Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Hedgehog’s Array: January 29, 2016

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Dying Together,” Clare Coffey
“The privacy I had attributed to death, which made me feel as though only a similarly private intimacy was entitled to grief, was non-existent.”

“Our Fairy Tales Ourselves: Storytelling From East to West,” Marie Mutsuki Mockett
“Occasionally I would see something on TV that deeply captured my imagination and love, but which sent me into such a fit of tears that my mother would literally spend hours trying to console me over the injustice of a purely tragic ending while she cursed her culture for being irresponsibly sad. For in Japan, stories could be devastatingly, irredeemably wretched.”

“The 27th Letter,” Mairead Small Staid
“An editor once removed forty-four ampersands from a long poem I had written. I didn’t argue, partly because the editor had gone to such trouble, all those red andsTrack changes, as if it were that easy—and partly because I couldn’t articulate why it mattered.”

“What Went Wrong In Flint,” Anna Maria Barry-Jester
“More than a year after residents started sounding alarm bells, it’s now clear that employees at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality collected insufficient data and ignored the warning signs visible in what they did collect. In the process, they allowed the residents of Flint to be poisoned.”

“To Be and to Do,” Leland de la Durantaye
“What is yours, and how do you use it? Your body, for instance, is yours, as is the life you lead with it; but in what way, to what degree, is it subject to what restrictions? And above all how is it conditioned or curtailed by which notions of what life is, what it is for, what obligations it carries, and what tasks it may be assigned?”

Hedgehogs abroad:

”How Reagan’s ‘Touch the Face of God’ Speech after the Challenger Disaster 30 Years Ago Paved the Way for Space X,” Ned O’Gorman
“Reagan did not save NASA in the wake of the Challenger disaster.”

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Things to Do Instead of Watching the Debate Tomorrow

Detail from John William Waterhouse’s Diogenes (1882). Wikimedia Commons.

Detail from John William Waterhouse’s Diogenes (1882). Wikimedia Commons.

It’s one of those facts that you learn when you’re young and that stick with you in some strange, character-forming way: Ancient Athenians would round up reluctant voters with a rope dipped in red paint.  What a clever way to force citizens to exercise their civic duty and, at the same time, shame them for their reluctance to do so! Citizenship is good! I would be an involved citizen (surely) when I reached my majority (I would not).

Citizenship is good, but the relationship between citizenship and, say, the theater of our seemingly endless pre-primary debates is probably a little dubious. When I asked a friend if she wanted to watch Monday’s town hall with me, she shot me down on the grounds she’d given up drinking. This was a good argument and I have taken some instruction from it.

So skip the debate! Even Donald Trump is doing it. And in that spirit, here are some things you can do instead of watching the Republican debate tomorrow:

Play a game in which you round up reluctant Athenian voters. I don’t know why this game exists, but, let me tell you, the controls are really frustrating and bad. Anyway—it’s an option.

To continue the Athens theme, read The Knights. This is a fun and delightful comedy by Aristophanes about a people wooed by a destructive demagogue. It’s relaxing to read literature about problems that are entirely in the past.

Learn a language. These debates last what? Five hours? A day? That’s surely enough time to get down the basics of German pronouns or something. Or hey, Attic Greek! People spoke that thousands of years ago, so hard could it be? πάθει μάθος, friends.

Fingerpainting. Jackson Pollock was born on January 28. Remember him.

Watch that movie, the bleak Scandinavian thing that you’ve been meaning to watch but not really because you already think about death enough and don’t need to be reminded of it at this particular time and also your glasses are bad and the subtitles are hard to read. You know the one.

Deep clean your fridge. This is a good way to spend a lot of time and gain some crucial self-knowledge.

Drink anyway. I probably will.

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The Hedgehog’s Array: January 15, 2016

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Some noteworthy reads from the last week:

“The History of Twitter’s Rules,” Sarah Jeong
“The gradual changes in the Twitter Rules reflect a story about Twitter, and shine light on the story that Twitter has tried to tell about itself.”

”What happens if you find the people who owned your second-hand books?,” Nicholas Lezard
“It is a lovely idea and you wonder why it hasn’t been done before: tracking down the previous owners of your second-hand books, talking to them if they’re alive, telling their stories if they’re not.”

“The Root of All Evil,” John Lorinc
“The point of the Barrier Fund’s portfolio is that there’s plenty of profit to be wrung from firms that make harmful goods. Investors, he argues, shouldn’t try to maximize their returns while making moral judgments about the companies they’re betting on.”

“The Collages of Helen Adam,” Alison Fraser
“In the late 1970s, Helen Adam wrote to Robert Duncan about ‘some pleasing weird collages’ she had made.”

 “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” Liesl Schillinger
“These archetypal, enchanting, foreboding tales lodge in the childish mind, endure and resonate. They hold the key to real-life dangers, hopes, and emotions that the child will confront with recognition in later years when she grows up — unfair bosses, near-impossible assignments, envy, even treachery.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: January 8, 2016

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Some noteworthy reads from the last week:

 “Phantom Public,” Astra Taylor
“Today you don’t have to be a card-carrying McLuhanite to believe that forms of media have their own inherent politics.”

“Therapy Wars,” Oliver Burkeman
“A newly emboldened band of psychoanalytic therapists are pressing the case that CBT’s pre-eminence has been largely built on sand.”

“Empire of Letters,” Jeffrey J. Williams
“Although I kept calling ‘L-A-R-B,’ everyone who works on it calls it ‘Larb,’ like the Thai salad. ‘The only literary review which is also delicious,’ Lutz joked.”

“The Curious Case of Island-Dwelling Goats,” Juliet Lamb
“Early North American settlers had a method for clearing forested areas without heavy machinery. Step one: let the goats in.”

“The Man With 20,000 Books,” Jacob Heilbrunn
“Abramsky transformed his home near Hampstead Heath into one of the most important private libraries on socialism and Judaism in the world. Books invaded every corner of his house—excepting the kitchen, where his wife Miriam whipped up lavish meals for the members of his salon that ranged from E.P. Thompson to Eric Hobsbawm, from Arnaldo Momigliano to Haim Ben-Sasson.”

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Dispatches from Today’s Youth Culture: Romance and Intimacy

freaks geeks cool kidsFrom 1997–99—just before social media erupted on the scene—I studied American teenagers and reported the results in Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids (2004). Fifteen years later, I did a follow-up study to see what changes have occurred in teenage culture. I will highlight some of the findings and their implications in a series of short essays.

You can read all the essays in this series here.

I have suggested in a previous blog that many teenagers feel under greater academic pressure and this has contributed to more instrumental orientations and actions. For instance, many students display a greater concern with grades.

This move toward instrumentalism has not only affected the academic areas of school life, however. There has also been a decline in notions of romance. Dating—in the sense of one person expressing a romantic interest in another by asking them out to a specific event—is less common than in the past. Instead, mixed gender groups hang out together, which may or may not include going to a specific event together. Instead of formal dating, couples “hook up.”

A fieldworker reports:

I asked Ashley about the dating culture, and she said that there was not a whole lot of serious relationships at the high school. She said this was certainly the case within her own group, and thought it applied to most groups at the school as well. Ashley said most of the dating culture at the school consisted of “pretty casual hook ups.”

The term “hook up” does not necessarily mean sexual intercourse per se, but usually implies some kind of sexual behavior. National survey data report that 18 percent of male and 13 percent of female high school students report that they have had sex with four or more people. Nearly 50 percent of 15–19 year olds report that they have had oral sex with an opposite sex partner. Sociologist Danielle Currier refers to the use of this term “hook up” as deliberate “strategic ambiguity.” It offers more sexual freedom, but the ambiguity of the term helps protects the participants from negative labels (e.g., “slut,” “ho,” “user,” “SOB,” “predator”).

Sexual relationships have become more a matter of explicit exchange rather than implicit exchange; more of a short-term contract and less of a covenant. This is reflected not only in the relationships themselves, but also in the ideology and language used to describe them. And, of course, the degree to which this shift has taken place can vary significantly.

It is important not to see hooking up as necessarily a cultural decline from a superior morality or to see “dating” as “natural.” Cultures and periods have varied significantly in what they considered the appropriate and legitimate way to organize erotic relationships. In most pre-modern agrarian societies, parents and other adult members of the family played central roles in arranging marriages and liaisons. Young people might or might not be consulted. Often marriage was a form of alliance and entered into for economic or political purposes.

In Consuming the Romantic Utopia, Eva Illouz has shown that “dating” was once a new social form that replaced “calling upon” a young woman at the family home. The shift to dating was closely linked to increasing levels of disposable income, the commercialization of entertainment, new forms of physical mobility such as the automobile, higher levels of individualism, and, more generally, to the rise of consumer capitalism. Similarly, there are technological, social, and cultural sources of “hooking up.” It is closely linked to a variety of ideologies such as gender equality, the legitimacy of pleasure, and freedom of choice. These notions, especially the latter one, are closely associated with the taken-for-granted legitimacy of the market as the core institution of capitalist societies and the ideologies that defend this assumption.

To point out that there have been alternative ways of forming and maintaining intimacy is not to lapse into a complete relativism. The key empirical point, however, is that the ideology of what is considered as the “normal” intimate relationship for teenagers (and many young adults) has shifted away from romanticism and toward a more explicit instrumentalism.

Murray Milner, Jr. is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Senior Fellow at IASC. His most recent books are Elites: A General Model (2015), and Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: Teenagers is an Era of Consumerism, Standardized Tests, and Social Media, 2nd Edition (2015) from which this essay is drawn.

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