Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Novice and The Veteran

First of all, I'd like to thank Professor Chen for inviting me to participate in this blog. It is quite an honor to be the special undergraduate who gets to post here. I'd like to think that it stems from my "strong proclivity toward and a talent for legal scholarship," but I suspect it has a bit more to do with giving our lovely host due props when he started his home blog. Regardless, it is an honor to be here, and I hope to one day become today's legal scholar...today.

I'm in a rather peculiar spot here. On the one hand, I believe I am the only contributor here who has a blog of his own. The Debate Link is more than two years old (virtually ancient around these parts), and is the site I lovingly describe as "my baby" to my friends. I look forward to posting here, but The Debate Link remains my home institution and you will see a lot more of me there. I also co-blog at The Moderate Voice and did a stint at Centerfield. So in the immortal words of Shakespeare's Sister: This ain't my first time at the rodeo.

On the flip side, I remain quite the neophyte when it comes to actual, you know, law. For I remain a lowly undergraduate, starting my Junior year at the delightful (but law school-less) Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. The legal knowledge I've gleaned is a volatile mixture of classwork, independent research, reading, and random things I've picked up on the side. Who knows what crazy fallacies and absurdities I've picked up along the way? So I ask that my older and wiser colleagues indulge the occasional foolishness from their baby blogger. Follies of youth and all that.

One advantage of being relatively unschooled in law, however, is that I am relatively untainted. Not that I subscribe to the notion that law school inscribes a terrifying Mark of Cain on its participates--out damn spot! But it seems readily apparent that knowing law would have a profound impact on one's perspective on law. Most law is directed (and, since we have a jury system, often enforced) by lay people. Yet most legal interpretation and commentary is written by people who have significant formal training. Is there not a significant sampling bias inherent in this system?

Of course, at face value, this does not make law different from any other discipline. Most work in theoretical physics is done by trained scientists--very little by people such as myself who think any number that can't be counted on fingers and toes to be the sign of the beast. This does not seem to trouble anyone (it certainly doesn't bother me!). Yet there is an easy distinction. We do not expect lay people to understand or apply theoretical physics--I'll never have to build a particle accelerator. Yet we do expect lay people to have a fairly intricate understanding of law--to be able to follow it, to elect the men and women who will write it, and at times to interpret it. Consequently, whatever the average Joe and Josephine thinks about law matters--even if it strikes the elites as utter foolishness or hogwash. After all, by and large, they (we?) are going to be doing more to push the direction of law than we (they?) are. The unwashed hordes play a large part in the institution of law, but their voices rarely penetrate the cloistered ivory towers where the scribblers interpret and re-interpret their arcane arts. We ignore their contribution at our own peril.

So perhaps that will be my role here. After all, every successful endeavor needs a useful idiot. I look forward to playing that part here at First Movers.


Blogger Kevin Wells said...

Let me be the first to welcome you, then.

I seem to remember a day when I wasn't steeped in the culture of the law, and had ideas about a "better world," and "social justice."

Law school can be very dehumanizing, and certainly makes you think in a different way. I, for one, am glad to have your thoughts, and hopefully we can remember where we were, and you can get a head start on the whole "indoctrination into law" thing...

Welcome, and thanks for joining us.

9/12/2006 9:07 AM  
Blogger Toonzie said...

I'll second Kevin's welcome! And please don't feel like an idiot...that's what your first year of law school :)

9/12/2006 7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would suggest that Law is like Husbandry. Emerson's description is apt:

We had in this region, twenty years ago, among our educated men, a sort of Arcadian fanaticism, a passionate desire to go upon the land, and unite farming to intellectual pursuits. Many effected their purpose, and made the experiment, and some became downright ploughmen; but all were cured of their faith that scholarship and practical farming, (I mean, with one's own hands,) could be united.

With brow bent, with firm intent, the pale scholar leaves his desk to draw a freer breath, and get a juster statement of his thought, in the garden-walk. He stoops to pull up a purslain, or a dock, that is choking the young corn, and finds there are two: close behind the last, is a third; he reaches out his hand to a fourth; behind that, are four thousand and one. He is heated and untuned, and, by and by, wakes up from his idiot dream of chickweed and red-root, to remember his morning thought, and to find, that, with his adamantine purposes, he has been duped by a dandelion. A garden is like those pernicious machineries we read of, every month, in the newspapers, which catch a man's coat-skirt or his hand, and draw in his arm, his leg, and his whole body to irresistible destruction. In an evil hour he pulled down his wall, and added a field to his homestead. No land is bad, but land is worse. If a man own land, the land owns him...The genius of reading and of gardening are antagonistic, like resinous and vitreous electricity. One is concentrative in sparks and shocks: the other is diffuse strength; so that each disqualifies its workman for the other's duties.

It seems that like Emerson's Garden, the more scholarship time we spend in the garden, the more we are pulled towards the realities of the law. We bound to eventually be found inside the "legal tower" and therefore indoctrinated eventually, even though we intend to remain outside its walls.

I think this is an interesting question, particularly as someone who has considered going the Ph.D. route; it seems to touch on allot of themes.

9/14/2006 10:17 AM  

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