The Yale LL.M.: The GAME

Last weekend afforded me the opportunity to take a peak into one of Yale’s great traditions: The Harvard-Yale-GAME.

Which sport am I referring to? Rumor has it that the two teams were trying to play American Football, but there was no means of confirming this claim. If scoring first downs every now and then is a viable criterion for determining whether it’s football that’s being played, it must have been another sport. Both teams kept punting the ball back and forth, apparently trying to trace the sport that they were allegedly playing back to it’s name and etymological origins (foot-ball). It must be Yale’s ORIGINALISM that made our team excel at this discipline even more than Harvard, leaving us with a final score of 19-38.

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(At this point in the game some misguided hope was still left.)

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(This was the band trying to pull off its version of a choreography.)

But enough of pathetic high school-level football! The GAME is not about sports. It’s about reveling in a century-old rivalry of two great universities. It’s about excessive tailgating, all the more direly necessary in order to keep up your spirits when watching two clumsy teams punting the ball. It’s about cheering for Yale while standing not too far away from Secretary of State, John Kerry.

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It’s about half of Harvard’s student body being bused to New Haven, finding refuge at some of their friends’ places or in one of the twelve undergraduate dorms. It’s about New Haven’s streets bustling with groups of merrily drunk students in bright daylight, fusing with nostalgic alumni as well as uncles, aunts, parents and grandparents visiting their Yalie offspring or relatives. So far, I have not seen New Haven in quite as swinging and lively a mood. Even the angriest angry bird could not have helped having a smile on his or her face.

For those of you who have been struggling to gather the necessary motivation to carry yourself through the application process: The two days of rivalry-revelry should by no means be missed. Having the GAME at home is certainly a premium. Therefore, if you haven’t applied this year, or if you don’t get in: Apply for 2017, when Yale will again be hosting the GAME!

For more on the LL.M. programs at Yale Law, please see the school’s profile on LLM GUIDE.

The Yale LL.M.: WALL WARS

With the long longed-for revival of “Star Wars” approaching (“Where in the world is Luke Skywalker?”) I should let you know that, in spite of the BUBBLE, prospective Yale law students should be prepared for a special kind of conflict: WALL WARS.

The WALL is an ancient institution at YLS, serving as its central communication platform. What once was an actual wall, where students would virtually pin their thoughts, invitations, questions and sorrows in paper form, the WALL has gone digital and turned into an email-run forum. Students now virtually virtually post their thoughts. Besides this change in form, the WALL’s substance remains.

This WALL then must be imagined as the forum that breeds Yale Law School as a community. Community building being a difficult, highly political enterprise, this does not go by without friction and tensions. The underlying tension regularly turns into heated “discussion”, sometimes erupting into WALL WARS.

The content of WALL WARS is manifold: It may be the issue of Palestine. It may be the use of drones. It may be birthright citizenship and its partly racially motivated criticism. It may be colorblind emails about inconsiderate Halloween costumes and their implications for free expression and safe spaces.

(As it turns out, my failure at finding a Halloween costume might have been a good thing after all. Maybe my failing instincts and complete paralysis in the face of the costume-decision were a subtle hint towards Halloween being, at its heart, a very silly, unnecessary, potentially harmful exercise. Reflection confirms this hunch: Looking at its Roman predecessor, the Saturnalia, when slaves were allowed and encouraged to dress up as their masters for a couple of days, points us towards all kinds of Carnival being, at their very core, means of entrenching social norms and existing power structures. Limiting disorder to a couple of days and allowing its periodic ventilation essentially amounts to affirming the order for the rest of the time. By practicing disorder as disorder, order is affirmed. The supposed need to “get certain things out of the system”, often claimed by Carnival-apologetics to be a central function of these festivities, should make us skeptical: Why are these things in the system in the first place? And shouldn’t the system be different? – As you can see, I still haven’t come to terms with having failed at Halloween. This is my exercise in rationalization.)

Despite its manifold content, the shape of WALL WARS is one and the same: Inclusion through exclusion by declaration.

WALL WARS cannot be understood as reasoned argument. When the topic turns e.g. on Israel, people don’t actually argue about Israel’s politics. Instead, somebody will passive-aggressively declare, through the WALL, her or his support to the Palestinian cause, more or less openly implying some kind of Israeli imperialism or racism towards its Arab population. This ill-concealed suggestion will, of course, be detected and picked up by some other member of the Yale Law community who will, in turn, declare his or her allegiance to the Israeli cause, usually retorting with some other mildly passive-aggressive comment. This exchange then goes back and forth for a couple of times, allowing both sides to strengthen their respective group identity. In all of this, no argument is being made. Nobody tries to convince anybody of the falsity of her or his beliefs. It is an exercise in identity building with the vague hope that one’s own identity group will, in the long run, prevail. The code of the discussion is “in or out”, friend or foe.

