Can Jonathan Haidt Calm the Culture Wars?

Evan R. Goldstein in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Photo_82439_cover_320x426On a February morning in Washington, a hotel ballroom is packed with people eager to hear Jonathan Haidt explain what’s wrong with higher education. His talk is part of the International Students for Liberty Conference, which has attracted 1,700 attendees, mostly young libertarians, to a weekend of sessions with titles like "Stereotyped 101," "Advancing Liberty Around the World," and "Beer Is Freedom." Before he’s introduced, Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, stands at the front of the room, tall and thin, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt. As people gather around, a brown-haired woman in a gray skirt chats him up before rushing off. "Oh, my God," she says to a friend, "I just shook Jonathan Haidt’s hand!"

Haidt’s renown is driven by bold declarations like those in a 2015 cover story in The Atlantic titled "The Coddling of the American Mind." Written with Greg Lukianoff, president and chief executive of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the article took the rise of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and safe spaces as evidence that colleges are nurturing a hypersensitive mind-set among students that "will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health." The article, which has been viewed by nearly six million people, catapulted Haidt, already a prominent scholar and best-selling author, into a new role: gadfly of the campus culture wars.

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the twin peaks phenomenon

P19_Andrew-605x454Andrew Irwin at the TLS:

Reviving a series twenty-six years after its last episode aired is always going to be a dangerous game. Twin Peaks, much loved and firmly entrenched in popular culture, with a healthy body of academic literature surrounding it, seems particularly risky: mainly because much of it wasn’t very good. Although David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surrealist melodrama created a number of extraordinary images, and greatly influenced the television that came after, it notoriously suffered from problems of pacing in its second series, with its central mystery resolved too soon (at the network’s behest and against Lynch’s wishes). The plot lines that replaced it were ad hoc and irritating; with plummeting ratings, Twin Peaks was cancelled after its second season, and was then followed by a number of books and a prequel film, Fire Walk with Me, to flesh out the story. The chances seemed high that this revival, set twenty-five years later and featuring many from the original cast, would simply repeat the mistakes of the second series, lose the atmosphere that was integral to the success of the first, and tarnish a legacy.

Set in a scenic rural town in Washington State, the original series begins as the body of a popular blonde high school student named Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) washes up on the shore, wrapped in plastic; the discovery of her body triggers great spasms of anguish in the small logging community. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), wearing the anonymous black suit of the FBI and expert in his investigations, but filled with boyish wonder, is called into town to investigate the case and is at once smitten with the wholesome values, the air, the trees and the coffee-and-cherry-pie version of 1950s Americana, transplanted inexplicably into the 90s.

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Where a doctor saw a treatable cancer, a patient saw an evil spirit

Bob Tedeschi in StatNews:

CancerThe woman, who was in her 50s, had thyroid cancer, and scans suggested it had spread to her lungs. But her doctor, Michael Fratkin, knew there were options. “It’s like, well, what a bummer you have metastatic cancer, but we have a sort of magic missile for that kind of cancer, and it can be controlled,” he thought to himself. “All you have to do is swallow three iodine capsules.” The woman, a Hmong immigrant, spoke little, if any, English. Through an experienced interpreter, Fratkin explained the protocol and told her she would need a lung biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. After the procedure, he told her he felt confident the protocol he had described would cure her. The woman, though, was incensed. “Something about how we explained what we were doing didn’t match her way of thinking about things,” Fratkin recalled. “She thought we gave her cancer in the chest.” Thousands of Hmong emigrated from Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War, when the CIA recruited them to fight or spy on the United States’s behalf, only to face harsh repercussions after U.S. forces withdrew.

Many Hmong understand physical illness in mystical terms1: an evil spirit, or “dab,” can enter the body if a person is badly startled, for instance, or if a baby’s placenta is not properly buried. A dab might depart only if a person takes specific actions, like drinking an herbal remedy while also leaving a cup of the remedy for the dab to drink. The Hmong’s beliefs about medicine and illness, combined with hard-earned suspicions about American institutions, can mix poorly. Even from the start, she was cool toward him, and inscrutable. “Never ever did I get a glimpse of something I recognized,” said Fratkin, who has practiced in Northern California for two decades. Still, he persuaded her to accept the cancer treatments. Then, at the last minute, she refused — for reasons Fratkin could not understand, even with his interpreter’s help. He contacted a social worker with experience with the Hmong community, and helped pay for the social worker’s visit.

