Mon Mar 10th, 2014 at 01:13:47 PM EST
The ideological structure of a legitimated scam
by LAWPROF at Inside the Law School Scam (H/T epochepoque)
"Ideology" can mean a number of things. I'm using it here in the sense of the received consciousness of a particular social order, which legitimates that order and helps reproduce it. The lawyer and sociologist David Riesman aptly described how ideological modes of thought produce a kind of "sincere" mental state that allows someone to habitually believe his own propaganda. A dominant ideology generates a set of views that distort social reality in a particular way: in a way which advances the economic interests of the dominant group, without the members of the group becoming conscious of the fact that they believe what they believe because it is in their self-interest to believe it.
A simple example might be how the ideology of free enterprise capitalism in early 21st century America creates a sincere belief in the mind of a hedge fund manager that paying himself a salary of one billion dollars, which is then taxed at a lower rate than the salary of the average American full-time worker, is wealth maximizing for society as a whole, and therefore by definition a good thing.
Indeed! How is our present world anything but competing legitimated scams? (More below the fold.)
An unavoidable difficulty that arises when one points out that in many respects contemporary American legal education functions as a scam is that this observation creates a defensive reaction, which involves claiming that it isn't a scam because no one consciously intends that it be one. Now this claim about the scam's lack of intentionality is for the most part true. I very much doubt that, even now, more than a small minority of people in legal academia understand themselves to be participating in a scam, and the size of the subset of people within that group who intend that it should be one may well be literally zero.
The overwhelming majority of legal academics would most sincerely and vehemently deny that law school is a scam. Now if, despite this deeply sincere belief, law school functions as a scam anyway, then what we're dealing with is what can be called a legitimated scam. A legitimated scam is a scam which is not understood to be such by those profiting from it, but which is interpreted as being something else altogether. It will be seen that what a legitimated scam requires is an ideology -- a set of beliefs that allow those who profit from the structure of the enterprise to misunderstand the nature of that structure, in a way that allows them to behave in a fashion that advances their own interests, while at the same time believing (again, with all sincerity) that the purpose of their behavior is something else.
This is what makes the law school scam fundamentally different, as a qualitative matter, from something like Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Madoff, assuming he hadn't become what the mental health profession would characterize as delusional, did not understand himself to be doing anything other than ripping off his customers. He was not, in other words, functioning under any ideological misapprehensions. He was simply stealing from people, and he knew it (some of the people from whom he was stealing surely suspected what he was doing, in which case they, too, were stealing from fellow participants in the scam).
Then proceeds a list of all the supposed justifications for Law School.