Sunday, March 26, 2017

Autobiographical Note

Biography is interesting because a variety of narratives can be drawn from the same set of facts.  I don't mean that writers are (necessarily) dishonest or stupid. We see different things, assemble them into a plot, and that story takes on an energy of its own, suppressing some bits and highlighting others. This is even more true for autobiography, as the reasons for choosing one explanation over another are invisible to us, and likely for self-protective reasons. I know the details of my life better than any other individual by far, even if I get some things wrong that others might correct.

BTW, I wonder if Obama will go on to break the record for most autobiographies written.

This is related to blind spots of experts in general. Alfred Wegener, one of the key figures in the development of the theory of plate tectonics, was a meteorologist, not a geologist.  Any real geologist could have run rings around him...

No, wait.  That isn't where I was going at all.  Ahem.  I am an expert on my own life, but that does not mean that my own story of what happened is the best one.  I am likely the best source for disproving some theories based on inaccurate facts - no, I did not go to London as a child and was not frightened by a bear at the zoo there. Though even at that, we do tend to mix things up, placing events in wrong years with different companions. But others might make observations or draw lessons about my life that are superior to my own. I am likely to be badly wrong in spots.

When browsing through a folder not-much-related to politics in my memory, a fact dropped out. I hadn't forgotten it or suppressed it or refused to acknowledge it. It was just a small thing, not much related to other things.  Memories are not fully cross-referenced.

I have always said that I started out on the political left right out of the gate in 7th grade and became even more leftist rather quickly, identifying as socialist/extreme pacifist/America-as-racist oppressor. I still think that is true, though I may be rethinking a lot of this.  From that point, I described a gradual journey rightward over the decades, to my current point of sympathising largely but not entirely with conservatives.

Except that I just remembered a conversation in 1978 with my pastor when I was a Lutheran, who was giving evidence that Christians are not commanded to be mostly uninvolved with all nations and government.  I remembered that I had been advocating exactly that - and it was not a new idea to me. The peace churches, many in the early Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, American fundamentalists before Jimmy Carter - all of these taught something vaguely like that. Our focus was Christ and the Gospel, no time for other causes. Yes, a radical restructuring of society was needed, but that was to be based on individuals, not nations. 

I traced it back well into the early 70's.  William and Mary was something of a bubble and events in the outside world did not loom large among 18th C buildings, music, and performances, nor among those fascinated by heroic fantasy and the stories of Arthur.  OTOH, if you are singing lots of Eagles and CSN&Y, you are going to be reinforced as liberal at every rehearsal.  Plus theater.  I traced this essential apathy toward political matters forward well into the 80's as well. I retained a default liberalism, though Lewis and Tolkien undermined my confidence in pacifism and government intervention to produce justice.

I was mostly an outside observer, which is what I think allowed me to observe the political comments of the people I worked with, went to church and Bible study with, or shared a family with - and to compare those comments to how they lived their lives.  This was rather mixed, especially among the relatives, but the liberals did not do well here - not at work, not at church and church camp, and not in the journal of the Prometheus Society. I noticed arguing-by-condescension and sneer, directed against people and groups I knew to be quite decent.  Screwtape tells Wormwood about a group of friends he would like his nephew to cultivate with his patient.  They make reference to Christianity, and many virtues and traditional things in general, as if the joke has already been made, though no one actually takes the time to elucidate exactly where the ridiculousness is.  Or if they do, it is social, not logical.  We don't believe that anymore.

That stuck with me.  It has been one of the key thoughts in my understanding why people do not even consider the claims of Christ - they live in environments where they are told that the matter need not even be seriously entertained.  I saw that.  And I saw also that they did the exact same thing about political matters.  The joke has already been made.  Don't you read Doonesbury?  When I emerged from the less-political universe, I already had many conservative sympathies in place, though I still thought of myself as a Democrat.  I voted for Al Gore in the NH primary in 1988 because he was a more conservative Democrat.  That was about the time when I started actually reading the news again. My oldest son was 9 at the time.  I doubt he remembers a time when his father had different politics.

