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Self in Society Roundup 15

Libertarianism, Breakfast Club, Dead Poets, online dating, fish evolution, schools, objectivity, faith-motivated murders, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
May 13, 2023; ported here May 28, 2024

More on Libertarianism

In an interview with their publisher, Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi further explain their book The Individualists. Also see my review of the book, my podcast interview with Zwolinski, and further discussion. The authors say:

At its core, libertarianism is a radical ideology based on nearly absolute commitment to individual freedom—to private property, free markets, and strictly limited government power. Taking that commitment seriously means being willing to tear down and discard any political and economic institutions that violate individual rights. So, for example, libertarians generally support drastically shrinking the welfare state—or abolishing it altogether. That might sound like a conservative position, but libertarians also favor ending the war on drugs, removing restrictions on immigration, and eliminating subsidies and protective support for big businesses. So there are many ways—both in terms of foundational moral commitments and concrete issues of public policy—in which libertarianism and conservativism are fundamentally at odds.

Read the entire interview.

Film: The Breakfast Club

Rewatching the 1985 film The Breakfast Club with my family brought back memories for me not only of watching the film in the theater with my parents and siblings—I was 13—but of my own high school days.

If you haven't seen it, it's about five high schoolers stuck in Saturday detention who start the day mostly mutually hostile but who eventually become friends. Here's how I'd summarize the theme: Don't mindlessly conform to social pressures, especially regarding how your in-group encourages you to categorize and treat people outside your group. The film features some genuinely touching scenes along those lines.

The film definitely feels dated, though. For starters, several times its characters uncritically fling anti-gay slurs. Unfortunately, such slurs were common-place in my own high school in the '80s.

More broadly, the film offers all the diversity visible in white 1980s suburbia. There's the jock, the nerd (or "brain"), the "princess" (a popular cheerleader type), the "criminal" ("stoners" in my school), and the "basket-case" (sort of a disaffected artsie hippie girl with dark makeup). What there isn't is a black kid, a gay kid, a transgender kid. Thankfully, the universal theme of the film transcends its narrowly drawn stereotypes.

Film: Dead Poets Society

Another film from the '80s (1989) with all white (and cis-hetero) faces is Dead Poets Society. But this film has the excuse of being set in 1959.

Considering its context, it is a perfect film, perfectly cast. Standout performances include those by Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, and Ethan Hawke.

Some spoilers follow.

Here is the setup: An innovative new literature teacher comes to a stodgy, all-male boarding school in the American northeast. Inspired by their teacher, some of the students recreate the Dead Poets Society and meet secretly in a cave in the woods to recite poetry and get in touch with their Romantic sides. This newfound spirit of freedom encourages one of the boys to pursue a girl, another to raise hell at school, another to join a play without the consent of his father.

The film deals with the classic perceived tensions between the rational and the emotional. Should we dissect poetry or dance to it? Should one go to medical school to gain a sure-fire career or become a stage actor? I rather like the film's answer, as voiced by the teacher: "Sucking the marrow out of life doesn't mean choking on the bone."

The film is a masterpiece.

Quick Takes

Dating: David Friedman collects some fun anecdotes about people successfully gaming dating apps. One guy "data mined OK Cupid" to find possible matches, then "wrote a computer program to visit the pages of the high scorers—a thousand a day," then finally went on fifty dates until he found True Love.

Sex Work: Cathy Reisenwitz is ending her career making porn to focus on her writing. Lately she's been writing a lot about problems of loneliness.

Science: Kite & Key Media tells a simple story: Government needs to spend more money on basic research to incentivize scientists to move past the preoccupation with citations, which tend to be in "practical" fields. Because government strings never skew incentives, right?

Evolution: My son and I enjoyed the Paleo Nerds podcast episode with ancient fish expert John Long. Long also wrote a fun essay describing the similarities between the evolution of life and the development of motorcycles. If you find this interesting, also check out the PBS series Your Inner Fish by Long's associate Neil Shubin.

Schools: Matt Zwolinski relates views of Shamik Dasgupta: "It is clear that extended school closures were a mistake—they harmed children while having no measurable effect on the pandemic. It is also clear that teachers' unions were a major factor behind the closures. But remember that the unions were just doing their job. Their remit is to advocate for their members and that is exactly what they did. Seen like this, the problem was not the teachers' union per se—I am personally in favor of public sector unions—but the absence of a comparable organization at the bargaining table to represent the interests of students and their caregivers. It was a failure of democratic decision-making."

Schools II: Quite a headline from Reason: "New York City Public Schools Will Now Be Required To Actually Teach Kids To Read." See also my column on the "reading wars."

Schools III: Meanwhile, in California: "Less than half of all students who took the Smarter Balanced test—47.1 percent—met the state standard in English language arts, down 4 percentage points from 2018–19. One-third of students met the standard in math."

Transgender: "At least five [Western European] countries that once led the way on gender-affirming treatments for children and adolescents are now reversing course, arguing that the science undergirding these treatments is unproven, and their benefits unclear. . . . [I]n Finland, Sweden, France, Norway, and the U.K., scientists and public-health officials are warning that, for some young people, these interventions may do more harm than good."—Atlantic

Media: Wesley Lowery warns of news outlets "engaging in performative neutrality, paint-by-the-numbers balance, and thoughtless deference to government officials. Too many news organizations were as concerned with projecting impartiality as they were with actually achieving it, prioritizing the perception of their virtue in the minds of a hopelessly polarized audience over actual adherence to journalistic principle." Lowery says he upholds the "principle of fact-based reporting." The "so-called 'war on objectivity' has been about the corruption of the term itself and its misapplication," he says.

MLK: Apparently Martin Luther King Jr. was not as critical of Malcolm X as we're often told.

Religion: "Iran has executed two men who were convicted of 'burning the Quran' and 'insulting the Prophet of Islam,' the country's judiciary says." From the BBC. Horrific.

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