Michael Sean Quinn, Ph.D, J.D., Etc.

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I have recently written several blog-chapters of what is really a single Blog.  It has been stimulated by a book, THE HAPPY LAWYER (2010), by Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder and I wonder if the alphabetical order is of any significance.  It is a well-written, helpful review and set of recommendations regarding some improvement of happiness, drawn on what calls itself  “social science” and that may be the better of the “How to” literature.  (I have entirely ignored the “neuro-” literature it contains. I haven’t a clue how that sort of information, if that’s what it is, helps one to philosophize about, reflect on the psychology of, and deal with resolutions concerning one’s life. I’ve said this is not a book review, and I describe what I have just written, so the the reader is assured that I think well of this book and its authors, even though I am criticizing some to-be-doubted-ideas, albeit ideas which hold considerable sway over what is regarded as high class happiness-advisory-thinking.  (As I have indicated and argued from the start of these chapter, I am separated from this outlook in various ways, except for at at least one significant exception, or maybe 1.3 or so, exceptions to which I shall return to later.) 

As I have already indicated, I am criticizing the background that most of the happiness literature draws upon, particularly those writers on the psychology of self-improvement, including (1) Martin Seligman, a “quack,” though a past president of a significant academic congress, thought of as the founder of  the so called  “Positive Psychology School [of Psychological Study],” and for many years a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, a prestigious and elite institute of higher education, if ever there was one.  (2) His school is not my only target, however. Another one is the brand of social “science” that collects a little data from some interviews taken, calls this or that proposition established, or another one said to be refuted.  (3) I have the same view of large scale data gathering if the right questions are not asked, expanded upon, and reviewed critically.  (4) My third target is a piece of the intellectual tradition that tries to make a certain type of reasoning the exclusive method of inquiry the only one which qualified as rational. I have already said a bit about (1) and (2) and I shall have a bit more to say.
Category #(4) is obviously a general background for one of the themes usually found in #(2) and #(3), at least insofar as it takes itself to be embodied in and built upon 2000+ years of rationalistic, rigid, it-must-involved-“peer-reviewable”-reasoning supposedly based upon empirical evidence that is empirical, as is required by all knowledge about the world, completely objective,  and–in addition–iron-clad.
What I am mainly doing here trying to outlining some alternative ways of looking at people. I am not suggesting all of the themes of ##(1)-(3) are false; just most of them, when taken together.  It is not really my intent to sneer here, or show contempt, though I may a bit.  (I certainly did a bit in the previous chapters.  It’s a sin but I have difficulty preventing myself. 
Here is an example:  Our authors report the following based on some sort of social “scientific” study. “[L]awyers, as a group, are decidedly less happy than are the members of many other professions.  Members of the clergy [and members of a variety of other groups] are all happier than lawyers. Even repair persons, housekeepers and butlers report higher levels of happiness than do members of the legal profession. Still, it could be worse: lawyers do report more career satisfaction than either roofers or service station attendants.” (p. 2, n.4).  (This reasonable sounding assertion,  is based upon two bar studies, one by the ABA.*)(*How’s this for a statement that is both contemptuous and sneering: The ABA will publish something or concur in a proposition that is interesting and insightful, other than the Model Rules, when, as they say, hell freezes over.)

(The reader should not conclude that I am wholly against basing conclusions, very tentatively, on going out and asking people questions.   The right kind of questions, asked by the right kind of like those on a questionnaire, people, and asked of the right kind of people, can be very helpful.  Short questions, seeking short answers, without adumbration and dialogue are not to be trusted.  (Interviewees who do not have doubts about MMPI tests given them need to have their heads examined.  I once got a more accurate and more helpful “test” performed by a self-described witch
in the French Quarter, as well as conclusions and advice,  than I ever got from an MMPI, of which I have taken many.)  My embracing some social “scientific” forms of gathering information can be “demonstrated” by my faith in  Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (“Csik,” for short), who some regard as one of the great intellectuals of the second half of the Twentieth Century, but who is an unapologetic social scientists from the University of Chicago for most of his adult life and now from the Claremont Graduate University.
Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the example of that about which I am complaining. I have not run any really reliable professorial, social “scientific,” or intentional interview studies of any kind at any time. I trust my own observation more than the studies. Let’s see if the reader agrees with this after s/he has read what I am about to say.
To say that clergyman are happier than lawyers entails that in their answers to related questions the clergy men and women were telling the truth. This inference or conclusion contains several problems.  First, it is a professional norm that the clergy must make things good, if for no other reason to encourage church attendance and, even more importantly, to inspire faith in the “One True God.”  It is, as it were, a professional strong-norm and therefore a requirement.  Second, the use of the word “clergymen” is a distinctly Protestant word.  Roman Catholic priests are seldom referred to as clergy, nor are Episcopalian priests.  Third, Jews have been left out, as have leaders of other faiths. Fourth, if they have not been left out of the survey, the various differences are not understood (or accounted for) by the researchers. Fifth, if the differences are understood, then the presentation is inherently misleading.
I am sure of my judgement in part because as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult, whether an atheist  an agnostic, or a believer at some grade or another, I have been around a good number of clergy persons  priests and nuns with enough familiarity to make observations. A good number of them–though certainly not a majority–are not terribly happy; I have known alcoholics, dope smokers, cocaine snorters, adultery fiends,** profligate of various types and degrees,  sex addicts, gays while faking straighting or being straight, and gay nuns carrying on in convents or school house closets.  I confess that even as a boy I didn’t’ care, except for the comedy of it all, but that does not change the truth.  (*I once walked out of an adult Sunday school lecture since it was obvious to me that the priest was drug.  **My wife and I would have had the rector of our parish at the time dismissed if the next-to his latest ex-mistress hadn’t beaten us to it.)

