The main feature that separates humans from animals, in a world where humans possess “inalienable rights” and animals do not, is Descartes’ famous Cognito. However, I do not think it’s complete when Plato declared that it’s reason that defines us and makes us human. I believe “some” of those people whom we deem “retards” — people with less cognitive facilities — never-the-less encapsulate the same emotions as a normal person. They feel and have strong emotional preferences just as we do. They can love, get hurt, and possess all the vulnerabilities as we mortals have.
They even have friends as we do. In a way, some of them can love even more than we can love, as shown in the movie “I am Sam”: Sam could show unconditional love, as we normal individuals cannot. Thus in a way, these people’s world may be smaller and limited by their mental handicap, but their limitations certainly do not merit them a different level of personhood, as Plato and Descarte suggests.
However, their value and place in a society becomes much more complicated question as their limitations in function interacts with how a group of people perform as a whole. As seen in the movie “I am Sam,” despite of his good intentions, vigorous efforts, and his friends’ help at the coffee shop, he could not fulfill a job that’s inherently too intensive for his mental capacity. In a fast-pace, interactive society, there are hard-drawn deadlines that must be met to maintain society’s timely function as a whole.
Thus Sam’s limitations do diminish his values and rights in a legal framework that’s designed for the smooth operation of an entire society. For example, and I assert humbly, in an ideal legal framework, he should not been allowed to have a baby, which only took upon himself too great of a burden involved in raising healthy child. This is what I call, “Freedom with Responsibility.” Responsible females also should not allow someone like Sam to impregnate them as it did happened with a homeless woman in this case.
But when someone like Sam slip through the cracks of a healthy social system and society’s norms and does end up with a child, he and his child become a nightmare for the legal system. How should the law respond to the diverging pull of both responsible parenting (necessary to maximize a child’s potential) and the emotional cries of “Love”? A thousand pages of legal documents would not do this instance justice. Whatever the answer is, this movie does point out some serious flaws of our legal system.
During the initial days of this country, our founding fathers used their wisdom to establish Substantive Law for the Courts and use methods of lay-investiture to appoint its judges. The idea was to have lay person (not an elitist) who has lived amongst the people to determine the laws that will govern the people – and the “people” include him or her self. Such process allow an “real” person who knows what it is really like to live life, love, and suffer and possess the democratic soul of its people so that he or she can make laws and interpret cases for “real” people — a system by the people, for the people, and made to serve the people.
But today, such is not the reality of many of our courts. Our legal system is dominated by elitist professors and academians who know not such delicate matter as life, passion, pain, love and all the nuances of living life. This movie “I am Sam” depicts such cold and cruel system designed by people who are out-of-touch with the reality of “real” people’s lives. And the others stand by only to enforce the cold, loveless, and systematic laws of this cold legal institution we have in this country.
The people hired for our legal system in this country are simply not equipped to understand and deal with the complexity of these messy affairs called “real life.” We need more lawyers who encompass the heart and the soul of our people and truly represent their interest in a legal-framework of care rather than mere legality. Instead of only chose to deal with what is legally correct, our courts also need to manage – to the best of their ability – what is morally right.