Friday, May 25, 2012

hearsay evidence

With some 38 exceptions, "hearsay evidence" is not allowed in U.S. courts of law. Hearsay evidence is evidence of which the person offering it has no direct knowledge.

Anyone charged with a crime and facing a fine or incarceration or even execution might be grateful that "Tom told me Peter was speeding" should not be taken as a matter of direct knowledge ... direct knowledge that might be considered as 'fact.'

"Everyone knows..." is simply not enough.

How much of anyone's life relies on hearsay evidence? How much of their outlook or certainty or comfort derives from second-hand supposition? Far from suggesting that a little humility might be in order, such hearsay evidence can frequently lead to maelstroms of virtuous assertion or gouts of vicious blood-letting. Not always, of course: Usually, hearsay-evidence is more wily and subtle and subdued ... if "everyone knows" and I am a part of "everyone," then I know too.

All tables have four legs.
My dog has four legs.
My dog is a table.

Hearsay is socially comforting and, I would say, also has a positive potential in the sense that it might encourage anyone to find out if what "everyone knows" is actually true... true in the sense that they might go out and see if Peter is actually speeding.

But whether hearsay evidence leads to a nourishing and informative effort or produces a pernicious laziness (and hence prolonged uncertainty under a banner of certainty) of mind is entirely up to the individual.

Yesterday, I looked up "I am a Buddhist" on Google. Among the gazillions of entries offered, one offered an apparently-benevolent Christian comparison of Buddhism and Christianity. "... While both Christianity and Buddhism each have an historical central figure, namely Jesus and Buddha, only Jesus is shown to have risen from the dead," the comparison said in its introductory paragraph. And from that point forward, the analysis/encouragement/sales pitch referenced the Bible as the foundation for its assertions.

Tom told me Peter was speeding. Tom is an impeccable source, ergo Peter must, in fact, have been speeding.

The Vedanta Hindu Sri Ramakrishna once addressed the hearsay lifestyle by suggesting to a disciple that he take the holiest scripture he could find, place it in a room, lock all the windows and doors in that room, and then come back in a couple of days and see if anything had happened. Any natural intelligence knows without locking away holy scripture that this construct is ludicrous on the face of it. (I always admired the down-to-earth sense of humor Hindus were capable of.)

OK ... it's ludicrous. It's dumber than a box of rocks. Anyone can see it ... hearsay ain't fact. And I am not just talking about spiritual endeavor: Spiritual endeavor is just a realm that interests me ... there are gobs and gobs of other hearsay venues.

How many are willing to take their nearest and dearest hearsay evidence and using it as what may be a wonderful hypothesis, set out to discover if the Peters of the mind are actually-factually speeding?

Atheists and other immoderate intellectuals may leap up and down with a sometimes savage glee when the empirical, investigative spotlight is focused on what can be the hearsay lifestyle of believers. And it's perfectly true ... nitwits are legion.

Faced with the rapier of criticism, believers may cower and lash back, citing their golden bits of hearsay evidence. They can be so busy defending themselves that the positive invitations of what is presently just hearsay evidence go begging. The trouble with hearsay evidence is not so much that it is secondary as it is that it leaves the true believer in a quicksand of implicit doubt. Simply stated, a true believer will never be happy, never be at peace, until s/he investigates and finds out if Peter is speeding.

Belief is wholly reliant on the past and yet human beings live in the present: This quandary, far from providing peace, can be the source for unending efforts to patch up and buttress the true belief that is asserted. It's miles too energetic and miles too wasteful as a way of life ... pretending things are satisfactory when in fact they are merely confusing.

I prefer to think that people would use their most cherished hearsay as a springboard to finding the facts -- the facts that will honestly assure some peace of mind.

Of course, my preferences and fifty cents will get me a bus ride. As the Anglican Charles Williams asserted in one of his metaphysical thrillers, "People believe what they want to believe." The question that quotation raises in my mind is, "Is what you want really what you want?"

A hearsay lifestyle is too uncertain, too shaky, too long on promise and short on delivery. As a starting point, it may be OK. As a place to remain and nest and find honest peace, it simply doesn't work. That strikes me as unnecessarily stupid and vastly unkind ... but what do I know?

A hearsay lifestyle.

Guilty as charged.

Now what?

1 comment:

  1. Somewhat related to your judicial post -- "Confession"

    One Pedro Hernandez confessed to the 1979 killing of six year old Etan Paz who lived in Soho in NYC.

    Hernandez was arraigned from a hospital bed yesterday. He has been placed on a suicide watch in Bellevue Hospital.

    Hernandez is reported to have a history of mental illnesses. He is said to be bi-bipolar and subject to hallucinations.

    Today a Hernandez family member told a news reporter that Mr. Hernandez has previously confessed murder Paz to police, but the investigators did not find him credible. Now some thirty-three years later they do.

    The lawyers for the city, are questioning everything from the relatives assertion of previous confessions to whether Hernandez actually has mental illness.

    The situation is on going.

    The families and the public should be seriously questioning the entire show.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    I would not be surprised if this man is imprisoned for the rest of his life completely irrespective of his guilt or mental condition, so that attorney general Cyrus Vance and mayor Mike Bloomberg can lather on another layer of polish.