The smug style in American liberalism
This is one of the best articles I’ve read this year, and if you only read Salon and watch the Daily Show, you should peruse this next time you’re at your favorite Williamsburg fair-trade coffee shop.
The death of moral relativism(?)
Not certain this is accurate – having just graduated from college, I question the assumption that those who perpetuate the shame culture have thought critically enough to realize its incompatibility with moral relativism (I remember reading an article from the school newspaper shaming the University administration, but also claiming that freedom of speech was not a universal norm because the Constitution was written by white men who didn’t understand minority experiences). Still, worth the read if only to demonstrate that total moral relativism is out… ironically, of course, for reasons that conservatives have always pointed out (moral relativism precludes the ability to make judgements about gross injustices).
The resistible rise of Marine Le Pen
If you think American politics is bad, try reading about France’s:
That is deeply worrying. For all the softening of its image, the FN remains an extremist party. It is fiercely anti-immigrant. The overt anti-Semitism has been toned down, but its xenophobia continues under the theme of warnings against Islamism. That is one reason why the FN continued to gain ground after the Charlie Hebdo murders in January.
The party’s wrong-headed economic policies still smack of its far-right origins. It is not just anti-immigrant but anti-globalisation. It opposes free trade and free markets, displaying a strong protectionist streak. Ms Le Pen rails against France’s membership of the euro and is hostile to the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour that lie at the heart of the European single market. She is anti-American and an admirer of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, backing his annexation of Crimea and his actions in Ukraine. It is no coincidence that the FN has taken a big loan from a Kremlin-linked bank.
By the way, I was always confused when Europeans (particularly the French) snarkily comment on the problems in the U.S. political system, particularly related to xenophobia. When individual Republicans (or Democrats), the parties are quick to 1) condemn and 2) distance themselves. Sure, there are probably some racists in both parties, but, from what I’ve read about European politics, it’s actually much better over here.
Examining who gives, helps, and advises in Americans’ close networks
Markus Schafer finds that Americans are more likely to receive social support from religious traditionalists in their social networks. I think that studies like this should make us seriously question civil liberties groups that argue the government should never be allowed to provide any kind of aid to religious groups, given the positive externalities they provide (of course, you’d want the laws to be neutral and generally applicable, rather than picking specific religions).
A large literature is currently contesting the impact of religion on prosocial behavior. As a window into this discussion, I examine the close social networks of American adults and consider whether religious traditionalists are more likely than other network members to supply several basic forms of social support. Analysis of the Portraits of American Life Survey reveals three main findings. First, a majority of Americans—religious or not—count at least one perceived religious traditionalist among their close network ties. Second, American adults are more likely to receive advice, practical help, and money from ties identified as religious traditionalists than from other types of ties, a pattern that held among both kin and nonkin network ties. Finally, although perceived traditionalist network members appear especially inclined to assist highly religious people, they nevertheless offer social support to Americans across a broad spectrum of religiosity. Beyond its relevance for debates on religion and community life, this study also proposes a novel strategy to assess prosocial behavior. Asking people to recount the deeds of their network members can reduce certain self-reporting biases common to survey research and helps locate prosocial activity in concrete and meaningful social relationships.
Nostalgia for “simpler times”
A lot of people today are nostalgic for a simpler, vanished, preindustrial world, and there are ways in which they are right to be so; but not if they value peace, prosperity, or (on the whole) equality. Across the last fifty years, social scientists have accumulated data that allow us to measure wealth, inequality, and rates of violence in the past. The results are surprising–so much so that they can seem, as you suggest, counterintuitive. Foraging societies tended to be quite equal in wealth, if only because almost everyone was desperately poor (by one calculation, the average income was the equivalent of about $1.10 per day). They also tended to be very violent (by many calculations, more than 10 percent of foragers died violently). Farming societies tended to be less violent than foraging societies (5 percent rates of violent death were probably not uncommon) and not quite so poor (average incomes above $2.00 per day were common); but they were also massively unequal, regularly having tiny elites that owned thousands of times more than the ordinary peasant Fossil fuel societies, by contrast, are the safest and richest the world has ever seen, and are also more equal than all but the simplest foraging groups. Globally, the average person earns $25 per day and stands a 0.7 percent chance of dying violently, and in some countries progressive taxation has pushed income inequality down close to levels not seen since the simplest foraging societies (even if it is now again on the rise). In every era before AD 1800, life expectancy at birth averaged less than 25 years; now it is 63 years. Despite all the things we might not like about our own age, it would have seemed like a magical kingdom to people in the past.