Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mladic’s Arrest: What Did Serbia Know? by Charles Simic | NYRBlog | The New York Review of Books

Mladic’s Arrest: What Did Serbia Know? by Charles Simic | NYRBlog | The New York Review of Books: "The big question is why the Serbian government waited so long to arrest him, because it is difficult to believe that security services had completely lost his trail after he ceased to be protected by the army some years back.

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Why? Because the Serbs are a primitive tribal culture. They take care of their own, as understood in terms of race and blood. What do you expect? Obliterate all stinking non-Western cultures.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Solution: Give Everybody Money!

I've been reading Nixonland, a journalistic history of Nixon and his times--times I remember from my college days, when there were riots and protests, sit-ins, teach-ins and occasionally love-ins, and when I marched for something I knew not what.

One thing I learnt in college was that rich people were in just about every way better than poor people. I came from a gritty city where people were cynical and corrupt. The working class people I knew led dreary lives and were perfectly awful people: completely conventional, intolerant and tasteless. The men were brutal--and when young prone to violence.

I went to a small overpriced college for rich underachievers in a posh suburb of Chicago and there met adults who were, at least on the surface, decent human beings. Even if they were hypocrites that was a step in the right direction: at least they had shame. You could talk to them: they weren't just, like the working class people I'd known, tape loops making noises about immediate features of their environments and repeating trivial cliches. They weren't obsessed with discipline to enforce rigid conformity in even the most trivial details. The men weren't scary.

Anyone who likes the working class has never met the working class.

So the solution to all our social problems is simple: the obliteration of the working class through social mobility. When people have money, comfort and material security they become better people because they can afford to be better people. They can afford to be honest, generous and kind. It's when people are living on the edge they can't risk decent behavior: when they live in a tough, brutal, unfair world they become tough, brutal and corrupt. So the solution is simple: give 'em money! Make them upper middle class!

The trouble is that Republicans have sold themselves as the party of tough appealing to the lower classes and promoting policies that will make things even tougher for them--insuring, they hope, a permanent Republican majority.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Secular Studies Major
I don't know whether to be surprised that it happened or surprised that it took so long: a California college has become the first in the nation to offer a major in secularism.
Ho-hum. More of the usual New Atheist boosterism, harping yet again on the same old theme: in a world dominated by bigoted Christians brave atheists are at last asserting themselves and being recognized.

I suppose somewhere there is the world they imagine, where religious believers are in a comfortable majority, where atheists have been closeted and are only now able to "come out" because of the efforts of brave secularists. Where these places are I do not know. I've lived in every corner of the US, the most religious nation of the Global North, and I've never been to a place where anyone cared about anyone's religious beliefs or even noticed their religious affiliation or lack thereof.

Identifying individuals as "atheists" seems peculiar--like characterizing people as "sighted," "hearing" or "literate." In Academia, where I've spent most of my life, religious belief is pecular: we talk about "theists," not "atheists." And if people discover you're a theist (as I am) they're amazed and look at you funny. So it's hardly surprising that a college is offering a major in secularism: it's our culture.

Still, I wonder how long atheists can make out they the are a brave, counter-cultural minority. In the last 20 years the percentage of "Nones" in the US--individuals who say that they "have no religion" has more than doubled, from 7% to 15%. And amongst young Americans, aged 18 to 30, 40% are Nones. Atheism is a status symbol: it marks you as young, educated, urban and smart. About the only thing more uncool than being religious is being fat.

Still it's hard to see how secularism can provide enough material for a major. There are a great many religions and a great deal to say about them even if you don't believe any of them are true. And virtually all religious scholars, who study them, are atheists. But how much can you say about secularism--the absence of religious belief and practice. Do you copy everything that religious studies scholars study and add "not"?

A major in secularism seems suspiciously like making illiteracy the a subject of a college major. There's a lot of literature in English and other languages--more than enough for a major in literature. But there does not seem enough to say about illiteracy to make illiteracy studies a major. There is something to be said about illiteracy, which may be of interest to sociologists and other social scientists, but not enough for a major. And the same seems to be true of secularism.