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Self in Society Roundup 24

Masculinity, leaded turmeric, demons, fascism, Barbie, happiness, autonomy, liberalism, and Sinéad O'Connor.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
July 26, 2023; ported here on January 24, 2024

Emba on Masculinity: Christine Emba has out an article on men and masculinity for the Washington Post. Some men she knew "struggled to relate to women," "didn't have enough friends," and "lacked long-term goals." Some "quietly disappeared, subsumed into video games and porn or sucked into the alt-right and the web of misogynistic communities." She writes, "Deindustrialization, automation, free trade and peacetime have shifted the labor market dramatically, and not in men's favor—the need for physical labor has declined, while soft skills and academic credentials are increasingly rewarded." My take: Real men aren't a bunch of fucking whiners or internet trolls. Find something interesting to do with your life, lift some weights and otherwise take care of yourself, and quit obsessing about your masculinity. It's unmanly. Emba's article is a good review of how much of the "masculinity" movement has gone off the rails. Toward the end of the piece, Emba sketches a picture of positive masculinity. Here's a good quoted line: "Real men protect other people." One issue is that a substantial number of boys do not grow up around fathers.

Leaded Turmeric: Wudan Yan: "For most of his turmeric trading career, [Abdullah] Sheikh [of Bangladesh] engaged in an open secret: While processing raw turmeric to powder, he added a chemical called lead chromate to get the tubers to glow yellow." This is a disturbing problem of economics and of law. It's fraud to sell a tainted product to unsuspecting customers. But it's easy to see how it's hard to compete if the problem is generally unknown and all of one's competitors do it. Do you want to have the only dull-looking product on the market? Yan cites an academic article on the topic. This seems like a clear-cut case in which government regulators identified a real problem and solved it. This cuts against the typical libertarian stance that people should rely only on tort actions and voluntary efforts to achieve product safety.

Demons: I'm familiar with the Christian view that demons are cast-out angels. I wasn't familiar with this alternate view related by Martha Rampton: "In the mid-2nd century, CE Justin Martyr explained the role of demons in Christian thought. The sons of God succumbed to intercourse with human women, and they begot children called the Nephilim (meaning giants). The progenies of the Nephilim were demons. These demons enslaved the human race, sowing wars, adulteries, licentiousness and every kind of evil. All the pagan gods, Justin warned, were, in fact, demons who haunt the earth." Rampton continues: "Christians saw demons as shape-shifters who copulated promiscuously with human beings, controlled the weather, sickened their victims, flew through the atmosphere, impersonated the dead, predicted the future, and were always to be feared." Churches were safe from demons. Rampton also discusses how Romans found death "anathematic and polluting," whereas Christians "frequented burial grounds, celebrated death days, held up martyrs as role models . . . , and circulated stories of Jesus as a heroic figure because he could bring the deceased from the grave." Insightful piece.

Fascism: Aaron Ross Powell nicely summarizes: "This is a common element of fascist ideology. The in-group group simultaneously represents the pure and powerful apotheosis of (typically masculine) strength and yet are under constant threat of destruction or decay from a corrupting group or ideology which is itself simultaneously portrayed as effite, decadent, and weak while also an existential threat to the true and rightly dominant in-group. It's incoherent because fascism is incoherent."

Barbie: The film had a great opening, the biggest of the year with over $70 million after its first Friday. Cowen says, "The film is fresh, interesting, and creative . . . full of ideas, starting with an investigation of how lookism oppresses women. . . . By no means fully satisfying, but insightful throughout." Some of my friends loved the film. The people who hate it seem to hate it for superficial reasons. So I never thought I'd say this, but I'm now more interested in seeing Barbie than Oppenheimer—although I look forward to both. Apparently Barbie needs a decoder ring.

Progress: Johan Norberg discusses the evolution of an ideal.

Happiness: If you want a preview of Gad Saad's new book on happiness, listen to his interview with Michael Shermer. Saad is not talking (only) about hedonistic pleasure, but rather about the deep commitments that give rise to a stable experience of happiness. He talks about "instantiating your creative impulse." (Buried in here also is an epic anti-tax rant.) Very interesting.

Autonomy and Liberalism: Emily Chamlee-Wright: David Brooks argues that Canada's excessive assisted death policies illustrate the problems with "philosophical liberalism, built upon a foundation of individual liberty." Chamlee-Wright states her aims: "The case I want to make is that liberalism's core principle of individual autonomy is not a recipe for social decay. It is an essential ingredient in what makes liberal societies humane sites of meaning-rich social connection in which capable but fallible human beings cooperate, adapt, and learn."

Classical Liberalism: Thanks to Bryan Caplan, two of Ralph Raico's lectures from 1990 on classical liberalism are now available. Raico describes how the world changed from one very oppressive of many individuals to one of relative liberation. One thing he discusses is the idea of a "higher law" that develops in Judaism and in ancient Greece. In the second lecture, Raico talks about the conservative reaction to liberalism (attention Bryan Caplan). I listened to these in their entirety (except for Q&A) and enjoyed them.

Sinéad: Sinéad O'Connor (Shuhada' Sadaqat), who performed the iconic songs "Nothing Compares 2 U" and "The Emperor's New Clothes," has died. On October 3, 1992 she ripped up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. Some days later an audience loudly booed her, and she repeated the song she'd sang on SNL. Aaron Ross Powell comments, "Sinéad O'Connor's untimely death is a good time to remember her courageous act of calling out the Pope and the Catholic Church for their aiding and abetting of widespread child rape. This was the first right-wing outrage hysteria I have a clear memory of, and it was an important example taking advantage of a large audience to speak truth to power." (She was protesting the Catholic child-abuse scandals and other matters.)

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