Law in Contemporary Society

Image And Reality

In my notes for today, I have this comment by Eben: The image of who you might be becoming is more important than the reality. You will become something you can envision rather than something you want to be. I wrote this down because it sounded profound at the time, but now I realize I don't fully understand it. (Did I miss the explanation while typing?) Does this mean that we lose our true selves in the act of the sale/the con?

-- MolissaFarber - 26 Mar 2009

I’ve been reading over the two sentences Molissa italicized and trying to make sense of them. I’m not sure that I can distinguish between the two ideas very easily (i.e., becoming something I can envision versus my true self). I think we define ourselves in part by what we can envision. And to a certain extent then, our “true selves” inherently include the idea that what we show to the world matters, as I think Veblen would agree. Instead, therefore, I propose that we talk about the ways in which we wish we could act, and then discuss the ways we actually act, and attempt to understand why they don’t overlap more often. Likewise, in thinking about law school generally, we can distinguish between the CLS experience that we’d hoped for and the one we’re experiencing.

-- CarolineElkin - 26 Mar 2009

A word of warning - I'm aware that what follows is both a personal interpretation and hyperbolic and is therefore not applicable to everyone.

Here's how I understood Eben's cryptic aphorism: The image of who you might be becoming is more important than the reality. You will become something you can envision rather than something you want to be. I think the key word here is "envision". It's as if we're striving for some ideal that isn't our own and we don't really understand but we can kind of visualize. Some sort of life where we wear the perfect suit and do big important things for big important clients. Perhaps Prof. Bobbit (for those of us that had him for Legal Methods) will introduce us to his class some day in the future: "Here is Patrick Cronin. He went to Columbia Law School. He was editor of the Law Review and graduated at the top of his class. He then went to work for... where he did really smart and important things". Perhaps this fuzzy image of what we could be is what Eben's mantra - "You have to know what you want, and how to get it" - is supposed to dispel. By coming here, we expose ourselves to the risk that we'll follow this mirage to god-knows-where, but if we went somewhere less prestigious we wouldn't have that opportunity and we could concentrate on what we want and how to get it.

The fuzzy image is certainly appealing to me - but from a purely practical perspective, I don't think that it does me any good. In fact, it mostly produces despair. I didn't go to Yale or Princeton, nor will I ever. My thesis was not directed by Richard Rorty. Charles Black was not my mentor. I'm already lagging far behind the image. But, if we do away with this image, then maybe we'll actually get down to doing something that has value in the world and is satisfying to us. I suppose that's why we need to clear ground before we can figure out what we each want to do.

-- PatrickCronin - 28 Mar 2009

As I understand Eben's message, he's cautioning us against complacency and adopting career goals that have been enticingly laid out before us (prestigious firm job, SCOTUS clerkship), as opposed to those borne out of serious introspection and innovation. In some sense, I believe Eben's asking us to drown out the 'job-recruiting noise' and think seriously about who we want to be (an image that is personal to us) and pursue it with passion, as opposed to embracing the blueprint that law school imposes on us. Doing otherwise will only lead to conformity and disappointment:

You will become something you can envision as opposed to something you want to be.

-- YoungKim - 30 Mar 2009

Patrick explained, if I understood him correctly, that this image is some sort of self-hypnotizing mechanism. Given that we’re in this big prestigious law school, we have delusions of grandeur which we must uphold; whereas if we went to a smaller, more down to earth university, we might actually end up doing what we want. At the same time, this image might be empowering and can spurn us to work harder and hold ourselves to a higher standard.

The way I see this explained is in terms of frames. Every person has a certain frame with which they view the world; it is shaped by who we are, what we believe in, our experiences and ‘ignorances’ and our views of what is and is not ethical. No two people’s frames are the same.

The frame is like our ‘map’ of reality, the illusion of where things are, what causes which effects, who the good guys and the bad guys are. Objectivity is out the window at this point.

Obviously people can be wrong though, the earth is not flat for example, although in some people’s frame it might be. This has detrimental effects. Conversely, the frame can be illusory in a positive sense. If we see ourselves as honest, ethical persons, we will act in accordance with this frame. If we see ourselves as funny, personable and confident people, we will end up acting this way. If we see ourselves as the subservient class, we will act accordingly – this is the Pygmalion effect, see also Kenneth Clark. It can be very useful. If you want to emulate a person’s qualities, try to slip into their skin, see the world as they would, try to think as they would.

