This week one of my favorite reads was this New York Times op-ed. It so well encapsulates the astonishing blend of worldviews rubbing together via the folks in my own life. Douthat writes about the communities where he has found people to be “the most personally empirical, least inclined to meekly submit to authority, and most determined to reason independently.” And they aren’t the communities you’d expect: the ones that claim the moral pedestals of reason, double-blind studies, and handed-out facts—what he calls the world of the “secular and liberal consensus.” Instead, he’s found the people asking questions in an “intensely experimental spirit” today, the types of questions that push boundaries and buttons, the types of questions that lead to breakthroughs, are often in the communities that we who love facts, authority, and degrees disparage and disregard as a matter of course. It’s a good reminder that wisdom is often found joined at the hip to humility.
Modern western culture tells us that depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, completely different from mere unhappiness. A new book suggests they are actually both caused by the same thing: disconnection from the things we need to be happy. Modern culture doesn’t connect us to the things we need,
including the need to belong in a group, the need to be valued by other people, the need to feel like we’re good at something, and the need to feel like our future is secure.
Speaking of unhappiness, here’s a poignant look at the ongoing opioid epidemic and how it might be about how our culture is perfectly set up to make people miserable. Which is bad for individuals, but also bad for us collectively, including bad for democracy.
Ever-more-powerful market forces actually undermine the foundations of social stability, wreaking havoc on tradition, religion, and robust civil associations, destroying what conservatives value the most. They create a less human world. They make us less happy. They generate pain. This was always a worry about the American experiment in capitalist liberal democracy. The pace of change, the ethos of individualism, the relentless dehumanization that capitalism abets, the constant moving and disruption, combined with a relatively small government and the absence of official religion, risked the construction of an overly atomized society, where everyone has to create his or her own meaning, and everyone feels alone. The American project always left an empty center of collective meaning, but for a long time Americans filled it with their own extraordinary work ethic, an unprecedented web of associations and clubs and communal or ethnic ties far surpassing Europe’s, and such a plethora of religious options that almost no one was left without a purpose or some kind of easily available meaning to their lives. Tocqueville marveled at this American exceptionalism as the key to democratic success, but he worried that it might not endure forever.
As someone who personally spends a lot of time appealing on social media to change gun laws, I took my colleague Ed’s post last week about the failings of gun control activists as a challenge, and was determined to scrounge up gun control news to keep the issue alive. As it turns out there was no scrounging required. Gun control was all over the news this week, and for once, it was mostly good news! Two of the largest gun retailers in the US both announced new restrictions on gun purchases in their stores, and even the White House appears to be jumping on the gun control bandwagon – to the shock of everyone, but perhaps Republicans most of all. This sudden shift in the national current may or may not be related to all of the social media activism surrounding the NRA since the Florida shooting, but I think it is inarguably related to current and past student activism. The thought that we might be able to achieve comprehensive gun control before my own kid starts school brings tears to my eyes. Good job kids!
On a separate but related note, I found this article, written by a former GOP official, to be the most compelling argument I’ve ever heard for not banning assault rifles. It’s probably not what you think.
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It’s actually been a week full of pleasant surprises for me, including this lovely little project from the Church of England. Lent is not my thing personally, but their Lent Calendar of suggestions for avoiding plastic is really, really good. I’ve dedicated my entire adult life to pursuing sustainability, and some of these were even new to me. It’s going right on our refrigerator for year-round reference. Highly recommend.
Another pleasant surprise: More coal capacity has been shut down just in the first two months of 2018 than was shuttered during the entire first three years of the Obama administration. I do wonder if they’ll keep pushing the “war on coal” narrative now that the war is apparently theirs.
Finally, can you guess the best predictor of environmentally conscious living? This probably isn’t what you think, either.