Saturday, April 09, 2016

links for the weekend

https://aeon.co/essays/does-every-creative-genius-need-a-bitter-rival
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The social drama of rivalry, with its hostility and aggression, masks a deeper subconscious dynamic. We might think of our nemesis as the polar opposite of ourselves, but as Kilduff’s research suggests, our rivals are much more like us than we dare admit. While this might seem counter-intuitive, it follows that rivalry can actually be good for us: acknowledging that our rivals share our most essential traits, good and bad, can help us up our game and gain some of the insight we need for greater success.

Orson Welles summed up this idea in his movie The Third Man (1949): ‘In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed – but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’

Although this might seem cynical, art historians tend to agree: the birth of the Renaissance is attributed to the rivalry between two artists over who would design the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery.


Sometimes, intermittently from fans of Doug Wilson books here and there, I've heard it proposed that slavery was part of the basis for the Civil War but that there were other issues.  The idea that the war involved states' rights isn't exactly new but I've never gotten past the basic point of ... states' rights to do what?

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/
https://wedgewords.wordpress.com/2015/06/24/slavery-was-essential-to-southern-political-theory/
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This shows us that the issue was much more than “hate” or “prejudice.” Slavery was a key part in political and economic theory. It was the perceived solution to the problem of the unemployed and those who could not otherwise support themselves. It also helped to support workers’ rights in that it removed the most burdensome labor from free workers and placed it on slaves. The slaves were a sort of property, to be sure, but they also received a sort of full patronage (harsh and brutal as it was) from their masters. Calhoun believed this was an inescapable feature of economics and that slavery was preferable to laissez-faire capitalism.

Say what?  Someone believed formal, official slavery might be preferable to free market capitalism? 
That the enslavement of blacks was practiced by Native Americans has only gotten some traction in academic discussion in the last decade or so, it seems, but in our era of student debt and credit/lending practices it might be worth remembering that as nasty as the formal slaveries of earlier epochs invariably were, a lot of people somehow believed the only thing worse than that would be some unfettered free market system in which the currency was backed by nothing more than the word of a cabal of people formally manipulating the currency.

"If" that were the case then a reason slavery might get condoned is that as awful as it is recognizing it officially was preferable to the formulation of economic system in which tons of people are still practically enslaved by the manipulations of monetary policies and information but given a set of ideological metanarratives that convince them they're really free after all.  Or maybe Ellul's gloomy survey of capitalist and socialist propagandas has rubbed off too much.

And as things prized go ... genius seems to keep coming up

...

As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi puts it, “creativity is more likely in places where new ideas require less effort to be perceived.”

Yet we continue to treat geniuses like shooting stars: beautiful to behold but beyond our ken, and wholly unpredictable. Mozart is often held up as Exhibit A in the case for the shooting-star myth of genius. He played the piano at age 3 and was composing by age 8, the argument goes, so surely his was a wholly genetic genius. Yet this ignores the fact that his father, Leopold, was an accomplished, if uninspired, musician determined to find the glory he felt cheated of through his son. It also ignores the fact that Mozart was born in a musical country, Austria, at a very musical time. Did Mozart bring a particular set of talents to the table, not to mention an awful lot of sweat? Absolutely, but that was not enough. It never is.

Creative genius (as opposed to raw IQ) is a social verdict, a natural outcome of where we direct our energies and our attention. We get the geniuses who we want and who we deserve. Or, as Plato said, “What is honored in a country is cultivated there.” What was honored in 18th-century Vienna? Music. So we got Mozart, Beethoven and other great composers. What do we honor today? Digital technology, and the connectivity and convenience it represents. Naturally, our geniuses are Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and the like.

Plot the appearance of genius across the centuries and around the world and something quickly becomes apparent. Geniuses do not pop up randomly—one in Siberia, another in Bolivia—but in groupings. Genius clusters. Athens in 450 B.C. Florence in 1500. Certain places, at certain times, produced a bumper crop of brilliant minds and good ideas.

