On creative destruction, radical disruption, and other extreme makeovers

Usually not the answer (image courtesy of clipart-library.com)

During the past few weeks, I’ve been giving some thought to two radical ideas that are floating around out in our public discourse.

One is coming from the far right: An organizing effort to hold a new Constitutional Convention, presumably to radically remake the U.S. Constitution. In the extreme right-wing fantasy mode, this would include removing federal authority to regulate things like environmental safety, health care, workers’ and civil rights, and various social and economic safety net provisions. As Carl Hulse reports for the New York Times:

Representative Jodey Arrington, a conservative Texas Republican, believes it is well past time for something the nation has not experienced for more than two centuries: a debate over rewriting the Constitution.

“I think the states are due a convention,” said Mr. Arrington, who in July introduced legislation to direct the archivist of the United States to tally applications for a convention from state legislatures and compel Congress to schedule a gathering when enough states have petitioned for one. “It is time to rally the states and rein in Washington responsibly.”

To Russ Feingold, the former Democratic senator from Wisconsin and president of the American Constitution Society, a liberal judicial group, that is a terrible idea. Mr. Feingold sees the prospect of a constitutional convention as an exceptionally dangerous threat from the right and suggests it is closer to reality than most people realize as Republicans push to retake control of Congress in November’s midterm elections.

The second idea I’ve been pondering is coming from the far left: It’s a call, well, to abolish work. I’m not talking about instituting a 4-day work week, or beefing up unemployment benefits, or tackling stuff like bullying and harassment. These folks literally want to end work, while assuming that all of life’s necessities will somehow be provided for. Nicole Froio advances the idea for Yes! magazine:

What if we abolished the institution of work?

If we were not required to work to pay for basic rights, such as food, shelter, and water, could we embrace radical solutions to change the current state of our society?

…Online, the rejection of the idea of work itself is a growing trend across social media platforms. . . . One TikToker’s message—“Fuck this, I don’t want to work for the rest of my life :(”—received thousands of likes and comments in agreement. On Twitter, where the constant barrage of negative news is constantly dissected and commented on, posters point out how capitalism keeps marching on despite the unconscionable tragedies we’ve all had to digest in the past two and a half years….On Reddit, the “antiwork” community (the r/antiwork subreddit) has 2 million subscribers who can easily access an online library about the abolition of work and exchange experiences with each other about the jobs they don’t want to do. The motto of this subreddit, whose members call themselves “idlers,” is “Unemployment for all, not just the rich!”

Personally, I’m much more concerned about a radical Constitutional Convention fueled by conspiracy-loving extremists than the highly unlikely prospect of everyone suddenly deciding to stop working. On the former, I believe we are in a precarious time as a working democracy. On the latter, while fully recognizing that our world of work needs fixing (my main focus for decades), I have not encountered any viable proposal that replaces working for pay.

In any event, the common threads between these ideas and others at the margins are the superficially attractive notions of “creative destruction,” “blowing things up,” “radical disruption,” and “starting all over” — all so we can get it just right this time.

Such thinking can be enormously appealing when the status quo seems deeply flawed. I’ve felt that way about certain matters myself.

But hold on a minute. What makes us think that we can do a clean sweep and nail the remake simply because, hey, we’re here?

There are many problems with the let’s-blow-it-up mentality.

First, calls for extreme makeovers are often driven by extreme points of view that aren’t deeply shared by the wide swath of people. Quick, dramatic fixes have great superficial attraction, especially when compared to the toil of digging into the nuances of complicated problems. They may sound especially attractive to those who aren’t thinking critically and who assume that only good can result from these efforts.

Second, when inflexible and/or extreme views prompt radical change, they often ignore or overlook the realities of unanticipated bad consequences. When anyone assumes a superior level of knowledge that justifies turning everything upside down and starting all over again, it’s usually wise to slow down and start asking questions.

Finally, extreme proposals for change tend to neglect collateral damage, by disregarding or minimizing the costs to those whose lives and circumstances are upended in the process. This encourages a sort of casual “othering” that easily dismisses the interests of those who are not in our core circles.

Given a choice, I usually prefer evolution to revolution, guided by courage, kindness, foresight, and wisdom. I have been an advocate for change for as long as I can remember, and that journey has taught me — sometimes by reckoning with my own erroneous assumptions — that most serious public challenges are multifaceted in nature and require thoughtful responses based on an understanding of systems and human imperfections.