So my previous narrative may have some truth-values, as they say.  But I actually didn't move across the political spectrum from 1972-1989, as I have believed and written.  I went to some underground river in those years, not thinking about it much at all, entering as a European socialist on one end and emerging as someone who liked 10 of his his 15 minutes of Limbaugh every day. I don't want to draw harder edges than are real.  The river wasn't entirely underground, because I had friends interested in politics. The boundary years are flexible as well.

Still, it's unnerving to re-look at some developmentally critical years this way. Sumus quod sumus.  Except we may not know who we are.  We mostly only know who we aren't.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


Comments underneath posts are notoriously bad, and the more popular the website, the more absolutely infuriating commenters it attracts.  Most good sites attract at least some good commenters, however.

Which site has the best commenters? What do you think creates that?

The Toxoplasma of Rage

This came up in an email discussion and I thought I would remind everyone of the essay The Toxoplasma of Rage. It's one of the best essays of the 21st C, even though Alexander isn't a professional essayist.  He's a good observer, he's got some courage, and this thinking is very clear. He does tend to be a bit uh, thorough but it's worth it.  I didn't reread the comments, even though his commenters are very good.  Which reminds me...

Critical Thinking

The point-of-view will not be unfamiliar to readers here.  Critical thinking is not being taught to college students. Rob Jenkins has a bit different take on it that I found interesting.  They are being taught something else under the title Critical Thinking instead.

I was not surprised to read the research he references that students do not improve much in many areas by going to college, critical thinking being among the worst.  Yet I haven't attributed that to the colleges, as most critics would.  I think many people just can't learn it, because they won't learn it, or it takes to much expensive energy to learn it, or they just aren't wired that way.  I know plenty of fairly bright people who have the ability to apply critical thinking only in select circumstances, missing the obvious in other areas. Why do they hem and haw and hide and stop?  I do not know.  Go ask your Pop.

There may be something to the idea that colleges contribute to the problem by teaching something else instead, however.  Such things put the mind to sleep.  We can't learn everything, and will focus where need or interest directs. I think the first step is to set up the objective and dispassionate as an ideal, even while recognising all will fall short. The student might then engage in true life-long learning, reminding himself of the need.

(HT: Instapundit)


I always thought Barack Obama was bad enough just as he stood, with no need to invent worse things about him.  Nonetheless many of his opponents seemed unable to refrain from circulating things that were unlikely right out of the gate or refusing to accept reasonable explanations.

I said the same about Trump over a year ago: why make stuff up? why the need to make things worse than they are? It happens so often that it must be a human nature thing.

I grant that some of this must be tactical, if poorly so.  People aren't upset enough about this guy! What if he's a actually gay?  THEN they'll finally see and turn against him.  What if he's a traitor?  Finally, finally, people will see. Yet it is not only ineffective, it likely has an opposite effect.  Criticise someone unfairly and even some of his or her enemies will start taking pity.

Which is why I conclude that some other need is being met when opponents exaggerate and demonise. It must be that the goal is not to talk about the other party, or politician, or public representative, or voters.  It must be a way of talking about oneself.  I've made it clear over the years what I think that is, but I actually don't insist on my special interpretation.  It's pretty clear that something social rather than logical is up, however.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


The little Adsense blurb on my Blogger page has increased its estimate of what I could make a month from $12 to $13/month.  This changes everything.

Educate Yourself

This is a simple enough phrase, but not one that everyone who is anti-vaccine could have arrived it independently.  It must be a phrase that is used frequently on alternative or anti-vax websites, then adopted by all.

It's an odd phrase, because in one sense we all are self-taught, acquiring knowledge only when we are putting in some effort.  It is not only geniuses who are autodidacts. Yet there is a real sense in which none of us has done much to "educate ourselves."  We stand on the shoulders of giants, and could not reconstruct even 1% of current knowledge starting from scratch.

This comes up because my youngest cousin asked on facebook whether she should have her 12 y/o daughter get the HPV vaccination and got an earful. She quickly deleted the entire thread (for which I congratulated her.) Several commenters used variations of "you have to educate yourself."

It must have powerful juju to be so meaningful to so many who have heretofore researched nothing, but now devote hours finding examples of what I they want to hear. If this seems an unfair generalisation, it might be.  I can see rejecting any number of individual pieces of modern, Western medicine.  But I have no one in my experience who researched other things before coming up against the vaccination question and then rejected them.  My anti-vaxxers, at least, are all people who may be smart enough in some ways, but never showed any interest in looking things up before. 

"Educate yourself," then, appears to mean "listen to only one side of things." Powerful.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


A friend pointed out that I give an impression that the people I work with are not only consistently liberal, but have an extremist streak.  He knows from experience that this is not so.  He is right, and I should correct that impression. I will include an anecdote, to keep it memorable.

Social workers are largely liberal, and a few are pretty extremist, but there are two interesting points.  Some have a pretty strong sense that "your decisions have contributed to this, and I don't feel obligated to rescue you from everything."  A significant minority also came into the field from religious, helping-mankind, or personal addiction 12-Step perspectives and have something of an accountability streak.

This is not so for psychologists and OT/RT sorts.  They are almost thoroughly liberal.  Psych nurses are mixed, and I don't have a neat categorisation of how that is.  Married/unmarried/divorced, young/middle/old - I don't see patterns. Mental health lawyers are very liberal, hospital administrators are as well (except for the accounting and budget guys.  No surprise there.)

Psychiatrists are quite interesting.  Most are pretty liberal, especially politically - but that accountability question comes up a lot and they back off from the extremes.  In my experience, the female psychiatrists are more conservative than the male. The anecdote: a female psychiatrist with a young daughter was talking about some Disney Princess experience they had been sharing recently. Because my granddaughters are deeply involved in several, I was chiming in a bit talking about art, myth, values communicated.  I see good and bad in the princesses.  Another woman present expressed the reflexive disdain that educated feminist women are supposed to have for princesses - and threw in Barbie as well.  The psychiatrist smiled slightly, not commenting.  After the other left she sighed, then twinkled.  "I loved Barbie and dress up my whole childhood.  I decided after I got my master's in organic chemistry and got accepted to med school that I didn't have to answer to Women's Studies majors anymore."

Understanding Shakespeare

Following McWhorter's comment about the changing meaning of words in a particular speech in "Hamlet," I went to the scene in question to see what I could see. I have noted before that Will isn't as understandable as people claim.  In fact, I noted it the last time I listened to McWhorter on the subject a decade ago. My other mentions of Shakespeare are at the link - some fun stuff.

At best,  we get the general meaning from context, though with difficulty.  At worst, a recognisable word has changed enough in meaning that we think we understand what we actually do not. As in "censure," below. Entirely different now.

Polonius's speech to Laertes. Note that we have some advantages here.  It is Shakespeare's most famous play, and often considered his best.  The speech itself is known even outside the context of performance and study.  We don't get all the rules for thou and thee when creating speech, but we get the idea reading, because of the King James. There are common sayings that have entered the language, even cliches, near the end of the famous speech. But I submit it is a tough go.

Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!  (Does he mean here in place, or time? mostly time?)
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail (Metaphor for Laetertes' destiny, or just the physical sail?)
And you are stayed for. There, my blessing with thee. (Waited for.  I think.)
And these few precepts in thy memory ( he being quizzed on this, Polonius?  Ah!  You mean you are going to give him some precepts!  Got it.)
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,  (No clue.  Character is a good thing?  I should have good character?  I should look for it in others?  Then, keep silent?  Don't let anyone know what I'm thinking?)
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.   (I'm betting an unproportioned thought is...extreme? Not thought out?)
Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.  (Be chummy, informal, but not curse or tell dirty jokes?  Or does this mean to be friendly, but not with lower classes.)
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, (Adoption. Waiting period on real friendship? Then you take themm for good? )
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,  (Grapple...hoops.  Cling to them even if they don't like it?  Or just be loyal.)
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment (Is this a masturbation joke?  Or about spending money, like greasing a palm.)
Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade. Beware (Okay new.  Poetic. But is it the youth of the person or the newness of the relationship?)
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in, (A quarrel with an individual?  Between other individuals?  Political or religious quarrels?)
Bear ’t that th' opposèd may beware of thee. (Don't fight unless you think you can win, or at least wound.  Got it.)
Give every man thy ear but few thy voice. (So, act like a spy among your peers.  Or maybe you think I should just shut up, Polonius?)
Take each man’s censure but reserve thy judgment. (So everyone can criticise and insult me without reply.  Don't come to any conclusions about others, really.)
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,  (Buy only the best wine, tobacco, restaurants. Seems like bad advice.)
But not expressed in fancy—rich, not gaudy,  (Gaudy wine? You've lost me here.)
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,  (Ah, clothes, clothes!  Now I get it.  Wear the best you can afford, so that people will think you drive a Mercedes or Volvo.)
And they in France of the best rank and station  (Like the French, who are really big on this style and wealth thing.)
Are of a most select and generous chief in that. (Generous're losing me again. Are they forgiving, or disapproving?)
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,  (Yeah I've heard that.  Seems good)
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,  (Actually, I've had that happen to me.  You're right.)
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. (I'm not in 4-H and not raising animals, so I'm thinking that "husbandry" is a more general term for working.  And that Tom Lehrer joke occurs to me.)
This above all: to thine own self be true,  (Do what I feel?  Don't kid myself? Is this like my best self, a kind of Virtue Ethics?)
And it must follow, as the night the day,  (Universal law.  Not sure it is, though)
Thou canst not then be false to any man.  (Sure I can.  Watch me.)
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee. (Because you say this nicely, it is more likely to sink in.)

Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.  (Why humbly?  Is something up, or is this just the usual way they talked?)

The time invites you. Go. Your servants tend. (Are we back to that sail thing at the beginning again?  The time is ripe.  Time is gesturing to me impatiently?  The hired help is completely ready and getting itchy?  What the hell?)

Farewell, Ophelia, and remember well  (This is clear. Finally)
What I have said to you.  (Wink wink.)
Here's a fun comparison:  There is an English creole, Gullah, created by rice plantation slaves in Georgia and South Carolina.  Some written work has been drawn out of it, but it is largely an oral language.* There are sill a few speakers of it. In terms of reputation for elegance, it is at the opposite end of the continuum from OMG! THE BARD! But it is just about as understandable to us now. If you went and lived among them for a few months it would be easy, just as it would be similarly easy for a time traveler to converse in the London dialect of 1600 after just a few months. We are close enough that it is a fairly straightforward adjustment.
Brer Lion bin a hunt, an eh spy Brer Goat duh leddown topper er big rock duh wuk eh mout an der chaw. Eh creep up fuh ketch um. Wen eh git close ter um eh notus um good. Brer Goat keep on chaw. Brer Lion try fuh fine out wuh Brer Goat duh eat. Eh yent see nuttne nigh um ceptin de nekked rock wuh eh duh leddown on. Brer Lion stonish. Eh wait topper Brer Goat. Brer Goat keep on chaw, an chaw, an chaw. Brer Lion cant mek de ting out, an eh come close, an eh say: "Hay! Brer Goat, wuh you duh eat?" Brer Goat skade wen Brer Lion rise up befo um, but eh keep er bole harte, an eh mek ansur: "Me duh chaw dis rock, an ef you dont leff, wen me done long um me guine eat you". Dis big wud sabe Brer Goat. Bole man git outer diffikelty way coward man lose eh life.
*Though Shakespeare wrote his works, Elizabethan English, more properly called Early Modern English, was oral as well.  There were few manuscripts and actors were required to display much more power of memorisation than they do today, because they had less time, and less opportunity to refer back to manuscripts while learning lines. The audiences were not at all reliably literate.  It was still largely an oral language. Some modern actors would fare well.  In college, Glenn Close would attend first read-through with most of her lines already in place, and knew them all at first rehearsal. I heard others describe (with amused shock) when she had dropped a line and needed a prompt, but I never heard it myself. Not that I was there for even a quarter of her rehearsals. I have heard that Michael Caine was similarly stunning.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Fearless Girl

I am only at work about two days a week now.  Two people, a part-time psychiatrist about my age and a psychiatric nurse in her thirties, both mentioned Fearless Girl - one to comment on the obscene response by a young Wall Street Trader (and a short rant mind-reading why he did it) and another to be pleased that someone was finally making the general public aware of the discrimination against women.

This seems to be evidence against them, that they can be so easily moved by simplistic art in the old socialist style. I get it that art is powerful, and that's its job.  But must we put up NO defense against attempts to manipulate us?

George Bernard Shaw

I never much liked him while studying him in college.  Shaw was considered second only to Shakespeare, but he always bothered me.  I was gratified when I started reading CS Lewis to find that he also found Shaw irritating, but I could never put words to it until long after.  (I did like "Pygmalion," possibly because of My Fair Lady, and I didn't find "Major Barbara" so bad. ) I now get what bothered me: playwrights can create a false reality. (Yeah, duh, but bear with me.) They can make a priest be a hypocrite by the lines thy put in his mouth and the actions they make him perform.  They can make Chinese inscrutable, blacks shiftless, businessmen greedy, wives innocent, husbands oppressive, children wise, and politicians corrupt, however they choose.  This is all rather obvious, but if it is done skillfully the reader or audience is taken in, accepting the prejudice of the playwright as if it were a fact.

Shaw does this rather clumsily, but taking all in all, it's not entirely his fault.  He came out of the tradition of melodrama, and was one of the first to pull away from it. Pioneers don't have the advantages of knowing the tricks of those who come later.  They are the inventors of the tricks. If we compare GBS to those who came after he is certainly cartoonish. Yet compared to those who came before he shows a more realistic character. Still, it is worth noting that an artist who deserves credit from scholars may not be worthy of the effort of a production now.  It was a favorite theme among my theater friends in the 1970's that Sarte had stolen everything from Artaud, and it's sorta true.  Nonetheless, Sarte did it better and remains at least watchable/readable.  Artaud is not that interesting anymore.

As for Shaw, John Osborne thought him a complete fraud.  I don't know that this is true, but I am figuring that Osborne has some credibility here. More than, say, me.  Or you. Others disagree, and I suppose they have more credibility than me also.  It's fascinating to read the Wikipedia article and realise that the collective critics pretty much boil down to one critic who has successfully fought off the others.  In this case, whoever controls the Wikipedia legacy of Shaw has decided that Fred S Crawford's opinion is the bee's knees.  Crawford insists that everyone who criticises Shaw was nonetheless influenced by him, no matter how far he has to stretch to illustrate that. Everyone owes everything to Shaw, it st seems.  Coward, Ayckbourn, Stoppard, and all the absurdists. Even Osborne who disliked him. Crawford finds it not only significant, but definitive, that the cahttering classes talking about Shaw gave birth to the word shavian, which is still in use today.  Except it isn't.

Welcome to the petty world of artistic criticism.  What remains is that we can examine Shaw for his ideas and see how those have held up.  I'll give that summary to George Orwell, who makes a genrral observation that is also quite good, then narrows it to Shaw.

