Law in Contemporary Society

_*=Prelude=* _

On February 2nd, I read Columbia Spectator for the first time. The cover headline was relating the death of a 19 year-old student who committed suicide for no apparent reasons. I first read. I then tried to understand. I finally felt tears of anger racing over my face, painstakingly drying on their owns. What brought him to this? Hanging in the common bathroom of a freshman dorm. I would have loved living in Hartley, but why did he choose it to be his final bed? I was probably buying a white hot chocolate when Eric gave his last breath. Listening to Jeff Buckley, ironically. I am sure I was. Too busy with myself. With my damn me, myself, and I. I was wondering what could have been his last word, his last thought, his last hope. Hatred? Regret? The hope that someone like me, like them, would come and rescue? I felt guilty. And I still do. Because I realized how self-absorbed I am. Who can commit suicide at the age of 19, in a dorm located in the middle of the campus? I tried to understand. While hearing Eben’s thoughts about modern society, relating the current economic situation to individualism, the pursuit of success at any price, and retention of information and knowledge, I gradually understood that we were all victims and actors of this situation.


*A selfish act to call for a united awareness*_=

I would not say that I am in favor of an extreme socialist system, where everyone would share every single parcel of its intimacy. But still, more consideration of the ‘Other’ seems necessary. Durkheim in his thoughful essay on Suicide revealed that suicide was a ‘normal and social’ phenomenon, and that every single society throughout the centuries saw people who committed suicide. Nothing new then. In traditional societies people commited suicide with the purpose of defending the entire community. They were treated like war heroes in their highly solidary tribes. However, in our modern society, it seems that the nature of suicide has changed and is directly related to anomia. Eric must have felt terribly lonely, and his pain must have been all the more substantial since millions of inhabitants were living on the same island. Feeling souls, but not feeling humans. Individualism, selfishness and the pursuit of one’s own interest are the factors of this shift in the nature of suicide. The heroes of yesterday are today’s isolated and lonely individuals, drowning in their social and relational misery. Suicide. A selfish act in itself if you think about it. I don’t doubt that his family is suffering or that his closest friends are still in shock, as I am too. Grasping the attention of the community for one moment and blatantly pointing out the failures of our modern society. It worked. I felt terrible.

= * Lawyering without borders=_Italic text_*

Now come the legal implications of these conclusions. Michelle Obama said that she did not like her job while working at the law firm, because she could not find any rewarding satisfaction in it. She had no raison d’etre to wake up every morning, and that is why she quit after three years. I just hope this won’t happen to me. Maybe if someone like Eric asked her for some legal support, she would have felt better. Maybe if she could have defended passionately the rights of her community more often, she would have felt useful. On the contrary, she represented the economic interests of businesses and she found no pleasure in it. I did not understand at first. Now I do. I really do. The salaries lured me. The illusion that we could choose our clients seduced me. The prestige conferred of by the words ‘corporate lawyer’ on a business card pleased me. Not to mention bonuses and all the personal prospects we would fund on them. But why would I sell my soul if I find no stimulation in it? Why would I let individuals go crazy in their pains without even taking the time to wonder what is happening? Why would I put my skills at the service of companies that resort to legal advice for the only purpose of eventually increasing their profits? I know that at some point I will come to the same conclusion as the First Lady. Law has been devised to protect. But it was first created to defend individuals facing discrimination, deprivation, or other rights violations. I would concur with Holmes’ theory contending that ‘ when we study law we are not studying a mystery but a well-known profession’.(p.1). I would just add that one should not forget that this profession was created by individuals and for individuals. Law firms tend to make us forget about it at the detriment to the latter.


Eric’s death affected me. It also made me find answers about my role as a human being and as a soon-to-be lawyer. Our modern societies are inevitably becoming more and more individualistic. What’s more worrisome is that even a world finance crisis which affected every single person on the globe did not have any effect on the questioning of such a system. Think about the Russian Revolution. Think about the French Revolution. This current crisis had the potential to lead to the first world revolution, and therefore contests with trength the viability of a capitalist system in a world where 25% of the global population is in possession of 75% of the resources. Instead, we are still living in a society where individualism and the pursuit of one’s own interest prevails. I however refuse to see an additional member of our intersubjective community die of despair. I also refuse to engage in a practice where economic interests would prevail over human ones. I prefer to fight for human dignity and especially avoid the death of young individuals because their racial, sexual, or religious differences are hard to deal with. Law has to protect humans and their welfare, not businesses that sometimes contribute to their despair.

-- KamelB - 22 Apr 2009

  • It isn't clear to me what crime we have all committed to justify the title. I accept the statement that this young man was driven to suicide by loneliness. But that's not the only emotional context in which suicides happen, and I don't have any information that excludes other familiar possibilities.

  • Which hardly matters, now, because you take the essay in such a profoundly different direction by ascribing to this event such power in deflecting your thoughts about your professional future. I think that's credible, if only barely, as is the idea that such an event, nearly but not intimately experienced, might deflect one's political thinking in a communitarian direction. But the combination of an epiphany about political selfishness and a basic reconsideration of the value of a life spent doing corporate transaction work is, if one can be blunt about such a thing, quite a number of dominoes knocked over by one personal tragedy happening to someone down the hall.

  • If the narrative is taken to represent historical reality, then, there is more to your relationship with the deceased which is not appropriate for discussion, and only the consequences of the relationship are seen here. If, on the other hand, the narrative is more metaphorical than literal in the relation of its parts, we might be able to be more directly analytical about your propositions.

  • They do seem to be in need of some further refinement. The relation between the socialism you disclaim and the anti-corporatism on which the essay rests needs further clarification. Whether businesses or non-profits contribute to the despair of the desperate seems somehow irrelevant: it seems to me that you are really talking about a continuum from atomized individualism to deeply integrated community, on the one hand, and one from counseling individual clients to providing largely anonymous services in organizational transactions. Neither of those has much to do with political economy, from the lawyer's point of view, because examples distributed throughout both domains can be found in every society and legal system.

  • The linguistic polish on this draft is an improvement over the first one, but not as much of an improvement as Lauren's very thorough and beneficial edit of your first draft. I hope you continue to find it useful.


Webs Webs

r3 - 07 Jan 2010 - 22:37:50 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM