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Posts Tagged ‘sociology

“The most perfect political community is one in which the middle class is in control, and outnumbers both of the other classes”*…

 

middle class

 

But is there a middle class?…

Every politician defends the middle class, but none of them knows quite what it is. In August, during a town hall, Joe Biden said, “We have to rebuild the middle class, and this time we bring everyone along.” In his telling, the middle class is part memory and part aspiration, less a demographic group than a morality tale of loss and redemption. It “isn’t a number,” Biden is fond of saying. “It’s a set of values.”

For many social scientists, though, the middle class is a matter of numbers. The Pew Research Center says that anyone who earns between a mere two-thirds of the median household income and twice that amount falls within it. By that definition, just under half of all American adults are middle class. Unlike in Britain, where the category is seen as more culturally refined, the American middle class includes blue-collar workers whose consumption patterns fit the bill; they can buy a home or put their kids through college. Biden defines the middle class even more expansively. To be middle class, he said in Iowa this summer, is to know “that your kid is safe going outside to play”—something most humans, if not most large primates, would agree they want. To be middle class is to be, well, normal.

Republicans, for their part, rarely promise to rebuild the middle class; they want, as President Trump has said, to make it “bigger and more prosperous than ever before.” But liberal politicians from Biden to Barack Obama to Elizabeth Warren often vow to restore the middle class to the former glory of the three decades after World War II—a time when, they say, prosperity was shared and class conflict neutralized.

Even then, however, there was a sense that the middle class was in crisis. In his 1956 best-seller, The Organization Man, William Whyte wrote of a middle class—an implicitly white middle class—trapped in suburbs and office jobs, shorn of the entrepreneurial individualism and wartime solidarity of earlier generations. In 1969, a New York Times reporter found in Italian-American Queens a community trapped between escalating grocery bills and the expanding “ghetto.” In 1977, the middle class was “struggling uphill,” the Chicago Tribune wrote. In 1992, it felt “betrayed” and “forgotten,” according to the Times. And since 2008, Times subscribers have read of a middle class that is “sagging,” “shrinking,” “sinking,” and “limping.” In short, the middle class, as our politicians imagine it, has never really existed [in a settled, continuous way]: It is always in decline, always on the brink of being rebuilt.

To imagine the middle class, then, is to invoke a myth. Politicians use it to bind Americans together in a shared hope that they can one day return to the lost idyll of the postwar period. In that sense, the concept is remarkably optimistic, if somewhat inconsistent. As Lawrence Samuel argues in The American Middle Class: A Cultural History, the term expresses two incompatible things: It suggests that the United States is a classless society in which most citizens belong to the same social sphere, even as it hints at a rarefied class above the middle that anyone can reach if they work hard enough to ascend the ladder of opportunity. These can’t both be true—if the United States were a classless society, there would be no need for upward mobility. The metaphor gives the lie to the myth. Every ladder, after all, has a top and a bottom—and it’s the bottom that bears all the weight…

Politicians– and business people and academics– are quick to reference “the middle class.”  John Patrick Leary (@johnpatleary) explores “What We Talk About When We Talk About the Middle Class.”

* Aristotle

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As we contemplate classification and its consequences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1792, during George Washington’s first term as president, that the first edition of The Farmers Almanac was published.  (It became The Old Farmers Almanac in 1832 to distinguish itself from similarly-titled competitors.)  Still going strong, it is the oldest continuously-published periodical in the U.S.

Almanac source

 

Written by LW

November 25, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult trade since it consists principally of dealings with men”*…

 

Woman Stands in Empty Classroom with Note

 

Alter the status of women and you have affected all the most intimate and significant nodes of life: the relation of wife to husband, mother to child, sister to sibling, daughter to parents, worker to coworkers, and employee to employer (or vice versa). This change in women’s standing that happened what seems like yesterday, and is still happening today at an accelerated rate, is the most profound revolution that can take place in a society. It takes and gives energy to all the other reforms of our time. After all, the civil rights movement involves black women, the LGBTQ movement concerns lesbians, the disability rights movement affects disabled women, health care reforms implicate women care-givers and the objects of their care. Raise any part of our society to a more just condition and justice for women is centrally at issue. It is the reform of all reforms and the basic measure of our progress…

The inestimable Gary Wills recounts “My Education in the Patriarchy.”

For a powerful way to address this opportunity globally, consider Landesa.

* Joseph Conrad, Chance

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As we think inclusively, we might recall that it was on this date in 1890 that journalist Nellie Bly began her 72-day trip around the world.

In 1888, Bly suggested to her editor at the New York World that she take a trip around the world, attempting to turn the fictional Around the World in Eighty Days into fact for the first time.  A year later, at 9:40 a.m. on November 14, 1889, with two days’ notice, she boarded the steamer Augusta Victoria, and began her 24,899-mile journey.

She brought with her the dress she was wearing, a sturdy overcoat, several changes of underwear, and a small travel bag carrying her toiletry essentials. She carried most of her money (£200 in English bank notes and gold in total as well as some American currency) in a bag tied around her neck.

Bly traveled through England, France (where she met Jules Verne in Amiens), Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Colombo (Ceylon), the Straits Settlements of Penang and Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan.  Just over seventy-two days after her departure from Hoboken, having used steamships and existing railway lines, Bly was back in New York; she beat Phileas Fogg‘s time by almost 8 days.

Nellie Bly, in a publicity photo for her around-the-world voyage. Caption on the original photo reads: “Nellie Bly, The New York WORLD’S correspondent who placed a girdle round the earth in 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes.”

 source

 

Written by LW

November 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

“There’s no big apocalypse. Just an endless procession of little ones”*…

 

Empty_wave_at_Banzai_Pipeline

 

Humanity is facing multiple possible apocalypses, with narratives that often miss an important point: The apocalypse probably won’t be quick or final. It will be an environment, not an event or an end point for humanity. The apocalypse is more likely to bring misery than catharsis or salvation. Although worst-case scenarios theoretically make it easier to prevent dire outcomes, in the case of slow-moving apocalypses such as climate change, it’s difficult for humans to envision the scale of the problem and to imagine how we will actually experience it…

Via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jamias Cascio argues that we’d be well served to face up to the deeply dramatic– if not melodramatic– realities that we face: “The apocalypse: It’s not the end of the world.” [free access until January 1, 2020]

* Neil Gaiman, Signal to Noise

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As we take care, we might we might recall that it was on this date (coincidentally, now Chicken Soup of the Soul Day) in 1952 that 9.0 Mw earthquake centered at Severo-Kurilsk in the Kamchatka Peninsula triggered a major tsunami.  the majority of the Severo-Kurilsk citizens fled to the surrounding hills, where they escaped the first wave.  But most of them returned to the town and were killed by the second wave.  According to the authorities, out of a population of 6,000 people, 2,336 died; the survivors were evacuated to continental Russia.  The settlement was then rebuilt in another location.

The tsunami caused flooding as far away as Hawaii, almost 3400 miles way.  Midway Island (over 1800 miles away) was inundated with water, flooding streets and buildings.  On the Hawaiian Islands the waves destroyed boats, knocked down telephone lines, destroyed piers, scoured beaches, and flooded lawns.  In Honolulu Harbor a cement barge was thrown into a freighter. In Hilo Bay a small bridge connecting Coconut Island to the shore was destroyed by a wave when it lifted off its foundation and then smashed down.

Midway

Midway Island after the tsunami

 source

 

Written by LW

November 12, 2019 at 1:01 am

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens”*…

 

Wonder Bread

 

Because of its central role in human nutrition, bread has appeared in countless cultural and religious keystones: the epic of Gilgamesh; the description of Egypt as the land of bread-eaters; Jewish oppression and the feast of Passover (bread of the afflicted); the Roman cry of “bread and circuses”; bread as a symbol in the poetry of Omar Khayyam; bread that signifies the body of Christ in the Eucharist. In short, made with simple, wholesome ingredients, bread is the staff of life. German bread continues to exemplify this tradition, one that Jews were supposedly destroying with processed white bread.

In contrast to the German disdain for white bread, in the United States it had become a symbol of successful industrialization, of a promising modern future. In the early twentieth century, Americans had developed a new anxiety about the potential contamination of their food supply. Eugene Christian and Mollie Griswold Christian exemplify the dramatic phobias surrounding both home-baked and bakery-bought bread in their 1904 book Uncooked Foods and How to Use Them: A Treatise on How to Get the Highest Form of Animal Energy from Food, with Recipes for Preparation, Healthful Combinations and Menus. They write, “Bread rises when infected with the yeast germ, because millions of these little worms have been born and have died, and from their dead and decaying bodies there rises a gas just as it does from the dead body of a hog.” Yum! Mass-produced bread seemed somehow safer, more sterile, in the public eye…

Food, politics, and culture– the dark and white flours of ideology: “Breaking Bread.”

* Robert Browning

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As we loaf, we might recall that it was on this date in 1826 that Noah Cushing, of Quebec, who two years earlier had received Canada’s first patent for his mechanical washing machine, patented a threshing and winnowing machine… which was briskly overtaken by Cyrus McCormick’s better-performing reaping machine, patented in 1834.  Threshing and winnowing capacities were added to the reaper to create the now-standard “combine” that’s used to harvest grain.

450px-Plaque_du_Premier_brevet_d_invention

Plaque commemorating Cushing’s (first) patent

source

 

Written by LW

October 31, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I think a strong claim can be made that the process of scientific discovery may be regarded as a form of art”*…

 

Science

ChaosInTheBrickyard_00c

ChaosInTheBrickyard_00d

 

Click through for neuroscientist (and accomplished comic artist) Matteo Farinella’s unpacking of a serious issue in the practice of modern science: “Scientific knowledge is drowning in a flood of research.”

* Ernest Rutherford (Nobel laureate and “father of nuclear physics”)

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As we honor abduction, we might spare a thought for a theorist supreme, Claude Lévi-Strauss; he died on this date in 2009.  An anthropologist and ethnologist whose work was key in the development of the theory of Structuralism and Structural Anthropology, he is considered, with James George Frazer and Franz Boas, the “father of modern anthropology.”  Beyond anthropology and sociology, his ideas– Structuralism has been defined as “the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity”– have influenced many fields in the humanities, including philosophy.

220px-Levi-strauss_260 source

 

 

“The early 70s were the days when all the survivors of the Sixties went a bit nuts”*…

 

Painting of an Astronaut and Martian by Frank R. Paul

 

Stephen Paul Miller calls the seventies the uncanny decade — the “undecade.” Things were particularly weird in these years, which remain shrouded in America’s cultural memory, as if by a kind of smog. One reason for the haze is the period’s elusive placement between the highly overdetermined sixties — often considered by historians to last well into the subsequent decade — and the more garish icons that come to the fore later in the seventies, like disco and punk, Pong and Star Wars, Jonestown and the Bicentennial. Indeed, liminality is a key characteristic of the early seventies. Radical and transformative forces unleashed in the sixties mutated and dissipated into much broader segments of culture and society. One no longer needed to be an inhabitant of San Francisco, the East Village, or Ann Arbor to explore the creative maelstrom of drugs, uncorked sexual experimentation, and the alternative worldviews associated with radical politics or the occult revival. Thresholds were everywhere.

At the same time, and in stark contrast to the previous years, the horizon of individual and social possibilities abruptly narrowed. Whether left, right, or center, the nation drifted into a Slough of Despond perhaps unprecedented in American history. In polls taken at the end of the seventies, people looked back at a decade of “disillusion and cynicism, helplessness and apprehension,” a list we might as well round out with disorientation, paranoia, boredom, and frustrated rage. I suspect that one reason we find ourselves dependably amused by tacky seventies fluff like shag carpet, massive sideburns, and smiley face buttons is that we need to keep the trauma and perplexity of the era at bay. This is despite (or due to) the fact that so many of the era’s bummers resonate with our own: fears about terrorism and environmental collapse, surveillance paranoia, political cynicism, foreign war fatigue, and a pervasive apocalyptic undertow that tugs beneath an over-heated, desperately sexualized, fantastical, and often bleak popular culture…

Three psycho-spiritual “events” of the 1970s — involving Philip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson, and Terence and Dennis McKenna — had a strange synchronicity.  In an excerpt from his new book, High Weirdness, the ever-illuminating Erik Davis explains: “In the Age of the Psychonauts.”

* Robert Anton Wilson

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As we push at the doors of perception, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that the theatrical musical Jesus Christ Superstar premiered on Broadway.  With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, it had originated the prior year as a concept album (that was given a concert performance in Pittsburgh earlier in 1971).

JCS 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

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