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Posts Tagged ‘sociology

“I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightfoward pathway had been lost”*…

Dante shown holding a copy of the Divine Comedy, next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory and the city of Florence, with the spheres of Heaven above, in Domenico di Michelino‘s 1465 fresco [source]

What an early 14th century masterpiece can teach us today…

Dante Alighieri was early in recognising that our age has a problem. He was the first writer to use the word moderno, in Italian, and the difficulty he spotted with the modern mind is its limited capacity to relate to the whole of reality, particularly the spiritual aspects. This might sound surprising, given that his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, is often described as one of the most brilliant creations of the medieval imagination. It is taken to be a genius expression of a discarded worldview, not the modern one, from an era in which everything was taken to be connected to the supreme reality called God. But Dante was born in a time of troubling transition. He realised that this cosmic vision was being challenged, and he didn’t seek to reject it or restore it, but to remake it.

The scale of this ambition partly explains why he wrote his three-part narrative journey – through hell (Inferno), purgatory (Purgatorio) and paradise (Paradiso) – in Italian, for a mass audience, not just the Latin-reading literati. The Divine Comedy was an instant hit. Hundreds of early manuscripts of the work survive, and people were soon demanding public readings of it. And it has continued to excite the imaginations of more recent poets, from T S Eliot to Clive James, as well as artists from William Blake to my favourite contemporary illustrator, Monika Beisner. Dante takes you somewhere you didn’t previously know. He does that because his epic verse is a self-conscious response to a shifting consciousness with which, in many ways – particularly when it comes to meaning – we are still wrestling…

At 700, Dante’s Divine Comedy is as modern as ever – a lesson in spiritual intelligence that makes us better at being alive. Mark Vernon (@platospodcasts) explains: “The Divine Dante.”

See also, “Mary Jo Bang Wonders Why It Takes So Long to Meet Beatrice in Dante’s Inferno,” in which the author ponders Dante’s modernity in a different dimension:

Several times in Purgatorio, Virgil defers to her when he reaches the limits of his pagan knowledge and can’t answer Dante’s questions, each time saying something like, “I’ve told you all I know. Ask Beatrice when you see her.” I took Virgil’s deference at face value: she’s Christian, she has Christian faith, she’ll know what a pagan can’t fathom. Of course, that was my mistake. Each time the poet Dante has Virgil say “ask Beatrice,” he is laying the groundwork for a character so psychologically astute that she’s nothing short of amazing…

As a character, she’s truly ahead of her time, and further proof that Dante as a poet was ahead of his. I was in awe watching her confront our hero and chip away at his defenses. It was like watching an old Perry Mason movie where we sit on the edge of our metaphoric seats as we get closer and closer to the complicated truth…

* Dante, Inferno, Canto 1

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As we muse on modernity, we might send insightful birthday greetings to a thinker who wrestled in our times with many of the same challenges of modernity as Dante did in his: Jean Baudrillard; he was born on this date in 1929.

A sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer, Baudrillard is best known for his analyses of media, contemporary culture, and technological communication, as well as his formulation of concepts such as simulation and hyperreality.  He wrote widely– touching subjects including consumerism, gender relations, economics, social history, art, Western foreign policy, and popular culture– and is perhaps best known for Simulacra and Simulation (1981).  Part of a generation of French thinkers that included Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan, with all of whom Baudrillard shared an interest in semiotics, he is often seen as a central to the post-structuralist  philosophical school.

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“Losing my religion”*…

Shifting religious affiliations in the U.S. have generated lots of comment (e.g., Friday’s New York Times: “The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It“). It’s worth taking a comprehensive look at the data on which those takes are based; there’s even more to see…

Seven in ten Americans (70%) identify as Christian, including more than four in ten who identify as white Christian and more than one-quarter who identify as Christian of color. Nearly one in four Americans (23%) are religiously unaffiliated, and 5% identify with non-Christian religions.

The most substantial cultural and political divides are between white Christians and Christians of color. More than four in ten Americans (44%) identify as white Christian, including white evangelical Protestants (14%), white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants (16%), and white Catholics (12%), as well as small percentages who identify as Latter-day Saint (Mormon), Jehovah’s Witness, and Orthodox Christian. Christians of color include Hispanic Catholics (8%), Black Protestants (7%), Hispanic Protestants (4%), other Protestants of color (4%), and other Catholics of color (2%). The rest of religiously affiliated Americans belong to non-Christian groups, including 1% who are Jewish, 1% Muslim, 1% Buddhist, 0.5% Hindu, and 1% who identify with other religions. Religiously unaffiliated Americans comprise those who do not claim any particular religious affiliation (17%) and those who identify as atheist (3%) or agnostic (3%).

Over the last few decades, the proportion of the U.S. population that is white Christian has declined by nearly one-third. As recently as 1996, almost two-thirds of Americans (65%) identified as white and Christian. By 2006, that had declined to 54%, and by 2017 it was down to 43%. The proportion of white Christians hit a low point in 2018, at 42%, and rebounded slightly in 2019 and 2020, to 44%. That tick upward indicates the decline is slowing from its pace of losing roughly 11% per decade.

The slight increase in white Christians between 2018 and 2020 was driven primarily by an uptick in the proportion of white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants and a stabilization in the proportion of white Catholics. Since 2007, white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants have declined from 19% of the population to a low of 13% in 2016, but the last three years have seen small but steady increases, up to 16% in 2020. White Catholics have also declined from a high point of 16% of the population in 2008, and their low point of 11% occurred in 2018. It is unclear if the bump back up to 12% in 2020 indicates a new trend.

Since 2006, white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020. That proportion has generally held steady since 2017 (15% in 2017, 2018, and 2019).

Disaffiliating white Christians have fueled the growth of the religiously unaffiliated during this period. Only 16% of Americans reported being religiously unaffiliated in 2007; this proportion rose to 19% by 2012, and then gained roughly a percentage point each year from 2012 to 2017. Reflecting the patterns above, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans hit a high point of 26% in 2018 but has since slightly declined, to 23% in 2020.

The increase in proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans has occurred across all age groups but has been most pronounced among young Americans. In 1986, only 10% of those ages 18–29 identified as religiously unaffiliated. In 2016, that number had increased to 38%, and declined slightly in 2020, to 36%.

Americans ages 18–29 are the most religiously diverse age group. Although a majority (54%) are Christian, only 28% are white Christians (including 12% who are white mainline Protestants, 8% who are white Catholics, and 7% who are white evangelical Protestants), while 26% are Christians of color (including 9% who are Hispanic Catholics, 5% who are Hispanic Protestants, 5% who are Black Protestants, 2% who are multiracial Christians, 2% who are AAPI Christians, and 1% who are Native American Christians). More than one-third of young Americans (36%) are religiously unaffiliated, and the remainder are Jewish (2%), Muslim (2%), Buddhist (1%), Hindu (1%), or another religion (1%).

Americans ages 65 and older are the only group whose religious profile has changed significantly since 2013. Among Americans 65 and older, the proportion of white evangelical Protestants dropped from 26% in 2013 to 22% in 2020, and the proportion of white Catholics dropped from 18% in 2013 to 15% in 2020. By contrast, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated seniors increased from 11% in 2013 to 14% in 2020.

White evangelical Protestants are the oldest religious group in the U.S., with a median age of 56, compared to the median age in the country of 47. White Catholics and Unitarian Universalists have median ages of 54 and 53 years old, respectively. Black Protestants and white mainline Protestants have a median age of 50. All other groups have median ages below 50: Jehovah’s Witnesses (49), Jewish Americans (48), Latter-day Saints (47), Orthodox Christians (42), Hispanic Catholics (42), Hispanic Protestants (39), religiously unaffiliated people (38), Buddhists (36), Hindus (36), and Muslims (33). In the youngest groups, one-third of Hindu (33%) and Buddhist (34%) Americans and 42% of Muslim Americans are in the 18–29 age category.

Delving into the data of devotion: “The American Religious Landscape in 2020.

* R.E.M.

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As we ponder piety, we might send evangelical birthday greetings to Bardaisan; he was born on this date in 154. A scientist, scholar, astrologer, philosopher, hymnographer, and poet, he was the first known Syriac literary author. A key figure among the Gnostics, he founded the Bardaisanites and was central to the Christianization of Rome (indeed, he is said to have converted prince Abgar IX).

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“To ask whether the mainstream media has a conservative or liberal bias is like asking whether al-Qaida uses too much oil in their hummus.”*…

What we talk about when we talk about “the mainstream media”…

Everyone is constantly yelling about the mainstream media, and rarely are we referring to the same thing. Just take the recent whirlwind of news about Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York: A guest on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show said that the mainstream media, too busy hating on Trump, gave Cuomo a pass on his leadership during the pandemic. The Washington Post’s Max Boot wrote that Cuomo’s various scandals show how the mainstream media is tougher on Democrats than on Republicans. David Sirota, founder of the Daily Posterargued that the “media machine” was too busy celebrating Cuomo to cover him adequately. The Poynter Institute weighed in: “It might be time to dispel the thinking that the so-called ‘mainstream media’ is protecting” Cuomo. Brian Flood, a media reporter for Fox News, contended that the mainstream media went easy on Cuomo while he botched the early vaccine rollout. Meantime, Cuomo’s camp apparently believed that his bad press was manufactured by “a mainstream media desperate for clicks.”

There are many ways to think about what constitutes the mainstream media, if such a thing exists at all. It can refer, simply, to any newspaper or to your local daytime talk show; at its most pernicious, the “mainstream media” represents a conspiracy of gatekeepers. “The elite media set a framework within which others operate,” Noam Chomsky wrote. “That framework works pretty well, and it is understandable that it is just a reflection of obvious power structures.” A popular academic argument describes the mainstream media as actors who wield “power over discourse,” which conjures a certain image: wealthy, white, male. As independent local news withers, and media companies become increasingly corporatized—under the control of large conglomerates and hedge funds—that critique rings all the more true. To Sheryl Kennedy Haydel, a scholar of historically Black college and university newspapers at Louisiana State, the term “mainstream media” remains useful as long as journalism has an equity problem. “The people who are the decision-makers, or even the reporters, don’t look like the nation you and I live in,” she told me…

To some, “mainstream” can be synonymous with “popular”; yet Fox News, consistently ranked the most-watched cable network, is perhaps the loudest megaphone ranting against the mainstream media’s “corrupt cabal.” In May, the Pew Research Center released a report finding “wide agreement” among Americans surveyed that a certain set of outlets are in the mainstream media: ABC News, CNN, the New York Times, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal; 73 percent said that Fox News belongs to the mainstream. Yet The Sean Hannity Show did not make the mainstream ranks. And among respondents who rely on Fox for political news, as well as those who tune in to NPR, majorities said they believe their preferred source to be mainstream yet different from most other outlets. HuffPost might be the mainstream media, the poll said, but BuzzFeed probably isn’t. The more one looks at the results, the more contradictory they appear.

What is clear is that those of us who use the phrase “mainstream media” have only a loosely shared understanding of reality, at best. And yet we continue to use the same term, one weighted with history, to describe a phenomenon that sounds assured and entrenched but is actually amorphous and dynamic. Perhaps the ambiguity of “the mainstream media” reveals something profound about the messy information ecosystem we’re in…

The history and the current state of a concept– “mainstream media”– that obscures more than it clarifies: “Inside the Lines,” from Savannah Jacobson (@srjacobson1) in @CJR.

* Al Franken

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As we honor honest inquiry, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that police raided The Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village, resulting in three days of demonstrations by members of the gay community that launched the gay rights movement.

A framed newspaper clipping covering the police raid hangs inside The Stonewall Inn (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 28, 2021 at 7:18 am

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”*…

You could fill a small library with books on right-wing populism. Some authors argue that these movements emerged in reaction to relatively recent events, such as the financial crisis of 2007-09 or the advent of social media. Others look to longer-lasting regional trends, like European integration or racial politics in America.

Thomas Piketty, an economist, became famous for a book that analysed 200 years of data on wealth inequality in a wide range of countries. This month he published a paper, co-written by Amory Gethin and Clara Martínez-Toledano, which applies a similar approach to the relationship between demography and ideology. Its findings imply that the electoral victories of Donald Trump and the Brexit campaign in 2016 were not an abrupt departure from precedent, but rather the consequence of a 60-year-old international trend.

In a paper in 2018 Mr Piketty noted that elites in Britain, France and America were split between intellectuals who backed left-of-centre parties—he dubbed them the “Brahmin left”—and businesspeople who preferred right-wing ones (the “merchant right”). His new work expands this study from three Western democracies to 21. It combines data on parties’ policy positions with surveys that show how vote choices varied between demographic groups.

The paper finds that income and education began diverging as predictors of ideology long ago. In 1955 both the richest and the most educated voters tended to support conservative parties. Conversely, both poorer and less-educated people mostly chose labour or social-democratic ones.

Today, wealthy people still lean to the right. In contrast, the relationship between education and ideology began to reverse as early as the 1960s. Every year, the 10% of voters with the most years of schooling gravitated towards left-wing parties, while the remaining 90% slid the other way. By 2000, this had gone on for so long that, as a group, the most educated voters became more left-wing than their less-educated peers. The gap has only grown since then.

This trend is strikingly consistent. It developed just as fast in the 20th century as in the 21st, and appears in almost every Western democracy studied. This includes both two-party systems and proportional ones, in which green parties now lure educated voters, and nativist parties attract the less educated. Such breadth and regularity make the rise of right-wing populists like Mr Trump—and of left-of-centre technocrats like Emmanuel Macron or Justin Trudeau—look like a historical inevitability.

