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The Twelve Men

The other day, while I was meditating on morality and Mr. H. Pitt, I was,
so to speak, snatched up and put into a jury box to try people.
The snatching took some weeks, but to me it seemed something sudden
and arbitrary. I was put into this box because I lived in Battersea,
and my name began with a C. Looking round me, I saw that there were
also summoned and in attendance in the court whole crowds and processions
of men, all of whom lived in Battersea, and all of whose names began
with a C.

It seems that they always summon jurymen in this sweeping
alphabetical way. At one official blow, so to speak,
Battersea is denuded of all its C's, and left to get on
as best it can with the rest of the alphabet. A Cumberpatch
is missing from one street--a Chizzolpop from another--
three Chucksterfields from Chucksterfield House; the children
are crying out for an absent Cadgerboy; the woman at the street
corner is weeping for her Coffintop, and will not be comforted.
We settle down with a rollicking ease into our seats
(for we are a bold, devil-may-care race, the C's of Battersea),
and an oath is administered to us in a totally inaudible manner
by an individual resembling an Army surgeon in his second childhood.
We understand, however, that we are to well and truly try the case
between our sovereign lord the King and the prisoner at the bar,
neither of whom has put in an appearance as yet.

. . . . .

Just when I was wondering whether the King and the prisoner
were, perhaps, coming to an amicable understanding in some
adjoining public house, the prisoner's head appears above
the barrier of the dock; he is accused of stealing bicycles,
and he is the living image of a great friend of mine.
We go into the matter of the stealing of the bicycles.
We do well and truly try the case between the King and the
prisoner in the affair of the bicycles. And we come to the
conclusion, after a brief but reasonable discussion, that
the King is not in any way implicated. Then we pass on to a
woman who neglected her children, and who looks as if somebody
or something had neglected her. And I am one of those who fancy
that something had.

All the time that the eye took in these light appearances
and the brain passed these light criticisms, there was in
the heart a barbaric pity and fear which men have never been
able to utter from the beginning, but which is the power behind
half the poems of the world. The mood cannot even adequately
be suggested, except faintly by this statement that tragedy
is the highest expression of the infinite value of human life.
Never had I stood so close to pain; and never so far away
from pessimism. Ordinarily, I should not have spoken of these
dark emotions at all, for speech about them is too difficult;
but I mention them now for a specific and particular
reason to the statement of which I will proceed at once.
I speak these feelings because out of the furnace of them there
came a curious realisation of a political or social truth.
I saw with a queer and indescribable kind of clearness what
a jury really is, and why we must never let it go.

The trend of our epoch up to this time has been consistently towards
specialism and professionalism. We tend to have trained soldiers
because they fight better, trained singers because they sing better,
trained dancers because they dance better, specially instructed
laughers because they laugh better, and so on and so on.
The principle has been applied to law and politics by innumerable
modern writers. Many Fabians have insisted that a greater
part of our political work should be performed by experts.
Many legalists have declared that the untrained jury should be
altogether supplanted by the trained Judge.

. . . . .

Now, if this world of ours were really what is called reasonable,
I do not know that there would be any fault to find with this.
But the true result of all experience and the true foundation
of all religion is this. That the four or five things
that it is most practically essential that a man should know,
are all of them what people call paradoxes. That is to say,
that though we all find them in life to be mere plain truths,
yet we cannot easily state them in words without being guilty
of seeming verbal contradictions. One of them, for instance,
is the unimpeachable platitude that the man who finds most
pleasure for himself is often the man who least hunts for it.
Another is the paradox of courage; the fact that the way
to avoid death is not to have too much aversion to it.
Whoever is careless enough of his bones to climb some hopeful
cliff above the tide may save his bones by that carelessness.
Whoever will lose his life, the same shall save it;
an entirely practical and prosaic statement.

Now, one of these four or five paradoxes which should be taught
to every infant prattling at his mother's knee is the following:
That the more a man looks at a thing, the less he can see it,
and the more a man learns a thing the less he knows it.
The Fabian argument of the expert, that the man who is trained
should be the man who is trusted would be absolutely unanswerable
if it were really true that a man who studied a thing and practiced
it every day went on seeing more and more of its significance.
But he does not. He goes on seeing less and less of its significance.
In the same way, alas! we all go on every day, unless we are
continually goading ourselves into gratitude and humility,
seeing less and less of the significance of the sky or the stones.

. . . . .

Now it is a terrible business to mark a man out for the vengeance of men.
But it is a thing to which a man can grow accustomed, as he can
to other terrible things; he can even grow accustomed to the sun.
And the horrible thing about all legal officials, even the best,
about all judges, magistrates, barristers, detectives, and policemen,
is not that they are wicked (some of them are good), not that they
are stupid (several of them are quite intelligent), it is simply
that they have got used to it.

Strictly they do not see the prisoner in the dock; all they
see is the usual man in the usual place. They do not see
the awful court of judgment; they only see their own workshop.
Therefore, the instinct of Christian civilisation has most wisely
declared that into their judgments there shall upon every occasion
be infused fresh blood and fresh thoughts from the streets.
Men shall come in who can see the court and the crowd,
and coarse faces of the policeman and the professional criminals,
the wasted faces of the wastrels, the unreal faces of the
gesticulating counsel, and see it all as one sees a new picture
or a play hitherto unvisited.

Our civilisation has decided, and very justly decided,
that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too
important to be trusted to trained men. It wishes for light upon
that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know,
but who can feel the things that I felt in the jury box.
When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered,
or any trifle of that kind, it uses up specialists. But when it
wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve
of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I
remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton