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Treat Everyone Like an Outsider


Does anyone get radicalized in law school? Is that a thing? Is legal education something that can radicalize people? It seems like law students have two basic experiences with radicalism. One, you come in with your prior commitment to resistance or heterodoxy and try desperately to cling to bits, flashing them here and there, cannibalizing some commitments to legitimize others, or grooming them only secretly. Alternatively, you’re radicalized after graduation, because you carefully learned all this stuff about justice and power, and left idealistically, planning to join some radical historical moment implementing it, and then you wind up feeling totally frazzled by it.

I think I’m feeling more of the first. I quickly gave up on the idea that this was going to be a time to share interesting perspectives with others. I think part of the problem is the basic structure of what we do here in law school, competing desperately for scarce resources and credentials. That’s arguably a good way to sort out who is qualified for what, but it really doesn’t seem like a good way to teach and learn. And it’s also kind of terrifying. When we fail to get some credential or resource, not only are we letting ourselves down, it’s hard not to feel like we’re also letting down the people or ideas we came here to fight for. That doesn’t leave a lot of room to contest what people care about. Instead, I just feel pitted against all these people I like or love, many who care about completely different things, each competing for the success of what they care about.

So I have these lines from Souls of Black Folk printed out and pinned above my desk at home: “education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent. Nevertheless, men strive to know.”[1] And it’s true: law school is a fucking drag, and it’s largely because choosing to enter such an alien and dicey environment (or such a potentially alienating one, as Prof. Montoya suggests) is revolutionary. It’s also only by relishing (or forcing) the diversity that you can try to make sure the revolutionary experience improves you, rather than alienating you further. If you’re not constantly being blown by the minds of “all kinds of” your brilliant peers, and also blowing their minds, then you’re probably doing something wrong.

Do you feel like an outsider? Well then, test out your most dangerous outsider ideas on all the brilliant people surrounding you. Embrace the disappointment and discontent. The best law school moments feature crooked grins. Grin crookedly right back. Do I feel like an outsider at law school? Sure, constantly, and in so many discrete ways. What do I do about it? Treat everyone like an outsider!

[1] W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk 28 (1989)

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