Culture Goes All The Way Down

I read on Andrew Sullivan’s blog today this story by Paul Bloom.  Sullivan quotes the following snippet:

[O]ur initial moral sense appears to be biased toward our own kind. There’s plenty of research showing that babies have within-group preferences: 3-month-olds prefer the faces of the race that is most familiar to them to those of other races; 11-month-olds prefer individuals who share their own taste in food and expect these individuals to be nicer than those with different tastes; 12-month-olds prefer to learn from someone who speaks their own language over someone who speaks a foreign language. And studies with young children have found that once they are segregated into different groups — even under the most arbitrary of schemes, like wearing different colored T-shirts — they eagerly favor their own groups in their attitudes and their actions.

[…]

The aspect of morality that we truly marvel at — its generality and universality — is the product of culture, not of biology. There is no need to posit divine intervention. A fully developed morality is the product of cultural development, of the accumulation of rational insight and hard-earned innovations. The morality we start off with is primitive, not merely in the obvious sense that it’s incomplete, but in the deeper sense that when individuals and societies aspire toward an enlightened morality — one in which all beings capable of reason and suffering are on an equal footing, where all people are equal — they are fighting with what children have from the get-go.

This presents a few problems, however, that the author doesn’t seem to dwell on nearly enough.

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Will You Just Leave Obama Alone Sheesh

A friend alerted me to a post over at Ephphatha Poetry on the politics of the Tea Party — and what might be the response if the protesters were black.  It’s a nice thought experiment, for sure, but even more valuable than that, I thought, was the documentation of several recent actions and statements by Tea Partiers and their supporters that I had missed.

And if you haven’t heard yet, this just happened:

[An armed man] was arrested Sunday near the runway around the time President Barack Obama’s flight was leaving Asheville Regional Airport.

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The Google Book Settlement

I’ve been reading a little bit about the Google Book Settlement, primarily because Ursula K. LeGuin is one of my favorite authors.  She has made waves recently by being the ringleader of a prominent group of authors opposed to the settlement, and who have either withdrawn or condemned the Authors’ Guild for its involvement in the settlement plan.

However, I am really struggling to figure out what I think about the settlement.  Part of me is with LeGuin — she is right to be concerned that the settlement wrests control of her work away from her and gives it to a corporation, allowing it to enrich itself without paying her fairly for its appropriation of her content.  This is a very real concern, and we already have enough “indentured servitude” outfits out there — youtube, for example — that make money on other people’s work and creative products.

But at the same time, I find it hard to square LeGuin’s opposition with many of the more philosophical works she has written on human solidarity, sharing and becoming detached from notions of possession and deserving, and building a world in which individual cultural products serve the good of everyone.  Let me be plain: if I had written The Dispossessed, I would be pissed as hell if I wasn’t making money off of a work of singular genius.  But I would also struggle equally with the fact that I feel the ideas of The Dispossessed are far too valuable to put a price on their circulation.

Because I also agree to an extent with people who want to decentralize notions of copyright — namely, that cultural production should generally be freed in the service of cultural impact.

But I would say — it does seem unfair for Google to make money in perpetuity from advertisements on other people’s works without paying the authors a portion of the ad revenue.  So in a sense, I don’t quite get the full complications of the settlement.

A good article on the issue, by the way, is at io9.

Rod Dreher doesn’t understand culture re: fat people

Well, just when you thought Rod Dreher couldn’t get more annoying, he comes out with this post.  A taste:

I push back hard against well-meaning people like Harriet Brown, not because I think Fat People Are Bad, but because I want to push back against this culture that tells me I can’t overcome my own sloth and gluttony, that I ought to settle for the spiritual disorder that results in my being overweight.  Weight loss really is hard, …you have to push back against this permissive, indulgent culture at every turn.

He’s referencing an article by Harriet Brown in which she basically finds that medical professionals are willing to say horrible things about fat people without hiding their biases.  Furthermore, Brown outlines how this attitude among medical professionals leads them to treat fat patients with less respect, spend less time with them, work less hard on their cases, and assume that they won’t follow prescribed treatment.  (And we wonder why there might be health issues associated with obesity — I’m not saying that weight has nothing to do with it, only that the cultural attitudes held by your primary care-giver might play into the quality of care received.)

But Dreher is really annoying here, and he’s annoying because his assumption is basically wrong.

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Pandora, you don’t know me

So I am experimenting with Pandora Radio, because people told me I should, and it’s on my newfangled Droid thingy, so I figured, why not.

It has its good points.  For one, I actually listen to music outside of my car now, which before recently was something I almost never did.  It was just how I treated music — it was compartmentalized to car rides, and usually longer drives when I couldn’t just listen to NPR the whole way.  And since I spent a lot of time in choirs, making music, it just never seemed to be something I lacked or needed to fill space with.  (I also spent waaaay too much time filling the space with video games, but that’s another story.)

Despite this pleasant addition of more sound to my daily life, however, I have a severe beef with Pandora Radio.  Namely, it doesn’t have a clue who I am.  Consider the alternate title of this post “In Defense of the Eclectic.”

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The Mikado: A Most Amusing…Minstrel-Show?

So I went to see The Mikado, by Gilbert and Sullivan, tonight.  I was of mixed feelings about the whole affair.  It was amusing enough and the singing was alright (although certain roles left something to be desired — I had the distinct feeling one of the actors was trying to do his best interpretation of Scooby-Doo as an opera singer).  Others were quite good, especially the unscrupulous character whose “shtick” was being an official who held a number of positions — attorney general, prime solicitor, chief justice, home secretary, chancellor of the exchequer, and so forth — and who often used these positions to a…synergy…not often found in government.

At the same time, the choreography left much to be desired, and the articulation of the chorus made much of the singing a mash of undistinguished words.  I laughed not a few times when a particularly inept chorus member bumped into someone or handled a set piece badly in between scenes.  But hey, it was a university production at a university not known for its opera programs or music department.  I’m not going to be too picky.

But there was something I didn’t like…below the jump.

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Rationality, Definitions, and Ideological Interests

So I was having a conversation on Facebook.  As most of my conversations on Facebook go, this one was political, and I had made what I considered to be a salient point: Liz Cheney and her ilk think that the public is easily manipulated, and so they launch attacks that only someone who is easily manipulated would fall prey to.  And yet liberals are consistently labeled by their detractors as people who don’t have respect for the American public’s ability to make its own decisions.

And then I commented that liberals are quite possibly wrong in the opposite direction: we assume a greater rationality in the American public than actually exists.  The very next comment, someone said, “So, Madison, the people are stupid and liberals are smart, is that it?”

This sort of thing gets me really angry, because what this commenter has done is substitute the words “smart” and “stupid” where the words I used were “rational” and “irrational.”  These words have meaning: they are not simply interchangeable.

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