I just sat across a desk from John Yoo. A strange experience in itself, he made me realize something over the course of our conversation.
I’d gone to see him because I have a legal question about a job. At Boalt he runs a veteran’s legal clinic, and my question fit the nature of both the issues addressed by the clinic. To my surprise, rather than direct my email to a law student, he asked to meet me in person. So there I was this morning explaining that the BLM failed to give me veteran’s preference and turned me down for a crap job. I sent them a snarky email and asked them why they lied about my status. Yoo said that it’s important I give government agencies every chance to correct their errors. But as he talked, I couldn’t help but perceive an underlying point in his argument. The obvious point is that, legally, I need to establish that they denied me my preference deliberately and maliciously, rather than just on accident. Additionally, though, I think his underlying assumption is that the government really does want to work for our benefit, and if given the opportunity, will correct its mistakes. It was so strange to hear someone talk like that. Even in the Army no one talked like that.
In a way it was refreshing. I haven’t been open to the possibility in a long time that the state may work to do anything other than lie, cheat and kill. Don’t mean to be too glass-half-empty here, but it honestly never occurred to me to simply address this with the BLM as though it was an honest mistake. And to be fair, I don’t think Yoo necessarily thinks it was an honest glitch either. Or maybe he does. I haven’t talked with anyone recently who would even consider such an optimistic possibility.
The key question, regarding the BLM, is if I would have been given the job had they granted me 5 additional points. When I received the rejection I of course wondered that, but never would have emailed to ask, because I assume they would not actually answer. I still believe that. But, Yoo instructed me to email them now and ask. Even their [assumed] failure to answer will be helpful to me at this point, but what a strange exercise for me. I will pretend the state wants to do the right thing by me. What a weird assumption for me to indulge in!
I am so entrenched in my distrust of the state, and it was an interesting awakening for me this morning. This is of course in addition to the fact that I had the strange experience of seeing John Yoo in person, shaking his hand, and receiving sincere and helpful advice from him. It’s probably the most striking example in my life of a person who does what I see as terrible, indefensible things, being just the nicest guy. It reminds me that people are complicated. Really, really complicated. Sorry if I harp on this, but I can hear Anderson reminding me that, “whatever you can imagine, people are doing that. Whatever you can’t imagine, people are doing that too.”
Marx and Engles argued that the “…state was the state of the most powerful (that is, economically dominant class ‘which, though the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class.’” I believe that because I see abundant evidence of the truth of this. Last week I heard a poor woman in Oakland declare that, “Poor people don’t get jobs! They go to the people who need them much less.” For a variety of complicated reasons, some of which are her fault, she is correct. Generally, it seems to me, those with the least advantage see this with the most clarity, and those on top are permitted to pretend that these social structures do not exist.
I want to believe in meritocracy so much. So, with as much optimism as I can muster, I will contact the BLM and ask them the questions that Yoo recommended I ask. Care to guess which one of us is correct. I never thought I’d say this, but I hope John Yoo is right. Wow, that was weird even to type!