Monday, July 31, 2006

Race, Performative Identity, and Why Oprah Is More Than Just Charming

Jeff Lipshaw has a great post up at PrawfsBlawg:


What makes charismatic people exude their personal power? I have heard stories about people (of all political persuasions) encountering Bill Clinton in person - is it size? looks? the fact he is/was the President?

But I have always wondered about that personal force. Was it the voice? The temper? The white hair? I speculated that it was a combination of two things: (a) despite the temper, amazing self-control and calculation, and (b) just not caring what other people thought of him. As to the first, another partner told the story of Brian just reaming an opposing lawyer in the hallway of the Wayne County Circuit Court, and in the midst of the tirade, winking at the Dykema associate standing behind the
unfortunate victim. As to the second, I once speculated that personal power arose because there was an imbalance between two people in terms of how much each other cared what the other one thought. I cared a lot about what Brian thought of me; Brian didn't seem to care what ANYONE thought of him. Consistent with that was something Brian told me about negotiating style. He thought you gained an advantage if the other side thought you were just a little bit irrational and needed to be placated; he once told me it wasn't really a negotiation if he hadn't walked out at least once.

That never worked for me; I always wanted to be loved more than I wanted to be feared.

To which I commented:


This reminds me of performative identity, or what sociologist Erving Goffman called "front stage presentation" of the self. Goffman compared human social interactions to performances on the stage, and in any interaction the people involved may be both performers and audience members. The goal of the performer is to create a favorable impression on the other, such that the performer gains influence over the other--a most important achievenment in a social network or organization, like an office. Charismatic people both attract and scare me---even if you are not aware of what or how they're doing it, you can feel the control they are exerting over you.

I wonder if charismatic people just know how to perform their identity better (suggesting something mechanical in their approach) or if it is something "inherent" that makes it so they don't even _have_ to perform. As if they're just that innately powerful. That would be even freakier.

I have been described as charming once or twice, does that count for something?

And to which Jeff replied:


I think charm is part of charisma. (Hmmm. charisma - charm. Is there an etymological linkage?) Love or hate the two of them, both Clinton and Dubya are supposed to reek of it in person. So I don't think charm itself is a sexual identity differentiator. But in addition to charm, men I think are more capable of being physically scary or intimidating (Lyndon Johnson was supposed to have combined both.) Maybe there is no real difference on charm, but if women have traditionally "male" charismatic qualities other than charm, we get into the other canards that affect strong women.

Maybe this links into your work on the transposition of ethnic stereotypes into performance characteristics in the workplace. Are some ethnicities seen to be more capable of charisma or personal force? (My own reaction is no: physical imposition, voice, charm seem to trump. But I don't know.)

And to which I replied:


I don't think race, ethnicity, or phenotypical markers of such would dictate charisma per se--rather, the social constructions of the power/intelligence/innate worth of race and ethnicity do. Oprah is supposedly the most charming, powerful, charismatic person in all of America. I don't even like her all that much (I have beef with her ending the monthly book club because of the preposterous reason "there is not enough good contemporary fiction"), but I sometimes watch the show and am struck by the pull she has over her audience--and sometimes, me. I too, now want to buy that beauty product or donate to her charity. I don't know whether "charm" is a dimunition of "charisma"--but Oprah can certainly be said to have both, and she is a "strong woman" without too many negative associations. Unlike, say, the blondenfreude associated with Hillary Clinton or Martha Stewart (although, arguably, that could be for other reasons too, like you know, politically flexible "centrism" or insider trading and being really mean about those who do not make their own chocolate shavings).

I think you're a good foot taller than me as well (I'm 5'2", and Asian), but I've been able to hold my own before a class of 30-40 students, some of whom were older than I was. Was it my performative identity that held sway, or was it the CV I waved over the class on Day 1 so that they could "get over" my performative identity? Were the two in interaction with each other, such as "impressive" credentials aside, I demonstrated myself to be warm, approachable, _and_ articulate? I don't think personal biography and performative identity exist separate spheres, and nor do I think racial performaitve identity and social constructions of race exist in separate spheres. They necessarily interact, and are either compromised or complemented by each other. But I think Oprah manages the interstitial space better than most.


It seems cheap to cobb a post from another post (welcome to bloggerville though), but I wanted to use it to launch a discussion about racial performative identity. Again, see Covering. The article I'm working on focuses more on discriminatory effects of social network exclusion, but performative identity has a great deal to do with why members of certain racial groups are excluded.

Paul's post on "charisma" and "charm" is interesting because you really do have to wonder about how some people seem to radiate more power and influence than others. Whether this ability is innate or learned and thus mechanical. Me? I radiate cuteness to the point of "help me." I do not say so to brag. In fact I wish I didn't. I wish I radiated confidence and power, and "don't mess with me." But I'm short, petite, smile a lot (oh, that I could look sullen like I did during the early '90s Grunge phase), and generally, I look pretty approachable. As in, at the airport, people just seem to want to help me load my luggage in the overhead bin or tell me their life story. At any store, even impersonal big warehouse ones, I walk along the aisles with a vague expression and half-smile (can't help it, my mind wanders, often in funny directions, and I smile) and everyone asks me if I need help, weirdly going out of their way to find me something I need. Once, standing in line at a club to see a concert and waiting for my "Yes, I am old enough to drink" paper bracelet, the surly, big-muscled bouncer (as in, could strangle me if he put me in a half-nelson) reacted to my cheery "Hi! Thanks so much!" with "You from around here?" to which I replied at length, yes and no, that is, I live--well, I go to school here, but I'm actually from ____ which is this small city next to ____" and by the time I've explained Orange County geography, Surly Muscled Bouncer Man was smiling and waving me in. I am generally so friendly I can make friends with Republicans.

But that is but one performative identity. The one that chats about pop culture, entertainment news (a great in when lecturing by the way), says "dude" a lot and even giggles. When I'm a teaching assistant or when I was an extern for a judge, I engage a different performative identity. I am not content to be merely charming. I want respect. Charm comes easy when you're short and have a hyper, happy personality (it comes from having a difficult childhood--some use humor to deflect, I used happiness and energy). But respect comes that much harder.

I remember going to TA training sessions when I was prepping to be a TA for a class in the Chicano/a Studies department and another in the Afro-American Studies department. I asked the more experienced TAs and professors how I would deal with the issue of my race, should it come up, as in my relatability as an Asian American female to a largely Latino/a or Black class. What if the students challenged my authority or ability to "relate" or "understand" their issues? Because both classes discussed the sensitive issue of race (one class was about affirmative action, the other about equal protection law), how should I handle the issue of students challenging my authority when it came to my subjective determinations of their analysis of the sensitive issues? How could I avoid being challenged for making a race-based determination or a political determination of the value of their papers?

It is strange to say this considering all the stuff I have read/said in the past: but I managed all these issues by attempting to be race neutral. That is, I did not play up my racial identity, and I didn't perform my racial identity. True, while I can't escape looking like a petite Asian American woman, I can play up other parts of my identity. On the first day of class, I had the professor introduce me as a CRS law student who had written a paper on affirmative action (in the other class, I was introduced as a CRS law student who had taken many classes in equal protection law). I basically waved my CV in front of the students, as if to cry "I'm legit! I understand! I know that of which you speak!" I also waved it to say "And don't you forget that I know my stuff and am capable of teaching and evaluating you." When grading the students, I left nothing to chance and typed my assessment to show them how their papers were deficient to justify my grade (as in, not because I don't agree with your position--although I dont--but because you don't explain it well or engage in critical analysis).

I do prefer to be loved than feared, usually. But with my students, I like a little bit of fear. I like my students to come prepared for discussion, having read the material, and having done their homework on time. But I didn't talk about being an Asian American woman the way I would have in say, well, Asian American Jurisprudence class, or the way I do in this blog. I attempted to abstract my racial identity, and not necessarily to being just a "minority"--I totally abstracted it to the point of being just a vessel for the class material. I was there to teach, not preach or confess. And it is weird to say this, because I've done work in race-conscious pedagogy, and I know I could--maybe should (maybe) have brought my racial identity into the classroom. But I didn't.

I wore heels (3-4 inches), professional clothes like suits and slacks, and did Powerpoint lectures. I spoke slow-ly (meet me, and you'll see the difference). I broke down the major cases and explained the muddled jurisprudence Bakke left in it's wake. I explained Liu's "causation fallacy." But I did not explain my personal experience with affirmative action stereotype or stigma (not having benefitted from it since they outlawed it in CA when I was a junior in high school, there's not much of a story anyway). I did not really do anything to highlight or bridge the gap in my racial experience and that of my students. I just lectured.

I suppose that is a good thing, but it is also a bewildering thing to me, the sometimes champion of race and gender conscious pedagogy. It is a bewildering thing to reflect on, particularly now that I've read so much sociological literature about identity performance and realize "ohhhhh, that's what I was doing!" It is good that I managed to get through two classes discussing very sensitive subjects and got good performance reviews (and gifts, the kids liked me that much) from both. But it is strange to reflect that when I attempted to traverse the space between cute and charming to respectable and authoritative, I felt I had to elide completely two major aspects of my identity: my race and gender.