Interestingly, a stronger frame will overpower a weaker frame. This happens whenever you tell a joke and it bombs. Why? You did not have the same frame as the person who told the original joke. Similarly, every religious leader has an enormously strong frame in believing the paradoxes religion is based on; as every salesman knows, ‘You must believe your own bullshit’. This is charisma. A strong frame of reality supported with evidence and experience and deeply grounded in the person, unshakable.

Coming back to Columbia Law School, societies and places have frames too. A comedian or a rock star is on a stage, elevated talking, singing, while the audience watches and listens. Consider the social semiotics: courtrooms, churches and lecture halls are built to privilege certain roles: giving the judge, priest or lecturer the strongest frame possible. Columbia’s frame is: ‘We are Ivy League. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile’, as well as ‘you will work hard, earn good grades, and make a lot of money’. Another common societal frame is: ‘If you do not get a marriage, mortgage and 2.2 children by the age of 35, there’s something wrong with you’.

The empowering frame can be explained this way too. By simple association with a law school, group, nationality, ethnicity, ideology, religion or brand of clothing we subscribe to certain beliefs and behaviors such as workaholicism, support or disdain for ideas, courage, coolness, etc. ‘Columbia alumnus make 100k minimum’, ‘this… is un-American’, ‘the few, the proud, the brave, the Marines’. Note that a societal frame can have very positive influences – pledges and support to democracy, basic human rights or honesty – as well as negative influences, such as racism.

What would be the best frame to have? What frame should law school have? And most of all, if this is all true, what is the actual role and meaning of reality? It is in this interplay of illusion and reality, both which influence one another, where the term ‘realism’ both meets its logical and semantic end and is ultimately, and ironically, an odd way to describe a realistic view of the world.

This also harks back to ‘the 25 million dollar question’ in someone’s paper (apologies, I forgot whose, please insert name), which I would rephrase as ‘If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?’ Henry Ford put it similarly – ‘Whatever you think you can or cannot do – you’re right.’

-- TheodorBruening - 28 Mar 2009

I think this discussion is a great illustration of how different people interpret this course in unique, overlapping ways. Throwing my own hat into the ring: the quote does not do much for me, viewed through the scope of any of the interpretations offered above. Getting overly metaphysical about our job choices may be intellectually stimulating in the classroom, but I bet most of us are already engaging in this process internally.

I recognize that I place a great emphasis on how I am seen by others, how society will view me in my future law job, and so on: this recognition results in reflection and examination, consideration and reaffirmation of my core values (which may, themselves, be largely illusions - the chain is endless once you go down this road). Eventually my entire, scattered body of thought on the matter (along with RANDOM CHANCE!) will lead me to my first job.

During that job, unless I am heavily medicated, I will continue to think about this stuff. I may change careers - most of us will move around in the legal profession. This is not a zero sum game, and how are you to know "what you want to be" until you become that entity?

--Main.WalkerNewell - 31 Mar 2009

I think Something Split adds to this discussion in two ways: 1. In addressing the image that comes with the label of "lawyer" and "Yale grad" (p. 35), it provides an example of the largely unavoidable stereotypes and images riding alongside the labels one has subjected himself to. An individual could be the most ethical lawyer in history of time, but that, in itself, will not change the view of the common man that the title means arrogance, corruption and pretentiouness. Secondly (2), It confirms that point that image can become more important than reality. Though Wylie's partner is in psychoanalysis, it seems important (for more than reasons of mere confidentiality) that his name is not revealed. It also is important that his psychoanalyst is "different." As if attempting to dispel the immediate images that might develop in the mind when hearing the phrase, Wylie points out that Jack was dealing w/ a specialized M.D. Why? Perhaps it was too much to imagine a dignified attorney having real issues requiring treatment from the same person who would treat a layman with more common mental issues.

I think the examples here are illuminating. They suggest that the profession is one where where “keeping up with Joneses” is just the first step. Not only is the attorney expected to send the kids to the school costing three-quarters of a million dollars a year, but in a midst of a pressure-filled profession, she is additionally expected to actually have it all together: taking the right job, having the “right issues” (ie – alcoholism as opposed to more traditional psychological problems), and then handling them in ways that are unique to lawyers. I think Eben’s comment suggests that our profession, unlike others, is one where being a good lawyer is traditionally defined as maintaining this image. To fight against what is viewed as normal, an individual must ground herself in her own reality, stick to it and even then be willing to encounter resistance.

-- UchechiAmadi - 31 Mar 2009



Webs Webs

r6 - 07 Jan 2010 - 23:01:10 - IanSullivan
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