Friday, August 11, 2017

links for the weekend--Fredrik Deboer on public writing; Franklin Foer on the change at The New Republic; men as minorities in higher education enrollment; and on how badass warriors would l quilt in their downtime.

Not that it's customary to link to a discussion of a syllabus but somebody posted stuff about public writing and De Tocqueville's writing on the United States with some commentary that caught my eye.
Public writing is a field concerned both with writing objects designed for public consumption and with the theoretical and practical structures within public writing. It foregrounds the role writing plays in various types of political power structures, with an emphasis on its generative potential within a deliberative democracy. Public writing is ideally designed to produce effects within the world. Those effects may be as passive as mutual understanding or as active as generating concrete expression within the political process. In every case, public writing looks out from the individual or small group concerns of the creator of the writing onto a larger public to which it is addressed.
Of course that could be said of not only a treatise by Alexis de Tocqueville but also, obviously, a blog.  The influence of public writing is never assured and if there's a temptation I've noticed in blogging and bloggers that I have tried to have some vigilance against, it's falling prey to the idea that if you blog about something it should have some measurable effect.  If you treat blogging as any form of journalistic or historical supplement you can't afford to have that mentality.  The thing about clickbait or about the variations on clickbait that are around the internet is that that's a measurement of something but not necessarily the substance of what is being written or what is read or how whatever is read gets read. 
Which, for the weekend, works as a conceptual transition to this, Franklin Foer's account of departing from The New Republic.
The TL:DR summation is that in the quest for clickbait virality and viability in the digital era, the collapse of the management side and the journalistic side of traditional publication led to the decline of a magazine, in Foer's understanding of things.  But since you who have read this blog know we can't help quoting stuff:
Over the past generation, journalism has been slowly swallowed. The ascendant media companies of our era don’t think of themselves as heirs to a great ink-stained tradition. Some like to compare themselves to technology firms. This redefinition isn’t just a bit of fashionable branding. As Silicon Valley has infiltrated the profession, journalism has come to unhealthily depend on the big tech companies, which now supply journalism with an enormous percentage of its audience—and, therefore, a big chunk of its revenue.
Dependence generates desperation—a mad, shameless chase to gain clicks through Facebook, a relentless effort to game Google’s algorithms. It leads media outlets to sign terrible deals that look like self-preserving necessities: granting Facebook the right to sell their advertising, or giving Google permission to publish articles directly on its fast-loading server. In the end, such arrangements simply allow Facebook and Google to hold these companies ever tighter.

What makes these deals so terrible is the capriciousness of the tech companies. Quickly moving in a radically different direction may be great for their bottom line, but it is detrimental to the media companies that rely on the platforms. Facebook will decide that its users prefer video to words, or ideologically pleasing propaganda to more-objective accounts of events—and so it will de-emphasize the written word or hard news in its users’ feeds. When it makes shifts like this, or when Google tweaks its algorithm, the web traffic flowing to a given media outlet may plummet, with rippling revenue ramifications. The problem isn’t just financial vulnerability, however. It’s also the way tech companies dictate the patterns of work; the way their influence can affect the ethos of an entire profession, lowering standards of quality and eroding ethical protections.
Also this:
At the beginning of this century, journalism was in extremis. Recessions, coupled with readers’ changing habits, prodded media companies to gamble on a digital future unencumbered by the clunky apparatus of publishing on paper. Over a decade, the number of newspaper employees dropped by 38 percent. As journalism shriveled, its prestige plummeted. One report ranked newspaper reporter as the worst job in America. The profession found itself forced to reconsider its very reasons for existing. All the old nostrums about independence suddenly seemed like unaffordable luxuries.
Growing traffic required a new mentality. Unlike television, print journalism had previously shunned the strategic pursuit of audience as a dirty, somewhat corrupting enterprise. The New Republic held an extreme version of this belief. An invention of Progressive-era intellectuals, the magazine had, over the decades, became something close to a cult, catering to a loyal group that wanted to read insider writing about politics and highbrow meditations on culture. For stretches of its long history, however, this readership couldn’t fill the University of Mississippi’s football stadium.
The culminating zinger about Trump mastering the methods and memes of digital era journalism seems too easy.  If Trump could be considered the culmination of all those trends those trends were helped along by Jon Stewarts and Rachel Maddows and Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters across the political spectrum.  In the last twenty years here in Puget Sound I've come to the conviction that the differences between a Mark Driscoll and a Dan Savage are the formalities of teams. Sure, these two formally stand on opposites sides of a variety of issues but the self-aggrandizing confrontational style was easily observable in both men during their respective stints as public figures here in Puget Sound.  The punchline and the meme seem more important across the board than conversation across any proverbial aisle. 
Now perhaps Mark would find this recent piece at The Atlantic of interest:
A few years ago I saw some headlines to the effect that more women were getting more advanced degrees than men.  While on the one hand this could be construed as women getting a chance to use those advanced degrees to get into the job market I'm not sure if that gain is separable from the problem of student debt or from glass ceilings or even from the lately discussed pattern (in another Atlantic article) of how women in corporate settings can come to dread working for other women. 
Though advocates complain that few in higher education are doing enough to keep those men who do get there from leaving, there’s consensus that men’s reluctance to enroll in the first place isn’t necessarily the colleges’ fault. The problem has its origins as early as primary school, only to be fueled later on by economic forces that discourage men from believing a degree is worth the time and money.