Is "professor" a neutral, neuter term? In becoming a professor, a "gentleman" as Lani Guinier and Ann Barrtow might posit, does one become genderless and raceless? Do we all just wear the same suit? I once TA'd for a professor who prepped me right before class, and before my eyes, would roll down his shirt sleeves and put on a tie. "I like to show the kids that lecture is something important, and that there's a sense of of occasion that comes with learning," he said. I have always loved this. It is commonly called being a "gentleman professor," or the man in the tie and tweed jacket with elbow patches.

Yet I have no corollary for myself. I suppose jewelry is the feminine accessory--but does it carry the same gravitas as a tie? Jewelry seems frivolous and magpieish and distracting, the definition of feminine frou frou. (Not that I don't love and wear jewelry). But there is no way to perform an authoritative feminine identity or racial identity (what, like "Power Dreads"?) the same way there is of performing the ultimate Authoritative White Male Identity: suit, tie, briefcase. Think of "power suits"--even on a woman, it seems as if we stole male sartorial power. You hear about "power ties"--red is a great color against the white of the shirt. But where do you hear about "power jewelry?"

Power. Influence. Charisma. I want them. I recently gave an interviewing tip to a friend's dad to shake everyone's hand and look them in the eye while doing so. He said the committee seemed surprised at such directness. I wonder how they would have taken it from me, a petite and smiling Asian woman.

I want more than charm. I want, for once, to be feared more than I am loved.

Or maybe I just want to be Oprah.

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Blogging from A Mountain

You can blog just about anywhere, but blogging from a mountain is just....cooler. It's weird looking out the window and going "wow, a forest." Houses are spaced relatively far apart, the backyard drops off into the forest, into which you could climbe even farther up the mountain, and like I said, you look out the window and see trees hundreds of feet tall. Truly, this is how Thoreau should have done it. Okay, so he said "Simplify, simplify, simplify." And although I'm Buddhist, I'm not an ascetic--I just don't know how to do that. While I've spent a week in Yosemite sans electricity, shower, laptop (aaahhh), etc., I remember thinking bemusedly each night "Wow, when it gets dark here....it stays dark." As in, no pre-bed reading (flashlights are poor light, don't bring a lantern inside a tent), no TV, no...light. So you go to bed at 9 pm, after the fire's burned down. And....you go to sleep at that way too Godly hour. True, that was good for me to do. I liked camping and hiking and "returning to nature" (not that I was ever there before, but people say it as if that's where we modern citizens were incubated or something). But it's not really a Belle thing to do.

This is though. Housesitting a beautiful house on a mountain in the middle of a forest. I get to go hiking for a few hours a day (with a handy compass, since I'm going alone), but then I get to come back to a really comfortable house with electricity, DSL, cable TV, DVD players, and a hot shower. So I can hike, come back and do some work (I take working vacations), feed the dog, feed my news and blog addiction, and read a novel (I brought up Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, and The Collected Poems of T.S. Eliot to choose from). It's going to be a good week. And truly, this is how Thoreau should have done it. While I like some transcendentalist philosophy, I've always been a bit bothered by how misanthropic it can be ("are they my poor?") and how morally superior it can be. I admire Thoreau for what he did, and I admire his commitment to his personal philosophy and how well he lived it. But it is not my philosophy. It's the same tension of being an Asian Buddhist. While I have learned about the Buddha's solitary path to enlightenment (leaving behind his family, his home, for years until he reached enlightenment under a tree), I have always wondered how to reconcile that to the very communal and family-centric values expressed in most Asian cultures. It's the tension between Confucian filial piety and Buddhist self-discovery. I like being part of human society. I like being of and in this world.

Moreover, it's the tension between living in modern society and the weird yuppie yearning for something primeval, Eden-esque, and "uncomplicated." There are plenty of granola-eating nature enthusiasts in law school. But we're also all really bourgie. While I love "going back to nature," I also can't wait at the end of the hike to "go back to civilization." It's like I'm Huck Finn's prissy and effete yuppie brother. I wonder if I can ever truly give up the World Wide Web, that though it keeps me in my pajamas at home (a truly atomized disease of modernity), it also connects me to the web of humanity. I do like disappearing for a while in nature. That's why I go hiking, and no, I don't bring along my Ipod the way I do when I walk through Liberal College Town. I like to experience the sound of the trees (rustling, crinkling) and various fauna. But I also like to read about the what's going in the world, so that I am not merely in it, but of it.

Being too much in the world exhausts you. That's why I'm here, and why I'm glad to not be waking to the sounds of cars honking, the firetruck (from the firestation just down the street) blaring, and the possibly crazy homeless people shouting. But being here, alone, with no one to talk to and no one to interact with (remember: Belle. Forest. Alone.) reminds me of what I like about living in a city, on top of a coffee shop and around the corner from a great bookstore. I feel alive in the city, and I feel like I'm truly a part of society. I feel rested and relaxed (not an easy feat, if you have met my hyperkinetic, Type A self) on the mountain, and I feel my humanity dwarfed by nature. I wish there was a way to feel both, and I wish the two impulses weren't in competition with each other. When Thoreau went to Walden Pond, I wonder if he got lonely. I wonder if he ever missed being of and in the world. Taking a vacation from the modern world is nice. It makes you appreciate it more when you go back.

In any case, the sound of the trees reminds me of yet another poem. Sorry, poetry haters, go read something else:


THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Oh, and this poem, also by Hopkins:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

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The Responsibility of Reading What You Criticize

Yet another brilliant post by Scott Eric Kaufman:

Well, Who Would Conservatives Have Us Footnote?

Laura Ventura, a law student from Indiana, picked up the then-latest issue of Critical Inquiry and read Anne H. Stevens and Jay Williams’ article The Footnote, in Theory. She was horrified:

"The number one cited theorist by the magazine was none other than Jacques Derrida, “the father of deconstruction.” Exactly what deconstruction means is hard to say because even Derrida himself could not give a definition. In a nutshell, deconstruction is a method for discrediting historical theorists such as Aristotle and Plato for the sole purpose of promoting Derrida’s own beliefs."

Her deep familiarity with Derrida’s oeuvre notwithstanding, I question Accuracy in Academia’s decision to publish such a laughably ignorant article. Maybe a friend should’ve told her that anti-Derridean polemics account for half of Derrida’s appearances in CI. Proof? Of course I have proof. Responsible scholars—future lawyers, even—read the works they criticize, lest they risk writing the equivalent of this:

"The number one cited theorist by the magazine was none other than some German Guy, “the father of some German school of thought.” Exactly what some German school of thought means is hard to say because even that German Guy himself could not give a definition. In a nutshell, some German school of thought is a method for discrediting historical theorists such as Aristotle and Plato for the sole purpose of promoting some German Guy’s own beliefs."


The post is worth reading in its entirety.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Youthful Truth-Seeker

It is fun trying to research and write when your printer is on the fritz, UPS did not deliver your shipment of ink and there is nowhere else to buy it within walking distance in quaint-but-inconvenient Liberal College Town, and you realize your friend's Westlaw password (which you have been "borrowing" for the past year while you were out of school and he was getting his J.D./M.P.P.) has expired. It is even more fun when you are trying to get everything polished off enough to enjoy a guilt-free "vacation" next week house-sitting a beautiful house up on a mountain (not kidding, as in, go wayyyyyy up higher than sea level and no way to get down but drive down crazy, Mazda "zoom-zoom"-esque roads and the backyard drops off to a dense forest (stay on the trails) in which children have been lost and rescue teams have been assembled from the mountain-town's 1400 person population). It is fun, realizing that Kinko's closes at 11 pm at 11:30 pm.

Another Unamed Kindly Prof suggests that I "don't stress so much," because "it's all supposed to be fun" and "we law professors have the best job in the world." Clearly, while he teaches Type A neurotic and anxious law students, he has never met one. And while I agree with his assessment of the legal academy, how is that pertinent to me again? You know, since I'm not a law professor and therefore do not have the best job in the world? Because, you know, right now I have no job?

But the advice was kindly meant, and sarcasm aside (lovingly expressed, I assure you), I know him to be right. If I ignore the technical issues and my own insecurities (feasible for the former, laughable for the latter), I have to admit--it has been wonderful fun these past few weeks, living on my own and reading and writing on something I love. It could be worse. Heck, worse was a few months ago, when I was unemployed with no future prospects, living at home and taking care of children (actually, the children were the highlight, but they did remind me that I had nothing else to do). Now I'm in a cool program and writing cool things. Kindly Prof is right: it is supposed to be fun. Even the non-fun things (see above) can't detract too much from this fun-filled employment discrimination law ride I've been on. So I'll try to have fun with it. Even if this paper is not accepted because the schedule is already packed with "real" professors, thus omitting minor LLM student me, at least I'll have a paper to write and submit for publication. Presenting would be really cool (and highly useful for CV and networking)--but ultimately, what matters is the writing and demonstration of scholarly bona fides. So I'll try to remember that. Oh, and not to stress so much.

In the spirit of fun-seeking, to unwind tonight I dipped into my bookshelf and took out a recently purchased volume of Robert Penn Warren's poetry. And I found this to be peculiarly apt in describing young aspiring scholars. Except, you know, for the "half-naked" on the beach thing.

