Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas to one and all - see you in the new year

The Gruntled Center shuts down for two weeks in the year - August family reunion at Capon Springs, and Christmas week.

I hope you all get to enjoy blessings this week, and that we all return refreshed in 2011.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Gruntlwagon, Complete

I owe you several weeks of Saturday posts of the new stickers on the Gruntlwagon, much delayed by weather. Here, as an early Christmas present (to me, at least), is the finished, um, canvas.

If they are too small to read, the five rows, from top to bottom, left to right, read:

Earlham; Swarthmore; Yale.

Flaming Moderate; Fear Less, Sanity More.

E Pluribus Unum [Earth flag]; GRUNTL; We the People Are All Immigrants.

Moderate profits fill the purse; Obama sunrise; Centre College; Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty - Socrates.

Christian and a Democrat.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Accommodating Breastfeeding Is Good Family Support

President Obama has set up a group to create uniform standards for federal agencies to accommodate workers who breastfeed their babies. Many federal agencies have their own policies. The new standards would provide a model for the other agencies and encourage best practices. Accommodating breastfeeding is a good, low-key kind of family support.

Interestingly enough, the first federal agency to create its own breastfeeding policies was the National Security Agency.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Teens Plan For Recession, Have Fewer Babies

The teen birth rate is down 6% since last year - the lowest level recorded in 70 years of U.S. statistics.

The young adult birth rate is down 7% since last year.

Both drops are probably due to the bad economy - girls and women choosing not to have babies because it will be harder to afford them.

Which demonstrates that most of the teen pregnancy rate is not due to ignorance or an inability to plan.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Birth of an Erroneous Statistic: How Many Wives Earn More Than Their Husbands

About a quarter of wives make more than their husbands in couples in which both work.

This figures is based on a study made just before the recession. Since the recession laid off more husbands than wives, the number may, at this moment, be closer to 1/3. In many of those couples, the husband is not working at all, though he is likely looking for work.

Historically, husbands and fathers work or seek work - period. Most wives and mothers, on the other hand, are more likely to trade off work, or more consuming work, against family needs.

Moreover, in cohabiting couples, she is likely to work more and he is likely to work less than in married couples. Mixing the two kinds of couples muddies the statistics.

A recent Reuters story, citing an unnamed "Princeton study," stated flatly that in a third of couples, she makes more than he does. The nuance of "married" and "both working" was lost.

I fear that this number - "She makes more than he does in one third of American households" - will take on an independent life, like the "50% of marriages end in divorce" myth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

No Labels Will Go Nowhere

As a centrist I want to like No Labels, an attempt to create a common ground political movement. They offer that they are Democrats, Republicans, and independents marching under the slogan "Not left. Not right. Forward."

Alas, I think they will get nowhere. We have never been a non-partisan country - that version of "no labels" is a non-starter. The centrist path has always depended on bipartisanship. Bipartisanship depends on there being two parties with a plan for governing. Right now the civil war within the Republican Party has left them torn among the social conservatives, the libertarians, and the remaining lower-taxes-on-the-country-club Establishment. The only thing they agree on is preventing Democrats from governing. I think that until the tea party revolt runs its course, the GOP will have no positive plan of what it is for.

When we return to the normal American condition of two parties each in favor of government and governing, then we can have bipartisanship and a centrist way forward again.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Still No Stickers

No new bumper stickers on the Gruntlwagon this week. To top the snow of two weeks ago and the rain of last week, we had an ice storm.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Go Mother-Bear Wallets!

MIT is developing proverbial wallets that physically change as your electronic accounts grow and shrink. They aim at "unabstracting virtual assets" - just as the amount of bills and coins in your pocket unabstracts how much physical money you have.

I particularly like the "Mother Bear" model. It has a hinge inside, and an electronic connection to your bank. If making your monthly budget goal looks tight, the wallet makes itself harder to open. That is a good nudge.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Claiming the Sad Virtues of Divorce

Rachel Zucker's "Let's Get a Little Divorced" column is shocking, as it is meant to be.

Her underlying sentiment, that married couples should keep up their independent skills even as they work together as a team, is a sound and honorable one. Framing independence as a good fruit of divorce is not entirely wrong. Still, it is a sad commentary that we have to work backwards through divorce to think about how to be married well.

It reminds me of the story that goes around every year before Black Marriage Day. A little boy in a community where marriage is rare and decent fathers are scarce vows "when I grow up I am going to be a good dad; I'll pay my child support." This is so sad it makes the grandmothers weep.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sidney Center, NY, Does Religious Unity Right

The Sufi community in the little town of Sidney Center, NY, buried one of their own on the community's farm. The Board of Supervisors investigated to make sure the burial was legal. It was. Nonetheless, one Supervisor, an anti-government Republican named Robert McCarthy, still objected, calling for the dead to be disinterred because "you can't just bury Grandma in the backyard under the picnic table."

That is the ugly part. This is the good part.

The town rallied 'round the Sufis
. The next Board of Supervisors meetings was packed - a rare occurrence - calling shame on McCarthy. A local lawyer, who is Jewish, offered to represent the Sufis pro bono. A Republican committee woman resigned in disgust, and instead went to the Sufi community center to meet her turbaned neighbors for the first time. Hans Hass, spokesman for the Sufis, became a national figure for a moment as the story spread. But Hass was already a well-respected local figure, integrated into the town. Hass is a building contractor, volunteer fireman, and captain of the ambulance squad (!).

As if on cue to illustrate the points I had been writing about from American Grace, Sidney Center shows how religious difference binds us together, even in the face of the uncivil minority.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Newseum Press Freedom Map is a Good Shaming Tool

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. has a fascinating map of world press freedom. Green countries have a free press, yellow are partly free, and red countries control their press. The calculations are made by Freedom House, and the tiles that make up the map are changed annually.

The press freedom map shows how unusual our press freedoms are. The map is also an effective tool for shaming the yellow countries into loosening up. For example, Israel moved back from yellow to green this year when it lifted government restrictions on reporting from Gaza.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"What's That Name?" as Class Privilege

This is a fine illustration of class privilege.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

One More Thought About American Grace

Robert Putnam is famous for Bowling Alone, his study of declining social capital in America.

American Grace is his major follow-up study, in which he was looking for what does hold America together. He concluded that religion actually does hold us together (which is does not do in some countries). This is an encouraging conclusion, more encouraging that Bowling Alone.

In fact, Putnam and Campbell said that “praying together seems to be better than either bowling together or praying alone.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

American Grace: Conclusion

Putnam and Campbell conclude that religion is the glue that holds American society together. Most people, of all faiths, think all good people go to heaven (or the equivalent good outcome).

Even the "intolerant tenth," who think there is only one true religion, think religious diversity is good for America.

So why doesn't religion divide America, as it does other nations? Because nearly all Americans have friends or relatives of other faiths in their social networks. Putnam and Campbell call them "Aunt Susan" and "my pal Al."

