During this winter break we thought we’d do something a little different and let readers decide what we posted — that is, we took a look at the site stats for our blog and thought it might be interesting to re-post our top hits. Continue reading “The Best of Culture on the Edge”
With Tuesday’s colossally surprising upset now behind us, I am musing about how to conceptualize democracy. I began to write this post on Monday the 7th, when the political landscape appeared much different from where many of us sat, perched at the edge of our screens. Indeed, with Trump’s camp appearing more on the defensive at that point, I was intrigued by the interesting and varied elements of anti-democratic speech that emanated from him and his supporters.
We are all familiar with the most public example of this, wherein Donald Trump pledged weeks ago to disavow the election results as non-democratic if they did not turn out as he wished. Yet consider how this same move has also happened among various religious groups that reassured their followers that god/Jesus/deity is in control of everything (including the election), and thus no matter what happens, the will of the people is not theirs, but the extension of the will of some god. Continue reading “What Is Democracy?”
Today is Election Day in the United States. (If you have not voted yet, please take the time to do so if you are eligible, and then take the time to read this.) In the midst of this divisive election, when many of us have expressed strong disagreement with others over social media, if not in person, how do we restitch the social fabric in order to work together towards common goals despite all of the ways that we disagree with each other?
The new green Starbucks cup, which features a drawing of diverse people made of one continuous line, becomes an interesting corollary of this challenge. While Starbucks presented their green cups as a “symbol of unity as a reminder of our shared values,” not everyone has seen it that way. Stephen Colbert quipped (at 3:40 at this link) that it was appropriate for Starbucks to produce a cup featuring “people drawn with one continuous line because what says Starbucks more than like a line that goes on forever.” Other responses have been less humorous, as some have complained about the “political brainwashing” that the cups represent, and others have associated the green of the cup with the promotion of Islam and the similarity of the general design (at least in the eyes of some) with the Arab League flag. Continue reading “A Cup Full of Meanings”
In a recent interview, the creator and primary writer of the British anthology series, Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker, offered the following commentary on selves and social media.
Social media has made it…, and the internet and technology in general, has sharpened all of those things — I guess they’ve always been there, that performative nature of life, has always been there, that you sort of perform your personality, I guess, to everyone, on some level. I remember…, my theory is that we’ve got…, that we used to have several personalities and now we’re encouraged to have one, online. By which I mean…, I remember once having a birthday party and people from different aspects of my life showed up…, and I behaved differently with all of these people, in the real world, but once they were all together in one space, and they were all mingled in, in one group, if I walked over to them I suddenly didn’t know how to speak. Do you know what I mean? Because like, with some of them I’d try to be all intellectual and erudite and with others I’d just swear and curse and be an idiot. And suddenly when they’re all in one space I don’t know who I am. And I kind’a feel like one sort of thing is that online you’re encouraged to perform one personality for everyone. And I wonder if that’s one of the things that’s feeding into the kind of polarization that seems to be going on…. I think that lends itself to group-think, in some way… I wonder if we’re better equipped to deal with having slightly different personas…, that come out when you interact with different types of people.
For the full interview, see 28:46 onward from this episode of Fresh Air.
Watch the trailer for the newly released third season:
A New Jersey fundraiser last weekend titled “Humanity United Against Terror” provides an excellent example of one of the tricks of building cooperation. The Republican Hindu Coalition organized the event that featured Bollywood stars and an address by Donald Trump. The event had a range of interesting incongruities, including signs suggesting that Trump would ease speed up immigration and images depicting Hillary Clinton and Sonia Gandhi (leader of the Congress Party in India) as demonic. My focus, however, is the framing of the event, contrasting the title and general purpose to its content, which in large part served as a political rally for Trump’s campaign. Continue reading “Building Broad Support (or the Appearance of it)”
There has lately been a flurry of talk at my house about picture-taking. First, there were the beginning of school pictures for the yearbook. Next, there were the soccer pictures to accompany the end of the season (which is just now occurring). Finally, one of my kids had a special school project that involved taking pictures of him in various stages of engagement with a special stuffed animal; this animal was our houseguest this weekend in honor of my son’s turn as “Student of the Week” in his class.
What struck me about all of these picture was not just the flurry of activity that we devoted to their creation, but my response to the picture-taking process (and, ultimately, the pictures themselves). For my almost-teenage daughter, school pictures are essentially a litmus test of her self worth, and thus she spent considerable time planning hairstyles, clothes, and different sorts of smiles to pull off the look she wanted. When she got her pictures home a few weeks ago, they were just as she had practiced. Everyone was pleased. Continue reading “Picture Day”
Eventually, peace was going to be built on the distinction between public and private affairs. Conscience had fought with pope and emperor for control of the world. Both had claimed universal rights. When both realized that victory was out of reach, they agreed to divide the spoils. And in so doing they transformed themselves into the shape in which we have known them ever since: a conscience that makes no claims on politics and a politics that makes no claims on conscience. Conscience was recognized, but only as a private voice that had no right to public force, except indirectly, through peaceful debate. Augsburg‘s abstention [in 1555] from settling questions of religion by force was thus kept intact. But it was also made legitimate by a new distinction between politics and religion that had lain beyond the imagination of the sixteenth century. Sovereigns reciprocated by surrendering the rights claimed by their universal predecessors to govern the consciences of their subjects. Religious faith was abandoned as a foundation of the commonwealth. Its place was taken by a faith in the distinction between public and private matters that helped to restore obedience to law…. By means of the distinction between private and public affairs, church and state, morality and positive law, Europe thus managed to build the institutions that brought back peace and then enabled it to extend its reach across the globe — much as by means of the distinction between spiritual office and temporal fief, pope and emperor had managed at an earlier time in European history to divide the world between themselves and put an end to the Investiture Controversy, that high medieval analog to the early modern wars of religion.
Why do we see this image of the Penrose Stairs as being impossible? Optical illusions, such as this one, and magic tricks function because of at least two structures, perhaps we should call them limitations, related to our perception of reality, namely bodily structures (our sensory system) and conceptual structures )the frameworks around which we organize those perceptions). Considering these limitations becomes important not only for our perception of illusions but also for the work of observation and description that informs much scholarship and public discourse.