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Posts Tagged ‘society

“Genuine equality means not treating everyone the same, but attending equally to everyone’s different needs”*…

 

inequality

 

In 2014, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to rank the “greatest dangers in the world.” A plurality put inequality first, ahead of “religious and ethnic hatred,” nuclear weapons, and environmental degradation. And yet people don’t agree about what, exactly, “equality” means. In the past year, for example, New York City residents have found themselves in a debate over the city’s élite public high schools, such as Stuyvesant and Bronx Science. Some ethnicities are vastly overrepresented at the schools, while others are dramatically underrepresented. What to do? One side argues that the city should guarantee procedural equality: it should insure that all students and families are equally informed about and encouraged to study for the entrance exam. The other side argues for a more direct, representation-based form of equality: it would jettison the exam, adopting a new admissions system designed to produce student bodies reflective of the city’s demography. Both groups pursue worthy egalitarian goals, but each approach runs against the other. Because people and their circumstances differ, there is, Dworkin writes, a trade-off between treating people equally and treating them “as equals.”

The complexities of egalitarianism are especially frustrating because inequalities are so easy to grasp. C.E.O.s, on average, make almost three hundred times what their employees make; billionaire donors shape our politics; automation favors owners over workers; urban economies grow while rural areas stagnate; the best health care goes to the richest. Across the political spectrum, we grieve the loss of what Alexis de Tocqueville called the “general equality of conditions,” which, with the grievous exception of slavery, once shaped American society. It’s not just about money. Tocqueville, writing in 1835, noted that our “ordinary practices of life” were egalitarian, too: we behaved as if there weren’t many differences among us. Today, there are “premiere” lines for popcorn at the movies and five tiers of Uber; we still struggle to address obvious inequalities of all kinds based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity. Inequality is everywhere, and unignorable. We’ve diagnosed the disease. Why can’t we agree on a cure?…

We all agree that inequality is bad.  But what kind of equality is good?  A thoughtful consideration:  “The Equality Conundrum.”

* one answer, from Terry Eagleton

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As we seek balance, we might recall that it was on this date in 1960 that the Nashville Sit-ins began.  Part of a nonviolent direct action campaign to end racial segregation at lunch counters in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, they ran through May 10.  The sit-in campaign, coordinated by the Nashville Student Movement and Nashville Christian Leadership Council, was notable for its early success and emphasis on disciplined nonviolence.  It was part of a broader sit-in movement that spread across the southern United States in the wake of the Greensboro sit-ins in North Carolina.

300px-Rodney_Powell_Nashville_sit-ins_1960 source

 

Written by LW

February 13, 2020 at 1:01 am

“To treat the founding documents as Scripture would be to become a slave to the past”*…

 

Constitution

 

As historians from James MacGregor Burns to Jill Lepore remind us, the United States was– and is– an experiment.  The Constitution was the collective best effort of the Framers to write the first draft of an operating manual for the society they hoped it to be– a society unique in its time in its commitment to political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people– what Jefferson called “these truths.”

But like any wise group of prototypers, they assumed that their design would be refined through experience, that their “manual” would be updated… though even then Benjamin Franklin shared Jefferson’s worry [see the full title quote below] that American’s might treat their Constitution as unchangeable…

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.  -Benjamin Franklin, letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy (13 November 1789)

The Framers expected– indeed, they counted on– their work being revised…

Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.   -Thomas Jefferson, letter to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval) (12 July 1816)

Jesse K. Phillips has found a beautifully-current– and equally beautifully-concrete– way to capture the commitment to learning and improving that animated the Framers: he has put the Constitution onto GitHub, the software development platform that hosts reams of (constantly revised) open source code (and that was featured in yesterday’s (Roughly) Daily.)

[Image above: source]

* “To treat the founding documents as Scripture would be to become a slave to the past. ‘Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched,’ Jefferson conceded. But when they do, ‘They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human [and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment].”‘

― From Jill Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States

 

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As we hold those truths to be inalienable, we might recall that it was on this date (which is, by the way, Fibonacci Day) in 1644 that John Milton published Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parlament of England.  A prose polemic opposing licensing and censorship, it is among history’s most influential and impassioned philosophical defenses of the principle of a right to freedom of speech and expression.  The full text is here.

