Oddities & Things I Don’t Understand: A Sampling
55 minutes ago
Woodberry was digging into one of the great enigmas of modern history: why some nations develop stable representative democracies—in which citizens enjoy the rights to vote, speak, and assemble freely—while neighboring countries suffer authoritarian rulers and internal conflict. Public health and economic growth can also differ dramatically from one country to another, even among countries that share similar geography, cultural background, and natural resources.This is fascinating stuff. Though as a Catholic, one wrinkle stood out to me:
While studying the Congo, Woodberry made one of his most dramatic early discoveries. Congo's colonial-era exploitation was well known: Colonists in both French and Belgian Congo had forced villagers to extract rubber from the jungle. As punishment for not complying, they burned down villages, castrated men, and cut off children's limbs. In French Congo, the atrocities passed without comment or protest, aside from one report in a Marxist newspaper in France. But in Belgian Congo, the abuses aroused the largest international protest movement since the abolition of slavery.
Why the difference? Working on a hunch, Woodberry charted mission stations all across the Congo. Protestant missionaries, it turned out, were allowed only in the Belgian Congo. Among those missionaries were two British Baptists named John and Alice Harris who took photographs of the atrocities—including a now-famous picture of a father gazing at his daughter's remains—and then smuggled the photographs out of the country. With evidence in hand, they traveled through the United States and Britain to stir up public pressure and, along with other missionaries, helped raise an outcry against the abuses.
To convince skeptics, however, Woodberry needed more than case studies. Anyone could find the occasional John and Alice Harris or John Mackenzie, discard the Nathan Prices, and assemble a pleasing mosaic. But Woodberry was equipped to do something no one else had done: to look at the long-term effect of missionaries using the wide-angle lens of statistical analysis.
One morning, in a windowless, dusty computer lab lit by florescent bulbs, Woodberry ran the first big test. After he finished prepping the statistical program on his computer, he clicked "Enter" and then leaned forward to read the results.
"I was shocked," says Woodberry. "It was like an atomic bomb. The impact of missions on global democracy was huge. I kept adding variables to the model—factors that people had been studying and writing about for the past 40 years—and they all got wiped out. It was amazing. I knew, then, I was on to something really important."
Like a mechanic taking apart an engine only to rebuild it, he had to counter his own theory in order to strengthen it. That meant controlling for a host of factors: climate, health, location, accessibility, natural resources, colonial power, disease prevalence, and half a dozen others. "My research assistants were entering all these variables, and the missions variable was amazingly robust," says Woodberry. "[The theory] kept on holding up. It was actually quite fun."
Fun, but hard to believe. Woodberry's results essentially suggested that 50 years' worth of research on the rise of democracy had overlooked the most important factor.
There is one important nuance to all this: The positive effect of missionaries on democracy applies only to "conversionary Protestants." Protestant clergy financed by the state, as well as Catholic missionaries prior to the 1960s, had no comparable effect in the areas where they worked.Whether this has to do with Catholicism itself or with cultural factors that shaped Protestant versus Catholic missionaries would be an interesting question. Woodberry suggests that it may have to do with Protestant tendencies, such as the desire to have all ordinary Bible read and interpret the bible for themselves. There's also arguably less of a hierarchical emphasis to Protestantism, such that it's probably no surprise that liberal democracy originates more in the Protestant world than the Catholic.
Independence from state control made a big difference. "One of the main stereotypes about missions is that they were closely connected to colonialism," says Woodberry. "But Protestant missionaries not funded by the state were regularly very critical of colonialism."
For example, Mackenzie's campaign for Khama III was part of his 30-year effort to protect African land from white settlers. Mackenzie was not atypical. In China, missionaries worked to end the opium trade; in India, they fought to curtail abuses by landlords; in the West Indies and other colonies, they played key roles in building the abolition movement. Back home, their allies passed legislation that returned land to the native Xhosa people of South Africa and also protected tribes in New Zealand and Australia from being wiped out by settlers.
"I feel confident saying none of those movements would have happened without nonstate missionaries mobilizing them," says Woodberry. "Missionaries had a power base among ordinary people. They [were] the ones that transformed these movements into mass movements."
He notes that most missionaries didn't set out to be political activists. Locals associated Christianity with their colonial abusers, so in order to be effective at evangelizing, missionaries distanced themselves from the colonists. They campaigned against abuses for personal, practical reasons as well as humanitarian ones.
|photograph by Janelle Bighinatti|
Strong growth by Europe’s troubled debtor nations would of course offer a different, and less painful, way out. After all, if you make $30,000 a year, a $10,000 credit-card balance is crippling; but if you make $300,000 a year, it’s fairly trivial. The faster Italy’s economy expands, the more manageable Italy’s debt becomes.This is actually not unlike the considerations necessary in household finance, where a useful concept when thinking about debt is that of total lifetime earnings. The idea is that your spending during your adult life is based on an assumption of how much you're likely to make over the course of your life, not just how much you make now. When you're fairly young, most of your earning years are still ahead of you, and you'll probably make more in the future than you do now. In that situation, using debt to deal with large purchases (car, house, etc.) makes a fair amount of sense. You haven't had much time to save, and you will probably be making plenty more money in the future to deal with the obligations. For the same reasons, when you're young you often need to use debt in financial emergencies. When the car breaks down or the heat goes out, you probably don't have the savings to deal with the situation, so you need to borrow, and within reason you have a very good chance of being able to meet those obligations.
But that’s where the dearth of workers comes into play. Everyone agrees that rapid growth would be much nicer than higher taxes and slashed pension payments. The hitch is that over the past five years, growth in the Italian economy hasn’t averaged even 1 percent a year. Soaring growth will be tough to achieve, because more and more Italians are getting too old to work -- and fewer and fewer Italians have been having the babies needed to replace them.
If you do a big stimulus when the population is growing, you can expect, over time, to be able to spread debt payments over more people. The value of the debt may not change, but the per-capita debt burden will shrink.
But if you undertake a big stimulus when the population is stagnant, or even declining, then over time, the per-capita debt burden will rise … and if your society encourages long retirements, the debt burden per-worker will rise even faster.
That may change the cost-benefit calculation quite a bit when you’re considering a stimulus program. Not so much in the U.S., at least right now, because our population is growing. But this may suggest that however painful austerity has been for Europe, the austerians still did the right thing.
I feel like saying something about this abortion issue. My credentials as an expert on the subject: none. I am an M.D. and a novelist. I will speak only as a novelist. If I give an opinion as an M.D., it wouldn't interest anybody since, for one thing, any number of doctors have given opinions and who cares about another.
The only obvious credential of a novelist has to do with his trade. He trafficks in words and meanings. So the chronic misuse of words, especially the fobbing off of rhetoric for information, gets on his nerves. Another possible credential of a novelist peculiar to these times is that he is perhaps more sensitive to the atrocities of the age than most. People get desensitized. Who wants to go about his business being reminded of the six million dead in the holocaust, the 15 million in the Ukraine? Atrocities become banal. But a 20th century novelist should be a nag, an advertiser, a collector, a proclaimer of banal atrocities.
The current con, perpetrated by some jurists, some editorial writers, and some doctors is that since there is no agreement about the beginning of human life, it is therefore a private religious or philosophical decision and therefore the state and the courts can do nothing about it. This is a con. I will not presume to speculate who is conning whom and for what purpose. But I do submit that religion, philosophy, and private opinion have nothing to do with this issue. I further submit that it is a commonplace of modern biology, known to every high school student and no doubt to you the reader as well, that the life of every individual organism, human or not, begins when the chromosomes of the sperm fuse with the chromosomes of the ovum to form a new DNA complex that thenceforth directs the ontogenesis of the organism.
Such vexed subjects as the soul, God, and the nature of man are not at issue. What we are talking about and what nobody I know would deny is the clear continuum that exists in the life of every individual from the moment of fertilization of a single cell.
There is a wonderful irony here. It is this: The onset of individual life is not a dogma of the church but a fact of science. How much more convenient if we lived in the 13th century, when no one knew anything about microbiology and arguments about the onset of life were legitimate. Compared to a modern textbook of embryology, Thomas Aquinas sounds like an American Civil Liberties Union member. Nowadays it is not some misguided ecclesiastics who are trying to suppress an embarrassing scientific fact. It is the secular juridical-journalistic establishment.
Please indulge the novelist if he thinks in novelistic terms. Picture the scene. A Galileo trial in reverse. The Supreme Court is cross-examining a high school biology teacher and admonishing him that of course it is only his personal opinion that the fertilized human ovum is an individual human life. He is enjoined not to teach his private beliefs at a public school. Like Galileo he caves in, submits, but in turning away is heard to murmur, "But it's still alive!"
I am writing you a few hundred yards from the enemy's lines I have been lying only two hundred yards from the Germans and I can assure you I kept my eyes open. We are all beat out. It is ten days since I have had a wash and I haven't had my shoes off for a week I couldn't give you an idea of my complexion if I tried. It was the heavy artillery which gave me my first baptism of fire. For three hours we lay flat on the ground while the shells fell all around us. One of them burst scarcely more than five or six yards from me making a great hole in the ground and covering me with earth and debris But the worst thing about all this is the smell of the dead bodies. The other day my section was detailed to bury some thirty half putrefied corpses. You cannot imagine what this work is. Oh what horrors I have witnessed, terrible wounds and ruined villages. What brutes these Germans are to burn the farms. I am quite ready to give my life if I know that you will make the sacrifice of it for France. I feel that I am surrounded with prayers and I often pray for you all. One of my best comrades here is a priest who is also a second lieutenant like myself. A thousand affectionate remembrances to all God preserve us all as He has done so far Your son and brother who sends warmest love.
Jan 15, 1914
The den in which I live with my friend Captain Cornier is a big subterranean room with a rather low ceiling the entrance door being especially low. In one corner is a little Godin stove which burns wood not scarce in these parts. We keep up a gentle heat in it, the thermometer registering on an average fifty eight degrees. As soon as it gets up to sixty degrees we smother and have to open wide the door. I say door for there is no window. For lighting purposes we have an old petroleum lamp which is kind enough not to smoke.
When we want to peer into the obscure corners of our room we use our flashlights. Near the stove are some shelves for our stores: petroleum, shoe grease, blacking, and brushes. In another place are our eating things: tea, chocolate, cakes, etc., etc.
Our washstand is a roughly planed board with a pail as pitcher and an old salad dish as washbowl. In addition we have a table two chairs and a stool which consists of three pieces of wood nailed to a board. This board is cracked and the legs are on the point of going each one its own way.That's what I sit on when the major comes to see us as he does every two days to take tea with us which we indulge in every afternoon when we get back from our duties. And finally at the end of the room are our beds adorable twin bedsteads so low that if we fall out of them during the night we don t go very far though they are not right on the ground and so are not damp. The ingenious man who made them provided them with a spring mattress so that the whole thing is wonderfully fine even though our sheets are simply straw. My two army blankets and cape serve as covers my haversack is the pillow and my tent canvas the pillow case. This completes the list of my bed fixings where I sleep splendidly.
For the past two days the regiment has been in mourning for our dear colonel was killed in a pretty severe skirmish, in which our battalion did not take part, however. It has made us all sick at heart and there is no merriment now. He was a leader in every sense of the word and a noble hearted man to boot. We all had perfect confidence in him. He was prudent and courageous at one and the same time. He fell while leading in a charge two battalions. He need not have been there but this shows the kind of man he was. He knew that the task set the soldiers was a hard one and that some of them might hang back, so he put himself at their head and thereby set a good example.
We have finally got the colonel's body which was lying some six yards from the German trenches. After several unsuccessful attempts to accomplish this a soldier wrapped himself in a white sheet so as not to be too conspicuous on the snow in the moonlight and though the night was terribly cold he crawled carefully up to the body which was held fast to the ground on account of the freezing weather. He then fastened a strong rope to the body. But the frozen snow began to creak and the Boches who heard the noise commenced firing in that direction. Fortunately they could not distinguish on account of the sheet the outline of the soldier so that notwithstanding the fusillade of which he was the center he was not hit and got back safely to our lines. When the firing stopped he went back to the body and this time succeeded in bringing it home with him. But he had taken the precaution to attach a rope also to himself so that he could be pulled back to our trenches in case he was wounded. He was made a corporal on the spot given the military medal and the war cross with palms.
Later [same day]
I am just back from the colonel's funeral. I have rarely been present at a more moving ceremony. The little village church was filled with officers and soldiers in their fighting trim. The hymns were well rendered by a choir composed of troopers and the solos were given by a tenor of the Lyons opera house. At the cemetery were our regimental flag covered with crape and the cross alongside of it. Never have I been so affected. All differences and diversities of opinion disappeared in the presence of those two emblems symbolizing the two ideas for which we are fighting God and Country. The tenor in uniform sang the Requiem and the Dies Irse. A Christ expiring on the cross spread his arms above the soldiers who had a revolver at their side while in the distance we could hear the booming of the guns. What a contrast and what grandeur. It was hard to believe that in that coffin slept the beloved chief whom we would have followed anywhere. The major delegated Captain Cornier and me to be present at the burial 'because it was you two whom he loved best', he said. At the grave I wept like a child which did me good. Poor dear colonel. The general who spoke at the tomb did not hide his religious convictions. Among other things he said, "My dear friend Dayet, we had the same hopes and there is our consolation in our grief. We know that some day we shall meet in the celestial land. May God be near your widow and children."
I was raised to marry a monster.
The day before the wedding, I could barely breathe. Fear and fury curdled in my stomach. All afternoon I skulked in the library, running my hands over the leather spines of books I would never touch again. I leaned against the shelves and wished I could run, wished I could scream at the people who had made this fate for me.
I eyed the shadowed corners of the library. When my twin sister, Astraia, and I were little, we heard the same terrible story as other children: Demons are made of shadow. Don’t look at the shadows too long or a demon might look back. It was even more horrible for us because we regularly saw the victims of demon attacks, screaming or mute with madness. Their families dragged them in through the hallways and begged Father to use his Hermetic arts to cure them.
Sometimes he could ease their pain, just a little. But there was no cure for the madness inflicted by demons.
And my future husband—the Gentle Lord—was the prince of demons.
He was not like the vicious, mindless shadows that he ruled. As befit a prince, he far surpassed his subjects in power: he could speak and take such form that mortal eyes could look on him and not go mad. But he was a demon still. after our wedding night, how much of me would be left?Read the rest here, then pre-order your copy! Or if you're willing to take your chances, we'll have some autographed copies to give away once the book hits the stores.
Duly vested, Don Camillo approached the font.'What do you wish to name this child?' he asked Peppone's wife.
'Lenin Libero Antonio,' she replied.
'Then go and get him baptized in Russia,' said Camillo calmly, replacing the cover on the font.
The priest's hands were as large as shovels and the three left the church without protest. But as Don Camillo was attempting to slip into the sacristy he was arrested by the voice of the Lord.
'Don Camillo, you have done a very wicked thing. Go at once and bring those people back and baptize their child.'
'But Lord,' protested Don Camillo, 'You really must bear in mind that baptism is not a jest. Baptism is a sacred matter. Baptism is...'
