Of YALIENS and Friends

As I noted before, your year at The Yale Law School will be an altogether transformative experience (see Desperation through Transformation). However, even if, by the end of ten meerkaty months, you may well be a true Yalie, (J)diced and battered, you will still be somewhat of an alien to the JD community.

Combining these two traits you will have become a YALIEN.

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(I took this selfie early this afternoon after another attack by the cookie monster. The Grand Cook-I-nquisitor had shoved so many cookies down my throat that, in lack of oxygen, I turned green. If you look more closely, you will also notice that I am wrestling with some cookies trying to make their way back up to where they came from.)

An episode that confirmed that – even after many meerkaty months – it is not always easy to connect to the busy JD-crowd occurred in the wake of another round in the NAME GAME: Pauli Murray, after whom one of the new residential colleges will be named, had been a proud recipient of a JSD (juridical science doctor) degree from The Yale Law School. This small fact stirred a storm of self-congratulation (another WALL candy storm) by some law school officials and students. After the tenth email celebrating YLS for its influential former student, one of the current JSD-candidates, annoyed by the self congratulatory tone, dared to challenge the WALL by asking what in the world this strange “S” in JSD stood for. It sure must have been a typing error. From all she knew, The Yale Law School only awarded JD and PhD degrees.

Hilariously enough, the implicit complaint about the invisibility of the graduate program in the eyes of many JD students didn’t stay unanswered, nor was anyone calling her bluff. Quite to the contrary, one JD, with the earnest eagerness of a choir boy, even did some research and sent around a link to Wikipedia explaining the JSD to be “an advanced research degree, equivalent to a PhD, mostly awarded to non-American raised lawyers”. This piece of research perfectly proved the point: Many JDs don’t take any notice of what else is going on in their law school. To them you will remain YALIENS.

This, however, will not be an actual problem for you. There will be enough LLM, JSD, and MSL students as well as visiting researchers sharing your fate, many of whom you will soon call your friends. This personal closeness is one of the great advantages of being at Yale: Your world-spanning post-LLM-network may not be as impressive as that of a Harvard graduate. However, by the end of the year you will have most certainly found a bustling group of true friends from all around the world. The intensity of the LLM experience at Yale (see YALE’S DRIVEN-NESS) also translates into the personal realm: With the same speed at which people (pre)tend to read here (see THE READING MYTH)

what were mere (Y)ALIENS will soon be your FRIENDS.

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The NAME GAME

While the Yale football team is not famous for exhibiting great sophistication (see The GAME), another game is being cultivated to the highest perfection at Yale:

The NAME GAME

I have already talked about WALL WARS, Halloween costume scandals, and the perpetual fight for YALEQUALITY. What I haven’t told you is how these debates tend to end. Most fights about intramural justice, fought in the register of inclusion through exclusion, culminate in naming decisions:

How to name new residential colleges? How to label bathrooms (as “men’s”, “women’s” or “gender neutral”)? How to refer to certain college officials? What to print on dollar bills? You should thus expect and prepare yourselves for naming decisions being the epitome of political decisions at Yale.

These recent weeks have seen a new climax of the NAME GAME.

All started with the new 20-dollar-bill being equipped with a portrait of Harriet Tubman, a 19th century Afro-American abolitionist. Although I’m not generally opposed to symbols as a means of political controversy (some people will say that all politics revolve around common meaning and symbols), it tastes somewhat stale to see the fight for more equality being muted by merely symbolic measures. The impression that emancipatory movements are not being taken very seriously is confirmed when one looks more closely at these kinds of decisions: They follow the clearly discernable pattern of trying to appease as many discontent voices as possible by a single decision. Like the “Brave Little Tailor” who slays seven flies “at one blow” Harriet Tubman conveniently covers both, the interests of the Black Community and the women’s rights movement.

This principle is being followed even more ingeniously by the recent decision to name one of Yale’s two new residential colleges after Pauli Murray, a black, queer woman who played an important role in the civil rights movement. Having thus “at a single blow” absolved itself from the moral demands of three persistent disadvantaged identity groups, the University felt entitled to simultaneously settle (negatively) the long disputed issue of renaming “Calhoun College” (named after a glowing 19th century anti-abolitionist and a symbol of the Confederacy) and name the other new residential college after Benjamin Franklin. With this latter decision, the University administration acquiesced to the request of the donor whose 250 million dollar donation (yes, you read correctly) had enabled the construction of the two new residential colleges.

