I've been trapped by the cable service again, and find myself watching first the final third and then the first two thirds of "The Rainmaker" on AMC. That's the beauty of cable: 150+ standard channels, most of which show nothing of value, the rest of which show the same thing enough times in a row that it becomes valueless. I won't miss it; in CT we will have internet access but not cable television. I like to think this will mean I'll read more, but internet is even more likely to distract me -- it already does, after all.
"The Rainmaker" is one of a string of 90's Grisham novels-cum-blockbusters about the legal profession. In this one, Matt Damon plays the role of newly-minted Memphis State Law School graduate Rudy Taylor, who stumbles on to the perfect client: a young man dying because he was denied a bone marrow transplant by a corrupt (read: ordinary) health insurance company, said company represented by a stereotypically slimy megafirm personified wonderfully by Jon Voight. (Voight is adept at these types: cerebral, casually corrupt apparatchiks.)
"Rainmaker" refers to two things: the case or client that makes the heavens rain money, and/or the attorney who finds clients like that.
Damon's Rudy wins the case, mainly through overwhelming evidence sustained through a combination of blind luck and a remote assist from a corrupt shyster on the lam. The not-so-subtle lesson is that even unstained righteousness requires ruthless and unprincipled champions to prevail. Christ himself would need more than Clarence Darrow; he'd need some combination of Johnny Cochrane, Don King and Jack Abramoff. Rudy, having won whilst keeping his shoes relatively free of putrescence, departs stage right with willowy domestic battery survivor Claire Danes in tow. Not a bad way to quit the law.
I left in a far less dramatic fashion, jumping ship early in the summer of 2004 after barely 8 months of billables. I was (and am) blessed to have a beauty of my own, who never blinked a lash though her glittering prince fell abruptly from elite-educated attorney-on-the-make to journeyman apprentice carpenter in two swift weeks. But I had no cache to take with me, to buoy me on my travels, nor did I understand quickly (or as it turns out, slowly) where I was headed or what it means to leave the law.
Spiritually, you're ever on the doorstep: never quite going away, yet never to reenter the hall; a beguiling contraption that others puzzle over, like an Archimedes' Trammel without a scribe. "Fascinating," they muse, "but whatever does it do?," while to lawyers you look a gelding.
What I've found myself doing is the title of this post. Most people call it "conservation," though.
In the "Rainmaker" we hear evidence (however fictionalized) of the brokenness of both our legal system and our healthcare system. We are even warned of the spectre of "government controlled" medical care -- a dire evil, ever to be feared. As the movie (and my second glass of wine) came to an end bitterness rose along with indigestion; bitter because in spite of the acrimony and strife of the intervening 13 years we haven't improved either of those systems. Indeed, with every passing year we slide further down the gullet. Since that movie was made, it is harder to win a lawsuit, harder to get a judgment, harder to get healthcare. But still we pay -- taxes, premiums, fees.
In conservation, we've reached a point where we argue the relative merits of development. We no longer argue its essential value. We no longer say "Not here." We are remaindered to "oh, well, here -- ok, but could you maybe move the building a few feet away from the wetland, the vernal pool, the already impossibly fractured habitat? And could you vent your waste in a different direction? Maybe bury it? Or store it next to the aquifer rather than dumping directly into the stream?"
We are witnesses. We may be the last witnesses, but there are millions of us. My friends who are teachers are witness to the end of the dream of equal public education. My friends in government are witness to the end of all manner of regulations and policies that either protect workers or the air or the water or the mom-and-pop saving for retirement. My scientist friends are witness to the end of endeavor for wonder's sake.
I am a witness to the vanished land. But I can't even protest its loss. The moment I raise my voice to say, "this is wrong -- more than wrong, it's suicide" the power is cut, the conversation is over, eyes glaze, doors close.
We have the power to do so much. We could do so much differently, so much better.
"Oh, we were like glory's gate, my darling. We were like that bloody shark of yours. We swam with the, um, uh — Oh, goddamn it. I had it on the plane. What was I gonna say? Ah, well." But I'll write about middle age when it's over, or more fully here.
For now I just want to record my sense of futility.