Law in Contemporary Society
-- BrandonNesfield - 20 Apr 2016

The Will to Power

Nietzsche believed that in every human being existed a will-to-power, an inexhaustible, unshakeable instinct to dominate surroundings, assert will and establish influence, all while reveling in the cycle of challenge and success. If an alien onlooker were to observe patterns of human interaction and the mechanics of modern society, I have no doubt that they would posit a similar theory. Modern societies—from the capitalist exemplar of the United States to the developing island nations of the Caribbean exhibit power structures with an inherent dichotomy: the concentration of power in the ruling few over the disenfranchised many. The modalities of power—or lack of them—come in many forms on both ends: money, political influence, landed superiority in the former; sickness, poverty; mental incapacity in the latter. While we tend to fancy ourselves as the chosen species, wrapping ourselves in religious convictions of God’s place for us at the top of the animal kingdom (or scientific observations of our relative cognitive capacity), the alien onlooker would likely see us closer to true form: as animals, dressed up in silk and suede and all the other products of our collective genius, at once conforming the world and those in it to our will. They would likely note that—despite the glaring similarities of advanced human culture to the African savannah where lions kill and the herbivorous herds accept their station in the predator-prey binary—with a peculiar magic many humans convince themselves of imaginary concepts (of goodness, of graciousness, of kindness, of charity) to be subsequently used as guideposts to follow or to not follow, or to be used to admonish those who do not acknowledge them and to cherish those who do. No matter how these concepts arise, whether they are sourced from a Judeo-Christian faith or a convoluted, self-important academic’s theory on the scientific basis for altruism as a fact of the human condition, history suggests that while material conditions of the powerful/powerless struggle may change over time, the core variables—those with power and those without it—is seemingly everlasting.

Is the Lawyer a Lion?

Nietzsche vehemently rejected Judeo-Christian principles of morality and ethical concern for the weak; he saw subscription to such altruistic fictions as a straying from the animalistic qualities of raw and ruthless intelligence, in the service of domination and control, which were bestowed upon humans. Nietzsche’s utopia was not a world of enduring equality and respect that transcended class or socioeconomic standing, rather it was a world in which the ubermensch was the exemplar: the man who has recognized the ferocity of his will-to-power but has mastered it—a man who has long discarded the diseased ideals that generate shame for instinctually driven actions that do not conform to an illusory, higher standard. Modern day lawyers, though in reality varied in practice and their impact on the world, are likely already viewed as Nietzsche’s ubermensch in the American imagination. After all, lawyers (thanks to the media and reality in equal measure) are well-connected, well paid professionals who operate within power structures that most citizens will never witness, let alone become a part of. But from my own experience, it is clear that the lawyer is not truly the ubermensch or the lion that kills to eat without remorse. Even in big law, where attorneys unblinkingly defend the coffers and reputations of the financial institutions and companies responsible for an inordinate amount of human suffering and subordination, lawyers seem to still pride themselves on the pro bono work they complete, as if such meager contributions to the God of Charity somehow absolves them of their material, negative impact on the world. One could argue that this line of reasoning is highly cynical; from a utilitarian standpoint someone who does ten ‘bad’ things and two ‘good’ things is better off than the same man who foregoes the two good things. Do motives, such as guilt or shame, negate that which is objectively ‘good’? However, one could also argue this perspective is diseased in both its reasoning and its paradoxical effect: the lion in sheep’s clothing that can convince everyone of his goodness only has a more secure platform from which he exert his evils.

Social Lubrication

Perhaps where we are as a society, from the perspective of where we’ve been, denotes actual, meaningful change. After all, less than 300 years ago slavery existed in our country. Less than 100 years ago, Jews were being exterminated in the millions. These benchmarks, along with the more modern social progressive movements espousing gender and sexual equality, suggest that we are evolving toward the ubermensch singularity but instead toward the utopia of lore, where everyone is fed and watered, happy and fulfilled, and more or less equal in these regards. But sometimes it’s hard to imagine that, while the aforementioned societal ‘benchmarks’ are incontrovertible proof of monumental triumphs over despicable evils, at our societal core exists as a power dynamic that will never change, and will always serve as the generator of the misery and suffering that mark the experience of the many over the few. As we’ve discussed in class, yes slavery has ended, but when you look at income inequality in the purported land of American dreams, it becomes apparent that slavery has simply taken on new forms. The peon at the multinational corporation whose at-will employment is but a thin string of fate is a slave to the same corporation’s management class whose salaries, comforts, and luxuries are entire orders of magnitude higher. However, today the realities of slavery have been enshrouded in conspicuous compassion and brash benevolence: the ruling classes now euphemize their galas and balls by transplanting charitable endeavors into their gilded invitations, inviting the 1% to display power and money through their donations and the embittered masses to marvel at their munificence from below. The new slavery is sleek and socially lubricated; it can exist in polite company and conversation. Joan Didion’s conception of the WASP mask has found even truer form and wider reach in 2016, where bright minds (and yes I am referencing myself and many of my friends and colleagues here at Columbia) convince themselves of their “good nature” based on their polite, thoughtful ruminations on society and “the way things are”, even though these contemplations are often incommensurate with their actions, namely the careers and pastimes they bring their talents to bear on. It felt good writing the first essay for this course—I saw myself grappling with inner conflicts of morality and ethical compulsion, and I witnessed those thoughts manifest on paper. But, as my professor noted in his comments: much of my essay was but oratory that “hasn’t yet become anything but words”. The question now, for me and my colleagues, is how do we take off that mask and reconcile our actions with our beliefs? How do we forego to the immediate gratification of money and perceived status/power for ideals that seem illusory in both nature and the gifts they bestow (or don’t) upon us? This course has helped me most in providing as example of a man who has at least tried and been successful in many ways. But unfortunately the persisting cynic, standing from his little soapbox in the recesses of my mind, demands more evidence that it’ll work out in the end.

* Set ALLOWTOPICVIEW = TWikiAdminGroup, BrandonNesfield * Set DENYTOPICVIEW = TWikiGuest


Webs Webs

r4 - 08 Jun 2016 - 15:06:18 - BrandonNesfield
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM