Sunday, January 06, 2008

No Misery Among the Elites


A number of law school related blogs, including Moneylaw, have addressed the idea that law professors are miserable. This does not mean miserable people – which a fair number may be – but that law professors are unhappy. In typical idle talk fashion the idea that they are unhappy seems to have been hatched in a manner similar to office hall gossip. It does not appear to be the result of any empirical research. In fact, at my University there was recently a survey and, if I recall correctly, law professors seemed to pretty happy with their jobs although my law school did rank lowest in the entire University in terms of collegiality.

One of the most consistent characteristics of those with a sense of entitlement is to never admit or even sense failure. In fact, elites appear to be brain damaged in the same way. That part of the brain that accepts responsibility or personal shortcomings is either absent or damaged. Or perhaps, through some evolutionary process, it has been extinguished.

My point is that it would be completely against character for most law professors to question what they have done with their lives. Very few that I have met seem introspective enough to ask hard questions about whether anything good will come of their efforts. Introspection can lead to doubt and elites have no self-doubt. Those efforts fall into two categories. One is to write articles virtually no one will read. Or, if they are read, it is by people in the same small group of people bend on an incestuous process of self-congratulations. Really what does it mean when one measure of success is how many other law professors have downloaded or cited your article? The other category is a life devoted to maintaining the status quo. Think about it. Why does law exist? It exists to protect property and wealth. And, why to public law schools exist? Evidently because those people who have property and wealth to protect wanted to tax everyone to help them maintain the status quo.

Pretty grim and reason to feel some level of misery but one thing elites have going for them is a near infinite capacity to rationalize. Thus, from the reality is hatched a sense of accomplishment and public service.

In sum many are not miserable because they seal themselves from the reality. These are the ones counting SSRN downloads, writing for every symposium issue that asks, network for the sake if networking, and are engaged in a constant process of self-promotion. Obviously, the essense of the job is not all that important. In fairness, though, some are not miserable because they truly appreciate the opportunity to live a life devoted to ideas. The overlap between these groups is fairly small.

3 comments:

Nathan said...

"My point is that it would be completely against character for most law professors to question what they have done with their lives." Frankly I have to say I don't believe this statement. Questioning what you have done with your life is one of the most fundamentally human things a person can do. To suggest that a group of people don't do it, implies they are not very human. Now, I bet they don't admit it in public that they question what they have done with their lives, and this is a normal within any society that would classify such thoughts as a weakness, but I would imagine they still do it.

Jeff Harrison said...

Thanks for the comment.I do not recall saying or implying they are not human. In fact, I think they are human just, as I say in the blog, conditioned not to entertaining thoughts that make them face their reality. On the other hand, maybe the "not very human" concept covers this. Still I agree with you completely that, even if they did considered this, they would not admit it because it would be a concession of weakness.

Of course, if every person does think these things, how can the admission that one has considered it be an admission of weakness? I am not disagreeing with you but pointing out how artificial it is.

Anthony Ramos said...

As always, Professor Harrison, your ruminations on insular academia seem to encompass society at large. Those overly concerned with status oft neglect the practice of instrospection or existential analysis.