As it happens, George Orwell in his 1946 pamphlet James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution does shed light on the Glenn Beckish claim that Shaw’s dual embrace of communism and fascism was broadly typical of Fabians or other sorts of socialists:
English writers who consider Communism and Fascism to be the same thing invariably hold that both are monstrous evils which must be fought to the death; on the other hand, any Englishman who believes Communism and Fascism to be opposites will feel that he ought to side with one or the other. The only exception I am able to think of is Bernard Shaw, who, for some years at any rate, declared Communism and Fascism to be much the same thing, and was in favour of both of them.
 I have complained about  the teaching of Shakespeare as well.  He's next.  If you want to get a head start, read Polonius's speech to Laertes.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Oh yeah, I went there on my road trip.  I should mention it just in case you plan to go.  It’s fine.  Like many museums, in its effort to get everything in and unwillingness to offend by calling one part more important than the others, it would probably be best to do this in two bites, or more. It is complete, as it should be.  It can get tedious in the third hour. But it has lots of video, nice displays from many eras, and an opportunity to see career summaries with videos of inductees.  There is a hall of busts of inductees which is designed to look impressive, but really, not that that gripping to look at.  The touch screens that allow you to see all the San Diego Chargers who are in the Hall, with statistics and videos is more interesting. There are old uniforms and equipment, and reports from the early years that are fascinating in their oddness, such as the Duluth Eskimos, or the Pottsville Maroons being disciplined for infringing on the territorial rights of the Rock Island Independents. It was a narrower football world in 1920.

I did learn things.  Because of a paperback about Great NFL Quarterbacks given to me when I was  quite young, I have always been interested in Slingin' Sammy Baugh and it was fun to read up on him.  He came out of Sweetwater Texas, adopted football fairly late, and excelled because he was among the first to really work at the forward pass.  The game was changing, he was an athlete, and no one quite knew how to defend it.  Something similar happened in his great defeat, the 73-0 loss to the Chicago Bears for the championship. They ran a man-in-motion, which was completely undefensible when sprung on a team by surprise.  Before there was film to study, you could still show up and run a scheme that no one had an answer for.  

Only two original teams remain.  The (Racine) Chicago Cardinals, now of Arizona, and the Decatur Staleys, now the Chicago Bears.

And yes, Tim Tebow is in the Hall and likely to hold his spot, for the quickest playoff overtime victory, in 2012 against the Steelers.  11 seconds. As the OT drives are started on the 20-yard line, that’s not likely to be beaten.

"An Excellent Opportunity"

Sports fans have likely heard the clip from ESPN’s Max Kellerman over the last few days, comparing the Ezekiel Elliot incident to an earlier Rob Gronkowski incident. Kellerman seems to be a smart-enough guy, but his little speech is notable for the number of times he says - the two incidents aren’t really comparable, the facts don’t “map” on each other (I think I know what that means), this isn’t a good example but I want to talk about it anyway. We’ve seen this before. Is it mainly on college campuses or are those just the incidents I have run across? I think we need to talk about x. This is a really good opportunity to talk about x, not because it’s actually a good example, but because it’s in the news, and more people will hear it.

 I grant that human beings have this tendency to try and bring the conversation around to what they want to talk about, and often have reflexive things to say on a topic that they bring out whenever others get within fifty meters of it. Yet doesn’t it seem that this usually comes up in the context of racism or sexism? Even among liberals there are other issues, such as LGTB rights, wealth transfer to the 1%, and gun control. Those are subject to the reflexiveness noted above, but somehow don’t attract the same “This should be an excellent opportunity to discuss (whatever) on campus and how that impacts our whole society.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

City Of Concrete

Paris architecture.  Incredibly ugly.   It's probably unfair that these photos are black and white, and don't show the context of these structures as they are placed.  OTOH, it looks like the structures are mostly gray and dark gray, so maybe it's the only fair way to show them.

Debunking Utopia

I almost put Dubunking Utopia: Exposing the myth of Nordic socialism by Nima Sanandaji (he has a more academic economist brother Tino Sanandaji) aside after reading the Introduction. Not telling me anything new here...cliched anti-Scandinavianism from the right...overlooking some key points... Then too it is published by World Net Daily, a source I don't outright reject but do hold at arm's length.

I'm glad I pushed on. It tells me some new things, but functions better as a reference book.  Sanandaji is actually in favor of a lot of social-welfare interventions by governments, and thinks we do have some things to learn from the Scandinavian countries.  But he is also very alert to differences in culture between those countries and the rest of the world and supplies good evidence that their successes are not all the result of safety-net changes since 1960. Much that I have read over the years or learned in discussion but can no longer put a source to is nicely footnoted here.