The conclusion that Putnam and Campbell reach at the end of American Grace:

“Devotion plus diversity, minus damnation, equals comity."

Thursday, December 09, 2010

American Grace 11: How Does a Religiously Divided Nation Get Along So Well?

The puzzle that Putnam and Campbell are trying to explain: how a country with high religious diversity and high religious devotion has such low religious conflict?

The answer is that we are not really very divided by religion. The secular tenth are the outliers on most measures. The moderately religious and the very religious are alike in most things.

On feeling thermometer measures - how warm (positive) toward Group X do you feel? - the results are a little unexpected:
Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Jews are all liked by others at above average rates;
Evangelical Protestants and Nones a bit below average;
Mormons, Buddhists, and Muslims (in that order) are least liked.

In the end, ideology generates more animosity than religion does.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

American Grace 10: Religious People Oppose Dissent

The one civic negative that Putnam and Campbell find about religious people is that they are more likely to oppose dissent and accept restrictions on civil liberties.

After disposing of two possible arguments - that religious people are more Manichean in their worldview, or that religious skeptics support dissent - the authors offer a different explanation.

Religious people support authority more than secular people do. Religious people build up the social order by giving and serving those in need. For a similar reason, they build up civic order by supporting the authority on which that social order legitimately rests.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

American Grace 9: The Religious are More Civic

Religious people give more and do more for religious and secular life than secular people do.

People in religious networks give and do more than people with religious beliefs but no networks.

People who profess no religion, but who nonetheless go to church sometimes, give and do more than their co-(non)-religionists who do not go to church.

Arthur Brooks, who I have written about before, says that conservatives give and do more than liberals. Putnam and Campbell find that this is because conservatives are more likely to be religious. Secular conservatives are not notably giving or civic-minded. In fact, American Grace argues,

“According to the best available evidence, the ‘civic good guys’ are more often religious liberals, not religious conservatives.”

Monday, December 06, 2010

American Grace 8: The Glue of Religion and Politics

The core of American Grace is the connection between religion and politics. The main finding is that the more religious people are, the more likely they are to be Republicans; the more secular they are, the more likely they are to be Democrats. There are, of course, some secular Republicans, and many religious Democrats, but the trend line is clear.

Except for African Americans, who are both very religious and very Democratic.

Putnam and Campbell consider several issues that might connect religiosity and partisanship. This is their overall conclusion on this issue:

The glue which holds religiosity and partisanship together is the political salience of two issues in particular: abortion and same-sex marriage.

In the late '70s the two parties took the same position on these issues, so religious traditionalists had nowhere in particular to go. From the first Reagan election on, though, the Republican Party took a conservative line on both of these issues. There after, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party clearly captured the conservative religious and liberal secular poles of the electorate, respectively.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

American Grace 7: Evangelizing Faiths Are the Least Homogeneous

Putnam and Campbell found that 90% of American congregations are ethnically homogeneous. There is still a strong ethnic foundation to religion, most especially for Jews, Black Protestants, and, to a lesser extent than a generation ago, Catholics.

The least ethnically homogeneous congregations were found among Mormons and evangelical Protestants. This is somewhat ironic since Mormons famously resisted admitting black men to their priesthood until the 1970s, and conservative Protestant sects were the core of the religious resistance to integration and black civil rights a generation ago.

However, the whole nation has enjoyed a sea change in racial attitudes. Religious people are now against racism and for ethnic diversity, pretty much across the board. The remaining racists tend to do their organizing outside of religious networks.

Moreover, it makes sense that Mormons and evangelicals would be creating congregations that are increasingly diverse by ethnicity: these are the faiths that most evangelize new people into the faith. And, for the same reason, Mormons and evangelicals are the least ethnically based of major faiths, because what holds them together is common faith, more than a common background. Evangelical megachurches, in particular, have made a concerted effort to evangelize beyond their white base, which has paid off in the past decade or so.

The growing points of American religion are getting less and less segregated, and the younger generations are more and more likely to value ethnic diversity. This bodes well for the future.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

No New Bumper Sticker Today - Too Much Snow

I will have a double post on the next dry day.

Friday, December 03, 2010

American Grace 6: Women's Equality Has Shaped All Religious Traditions

Putnam and Campbell note that the main religious families do differ significantly on women's roles, but only on a few points. About half of American denominations allow women clergy, for example, and half do not.

However, in their roles in the world, both very religious and very secular women have followed a similar path. In 1970, secular women were 10 to 15 percentage points more involved in the work force. There is a similar gap today. However, both groups have increased their participation in the work force at the same rate.

Likewise, today religious women have more traditional gender views than secular women do, but both groups have liberalized since 1970 to the same extent.

The most religious fifth of women today are more liberal on gender than the most secular women were in 1970.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

American Grace 5: People Reconcile Their Faith and Politics for Religious Reasons

Yesterday I reported Putnam and Campbell's finding that when people find their politics and religion out of alignment, they tend to change their religion. I don't want to leave that finding out there for a merely cynical interpretation. People choose their religions for religious reasons, and the more religious they are, the more true that is.

Putnam and Campbell found that at the macro level there is a clear correlation between political ideology and denominational choice. Yet they did not see the same thing on the micro level, at least not at first blush. When people explain why they chose their religious institution, they give religious reasons; the more religious they are, the more true this is.

Putnam and Campbell square this seeming contradiction this way. People with no religion leave formal religion because they don't like all the politics, so they do not show up in congregational studies. People who choose conservative faiths do so to fight moral decay, which they do directly through the theology of their faith, and only indirectly through politics.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

American Grace 4: Getting Your Religion and Ideology Coordinated

Putnam and Campbell are particularly concerned with the political effects of American religious divisions. They note that religion and political ideology have gotten more coordinated in the past generation. In particular, people who switched religions are more polarized than those who stayed put; that is, the switchers change toward the ideological pole they leaned toward, moving further away from the many switchers in the other direction. This increasing polarization is especially true of younger generations.

One surprising finding is especially interesting, if a bit ominous for religion:

“people whose religious and political affiliations are ‘inconsistent’ … are more likely to resolve the inconsistency by changing their religion than by changing their politics.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

American Grace 3: Who Are the No-Religions?

Putnam and Campbell, in American Grace, offer a pretty high number for Americans who say they have no religion: 17%.

As others have found before, Putnam and Campbell find that the Nones tend to be young, liberal, from unchurched, mainline Protestant, or Catholic homes. And they are very changeable - most come from a churched background, and many will end up churched later in life.

One interesting new finding is that many of them change their self-definition without changing their practice. Even in the year between the two iterations of their Faith Matters survey, 30% of the people in the category had changed. Many of them said "no religion" one time, and named the tradition they came from or were heading to the other time.

The authors conclude that many of the Nones are not anti-religious, and only a tiny fraction are atheists. Rather, Putnam and Campbell see that around each major religious family there is a "penumbra" of an additional 10% who sometimes see themselves in the fold, and sometimes see themselves outside of it. The people who say they have no religion are not, for the most part, anti-religious, but are disappointed with the religious institutions they know - and many would like to find a way to come back.

Monday, November 29, 2010

American Grace 2: Sexual Morality is the Dividing Issue

In American Grace, Putnam and Campbell argue that the triumph of liberal values in the 1960s produced a conservative reaction that came to fruition in the 1980s.

They empirically consider which values provoked the main reaction. They conclude that the religious right was not primarily produced in reaction to Great Society liberalism, nor the civil rights movement; not much by women’s equality; not much by the Supreme Court decisions. The biggest motive was moral decadence and sexual permissiveness. In the 1970s, the single most powerfully divisive issue was premarital sex.

“We argue that throughout these last five decades libertines and prudes have successively provoked one another: liberal sexual morality provoked some Americans to assert conservative religious beliefs and affiliations, and then conservative sexual morality provoked other Americans to assert secular beliefs and affiliations.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

American Grace 1: The Thesis

The big book in the sociology of religion this year is Robert Putnam and David Campbell's American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. Putnam, of Bowling Alone fame, unites with a Notre Dame political scientist to parse the current state of American religion, and tell a story of how we got here.

Their thesis starts in a familiar place: the unusually high levels of churchedness of the 1950s were dealt a huge shock by the Sixties, which led to massive declines. This is a story we have been telling for forty years.

The culture shock then led to a conservative reaction and culture war. This is the story we have been examining for twenty years.

The new element in their tale is that the conservative resurgence ended in the late '90s. What followed was a broad disaffection with organized religion by the bystanders in the culture wars.

In coming posts I will work through their argument.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Contentment is Natural Wealth

Each Saturday I add a new sticker to the Gruntlwagon.

Today's is a mate for last Saturday's.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Britain to Start Measuring General Well-Being

The coalition government of Conservative and Liberal Democratic Parties in Britain is planning to start a regular measure of the population's general well-being, to complement the more familiar national economic scales. The Labour opposition sees this as a trick to show that people are happy in bad economic times, justifying the government's strong austerity cuts in government services. Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, though, says that promoting the general well-being of the population is the main business of government, and is something they should have been measuring before.

I agree with Cameron on this point. In fact, I think measuring general well-being is a direct continuation of the founding principles of the Liberal Party, the ancestor of the Tories' coalition partner.

I believe we will see more governments attending to the people's general well-being as a crucial measure of national success.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving - A Very Gruntled Holiday

Thanksgiving is the core sacred holiday of our domestic civil religion. I see it as the counterpart of the core secular holiday of American civil religion, Independence Day. Gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to make a happy person and a happy society.

For my part, I will spend the day by the fire, reading one of Kentucky's best-known native humorists, Irvin S. Cobb, and being grateful to having my family about me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Divorced Kids' Marital Stigma

Elizabeth Marquardt, one of my favorite writers about divorce, writes of the anecdotal evidence that children of divorce are having trouble marrying because they are regarded by potential partners as damaged goods. The divorce stigma is mostly gone for the divorced, but has passed on to the next generation.

It is true that children of divorce are more likely to divorce themselves. They are more likely to rush into marriage impulsively, or delay (and cohabit) endlessly, trying to be sure. In either case, they are likely to doubt that they themselves know how to marry. They expect that any fight could lead to good-bye.

It is also true, though, that a good marriage is the most healing of institutions. Divorce is not inevitable for the children of divorce. Millions of divorced kids have made successful marriages, ending the cycle.

The best tool for overcoming the causes of divorce is to know what they are and communicate directly about the problems. If the problem is communication itself, as it so often is, meta-communicate about how you are communicating. Every marital problem has a work-around, if both people want to stay married.

The divorced-kids' stigma is not unfounded. But it is not a doom, either.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Men Live Longer With One Marriage - Not Zero, Not Three

The Daily Mail reports a study by University of Florida researcher John Henretta, who studied marriage and mortality for men over 50. The bachelors were more likely to die at any given age, a fact long known. What was new was that men who were on their third wedding (or more) were 34% more likely to die at any given age than men in their first marriage.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Couples Who Can Do Simple Math Are Richer - In a Big Way

Try these math questions:

1. If the chance of getting a disease is 10 percent, how many people
out of 1,000 would be expected to get the disease?

2. If five people all have the winning numbers in the lottery, and the
prize is $2 million, how much will each of them get?

3. Let's say you have $200 in a savings account. The account earns 10
percent interest per year. How much would you have in the account at
the end of two years?

Then have your spouse, or potential spouse, try them.

According to the RAND corporation, couples in middle age who answer just these three questions correctly are likely to have much more net wealth than couples who do not. The average net wealth difference between couples with all three right to all three wrong or unanswered: $1.7 million to $200,000.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Marriage Is for Smart People

The talk of the pro-marriage world lately has been the Time/Pew survey of marriage. It found that marriage rates have been declining in all classes, and have fallen below half for the least educated. This has led to stories about marriage being obsolete.

I read the numbers the opposite way. Smart people get married, if they can. Smart is not the same as educated, but there is some relation.

Marriage benefits couples who stay together and work together. This is true in all classes, all education levels, all everything.

I think college graduates are more likely to marry because they are more likely to know the wisdom, as well as the research findings, that marriage is not the capstone of social success, but, for most people, the foundation of it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Moderate Profits Fill the Purse

I am adding a new sticker to the Gruntlwagon each Saturday.

This one was described as "an Italian proverb."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cultivating Conscience 3: Passive Altruism

Lynn Stout, in Cultivating Conscience, offers several reasons why we do not credit how often people act on conscience.

These two struck me as the most interesting.

1) We discount our own prosocial acts because we know that we do not always have altruistic feelings. Stout emphasizes, though, that the prosocial acts are what benefit society. I would say that in a well-ordered society, the laws and many of the acts that benefit me are in line with conscience. All three motivations - following the law, seeing how helping others helps me, and following conscience - are normally all mixed together in our feelings and motivations.

2) The banality of goodness: it is so common that we do not notice it. In particular, we do not notice the many acts of passive altruism - the ethical restraint of not doing bad things even when it might be in our material interests to do so.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cultivating Conscience 2

Lynn Stout, a law professor at UCLA, has written a very interesting happy society book, Cultivating Conscience. I blogged about it yesterday.

Stout's key claim is this:

“conscience is triggered primarily by three particularly powerful social cues: instructions from authority; beliefs about others’ unselfishness; and perceived benefits to others.”

These cues to conscience work because they map on to the powerful human emotions of obedience, conformity, and empathy.

We already have a conscience. We can shape social structures to nudge that conscience into action. We can do this by:

  1. Having people in authority in all walks of life say clearly that helping others is a good thing to do;
  2. Show the evidence that most people do help others; and
  3. Show that others really benefit from our helpful acts.

Stout notes that there is one caveat: we act unselfishly toward others if we perceive that the cost is not too great to ourselves, compared to the benefit that others receive.

