Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Monday, March 14, 2005

More on the socks dilemma from three posts below -- read upwards from last night's post if you're just tuning in. My friend e-mailed me some more explanation on why he thinks it's a good test of what kind of a person you are; I think I'm pretty much on board. It's kind of a neat thing to think about. I'm adding "the sock test" to my mental list of ways to sort people into two categories. It becomes test #3 in that list. Test #1 is "the well test": if you were stuck at the bottom of a well, would the person help you, even if they were on their way to something important? This is a fairly low bar, I think, but I feel like a lot of people fail it. Test #2 is "the crossing the street test": do you trust the person not to lead you into oncoming traffic? This one's not a good person / bad person test at all, but more of a test, I think, of who's the adult in any given relationship. With some friends -- and this isn't a good thing or a bad thing, necessarily at all -- I feel like there becomes a dynamic where some people are leaders more often than not, and some people are followers, and I totally feel like people can be both, depending on who they're with. But it becomes a question of who's the one watching for traffic; who's the one deciding whether or not we're crossing the street, and who's the one following the leader. I feel like in some settings, I'm totally the one you can trust to not cross into oncoming traffic, but in other situations, I can become completely oblivious, because I implicitly just trust the person or people I'm with to take care of trifling stuff like making sure we don't get hit by a bus or eaten by a bear. If that makes any sense. But, anyway, back to the sock test:

Here's how I would relate the sock scenario to law school - if the person got mad, they're going into corporate law. If they didn't mind, they're doing public interest law.

Getting mad means you focus on only how it affects you, while not getting mad means you see a broader picture. Why? Having one pair of socks "stolen" certainly makes you worse off. Other things being equal, having one less pair of socks is not good. But it's such a trivial amount of worse off - nobody should really miss one pair of socks. A nicer, more compassionate person would not mind being very slightly worse off it it meant someone else was significantly better off. This doesn't mean we all should be perfect utilitarians. I certainly value benefits and detriments to myself more than I would to other people - I'm not going to give up my comfortable existence to go work in the peace corps, for example. But I would gladly give up one pair of socks to someone with wet feet (especially if that person wasn't some nameless, faceless person, but somebody I knew or a friend of a friend)

Also, I think in this instance, the actual material good being stolen is so dumb, that the person's reaction isn't based on WHAT has been taken from them, but reflects their instinctual response to being wronged, and how they think they SHOULD FEEL when wronged. Jerks would simply label it "stealing" and that they were "wronged" and get pissed off. More evolved people would understand the nuance to the situation, that it wasn't really stealing and they weren't really violated.