I realize that I’m talking in somewhat abstract terms here. But if this prompts you to ask questions of, and require details from, the next person who bellows that it’s time for an extreme makeover that starts from scratch, then I will consider this short writing to be a successful one.

On making a difference through writing

On this day of remembrance here in the U.S., I thought I’d pull together a collection of past articles related to the theme of writing, especially those forms designed to make a difference in this world — which, when you think about it, is the larger contribution of just about all good writing. And, of course, the earliest piece starts with coffee.

Using scholarship to make a difference (2020) (link here) — “When I first became a law professor, I was skeptical about the potential of legal scholarship to influence law reform. My intention was to do scholarship in sufficient volume and quality to earn tenure, and then to pursue writing and activist projects that didn’t involve lots of citations and footnotes.”

The privileges of creating a “body of work” (2019) (link here) — “Four years ago, I wrote about Pamela Slim‘s Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together (2013), which invites us to examine — in the author’s words — ‘the personal legacy you leave at the end of your life, including all the tangible and intangible things you have created’…”

On the social responsibilities of writers (2019) (link here) — “I’d like to take a Sunday dive into the nature of writing to fuel positive individual and social change. This may be especially relevant to readers who write about fostering psychologically healthier workplaces that are free from bullying, mobbing, and abuse.”

Even Shakespeare had a writing circle (2017) (link here) — “It was an interesting exhibition, and here’s what specially caught my eye: Shakespeare was part of a writing circle — Elizabethan style!”

Author Jenna Blum: “I didn’t become a writer to not say what I believe in” (link here) — “On Saturday, Jenna was the featured speaker for a program hosted by the Boston chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, speaking on the ‘crucial role of women’s literary voices in literature in the current political climate, and the fusing of art, writing, and activism.'”

How do you take and keep notes? (2017) (link here) — “At annual board meetings and workshops of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network in New York City, I’ve taken delight in watching peace educator Janet Gerson‘s use of hardcover sketchbooks to take and preserve her notes, as well as to host her artistic forays and distractions.”

Three great authors on writing to make a difference (2015) (link here) — “For fresh, inspiring outlooks on the uses of writing and scholarship to make a difference, I often listen to voices outside of mainstream academe. Here I happily gather together three individuals, Ronald Gross, Mary Pipher, and John Ohliger, whose names I have invoked previously on this blog.”

Embracing creative dreams at midlife (2010, rev. 2018) (link here) — “Hilda’s desire to write novels was evident in college, but getting married, raising a family in Valparaiso, and becoming a high school English teacher would come first. However, she never let go of the idea of a writing life, and over the years she would exchange ideas, essays, and chapter drafts with friends and family members.”

Intellectual activism and social change (2013) (link here) — “For some time I’ve been studying a topic that I’ve labeled ‘intellectual activism,’ the practice of using scholarly research and writing to inform, shape, and influence social change initiatives.”

Mary Pipher on Writing to Change the World (2012) (link here) — “For all in this broad category, Mary Pipher’s Writing to Change the World (2006) is instructive and inspirational. Pipher is a bestselling author and therapist. Her book reflects upon the uses of writing to make a positive difference.”

Collegiate reflections: Working on the campus newspaper (2012) (link here) — “The Torch was the most important extracurricular experience of my college career. The topics of my articles and columns were limited largely to campus issues, but even this was heady business for me. There was something powerful and scary about writing pieces for publication with my byline appended.”

Coffee and work (2011) (link here) — “Coffee seems to be especially associated with writers. Crookes invokes J.K. Rowling, Marina Fiorato, Ernest Hemingway, Henrik Ibsen, and Malcolm Gladwell as examples of writers drawn to cafes and coffee shops to do their work.”

Storytelling to change the world: Skip the PowerPoint?

From the Harvard Business Review

Writer and communication coach Carmine Gallo, writing on “What the Best Presenters Do Differently” for the Harvard Business Review (link here), reminds us of the importance of storytelling in trying to reach an audience:

Our minds are wired for story. We think in narrative and enjoy consuming content in story form.

Understanding the difference between presenting and storytelling is critical to a leader’s ability to engage an audience and move them to action. Unfortunately, presentation software often gets in the way. Slides should be designed to complement a story, not to replace the storyteller.

Gallo offers five core pieces of advice, and I’d recommend the full article for anyone who wants to dive into the detail. For this post, however, I want to emphasize Gallo’s first point: “Presenters open PowerPoint. Storytellers craft a narrative.” He adds:

If you want to engage your audience, you have to tell a story. But for most people who prepare presentations, storytelling is not top of mind.

Most “presenters” do what sounds logical: They begin by opening the slideware. But most presentation programs aren’t storytelling tools. They’re digital delivery mechanisms. PowerPoint’s default template asks for a title and text.

A bulleted list is not a story. A story is a connected series of events told through words and/or pictures. A story has a theme, attention-grabbing moments, heroes and villains, and a satisfying conclusion. Nicely designed slides cannot compensate for a poorly structured story.

OK, I’m biased. I’m a frequent public speaker, and I tend to get very positive feedback on talks before groups, both in-person and online. I think this has something to do with my not using PowerPoint.

Even when I’m not telling a story per se, I’m trying to educate and persuade an audience, typically about workplace bullying, dignity at work, or workers and workplaces generally. If an audience doesn’t know me, then I also have to establish my credibility and personal appeal, in addition to offering my content. Which brings me to…

…Aristotle’s On Rhetoric

In his work On Rhetoric, Aristotle — one of the greatest of the Ancient Greek philosophers — outlined three major properties of speech for purposes of persuasion:

  • Logos, or the core logic of the speaker’s argument;
  • Ethos, or the speaker’s essential credibility; and,
  • Pathos, or the speaker’s emotional appeal.

Of these three properties, logos can be translated into PowerPoint content, but ethos and pathos come from the speaker. The latter are harder to convey when the lights are dimmed and folks are gazing at slides flashing by on a screen. After all, one’s credibility and personal appeal come from developing a rapport with an audience.

In a typical 10-20 minute presentation, that means making a personal connection quickly. It’s still vitally important even if you have the stage for, say, 30-60 minutes.

Looking at those classic Greek philosophers, would Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, or Homer have used PowerPoint had such wiz-bang technology been available back in their day? Maybe, but if so, they would’ve done so sparingly, I think. In Homer’s case, I think he would’ve stuck to the tried-and-true oral tradition.

I understand the usefulness of PowerPoint and similar platforms for presenting content. They can be very useful for certain types of teaching, as well. But if a speaker wants to persuade rather than merely inform, then I believe the Aristotelian properties of logos, ethos, and pathos counsel in favor of pulling up the screen and looking at one’s audience in the eye.

***

Related posts

  • Stories can drive change, but workplace bullying stories often defy quick summaries (2016) (link here)
  • Storytelling for social change (2015) (link here)

Sharing insights about workplace bullying and mobbing in SafeHarbor, Part I

During the past few months, I’ve become a regular visitor and contributor to SafeHarbor (link here), the online site created last year by Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, to serve as “a community dedicated to the people affected by workplace bullying and those devoted to helping them.” Especially for those who are experiencing or recovering from bullying or mobbing at work, I give this site my fulsome recommendation.

SafeHarbor has quickly grown into a respectful and supportive patch of the internet, with several hundred people becoming members. I have been impressed and downright touched by the depth of humanity demonstrated over and again by SafeHarbor participants. 

I’m going to say more about SafeHarbor in subsequent blog posts. For now, I’m also going to start sharing some of the pieces that I’ve posted for folks there, based on the tenor and subject matter of conversations that are occurring. Here’s the first round:

  • Viktor Frankl on finding meaning in the face of great adversity (2016) (link here)
  • Helping targets of workplace bullying: The need for an integrated counseling approach (2010, rev. 2021) (link here)
  • When a promotion leads to a body snatching (2015) (link here)
  • Professional schools as incubators for workplace bullying (2012; rev. 2019) (link here)
  • Ruminating, problem solving, and coping in the midst of work abuse (2018) (link here)
  • Workplace bullying: Acknowledging grief (2017) (link here)
  • Captain Ahab of “Moby-Dick”: Workplace trauma sufferer, bullying boss, or both? (2020) (link here)
  • Triple jeopardy: Workplace bullying at midlife (2013) (link here)
  • Applying Psychological First Aid to workplace bullying and mobbing (2019) (link here)
  • Lessons from “Spotlight” for combating interpersonal abuse (2017  ) (link here)
  • On following evil orders at work (2019) (link here)
  • “Should I stay or should I go?” Career insights from Seth Godin and The Clash (2011) (link here)

If you’re recovering from bullying or mobbing at work, consider SafeHarbor

Those who have experienced workplace bullying or mobbing often find themselves in search of helpful, authoritative guidance and support for responding to, and recovering from, their situations. Now, the Workplace Bullying Institute and its co-founder, Dr. Gary Namie, have launched SafeHarbor (link here), “a community dedicated to the people affected by workplace bullying and those devoted to helping them.” Initial membership is free-of-charge, and those who join may take part in facilitated discussions and groups, as well as interact on a one-to-one basis.

From the SafeHarbor website, these are the offerings:

    • Valuable, ongoing content and discussions related to workplace bullying

    • Mindfully curated role-focused groups

    • One-on-one introduction to members with overlapping interests

    • Regular online meetings with Gary on topics that matter to you and your work

    • Direct messaging with fellow members

    • Affordable Courses for Survivors, Mental Health and Legal Professionals, Union Reps, Advocates, and Stakeholders

Finding the right helping modalities in response to work abuse is a very individualized matter. SafeHarbor could well be a life-changing point of contact for those who have been targeted. To date, some 270 people have become part of this important and exciting initiative.

Recent related posts

On peer support groups for those who have experienced workplace bullying and mobbing (2019; rev. 2021) (link here) — “With all this in mind, I decided to gather together some resources and suggestions that may be useful to those who are participating in peer support groups for targets, especially those who are organizing and facilitating them.”

“How can I make a living doing workplace anti-bullying work?” (2019) (link here) — “Over the past few months, I’ve had several conversations and exchanges with folks about options for making a living doing workplace anti-bullying work. My upshot? One should look to incorporate workplace bullying and mobbing projects and initiatives into an existing work portfolio, in a compatible vocation. Otherwise, it is more realistic to be doing anti-bullying work as a meaningful part-time avocation.”

A short list of recommended books for targets of workplace bullying and mobbing (2019) (link here) — “When someone is experiencing workplace bullying or mobbing, understanding what’s happening and assessing options are vitally important towards finding a way to a better place. . . . However, the volume of resources may seem overwhelming, so I thought I’d offer a very selective list of four affordable books that I repeatedly recommend to others.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Devoted and skilled advocate for equal rights and equal opportunity

The passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a deeply sad and momentous occasion. As an Associate Justice of the Court, Justice Ginsburg was a steady and passionate voice for equal rights and equal opportunity. Given the moniker the “Notorious RBG,” she became a hero and pop culture icon to so many women, especially, who rightly looked to her as a role model.

Justice Ginsburg’s important contributions to American jurisprudence will be studied by lawyers, judges, law professors, and law students for many years. After all, the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the voting patterns and written opinions of individual Justices, attract considerable attention. Every American law student takes a required course in Constitutional Law, where Supreme Court cases interpreting the U.S. Constitution form the main focus of study. In my Employment Discrimination course, we devote primary attention to Supreme Court decisions interpreting major federal employment discrimination laws.

Ginsburg’s death leaves a significant void on the Court and has triggered what will be an ugly and divisive political battle over the confirmation of her successor. If Donald Trump and Senate leader Mitch McConnell succeed in filling this vacancy, it is likely that the ideological balance of the Court will be tipped in a way that threatens reversals in women’s rights, workers’ rights, and civil rights generally for a generation.

Attorney Ginsburg

But I shall leave that for a later commentary. Rather, as we reflect upon Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s signature contributions, I’d like to focus on her legacy as a public interest lawyer. Even had she never sat for a day on America’s highest court, her work as a pioneering advocate for needed changes in the law would have left a great record of accomplishment. As Moira Donegan writes for the Guardian (link here):

Strategic, contemplative and disciplined, but with a passion for the feminist cause that is rarely admitted into the halls of power, Ginsburg established an impressive legal legacy long before she became a judge. Over the course of a two-decade career as a lawyer before her appointment to the DC circuit court of appeals, she successfully argued cases that expanded civil rights law and 14th amendment protections to women, undoing a dense network of laws that had codified sex discrimination in all areas of American life.

***

Ginsburg is the rare supreme court justice whose most significant work was done before she joined the court….Ginsburg personally argued six gender discrimination cases before the then all-male supreme court, winning five. She built on her victories one by one, establishing precedents that made future victories easier to win.

***

First was Reed v Reed (1971), a monumental victory that struck down an Idaho law favoring men over women in estate battles. That case extended the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment to women, barring laws that discriminated by sex. Ginsburg followed this case with victories in Frontiero v Richardson (1973), barring gender discrimination in compensation of military members, and Weinberger v Wiesenfeld (1975), striking down gender discrimination in state benefits. Her tactics were savvy; she framed gender discrimination in ways that made the practice seem unreasonable even to hardened misogynists.

Indeed, perhaps Attorney Ginsburg’s body of work best informs everyday lawyers and law students who wish to use their training to advocate for desired changes in the law. While serving as a law professor at the Columbia and Rutgers law schools in the 1970s, she forged an association with the American Civil Liberties Union that would fuel her advocacy work. This included co-founding the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and serving as its General Counsel. The period covered much of her most significant civil rights litigation work.

It is a testament to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s character, determination, and ability that she has left multiple legacies. Among these, her work on the Supreme Court will be the defining one to many. But I hope that lawyers and law students, particularly, won’t forget her vital contributions as a legal advocate.

Developing our 2020 vision

In an opinion piece for the Boston Globe last week (link here), veteran journalist and editor David Shribman speculated on how the momentous events of this year will shape, in one form or another, the rest of our lives. Here’s a good snippet:

It is only June, and so far the crises of the age — along with the diminution of the country’s international profile, the coarsening of the civic debate, the looming bitter election — comprise a page the country has not yet turned. But it’s clear that the year 2020 is a turning point — in public health, in public debate, in public affairs.

“This will be a year that lives eternally in the history books,’’ Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley said in an interview. “The country has a clear election decision, we have to decide whether we will be a global leader or revert to bedrock nationalism, and all the while a pandemic rages and the cities burn. Not since 1968 have things been so decision-fraught. We are going to have to decide what kind of people we are going to be. One way or the other, this year will be remembered as a turning point.”

History is full of turning points, moments when the patterns of human affairs are upended, when great disruptions course through the culture, when tranquility is shattered, assumptions are blown apart, whole ways of thinking and behaving are transformed.

As you can see, Shribman quotes Douglas Brinkley, a prominent American historian who is not one to overuse phrases such as “a year that lives eternally in the history books” and “(w)e are going to have to decide what kind of people we are going to be.”

With what feels like lightning speed, we now find ourselves in a truly momentous time. No wonder so many feel overwhelmed and powerless as individuals.

But let’s look at this differently. During the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, thinking, and talking with folks (via Zoom, FaceTime, and email) about our current state of affairs. I don’t have any great epiphanies as to grand fixes, but I now understand that this pain and tumult provide opportunities to make important changes in our society.

So I find myself asking over and again, how can we, individually and collectively, create our respective visions for making a positive difference in the world?

Speaking personally, I remain devoted to the work that has been motivating me for many years. As I suggested a month ago, workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse aren’t about to go away because of our experiences of the past few months. So many other labor and employment issues merit our attention as well. As we haltingly return to our physical workspaces, the quest for dignity at work continues.

Of course, there’s much more to address: Global climate change is real, despite the efforts of those who try to deny or obscure the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence. The coronavirus pandemic is teaching us about the vulnerability of our public health systems and economic safety nets. And especially here in America, the current protests prompted by the police killing of George Floyd remind us of the continuing presence of racial injustice and systemic abuse. To name a few.

OK, so individually we cannot do it all, but we can be allies and supporters. And we can help connect these causes together, as part of a working agenda toward a better world.

***

Which brings me to folks roughly around my age (late Boomers, early Gen Xers), especially, who are faced with the question of how we will use our remaining productive years. To this consideration I’d like to reintroduce two frames that I’ve discussed before on this blog, legacy work and body of work:

Legacy work

By “legacy work” I mean our core contributions and accomplishments, the stuff we’d like to be remembered for in the longer run and by people we care about. In the realm of vocation, it may involve creative or intellectual work, achievement in business, service to others, building something, activism and social change work, or some type of innovation or invention.

Body of work

Pamela Slim, author of Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together (2013), defines her operative term this way:

Your body of work is everything you create, contribute, affect, and impact. For individuals, it is the personal legacy you leave at the end of your life, including all the tangible and intangible things you have created.

Most of us won’t appear in the history books, and so perhaps our stories will go with us, at least beyond our immediate circles of family and friends. However, if we have some ability to define our personal legacy and our body of work, then perhaps we owe ourselves and others some consideration of how we can make the world a better place, given the challenging opportunities before us.

