Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sociology is Phronesis

Sociology is phronesis (practical wisdom) of how philosophy is turned into institutions.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Placebos Work Because Doctors Show That They Care

Hidden Brain has a wonderful podcast on why the placebo effect works.  Placebos often show strong medical effects.  Even in surgery, and not just with drugs.  Even in "open label" experiments, in which the patients know they are being given a placebo.

The reason seems to be that when we know that someone listens to our problem and cares about our suffering, it helps us mobilize our own hidden resources for healing.

To me, this reinforces the basic premise and endless finding of sociology:  we are social beings, who flourish when we invest in one another.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

The "Self-Governing Class" Splits Off in Early Adolescence, and Almost Nothing Can Induce the Rest to Join Them Thereafter

Markus Prior, a distinguished professor of politics at Princeton, has tried to figure out why some people (like me and, presumably, Professor Prior) are extremely interested in politics, and most people are not.  He shares the fruits of his research in Hooked: How Politics Captures People’s Interest (Cambridge University Press, 2019).  I read this work with great interest, as my ongoing project is to try to get more students to be active "polis makers."  Prior does clear out most of the popular explanations offered by political science.  In the end, though, he only deepens the mystery.

Below is my review for Choice, which summarizes the problem. 

About 10% of people are extremely interested in politics, and another 25% are very interested.  These constitute the “self-governing class,” which does the vast bulk of political actions of every kind, including voting.  Political interest is very stable over the life course.  Established in early adolescence, interest level solidifies in early adulthood. People who are more curious, open to experience, smarter, and from higher SES families are more likely to be highly interested in politics.  Prior (Politics, Princeton), turned to three massive panel studies, in Britain, Germany, and Switzerland, to try to answer the question “Why are some people highly interested in politics, and some are not?”  Ultimately, he could not answer the question.  The tree seems to fork in early adolescence, before most surveys begin.  The bulk of the book is given over to niceties of technical method. He clears out a number of possible explanations, showing that events, personal or political, do little more than create a small, temporary bump in political interest.  Having gone as far as survey methods are likely to go, this vital question needs qualitative work with children to get to an answer.

Friday, February 15, 2019

In Types of Communication, Transmission = Report, Ritual = Rapport?

Jay Rosen has interesting series of tweets about "transmission" vs. "ritual" communication.

The upshot is that some kinds of communication are meant to transmit information, while others are meet as a ritual of sharing to affirm our solidarity.

This seems to me to match Deborah Tannen's insight that a standard male form of communication is to "report" -- transmitting information, expecting the transmission of information back. 

By contrast, a standard female form of communication is designed to establish "rapport" - the sharing of experiences and feelings about them, meant to establish that we are similar.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Right is Moved By Wounded Status

The right hates the elite most of all, from a feeling of wounded status.  That is also the source of their racism.

They oppose "government" not from a theory of what makes society work better, or even what makes the capitalist economy work better.

They hate the government because it is run by people who think they are better than the right. 

To make things worse, the government elite helps people get ahead who the right thinks are beneath them or behind them in line.

Monday, December 17, 2018

What Churches and Parties Are For

Churches are institutions to turn occasional spiritual experience into habitual action.

Parties are institutions to turn occasional civic experience into habitual action.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Three Ideas for Expanding Congress

1. The size of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives have not changed in nearly six decades.  We take them for granted, but really, the Congress has always been an organic body.

The size of the House was last set in 1911 at 453, when the national population was 92 million.  That works out to about 200,000 people per representative.

Now the US population is 326 million.  Each House district now has roughly 700,000 people.

BUT Wyoming, the least populous state, has only 500,000 people in it.  So, in a sense, their lone Representative has disproportionate clout in Congress.

I have long thought that the District of Columbia should be fully represented in the House of Representatives.  Their sole delegate can vote in committee, but not in the full House.

I propose that DC get full representation in the House.  AND that the size of each district be set by the size of the District of Columbia.  At the moment, the population of DC is about 694,000 -- bigger that Wyoming.

SO If we divided 326 million by 694,000, we would expand the house to 470 Representatives.

Changing to this rule - DC always gets a Representative, and the other district sizes are based on the size of the District of Columbia - would give a reliable bright line for the slow organic development of the House.

On this basis, let's consider two other ideas about expanding Congress that have engaged political nerds and election junkies.

2. Liberals want statehood for DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam.  Six new senators, all likely Democrats, would help balance the over-representation of sparse, Republican farm states.

I think these are bad ideas, for different reasons.  The District of Columbia is a city, not a state.  To solve its under-representation in the Senate, I would let them vote for Senators from Maryland, from which their territory was carved in the first place.

Puerto Rico is certainly a state-sized entity.  But I think it is better off as a commonwealth, with U.S. citizenship.  I would not like to see English made the "official language" of the U.S., but I do think that the nearly universal use of a common language for public life is one of the great and necessary strengths of so large and diverse a country as ours.  It would be bad to try to have a bilingual country, but worse to try to force Puerto Rico to switch to English.

Statehood for Guam is a non-starter, I think.  The idea is only on the table as a bargaining chip, or a huge overreach.

3. Conservatives will discover that, if liberals get any traction on DC and Puerto Rican statehood, that they could split Texas into five states.  This was part of the treaty when Texas was admitted to the union.  Some imagine that this would mean ten Republican senators.  I think it would mean that the big Democratic cities would be freed from bondage to the vast Republican countryside.  The most urban of these new states would be at least purple, if not blue.  Be careful what you wish for.

SO my centrist proposal for expanding Congress: a modest expansion for the House, a modest rectification of an injustice to DC residents in relation to the Senate, and no new states.