Wall Street Journal bureau chief Blackmon gives a groundbreaking and disturbing account of a sordid chapter in American history-the lease (essentially the sale) of convicts to "commercial interests" between the end of the 19th century and well into the 20th. Usually, the criminal offense was loosely defined vagrancy or even "changing employers without permission." The initial sentence was brutal enough; the actual penalty, "reserved almost exclusively for black men," was a form of slavery in one of "hundreds of forced labor camps" operated "by state and county governments, large corporations, small time entrepreneurs and provincial farmers." Into this history, Blackmon weaves the story of Green Cottenham, who was "charged with riding a freight train without a ticket," in 1908 and was sentenced to "three months of hard labor for Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad," a subsidiary of U.S. Steel. Cottenham's sentence was extended an additional three months and six days because he was unable to pay fines then leveraged on criminals. Blackmon's book reveals in devastating detail the legal and commercial forces that created this neoslavery along with deeply moving and totally appalling personal testimonies of survivors. "Every incident in this book is true," he writes; one wishes it were not so.
From Library Journal Review: «VERDICT American Grace does for this decade what Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart did for the 1980s and Wade Clark RoFrom Library Journal Review: «VERDICT American Grace does for this decade what Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart did for the 1980s and Wade Clark Roof's Spiritual Marketplace did for the late 1990s. A monumental and insightful sociological analysis of the current religious climate and how it developed. Highly recommended.»...more
In the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that food companies engineer hyperprocessed foods in ways precisely gear
From the New York Times:
In the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that food companies engineer hyperprocessed foods in ways precisely geared to most appeal to our tastes. This technologically advanced engineering is done, of course, with the goal of maximizing profits, regardless of the effects of the resulting foods on consumer health, natural resources, the environment or anything else.
But the issues go way beyond food, as the City University of New York professor Nicholas Freudenberg discusses in his new book, “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health.” Freudenberg’s case is that the food industry is but one example of the threat to public health posed by what he calls “the corporate consumption complex,” an alliance of corporations, banks, marketers and others that essentially promote and benefit from unhealthy lifestyles.
Just listened to a year-old radio interview with the author: KQED Forum, and decided I should probably read this, and perhaps finally get around to reJust listened to a year-old radio interview with the author: KQED Forum, and decided I should probably read this, and perhaps finally get around to re-reading David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character, which I suspect will be germane.
Rosin's original article in Slate, from the summer of 2010, is here.
The review of this book in the New York Times had elements of praise and attack, and there was a less-opinionated review in the Wall Street Journal. The Library Journal capsule review was dismissive for the same reasons that many others were: "In the present moment, the patriarchy is alive and well, so how can she be sensibly be talking about the 'end of men'?"
The only place Google could point to me where Rosin and Riesman were referenced together was, amusingly, by Rosin herself, discussing Season 6 of Mad Men — Bob Benson and the End of Men. This isn't such a surprise — many others have noted how Riesman's analysis is especially on point for that historical context....more
Does anyone out there have access to the Indiana Magazine of History?
Apparently there was a review of Woodard's book in Vol. 108, No. 4 (December 201Does anyone out there have access to the Indiana Magazine of History?
Apparently there was a review of Woodard's book in Vol. 108, No. 4 (December 2012), pp. 424-426, by James Rubenstein. I've been trying to find reviews by historians to see if there are any substantial complaints of the history that he portrays here, but haven't found much yet.
Buying the book and formulating review. But: get a copy of this. It will explain so much of what is perplexing in U.S. politics and culture, as well as illuminate some of the contrary-to-received-history of the founding of the country — such as: the word "United" in "United States" was more wishful thinking than realistic. Fascinating. Very highly recommended.
The NY Times did a study of where it is tough to live, and the conservative south has it much worse than the conservative midwest. The why behind that is probably connected to the chapters in the book dealing with the ideology of the south. Sad, and scary. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/26/ups......more
Are the poor to blame for their poverty? For their flawed choices?