Youthful Truth-Seeker, Half-Naked, At Night, Running Down Beach South of San Francisco

In dark, climbing up. Then down-riding the sand sluice
Beachward from dune-head. Running, feet bare on
Sand wet-packed and star-stung. Phlegm in lungs loose.
Though now tide turning, spume yet prickling air on

My chest, which naked, splits darkness. On the right hand,
Palisades of white-crashing breakers renew and stretch on
Into unmooned drama and distance--To understand
Is impossible now. Flight from what? To what? ANd alone.

Far behind, the glow of the city of men fades slow.
And ahead, white surf and dark dunes in dimnes ar wed,
While Pacificward, leagues afar, fog threatens to grow,
But on yet I run, face up, stars shining above my wet head.

Before they are swaddlesd in grayness, though grayness, perhaps,
Is what waits--after history, logic, philosophy too.
Even the rhythm of lines that bring tears to the heart, and scraps
Of old wisdom that like broken bottles in darkness gleam at you.

What was the world I had lived in? Poetry, orgasm, joke:
And the joke the biggest on me, the laughing despair
Of a truth the heart might speak, but never spoke--
Like the twilit whisper of wings with no shadow on air.

You dream that somewhere, somehow, you may embrace
The world in its fullness and threat, and feel, like Jacob, at last
The merciless grasp of unwordable grace
Which has no truth to tell of future or past--

But only life's instancy, by daylight or night,
While constellations drive, or a warbler whets
His note, or the ice creaks blue in white-night Arctic light,
Or the maniac weeps--over what he always forgets.

So lungs aflame now, sand raw between toes,
And the city grows dim, dimmer still,
And the grind of breath and sand is all one knows
Of the Truth a man flees to, or from, in his angry need to fulfill

What?--On the beach flat I fall by the foam-frayed sea
That now and then brushes an outflung hand, as though
In tentative comfort, yet knowing itself to be
As ignorant as I, and as feckless also.

So I stare at the stars that remain, shut eyes, in dark press an ear
To sand, cold as cement, to apprehend,
Not merely the grinding of shingle and sea-slosh near,
But the groaning miles of depth where light finds its end.

Below all silken soil-slip, all crinkled earth-crust,
Far deeper than ocean, past rock that against rock grieves,
There at the globe's deepest dark and visceral lust,
Can I hear the groan-swish of magma that churns and heaves?

No word? No sign? Or is there a time and place--
Ice-peak or heat-simmered distance--where heart, like eye,
May open? But sleep at last--it has sealed up my face,
And last foam, retreating, creeps from my hand. It will dry.

While fog, star by star, imperially claims the night.
How long till dawn flushes dune-tops, or gilds beach-stones?
I stand up. Stand thinking, I'm one poor damn fool, all right.
Then ask, if years later, I'll drive again forth under stars, on tottering bones.

--Robert Penn Warren, "Being Here, " Poetry 1977-1980

This is not my favorite poem of Warren's (although I like the line "the twilit whisper of wings with no shadow on air"), but I found myself moved by it's message, more so than it's lyrical construction. But I do like Robert Penn Warren's poetry. You probably know him as author of "All the King's Men," an amazing novel inspired by Huey P. Long. Soon to be a movie, incidentally, starring Sean Penn and Kate Winslet. To me, the poetry of James Wright, Robert Lowell, Donald Hall, and Robert Penn Warren are the children of Hart Crane: meditative ruminations on America, often depressing, but often very beautiful too. Confessional and intimate without being only about sex, love, or heartbreak. Often about loss, whether of time, country, or memory.

Who among us can't relate to that.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Young Scholar Heedlessly Plunges Into the Empirical Beyond

Well, not really. But more on that later.

They said take heed, young whippersnapper:

Lisa Faifax at the Conglomerate:

[S]hould young scholars engage in such[empirical legal] research? The answer appeared to be no, with some qualifications. There were essentially four reasons why people responded no to the query.

First, the research takes a long time, too long for people on a tenure clock.

Second, data that is not public is extremely hard to get, feeding into
the first problem and potentially undermining the saliency of the study.

Third, the finished written product is generally not that long and
possibly too scientific for traditional scholarship, making it difficult to
place the article in a traditional law review, and hence potentially
undercutting the weight given to the article during tenure review.

Fourth, for purposes of external reviews associated with tenure and
promotion, it is difficult to find outside people who can evaluate the work. And
apparently if you find someone with a social science background who understands
how to conduct empirical research, there is the possibility that she will be
overly critical if the law professor fails to appropriately defend her
methodology for the study.

(The commments thread was very good, in particular the discussion of the difficulty of gathering your own data, learning empirical methodology and models if you don't have the training on your own, and "follow your star.")

Larry Solum at Legal Theory Blog:

Very junior scholars without a solid foundation in empirical research methods should be wary--to say the least. Junior scholars ought to be exploiting their strengths, not starting over. Another important consideration is the prevalance of empirical scholarship on the senior faculty: as a rule of thumb, its better to do scholarship that is likely to be understood and valued by those who will be voting on one's tenure. But if you are trained in empirical methods and are on a faculty with tenured faculty who do empirical work, then I see no reason for juniors to shy away.

Unamed Kindly Avuncular Professor Friend:

As you probably know, there has been a lot written about trying to take on mpirical work as a young tenure track professor, and that has to be true in spades for an LLM student.

Paul Horwitz at PrawfsBlawg:

Still, there is an undercurrent behind all of this advice that troubles me. That same current runs through the advice offered to Kenji Yoshino in his book Covering, that as a junior scholar he is better off being a homosexual professional, i.e. someone who's gay but doesn't write about gay issues, than a professional homosexual. It's present in the countless anecdotes in which junior scholars of color were warned to mute their interest in race scholarship until they were safely ensconced in positions of tenure. It is also present in advice regularly offered to junior scholars to think strategically about their scholarship, although this is more of a mixed picture; some of that advice is geared toward tenure, and some of it is just about how to put together a useful scholarly agenda. Taken together, this advice doesn't just say, "Be a smart scholar"; it also, and maybe primarily, says, "Be smart about being a scholar." It says, be careful, be prudent, or you may be sorry.

This doesn't mean we junior scholars don't want and don't appreciate the very good advice we often receive. It does mean that we should be trying to shape these discussions differently. Although the real-world burden may often fall on the junior scholar, we should be aiming to shift that burden. We should be encouraging junior scholars to take chances, provided they do so in a way that strives to meet the highest standards of the academy. We should be asking, to paraphrase a comment of Jason Czarnezki at the Conglomerate discussion, how to support junior scholars' pursuit of scholarship in a useful, professional, and fearless fashion. We should distinguish between the kinds of prudence in a junior scholar that are about becoming good scholars, and those kinds that are merely about staying out of trouble. And if the point of much of the advice we get is that senior scholars sometimes apply improper standards for tenure ("Why is he writing about racial issues?" "Why is he blogging?" "What the hell is this empirical stuff?"), our primary focus should be on reforming that sector of the academy rather than placing the burden of prudence on the junior scholar.

Of course, this is all a bit of a non-debate for me. I'm not an empirical legal scholar, and the article I'm writing is sooooo not ELS. I do have some empirical training doing demographic research, and have thought seriously about going to political science graduate school. (I chose to get an LLM instead). But for this particular article, I'm not doing my own surveys, collecting my own data, or performing my own regression analysis. I'm doing what other legal scholars have been doing for decades: relying on publicly available data (such as census figures) and using other people's original studies (for example sociologists and ILR experts) to bolster my arguments. Those who can't do--well, they just don't.

But my work does utilize empirical data to support various arguments about treatment discrimination or the disparate racial effects produced by the organizational structure. I am reasonably confident in my ability to interpret data (thank goodness I am one of those law students who took statistics) as well as the large grain of salt with which I read any empirical study (always look at the size of the N, p-values, what variables were controlled for/included in multivariate analysis, framing of the question, etc.). But it is somewhat scary, and no, not in a good way, to embark on slightly "interdisciplinary" work. "Sociology? What's up with that?" you might ask. Yet I wonder what else I would be writing on. Would I write a "theory" piece given my background and training in Critical Race Theory? I think I've already discussed sufficiently why I'm not doing that. And also, I wonder if it's a "safer" choice anyway. Who honestly thinks they can engage Chuck Lawrence, Jerry Kang, or Kimberle Crenshaw any better than they can engage a few statistics about wage disparity and promotion/tenure rates? Think of your first student note or independent study---how much did you know about anything when you wrote your first article? What about your second or third article? It's always tough for a beginner in any area of law. I will be fortunate enough to have an advisor for my master's thesis--but for this article, I'm pretty much on my own, unless I abuse the goodwill of my employment discrimination professor (or am cheeky enough to email the blogging ones).

My point is, while the debate about young scholars and ELS does not really concern me (not in the sense that I am not worried, just that I'm irrelevant), the "undercurrent" to the debate Paul Horwitz mentions does concern me (in both senses). I've written before about how this is a terrifying time in my life, not knowing where I'll live or what I'll be doing from one year to the next, not knowing whether I'll succeed or fail at my first endeavors, and just not knowing anything. And in a surprising, rare sanguine moment, I've even written about how this is a great time to be a young academic, with so much that is intellectually interesting and worth exploring before me. But in both posts there is one common thing: I don't know what's going to happen to me, I only know kind of generally the areas of law I wish to specialize in as a legal academic, and I have but a vague sense of my current path. And sometimes that's good, and sometimes that's terrifying.

