Under Deconstruction

20Dec08

Law schools sell their programs on two major claims, apart from whatever they have in the class size/library size/clinics department: “Law school will change you” and “Learning the law teaches you how to think.”

Naturally, what they *don’t* tell you is that law teaches you to think narrowly, and law school may turn you into someone you don’t like. It did me; and I did not like that person largely because she had been trained to think narrowly, whereas the person I was before law school had access to, and used, a much larger range of analytical approaches. The person I was before law school, not surprisingly, was an English major.

So, in the interests of getting back the person I was before law school, and perhaps thus getting back the ability to write more than a brief before I am doomed forever to draft the latter (it may already be too late), I blew the dust off my old literary theory textbooks last night and started in at the same place I left in 2004: deconstructionist theory.

At the time, I didn’t really understand deconstructionism, but I liked it. I now know why: deconstructionism (or, more accurately, “post-structuralist”) theory seeks to question how and why the things said in a particular text are juxtaposed against those that are left unsaid (or said, but by way of negative comparison), and what that reveals about our own beliefs and biases.

I’ve firmly believed for some time now that a great many, perhaps all, of the social “truths” on which we rely to survive as a society (but not a community) are things that are only true because a critical mass of us act as if they are – that is, they have no inherent truth and are only useful insofar as they give us an order to our world – and are damaging insofar as they prevent certain members of society from engaging as full autonomous human actors with the rest of society.

Ironically, law-thinking, which claims to be questioning all sorts of assumptions, is one of those areas that falls greatest prey to this particular trap.

Never, ever, EVER let anyone tell you that you will not be subject to certain social assumptions in a law school classroom. As an upper-lower-class girl who literally spent her formative years in a tin shack on a Superfund site, I discovered with a nasty shock when I reached my elite law school of choice that poverty, in the classroom, was funny. Or it was the fault of the poor: no one ever conceded that poverty may be caused by, and the trap of, events, situations, and circumstances beyond the control of the poor. (This would have required more scrutiny of their “rich privilege” than I think most of these kids were willing or able to apply…talk about your “untrue norms”!)

As much as a few other classmates and I tried to explain that being born in a trailer didn’t make someone jokeworthy or stupid and in fact you know a few of us right now, the words fell largely on deaf ears. These kids relied on their view of the world; and no amount of deconstructing Justice Scalia’s dissents could make them deconstruct their own worldview.

Verily! So much for them.

Apart from deconstruction, which I had originally considered applying to legal texts but am now tempted to apply to the entire legal system, particularly how the humans that make it up actually operate, I have also been taking my own advice and re-reading some of the texts I am forever recommending to new students of the Craft. The other thing narrow-law-think did was knock me down to having the spiritual presence of a Frigidaire. It’s a frightfully uncomfortable place to be – you don’t realize how much you rely on that basic, intuitive connection to All Wot Is until it’s not there anymore. It’s like growing up on a hog farm – you don’t realize the air, on its own, has no scent till you move away.

That said, I have been gingerly paging through ye anciente copy of Marian Green’s A Witch Alone (gingerly, because the dang thing is about to fall apart), and less gingerly paging through ye new copy of the Qur’an. Someday, I’ll have to reconcile my obsession with reading about multiple forms of spiritual development and worship at once. …Sufiism, anyone? πŸ˜€

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One Response to “Under Deconstruction”

  1. I’ve had some thoughts along the same lines … that, like law school, TradCraft (or, at least, those elements of TradCraft to which I have so far been exposed) teaches you how to think, besides whatever actual information gets passed along.

    Also that there are two kinds of traditions in the Craft. One is that “we” (meaning whatever subgroup, whether a trad or line or coven etc.) do things a certain way because that way works. The other is that “we” do things a certain way because we have agreed to make that our way. Not that, say, North is inherently brown, but we’ve developed associations between North and brown that work and are true for us, and it’s a distinctive mark of the North-is-Brown trad that North is always brown. These can sometimes get blurred — is North brown because that’s the most effective way of doing things, or because North has been brown for a couple of generations and the latest group forgot the origin of the tradition? — but I think both of them are at work in the Craft.

    I don’t know that I’m explaining this particularly well, which is why I haven’t made any kind of long post about it. But: Yes, similar ideas have occurred to me also. πŸ˜‰


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