How Connected Is Your Community to Everywhere Else in America?
On this meander, I am interested in what it means to think about blackness (beyond negation). I’m uninterested in something called positive representations, because I do not think invention and lying and fabulation and speculation tether themselves to positive and negative representation. I remain deeply interested in representation as a major scene of encounter and pedagogy of feeling.
I think of how impoverished we are when we think representation must be either positive or negative and how dangerous it is to think of many unhumaning representations as merely negative. (More than one creative Kenyan dealing
As long as Coates is indifferent to the links between race and international political economy, he is more likely to induce relief than guilt among his white liberal fans. They may accept, even embrace, an explanation that blames inveterate bigots in the American heartland for Trump. They would certainly baulk at the suggestion that the legatee of the civil rights movement upheld a 19th-century racist-imperialist order by arrogating to the US presidency the right to kill anyone without due process; they would recoil from the idea that a black man in his eight years in power deepened the juridical legacy of white supremacy before passing it on to a reckless successor. The intractable continuities of institutional brute power should be plain to see. ‘The crimes of the American state,’ Coates writes in one of the introductions to We Were Eight Years in Power, ‘now had the imprimatur of a black man.’ Yet the essays themselves ultimately reveal their author to be safely within the limits of what even a radicalised black man can write in the Atlantic without dissolving the rainbow coalition of liberal imperialism or alienating its patrons.
It was always wildly optimistic to suppose that China would eventually be integrated into an American-dominated order and persuaded, if not forced, to adopt its norms. A postcolonial Indian like myself, who traveled to China and read in its modern history and literature over the last decade and half, could only be skeptical of such claims. It was never less than clear to me, whether in the suburbs of Lhasa, Tibet (demographically altered by Han immigration), or in the bookstores of Shanghai (stacked with best sellers with titles like “China Can Say No”), that the quest for national sovereignty and regained strength defines China’s party state and its economic policies.
If meaning, understood as the ludic interaction of finitude and infinity, is precisely what transcends, here and now, the ken of our preoccupations and mundane tasks, enabling us to have a direct experience with what is greater than ourselves, then what is lost in a world of total work is the very possibility of our experiencing meaning. What is lost is seeking why we’re here.
The Left should be very careful here, as this is an austerity argument — an argument against public space and the public good. An argument, essentially, that we cannot have nice things — that bridges, railway stations, and art galleries are somehow dubious means of spending “taxpayers’ money.” The twisted right-wing mutation of social democracy that dominated Europe during the boom seldom had the public interest at heart, and every concession to it had to be balanced by something profit-making. But for its conservative successors, the public interest is entirely nonexistent.
Even if prejudicial attitudes toward working-class people were eradicated tomorrow, class exploitation would still continue. What’s more, those attitudes would likely resurface because abusing and mistreating other human beings always requires a justification.
But even if things stay the same inside the Silicon Valley bubble, change is coming from the outside. Critics from the government, the media, and watchdog groups are calling for regulation, be it antitrust, compliance, or transparency around advertising. Some execs are beginning to acknowledge their personal roles in the shift. But for a lot of them, it’s business as usual. They are still preparing their apocalypse bunkers. They’re still privately wondering if the sexual harassment accusations are turning into a witch hunt. They’re still hiring models to fill their holiday parties. They’re still one-upping one another at Burning Man. They’re still asking if it’s possible to do something, and not whether they should.
No one knew what to say. It’s one of the simplest and most widespread mechanisms that helps open secrets to stay secret for so long: the impulse to avoid making scenes, to avoid making things weird. Women bear the brunt of these forces; men, of course, experience them, too. The people around her, Wildman suggests, felt awkward talking about harassment; as a result, her claims about her own experience—and she herself—got ignored. Awkwardness became a cyclical force, weaponized not through malice, but through the convenient delusions of benign neglect.
