To Quote Billy Shakes, “You Protest Too Much”

This was originally submitted to the Osgoode student newspaper “Obiter dicta” as a response to this article, but was rejected because I wouldn’t post it under my own name (And maybe ‘cuz of the swearing). I didn’t want to submit it under my name because I didn’t want it machine searchable and helpfully indexed for potential employers (behold: chilled speech at work). Instead I published it here, among my other worthless and narcissistic rambling opinions hidden by pseudonym and 1 or 2 degrees of separation.

I was thrilled (THRILLED!) to open the latest edition of Vanity Fair, or as we call it here, “Obiter Dicta” and learn that all along I’ve been justified in my derision of York U. After all, as attendees of Canada’s Academy of the Liberal Elite, we carry a heavy burden: to ensure that we distinguish ourselves from those to whom we are superior.

When I walk through the hallowed Gowlings Hall, through a building with more sponsorships than a North American Stock Car, it is obvious that Osgoode Hall ™ is more than just a brand name adopted for the prestige that it carries. It isn’t just intellectual property representative of a goodwill that can be capitalized to justify an extra $10k in tuition annually. No: we are different, we are better, we are elite.

And it is this savvy worldliness that confirms our deepest certainty that York’s response to the on-going goings-on are not the guidance of some lawyer (pronounced the way it’s spelt: liar) concerned with liabilities (or is it liar-abilities?), but are the result of the simple truth of the inferiority of the working-class York who — let’s all remind ourselves — we are not. Osgoode would never treat us like that, it would never gloss over, polish, or perfect a message to the public. There is no articling crisis and you’ll totes get a job to pay off your debts, you guys.

Whether it’s sitting through a moving, human, ceremony capped off with a few masturbatory platitudes by our student reps explaining how awesome they (the reps) are for having, like, feelings and shit, or if it’s listening to judges and lawyers explain that Access to Justice is defined to be the same system that we already have, only with more billable hours, we are confident our school is better than York. When we look forward at our glorious future as Stepford Wives on Bay Street, we can be confident those chumps studying nursing, or (snicker) science, will never do anything as meaningful as we. This is *our* time, bitches.

When I look around at my colleagues in their drug-adderalled haze as they chemically claw their way a notch or two ahead on the bell-curve, I know they are already “Thinking like a lawyer.” They know their behavior is reasonably distinguished by the reasonable prescriptions that they reasonably abuse, reasonably different from the recreational drugs abused by students at York. And we also know, just as we know the Oxford Comma is a lie, that if we say “reasonable” often enough it becomes true.

It is reasonable to presume that we are better than York because our tuition is higher, and our school is named after a building with which we are only barely associated. To call it hype would be unreasonable, because if it were mere hype then the $50k it cost me to learn that (a) the Common-Law is a hack on English-speaking humanity; (b) Equity is a bad joke that no-one has picked up on; and (c) all lists come in threes, would have been completely wasted. To say this was some sunk cost fallacy, or some confirmation bias, would be insulting. To York. To whom we are superior.

So I am glad that finally (FINALLY!) someone has clarified, explained, and rationalized why we are so much better than York. I was worried that was a side effect of my entitlement, or just because I’m so much more superior to undergrads. Yeah, that seems reasonable.

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Access to Sophistry

My father was taught by Jesuits, and according to him it was through this education that he gained a respect for critical thinking and intellectual rigor. He was argumentative, and loved to take the side of devil’s advocate, he saw debate of ideas as sport — I am sure that I’ve inherited these traits and opinions. However, in spite of these traits and to my surprise, he has had a strong distrust of lawyers and the law as long as I have known him. The same is true of my grandfather. When I was very young, I think perhaps 8, I told my grandfather that I wanted to be a lawyer because I wanted to help people. He laughed, and told me that lawyers never help anyone; if I wanted to help people, he thought, I should be a doctor.

In spite of my thinking at 8, I avoided studying the law. It may be these experiences, or it may be something else. It may be the pride the men in my family share about not being academics. It’s a dictum reflected in the NCO’s maxim: “Don’t call me sir, I work for a living.” Regardless, I avoided the law but I did not share my father’s and grandfather’s view of lawyers, I thought that lawyers were important functionaries in pursuit of truth. But that was then, after a year of law school I have to admit that my father and grandfather were right.

From the beginning we are told — rather condescendingly — that we are being taught to “Think like a lawyer.” In the beginning I thought this was about learning a new system of reasoning and argumentation, but it is starting to dawn on me that it’s more than that. It’s about an indoctrination into a system of sophistry built around advocacy and lacking any moral compass. It seems to be about rationalization and mercenary sensibilities, and justification of a business model under the guise of professional ethics.

I have always noticed how reserved most lawyers are when you meet them. They are so careful with their words, so careful expressing their opinion. And when you venture onto Bay Street and meet the high-powered attorneys in their glass towers, it’s even more extreme. I have to wonder if there is humanity behind the mask, or if they are Stepford Wives, programmed to argue. Our society rewards the lawyer who is the trained attack dog, and with incentives set up that way, is it any wonder that the face presented by the lawyer to the world would be absent of humanity? After all, no one wants to hire a human attack dog, especially not one with feelings or empathy.

But where I find this idea most hypocritical is in the abuse of language surrounding the notion of “Access to Justice.” Access to Justice is a jargon term used by lawyers to address the real issues of unjust outcomes for the lower rungs of society, and by lower rungs of society, the general definition is the bottom 90%. Most often, I have heard “Access to Justice” used to argue for getting more people to use the services of lawyers, it has nothing to do with just outcomes, or access to justice. It is an argument framed along the lines of “Tax Relief” to engage with the term is to narrow the argument. The problem is that when lawyers use Access to Justice, it is usually used as a defense of a business model, and you can’t engage with it because to do so is to be against access to justice. It’s manipulative, its sophistic, it’s zero-sum and its the exact sort of thing that my father and grandfather hated about lawyers. Even when they’re “trying to do good” they can’t help but be who they are.

The more lawyers that I meet, the more about the law that I read, the more I am reminded of this scene from Jaws:

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Six Weeks into the First Semester

It had been my intention to write a post about once a week, after all I’m not going to improve my writing unless I actually practice. That plan, however, fell by the wayside when I was presented with the amount of work that is involved in law school.

The first week of classes were interesting, it was a week of discussing ethics, the law, and legal practice. While the work load in this week wasn’t particularly high — compared to what was coming — I was still settling into my new apartment. After that the real work began, by which I mean I settled into my 1L (first year) schedule and the readings came fast and heavy.

The most difficult thing that I have come across so far has been figuring out how to do things, by which I mean figuring out how to organize notes, readings, juggle my schedule, and so on. Every class has a significant amount of reading associated with it, and since most of the readings are cases, they also need to be briefed (a fairly standardized way of summarizing each case). In the case of some classes, the cases can date back to the 17th Century, so they also need to be translated and deciphered. It was only this past weekend, almost all the way through October, that I finally feel like I’m on top of the work. Not ahead, not behind, just finally caught up to where I should be.

There is definitely a lot of work involved, more even than I was expecting, but I am also finding it a lot of fun. The work is challenging and interesting, and I feel like I’m starting to come to terms with it. Time will tell.

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The First Week

The past week has been pretty hectic, it has been the beginning of orientation week, and the week that I did the most substantial part of my move to Toronto to law school. It has been hectic, but it has also been an amazing experience, both in terms of what I learned through orientation, and things that I’ve forgotten about moving.

In terms of what I was expecting in law school, the biggest thing that I found unexpected was the diversity of the student body at Osgoode. I was expecting to meet a lot of students who were very academically inclined, instead I was surprised by the amazing accomplishments that most of the students had already achieved. The number of students I met who are coming directly from university is low, though I did meet some of those. But what I found astounding was the incredible diversity of experiences, and backgrounds. These are some very interesting people in my cohort. There is no one that I met who hasn’t already lived an interesting life. More than once I wondered what I was doing here.

When I first received my acceptance letter from Osgoode, I was surprised. I figured that they had made a mistake, especially since I received it so soon after submitting my application. That feeling still hasn’t gone away, the feeling that someone had made a mistake and that I didn’t belong there. It’s a feeling that’s driven me to read about the law before this week, so that I could feel like I was coming into the whole thing with something to offer. From talking with the other students, and from listening to some of the impressive professors and guest speakers that I’ve heard from, this feeling is far from common. Still, it hasn’t gone away, and I still worry that at some point I’ll be found out as a fraud. So I’d better work pretty hard to avoid that.

The apartment that I choose was semi furnished — a room in the upper floor of a house owned by friends of mine, friends that don’t use it very often. I made this decision for a number of reasons, but the main ones were the semi-furnished state and the location. Even then, though, I’ve forgotten just how much it costs to set up a place to live. The costs of incidentals can run fairly high, and the amount of time it takes to prepare everything is always greater than I think. Most things are now in place now, though, and I think that things are in a state that I can pick away at them as the semester unfolds. There are only one or two small things that I need before I can start living and working here.

It has been a busy week, and school hasn’t really begun yet. I am about to head home for the weekend, and begin my readings for next week when classes actually begin. Now the real work of school begins, and I am both excited and terrified.

