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General Board / Re: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
« on: June 14, 2006, 01:50:30 PM »

Camus develops the idea of the "absurd man", the man who is periodically conscious of the ultimate futility of life. The lingering memory of this realization forms a basis for perception without the unjustified infusion of meaning.

Camus presents Sisyphus's ceaseless and pointless toil as a metaphor for modern lives spent working at futile jobs in factories and offices. "The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious."


Law school and lawyering as a career creates conditions where you become aware of the ultimate futility of life. You have all heard about thinking "like a lawyer": defining people primarily according to their legal rights, and trying to understand, prevent and resolve problems by applying legal rules to those rights, usually in a zero-sum manner. This involves close inspection of words and writing to look for defects in an adversary's position or which may create future problems for a client. It is fundamentally negative, critical, pessimistic, and depersonalizing. This method of thinking is conveyed and understood in law schools as a new and superior way of thinking, not a strictly limited legal tool.

These beliefs and thought processes have an atomistic worldview and a zero-sum message about life. Nothing much matters beyond winning or losing, and there is always a loser for each winner. The message for law students is to work very, very hard; excel in the competition for grades and honors; to feel good about accomplishments; get the respect of peers and teachers; get a desirable job; and be successful.

More generally, America has never been a fatalistic culture, except to the extent we have always believed it our manifest destiny to be "progesssing" toward something or the other. Faced with the prospect of existential dread at our helplessness before the mysteries of life, we look for someone or something that can dispel that uncanny sensation. Hence, despite our vaunted pragmatism, we are prone to a certain child-like faith that some person or institution will with a single heroic gesture free us from the intolerable webs of uncertainty sorrounding our most difficult choices. In the American law school, the most striking evidence of this faith is the way in which an entire generation of legal academics almost literally worships the Warren Court. The continuing fascination that long-departed institution holds for law professors of a certain age resembles in some ways a collective case of arrested emotional development. The kindly image of Earl Warren himself, with his granfatherly shock of white hair, and his famed willingness to brush aside legal technicalities with the question "But is it right, is it fair?" helps satisfy the longing for some paternal figure in comforting ceremonial garb -- a sort of juridical Santa Claus -- who goes about dispensing justice in much the same way reformed misers in Dickens shower pounds and guineas on everyone they meet.

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, a man becomes a judge to forget the pain of being a man.

We believe in the transcendent, more-than-human authority of "the rule of law," and by extension of its various fetish objects and their official interpreters, because the alternative would be to accept the authority of ourselves over ourselves.

It is always fascinating for the outsider to read of the preparation of innocent young men and women to participate in routinized institutionalized violence, which is -- after all -- the essence of law school training. The system requires, first, the dehumanization of the self; then, by natural extension, the dehumanization of everyone else. This is the key to survival in a world where lives must be disposed of as cheaply and quickly as possible.

It was Freud who first described the marriage between sensuality and organized violence -- e.g., the law school thinking way. "Libido" refers not only to the sexual drive, but to all aggressive acts. In his dual instinct theory, Freud stated that libido and aggression come under broader biological principles Eros (love) and Thanatos (death and self-destruction). More recent psychological theorists suggest that war -- including a nation's insatiable hunger for military power and the passion for armaments -- arises from a deep-seated fear of death, a fear that is, naturally, basic to the human condition. This death fear creates the paradoxical situation where institutionalized murder (war, capital punishment, "right to bear arms," mob violence, legitimized military statism) grows out of something known as "radical pain."

According to this theory, there are three types of pain:

- Physical pain (old age, sickness, and dying);
- Emotional pain (being away from a loved one, being forced to be with people one hates); and
- Radical pain (knowledge -- or fear of knowledge -- of the intransigence of life, and one's own inevitable move towards chaos and entropy).

In other words, the lunacy of a Hitler or a Pol Pot (or even America's own militarists) grows out of an unacknowledged and unrecognized terror of the inevitable, the most inevitable fact of life. Namely, death.

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Holy smokes, I can't believe what I read here!

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