Links and Comments: Secrets of Success, the 2010s, Gibson’s future, History v. Narratives

Here are a few items from recent papers.

1) Nicholas Kristof: The Four Secrets of Success.

Which are:

1. Take a class in economics and in statistics
2. Connect to a cause larger than yourself.
3. Make out.
4. Escape your comfort zone.

By #3 he means to meet lots of people before making any life decisions. Numbers 4 and 2 are familiar and self-explanatory. I endorse #1 but with an even broader scope: take a class, or read a book, about logical fallacies, about cognitive biases, to understand how advertising and politics works, to understand how people make arguments, to understand how every one of us is susceptible to confirmation bias and other motivated thinking. (For that matter, in addition to economics, learn elementary civics, a subject apparently no longer taught in elementary school.)

2) Michio Kakutani, The 2010s Were the End of Normal

Nice summary, including this now-familiar history of similar episodes in US history:

Although the United States was founded on the Enlightenment values of reason, liberty and progress, there has long been another strain of thinking at work beneath the surface — what Philip Roth called “the indigenous American berserk,” and the historian Richard Hofstadter famously described as “the paranoid style.”

It’s an outlook characterized by a sense of “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy,” Hofstadter wrote in his 1964 essay, and focused on perceived threats to “a nation, a culture, a way of life.” Its language is apocalyptic (Mr. Trump’s “American carnage” is a perfect example); its point of view, extremist. It regards its opponents as evil and ubiquitous, while portraying itself, in Hofstadter’s words, as “manning the barricades of civilization.”

The “paranoid style,” Hofstadter observed, tends to occur in “episodic waves.” The modern right wing, he wrote, feels dispossessed: “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it.” In their view, “the old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals,” and national independence has been “destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners but major statesmen seated at the very centers of American power.”

One well-known eruption of the “paranoid style” occurred in the 1950s with the anti-Communist hysteria led by Joseph McCarthy. It would surface again in the 1960s with the emergence on the national stage of George C. Wallace, who ran a presidential campaign fueled by racism and white working-class rage.

And then the religious right, having lost on civil rights, took on abortion, until then a non-issue. It worked.

3) This profile of William Gibson includes this famous remark:

“The future is already here,” he has said. “It’s just not very evenly distributed.”

4) History vs. narratives. Women Have Always Had Abortions, by Lauren MacIvor Thompson.

Concluding with:

The mortality rate dropped significantly, from about 70 patient deaths per 100,000 cases before the ruling to 1.3 after the [Roe v. Wade] decision. It has now become statistically safer to obtain an abortion in the United States than it is to undergo pregnancy or give birth.

Scholars have worked tirelessly to uncover this long history and make sense of it. Nevertheless, false histories of abortion dominate contemporary politics, selling Americans on a past that never existed and creating the possibility of a future that has no precedent. It is a world where somehow no one will ever try to end her pregnancy. But it’s worth taking a close look at the historical record because it tells us one thing over and over and over. Regardless of whether abortion was legal, or how many people believed fetuses had rights or what physicians thought or anything else really, women have always had abortions.

This issue will go away, I predict, as technology perfects ‘abortion pills’ that can be ordered by mail. And then the religious right, no matter how much they might like to interfere in other peoples’ private affairs, will be unable to do so.

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