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The Law of Internet Bias (The Blogger’s Rule or The Fox’s Law)

When the Queen told Hamlet that “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” Shakespeare hit upon a truism that we best keep in mind in these days of internet and “citizen reporting.” That truism being that if someone goes out of their way to say something, the veracity of that thing is called into question. Consider Fox News, notorious for their “fair and balanced” motto, yet known for their significant bias. This isn’t to say that all news sources other than Fox are without bias, on the contrary, but other news sources don’t claim to be unbiased, they accept the implication that it is impossible to do away with bias, and in that awareness become a little less biased, while Fox denies the obviousness of bias and then revels in it.

My attention was brought to this in a post a friend of mine put on Facebook today, that linked to this article on Facebook. If you followed that link on your PC or laptop, you probably noticed that it’s a website called “whydontyoutrythis.com,” and one of the categories available on the menu is “Truth,” a category of posts whose primary unifying property is not veracity, but the contradiction of “mainstream” views. If you followed it from your mobile, though, you might have noticed that it looks like this:

screen shot

Screen cap of the article with headline “FDA Finally Admits Chicken Meat Contains Cancer-Causing Arsenic”, Website title “Why Don’t You Try This?” and subtitle “Try being informed instead of just opinionated.”

What follows is then a rather opinionated article. This can be verified by reading the article, and following each source to read the article that is sourced. The opinions in the WDYTT article are each more hyperbolic than the authorities cited. In the usual way, these references are then built into accusations against big pharma, implying collusion with the FDA, and then claims that show a lack of understanding. For example by claiming the FDA considers Elderberry juice more dangerous than Arsenic. The author, like many lay people, seems to be unaware that “the dose makes the poison.

I could go on with pointing out the bias in the article, but that’s not really the point. It is a blog post on the internet, and as such it is chock full of bias and opinion. That’s the whole point of a blog, after all. What I am pointing out, though, is that this is a site that goes out of its way to talk about “Truth” and “Opinion” and how it tells the truth and not opinion, while being rather opinionated and seriously biased. There may be some truth to the issues that are raised in the article, big pharma may indeed be bad, but the authority of the opinion is severely damaged by the rhetoric used, and by the claims made in general by the site and it’s framing rhetoric, claims that are demonstrably false.

I am using this site as an example. It is in fact the example that inspired this post, but it is far from the first that I’ve come across. The internet is full of them. In Mark Twain’s time (or possibly Churchill’s, depending on which site you believe), a lie may have gotten halfway around the world while the truth was putting on its shoes, but in the days of the internet the truth may never get out the door because the lie has flooded the world 3 feet deep. Take for example vaccination. Despite the number of studies that have debunked the vaccination/autism link (including the charging of the original study author with fraud), it is still widely believed by many, referenced by many, and easy to find with a quick google.

ASIDE: Coincidentally, the last two sites I linked in the previous sentence show the same sorts of signs of bias that I am talking about in this article: “Independent News for Independent Minds,” at intellihub.com, and “Real News Powered by the People, Naturally,” for naturalnews.com. In both cases, making the implied case that other news is biased (dependent) or false (not real).

Fact is about authority, not Truth, this is a concept that is hinted at in Plato’s Cave, and serves as the moral in Descartes’s “Cogito ergo sum.” It is the postulate of science, that a premises have to be checked and tested, conclusions need to be challenged. It is because of this refusal to trust blindly that we enjoy the standard of living that we do today, as opposed to that of the dark ages. Once we admit that humans are imperfect, we find a way to work around the problem to alleviate the damage the imperfection can do. By being aware of our shortcomings as a species, we create a process by which we can check ourselves and fix our mistakes. If we refuse to acknowledge the possibility of a mistake, the problems will still happen, but they will never be corrected. This is the main problem with a dogmatic approach to anything, if something is the capital-T-Truth, then no matter how wrong it is, it can’t be wrong, and the facts must be adjusted to match the conclusion. This is what gave humanity the dark ages to begin with.

What most bloggers mean when they talk about their own true, unbiased facts, are their opinions. They see the opinions of others as wrong, and their own as correct. Rather than construct their opinions in a compelling way, they rely on a rhetoric that compels any disagreement to be heretical, and thus harm their own authority for all who don’t agree. Authority is all about credibility, and authority is what gives opinion weight. A reasonable person wants a reasonable argument that relies on reasonable and accepted premises, and further, the humility to admit when you make a mistake gives you credibility, because it garners trust. If the goal is to change minds, then trust is important, if the goal, however, is just to preach to the choir, then relying on cognitive bias is more than enough.

Through my experience with blogs, fox news, and true believes, I therefore put forth the following hypothesis, called either “The Blogger’s Rule” or “The Fox Law,” either is acceptable:

A person or organization’s bias is inversely proportional to the amount they insist they are unbiased.

Of course, all this is just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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