Are the overweight, struggling with a diet? What about those who complain of being tAre the poor to blame for their poverty? For their flawed choices?
Are the overweight, struggling with a diet? What about those who complain of being too busy? What about the lonely?
What these have in common is scarcity, something that economists have always studied. But until fairly recently, the idea of studying cognition, or feelings, from an economic perspective would have been absurd, or even heretical. The field of behavioral economics and neuroeconomics has changed that, and took off like a rocket when Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist, won the Nobel Prize in Economics.
What Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir focus on is how our minds function when it perceives scarcity — or, at least partially, becomes dysfunctional. The term is "scarcity trap", and the basic idea is that our brains so tightly focus on what is so desperately lacking that thinking about something else becomes tremendously difficult.
The result is revelatory — there are profound implications for how our governments' poverty programs should function, for what diets are likely to work, or even how overly busy parents of newborn (or sick, etc.) children react.
This is an important book, or even a critical book. We all have seen discussions of inequality gain attention across the political spectrum, and throughout the world. Pikkety’s book brought it to a head in the blogosphere, but we’d been watching the Occupy and 99% movement for some time.
Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much tells us that in many ways, the situation is worse than we thought. Not only are we tolerating economic and social policies that worsen the situation of more people with each passing year, it seems that being poor creates cognitive problems that make the burden even tougher to overcome.
Scarcity is the curse. The subconscious perception of scarcity changes how we think in ways that are detrimental to escaping whatever is causing scarcity in the first place.
This probably wasn’t always so. We can imagine, once upon a time, a world that was so much less complicated that the mechanisms described here didn’t backfire, and instead helped those individuals get back on their feet.
(Note that poverty, while it is the form of scarcity that deserves the most attention, is definitely not the only one that is addressed in the book. More on that below.)
That scarcity is the cause of the problem and not the result requires a significant conceptual reframing.
Let’s go through the paradigm they lay out:
The authors start out exploring focus under conditions of scarcity. If two people are told to identify words flashing very, very quickly before them on a screen, it turns out that hunger will increase the effectiveness of recognition of words associated with food, without decreasing effectiveness of other words. This focus is a good thing, right? There are many, many examples where that is precisely what we want.
What is happening is that scarcity causes adjustments to be made by unconscious parts of the brain, and our conscious brain is much more easily “captured” by stimuli that respond to that scarcity. We can’t control it — that point is made time and again here.
The word they use to describe this is tunneling. When scarcity causes us to focus, we descend into a cognitive tunnel, and aspects of the world that don’t deal with that scarcity become less visible. We can even become completely oblivious. Even when voluntarily focusing, this is evident. We’ve all been so deeply engrossed in something (reading, playing a video game, watching a tense game) that we are startled by someone telling us they’d been trying to get our attention for some time. Those denigrated stimuli have been inhibited from arriving in our awareness. Other objectives we might have otherwise thought important can be eliminated from our consideration by goal inhibition. The example of the neglect of a firefighter to fasten a seat belt in the urgent rush from the station to a burning building is a salient example (although the scarcity here is of time, not money).
But if it is scarcity that is causing the tunneling, we can’t escape it easily, and fall into it more readily even when we do escape. What tunneling reflects is a lack of bandwidth. The term is annoyingly contemporary, but quite apropos, because (like the cyber term) it encompasses two related but different resources. Tunneling taxes both our cognitive capacity (i.e., “intelligence”) as well as our executive control (i.e., “discipline”).
Another way of perceiving this tunneling is very revealing. A common way of prioritizing a to-do list is to rank each item by both urgency and importance. Something that is urgent, but not important, might be ranked higher than something that is important, but not urgent, correct? Tunneling demands that we focus only on what is urgent, even if it isn’t important. This seems counterintuitive, but the book provides plenty of supporting evidence. But what this means is that what is merely important, but never urgent, is consistently suppressed. For example, replacing seriously worn tires on the car is important, of course, but at no point is it necessarily urgent, until it is too late. Dental care, same thing. Budgeting for long-term but completely predictable expenditure is important, but to someone tunneling through life, with two jobs with variable hours, child care troubles, etc. — they will often be surprised to discover that something important has crept up on them.
Even when they emerge from that cognitive tunnel, their troubles won’t be over, of course. This is where juggling comes in: suddenly all those other important things are visible, but there isn’t enough time or energy (or slack) to consider them, much less money in the bank account. The stress is likely to kick them straight back into a scarcity mindset, one where the “bandwidth tax” imposed by scarcity affects their intelligence and discipline.
Just to remind us that all of these problems aren’t just relegated to the poor, who we might privately suspect are dysfunctional anyway, the authors provide several counterexamples.
By way of an empirical analysis, they quiz strangers in a mall. After getting some socioeconomic data, the intelligence of the participants is tested. Then they are asked a key questions, and then their intelligence is tested some more. The key question is one designed to selectively trigger the scarcity-capture phenomena. Half of the subjects are asked how they would deal with a sudden emergency (car repairs) that cost about $150; for the other half, the figure is bumped up to $1500. For those at the high end of the economic scale, there was no change in the intelligence testing. But for those downscale, the later questions showed a significant cognitive deficit, as much as fourteen IQ points, which at least temporarily would make them “borderline deficient”.
Another empirical study looked at how air traffic controllers interact with their families. On days when the air traffic load was low, the controllers had a cognitively easy day of it, and went home and appeared to interact with their children in a stereotypically upper- or middle-class manner. On days when the job was especially tough, their interactions with their family were troubled and reminiscent of a stereotypical lower-class family.
The effect of scarcity is seen across cultures and in several domains. Quite a few of the studies cited take place among struggling farmers or impoverished street vendors in India. Others involve struggles with diets (a “scarcity” of permissible calories, in effect) or loneliness (a “scarcity” of social interaction).
In fact, the book is chock full of interesting examples. Some are illustrative just-so stories or telling anecdotes, but the forty pages of endnotes are tied to the large volume of empirical evidence. This weight of substantiation is necessary because the message is counter-paradigmatic. While we often remind ourselves not to blame the victim in other contexts, that is still pervasive in many domains. Even among those on the political left, policies often assume that the poor don’t understand something, when the theory of scarcity-induced cognitive deficits would tell us instead that they don’t have the money/time/energy to act on what they often quite well know. The numerous examples of how busyness (or dietary failures) among the not-impoverished leads to the same kind of flawed behavior is a salutary reminder that this isn’t a phenomena of poverty, but part of human cognition.
Unfortunately, the mass of examples gets in the way of clarity. There might be too much narrative; those that are unfamiliar with the state of cognitive research might be uneasy enough with the evolving argument, and dismiss the conclusions, sticking with their preexisting opinions. (Actually, it is worse: most people whose preexisting opinions lean in the other direction are probably wary enough of cognitive research that they won’t even open this book.)
Even if this book was only about poverty, the implications really are staggering. As the authors say, “one prevailing view explains the strong correlation between poverty and failure [to make good choices in life, etc.] by saying that failure causes poverty. Our data suggest causality runs at least as strongly in the other direction: that poverty — the scarcity mindset — causes failure.” This book tells us that we should be reexamining all of our policies and social adjustment mechanisms from a different angle, not just because they would be more effective, but also because of the fundamental unfairness of creating obstacles that perversely can make peoples’ situation worse.
But this is an academic book. There is no sense of outrage to incite change through passion. It doesn’t make the dire predictions of Piketty, stirring controversy and wider discussion. Many of those reading this will respond: “Oh, yeah. Duh!”
This is a five-star book because awareness of this theory and its profound social and political implications needs to be elevated. Please read it even as a self-help book in your own life (I rearranged my daily habits to make sure this review got written — something that otherwise I might have considered important, but not quite urgent). But the goal, really, is to think about it enough that it changes one’s perspective of the struggle of many of our fellow humans.
Excellent reviews and articles from around the web:
The human world is strongly conditioned by beliefs, attitudes and cognitive biases that we received from our evolutionary heritage. This topic has beeThe human world is strongly conditioned by beliefs, attitudes and cognitive biases that we received from our evolutionary heritage. This topic has been one of the focal points of my reading for several years now, and I can attest that Bruce Schneier’s Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive serves as an excellent overview.
The book’s dust jacket tells us that Schneier is a “security technologist”; his wikipedia page clarifies that he is a cryptographer and computer security consultant. It is important to note that this book has nothing to do with computers or cryptography — it is a somewhat academic treatment of how society relies on trust to facilitate implicit agreements that, effectively, constitute society itself.
One key point is that we evolved with a willingness to trust others under some circumstances, and not in others. The former was aimed more at the narrow world of our relatives, immediate circle of friends and tribe; the latter was aimed primarily at the strangers outside that world. But of course this is fluid; enmity within the tribe or even in a family could trigger a lack of trust, and it is even possible that a stranger could acquire a reputation that permitted trust in some contexts.
Another key is that trust shows up in identifiable patterns, which persist over time. Some of those patterns become formalized, such as the role of “boss”, or even institutionalized, such as the way courts work. Others remain informal, such as tipping, or even remain largely unspoken, such as what duties adult children owe to their parents. Clearly, we rely on each other to respect and follow these patterns — they are actually what constitutes the infrastructure of society at all levels, even within a family or between friends.
Do you see that there are several dimensions and many variables in this? One dimension is the scale of the society involved, which is itself of a fractal nature — the family is to the clan what the neighborhood is to the city, for example. Another dimension is time, since reputations can only be established over time. Among the variables are the types of pressures that guide us when we follow the rules. Do they come from inside us, internalized from childhood observations? Or are they external, such as laws or religious edicts? Or are they actually artificial, such as fences or protection by passwords?
The book’s only real weakness is an unfortunate side effect of its greatest strength. Schneier’s treatment is explicitly academic, and this could make things a bit of a chore for some — but while the author isn’t a storyteller like Malcolm Gladwell, the the text never becomes plodding or too pedantic. (Along the spectrum of academic writers, I’d put him below Dan Areily, at about the same level as Stephen Pinker, a bit above Daniel Kahneman, and far better than George Lakoff.)
But the academic approach emphasizes something that wouldn’t be immediately apparent otherwise, which is that the concepts here are applicable to an astonishingly wide range of situations. Someone already familiar with the basic applications of game theory will immediately recognized the language of “cooperate” or “defect”, for example, and won’t really see anything new in the early chapters.
Once an analytic model has been introduced and terms have been defined, however, they are invoked in the exploration of a very wide variety of instances. In fact, by the time the reader nears the end of the book, they’ll probably start noticing examples of their own in everyday life.
Let me provide an example that occurred to me while I was reading this book. I live in California, and my primary motorized transportation is a motorcycle. California is unlike every other state in the United States in that lane splitting is not illegal. So in other states, there is an institutional pressure (to use the jargon Schneier provides), in the form of law, to not slip between lanes of traffic and jump ahead.
In California there is, in parallel, a small amount of societal pressure in the form of disapproval of automobile drivers (who believe that the practice is dangerous, although it often is not), and even perhaps some moral pressure (arising from the sense that one is unfairly jumping ahead of one’s “rightful” position in a queue). There might even be some reputational pressure from friends that find it objectionable.
But at the same time, there is a mild social pressure in the opposite direction from fellow motorcyclists — if you don’t take advantage of the motorcycle’s strengths, then you’re a sucker for sticking only with its weaknesses. That might also create some reputational pressures in some circles.
This means there is a social dilemma, in which two competing sets of pressures are likely to influence an individual’s behavior. In the terminology of the text, if the motorcyclist stays in the automotive lane, they are cooperating with those who would prohibit lane splitting, otherwise they are defecting.
But among motorcyclists, there are completely unwritten and largely unspoken sets of norms regarding the conditions under which one should or should not split those lanes. When I try to explain to my non-motorcyclist friends that lane splitting is quite legal, they invariably cite their horror at being passed even at full freeway speeds by motorcycles traveling well above the speed limit (typically, in my experience, testosterone-poisoned young men on sport bikes or self-styled “outlaws” on Harleys).
Well, yes. But those motorcycles are in turn defecting from the norms implicitly agreed to by the overwhelming majority of more sensible motorcyclists. So, for example, if one of my nephews were ever to take up riding, I would explain both the legal and extra-legal norms that I would hope they would follow. As an individual, I could only use societal and reputational pressure and try to invoke moral pressure.
I find something that Schneier notes interesting enough that I want to make it explicit: Laws receive no special treatment in this analytic model. They are merely one form of institutional pressure. Over-reliance on the explicit mechanism of the legal system is one of the problems we run into over and over — if the other pressures are absent, then the law will have very little force. Think, for example, of laws against speeding. Even worse is when countervailing pressures are ignored. Those villains of Wall Street typically have social, reputational and institutional pressures that overwhelm the weak regulations and laws we place in front of them.
Which is precisely the point: if we don’t examine and understand the holistic set of pressures people will be acting under, we won’t get the outcomes we desire. In earlier phases of human civilization, the internalized and intuitive pressures associated with morality and reputation played a dominant role. Today, we rely much more on institutional pressure — especially laws — and security systems. But those simply don’t work very well in comparison. The internalized rules are heuristics which we automatically apply to any situation, while rules and laws must be very explicit and specific.
Think about how much trouble we have with graffiti (ignore for a moment that some people don't think it's much of problem at all — our society certain treats it as one!). It isn’t particularly uncommon on a city bus to watch someone climb aboard (inevitably through the rear exit, and so without paying), pull out permanent markers, scrawl a tag and leave the bus. A hundred years ago, we were surrounded by people we knew, and such delinquency would have long-term reputational consequences — so it almost never happened. Society today is largely anonymous, so reputational pressures have collapsed.
Schneier does point out that anonymity has this effect, of course. But he isn’t a social philosopher, so doesn’t spend as much time on this as I would have liked. A pretty clear trend in our world is growing social isolation and consequent anonymity, despite the rise of social sites on the internet (or because of that shift). More careful study of the mechanisms outlined in this book are necessary, but is there some point on the horizon at which they will not be sufficient?
In this and other ways, I often wonder whether the human individual has been programmed (weakly, yet adequately) by evolution in ways that eventually contradict a sufficiently large and anonymous population.
The book is an excellent introduction to a very peculiar way of looking at society, albeit a way that brings into sharp focus the reasons behind many of our contemporary troubles. I highly recommend it. ...more
The BBC4 sociology podcast Thinking Allowed brought Richard Sennett to my attention in a brief discussion of cooperation in a February 2012 program. WThe BBC4 sociology podcast Thinking Allowed brought Richard Sennett to my attention in a brief discussion of cooperation in a February 2012 program. What he said there was intriguing enough I looked him up here.
The crucial point he had made in the discussion was that cooperation requires unspoken rules, often in the form of rituals. The example he cites is the trading floor of a financial market. All the business that is transacted couldn't be done if the actors didn't follow an elaborate set of rituals, but not only are those rituals not written down, but they can't be.
My thoughts on this: to write down the rules of cooperation would transform them into something new, which occupy a different place in the brain: laws, instead of guidelines. When we perceive legalisms, there is the corollary that what isn't prohibited is permitted, and it becomes possible to game the system by following the letter of these laws while ignoring the spirit. When the "rules" are implicit, we only have the spirit and gaming becomes a form of cheating that is harder to define but easier to condemn.
