|April 18, 2012||In Praise of Melvin Kohn||no comments|
|March 21, 2012||The Scarlet Letter “S”||3 comments|
|March 19, 2012||Wild Dancing||1 comments|
|March 14, 2012||Brooklyn Bridge||1 comments|
|February 06, 2012||Poverty by the Numbers||1 comments|
|January 16, 2012||J. Edgar||no comments|
|January 09, 2012||The Main Stream Media: Hoist By Their Own Petard||1 comments|
|December 07, 2011||Football Dances—A Modest Proposal||no comments|
|December 05, 2011||The Joys of Mass Transportation||3 comments|
It is not often that one gets to meet a personal hero. For several decades — ever since I was in graduate school — I have admired the lucid, forthright insights of this scientific legend. It was therefore a great delight to meet him at a conference in New Orleans and to trade subsequent e-mails messages with him.
Kohn studied something that at first glance does not sound exciting. He wondered if parents from different social class backgrounds shared the same attitudes toward their children. Did everybody, in fact, hope that their offspring would turn out the same way?
Given that we are all supposed to share the identical American Dream, it might be supposed that every parent did. Yet this is not what Kohn’s research turned up. In study after study — including many done abroad — the data showed that there was a significant difference between the aspirations of the upper middle class and the working class.
Upper middle class parents wanted their children to be self-directed. They hoped that they would grow up skilled in making independent decisions. Even when they were not certain what was best, the objective was for them to choose wisely and self-confidently. In short, the plan was for their offspring to become social leaders.
On the other hand, Kohn found that working class parents wanted their children to conform. The number one thing they demanded was obedience. Whatever their young did, they were not to talk back. To the contrary, they were to follow parental instructions to the letter. This, however, was a recipe for social subservience. It was guaranteed to produce not leaders, but followers.
Working class parents did not want their children to be weaklings. They too hoped their children that they would grow to be strong and successful. Nevertheless, what they demanded of their young had the opposite effect. If anything, it made them oppositional. Ordered to be compliant, they did not become leaders, but people who resisted leaders.
Once upon a time, this working class attitude was widespread. The conventional wisdom had it that children should be seen and not heard. Unfortunately, silent children are not thinking children. They do not learn to make good decisions, because they are not allowed to test their ideas in the marketplace of public opinion.
Today, having created an enormous techno-commercial society, we need as many competently self-directed adults as we can get. Nonetheless, the only way to get them is to groom our children to fill these roles. Kohn, having pointed this out, is owed a debt of gratitude.
Yet it is up to us to put his insights into practice. Even if our origins are working class (as were mine), we need to understand how to prepare the next generation for success. If we don’t, it will be us, and our progeny, who reap the harvest of ill-considered choices.
I am old enough to remember when members of the media could not say a woman was “pregnant.” This was considered vulgar; hence newsreaders resorted to euphemisms such as ”in the family way.”
Today, this designation would be inaccurate forty percent of the time. With two out of every five children born to unwed mothers, they are not received into anything resembling the traditional family.
Under such circumstances, our language regarding delicate matters has become not just direct, but vulgarly direct. People are permitted to say just about anything — that is, unless there is a political need to suppress it.
We recently witnessed this dynamic with regard to Sandra Fluke. After she testified before congress about her urgent desire for government-sponsored birth control, a firestorm broke out. Rush Limbaugh, in describing her as a slut and a prostitute, brought the wrath of an outraged nation down on his head.
Now granted, labeling Ms Fluke a prostitute was unfair and unwarranted. But what about describing her as a “slut.” Is this word to be totally forbidden, even when the “f” word has made it into the mainstream media?
Let’s agree that the term "slut" refers to females of easy virtue. This is certainly how it is used on the college campus where I am employed. Here, as elsewhere, women who have large numbers of sexual liaisons are derisively dismissed as damaged goods. They may make for good short-term entertainment, but are rejected as unsuitable for long-term relationships.
No, you say. This cannot be true! Haven’t feminists educated us to the fact that women should have the same rights as men? Consequently, if men can have casual sex without destroying their reputations, why can’t women? This being so, calling a female a “slut” is clearly evidence of a double standard.
Indeed, it cannot be denied that this is so. But neither can it be said that this disparity has disappeared.
The reason a double standard persists is that the consequences of male and female sexuality differ. To put the matter baldly: Women become pregnant, whereas men do not. Everyone knows this, especially young women who are vulnerable to being seduced and abandoned.
Certainly, Fluke knows this. If so, then to what status should this nearly 30-year-old woman be assigned? To judge from the $3,000 she described as necessary to keep her safe, she must be engaging in a great deal of intimate contact. The next question is, therefore, with whom?
If Ms. Fluke is bedding down with a steady partner, then why isn’t he helping to pay for their joint adventures? If, however, she is indulging multiple partners, then isn’t the label “slut” fitting? She may believe that as an adult woman promiscuous sex is her right — and perhaps it is. But it is equally the right of others to regard her lifestyle as morally questionable.
Nearly two centuries ago, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote of colonial women forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” if they committed adultery. I submit that Ms. Fluke has symbolically done the same to herself.
In going blatantly pubic with her sex life and demanding government support for her profligate ways, she has in essence branded herself a “slut.” She may resent this, as do her supporters, but she was the one who exposed her habits to communal scrutiny.
Not all may see it, but Ms. Fluke pinned a scarlet letter “S” on her chest. She paraded her private life before us; hence she cannot complain if some do not judge her as she does herself.
Didn’t Monica Lewinsky learn a similar lesson a decade and a half ago?
Melvyn L. Fein. Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University
I grew up Jewish, but I did not grow up orthodox Jewish. The temple where I was bar mitzvahed was conservative and very sedate. Its services were about as wild as one might find at a Presbyterian church.
That’s why I almost felt like an anthropologist observing the religious rites of aSouth Seastribe when I recently attended an orthodox Jewish wedding. The ceremony was that of a niece who married a man with deeply traditional commitments. As a result, the celebration that followed their vows might have come straight out of medievalEurope.
I had read about Hasidic Jewish festivities, but never previously witnessed one similar to them. According to the literature, these were wild affairs characterized by ecstatic dancing. Because of their somber dress, orthodox Jews have a reputation for being restrained, yet their weddings were supposedly anything but.
I can now certify that this depiction is accurate. The dancing I witnessed was rowdy, abandoned, and extraordinarily energetic. Those on the dance floor leaped high in the air and whirled around at a dizzying pace for hours on end. Moreover, as promised the men danced with the men and the women danced with the women.
It was also clear that the dancers were very emotionally committed to one another. The looks of pleasure and fondness on their faces were unmistakable. These people constituted a tightly knit community—one to which I did not belong.
This put me in mind of the pariah status that Jews for centuries occupied inEurope. They were despised outcastes who had to rely on one another for survival. Often disparaged as clannish, they had little choice but to maintain close ties to one another. Ceremonies such as the one I observed were a mechanism through which they reaffirmed their allegiance.
Other groups have done the same, sometimes utilizing similar means. The Shakers (a branch of the Quakers) were one such community. Though deemed a curiosity by others, they intentionally occupied large dwellings that separated them from the outside world.
And within these structures, they too engaged in wild dances. Indeed, it was from their enthusiastic gyrations that these otherwise ascetic believers derived their popular name. What is more, they too confined their dancing to the same sex.
Even the Amish, because they are so different from their neighbors, are noted for keeping to their own. They may not be wild dancers, but they are intensely devoted to their communal relationships.
How different this is from most of us. We suburbanites, especially those living in stand-alone dwellings, are much more controlled in our celebrations. We too party, but it is generally with greater decorum. Yes, teenagers go wild when they attend rock concerts, yet they eventually settle down.
Those of us who feel part of the larger community evidently do not have a pressing need to reaffirm our attachments to friends and relatives. With no belligerent outsiders to protect ourselves against, we are content to live and love with far fewer ecstatic displays.
Some may eschew this sort of moderation as boring. I, however, find that it provides the space to pursue both self-fulfillment and private commitments.
Eventually, as a teenager I gathered my courage and ventured into the real New York. I had to see for myself what those fabled museums and skyscrapers were like—up close and personal. They did not disappoint.
Then I got it into my head to walk home from Manhattan to south Brooklyn. The best way seemed to be to go over the Brookly nBridge. Hence that is what I did. And when I did, I had the bridge exclusively to myself. I did not encounter a single soul from one end of the span to the other.
Yet times change. This past weekend my wife and I visited New York Cityand stayed at a hotel fast by the fabled bridge. This time the two of us decided to make the walk. It would, we agreed, provide and unparalleled view of the city.
Happily, the spectacle was as grand as we hoped—but we were far from alone. Not only the Geico Gecko, but tourists from around the world have made this a visitors’ Mecca. They, along with many natives, accompanied us virtually every inch of the way.
New Yorkhas changed in other ways as well. The people were friendlier than I remember and the place was much cleaner. They have actually removed all of the graffiti from the Subway.
And yet some things don’t change. At least they don’t change very much. New Yorkers might be nicer than they were, but that did not stop one young man from insulting me as I jostled to get on an over-crowded subway car. My wife got on the car before I did and I was anxious I was not left behind on the platform. But that did not matter to this young man who was evidently eager to get home after a long day of work.
Nor was the city free of discarded rubbish. On more than one occasion Linda remarked at how dirty the city was. I explained that it was far tidier than in decades past, but as a country girl fromOhio, she could hardly believe this.
Our stay was a short—and an essentially pleasant one—but we were both pleased to return toGeorgia. There may be nothing comparable to the Brooklyn Bridge in the Atlanta area, yet there is something at least as significant. Georgians are hospitable people. We felt this human dimension immediately upon arrival.
We were also struck by the newness of most Georgian buildings. They are not just clean; they are unspoiled in their freshness.
Then, of course, there is the weather. In New York it is still winter, while in Georgia the flowering trees proclaim that spring has arrived!
You may also have heard a variation of it to the effect that: Barack Obama must love the poor a great deal because he too has created so many of them.
These observations are neither fair to God nor Obama. Nevertheless, it is true that our president has increased the number of people living in poverty. Despite his protestations that he cares deeply about the welfare of the poor, his policies have extended our current recession beyond what was necessary—and therefore the misery of the poor with it.
But this was unintentional. It was merely a by-product of ill-conceived efforts to promote social justice. Moreover, the downturn is expected to reverse direction and when it does the poor will again find work.
In fact, the recent improvements in the unemployment numbers have encouraged some Democrats to begin counting their chickens before they hatch. They now crow that we have had three good months in a row where over two hundred thousand persons have been added to the employment rolls—and they assume this will continue.
Some of the president’s supporters also brag that over a million jobs were created last year. This is true, but what few of them add is that it was not enough to keep up with the growth in our population. In other words, if job growth keeps up at this rate, the numbers of unemployed wil escalate even further.
Moreover, if the recent improvements are maintained, we might add another two million jobs this year. Yet this too would barely keep us abreast of population increases. Actually to get people back to work at a rate comparable to before the recession would take monthly improvements of over three hundred and fifty thousand—for many years.
In spite of the latest unexpected gains, we are nowhere near this number. At the moment it is impossible to know what lies ahead; nonetheless it will take a radical shift in policies to turn things around. This, at least, is what the Congressional Budget Office is implying with its pessimistic economic projections.
During the upcoming year we are going to hear a lot of blather about the meaning of these economic statistics, nonetheless whatever happens, the bottom line is that Barack Obama has kept us poorer than we needed to be.
In any event, he may still find a way to spin this so that voters are fooled into allowing him another four years to dip into their pocketbooks. But if they do, they will only have themselves to blame for what follows.