But “Seven at one blow” are clearly not enough. The University administration’s unsurpassed sophistication in playing the NAME GAME becomes even more complete by another decision that was taken last week: The Black Community’s call to officially abandon the honorary title of “master” for the non-academic heads of the residential colleges (for one provocative position in the fight see http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2015/08/28/our-honorable-masters/) was finally heard.

Nevertheless, the discontent over the University’s stand on “Calhoun College” prompted another emotional town hall meeting of the student body. The absurdity of the never ending NAME GAME was achieved by today’s YALE NEWS, delivered by Yale’s President, Peter Salovey, to the Yale student body:

A photograph of him justifying the University’s decision to the student body was subtitled “Salovey listens to student disappointment over naming decision”.(http://news.yale.edu/?utm_source=YNemail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=yn-05-03-16)

What sad state must a debating culture have reached in which it is newsworthy that people listen to one another? I promise: The NAME GAME with all its false and annoying compromises is one of the features of Yale’s culture that will be most difficult to stomach all year. When demands for more diversity and inclusion are met with mostly symbolic naming decisions and the institution of another “diversity committee” (as in the case of Yale Law School), the LLM student as a third party observer cannot but shake his or her head. Absurdity is completed when the underrepresented communities, too, start focusing most of their attention on naming decisions of little consequence.

To my firmest conviction this amounts to taking the bait of the NAME GAME.

The COOKIE CONSPIRACY

In absence of any dragon glass to fight the white walkers of FINAL FINALS (Shame on you, readers of this blog! I would have expected some help and solidarity) I had no choice but to flee as fast as my short legs could carry me.

This flight was quite the plight, given that my legs are sadly fattened by the preposterous amounts of pizza, cookies, and brownies that I have been eating over the course of the past ten months. Yes, you should prepare yourselves for a year of few vitamins, paper plates, and plastic cutlery during which you will distractedly ingest large amounts of not too healthy food while being absorbed by various lunch lectures or other events at the law school.

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(These are the miraculous items called “non-plastic cutlery” which you will rarely be seeing during your LLM year.)

While the constant bombardment with IDEAS is very thrilling (see “How to be a meerkat”) it takes your mind off the small details that usually make up a healthy life. But don’t worry: The time here is more than worth any absence of abs (not that there would have been any before coming here…).

It is, however, somewhat questionable whether the daily study breaks during FINAL FINALS, sponsored by various YLS entities (e.g. student groups, Career Development Office aka CDO aka Calorie Development Office), are really a good IDEA. It is certainly not very ORIGINAL to serve the same sweet stuff every day. Moreover it is counter-productive by threatening to stuff the poor student body’s brain capillaries, much needed during finals, with insane amounts of greasy dough. Since students at THE YALE LAW SCHOOL cannot be expected to make responsible choices for themselves, this amounts to luring them into a deadly trap: Slowed down – or worse: immobilized – by cookie dough we will not be able to escape the terrible white walkers of FINAL FINALS. Cookie breaks thus must be understood as being part of a well-orchestrated, epic, and wicked conspiracy against the wellbeing of Yale law students.

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(These are the instruments of torture that will be mercilessly applied to your intestines until you cannot move any more.)

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(This is the grand inquisitor administering the torture, a representative of the Calorie Development Office.)

Thanks to the COOKIE CONSPIRACY there will thus be no escaping from the white walkers of FINAL FINALS. In order to cope with this fact your only choice will be inner emigration. You will have to use the powers of your inner eye (these inner powers tend to be much better developed among Yale LLMs than their abs) in order to resuscitate the happy days of mid-April, when spring was finally conquering the streets of New Haven. This faint and far-removed memory of cherry blossom may hopefully carry you through the plight of FINAL FINALS.

A SONG OF TEARS AND TIRED

With “Game of Thrones” returning to the long-deserted TV-screens of its fan community we LLMs are beginning to realize that this year approaches its end. Alas, they were turbulent times full of tears and tiredness!

As for the latest and most devastating development: The BRAZILIAN PALACE was burned to the ground by a legendary prom-after-party (our few remaining brain cells refer to it as the “red wedding”) and is now uninhabitable. The feudal landlord of the Brazilian dwellings declared a permanent ban on joyful festivities on his lands.