'Don Camillo, the Lord interrupted him, 'Are attempting to teach me the nature of baptism? Did I not invent it? I tell you that you have been guilty of gross presumption, because, suppose that child were to die at this moment, it would be your fault if it failed to attain Paradise !'
'Lord, do not let us be melodramatic,' retorted Don Camillo. 'Why in the name of Heaven should it die? It's as pink and white as a rose !'
'Which means exactly nothing!' the Lord admonished him. 'What if a tile should fall on its head or it should suddenly have convulsions? It was your duty to baptize it.'
Don Camillo raised protesting arms: 'But Lord, just think it over. If it were certain that the child would go to Hell, we might stretch a point; but seeing that despite being the son of that nasty piece of work he might very easily manage to slip into Paradise, how can You ask me to risk anyone going there with such a name as Lenin? I'm thinking of the reputation of Paradise.'
'The reputation of Paradise is my business,' the Lord shouted angrily. 'What matters to me is that a man should be a decent fellow and I care less than nothing whether his name be Lenin or Button. At the very most, you should have pointed out to those people that saddling children with fantastic names may involve them in annoyances when they grow up.'
'Very well,' replied Don Camillo. 'I am always in the wrong. I must see what I can do about it.'
from "The Baptism", The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi
First, unlike the foot-washing episode last Holy Week (here and here), the pope’s actions today occasion no reason to think that canon or liturgical law has been—what’s the right word?—disregarded, for no canon or liturgical law forbids baptizing the babies of unmarried couples, etc. Indeed, Church law generally favors the administration of sacraments and, in the case of baptism, it requires only that there be “a founded hope” that the child will be raised Catholic (1983 CIC 868 § 1, 2º). A minister could certainly discern ‘founded hope’ for a Catholic upbringing under these circumstances and outsiders should not second-guess his decision.In his second post he elaborates on why he is more concerned about the situation of parents married outside the Church than about single mothers -- Pope Francis being famous for having emphasized back in Argentina that priests should not refuse to baptize the children of single mothers:
But here’s the rub: a minister could also arrive at precisely the opposite conclusion on these facts and, equally in accord with the very same Church law, he could delay the baptism. I know of many pastors who have reached this conclusion and who used the occasion of a request for a baby’s baptism to assist the parents toward undertaking their duties in a more responsible manner, including helping them to regularize their marriage status in the Church, resume attendance at Sunday Mass, participate fully in the sacraments, and so on.
Now, if the pope’s action today was as reported (again, we don’t know that yet), pastors who delay a baby’s baptism in order to help reactivate the Faith in the baby’s parents are going to have a harder time doing that as word gets out about the pope’s (apparently) different approach to the rite. Whether that was the message Francis intended to send is irrelevant to whether that is the message that he seems to have sent.
Quite simply, being an unwed mother is not sinful. Besides the fact that the acts by which a single woman became pregnant (assuming they were objectively sinful in the first place) could have been repented of long before the baby comes for baptism, a variety of circumstances could result in there being no sin associated with the pregnancy whatsoever, let alone with motherhood! I don’t know what priests might be like in Argentina, but I am very sure I have never heard of an American priest withholding baptism from a baby based solely on the fact that the mother of said baby was not married. A pastor could well arrive at a founded hope that the child of such a mother could be raised Catholic and proceed with the baptism in accord with Canon 868.Certainly, I recognize that baptism of an infant should represent (on the part of the parents) a serious intention to raise their child as an active and believing Catholic. But it seems to me important to be clear on why that is. By being baptize, an infant is made a member of the Church, of Christ's body on earth. To attain the purpose for which we are all created (to know, love and serve God, and to be happy with Him one day in heaven) the child must be shown how to live the faith and instructed in the faith's beliefs. Parents who do not make an effort to bring up their children in the faith they were baptized into do those children a great wrong. And so, it makes sense to use what leverage the Church has to try to make sure that the parents understand those responsibilities before baptizing their child, and that the parents commit to making that effort.
But the situation of Catholics actually married outside the Church is quite different. Setting aside my concerns that canonical form itself has become a pastoral stumbling block, I know how the law on canonical form currently reads and that, in the great majority of cases in which canonical form is violated, the Catholics involved are in objective grave sin and give scandal by their state. From that fact, it seems quite plausible to me that a pastor might delay the baptism of the child of such parents until, also in accord with Canon 868, a founded hope that the child could be raised Catholic is attained.
Final point: Lost in this whole discussion has been, I fear, any recognition of the fact that, while baptism is of great value, it is also to take on very serious, life-long duties. Imposing via baptism those burdens on a child who is at heightened risk of not receiving adequate assistance in the Faith, and on some parents who in public respects seem ill-equipped to live the very Faith they want passed on to their children, is itself pastorally problematic, no?Now, maybe I'm an odd mix of old fashioned and new, but it seems to me that the value of baptism should much outweigh its obligations when thinking this through. While the Church emphasizes God's mercy and thus trusts that God must deal mercifully with those who, though unbaptized, have to the best of their ability lived a good life: we also say that the only way that we know people receive the graces necessary for salvation is through baptism.
The whole annual produce of the land and labour of every country, or, what comes to the same thing, the whole price of that annual produce, naturally divides itself, it has already been observed, into three parts; the rent of land, the wages of labour, and the profits of stock; and constitutes a revenue to three different orders of people; to those who live by rent, to those who live by wages, and to those who live by profit. These are the three great, original, and constituent, orders of every civilized society, from whose revenue that of every other order is ultimately derived.
The interest of the first of those three great orders, it appears from what has been just now said, is strictly and inseparably connected with the general interest of the society. Whatever either promotes or obstructs the one, necessarily promotes or obstructs the other. When the public deliberates concerning any regulation of commerce or police, the proprietors of land never can mislead it, with a view to promote the interest of their own particular order; at least, if they have any tolerable knowledge of that interest. They are, indeed, too often defective in this tolerable knowledge. They are the only one of the three orders whose revenue costs them neither labour nor care, but comes to them, as it were, of its own accord, and independent of any plan or project of their own. That indolence which is the natural effect of the ease and security of their situation, renders them too often, not only ignorant, but incapable of that application of mind, which is necessary in order to foresee and understand the consequence of any public regulation.
The interest of the second order, that of those who live by wages, is as strictly connected with the interest of the society as that of the first. The wages of the labourer, it has already been shewn, are never so high as when the demand for labour is continually rising, or when the quantity employed is every year increasing considerably. When this real wealth of the society becomes stationary, his wages are soon reduced to what is barely enough to enable him to bring up a family, or to continue the race of labourers. When the society declines, they fall even below this. The order of proprietors may perhaps gain more by the prosperity of the society than that of labourers; but there is no order that suffers so cruelly from its decline. But though the interest of the labourer is strictly connected with that of the society, he is incapable either of comprehending that interest, or of understanding its connexion with his own. His condition leaves him no time to receive the necessary information, and his education and habits are commonly such as to render him unfit to judge, even though he was fully informed. In the public deliberations, therefore, his voice is little heard, and less regarded; except upon particular occasions, when his clamour is animated, set on, and supported by his employers, not for his, but their own particular purposes.
