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July 22, 2003

Law School and A Life Worth Living

I was just catching up on some of Jeremy Blachman's brilliance and read his Saturday post about why he might be in law school. Jeremy writes:

Before law school I worked in marketing for a software company in Austin, Texas. I'm from NY, so that was far away. And probably the hardest thing about it was that being on my own, being in a new city, having a job and an apartment -- it all meant I had to really make a life for myself. And that's sort of hard. Because without doing anything pro-active, it's easy to end up going to work, coming home, going to sleep, repeat, sleep and run errands on the weekends, and never really *do* anything, or see other people, or have a life. So it's on your shoulders to make plans, find activities, make friends, do things -- in a way that it's not at school, because you have classes and extracurriculars, and friends, and things to read and write and study, and purpose and meaning, and all that jazz... And I hate thinking that one of the reasons I'm in law school is because I like going to school, and because I like the lifestyle of being a student, and that I find all of this easier than making a life for myself. Because thinking it kind of makes me feel like I'm just postponing the inevitable, or that I'm wasting time and money, or that I'm being sort of stupid. But if it's not one of the reasons I'm in school, it's at least one of the side benefits... .... ...being at school is on the whole nicer -- in my head -- than having to really make a life for yourself, I think.

I'm glad he wrote all that and didn't delete it (as he considered doing) because, well, I worry about the same things. A lot. I mean, law school sure is an expensive way to make sure you have friends and quality stuff to do, isn't it? Plus, this will be my second post-graduate degree; isn't about time I face the music, grow up, and "really make a life for myself"?

And then I remember: Going to school is really making a life for yourself—you can't do the former without at the same time doing the latter. So the question is not one of "school vs. life," but rather different kinds of life, so that perhaps it's safe to say we go to school to make a better life for ourselves. And if that life includes more and better friends, and more and better opportunities to socialize in fulfilling ways, and more and better ways to fill our time, then that's all good, isn't it?

Yet, while I believe that's all true, I still have this fear that I'm just "postponing the inevitable." I worry that I'll end up with a J.D. and be right back where I am right now—looking at a job market that seems to hold very few really worthwhile and fulfilling ways to spend my time and still make enough money to live comfortably. I think it's safe to say that this is a fairly common fear among grad students in many fields; it's the fear of wasting effort, time, money, to get a degree that turns out to not really change your prospects in the world. I don't think there's really any good answer to those fears—there are no guarantees in life—but I'm thinking the odds are good that having a J.D. will allow me to do much more with my life, but in ways I can't predict precisely at this point. Again, I'm reminded of "Charles," the pseudonymous law student whom I quoted a few months ago:

The point of a J.D. is the sudden power it brings you. I have to work from the inside. … It doesn't matter whether I'll feel satisfaction or believe in what I'm doing. Don't you see? It's war. War.

So while having a J.D. won't necessarily make it any easier to do the things Jeremy's thinking about—the need "to make plans, find activities, make friends, do things"—I have high hopes that a J.D. will increase the value of those things because it should allow me to plan and do things I simply could not have done if I hadn't gone to law school, and to know and befriend people I couldn't have otherwise known. Therefore, even if I am just postponing the inevitable, I'm confident that I'm doing it for good reasons and that, in a way, I'm making an "investment" that will pay off later when that "inevitable" eventually comes.

In other words: Going to law school is a potential way to make your life more meaningful and less alienated. Working many 8-5 jobs (like it sounds like Jeremy had in Austin) is an alienating experience. It demands a lot of your time, but it gives you close to nothing in return except for cash. Many jobs don't give you a sense of accomplishment, a sense of doing something worthwhile, a sense of spending your time in a way that will make you feel satisfied with your life when you lay down to die. So spending 40 hours a week at a job like that can be a sort of soul-killing experience. On top of that empty work there's all that business about finding friends and activities, which, as Jeremy says, can be difficult. Some people are so tired out by their jobs (if not physically, then emotionally and psychologically) that by the time they come home in the evening they can't face much more than finding dinner and watching tv, leaving weekends for laundry and the other general life maintenance tasks that accumulate when you spend the majority of your productive waking hours chained to a money-making proposition. So all jobs take your time, some take your physical strength, and many take your emotional and psychological energy as well, leaving you very few resources (besides the money you make at work) with which to "build a life."

Enter school. School is stimulating, not draining. People are in school because they're interested in something (at least some of them are interested in something; others are just about the money and they'll probably never ponder the kinds of questions Jeremy's pondering). School rewards the effort and the time you give it in ways that are infinitely more satisfying than a paycheck. Obviously, you get grades, but that's like a paycheck—empty. Going to school and working hard at it for grades is like getting a job and working hard at it for money—you're missing the point. The real rewards of school are what you learn about the topics you study, about the world you live in, and about yourself as a person, a thinker, a citizen, a friend. The rewards of school are also your interactions with other intelligent people who are interested in things you're interested in, and most of all the rewards of school are what your education and the work you invest in it allow you to do, which is to give something more to the world than you could have given without that education. A side benefit is that the work you eventually do when you have to start your postponed "real life" will be more rewarding to you, as well, because you'll be in a position to do something you find meaningful and worthwhile.

So yes, one way to look at this issue is that some people probably do go to school because it seems easier than trying to "make a real life" on their own. But it should also help them build a better life eventually—better in lots of ways—and that's a good thing.

Posted 11:37 AM | Comments (3) | law school

Aiding the Enemy?

In "Who's Unpatriotic Now?" Paul Krugman turns the tables on the war-hawks who have spent the last year saying that anyone who opposes the war in Iraq is only aiding Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Krugman writes:

Well, if we're going to talk about aiding the enemy: By cooking intelligence to promote a war that wasn't urgent, the administration has squandered our military strength. This provides a lot of aid and comfort to Osama bin Laden — who really did attack America — and Kim Jong Il — who really is building nukes.

Yeah, let's talk about that, why don't we? How about we start with some good answers to the sixteen questions Howard Dean is asking about the whole line of "we gotta go to war immediately" products that Yubbledew and Co. were pushing so hard for so long. (I guess most of those goods have passed their expiration date, huh?)

On the other hand, it appears some people continue to defend the "technically, it wasn't a lie" story. Hmm. Ok, but as a former English teacher I feel compelled to submit that willful suspension of disbelief is really probably best reserved for movies, novels, short stories, plays, and other works of fiction; when real lives (not to mention historical precedent and the friendship, trust, and goodwill of nearly the entire world) are on the line it's probably better to, um, I dunno, be a teensy bit more critical. But hey, what do I know?

UPDATE: Oct. Report Said Defeated Hussein Would Be Threat [link via Joe Conason's Journal]

Posted 10:30 AM | general politics

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