Shortly after getting engaged I was banned from acquiring new bonsai since the extent of that expenditure was inversely proportional to the extent of our wedding ceremony. After my future wife lectured the guy who regularly sold me trees for allowing me to burn money on things other than my approaching wedding, I agreed to a no-new-tree-for-two-years arrangement that excepted the anticipated centerpieces for tables—all bonsai, of course. Later I was able to squeeze in one more exception—I could technically receive trees as gifts, even if that gift was from her out of our pooled finances. I pointed out the gift I had in mind and it worked, once.
My son must have inherited this stubbornness, because he has enough toys to warrant my regular warnings before entering stores that “we’re only looking at the toys, not buying,” yet he somehow procured a new toy truck over the weekend. A couple weeks earlier in the toy section of Target we had the following conversation:
Nahum: “I love all the trucks, I need this one.”
Papi: “Remember, we’re only looking at the toys, not buying.”
Nahum: “I’m just going to hold it.”
Papi: “You’ll get attached, let’s put it back.”
Nahum: “I’ll listen with this one, I’ll be a good boy.”
Papi: “You’re supposed to listen without the truck anyway.”
Nahum: “Let’s see how much it costs.”
Papi: “Too much.”
Back then we left sans truck, but this weekend he was with my wife, Yaminette, who was making up for me not taking him to the zoo earlier in the afternoon. (Don’t look at me—he was napping, and it was raining.)
I’m impressed, because, in wearing us down for his truck, my toddler revealed an intuitive grasp of purposivism. In Legislation with Professor Wexler, we learned that laws are interpreted along a spectrum of techniques, ranging from sticking to the words exactly and only—textualism—to examining what the legislators were trying to accomplish when they settled on those words—purposivism. A hardcore purposivist would look to legislative intent to honor the full legislative effort even when the words appear to be abundantly clear, while a textualist would respond that the words signed into law are the full legislative intent in that they are the end product.
I think my “not buying” bit was abundantly clear but Nahum insisted on examining my underlying intent: Was I interested in obedience primarily? Was I operating on a budget? Nahum was zeroing in on what I really meant by “not buying” with his probing questions. If I had taken this approach with the two-year bonsai-buying ban, I could have narrowed Yaminette’s purpose down to saving for the wedding, which happened only a few months into the ban. I’m sure Nahum would have argued convincingly that the ban expired at that point.
But I know that my larger purpose with Nahum (and perhaps my wife’s with me) was to aspire to limited consumerism. It’s hard to pull off. Where honestly we once thought we would get married and be postmodern hippies on a sustainable farm in Brazil, we now intake nature through urban adventures like an Easter Bunny sighting. My son loves trucks because of their familiarity—we travel amongst them in our commute each day. At least his latest toy is a working-class garbage truck. My bonsai are probably more elitist, as well as my romanticism of farm life.
We are urbanites now, but we’re doing it to be in the center of decision-making rather than on the sidelines. Maybe my son will be a purposivist activist, weighing plural expressions of discontent in the context of common human determination for a better world. He’ll be at the BU daycare starting this summer, where his teachers can help him with a preliminary draft of his BU Law application. As Justin Driver explained in a recent The New Republic article: “[M]any public-minded individuals view it as a mark of deep sophistication to dwell upon the law’s inherent limitations. Indeed, so widespread are the arguments regarding what law cannot achieve that too many have lost sight of what law can affirmatively accomplish.”