His employers constitute the third order, that of those who live by profit. It is the stock that is employed for the sake of profit, which puts into motion the greater part of the useful labour of every society. The plans and projects of the employers of stock regulate and direct all the most important operation of labour, and profit is the end proposed by all those plans and projects. But the rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with the prosperity, and fall with the declension of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich, and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin. The interest of this third order, therefore, has not the same connexion with the general interest of the society, as that of the other two. Merchants and master manufacturers are, in this order, the two classes of people who commonly employ the largest capitals, and who by their wealth draw to themselves the greatest share of the public consideration. As during their whole lives they are engaged in plans and projects, they have frequently more acuteness of understanding than the greater part of country gentlemen. As their thoughts, however, are commonly exercised rather about the interest of their own particular branch of business. than about that of the society, their judgment, even when given with the greatest candour (which it has not been upon every occasion), is much more to be depended upon with regard to the former of those two objects, than with regard to the latter. Their superiority over the country gentleman is, not so much in their knowledge of the public interest, as in their having a better knowledge of their own interest than he has of his. It is by this superior knowledge of their own interest that they have frequently imposed upon his generosity, and persuaded him to give up both his own interest and that of the public, from a very simple but honest conviction, that their interest, and not his, was the interest of the public. The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market, and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can only serve to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens. The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
On the other hand, it can be unpleasant to be a man on the Internet. I know from experience that liberal women tend to believe that they are getting vile abuse not just because they are women, but also because they are liberal women -- that the reason they get so much abuse is that conservative men are virulent sexists who oppose their bold truth-telling about sex and the patriarchy. Conservative women who have been savaged by liberal male pundits and their followers can attest that this is not true. They wonder if this isn’t something about liberal men not having any norms of civility about how to treat women. It’s a bipartisan vice.
My experience is that the torrent of abuse comes not from “conservatives” or “liberals” but from “people you are disagreeing with.” It tends to pop up when a pundit on the other side links you, or something you’ve written goes viral. There appears to be something particularly disagreeable to many men about a disagreeing woman. And for that matter, disagreeable to many women. I’ve had feminist women, for example, essentially say “You’re just saying that to get a boyfriend” when I differed with something they wrote.
I wrote about this last year, when Democratic spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter briefly became the target of an Internet hatefest:It strikes me that there's some sense of social hierarchy going on here. It's one thing to be opposed by someone who one subconsciously thinks of as an equal or superior opponent in terms of social status. But as soon as the opponent is identified as belonging to some group it's possible to look down on, it not only becomes possible to sneer at the opponent more easily, but necessary to do so less you be seen as being dominated by that sort of person.
[People] get very uncomfortable when [women] contest men on skill: when they are arguing, in essence, "I'm smarter than you" or "I've thought this through better" or "My ideas are more compelling" or just "I'm in charge, and we're going to do it my way". It's not just that the women may be wrong -- 50% of the time, they probably are. There's a real anger that the women are daring to put themselves out there, to declaim in a space where they have no right to be.
Politics seems to me to be very definitely one of those arenas. When Stephanie Cutter does her job right, she wins the news cycle -- and the people who have lost take a double blow. They were beaten, and they were beaten by a woman. It's galling.
Which is why Rush Limbaugh garners outrage and fear, while Michelle Malkin garners a sort of hysterical contempt, incredulity mixed with horror mixed with "How dare that uppity [expletive deleted] state her stupid opinions!" And why the reaction to both Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin was somewhat out of proportion to their actual faults.
The general defense that gets mounted to this is “But I don’t denigrate women. I think these women are great!” followed by a list of women who agree with them politically.
But to go back to what I noted above, it is the combination of women and politics (or some other highly emotional topic) that triggers the abuse. A woman who is vociferously agreeing with you is not exactly violating the patriarchal dynamic, is she? The fact that women on your side do not trigger your atavistic instincts does not mean that there isn’t residual sexism lurking in your behavior. And before the guys go and get all defensive, let me be clear: I am not singling out guys. Women do it, too, including feminists, many of whom are nastier and more judgmental about women who disagree with them than they are about men who do, even as they are incredibly solidaristic with fellow feminists. I don’t think it’s hypocrisy; I don’t think they know they’re doing it.
What I’m saying is that I think all people are unfairly hard on women and minorities on the other side than they are on opponents who are men. I’m not calling on men to flagellate themselves for what a terrible burden white men are on the human race. I’m pointing out that we have an unconscious and unfair double standard. Sometimes it manifests itself in sheer crazy. More often it manifests in dismissing women on the grounds that they couldn’t possibly have anything to add to the conversation.