Tearful we’re now fearful for the fate of all our future feasts.

These feasts will indeed be numerous in the weeks to come, while our deeds become less. While we selfishly petition for the reinterpretation of Yale’s ORIGINALISM in order to dispose of our duties with minimal effort, one end-of-the-year-celebration chases the next. Picture day chases prom chases graduate luncheon chases law school picnic chases graduation banquet chases spring fling chases end of class chases bling bling.

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This marathon of farewells has caused tears in some of us:

One of our Brazilians seemed quite moved by every picture that we took; maybe this was only the distant repercussions of her pain of being expelled from her Brazilian dwellings; maybe, however, cameras are conceived as frightening and magic objects in Brazil; this latter theory seems to be one that fits very well with Yale’s PRIDE IN PREJUDICE; I will not ask her to confirm, since this could defeat my theory.

While having inspired tears in some, this marathon of farewells has most certainly tired all of us. The academic year had already been sufficiently meerkat-y (see “How to be a meerkat”) and reading-intensive (see “The reading myth”) in order to exhaust us all. Now the crazy pace of Yale (see “Yale’s Driven-ness”) has added to the menu an impressing and breathtaking battery of celebrations.

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(Announcement by the chef general: In order to not waste food and to use the vastly available resource of battered LLMs the dining hall has recently changed the menu from “(J)diced LLM in its own jus” to “battered LLM with a side of fries and cole slaw”.)

And for the most shocking news: In the midst of all this agony of celebrations evil powers have been resuscitated: I’m not talking of John Snow (uncontested winner in the category of “epitome of annoying boringness”) but of FINALS (runner-up in the category “epitome of annoying boringness”). Already on the first day of exam period playless-ness and seriousness have crept up from their deeply dug tombs, singing their devastating song of “NOBODY WANTS TO PLAY WITH YOU, Johannes!”. I do not know whether I will be able to contain these wicked White Walkers. If we do not fight them, most likely they will soon have subjugated the entire LLM class. I am deeply troubled by these prospects for the days to come.

Somebody please

give me dragon glass;

so I can drink in peace

with my LLM class!

High School Prom meets Hogwarts or ORIGINALISM’s AMBIGUITY

A couple of weeks ago came the moment for which every admirer of American popular culture, every avid watcher of American Pie, had been waiting throughout the year: The YLS Prom Dance.

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It was a curious event: Despite being held in the mighty pseudo-gothic halls of the Yale Commons, the party couldn’t quite shake off its high school-ish origins. This was all the more surprising, given that the music, supported by relentless bass line, most insistently urged the Hogwartesque walls to swiftly “shake it off”. The walls, however, unforgivingly remained unmoved and preserved the entertaining contrast to their high school-ish surroundings.

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Not only the music, but most other items (photo booth, decoration, plastic cups, prom royal couple) matched the ideal type of a high school prom.

(It seems as if life at YLS is so busy that no one can afford to devote any time to develop a more sophisticated and somewhat articulate taste in music. Instead, the evening’s playlist was indistinguishable from the kind of music that would be fueling an actual high school prom. Over distinguishing cases we seem to have lost the sense for distinguished music. Being the most avid admirer of Taylor Swift I, of course, have nothing to complain about. However, it deserves to be noticed that Yale’s ORIGINALISM is shamefully lacking with regard to musical taste. This may have to do with YLS’s party culture to be, by European standards, overall rather poorly developed (see Yale WATERGATE). This holds true despite the many and considerable efforts that our LLM class has heroically invested into establishing the BRAZILIAN PALACE (the humble temporary home of our two Brazilian LLMs) as the city’s prime party location.

An alternative, more optimistic, take on the issue would, of course, be to claim that high-school-prom-styled music must be understood as being even more ORIGINAL than any more distinguished playlist could ever hope to be. For, such high-school-styled music would naturally be in a more undeveloped, more embryonic, and thus more ORIGINAL state. According to this standard of ORIGINALISM the most ORIGINAL sound of them all would be the very charming initial cries of a baby after it leaves the womb. If YLS is, as it tends to be, at the avant-garde of things, we thus have reached a promising hypothesis as to where pop music will be heading in the years and decades to come. This standard of ORIGINALITY would moreover lend itself very well to being most beneficially applied to the papers that exhausted LLMs still have to write at the end of this second semester. After ten months of MEERCATINESS there is little energy left for thoughtfulness and sophistication. I therefore most humbly propose that for grading purposes “maximal proximity to embryonic states of development” be defined as the official measure of what it means to have an ORIGINAL IDEA. This would have the added benefit of bringing the YLS interpretation of ORIGINALISM back into tune with its interpretation by leading ORIGINALISTS in the politico-legal arena.