These places were, of course, very different, but they share some common traits. They all contain, in varying proportions, a mix of diversity, discernment, and disorder.

another old thing, on what can be called virtue signaling as a status achieving game:
http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/02/the-evolution-of-shaming/470544/
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So why bother? Why censure someone who hasn’t harmed us directly?

Some scientists have suggested that it helps to cement human societies together by enforcing social norms and discouraging selfishness or bad behavior. As such, groups that practice third-party punishment should do better than those that do not. That may be true, but collective benefits don’t explain why individuals choose to incur the cost of punishment. Why doesn’t any one person just sit back and let others punish?

In online shaming, Jordan saw a clue. “I started thinking about friends I knew who were involved in social justice,” she says. “There was a lot of moralistic speech that seemed like it was focused on communicating one’s own position.” In other words, maybe third-party punishment is primarily a signal that tells onlookers that you are trustworthy, in the same way that a peacock’s tail or stag’s antlers signal its genetic quality. It says: If I’m willing to punish selfishness, you know I’m not going to act selfishly to you.


Which an evolutionary psychologist might suggest is the thing people like to do because with an appropriate amount of virtue signaling you're more likely to pair off, if not permanently than for so long as one wishes.  Although, that's really just a transition to ...

http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/02/#

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This is not the first time that single women have had such a dramatic impact on the country. In fact, wherever you find increasing numbers of single women in history, you find change. In the 19th century, when the casualties of the Civil War and drain of men to the American West upset the gender ratio, marriage rates for ­middle-class white women on the East Coast plunged and marriage ages rose. Unburdened of the responsibilities of wifeliness and motherhood, many of these women did what women have long been trained to do: throw themselves into service to community, in this case reform movements. Many, though by no means all, of those who led the fights for abolition and suffrage and against lynching, who founded and ran the new colleges for women (Mount Holyoke, Smith, Spelman), who were pioneers in new fields including ­nursing and medicine, were unmarried. Susan B. Anthony; Sarah Grimk√©; Jane Addams; Alice Paul; Catharine Beecher; Elizabeth Blackwell: None of these women had husbands. Many more ­activists had marriages that were unconventional for the time — brief, open, or entered into late, after the women had established themselves economically or professionally.

But in advising against marriage as a foregone conclusion Richard Baxter proposed that if you surveyed the history of great philanthropists you'd find that many of them were not married, that a life of singleness even in the 1600s could provide an opportunity to do a great deal of good for the community that you couldn't possibly do if you were trying to feed and clothe and raise a family.  So if an English Puritan could observe half a millennium ago that there were real advantages to not pairing off it's hardly a surprise if an author at New York Magazine a few months ago arrived at a parallel epiphany.

The author moved along to point out that marriage still has some unfair effects on women in the workforce.  Depending on which progressives you consult marriage is inherently unfair because thanks to thinks like probate and property accumulation it fosters income inequality and that the real path forward for marriage (if we bother to keep it at all) is to divest it of any legally meaningful capacity to be an instrumental means to financial accumulation.  I.e. there are some progressives who think the problem is that marriage lets people amass possessions and aren't afraid to say so.  This seems a bit odd because what was the point of getting marriage equality on the part of some progressives if other progressives would propose that marriage is still basically bad as it is nested in middle-class acquisition? 

When the author lands at, "The apparent lack of trust in Clinton reflects that there is perhaps no politician who has suffered more for having been a wife." Are we sure about that?  Don't both Clinton's have enough political baggage separately and co-dependently to avoid a pat axiom declaring that perhaps no other politician has suffered more for having been a wife than Hillary Clinton?  The apparent lack of trust in Hillary Clinton might have something to do with the way she voted with respect to Gulf War 2, to say nothing of other stuff.  Obama managed to seize the nomination from her a couple of elections ago over problems like that.  If those were a ball and chain for Clinton last time around they can be so again.  It doesn't mean Sanders necessarily seizes the nomination from Clinton in the end--both the political parties may well prize realpolitik over principle enough to see what they can do.

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