Saturday, July 14, 2018

another Atlantic piece "Find Your Passion" is disastrous advice

Perhaps in keeping with a theme this weekend, now that we've looked earlier at student debt as a nexus of crises related to economic and social life by way of higher education, here's another piece that discusses how a generation or two of students has been admonished to "find your passion".
Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, remembers asking an undergraduate seminar recently, “How many of you are waiting to find your passion?”

“Almost all of them raised their hand and got dreamy looks in their eyes,” she told me. They talked about it “like a tidal wave would sweep over them,” he said. Sploosh. Huzzah! It’s accounting!

Would they have unlimited motivation for their passion? They nodded solemnly.
“I hate to burst your balloon,” she said, “but it doesn’t usually happen that way.”

What Dweck asked her students is a common refrain in American society. The term “Follow your passion” has increased ninefold in English books since 1990. “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” is another college-counseling standby of unknown provenance.

But according to Dweck and others, that advice is steering people wrong.

“What are the consequences of that?” asked Paul O’Keefe, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University. “That means that if you do something that feels like work, it means you don’t love it.” He gave me the example of a student who jumps from lab to lab, trying to find one whose research topic feels like her passion. “It’s this idea that if I’m not completely overwhelmed by emotion when I walk into a lab, then it won’t be my passion or my interest.” [emphasis added]

That’s why he and two co-authors—Dweck and Greg Walton of Stanford—recently performed a study that suggests it might be time to change the way we think about our interests. Passions aren’t “found,” they argue. They’re developed.

A passion that is developed is also not necessarily indicative of gainful employment. Some of my cultivated passions have involved early 19th century guitar sonatas and cycles of polyphonic music for classical guitar.  Another cultivated passion is Batman cartoons. I can tell you that while one of those passions helped me pay the rent it wasn't the highbrow stuff!  It was writing about Batman cartoons that helped me pay rent one month back when I was looking for full time work! 

Having a passion isn't the same as having a passion that can be translated into a job market skillset.Had I not been flexible enough in my approach to adapt to where I was at, if fitfully, even that might not have come up.  That's a bit of a lame transition into the following, a discussion of how there's a difference between who define their passions as a fixed range of interests and those who have a more flexible way of defining what their passions are in relationship to methodologies.  This may be a transition into a study of such a tiny sample that the methodology may be moot, as seems so often the case in social science ... since social science is still the only term that can probably be used. 

In a paper that is forthcoming in Psychological Science, the authors delineate the difference between the two mind-sets. One is a “fixed theory of interests”—the idea that core interests are there from birth, just waiting to be discovered—and the other is a “growth theory,” the idea that interests are something anyone can cultivate over time.

To examine how these different mind-sets affect our pursuit of different topics, the authors performed a series of studies on college students—a group that’s frequently advised to find their passion in the form of a major or career path.

First, students answered a survey that would categorize them as either “techy”—slang for interested in math and science—or “fuzzy,” meaning interested in the arts or humanities. They also filled out a survey determining how much they agreed with the idea that peoples’ core interests don’t change over time. They then read an article that mismatched their interests—a piece on the future of algorithms for the fuzzies, and a piece on Derrida for the techies. The more the participants endorsed a “fixed” theory of interests, the less interested they were in the article that mismatched their aforementioned identity as a techy or fuzzy.

The authors then repeated a similar procedure, but they had students read first about either the fixed theory of interests or the growth theory. Again, those who learned that interests are fixed throughout a person’s life were less captivated by an article that mismatched their interests.
The authors believe this could mean that students who have fixed theories of interest might forgo interesting lectures or opportunities because they don’t align with their previously stated passions. Or that they might overlook ways that other disciplines can intersect with their own.
“If passions are things found fully formed, and your job is to look around the world for your passion—it’s a crazy thought,” Walton told me. “It doesn’t reflect the way I or my students experience school, where you go to a class and have a lecture or a conversation, and you think, That’s interesting. It’s through a process of investment and development that you develop an abiding passion in a field.”
Dweck, one of the paper’s authors, has previously studied different types of mind-sets as they relate to intelligence. People who have a growth mind-set about their own intelligence tend to be less afraid of failure, according to her research, because they believe smarts are cultivated, not inherent. Interests are related to, but distinct from, abilities, the study authors told me: You can be interested in something but not very good at it. “I’ve been playing guitar for 25 years, but I can’t say that my abilities have gotten that much better in the past 10 years,” O’Keefe said.

Dweck told me that “Find your passion” has a laudable history. “Before that, people were saying, ‘Find your genius,’ and that was so intimidating. It implied that only people who were really brilliant at something could succeed,” she said. “‘Find your passion’ felt more democratic. Everybody can have an interest.” But this study suggests that even the idea of finding your “true” interest can intimidate people and keep them from digging further into a field.

That gets me thinking about how there are people who say that a shift happened on defining what "genius" meant from the last few centuries.  "Find your genius" sounds positively old school compared to a post-Romantic way of saying that someone IS a genius. Because we may still have a post-Romantic notion of passion and genius we can be taught that if you find your passion you'll find your genius, so to speak.  I am not convinced that "find your passion" isn't ultimately the same basic premise as "find your genius". 

There's writers who claim that we need to look at whether or not "genius" came about in part due to bitter rivalries and whether or not genius has something to do with copycats.  Leonard B. Meyer proposed that the difference between a "genius" and a "crackpot" probably had much less to do with basic experimental or avant garde work than on the discovery of a solution to a problem that was regarded as a problem worth solving by the public at large.  To describe it another way, the genius was the person who created a replicable solution or paradigm for a solution to something that was widely regarded as a problem or challenge that needed to be addressed.

Which I think would be another way of saying that whatever a "genius" is they have some sense of social responsibility regarding the potential theoretical and practical significance of their problem-solving.  But I am not sure that that in any way connects to "find your passion". 

The authors also had students learn about either fixed or growth theory and then exposed them to a new interest: Astronomy. First, they had them watch a video made by The Guardian for a general audience about Stephen Hawking’s ideas. It was easy to understand, and entertaining. Then the authors had the students read a highly technical, challenging article in the academic journal Science about black holes. Despite saying just moments ago, after viewing the video, that they were fascinated by black holes, the students who were exposed to the fixed theory of interests said they were no longer interested in black holes after reading the difficult Science article. In other words, when you’re told that your interests are somehow ingrained, you give up on new interests as soon as the going gets tough.

This study was a preregistered replication, meaning the authors stated at the outset what their hypothesis and methods would be. This process is meant to prevent p-hacking, a shady data practice that has cast a shadow over many psychology studies in recent years.

K. Ann Renninger, a professor at Swarthmore College who was not involved with the study, has researched the development of interests and said that “neuroscience has confirmed that interests can be supported to develop.” In other words, with the right help, most people can get interested in almost anything. Before the age of 8, she said, kids will try anything. Between the ages of 8 and 12, they start to compare themselves with others and become insecure if they’re not as good as their peers at something. That’s when educators have to start to find new ways to keep them interested in certain subjects.

Though the authors didn’t examine adults, they told me their findings could apply to an older population as well. For example, people’s interest in parenthood tends to escalate rapidly once they have a real, crying baby in their house. “You could not know the first thing about cancer, but if your mother gets cancer, you’re going to be an expert in it pretty darn quick,” O’Keefe said.

A different study done on adults’ views toward passions suggests that people who think passions are found tend to pick jobs that fit them well from the outset. They prioritize enjoyment over good pay. People who think passions are developed, meanwhile, prioritize other goals over immediate enjoyment at work, and they “grow to fit their vocations better over time,” the authors of that study write. “In conclusion,” they add, “people who have not found their perfect fit in a career can take heart—there is more than one way to attain passion for work.”

How to cultivate a “growth” mind-set in the young, future-psychology-experiment subjects of America? If you’re a parent, you can avoid dropping new hobbies as soon as they become difficult. (Your kids might take note if you do, O’Keefe said.)

Beyond that, there’s not a clear way to develop a growth mind-set about interests, other than knowing that it’s a valid way to think, and that your passion might still be around the corner.

“We’re just trying to pull the veil back on the hidden implications of things like, Find your passion,’” Walton said. “Is that really how things work? A little bit of knowledge is power.”

The right kind of a little bit of knowledge may be power but on the whole I haven't found that I'm convinced that knowledge is power is all that true.  It used to be said that it's not what you know but who you know.  A relative told me that over the years when I was job hunting and I told him that it seems to be the "new" job market of the last twenty years is more a double whammy of not just who you know but also what you know, too.  If you don't hit the jackpot across both criteria your job prospects can really stink.

The relative shared that in the domain of computer service and tech support it was seeming over the last twenty-some years that employers wanted you to have a master's in computer science and be willing to work fifty hours a week so that they could give you $11 or $12 an hour with maybe zero medical benefits.

Sometimes my Generation X cohorts may post something about how the jobs were better back in the Clinton era and forgetting that back then we were 20-somethings in an seemingly endless cycle of what was not yet called the gig economy, shuffling from temp job to temp job with no medical coverage of any kind and unstable income. 

Some of the most useless career counseling I got over the years had to do with "find your passion".  I wanted a job I could do that wouldn't ransack my body (let's just say that some of the hotter job-peddlers in the last twenty years could end up having warehouse packing work that could wreck a person's wrists). 

A generation or two sold on "find your passion" might need to be told that this advice plays well to educational institutions who benefit from you trying to find your passion for four to five years in an institution of higher education.  Never mind if your passion is for something for which there's no actual job market. Never mind if you may get a PhD in a field of study for which there may not even been work. 

I try to be slightly upbeat about the basic value of education as a discipline of the mind and toward scholarship but ... like I've been blogging this weekend I have a friend or two who has confided that it feels like higher education has been a bill of goods in job market terms.  Generation X has had to deal with this first but in journalistic terms the appeal is probably still going to be Millenials.  I went from firmly believing in the necessity and value of higher education to imploring my friends who were in their 20s in this new century to NOT go to college unless the work they wanted to do could not be done without it.  Among friends and family I'm happy to lend books that people may want to read on a subject.  There have to be ways among neighbors to share knowledge in a way that doesn't involve getting people on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt. 

Passions can be cultivated and particularly for the arts I'm feeling lately that it's the amateurs rather than the professionals that make a regional arts culture what it is, though professionals obviously play an important part.

I couldn't justify, for instance, going to a seminary just because I felt and thought I had a passion for theology and church history stuff.  I didn't have as much a passion for that as I probably thought I did because I shifted to music and because I felt no sense of obligation to serve in ministry and couldn't justify dumping who knew how much money into going to a seminary just to line the pockets of an institution to learn stuff I could learn as a layperson by simply attending a decent church. 

American arts administration, a small study indicates the majority of arts administrators are white and women but the sample size is small and skews very heavily southwest and west with 575 responses so ... tiny sample issue

According to an American for the Arts study cited in a GIA study on arts workplace diversity authored by Antonio Cuyler:

"Americans for the Arts (2013) studied the salaries of arts managers who work in local arts agencies (N = 753). Approximately, 86 percent of the full-time respondents self-identified as white, and 72 percent as female."

As increasing numbers of new hires in the field have graduated from an arts administration program, that imbalance is likely to continue for the foreseeable future as women far outnumber men enrolled in university arts administration programs.  According to a report on the feminization of the field authored by Erica Weyer Ittner:

"In 2010, 70 percent of the individuals attending arts administration programs in colleges and universities were women (Gaskell).  As women become the primary jobholder in a particular field it is deemed feminized, or gendered."

The feminization of a field has often been accompanied by it being patronizingly regarded as less important than a male dominated area.  Indeed, public funding for the arts may be negatively impacted because elected decision makers regard it, and its nonprofit status, as simply inferior to the private sector and not the equal in terms of value as male dominated enterprises.  Women, and the arts field, have had to confront that kind of prejudice for a long time.

But any endeavor dominated by specific demographic groups faces the challenge that's its institutional memory and its organizational perspective is thereby compromise and limited, and, as a result, it decision making apparatus lacks perspective and depth.

Diversity is a lofty goal for two principal reasons:  1) the fairness and equity social justice issue - i.e., no group should be excluded from sitting at the decision making tables anywhere.  Society benefits from all demographic groups being represented and having input access, and 2) decision makers, organizations, communities and society itself all benefit from having differing perspectives, differing life experiences represented at the decision making point - including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age and gender

And so, we must ask whether we have lost or are losing, to some extent, the male perspective in the nonprofit arts -- as fewer males are in, and are coming into, the field?  That may be ultimately unhealthy, in the same ways that any inadequate representation - of whatever demographic category - is.  Having primarily only one gender perspective hamstrings all our decisions and limits us - in way we might not even fully understand or appreciate.  It's simply unhealthy for a female skewed ecosystem to dominate the field, much as it is for a white male dominated cohort to dominate it.  If we are to do a credible job at truly engaging our communities and providing services to the whole of our society, we need to get to an inclusive balance.

575 is not exactly the biggest sample size so we can't be altogether sure this isn't skewed by the sampling bias being so predominantly southwest/west United States.  If more women are still getting advanced degrees than men and a master's degree is the most common level of educational attainment for arts administration workers then it's not a big surprise if women may tend to prevail in arts administration.  Whether these are working at the highest echelons may be a different question across the United States because, again, the sample size seemed small.

Despite the fact that there were 575 responses on most categories there were 555 responses on questions about sexual orientation.  See, that's interesting because one of the first things I thought about reading about this stuff was that sexual orientation is precisely the kind of demographic parameter you shouldn't even be asking about in terms of hiring to begin with because that could be considered discriminatory unless an organization were a non-profit tied specifically to dealing with an issue of sexual health or advocacy with respect to a demographic community.  So I'm not surprised that twenty some respondents opted out on the question of orientation. 

Seventy-seven percent of survey participants are female, and 23 percent are male. Only two participants identified as transgender. The arts management workforce may need to consider ways to recruit more men into the profession. Yet, research has shown that gender negatively affects the careers of women in arts management. Herron et al. (1998) conducted a national study of arts managers in medium-sized dance companies, museums, opera companies, symphonies, and theaters to determine the effect gender has on the career mobility of arts managers. They found that men predominantly held upper-management positions and earned significantly higher salaries than women, and thus they concluded that a glass ceiling exists in arts management for women.

One of my relatives was telling me that  pay gaps between men and women don't always account for things like over-time.  If a study shows that women are seven percent likely to put in more than fifty hours in a week compared to twenty percent of men then at the level of management that might be a variable to consider.  That corporations can take very punitive approaches to parenthood should also be considered. 

I'm surprised at the pittance of response from the Pacific Northwest since it would seem there's actually not a shortage of arts organizations around here. 

Jim West on a fraudulent form of "forgiveness" teaching promoted in contemporary pop Christianity

I don't know if West may have ever seen something like this ...

Or the Mark Driscoll Forgiveness Challenge and associated run-up material.

But he recently wrote this:

“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying,`I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Lk. 17:3-4)

‘Rebuke him…’  ‘If he repents…’  The so called ‘forgiveness’ promoted today isn’t real forgiveness at all because it isn’t the result of correction and it doesn’t stem from real repentance.  The forgiveness promoted today is vapid and empty and meaningless.  Forgiveness without repentance is permission for the other, the unrebuked brother, to continue on in their sin.

The forgiveness promoted today is cruelty because it permits the brother to continue in the sin that destroys him and those around him.  And those who feel pious because they ‘have forgiven’ their enemies while their enemies are neither rebuked nor repentant should in truth feel demonic as they are the enablers of iniquity, not the promoters of righteousness.

I commented somewhere else about how the insistence that you should just forgive because it's the Christian thing to do and the more egregious the offense the quicker the forgiveness should be seems ... dubious ... in an era where a Larry Nassar's predation is revealed.  In an age of a Terry Richardson in fashion photography what would "repentance" look like from a guy like that?  I worked with someone who was (maybe still is) a model and she mentioned that certain photographers are so notorious in the industry that you just avoid working with them or ... being anywhere near them.  It's been one of the pickles of high fashion that some photographers kept getting work.

The celebrity Christian industry seems to have as light resurgence (ahem) of forgiveness teaching that seems to fixate on the necessity of forgiving people who may have "hurt" you (rather than "harmed" you, apparently ... ) and I've written about my concerns about this so-called forgiveness paradigm as espoused by a guy like Mark Driscoll.

Christians should repent and Christians should forgive.  That said, if a person doesn't repent the obligation to forgive them doesn't seem to be drawn from anything Jesus taught.  Yes, I'm aware that Jesus was shown as offering grace to a bandit on a cross but that bandit trusted in Jesus.  And Jesus is the exception case to which you or I can hardly compare ourselves.  When you or I can raise from death any number of friend then the comparison will seem more apt.

No, I've written before that in the hands of a Mark Driscoll admonitions to forgive so that you're not trapped in the prison of demonic torment don't come across as Christian in any historical sense at all, instead it comes across like a kind of sympathetic magic in which if you use the formulaic forgiveness magic in the right way you are delivered from demonic influence.  Any pagan can have that kind of conception of forgiveness and, to be blunt, I don't think even pagans would have such a sympathetic magical view of forgiveness.  That forgiveness-as-magic-talisman-against-demonic influence might be more of a heretical word-faith variant of Christian practice than something derived from biblical texts or continuity of traditions in Christian teaching.  It's not that you can't forgive those who have wronged you unilaterally.  It's that a teaching program that tells you that you should do this so that you have Spirit-power released in your life is selling you something.  Anyone who would sell you that idea is continuing a grisly tradition of conduct and ideas named after Simon Magus, who hoped to buy the power of the Spirit he saw the apostles use to heal people. 

It's too bad that a guy like Driscoll is willing to peddle a form of forgiveness in which, as I noted earlier, there's no trace of relational restoration or reconciliation in the practical outcome of his not-so-new forgiveness teaching.  He had a more or less magical take on forgiveness as a salve against the ordinary demonic of bitterness going back ten years ago, which I've chronicled at such length here I don't want to repeat myself.   This is not a new shtick for Driscoll in particular, but it may be a newly resurgent shtick with some Christians who feel that they should teach a sweeping definition of applied forgiveness in which it hardly matters what was done to you, you need to live Christian forgiveness by being the better person who forgives whether or not a person who harmed you has repented or even confessed. 

It's why in the wake of a Sandunsky or a Nassar the idea of the "new" and allegedly robust take on forgiveness seems not only shallow but actually dangerous.  It's a kind of "forgiveness" that favors the powerful, the aristocratic, abusers who can hide behind a "you should forgive and move on" ethos and praxis.  Maybe there can even be some bromide about how refusing to forgive someone is like you drink the poison and expect the other person to die.  If a person doesn't repent and doesn't even confess to wrong-doing are you still obliged to forgive? 

So I'm not surprised there's enough of a form of forgiveness that skips completely past any questions about confession or repentance out there that Jim West has written something about it.  As a former Mars Hill member and attender I suppose nobody would be surprised to read that I've addressed my skepticism about the credibility and plausibility of such a so-called forgiveness teaching. 

Rod Dreher links to a piece at The Baffler about student debt disasters--some gloomy diffuse musings on how higher education may embody the problems it would purport to solve thanks to its bond with finance

It's a long read, and Dreher's commentary is relatively to the point.

In fact I don't feel any need to really quote from it because it just reminded me of a friend of mine, also from Generation X, who told me years ago that he felt he was sold a bill of goods about college.  He felt like he was sold an idea that if you just go to the right school and get the right degree the whole job thing takes care of itself.

It's obviously not true.

But colleges and higher education more generally depend upon people like you or me or my friend buying into the idea that you can't put a price on a full-bodied education.  You sure as hell can, actually, and the lending industry seems to be aware of just how much money a well-rounded education can cost, just as administrators and bureaucrats who decide how many core courses you have to take before you're even allowed to graduate with a degree in a field of study that you initially wanted to pursue to begin with certainly seem to know.

One of my friends inc ollege graduated a year or so later than I did and he called me one day to say he was furious when he realized that the school we both went to went from describing itself as a four-year institution to having a "five-year" degree for undergraduates.  They just blithely went from saying it would take four years to five years and for the tuition rates we were paying that was no small amount of money!

I opted to stop at a B.A. in a useless field of study in job market terms.  My journalism degree didn't help me land a whole lot of jobs.  It was clearly a lot of value for time and money spent  when I got around to chronicling the peak and ruin of Mars Hill. 

But I realized while I was still in college there wasn't really a job market for an interest in literature, philosophy, let alone music or music history.  I settled on journalism as the field of interest, amid all my probably "useless" interests in job market terms, as having something close to a market place.  But a few years before I graduated I realized that there was probably not a job out there for me.  On the other hand, the prospect of changing majors three years in was a foolish venture.  All that would have meant was changing the kinds of hoops I'd have to jump through because I'd worked out that despite the claim that all the general rounded education hoops I had to jump through in high school was preparation for focused study in college it turned out the first two years of college were just preparation you had to do before you were allowed to enter a program.  They had you on the hook with general education requirements to stay for basically twice as long as you'd need to actually attend to get the focused study that you would have thought was part of your degree, rather, the core of it.

Finding all of this objectionable, even finding it to be a kind of prestige racket scam, isn't the least bit the same as being anti-intellectual or anti-scholarly.  I'm reading almost half a dozen books by Theodore Adorno because it's fun, for crying out loud.  I finished Richard Taruskin's five volume Oxford History of Western Music.  I'm getting back into his roughly 1,200 page Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions, too.  I've got a pile of Ellul books in the reading list.  Reading a book on Bartok and Hungarian nationalism.  Still early into a book on Poland and East Germany in the Cold War period.  I'm slogging through Joseph Campbell's notorious book.  So I'm reading stuff.  I'm looking at taking up blogging about Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar.  But I'm temporarily sidelined by other stuff offline and I'm intrigued in taking up some writing about Zaderatsky's 24 preludes and fugues as well as Henry Martin's 24 preludes and fugues.  I'm interested in 20th and 21st century fugal cycles.  When volume 2o f Michelle Gorrell's cycle is finally ready to be published by Boosey & Hawkes I look forward to ordering part 2. 

But I don't regret only getting as far as an undergraduate dgree in journalism.  I can't see that getting a master's degree or a doctorate would help me learn more or be more scholarly.  I feel like I practically wrote a master's thesis on 19th century guitar sonatas as it is.  Now it's not really a thesis level thing as I wrote it, of course.  I'd need to have tackled the extent sonatas of Matiekga and Molitor before I'd feel like I had really made it a master's thesis level length project.  I ... might consider doing that at some point.  Matiegka's worth the trouble to me but life is busy. 

But all that is to say that if I had had to go through the routines and jump through the hoops of grad school I am not altogether sure I'd have had time to tackle this stuff and I am not convinced by what I have been able to see of academic publishing that there's exactly a place for the kind of writing I do and have done about 19th century guitar sonatas.  I am also not sure there's a place in academia as it is for thousands of words theorizing on how ragtime can be synthesized with sonata forms because the prestige racket seems to be in place and because people committed to essentialist narratives about what is supposed to be construed as white or black music seem to have too much at stake in reinforcing the stereotypes that should be getting dismantled within the academy.  It feels like reactionaries are committed to a "universal" set of artistic values that are a stand-in for defending a canon rather than opening the field to applied study of other music on the one hand, and reactions to the reactionary stance may be sincere and well-intentioned but get trapped in the modes of polemic and discourse established by the protocols (or inertia) of academy.  I can tell you (all forty readers, maybe?) that I can write as many thousands of words about why "Living for the City" is a work of musical genius as I can about Matiegka's appropriation of themes from Haydn's piano trios for Grand Sonata II. 

And my polemic point for this post is that I can do all that without actually being in academia. 

But what the Baffler piece skims is that the author in question got married, which strongly indicates the author in question was also dating.  This may tie back to my earlier writing this weekend about how within the confines of a middle class existence there can be a tension between art-self and sex-self.  Statistically if straight people in a relationship have sex for long enough a time babies can result and there's a tension between the understanding of the art-making self and the baby-making self that may be unique in some respects to the middle class.  Some of those tensions go away if you reconcile yourself to the likelihood that a scholarly life is a kind of, well, monastic existence.  But in the last century or so the artist has become a kind of prophet or seer or art-priest but rather than some kind of residual vow of celibacy there might be a tacit or explicit vow of, well, profligacy?  Like artists in the post-Romantic tradition can almost seem as though they have an informal vow to get laid rather than not. 

Years ago The Atlantic had a write-up about various authors who chose not to have children and in the span of the article there was no indication that any of those authors who expounded upon their decision to never have children were people who were celibate.  If you're not having sex then there's no "decision" to not have children because the very possibility of them is generally moot. 

In the years since I turned my attention back toward arts writing and coverage in the wake of the Mars Hill collapse I've been negatively impressed.  It is hard to shake the sense that higher education in the United States is a prestige racket.  People absolutely learn wonderful things and write interesting stuff.  I'm not against any of that, but the educational system seems like a bill of goods, like a cabal dedicated to a priesthood of art religion in the liberal arts that seems like a grotesquely inflated bubble.  That doesn't mean I think the people who are fixated on STEM necessarily have a better or healthier conception of college education.  The idea of free college for everyone sounds like a recipe for disaster.  That's like telling everyone that high school officially gets to last eight or nine or ten years rather than a mere four years and for what?  What jobs are going to be out there that require a liberal arts degree or an engineering degree, even? 

One of my teachers in high school decades ago said that the problem with American education as a whole in comparison to European models was that the baseline assumption was that every student educated could be expected to one day be a senator or a representative or a part of the political gentry or aristocracy and this meant there was functionally no training in the trades and skills that would be more useful in the general economy and society.  A variant (since this guy was German) of a Germanic critique of Anglo-American educational paradigms was penned by Paul Hindemith (which I've already referenced a few times) in which he said that American music education produced music teachers and not rounded amateur musicians.  The educational culture was designed to be self-perpetuating.  The longer I live and read about the various crises that crop up in higher education the harder it is to shake the sense that the rot is in the core conception of American ideals about higher education.  The higher education paradigm seems geared toward a residually aristocratic notion of a well-rounded thought leader/scholar patrician rather than toward useful, gainful employment.  This problem probably cannot be ameliorated merely by shoving everyone into STEM or service oriented training.  The problem of the years-gobbling "general education" requirements will still be there. 

One of the conundrums about all of this is that if you express reservations about the problems in academia as it has developed in the last thirty years the easiest rebuttal someone with an interest in academia could roll out is to say you're anti-intellectual.  Or there can be a comment about the predatory nature of capitalism.  Well, I wonder about whether that predatory nature isn't the way of the world seeing as capitalism is one way that original sin works itself out in one historical context while it works itself out in other ways in other contexts.  Yes, I invoked original sin.  I don't think we live in an era in which it makes sense to assume that inherited and dispositional temptations to evil for personal or in-group gain can be warded off merely by adherence to a dogmatic orthodoxy.  It doesn't mean I don't care about orthodoxy.  I mean, I've said a few times I go to a Presbyterian church.  But what I'm saying as I have over the years is that doctrinal orthodoxy BY ITSELF is no assurance of ethical conduct.  What we've been seeing in the last ten years is that the flags denoting team loyalty are not turning out to be the least bit reliable indicators of how not-abusive a man in power or with influence can turn out to be. 

Particularly as a former Mars Hill member I am dubious abou the idea that merely switching ideological loyalties will cure the cultish mentality that was fostered there.  If someone was a Mars Hill member and is now a blue state voter rather than a red state voter all that has changed is the flag rallied to not the totalitarian cult-like mentality that was observable within the confines of the community online.  I'm not talking about friends I made who were self-identified progressives eight years ago who were at Mars Hill.  I am aware that in popular journalistic imagination there could not have possibly been Christian progressives or anarchists at a place like Mars Hill but there were.  The thing is I've got no truck with the people who were progressive then and have stayed progressive.  We differ on a few points of policy questions but we get along well.  My concern is more about those people who were red state then and have decided to be blue state now.  Or those who decided to MAGA things.  These are people who have transferred what I believe is still foundationally a cultish mentality to the realm of politics.  All blather about "functional savior" in mind, there are people who are set on reverse-engineering for themselves a red  state Jesus and a bleu state Jesus and they do not recognize that these reverse-engineering projects make for an American Jesus that is a false Christ and an antichrist.  It's not a matter of the POTUS being the antichrist merely if the "wrong" person gets the jbo, I say it's the very nature of the job, as it is for any world leader position.

How does that connect to higher education?  Well, to be combative about the point, academia is the priesthood within which the powers that be get defended.  Attempting to reform the canon or create a theoretically post-canonical world will fail because that is to misconstrue what the function of academies has been for as long as there have been academies.  To seek to remove rather than reform a canon is to seek to remove the basis for higher education at its core.  If you don't want a canon then you functionally don't want an academy.  That's why I'm willing to say I think we need an additive, reformist-minded poly-canonic aim in higher education but I can't bring myself to say that we should have a post-canonic higher educational scene.  To argue for that is, I think, able to be sincere and even well-intentioned but unfortunately naïve about the nature of higher education as a whole. 

The Baroque era with its panoply of styles and theories seems like what we should try to conceptually recover as applicable to higher education and the arts, if we're going to try for that.  But I have had my doubts about the health and viability of higher education in American society for a decade or so.  I wanted to be an academic in my twenties and now I'm grateful I didn't manage to become one and it's obvious (I hope!) that this had nothing to do with a loss of love for learning or study. 

I think we should work at restoring or developing a new kind of unskilled labor market.  People who think the problems of the contemporary American job market can be fixed by making college available for everyone are makin ga mistake.  If our whole educational paradigm of the well-rounded jack of all trades scholar was predicated in any way on an aristocratic leadership paradigm then to focus on legacies of white racism or white supremacism without examining the class element is going to make a mistake, a dangerous category mistake because it wasn't as though American Indians didn't have caste systems or slavery themselves. 

I'm worried that American discourse has devolved on race in ways that have come at the expense of class considerations, which is why it's far, far easier for me to take progressives and post-Marxist thinkers seriously than mainstream liberals--mainstream liberalism has finessed the extent to which it is tied to the upper twenty percent.  How many people who would consider themselves loyal blue state voters would nonetheless reject the idea of abolishing legacy admissions for prestigious schools?  Even a Ted Kennedy could sign off on getting the Navy aircraft carriers the Navy didn't even need for the sake of shipyard jobs.  Blue state people need to remember that a nation run by cosmopolitan city-states is not necessarily going to make American life more democratic.  When Clinton ran with "I'm with her" and replied that America already is great there are reasons she lost the electoral vote, some of which "may" have to do with Russian hacking but some of which have to do with comprehensive gerrymandering the DNC didn't seem interested enough in to stop, on the oone hand, and on the other hand, the implicit claim in the America-already-is-great rebuttal to a MAGA slogan invites a question of for whom America is already great? 

Some of the newly aware sentiment of the moment could potentially be a mask.  #TimesUp isn't necessarily a worst cause cause but if there are fewer women directing now than there were a few years ago then what if all we're getting is more STAR women directors and fewer women directors in practice?  That can't really be what we want for the film industry, is it?

That ties somewhat directly to the crises of academia because, as I've said, there's probably no plausible case to be made that academia will ever be post-canonic because that misconstrues what academia has been for millennia.  To put it another way, if you hear Beyoncé songs all over the radio or Katy Perry songs or Taylor Swift songs there's still a corporate culture.  It may look more feminine and be more diverse and it's not even to say the new songs are even necessarily bad, it's that the academia plays a potential role in ameliorating a relationship to power that it mediates without necessarily considering that the alternative isn't likely to be a post-canonical pedagogy, it's going to bee a new canon with a suitably adjusted pedagogy. 

Now maybe letting the proverbial market decide is going to be worse because as highbrows have lamented since millennia ago the stupid masses keep picking stupid stuff.  Ancient Greece had some equivalent to what we might call Michael Bay movies. 

