Chaos and the “Official Woman”

 Posted on July 01, 2007 in Uncategorized

Scott Henson (Grits For Breakfast) gives us this post describing Twila Hugley Earle's speech to the Restorative Justice Conference in Kerrville. Earle spoke of the application (or, maybe more accurately, analogization) of chaos theory (Scott defines it as "the study of how turbulence transforms into order organically") to criminal justice:

The Newtonian worldview sees both change and order mechanically, but reality is more dynamic. Chaos theory offers an alternative.

Because I haven't studied chaos theory, I don't quite grok Earle's idea yet. But I understand it well enough to know that there's something there - that a linear, Newtonian, cause-and-effect model doesn't accurately describe human behavior, and that our system based on that model isn't doing a very good job of dealing with the problem of crime.

Meanwhile (and perhaps related only in my chaotic brain) Scott Greenfield (Simple Justice) gives us this post about dealing with Jimmy Breslin's "Official Woman." The Official Woman is someone (male or female) who:

.... elevated the rules above all else. She was a grocery clerk with a list, and if it wasn't on the list, it didn't exist. She would put on an official voice and pronounce things. Her chest would suddenly swell with self-importance as she would dictate the way things had to be done, and how they could not possibly be done any other way, because those were the rules. She couldn't think outside the box; She was the box. There was no arguing with the official woman because she was right, about everything, and anyone who thought otherwise was wrong. Of this, she was absolutely certain.

Our criminal "justice" system, as it is, is an Official Woman's sanctuary. Think about the rule-bound, uncreative judges you know - some judges are proud of being rule-bound. Think about the officious, imaginationless clerks. Think about the self-important, rigid prosecutors. The system wasn't created for the accused or for the victims, but for these petty governmental functionaries (crimes are, after all, committed against the peace and dignity of the State). How many places other than the courthouse can someone with a graduate degree and fifteen years' experience get a lifetime job earning $150,000-plus a year for exercising no imagination whatsoever? (I've written before on the role of a Childlike Mind and Creativity in the criminal justice system.)

A system based on restorative justice, rather than retributive "justice," even if it is principally concerned with the needs of the victim rather than the needs of the offender, will do a better job of taking care of people than our current system. Recognizing that we might need to abandon our old way of looking at things (effectively looking at the entire system with a childlike mind) is a step in the right direction; so is recognizing that any movement toward a more functional criminal justice system will have to overcome the tremendous inertia of all of the people with a vested interest in the rules as they are.

Share this post:
Back to Top