There is a difference between focus and exclusion

There’s a thing on imgur being passed around: a letter from “Concerned Students” – which probably just means A Student – to a law professor, and the law professor’s reply. The letter is both fatuous and objectionable, but the reply is a joy. The LP takes it as a teachable moment, and teaches the fuck out of it.

Mavaddat Javid posted it on his blog, which makes it easy to quote from it.

Here’s the beginning of the letter, to give a taste of its bullying tone and its faulty logic:

We write this letter to you with concern about your inappropriate conduct at ████ Law School.
Specifically you have presented yourself on campus, on at least one occasion, wearing a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt. We believe this is an inappropriate and unnecessary statement that has no legitimate place within our institution of higher learning. The statement you represented and endorsed is also highly offensive and extremely inflammatory. We are here to learn the law. We do not spend three years of our lives and tens of thousands of dollars to be subjected to indoctrination or personal opinions of our professors.
████ Law School has prided itself on the diverse demographics represented within the student body. Your actions however, clearly represent your view that some of those demographics matter more than others. That alienates and isolates all non-black groups.

As someone who is charged to teach criminal law, it should be abundantly clear to you and beyond any question that ALL lives matter, as it is expressed unequivocally in the law. Furthermore, the “Black Lives Matter” statement is racist and anti-law enforcement and has been known to incite violence in this country. As someone who is paid to teach the law, you should be ashamed of yourself.

And for the fun part, some of the LP’s teaching. Do read the whole thing.

When your argument is based on a series of premises, you should be aware of them. You should also be aware that if any of these premises are factually flawed or illogical, or if the reader simply doesn’t accept them, your message will collapse from lack of support. Here is a short list of some of the premises in your memo, and my critique of them.

Premise: You have purchased, with your tuition dollars, the right to make demands upon the institution and the people in it and to dictate the content of your legal education.

Critique: I do not subscribe to the “consumer model” of legal education. As a consequence, I believe in your entitlement to assert your needs and desires even more strongly than you do. You would be just as entitled to express yourself to us if the law school were entirely tuition free. This is because you are a student, not because you are a consumer.

Isn’t that beautifully done? LP doesn’t accept CS’s premise that students’ rights can be bought and sold, and thus LP has a stronger belief in CS’s student rights than CS does. Very very elegant.

Premise: You know more about legal education than I do.

Critique: You don’t.

Most of the critiques are detailed and argumentative. That one isn’t.

Premise: There is an invisible “only” in front of the words “Black Lives Matter.”

Critique: There is a difference between focus and exclusion. If something matters, this does not imply that nothing else does. If I say “Law Students Matter” it does not imply that my colleagues, friends, and family do not. Here is something else that matters: context. The Black Lives Matter movement arose in a context of evidence that they don’t. When people are receiving messages from the culture in which they live that their lives are less important than other lives, it is a cruel distortion of reality to scold them for not being inclusive enough.

I would make one small edit there – it should be “If one says something matters, this does not imply that nothing else does.” Two more words. And no, it does not, just as if one says women are people this does not imply that men are not. I’m getting very bored with people ignoring that obvious truth.

Premise: What you think something means is the same as what it actually means.

Critique: We are all entitled to (and should make every effort to) discern meaning. There can be reasonable differences of opinion about what something means. Something can even carry a meaning that has a larger life of its own, regardless of the meaning ascribed to it by a particular person. For example, the flag of the Confederacy carries the meaning of white supremacy, even if a particular person thinks it only means “tradition.” One person, or even a group of people, cannot take away the flag’s odious meaning just by declaring that it means something else. Similarly, ascribing a negative meaning where none exists does not bring that meaning into being.

As a factual matter, I’m not sure that last sentence is accurate. Ascribing a negative (I would call it pejorative) meaning can bring that meaning into being if there’s a receptive audience for it. Lies can be believed. It’s more accurate to say that ascribing a pejorative meaning does not automatically change what people originally meant.

Anyway – read the whole thing.

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