What an academic approach could address is, perhaps, saying that Michael Jackson became the King of Pop in a way that is comparable to how Josef Haydn became "Papa" who inspired Mozart and Beethoven.  I think that poptimists in music and musicology could benefit immensely from going back to Haydn because Haydn and his generation (loosely defined) give us a "classical" music tradition that predates German idealism and the emergence of art religion and its more nefarious elements.  There's always stuff to reject and we should certainly not be in a rush to just say Beethoven shouldn't be studied at all--a bit too much of the polemics against the established Germanic canon seems to forget the Americanist canon that will go up in its place.  We're not going to get a post-canon pedagogy, we'll just eventually get a pedagogy geared toward a new canon.  Perhaps that canon will move away from the literate music tradition in favor of technologically mediated music but that will be a shift from one canon to another.  Sgt. Pepper is not going to just get obliterated from the pop canon just because the literate musical tradition is considered secondary or elite. 

My skepticism about post-canonic arguments isn't with the altruism that its advocates are trying to bring to a more open-ended approach.  I think we need a more additive and open-ended approach to canon but if we step back and think about this stuff this crisis of canon is precipitated by technological advance and archiving capacity.  The crisis is that if we can survey the entirety of Western music in on-page form why can't we do this for recorded music mediated by vinyl records, cassettes, CDs and so on?  It's not that a Richard Taruskin has to write about that in an Oxford History of Western music that explicitly limits its scope to music on the page, it's that the historians and musicologists who could write a comparable history of mechanically recorded and technologically mediated music in the computer/machine sense of the term (as if pen and paper weren't themselves technology) have not gotten the ball rolling to the point where a comparable Oxford-style, ahem, canonical narrative, has been published yet.  That gets at the paradoxical improbability of any post-canonical musical pedagogy. 

Rather than academics or journalists rising to meet this challenge who seems to have the time, leisure and energy to spare for chronicling this stuff?  Fans. 

And the thing about fans, of course, is that none of them have to actually go get a master's degree in a liberal arts program to be able to share their love of something.  What academics can provide, in theory (ahem) is a historical context for how this or that thing developed.  That will keep happening ... but I wonder if it may be better to warn people who are going in for advanced degrees that perhaps they should recognize that they are monastics.  They're not taking a vow of poverty in the old school poor sense, but they should be told they are making a vow of debt slavery given the way college educations get financed and then, like a would be monastic, be given a chance to consider whether that's really what they want to do with their lives.

Because it seems more and more treating higher education like a ticket to being middle class is obviously a lie and it's also not true to say that you "should" go get the degree because in the end you make more money.  Maybe you do but correlation and causation have to be kept in mind. 

Adorno was wrong to assume that what he called the culture industry was incapable of making art.  Thriller holds up as a great pop album, just as Innervisions hold up remarkably, too.  But ... academics who would like this music to be taken seriously and discussed seriously have to step back and consider that there's a gigantic corporate apparatus that made this music possible, what the Soviets regarded as the decadence of Western imperialist capitalism.  Hip hop has become the biggest selling genre in the world in the last few years and how did it become that?  What market forces were at work?  Which empires have produced and distributed hip hop as a popular style?  For leftists and progressives who committed themselves to the literate music tradition (Gann and Halle come to mind) hip hop is a variant of popular music which is the new hegemonic influence.  It's technologically machine-mediated popular culture that is the hegemony against which the Western literate musical traditions can be thought of as constituting a dissident bulwark by musicians in that tradition with green and progressive and socialist sympathies but because within academic contexts that canon is "the" canon, people who would advocate for a post-canon pedagogy are in a paradoxical position of trying to get the most popular styles of music on earth from the last century taken seriously in an academic context. 

Theory has not caught up to practice, which might be a sign that compare to the theory-first approaches of the 20th century that there's a sense in which theory lagging behind popular practice means we've gotten back to a "normal".  If we look at how that "normal" looked over the last fifteen hundred years it might not be so surprising that a lot of that "normal" involved a lot of starkly stratified class and caste systems.   It's not clear to me why academia would now suddenly be the antidote to rather than the embodiment of those historic modes of social stratification. 

#PlaneBae, public figures, social media narratives and responsibilities

A mere four years ago, which seems like a couple of generations in terms of internet reading, Pastor Mark Driscoll sat down and gave a video address in which he said a bunch of stuff.

Mark Driscoll from a video statement July 21, 2014

In addition, I really am blessed to live in a land where the law allows me to have freedom of speech, to have freedom of religion, to have freedom of assembly, freedom of the press. That means we get to assemble, and I get to open the Bible and teach whatever I believe to be true. But it means that others have that same legal opportunity. They have that same freedom, and so, and so others are free to, to say things as well. And being a bit of a public figure I don’t have the same… try to get this right, protection sometimes as a private citizen, because I’ve made myself a public figure.  [emphasis added] So that’s just sort of a blessing and the complexity of the great opportunity that God has given me as a Bible teacher and a pastor, especially in an age of technology, which I praise God for. In addition, we, we can’t respond to everyone but we’re willing to learn from anyone. And this means that even as issues arise or criticisms come, I want you to hear that we do consider those, we pay attention to those, because we want to learn from those. And so while we can’t respond to everyone, we are willing to learn from anyone. We want this to be an increasingly healthy, godly, loving church, and, and anything that helps us to achieve that, we want to receive that as, as a gift ultimately from our senior pastor the Lord Jesus.

As Mark Driscoll has continued to be a celebrity Christian (and, I suppose, also some kind of pastor as he understands that term), he has clarified that because he made himself a bit of a public figure he does not have the same protections that are available to a private citizen because he sought to be a public figure. 

I have had occasional complaints made about this blog for discussing Mark Driscoll at such length over the years.  I have also had comments in other contexts made that, oh, well, see some guy like Driscoll could just lawyer up and then this blog could be shut down.  Well ... no ... it's not quite that simple.  I made a point of discussing things for which Mark Driscoll made an emphatic point of addressing in mass and social media for the record in the United States.  Not all Western style democratic societies have what we know of as the First Amendment, disputed as its meaning and applications can be.  Which is to say that, no, Mark Driscoll didn't really have a legal case to say that I or Warren Throckmorton or other people did not have the legal protection to use our First Amendment rights to comment on things Mark Driscoll has said and done as a self-selected public figure. 

Why bring this up?  Well, #PlaneBae is why.  As Terry Teachout was writing a few years ago, we don't fully appreciate just how recent social media is in publishing platform terms and we are certainly not up to speed on the ethical consequences and implications that such pervasive use of social media can introduce.  That was a few years ago.  The "PlaneBae" situation may simply bring this to the fore for people who, for whatever reasons, had not already been thinking about stuff like whether or not you can or should transform what you see on a passenger plane into a meet-cute social media narrative.

I don't use Twitter and find the platform kind of loathsome.  So I haven't actually looked at whatever #PlaneBae is.  But in a way I don't feel like I need to not because the "what" is beneath looking at (though I do feel that way, if anyone is asking); no, the concern I have had is about the "how".  Having written a few thousand words on Mars Hill and its idolization of social media I figure I can just link to those earlier posts.

So ... for those who haven't gotten up to speed


Blair deleted the original #PlaneBae posts earlier this week and apologized for what she said she had come to see as an invasion of the strangers' privacy.

"The last thing I want to do is remove agency and autonomy from another woman," Blair wrote in her apology. "I wish I could communicate the shame I feel in having done this, but I truly feel that at this point my feelings are irrelevant."

While Blair was busy blocking critics on Twitter, many others attempted to shout to the millions of Twitter users the thread had attracted that this wasn’t some meet-cute romance story. Blair, knowing nothing about the two passengers’ personal lives, sexual orientations, or private business, projected a false narrative onto them in order to go viral.
The woman in the thread reached out to Blair directly and gave a statement to the Today show making it clear that the tweets were misleading and that she wanted to be left alone, yet Blair posted a video encouraging her followers to seek out the woman’s personal information.

Somehow, after all of this, fans of the thread still remained adamant that no wrong had been committed. “We do it everyday to celebrities. No difference. Outrage culture is so dumb,” wrote one Instagram user below a BuzzFeed News post on the story. “It was harmless, and it’s over. Seriously,” someone else said. “Why is this such a big deal?” asked another. “It’s not an invasion of privacy.”
But it is an invasion of privacy, and the woman’s statement proves just how harmful such an act can be. Despite the fact that she did everything in her power to remain anonymous from the moment she became aware of the thread, she still had her personal information and address revealed and received so much harassment that she quit social media.
The fact that she made her statement via a lawyer suggests that she may have plans to sue, something many people on Twitter support. Whether she receives compensation for the damage inflicted, her saga offers a lesson about viral fame and consent. Blair issued an apology for her actions on Wednesday. Perhaps users will think twice about sharing a viral-romance Twitter thread again.
Reflecting on the aftermath of the #PlaneBae saga, one man on Twitter wrote, “Nobody told us that our ‘15 Minutes of Fame’ would include shaming, insults, threats, etc. And that we might not have even asked for it.”

There is a difference and the difference is between someone, like a Mark Driscoll, who has actively sought to be a public figure to influence social and economic currents and has more or less said so by dint of decades of literally preaching, and a private citizen who may work (of necessity) in some kind of publicly observable capacity who has not, all the same, sought to be what's identifiable as a public figure.

Legal protections for private citizens are different for those given to public figures.  One of the most important distinctions is in defamation, what are called libel and slander definitions.  The simplest and most amusing distinction for these was articulated by J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson in Raimi's first Spider-man film:  slander is spoken, in print its libel! 

There have been a few outraged Christian advocates for Mark Driscoll over the years who have claimed this blog was a place for slandering Mark Driscoll.  No, because it's not slander and it's not even libel, either.  If advocates for Mark Driscoll could find even a single sentence published here attributed to Mark Driscoll in a first-print first-published edition that was, as originally published, somehow misrepresented I'm happy to go back and make a correction and issue a statement.  To date no one from Mars Hill has ever indicated that I've ever misquoted Mark Driscoll in any way.  I recall that steve over at Triablogue once wrote to the effect that the easiest way to make Mark Driscoll look bad was to simply quote him accurately and in context and Driscoll torpedoed his own reputation all by himself. 

But, and this point clearly cannot be emphasized enough in the wake of something like #PlaneBae, a person like Mark Driscoll chose to make himself a public figure and sound off on a variety of hot-button issues.  A woman who takes a trip on a plane who is transformed into the basis for a meet cute narrative has never been that kind of person unless she has already become a public figure beforehand.  Celebrity is not something retroactively imputable to a person. 

This is a point which those who make their bread and butter livings by writing online constantly may not be able to fully appreciate.  Sure, if you spend countless hours writing on the internet platforms of mass or social media it might seem like no biggie.  It's arguably because those who have sought out social media or mass media participation are not thinking that the default for a "normal" citizen is to NOT pursue that level of media engagement.  The "normal" person is not seeking to be a celebrity or a public figure in the sense of arriving at a lower and significantly more lax approach to definitions of libel and slander. 

Conversely, there's a flip side.  People like Mark Driscoll discover this over time, that once you pursue addressing hot button issues on mass and social media to the point that you do become a public figure there aren't really any "take backs" for that status once you've reached it.

There's something else I've been thinking about with the passing of Steve Ditko. The press has predictably described him as "a recluse".  Turns out that being "a recluse" means refusing to be photographed and refusing to grant interviews to journalists for fifty years because he believed his work should speak for itself without his having to explain himself or his biography.  If that is what defines a person as a recluse then everyone in the United States who isn't granting interviews to journalists is a "recluse".  As I was writing in the wake of news of Ditko's death I think it's far more accurate to say that he wasn't a recluse but a man who appreciated the significance of having a pre-social media conception of a private life.  Over at Comic Book Resources there's a piece, for those who read CBR, about how Ditko was known to talk freely and comfortably with people in the comics industry and that people could go find where he lived and talk with him.  He wasn't a recluse, just a man who declined to give journalists interviews.  It may say something important about the nature of journalism that the default description of a legendary comics writer and artist who wouldn't grant interviews is that he was a "recluse".

Reminding the internet-reading world that Steve Ditko was not at a recluse is not a minor observation to make in the wake of #PlaneBae, which is a snafu that has come about because of writer.  I love writing, obviously, and I write about things that are important to me and ... maybe ... sometimes important to other people.  Granting preliminary consent is important.  If a source isn't willing to go on record you can't use that source's information in a story, to put it in journalistic terms. 

Now it does not just so happen my journalism professor once advised that what you will find is that just because one source isn't willing to go on record doesn't mean you can't often find the same information in an on the record setting elsewhere.  That simple observation was the foundation of a majority of what I have blogged about the history of Mars Hill. 

What one person declined to discuss as a private citizen it turned out was stuff that Mark Driscoll would talk about from the pulpit or a James and Gina Noriega would talk about to the Seattle P I.  And thus it was that Andrew Lamb's identity as the center of a disciplinary incident at the former Mars Hill was possible to discover on the basis of their own social media usage.  We live in an era in which, people give away the privacy they think they are clinging to by dint of their own social media habits.  If a blogger like Wenatchee The Hatchet could be confused with "doxing" people by people too ignorant of media usage and definitions of public vs private figures it's potentially a sign that, among other things, so many who use social media do so in too exhibitionistic a way to understand what they have sacrificed for the sake of having a Twitter account or a blog in which they reveal who they are as a form of literary authenticity that gives away their roles in a disciplinary incident at a now defunct megachurch.  Among the losses people who went to Mars Hill have experienced, besides ended marriages and careers and reputations, one of the most impossible to measure is the loss of private citizenship in the sense of not being able to be a topic of interest for a blog like, well, this one.  Wenatchee The Hatchet can be a repository of what people who went to Mars Hill blogged and tweeted and posted to publicly accessible social media platforms for the record because the people who did all of those things did not always appreciate the significance of what they were putting out there, for the record, and in principle forever.  Even mark Driscoll himself seemed to only belatedly discover the significance of what he had given up in his quest to be a celebrity Christian.

A world of writers can also be remiss in understanding the significance of what is given up and a story like the fall out of #PlaneBae can be a necessary reminder to those of us who write that the "normal" response of a private citizen is to want to stay a private citizen even if writers might prefer to transform everything around them into "art" as it seems suitable at the time. 

I wrote all the things I wrote about Mars Hill because I was dealing with people who used social and mass media to engage the public sphere; and, of course, I wrote because I believed what that empire of people was doing was something I considered harmful; but I also made a point of trying to be very careful to not dredge up things that were not in social media and mass media.  Scrupulously alert longtime readers will probably even know I sat on a few things or took things down even if, by rights, I could have just left stuff up or run with everything I knew.  But there's sucha thing as having compassion, which is frankly not something I was convicned the leadership culture at Mars Hill had much of.  It's god to show mercy and have compassion even when dealing with what seem ike ruthless brand-focused empires.  The sheer tonnage of leaks that came to Wenatchee The Hatchet by people with access to The City didn't come from nowhere.  But I digress, as usual.

The cautionary tale nature of #PlaneBae is worth considering at some length but I don't want to keep writing more variations on stuff I've already written about.

If anything I might venture to say, with a joke, that in light of a #PlaneBae snafu it makes it all the more salient what people who get liberal arts degrees actually know about distinctions between public and private citizens.  Do you want to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt getting an English degree and after all that not know the private/public citizen distinction and then inadvertently catalyze a #PlaneBae crisis? 

the end of NATO or the end of NATO, wondering whether the crises Trump highlights are that the sun set on the Western European empires and that NATO was a shield against dealing with a sun that had set on the Western Europea imperial powers in the wake of two world wars

As Trump's presidency continues there's been a glut of articles on how his leadership or lack thereof has destroyed American credibility.  I suppose it's because of how jaded and cynical I am about the alleged virtue of the nation that still wants to think of itself as the leader of the free world that I am not sure Trump's mercurial activities don't highlight that America has been America for a while.

For those folks I know who did, happily, vote for him, they see Trump as the only candidate who was willing to say the post-World War II Pax Americana isn't really in the long-term interest or benefit of the United States.  Why have NATO if the Cold War is over?  Well, of course, people can argue that NATO is all the more essential now because ...

