Law in Contemporary Society

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Lessons in Self-Deception

-- By TyCarleton - 07 Jun 2017

Unrecognized Burdens

I first became a vegetarian at the age of 5. I recall the dinner—chicken. The gears of my mind clicked into place. I asked my mom if the food on my plate had been a living animal. She said it had. I asked her if all meat comes from once-living animals. She said it does. I resolved to never eat meat again. The decision was perfectly simple. I thought it the right thing to do, so I did it.

Childhood idealism eroded into adolescent dispassion and indifference. At camp the summer before high school, faced with the reality of two weeks of PB&Js for every meal, I broke down and had Bolognese. I searched myself for signs of trauma, for the sense of horror that first animated my vegetarianism, and found…nothing—an empty void where my precocious conscience had been. The seal broken, I returned to an omnivorous diet.

In college, finally emancipated from hormonal apathy, I began to care again. But my renascent conscience could not compete with the excuses I had lined up. I convinced myself that I needed to eat meat for my health—that I would stop once I managed to gain some weight. I dissociated while eating meat to avoid contemplating the unhappy reality of my complicity in the murder of animals. I did not want to sacrifice the taste, the easy protein, or the social convenience. As humans often do in the face of cognitive dissonance, I tricked myself into thinking my reflections on the matter were genuine and adequate. I sequestered off the part of myself that knew I was not living my life in a manner with which I felt comfortable.

A few years ago, I finally managed to achieve a healthy weight. Having lost my manufactured excuse, I once again ceased eating meat. I had not anticipated just how good it would feel to live in harmony with my values. Barely aware of the burden I carried, my justificatory calculus had failed to properly weigh the psychological detriment of my behavior.

History Repeats

With my first legal career choices looming, I feel my self-deception percolating once again. Truthfully, in only a few moments of clarity have I been able to bring myself to really picture what my work life might be like ten or twenty years from now. I have feigned thoughtful consideration while instinctively protecting my unexamined plans from my critical faculties. After a lifetime of choosing between a manageable, discrete set of prescribed life paths, the disquieting burden of genuine self-determination has revved my dissociative functions into overdrive. I tell myself I must enter a career involving the indiscriminate support of corporate interests for my financial well-being—that I will stop once I pay off my law school debt or once I help my parents with their retirement. But my experience tells me that I am not pricing in the mental harms of committing my time and talents to causes about which I feel, at best, indifferent.

I am frustrated at my own hypocrisy. I feel strongly committed to vegetarianism as a means of promoting the flourishing of conscious beings, but lack the same instinctual sense of urgency when it comes to my potential to do the same through lawyering. With regards to my career, I find my hesitance to choose the moral path particularly unamenable to reason. Part of the challenge is the tantalizing immediacy of more money than anyone in my family has ever known. But more critically, I feel paralyzed by uncertainty. While it is now manifestly apparent to me what my ethical understandings demand of me vis--vis consuming meat, I lack clarity about what it would look like for me to develop my career in a manner consistent with my morals. I know what the career I want to pursue does not look like, but have yet to develop a strong notion of what it does. I think it critically important that I focus my time over the next two years on developing this understanding.

Looking Forward

I have thus far failed to capitalize on the wealth of available career guidance at Columbia—namely, the endless stream of practicing lawyers in various fields who speak or teach on campus. Going forward, I plan to attend as many worthwhile lunch sessions as I can, reach out to lawyers whose careers I admire, and take advantage of some of the experiential learning opportunities offered, inching myself closer to a picture of a future that feels right. In addition, I will make more time to just sit and reflect, to examine the integrity of my self-awareness so as to ensure I do not revert to the automaticity of thought that became my default this year. Finally, I will strive not to overcomplicate my decision-making process and to make my choices boldly. My 5-year-old self’s moral calculus was simple, but it got me where I needed to be without gratuitous equivocation.

Revision 1r1 - 07 Jun 2017 - 23:58:48 - TyCarleton
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