Maybe then the joke will be modified to say: American voters must love being poor so much because they have elected to create a great deal more poverty.
My wife and I had intended to see Clint Eastwood’s film J. Edgar. But then we were dissuaded from doing so by a host of mediocre reviews. These complained that what should have been Eastwood’s masterpiece was, in fact, boring and ill-elegant.
Eventually, at my wife’s insistence, we went to see it anyway. And I am very glad that we did. Although the theater was mostly empty, those few of us present got to witness an under appreciated classic. Far from having failed, Eastwood produced a subtle and textured tour de force.
Let us begin with the fact that his title character was a flawed human being. J. Edgar Hoover, as sterlingly portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, was a tortured soul who apparently sought to make up for his own perceived weaknesses by pursuing greatness. He was clearly vain and too often took credit for the successes of others.
Nonetheless, he was a genuine American patriot who saved the nation from many potential disasters. What is more, he obviously created a cutting edge law enforcement agency in the F.B.I. Indeed, this bureau probably became as successful as it has been, in part, because ofHoover’s foibles.
What struck my wife and I most is how well Eastwood wove the facts ofHoover’s early life together with his later achievements in a way that explains much of what happened. It thereby turned the man from a cartoon character into a sympathetic human being.
And that is why I think so many of the reviews were lukewarm. The critics, most of whom are liberal, were expecting a savage attack on a man they consider vile. They wanted to see him ripped from stem to stern so as to thoroughly discredit everything he did. They would especially have enjoyed seeing his alleged homosexuality turned into an exercise in biting ridicule.
Eastwood, however, was much too circumspect about these matters. He intended to show both sides of the story and therefore did not provide good propaganda. He also avoided the pitfall of simplistic melodrama. Thus, he did not single out a particular event to illuminate with overwrought emotion.
As it happens, I later mentioned the film in one of my classes, where the only students who had seen it were the criminal justice majors. Moreover, these folks enjoyed it immensely. For them, it illuminated the history of a field they intend to enter.
Others, who value a window into American history or a restrained psychological study, may equally take pleasure in Eastwood’s work. I, for one, salute him for having the courage to eschew the dramatic distortions that have become the norm in a highly politicized movie industry.
The New York Times is in trouble. Many of its employees are claiming that their employer is not treating them fairly. A newspaper that has been a champion of social justice for others is thus being accused of violating the tenets of social justice at home.
I am reminded of the sad plight of Newsweek Magazine. It too has been undone, at least in part, by its single-minded, often hypocritical, advocacy of liberal causes. But let me explain what I mean.
Many decades ago, not long after I graduated from college, I began subscribing to Newsweek. I was then a liberal, but even after I migrated to the conservative side, I kept up my subscription. Keeping abreast of liberal opinion was useful in helping me develop my own outlook.
But in time, Newsweek became ever more left wing. Instead of simulating an aura of balance, it wore its biases on its sleeve. A conventional wisdom feature that habitually awarded liberal causes an up-arrow, while simultaneously being uniformly negative regarding conservative achievements, particularly annoyed me.
In due course, I felt that my intelligence and integrity were being insulted. As a result, I sent the editors a letter to complain of their egregious favoritism. To this, I received no response. About a year later I sent off another missive, with the same result.
Not long after this I decided that I was no longer learning anything from the magazine. Its attitudes were so predictable that I could see them coming without having to read them. I, therefore, ended my subscription, but accompanied my departure with a letter of explanation.
The only reply to this that I received was several years of correspondence begging me to rejoin the Newsweek family. Needless to say, I did not.
But I must not have been alone. Where once the magazine had been hugely influential, it descended into an also-ran status. The numbers of subscribers dramatically declined and the journal’s profitability went with them.
So what did the editors learn from this experience? Apparently nothing. They were obviously not paying attention. Accordingly, their editorial biases became ever more flagrant and their authority continued to erode.
This, however, seems to be the fate of the liberal media in general. While part of the problem is attributable to technological shifts, i.e., the advent of the Internet, much of this damage is self-inflicted. Liberals refuse to learn. Even going out of business does not seem to alter their course.
