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17 November 2017

Structure and Sexual Misconduct

We appear to be in a watershed moment. The floodgates have been opened to a seemingly endless cascade of sexual misconduct claims, ranging from the rape of minors to inappropriate and undesired language. One reaction I have heard is lament: "When will the accusations end?" This is understandable. However, I tend to see things much more optimistically: This is what social change looks like. It's uncomfortable and ugly and disappointing but good, good because it signals a change in norms. We are together affirmatively stating that such behavior is no longer acceptable; moreover, such behavior will be sanctioned. In a way, a desire to "make it all go away" is a wish to return to a time when our silence tacitly approved of such behavior and, thus, allowed it to continue unabated. As disquieting as it is, this is progress.

What's more, I think we can start to talk about the social structure and culture that has possibly and ironically elevated those among us who are more likely to do such deviance to positions of power, authority, and celebrity. Think about the presidency as an example. It takes a special--and not in a good way--person to consider him- or herself qualified to be the most powerful person in the world. To look at the impossibility of that political office, at the crushing and awesome responsibility it affords, and to say, "Sure, I could do that!" is the height of hubris. Not to mention the gauntlet one must travail to ascend to the catbird seat. We should not be surprised that virtually all candidates for president are, to some degree, clinical narcissists. We should recognize that it is a system of our own design that elevates people with these characteristics (and indeed perhaps even engenders these attributes) and that these very characteristics are what make such people feel entitled to act as they please without fear of consequences. Think Nixon and Watergate or Kennedy and Clinton and their sexual dalliances. Narcissism is not so much a personality disorder as it is an inevitable result of our way of doing social order. It is more bad society than bad actors.

This line of thinking can easily be translated to the systems that elevate movie stars, musicians, comedians, Senators, and CEO's. All require and encourage antisociality. This isn't to say that such behavior is confined to these fields. We ordinary folks are not immune. It is, however, an empirical question worth investigation: do people in positions of power, authority, and celebrity do sexual misconduct at a disproportionate rate?

An even more uncomfortable question to ask is, inasmuch as these elites, whom we've elevated, embody our ideals, what does this say about us?

15 November 2017

Football, Title IX, and the Liberal Arts

I got into a bit of a back-and-forth with my institution's Instagram feed yesterday. Here is a transcript:
georgiacollege: Georgia College's new esports team is off to a successful start in the first year of Peach Belt Conference play....
[anonymized white fraternity member]: Why in the hell do we have an esports team but not a football team?
georgiacollege: @[anonymized white fraternity member] we don't have a football team due to Title IX and a lack of resources to comply with Title IX requirements.
bradleyakoch: @georgiacollege Is that the university's official rationale? Seems to make a political scapegoat of Title IX. What about the liberal arts mission and independently exorbitant cost of NCAA football programs? [emphasis added]
georgiacollege: @bradleyakoch You can find Title IX requirements at https://goo.gl/fZzW2r. Since the law requires the University to offer an equal number of sports opportunities for both men and women in order to be in compliance, there aren't enough resources currently to bring multiple athletics on campus which we would have to do first before even getting into the cost of stadiums and hiring coaches etc.
bradleyakoch: @georgiacollege Yes, I understand the requirements of Title IX, but this rationale seems to imply that if Title IX didn't exist, GC would have a football team. I question whether that is the case since there are many other factors that would preclude the development of such a program as I noted above. Invoking Title IX, especially in this political climate, is dangerous in that it gives grist to [those] who oppose such progressive legislation. It may be good for us to reevaluate the official line on this topic. [emphasis added]
To be fair, I have no idea who runs those social media accounts. I assume that it is staff at University Communications; though, it could easily be an undergraduate worker. This may not be the official university answer to this question, but it carries that weight with the public. (The only mention on our website I can find of the topic is for a FAQ from the Student Government Association, which gives a more nuanced answer, but I find no official statement on the matter from the administration.)

The problem with the de facto official statement from GC about football is in its framing. This Instagram reply frames it as a problem with Title IX. I understand why this is a convenient framing for administrators. It allows them to deflect criticism over the issue. It essentially says, "Look, I hear ya. I want a football team, too, but this is out of my hands. 'They' won't let me do it. Yell at 'them.'" The problem, as I hinted in my reply, was that it casts Title IX as a law that hurts men instead of helping women. (For just one example, look at the story of Sally Ride, who benefitted from an athletic scholarship.)

There are other ways to frame the issue, however. Instead of having to create more women's sports, we could remove other men's sports to make room for football. As I noted, we could frame football as expensive in and of itself. I think the more honest framing, though, is to tout our liberal arts mission. Football would be a distraction from that mission, financially and culturally.

In short, Title IX is socially beneficial. We--men, women, boys, and girls--are better off because of it. Blaming something as trivial as the absence of a football program on it is dangerous.

To be clear, I am not what most would consider anti-football. I lettered in football in high school and consider myself a fan of both college football and the NFL (albeit conflictedly), and I watch a lot of it on TV, much to the chagrin of my spouse.

10 November 2017

The Impact of 'Impact' is Impactful

Seriously, stop using the neologism "impact." An asteroid impacts the surface of a planet; your idea affects or influences other people. There are indeed many instances when neologisms serve an important function, say for naming new technologies or for labeling new social identities. However, neologisms like "impact" serve a more devious function. "Impact" is business-speak. The creep of business-speak into our everyday language, particularly when perfectly apt synonyms for a sentiment already exist, is both a reflection and driver of the hegemonic influence of capitalistic/consumeristic/business interests more broadly. Resist these intrusions.

Stop Saying 'Gyp'

If you ever find yourself inclined to use the term "Gypsy," "gyp," or any related form of these words, perform this simple test first: replace the term with "Jew." For example: "You just gypped me out of $5!" becomes "You just jewed me out of $5!" Sound offensive and inappropriate? That's exactly why you should never say it. Like Jews, Gypsies (more formally the Roma) are a historically mistreated ethnic group. Hundreds of thousands--and possibly even more than a million--Roma were killed in the Holocaust, and the everyday and institutional persecution and marginalization of the Roma continues today in Europe.

18 October 2017

Technology Wresting Ritual from Tithing

Here is a research question that I probably won't ever have the chance to pursue:
As more places of worship are offering automated options for electronic financial contribution (i.e. tithing), what, if any, are the negative, unintended consequences?
"Passing the plate" is a ritual common to many religions and is a formalized ritual within the liturgy of many denominations and congregations, particularly in Christianity. As with any ritual, passing the plate reminds people of a shared belief (i.e. everyone is expected to contribute financially to the work of the church); it also then generates solidarity for the group. But what happens when technological advance intrudes on the ritual? Here are a few secondary questions:

  • How does it feel not to put anything in the plate? Does electronic giving diminish ritual participation for individuals?
  • How does it feel to watch others not put anything in the plate? Does the potential electronic giving of others affect how an individual gives? Does it affect how an individual feels about her fellow congregants?
  • Could this increase freeriding behavior? As giving becomes invisible, is it easier to not give?
  • Could there be an unintended consequence whereby congregations actually bring in less money by removing the ritual aspect of giving? While I assume electronic giving locks in contributions and makes them more predictable, is it possible that people are more generous within the ritual than they are when being rational?
I'm guessing there's already research in this area. If not, it's ripe.