I think it is very helpful to the happy society to simply know that most people do act for the good of others all the time. We can make society better and happier by just clearly showing what is already happening.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cultivating Conscience 1: Containing Homo Economicus

Lynn Stout, a law professor at UCLA, has written a very interesting happy society book, Cultivating Conscience. I will blog it over the next few days.

Her main point is that law, and many other social science and social policy disciplines, have been infiltrated by the idea that people are like the imaginary homo economicus - selfish profit-maximizers who only care about others or about society only if they rationally calculate that their self interest is involved. Stout says that law, especially, has been driven by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s, theory that law should be made from the perspective of the "bad man" who does not care about others or the common good.

Stout argues, though, that most people are, in fact, driven by conscience, not a relentless rational selfishness. She demonstrates this through many psychological and economic experiments. She also argues that the major areas of law only make sense if we assume that most people are, in fact, "good men."

This leads me to see that when making social policy for the happy society, we can not ignore homo economicus. As Stout points out, some people are primarily self-interested profit maximizers, to the point of cheating and exploiting others. Some are just psychopaths, and others have taken too many classes in which they were told that rational people ought to be selfish. But most people are conscientious. Most people are at least "passive altruists."

Social policy, therefore, should be built to contain and discourage homo economicus.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For Poor Kids, Family Instability is Worse Than the Poverty

Most poor city kids are born to parents who are not married. Half of those parents say they will marry. But only 15% actually do. For the rest, most lose contact with their fathers. If mom has kids with a different man, dad is likely to be gone for good.

I think this is the bedrock of why poor neighborhoods are a tangle of pathologies. As Kay Hymowitz says, the instability of their homes is more damaging to poor children than the poverty.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Is Wendell Berry Kentucky's Leading Intellectual?

Wendell Berry favored Centre College with a fine reading of some of his poetry and a short story tonight. He will be meeting with students tomorrow, and then the Danville community at the public library.

It is hard to classify what kind of thinker he is, exactly. He has described himself as "an artist, of sorts, and a farmer, of sorts." He is a kind of agrarian social thinker, and an environmental activist in Kentucky.

When encouraging students to come to the convocation, I described Wendell Berry as Kentucky's leading intellectual. I have been thinking about this since I said it. I still think it is true. But I would welcome some critical thought and comment on the subject.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Burma's Mandela Moment?

The best news of the day is that the Burmese dictatorship released Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. This may be the long-awaited Mandela Moment, when the regime finally starts on the path to the transition to legitimate government.

I am not counting on anything as certain, though. The Burmese junta is the most mercurial government in the world, in my judgment - even more so than the North Korean. They have let her out in the past, only to lock her up again.

One hopeful sign, though, is that the government does not seem to be insisting that the recent "election" proves that they are legitimate, and therefore the banned opposition party does not have to be permitted again.

Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the shining lights for democracy in the world. It is a great day that she can walk free again.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Flaming Moderate

Each Saturday I will add a new sticker to my van, starting from here.

Today I put up what I think of as the title of the collection.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veterans Day 2010 Was So Much Better Than Veterans Day 1976

Yesterday my son, who is 16, put on a suit to help lead the Veterans Day celebration put on by the Junior State of America at his school. In Danville, Kentucky, there were flags everywhere. My home coffee house gave free coffee to veterans. People - quite liberal Democratic people - shook veterans by the hand and thanked them for their service.

This was not just in Danville. Facebook was full of flags, thanks, and remembrances of veterans - mine included. Rachel Maddow on MSBC, a notable liberal on the most liberal network, had encouraged everyone the day before to may a big splash of celebrating Veterans Day.

This made me think back to what things were like when I was 16 in 1976. We pulled out of Vietnam in 1973. Nixon fell in 1974. Saigon fell in 1975. By the Bicentennial we were ready to celebrate the Revolutionary soldiers, but not the recent ones. Liberals didn't fly flags. Veterans Day was celebrated by old soldiers, only. It was, as Doonesbury put it, a kidney stone of a decade.

Things are much better in this country today.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Republican Brain Drain

Nils Andresen has an interesting series on the conservative Frum Forum blog on the brain drain of elite college students from the Republican Party. He summarizes the trend thus:

Republicans have gone from having a clear advantage among top students in the decade following the Eisenhower administration, to being competitive under the Nixon and Ford administrations, and from being an energetic minority during Reagan and Bush Sr. to being almost eradicated today.

Andresen speculates that this trend is driven by the Republican leaderships' attacks on "elitists," their cultivation of anti-science (young earth) creationists, and their encouragement of sheer falsehoods like those of the "birthers." He worries that the long-term effect will be to dry up the pool of conservative policy thinkers and people well informed about the world context in which policy has to be made.

I can testify that the recent turn of the Republican Party has made the position of Republicans at Centre College more difficult. Centre students are centrists, on the whole. There are significant numbers of moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans among the students. Town/gown relations have historically been good. Yet in the most recent elections the tone of local Republicans has taken an unpleasant turn, attacking the "elitism" of the college, charging professors with socialism, and even suggesting that students not be allowed to vote locally lest they "cancel out" the votes of local "property owners." Centre Republican leaders have been put in a difficult position by the ill-informed positions of some national party candidates and the short-sighted radicalism of the tea party wing of the Republican Party. I have seen on the ground that these well-educated and politically interested young people will have a harder time committing themselves to the Republican Party, when the party disparages people like them.

When I was in the federal Department of Education under President Reagan and Secretary Bill Bennett, it was clear that the Republicans could not field a team. In other fields - finance, and perhaps in defense - they had an informed policy makers. In education, though, and most other fields of domestic government, the Republicans did not have a body of informed people to draw on to make policy, and even fewer willing to implement it. All of the top leadership of the department were Democrats when they learned how to govern, and had only recently switched parties in order to take office.

Educated people run society, including government. A party that loses the most educated young people today will reap a poor harvest tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Babies Teach Kindness

Roots of Empathy is a fantastic program that teaches kinds empathy by having them watch, and take the perspective of, real babies. The researchers do not know how it works. But is does.

My favorite line from David Bornstein's article: "The baby seems to act like a heart-softening magnet."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Dismantling Orientalism, One Piece at at Time

The Centre College faculty met yesterday to consider revamping our religion requirement.

For years we have required students to take two courses under the General Education heading of "Fundamental Questions." One of those courses must be either REL 110 "Biblical History and Ideas" or REL 120 "History of Christian Thought." For the second course they may choose from a wider array, which includes 110, 120, and REL 130 "World Religions" as well as a variety of philosophy courses. "History of Christian Thought" is an introduction to the whole Judeo-Christian tradition, as a fundamental basis for understanding Western civilization. "World Religions" is primarily about Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

The Religion program and the curriculum committee proposed changing these General Education requirements, which is a fairly big deal here. They proposed that the two basic choices be 110 (the same Bible course) and a new course, REL 150 "Western Religious Traditions." REL 130 "World Religions" would become "Eastern Religions." REL 120 (Christian thought) would move to the second array of courses.

