Monday, May 31, 2010

Hypocrisies specific and universal

"Deep in the soul of the Japanese lurks the Shinto concept of pollution and the Buddhist prohibition against killing.  So Japanese look down on and discriminate against people who handle meat and leather . . . but they drool over sukiyaki and lick their chops over mixed grill . . . they let the butchers take upon their shoulders the sin of killing animals; then they wipe their mouths and pretend that they haven't done anything wrong."

-An oddly cross-cultural observation, from the autobiography of burakumin activist Kitahara Taisaku, ca. 1927

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is Trade What Makes Us Human?

It's conventional to argue that human intelligence, or tool using, or language, or cooperative spirit are what make us so uniquely successful as a species (depending on one's definition of success). But all of these supposed forms of uniqueness tend to be a little iffy - any number of animals also fit these descriptions, even, to some extent, possessing language. So here's a new, different claim, in line with our economistic times. Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist" argues that trade has provided the deepest foundation for what we have collectively accomplished.  It's a compelling claim, though I'm pretty sure it's well established that monkeys have forms of trade, so it may soon end up in the scrap pile, too.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Affect, Rhetoric, Society

Is affect a product of how we talk about ourselves? Consider one particular shift I've observed lately. It is a new orthodoxy that while men can maintain friendships with each other, women are constantly at one another's throats. This implies a certain emotional intelligence, suggesting that while men can live and let live, roll with the punches, and suss out each other's true meanings. Women, by contrast, are "catty," shallow, mutually destructive . . .