I have also spent a lot of time around laborers, since about a half of each year during my teenage life was spent in working class neighborhoods.  It is not the case that roofers tended to be low on the scale of happiness. Quite the opposite, at least when measured against others in the working class, which in contrast to contemporary parlance, is not part of the middle class in any way.  In addition, I have known a good deal of people who regularly did roof work and roof inspections, and they are usually not in the class of  “the really unhappy.”  In fact, since I starting reading the book of Our Authors, I discussed the “Happiness Scale” upon which they rely, and this man, who exuded joy, laughed at the measurement relied upon.
I don’t know many service station attendants any more, since pumping gas is mostly done by the customers themselves. The fellows who perform these sorts of things themselves do not, from physical appearance and facial expressions, look to be miserable, nor do the  those who tend the customer counters in the associated convenience stores. 
Another problem with the data presented to our authors is that it creates a separate category and then makes happiness-claims about butlers.  Apparently those who collected the data were watching too many movies about times far past.  There may be a few butlers here and there, e.g., on the Upper West Side or on Palm Beach, but only there and in equivalent places, are there any.  Head waiters and a concierge in even a first class hotels are not butlers.
I’ve now written several long paragraphs on what looks like a tiny matter, but  is not.  If a so-called scholar takes what was said to Our Authors seriously, the rest of what they say should be thrown out with the bathwater.
To shift to a more central-sounding topic, the prevailing view of psychological research on happiness improvement seems to be that full scale attempts should begin with numerous questions one poses to oneself.   This is not only confusing; it is unhelpful; it is usually abandoned by those who try it, I suspect; in short, it get nobody anywhere. 
The central figure in happiness improvement thinking developed the most important theory of happiness perhaps ever devised.  His approach might be called “a search for the ‘flow.'”  Musicians, and others call this “the zone.”  Probably, any person who is really good at something knows the flow (or knows the zone) because they have been there, they remember it, and they want to go back.  One of the problems with happiness acquisition theory is that lots of the theorists don’t know about the flow, cannot understand it, may not believe in it, may not think it help, and either don’t want to teach it or can’t.  It is a pleasure to say that Our Authors seem to know about it.
If a young lawyer has been to the flow, and that’s why he went to law school, s/he needs to fine the way back.  If it doesn’t come back, that youngster needs to think about remembering and reacquisition.  If it’s not recoverable, then there is some problem or other: it was never there; it was a fantasy; s/he needs to teach him/her self how to find the way, and so forth.  This is not done by reciting a list of questions.
Csik has described the “flow” in a number of ways.  One of them is that its enjoyment is so completely “you” that concentration is effortless, time does not feel oppressive, work sweeps by, self improvement is no longer oppressive.  Myself: I would not say “enjoyable.”  I would say that the enjoyment was “profound” and felt like you had touched your essence.  What happens could be called an “existential revelation.”  (Too bad a bunch of depressed Europeans stole this marvelous phrase many years ago.)
There is much more to be said, and I would say it if I hadn’t just deleted it.  The gist of what I was trying to say is this
  • Deal with depression first.
  • Deal with disabling disorders next.
  • Deal with serious addictions third.
Once all of that is done to some degree–and it won’t get done completely–turn to happiness itself.  Here are three stages:

Start with the question, (1) “Who am I and who have I been?”  Do not try to answer the with precision.  Do not conclude you have the right answer. Ponder the question and tentative answers.  Mull them over.  See what surfaces, and start pondering again.  Go to:  (2) “What ‘activity-passions’ do I have?” Or better yet  “What have I deeply enjoyed over some time? (Not an hour.  Not a day.  Maybe a week.  And so forth.) Or try this:   “Where did I find challenges and meaningful together?  Ponder the questions.  Don’t try and make them precise or well defined.  Mull them over. Do the same for answers as they come up.  Trust your general reactions as revealing something, not  immediate truth, maybe, but insight and suggestion.  (3a) Is the activity-passion or the deep-enjoyment with me? If the answer is yes, ask “Where are my guts?” “Why am I not following up?” “How can that done by me, if at all? “Are there replacements? (3b) If the answer is no, then ask questions out of this group: When did it leave?” “Why?” “Where is it now? “Can I get it back?”  “Should I try?
Keep this in mind:  Pondering cannot be done all the time.  Some pondering is deep and some of it focuses on surfaces.  Some pondering are ideas thought of; some of them are like “visions”; some are like patterns discerned.  They don’t always come straightaway upon having asked a questions. Some times the ideas attached to them whiz by; some drift by; some stay a while.  If one of them has come and gone, try to bring it back–often this can be done.
The reader will find bubbling up from within a resistance to this whole approach.  Encouraging imprecision and the lack of argument, as Quinn is doing,  at least sounds like it contradicts the core and the rich context of jurisprudence.   If so, isn’t his view destructive of the essence of being a lawyer, at least in some ways?  Isn’t Quinn a disagreeable and dangerous radical?  Shouldn’t we delete all his blogs?  He is asking lawyers to abandon their disciplined selves and make huge discoveries cursed by all modes of legal thinking.  Lawyers cannot abandon legal thinking without self-destruction.
Take heart! If none of this works for you, I suggest your scraping what you take to be the Quinn Approach.  Go to a big book store, to Amazon-Books, or Barnes and Noble; find the Csik books; obtain at least one of them; read at least one of them, then hold on for the ride of your life. Being in the home of an inviting genius is itself immensely enjoyable.  (And so Quinn’s Approach be damned.)

Originally posted on 01/30/2014 @ 11:00 pm

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc. (530)

One of Texas's leading insurance scholars, Michael Sean Quinn is a past chair of the Insurance Section of the State Bar of Texas and has a broad legal practice.

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