Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Sunday Pickle

At home visions of convicts and armed guards haunted him all day and some, inexplicable, deep feeling of unease prevented him from reading and concentrating. In the evenings he did not light his lamp and he lay awake all night in constant fear he might be arrested, clapped in irons and thrown into prison. He was not aware of having committed any crime and could solemnly guarantee that he would never commit murder, arson or robbery. But then, it was so easy to commit a crime accidentally or unintentionally. And how about false accusations and a miscarriage of justice? All that was highly possible, nothing odd about it at all. Indeed, hadn't the folk wisdom of old taught that one is never safe from poverty or prison? Given the present state of the law a miscarriage of justice was very much on the cards--and no wonder. People who adopt a professional, bureaucratic attitude to the suffering of others--judges, policemen and doctors, for example--become hardened to such a degree, from sheer force of habit, that even if they want to they cannot help treating their clients strictly by the book. In this respect they are no different from peasants who slaughter sheep and calves in their back yards without even noticing the blood. Having adopted this formal, soulless attitude to the individual, all a judge needs to deprive an innocent man of his civil rights and to sentence him to hard labor is time. Just give a judge time to observe the various formalities (for which he receives a salary) and then it's all over. Fat chance, then, of finding any justice and protection in this filthy little town a hundred and twenty-five miles from the nearest station! And how ludicrous even to think of justice when society considers every act of violence as rational, expedient and necessary, when every act of mercy--an acquittal, for instance--provokes a whole explosion of unsatisfied vindictiveness!

-Anton Chekhov, Ward No. 6

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