the Canada Research Chair in Jurisprudence and Human Rights.
Philosophy and law can seem like tough subjects, but they are genuinely fascinating. It actually boggles my mind how complex and unlikely our legal system is. Now, is it perfect? Absolutely not, but no system is. There are certain aspects of our legal system that are just so incomprehensible it is hard to believe humans developed it. More than that, it is amazing that we… at times… take it for granted.
What am I talking about? Let’s start with ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Say you and your friend are in a disagreement. Do you assume they are innocent until you gather some evidence? Nope, they are guilty - and you know it in your bones. You don’t need proof, a trial, evidence - you know. How about Donald Trump, Mr. Putin or Osama bin Laden? Are these individuals innocent until proven guilty by a court of law? Or, as a society are we confident they are guilty?
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What about finding someone guilty ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’? In criminal law, we use this phrase all the time. Juries and judges are asked to find someone guilty of a criminal offence based on this standard, instead of ‘on a balance of probabilities’. They sound similar, right? One is a higher standard than the other. With criminals, the risks are so high that we have a high threshold. This can be frustrating at times, because some people we think are guilty - show that there is a reasonable doubt.
Our legal system acts as a buffer between us and our impulses with the hopes we can find justice. These are just a few examples from my perspective that show how are system is miraculous. We have taken steps over the years to combat mob mentality for the sake of the innocent. Philosophers often take the time to reflect on these principles, and try to sort though how they came about, why they matter, and what it says about our society that we have them.
Where does this system come from? How long did it take for us to develop this? Did these ideas come from religious belief systems or from logical reasoning? Did past philosophers help bring our legal system to life? When we talk about decolonization, where does that fit with our legal system? These were some of the questions I had for Julen Etxabe. I had one course with him at Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC and I found him incredibly insightful.
Julen is currently an assistant professor at Allard Law School and the Canada Research Chair in Jurisprudence and Human Rights. He, unlike many other professors I’ve encountered over the years was filled with passion and excitement at the idea of sharing what he has learned over the years. We all have favourite quotes, favourite scenes in movies, or memories that we cherish and seek to share at get togethers. But, imagine you’ve learned from some of the greatest philosophers in history and you just want to share their brilliance with others. That is the vibe, the energy, that I get from Julen. He came to every class with charisma and tried to help us see the brilliance of various legal philosophers.
Julen also approached things differently. Similar to Nikos Harris, he asked us to put down our laptops, cellphones, and technology and focus on what these remarkable individuals in history had to say. Instead of doing the readings as fast as we can, he asked us to read slowly, read carefully and reflect on what was said. In a time where we move so fast, he asked us to be mindful and pay close attention.
In my conversation with Julen, we talk about the importance of context, and reinvigorating the idea of giving people the benefit of the doubt. Humans will be wrong, incorrect, misguided and they will surely miscommunicate - but if we want a strong social fabric we must move beyond that and try to understand what the person is trying to say. I could cut someone off from speaking to explain to them how they made a mistake, but then I’m missing out on the point they were trying to make. Taking the weakest part of someone’s point and putting it back at them is easy. What is hard is to move beyond the error and see if there is a larger issue the person is trying to raise.
Julen and I talk about the fast pace world we live in, and how with the rise of social media we are asked to have thoughts and perspectives on complex issues, that take long periods of time and careful research to understand. With news articles on platforms like Facebook we are regularly reacting to emerging issues. Julen makes a brilliant comparison between slow eating and slow reading. Just like food, we need time to digest. We as humans need time to process what we have read, what we have heard and reflect on our perspectives. He makes this comment about fifty minutes into our conversation:
“We are required to have an opinion about almost everything and as soon as something comes out we must tweet something, or we might respond. People are asked to respond on the spot about whatever it is that happened, without having time to digest what the stories are about, without having heard what other people have said, or might have said, or whether even what has been reported is accurate, is it fair? Does it represent what actually happened? Like, could we just stop for a second before we rush to judgement? So, I’m afraid about this need for a constant judgement and I wrote a book about judgement precisely because I think judgement takes time” - Julen Etxabe
I found Julen to be incredibly insightful, reflective and thoughtful. You can hear in his voice not only passion but a deep knowledge of what he is talking about. He makes references to Plato, Aristotle, James Boyd White and Nietzsche effortlessly. We talk about why philosophy is becoming less popular in universities, voices like Jordan Peterson, the role of educators, brilliant philosophers and the meaning behind movies like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings. Our conversation is available now on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube.