November 22nd, 2017

Advice to students: on thinking

Here’s the text of a very interesting speech given to first year students by Adam J. MacLeod, an associate professor of law at Jones School of Law, Faulkner University (Montgomery, Alabama). Fascinating. The man does not pull any punches.

It’s a speech he gives in a course entitled “Foundations of Law.” That’s not something I recall from my law school days, although my guess is that it may be somewhat equivalent to old-fashioned “Jurisprudence,” which was already undergoing a (temporary?) switch to “Philosophy of Law” back then. It may surprise no one that this was my favorite area of law, hands down, rather than things like the Uniform Commercial Code (the details of which never seemed to penetrate my brain).

MacLeod has the following to say in his introduction to the article, which was not part of his speech to the students:

I teach in a law school. For several years now my students have been mostly Millennials. Contrary to stereotype, I have found that the vast majority of them want to learn. But true to stereotype, I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.

I found my students especially impervious to the ancient wisdom of foundational texts, such as Plato’s Crito and the Code of Hammurabi. Many of them were quick to dismiss unfamiliar ideas as “classist” and “racist,” and thus unable to engage with those ideas on the merits. So, a couple of weeks into the semester, I decided to lay down some ground rules. I gave them these rules just before beginning our annual unit on legal reasoning.

After I went to law school I decided not to go into law. In those days—long long long ago—a legal education didn’t set my family back any significant amount (practically nothing compared to today), and so my defection wasn’t as big a financial deal as it would have been now. I had actually thought to drop out right after my first year, but I was talked out of that and finished up, knowing I was unlikely to go into the field. I was told that studying the discipline of law—what MacLeod refers to as “legal reasoning”—would help me throughout my life (although I don’t recall any units specially devoted to the topic).

And so it has. It really has—although it certainly hasn’t always made people love me. I use it every day. I use it in this blog. I think of it as applied logic.

One of the reasons I went to law school in the first place was that I had a natural affinity for that sort of reasoning. I had always been told—even as a little girl, even when female lawyers were rather rare—that I “talked like a lawyer.”

This was not a compliment, by the way. But I took it as such, at least partially. A lot of people hate lawyers, and I understand why. But having studied law, I have deep respect for our system of law, however flawed it may be. It is a daunting task to codify morality and try to pin it down in a legal system that is clear and fair. You may think ours falls very short of that, both on paper and in execution. And of course it does. But until you study law and try to devise a better system yourself, you may not appreciate what a valiant (not always, of course, but often) effort has been made over the centuries.

Here is a small excerpt from MacLeod’s speech to the law students. I think the words could be addressed to any student, at least at the high school level and above:

…Before you learn how to think you must first learn how to stop unthinking.

Reasoning requires you to understand truth claims, even truth claims that you think are false or bad or just icky. Most of you have been taught to label things with various “isms” which prevent you from understanding claims you find uncomfortable or difficult.

Reasoning requires correct judgment. Judgment involves making distinctions, discriminating. Most of you have been taught how to avoid critical, evaluative judgments by appealing to simplistic terms such as “diversity” and “equality.”

Reasoning requires you to understand the difference between true and false. And reasoning requires coherence and logic. Most of you have been taught to embrace incoherence and illogic. You have learned to associate truth with your subjective feelings, which are neither true nor false but only yours, and which are constantly changeful…

First, except when describing an ideology, you are not to use a word that ends in “ism.” Communism, socialism, Nazism, and capitalism are established concepts in history and the social sciences, and those terms can often be used fruitfully to gain knowledge and promote understanding. “Classism,” “sexism,” “materialism,” “cisgenderism,” and (yes) even racism are generally not used as meaningful or productive terms, at least as you have been taught to use them. Most of the time, they do not promote understanding.

In fact, “isms” prevent you from learning. You have been taught to slap an “ism” on things that you do not understand, or that make you feel uncomfortable, or that make you uncomfortable because you do not understand them. But slapping a label on the box without first opening the box and examining its contents is a form of cheating.

Much more at the link.

20 Responses to “Advice to students: on thinking”

  1. David Foster Says:

    There’s much to be said for formal debate as a high school and college activity. Especially when people are required to debate both sides of the same issue.

