Links from the last week.
The question of America’s identity has obviously been a live one over the last few months. David Brooks writes:
In that story, America is placed at the vanguard of the great human march of progress. America is the grateful inheritor of other people’s gifts. It has a spiritual connection to all people in all places, but also an exceptional role. America culminates history. It advances a way of life and a democratic model that will provide people everywhere with dignity. The things Americans do are not for themselves only, but for all mankind.
C.S. Lewis’ cautions would seem to be relevant here:
Patriotism has, then, many faces. Those who would reject it entirely do not seem to have considered what will certainly step—has already begun to step—into its place. For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defence. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country’s cause was just; but it was still their country’s cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important.… If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.
Ross Douthat has some helpful thoughts on the question of America’s identity crisis:
Given this story’s premises, saying that’s not who we are is a way of saying that all more particularist understandings of Americanism, all non-universalist forms of patriotic memory, need to be transcended. Thus our national religion isn’t anything specific, but we know it’s not-Protestant and not-Judeo-Christian. Our national culture is not-Anglo-Saxon, not-European; the prototypical American is not-white, not-male, not-heterosexual. We don’t know what the American future is, but we know it’s not-the-past.
But the real American past was particularist as well as universalist. Our founders built a new order atop specifically European intellectual traditions. Our immigrants joined a settler culture, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, that demanded assimilation to its norms. Our crisis of the house divided was a Christian civil war. Our great national drama was a westward expansion that conquered a native population rather than coexisting with it.
See also Robert Merry: The Profound Question Behind the Immigration Debate.
Emily Deruy: The Myth of Immigrant’s Educational Attainment. No real surprises here. High achieving immigrant groups will tend to be products of more selective immigration policies. Children in such groups will have both significant genetic and familial culture advantages.
Matthew Loftus: Green Card Holders in the City of Man. Loftus tackles some of the issues surrounding immigration. I’ve written in response to him on the subject before (see the comments here). It is an important debate.
Now a piece on areas where the American preoccupation with the ‘who are we?’ question can become positively toxic. The Non-Racism of American Evil:
The pervasive idea that the amount of good and evil the US does in the world can be determined by the amount of racism exhibited by the people running the US government and military is totally unsupported by the last fifteen years, and the Nazi analogy is not helping us. Chuck Schumer weeping over refugees but voting for each of the military adventures that forced the refugees from their homes is not helping us. We are neither the bulwark against a rising tide of 1930s-style fascism nor can we “convince” Yemen to turn into Sweden by being nice to their distant cousins here. We have legal and moral obligations to Islamic American citizens, and we have obligations to try not to set the world on fire, as the world’s central military power. But putting everything through a lens of racism and “how much like Hitler is this guy?” doesn’t do anybody any favors, analytically or morally. America has done and will almost certainly continue to do a lot of evil—it’s a fallen world, how could we not?—but we seem to be able to do it without much racism just as well as with.
Spot on. As I argued in a recent post, the more that we are guided by a sort of narcissistic virtue ethics played out on the specious screen of the mass media and our social media, the more our preoccupation with our identities as they are projected there will eclipse the actual reality and shape of the moral tasks before us. Good and well-meaning people can be the cause of incalculable evils in the world.
Some fascinating new research on the genetic origins of people from various American regions. Scott Alexander, who reviewed David Fischer’s book Albion’s Seed last year, comments on its relation with this new research here. More thoughts from Jayman (who has written at length on human biodiversity in North America) here. This whole area of research is hugely important and exciting, but must be handled with caution.
In other fascinating recent work on human biodiversity: Irish travellers are as genetically different from settled Irish as Spanish.
Another significant post from Scott Alexander, this time on the troubling questions raised by ‘cost disease’. The Baumol effect would seem to explain part of it (and wages alone are only part of the picture, as employers provide many other things for their employees), as would the increasing number of staff relative to people using the services in question (my primary school had two teachers and a caretaker for a school with over fifty students spread out over eight years). Megan McArdle suggests that part of the problem might be our instinct to provide costlier forms of care (education, healthcare, etc.) to signal concern. One thing that is recommended in the comments (and also in this post) is the idea of making college degrees a protected characteristic, so that employers can no longer discriminate on that basis (as the modern degree is increasingly primarily a status good). This would almost certainly drive down the price of education markedly. Unfortunately this may not be possible, since, as the same commenter observes, anti-discrimination legislation prevents employers from filtering employees as they would like and colleges may be valued for performing this task for them.
A further piece from Spotted Toad, this time on the place of Harry Potter in the liberal imagination: Getting Your Owl. Although I am increasingly of the ‘Read a Different Book!’ camp, there are some things to be said in favour of Harry Potter (which I continue to appreciate, despite the annoying undeath of its author, its wide-eyed fans, and the irritating ubiquity of references to it). It is particularly striking to see the way that this fictional work, its world, and its characters provide a lens through which so many young people come to understand and articulate their identities and process events (I’ve been meaning to write something on the phenomenon of fan fiction at some point). It is a reminder of the potential power of even fictional stories in our lives. In an age where much of our traditional cultural canon has been neglected or rejected, or mummified by literary criticism in the grand academic mausoleums of our society, it is wonderful to see the unity of imagination that a widely loved work can forge from unguarded hearts. We need to learn to treat Scripture similarly.
Alan Jacobs on the replacement of institutions by platforms:
the majority will accommodate themselves to the faceless inflexibility of platforms, and will become less and less capable of seeing the virtues of institutions, on any scale. One consequence of that accommodation, I believe, will be an increasing impatience with representative democracy, and an accompanying desire to replace political institutions with platform-based decision-making: referendums and plebiscites, conducted at as high a level as possible (national, or in the case of the EU, transnational). Which will bring, among other things, the exploitation of communities and natural resources by people who will never see or know anything about what they are exploiting. The scope of local action will therefore be diminished, and will come under increasing threat of what we might call, borrowing a phrase from Einstein, spooky action at a distance.
