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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Borenstein's Law Strikes Again

When I began to blog at the urging of my son, one of my first posts (Intro to Borenstein’s Law, originally posted 6/20/2005) was an attempt to answer a question that haunts all criminal defense lawyers: why our clients act so irrationally in a way that seems so stupid, so contrary to their best interests.

I gave many examples, like leaving a wallet at the scene of the crime ... and then reporting it stolen. I now have a case that ranks close to the top. My client, after being questioned by police and jailed, called his girlfriend. During the call he made incriminating statements, despite a loudly intrusive recording that blared every 60 seconds that warned speakers that such calls are monitored and taped.

In my post, I noted that people - not just our clients - act contrary to their best interests so often that it can be called the norm, not an aberration. In fact, supposedly smart people - like Bill Clinton and Dick Nixon - commit reckless acts that satisfy immediate urges without considering the consequences. The drive for sex, money, power and other elemental desires often overwhelms caution, reason, or religious teachings - uh, abusing priests, q.e.d.

Today’s L.A. Times contains an article that confirms my thesis. Discussing South Carolina Mark Sanford’s revelations, the article notes:

"Experts have all kinds of theories about why otherwise intelligent men -- and it's almost always men -- behave so recklessly. Sex and power are inextricably intertwined, as Henry Kissinger famously noted, and some politicians have a hard time reining in the urge for either. ‘If you're one of these Master of the Universe kind of guys, you get to a place where you feel that the rules don't apply to you,’ said Pepper Schwartz, a University of
Washington sociologist who specializes in relationships.

"Frank Farley, a Temple University psychologist, even coined a term -- the ‘Type T personality’ -- to describe politicians' predilection for philandering. The "T" stands for thrill-seeker, which describes the kind of person drawn to a career that, by its nature, requires a willingness to step out of ordinary life and take risks."‘It's not a 9-to-5 job,’ said Farley, a former president of the merican Psychological Assn. who has extensively studied politicians' behavior. ‘It has very high levels of uncertainty, variety, novelty, challenge, unpredictability -- and therefore it attracts a certain kind of person.’ The positive side of that risk-taking is a willingness to expose oneself to that most public of examinations: an election campaign. The downside, Farley said, is relenting to personal urges, like drugs, alcohol or an extramarital dalliance.
"‘It's almost built into their personalities,’ he said of many officeholders. ‘Put it together with the opportunities they have, and we should not be shocked when we see it happening.’ "Why the risk? ‘It's hard to understand this if you have not been in passionate love, and it's particularly intense when it's star-crossed,’ Schwartz said. ‘You are pumping adrenaline, testosterone and dopamine -- it's a drug cocktail; you are
intoxicated. And you know what kind of decision we make when we are intoxicated.’"


  1. Mort (and I hope you don't mind my comments, as I never know, 'cause there is no response), I don't think that the LA Times is saying the same thing you are saying in your post. You are saying that, as humans, we are all irrational, and we sometimes act against our best interests (and I agree!!), and the LA Times says that politicians are especially so. I happen to disagree with the LATimes. Actually, it's an entirely different subject. "Rational" is a concept. We are ALL irrational. We ultimately do what we want, even if we manage to rationalize it to ourselves as something "rational." Yes, the hormones, and the drug cocktail, and all the attempts at chemical explanations of our actions are fascinating, but wasn't it even as far back as Hegel who himself said that everything is ruled by Desire? And what this country and its media fails to accept is that politicians are human. They are no greater thrill-seekers than some so called average joes who cheat on their wives, perhaps, more often than the politicians do. This comment is not about justifying cheating, far from it - it's just that it's easy to use segregationist mentality and stereotypes when it comes to politicians (not that I am defending bad behavior). I have a lot more to say, but this comment format is a little restrictive:)

  2. Rina: I don't know much about Hegel but I know a bit about the (seemier side of) human nature, having made a career of mining it and being somewhat human myself. Striving for rationality is still my idealistic goal & should be society's, especially relating to the law and politics. I view Bush as an example of what comes of non-rational governing and hope that Obama is more rational & ergo more successful. As it relates to love, however, I acknowledge that the rational is fighting a losing battle.

  3. Mort, you make me smile:) I am an idealist, too. ENFP by Myers-Briggs. Wonder if you are the same, or an INFP. Let's give a definition to "rationality." The same goes for "sensible", and "reasonable." And it's not only about love. Yehuda Amichai, the great Israeli poet, has this line in one of his poems, "Let's be reasonable, and other similar curses." Let me hazard a guess - and I am in a risk-taking state nowadays: what you want to call "rational" is what is fair and right. I do hope that Obama is more "rational," in the context of your terminology. Mind you, he's an Idelaist type by Myers-Briggs, maybe the first and only American president, so this is unprecedented and thrilling!
    About Hegel: no one can claim they "know" him:) I took a course on Hegel alone at some point in my graduate studies. It was taught by a German professor. A separate story.
    You have this uncanny tendency to evoke various associations:)

  4. I forgot to mention: I really admire your earlier post about the why's of your clients. Why do people sabotage themselves? Why can't they be more mindful about themselves and others? Is it because they don't really know who they are, or is it because they never got to be who they wanted to be? And they keep trying becoming themselves by doing all the things that harm them... Sad...
    As synchronicity would have it, today I have stumbled upon a printout of my own personality report I once did while in search of a job. In the beginning it said (condensing here) that our greatest task is to learn about ourselves - otherwise how do we expect to understand and relate to others, or how do we expect to find those who are our kindred spirits?
    It made me think of how much I do, or don't know myself, and how much, or little importance I have attributed to it, while relating to others...

    A penny for your thoughts:)