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.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Rainbow Party and the White Man's Party

Our politics is becoming increasingly partisan. 

The two parties are evolving into the Rainbow Party and the White Man's Party.

All the rainbow demographic groups are growing.

All the white man demographic groups are shrinking.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Difference Between Sex and Marriage is Like the Difference Between Swimming and Baptism.

Swimming is a behavior that we can describe neutrally.

Baptism is an action that is meaningful because of its context in a social institution.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Suppressing Yard Signs is a Class Privilege

In most suburban neighborhoods, political yard signs are prohibited by the Covenants, Codes, and Restrictions that the Homeowners Association enforces.

This rule is meant to promote civility and prevent conflict.

It is a sign of class privilege.  It assumes that, no matter who wins the election, the suburbanites will be protected.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

A Demographic Reason Why People In Their Sixties are Happier

People in their 60s tend to be happier and more confident than younger people.

This article has quite a few reasons why.

A less obvious reason: the really unhappy people have started to die off before their 60s.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Emergence of Family Systems

I have taught the Beavers model of family systems in my family life class for many years.

Recently I have been immersed in "critical realist" social theory.  One of the most attractive features of critical realism is the idea that real things - things with the power to cause other effects - are not simply real or not-real, but can emerge into reality.

I see a way to combine the two.

The Beavers sequence of family systems is, from least functional to most functional, Chaos, Tyranny, Rule-Bound, Adequate, and Optimal.

As these systems affect the emergence of a family into fully functional reality, the sequence could be:

Chaos - prevents the emergence of a higher-order functioning system.
Tyranny - achieves minimal order, but can only be defensive; it is a necessary precondition for emergence, but is not sufficient.
Rule-Bound - is a minimally emergent reality.  The system exists independent of its elements (the individual family members).
Adequate - is an emergent reality with creativity
Optimal - is an emergent reality with creativity and resilience.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Why General American English Was Codified in Cleveland in the '20s

"Talk American" is an episode of the podcast Code Switch.  In it they note the role of Hiram College professor John S. Kenyon of creating the name, and argument, that the "General American" accent was the accent of Cleveland in that era.

This sparked an idea that I have no way to prove.  Cleveland is an odd part of the Midwest.  It was originally claimed by Massachusetts as its "western reserve" (preserved in the name of Case Western Reserve University), and was long thought to have a more New England feel than Columbus or Cincinnati, Ohio's other big cities.

It makes sense to me that in the 1920s, Boston was long past the time when the evolved accent of the Puritans still dominated ordinary speech.  The mass Irish migrations of the 1840s, in particular, would likely have dramatically changed the speech of "old" New England. 

Cleveland on the other hand, might still have had a Puritan-derived speech among its dominant class, even as the wave of Eastern Europeans was arriving at the bottom of the class structure. 

The claim for the General American accent today is that it is the standard broadcasting language, used by news readers to bring the "news from nowhere" without an identifiable accented location.

Puritan culture has always had a claim to set the standard for American high culture.  It makes sense to me that its linguistic descendant is still the closest thing we have to a standard way of speaking.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Where the Front Door is Still the Way In

Architect Anthony Alfonsin reveals this interesting development in "An Architect Defends the Suburbs.":

Canvasing of consumers indicated that a living room adjacent to the front door, a holdover of the Victorian parlor, was far less important than having more space in a great room. Without reconfiguring the outline of the building—changing slab designs is costly—the front parlor was transformed into a smaller office or guest bedroom. This design makes sense, as the front door is typically not used for entry these days, but as a marker of domesticity. 

I have been studying what I call "boburbs" - the dense, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods favored by the bourgeois bohemians - the bobos.  These houses tend to come from an era in which the front porch was a real room, in talking distance of the sidewalk.  The residents walk up to the front door from the sidewalk for a variety of reasons, not just as the path to the car.

I agree with Alfonsin that in many car suburbs, the garage or the side door nearest the driveway is the normal point of entry. But in the boburbs, front doors are still real main entry points.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mormons Will Save the Republican Party. Black Women Will Save the Democratic Party

When the Republican Party can moving beyond the smoking ruin that the Trump presidency will leave, I think it will be the Mormon Never-Trumpers who will rebuild the party on a moral foundation.  The evangelical Protestants who used to be the moral leaders of the party have wasted their authority by backing Trump.  I think we will see a massive falling off of young evangelicals, just as the priest sex scandal has driven away masses of young Catholics.

