Saturday, November 28, 2009

IMMD: A Gruntled Website

"It Made My Day: Little Moments of WIN" is an excellent website of small moments that made people smile. Which they write up and send in. Some of the moments are mean, but many are very gruntled.

For example:

At work we have a dry erase board that we write a fun fact on each week. This week it said that the longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds. A little boy read it then looked at me and said, “What if they shot one out of a canon?” IMMD

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, One and All

I am going to spend the day reading a novel.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Little More Marriage in Sociology of Family Textbooks.

A dozen years ago Norval Glenn, a sociologist at the University of Texas, wrote an important review of the leading sociology textbooks covering family life. He found that they tended to downplay children and marriage, and play up the more unusual kinds of family life. Many were openly ideological.

Glenn has just written a follow-up essay in Academic Questions. The good news is that marriage gets more play. He thinks this is due to the influence of Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher's The Case for Marriage, which I have written about often. The bad news is that marriage and children still do not have the central place in family sociology textbooks that they have in actual societies.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Re-reading Fussell's X Category

I have been teaching Paul Fussell's Class: A Painfully Accurate Guide to the American Status System for twenty years. It is usually the last book in "Introduction to Sociology." Students find it disturbing and very helpful. Fussell spends almost the entire book making fun of every social class. At the end, he offers "The X Way Out." X is not a class, but a category of personhood that one can earn by pursuing your own interests in freedom. He calls the X category a "parody aristocracy" or an "unmonied aristocracy" because of this freedom.

For years I have thought that Fussell hoist himself on his own petard. He condemned all others for their status-seeking, while reserving for himself a category free from status-seeking. Yet clearly it is better to be X than any class. Better means higher status.

His summary of what is good about the X category is this:
They occupy the one social place in the U.S.A. where the ethic of buying and selling is not all-powerful. Impelled by insolence, intelligence, irony, and spirit, X people have escaped out the back doors of those theaters of class which enclose others.

This year, though, I read this very familiar passage in a new way. X offers an escape from the ethic of buying and selling. X is an escape from class. It is not, and is not meant to be, an escape from status. Fussell is not being a hypocrite in exchanging the status system of curiosity and freedom for the status system of material goods and the control of the means of production.

X offers a different standard of status, not an escape from status.

Monday, November 23, 2009

DNA Paternity Doesn't Need to Define All the Financial Responsibilty

The New York Times Magazine has a gripping story about fathers who discover they are not biologically related to their children, want to stay connected with them socially, but also think the biological father should foot some of the bill. The core story centers on a man who divorced his wife when he discovered that their daughter was really the child of affair she had with another guy. Since the man had been acting as her father for years and still loved her and wanted to be connected with her, he paid full child support. However, when his ex-wife married the man who was actually the biological father of the child, the court concluded that this new man - legal step-father, actual bio-father - had no financial responsibility for the little girl, though she lived in his house. The man she still called "daddy" was left subsidizing the household of the man who had displaced him.

I don't think there is any good solution to a complex disaster like this. I do think the courts should divide up the money in some proportional way. This division would not need to be based wholly on biological paternity or wholly on social relationship. Money, unlike any other good, has the great advantage of being something you can divide up minutely. Unlike people's affections, and their time, money doesn't care how it is divided.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What Can You Tolerate in the Church?

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking to Northumberland Presbytery on the subject of conflict and competition in the Presbyterian Church (USA). My main theme was that the church has always been diverse and always will be. This means that there are some beliefs and practices that some people in the church engage in that other people have to tolerate.

There are limits to what the church will tolerate on the left and the right. There are beliefs and practices so standard and orthodox that nearly everyone accepts them. And then there is a gray area in each tail of the bell curve between those poles. Here lie things that someone is merely tolerating.

The danger that conservatives pose to the church is the belief that if we just expel this group of intolerables, the church will be pure. And if they don't get that expulsion, they are inclined to leave. But the legacy of schism is more schism. And a church of millions will never be pure. Some things will have to be tolerated by the right.

The danger that liberals pose to the church is the belief that merely tolerating some things is unjust because it creates a "second class" status. They believe that it we just all embrace every practice and belief that is allowed in the church as equally good, the church will be just. And if they get something tolerated today, they will come back tomorrow to argue that it is just as good, right, and orthodox as anything else in the church. But it is possible to be so open-minded that your brains fall out. Some things will have to be tolerated by the left.

We did an exercise in the presbytery meeting. I asked everyone to write down one belief or practice that anyone would need to accept to be an officer of the Presbyterian Church. We then talked about them. The items that different people came up with were a little different. But everyone came up with something. Everyone agreed that the church must have some standards. We then began the discussion of which things they would find tolerable, even though they are not ideal. We did not come to a conclusion on this discussion. But I think everyone accepted that there are some items in the "tolerated" category.