What does this boil down to? Islam is being moved from "world religions" to "western religions" - understood as the Abrahamic faiths.

Coincidentally, my "Macrosociological Theory" seminar is working its way through Edward Said's Orientalism this week. Said's point is that Europeans invented an "Orient" that began with Islam, then incorporated the cultures of India and points east. Islam was made to seem more different from the other Abrahamic faiths than it really is. This has had bad consequences for centuries, and never more so than today.

The faculty passed this improvement to our General Education core without a dissenting vote.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Getting rich doesn't make you happy. Doing something worthwhile does.

Arthur Brooks, in Gross National Happiness, illustrates the former point with some tragically unhappy lottery winners.

This week's news illustrates the latter point with some charmingly happy lottery winners, Allen and Violet Large of Truro, Nova Scotia. They gave away almost all of their winnings, mostly to local charities. They chose to decline in class in order to increase in status - a success they earned.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Reduce Government Costs By Promoting Marriage

Mike McManus, the moving force behind community marriage covenants, has a fine stump speech for anyone running for office. His argument: "divorce and unwed births are two of the engines driving up the cost of government."

In addition to all the direct costs, there are the many indirect costs that come from worse health, less education, spotty employment, and increased crime rates that we can reliably predict from marriage breakdown and single parenthood.

McManus, who is a pretty conservative guy, has a quite moderate approach to gradually diminishing the welfare benefits of cohabiting poor parents who marry. This seems like a practical and centrist approach to me.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

New Era for the Gruntlwagon

I removed about a dozen stickers of all kinds from my van after the election. It was time for renewal.

I stripped down to the basic loyalty stickers.

Each Saturday for the next month or so I will add a new one and post it.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Centre at the Rally to Restore Sanity

Some 70 Centre College people, almost all of them students, went to the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington. Adam Brown, Centre's electronic communications guy, came, too, and made this film. I think it captures our intent pretty well.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

One Rally Victory: No More 'Worst Persons'

Keith Olbermann, the vitriolic liberal commentator on MSNBC, criticized Jon Stewart and the Rally to Restore Sanity as naive for criticizing cable news, left and right, as equally culpable for spreading fear and anger.

However, Olbermann later decided to drop the "Worst Persons in the World" feature of his show.

We may hope for a similar step to "take it down a notch" from the vitriolic conservative commentators on Fox.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Election Post-Mortem

I think whoever inherited the multiple disasters of 2008 was going to lose in 2010.

I am glad that we made as much progress as we did over the last two years.

The best thing about divided government is that the two parties have to work together to actually solve problems.

The special moving force in this election was anger at the party in power for not solving our economic problems fast enough. Next time, both parties will be the party in power. This should motivate them to work together.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Hooray! Election Day!

Today is the greatest holiday of democracy, Election Day.

Vote Cheerfully, please.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Political Myths 5 Through 8

Leading up to the election I have been reposting this article, ending today.

5) Businesses will hire if they get tax cuts.
Reality: A business hires the right number of employees to meet demand. Having extra cash does not cause a business to hire, but a business that has a demand for what it does will find the money to hire. Businesses want customers, not tax cuts.

6) Health care reform costs $1 trillion.
Reality: The health care reform reduces government deficits by $138 billion.

7) Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, is "going broke," people live longer, fewer workers per retiree, etc.
Reality: Social Security has run a surplus since it began, has a trust fund in the trillions, is completely sound for at least 25 more years and cannot legally borrow so cannot contribute to the deficit (compare that to the military budget!) Life expectancy is only longer because fewer babies die; people who reach 65 live about the same number of years as they used to.

8) Government spending takes money out of the economy.
Reality: Government is We, the People and the money it spends is on We, the People. Many people do not know that it is government that builds the roads, airports, ports, courts, schools and other things that are the soil in which business thrives. Many people think that all government spending is on "welfare" and "foreign aid" when that is only a small part of the government's budget.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity Was a Hopeful Reminder

Some seventy members of the Centre College community went to the Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear) on the Mall in Washington yesterday. The crowd was huge - well beyond what the organizers had prepared for. Nonetheless, the mood was friendly, helpful, and moderate all day. The signs were not angry - many were witty, and all that I saw were properly spelled and punctuated.

Jon Stewart gave an excellent closing speech about working together, keeping a sense of proportion, and not promoting fear. Standing on a stage that framed the Capitol, he said

We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is—on the brink of catastrophe—torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day!

The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV.

Go Sanity!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Political Myth 4: The Stimulus Didn't Work

This week I leading up to the election am reposting this article, point by point.

Reality: The stimulus worked, but was not enough. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus raised employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Political Myth 3: Obama Bailed Out the Banks

This week I am reposting this article, point by point.

Reality: While many people conflate the "stimulus" with the bank bailouts, the bank bailouts were requested by President Bush and his Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson. (Paulson also wanted the bailouts to be "non-reviewable by any court or any agency.") The bailouts passed and began before the 2008 election of President Obama.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Political Myths 1 & 2: Obama Raised the Deficit and Raised Taxes

Each day from now to the election I am going to post an item (today, two items), from "Eight False Things the Public 'Knows' Prior to Election Day," by Dave Johnson. I believe our politics will be conducted better if we know what is truly happening and discuss it calmly.

1) President Obama tripled the deficit.
Reality: Bush's last budget had a $1.416 trillion deficit. Obama's first budget reduced that to $1.29 trillion.

2) President Obama raised taxes, which hurt the economy.
Reality: Obama cut taxes. 40% of the "stimulus" was wasted on tax cuts which only create debt, which is why it was so much less effective than it could have been.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bad Egalitarianism at Westfield High

The AP U.S. History teachers at Westfield, a competitive public high school in suburban Washington, D.C. have banned curiosity and critical exploration. They sent a list of rules to all students, with this as Number One:

"You are only allowed to use your OWN knowledge, your OWN class notes, class handouts, your OWN class homework, or The Earth and Its Peoples textbook to complete assignments and assessments UNLESS specifically informed otherwise by your instructor.''

Students are forbidden to talk to other people, including their own parents, about the assignments. They are specifically forbidden to look things up on the internet.

Jay Matthews, the parent who brought this situation to the world's attention in the Washington Post, tried to get the teachers to explain themselves. They declined. He asked the principal. The principal declined to comment on the record, "but gave me the impression that the teachers, who did not respond to my request for comment, were only trying to be fair. Some students have more help and resources than others."

This is so sad. Egalitarian ideology has so clouded these teachers' minds that they have lost all sense of what education is about.

I hope this foolishness can be cured by gentle mockery.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ravitch is Mostly Wrong About "Waiting for 'Superman'"

In my previous post I praised the new documentary "Waiting for 'Superman'" as mostly right.

Diane Ravitch, a well-known education policy scholar and former Education Department official, criticized the film.

This is Ravitch's summary of the film's point:
"The only hope for the future of our society, especially for poor black and Hispanic children, is escape from public schools."

The film, though, is not an indictment of all public schools. It is an indictment of the strategic minority of truly terrible public schools, the drop-out factories. They are concentrated in a few large urban districts, where the unions and the public officials close ranks to protect the status quo. Not all public schools. Not all public school teachers, nor even all teachers in the bad schools. The film criticizes schools that protect bad teachers.

The film's main message is that it is possible to create schools even in the worst neighborhoods for the worst-off kids that teach well and produce excellent results. The fact that such schools are possible should drive us to make them more common. Charter schools are a mechanism within the public system that creates competition for specific lazy monopolies. Not all public systems are lazy monopolies, and as Ravitch rightly notes, most public school parents are satisfied with their own children's schools. But a few schools are terrible, and the main indictment of the film is of principals and districts that do not make those few better.

Ravitch thinks filmmaker Guggenheim's aim is to"propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes." I do not see that at Guggenheim's aim. He cites the same statistic Ravitch does, that only a fifth of charter schools do noticeably better than their other public counterparts. (Ravitch, for some reason, does not wish to count charter schools as public schools, though most are.) Instead, Guggenheim's aim is to show that some schools can do well in rough settings. Chartering isn't magic, and Guggenheim doesn't say it is. He doesn't even focus on that mechanism as much as Ravitch does, who entitles her critique "The Myth of Charter Schools."

Ravitch charges that "Guggenheim seems to believe that teachers alone can overcome the effects of student poverty." I do not see him showing that. Family background matters more than schools for all classes of children - see my Education and the American Family for documentation. However, Guggenheim does show that good teachers in good schools can do a great deal to teach even the poorest children.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Waiting for 'Superman'" is Mostly Right

The talk of education world these days in the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman.'" It shows the terrible state of the worst public schools, and some of the successful alternatives that prove that things could be better. The KIPP academies and the Harlem Children's Zone schools produce tremendous improvements in terrible neighborhoods. They succeeded where the local "dropout factories" failed.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim has made a powerful ideological indictment of intransigent mediocrity, especially in urban poor schools. His overall conclusion is that good teachers are the heart of good schools. This is mostly right. However, what his account of the KIPP and Harlem Children's Zone schools shows is that the culture of the whole school is vitally important - more important, on the whole, even than the quality of individual teachers.

You need both, of course. However, really great teachers - really great anything - will always be in short supply. A school can succeed with a few really great teachers, and the rest decent teachers willing to work hard - as long as it ruthlessly weeds out the few bad teachers. This creates a climate of achievement that can lift everyone's game, and improve learning for children.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Centre College: Scholars, Gentlemen, Christians

I am pleased to announce that my history of Centre College will be released today during Homecoming.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Elite of Hard-Working Generalists

The New York Times reported on a gathering of scholars of the Elites Research Network. They are trying to figure out how, exactly, the richest people got that way.

The most sensible view was offered by Sudhir Venkatesh, moderately famous for his turn as "gang leader for a day" that was profiled in Freakonomics and in his own book of that name. He said

“You have to come in accepting that there will always be poor people in society and there will always be wealthy people in society, and neither of the two reached that status by their own efforts.”

The most interesting substantive finding in the article comes from Michael Lindsay's interviews with top corporate leaders. He found that most did not come from big money, nor did they start with a large inheritance. They were likely to have attended top colleges, and a significant proportion went on to Harvard Business School. Lindsay's big finding, though, is that they were generalists who got a big break early.

By being generalists, and looking for opportunities to understand how the whole business worked, they put themselves, I believe, on the path to be presidents. This is the path that Jim Collins identified in the excellent Good to Great of what makes for the best leaders. People who understand the whole operation are more likely to become the head of any organization, large or small. Those who understand the largest and most profitable companies thereby also become, whether they aim to or not, part of the national elite.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Are Fear and Mistrust at the Root of the Culture of Poverty?

The New York Times has a fine article on the return of "the culture of poverty" as a concept in sociology. The very idea was suppressed by liberal academics who thought it meant blaming the victim of poverty. Yet culture matters for everyone, and eventually the empirical strikes back.

The article cites Robert Sampson's studies in various Chicago neighborhoods. He concluded that

Income levels did not necessarily explain the difference, Professor Sampson said, but rather the community’s cultural norms, the levels of moral cynicism and disorder.
Cynicism and disorder, fear and mistrust - these are the things that create the dysfunctions of the culture of poverty.

I think fear and mistrust are what creates dysfunctions in any culture. Promoting fear undermines the functional elements of the culture of any class. Fear and mistrust are endemic in some poor neighborhoods. They are also endemic in some non-poor subcultures, not quite so geographic. Fear-promoting ideological subcultures create social dysfunction on a larger level.

The culture of poverty may only be the most concentrated form of the culture of fear.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Class Differences in How Parents Use Surveillance and Control Technology

The most original findings of Margaret Nelson's Parenting Out of Control are class differences in how parents think about technology to connect with, control, and monitor their children.

Professional-class parents strongly embrace connection technology - baby monitors when the kids are little, cell phones when they are bigger. On the other hand, these parents do not want V-chips and software filters that control children directly, and strongly reject tracking devices for cars and computers that secretly spy on kids. Professional parents, as we noted yesterday, most value their close relations with their children. Direct and overt monitoring is fine, because parents see that as part of a close relationship. But controlling and spying on their kids violates the basic trust with their children that these parents most cherish.

Middle-class and working-class parents, on the other hand, see it as part of their job to set clear limits for their children. They accept these kinds of technology as potentially helpful in doing that job. They are more likely to decide on a technology based on cost, and on whether they think a particular child needs a higher level of surveillance and control.

Moreover, middle- and working-class parents want their kids to operate within firm limits to free the parents from endless negotiation about the rules - something parents and kids in the professional class do endlessly.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Class Differences in What Satisfies Parents Most

Margaret Nelson, in Parenting Out of Control, found an interesting class difference in what gives different parents their deepest satisfaction.

Middle class and working class parents take the most satisfaction in their children's accomplishments.

Professional class parents take the most satisfaction in their close relationship with their children.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Arrogance of the Educated Angers Everyone Else, Even If We Are Right on the Facts

In my church's Sunday School we have been considering creation and evolution. We are having the kind of conversation that you get up in the most highly educated congregation in any town - say, the Presbyterian Church in a small college town, or the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship in a bigger city. We studied the details of biological evolution with a scientist. We studied the details of theological attempts to reconcile religion and science with a philosopher. In each case, we follow, and largely accept the increasingly esoteric nuances of the argument. We take for granted that our religious dogma has to fit within our scientific dogma.

Deepak Chopra recently put it in a clear way typical of this view:

The modern world is willing to throw out any number of beliefs about God if the facts don't fit. Science isn't willing to throw out a single piece of data, however, to satisfy an article of faith.

