A new conservative cultural cosmopolitanism?

Global media theories are not my specialty, obviously, but they are a interesting set of ideas. What happens when with social media and global corporate media in pluralistic world? Do you start to get erosion of specific cultures, and a subsequent hybrid? Heidegger viewed global communications with suspicion for that reason, though in his case it probably reflects a knee-jerk anti-modernism. In Athens, arguably, the cosmopolitan nature of trading city got people thinking about νόμος and φύσις–or man’s law, custom versus the laws of nature/universe. After all, if you are surrounded by different people from different places who do things differently, then which set of laws/customs is the right one? I think it’s fair to stay the west has struggled with that a bit. In a world of global media, it’s likely that similar questions might arise.

Or not.

Alternatively, when media are customized and delivered according to taste like other consumer goods, globally, you might see global pluralism reinforced rather than any unity or standardization.

And I think that’s what I see. When I see Trump supporters shrugging their shoulders at the possibility of Russian influence, I get to thinking that allegiances are shifting in important ways. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not into getting too het up about Russian hacking unless we can show they did something to influence counts. I’m assuming that just about all our political enemies have tried to influence elections, and this was not the first time, just as we rather routinely do it to other places. And as a scholar interested in media (urban media, but still), my read of the influence literatures suggests to me that it’s harder than intuition suggests to influence political behavior, like voting. Just because people see a message or a story doesn’t mean they believe it, and even if they do believe parts of it, it’s hard to predict how they will interpret it and apply it to their voting preferences.

I am getting a little annoyed with people I normally respect like Corey Robin overstating the Left’s response to the Russian actions. No, “half of America believes the Russians fixed the elections” is not a fair read, just like half of Americans believe Barack Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya. I really have no idea what half of Americans believe and neither does Robin. Yes, people are upset, and yes there are people who are concerned–as they should be. But mostly, it’s another straw on the camel’s back of Donald Trump’s presidency. He won the election by a procedural vagary; I have hardcore Orange County Republicans telling me that they think it’s BS that a president can lose the popular vote and still become president. If those folks–Trump voters all–have their problems with procedure here, we got problems with procedure, no matter how long and loud Trump’s mob (distinct from Trump voters, some of whom undoubtedly did so with fear and trembling) yell “them’s the rules, so nyah nyah boo boo!”

I’m torn between wondering if the people who think the Russian thing is “no big deal” do so because a) reasoning not unlike mine; b) they just wanted him to win because they are so vested in what he represents to them (which, since nothing he says makes any sense, is likely a projection of what they *want* him to be) that even if the Russians put him in power they are ok with that; or c) there is a new global cosmopolitanism in play (which is not incompatible with either a or b) such that a certain brand of American conservative thinks that Russian conservatives are better, more worthy of power and political authority the despised American liberal. After all, Putin has repressed religious difference and promulgated anti-LGBTQIA laws. Speaking of the “real” America strikes me as a way of making people amenable to this type of cosmopolitanism; after all, if being an American citizen and serving in the army (John Kerry) is not sufficient to qualify as authentically American, and authentic Americanism is a set of values and cultural markers…then anybody who shares those gets in the club. If that’s the case, the world is becoming more integrated in some ways even as isolationism has reared its head again.

Or this is all bullcrap, and I don’t know what I am talking about. But that’s what I have been thinking about.

I feel no obligation to indulge bad reasoning to defer to “anti-elitism”, whatever that really means

I’ve written here before about how class in the United States is horrendously distorted in our dialogue, which makes it more about what you consume than wealth and power. This idiotic hit piece about Meryl Streep over at Jacobin is a prime example. OMG, Streep used to be from Jersey, but then she started playing WASPs, what a traitor to her class! Her speech was the worst thing that happened since Trump’s election! (When, btw, did simply being from New Jersey become a marker for working class? There are wealthy people in New Jersey, too, people. Come on.)

Um, no, I’d say dead Syrians are worse maybe than Meryl’s speech, wouldn’t you? I know that’s a cheap shot; you can always find more suffering, but if there is one thing I have had fully enough of, it’s celebrity politics of all kinds, and that includes celebrity take-downs like this one, which have nothing–nothing–constructive or substantive to say other than to denounce a successful woman in an industry where many, many people do not get desert. Point out those things? Nope. Jacobin just wants the clicks. How market-oriented of them.

