The Cult of the Form

Nathan Robinson:

In the list of disturbing immigration stories coming out of the Trump Administration, this one is particularly striking. Helen, a five-year-old Honduran girl, got lost inside the immigration bureaucracy after DHS got her to sign a form waiving her right to a hearing. Reading it, though, something didn’t make sense to me. Why did they even bother having her sign the form? She’s five. I know that the Trump Administration is cruel, and is willing to punish families by taking their children away and cutting off all communication. But why the form? Is the form supposed to confer some legitimacy on this process? If they can convince little Helen to print her name, on a totally unintelligible legal document in a language she doesn’t speak, do they think that makes some kind of important difference? The DHS bureaucrat who “helped” Helen sign away her rights must have felt there was some significance in the form, that they needed the form in order to be able to do it. But why? Is there judge who would refuse to sanction the detention without the form, but would be okay with it if a five-year-old signed it?

Perhaps there is such a judge. Which shows you just how bizarre the Cult of the Form is.

To me, one of the most sinister rationalizations of evil is: Well, you signed on the dotted line. Libertarians use this a lot to explain why there’s nothing exploitative or objectionable about capitalism: If you can get someone to sign a contract agreeing to something, then they have no grounds to object to it. After all, they signed. If they didn’t want the consequences, they shouldn’t have signed. Since they did sign, tough shit.