Archives For culture
The top universities can’t keep out of national news. Just in the past few months, there have been several high-profile stories about Yale and Harvard. Harvard is being sued for discrimination against Asians. Yale is being sued for not admitting women into its fraternities.
These scandals have been framed as a consequence of the culture wars. Left versus right. Political correctness versus free speech. Empathy and inclusion versus economic realities. Students fighting for social and racial justice against morally bankrupt faculty and administrators. But after attending Yale for some of the larger scandals in recent years, these dichotomies ring hollow.
Over the past decade, elite colleges have been staging grounds for what Matthew Yglesias has termed the Great Awokening. Dozens of scandals have illustrated a stifling new ideological orthodoxy that is trickling down into the rest of society through HR departments, corporations, churches, foundations, and activist organizations. The nation is becoming polarized and its parts disconnected. The right is evil, and the left is stupid. Or is it the other way around?
When Edward Gibbon embarked on his great history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, he began his narrative with the accession of Commodus. Marcus Aurelius, the father of the new emperor, was a man who, in the noblest traditions of the Roman people, had combined the attributes of a warrior, a statesman, and a philosopher; Commodus was none of these.
In the last several years, however, the neuroscientist, political commentator, and podcaster Sam Harris has repeatedly argued that Hume was wrong. He suggests that you can, in fact, infer an “ought” from an “is.”
Harris promises the possibility of being able to conclude from facts about the world that there is indeed a right and wrong, a good and bad. Ultimately, though, it’s a promise he can’t keep.
Many readers buy books with every intention of reading them only to let them linger on the shelf.
Statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb believes surrounding ourselves with unread books enriches our lives as they remind us of all we don’t know.
The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits.
We economists, especially those of us who have had some responsibility for educating students, have a lot to answer for. Presumably all the politicians strutting across our television screens did attend some sort of educational institution at one time. Indeed, many attended institutions of so-called higher learning. Yet somehow their economics teachers failed them.
Bad teaching is a common explanation given for the disastrously inadequate public education received by America’s most vulnerable populations. This is a myth. Aside from a few lemons who were notable for their rarity, the majority of teachers I worked with for nine years in New York City’s public school system were dedicated, talented professionals.Before joining the system I was mystified by the schools’ abysmal results.I too assumed there must be something wrong with the teaching. This could not have been farther from the truth.
Teaching French and Italian in NYC high schools I finally figured out why this was, although it took some time, because the real reason was so antithetical to the prevailing mindset. I worked at three very different high schools over the years, spanning a fairly representative sample. That was a while ago now, but the system has not improved since, as the fundamental problem has not been acknowledged, let alone addressed. It would not be hard, or expensive, to fix.
Duke University, which prides itself on being an elite and cosmopolitan institution of higher learning, has suddenly reminded the world—and probably many of its own astonished students—that it has a religious affiliation with the United Methodist Church.
Duke’s president, Vincent E. Price, joined the presidents of 92 other schools also claiming Methodist ties in voting unanimously on January 4 to endorse a statement that calls on the church to jettison a 1984 provision in its Book of Discipline (its rules for church governance) that bars “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from its ministry and forbids its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. It was a statement timed to precede—and influence—a special session of the UMC’s General Conference devoted exclusively to the church’s teachings on sex, scheduled for February 23–26 in St. Louis. The statement, from the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church, urges the UMC to honor “the past and current practices of inclusion by amending their policies and practices to affirm full inclusion in the life and ministry of the United Methodist Church of all persons regardless of their race, ethnicity, creed, national origin, gender, gender identity/expression or sexual orientation.”
For many decades, critics of economic development argued that rising incomes and greater material abundance did not lead to higher levels of happiness. In 1974, Richard Easterlin from the University of Southern California noted that people in richer countries were not happier than people in poor countries. Subsequent research found that the so-called Easterlin Paradox did not exist. Instead, happiness seems to increase with affluence. Today, a different kind of criticism is gaining round. Happiness may be increasing, the critics of economic development concede, but life in a modern capitalist society is more and more devoid of meaning. What are we to make of this criticism?