His patient agreed to try. Again, she backed away at the last minute.

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By 2100, Refugees Would Be the Most Populous Country on Earth

Vijay Prashad in AlterNet:

BoatThe UN Refugee Agency has announced the new figures for the world’s displaced: 65.9 million. That means that 65.9 million human beings live as refugees, asylum seekers or as internally displaced people. If the refugees formed a country, it would be the 21st largest state in the world, just after Thailand (68.2 million) and just ahead of the United Kingdom (65.5 million). But unlike these other states, refugees have few political rights and no real representation in the institutions of the world. The head of the UN Refugee Agency, Filippo Grandi, recently said that most of the displacement comes as a result of war. "The world seems to have become unable to make peace," Grandi said. "So you see old conflicts that continue to linger, and new conflicts erupting, and both produce displacement. Forced displacement is a symbol of wars that never end." Few continents are immune from the harsh reality of war. But the epicenter of war and displacement is along the axis of the Western-driven global war on terror and resource wars. The line of displacement runs from Afghanistan to South Sudan with Syria in between. Eyes are on Syria, where the war remains hot and the tensions over escalation intensify daily. But there is as deadly a civil war in South Sudan, driven in large part by a ferocious desire to control the country’s oil. Last year, 340,000 people fled South Sudan for refugee camps in neighboring Uganda. This is a larger displacement than from Syria.

Poverty is a major driver of displacement. It is what moves hundreds of thousands of people to try and cross the Sahara Desert and then the Mediterranean Sea for European pastures. But most who try this journey meet a deadly fate. Both the Sahara and the Mediterranean are dangerous. This week, the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Niger rescued 600 migrants from the Sahara, although 52 did not survive. A 22-year-old woman from Nigeria was among those rescued. She was on a pick-up truck with 50 people. They left Agadez for Libya. ‘We were in the desert for ten days,’ she says. "After five days, the driver abandoned us. He left us with all of our belongings, saying he was going to pick us up in a couple of hours. But he never did." Forty-four of the migrants died. The six who remained struggled to safety. ‘We had to drink our own pee to survive,’ she said.

More here.


Fever-dream-schweblinSarah Coolidge at The Quarterly Conversation:

Through short stories, Schweblin established herself as a writer of the strange and eerie. While Granta featured her in its list of “The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” alongside Carlos Labbé, Alejandro Zambra, Andrés Neuman, and Carlos Yoshimito, her style is more closely attuned to that of Edgar Allan Poe, or perhaps more close to home, Julio Cortázar. Like them she is fascinated by the oftentimes disturbing and inexplicable forces at work in the world. In the titular story of Pájaros en la boca, parents discover, and proceed to agonize over, their daughter’s inexplicable urge to eat her pet birds—which she thrusts whole into her mouth and chews bloodily.

At the core of many of Schweblin’s stories is a morbid, hysterical portrayal of motherhood. In one, a couple struggling with fertility spends the night “hunting” some unnamed entity, and Schweblin’s refusal to give the thing a name, paired with the couple’s desperation, produces an unsettling aura. In another story a pregnant woman dreading her nearing delivery date goes to see a doctor who prescribes her pills that, month by month, reverse her pregnancy as her family looks on horrified.

Schweblin’s stories demonstrate her ability to make the reader feel viscerally manipulated, if not morally violated. And yet, while their brevity may at times intensify their effect, there is something fleeting about them. They disturb and manipulate the reader but they don’t haunt or linger in the mind like a nightmare.

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Saturday Poem

Sonnet 94: They that have power to hurt and will do none
They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow:
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces
And husband nature's riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer's flower is to the summer sweet
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
….. For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
….. Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

William Shakespeare