Law in Contemporary Society
I fear that I might be arriving late to the party, but there is no such thing as fashionably punctual. Nevertheless, this semester has been one of transition for me. Transition away from patting myself on the back for past achievements toward looking at myself in a more critical light. What's great and challenging about being in an environment like CLS is that I become ever more impressed with my peers as I learn more about them each day. We provide extraordinarily high standards for each other through setting superior examples across a wide-range of endeavors.

So the all important question remains: how can we (each of us) get better?

For me, one particularly salient moment came when Professor Moglen said something to the effect of, "television is a hypodermic needle filled with everything it takes to fail in law school." At the time, I attacked the statement with the "everything in moderation" retort. But its lingering effect has lead to further exploration.

"Why do Buddhists do well in law school?" As Professor Moglen said, it would be highly misguided to seek statistical proof for this question. The point is elsewhere. Before I delved into Eastern religious, I thought it a better place to start to engage my own: Judaism. I have long had a disconnection with my religion following certain events in my past, which I will save for another discussion on another day. My lack of spirituality preceded any of these events, and perhaps the last time I felt spiritually connected with my religion was when I was Bar Mitzvahed, at age 13.

But I digress. I wondered if there were any relatively legitimate resources that I could use to explore meditation through the Jewish lens, and to my surprise, not only was there a large body of work, it seemed that one of the most prominent voices of the movement was a Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, a noted American Orthodox rabbi. This is significant because before he addressed the topic of meditation, many Jews seeking to engage the practice were turning to the Eastern religions, with varying degrees of ambivalence (due to the use of mantras which invoke the deities of other religions). Kaplan revealed that many ancient texts, beyond just those used in Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, spoke of meditation as a way to gain control of one's mind.

[Note for future editing: this entire introduction might have been self indulgent, but on the other hand, I think writing about my personal journey is a productive endeavor. Anyway, here come's the point.]

So I ordered a book written by Rabbi Kaplan, specifically targeted at someone like me who is not entrenched in Jewish practice and belief. I received it last Thursday, and found some items which seemed almost tailor-made for our prior discussions. The book suggests that the mind has a natural inclination for reverie, a state in which it is free to jump from thought to thought subconsciously. This sort of thinking first occurs in children and continues unabated, unless one actively engages his mind to take control. In Kaballah, the "normal mode" of thinking is called "mentality of a child" and the focuses form of thinking that is gained through meditation is called "mentality of adulthood." The idea of concentration is natively distasteful to the mind's inclination toward free association. "Interesting," I thought. So if I sit around and relax, my mind essentially flashes short bursts of unrelated or loosely related random thoughts.

That reminded me of another medium: television. Watching television is essentially a passive form of this reverie but instead of utilizing the brain's power to relax within oneself, one actually just turns off, or puts on the autopilot at best. Finally, I realized what Professor Moglen meant. It's not that TV is inherently bad, or that its addictive, but rather that as a tool for pleasure, it works against the control over our minds that we need to be able to digest 60-100 pages on several disparate topics each night, or for that matter even appreciate the world around us.

The book suggests that once a person begins to gain control over his mind, the positive effects come in two ways. First, the static (ie. the random thoughts that pop into your head when you are finally sitting down to that crim law reading) starts to subside. This allows for a heightened concentration. In turn, this concentration allows the mind to make connections and relate to the information in ways that would be unavailable in the more distracted state. As I see it, my television fed mind expects the words from the book to jump off the page and insert themselves in my head. In gaining control over my thoughts, I will be able to engage the material more actively.

I started off by saying that I might be coming late to the party. Perhaps the rest of the class thinks that (1)I am full of shit or (2) There is nothing new about this. Nevertheless, I thinks it makes a lot of sense, and it seemed worth sharing. I placed this entry under the "IsTVReallyAddictive" parent heading because I think it represents the next phase of the discussion. I hope future postings will address how we can become more aware of ourselves and our surroundings to make full use of our potential both as a collective group and individuals.

-- JonathanFriedman - 09 Mar 2009

Jon, in reflecting on your post, I think you hit upon a crucial point in saying that TV can potentially inhibit our control over our own minds, something that precludes legitimate comprehension in reading. I for one can recall dozens of times where I read a few pages of text, and at the end cannot for the life of me summarize what I just read.

However, perhaps we can instead watch television critically by refusing to completely give in to its seductive embrace. I think this is the crucial point that Professor Moglen is emphasizing, in that we need to at all times (including during class) retain control of our most advanced cognitive capabilities. By not ceding this, we observe our circumstances in the most critical manner. I think several people in this class have made excellent points though in saying that it really is like an addictive drug, that quite frankly is needed as a respite during times of enhanced stress.

-- AaronShepard? - 09 Mar 2009

A reason why TV has been such a successful medium is that it plays to our "mentality of the child." Think about the ratings of Book Talk on CSPAN vs. a typical MTV show. In most cases, television programming provides short scenes, simple plot-arcs, and cliff-hangers, not to mention 30 second tv ads which are filled with subliminal messaging, bright colors, flashing lights, catchy music, etc. which all combine to allow our minds to jump from thought to thought, passively simulating what we do during an unfocused reverie state of thought. Given this, I'm not sure how to avoid giving into its "seductive embrace." There are many forms of escapism that were discussed in the IsTVReallyAddictive page. I'm not saying we should cut TV out of our lives. I am not even attempting to make a normative statement about our use of it. Rather, my posting was aimed at sharing some interesting information about the interplay between television and our minds, taken with regard to our class discussion and what I read about the goals of meditation.

My point here was to relay how I came to be more aware about what my goals are and the way the push-and-pull between one environmental factor and my self-discipline in thought affects them. This self-awareness was a personal triumph for me [at least I think], and I thought it might be of use to others. I want to further explore similar break-throughs because I think the exercise makes us better people and students, and hopefully better lawyers in the future.

-- JonathanFriedman - 09 Mar 2009

This post adds nothing to the discussion but I just wanted to inform everyone that Columbia University Interfaith Fellows Program will be organizing a non-sectarian meditation session led by Mr. Ashirvad Zaiantchick.

The session will be held on Thursday, (Mar. 12) from 6-7pm.

More details will be announced later via email.


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r5 - 07 Jan 2010 - 22:40:13 - IanSullivan
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