Law in Contemporary Society


Eben Moglen is the only law professor I’ve met who assigned reading an obituary for his class.

The obituary was that of John Stallings, a mathematician who found a proof for part of the Poincaré Conjecture. But his achievement was not the point of the assignment.

In a paper titled, “How Not to Prove the Poincaré Conjecture” in 1965, Dr. Stallings confessed that he had sought to find a final, complete proof. After he had explained his errors “in hope of deterring others from making similar mistakes,” Dr. Stallings ended on a musing note:

“I was unable to find flaws in my ‘proof’ for quite a while, even though the error is very obvious. It was a psychological problem, a blindness, an excitement, an inhibition of reasoning by an underlying fear of being wrong. Techniques leading to the abandonment of such inhibitions should be cultivated by every honest mathematician.”

It was this lesson that was the point of the assignment.

Whilst previously I used to skip the obituaries, I now make it a point to read them.

Perhaps, by seeing how others have lived, I may make a full discovery of who I really am as I work out my purpose in life.

That is Your Work

As a student of comparative theology, I’ve came across theologians (all of them men!) like Augustine, Paul Tillich, James Cone, Al-Ghazali, and Asghar Ali. I’ve never heard of Nancy Eiesland.

Prof. Eiesland died on March 10th, 2009. Pain was her lot in life. By the time she was 13, she had had 11 operations for her congenital bone defect.

As a graduate student at Candler School of Theology, Ms. Eiesland complained that for all Christianity’s professed concern for the poor and oppressed, the disabled were ignored. Her then-professor looked at her and said, “That is your work”.

Ms. Eiesland accepted this challenge and went on to develop a coherent theology of disability which was a most powerful discussion of God to arise from disability studies.

Reading her obituary made me realize that I have never made it a point to read works by female theologians nor had I ever thought about the disabled. And more importantly, I have not really thought about my work.

My Disabilities & Lessons from John Franklin

More often than not, I’ve obsessed instead on my “disabilities” (didn’t attend a liberal arts college, not a member of the dominant race, working class parents, etc.).

Ultimately, I am responsible for living my own life and for “finding myself”. If I persist in shifting this responsibility to my disabilities, I fail to find out the meaning of my own existence.

John Hope Franklin wasn’t a member of the dominant race. He was forced off an all-white train and made to sit in a segregated section of the Tulsa opera house. He was barred from admission to the University of Oklahoma. As a historian, Prof. Franklin’s scholarship wove the black experience back into the national tapestry. Unlike many after him, he did not see "black history" as an independent discipline. Rather, what he did was to revise American history as a whole.

“I have struggled to understand,” he once said, “how it is that we could fight for independence and, at the very same time, use that newly won independence to enslave many who had joined in the fight for independence”.

“As a student of history, I have attempted to explain it historically, but that explanation has not been all that satisfactory. That has left me no alternative but to use my knowledge of history, and whatever other knowledge and skills I have, to present the case for change in keeping with the express purpose of attaining the promised goals of equality for all peoples.”

John Hope Franklin, historian of race in the United States, died on March 25th, aged 94.


A friend once said that New York is a city of exiles for those who are not a member of the dominant elites. I have come to the end of my exile and soon I will be heading home. If the obituaries have taught me anything, it would be that the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my own achievements. It is to be seen in the light of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, society and time. I hope that when it’s my turn to die, my obituary would read: “The fruits of his labor were not his alone for they paved the way for the achievements of others”.

-- AlfianKuchit - 29 Apr 2009

  • I think this is beautifully felt, and gracefully made. Thank you for writing it. May you become who you want to be.


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r5 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:46:08 - IanSullivan
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