More on the fragility of platforms.
Harry Pottash reflects upon ‘Identity Affirming Society’ (or SJWs to their critics) and its relationship to moral foundation theory, among other things: One Sacred Trick for Moral Regeneration.
R.R. Reno: A Dissolving Age
Heterodox Academy: Campus Speaker Disinvitations: Recent Trends (Part 2 of 2)
The Real Message Behind Audi’s Super Bowl Ad Isn’t Exactly An Uplifting One. I did a double-take reading this one, as it was so reminiscent of The Last Psychiatrist blog.
Robin Hanson on some neglected big problems
Utopia is Creepy. The Art of Manliness interview Nicholas Carr.
The Fool on the Hill. Alan Jacobs on the value of having people in our communities without Internet connections.
Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence. There are encouraging signs of people pushing back against key aspects of prevailing theory that are unsubstantiated by actual scientific research.
Possibly the Most Exhaustive Study of ‘Manspreading’ Ever Conducted. On gendered body language. I’m unconvinced by those simply blaming ‘the patriarchy’ for this. Socialization is an important part of the picture. However, socialization doesn’t operate upon blank slates, but upon pre-existing sexed and physical tendencies, accenting or diminishing them. Our presence is bodily, bodies and their differences (especially sexual) are meaningful, and these meaningful differences can be particularly expressed through communicative acts of body ‘language’. Some such acts can be oppressive and inconsiderate (for instance, when someone pointedly uses their greater height to intimidate someone else), but many are fairly natural expressions of our bodies’ own meanings. ‘Manspreading’, depending on the context, could be either.
The Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down (more related links and, frequently angry, discussion here). This seems like one of the many, many areas where both men and women taking typical sex differences more seriously might help us out. Unfortunately, putting this all down to socialization, toxic masculinity, and the patriarchy just tends to produce excessive anger. On average, men and women relate to their homes and relationships in rather different ways from each other and this probably has something to do with sexed psychological factors. The fact that boys disproportionately like action figures and construction toys as kids and girls disproportionately like things such as dolls and dolls’ houses is probably not unrelated to this and has a lot less to do with cultural gender norms than most suppose. Our immediate surroundings can be extensions of ourselves, but men and women often tend to look for different things from their favoured surroundings. On account of their typically far more demanding standards—standards by which they find themselves judged by their peers and others—when it comes to the domestic context, women are at risk of ending up having to do the overwhelming majority of the work themselves, while men may be stifled by women’s standards that prevent them from enjoying the messier environment that a home ordered towards their favoured activities might create. Far more consideration and thought on both sides—but particularly on men’s side—to the possibility that the other sex typically experiences the world differently might make a difference here: both sexes could respect and be mindful of the other’s standards and concerns, without imposing their own standards and concerns as the absolute. There is good reason why many homes often have an implicit primarily ‘ownership’ of different rooms, with women setting the standards for the main rooms, while men might retreat to less public extremities of the house to enjoy their home activities in male reservations (sheds, ‘man caves’, basements, attics, personal offices, etc.).
Michael J. Lewis: What Jane Jacobs Saw
Book review: Dent’s Modern Tribes, by Susie Dent. Countdown has long been a favourite show of mine and Susie Dent is my favourite person on it.
Ian Paul: Were the Shared Conversations just a Con? In response to a post by Miranda Threlfall Holmes on the sexuality debates in the Church of England.
Also from Ian Paul: Is Evangelical Theology Abusive?
Serial Killers Should Fear This Algorithm. Tackling unsolved crimes with software.
Students in American colleges seem to be facing a similar challenge.
What Do Europeans Think About Muslim Immigration? These figures surprised me.
Steve Hays reflects on the ‘apostasy’ in the film Silence.
Tony Reinke: Justin Taylor’s Tweet Rant. (Not that) Justin Taylor on how the current political climate may change people’s usage of social media.
Ben Blackwell: Christology between the NT and Nicaea: Justin Martyr
Andrew Wilson summarizes some of Fred Sanders’ cautions about claims of Christophanies in the Old Testament. Sed contra, the appearances of Christ in Old Testament ‘Christophanies’ are as different from incarnation as the appearance of the Spirit in the form of a dove is different from a mission of ‘columbination’. The body of Christ isn’t just a vehicle for the incarnation as an appearance, but the very object of Christ’s mission. Christ’s body is conceived by the Holy Spirit, the seed of David in Adamic flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, circumcised in the Temple, baptized in the Jordan, hungry in the wilderness, transfigured on the Mount, given in bread and wine, taken in the garden, scourged by the soldiers, crucified at Calvary, pierced in the side, its bones unbroken, gives up the ghost, is laid in the tomb, is raised on the third day, appears to many, ascends into heaven, and is opened into a site of communion through the gift of the Spirit. The story of our salvation is the story of Christ’s body.
Eric Hutchinson: The 10 Commandments are the Foundation for Protestant Ethics
James Jordan: The Structure and Typology of the Bathsheba Incident
Jake Belder: You Don’t Need to Hear the Whole Sermon Each Week. Encouragement for parents of young children.
God as Artist, Artist as God
Fair Nature’s Second Chance
Silence of Painting
Near Miss at Marburg
The latest ‘nightmare-inducing’ Boston robots
The most satisfying video in the world
Plants use an Internet made of fungus
I’m not a robot
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