A large part of me wants (and needs) to act prudently in every aspect of my "aspiring"--it won't be "ad astra per aspera" (to the stars, through hardship/endeavors/difficulties), but rather "ad tenurem per aspera" (you can guess, and yes, I just made up an accusative case). I want to do really, really well in my LLM program so that I can get into the JSD program. I will work my butt off in my classes (taking the most appropriate ones for my concentration, which hopefully will mean that I'll do well, but will also mean that I won't learn "something new."), I will work closely with my advisor, I'll go to workshops, I'll solicit comments from every friendly professor. That's all well and good. But being "prudent" also means playing it a bit safe. I'll probably take all of my advisor's suggestions, even if it shifts the direction or tenor of my originally conceived project. I wonder if it will remain focused on federal and state initiatives on hate crimes and anti-discrimination law, or become something entirely different. Anything can happen. Again, that's a wonderful, but terrifying thing. I'm at a stage in my career where I have no specialization, no niche, and yes, no direction. I have definite ideas about what I want to do--but no corpus of work behind me to say "I am a/n _______ scholar." So any prodding by a senior academic and I just might scoot off in that direction. Right now, I'm just stumbling along, and not even on my own two feet. But one day I'll be ready to walk on my own, CV and sense of self in hand, and truly enter the academic world. This just isn't the day yet.

So a large part of acting "safe" or "prudent" is knowing your limitations while not knowing a lot more, such that any "direction" given to you becomes incorporated into your path. But sometimes, that's a good thing, and leads to other types of discovery and academic adventure. Scott Eric Kaufman, a literary scholar, wrote very movingly in favor of "stumbling," using Walter Benn Michaels' erratic path through academia as an example:

What interests me most about Michaels' intellectual development is how its contingencies have been routinized. The people he happened to encounter at the places he happened to encounter them have been transformed from arbitrary events in one man's intellectual history into a program of study 99 percent of literary scholars follow.

That "one man" bit may be overplaying it. Expand that to "one generation" and the charges stick. The moribund state of literary theory may result from the fact that each new generation of graduate students is asked to recapitulate in anthologies the seminal moments in the lives of a previous generation. Nothing intrinsic to the thought which falls under the heading of "theory" is responsible for the current state of affairs. What's responsible is that we're being asked to "experience" a previous generation's adventure. Only instead of the ideas being alive in the mouths of theirrepresentative, they sit there dead on the page. This generation isn't
allowed the freedom to stumble the way Michaels and Gallagher and Fish's was.

Good Lord. That would be disastrous. We need immediate professionalization. We have to follow the path blazed by our betters. That's insufficient. We have to do it by finding the footprints they embedded in the snow and follow them up the mountainside.

If you've read my blog for long, you'll know that I'm a highly anxious and very ambitious person who both lives for the future and in perpetual terror of it. I wish I could plan all my days. Maybe I can finally say that I will never be as financially insecure as I was growing up, that I will never have to share a mango between 3 people or a 2 bedroom apartment between 8 and that I will never go back to eating generic snack foods and parsing out only one slice of bologna per sandwich. But I can't say what I'll be doing next year--whether I'll be in a JSD program, a teaching fellowship, or a clerkship (I can pretty securely say I probably won't be on the market though). I can say, right now, the areas of law I want to research and write about. But I can't say they'll be the ones I'll be working on five or ten years from now. I can give you my thesis prospectus. But it's only a prospectus, and I have no idea whether the final product will significantly resemble it.

I only started writing this employment discrimination law article because I LOVED the class---which I took the LAST semester of my THIRD year of law school, and only because it fit in my schedule and fulfilled a requirement in my CRT concentration. (Not that I wasn't interested, but those were the reasons I chose it over "Law and the Poor.") It was one of those serendipitous things that has just changed my life forever. Even if I don't become an employment discrimination law scholar, I know that I love the subject. And my professor was one of those rare mentors (and a first year professor!) who loved his subject, taught us well, and gave me much advice and support. Professors reading this blog: never underestimate the power you have to shape the minds of your students and the direction of their lives (but don't overestimate it either). Your passion for your subject, if it clearly suffuses your teaching and writing, may become our passion too. Your encouragement means everything to those who need encouragement. I became interested in CRT by randomly taking a class on Comparative Constitutional Law during my senior year of college. That professor is another mentor of mine, but I don't know how significantly he shaped my life--however inadvertantly. And why I'm writing this particular paper? Because I randomly emailed an employment law professor mainstream media articles about workplace issues for his blog, heard about the conference, and had the chutzpah to ask to submit a paper proposal to a conference intended only for actual faculty. This article may not even be accepted, and I may not go to the conference. But I'll still write the article, and shop it around when it's done. But the randomness of taking a class third year, to the randomness of reading a blog, to the randomness of writing the blog's author--all this randomness had made me do something purposeful and productive. Sometimes, contingencies are indeed routinized.

All young academics stumble as they take their first steps. Sometimes the guidance they receive hampers their progress, constrianing them to the path immediately ahead and the most efficient route to tenure. Sometimes the guidance they receive is inadvertant and serendipitious, sending them off to new paths and avenues of discovery and knowledge, and so they continue to stumble rather than march. In either case, they stumble. But they also move forward. Either under the "wing" of another (or, more cynically, the restrictions inherent in a closed and stagnant academic system) or on their own two awkward feet, they move foward, closer to some fate.

I don't know what that fate is. On any given day, I follow my star, or someone else's suggestion. They do not necessarily point in mutually exclusive directions. Sometimes they point to the same thing. I hope that they do. On any given day, I'm my naturally anxious self eager to do what is safe and easy. To avoid things that I consider "difficult," which is also what is most interesting and worthy of exploration.

On any given day, I can be as courageous as Paul Horwitz wants me (and everyone like me) to be. On those days, I do things like email a colloquia organizer and ask him if I can submit a paper proposal to the conference that is intended only for real professors (not the aspiring ones). On those days, I take a break from something I've been studying for years and explore something I've studied for only one semester, just because I really love it. On one of those days, I wrote LLM applications during the kids' nap time, just to see if I could get in. And I did.

I don't know what will happen to me. This is still the most terrifying time in my life, and not one that I'm living through with particular gladness over the uncertainty of it all. No, it is not a "fun" adventure" for me. I like certainty. I like knowing where I'll live from year to year. I like to know what my life will be like year to year, preferably 3-4 years at a time until I find a permanent job. I'm out of the comfort zone of knowing that I'll be going to college for four years and in law school for three. I only know that today is different from yesterday, and that tomorrow will be different from today. Right now, anything is possible.

And that is both good and terrifying.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Writing an Abstract Is Hard

(I should be returning about 5 emails, but they're all blog related, and I figure that means I should keep on blogging too, especially if it'll help me with my paper.)

Today began my third week here. The first week I spent unpacking and settling in. The second week, a few administrative things like visiting the school, getting financial aid, saying hi to a professor, and entertaining a houseguest. Somewhere in all of that I broke out some files and articles and sat down to a few hours of reading a day. Just to get back into the swing of things, since month before the move was just packing and child care. Not bad for 2 weeks. I moved here the second weekend of July, had a houseguest the third weekend, and on the fourth weekend I did some work and went to temple. Not too shabby.

But reading is not writing. This is the third week. I'm back to doing research, trying to write and refine (i.e. cut down) the introduction to a paper I started before I moved so that I can distill it into an abstract. Why is it so much work writing short things? I must practice that. The art of the good abstract. A very difficult art to master.

I think this would have been a more fluid process had I written this before I left Orange County. That is, if I been able to work for the past few months at my parent's home (you try taking care of two kids four days a week and see if you get any work done on the other three). This would have been easier had I not had to pack up everything (research, files, books) and unpack it again. This would have been easier had I remembered to pack a few articles I need and am now printing out again. There was something to be said about going to a law school only one or two hours away from your parent's house. I could have gone back for all these things I need (not to mention a mini-fridge). But I think I would be doing less work than I am now. I don't know why my three years were so unproductive at Bourgie Metrosexual Law School. Maybe it was because I was there only 4-5 days, going home from Friday to Sunday. Again, you try doing work with kids around and you're the primary caretaker (and not your 65 year old mom).

So what's the point to this ramble? I'm on deadline. I have enough to click "send" to the conference organizer but not something I'm ready to send. I don't want to click "send." I never click "send" until I have to. I never submit anything I don't 100% like, which is why I never "cleaned up that seminar paper" to publish. Law profs: have you taught a seminar lately at somewhere other than Harvard or Yale? You know that for the 1, 2 brilliant papers every other year or so, your other students were writing their papers at the last minute, juggling the seminar, bar classes, a clinic, and 1-2 student organizations. Or was that just me. No, my old papers are crap. I wasn't on law review, but I have enough seminar papers and independent studies to constitute a working vitae if they were published. I've never even submitted them. I don't want them associated with my name. Yes, they are that bad.

