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09 July 2018

More "Dirty" Words That Soil Identities

I posted previously about how we often stigmatize labels like "Jew" and "Puerto Rican" when we confuse the structural racism and implicit bias (as well as lingering bigotry) that befalls these groups for the supposed derogatory nature of the terms associated with the groups. In other words, we mistake words to be dirty if they belong to identities we've been taught are themselves dirtied.

I caught a new example recently as I was revisiting The Office on Netflix. It falls at about the 14:46 mark of episode 2 in season 1, titled "Diversity Day." Here is my transcription of the exchange:

MICHAEL: Um, let me ask you, is there a term besides "Mexican" that you prefer? something less offensive? 
OSCAR: "Mexican" isn't offensive.
MICHAEL: Well, it has certain connotations. 
OSCAR: Like what?
MICHAEL: Like--well, I don't--well, I don't know.
OSCAR: Well, what connotations, Michael? There must have been something? I'm just curious.

19 June 2018

Religion as Institutionalized Boredom

I just caught a recent episode of Fresh Air with Paul Schrader and Ethan Hawke discussing their forthcoming film First Reformed. It's a good interview. This part of the exchange really caught my attention:
SCHRADER: …I like to go to church on Sunday mornings to organize my thoughts, organize my week and be quiet, and you don't walk out of church 'cause you're bored. You go to church to be bored, to have that time, and you could have it in your room in the lotus position or you can have it in a pew. It's essentially the same sort of thing for me, and that's what I enjoy about it. 
…Church services have now sort of split into two camps. One is the old, traditional, devotional service, which is based on silence and Bible study, and the other is the arena, which is an entertainment-based performance with a lot of communal interaction, and you know, I won't say one is better than the other 'cause there's good Christians in both, but for me, I prefer the devotional. 
HAWKE: …I don't go [to church] consistently anymore, and…as my kids grow up, I realize I didn't give them that, and I have some sadness about [it], particularly listening to Paul speak about organizing the week, and having institutionalized boredom is a great value. [empahsis added]
I really like Hawke's coinage there, "institutionalized boredom." It gets at Richard Niebuhr's ritualistic/pietistic dichotomy. A lot has been written about how the Mainline Protestant religions are faltering because they have accommodated to mainstream culture (or, conversely, that they have been overwhelmingly successful in transforming mainstream culture into their own image), but ironically, the "arena camp" has arguably been much more accommodating. Inasmuch as (and increasingly so) the "devotional camp" offers an alternative to mainstream culture, we would expect a resurgence in popularity, or at least a slowing of the decline.

11 June 2018

New Original Music! (Window Pain)

Lyrics co-written with one of my all-time best friends, Jeremy “Fresh” Shermak.

Original artwork by Nat Freeman (https://www.instagram.com/badgerandwren/)


Also available wherever you find music (e.g. Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, etc.).


If you are struggling, know that my world is better with you alive in it. Call (1-800-273-8255) or chat online (http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx) with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You are loved.

04 June 2018

Explanation vs. Justification

I wanted to get some thoughts down on this, mostly for future reference. People often confuse explanation for justification. I remember wrestling with this myself as an undergraduate sociology major. In particular, I struggled in my Crime and Deviance course to reconcile the sociological explanation for the family annihilator phenomenon, in which typically men murder their wives and children and then (usually) kill themselves. Scientific understanding felt like a defense or apology from my moralistic worldview. A more recent example can be seen in the academic and journalistic attempts to explain Trump-voters, especially white, rural, working-class folks. See works by Vance, Hochschild, and Wuthnow. I've had an oddly similar reaction as in my undergrad days, that these explanations seem dangerously close to moral justifications. Importantly, this need not be the case. It is entirely consistent simultaneously to have objective scientific explanation and to retain the ability to find the outcomes subjectively morally repugnant. I can understand why some men do violence while still condemning it. I can understand why rural, working-class whites feel aggrieved while still labeling them wrong. Too often, I think sociology, the social sciences more broadly, and the academe overall are derided by those who cannot make this distinction between explanation and justification, understanding and apology. Being able to articulate this to the public--and to ourselves--can only help our cause.

03 June 2018

Raising a Boy

My wife and I welcomed our second child into the world last week. My oldest is a girl, and now, we have a boy. Since we learned his sex from an early blood test, I've found myself quite nervous about raising a boy. I have heard repeatedly from many, many parents that boys are easier than girls, and I have heard the endless intimations that it is my duty as a father to protect my daughter from future male would-be suitors. These kinds of comments infuriate me because they get it precisely backward. By downplaying our responsibilities in raising boys and insisting on defending girls' virtue, we perpetuate the very problems we rightly identify, namely that men are disproportionately predatory and that women are the recipients of deleterious attention. The correct approach is not for parents to fret over their daughters as a reaction to the ugly behavior of men but instead to work actively to raise sons who will respect the autonomy of women and men. This is the only just and effective way to parent. This also raises the level of responsibility for parents. My job is no longer to react passively to those I might imagine hurting my daughter; it is to work actively to raise a young man who will not hurt other's daughters (or sons).


See here for a related post.