He does not believe that Nordic socialism can be installed in America with entire success.  He suggests that America, along with the rest of the Anglosphere and some European countries, went down the same social-welfare roads as Scandinavia after the Great Depression, but these were abandoned or modified in America because they didn't work as well here.  They didn't work that well in Italy or Greece, either, but they pressed on, with disastrous results.  In contrast, Switzerland, Korea, Singapore, and Japan did little of it and turned out fine.

Sanandaji looks at a different timeline. Many countries have higher life-expectancies and better infant mortality rates than does America. But the gaps were even greater before 1960. Scandinavian countries are small, homogeneous, high-trust, work-ethic, social capital countries. They are among the wealthiest countries in the world now, but this was even more true in 1960, when they started this social-welfare overdrive.  Secondly, they have moved away from that model consistently since around 1990. They are increasingly market driven (including such areas as school choice), especially when dealing with outsiders. Bernie Sanders likely wouldn't get elected in Sweden, contra Marco Rubio. Those are center-right governments now.

In fact, Scandinavia-Americans have prospered more here than back in Scandinavia, which is especially impressive given that it was mostly the poorest who traveled here. Which I also keep in mind when people praise their economies.  Prosperity is a little easier when your poor people move out, and deciding that socialism is great a little later makes that easier still.  And there is that dey word homogeneous that keeps popping up everywhere.  Hmmm.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

I liked it a great deal.  I have enough bad things in my past to identify a little, and enough Scots-Irish in me to wonder about the genetics. He gives us a lot of what it's like to grow up among violent, clannish hillbillies, even when they have transplanted. His description of being a country mouse at formal dinners at Yale Law School are amusing, as is the suspicions-confirmed description of how networks mean all among the rich and powerful.

One of his main points is that even in terrible situations growing up, having just a few people care about you might be enough.  This might be true.  We certainly want it to be true. Vance looks at his own trajectory and concludes it was a near thing, and the absence of any of a short-list of relatives who were good to him might have been enough that he would have sunk beneath the waves. He wonders about the genetics of it all at the edges of his musings - why his mother collapsed under the weight of her parents' violence while her brother and sister muddled through and had decent lives; whether he may have inherited some worrisome weaknesses of hers - but in the end comes to mostly "nurture" conclusions about what happened in his own life.

As do we all.  We can only see the environmental experience of our own lives, we can't see the genes. In a humorous irony, we are genetically programmed as a species to create a narrative from the materials around us.  What we see becomes the basis for our story, even when it isn't really so.  I don't mean to dismiss environmental aspects entirely.  It can't be good to get beaten up, and it can't be good to be always worried about getting beat up. Expectations may have some effect simply because we all respond to incentives and disincentives. But these aren't clean measures.  The person who beats you may have also given you their violence genes; the person who has high-expectations for you may also have given you their high-expectations/striving genes. In a larger culture this may be magnified as it is spread across anyone else your mother might marry or might be part of your peer group. 

Cultures that are merely violent may not thrive all that well; certainly not in situations where they have to interact with other groups for trade.  There has to be some ability for the group to put violence under discipline, or in a context, so that everyone doesn't just kill each other. Jim Webb's Born Fighting captures how this group of Scots-Irish have won America's wars. But Appalachian violence may not be entirely cultural and accidental.  It might also distill as the less-violent move out,  marry out, or find disciplines of sports or military. Vance makes reference late to intervening earlier with kids "raised by wolves."  Government offering them college money looks good for elections, but by that time it is way to late for many. The trouble is that earlier and earlier interventions also don't seem to bear much fruit either. Maybe at the extremes.

He mentions that even though he wasn't often studying, the stability of living with his grandmother allows him to "ace his SAT's." Vance also notes that his mother was salutatorian of her high-school class, though she threw it all away with drug addiction and terrible men later.  Those rather say "genetics" in bold letters. At the margins, being too drug-addled to show up for the test keeps you from acing anything, and fearing getting beaten might decrease your focus enough to miss some questions. Yet mostly, no.