Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Anthropological Notes 3

I have spent some time lately reading other blogs. I like Above the Law and find The Faculty Lounge interesting. There is another blog, however, that makes my efforts at exposing the bizarre word of  privileged professors look feeble, at best. On that blog one can easily find commentary over days and numbering close to triple digits on what to do if someone does not keep an appointment or if an email is quoted. There are issues like just how oppressive it is to grade exams.  Just go there and forget about this blog. Entire dissertations could be written about the characteristics of the culture you will find.

It is somewhat like a faculty meeting -- a great deal of aggressive self-interested behavior carefully disguised so as to appear like civil discussion.  It's amazing the number of ways people can tell others they are idiots but maintain their deniability. And, some of the butt kissing is embarrassing. When you like someone's post or comment there are congratulatory platitudes that will make you want to look away. "Thank you for doing this, and for contributing to thoughtful discussion on the internet." says one. Another goes with, "An extraordinarily gracious and knowing post." And how about,  "This post is a remarkable act of introspection and self-interpretation." And what are these comments referring to: The Gettysburg Address? Letter From a Birmingham Jail? Meta World Peace's after game commentary?

Not exactly. These comments are for an admittedly privileged and sheltered law professor who wondered "out loud" on a blog what one might do to overcome the handicap of privilege. Yes, in a sense he was wallowing in the self pity induced by knowing he has it made. No, I am not kidding and I want to quickly add that I do not think the writer of the original piece was fishing for this level of gushing.

In subjective competitions it is said that judges keep the scores of the first competitors low in order to save something up if another competitor blows them away. What have these commentator held back? What do they say if they read a spectacular article or a moving poem. Maybe "Your analysis of Citizens United made me weep." "I knew from the first line that I was not worthy of your genius."

Remember, this was for someone -- one of their own -- who basically asked "Is there a way for me to be less of a jerk."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeffrey,

I am a fan of your blog, but I think you've got it wrong on this one. I was one of the law professors who complimented Rod Hills on his post and I did so precisely because he did something that you have repeatedly noted elites are almost constitutionally incapable of doing: demonstrate the self-awareness and sense of shame that are necessary to combat the sense of entitlement that you regularly rail against.

I think you are correct when you write that Hills was not fishing for the kind of praise he received. Interestingly, this very fact seems to make the compliments paid to him--the very compliments you mock—even more warranted; in fact I am surprised you did not join in the complimenting. Others, many of whom think like you do, saw the genuineness of his humility and self reflection and thanked him for it. It's important to do this in a culture (that is, legal culture generally) wherein it seems the default response is to see such humility as a sign of weakness rather than to praise it as intellectually and personally brave and of great utility for systemic change.

So I agree that Hills' post was not the Gettysburg Address but that actually helps make the point. It merely highlights the very premise driving Hills' apology and post. Given the insular nature of law professors' existence, such manifest shame is so unusual that the self-awareness he demonstrated becomes almost profound in context. Everything is relative. The commentators realized this and were thus inspired to give Hills a shout out. And I don't think the specific wording they chose to use was as inflated as you seem to think—again, given the context. The commentators were perhaps a bit more sensitive to the key considerations than you are being, which is, to your credit, not necessarily the norm.