409px-Areopagitica_1644bw_gobeirne source

 

 

 

“God has no religion”*…

 

Ghostly figure leaving the interior of Sanahin Monastery, Debed Canyon, Armenia

 

The idea of American exceptionalism has become so dubious that much of its modern usage is merely sarcastic. But when it comes to religion, Americans really are exceptional. No rich country prays nearly as much as the U.S, and no country that prays as much as the U.S. is nearly as rich.

America’s unique synthesis of wealth and worship has puzzled international observers and foiled their grandest theories of a global secular takeover. In the late 19th century, an array of celebrity philosophers—the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud—proclaimed the death of God, and predicted that atheism would follow scientific discovery and modernity in the West, sure as smoke follows fire.

Stubbornly pious Americans threw a wrench in the secularization thesis. Deep into the 20th century, more than nine in 10 Americans said they believed in God and belonged to an organized religion, with the great majority of them calling themselves Christian. That number held steady—through the sexual-revolution ’60s, through the rootless and anxious ’70s, and through the “greed is good” ’80s.

But in the early 1990s, the historical tether between American identity and faith snapped. Religious non-affiliation in the U.S. started to rise—and rise, and rise. By the early 2000s, the share of Americans who said they didn’t associate with any established religion (also known as “nones”) had doubled. By the 2010s, this grab bag of atheists, agnostics, and spiritual dabblers had tripled in size.

chart

History does not often give the satisfaction of a sudden and lasting turning point. History tends to unfold in messy cycles—actions and reactions, revolutions and counterrevolutions—and even semipermanent changes are subtle and glacial. But the rise of religious non-affiliation in America looks like one of those rare historical moments that is neither slow, nor subtle, nor cyclical. You might call it exceptional.

The obvious question for anybody who spends at least two seconds looking at the graph above is: What the hell happened around 1990?

One theory, compellingly explained, at “Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why?

* Mahatma Gandhi

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As we contemplate creeds, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 (one year to the day after the debut of The Huckleberry Hound Show) that The Twilight Zone premiered on CBS.  An anthology series created (and hosted and frequently written) by the remarkable Rod Serling, it features near the top of the “best series” lists of TV Guide, Rolling Stone, and others, and was ranked (in 2013) by the Writers’ Guild as the third best-written show ever.

250px-Thetwilightzone-logo.svgsource

Written by LW

October 2, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Social rank has always been one of the pricier commodities sold in the great American department store”*…

 

Gilded Age Ball

As the Gilded Age began, a new social format was being created that would give shape and structure to the fashionable world for the next few decades — and launch those daughters of the newly rich, the real-life ‘buccaneers’, across the Atlantic. At the heart of the stratagem designed to create what would become known variously as ‘Society’ and the ‘Four Hun­dred’ was one man, a Southerner named Ward McAllister. … Even in an age of social striving, he was known as a snob.

Connected by birth to some of the old New York families, in 1852 he had married an heiress and a few years later had settled in Newport, where his style of entertaining soon began to be copied. … He had … travelled extensively in Europe, where he soaked up everything he could about court and aristocratic customs. On his return to America he determined to become the self-appointed arbiter of its society and the customs it should follow.

He had already been successful in shaping the society of New­port. Now, he decided, it was time to tackle the one city in America pre-eminent in wealth, drawing power, sophistication and general glitter: New York. A man might have made a fortune by planting a Midwest prairie with wheat — but it was to New York that his wife, avid to spend this new wealth, now insisted they move.

“McAllister’s cleverness lay in realising that the newly rich were there to stay; more and more millionaires appeared each year and the relentless tide of wealth would soon flood the passive Knickerbockers completely — unless something were done about it (not for nothing were these newcomers known as ‘the Bounc­ers’). He also recognised that any society had to have a leader, whom everyone would accept without question — if not, it would degenerate into a formless mass riven by bitter internal struggles.

