American Nations

Tyler Cowen mentioned American nations : a history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America in his Marginal Revolutions blog as a partial explanation for support for the candidacy of Donald Trump among American working class and middle class voters in the 2016 American elections. I found a copy in the Oak Bay Branch of Greater Victoria Public Library.  It was catalogued as children’s nonfiction.  If it is a children’s book, the children in Oak Bay must be precocious.    Garrison Keilor said in his NPR broadcasts and books. “Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”.

Colin Woodard is a journalist and writer of explanatory nonfiction. American Nations presents a condensed introduction to a theory of American history: tracking regional culture back to the European settlement of different parts of North America by distinctive groups. Woodard accepts that the cultures of different parts of America evolved from the cultures of the first European settlers.  Consider this review and summary (Scott Alexander) of Albion’s Seed by David Fischer. Woodard summarized American Nations in a 2013 article in Tufts Magazine. (Map in the Tufts Magazine piece).

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Ribbons are Nice

Jennie Bristow, reviewing Sarah Moore’s Ribbon Culture for Spiked, nails the self-obsessed culture of advertising one’s moral quality by fashion accessories. Her review is called Untying the ‘ribbon culture’. The moral virtue of wearing ribbons is to show awareness or solidarity with a group of victims. Being a victim has become a way of attracting attention, building political support, explaining the lack of joy in one’s life, and selling media product. Cry, cry, cry. Frank Furedi’s column about faked victim memoirs, History-as-Therapy, complements the ribbon piece.

Yummy

The National Post has been publishing a series of articles titled “Beyond Belief”. A piece by Charles Lewis or Charlie Lewis (not the Charles Lewis of 60 Minutes and the Center for Public Integrity) titled “The Trouble with Mary”, featured at AL Daily, discussed the psychology and semantics of “belief” and “faith”. Lewis found a psychologist who was said that faith in miracles and faith in the future are equally valid because they are equivalent subjective events. He found some theologians and Churchmen to explain the meaningfulness of belief in miracles. This was good journalism. Religion is a hard topic for the news industry to configure as marketable news. The political and criminal acts of people who belong to a religious group are news but their inner lives, including their beliefs, are beyond description in a news story. The philosophical rationalizations for religious belief are like book reviews – the justifications offered for people’s likes and tastes are usually meaningless outside the circle of people who care about those things.

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Spinning the Golden Compass

The Golden Compass has been criticized for its negative presentation of organized religion. Its principal critic its the American Catholic League, a conservative body that speaks for conservative and traditional elements in the Catholic Church in America. The League says that the movie, like the books, promotes atheism, but their grievance appears to me to is that Pullman presents the history and traditions of Catholicism in a negative way. The criticism is a defensive reaction to Pullman’s presentation of the belief system and power structure of the Church as repressive, exploitative, manipulative, cynical, and dishonest. The League’s campaign brings to mind its reaction to Kevin Smith’s Dogma. It is incongruous for parents to take their children to this movie on Saturday, and then make them to Church and Sunday school. If you believe the Church is benevolent, why challenge your child or pay someone to insult your belief?
The shoe was on the other foot when the Christian churches in America were promoting the movie version of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories and defending Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
The challenge for self-professed faithful Christians is whether to deny their kids the experience of consuming the latest must-see fantasy product from the movie industry in the hope of consolidating their belief in the conservative Christian version of reality. It seems to me that parents who think they are insulating their children from secular ideology and popular culture by not taking them to one particular semi-animated fantasy film based on a coming of age novel are a little confused.

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The Sociable Web

Another piece of reportage and ideas served up by AL Daily. Christine Rosen writing in the New Atlantis on Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism.
This proves topical as I have signed up on Facebook, using some of the message and communication resources.
Rosen’s work is pretty good – her essay on cameras, photography and images, The Image Culture, for instance, or her essay on channel surfing and TiVo, The Age of Egocasting.

Amour Propre

In Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein, the title character is an American academic, fond of Paris, and prone to using French expressions. In one scene, he dismissively mentions some neighbours as self-satisfied bores, full of amour propre. Ravelstein was founded on Bellow’s friend Allan Bloom. Bloom after having studied and taught in Paris, was a life-long francophile. Amour propre was an idiomatic expression in Western Europe when Bloom taught in Paris. The English term would probably be snob, although dictionaries translate and define amour propre as conceit or excessive pride.
Bloom was a student and teacher of the works of Rousseau. Bloom favoured the cautious liberalism of Montesquieu over the Romantic liberalism of Rousseau, but he admired Rousseau’s passion. Rousseau understood, as Bellow has put it in Mr. Sammler’s Planet, that

The soul wanted what it wanted. It had its own natural knowledge. It sat unhappily on superstructures of explanation, poor bird, not knowing which way to fly.”

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Mars and Venus, Anon

A short entry, a link to an address to the American Psychological Association, last month, by Roy Baumeister, called “Is There Anything Good About Men?”. Denis Dutton, on the editors of AL Daily thought so highly of this address that he posted it to his own web site and linked to it from AL Daily. It asks questions about some of the central myths of our culture – that women are naturally wise and benevolent and naturally better parents and friends than men.

Therapeutic Man

Around the time that I was reading Christopher Lasch’s books, in 2005, I saw a few interviews with Philip Rieff at AL Daily. There is a long, penetrating essay about Dr. Rieff’s work by George Scialabba, “The Curse of Modernity, Philip Rieff’s problem with freedom” in the Boston Review. Much of Rieff’s work involved the continuing reevaluation of the insights of Marx, Nietzsche, Weber and Freud into religion as a social force. In Rieff’s 1959 book on Freud, he suggested, in Sciallaba’s words:

Until the twentieth century … three character types had successively prevailed in Western culture: political man, the ideal of classical times, dedicated to the glory of his city; religious man, the ideal of the Christian era, dedicated to the glory of God; and a transitional figure, economic man, a creature of Enlightenment liberalism. Economic man believed in doing good unto others by doing well for himself. This convenient compromise did not last long, and what survived of it was not the altruism but the egoism. Psychological man was frankly and shrewdly selfish, beyond ideals and illusions, at best a charming narcissist, at worst boorish or hypochondriacal, according to his temperament.

There is some force to some of these ideas.

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Consumer Religion

The Aquarians and the Evangelicals: How left-wing hippies and right-wing fundamentalists created a libertarian America” is an extract from Brink Lindsey’s book The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture in Reason Online. Lindsey’s assessment of the social history of American through the second half of the 20th century seems to be well grounded. Lindsey’s review of the polarization of American society between New Age liberals and fundamentalist Christian conservatives, equally devoted to self-actualization, authenticity, and emotional experience, is astute and convincing.

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Free Range Chicken Snobs

Mick Hume, editor of Spiked, happily skewered Hattie Ellis, author of Planet Chicken in his review, Stop Planet Chicken, I Want to Get Off. He says that if she is able to view the production of abundant cheap food as a bad thing, her values are off. Ellis is not a vegetarian but she thinks that it is only acceptable to kill and eat chickens if they have lived a full and healthy life. The problem with Hattie Ellis’s viewpoint is that she would let her sentimental ideas about the welfare of chickens and her ideas about natural foods interfere with things that have made it possible to provide affordable nutrition to people who don’t have the time to raise free range chickens or the time and money to buy them.

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