None of my old papers I would send to anyone. For one thing, they're dated now (who wants to read another paper on Grutter and critical mass theory?), and better papers on the same topics have been published. The one independent study paper that was "good," and it's just preempted in the field (federalism joke!). And the seminar papers just suck (why, oh why did I do a cheap "law and lit" paper on the Myth and the Metonymy of the Asian Woman in Graham Greene's The Quiet Man?) And by cheap, I mean I basically wrote an English lit essay (that, I can churn out relatively quickly and it'd still be decent) and made some CRT-ish arguments about intersectionality analysis (but of a fictional character), which is basically just using race-conscious deconstructionism--not very law related, not very useful, not very insightful really. No, that one is not going to be submitted anywhere. I'd rather revise my undergraduate senior thesis on Flannery O'Connor: Race Relations and “The South” as Literary Subject Matter and the Historical Context for the Short Fiction of Flannery O’Connor as a law and lit paper. (I was 20 years old and into long, dense titles--give me a break) . Even that paper is better than the one I wrote in law school.

No, what I want to do is write this paper I'm working on now, which might actually be good and useful. It's on Asian American stereotypes in the workplace, which are "subtler" and outwardly "less negative" than those attributed to other races, and thus open to more subtle forms of discrimination--all of which is an invitation to reconsider areas of ED law that may need revision if it is to consider "subtle" discrimination (again, see Kenji Yoshino's Covering) such as what constitutes an adverse employment decision. FOr example, if a stereotype of Asian males is that they are inferior supervisors and team players (being shy, insular, socially awkward, non-assertive, effeminate), how would that impact traditional ED jurisprudence? The plaintiff has the burden to show a prima facie case of discrimination because of ____ (insert race), and the employer can then show that the "adverse employment decision" (again some interesting work could be done here, e.g. promotion, pay, tenure) was actually because of a "legitimative non-discriminatory reason" (LNR). So I want to explore "subtlety" in the way Yoshino explored non-obvious racial, gender, or homosexual discrimination, when the discrimination forced people to "cover" their marginalized identities. In a sense, I want to make an argument for bringing the subtle to the fore: to recognize that "subtle" discrimination that masquerades as LNRs is still stereotype-based discrimination. If a woman can claim gender discrimination because in her performance review she was said to be "too aggressive" and "needs to wear more makeup," what about a performance review that says something like "not of managerial quality" or "too quiet" or "not assertive enough"? It's really difficult to talk about Asian American stereotypes as being race-based because they sound like race-neutral evaluations of performance or character. Yet, if Asians are the perpetual other, unassimilable and unrelatable, to what degree do social network based employment decisions affect promotion and pay? It's that "old boys club" redux. So my paper will incorporate sociological and management research (thank you, JSTOR) about wage and promotion rates for Asians, and will hopefullly include a section on the intersection of race and gender (although hard to find data on that) as one last nod to CRT before I get into my federalism and hate crimes master's thesis.

I'm still trying to make a coherent paper around all of this, dividing the paper into the various sections, looking at various cases, reading the literature in the field. Weirdly, not much research in the field specific to Asian Americans and employment discrimination and personality/behavior based discrimination, which is why I'm writing this. Well, that and it interests me and I think I can write it. That's all important. Only write on a subject you think you could produce a publishable paper on--and this is why I do not write about, I dunno, property law. So the novelty and feasibilty of the project are what attract me. There are a fair number of articles that are similar in that they argue against the "immutability" requirement of equal protection law (Yoshino) or when they argue against the performative aspects of race or gender (Carbado, Angela Onuachi, tons of others on makeup and dress). But I want to explore the ideas of how evaluations of intangible aspects of self (not merely the manifestations of appearance like hair, dress) like personality or behavior may produce racially disparate effects (not too far fetched, remember assimilationism, "acting White," etc.) particularly within social network based employment. And again, I want to bring in some sociological and management (and something called the Journal of Industrial Labor or something) studies about wage and promotion discrimination.

One analogy is gender stereotyping, in which men are fired for acting too effeminate, women for being too masculine, or either for being too gay-friendly. But that lacks an intersectional component--again, I wish to focus on Asian American stereotypes, in which effemininity is only but one part of the "model minority" myth. Also, this paper will focus soley on employment discrimination law, rather than violence against Asian Americans or I am thankful that sociologists and various journals on management and industrial labor (who knew?) are interested in this though. But so far, not finding one that gives proscriptions about Title VII cases or compares "subtle" cues of discrimination to other employment rules/actions that have disparate racial effects but are not considered racial discrimination per se. Employee appearance codeslike those discussed by Yoshino and Carbado, for example. If appearance codes are not considered racial, then is "personality" also not considered racial? Particularly when it's not blatantly pejorative ("Blacks are lazy," "Mexicans are not trustworthy," "Asians make good workers but not managers")?

I have a lot to think through. I have to find more/better cases to analyze so that my arguments make real world sense. I am, you know, interested in writing useful papers nowadays. I should really write my employment discrimination professor for help. That is, unless he reads this blog and is reading this request now and has already guessed who I am because there are only so many Vietnamese Yentl LLM students out there who write in the areas of "federalism, hate crimes, and employment discrimination law." If so, email me, Professor! I only told 5 friends about this blog, almost none of them from law school (to be honest, I don't think they would read it, my best friends rarely do). I have no clue who reads this blog apart from the 10-15 people who have emailed me or commented. And so I defintely didn't tell any of my professors at Bourgie Metrosexual Law School, since this blog does incorporate a fair amount of the personal along with the academic. But I wonder who reads my blog from my old school. I see the domain name pop up (freaks meout). And I really, really wonder if my employment discrimination prof does, because I have actually blogged about how he is the one who has done the most to encourage me to pursue academia. I'm a small blog though, after all, not so widely read. But he reads other blogs, and they sometimes link to me. He knows I'm applying to get into this conference for employment law professors (the chutzpah of LLM students and Vietnamese Yentls). I wonder if he does read this blog. If so, he probably read the allusion to going to weekly office hours bearing banana bread and apple turnovers with a chuckle. Again, lest ye chuckle yourself at this bit of "schoolgirlishness", I got awesome letters of rec that got me into Liberal College Town Law School and can call my former professors my friends because I've spent hours talking to them about law, life, everything. Can you say that? You can? Rock on!

In any case, I've just realized that I've written paragraphs, and am no closer to really refining my basic thesis or choosing a case or two for close analysis. I've got plenty of stuff to read and cite, but I need stuff to write about. I need to organize this paper and figure out how to do an intersectional analysis without taking away from the coherence of the paper's thesis about "subtle" adverse employment actions (like failure to promote or wage discrimination ) based on "subtle" racial stereotypes (personality/behavior assessments based on racial/ethnic group stereotypes) within social network based employment. I mean, you could write another paper about discrimination against Asian Amerian women in the workplace. But some cases and stats would be helpful.

This could be a decent paper, if I get around to making it decent (you know, once I'm done reading, delaying writing, and thinking abstractly---ED professor said that one thing I had going for me was my ideas, the unspoken sentence that should have followed is "all you need to do is actually write them into a paper"). And I've been looking and looking, but I don't think it's been written yet. And I hope the "subtlety" thing is not too wacky or too derivative of Yoshino's "covering"--I don't want to go back to the days when my arguments were not-insightful and useless. I don't know. So far, this is what I've got. Well this, and a deadline. So this is what I'm going for, but I want to make it better than it is now.

Comments are appreciated, but remember I'm a young aspiring scholar with not too thick skin. So give me a break--be honest, critical, supportive, give suggestions, but don't be so mean that I end up not writing this paper at all. Seriously, I do have somewhat thin skin. It took me a while to get over being called a "statist control phreak posing as a liberal" (dude, do you read this blog?!), and that was a few months ago. If accepted, this will be the first time I've workshopped a paper. Man, that will be as freaky as guest-lecturing in my sociology professor friend's Sociology 1 class to five hundred students next Spring. (Liberal arts college graduates: yes, that's like half of your entering class)

Here's to a year of firsts.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

A "Welcome To The Blogosphere" and Lesson In Humility

A belated "Welcome to the Blogosphere" to Professor Jim Chen of the University of Minnesota, who started the new blog "Jurisdynamics" and has already recruited the impressive talents of Dan Farber (Berkeley) and J.B. Ruhl (Florida State University) as co-bloggers.

Here is part of Jurisdynamics's mission statement, which I figure is about as close as you can get to that of Concurring Opinions (Life, The Universe, and Everything). But this mission statement more precise about what "life, the universe, and everything" may include when they relate to the law. I like a guy who says in a few hundred words what others say in five. Then again, I was voted "Most Likely To Be Verbose" back in high school. I have no mission statement other than "Trying to Break Blogger's Bandwith With Excessive Verbiage." But Jim's mission statement sounds very interesting and, well, dynamic!


This blog openly embraces a dynamic model of legal change. Jurisdynamics describes the interplay between legal responses to exogenous change and the law's own endogenous capacity for adaptation. The world that law tries to govern has has become "so vast that fully to comprehend it would require an almost universal knowledge ranging from" economics and the natural sciences "to the niceties of the legislative, judicial and administrative processes of government." Within the realm of legal scholarship, this blog aspires to the goal that historian David Christian set out for his discipline: "that the appropriate time scale for the study of history may be the whole of time." Jurisdynamics will present the case for "big law," for the proposition that the substantive scale on which law should be studied, taught, and learned is the entirety of human experience.

As a matter of organization, this blog will focus on tools and applications within the realm of jurisdynamics. Within the expansive world of legal scholarship, some methods and subjects simply lend themselves more naturally to jurisdynamic analysis.

