Rohit's Realm

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November 14, 2007

Of Gunners and Douchebags

A couple months ago, I wrote a lengthy article that asserted, among other things, that (counterintuitively) more douchebags in one's law school class would likely augment one's career prospects. Though no one has yet challenged my primary assertion (shocking, right?), a couple anonymous law students did write in to argue that in law school, the proper name for individuals I termed douchebags is gunners, and that by adopting my own terminology, I was only confusing the issue.

Some—likely most—people might be inclined to dismiss this criticism as the purely semantic complaints of a couple particularly persnickety malcontents that seek to alleviate their manifest sexual frustrations through pedantic attacks; but, I am inclined to give my comrades the benefit of the doubt: first, precision in language is not to be discounted, especially given my future profession; and second, if we were to become upset at every sexually frustrated persnickety malcontent waving a wand of pedantism, we would likely have to eliminate the legal profession as a whole.1 In any case, there is no need in this instance to dwell on tangentials, for their assertion can be challenged on the merits; specifically, I would argue that rather than douchebag and gunner being synonymous, the former is, in fact, a specialized subset of the latter, with the primary distinguishing criterion being self-awareness. In other words, a douchebag is simply a gunner who knows he is one.

The aforementioned contention implies that one can be a law school gunner without knowing it, which is decidedly not an intuitive concept; rare is the situation where someone is so deluded as to be unaware of the most basic elements of his identity. To assist in exploring this paradox further, it would be helpful to define the term gunner. I was first exposed to it in 2003 in a very different content (training to be an orientation counselor) while preparing to deal with those students who would inundate us with a seemingly non-stop barrage of (mostly irrelevant) questions, either to curry favor, or perhaps, to appear intelligent. The term, as applied in law school, is similar (see, e.g., Urban Dictionary) but I think some subtle differences are worth highlighting.

First, the term as used in law school is inextricably linked with arrogance; those who choose to raise their hands in every class, multiple times a day, and make generally worthless, tangential statements of ill-informed opinion—often under the guise of a question—exhibit a level of arrogance that is astonishing, even in the context of a hopelessly elitist law school such as Chicago. Second, in the high-school-esque social world of law school (OMG! Did you hear X hooked up with Y last night? Like, wow.), gunners travel in packs; it is as much an individual description, as it is a social classification (à la nerd or jock in high school). Finally, since different people necessarily have differing levels of tolerance for arrogance, the label is often applied with great inconsistency. An individual one person considers to be a gunner might not be annoying in the least to another person. That last point also suggests that individuals for whom there exists consensus regarding gunner status are particularly egregious violators of the unstated classroom code, having managed to annoy a critical mass of their fellow students. Generally, these latter individuals are precisely the ones I would deem douchebags.

Jon has already written about both academia and mainstream media portraying Gen Y'ers [as] self-entitled, impatient, disloyal loudmouths who overvalue their own opinions (a point I do not contest2), and this is precisely why the distinction can be drawn between gunners in general and douches in particular. It is entirely plausible that the former, on whom great praise has constantly been showered by parents, teachers, etc., simply do not realize the extent of their own material worthlessness in society. It is very likely they simply do not understand that first and foremost, they are not special; second, that their supposedly insightful opinion is actually simply a trite amalgamation of the ideas of whichever socio-political theorists they studied in their undergrad days; and third, that in any case, no one gives two shits about what they think anyway. On the other hand, it is very likely that douchebags know all of these things, and yet, persist unfazed. That is not simply unawareness, for which we might be willing to extend some (little) slack; that is egregious, purposeful behavior that can only be described with one word: douchebaggery.

To analogize for those who love criminal law (sorry, I can't resist), douchebag is to gunner as manslaughter(er) is to murderer; both annoy (kill) us, but the former does so only recklessly (or negligently), while the latter does so with purpose, knowledge, or a depraved heart. Too bad the Model Penal Code does not have a mens rea element of douchebag. I'm sure it'd make criminal law much easier.

1 It is not immediately clear to me whether this would, in fact, be a Bad Thing™, my current pursuits notwithstanding.
2 Precisely because I am a member of Gen-Y, you should not take anything that is written on this site seriously. More likely than not, it is just as worthless as I am.


Given this extra clarification, I would think that most law school attendees are, in fact, gunners, as opposed to douchebags (though I'm sure the latter exists). It seems to me that most annoying people (and this holds for all types, not just those who exhibit high levels of arrogance) don't actually know they're annoying, or at least do a very good job of hiding it if so. It's not so much that they know they're arrogant bastards; it's that they know they're right, and are so caught up in this self-aggrandizing egoism that they fail to realize that others might have this perception of them.

Addendum: With your distinction, douchebags could be seen to have a sort of mean wit about them, an intelligence that is put to nefarious (and obnoxious) ends. To label a majority of gunners as douchebags, then, would probably give such individuals too much credit.

You can't empower people to self-classify themselves, even if they are aware of their signifying behavior. Recognition implies legitimacy, and is a positive reinforcement of negative behavior.

Furthermore, I remain unconvinced that douchebags are unaware of their douchebaggery.

In IR theory we study structural realism, which claims that in an anarchic system (such as law school), powers will vie for positions of leadership until a structure of hegemons emerges.

All things equal, law students are an extremely homogenous group lacking distinguishing characteristics that might allow for natural emergence to positions of power (if they had any worthwhile traits they would pursue a more innovative or creative career). So "gunners" pursue the only avenue available to them... the public forum of the classroom... to distinguish themselves from the remainder of the group. The assumption is that recognition (either positive or negative) will lead to a leadership position on the law review, sychophantic relationships with potential rec letter writers, and thus better career opportunities.

It is your responsibility to thwart these efforts, consistently undermining their confidence by sending snarky e-mails and instant messages to the remainder of your classmates whenever the douchebags open their yapper.

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