My job as the sociologist in this discussion was to bring in this inconvenient truth: If you ask most Americans "did God create the universe pretty much the way it is now within the last 10,000 years?" 45% say yes. The illustration I used was that every time we go to Walmart (the biggest store in our small town), assume that someone in the aisle with you is a young-earth creationist.

Deepak Chopra takes if for granted that the 45%, our fellow Americans in the Walmart aisle, are not members of the modern world. The arrogance of that assumption really ticks them off. That does not make them right - I don't think they are right. I think, though, that the reaction to that arrogance is what is really behind the political anger that we see now.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stanley Fish is Craven and Unashamed

I try to concentrate on the up-building at The Gruntled Center, but today I have to offer a criticism of a fellow professor.

Stanley Fish is an English professor and a famous critic of the Western canon of what is best to teach in English and related fields. He recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about the "crisis of the humanities," sparked by the decision of the State University of New York at Albany to abolish their French, Italian, Russian, classics, and theater departments. Fish recognizes that SUNY's conclusion that the humanities are not really necessary is, in part, the fruit if radical criticism like his. And yet Fish still opposes SUNY's decision. Why? I will let him explain:

I have always had trouble believing in the high-minded case for a core curriculum — that it preserves and transmits the best that has been thought and said — but I believe fully in the core curriculum as a device of employment for me and my fellow humanists.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Professional Parents Spend More Time With Their Kids Than Working Class Parents Do

I am working through Margaret K. Nelson, Parenting Out of Control: Parents in Anxious Times. She contrasts parents in the professional middle class (professional and management jobs, post-college education) with parents in the working class (blue collar and lower white collar jobs, less than college graduate education).

The professional middle class parents of the title, who are the intensive "helicopter parents," spend more time with their children, even though both mothers and fathers are likely to work outside the home, and work long hours. Even the at-home moms in both classes, though, show the same kind of imbalance.

Here are the time ratios:

Professional to Working Class at-home moms: 1.55: 1

Professional to Working Class working moms: 1.72: 1

Professional to Working Class dads: 2.16:1

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Men's and Women's Positions in Society Will Never Be Equally Distributed

The New York Times has an article on women in France entitled "Where Having It All Doesn't Mean Having Equality."

I believe you could write an article with this title every year, in every country, in perpetuity. The idea that if women have equal opportunities with men that will result in equal outcomes is just false. Men and women, as a group, have different preferences. In a free society, they should be allowed, indeed, should be encouraged, to make the choices they want to. It is not merely wrong to expect that men and women will be equally represented in every position in society. It is oppressive to try to make the results come out equally.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why Conspiracy Theories and Ignorance are Connected

It is easier to "connect the dots" if you don't have many dots.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Hermeneutics of Suspicion Creates the Disenchanted World

We have been studying dour old Max Weber. Unlike many early sociologists, he was not an atheist. But he was, as he famously wrote, "religiously unmusical."

The driving principle of modernity, he argued, was the relentless rationalization of all institutions and practices, including religion. He thought the world was "disenchanted," that moderns found it hard to hold on to a belief that there were personal, unrationalized forces lying behind this world, guiding it.

When I look at the survey research, more than a century later, I find that most people have no trouble believing in God and a whole array of quite personal and unrationalized forces. Yet it is a central myth of intellectuals that secularization is inevitable as people make the world more rationally ordered.

The gap between the intellectuals' personal disenchantment and their faith that everyone will eventually follow is filled, I think, by the doctrine of "the hermeneutics of suspicion." Paul Ricouer developed this approach on the model of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. He articulated what is, I believe, a common notion among intellectuals that what most people believe should not be believed. Instead, we should look for a reality underneath the surface reality. This, on the face of it, is exactly what religious people say.

The difference is that religious people believe God is under the surface appearance of this world, guiding it in a mysterious way on a positive and meaningful path. The suspicious intellectuals believe that material self-seeking is under the surface appearance of this world, twisting it in a not-so-mysterious way on a negative and possibly meaningless path. Both are doctrines, beliefs, leaps of faith.

The hermeneutics of suspicion is not an intellectual response to a falsely enchanted world. It is a doctrine that makes a disenchanted world, at least for intellectuals.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Joining in Other Peoples' Civic Projects Is Good For Me. Case in Point: The World Equestrian Games

The World Equestrian Games have been going on in at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington for the last two weeks. They are a Big Deal, the biggest deal in Kentucky in decades.

I spent a lovely day there today. As I told my class, I am not interested in horses, but I am interested in crowds. I watched "driving" all day, about which I knew nothing when the day began. That was interesting and lovely.

As I reflected on the entire massive event, I was glad that I had done my tiny civic part to help Kentucky put on a world-class event, even if it was not in one of my little areas of normal interest.

Civic participation is itself up-building, both for the commonwealth and for me.

Friday, October 08, 2010

What is a Good Work of Macrosociological Feminist Theory to Teach?

For two years I have been trying to find the right feminist book to teach in my "Macrosociological Theory" course. It has been surprisingly hard to find the right thing. This year I am using Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. It was an important book, and the students have found it the most accessible of anything we have read so far. Nonetheless, it is not really a theory book.

I looked at Nancy Chodorow's The Reproduction of Mothering. This is more theoretical, but is not really macrosociology.

I have consulted with a number of people far better read in feminist theory than I am. To all of our surprise, it has been hard to find a book that really fits the bill. We can think of several calls for developing a macrosociological feminist theory - Heidi Hartmann's and Patricia Hill Collins' have been named several times. But I have yet to find a work that weaves together feminist theory and some kind of empirical analysis of society at the macro level.

I think the main reason is because the movement that made clear that "the personal is political" has done the bulk of its work thinking about the micro level.

I am open to suggestions for works to teach, and analyses of why they are so hard to come by.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

College and Kids Have Switched Positions

Continuing our class discussion of The Feminine Mystique.

For the feminine mystique women in the '50s, marriage and children seemed obligatory, while the substance of college education, or even a college degree, were optional.

Now, the women in class agreed that a college education was essential, as they viewed their lives. Marriage and children, though desired by most of the women in the class, were optional.

I think this says as much about the changing class mores of the middle class as it shows a revolution in women's options.

Since children are not really optional for society as a whole, and smart educated people know that marriage is the best institution to raise children in, I expect that there will be another swing of the pendulum.

What we will try to think through and model, starting with my social theory class, is a view of life in which both college-and-career AND marriage-and-children are equally valued core aims in life.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Feminine Mystique Made Unfemininity Seem Too Weird

A woman in my theory class had this excellent insight on reading The Feminine Mystique:

I had always thought that women, in this time period, were just being oppressed by men, but it turns out they had opportunities to rise above and stand out. But it is the idea of standing out that scared them away. They did not want to be seen as weird or unfeminine.

It has been helpful to us, as I noted yesterday, to see the feminine mystique as a brief interlude, not the eternal condition of women prior to 1970.

