Emotion Versus Intellect

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Rob Stewart Emotion versus intellect. Do you think this is a fair description of the arguments in "Murmuring Judges"? The answer is yes, on the surface! The arguments are a little more complex than they sound initially. Emotion can often be made to sound like a weakness, but it is important to note the definition - "strong, instinctive feelings". The definition of intellect on the other hand is the "faculty of knowing and reasoning; understanding". However it could be argued that someone in possession of the former can also be in possession of the latter by dint of their working experience. An emotional argument is not necessarily weaker than an intellectual one, although it may be portrayed as such.

The main argument for us to consider in "Murmuring Judges" is of a criminal justice system that is cracking at the seams. The judges do not appear to be unduly affected by this.

From the play, it would appear to be more a problem for the police, prison service, and government. The police are shown to be well aware of the systems limitations, whilst the prison service takes a phlegmatic view.

We are shown a cross section of the judiciary, the police, the judges and the prison service. The play opens in scene one with Gerard McKinnon being sentenced to five years imprisonment and he is aware of the gulf that separates him from the judge, "one of them silver-haired, judicious, informed, they will go home to their wives, to wine in fine glasses...". This impression is heightened in scene two with a little duet between Mr Justice Cuddeford and Sir Peter Edgecombe QC with public school sounding nicknames "Beaky Harris was meant to be leading the defence", and cricket phraseology "it spoils your bowling average", being used. We are also introduced to Irina Platt who has just joined chambers, she is black and clearly attractive which no doubt helped her appointment, although she will not see it that way. She is idealistic and believes a miscarriage of justice to have taken place because of Gerard's Irish connections; "your sentence was harsh. By any standards, it was ridiculous". Gerard clearly feels she is being "emotional", "you've been worried?....You've thought of me?", Irina replies "yes I've been worried, and yes, I'm a lawyer. The two things can go together, you know". However Sir Peter, counsel for defence, is prepared to accept the sentence as it is and makes the following intellectual argument, "the young man did everything wrong. He told a complete pack of lies. He persisted in them long after he should. I don't have to tell you the Appeal Court will be starkly prejudiced against him".

Whilst this is going on WPC Sandra Bingham is having a similar emotional argument with DC Barry Hopper, the arresting officer in the McKinnon case. She feels something is not right, the sentence is too long for the crime. Barry also points out that he "told a pack of lies" and points to racial intolerance too, "he was kind of Irish as well". Barry clearly believes Sandra is being emotional telling her, "you're not in the Dream Palace [Hendon] now". So we have the two leading females making strong emotional arguments in support of Gerard, whilst their male counterparts both have intellectual arguments against him. Sir Peter agrees to make an appeal really as a favour for Irina, not because he believes there has been a miscarriage of justice. Barry has reasons of his own for arguing against Sandra, the arrest however justified was carried out in a dubious manner but, it was a personal coup for Barry, and he has a promotion riding on it. In both cases the intellectual arguments could be seen to be shaky, Gerard is clearly the classic 'pawn' in the game and the emotional arguments are the stronger ones; we know the sentence was harsh.

It is apparent that the police see themselves very much in the front line of maintaining law and order; yet they have a jaundiced view of the authority above them, and their own role in the system. In scene five, Sandra starts a soliloquy thus, "you see, it's all mess. That's what it is mostly". Sandra then goes on to describe a typical days arrests and the futility of it all, "policing's largely the fine art of getting through biros". This comes across as an everyday working view of the way things are, and could therefore be seen as "emotional". But it is also a fact and it could be argued that what appears to be an emotional argument is made intellectual by virtue of this. This in fact leads into other sub emotional arguments with other characters including Jason, arrested for drunken driving. He makes several emotional appeals, he's been drinking with a friend who's in the Army and is "going to the desert" and the fact that he is a law abiding citizen who works hard and supports the police, "I'm always there for you, I see an accident, it's me that gets out, says, can I help you officer? I help you. I always help". PC Dave Lawrence replies with the intellectual argument: "at a 70 reading, you can actually kill people. You can kill with a car".

We have an interesting sub emotion versus intellect argument in Act two, scene one. The Home Secretary has been invited to a dinner at Lincoln's Inn. Sir Peter wants to introduce him to some legal people "so you'd have some real, human faces in your mind when it came to making vital decisions", blatantly appealing to the Home Secretary's emotional side, (he knows he is there to be subtly lobbied). The Home Secretary responds intellectually asking, "there are figures from Germany. Did you read those?" Cuddeford has not, and neither has Sir Peter "word hadn't reached me....I think it's to do with the mail". Both sides play off emotional arguments against intellectual arguments as it suits them; also switching sides, using both arguments in juxtaposition, and answering questions with questions, "then why don't you act?"......."haven't I explained?......and mightn't I ask the same thing of you?". This is skilful argument with the emotion hidden within the intellect, and vice versa. It would possibly be seen as conniving by both Sandra and Irina, but it could be argued it is not wrong if it is honest and effective.

The prison service offers what sounds like an emotional argument that could be argued is in fact intellectual; it is what has happened and is therefore factual. Prison Officer Beckett asks Irina if she has been to the prison before, "No. Not to this one". Beckett has a name for visitors - "something-must-be-dones", and the prison is their "monument". His humorous comment "still, I think the prisoners like it. Or why else do they keep coming back?" is actually quite profound and, delivered with the pathos of real understanding of the limitations of the penal system.

The intellectual arguments in "Murmuring Judges" are made not necessarily because they are right, but because the people making them have convinced themselves that they are, either because they don't care or because it helps them work through the system to their advantage. In actual fact the emotional arguments (Jason's case excepted) are the stronger arguments by virtue of actually being right, but the characters making those arguments are made to feel silly and emotional (in a weak sense) as part of the intellectual argument against them. Both Irina and Sandra are eventually allowed to claim the moral high ground because of their principles. They carry these principles through to their logical conclusions, by finding out the facts and turning what were emotional arguments into intellectual ones.

David Hares use of chiaroscuro in "Murmuring Judges" is a direct challenge to us; to question our faith in a judicial system that massages figures to assuage our concerns whenever crime statistics are topical. He also questions the wisdom of locking people away for lengths of time that research shows to be ineffective. David Hare uses emotion / intellect arguments to expand and illustrate these points. Evidence in the play questions the justice in a justice system that David Hare demonstrates sees only what it wants to. Arguably this is based on a gritty realism by the judicial system; but if they do not believe in introspection and progression who will? "Murmuring Judges" shows us strong characters holding intellectual arguments and less experienced characters holding emotional / idealistic arguments. However, it could be argued emotion in argument makes for stronger characters. This is born out by both Irina and Sandra in the end doing what they know to be right, even though the consequences of their actions are likely to make work difficult for them in the immediate future.