A behavioural approach to development is different. It focuses on how decisions are made and how they can be improved. For example, in Bogotá a conditional-cash transfer programme paid mothers a monthly stipend if they took their children to school. Attendance during the school year was good but re-enrolment rates were low. A shift in the timing of the hand-out—withholding a part of the regular payment until just before the start of the school year—boosted enrolment sharply. This makes little sense in conventional economic terms: going to school is so beneficial that families should not need extra incentives and the overall sum available did not change. Yet the pay-off was substantial.
There are now, in a sense, two Asian Americas: one formed by five centuries of systemic racism, and another, more genteel version, constituted in the aftermath of the 1965 law. These two Asian Americas float over and under each other like tectonic plates, often clanging discordantly. So, while Chinese-Americans and Indian-Americans are among the most prosperous groups in the country, Korean-Americans, Vietnamese-Americans, and Filipino-Americans have lower median personal earnings than the general population.
The data also hints at the endurance of another norm—the belief that men’s work is integral to their identities and women’s work is more of an ancillary characteristic.
“When I was in S.F., we called it the mobile capital of the world,” he said. “But I was blown away because Korea is three or four years ahead.”
We take other men’s knowledge and opinions upon trust; which is an idle and superficial learning. We must make them our own. We are just like a man who, needing fire, went to a neighbor’s house to fetch it, and finding a very good one there, sat down to warm himself without remembering to carry any back home. What good does it do us to have our belly full of meat if it is not digested, if it is not transformed into us, if it does not nourish and support us?
"But while they’re content with teachers, students aren’t much interested in [professors] as thinkers and mentors. They enroll in courses and complete assignments, but further engagement is minimal.
"When college is more about career than ideas, when paycheck matters more than wisdom, the role of professors changes. We may be 50-year-olds at the front of the room with decades of reading, writing, travel, archives or labs under our belts, with 80 courses taught, but students don’t lie in bed mulling over what we said. They have no urge to become disciples.
"Sadly, professors pressed for research time don’t want them, either. As a result, most undergraduates never know that stage of development when a learned mind enthralled them and they progressed toward a fuller identity through admiration of and struggle with a role model."
Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?
Google also gives us legitimate reasons to worry less than we do. Many of our deepest fears about how our sexual partners perceive us are unjustified. Alone, at their computers, with no incentive to lie, partners reveal themselves to be fairly nonsuperficial and forgiving. In fact, we are all so busy judging our own bodies that there is little energy left over to judge other people’s.
Maybe if we worried less about sex, we’d have more of it.
Meaningfulness tries to replace structures, standards and disciplines with self-regarding emotion. The ultimate authority of meaningful is the warm tingling we get when we feel significant and meaningful. Meaningfulness tries to replace moral systems with the emotional corona that surrounds acts of charity.
It’s a paltry substitute. Because meaningfulness is built solely on an emotion, it is contentless and irreducible. Because it is built solely on emotion, it’s subjective and relativistic. You get meaning one way. I get meaning another way. Who is any of us to judge another’s emotion?
Shame is the feeling that I am a bad person, whereas guilt is the feeling that I have done a bad thing. Shame is a negative judgment about the core self, which is devastating: Shame makes children feel small and worthless, and they respond either by lashing out at the target or escaping the situation altogether. In contrast, guilt is a negative judgment about an action, which can be repaired by good behavior. When children feel guilt, they tend to experience remorse and regret, empathize with the person they have harmed, and aim to make it right.
As we enter a season in which the values of do-it-yourself individualism are likely to dominate our Congress, it is worth remembering that this way of thinking might just be the product of the way our forefathers grew their food and not a fundamental truth about the way that all humans flourish.
METAPHORS matter. The right one can suggest new lines of inquiry and non-obvious solutions to pressing problems. But pick the wrong one and you risk being misled by false analogies and blinded to better approaches.
We believe that awe deprivation has had a hand in a broad societal shift that has been widely observed over the past 50 years: People have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others. To reverse this trend, we suggest that people insist on experiencing more everyday awe, to actively seek out what gives them goose bumps, be it in looking at trees, night skies, patterns of wind on water or the quotidian nobility of others
Last month, I asked readers if they had discovered a purpose in life and, if so, how they had discovered it. A few thousand wrote essays. I was struck by how elemental life is. Most people found their purpose either through raising children or confronting illness or death.