What today's insight adds is a psychological mechanism that makes sense to me. Women are more likely than men to place a high value on equal social relations, on doing what other women are doing. If the feminine mystique became the established norm for a time among critical female opinion leaders, I can see how it would spread powerfully among other women - especially if there were other structural forces backing it up.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Feminine Mystique as Summer Vacation

We are reading The Feminine Mystique in my social theory class. We were considering Friedan's point that the feminine mystique was an abrupt shift from the more public role that educated women had had during the Second World War. Knowing that the mystique period was brief, followed by the second wave of feminism, one imaginative student suggested that the feminine mystique was like summer vacation. She said that as summer vacation approaches, students look forward to no more books, seeing their friends, staying home, sleeping late. After a few months, though, they can't wait to get back to their studies.

I think this is a nifty analogy.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Social Networks Are Like Coffee Houses

Social networks are shot through with coffee house metaphors. The connection is natural. I am a big fan of both. But we should understand what they are good for, and not good for.

In my coffee house class, my summary idea is that coffee houses are places where strangers can become acquaintances. Coffee houses are not places for building strong friendships. Some friendships may, of course, grow out of coffee house connections. Indeed, I know marriages that began in coffee houses. But a relationship that is born in the coffee house, and stays there, will not grow beyond a weak tie.

Weak ties are very important in real life. Many good things come from weak ties. It is your weak ties that are likely to lead you to a next job, not your strong ties. Weak ties are best for spreading and bringing you new information.

Malcolm Gladwell has a fine article in the New Yorker on the difference between social networks and hierarchies. Gladwell's core point: "Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances." It is not made of the strong ties that can make a revolution.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Some Group Differences are Due to Privilege. Some Are Not.

If diversity means anything, it means that different groups differ at least a little in what they want and in what talents they bring, as well as in how they are treated by others.

Privilege is real - some groups have unearned advantages over others, which does increase the chance that people like that will be disproportionately represented among those in power.

But it is also the case that different groups want different things, or more exactly, the proportions of people who want some outcome will not be identical in each group.

It is also true, but harder to pin down, that different groups bring a different mix of skills and talents to life. This difference has to have some effect on the proportion of people from each group who end up doing one thing or another.

It is certainly the case that the group of people in positions of power are disproportionately from privileged groups. But privilege is only part of the reason. To say otherwise, to say that all groups have an exactly equal desire and exactly equal ability to achieve all outcomes is simply false. Worse, it is condescending and imperialist to assume that all groups - all cultures and subcultures - desire exactly the same things equally.

In the discourse about privilege, to assume that the privileged are disproportionately powerful solely because we are privileged is itself an act of unwarranted privilege.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The QUESTIONS in the Pew Religion Survey

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just released the result of a survey on religious knowledge among American adults. As with most surveys of the knowledge of American adults, the results were pretty sad. The headline finding is that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than religious people do. This is not so surprising to me - atheists and agnostics tend to be more educated than the average believer about everything.

If you are like me, you perhaps wanted to try you own religious knowledge against this survey. As a public service, I have extracted all the questions from the survey. Pew does not provide an answer key, but I expect Gruntled Center readers will do pretty well. I think I got all of them, so ask me.



When does the Jewish Sabbath begin? Does it begin on…?

1 Friday

2 Saturday

3 Sunday

Is Ramadan…?

1 The Hindu festival of lights

2 A Jewish day of atonement

3 The Islamic holy month

Do you happen to know which of these is the king of gods in ancient Greek mythology?

1 Zeus

2 Mars

3 Apollo

Do you happen to know the name of the holy book of Islam?

Which of these religions aims at nirvana, the state of being free from suffering?

1 Islam

2 Buddhism

3 Hinduism

In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures?

1 Islam

2 Hinduism

3 Taoism

Is an atheist someone who believes in God, someone who does NOT believe in God, or someone who is unsure whether God exists?

And is an agnostic someone who believes in God, someone who does

NOT believe in God, or someone who is unsure whether God exists?

What is the first book of the Bible?

Will you tell me the names of the first four books of the New Testament of the Bible, that is the Four Gospels?

Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born?

1 Bethlehem

2 Jericho

3 Jerusalem

4 Nazareth

When was the Mormon religion founded?

1 Before the year 1200 A.D

2 Between 1200 and 1800

3 Sometime after 1800

The Book of Mormon tells the story of Jesus Christ appearing to people in what area of the world?

1 The Americas

2 Middle East

3 Asia

Which of the following best describes Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for communion?

1 The bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, or

2 The bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ

Which of these religious groups traditionally teaches that salvation comes through faith alone?

1 Only Protestants

2 Only Catholics

3 Both (Protestants) and (Catholics)

4 Neither (Protestants) nor (Catholics)

Please tell me which of the following is NOT one of the Ten Commandments:

1 Do not commit adultery

2 Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

3 Do not steal

4 Keep the Sabbath holy

Which Bible figure is most closely associated with remaining obedient to God despite suffering?

Is it …?

1 Job

2 Elijah

3 Moses

4 Abraham

Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the exodus from Egypt?

Is it …?

1 Job

2 Elijah

3 Moses

4 Abraham

Which Bible figure is most closely associated with willingness to sacrifice his son for God?

Is it …?

1 Job

2 Elijah

3 Moses

4 Abraham

Would you tell me if Mother Theresa was …?

1 Catholic

2 Jewish

3 Buddhist

4 Mormon

5 Hindu

Would you tell me if the Dalia Lama is …?

1 Catholic

2 Jewish

3 Buddhist

4 Mormon

5 Hindu

Would you tell me if Joseph Smith was …?

1 Catholic

2 Jewish

3 Buddhist

4 Mormon

5 Hindu

Would you tell me if Maimonides was … ?

1 Catholic

2 Jewish

3 Buddhist

4 Mormon

5 Hindu

Which of the following statements best describes what the U.S. Constitution says about religion?

1 Christianity should be given special emphasis by the government

2 The government shall neither establish a religion nor interfere with the practice of religion, or

3 The Constitution does not say anything one way or the other about religion

According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to lead a class in prayer, or not?

According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature, or not?

According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to offer a class comparing the world’s religions, or not?

Do you happen to know what religion most people in India consider themselves? Is that…?

1 Buddhist

2 Hindu

3 Muslim

4 Christian

Do you happen to know what religion most people in Indonesia consider themselves? Is that…?

1 Buddhist

2 Hindu

3 Muslim

4 Christian

Do you happen to know what religion most people in Pakistan consider themselves? Is that…?

1 Buddhist

2 Hindu

3 Muslim

4 Christian

What was the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant


1 Martin Luther

2 Thomas Aquinas

3 John Wesley

Which of these people developed the theory of evolution by natural selection?

1 Charles Darwin

2 Sigmund Freud

3 Clarence Darrow

And which of these court trials focused on whether evolution could be taught in public schools?

1 The Scopes trial

2 The Salem witch trials

3 Brown versus Board of Education

Which one of these preachers participated in the period of religious activity known as the First Great Awakening?

1 Jonathan Edwards

2 Charles Finney

3 Billy Graham