Streep, had she said nothing, would have been vilified. She said something, she got variously celebrated and vilified. None–absolutely none of the blah-blah about “out of touch Hollywood liberals” or the “Yay, way to go, Meryl” discussion changes anything. There are no new things to learn here. It’s still a conversation centered on one of the elect that got a reward in a vicious, star-based system. Why we’d expect anything from anybody else in such a system is, frankly, astounding to me.

And, even more perversely, critiques of the winners in that star system fall too readily into sounding like sour grapes, and that Jacobin piece reeks of it.

Streep is, via her success, part of the 1 percent in an industry dominated by people struggling to make a living. The academy (my world) and the entertainment industry are both star system economies, where the winners make economic rents and everybody else…barely keeps body and soul together. I’m sick of celebrities and branded people of all types, and if nothing else, I’m sick fo the rest of us playing by those rules.

I’m sick of people saying things like scientists are “elite.” Um, no. They may be educated, and there are elite scientists. Neil deGrasse Tyson is an elite scientist, and I think he does try to do some good with his influence. But he is also financially doing jes’ fine. Plenty of other astronomers are teaching endlessly and doing grunt work in labs with little hope of getting out. We’ve stupidly assigned the characteristics of celebrity to the entire class of people “Hollywood”, and it’s terrible reasoning, and I very much doubt that’s the way to a more humane way of relating to each other either politically or economically. I’m not worried about Streep per se or any of the people who manage to make themselves darlings in these systems; I’m more worried about about collective inability to see what pulls the strings behind the large, loud image speaking and the way media just feeds and feeds that inability because it makes journalism and content cheap and easy to find.

The difficulty with squashing free speech in my classroom is that it takes a cattle prod to get them to say anything

Making the rounds on social media is this piece from the Chron about how state legislators are far more likely to be a threat to free speech than professors. I’m sure that’s right. Here’s my question:

Are you pipo high?

Not just the legislators, who are super vested in making symbolic, culture war gains that don’t really amount to a hill of beans. But everybody who is imagining classrooms full of eager young people just BURSTING with ideas that they wish to debate. All y’all.

Because this is what my undergrad classroom looks like day in and day out:

My students never want to say anything ever. It may be that they are terribly, terribly frightened of mean, mean, bad old me, or they just don’t like speaking extemporaneously, haven’t gotten around to the reading, or any other rationales, but students don’t volunteer to talk much. Some super-keeners do, but that’s just because they feel pity for me.

Undoubtedly all you poco/pomo education folks are just chomping at the bit to tell me that I’m doing it wrong, that if I just make learning INTO PLAY with games! Activities! Embodied learning! Yeah, I do all those things. Some students like that. I would have hated that shit as a student. There was NO faster way to make me shrink to the bottom of my seat than than some hippy dippy prof announcing “Form groups! Today we are going to simulate therapy!!” Retch, puke vomit.

And I know that isn’t a fair characterization of pomo/poco thought. But neither is condemning things as “drill and kill” or “sage on the stage” fair, either. Some of my happiest learning memories were with brilliant lecturers and devising clever systems to memorize things…rather than shifting the burden onto the professor to devise a clever system for me.

I’m sure that mechanization is a big deal, but has anybody measured the jobs impact of dematerialization?

Because my bet is that dematerialization has already had a big effect on jobs. Brilliant friend Kevin Holliday and I were at lunch the other day, and we got to talking about all the thing-things that people don’t really need to buy anymore because everything is consolidated into one device.

  • Radios. (we buy speakers, maybe)
  • Television sets. (we buy screens)
  • Watches (ok, I supposed wearable technology watches are thing, but my students think I’m just adorable with my little Timex)
  • Notebooks
  • Books
  • Film
  • Cameras (yes, those of us who publish photos do have to buy digital cameras, but how many people just have their phone camera now?)
  • GPS devices
  • Magnifying glasses (yes, there is an app for that)
  • Keylights (yep, phones)
  • cds and discs
  • DVDs
  • VCRs
  • pens, pencils (I know, still used, but you would not believe how many people though it was just *adorbs* that I needed a new pencil sharpener)
  • newspapers
  • puzzles and games (they seem to have become a niche market. When my students see a picture of me with puzzle, they say “have you ever done a digital jigsaw?) Why??? Why would you do that?
  • carbon paper
  • calculators
  • kitchen timers
  • alarms clocks
  • clocks in general
  • Levels
  • Recipe cards
  • Rulers
  • atlases, maps, globes
  • phone books
  • planners, address books, desk blotters
  • ledger books
  • checkbooks
  • passbooks
  • analog phones

etc. I’m sure there are things that I am missing. Certainly, old-timers like me, with my broadsheet newspapers and clocks in every room, still exist. But there going to be niche markets for various things just because people like the objects. Will that be enough to employ people? Will there be enough jobs making artisanal cheese to make work for folks displaced?