I'm interested in this perspective of cooperation because our modern society has much more anonymity than the conditions in which we evolved. Much more, I believe, than our ancestors experienced just a few generations ago in their more intimate enclaves of class and ethnicity. Anonymity means people won't have these shared rituals and guidelines and instead rely on laws — which are subject to evasion, which then requires more laws.
On a barely related note, this also ties into my skepticism that we are anywhere near the goals of strong AI — creating a synthetic intelligence that is anywhere close to being sentient. Sennett's exploration of how something as critical as cooperation only functions when it is rooted in unconscious thought reminds me that I don't think we understand sentience anywhere near well enough to start pretending we can replicate it.
This book is also related to my project on exploring the sociology of evil. To quote from one of the reviews of this book—
Caught between the "us-against-them" ethos of our gang, group or community, and the "you-are-on-your-own" individualism of the unforgiving marketplace, we are, he believes "losing the skills of cooperation needed to make a complex society work".
I've only made it through Arendt's book and haven't even gotten a copy of Baumeister's or Simon-Cohen's, but I'm already suspicious that this effect of our modern (and, even more so, post-modern) society also is lowering the threshold for "evil".
Two excellent reviews of Sennett's book were identified by another Goodreads reviewer, and both are laudatory: one by the IndendentUK (quoted above) and another by the GuardianUK....more
Apparently when I heard about this book I asked requested a copy from my library when they came in. A few days ago when I got the email telling me itApparently when I heard about this book I asked requested a copy from my library when they came in. A few days ago when I got the email telling me it was waiting for me, I was "Wha?"
So I'm going to try to slog through this door-stop of a book. Wish me luck.
• • • •
Well, that went poorly. Far too much of what I really already knew to keep my interest. Gore's got a tough problem — he's a pretty polarized figure these days, and so a large portion of his natural audience will be people that are already up-to-date on what he thinks they should know. If you keep preaching to the choir, Al, even the choir eventually gets bored....more
The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is a complex one that provokes dissonance in most thinking Americans. And, yeah, we all knThe relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is a complex one that provokes dissonance in most thinking Americans. And, yeah, we all know there’s some sort of a crisis brewing in Saudi Arabia, but most of keep our gaze averted — as long as there’s no overt trouble, it’s much more comfortable to pretty much just ignore everything. Read the New York Times review of House’s book, Closed Kingdom — even if you don’t ever intend to read this book — just as a tiny primer.
The Times reviewer mentions that Saudi Arabia is similar to North Korea in its absurd conservatism and rule-bound society. The more germane comparison (made later in the review) is to the Soviet Union:
The country’s calcified government, its sullen populace, its youth bulge, its outdated religious requirements and prohibitions, the collapse of the information bubble and the dying off of the current line of geriatric rulers are all bound to coalesce into a perfect storm sooner or later.
House doesn’t make any prediction; just warnings. She leaves a sliver of hope that something will permit reform instead of collapse, but given the litany of difficulties she amply illustrates, I can’t imagine many people thinking there is much hope of that. And if the country falls, it will probably fall a long ways and trigger many interrelated calamities. The region is, frankly, a pretty messed up place.
This book is actually very easy to read. The colorful stories House tells to make her case are interesting enough to almost call riveting, and the book is neither long nor complex enough to call difficult. One book on the middle-east won’t make you an expert, but this one will provide an easy and important lesson. ...more
Just a note, for now. I was reading about some essay on The Economist, and one of the comments quoted from deHave to eventually read this, of course.
Just a note, for now. I was reading about some essay on The Economist, and one of the comments quoted from de Tocqueville. The comment, below, reminded me of one of the reasons I’m somewhat pessimistic about America’s future as Aquinas’ “city on a hill”.