There was only one person fit for this position and she, al­though beleaguered by the strivings of ‘Bouncer money’, as parvenu wealth was called, already occupied it. Caroline Astor would continue to be the queen.

He decided to use the most desirable members of both old and new as the foundation stones of the new order. To select these, he formed a small committee (‘there is one rule in life I invariably carry out — never to rely wholly on my own judgment’); a little band that met every day for a month or two at McAllister’s house, making lists, adding, whittling down, forming judgements.

Eventually, twenty-five men, all wealthy, some from old fam­ilies, some from the new rich but all considered to be men of integrity, were chosen and invited to become ‘Patriarchs’, as they would in future be known. They would give two and sometimes three balls a season, as exquisite as possible, with each Patri­arch in return for his subscription of $125 having the right to invite to each ball four ladies and five gentlemen, this number to include himself and his family; all distinguished strangers (up to the number of fifty) would also be asked, their names to be run past McAllister. Everyone asked to be a Patriarch accepted immediately.

As McAllister had rightly foreseen, the exclusiveness of these balls was what gave them their magnetic power. ‘We knew … that the whole secret of the success of these Patriarch Balls lay in making them select … in making it extremely difficult to obtain an invitation to them, and to make such invitations of great value [so that] one might be sure that anyone repeatedly invited to them had a secure social position.’

“The first of the balls was given in the winter of 1872. With them, McAllister achieved absolute social power.

Applications to be made a Patriarch poured in, the great ma­jority turned down but often with the door left tantalizingly ajar.

The invention of the “Four Hundred,” the preeminent members of New York society in the Gilded Age: via Delanceyplace.com, an excerpt from Anne de Courcy’s The Husband Hunters.

[image above: source]

* “Social rank has always been one of the pricier commodities sold in the great American department store, and the ceaseless revision of what constitutes society gives rise to the great American comedy that has been playing continuous performances since the beginning of the Republic. As one generation of parvenu rich acquires the means to buy the patents of nobility, it looks down upon the next generation of arrivistes as clubfooted upstarts.” — Lewis Lapham

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As we recall that there have been lots of ways to “come out” over the years, we might spare a thought for three women whose public introduction to society was about as horrific as can be imagined: it was on this date in 1692 that  Sarah GoodSarah Osborne, and Tituba are brought before local magistrates in Salem Village, Massachusetts, beginning what would become known as the Salem witch trials.

 source

 

Written by LW

March 1, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Despair is perfectly compatible with a good dinner, I promise you”*…

 

Retro Wife Family Woman Housewife Kitchen Cooking

And it’s even more compatible with a dinner that’s not so good…

Today’s prominent food writers… do not hesitate to instruct us on the types of food we should buy (healthy, fresh, organic), the way it should be prepared and served (at home, from scratch, family style), and how harmful it would be—for our bodies, our families, and the planet—to deviate from this model.

In Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It, the anthropologists Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliott do not deny the value of healthy, home-cooked dinners. Instead, they argue that the way our food gurus talk about dinner is fundamentally disconnected from the daily lives of millions of Americans, especially but not exclusively low-income Americans. This discrepancy matters, the authors insist. When Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and Jamie Oliver preach their influential, well-compensated sermons about how you—yes, you!—can (and should) improve your family members’ lives by buying healthier food and preparing it at home, they implicitly frame the quality of our dinners as something over which we all wield a considerable degree of control. If you aren’t doing dinner right, it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough for your family: not shopping smartly enough, not doing the right prep work, not using the best recipes. In addition to creating a lot of angst and guilt whenever we fall short, this censorious approach shifts our collective attention away from the bigger forces shaping our lives and meals, blocking the way to more realistic solutions located beyond the kitchen…

Insights into the cooking habits—and daily struggles—of working-class Americans: “The Limits of Home Cooking.”