In the Cold War years, American and other NATO troops held the line in Europe, containing Soviet power. In the end, America won the Cold War. But it didn’t win by itself, through military power alone. It won because American and NATO military strength helped create the space for democratic dissidents in Eastern Europe—people like Donald Tusk and his associates—to gather a different kind of strength.
It was Polish dissidents and Polish workers like Lech Walesa, Solidarity’s leader, and others throughout the Baltics and Central Europe that brought down communist rule from within. They were inspired by the example of Western values and democracy. Many were also inspired by President Ronald Reagan, who spoke in the name of these values, which he believed should extend to all of Europe, not just Western Europe. Even more were inspired by the Polish Pope, John Paul II, who urged the people of Poland to “be not afraid.”

This history is important to remember at a time when the leader of the Western alliance seems determined to reduce it to a monetary transaction. During the Cold War, America had allies in unlikely places like Gdansk, Warsaw, Budapest, Vilnius, and Prague. These allies came through. The dissidents and workers didn’t contribute anything to military spending; at the time, their countries were in the Warsaw Pact, the other side, but their contribution to the common success was decisive, and equal to America’s own.

Donald Tusk went from being a dissident to being prime minister of Poland, and then to becoming president of the European Council—an institution of an undivided, democratic Europe. Poland went from being a poor, Soviet-occupied country to one that was relatively wealthy and free.
That good story—a miracle, actually—is replicated throughout Central Europe, and it is a testament to the success of what was then, and had been before, America’s grand strategy. America pursued, from President Woodrow Wilson through Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Reagan, a course reflecting the understanding that the advance of American interests was linked to the advance of American values.

America did not fight the Cold War for itself alone, but for the democratic world, the free world—and those who wished to join it. It did so not out of abstract charity, but because generations of Americans understood the linkage of interests and values. They also understood, through bad experience, that the failure of those values would lead to bad real-world outcomes, like the Second World War. The American grand strategy, developed the hard way through two world wars and executed after 1945, gave America and the rest of the West two generations of peace and unprecedented prosperity. First America helped Western Europe find peace, security, and prosperity. Then America and its partners helped extend that peace to almost all of Europe. And millions of people, Europeans and Americans, came out of this ahead.

But for anyone who has read even a smattering of Soviet era literature American imperialism was considered so axiomatic that you could just mention "imperialism" and the American/Western part could be implied.  If the advance of American values could be taken for granted as only being "good" values then what has the War on Terror over the last twenty years been about?  Do "they" only hate us for our democracy?  Is it a democracy?  Do Americans who write for online magazines or traditional magazines want a democracy?  The Stranger's Urban Archipelago made it seem that what some journalists want is not a democratic republic so much as a series of centralized city-states that guide the course of the United States so that fly-over red state farmers and hicks don't have any input in the global future a stratum of Americans believe the world should pursue. 

Cynical and jaded, though perhaps not enough by half. 

But the question of what purpose NATO serves in the post Cold War world isn't going to go away and for those who would advocate for a further left shift in the United States' domestic policy ending NATO altogether is one of the more salient topics that eventually needs to come up.  Unless, of course, we're also trying to balance a consideration of stuff like our trade deficit and spending history ... .

There's a consensus that Trump is bad news because he doesn't take the alliance with NATO seriously enough.

As Trump seems to see it, allies—with their free-trade deals and military alliances and unending expectations of preferential treatment—tie down the United States, Gulliver-like, and infringe on its sovereignty. They cynically take advantage of their superpower patron while cloaking their naked self-interest in the high-minded language of multilateralism and shared interests. They flourish by exploiting America’s largesse and sapping the United States of its strength. (Hence, perhaps, why Trump is blasting Germany for buying gas from Russia—and not from the energy-rich United States—while depending on the United States to defend it from Russia.) Trump’s gripes about the “$151 Billion trade deficit” with the European Union or the U.S. spending “at least 70 percent for NATO” are really just numerical ways of saying the United States is getting screwed by supposed friends who are laughing all the way to the bank.

“We make a mistake when we equate” Trump’s position with past American presidents’ frustrations with allies for not shouldering enough of the burden of their common work, Wright said at the time. Trump’s is “a much more imperial version of U.S. hegemony.”

Maybe the way to phrase this is a much more officially and unapologetically imperial version of U.S. hegemony but note that U.S. hegemony is taken as given.  What if a leader were to assume that American hegemony does not have to be a given?  What if we're moving back toward a multipolar power distribution in the world rather than a continuation of an arguably dubious Pax Americana that has stopped seeming fiscally sustainable and doesn't even disguise imperial interests?

For those who would like the United States to be more like select nations in Europe, more in the zone of Norway or Sweden, it can't be ignored that nations who benefited from the Marshall plan and could be thought of as protectorates under a nuclear Pax Americana could afford to make robust welfare states because they had border policies and regimes that were stable.  But some of those countries have legal theories that presuppose that "you" don't have any rights that are not granted to you by the state. 

Americans would not necessarily want a Scandanavian approach to rights because for all of the bromides about the negative impact of Puritan this and Protestant work ethic that natural rights is still hard to extract from Anglo-American legal thinking.  The idea that you have inalienable natural rights has not gone away.  If anything progressive thought in Anglo-American contexts seems like it has to presuppose the legitimacy of this concept in a way where trying to implement Norweigian or Swedish welfare states without consideration of their different approaches could be a recipe for failure.  Although Fredrik Deboer has pointed out that even those nations have been incrementally privatizing their medical services so that Americans who want the US to be like them are revealing their ignorance of slow policy changes from the last fifteen years.

If NATO members have to pay for their own defense we might discover that the great nations of Europe are not necessarily better than the US.  The US legacy of entitled imperialism didn't come from nowhere or the proverbial water and soil of America itself.  "We" got the legacy of that kind of triumphalism from somewhere.  Sometimes it seemed to me, when I was in my twenties, that Europe resented American imperialism because we could do it with "soft power" rather than overt military conquest but that, if we wanted to, we could do the overt conquest thing, too, since we'd done it. 

To the extent that the United States had effectively lined up a proxy leadership in Russia in the wake of the Cold War I'm not really sure why conspiracy theories about Russian attempts to hack the U.S. election are a basis for outrage.  It may just be a source of outrage for Democrats who are angry that its' even possible a foreign power did to us what we've done for generations to "them".  In this respect the last people who are in any position to legitimately complain about those sorts of gambits have surnames that are nestled near the start of the alphabet in both parties. 

One of the things that jumped out for me in Atlantic coverage was this:

A more likely outcome, to my mind, is that a more autonomous Europe will devote itself almost exclusively to Africa. A decade or so from now, I suspect it is the European powers that will find themselves mired in armed conflicts, peacekeeping missions, and state-building efforts in the world’s most volatile regions, and the United States that will, regrettably, be standing aloof. Europeans will spend more on defense not in response to hectoring from Trump or his successors. Rather, they will do so out of necessity. The European Intervention Initiative, conceived in the wake of France’s military operations in Mali, is a sign of things to come.
Between 2010 and 2050, the working-age population of sub-Saharan Africa will grow from half a billion to more than 1.3 billion. That booming young population could be channeled into productive work at home, or, failing that, could seek it elsewhere. If current patterns persist, the economists Gordon Hanson and Craig McIntosh anticipate that the number of African migrants residing outside the continent will almost triple over this period, growing from 4.6 million to 13.4 million, and that most will settle in an aging Europe. Civil wars, climate change, and other looming calamities could spur emigration well beyond these projections.
European powers cultivating relationships with populations in Africa?  Some folks I read from time to time online have pointed out that China has been working to cultivate relationships with nations in Africa.  If European powers keep cultivating connections in Africa then, well, the legacy of colonialism never goes away, does it?  European progressives may have had some fun fobbing off the long-term legacy of European imperialism on America because American power more or less could be thought of as having co-opted that legacy, to which Western Europe seemed to more or less ambivalently acquiesced, but the chickens can still come home to roost, so to speak.  If an increasingly unstable and unreliable United States shifts from an Atlanticist paradigm to a Pacificist paradigm then the future of Europe will have to be the future of Europe dealing with Africa and Asia and eastern Europe without the same earlier assurances the United States and its nuclear arsenal would be the same "umbrella" it was in the Cold War era.  ...
As for the United States, expect it to concern itself more with Chinese and Indian power than with managing the stresses and strains associated with Africa’s demographic expansion. While Europe projects power in Africa, the U.S. will endeavor to preserve its relevance in East and South Asia, the new center of gravity of the global economy. And as the security interests of the U.S. and Europe diverge in the coming decades, perhaps Europeans will remember the Trump presidency as the moment they began to forge a more independent future.
 India?  Like ...