Dear reader, I won’t try to prescribe that path for you, but I hope these thoughts will help to prompt your way. After all, we sometimes have more power than we think we have. There’s no better time to utilize it than now.

On the rhetoric of change: I’ll take “evolution” and “transformation” over “revolution” and “creative destruction,” thank you

Seeking the light (photo: DY)

This may sound a little abstract, but I’ve been paying attention lately to the rhetoric associated with perceived needs for dramatic change. Among other things, some political activists call for “revolution,” while certain business innovators call for “creative destruction.”

Perhaps I’m getting soft, but I’ve come around to favoring dramatic change in the forms of “evolution” and “transformation.” You might consider this a matter of mere semantics — the kind of distinctions a geeky professor (i.e., me) might make — but I believe the connotations accompanying these terms play out tangibly in terms of actions.

Whether it’s political “revolution” or capitalistic “creative destruction,” the inevitable human casualties that accompany such sudden transitions are too often treated as acceptable collateral damage. After all, “blowing up stuff” (hopefully figuratively) often means that people are going to get hurt.

OK, I confess, as far as pathways to change go, I’m not a revolutionary or a creative destruction guy. I believe in a mixed economy with strong private, public, and non-profit sectors, offering opportunities for enterprise, efficient public services, humane social safety nets, and protections in the form of checks & balances. My politics are that of an old-fashioned liberal, holding that government can and should serve the common good. My views on law and public policy are critically informed by the school of therapeutic jurisprudence, which calls upon us to view our laws and legal institutions through a lens of human dignity and societal well-being.

That said, I do believe that our world needs some dramatic changes. Indeed, for over a decade, I’ve used this blog and other platforms to urge that our workplace laws and policies should advance human dignity. Our obsessions with short-term profits and excesses of managerial power have led to a lot of innocent people paying the price. More broadly, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted serious, pre-existing fault lines in our health care and economic systems. Global climate change is an existential threat to humanity.

Some folks are benefiting mightily under these conditions. Even during this pandemic, news accounts have documented how powerful billionaires have built wealth, while countless millions of others have lost their jobs.

Needed evolution and transformation can occur, but it won’t be easy. Here in the U.S., for example, the past 40 years have served as a case study of what happens when power corrupts and values become distorted. The past few years have taken us much deeper down that rabbit hole. Between this terrible pandemic and the pending 2020 election, I feel as though we in America have one last chance to turn things around. I hope we will summon the wisdom and humanity to do so.

Using scholarship to make a difference

I’ve been spending large chunks of recent weekends working away on a law review article about therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), the school of legal thought that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws, legal systems, and legal institutions. In this article I’m trying to pull together many aspects of TJ as a field of study, scholarship, and practice. As steady readers of this blog may know, I’ve been deeply involved in the TJ community for many years. TJ’s emphasis on the psychological impact of the law and the importance of human dignity has strongly shaped my own thinking and scholarship.

When I first became a law professor, I was skeptical about the potential of legal scholarship to influence law reform. My intention was to do scholarship in sufficient volume and quality to earn tenure, and then to pursue writing and activist projects that didn’t involve lots of citations and footnotes.

But my final law review article before going up for tenure was my first piece about the legal implications of workplace bullying, “The Phenomenon of ‘Workplace Bullying’ and the Need for Status-Blind Hostile Work Environment Protection,” published by the Georgetown Law Journal in 2000. (Go here for free pdf.) The response to that article helped to persuade me that scholarship can make a difference in the real world. And so I continue to go at it.

In the meantime, I’ve also written two law review articles that dig into the practice of legal scholarship and how it can be used to engage in law and policy reform activities.

The first article is “Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Practice of Legal Scholarship,” published by the University of Memphis Law Review in 2010. (Go here for free pdf.) Here’s the abstract describing it:

The culture of legal scholarship has become preoccupied with article placement, citations, and download numbers, thus obscuring a deeper appreciation for the contributions of scholarly work. This article proposes that therapeutic jurisprudence (“TJ”), a theoretical framework that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of the law and legal practice, provides us with tools for understanding and changing that culture.

More prescriptively, the article applies a TJ lens to: (1) identify a set of good practices for legal scholarship; (2) examine the TJ movement as an example of healthy scholarly practice; (3) consider the role of law professors as intellectual activists; and, (4) propose that law schools nurture a scholar-practitioner orientation in their students to help them become more engaged members of the legal profession.

