big ideas and regret, ron paul toxic uncle, historical trends in family planning

In a round about way I have posted on Kathryn Schulz before with her essay Ode to a Four-Letter Word. She is probably one of the most interesting writer-thinkers around. That alone will invite some resentment in a country where a good third of the population looks down on book learn’n. Schulz is not a huge fan of the Big Idea Book Club, that includes Malcom Gladwell ( I’m not a Gladwell basher, but he milked a lot from a little) and Tina Rosenberg’s gladwellish Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World( Schulz does give Rosenberg much deserved credit for her previous work Children of Cain: Violence and the ­Violent in Latin America and The Haunted Land ( the latter is available in electronic format). In Shultz’s review of Peer pressure she writes, Tina Rosenberg joins a popular club for nonfiction writers.

This operatic theorizing sometimes works: An astute thinker connects the dots in a way that brilliantly rearranges our understanding of the world. More often, though, the dots get connected à la the apocryphal Texas Sharpshooter—the swaggering guy with the big guns who shoots up the side of a barn, then draws a target around the bullet holes. Yet no matter how post hoc or ad hoc or entirely hoc-less these theories might be, their popularity persists. They sell like hotcakes, assuming hotcakes still sell that way. And their success exerts a steady pressure on would-be club members: to generate ideas so relentlessly one-size-fits-all that they require a Procrustean remaking of reality.

You would think that Rosenberg would be impervious to this pressure. If Communism teaches us anything, after all, it’s to be careful of what we sacrifice on the altar of universalizing theories. But here she is, an improbable Pangloss, writing about her Big Idea. “Can there be social change in five minutes a day?” Yes! “If a new peer group could do this [transform the life of a poor Indian woman], what could it not do?” Nothing! When it comes to the social cure, Rosenberg writes, “Few major societal ills … are immune.”

I appreciate the point she’s trying to make. There are positive, powerful, overlooked uses of peer pressure, many of them convincingly documented in her book. But I wish Rosenberg didn’t feel the need to make her point a line. Solutions are not one size fits all—they are, in fact, maddeningly bespoke. That’s because neither problems nor people are fungible. Rosenberg is a brilliant reporter, but here she exhibits the characteristic blind spot of the blind-spot-obsessed Big Idea books. Like totalizing religious or political stories, these books promise to hand over the master key that will unlock our lives. Or, more precisely, they tell us that we have had the key all along, but that we have been holding it upside down.

To which I say: key-shmey. There is no rule, process, peer group, leader, or best seller that can absolve us of the responsibility of thinking our way through life on our own two feet.

The big idea books tend to be at their least irritating high brow self-help books..get everyone to subscribe to this amazing concept within these ever so neat boundaries and presto – inner city kids get better grades, poorly educated southern white males and Iranian fundies stop beating their wives, everyone has a body of a Greek god(dess). This is not to say there are not little gems of insight provided by the big ideas club. Peer pressure for instance can be a positive socializing force. Some anti-social behavior can be traced to feelings of being rejected by peers or family. Like all good things – chocolate cake and sex for instance  – peer pressure can be taken to destructive extremes. What saves us from that destruction is not subscribing to uncritical rigidity and adherence to prescriptions – the thinking your way through life part, even if it does cause headaches.

This is a wonderful, funny, ironic, warm and slightly smarty pants insight by Kathryn Schulz on feelings of regret using a tattoo she got in her late twenties as an example.  Don’t regret regret

“If we have goals and dreams and we want to do our best, and if we love people and we don’t want to hurt them or lose them, we should feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn’t to live without any regrets, the point is to not hate ourselves for having them… We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create, and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly — it reminds us that we know we can do better.”

If humans can take a concept and mangle it they will. Thus be aware that at no point is she suggesting that one go ahead and do regrettable things and keep doing them. That is not regret. That would be embracing bad or self-destructive behavior.

fall line of trees wallpaper

Ron Paul is not like your lovable but crazy uncle. He is your unlovable toxic crazy uncle. Toxic crazy uncles babble enough bullsh*t and sure once in a while they will babble something rational. It’s the every squirrel finds a nut eventually phenomenon. 10 Extreme Claims in Ron Paul’s Controversial Newsletters
New York City renamed “Rapetown,” AIDS spread by a “malicious gay,” how to gun down an “urban youth,” and more
and Ron Paul Is Not an Ally Worth Having.

Family Planning. A fascinating graphic on the history and trends of family planning. You’ll have to click over for the full size because of possible copyright issues. Cause and effect or correlation? The wealthiest most stable countries tend to have the most respect for a woman’s autonomy over her own body.

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