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03 April 2018

Promise and Pitfalls of a Group-based Social Problems Course

These are the supplementary materials for my presentation at the annual meeting of the Southern Sociological Society in New Orleans. Come check it out at 8:45 on Thursday morning in the Rex B room at the Omni Hotel!



13 March 2018

New Original Music!

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


Also available wherever you find music (e.g. SpotifyiTunesYouTubeGoogle PlayAmazon, etc.) but it helps me most if you buy through Bandcamp.

09 March 2018

A Social Critique of the New Music Business

I'm a fan of Rick Beato. Rick is a YouTuber, who does a wide range of music-related stuff, mostly music theory and music production. One of his recent live streams is titled Don't Believe What They Say about the Music Business. His main point is essentially that there is no better time to be a music creator because the internet has democratized the industry by removing the gatekeepers allowing the market to work more efficiently. As I have written before, I generally agree with him. Rick goes a step further, though, arguing that musicians should make their work freely available on the internet to garner attention so that they can make money later. He holds up Chance the Rapper as an exemplar. This is where I disagree with Rick. Let me elaborate.

There is a larger trend among "business people" (i.e. capitalists) to argue that temporarily giving one's labor away for free is necessary for later access to the labor market. At least with traditional capitalist exploitation, workers receive a wage, albeit one that is alienated from profits. In this new arrangement, workers receive only the unguaranteed chance at a future wage. Even worse, many workers receive college credit for their free labor (i.e. the internship), the opportunity for which they perversely pay. (Incidentally, we in higher ed should be ashamed at our complicity in this arrangement.)

Setting aside momentarily this inherently unjust relationship, we must acknowledge that being able to survive while laboring for free is itself a privilege not available to all. Most who are able to weather the temporary relationship can do so only because they were able to choose parents with enough economic capital to subsidize them through this period. Those who are too poor to afford the luxury of working for free clearly chose their parents poorly. (What?! You didn't get to choose your parents? How 'bout that!) Forgetting the inherent injustice of this arrangement as well, we must acknowledge that this is a major inefficiency: how many innately gifted individuals could not share their talents in the market because they had the misfortune of being born to the wrong parents?

Just because workers aren't being paid for their work doesn't mean that someone else isn't getting paid. Imagine a musician who follows Rick's advice and uploads her music to a site like YouTube unmonetized. Even if YouTube isn't running ads on top of the video, they are posting ads around it. In other words, YouTube is making money from the free labor of this musician. Even if she does monetize it, she will likely only make a pittance. For example, on YouTube, the most popular of all of the music streaming services, her song would need to be played 2.1 million times for her to make the equivalent of a minimum wage. (Granted, none of these streaming services are yet running a profit.)

Here is the bottom line:

  • No one should ever be compelled to work without compensation.
  • Markets that grant unequal access based on socioeconomic status and not the goodness of the product are both unjust and inefficient.
  • Simply removing gatekeepers does not guarantee democratization.
  • There is an undeniable problem if an industry with a product that is universally consumed and loved cannot provide adequate financial compensation to those who make the product.

06 March 2018

Thoughts on Why the Nones are Puzzling

The growth of the religious "nones" is confusing only because we're asking them the wrong question. Asking, "What is your religion?" overly simplifies religion. Religion is best expressed using the three B's: believing, belonging, behaving. Here are three alternative questions to the traditional "What's your religion?":
  1. Do they express religious beliefs (e.g. belief in God)?
  2. Do they belong to a religious body (e.g. membership in a congregation and/or denomination)?
  3. Do they behave in a religiously prescribed manner (i.e. weekly religious attendance)?
By focusing on the confluence of these three things, instead of insisting that religiosity is a single thing, we notice that religious change is all about a shift among the importance of the B's, not a simple decline of "religion." Very little of the increase in religious nones is due to people expressing less belief in God. In other words, it's not about more atheists and agnostics. Instead, we see that the vast majority of the nones are people who retain some kind of belief but who have no belonging and little religious behavior.

This perspective opens new lines of inquiry. What about the folks who retain their belonging and behaving but abandon the belief (e.g. atheistic Jews)? What does it mean to believe and behave but not belong?

The Irony and Paradox of Self-interest

I tweeted this a couple days ago:
I wanted to elaborate on it a bit here. In general, I think that our societal shift to individualism has made self-interest the default mindset. Self-interested positions, however, have the ironic consequence of being self-injurious. Here are a few additional examples:

  • We parents often fear that our children will be bullied. How many of us fear that our kids might end up being the bullies, though?
  • We parents want our kids to go to the "best" schools. How many of us realize that the decisions we make to ensure our kids' advantages (e.g. moving to new districts or opting for private school) necessarily creates a disadvantage for the other kids left behind?
  • We often buy cars that will make us safer. How many of us buy cars that will keep others safer, though? (See here and here.)
  • Many buy firearms to protect themselves. How many realize that those guns are more likely to be used against them? or that they will be used against their loved ones? or that they could unpredictably, intentionally turn them on themselves?
The way that we individualistically frame our own wellbeing often happens by decreasing the wellbeing of others. The social reality, though, is that each individual is someone else's other. Truly making ourselves safer means paradoxically thinking of others before ourselves.