Black women have been the solid leaders of the resistance to Trump and of articulating a decent alternative.  I believe a record number will get elected this cycle, and many more will step forward as leaders.  Black women will be the most important -- though far from the only -- face of the rainbow party that stands against the White Man's Party now in power.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Democratic Party is 6% Gay, But Republicans Think It is Six Times Queerer

The U.S. population is about 3% gay and lesbian.

The Democratic Party is has twice than proportion of gays and lesbians.  This is pretty interesting, and not surprising.

What is surprising is that Republicans think that 38% of Democrats are gay and lesbian. 

Republicans also think Democrats are four times more atheist, and twice as black as they really are.

The area where Democrats are furthest off about Republicans?  They think Republicans are much richer than they really are.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

What People Who Don't Want to Pay for Government Services Are Like.

People who don't want to pay for government services that they do not use are like family members who don't want to buy the baby a crib because they don't sleep in one.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Nature, Structure, Culture: The Logical Order and the Experiential Order

I am working on a model for how to teach sociology based on a balance of nature, structure, and culture.

In reality, all three go together -- they are mutually producing.

In experience, though, we do not come to grasp them all at once.

The logical order is nature - structure - culture.

The experiential order, though, is the reverse.  That is, we come to understand that we do things differently from other groups, which makes us aware of culture.  When we investigate why, we discover that we occupy different positions in the social structure.  When we investigate where those structures come from, we discover the logic of nature.

This forward-and-backwards quality is like what George Herbert Mead says in Mind, Self, Society. Logically, society comes before us, and we develop social selves from learning different social roles.  Only then is it possible for us to step back from each of these roles and develop a reflective, personal mind.  Experientially, though, mind comes first, then self, then we begin to understand society.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Why Would Centrists Be OK with Authoritarianism?

A disturbing new study by David Adler found that centrists show weak support for democracy.

Even after removing people who said they were centrists because they were politically apathetic, the remainder in the middle position were not sold on democracy as a method of political order in any notable way.

As a centrist, I find this particularly challenging.

I think the commitment to democracy depends on an informed study of the alternatives. Most people have enjoyed the benefits of democracy long enough to have forgotten what it cost, and what we had to beat to get here.  The dark lining of the silver cloud of the worldwide democratic norm is that we have forgotten how bad authoritarianism has proven to be, again and again.

I can think of another factor that might account for the rising appeal of authoritarianism, even among political centrists: growing up with family disorder. Family dysfunction is one of the few bad social indicators that is increasing.  To people who live in chaos, tyranny seems like a step up toward order.  Perhaps people living in societies of political order, but who grew up in families of personal disorder, end up centrists who are OK with authoritarianism.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Liberal Arts Colleges Are Grossly Short of Republicans

A new study compares registered Republicans and registered Democrats in the full-time faculty of the top liberal arts colleges.  They found a gross imbalance, swung way toward Democrats. 

Chemistry, economics, and mathematics had a Democrat-to-Republican ratio of more than five to one.  That was the lowest ratio of any liberal arts discipline.

My discipline, sociology, showed a ratio of 44 Democrats for every Republican.  Our sister discipline, anthropology, showed no Republicans at all.

We know that Republicans in higher education gravitate to business and engineering, so are much less likely to end up in liberal arts colleges.

And I can believe that smart college students of a conservative persuasion head toward business rather than higher education for a career.

Still, if we have almost no Republican faculty for the many Republican students to talk to, we leave them to develop their political understanding in the gutter -- from talk radio, blogs, and Russian bots.

Ideological diversity is as important as any other kind of diversity in a liberal arts faculty.  Not more important, but not less, either.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Why Older Cohorts Vote More

I saw this meme on Facebook.  I have not checked its accuracy, but it seems likely:

In 2016
70% of 18 - 29 year olds did not vote
60% of 30 - 44 year olds did not vote
Only 38% of 45 - 64 year olds did not vote, and
Just 15% of 65+ citizens did not vote.

To which I would add, people who vote live longer. 

This is not snark; people who vote tend to be involved in many aspects of their community, and belong to organizations that serve causes larger than themselves. 

People who do those things tend to live longer. 

So the older the cohort, the more it tends to boil down to the involved people, including voters.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Scariest Hate: From the Low-Achieving Privileged Against the High-Achieving Un-Privileged.

The scariest kind of hate in America comes from people who have not much going for them besides their privileges, against people who are rising despite not having those privileges.

Thus, white racists don't hate black (and other non-white) people as such, but when they are ambitious, smart, hard-working, and rising. Hence, the insane opposition to Barack Obama from low-achieving white people.  They have little going for them but white privilege, and if that is visibly overcome, they feel it as a betrayal.  (This is the premise of White Rage, a book I am teaching this year).

Likewise, misogynists don't hate women as such, just ambitious, smart, hard-working, and rising women, like Hillary Clinton.  This comes mostly from low-achieving men seeing male privilege visibly overcome.

And, I believe, much of the opposition to immigrants comes from people who rely on their citizenship privileges -- even more than whiteness or sharing the majority religion -- to secure their place in American society.  If immigrants, legal and otherwise, come in and achieve without that privilege, that, too, feels like a betrayal.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Today's "Useful Idiots"

When Russia had a left-wing government, they found gullible liberals to be "useful idiots."

Now that Russia has a right-wing government, it is finding gullible conservatives to be very "useful idiots."

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

I Think Jeff Bezos May Be Planning to Run for President

Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, the richest man in the world, might be considering a run for president.

He bought The Washington Post.

He bought a house in Washington, DC.

The most likely place for the highly sought-after second Amazon headquarters is the DC area.

I have little idea what his politics are.

I have no doubt that he would be better than the incumbent billionaire.

That could be an amazing race.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Are Conservatives More Nostalgic Because They Weren't Paying Attention to Others the First Time?

I often find as a teacher that adults who believe "things were simpler when I was young" forget to factor in that, when they were young, they were not responsible for the complexity of the world -- that is what adults did.

Moreover, as parents of teenagers (and teachers of young adults) need to remind themselves constantly, "they aren't selfish, they are just self-absorbed."  Adolescence is the time of caring deeply about how we look to our peers and how they look to us, without realizing all the other people and the great wide world that is also affected by our actions.  Maturity helps us get a proportionate sense of our place in the world.

The greatest privilege is not having to realize that you are privileged. If my world is good, then the world is good.  Caring for others who have been harmed, even when we ourselves have not been harmed, bursts that bubble.  "Caring for the harmed" is also what Jonathan Haidt says is the defining feature of liberals.

So if today we find people in privileged groups - white men, in particular -- finding that "political correctness" forces them to notice harms to others, they might feel a desire not to think about it.  And if they cast back on their youth, they may grow nostalgic for a time when they did not think about harm to others.  Restoring that time would make their America "great again."

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Baby Boomers Will Be the Last Generation to Live Their Whole Lives in Majority-White America

I am on the cusp between the Baby Boom and Gen X.  I am unusually aware of the dynamic of change at that cusp.

Somewhere around 2040 nearly all of the Boomers will be extinct.  And somewhere around 2040 the U.S. is projected to have a "minority majority."

I do not think we will, in fact, think of our population in the same terms by then.  We will always have a majority majority.

BUT we will no longer take it for granted that that majority is what we now think of as "white."

Friday, January 26, 2018

Whites Are Now a Minority Among All U.S. Children

A few years ago, non-Hispanic whites were a (bare) minority among all babies born.

Because whites have a lower fertility rate than all minorities, and especially than immigrant minorities, this trend accelerates quickly.

William Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan and the Brookings Institution, estimated in his 2015 book Diversity Explosion that the year when we would have a 'minority majority" among all U.S. children under 18 is now - 2018.

The future has arrived.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Racists Hate the "Uppity"

Racists do not hate minorities as such.  This is why they do not think they are racists.

Racists hate rising minorities, who they fear will overtake and surpass them.

They hate and fear the "uppity."

For those who love E Pluribus Unum America, on the other hand, the ambition and hard work of minorities is our greatest hope for the future of the American experiment.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fear of Scarcity is No More Natural Than Trust in Abundance. Both Are Learned

Economists and libertarians often believe that scarcity is natural, and therefore selfishness is rational.

However, the fear of scarcity is a premise, not a fact, nor a conclusion of dispassionate research.

Christian ethics helps us overcome the fear which leads to selfishness, through the hope we have in the inexhaustible and trustworthy source of abundance.

And the only proof we can offer that there will be enough is our own generous example.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Most Christians No Longer Support Trump

A year ago, most American Christians supported Donald Trump.

Now, most do not.