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”)

pros_cons_list

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.

Beginspells

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.

lord_of_the_rings_map_08_by_lordoftherings_walls-d76gf4v

(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.