As law review articles go, it’s a fairly brisk piece that covers a lot of ground about the culture of scholarship in American legal education and proposes ways to make the practice of legal scholarship more genuine and attentive to addressing challenges of law and policy.

The second article is “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law,” published by the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice in 2016. (Go here to freely download a pdf of the article.) Here’s the abstract describing it:

Intellectual activism is both a philosophy and a practice for engaging in scholarship relevant to real-world problems and challenges, putting its prescriptions into action, and learning from the process and results of implementation. In the legal context, intellectual activism involves conducting and publishing original research and analysis and then applying that work to the tasks of reforming and improving the law, legal systems, and the legal profession. This article explores the concept and practice of intellectual activism for the benefit of interested law professors, lawyers, and law students.

This is a very personal piece, grounded in extensive scholarly, public education, and advocacy work that I have done in two areas: (1) fostering the enactment of workplace anti-bullying legislation and building public awareness of the phenomenon of bullying at work; and (2) participating in an emerging legal and social movement to challenge the widespread, exploitative practice of unpaid internships. It also discusses my involvement in multidisciplinary networks and institutions that have nurtured my work, examines the relevant use of social media, and provides examples of how law students can function as intellectual activists. This article closes with an Appendix containing a short annotated bibliography of books that are broadly relevant to the topics discussed in the text.

This is a somewhat longer piece, as it goes into considerable detail about how legal scholarship can be harnessed to engage in law reform activities. I discuss my scholarly and advocacy work concerning workplace bullying and unpaid internships as illustrations of intellectual activism. For those seeking guidance and inspiration on how to translate ideas into action, this article may be useful.

In my last blog post of 2019, I suggested that we should make 2020 a year of working on solutions and responses. This world is a very fractured and divisive place right now, and a lot of people are hurting as a result. For me, writing — of both the scholarly and popular varieties — is a way of answering my own call to action. It is a modest but hopefully meaningful path toward lighting candles amidst the darkness.

Can Amazon Prime members compel Amazon to treat its workers with greater dignity?

For many years, I boycotted Amazon Prime because of how Amazon treats its warehouse workers. But eventually I returned when I wanted access to Prime video and to be able to send gifts — especially books — with reliable delivery dates. I try to limit my Amazon spending to those categories and to ordering used books through associated vendors. But especially as someone who hasn’t owned a car for over 30 years, sometimes it’s awfully easy to click an order for the sake of convenience.

Nevertheless, Amazon’s labor practices remain disturbing, and yes, I feel guilty when I click that order. You see, it remains that the convenience that we experience as consumers comes at the expense of warehouse workers who have hard, exhausting, unsafe jobs in return for low pay. If you doubt me, then click here, here, here, and here for more details.

Ultimately, widespread unionization of Amazon workers is the key to improving their working conditions and compensation. But Amazon is virulently anti-union (e.g., here, here, and here), and workers who talk up unionization do so at their own risk.

So what is to be done? Well, Jobs With Justice, one of the nation’s best labor advocacy organizations for low-wage workers, is inviting we Amazon consumers to become voices for change, in the form of a new network called Prime Member Voices (link here). Here’s how they describe the network’s objectives:

Amazon Prime Members are a core part of the company’s business. Membership dues help fuel Amazon’s larger ambitions, but unfortunately many of those ambitions are in direct conflict with the issues we care passionately about. From truly horrific conditions inside Amazon Fulfillment Centers, to data collection, and selling technology to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and police departments.

As Prime Members, we should have a voice and it’s why Jobs With Justice is calling on Prime Members to join together in Prime Member Voices, where we can work together and develop ways where our voice is not only heard, but leads to real systemic change within the company.

It appears that the goals of Prime Member Voices will go beyond labor conditions, and personally I’m good with that. Amazon has been a game-changing entrant into the retail marketplace, and their business practices should be scrutinized closely from the standpoint of the public good.

In terms of concrete actions, this announcement is concededly vague. Regardless, this is a potentially brilliant organizing strategy: Leverage the many Prime members who would like to access Amazon’s convenient ordering and shipping, while knowing that the workers are being treated better and that the company’s business practices are ethical and socially responsible.

I’ve signed up. It’s worth seeing where this goes. At the very least, if I’m going to benefit from Amazon’s delivery systems, then I owe it to the rank-and-file employees to support better working conditions that affirm their dignity and well-being. It can happen only when people join together and call for change.

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