13 Great Books on the Post-industrial Society

industrial vs postindustrial

Since at least the 1950s, scholars have speculated about what the economy might look like when and if manufacturing came to play a smaller role in employment, output, and so forth. Though we often think of the early years after World War II as the heyday of a high-wage, unionized, mass-production economy, the most perceptive observers at the time noticed that manufacturing was already shrinking as a proportion of employment by the late 1950s; even if the absolute number of industrial jobs was holding steady at the time, employment was growing fastest in services such as retail, education, healthcare, and so forth. The young radicals of the New Left took note of these trends in their 1962 … [Read more...]

Journalists vs. Academia: The Case of William Deresiewicz and Lawrence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel

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Everybody seems to have a problem with academics these days.  We've known for a long time that the American right hates us for our intellectual elitism and armchair radicalism, but now the mainstream left-leaning media has also acquired a taste for the game.  A number of recent articles and op-eds in newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, Slate, and The Atlantic have taken humanities professors to task for everything from their "tin-eared arrogance" (Ron Rosenbaum) to their "bat-shit analysis" (Rebecca Schuman), for being "too sociological" (editors of N+1) and for not paying enough attention to contemporary society (Nicholas Kristoff).  We are condemned for our tenured loafers … [Read more...]

From Bauhaus to Your Mouse: Fred Turner’s Brilliant New Book on the Origins and Politics of Interactive Media

glimpses of USA

Democracy is a funny word.  In the strictest sense, it means “government by the people,” with decisions made by direct choice of those governed (in the classic Athenian or New Englandian sense) or by elected representatives. “Democratic” can mean inclusive; it can mean egalitarian.  It can mean diverse, in the sense that a democracy includes multiple voices, even if some end up prevailing over others.  It can also be a cultural sensibility—blue jeans, sloppy joes, and general unostentatiousness. “I know you like to line-dance, with everything so democratic and cool,” David Berman sang sixteen years ago, “but baby there’s no guidance when random rules…” The classic Silver Jews tune makes … [Read more...]

The Process of Belief?: Evolution, Creationism, and “Truth”

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I didn’t watch the debate about evolution and creationism between science educator Bill Nye and creationist Ken Ham this past Monday, but I have had a few general thoughts about this topic lately as this seems to have stirred up a necessary conversation about the nature of science. Science is not a belief system.  People mistakenly say that they believe in evolution but that is not an appropriate way to phrase it.  We think that evolution provides the best explanation for the data we currently have on the diversity of life. It is an intellectual process that should be based entirely on what we can observe or measure.  Of course, scientists are people too so they make mistakes in … [Read more...]

Race and Racism in the Early Medieval World

invention of racism in classical antiquity

Many people have a love/hate relationship with their undergraduate or graduate introductory historiography class.  I have taken three versions of the class now and each has had amazingly insightful weeks combined with dreadfully unhelpful weeks.   In the most recent iteration, a week spent discussing race allowed me to read some classic works, but also involved sitting mutely while modernists debated the intricacies of theory, particularly as it applies to the United States.  As an early medievalist, I had little to say.  After sitting mutely for most of the session, the professor turned to the pre-modernists in the room and asked, “what about the middle ages?” I only managed to muster a … [Read more...]

The Case Against “Bodies”

mannequins

I have never gone to see the Bodies exhibit.  Although the spectacle is tempting—to see the human form revealed in its purest muscularity, in a wild variety of poses—I could never quite reconcile myself to the idea of seeing the remains of people executed by the Chinese Communist Party stripped down and put on parade for American onlookers.  If I had to meet the misfortune of a death sentence from the local Politburo (or the grinning executioner here in Georgia), I would hate to think that I suffered insult as well as injury by having my body made to do tricks for a bunch of gawking tourists. Some might say it doesn’t matter because the postured objects down at Atlantic Station are just … [Read more...]

Constructing Constructivist Change in the Iranian-U.S. Relationship

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Despite the recent myopic attention paid by the media and the Obama administration to Syria, the Iranian nuclear program remains one of the most important issues in U.S. foreign policy—or so we are told. The challenge presented by the Iranians' putative quest to acquire nuclear weapons has been portrayed as the most important security challenge facing the United States, particularly this millennium. Torn asunder by the 1979 revolution, the relationship between Iran and the United has been consistently adversarial for over 30 years. While in the West commentators and government officials accuse Iran of nefarious meddling and intransigence, the Iranian leadership views, or at least publicly … [Read more...]

How Do We Know an Intervention Has Succeeded?

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We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation. . . . We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans. – President Obama Back in late August of 2012, President Obama uttered words these in an impromptu press conference. At the time, it represented the most concrete and coherent statement of policy regarding the conflict in Syria. With the latest revelation that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on a small scale, calls for … [Read more...]

Did the Broken Windows Theory Work?

Did the Broken Windows Theory Work?

Political scientist James Q. Wilson died last week at the age of 80.  The Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, Wilson was friend to politicians like Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and a contributor to journals such as Public Interest, which promoted the notion that well-intentioned policies often have “unintended consequences.”  This idea was popular among conservatives and ex-liberals, who had grown skeptical when the once dominant philosophy of liberalism floundered in the face of inflation, crime and joblessness in the 1970s and 1980s. The idea for which Wilson is most famous, of course, is the “broken windows theory.”  It proposes that policing minor … [Read more...]

Essence Precedes Existence? The Problem of Identity Politics in Hurewitz’s Bohemian LA

Essence Precedes Existence? The Problem of Identity Politics in Hurewitz's Bohemian LA

What does it mean to “be” white, or black, or gay, or working-class? How might a Jewish Ethiopian-American who grew up in poverty but now has a big bank account define himself? Which identity matters most – the current status of wealth and privilege, the experience of coming from a hardscrabble background, or Jewishness or Africanness or national identity (native or adopted)? Does one dimension of identity actually have to subordinate the others? Our current president is almost always described as being black, despite having one white parent and growing up almost entirely with a white family. His own experience is far more complex than our contemporary framework of race and identity allows, … [Read more...]

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