I am listening to Yascha Mounk interview Emily Yoffe* (Slate: Dear Prudence) on "The Good Fight," the first and last podcast I will listen to in that series. They have been deploring the rise of populism, and how that means the world is less free over the last ten years. Biden being re-elected is a victory for democracy, and one that they hope signifies a change in the world.
The most concerning trend they identify, however, and one that they think is somehow related (I don't know... popular = populism or something?) is the lack of freedom people have to say what they really think on social media and college campuses. They both have noted at "dinner parties**" that others are going sotto voce on some topics, which their friends who have lived under tyrannical regimes suggest is a bad trend. The Harvard Crimson takes a survey every year, and this year 75% of graduates report they are afraid to say what they think in class. (I actually find this a little encouraging, that they are thinking things other than what they have been told to think. Still, worrisome.) They are observing things very well and providing some new insights. Except they are playing around at the 10% on the margins and missing the elephant in the room.
Who was it that told you fifty years ago that this was exactly what was going to happen, and has been saying it yearly since?
Yes. Right wing crazies. But somehow you reflexively think that they must still be the problem. Because Hitler or something.
*OMG, from Newton. And Wellesley 1977. How did I not see this before?
**I think dinner party, the modern version of cocktail party is a clear signal that "These are not my people." We have occasionally had another couple over in the last twenty years, and there is always family on holidays, which can get large when you have five children. But i can't remember the last dinner party. We might go to an annual one in Manhattan some year, of an old classmate of my wife's at Notre Dame Academy. I can imagine Texan99 putting in a major effort to make that happen, maybe even twice, and then saying "Screw it. Let someone invite us for a change." Anyone else?
I don't think "dinner parties" have generally been on our radar at all. We've a friend we invite regularly, and B.C. Bible studies involved a fair bit of socializing, and sometimes we had a meet just for that. We almost never meet up with people from work, and not very often neighbors either. We used to host international students for Thanksgiving and maybe a few followups, but that's drifted off the radar too for health reasons.
Part of the partylessness had to do with kids' needs, and part was no doubt my fault.
We do dinner parties regularly, but they almost always involve one or the other of the couples nearest us on this road. Less often we bring in one or two other couples that live pretty nearby. We're having guests for dinner tonight, for instance. These are more formal meals than our usual at-home fare, but (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas) not terribly so. Once a year, we have a big oyster bash for 20 or more that goes on for hours with many courses, bringing in as many old friends and relatives as we can induce to drive several hours to get here, in addition to locals.
These aren't professional networking events, though, and never have been. We might discuss politics or social issues, though all of us are careful not to step on toes when we're in politically mixed company. Our good friends next door, while not strident leftists by any stretch, nevertheless vote decidedly D. None of us would willingly offend them; they also avoid provoking us. We've learned which topics need to be approached gingerly. Global warming and teachers unions are off-limits, for instance. I'd sooner debate infant baptism.
Cocktail hour gatherings are more frequent among these same neighbors. Probably every 3d night or so, we stop at one neighbor's house or another for a glass of wine or a drink, or someone puts out word of a gathering for several couples. Often these are potluck snacking affairs.
I'm gearing up for a big pool-party bash sometime this summer. We canceled the pool inauguration party last summer when everyone, even we ourselves, were too antsy about dense gatherings. That will be mostly an informal outdoor affair, probably with grilling or BBQ, and if I have my way it will be a large guest list. We skipped Oysterfest this year because in mid-February too few people were vaccinated to make everyone feel comfortable traveling and gathering. Now Texas is wide open. Our friends, a staid and elderly lot, are just about 100% vaccinated. But we didn't stop doing dinner parties or cocktail hour even during lockdown.
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