DESPERATION through TRANSFORMATION

Reading this blog, it may not come as a surprise to you that Yale Law School and its style exert an almost irresistible gravitational pull. The pressure to assimilate seems insurmountable. While in the beginning of my blog career I contended myself with writing about such (helpful, but) trivialities as how to travel here and where to have drinks, Yale’s ORIGINALISM has perverted my blog into a decreasingly decipherable and increasingly absurd array of self-reference and insider hints. (Do you get the title? Or is it a book “signatum sigillis septem” to you?) Anything short of the absurdity of piece-of-cake-ratios or Kafka’s CASTLE will simply no longer do for me as a freshly initiated and originality-obsessed inhabitant of The Yale Law School.

I just recently learned that the proper way of making re(v/f)erence to YLS is by adding a “the” before “Yale Law School” in order to convey that it isn’t just Yale Law School but the one and only Yale Law School that you’re talking about. This reminds me of a strange habit of southern Germans: They usually refer to their friends or to their parents by adding a “the” to their respective names (as in “der Josef”) or functions (as in “die Mama”). Apparently Bavarians (to whom I must confess I belong) are so self-centered that they want to make crystal clear that, while others might think they have a mother (Mama), they do not actually have one, since the one and only mother (“die Mama”) is, in fact, already claimed by the speaker (and his or her siblings).

Therefore: Be greeted, Yalies, Bavarians of America!

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(Can you tell the difference?)

But let’s get back on track: I was talking about the inherent and irresistible pressure to assimilate, which is exerted by The Yale Law School, its institutions, and customs. One of these TRANSFORMATIONS through assimilation has thrown me into deep DESPERATION: The LLMs are slowly but inevitably turning into American JDs. We have become utterly JDiced.

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(Recently they have even changed the menu at The Yale Law School’s dining hall. They now are serving “(J)diced LLM in its own jus”.)

One piece of evidence that perfectly corroborates this claim is the character of conversation in the graduate student’s own Whatsapp thread: What had been a place of swift and uncomplicated coordination, party invitations, innocent flirtations, and serious conversations now largely resembles THE WALL. Where Indians and Belgians happily exchanged their mutual and preposterous PREJUDICE, we’re now trading in niceties. Where discussions were had, community is built by inclusion through exclusion by declaration. While the content of the Whatsapp thread is manifold, its form is but one: Benevolent (in this regard we’re not fully (J)diced yet) WALL WARS.

One such conversation concerned the issue of voting for a faculty member to deliver the speech at The Yale Law School’s graduation ceremony. Shamefully excluded from the original nominating procedures, the LLM’s plotted to coordinate in order to rally behind one common candidate. Powered by hurt feelings, we engaged into the very identity politics (us LLMs vs. those evil JDs) we had been able to learn through the WALL over the course of the year. Being the nerds and avid learners that we are, we were perfectly fluent in whipping, rigging, and goading the vote of all LLMs into conformity.

What does this mean?

We’ve lost our innocence.

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(Two LLM students covering themselves after having tasted from THE WALL.)

TRANSFORMATION drove us out of Eden into DESPERATION.

HORROR ELECTIONIS MAIOR: Difficult Choices

While HORROR ELECTIONIS might be vexing, it is nothing against HORROR ELECTIONIS MAIOR. This latter horror kicks in when you find yourself in the awful situation of having to choose between several admission offers. With Yale’s and most likely other admission decisions being out, this time of the year seems like a good moment to address the cure to this unfortunate plight.

So how should you deal with HORROR ELECTIONIS MAIOR?

There is an easy and obvious answer: Go to Yale!

In the end, this is the best and only recommendation I can sincerely make (hence the image of my admission BINDER on the top of this post).

