Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Revisiting Anthropological Notes 3

What follows is a comment on Anthropological Notes 3. I am posting it because I think it is a very insightful  and partially correct criticism of the original "Anthropological Notes 3" and I wish I had thought of some of it.  I'd comment further myself but I have forgotten what irked me as much as it did. I think the commentator is right when he or she mentions "the context."  In fact, I was mocking the context because of its standards for what was to be regarded as noble and what was regarded as an appropriate reaction.  In a way, I guess that supports the thesis found in this little series of "notes." The context is an unusual and bizarre society. As an aside please do write any comments complimenting me on admitting my original blog might have been off a bit. Admissions like that are what normal people do.

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. 

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