Legal shockwaves following the dissection of the oath.

Following Nick and Rex’s tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of the ‘concept’ and ‘gravitational waves’, news has just come in that the oath witnesses take in Australia has been sliced into its fundamental constituents: perjury, utopia, and blasphemy.

‘It was quite easy to see once you took the oath literally’ one of the anonymous legal scholars said, ‘just read closely’.

“I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

‘It’s the use of the utopian words “truth” and “whole truth” that gives the game away’, the researchers claimed. ‘You see, the notion of truth is absolute, ie leaving zero doubt whatsoever. So any belief, memory, opinion, or even perception is uncertain and thus neither the truth nor the “whole truth”. Only mathematical and other tautological statements are undoubtedly true, so a person is in effect swearing to recite all tautological statements as his or her evidence. Everyone who has ever taken the oath has perjured themselves’.

The bewildered legal profession was shocked after this revelation, though the Chief Judge did publicly ask where the blasphemy bit got in. ‘Easy’, the up-beat researchers said, ‘Once you realise that the oath is a promise to deliver the whole of the impossible, much like the promise to hand over all of the Holy Grails, then by implication one has lied to god and taken god to be a fool. One has uttered a falsehood to god, dooming ones’ eternal soul’.

Because much research clearly needs to be done following the shockwaves of this deconstruction, the stunning discovery that perjury, utopia, and blasphemy are at the heart of the legal system has sent grant-agencies scurrying for their cheque books. The pope has reportedly considered calling off meeting the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, postponing a reconciliation of a thousand years of enmity, in order to consider a papal amnesty for billions of witnesses over the ages.

‘This is an exiting decade for us’, the unknown researchers claimed, ‘who knows what crazy arguments and discoveries await?’

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5 Responses to Legal shockwaves following the dissection of the oath.

  1. Moz of Yarramulla says:

    I have quite the opposite take on it: since the oath is impossible to obey, it is thus meaningless. What disappoints (but does not surprise) me are the attempts to criminalise breaking it (perjury). How could you even try to convict someone for not “telling the whole truth” with a straight face? I can’t imagine how any STEM-literate person could even begin to contemplate telling “nothing but the truth”, the qualifiers alone would add days to any statement. “To the best of my limited ability to discern the situation, and within the limits of my imperfect memory of the time, and of course subject to both Schrodinger’s limits on our ability to know a physical situation and the more general limits that epistemology concerns itself with, I believe that what I observed at the time was … what was the question, again?”

    Albeit I have been threatened with contempt for observing that the magistrate was in danger of confirming that an impossible instruction from a police officer was nonetheless lawful. I managed to refrain from pointing out that *I* was not the one bringing the law into contempt by such an act.

  2. Moz of Yarramulla says:

    I’m sure they have the heathen oath purely to stop people saying “so, bring me the god and I’ll swear by it”.

    In all seriousness, what happens to people who turn up and say “I cannot take that nonsense seriously” (NSW version here)? I’ve previously treated it in the same spirit as I take the imaginary friend stuff, “I know what you mean, I’m going to ignore the stupid babbling noises you’re making” (I’ve mostly been a witness who thinks the accused should be killed, preferably after conviction, ‘pour encourager les autres’). But since I’ve been called up for jury duty I’m wondering whether I need to have a better idea of what the oath actually means in legal jargon rather than in English.

    After apparently taking that nonsense seriously, can I believe anything else a witness says (biased, perhaps, by my own experience)? “I promise burble burble burble”, right, now, describe the incident “bargle argle gurble fnoth!”. That seems equally clear and sincere… in other words, it’s utter nonsense and all thinking people know it. Or worse “oh, now you claim you’re telling the truth, before you were just trying to avoid the nasty man hitting you again?”

  3. Rob says:

    Thankfully I was exempted on another grounds – but I was having to face the prospect of advising the court that as a juror I would have to doubt the credibility of anyone who came into court and claimed they were telling the truth because they told their imaginary friend they would.

  4. paul walter says:

    Boy, it is tough stuff, isn’t it?

    I suppose, going back to Aristotle, it is rather an attempt to appeal to the gene mix and the altruism gene and the impulse to cooperate and even protect others who have value and meaning, for a person…can you deny that is how we are?

    If a person finds best expression and fulfillment in the life of the polis it can be seen as an exhortation to a better nature as well as a reminder of human fallibilty and that we all become less empowered in presence of highest authority. It doesn’t have to be Panoptican thinking, although the system does always appear to be falling to dark forces that would have it that way. It’s to do maybe a little with Pascal’s Wager and a shrewd awareness of one’s flaws, usally at a most crucial of moments.

    Kant’s Imperative deals with it and its basis is actually logical, the reality that humans can empathise and understand the experiences of their fellows and relate these to their own existances.

    It’s cultural conditioning, but there is more to it than just commodification and reification, it is a referring back to the great library of cultural historical accumulation that constructs culture, for example showing people how to eventually to identify with and deal with psychopathia with a society. Not that this is an attempt to moralise on psychopathia and “evil”, merely an acknowledgement involving genetics and the preservation of the gene pool that has had humanity to its current condition, less to do with teleology than you might think.

    So, it is an imperfect system and we are human, too human. I don’t think, from bitter experience, that lapsing into cynicism can be sustainable. People for whatever reason, DO crave value and meaning and involvement in community, so this tendency has been reinforced in a reading of the law as benefit rather than encumberance tempered by a realisation that perfection may not be a watertight guarantee.

    The impulse we DO recognise and it is no harm to endorse the principle yet abhor corruption and foul ups.

    Any way, enough for now.. you don’t to bother with my nonsenses.

  5. desipis says:

    The lack of profane words in the oath leads me to believe that most people weren’t actually swearing, despite their declaration of presently doing so. If the standard of truth is already failed by the second word of the oath it doesn’t bode well for their actual testimony.

    Any way, enough for now.. you don’t to bother with my nonsenses.

    Or grammar apparently.

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