In my experience, what’s the first thing anyone says about a woman who disagrees with them on an issue? “She’s such an idiot.” I’ll be honest and say I’ve caught myself doing it. Yes, undoubtedly some of them are idiots. But it seems statistically unlikely that all the women on the other side are idiots, and your side happened to get all the good ones. Men get accused of a wide range of sins, from deliberate mendacity to wanting to maintain their privilege, but almost all of the women are foolish and should shut their mouths. Their hysterical mouths.
To see what I mean, consider this. I frequently see lists of “writers I like” or “bloggers I like” or what have you, and there’s usually a spot for “Folks on the other side who I enjoy.” Sometimes that’s a whole post or article of its own. These are staples of blogging.
And in the decade-plus I’ve been writing on the Internet, I have almost never seen a woman in those slots. Not never-never: I think I made Kevin Drum’s list once, and I am sure I am not the only one who has crossed the aisle in that way. But it’s really rare, either in proportion to the number of women writers, or the number of other women on these lists. Though it’s true that political writing and blogging trend heavily male, these lists usually do contain women -- just very rarely in that slot. I think the same holds true for minority writers, though I am less sure of that. And what are the odds of this happening by chance?
|Woolly hat and singlet courtesy of Otepoti at Reading for Believers|
The last two centuries (and possibly more) didn’t “start” at their official point, the turning of a calendar from 00 to 01. That wasn’t when they began in essence, nor when they first bent the arc of history.I think this is rather off. The peace of 1814 to 1914 was an uneasy one, the same technological and cultural developments that Brin cites as causing such optimism in 1913 also caused incredible uncertainty and upheaval.
No. Each century effectively began in its 14th year.
Think about it. The first decade of the 20th century was filled with hope and a kind of can-do optimism that was never seen again -- not after the horrific events of 1914 shattered any vision that a new and better age would arrive without pain. Yet until almost the start of World War I, 19th-century progress seemed unstoppable and ever-accelerating.
Consider the world of 1913, when regular middle-class folks in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and so on were acquiring unexpected wonders: clothes-washing machines, gas stoves, gas and then electric lighting, indoor plumbing, refrigeration, vaccinations, telephones, radios, motor cars. Stepping outside you would see and hear human beings flying through the sky -- with a looming confidence that soon you would get a chance to join them.
Yes, all of those techno-advances continued after World War I. Social changes such as women getting the vote were harbingers of more to come. But after 1914, the naivete was gone. People realized that the 20th century would be one of harsh struggle accompanying every step of advancement. And along the way to hard-won better times, the age would spiral downward first, into the deepest pit that humanity ever knew, before our parents (or grandparents) clawed their way out of the nadir of 1944 -- the focal year of a century that truly began in 1914.
All right, that’s just one data point. Is there another? Well, look at 1814, the beginning of the Congress of Vienna and the so-called Concert of Europe that made possible the continent’s longest extended period of overall peace, as the great powers turned from fighting bloody wars to perfecting their colonial empires. Those two years -- 1814 and 1914 –- each marked a dramatic shift in tone and theme (in the West, that is), so much so that they represented the real beginnings of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The new year has barely begun, and already there has been an upsurge in World War I-related punditry. Among those itching for a fight over the origins of the First World War is Slate’s Matt Yglesias. On New Year’s Eve, Yglesias offered his own somewhat Slatepitchy take on World War I, claiming that the Great War was “primarily about Russo-Serbian desire to destroy Austria and France’s desire to reclaim Alsace and Lorraine.”Read the rest.
This is, to say the least, a rather curious way to describe the outbreak of the First World War. Sure, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by pro-Serb Bosnians may have set the spark for the Great War. But the actual outbreak of hostilities began with an Austrian declaration of war on Serbia, German declarations of war on France and Russia, and a German invasion of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. So what gives?