I’ve been reading the Universal Basic Income material for my social policy class next fall, and I have to say I am not convinced by any of the arguments on the pro or the against side. On the pro side, we have the technophiles breathlessly telling us about how great it will be for people to be free from poverty (it would be nice). On the “no” side, you have free marketeers absolutely convinced that people will begin a life of indolence and sloth, thereby killing off all innovation and productivity. There are things I very much like about the universal basic income, including the universality: by making it available to everybody, I would have to hear less whinging about “teh Blacks on welfare” and we would not have to deal with all the means-testing and deservingness nonsense. I do not buy the argument that productivity and innovation will halt; it could even go up. Freed from the necessity of working two jobs, somebody might pursue their interest in small-scale robotics in a home workshop, for example, and come up with something nobody has thought of before. And it’s not like people who inherit wealth never do anything productive. Plenty of people from moneyed families get out and find a profession or a set of causes to work for even though they do not have to do so, financially. We could have more poetry and art, and I see little wrong with that. What if there are diminishing marginal returns in innovation anyway, and we’ve gotten as far as we are going to in all but entirely new directions that right now we can only dream and tell stories about?

Anyway, I’m arguing myself in circles on it, and I’m sure there are other macro factors I’ve not thought about. And I do understand that we can’t just experiment with it, as taking away would be a disaster once people got used to it.

With due respect to the Financial Times and Professor Deaton, portraying Angus Deaton as a rugged outsider is utter horse pooh

Ok, let’s get a couple things out of the way: I think Angus Deaton’s work is important. Big fan.

But this piece in the Financial Times had me throwing up at my desk. The big takeaway is that Professor Deaton hates technocratic insiders and thinks of himself as a bit of an outsider, and he “likes Obama” and now “doesn’t have to pretend he likes Hillary.”

There’s just nothing worse than a woman who isn’t liiiiiiikeable. Let’s try something like “I don’t think she’s the leader we need right now.” There. It’s possible to reject a woman’s leadership without making it about whether she was pleasing to you personally.

But to my main problem, nothing says “outsider” like winning the Nobel, having tenure at Princeton, and spending one’s summers flyfishing in Montana. That’s just what happens for everybody.

This is what I mean when I say that this whole dialogue in the US about class is utterly debased, and frankly stupid. The conversation is not about who has wealth or power. It’s who spouts the best bs about being an outsider and shows the right culture war markers (“I go fishing” rather than “I love opera”) rather than who has power, access to power, or in the case of economists like Professor Deaton, who act as privileged consultants to power. Let’s by all means skip the problem that there are PLENTY of genuinely economically disenfranchised people in the academy–adjuncts and many, many low-wage workers all over campuses everywhere. Nope. Let’s think about Deaton’s outsider status because, you know, that way we can avoid thinking about those other people who are actually marginalized.

So Deaton goes on to condemn cold technocrats, but if there is a discipline more implicated in the technocracy than economics, I can’t think of one unless it is engineering. Again, big fan of both professions, mad respect and all, but it’s not like they don’t have a tight grasp on systems of power. But hey! Some of them drink beer and eat pork rinds and go to NASCAR, so…

Today, I shall begin some screwed-up coding

How do I know my coding will be screwed up? Because no matter how carefully I plan, no matter how carefully I structure my conceptual framework, no matter how much I discuss the project ahead of time, my first run through with coding is always screwed up. This isn’t even what I call “drift” or lack of consistency among codes. This is just straight up “I selected the wrong codes” AND because they are the wrong ones, I am using them inconsistently.

If past performance is any indicator, I will go through and code and recode at least three times before I have a coding scheme that I believe, and then I will have to go through at least twice more to get it consistent enough that it passes consistency tests.

Research is harrrrrrrrrrd.

