- - Monday, October 11, 2010

Feelin’ fascination

“But for a brief period in the postwar years, when writers such as C. Wright Mills and David Riesman were in vogue, sociology has rarely been a genre devoured by the general reader. But one type of sociological literary endeavor — works delineating the values, attitudes, prejudices, and consumption patterns of particular subcultures — has long been a publishing staple.

“Think Orwell’s minute dissections of the working-class buyers of Donald McGill’s postcards and of the aspirational lower-middle-class readership of the boys’ weeklies (examinations that gave birth to the academic field of cultural studies), or Dan Greenburg’s equally observant, if satiric, analysis of emerging middle-class American Jewry, How to Be a Jewish Mother (1964), or, more recently, Christian Lander’s blog and book probing hipsterdom, Stuff White People Like.

“The subculture most obsessively, lovingly, and savagely scrutinized, though, has been the northeastern WASP establishment.”


Benjamin Schwarz, writing on “Prep Is Dead, Long Live Prep,” in the October issue of Atlantic

Amnesty for some

“A leading human rights group last week stepped up its promotion of abortion, targeting Latin America and particularly Nicaragua. Amnesty International demanded that governments decriminalize abortion immediately in a statement released to coincide with the Sept. 28 ‘Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean.’

“Amnesty specifically targeted Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, saying it is ‘disgraceful’ these countries have laws criminalizing abortion in all circumstances.

“The once abortion-neutral Amnesty International — founded by a Catholic convert in 1961 — has emerged as a vocal proponent for abortion. The human rights group received a $1,000,000 grant in 2009 from the Ford Foundation, a longtime proponent of population control that funds organizations that promote abortion and contraception in developing countries.”

Seana Cranston, writing on “Amnesty International Demands Legal Abortion in Latin America,” on Oct. 7 in the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute’s Friday Fax

Bad book

“Clearly, some bad scientists are just greedy opportunists who care about only their own well-being. But those who fervently believe their own rhetoric about saving humanity may be even more dangerous. Consider the harm done in the name of Marxism and eugenics, pseudoscientific (not religious) ideologies that inspired two of the most lethal regimes in history — Stalin’s U.S.S.R. and Nazi Germany. …

“[Sam] Harris further shows his arrogance when he claims that neuroscience, his own field, is best positioned to help us achieve a universal morality. ‘The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values.’ Neuroscience can’t even tell me how I can know the big, black, hairy thing on my couch is my dog Merlin. …

“I suspect Harris wants to rely on brain scans to measure ‘well-being’ because he doesn’t trust people to simply say what makes them happy. If a Muslim girl says that she likes wearing a veil, as many do, she doesn’t know what’s good for her, Harris might say. Maybe she doesn’t, but magnetic resonance imaging won’t help us resolve these sorts of issues.”

John Horgan, writing on “Be wary of the righteous rationalist,” on Oct. 11 at the Scientific American blog Cross-check