For more sophisticated people, here are my thoughts on how to handle your situation:

1) Throw away your pro-and-con-lists and have a drink!

To my experience, there is absolutely no point in making such lists. Personal decisions, especially those requiring a choice between roughly equally great options, don’t allow for reasoned elaboration. You may be able to defend your decision once you’ve made it when applying for outside scholarships or the like. But pro-and-con-lists won’t help you in figuring out what you want.

(For an excellent illustration of the truth of this claim watch the millions of pro-and-con-lists that Gilmore Girls’ Rory Gilmore drafted in vain before setting her mind on going to Yale. Episode “A Tale of Poes and Fire”)

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A much better way to search your mind is opening a bottle of booze and get drunk with your friends. It is this slightly clouded, but more sensitive and vulnerable state of mind in which you sometimes confess your deepest fears and fancies that will make you receptive to what you actually want.

2) Ask your friends and relatives where you want to go!

This is not a typo. I actually don’t mean to say that you ought to ask them where you should want go. This is your business only. Nor is it a socratic “want” in the sense that, while you might believe that you want x, you actually want y and only “want” x because of your clouded judgment.

No: Ask them where you actually want to go. You will be surprised to find out that they will do a better job in figuring out what your tendencies are than you yourself. Just make them make you state your reasons for either of your options. They will be able to tell what you want by the way you deliver your speech, the glow in your eyes, the twitch of your facial muscles. I can assure you that they will be unimpressed by what you report as the tentative conclusion of your decision making process. (This tentative conclusion will anyways change back and forth several times before you reach your final decision.)

3) Don’t overestimate the import of your decision!

As I said, your options will most likely be roughly equivalent. If you’re all about prestige, Harvard and Yale will probably have a slight advantage over the other schools. If you care about substance, there are at least 5-10 law schools that with regard to their “product value” – what you get for your tuition – are hardly distinguishable. It then comes down to your respective area of interest, your general taste, and maybe specific professors whose classes you want to experience.

A constitutional lawyer probably shouldn’t miss out on Yale. An internationally minded scholar should at least consider NYU. A pragmatic distrust of theory might make you prefer Harvard over Yale. I can see why Joseph Raz would lure people to Columbia.

You might also want to remember that school isn’t all there is to an LL.M. year. (Class) Size, for example, matters as well. Do you like the anonymity of European universities? Then you should think about a small program, just to find out that you were right all along (or do the contrary). Are you a big city person? Then you should challenge yourself and go to a small place like Yale (or do the contrary). Are you a night owl? Then you should have a look at Harvard/Boston where all bars and clubs close no later than two (or do the contrary). All these might be relevant considerations (or they are not).

With one final and most likely unhelpful piece of advice I will abandon you to your personal HORROR ELECTIONIS MAIOR:

If you, right now, stand paralyzed, being particularly vulnerable to the horrors caused by the paradox of choice, you should consider this as an argument for Yale. While the course catalogue is more than vast enough, it can still be handled. HORROR ELECTIONIS during shopping period will thus be relatively small compared to schools such as Harvard or Columbia.

In providing a criterion for your decision, HORROR ELECTIONIS therefore contains the very principle by which to contain and resolve HORROR ELECTIONIS. HORROR ELECTIONIS is both, the problem and its solution.

This, by the way, is roughly the same intuition that Gilmore Girls character Luke uses in order to come up with a decision criterion:

Excerpt:

LUKE (towards Rory and Lorelai): Hey — which school teaches how to make an important life decision without doing a stupid pro/con list? Whichever one it is, add it to the pro column.

HORROR ELECTIONIS: Wicked Elections

The fast approaching end of the semester is not the only thing currently holding us LL.M.s in its grip. For, even if FINALS, papers, and grades can be frightening and play-less at times, there are much worse fears in this world. One of these is the fear of elections, also called HORROR ELECTIONIS. It has been creeping up in the souls of YLS students and staff at an ever-increasing pace. By now, it has reached a commanding influence on our minds that can no longer be ignored.

This has not always been the case: In the beginning of the year, the Republican presidential debates where moments of playful cheering among YLS Democrats (making up about 90% of the student body). There was this angry orange ogre making a fool of himself and of his party. So what? It was mostly laughter that was filling the room.

