Day 29: The Shared Territory of a Christian and a Hedonist, or, “Inside Ben’s Head.”


Democritus seems to be the earliest philosopher on record to have categorically embraced a hedonistic philosophy; he called the supreme goal of life “contentment” or “cheerfulness”, claiming that “joy and sorrow are the distinguishing mark of things beneficial and harmful” (DK 68 B 188)

The first time I recall interacting with Ben, we were sitting at dinner. Someone around us was helping along introductions among the group. “How would you describe yourself?” was the question. Some responded in terms of their goals. Some related their places of origin or where they attended school before entering the law program.

“Brown. I’m brown, with curly hair, ” Ben responded. His face conveyed someone who was fairly comfortable with himself, and as he looked around the group those who heard his retort laughed readily. He laughed too, and the conversation moved on to other things.

The second time I spoke with Ben, I was walking across campus through one quod to the next. I greeted him with a congratulatory comment: “Hey – I really appreciate your questions in EU class. They’re helpful and they make me think.” Ben’s smile broke out showing grand rows of straight white teeth, and with a twinkle in his eye, he raised his hand for a high five.

So, I responded by giving him a rather resounding high five. We exchanged a couple more sentences then went our separate ways.

The third time I spoke with Ben was based upon the prompting of his peers. I strolled into the dining hall toward the end of last night’s diner, approached the first group I saw and asked, “If I were going to interview someone in the program for my blog, who would you suggest?”

“Ben,” they immediately responded. “Definitely Ben.”

“Well, that was pretty easy,” I thought.

I located Ben at the next table, proposed the idea, and he agreed. “Right now?” he asked. “Sure,” I replied. “Now is as good as any other time.”

We walked to our lecture room. Ben filled his glass from the plastic bottle of Cabernet Savignon he had purchased for dinner, kicked his feet up and said, “All right. What do you want to know?”

After I had covered the, “Do you want your name in the post? Is it okay to identify you?,” business I then began a comfortable volley of questions, responses, follow ups, and insights. Twenty minutes later a few friends wandered in. “What are you doing?” they asked with curiosity. They joined the group, filled in a bit of the conversation on their own, drained the glasses they had in tow, and headed to the pub to refill them.

Fifteen minutes later I was done. I took Ben’s picture, and we then headed down to the pub for “Quiz Night.”

Why did I want to interview someone for the program for my travel journal? I think I wanted to get another perspective. I’m a minority demographic. I’m a 46 year-old doctoral student. The majority demographic is a 25-30ish student between their first and second years in the program. I wanted to see what “they” thought. I’m usually pretty clear on what “I” think.

Here are a few things I learned about Ben:

He’s a self-described Hedonist, raised by his mother who is a medical doctor. Much of his family is in the D.C. area, so when Obama was sworn in last year, “all he needed was the gas money to get there.” He ‘wasn’t going to miss that for the world.’

He and I talked quite a bit about the “drinking culture” of the law community. Our professor had mentioned, during a discussion about equal rights, how it might be difficult for a working mother picking up her child from an early learning center to be included in the “deals and decisions” made in the pub after she left. I asked Ben if he agreed with the opinion I had heard from one student about feeling occasional pressure to participate in the drinking so as to be included in the networking and the camaraderie seemingly endorsed and even encouraged by the faculty. He said he could definitely understand their opinion, and then told me that lawyers have the “highest suicide rate, the highest alcoholism rate, and the highest divorce rate,” of any other profession. We broke that comment down for a while, then moved on.

I asked Ben if he was glad he decided to come to this particular summer conference. He said yes, talked about his rationale for financing the trip, and then we talked about student loans and Graduate Plus loans for a bit. It seems that most of the students tried to get a loan of approximately 8-10,000 for this particular trip…and when it gets down to it, some of their thinking might be, “Well – it’s 80,000 for law school, OR 89,000 for law school plus the Oxford trip. In the broad scope of things, that doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference.”

Initially Ben responded to the question, “Why are you in law?” by answering, “For the money.” But a bit later, I could see an activist brewing under his law student fascade. He wonders about statutes that don’t seem fair and wishes that there were opportunities to rally a group and go lobby the legislative branch to change things. And, although the standard form of instruction in a typical law school is the Socratic method, our EU class has raised his interest a bit because the majority of class isn’t spent on the readings, per se, but on a discussion that enhances or exemplifies the readings.

Ben seems to be empathetic to his group. He’s encouraged his classmates to speak out in class, and muses about the, “What if people other than the eight that always comment starting opening up and adding to the discussions?” idea. This thought process is inherently democratic and shows he feels for the group, and wants them all to benefit from the experience. And…it may show that he wants the professor to hear as many different voices as possible…in essence, showcasing the group’s acumen.

Finally, when I asked him how he would describe his program, he produced these three comments: 1) It’s a fairly socially conservative program; 2) They focus on getting you a job; and 3) the community is fairly tight-knit…there are 600 in law school and by the time you finish your three years, you basically know most all who are there.

When I reflected back to him that it seems that he was describing the State of Oklahoma as much as anything, he agreed….community, stability and socially right of center. I think at that point, we had sort of a “meeting of the minds” that you get what you ask for, and you take from it what you can.

Although Ben emphatically stated that he’s not all that great of a writer, he also mentioned with a certain sense of pride that his Moot Court team came out 7th place of the 200 students who entered the competition. He wants to be a litigator; he wants to convince someone of his case by oral argument.

I would say that if Ben stays positive like he is right now, if he keeps his optimism and smile, and if he gives the jurists or the judge an occasional resounding “high five,” he’ll have all the money he wants…and he’ll make quite a statement in the courts of the future on behalf of his clients.

I’m kidding, of course, about the high fives. But I’m not kidding about his ability to persuade.

After all, last night during our interview, Ben persuaded me to appreciate who he is and what he stands for, and when I think about it – there’s not a whole lot that we really have in common at all.

Except, for the fact, that maybe we like to raise questions of the professor in class.