Anne Hubert

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I have approached this document as a snapshot of thoughts that have crossed my mind, some for more prolonged periods than others, at various points during this course.

It has been an interesting experience – and I will call it an experience, as it has been more alive than most courses, more open to changing and adjusting as all of us learned both about the subject and about the form of the course. That quality of experimenting, and “learning how to learn” as Prof. Nesson mentioned on the last day, was refreshing, and I think, a good place to start. The story of the dog on the grid and its lesson about managing what we do when we feel stupid could well be the theme of this course. In a way, we were trying the whole time to learn, and learning how we learn, and adjusting and learning more in the elegantly recursive way you suggested, Prof. Nesson.

At the same time, that learning requires – and also encourages – self-awareness. The requests for feedback required us as students to be honest about what we thought about the course, demanding that we survey our own responses, and share them frequently. Through this process I became far more aware of what moved me both positively and negatively during the course.

But awareness of the self was not the end in itself. It was a means to understanding the other – and this seems to me the basis of empathic argument. Understanding your opposition requires both that you know yourself and your position well, so well that you can understand its weaknesses and holes. This awareness of the “interpretive stance” – that there is no escaping interpretation, bias (though even that word seems to suggest that it is avoidable somewhere) – opens up so many possibilities in argument, not just for persuasion but also for new territory for agreement and shared ground.

Connecting the study of law to the study of computers and technology generally was something that resonated with me deeply. In fact, this connection is what motivated me to come to law school in the first place. I was reminded of this, and found the essay that I wrote to apply to law school, and thought the following passage summed up well my take at that point, now three years ago:

“In college, I was first captivated by philosophers who wrote about how systems as disparate as our brains, languages and governments are set up. I quickly found that computer programming provided a forum in which I could create systems and explore the tradeoffs in efficiency, feasibility, and elegance that their designers must make. My fascination with these subjects led me to the Symbolic Systems Program, an interdisciplinary major that includes coursework in computer science, philosophy, linguistics and psychology. Through the combination of these core subjects, I explored how sets of symbols, ranging from machines to languages and human brains, gain knowledge and represent meaning…[During my time working on Capitol Hill,] whether crafting new legislation or recommending a policy position, I have had the opportunity to explore the set of circumstances and incentives that drive a variety of distinct policy areas, and I have gained a new perspective on the kinds of tradeoffs our system of laws makes. My interest in systems has drawn me to the pursuit of a formal legal education. I want to understand the subtleties of the laws we have created, and the incentives and outcomes they create for different groups of people. Countless times each day, I feel as if I am getting to know the specific set of circumstances surrounding a minute policy area, and I crave an understanding of the system as a whole, a more comprehensive, rigorous look at the set of laws to which we have agreed.”

Your comments in the last class, Prof. Nesson, suggested a connection between programming with computers and practicing the law, as well, something beyond the connections I had considered. The idea of algorithmic thinking in the practice of law – or the learning in law school – and hopefully life! – is a powerful one, and something that I think applies across disciplines.

Now I suspect that you will get some commentary from my classmates that the course goals were vague and often unclear. And I too shared that sentiment at a few points during the course. But again, this taught me something about learning – that real experimentation is difficult, requires patience, is filled with mistakes as well as successes. And as a class, I think we learned by the end that arriving at particular project topics helped crystallize just what we were aiming for, and gave us shape in which to explore the rhetorical challenge of persuasion in cybermedia. And so…

My Project

Creating a blog on the topic I chose – people who finance their own campaigns for public office – has been an interesting and far more exciting project than I imagined at the outset. To be honest, I was skeptical about this project. I understood and had seen the value in trying to construct the empathic arguments and understanding my opposition. Rhetorically, I was on board. But I wasn’t convinced that actually producing an argument in a cybermedium was going to teach me anything further, or enable me to discover anything I hadn’t already. It felt a little artificial.

What I found, though, was that actually inserting my voice into the public debate was exhilarating. The form of the blog – or maybe the attitude of cyberspace altogether? – felt forgiving, far more so than I had anticipated. I think I hadn’t participated in online discussions or formats before because I somehow felt that my arguments weren’t ready, that I wasn’t enough of an expert, that I couldn’t offer anything that was the perfect representation of my thoughts, of me. But adding my voice to the mix in this project made me reconsider what speaking and creating an identity online really is, and it’s not as definitive as I had imagined. I am expressing a point of view. One that may change, that is surely flawed, but also may have some merit, an interesting dimension or form or perspective that is useful or interesting to another. Seeing others respond to my position, whether they are agreeing or critiquing it, has been exciting.

It has also shown me something about the need for my own passion about what I am saying. I inadvertently chose a topic that is not highly controversial or urgent, and in fact points to several more immediately compelling issues (campaign finance reform generally, questions about the agency problems of representative government). It’s even arguable that I am defending the status quo – a far cry from a call to public action. I guess I’ll take away from this experience that you do not make arguments in a vacuum. The context around you matters. But given the enterprise of learning about learning, I will take that lesson as something useful to have seen and hope to have another cause to learn – and deepen my own self-awareness – again soon.

Thanks for such a daring course.