Contrary to some blizzards, the orange ogre, however, was not akin to BENJAMIN BUTTON. Instead, rather than regressing, he constantly grew in size. He grew and grew, his gruesome growth leading to some serious HORROR ELECTIONIS. This horror now is powerful enough as to even threaten the immaculate walls of Yale’s ivory tower. Like Saruman, under attack of the Ents, we tried to fend it off as long as we could, rallying to save our PRECIOUS BUBBLE by insulating us from the evils of this world.

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Official subtitle: “Spells thrown by Death Eaters (aka Donald Trump and his allies) in order to crack/break the shield (BUBBLE) around Hogwarts (Yale).”

In vain, however: The orange ogre was relentless in his quest to shake our peace. He even forged an alliance with dark forces in the east, i.e. France, Poland, Switzerland, and Germany. HORROR ELECTIONIS is getting stronger and stronger. We must all hope that the forces of evil will not succeed. Otherwise there might be no BUBBLE left within which to enjoy your LL.M.

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(The allied forces of evil are gathering in and around Mordor.)

On the other hand, it is somewhat of a relief that HORROR ELECTIONIS has reached this place. It wouldn’t have shed a very favorable light on Yale, had the craziness surrounding it gone completely unnoticed. It is, after all, graduates of YLS (Hillary), HLS (Ted Cruz), and some other schools, who play the national drama’s leading roles. Despite this fact, up till quite recently, the student body, when politically active, was mostly occupied with itself. Questions of campus and staff diversity, of inclusion, and safe spaces (see HALLOWEEN and WALL WARS) where governing most minds. This has profoundly changed: By now, there is hardly a class left that doesn’t feature a passionate argument about the required skillset of presidents, the red line towards incitement of violence (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/opinion/the-trump-campaign-gives-license-to-violence.html?_r=0), the lawfulness of Obama’s DACA-Program (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/20/us/politics/supreme-court-to-hear-challenge-to-obama-immigration-actions.html), and other issues this coming election has put on the line.

Observing this transformation as well as an entire country being pulled deeper and deeper into the primaries’ political theater has been one of the most interesting aspects of my time in the US. Even if it is possible to follow these developments from abroad, watching them from close up adds much flavor and depth to the experience. This holds despite the fact that HORROR ELECTIONIS, for obvious reasons, tastes more bitter than sweet.

PRIDE IN PREJUDICE

While some love “Pride and Prejudice”, others take pride in prejudice. Of the latter you will encounter much during your LL.M year. In a mostly harmless fashion prejudice will be all over the place.

Vis-à-vis the Indians you will be making your punts about the relephants of elephants. Holy Cow, how can you be so insensitive? The Latin Americans will host Latin parties, dancing salsa and drinking some kind of biting alcohol (it’s sting is unsurprising, given that they make their alcohol from cacti). They will hug each other and their surroundings at every occasion or non-occasion and complain about hugaverse, hugawkward German robots. The German robots, in turn, will theorize about the unnatural-ness of American (or any New World) wine and food in general. The Israelis will denounce this as German chauvinism, redirecting its destructive potential onto the relatively harmless realm of food.

And the Swiss, what will they do? They will complain about the local cheese and remain neutral.

So much, so harmless. Things get more serious, once you leave the world of culture and food and enter into the world of IDEAS. Yale Law School being full of these (no less than of itself), this is more or less synonymous with entering 127 Wall Street. (Yes, you will spend your LL.M. year on Wall Street. It will give you a huge head start in the world of Big Law.)

Upon entering, you will be told that Germans love systematicity and are formalists. That civil law countries in general are formalistic. That they believe in logically deriving their decisions from gapless legal codes. That American lawyers, to the contrary, understand how decisions are actually made. That this legal realism is an American particularity. That the Jewish religion is ortho-practic, whereas Christianity is ortho-dox. That there are three kinds of constitutional systems (democratic monism, rights-foundationalism, dualism). That the French Revolution was a failure and its being worshipped in Europe an awful fraud. That the French admire their “lois” while the Americans love their judges. That Jim Crow and its lasting heritage constitute a “caste system”. That the US brought democracy to the world (“We made you!”).

All this will be heralded to you with the trumpets of truth and without the slightest shadow of doubt.