It does seem as though there's been a shift from an Atlantic to a Pacific conception of where American interests should lay.  Which is why, to be plain about it, it doesn't seem that a figure as polarizing as Trump is necessarily wrong to ask what the point of NATO really is in terms of American interest.  It's also probably fair to ask what the point of NATO is in global terms. 
On Thursday, the president of the United States threw into crisis mode the military alliance America has led since the aftermath of World War II, reportedly threatening his fellow NATO leaders in an emergency meeting that if each country didn’t start spending at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense by January, he would “do his own thing.”
“What good is NATO,” Donald Trump had asked the day before, while attending a meeting of the alliance in Brussels, if Germany is buying billions of dollars worth of gas and becoming more dependent on energy from Russia, the very country NATO is designed to deter? “The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade,” he tweeted. 
What most distinguishes Trump’s critiques from those of previous U.S. presidents—who at times complained about free-riding friends and acted unilaterally when partners were perceived as obstacles to pursuing U.S. interests—is that Trump’s grievances aren’t just about having to expend more resources than America’s allies, or about expending those resources on alliances that aren’t demonstrating their value. They’re also about what Trump apparently considers the supreme folly of investing in alliances that harm or even constitute direct threats to the United States.
As Trump seems to see it, allies—with their free-trade deals and military alliances and unending expectations of preferential treatment—tie down the United States, Gulliver-like, and infringe on its sovereignty. They cynically take advantage of their superpower patron while cloaking their naked self-interest in the high-minded language of multilateralism and shared interests. They flourish by exploiting America’s largesse and sapping the United States of its strength. (Hence, perhaps, why Trump is blasting Germany for buying gas from Russia—and not from the energy-rich United States—while depending on the United States to defend it from Russia.) Trump’s gripes about the “$151 Billion trade deficit” with the European Union or the U.S. spending “at least 70 percent for NATO” are really just numerical ways of saying the United States is getting screwed by supposed friends who are laughing all the way to the bank.
This is why the president reportedly likes to refer to longtime American partners such as Canada, France, and Germany as “so-called allies” and to claim that these allies “don’t care about us”—only themselves. It’s why, at a rally in Ohio this spring, he declared, “Our friends did more damage to us than our enemies. Because we didn’t deal with our enemies. We dealt with our friends and we dealt incompetently.” And it helps explain Trump’s fluid, transactional, and iconoclastic approach to foreign policy, which is predicated on the notion that the United States has to stop looking out for the world and start looking out for itself.

But as much as there are things to dislike about Trump, there's a sense in which his point-blank questioning of the relevance of NATO may make sense.  If NATO was, and I've read just enough stuff from Soviet authors over the decades that I'm being admittedly breezy here, simply a mask for American imperialism then if NATO is not doing America any favors it isn't a surprise if an American president would one day ask straight up why we're doing this thing?  If the world economy is shifting to Asia and even Africa over the next century then why waste time and money offering to defend a Europe who could have used American economic and military might as a way to defer a resolution to conflicts that were brewing over the centuries that culminated in World Wars I and II?  These were wars about which nations of Europe got to decide the fate of the rest of the world, to put it a bit too simply.  American imperialism was perhaps a safety valve that prevented Europe from having to more directly confront its own colonialist legacy.  Shifting attention to American colonialism and imperialism could defer the question of what the future of Europe could be in light of its imperialist legacy but not altogether remove it. 

Shortly before Trump left for Europe, Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution, who is one of the most incisive interpreters of Trump’s views of the world, reflected on this tendency of the president’s to view allies not merely as burdens or anachronisms but as direct threats. It’s instructive, he argued, in understanding why Trump might treat Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he will meet with next week in Finland, differently than he is treating European leaders this week in Belgium. And it speaks to just how dramatically Trump could transform U.S. foreign policy and international affairs more broadly.
“Since 1987, Trump’s worldview has been motivated much more by anger toward allies and partners than enemies,” Wright wrote on Twitter. “This is because he sees alliance security commitments and free trade as existential threats to U.S. interests. He has never really been bothered about geopolitical stability, etc. so when he looks at Russia/[the] Soviet Union, he sees a country that the U.S. has no security commitments to and no trade with. So no problem! By contrast, Japan, [South] Korea, Germany, etc. all tick the threat box. Add to the mix that ... he truly couldn’t care less about a Russian threat to Europe—other [people’s] business in his view. The net effect is he genuinely thinks allies and partners are a greater problem for U.S. interests than the Russians.”

Yet ... living here in Seattle and having become jaded by the two party system and its decades of histrionic polemics ... no doubt for the worse, it seems that Trump's critiques can be clearly understood if they are subordinated to a belief that Pax Americana is officially a waste of time and deploying "soft power" seems pointless when the Western allies have tacitly or even explicitly relied on the United States' military power to keep their economies running so they can keep their regimes stable.  That doesn't necessarily make the Trumpian position "right" (either in the ethical sense or even in the political spectrum sense, since the spectrum of political thinking is more diverse than that). 
At this point equations of Trump with Hitler from the blue-state press are so rote as to seem boring, even in cases where authors take pains to say that comparing Trump's American to Nazi Germany is inaccurate.

 It's a jaded opinion, I admit, but what if the sun set on the Western European powers in the wake of their two world wars and the crisis of NATO and Trump's skeptical attitude toward its viability and relevancy is a secondary issue, with the primary issue being that the great nations of Europe stopped being great a couple of generations ago and the crisis of American policy is that it highlights the extent to which European prosperity has been parasitically dependent on what Soviets used to call plain old American imperialism?  Not that the Russians are exactly "the good guys" at this point.  Wouldn't want anyone to get the idea I think there are actual good guys or bad guys I this world.  There are bad guys who think they are the good guys but that's ... basically the extent of it, at least at the level of global power-brokering. 

It may seem ghastly that Trump has nice stuff to say about Putin.  But as a thought experiment, if the powers that Trump bothers to recognize are places like Russia or the Koreas or China and India has expanded then what if the simple geographic shift is that we're shifting to a Pacific rather than an Atlantic defined world and the Trump administration has decided (using this concept perhaps a bit too generously as imputing policy planning goes) that it makes more sense to just admit Europe is "played out" and tell them they're going to be on their own as the United States cultivates a more Pacific-centric understanding of global trade and power dynamics?  It may be unappealing at all sorts of levels for Atlantic-centric and American East coast pundits steeped in East coast higher education but I've spent my whole life in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.  Now California tech oligarchs seem like they're ultimately bad news and there's plenty of reasons to be concerned about the Zuckerbergs and Musks of the world. 

But ever ambivalent as I seem to be, I wonder if the egotism of these new rich may just tell us that after generations of steeping people in self-actualization narratives of a post-Campbellian Hero's Journey that we shouldn't be surprised these kinds of self-aggrandizing disruptive sorts emerged.

But then I think Joseph Campbell's monomyth is a potent distillation of American cultural idiocy of the sort we need to have less of in the world at large and the United States in particular.  But that's a topic probably best saved for some other time. 

I've mulling over that it could be what makes Trump exasperating and terrible for an East Coast/Atlanticist establishment is that his mercurial and brazen public statements mayh cumulatively suggest that the era of an Atlantic-centric power base guiding the world is crumbling and that the new Pacific-centric power base that will guide the world is probably not going to be any better, just different.  But it could be worse, a lot worse ,and in that sense it's hard to blame people committed to an Atlanticist conception of global history for feeling like it's horrifying that their world is coming to an end and being apocalyptic and apoplectic about it.  If the aim these days is to make America great again the concession implicit in such a slogan is that it stopped being great.  Yet if Trump's complaints about NATO have been they are leaching off of American resources without grasping the extent to which our soft power modes of colonialism were what made it possible for America to be "great" then it may be a bigger problem is wanting America to be "great" again when how and why it was "great" was pretty much exactly the problem of it from the start.