Immigrants don’t just increase the supply of labor, though; they simultaneously increase demand for it, using the wages they earn to rent apartments, eat food, get haircuts, buy cellphones. That means there are more jobs building apartments, selling food, giving haircuts and dispatching the trucks that move those phones. Immigrants increase the size of the overall population, which means they increase the size of the economy. Logically, if immigrants were “stealing” jobs, so would every young person leaving school and entering the job market; countries should become poorer as they get larger. In reality, of course, the opposite happens.
The idea of a fixed mindset, in which people are smart or not smart, stands in contrast to a growth mindset, in which people become intelligent and knowledgeable through practice.
When historians and political scientists rate the presidents throughout history, the most effective ones turn out to be the most open-minded. This is true of both conservative and liberal presidents
When he wrote “Man will sooner will nothingness than not will,” Nietzsche was exposing the destructive side of humanity’s meaning-making drive. That drive is so powerful, Nietzsche’s saying, that when forced to the precipice of nihilism, we would choose meaningful self-annihilation over meaningless bare life.
So coming back to my original question, no, the rich don’t have to be as rich as they are. Inequality is inevitable; the vast inequality of America today isn’t.
But it’s a problem that our tribe of self-styled cosmopolitans doesn’t see itself clearly as a tribe: because that means our leaders can’t see themselves the way the Brexiteers and Trumpistas and Marine Le Pen voters see them.
They can’t see that what feels diverse on the inside can still seem like an aristocracy to the excluded, who look at cities like London and see, as Peter Mandler wrote for Dissent after the Brexit vote, “a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations.”
They can’t see that paeans to multicultural openness can sound like self-serving cant coming from open-borders Londoners who love Afghan restaurants but would never live near an immigrant housing project, or American liberals who hail the end of whiteness while doing everything possible to keep their kids out of majority-minority schools.
They can’t see that their vision of history’s arc bending inexorably away from tribe and creed and nation-state looks to outsiders like something familiar from eras past: A powerful caste’s self-serving explanation for why it alone deserves to rule the world.
“From childhood on, men’s friendships are more often based on mutual activities like sports and work rather than what’s happening to them psychologically. Women are taught to draw one another out; men are not.
"Consciously or otherwise, many men believe that talking about personal matters with other men is not manly. The result is often less intimate, more casual friendships between men, making the connections more tenuous and harder to sustain."
"Looking around with adult eyes, I suppose that I can see over the top of the wall of the secret garden: I can see the ideological underpinnings, understand the context, sniff out the falsities. And yet . . . submission is stronger. ... My doubting, critical self seems smaller, moving around inside the novel’s spaces, than the believing child who was here first. It’s the adult who feels dwarfed and tiny within the huge shape of the child’s experience."
"Life is full, and life has space. There is no contradiction here."
"And yet, among the endless variations, romantic ideation does seem to lean to one or the other of two poles: the notion of love as a profound, mysterious attraction, or the idea of it as a partnership with a like soul, a person uniquely capable of understanding one’s inner life.
"There are many reasons that women might have gravitated more toward the latter. ... For centuries, men have had far more opportunities to find intellectual outlets outside the romantic sphere. ...
"If literature is any indication, men and women so often conceive of love differently, and that, even in the face of so much social change over the past two centuries, this difference is still very much in evidence."
"Trains take us places together. (You can read good books on them, too.) ... The railroad represents neither the fearsome state nor the free individual. A train is a small society, headed somewhere more or less on time, more or less together, more or less sharing the same window, with a common view and a singular destination."
"A given college may be a heterogeneous archipelago. But most of its students spend the bulk of their time on one of many homogeneous islands.
"That’s consistent with the splintered state of America today, but it’s a betrayal of education’s mission to challenge ingrained assumptions, disrupt entrenched thinking, broaden the frame of reference."