Although the authors do not identify a cause for this trend, the simplest explanation is that it stems from growing educational attainment. In 1950 less than 10% of eligible voters in America and Europe had graduated from college. Any party relying on this group for support would have had scant hope of winning elections. In contrast, more than a third of Western adults today have degrees, which is enough to anchor a victorious coalition. And once candidates and parties began catering to educated voters—who often put living in a liberal society above lowering their tax bills—rival politicians could start winning elections by taking the opposite position.

From the always-illuminating Economist Graphic Detail, a new paper by Thomas Piketty makes the rise of right-wing populism and a progressive left look like a historical inevitability: “Educated voters’ leftward shift is surprisingly old and international.”

* Upton Sinclair

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As we ruminate on representation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that city authorities in the California beach town of Santa Cruz announced a total ban on the public performance or playing of rock and roll music, calling it “detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”

It may seem obvious now that Santa Cruz’s ban on “Rock-and-roll and other forms of frenzied music” was doomed to fail, but it was hardly the only such attempt. Just two weeks later in its June 18, 1956 issue, Time magazine reported on similar bans recently enacted in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and in San Antonio, Texas, where the city council’s fear of “undesirable elements” echoed the not-so-thinly-veiled concerns of Santa Cruz authorities over the racially integrated nature of the event that prompted the rock-and-roll ban… (source)

rock ban

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 3, 2021 at 1:01 am

“What is missing from the policy analyst’s tool kit – and from the set of accepted, well-developed theories of human organization – is an adequately specified theory of collective action whereby a group of principals can organize themselves voluntarily to retain the residuals of their own efforts”*…

Locals at the Marienfluss Conservancy in Namibia meet to discuss conservation

Further to yesterday’s post on privacy as a public good, a revisit of an apposite topic, the destructively-problematic concept of “The Tragedy of the Commons“…

In December 1968, the ecologist and biologist Garrett Hardin had an essay published in the journal Science called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. His proposition was simple and unsparing: humans, when left to their own devices, compete with one another for resources until the resources run out. ‘Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest,’ he wrote. ‘Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.’ Hardin’s argument made intuitive sense, and provided a temptingly simple explanation for catastrophes of all kinds – traffic jams, dirty public toilets, species extinction. His essay, widely read and accepted, would become one of the most-cited scientific papers of all time.

Even before Hardin’s ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ was published, however, the young political scientist Elinor Ostrom had proven him wrong. While Hardin speculated that the tragedy of the commons could be avoided only through total privatisation or total government control, Ostrom had witnessed groundwater users near her native Los Angeles hammer out a system for sharing their coveted resource. Over the next several decades, as a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, she studied collaborative management systems developed by cattle herders in Switzerland, forest dwellers in Japan, and irrigators in the Philippines. These communities had found ways of both preserving a shared resource – pasture, trees, water – and providing their members with a living. Some had been deftly avoiding the tragedy of the commons for centuries; Ostrom was simply one of the first scientists to pay close attention to their traditions, and analyse how and why they worked.

The features of successful systems, Ostrom and her colleagues found, include clear boundaries (the ‘community’ doing the managing must be well-defined); reliable monitoring of the shared resource; a reasonable balance of costs and benefits for participants; a predictable process for the fast and fair resolution of conflicts; an escalating series of punishments for cheaters; and good relationships between the community and other layers of authority, from household heads to international institutions.

When it came to humans and their appetites, Hardin assumed that all was predestined. Ostrom showed that all was possible, but nothing was guaranteed. ‘We are neither trapped in inexorable tragedies nor free of moral responsibility,’ she told an audience of fellow political scientists in 1997…

Far from being profoundly destructive, we humans have deep capacities for sharing resources with generosity and foresight. Michelle Nijhuis (@nijhuism) explains: “The miracle of the commons.”

Elinor Ostrom (who received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics for her work)

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As we come together, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that a Conference of Governors, convened by President Theodore Roosevelt and focused on the issue of conservation, opened in Washington. The brainchild of Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester of the U.S., it was attended by the governors of the states and territories, the members of the Supreme Court and the Cabinet, scientists, and other national leaders. Seven days later, the governors adopted a declaration supporting conservation. One result was The National Conservation Commission, appointed by Roosevelt later that year, which prepared the first inventory of the natural resources of the United States with chairmen for water, forests, lands, and minerals. The conference also led to annual governors’ conferences, and the appointment of 38 state conservation commissions.

Roosevelt and Pinchot

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