This spirit of (over)confident generalization will inexorably exert its grip on your thinking. Why? Because it is intriguing, it has power. They actually still make claims and judgments at Yale. They provide and defend distinctions. They say something relephant. They say SOMETHING. What does it matter that – in a slight variation – it has been said before? What does it matter that it doesn’t do justice to every person and phenomenon?

I am deeply torn by this, as I think are many of my classmates and as you will be when at Yale: Not only will you be tempted by the powerful lure of Yale’s ORIGINALISM obsession. The entire LL.M. situation makes you particularly vulnerable to the habit of (over)generalized judgment. You will be away from your home countries. Many things will be new and will demand at least some kind of rough classification. How does this relate to the institutions, the culture, the food, the values you know? You will not escape making comparative, i.e. evaluative, judgments. Even if you pretend to be modest, and self-consciously avoid the words “better” and “worse”, cloaking them in the language of preference, you cannot help but make up your mind about which world you actually do prefer. For the first time in your life you will regularly and for a longer period of time hang out with a bunch of people from all over the globe: Philippines, Australia, Hong Kong, China, India, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Western Europe, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, and of course the US. Everyone will tell you their own view of their country, culture, or cult, and you will map your new world accordingly. In all this your classmates and you can be as careful and non-judgmental as you want, but you will inevitably be left with an entire array of new, nice, and neat drawers. This tendency will be reinforced by the law school culture’s perpetual demand for swift, surprising and possibly original judgment. On top of all this you will be part of a group of people who all have a rather strong drive and habit of trying to make sense of their world. More than is usual you will be among ivory-tower-afficionados. YLS is, after all, not only a parade of prejudice, but also a nerd parade. Being one of these nerds, you will be marching along.

This should by no means shock you. My classmates and I enjoy it a lot and you will too. Just keep in mind and beware that, instead of de-biasing you, the yearlong parade of prejudice will bolster your

PRIDE IN PREJUDICE.

YALEQUALITY

After having spent the past couple of posts in the realm of increasing absurdity, I wish to return to some serious business: (In)Equality at Yale in all its facets. Is this a place where people of different color, gender, nationalities, income, or professional backgrounds are being treated on equal terms?

This blog has already featured some of the dimensions of inequality. I mentioned the outrage of our JD student body when confronted with Professor Markovits’s findings on “Distributional preferences of an elite” (see post The Yale WATERGATE and http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aab0096). HALLOWEEN and its highly political costume customs have highlighted the racial lines and inequities on Campus (see post WALL WARS and http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/16/nyregion/yale-college-dean-torn-by-racial-protests.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0).

So far, I have said nothing about gender dynamics, which – in terms of classroom participation, visibility, representation on the faculty etc. – seem to give much hope for a promising, more equal future. It is, however, a relative equality of an extreme elite. I have no clue of how these dynamics play out outside of the YALE BUBBLE. Be that as it may: Compared to this small world and my reduced perspective on it, German academy has a lot of catching up to do.

I still haven’t said much. To be precise, I haven’t said a thing. That reminds me of one of my classes at the philosophy department. Among other things, the course tries to develop a sense of how unequal states of affairs could reasonably be ranked. What features of a situation make one distribution of wellbeing worse than another with regard to inequality? The analytical method with which this question is being approached produces a brilliant contrast to the classes at the Law School: While the lawyers’ discussions are full of normativity and will force you to perpetually take and defend a position, the philosophy class is beautifully void of content. All the ultra-sober, ultra-serious, ultra-play-less complaining about inequality is replaced by abstract thought experiments that invite us to imagine possible or not-so-possible-worlds and their respective inequality coefficients.

As you can easily see, my restless ascent up Yale’s ivory tower has made me leave the law school’s reality constraints and catapulted me into the world of pure no-ledge. As the conceptual air is getting thinner and thinner, my thoughts freely float lighter and lighter until soon I will be flying all the way up in the air. Free like a bird I will no longer need my plane ticket to get back to Europe.

Why am I writing this? Because I’m sure that the topic of inequality, in at least one of its many faces, will have a grip on your thoughts over most of the year. Because this way of engaging you as a person is one of the great features of Yale Law School and the world around it. Because I want to urge you to take classes outside of the law school – be it only in order to find out what you might appreciate about being a lawyer. In case you’re interested in theoretical stuff, it might also be worthwhile to see how theorizing looks like when it is pushed to the extremes:

No more inequality, only asymmetry at Yale.