“It’s funny that it’s the colleges that are finally seeing this issue and trying to resolve it,” said Patrick Maloney, the president of the Nativity School, a Jesuit Catholic middle school in the central Massachusetts city of Worcester that tries to aim low-income boys toward college. That’s because, by the time students reach college age, Maloney said, “It’s way too late. You’ve already lost them. Maybe [admissions officers] should be going into middle schools and start talking to fifth-graders about the benefits of college education.”

Or even earlier than that. The “anti-school, anti-education sentiment” in boys has roots in kindergarten, when they’re slower to learn to read than girls, said Jim Shelley, the manager of the Men’s Resource Center at Lakeland Community College in Ohio. Girls at the primary and secondary level worldwide far outperform boys in reading, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

That disparity continues until, “by eighth or ninth grade, boys have lost interest,” Shelley said.
Many boys beyond that point perceive little benefit to college, especially considering its cost, said Jerlando Jackson, the director and chief research scientist at Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has written about this. To them, he said, it means a lot of sacrifice for a vague payoff far in the future.
The question of whether or not college really is worth the trouble seems legitimate.  Somebody got a degree in journalism twenty years ago and realized it wasn't worth a whole ton on the job market even back then.  The article goes on ... :
Men may also feel they have more alternatives to college than girls do. “For a lot of my [male] high school friends, it was just too much time,” said Smith, the orientation leader at Carlow. “They were ready to get out. As opposed to a four-year college, they could go to an 18-month [vocational-education] program and make just as much money.”

That was the choice of at least one high-school classmate of Vinny Bucci, the male Carlow student Smith pointed out across the student center.

“I had a friend who, instead of going to college, went into trade work, and he said he’d have a job before I did,” said Bucci, who just earned a biology degree and is headed on to graduate school to become a mental-health counselor. “And he does. But when he’s 45, he’ll be miserable.”
He’s also likely to be poorer. People with bachelor’s degrees earn 56 percent more, on average, than people with only high-school educations, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Would that includee people who got degrees in journalism, too?  :)  Anecdotes aren't evidence, so the saying goes, but I know a couple of guys who never got formal education beyond high school as such but they became electricians and they and their wives and children are doing okay, if with rough patches here and there.  Which is to say what standard of living is being tacitly or explicitly invoked for "he'll be miserable?"  People age out of manual labor, true, but technology can render jobs obsolete. 
Now it may be as some say "you can't teach hustle" but you can't just invent a good old boy network out of whole cloth, either. 
I went to college and I'm even glad and grateful I went to college but I've advised my younger friends against going unless the work they want to get can not be obtained without that academic credential.
Much as I love the arts I hesitate (to put it mildly) recommending people go to college.  It's clearly not because I don't love academic writing and theoretical stuff.  I wrote thousands of words about early 19th century guitar sonatas informed by Hepokoski & Darcy's Elements of Sonata Theory to demonstrate that their Type 2 is readily demonstrated in works by Matiegka, Diabelli and Sor.  But I never got pasting having a B.A. and I didn't even technically major in music. 
I guess what I'll say for now is that there's a difference between college as a rite of participation in the middle or upper class (something Alastair Roberts has touched upon), and the sort of scholarly intellectual curiosity and love of learning and argument and discovery that no amount of formal credential in academia can really impart to you if you don't already come to school with it.  It may be that a lot of guys believe college isn't for practical men and it isn't practical for some men and women.  I wouldn't want to say that my friends and relatives who never went to college made a mistake.  In fact ... it's not hard to think of a number of friends and relatives who didn't go to college who easily make more money than somebody I know does!  I wonder if an ideological commitment to the inherent superiority of college education on the job market is just that, an ideological commitment.   I now view arts education with skepticism not so much because I don't love the arts but because the idea of going into a mountain of debt to learn how to participate in the arts seems unfortunate to me.  I'd rather, to invoke Paul Hindemith and John Philip Sousa, that we had a culture of avid and active amateurs than the kingdom of professional entertainers we've developed over the last century. 