The foundation of New England was a novel spectacle, and all the circumstances attending it were singular and original. […] The settlers who established themselves on the shores of New England all belonged to the more independent classes of their native country. Their union on the soil of America at once presented the singular phenomenon of a society containing neither lords nor common people, neither rich nor poor. These men possessed, in proportion to their number, a greater mass of intelligence than is to be found in any European nation of our own time. All, without a single exception, had received a good education, and many of them were known in Europe for their talents and their acquirements. The other colonies had been founded by adventurers without family; the emigrants of New England brought with them the best elements of order and morality, they landed in the desert accompanied by their wives and children. But what most especially distinguished them was the aim of their undertaking. They had not been obliged by necessity to leave their country, the social position they abandoned was one to be regretted, and their means of subsistence were certain. Nor did they cross the Atlantic to improve their situation, or to increase their wealth; the call which summoned them from the comforts of their homes was purely intellectual; and in facing the inevitable sufferings of exile, their object was the triumph of an idea. — [Page 31, Democracy In America, Alexis De Tocqueville; via google books]
What de Tocqueville recognized was the incredible exceptionalism of America’s founders, and their immediate lineage.
Beyond that, the United States has had a few other important sources of differentiation.
First, the land was — for their intents and purposes — empty (the annihilation of the native Americans is of utmost importance, but not central to this analysis). A historically unprecedented amount of land and resources was very quickly translated into a wealthy and powerful country, one still united in its self-identity, not riven by zero-sum contests of acquisition.
Second, at the same time the industrial revolution was the cause of an increasing number of those same zero-sum contests of acquisition in Europe, so the peaceful growth of the United States was even more dramatic in comparison.
In the centuries since then, the United States has become “normal”, just like other developed countries. We now fight with each other roughly to the same degree as any other developed country. In the decades since the end of WWII, the United States has spent incredible sums as the hegemon, both wisely and foolishly. Even though it should have been apparent years ago that the country can no longer afford to exercise this role — in fiscal or repetitional terms — the belief in America’s “mission” forces continuing impoverishment.
Samuel Johnson claimed that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, but what is of equal concern today is that patriotism is beggaring the country....more
David Brooks, the New York Times pet almost-a-conservative, claims about this book, “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important asDavid Brooks, the New York Times pet almost-a-conservative, claims about this book, “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s Coming Apart.” Yeah, it looks seminal. See his review at The Great Divorce (I’m a little curious about whether there’s some hidden linkage to the C.S. Lewis book).
Brooks is an editorialist; so it isn’t surprising that the New York Times Sunday Book Review would also cover this book. The article, Tramps Like Them leads me to believe the book is even better than Brooks averred.
Steven Pinker certain ranges widely in intellectual circles. Although he is nominally a professor of psychology at Harvard, but even with specialtiesSteven Pinker certain ranges widely in intellectual circles. Although he is nominally a professor of psychology at Harvard, but even with specialties (per Wikipedia) in experimental psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, he somehow dove into history to present one of the best TED Talks, back in 2007: Steven Pinker on the myth of violence (watch those nineteen minutes, if you haven't already).
Wonderfully, he has now followed that presentation up with an entire volume.
Peter Singer wrote the glowing review of this book for the New York Times, and that somewhat lengthy essay is itself well worth reading: Is Violence History?.
Update — the Autumn 2011 issue of the excellent pop sociology quarterly The Wilson Quarterly also enthusiastically recommends the book (with minor caveats) in Peace on Earth.
Update — Just got this from the library; must read within three weeks since the number of holds will prevent me from renewing. Curiously, the podcast I was listening to on the way to the library was on a related topic. The U.C. Berkeley School of Law professor (and socioologist) Franklin Zimring wrote an article back in August on the precipitous decline in crime in New York City, and was interviewed by the charming SciAm editor Steve Mirsky, The City That Became Safe: What New York Teaches about Urban Crime and Its Control. Check it out!