  2. Stu Says:

    Justice Scalia taught our class in the UCC. His humor actually made the course tolerable. If one is truly interested in how a great legal mind works, they should read the new book “Scalia Speaks”.

  3. Cornflour Says:

    At most colleges and universities, MacLeod would be either fired or suspended. With tenure, he might keep his job, but he’d be forced to submit to a re-education program.

    He teaches at an obscure school in the deep South. Even so, that may not save him if this article becomes widely broadcast.

  4. Oldflyer Says:

    I read the speech previously, and found it fascinating. I wonder how many of the students that he addressed were put off? Trigger warning needed?

    I believe that David Foster is correct; but, not every student would be comfortable in a debate format, and we cannot have uncomfortable students. Besides, broad participation would be time consuming, and might impinge on meeting required multi-cultural and social justice metrics.

    I have always heard that study of law improved critical thinking. Other disciplines can have the same effect. When I was first introduced to computer programming, using zeros and ones in an octal number system, I soon realized that the computer simply didn’t give a damn how charming I was, or how much I hoped for success. Unless everything was presented in a logical sequence and in the approved syntax, bad things happened. That was a fact; and could not be ignored.

    I should think that any activity which includes a consequence attached to ignorance or sloppy thought processes would beneficially sharpen skills. I have seen it in practice with handy men planning complex projects.

  5. Ackler Says:

    I largely agree with Cornflour. I’m sure Macleod is tenured. And, what he said is fair more abstract and less “controversial” than, say, Amy Wax. Nonetheless, he is likely to face considerably backlash from students and faculty alike.

  6. Ymar Sakar Says:

    What they should be thinking about is whether the Alt Earth Flat Earth model is correct or whether the spherical Earth model is correct.

    It is easy to find things that the Left rejects due to the religion of science. But it is not easy to do it for the non Left or conservatives.

    It is like a test to see how reasonable and open minded people are. Are they truly what they say they are or is that merely a rationalization.

    A Rorschach test for those in the cult of science and of the world.

    Much like my research into the Alt Right’s sub cultures like NLP techniques, PUA, Gamergate, this Flat Earth Model is relatively new thing. 2015 I believe. They aren’t the Old Flat Earth Society, btw.

    This is all new tech and research as far as I know, with some basis on the old research.

    What happens when the mainstream considers something crazy and then starts accepting it? I saw it with the hate of the Leftist alliance, with talk over Civil War 2, with the End of the USA. Perhaps even more new things will be rejected by the mainstream culture and then accepted. Judging by Alpha Game/ Pick up Artist sub stream cultures, it may take 10-20 years for a whole “new” generation to be educated in it and make it popular economically.

    The Original PUA was first written about, I recall, by Neil somebody, over a bunch of internet computer geeks that reverse engineered human mating rituals. Mystery was the name of the group leader and senior figure, while Neil “dived in” as an investigative journalist that focuses on going local. His book about the movement was very interesting as it provided proof on the workings of NLP, mass mind control, the Art of Propaganda, etc.

  7. M J R Says:

    B*R*A*V*O !!

    (The spirit of) Allan Bloom lives!

    — — — — —

    Allan David Bloom (September 14, 1930 – October 7, 1992) was an American philosopher, classicist, and academician.
    Bloom championed the idea of Great Books education and became famous for his criticism of contemporary American higher education, with his views being expressed in his bestselling 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind.

  8. AesopFan Says:

    “A lot of people hate lawyers, and I understand why. But having studied law, I have deep respect for our system of law, however flawed it may be. It is a daunting task to codify morality and try to pin it down in a legal system that is clear and fair. You may think ours falls very short of that, both on paper and in execution. And of course it does. But until you study law and try to devise a better system yourself, you may not appreciate what a valiant (not always, of course, but often) effort has been made over the centuries.” — Neo

    As Churchill said of democracy, “it is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

  9. AesopFan Says:

    Oldflyer Says:
    November 22nd, 2017 at 4:44 pm
    * *
    I enjoyed programming (and made my living that way) for exactly the reasons you give: the computer didn’t care anything about me or my feelings or my goals or anything else — all that mattered was getting the program right.

    The study of law can be like that, but the practice of it is a lot messier, because people are involved.

  10. AesopFan Says:

    “Cornflour Says:
    November 22nd, 2017 at 4:18 pm
    At most colleges and universities, MacLeod would be either fired or suspended. With tenure, he might keep his job, but he’d be forced to submit to a re-education program.

    He teaches at an obscure school in the deep South. Even so, that may not save him if this article becomes widely broadcast.”
    * *
    Or he might be the next Jordan Peterson. With Amy Wax and some of the other sane people in academia, maybe they can start a new Movement.

  11. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    Wonderful. I wish more professors would say these things to students. Alas, UW Madison no longer produces Badgers, willing to think for themselves, rather, it prefers to produce weasels.

  12. Ymar Sakar Says:

    But until you study law and try to devise a better system yourself

    There already is one, it is called divine law.

    Human laws are to divine laws as state laws are to federal laws.

    The conceit of humanity or just Americans, is that they think their law is the only law in existence. They have forgotten that the US Constitution was a contract, a covenant, with legal obligations. The other party will not protect his side of the bargain if the humans goes a straying.

    https://www.newdawnmagazine.com/articles/enoch-the-watchers-the-real-story-of-angels-demons

    Even the Gnostic Luciferians like Theosophical Society and Hollywood Marilyn Monroe controller Aleister Crowley, knew more about divine laws than the human lawyers.

  13. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Or he might be the next Jordan Peterson. With Amy Wax and some of the other sane people in academia, maybe they can start a new Movement.

    Relying on humans to start movements to save X. That’s ironic.

  14. David Foster Says:

    Oldflyer re thinking and computer programming….in the mid-1960s, Dartmouth College decided that programming should be considered as a liberal art and taught to all students. This was what drove the creation of the BASIC language and the Dartmouth/GE timesharing system.

    But they appear to have dropped the idea at some point, and I recently read that they are considering re-instating it.

  15. Frog Says:

    “But having studied law, I have deep respect for our system of law”
    That is OUR system, and nowhere else on earth is the law… our law. Most countries’ laws are travesties compared to ours. See the law in Khazakstan, for example.

    But I submit that lawyers and their legalistic thinking is pretty much the same worldwide. They stay in their boxes; they adhere to their legal systems.

    Medicine is fortunately a bit different, since a sick man is a sick man regardless of location. And the anatomy and physiology are the same. The remedies are the same, but whether or not those are available depends on the local law. See heart transplant eligibility in the UK v. US as an example: the Brit single-payer NHS is the result of the law.

  16. n.n Says:

    Start with logical domains. For example, the scientific domain is an open set where accuracy is inversely proportional to the product of time – past, present and future – and space – near and far – offsets from the observer’s frame of reference. What, then, do we know, don’t know, and can’t know (think about the relative position of our frame of reference)?

    That said, people want to believe, and for reasons of wealth, pleasure, leisure, narcissistic indulgence, and democratic leverage, will obviate their assumptions, often assertions, and motives, in a fog of conflation (e.g. twilight faith).

  17. SteveH Says:

    The clothes most people wear aren’t so much chosen by the person until it’s first chosen by the fashion industry to select from. I think this fashionable concept has been extended over the last 30 years by pop culture media into the realm of ideas and world views people hold.
    This is why a lot of millennials who want to fit in suck at actual thinking. Heaven forbid they should have an unfashionable thought that puts them in what’s said to be the category of the unhip and out of step.

  18. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Mass mind control is always easier to maintain and enforce than Jim Jones’ limited control methods using guns and violence.

    Instating these institutions can be difficult.

  19. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Correction about Monroe, she was involved with Anton Lavey, not Crowley. ALthough the two men have similar positions in human secret societies.

  20. David Foster Says:

    SteveH…”I think this fashionable concept has been extended over the last 30 years by pop culture media into the realm of ideas and world views people hold.”

    Absolutely. And this is also true in business. The LinkedIn feed is flooded with posts by people who are eager to posture as business intellectuals by picking up and retransmitting whatever they perceive to be Kool at the moment.

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