Yes, I give trigger warnings and encourage safe spaces, and anybody who has a problem with that can kiss my butt

I think safe spaces are misnamed. I think we should rename them “Giving Us A Break from Dumb Questions Space.” That’s it. Yes, “there are no dumb questions.” But we all know that’s bull crap to some degree: there are questions that drag down both the pace and discussion of information exchange. Safe spaces are places where students from similar backgrounds facing similar experiences with alienation or oppression from majority culture can be with people who get it instead of *always, perpetually* having to be with people who don’t get it and who ask dumb questions or require explanations about. Isn’t it nice, sometimes, to be with a group of people with whom you don’t have explain yourself? Now and then? We’re not talking all the time. We’re talking about now and then. One of the nice things about the Lusk Center programming at USC is that we can often just sit around and assume everybody knows how to read applied micro and relatively advanced econometrics. We can start further ahead than if we have to bring others up to speed. See? Nothing sinister about any of it. I assume that my black students at USC–granted that I generally have 1 in every 50 person class–want to hang out with other black students now and then without the rest of us horning in. Is that really so wrong? The College Republicans have private meetings–not every meeting is an open debate with everybody democratically voicing their opinion. No, I don’t think those students are sinister, either. I think they want a place where they can discuss their ideas uninterrupted by newbies and challengers. Bringing along newbies and debating challengers are things that can–and do–happen in other contexts throughout the university. Some advanced courses have prereqs so that you don’t spend all your time catching up people who don’t know the basics.

These moments of sharing and idea development are important to any subgroup with shared identities, value systems, or intellectual projects. It is not, in other words, a big deal, and the people making it into a big deal need to get a real hobby.

Trigger warnings strike me as simple good pedagogy. Anybody who teaches on emotionally difficult subjects knows that emotions play a role, but you have to let students manage themselves and their own comfort levels if they are going to participate or learn at all. And students don’t need to be in class for every discussion. To wit: those of us who teach end-of-life decision-making know–if we are any good at our jobs–that in any given class, there may a student or two for whom this discussion is not abstract. Plenty of young students are fortunate enough to still have their parents; others have watched parents or other loved ones struggle with debilitating conditions or suffer at the end of life. I used to assume that students knew me well enough that I would be cool if they needed to leave a class discussion if it was getting too emotional for them. I learned not to do that. I had assumed it was common sense. It’s not; lots of professors might sanction such behavior. Me? There are lots of places to learn. I’m thrilled to have people with a variety of experiences in the class. But not if their heart is breaking and their colleagues’ grappling with the ideas in the abstract hurts them more. How many of us can learn effectively when all we are trying to do is not cry in front of our peers? Maybe a student *is* ready to have that discussion, and they want to talk about it. Or they think they are, but about halfway through, they find it tough going and need to head out.

Why not just give students the information and freedom to take care of themselves? Yes, they might miss an important opportunity to discuss difficult concepts, but maybe they will take up the reading later, and maybe they know what they need to know already, having learned experientially. Maybe they will talk about the ideas later with a friend in the class they trust. It’s THEIR education, not mine. And while it is nice if a student wants to stay in and speak to others from their experiences, that’s a choice they should make, not me, and they aren’t here to be everybody’s educator. That’s what I get paid for.

These things are true for LOTS of things across the political spectrum. Anybody who sneers at trigger warnings has never looked into the devastated face of a young woman or man in an undergraduate class, trapped in their seat, while everybody else talks about violence like it’s a theoretical concept.

And anybody who thinks this is all just students on the left has never led a discussion about Israel-Palestine. You are very likely, in a cosmopolitan research university like mine, to have students sitting in the *same class* who have had family members die on either or both sides of the conflict. People, no matter what their politics, feel pain, and there are lots of ways of working through it, and it’s wrong for an instructor to be indifferent to the struggles or sorrows (or joys and triumphs) of people sitting in that class, no matter what side they espouse.

As to the idea that we should teach ‘grit’ and whatever, please. Life teaches grit. Life doesn’t magically stop just because a person has gone to college, no matter what FoxNews tells everybody who never went to college. People who go to college still have car accidents, brain cancer, siblings with leukemia, crushing loads of student debt, and lots and lots of other things happen to them. If a student has something happen where the trigger warning is useful, they have coped already. The fact that the student is still upright, going to class, trying to make things work after something devastating happened to them speaks enough to their character. That’s plenty tough enough without the rest of us making it tougher through our indifference or cluelessness.

IOW, I am not a drill sergeant or a sadistic PE teacher, and I am training people to think from many different angles. That’s enough for one course without me assuming I need to be nasty to somebody to build their character.