Friday, January 01, 2021

Commentaries on our times

I have accumulated a number of articles on our current political and social issues that I think offer interesting perspectives. I was about to delete them from my queue for MindBlog posts because I don't want to tilt MindBlog's content too far towards the social versus the biological drivers of our behaviors, but instead I'm noting several in this post, with a brief description of, or clip of text from, each: 

This brief Robert Reich article in The Guardian expands the idea of the broken window theory concerning law enforcement in poor communities to include America’s most powerful breaking windows with impunity, while a growing fraction of the population is becoming accepting of such rogue behaviors. 

And, a clip from David Brooks’ Annual Sidney awards article notes recent writing by Fukuyama and Burton:

This was a year when the very foundations of society seemed to be crumbling, and there were many fine essays about that. Francis Fukuyama wrote “Liberalism and Its Discontents” in American Purpose, which is the best single primer to the long-running debate about the liberal order.
“Classical liberalism can best be understood as an institutional solution to the problem of governing over diversity,” Fukuyama writes. It does this by “deliberately not specifying higher goals of human life.” It leaves people free to decide their own values, their own form of worship. Liberalism is thus perpetually unsatisfying to those trying to build a perfectly just or virtuous society because it is neutral about many ultimate concerns. There’s a void that often gets filled with consumerism...Fukuyama honestly faces the shortcomings of liberalism, and then makes the core point that the alternative to slow, deliberative liberalism is inevitably some form of violence.
Tara Isabella Burton takes the argument one level deeper in her essay “Postliberal Epistemology” in Comment. Liberalism, she argues, was based on a view of the human person now being rejected on left and right. A person, Enlightenment liberalism holds, is essentially rational and disembodied. If people use reason properly, they will come to the same logical results...For more and more millennials, in particular, she argues, this view is insufficient: “In rendering human rationality disembodied, it also renders human beings interchangeable, reproducible, not incarnations but instantiations of a vague generic.” Burton’s essay takes some work, but it profoundly captures the way so many young people on left and right feel alienated from and unseen by the structures of society.

Then, here are some more I liked…

Thomas Edsall's article, The Resentment That Never Sleeps notes that

...diminished status has become a source of rage on both the left and right, sharpened by divisions over economic security and insecurity, geography and, ultimately, values.
More and more, politics determine which groups are favored and which are denigrated...Roughly speaking, Trump and the Republican Party have fought to enhance the status of white Christians and white people without college degrees: the white working and middle class. Biden and the Democrats have fought to elevate the standing of previously marginalized groups: women, minorities, the L.G.B.T.Q. community and others.
And, from polymath Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker, a brief piece, What We Get Wrong About America’s Crisis of Democracy:
We are told again and again that American democracy is in peril and may even be on its deathbed....Lurking behind all of this is a faulty premise—that the descent into authoritarianism is what needs to be explained, when the reality is that . . . it always happens. The default condition of humankind is not to thrive in broadly egalitarian and stable democratic arrangements that get unsettled only when something happens to unsettle them. The default condition of humankind, traced across thousands of years of history, is some sort of autocracy...The interesting question is not what causes autocracy (not to mention the conspiratorial thinking that feeds it) but what has ever suspended it.

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