Law in Contemporary Society

My Shadow in the Sun

-- By GeorgeMenz - 22 Feb 2024

What I Am

It is not essential to my self-conception that I am a good person. I am well aware that if I stood before Anubis and Osiris my heart would be heavier than a feather and I would be swiftly devoured by the beast at the gates of the underworld. But this being a myth, it is an illusory danger. I don't need to be good: I only need to survive. I should clarify that I am well aware that this does not make me strong. On the contrary, it makes me weak, and it comes from a place of weakness. Truly strong organisms are not desperate to survive; they can bask in the sun. The omnipotent and the abject are capable of behaving perfectly ethically in all situations. Ethical behavior, far from being a sign of weakness, shows confidence and strength; it shows that one is not insecure, that one does not feel one has sacrificed anything by allowing a portion of one’s share to go to others, that one is not threatened by occasionally giving way.

If I really believed that that my needs were so base and simply satisfied I would be happier, probably. But there is another need which I have to fulfill, which has dogged me for a very long time: the need to believe that I am smart. That is common enough, but in my case I believe it results at least in part (and probably in substantial part) from a need to compensate for the areas in which I am deficient: socially, interpersonally, emotionally. I am undersocialized and immature. These are faults which might be forgiven someone of exceptional ability, and so my coping mechanism for this overbearing awareness of my deformation has been to convince myself that I am intellectually exceptional. But I am a quarter-century old now, my father is deceased, and I have to confront reality without mail-order X-Ray Specs. I know I'm not stupid; real stupidity would be an excuse. I am probably smarter than average and I hope that is not too bold a statement to venture. But I am not a wunderkind or an enfant terrible, I am not going to bowl anybody over, nothing I do will be impressive if I do not work my hands bloody in the accomplishment.

Why I'm Here

So why am I in law school? The legal profession is an area where exceptional intelligence must be or is most often married to strong interpersonal skills in order to achieve distinction or even success. The lonely and difficult genius, while probably mythical everywhere, has more reality in the sciences and (paradoxically) in creative fields. Think of how Alan Turing has been memorialized, in films like the Oscar bait Imitation Game, as a shy insecure nerd completely at odds with accounts which describe him as charming and sociable. So why law? I said to a professor at the beginning of the semester that my goal in entering law school was to become "insatiable and wealthy." A better investment of $300,000 would have been, say, buying up water rights in Latin America. So that was not entirely honest.

What draws me to the law is perhaps an awareness that organisms such as myself are dependent on the law. We require order, codes, in order to navigate a world which otherwise remains to us incomprehensible and frightening. Healthy organisms can exist without the law; they have a natural affinity which enables them to distinguish between situations where it's alright to (for example) snort a bump of cocaine, versus the rules which are incontrovertible and violations of which merit extralegal censure if no formal remedy is available. I cling to the law because justice does not present itself to me. Roberto Saviano (in Gomorrah, tr. Virginia Jewiss) explains: "The law has fixed codes, but justice doesn't. Justice is something else, an abstract principle that involves everyone, that is tolerable depending on how it is interpreted to absolve or condemn every human being..."

To put it plainly, then, what I seek in the law (if you will pardon my contradicting you, Professor Moglen) is not justice, and it is not a hatred of injustice. It is the search for an alternative, something which will allow me to justify my shortcomings and expand at my fullest capacity. Law is the vehicle by which I and lifeforms like myself preserve our self-conception in the face of a world for which we were not made.

What Now?

To which you respond, understandably: Okay, good for you, what then? Lawyers do not defend the law in the abstract but in the concrete. Their practice requires them to acquire some domain-specific knowledge which gives them both a market advantage and an edge in practical terms over their competitors. I will admit that at the moment there is not one area of law that I feel I would like to dedicate myself to completely. I will say, however, that this seems like a high bar to clear. I do not feel insecure in law school because I do not know in which field of law I want to specialize. I feel insecure, when I do feel insecure, because I feel incompetent: that is to say, I feel like I have the wrong end of the stick on a grand scale. Then again, this is the position I think I have occupied through my childhood, my youth, my entire life. Optimistically, I would say: I will figure it out. Otherwise, I will survive, as long as anyone else can.

Perhaps instead of needing to believe you are smart it would be possible to wish to be wise. Perhaps if you think about lives led in the law you will conclude that interpersonal skills have not always been the key to success. Perhaps to the extent that we can isolate "interpersonal skills" that are valuable to lawyers, we would center upon sincerity, truthfulness, and even-temper. These can be achieved without the requirement of charm, warmth, or charisma.

I am not contradicted and don't feel opposed. I spoke of reasons to be a lawyer that have proved in my experience to be durable. This is not an essay about the achievement of durability, which is, in the guise of survival, assumed.

The stick has more than two ends, so there is not so much a wrong one as one one doesn't know one is holding.


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r6 - 19 May 2024 - 16:53:18 - EbenMoglen
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