Josh Blackman, who was just named to Forbes’ “30 under 30” list in law and policy, found it sufficiently odd that old First Amendment warhorse Floyd Abrams, in the bio accompanying his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, was so “modest.”
Mr. Abrams is the author of “Friend of the Court: In the Front Lines with the First Amendment” (Yale, 2013) and a senior partner in the firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP.
Certainly both are great accomplishments, but I think he may have a few other credentials that qualify him to opine on free speech.
Well yeah, he does, which is the beauty of Abrams’ bio, and a point that sailed over Josh’s head. I don’t blame Josh for not seeing it, as it’s been bred out of his generation’s grasp of both credibility and presentation. the mantra of “if you don’t sing your praises, who will?” has become an article of faith for Millennials, and sing they do.
Floyd Abrams is one of the few attorneys whose career has put his name in the spotlight many times, and comes pretty darned close to being a household name, at least among educated households. No doubt there will be a reader or two of the Wall Street Journal who may be unfamiliar with the Pentagon Papers, but that can’t be helped. So they will ponder his bona fides a bit longer than others. Who cares?
There is an elegance to humility that is lost today. Just in passing over Josh’s blog (and not as a criticism of Josh, who is merely a product of his age), the post above Abrams is about a review of his book on Amazon that “floored” him, and so he wanted everyone to know about it. Then there was Josh’s post about him making the “30 under 30” list. It’s a nice feather in his hat, and I don’t blame him for being proud of himself, but why not let someone else sing your praises, if your praises are real?
Ironically, Todd Zywicki at Volokh Conspiracy wrote a brief post to congratulate Josh on making the list. Had Josh not sung his own praises, it still would have been widely known and respected. And indeed, there were many on twitter who congratulated Josh on the accomplishment, further spreading the news.
That’s how real accomplishment works. That’s how real credibility is established. It comes of its own virtue, not because someone screams to the internet, “hey everybody, look at me!!! Look at all the cool things about me!!! Me, me, me and me!!!”
There is no shortage of people on the internet who ascribe to themselves credibility, expertise and importance. Everybody wants so desperately to impress others, to make sure they know that they’re “kinda a big deal,” whether they are or not. Everybody wants to be a star.
One of my quirks is that I look at the bio of people who follow me on twitter. I’m astounded by how many people call themselves “experts,” or gurus, rockstars and world renown. Then there are the inspirational speakers, available for speaking engagements. You don’t get to say this about yourself. If someone else says so, then great, but this is utter shamelessness.
Whenever I speak at a conference, I’m asked to provide a bio for the program. I always send the same thing: A New York criminal defense lawyer and blawger at Simple Justice. Somehow, it never ends up that way on the program, where somebody will pull some of the meaningless tripe from my website. It embarrasses me terribly. The fact that I have a website that includes this tripe makes me something of a hypocrite, though I need to earn a living like everyone else. Still, I’m ashamed of myself.
I’m no Floyd Abrams. I’m not even Danny Abrams. But I am what I am, and that’s fine with me. I’m a lawyer, just like you’re a lawyer. I have a blawg, with a lot of words on it, and it reflects a body of work that I’ve created over the years, which is either worthy of someone’s respect or not, according to what others think of it. Compared to what others have to say about themselves, I’m a piddling nobody. And perhaps that’s exactly what I am. It’s up to others to decide.
In the early days of blogging, any time a person would write something even remotely self-aggrandizing, it would be prefaced by the words, “I apologize for this shameless self-promotion.” There was an appreciation of shamelessness then, and conversely an appreciation of humility. It no longer exists.
When I read Josh’s post about Floyd Abrams, I was taken by Abrams’ restraint. He is important because he didn’t need to list every wonderful thing he’s ever done, every
burp and fart hiccup and snore (Note: my editor, Marilou, objects to my vulgar imagery, so I’ve changed it in deference to her sensibilities) that would let the world know how important he was. The old joke is how someone is a legend in his own mind. Today, the joke is he’s a nobody if he doesn’t blow his own horn. But Floyd Abrams is no joke, and doesn’t need to blow his own horn to let people know it. It’s too bad that such modesty has gone out of fashion. Even worse, the appreciation of such modesty has gone out of fashion as well.
Congratulations, Josh, on making the Forbes 30 under 30 list. It’s quite an honor.