Brian Leiter on "American Law Schools and the Psychology of Cyber-Hysteria"

American Law Schools and the Psychology of Cyber-Hysteria
Brian Leiter
The Huffington Post
December 31, 2013

Previously, I wrote about how the steep decline in applications to law schools was an unsurprising "consumer" response to the downturn in the legal sector in the wake of the financial crisis and the recognition that student debt was no longer dischargeable in bankruptcy. What was surprising, however, was the new "meme" that took hold in cyberspace: this economic catastrophe was the fault of law schools and law professors. The psychology of this "meme" is our topic here.

In 1887, the philosopher Nietzsche observed that,

Every sufferer instinctively looks for a cause of its distress, more exactly, for a culprit, even more precisely for a guilty culprit who is receptive to distress--in short, for a living being upon whom he can release his emotions, actually or in effigy, on some pretext or other; because the release of emotions is the greatest attempt at relief, or should I say, anaestheticizing on the part of the sufferer.

His hypothesis -- that those suffering look for someone to blame in order to anaesthetize their pain -- is now well-supported by work in empirical psychology.

There is, undoubtedly, considerable suffering among recent law school graduates: unemployment, jobs lost, crushing debts. Some unhappy law graduates have taken to the Internet in search of an explanation for the economic catastrophe they find themselves in. They quickly settled on an "explanation," a "guilty culprit": law schools, by presenting misleadingly optimistic employment data, had induced innocents to enroll who never would have gone to law school. "Law school is a scam," they declared.

Brian Leiter