HT to ArtsJournal ... let's just close with this, for the kinds of manly men who at one point went to some megachurch ...

What might a manly man of war do during down time?

Quilts made by men at war to go on display

Three years ago, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London restored and displayed a hand-made altar frontal that had been by intricately embroidered by 133 convalescing soldiers during World War I. Sewing was considered a highly effective form of occupational therapy for soldiers because it could be accomplished while seated, improved manual dexterity and mental focus. The notion of occupational therapy was birthed in the crucible of World War I which left so many men physically and psychologically disabled, but it was a new name for an old practice.

Soldiers and sailors have been stitching masterpieces of the sewing crafts for hundreds of years. It was a longstanding tradition that during lulls in fighting, while prisoners of war or over extended hospital visits, they would hand-stitch quilts, wool work seascapes and embroider their own uniforms. Sailors maintained ships’ sails as part of their duties and therefore had basic sewing skills. Soldiers didn’t have the same job requirement, so if they knew how to sew it was either fortuitous or professional; i.e., they had been tailors in civilian life and were often employed as regimental tailors in the military.

The quilts displayed in the post are impressive.  Back in the day a guy would need to know how to sew and that kind of skill set would be necessary in sailing (mending the sails and clothes), and the post expands on how quilting was something soldiers would do during lulls in fighting.  It's a way to focus the mind, maintain manual dexterity, and find a creative outlet in the midst of wartime. 

Soldiers ... a decade ago there was some video somebody had ... and Michael Spenser had some thoughts about it back from April 2007:


What’s bothers me in that presentation?

It feels like discipleship is almost completely (and increasingly) identified with a particular style of maleness, and that is a problem. [emphasis original]

I have to admit that when I heard Driscoll say that young men want to know how to have sex with their wives once a day, I was stunned. I know Driscoll walks the edge, but this was the kind of juvenile distortion I don’t expect to hear. I’ve had plenty of young males ask me about sex in marriage, and I’m not bashful or less than straighforward, but this isn’t a good answer, and it’s presenting the wrong description of a Christ follower.

Clearly, someone needs to stop and say “Wait a minute. What are we saying about the Christian life? That it promotes healthy, happy sex? Amen! But that it defines that terms in the mindset of a twenty-something male who thinks daily sex is a “need” that he deserves to have met by his “Biblically submissive” wife? Time out!!”

Yes. Time out. Time out to think about the fact that when you ask me what it means to follow Jesus, my first couple of answers will be insightful. And if I start talking about the culture war, global warming or having daily sex with my wife, I’m not thinking of discipleship, I’m thinking agenda. If you think good evangelicals are immune from this, go splash some cold water in your face. You’re wrong.

Listen, a lot of young preachers I enjoy talk a lot about sex and gender issues. Good for them. When I preach on sex and gender my students listen, ask questions and want more. I have a grasp on how this works. But I cannot present the Christian life primarily as a way to great maleness. Given too large a place, that’s close to just another prosperity gospel.

If you follow Jesus, you may have lots of sex or no sex. You may give up sex because you have to care for a sick or ailing spouse. You have to put your sexual agenda at the bottom of a list of things like crying babies, the stress of daily life, emotional realities and physical facts. If a man tells me his wife provides him daily sex, I’m happy for him. He’s way above average. But I have some questions about periods. Crying babies. Housework. Illness. Non-sexual affection. And I have some questions about demands being made for the sake of some idea of sanctified maleness.

If a guy shows up to talk to me about his marriage and says his wife is depriving him of daily sex, I’m going to bluntly tell him he needs to rethink what marriage means in more realistic terms.

It is probably a safe guess that by the time iMonk died he was not reading Real Marriage. That Mark Driscoll would share with the world for public record that he concluded the remedy for his moodiness was more sex ... well, we've got what iMonk said for the record about the kind of guy who would think sex on a daily basis is a "need" needed.

Driscoll, not entirely coincidentally, has a variant on Real Marriage called Real SexReal Celibacy is probably not going to be penned by Mark Driscoll, ever.  Thanks to some history we can learn that one of the things that good soldiers, real soldiers, would do to pass the time was quilting. 

Seriously, check out the quilts in the link, they look beautiful.  There is an artistic point that comes to mind here.  What I've been considering in the last five to six years is that artists and entertainers are in some strange sense the priests of our culture, not the pastors.  And if art an entertainment and athletics takes the role formerly played by religion then in America there's a pernicious form of clericalism commensurate to that change.  Sure, I know there are plenty of people who say that lack of education is why people voted for Trump but that seems like a canard.  If it's a glib explanation as to why stupid, uneducated people voted for someone you didn't want in the Oval Office then that's a glib explanation.  I love reading scholarly books about theology as well as the arts but this gets back to the distinction I was trying to make earlier about curiosity as distinct from credentialing processes.

And, yes, I'm a Protestant, I wonder if in our American cultural and educational milieu we've created the thing Sousa feared would happen, a caste of producers and consumers in the arts when what he believed was vital was an amateur scene, a kind of "priesthood of all believers" reworked as "everyone can participate in artistic life."  Soldiers quilting on the battlefield is a vivid reminder that these men were not "just" soldiers out there.  Obvious enough, but the kind of thing that can be missed in the faux-manliness of a Driscoll.  Real soldiers could and did quilt, bro.  Of course advocates of fine arts wouldn't consider quilting high art.  But if you're freezing on a winter's night will high art keep you warm?  That's kind of where I'm going with thoughts about a clericalism of the arts.   Bach fugues are beautiful and so are quilts. 


Cal of Chelcice said...

As someone who is involved with higher education, I completely agree with the assessments made here. I recall a professor I had make a statement, near the end of the semester, about how college, especially the liberal arts college, was supposed to make you a better man. College was a place where you learn to be a good citizen. I inwardly scoffed. Not only was this an old and now defunct position (when colleges were fewer, more selective, and designed to inculcate the idea of the WASP culture warrior, whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom), but empirically the opposite was true. Kids emerge from liberal colleges simultaneously disillusioned and naive, soaked thoroughly in a libertine bubble-world, and fully immersed in a world as ladder-climbing and hoop-jumping. It's all about networking and learning the rules of the game. There's an art to test-taking, and it becomes an easy fit to then learning how to do an interview and write a resume. None of this is proof of intelligence or competence, except in conforming oneself to the current corporate climate. And even academia is an extension of this. Universities, especially the liberal elements of them, lack real weight and have little reason to exist. The lack of college degrees among Trump supporters doesn't say much, many people I meet with a Bachelors are intellectually the same, if not even inferior at times, then people without.

In some ways, the collegial experience is the creation of a managerial class. If, as an imperial mouthpiece theorist like Bobbitt says, that America is transitioning to a "Market-State", then citizen and corporate values fuse. Going are the days of patriotism as blood,soil, and civilization; rather it's a new kind of patriotism, where the global market dominated by a mega-corporate overlordship is the homeland. College is about forging the parameters and help you both believe in it and to critically think within it in order to improve it and protect it. Thus, the future of the professional arts will entirely depend upon this new vision, helping spread the kind of progressive and cosmopolitan ethos of this imperial vision. This includes not only celebration of corporate power (usually associated with the right), but also a celebration of diversity and localism (usually associated with the left).

The latter might be surprising, lest on realize that by reifying cultures and reducing people (individually and corporately) to a series of identity markets defangs and repackages all the rough edges of the world into a model that fits within a globalist paradigm. It's similar to the critique of Religious Studies, which works from the philosophy of some universal sense of "Religion" which all the expressions of the world fit into. This is all the heritage of Christendom, which was a conflation of Christian claims to universality with Roman cultural universalities. Christianitas and Romanitas, when warped and pressed beyond conceptual boundaries, resulted in the Enlightenment, and our current place. As Ivan Illich put it, the corruption of the best is the worst. But, I digress from a simple question of the university and the job market!

My 2 cents,

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Wow, that professor comment cements my impression that clericalism has secularized into the liberal arts rather than a state church. I'd read years ago that the "well-rounded education" was intended to produce college graduates able to become the leaders of American civic life and that got me wondering what made that seem so necessary. Couldn't that mean that half my college expenses were going to just jumping through hoops I had to jump through because somebody said so? For those of us who knew going in what we wanted to study few things caused more resentment than the requirement to full all the general eds.

But the observation about the kind of class that is formed by college, it reminds me of something. On the social media networks I've been part of I saw some fellow alumni from college lamenting how when they were trying to get stuff for their kids to participate in things like cheer squad or choir that school administrators replied to expenses parents were expected to pay that these things were privileges, not rights. The respective parents in my generation were indignant. It felt like I'd just read with my own eyes what white privilege really is, a sense of entitlement that participating in the arts in a collegial or school way somehow really ought to be a right, not just for "me" but for "my kids"--it isn't recognized for the class privilege that it is because it's so ingeniously cloaked in the idiom of human rights and human freedom and human flourishing that the people who espouse this may really think that it's about those things and not a sense of entitlement for themselves and their kids.