Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pride and Shame

One of Jim Chen's recurring themes is good vs. evil. It is expressed, at least in my opinion, most eloquently in his instant classic Three Deans. Although written obviously about deans, I think the three prototypes can be adapted to fit law faculty as well. For some reason -- a recent Economist article or some materials I ran across while writing about happiness --I am stuck on the emotions of pride and shame and how they feed into the idea of good vs. evil. This gets even more interesting to me since relatively recent research suggests the capacity to feel pride and shame -- like so many other things, including the capacity to feel happy -- are hard wired.

I am using fairly simple definitions of pride and shame here. Shame is the feeling that you have done something dishonorable. Pride is the opposite. If these capacities are hard-wired and, even if they are not, a great deal of behavior everywhere including behavior that may be classified as good or evil is linked to the capacity to experience these emotions. You might say that feeling pride and shame depend on the values people have. You feel shame if you violate a closely held value. But it may be the other way around. If a person is simply genetically or otherwise unable to feel shame, the notion of values seems to become irrelevant. Perhaps these people are simply unable to have values and act accordingly. One of Jim's three deans may fit this description.

Of course, for those unable to experience the internal incentives and disincentives of pride and shame, respectively, we still have direct sanctions that mean people may behave consistent with certain values even if not internalizing them. These are people who fit the rational economic man model and are often -- though maybe not disproportionately -- found (as some recent experiences have brought home to me) on law faculties. And, as I have written before, there appears to be no connection between teaching areas or professed values and the capacity to feel shame or act in accordance with professed values.

So where does this all lead? We are on the cusp of recruiting season. I've already made known and taken heat for my view that I do not want to hire anyone who thinks the most important thing I need to know is where he or she went to law school. I also like the suggestion of University of Florida legal counsel that candidates be asked about challenges they have overcome as a way to searching for diversity. (As far as I know this question has not actually been asked.) And, now I would like candidates with a capacity to feel shame. If it's hard wired maybe there is a gene to be isolated or a brain wave test to administered. Maybe, in fact, the test could be administered right after the LSAT. I'm kidding on this but, wouldn't it be nice to know "shame capacity" before hiring people, in most cases, for life?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I've already made known and taken heat for my view that I do not want to hire anyone who thinks the most important thing I need to know is where he or she went to law school."

I don't think this is why you've taken heat, as I think many people agree with you on this point.

I think you take heat for statements such as "I wouldn't hire anyone from an 'elite' law school" and perhaps also for assuming that if education is listed first on a resume (something that is taught in basic resume writing clinics) that the person is someone who thinks place of education is most important.

Query: Do you offer to be on the appointments committee each year? You obviously have strong feelings, and I am wondering whether you ever put them into action.

8/21/2008 10:29 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8/21/2008 10:58 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Thanks for the quick response. Yes, I did say that to be provocative and it was fun to see which cages it rattled. Ironic isn't that it upset so many people who do use the school someone graduated from as a litmus test and then when the table were turned they got all squirmy. In reality it would be silly to have a hard and fast rule simply because not everyone from an elite school is an elitist. On the second matter, I cannot help what resume writing clinics tell people to do and if they are sheep. For me, and perhaps no one else, listing school first is not helpful in the evaluation nor is any appeal to authority. In fact, in terms of importance it ranks quite low.

I do have strong feelings about recruiting and my views are shared by more than you might expect. Actually, if you are a steady reader of moneylaw, you would expect it. Some people who share those views are afraid to express them because they are clearly against the grain. So they complain about the recruiting effort outside of the committee and fall into line within the committee. It is a common pattern. By the way, I have asked to be on appointments with no success. Thanks again for taking the time.

8/21/2008 12:54 PM  
Blogger Mr. B. said...

As was stated recently in another context:

"And it is possible to get a 'Harvard' education at the University of Minnesota, just as it possible to get a 'University of Minnesota' education at Harvard."

And by the way, doesn't shame imply that someone has a conscience?

Write on...


8/22/2008 4:04 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

I think so.

8/22/2008 11:12 PM  

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