Jurisdynamic tools include:

Mathematics, statistics, and empirical analysis, including bibliometrics
Language, linguistics, and interpretation
Complexity theory
Evolutionary biology and behavioral psychology


Naturally jurisdynamic subjects include:


Innovation policy and intellectual property
Economic regulation, antitrust, and competition policy
Environmental protection, natural resources, and agriculture
Natural disasters and other emergencies
Trade, development, and public finance
Constitutional law and democratic governance



Curiously, I was thinking of doing a "welcome" last week, when I first got wind of Jurisdynamics through Femninist Law Profs and PrawfsBlawg. I mean, check out Jim's SSRN page--there could not be another scholar more after my own heart! Literary references to T.S. Eliot, a fine, fine paper on the Commerce Clause, interesting "law and linguistics" papers--truly, every article is something I would read. And yet I have not read most of them (except Filburn's Legacy--every aspiring federalism scholar should read that). So why didn't I do a grand welcome? Well, to explain why is to explain how I knew of Jim Chen long before he started this blog, and long before he wrote me the most kind, flattering (I'm still all aflutter), "if you ever need help in academia, just whistle" letter saying that he liked my blog (awww, he is one of my 80-100 readers) and asking me to blogroll him (so, you other 79-99, go read Jim, he's blogrolled).

So how did I previously know of Jim, and why did I not immediately welcome him?

I am almost ashamed to tell the story. But I should. If only to tell a story of how blogs can make you better people (don't laugh).

I first heard of/read Jim Chen in my Asian American Jurisprudence class at Law School. However, I was taught to hate him, as his work, and thus he, was against "the movement." I support CRT, I really do. I know that I've blogged about my exhaustion and exasperation with CRT, not just once, but twice. Read those posts for reasons why CRT exhausts me. But while I remain no less committed to a project of anti-subordination and race-conscious scholarship, I have grown somewhat disenchanted with some of the methodology and even some of the tenets of CRT (Hey, there are plenty of anti-essentialist/pro-praxis critiques from within). Not that I don't staunchly support such methodology. I support it in the sense that I think it should exist, is valid, and can be used effectively---but it is not for me anymore. I still read CRT all the time. I just don't employ many of its traditional scholarly techniques, but I do write in the area of anti-discrimination law. But don't read this post as another critique of CRT per se--it is more a critique of how one professor's pedagogy (again, very nice man, interesting papers) ended up teaching me the wrong things, and how 3 years later, I'm finally learning the right thing.

I was surprised to receive Jim's "fan mail," because I did not expect someone who wrote a paper criticizing CRT methodology and essentialist politics in general (Unloving) to respond positively to a former CRS concentrator's blog. I blog a lot about race and gender conscious pedagogy after all. Why was I surprised that someone could get past difference and disagreement? Perhaps because the way I was introduced to Jim's scholarship was so biased that I was somewhat biased myself. Because of how I was first introduced to Jim and his work, I became close minded, and I expected him to be as well. I expected the assassin at the gates. I am indeed ashamed to admit this, and please don't think that my law school or the professors in the CRT program there were evil and prejudice-forming.

So, I was introduced to Jim's Unloving (and the response colloquia (Unconvincing, Un-this, Un-that) that followed) as though Jim was some assassin at the gates of CRT and Asian Am JP, and that the colloquia defense and ad hominem against Jim afterwards was justified. Critics should expect criticism themselves, no doubt about that--but reflexive anger, vitriolic rhetoric or character attack is not necesary to intellectual critique. Again, don't take this as a critique of CRT to the extent that I am arguing that CRT and its methodology are bad and should be abandoned--but you see why I have become somewhat disenchanted with the rhetoric surrounding CRT? CRT classes are emotionally exhausting--it is exhausting to learn about racism and injustice (it makes you cry), exhausting to tell of your own incidences with racism (again, you cry), exhausting to hear it from others (break out more tissue), and exhausting to hear everything personal elevated to the political and vice versa. It is not as though I do not believe that the personal is the political--but sometimes I wish the two spheres could be discussed independently, even as they intersect.

That is, I wish that every intellectual critique wasn't taken as a personal attack, to be responded to with another personal attack. As if critique necessarily calls into question the character of your critic. Perhaps that's one problem with CRT storytelling--if there is a critique in response, it is easier to take things personally, because more of your person is in your piece. In any case, my first introduction to Jim was not very flattering, and I never got over it. Even as I read Filburn's Legacy---one of my favorite legal history and federalism articles of all time--I've never quite gotten over the first impression. It's hard to get over an impression given to you by a professor who is more learned and thus presumably "wiser" than you. It's hard not to shake the feeling of being personally injured if you've been told that you should feel this way. I don't think this is necessarily a problem with CRT, or necessarily comes from essentialist or identarian politics--this just happened. And it was very unfortunate. Perhaps essentialism and identarian politics facilitate this kind of phenomenon, but I hope that it is not an inevitable result of such consciousness.

This was an impression formed three years ago (in the first semester of my 2L year) that was only corrected a few days ago by the very kind email from the very nice professor. Let me just say, he is really, really nice. It's not fair to be judged solely for an article written 12 years ago in an area outside of one's scholarly expertise. I am hoping that if anyone ever gets their hands on a copy of my undergraduate political science senior thesis on "A Jurisprudential Analysis of The Rehnquist Court's Devolutionary Federalism: A Case Study" will remember that I was writing two senior theses at the time and was a 20 year old trying to use H.L.A Hart, Lon Fuller, Joseph Rawls, and Hans Kelsen to analyze an area of law that befuddles people much smarter than me. Let's just say, I haven't done a jurisprudential anything since. And so it is with deep chagrin that I admit that I find my opinion of Jim Chen happily revised, not because I've grown up and grown wiser in the past few years, but because I couldn't hold fast to old prejudices in the face of such friendliness and kindness.

I've gotten so many wonderful things from my blog (paper topics, pre-paper writing, practicing the art of distilling a legal concept)--and sometimes I think it makes me a better person. I think about things more. I have to constantly revise my reflexive responses to make sure they are considered and devoid of vitriol or snark. And just now, I've gotten a letter by a very nice professor who writes wonderful articles on things I'm interested in. If I had limited my reading to that one article for which another professor had painted an unflattering portrait of the nice professor, I would remain a closed, prejudiced person. What a limiting experience.

And to think, I would have never grown out of this limitation had Jim not written me that super nice email. I might have never gotten over that negative first impression, might have never explored his other fascinating work, and might never have struck up yet another awesome blog friendship. Ironically, praise can humble a person when it comes unexpectedly (like from the assassin at the gates), forcing you to revise your opinions and confront your own internalized prejudices and closed mind.

So Jim has humbled me by his graciousness, and if possible, a blog can make one a better person. If it can introduce one to people of different political temperaments and opinions, and yet still show us all to be connected in other ways and capable of mutual respect and admiration--then I celebrate that. My blog has of course introduced me to like-minded people, but more often, it has introduced me to people with whom I might have never formed such associations. An English grad student, who, while liberal, is opposed to identarian politics and can talk with me for hours about critical theory, literature, and baseball over a slice of pizza or cup of coffee. A community college English professor whose wife, for some reason, wants to go to law school. A contracts professor who says that I remind him of his daughter and who is a consistently funny and engaging pen pal (and he makes beautiful mosaics as a hobby). The best, Best Blog Father EVER. And a really nice law prof who writes law review articles about T.S. Eliot and the Commerce Clause, and who is generous with his praise and help to young aspiring academics.The blogosphere is rich in potential friends and lessons, and yes, it can help make you a better person.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Beauty of Practicing Faith

I went to the "Dharma Family Service" today (I admit, my third weekend here, and it took me this long) at the Buddhist temple across the street from my building. When I moved here, I saw the temple, and thought "Great! now I can really observe and practice my religion!" Then I looked closer at the announcements board and realized "shoot, it's a Japanese Buddhist temple." Specifically, Shin Buddhism. Whups.

So it's taken me a few weeks to go to temple, because 1) I've been busy settling in, and 2) I've been a bit reluctant to explore a different sect of Buddhism.

Being Vietnamese, I'm a Mahayana Buddhist:



[T]he primary focus of Mahayana is bodhicitta: the vow to strive for Buddhahood or Awakened Mind (bodhicitta) both for oneself and for the benefit of all other sentient beings. Being a high-level Bodhisattva involves possessing a mind of great compassion conjoined with insight into reality (prajna), realizing emptiness (shunyata), and/or the Tathagatagarbha (Buddhic Essence of all things). With this mind the practitioner will realize the final goal of full enlightenment, or Buddhahood: an omniscient, blissful mind completely free from suffering and its causes, that is able to work tirelessly for the benefit of all living beings. Six virtues or perfections (paramitas) are listed for the Bodhisattva: generosity, patience, meditation, morality, energy and wisdom.Many “philosophical” schools and sutras of Mahayana Buddhism have focused on the nature of enlightenment and Nirvana itself, from the Madhyamika and its rival, Yogacara, to the Tathagatagarbha teachings and Zen.