True-believers, such as those at Newsweek or the New York Times, do not change their minds. This is because facts have nothing to do with their convictions. Fortunately for the rest of us, the effect has been institutional suicide. But just how far this trend will go, only time will tell.
Whatever happened to sportsmanship? When I was young—admittedly a long time ago—if you won, you restrained yourself. You didn’t rub your opponents nose in his/her defeat. The goal was to be a winner, but a graceful winner.
Thus, a few years ago, when Joe Torre was managing the New York Yankees, he had to explain the facts of life to a player new to the team. This young man had just hit a home run and then danced around the bases in a victory lap. All joy and very little self-discipline, he did not realize that he had committed a faux pas.
But then Torre quietly, and privately, explained that this was the Yankees. This was a team that was used to winning. Its players did not have to indulge in victory celebrations for such minor achievements as hitting a home run. They were to take this in stride because it was merely what was expected of them.
Today we see something entirely different on the football field. Nowadays when players achieve success—either major or minor—they feel compelled to engage in a victory dance. Not for them the understated nonchalance of a Jim Brown. No, they compete with one another to see who can be the most original—and vulgar.
This is not only in bad taste; it demonstrates a dangerous decline in social civility. Even in sports, people ought to be treating their opponents as worthy of respect. Instead, the crassness of the urban street has emerged as the new norm. Today’s football players are not only bad sports; they are unruly children who have never learned to control their impulses.
Nonetheless, sports heroes should be role models. Whether they like it or not, their achievements are so admired that they provide a template for how others are allowed to behave. Thus, if they are boorishly childish, they certify that such childishness is socially appropriate.
Well, I may be old-fashioned, but I do not believe this is appropriate. I believe that a society that indulges in such gratuitous acts of rudeness is tearing itself apart. It is, in essence, telling people that they do not deserve to be treated with decency and that it is all right if they reciprocate this discourtesy in kind.
And so I offer a small remedy. If officials in the NFL start penalizing the offenders more rigorously, they may get this epidemic of bad manners under control. I am talking about draconian measures. Offenders should be suspended from play for several games and/or their teams penalized a minimum of twenty-five yards.
This may sound harsh, but only if teams suffer serious loses will they find it in their interest to stop these shenanigans. Only then will otherwise valuable players be deemed too much of a liability to be kept on the team. And then maybe all involved will decide that civilized comportment is in order.
As Cobb County contemplates investing in mass transportation, I cannot help but recollect the pleasures I took in riding the New York City subway when I lived up north. More specifically let me relate the incident that convinced me it was time to live elsewhere.
When I was finishing up my doctorate at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, I had moved to Brooklyn where the rents were cheaper. But in order to get to and from the school, which was located in Manhattan, I had to use the subway.
One day as I enter the train I was greeted by a fellow with a boom box on his shoulder. He seemed to be playing this radio as loud as he could, but since he was an intimidating soul, no one objected.
Then a few stops later another guy, with an even larger boom box, got on at the other side of the car where I was standing. Within moments the two were playing dueling radios. The cacophony was instantly deafening, but again no one said a word. We were all too afraid of being assaulted by these apparent ruffians.
So there I stood in physical pain, aware that I might have to bear this discomfort for more than an hour. No wonder that shortly thereafter a refrain began to play in my head. Over and over, I found myself repeating the phrase “There has to be a better way to live! There has to be a better way to live!”
Not many months later I left the city—never to return. Indeed, in moving to smaller cities and eventually to the suburbs, I did find a better way to live. It seems that there were more civilized corners of the universe than the one in which I came to maturity.
Now I live north of Atlanta and must use my automobile to commute to and from work. This means that some days I get caught in traffic. But when I am, I thank my lucky stars that I am not standing in a subway car having to endure the pain of someone else’s unbearably loud music.
Mass transportation may make sense on a theoretical level, but I’m not so sure that it does in terms of personal comfort.