* William Makepeace Thackeray

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As we ponder prandial pressure, we might spare a thought for Wilhelm Koppers; he died on this date in 1961.  A cultural anthropologist, he developed influential theories on the origins and development of societies based on his studies of hunter-gatherer tribes.  A Jesuit priest, who began his career in the intellectual embrace of the Vienna School, his later work– conducted in India and elsewhere while he was a refugee from his home due to his criticism of Nazism– was more scientifically neutral.

koppers source

 

Written by LW

January 23, 2019 at 1:01 am

“For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see”…

 

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How many social activists does it take to change the world? No, this isn’t the setup for some lame joke. It’s a question no one really knew the answer to. Until now.

We’ve seen plenty of shifts in society’s views — in just the last hundred years in America, the majority’s opinion on everything from gay rights to gender equality changed dramatically. However, we’ve never really nailed down if there was a “tipping point” for this social change — a specific number of people needed to push a belief from the fringes into the mainstream.

Estimates ranged from as low at 10 percent of a population to as high as 51 percent, but now, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of London claim an online experiment let them hone in on the most likely number: 25 percent. They published their study [on June 8] in the journal Science

Have your opinion sharpened (if not changed) at “Want to Change Society’s Views? Here’s How Many People You’ll Need on Your Side.”

[Image above: source]

* “For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see. In the great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form stereotyped for us by our culture.”   ― Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion

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As we make our case, we might recall that this the date commonly given for the day that the Pied Piper (Rattenfänger) led the children of Hamelin, Germany, into a mountain cave, never to return.

A German version of the tale has survived in a 1602/1603 inscription found in Hamelin in the Rattenfängerhaus (Pied Piper’s, or Ratcatcher’s house):

Anno 1284 am dage Johannis et Pauli
war der 26. junii
Dorch einen piper mit allerlei farve bekledet
gewesen CXXX kinder verledet binnen Hamelen gebo[re]n
to calvarie bi den koppen verloren  

which has been translated into English as:

In the year of 1284, on John’s and Paul’s day
was the 26th of June
By a piper, dressed in all kinds of colours,
130 children born in Hamelin were seduced
and lost at the place of execution near the Koppen.

 source

 

Written by LW

June 26, 2018 at 1:01 am

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”*…

 

Chateaubriand’s tomb, Saint-Malo, France

Because history “belongs to the victors”– is shaped, both consciously and preter-consciously by writers looking back through the lens of their often very different presents– memoir can be an especially valuable as a vehicle for understanding a time in its own terms.  François-René (Auguste), vicomte de Chateaubriand’s Memoirs from Beyond the Grave are especially precious.  His autobiography helps us as readers locate ourselves in a time of tumultuous transition– from the ancien régime to the modern era: the Revolution of 1789, the downfall of the monarchy and the execution of the king, the advent of Napoleon Bonaparte and the empire, the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty after the definite defeat of Napoleon by the powers that joined in the Holy Alliance, its overthrow by the Revolution of July 1830, the inauguration of Louis-Philippe and the establishment of the July monarchy, and finally the birth of the short-lived Second Republic.

But more, Memoirs helps us understand the psychological reality of living through– and in Chateaubriand’s case, playing a series of engaged roles in– that social and political sea change.

Chateaubriand was attached to the past and its centuries-old traditions, but he was also a liberal, open to modernity: this is one thing that sets him apart in the history of ideas. He had been repulsed by the discourse and the violence of the French revolutionaries and was deeply impressed by the powerful composure of George Washington, “the representative of the needs, ideas, intelligence, and opinions of his epoch.” He had a vision of social transformation that did not entail the obliteration of the past, and was proud to declare himself “Bourboniste by honor, royalist by reason, and republican by inclination.”…

Anka Muhlstein on the significance of the Memoirs: “A Passionate Witness“; get the book here.

(Literature can play a similar role: consider the Prince in Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.)

* newspaper reporter Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young), in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

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As we struggle to understand, we might send tasty birthday greetings to the culinary genius behind green eggs and ham, Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he was born on this date in 1904.  After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction for generations of young readers.

The more that you read,

The more things you will know.

The more that you learn,

The more places you’ll go.

I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)

 source

 

Written by LW

March 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

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