Compassion, or Karuna, is the other key concept of Mahayana, and considered the indispensable complement to enlightened wisdom. Compassion is important in all schools of Buddhism, but particularly emphasized in Mahayana. It relies on the idea that excess acquired merit can be transmitted to others. The Bodhisattvas are the main actors of compassion, Avalokitesvara being foremost among them. Although having reached enlightenment, Bodhisattvas usually make a vow to postpone entering into Nirvana until all other beings have also been saved. They then devote themselves to helping others reach enlightenment.

“Devotional Mahayana” developed a rich cosmography, with various supernatural Buddhas and Bodhisattvas residing in paradisiacal realms. The concept of Trinity, or trikaya, supports these constructions, making the Buddha himself into a transcendental god-like figure.Under various conditions, these lands could be attained by devotees after their death so that when reborn they could endeavour towards Buddhahood in the best possible conditions. Depending on the sect, this salvation to “paradise” can be obtained by faith, imaging, or sometimes even by the simple invocation of the Buddha’s name. This approach to salvation is at the origin of the mass appeal of devotional Buddhism, especially represented by the Pure Land.


Compare this to Shin Buddhism:



Due to his consciousness of human limitations, Shinran advocates reliance on tariki (他力) (Other Power) -- the power of Amida Buddha's limitless and infinite compassion made manifest in Amida Buddha's Primal Vow -- in order to attain liberation. Shin Buddhism can therefore be understood as a "practiceless practice," for there are no specific acts to be performed such as there are in the "Path of Sages" (the other Buddhist schools of the time that advocated 'jiriki' ('self-power').

Accordingly within Jōdo Shinshū the nembutsu (念仏): Namu Amida Butsu (南無阿弥陀仏) ("I take refuge in Amida Buddha") Pure Land chanting practice is seen in a new light. The nembutsu becomes understood as an act that expresses gratitude to Amida Buddha -- furthermore, it is evoked in the practitioner through the power of Amida's unobstructed compassion. Therefore in Shin Buddhism, the nembutsu is not considered a practice, nor does it generate karmic merit.

The goal of the Shin path, or at least the practicer's present life, is the attainment of shinjin (信心 True Entrusting) in the Other Power of Amida. To achieve shinjin is to unite one's mind with Amida through the total renunciation of self effort in attaining enlightenment; to take refuge entirely in Other Power. Shinjin arises from jinen (自然 naturalness, spontaneous working of the Vow) and cannot be achieved solely through conscious effort. Shinjin develops over time through "deep hearing" of Amida's call of the nembutsu. Jinen also describes the way of naturalness whereby Amida's infinite light illumines and transforms the deeply rooted karmic evil of countless rebirths into good karma. It is of note that such evil karma is not destroyed but rather transformed: Shin stays within the Mahayana tradition's understanding of sunyata, or non-duality / emptiness, and understands that samsara and Nirvana are not separate. Once the practicer's mind is united with Amida and Buddha Nature gifted to the practicer through shinjin, the practicer attains the state of non-retrogression, whereupon after his death he will achieve instantaneous and effortless enlightenment. He will then return to the world as a Bodhisattva, that he may work towards the salvation of all beings.

So going to a Shin Buddhist temple and practicing the nembutsu ("I take refuge in the Buddha" or "mindfulness of the Buddha" is not really so far from what I was raised with. I am more traditionaly Mahayana, in that I believe that the grace and compassion of Bodhisattvas delaying their entry to Nirvana (my favorite is Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy) is what will allow me to enter Nirvana myself one day. But Shin Buddhism is not so different in this respect, and I like the emphasis on compassion. It is a lot closer, being a subsect of Mahayana, to what I practice than Theravada Buddhism. True, it's a slightly different mantra: "namu amida butsu," and I grew up saying "Nam mo a di da Phat." And it's not like I'm not sensitive to the differences--my great-aunt is a Buddhist nun in Vietnam. But since the philosophies are very, very similar, I feel very comfortable at this temple. Even though it's not like any temple I've ever gone to--there are pews, there's a service book written by the Buddhist Churches of America, it's a major branch of BCA, it has a neighboring seminary and institute that awards graduate degrees and offers classes by the Institute of Buddhist Studies--I like it. It's not what I'm used to--walking barefoot into a tapestry lined large hall and kneeling and praying and chanting in Sanskrit. I don't get how there are no monks, but there is a "reverend." I just learned that there's such a thing as a Buddhist seminary school. A lot of the little details I found very strange. But I liked the service, and I liked worshipping with others.

For once in my life I can understand the service. It's not in Sanskrit. Or in Vietnamese. Or in Japanese. It's in English. True, there are Japanese kanji characters next to the romanji phonetic pronunciations next to the English translation in the service book--but service is conducted in English. True, we sing hymns--hymns?!--in English and Japanese. But I kind of like that. I like chanting together, singing together, praying together--it feels like a real fellowship of faith. The reverend (a term I have to get used to) is funny, warm, and avuncular. He gave a great sermon today about compassion, about how we must learn the dharma both by intellectually learning it and spiritually practicing it, and about how the path of the Buddha is also the path of life-long learning. I liked the service a lot.

This is very different from how I have "practiced" Buddhism all my life. Buddhism can be a very family-centric, private devotional faith. We have a family altar in my home, and three other places around our house and yard (kind of feng shui) where there are pots of incense. Every night my father lights a stick of incense and prays for our family at each place. When I was younger and we all lived at home, he made us pray together. Now, it's as if his prayer takes care of all of us, enveloping us in this bubble of protection. I admit, it is the lazy, secularist's way out of faith. But now I've moved too far away to be within that bubble of protection. I must take my own responsibility for my faith and my practice of it. So I have a very small statue of Buddha (not exactly the representation I worship though, it's from Thailand), I have a sandalwood "rosary" bead bracelet to count my mantras, and now I have a temple to go to every week for service. I'm far away from my family, but now I have more of a community-centered form of religion. I can pray at home and be in a fellowship of people practicing the same faith (and not all are Japanese, I saw a few white and Black people in the pews). And so for once I get the power and attraction that is going to church. To rise early every Sunday, get dressed nicely, and join a community. It's a lot less insular and private form of devotion--and that's a good thing. I believe I will learn a lot and grow as a person if I continue to go here. It will be good for my insular, introverted self to join others in fellowship.

And, quite the departure from my younger self. I was raised Buddhist, but during my teens (who does not go through this) I really questioned my faith--and all types of faith. I don't believe in a creator. I don't need to. So I don't really need the label "atheist" or "agnostic"--I'm a Buddhist. Buddhism does not require you to believe in a creator--this is a chief reason I am devoutly Buddhist--but still, there is enough cosmology and doctrine there to make a young teenage girl question it and reject all forms of religion. But in my late teens, that is my first years of college, I began to "explore" other religions rather than to commit to living in absence of any religion. I read the Genesis chapter of the Old Testament, some of the gospels of New Testament (favorite: Matthew), learned about Judaism (Aggadah, Shekinah, etc.), and even explored a bit of the Koran. Oh, and I read the Mahabharata and the Upanishads (Hinduism). I dont' think I seriously explored other faiths to try to "pick one"--I think I just wanted to learn about different types of faith from a scientific, analytical point of view. This is not the same as believing. It is learning without internalizing the lessons. And I found this path, while interesting and a vehicle for personal growth (not to mention helpful in making you conversationally versatile with people of all faiths), was also spiritually empty. So pretty much, by junior, senior year of college, I found my way back to Buddhism, realizing after exploring so many other religions that the one I was raised with was the one for me. And so for the past 5, 6 years, I've been very interested in deepeing my understanding and practice of my faith.

Growing up, there was a lot about my family's practice of Buddhism that I didn't understand or couldn't reconcile to my intellectual understanding of Buddhist scripture. Certain cultural practices--why are we eating vegetarian today? What "holiday" is this again that we're driving all the way from Orange County to the Hollywood Hills to a Thai theravada temple for? It's like being a Catholic and practicing all of the rituals without understanding any of the spiritual reasons behind the ritual. But for once I feel like I can do both--I can learn the philosophy and practice the faith, all the while being part of a religious community.

UPDATE:

Nothing happened, just these realizations:

Shinran, the guy who developed Shin Buddhism, was like the Martin Luther of Buddhists. Believe it or not, monks can be corupt, which is why I'm not so fond of theravada Buddhism (which teaches that the path to Nirvana is by serving monks, which reminds me of the indulgence problem that led to Luther's Reformation). Dude, I used to see monks cruising around Orange County (a large population of Vietnamese and Asian = significant Buddhist population) driving Mercedes Benzes. The monk who gave "last rites" to my grandfather as he was dying was wearing a Rolex. I can understand the theological pull away from monk-led (which is kind of like asking God's representatives for a really, really BIG favor) salvation to personal-directed salvation. So while I was tripping out a bit today over the whole "Buddhist reverends who can marry" thing, maybe it's something I can get used to (even though my great-aunt is a celibate Buddhist nun who wears saffron and red robes).

