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.