The same dynamics – in their purest form – emerged in reaction to a lunch lecture hosted by Yale Law School’s enfant terrible, the right-wing Federalist Society, putting into question birthright citizenship on patently racist grounds. Shortly after the event, instead of denouncing and refuting the untenable argument, a WALL thread developed with the express goal of “condemning” the presentation and ostentatiously reaffirming the commitment to birthright citizenship and the fellow students with recent immigrant pasts.

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(This is the sad fate awaiting the WALL if it continues its friend-foe discursive culture.)

The ensuing candystorm (GOOGLE tells me this is how one calls shitstorm’s benign sibling) of solidarity continued for several days and – taken together with other WALL WARS – left me in an even more confused state than what would seem appropriate for a meerkat in a meerkat’s haven. Before coming to Yale, I would never have expected any law school’s discursive culture to be so hostile to actual discussion and so keen on building close-knit communities in which everyone constantly affirms each other’s beliefs. This mindset, for me, is in strange discord with the intensively curious and intellectually challenging posture taken in most of Yale Law School’s classes. It is as if the student body, after being challenged in class, turns to the WALL in order to heal its wounds and create an even safer space. Students do so by declaring allegiance to the RIGHT and condemning the WRONG. The code is solidarity or exclusion. From an outsider’s perspective this is not agonism or adversary culture, it is the very antagonism that has been mutilating American politics since the advent of the Tea Party. These aren’t contests, these are WALL WARS.

For more on the LL.M. programs at Yale Law, please see the school’s profile on LLM GUIDE.

The Yale LL.M.: HALLOWEEN

The last post revolving around IDEAS, this one is about their lack. It is a tale of a meerkat at heart in its desperate and ultimately unsuccessful search of a HALLOWEEN costume. The injustice of this situation was manifold:

“Meerkat” would have been a pretty good costume. Unfortunately though, being a meerkat disqualified me from impersonating one. After all, the law of HALLOWEEN demands us to dress up as someone or something else.

Which leads me to my second point: The Law of HALLOWEEN. Why is there such a thing and why should we LLMs have to yield to its demands? By virtue of what authority? As foreigners we certainly did not incur this obligation by way of self-authorship. We did not partake in the making of this custom of making up costumes. Should we nevertheless have to assimilate? Should we abandon our own, diverse cultures to a bunch of pumpkins? Should we not demand some room for cultural accommodation? You could say that we forfeited this claim when deliberately leaving the customs area at the airport, thus renouncing our natural liberty in exchange for whatever costumes-custom our host country might come up with. But shouldn’t there at least be an exception to laws so clearly and utterly horrific as the Law of HALLOWEEN?

In the face of such injustice, of course, we yielded. Not only did our LLM-class yield, we even organized our own HALLOWEEN party. This left some of us, including me, in the even worse position of being stripped of the network of mutual support against the American yoke that our LLM class generally provides. While wars are being fought about whether the LLMs should be properly referred to as “foreign exchange students” (some of us minded the somewhat condescending ring of the term) by our American counterparts, nobody joined me in taking up arms against HALLOWEEN’S dictate.

Being neither a fool (meerkats seem too alert to be fools) nor a martyr (not being fools, meerkats have little inclination towards martyrdom) I was still faced with the urgent need to come up with some costume. In my desperation, I aimlessly erred around the law school in search of an IDEA. This being the usual modus vivendi at Yale Law School (see Originalism, How to be a Meerkat and the Reading Myth) my agony went completely unnoticed. Since nobody knew, nobody offered me any help or hugs.

So in the end, what outfit did I choose? Why should you care.

But why am I writing this?

To let you know that HALLOWEEN is HORROR. That you should start thinking about your costume as soon as you arrive here next summer. That you will have to figure out for yourself how much to yield to American legal and general culture. That no matter how you position yourself towards this question, you will definitely be hearing and talking a lot about political legitimacy, the groundings of authority and the moral duty to obey the law. That you may sometimes be called a “foreign exchange student”. That the LLM-class, although busy, has not dropped out of the partying business yet and usually offers a great support network. Also I intend to give you a vivid impression of how all these ideas and papers and workshops and conferences and lunch lectures that will be pouring down on you will deeply confuse you. I think this post demonstrates that – in an entertaining and benign fashion – day by day Yale Law School steals my sanity.

For more on the LL.M. programs at Yale Law, please see the school’s profile on LLM GUIDE.