Which leads me to my second thought: Shin Buddhism is like Episcopalianism (or Anglicanism, if you're in England) to traditional Mahayana Buddhism's Catholicism. Reverends can marry in both American Buddhist Church of America and the Episcopalian Church! (Man, we Americans are liberal) . It's going to take a while to not get used to the celibate monks in saffron robes thing--much like it would take a Catholic a while to get used to not having celibate priests in cassocks. And, like the Episcopalian Church, the BCA is more liberal in its dogma, emphasizing philosophy and good works rather than strict dogmatic beliefs. There's just enough traditional elements (when I went up to pray by myself at the temple, there was a pot of incense) but theres' a way for everyone to participate--the English/Japanese service book that is basically a distillation of the Dharma and other scriptures into crowd-friendly song and verse (with lovely melodies). So, it's almost exactly like the Episcopal church--just enough liturgy and reference to traditional figures to be familiar, but updated for the modern crowd with a universal liturgical text that's hard to dislike--The Book of Common Prayer.

Prior to today I didn't even know there was a Buddhist Churches of America, or much about Shin Buddhism (don't ask me about Shintoism, that's another thing I think). I think I knew more about Episcopalianism and the Protestant Reformation. What one learns in a day. Life is for learning.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

An Alternative to the Myers-Briggs Test

I don't open spam jokes, chain letters, "so you think you're a ......." emails that my engineer and dentist siblings, with the vast amount of time they have on their hands not-working (seriously, do they ever work?) frequently send me. I don't do blog memes. And so I don't know why I did this--maybe it's because I'm bored, I've spent the day trying to refine a thesis for an employment discrimination law paper (don't ask), and maybe, just maybe, my interest was piqued.

Anyway, this young punk took a personality test. I did as well. In theory, I could attribute it to my interest in pop psychology, the degree to which the Myers-Briggs Test and other such personality tests are still used by employers to screen prospective employees, or--well, let's just admit it, boredom and procrastination. Deadlines make you do stuipid things. Oh, and by the way, my Myers-Briggs profile (at the age of 13 and when I took the test again last year) is ISTJ--Introverted (rather than Extroverted) Sensing (rather than Intuitive), Thinking (rather than Feeling) and Judging (rather than Perceiving).

So here is my profile. my comments are in italics and blue:


You are exceptional and unique. Your quest in life is to identify exactly who you are and why you’re here. What’s important to you is the journey of self discovery, determining who you are today is not the same as who you’ll be tomorrow.

Isn't everyone's quest in life to identify who they are? Are there really such uncritical beings out there content to live life without finding the meaning of life? Do they just rent the Monty Python movie instead?

You resist being categorized and are quick to question any social standard that you sense someone imposing on you. Stereotypical gender roles always interest you and, in your mind, connect to issues that most other people would never consider related.

Okay, this is true. Hey, I'm a contrarian.

You are particularly accepting of other people and have a special talent for seeing people’s true selves instinctively. It takes time for you to trust your gut instinct about people because even you don’t believe that someone could be so right about another person’s nature so quickly. This intuitive sense about what people are thinking is your special talent. You may think it is available to everyone and that others just ignore it, but in truth others could never develop the skill to the level which comes naturally to you.

I'm pretty accepting of people, but I am also extremely culturally elitist (hey, sorry) and sometimes judgmental. That is, I won't judge you for certain things (whether or not you cohabitate, don't like/want children, have a certain moral flexibility with respect to digital piracy), but I will judge you if you don't like Bob Dylan or Flannery O'Connor. Also, I am not intuitive at all. Not that I'm a poor judge of character--but I have no clue what people's natures are the first time I meet them. Sometimes I think everyone is capable of being decent, honest, good, and kind--so that's the default until proven otherwise. In my more cyncical periods I think everyone is capable of being a mean bastard--until proven otherwise. I really don't intuit anything. I just proceed through life collecting observations, revising certain hypotheses, and this is all biased by my current world outlook.

To you everything happens on a personal level. Your friends come to you for advice because they know that you’ll love them for who they are and put yourself in their shoes to look at the world. Your advice, although varied in delivery, usually boils down to “be true to yourself” and “listen to your heart.” You are also an excellent confidant because things told to you virtually never return to anyone through the grapevine.

What am I, a Hallmark card? I think I give more pointed, sometimes blunt advice than that. Like, "if you hate working for a firm, quit eventually, but try working there for at least 1-2 years and save up a down payment on a car or small condo." But I am a good confidant. Just don't expect Karate Kid plattitudes.

You focus more on nurturing other’s self esteem than any other type. As a result of this naturally caring nature, people often turn to you for moral support. You exude this quality so strongly that even strangers will sometimes spontaneously begin confiding their deepest secrets in you.

That is one nice thing, I like that strangers (for example, pen pals from this blog) tell me lots of interesting, personal details. And this is how I grew close to one of my friends, who when I said "I like your coat" began talking to me about sex and heartbreak. But I'm not sure it's their "deepest secrets." I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that level of intimacy with strangers.

You are by far the most talented of all types at reading nonverbal cues. In your admirable attempts to convey a message diplomatically, those who aren't sensitive to inflection, tone, insinuations or body language sometimes simply do not get your message because they only receive the verbal half of what you said.

That is like, soooo not me. I am incapable of reading verbal cues. Friends tell me that men flirt with me and I just think they're honestly admiring my necklace or interested in the book I'm reading. I think I read some people well (people I know well and whose expressions I am used to), and everyone else, very poorly.

In the same way that you're the best at reading nonverbal cues, you're also the best at sending them. When you speak they miss the nonverbal half of your message, then they speak and transmit twice the message (verbal + nonverbal) which often gives away more than they intended but is sometimes carelessly inaccurate since they don’t send nonverbal cues as well as you do. When you're tempted to assign bias based on someone’s tone or other nonverbal cues it is wise to have them restate what they said and see if ignoring the careless, unintentional nonverbal half of their message lets their true meaning through.

Again, sooooo not me. I have horrible body language skills. I am quite conscious of my poor phrasing (as dance people call it) and front stage presentation (as sociologists call it). My default, when I meet someone, unless it's a child, is to stand back, cross my arms, and go into "analytical mode." I basically shut down all non-verbal cues. I gesture less, use more formal language, consciously slow down my rapid, generally excitable speech, and "present" only my intellectual self. Heck if I know what my tone or other people's tones convey. Those who can't express non-verbally are, I think, poor judges of non-verbal cues.

As a parent you are very supportive and start educating your child early according to your values. Your children know exactly where you stand and what is expected of them. You overflow with positivity when your child sticks to the program, and reflect any negative behavior directly on yourself and the quality of your parenting. Your focus is making sure that your child has a strong self-image and high self-esteem. More than other parents it is important for you to be friends with your children.

Okay, I'm supportive of my kids, and start educating them at the age of one, but I am not going to be my child's friend. I will be their parent. Also, my response to negative behavior on the part of the child is to give them long, stern lectures and restricted privileges until they regret the day they ever transgressed. I want my kid to have a good self-image and self-esteem, but I'm here to guide them through life and teach them well--not to be their best bud who smokes weed with them or asks about their sex life other than to query "are you using protection?" Which answer provoked this Dr. Feelgood profile?

You are more philosophical than most and passionately discuss ethics and justice more than other types. Your life has meaning, your life is significant. It is when ethical issues come up in conversation that you most strongly sense that you are fundamentally different from other people. You become visually emotionally focused when these issues arise, while others easily laugh them off and switch topics to something trivial. To you, it seems that everyone should be passionate about ending racism, sexism and all the other –isms out there.

Okay, eerily true.

You go by the book and are suspicious of anyone suggesting that rules or laws should be ignored. You think constantly about improving laws, and see that at a major avenue for advancing social change because you see legislation and rule creation as the consensus opinion of the group working together. You want nothing more than for there to be peace and harmony in the world, and your actions clearly reflect that vision.

I'm a stickler for some rules, flexible on others. But the rest of this is again, eerily true.

While you can instantly tell what’s on someone else’s mind, you can sometimes be confused yourself when it comes to the mixture of your own emotions. This, mixed with your reserved and complex nature can make it difficult for others to get to know you.

Again, no intuition skills here. Heck if I know what's on your mind. But yeah, sometimes I get confused about myself--don't we all?

You have a special interest in figurative language. You are more strongly moved by poetry and literature than any other type. You are often interested in the finer points of writing and studying literature because you believe that how something is written or spoken is inextricably connected to its meaning.

This profile is better at evaluating my intellctual interests than it is my personality.

In school you were an excellent student, the teacher’s pet. More than the satisfaction of learning, you enjoyed pleasing your instructors with your hard work and thoughtfulness and delighted in the personal praise they gave you in return. You got to know your instructors on a personal level and may have even kept in touch with certain of them after moving on to other classes.

I'm a type of student that went to office hours weekly, sent drafts of outlines for review before the final, and baked my professors banana bread and apple turnovers. Is that being a teacher's pet? Whatever. I can say that I'm friends with my professors. Can you?

You can “connect” with any individual person and practically read their mind, but you have a natural tendency to match your actions to the expectations you read from their mind and yearn for company that lets you truly, naturally be yourself. You struggle between letting yourself naturally match the sentiment of the group (which feels like putting on a façade) or letting your individuality shine, which may allow people to see how different you are.

Hmm, pretty much true. Except the mind-reading bit, although I do perform differently in different groups. I do have some sense that I can't act my naturally wacky self in front of the generic law school crowd at one of the school mixers. So yes, I pretend to be interested in people's planned practice areas and what they did over the weekend.

Your life has meaning, your life is significant. You think all people should spend more time thinking about who they are and what their purpose in life is.

Yup.

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