Saturday, September 13, 2008

Shove Maggot Palin

This is how I turned out on the Palin Baby Name Generator. (Meant only in humor).

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Marriage Gene

Hasse Walum at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden has reported a fascinating finding: a gene combination that promotes monogamy in men. The Washington Post story actually states it that other way: a certain gene allele increases the risks that men will not stay monogamous. Men with two copies of this allele are at highest risk, one-copy men are in the middle, and men with no copies of this allele have the lowest risk of marital break-up.

This is a wonderful development. Genes are not destiny, they are just risk factors. Knowing your risks helps you develop work-arounds (if you are at high risk) or can increase your confidence (if you are at low risk).

I look forward to the development of an easy test for this allele. It should be entirely voluntary, but I hope it will be widely available.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Welfare Heiresses

One further thought from reading Jason DeParle's American Dream.

Welfare policy makers, and the vast majority of American taxpayers, look on welfare as charity to women who are temporarily unable to support themselves. DeParle's account makes clear, though, that the women receiving welfare did not think they were getting charity. They thought of themselves as survivors and workers, even if most of the problems they survived were of their own making and the work they did was very intermittent and unreported. They viewed welfare as a pot of money that they could use now. They didn't think about whether they were entitled to it, or had done anything to deserve, or whether, if they didn't really need it, it should better go to someone else or back to the taxpayers.

The attitude of the welfare recipients DeParle studied, in other words, was like the attitude of heiresses toward their trust funds. The money was just there; they didn't think about why. So they spent it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Social Equality Brings Out More Sex Differences - It Does Not Eliminate Them

John Tierney has a fine article in the New York Times on an international study of sex differences in personality. Surprisingly, the researchers found that sex differences were smaller in poorer countries. Their hypothesis is that harsher environments take more of a toll on competitive and aggressive men.

The really interesting finding is that in rich, egalitarian societies, men's and women's personalities diverge more. This seems to me to support the sociobiological notion that sex differences are deep, and are more likely to be expressed the more conditions are optimal for individuals to realize their deep inclinations.

This finding is scary if you think the sexes are the same, and the genders are only different because sexist society makes them so. It is not scary if you think sex differences are complementary, and are a prime example of what is good about diversity.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Centrist Sociological Imagination

C. Wright Mills, in The Sociological Imagination, tries to engage students by connecting the personal problems of individuals with the social issues of society as a whole. This is an effective approach to encouraging a sociological imagination in highly individualistic people.

The Sociological Imagination is a classic in the field, probably the single most influential introduction that American sociology has produced. I read it again recently and was struck by something that Mills' approach leaves out. He gets students to think about how their personal problems are connected to social issues. Mills does not ask us to consider how our personal blessings are connected to social issues.

I see the makings of a truly centrist approach to the sociological imagination: an equal emphasis on problems and blessings, vices and virtues, structures of oppression and structures of good order. Sociology has a strong bias toward criticism; we need a balancing passion for appreciation.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Not Making a Fetish of Planning

I believe that Everything Will Work Out Just Fine.

I do not want to make a fetish of planning.

Nonetheless, I do like to plan ahead. I value other people planning ahead, especially when their plans take account of other people's plans. I think planning is a basic bourgeois virtue. Planning is the counterpart of being able to defer gratification, one of the defining bourgeois virtues.

People who plan ahead are more likely to succeed in this life.

I think it is reasonable to wish to that people in positions of power plan ahead, and try to act according to a plan.

Still, when we were in college, Mrs. G. and I discovered that our lovely, wonderful, caring friends in Christian Fellowship were never on time, never fully prepared, never really planned ahead. They had the vice of their virtues. They were never on time because they lived life able to drop everything for someone in need. We had to say to one another "They toil not, neither do they spin ..." to remember Jesus' admonition to properly appreciate the lilies of the field. This is the old conflict of Mary and Martha. So we tried not to sweat it when planned activities came off half-baked. And we brought extras and allowed extra time, knowing what was likely to happen.

What inspires this self-reminder about the proportionate value of planning is that I have been reading with various classes a set of excellent books about poor people, in the slums, on welfare, and how many of them got that way. Truthfully, how most of them got that way. Visit the characters in American Dream or Code of the Street or Promises I Can Keep. They have little, and are building for nothing, because they do not live according to a plan.

So I consider the lilies.

I still plan, but try not to be an insufferable prig about it.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Palin's Religion

I think it is great that there is a pentecostal on a major party ticket. A hundred years after the pentecostal movement was born, it has become the leading edge of world Christianity. For my money, the worldwide pentecostal/holiness movement is the most important unknown story of the twentieth century, and shows no signs of slowing in the twenty-first. The Assemblies of God is now the largest of the Pentecostal denominations, so it stands to reason that the first pentecostal on the top political ticket would be a child of the AG church.

The Palins have since gentrified into a non-denominational Bible church that is not quite so emotional and demonstrative as her home congregation. I don't hold that against them -- people grow and change in their faith all the time. And she has not repudiated her old denomination, but goes back to speak to the kids and her old pastor with evident pride. I honor that, too.

The great strength of Holy Spirit churches is that they connect me with God in a powerful way. The weakness of Holy Spirit churches is that they can easily slip into connecting God with me to serve me. One of the reasons that I moved from Quakerism, a Holy Spirit church from way back, to Presbyterianism is that the God found in the Quaker meeting was so often too small. When you are waiting on the Holy Spirit to speak through you, most of the time you find the Holy Spirit only talks about stuff that you are - I was - concerned about. The thing I like about Calvinist theology is the continuous reminder that God is the sovereign of all Creation and far beyond our petty concerns.

There are videos on the web of Sarah Palin addressing her old church. The whole speech is very interesting, and I commend it to you. There is one bit that has been debated on some of the religion and politics blogs. Ron Dreher at Crunchy Con asks whether this prayer is "weird":

The crucial line is "God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built."

Dreher argues that this is not weird; "This is not how I talk about God's sovereignty. But it's how a lot of ordinary people -- educated people -- in my part of the world talk. And I see nothing especially strange about it." I think Dreher is right that many people do talk this way. But I can't agree with them, or Gov. Palin. In fact, I can think of few theological ideas more dangerous than the notion that God is on my side, that God works on others to achieve what I want.

It would be too much to say that there is a developed theology behind saying that God's will requires building my gas line. This is not a thought out position, but a felt one. I am passionately connected to God, so God is passionately connected to me. I am loyal to God, so God is loyal to me. I back God's will, so God backs my will. Nothing weird about it. The most human way of thinking about morality in the world. But theologically very dangerous.