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04 December 2017

Religion : Atheism :: Government : Anarchy

I've noticed a couple new hashtags, #emptythepews and #churchtoo, popping up in my Twitter feed lately. I was given pause, not because I disagree with their purpose and the problems that they expose but instead because of the ends to which many of those who employed the hashtags took them. Explicitly, many using the hashtags were militantly arguing for atheism. It reminds me of a phenomenon that I've long noticed but haven't yet written about.

All institutions are imperfect because they are organized and peopled by individuals who are imperfect. It seems that people hold the institution of religion to a different standard than they hold other social institutions. For example, we have a long history of governments doing very, very bad things. Think wars, genocide, totalitarianism, etc. Almost no one, however, points to the institution of government and says, "We should do away with that and have anarchy!" Of course they don't. Instead, most say, "Yes, some governments have committed atrocities, but governments have also done a lot of good in the world, and even if government as an institution was a flawed endeavor, it is better than the alternative." What most can see is that government is necessary.

It's not just government. We can choose virtually any institution:

  • The family
    • Some families are dysfunctional and abusive, but no one argues that we should abolish all families. 
  • The law
    • Some laws are patently unjust, but no one argues that we should have no laws.
  • The economy
    • Capitalism is inherently unjust, but no one imagines that we could have a society without an economy of some kind.
  • Education
    • Some schools are better than others, but no one argues that we should shutter all of them.
  • etc.
Why is religion unique among other social institutions? It's an open theoretical question, I believe.

Robots, Men, Women, and Nursing

This is good and worth watching:



However, I still think it leaves out a few important sociological findings:
  • Glass Ceiling
    • Even as women aspire to promotions and pay increases and those benefits appear accessible, there are structural barriers that hinder most women's ability to reach them.
      • Think about the different way we treat parents. Women are often not promoted because it is assumed that they will take maternity leave at some time. Even if it is assumed most men will have children during their career, it is not assumed that they will take leave, or at least not more than a few days.
  • Glass Escalator
    • Men who do work in traditionally feminine fields are often promoted out of the day-to-day work of those fields. 
      • Think about male kindergarten teachers. Many parents are uncomfortable with men teaching their kids at such a young age. Administrators can't fire these men. Instead, they promote them out of the classroom, making them principles. Of course, such promotions come with better pay, which could have gone to a woman but now is more likely to go to a man.
  • If nurses were paid better, men would be more likely to enter the field, and as men enter fields, those fields tend to offer better pay.

27 November 2017

Vacation Is for Unicorns

Only in America could you run this ad (which for some reason plays twice in this link, sorry):



Essentially everywhere else in the advanced, industrialized world, workers are guaranteed four weeks of paid vacation on top of holidays. The idea that two weeks is "standard" and that demanding three weeks somehow makes one a nonstandard unicorn would be comical if it weren't downright depressing. What's more are the inevitable pressures not to actually use those vacation days.

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.