John Lobato

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John Lobato is a 3L at Harvard Law School. He also runs another wiki site for the Harvard Law School Audiophiles. You can find his project wiki on liberty and choice in a modern world here. Please feel free to add to the intriguing discussions that are occurring already!

John is also Borgus Dorn in Second Life.


CyberOne: A Unique Journey

Point. Counter-point. Argument. Counter-argument. Typical law school classes follow a routine pattern of adversarial litigation style; such arguments fill the rhetorical space around us for most of our three years. My short time in Cyberone managed to teach me there is something beyond adversarial argument; an empathic style where you understand the other side’s concerns to such a degree that there is not conflict, but discussion. This class, of course, is only the first step in a long process of understanding and applying a new form of persuasive argument. However, I have already seen the way that this style of argument can work through my class project on individual choice and liberty and the user responses that have come on my wiki site. While the class was greatly informative, I also have a couple of recommendations of what can be done to improve it in the future.

Class Experience

The journey to understanding this new form of argument was, and will continue to be, a difficult one. At first, it is antithetical to much of the traditional law school pedagogy. Looking back at some of the earlier assignments I can see how the nature of previous teachings made it more difficult to appreciate the concept and usefulness of empathic argument. The inclination is to fall back on traditional notions—e.g., empathy is simply counter-argument, so address counter-arguments. This was demonstrated by everybody’s confusion over the first writing assignment when many of us simply argued the other side of our issue. Over time, however, it appears that everybody in the class really attempted to engage the material and learn a new style of argument. We turned from simple counter-argument to expressions of concern and empathy. I was extremely impressed by the way many people in the class made a real effort to take on projects and express their ideas in an empathic way. The interactive nature of the course, with devices like the question tool, also allowed for a lot of input on various issues and I think it worked effectively as a means of discussion. Furthermore, testing out new forms of technology such as Scratch, Second Life, and podcasting was a unique experience that opened up a whole new array of tools to communicate with the public. These are tools that, but for the class, I probably would not have interacted with. Now I see them as new forms of teaching—especially Second Life, which makes the possibility of truly open-access and sharing of knowledge a reality.

My Project Experience

I do not use drugs, I have never thought about committing suicide, nor would I engage in many of the decisions that I discussed as part of my Cyber One project. However, in the larger sense, my empathic argument for individual liberty and choice is something that I deeply believe in. I suppose that this dichotomy only made it more possible for me to understand the empathic argument. The fact that my personal choices were different from those that others would take helped me understand the concerns that people would express in response. Interestingly, in the postings to my video and audio podcasts I could see that in attempting to make a more empathic argument, the responses to the issues were also more empathic. The questions that arose in response were not argumentative or adversarial, but rather inquisitive and insightful. I think that in the end, I experienced more success in the development of my wiki than I initially expected. The posters and I managed to engage in many different conversations about the difficulties of the choices and externalities that inherent in those choices. It was a unique experience working on this empthatic style of argument in a cyber-medium, and I look forward to continuing to engage the issues and audiences in the wiki.

I changed my topic late in the semester mostly because the course helped me realize the power of the internet to engage in large-scale discussions. More than a simple issue, I wanted to tackle a topic with many angles, where individuals felt passionately. Accordingly, I could attempt empathic arguments in areas where people were perhaps not as open to the application. Time will tell how that discussion on the wiki turns out, but so far it has been extremely positive.

Despite the benefits of empathic argument in the court of public opinion, and often in the court of law, one of my observations is that it may work differently in the cyber community. A great benefit of the internet is that there exists a forum for people with all kinds of beliefs. It is a non-linear manner of accessing information and people can choose to gather only that information with which they agree or want to see. Unfortunately, in the cyber-medium, it is often easiest to generate “buzz” not by exercising an empathic style of argument, but by developing a niche and taking an extreme position. This generates a quick buzz for those that agree on an extreme view. Of course, this is an issue of buzz and not of persuasion; perhaps two different goals. It appears that empathic argument in a cyber-medium really takes development and appreciation over time in order to generate the same amount of buzz.

Recommendations

With all this knowledge, however, I think that there are a number of ways that the class can be expanded in the future. First, it would be nice to maintain more interaction with those outside of the law school community. One of the great benefits of embracing the cyber-medium is that there are a number of opportunities to work closely with those who have different backgrounds and experiences. At the beginning of the course, it seemed as though that interaction would really grow over the semester, but it began to falter and then each group stayed in their respective spheres. Perhaps more class meetings taking place in Second Life or with Second Life in the background screen, we could interact more with the extension school and at-large audience. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge available in the greater community, especially on many of the technological issues, and the law school students can definitely use the input.

Second, the focus at the end of the class on the projects was really interesting and I thought that student comments and questions about the projects were extremely insightful. It would be great to start out the class by having students immediately contemplate the projects that they want to undertake and discuss the time frame. Additionally, starting a review of projects in the middle of the semester would give students a better idea of understanding whether or not their project is achieving its empathic goal in the court of public opinion.

Conclusion

I hope that I continue to develop the tools I learned from this course; whether in future litigation or negotiation or simply in everyday interactions with others. The value of teachings a style as opposed to merely a subject means that it is something the students will carry with them to every aspect of life, and not simply the practice of law.