7 Quick Takes (3/11/11)

–1–

I’ve been working on my senior essay and I’d like to spread the misery around.  So this week’s Quick Takes are a round up of aggravating social developments (though I promise a respite at the end).

 

–2–

I was pretty dubious about David Brook’s new book The Social Animal when I read the awful excerpt of it in The New Yorker.  My suspicions were confirmed when I read Will Wilkinson’s review.  Feel free to forward to anyone considering buying the book.  Here’s an excerpt:

The laudably ambitious aim of the The Social Animal: A Story of Love, Character, and Achievement, the new book by New York Times columnist David Brooks, is to weave a unified picture from the scattered discoveries in the various sciences of the mind and bring to life this picture’s practical implications through the tale of two fictional characters, Erica and Harold.

“This is the happiest story you’ve ever read,” Brooks begins. It isn’t. It is depressing. “It is about two people who lead wonderfully fulfilling lives.” Actually, it is about two boring people who lead muted, more or less satisfactory lives in the successful pursuit of achievement as it is narrowly defined by their culture. That such emotionally straitened, humorlessly striving characters are cast as romantic leads in the science-certified “happiest story” of all is baffling and sad. More baffling still is that Brooks’ intends this chilling portrait to offer consolation, to persuade us there is much to gain, and little to fear, in losing our unscientific illusions about human nature.

But don’t take our word for it.  Just look back to the New Yorker excerpt and you’ll see Brooks looks an awful lot like the strawman materialist dedicated to unweaving the rainbow that the Christians always warned me about.  Quoth Brooks:

Ms. Taylor was always reminding the class of how limited her grasp of any situation was. “Sorry, I get distracted easily,” she’d say, or, “Sorry, sometimes I jump to conclusions too quickly.” In this way, she communicated the distinction between mental strength (the processing power of the brain) and mental character (the mental virtues that lead to practical wisdom). She stressed the importance of collecting conflicting information before making up one’s mind, of calibrating one’s certainty level to the strength of the evidence, of enduring uncertainty for long stretches as an answer became clear, of correcting for one’s biases. As Keith E. Stanovich, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, writes in his book “What Intelligence Tests Miss” (2009), these “thinking dispositions” correlate weakly or not at all with I.Q. But, because Ms. Taylor put such emphasis on these virtues and because Harold admired her so much, he absorbed and copied her way of being.

Yikes.

 

–3–

The next frustration can also frequently be found in the pages of The New York Times.  Among the frequent jewelery ads, I spotted this one for Cartier earlier this week:

In case you can’t make it out, the tagline is Trinity: All about you forever.

How can this possibly be an effective pitch?  What kind of person thinks that the best, most lasting gift they could give to themselves is a set of shiny rings.  I’m depressed just looking at it.

–4–

Think that celebration of self indulgence can’t be topped?  Think again.

That’s a promotional image for “Come On Guy” an art installation consisting of frat boys drinking and misbehaving behind plexiglass in front of an audience.  According to a review:

Now, not only will these strapping young examples of our nation’s future drink (and drink, and drink) for you, as photo evidence shows, they’ll brawl, barf, and even relieve themselves in a bucket supplied by the artist.

“Oh what a piece of work is man,” this ain’t!

–5–

Given how bad it’s gotten, I probably should have given up Glee a while ago, but my love of spontaneous musical numbers kept me coming back.  This week’s episode, titled ‘Sexy’ and supposedly focusing on sex ed.  The episode managed to be the worst of both worlds: not providing very useful information on safe sex and repeatedly implying (or outright stating) that girls who abstain from sex are afraid and/or frigid, while all boys are intrinsically insensitive selfish louts when sex is involved.

The only upside of the episode was that it introduced me to “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks.

–6–

To wrap up the depressing portion of the Takes, check out this NYT article about people who will spend inordinate sums of money on guitars used by Eric Clapton or even guitars that are replicas of ones used by Eric Clapton.

A team of Yale psychologists concluded that much of this behavior is based on ‘celebrity contagion’ and belief in a quasi ‘sympathetic magic.’  People honestly, irrationally believe that they will play better on a guitar that has been used masterfully in the past.  A carefully made replica is believed to attract some of the properties imbued in the original.

This is a pervasive flaw in human reasoning, and it’s more embarrassing to for me to reflect on, because I thought this way frequently as a child.  This is the logic of fantasy novels that see a hidden connection and design in all things, that imagines we leave a notable imprint on the world with our actions, and which imbues even inanimate objects with personalities and dignity (ever cajoled a recalcitrant computer or said ‘Sorry’ to a chair you’ve bumped into?).

No wonder I’m such an easy sell on Chesterton.

 

–7–

I promised I’d wrap up on a lighter note, and what could be more fitting than this article on the origins of Jewish humor from BoingBoing?

Supposedly, most of the dark humor thought of as typically Jewish (or typically New York) grew out of the tradition of a badhkin, a jester who mocked at weddings.  After a series of pogroms, a group of rabbis decided the massacres were retribution for light-heartedness and banned most humor.

The badhkin was the only kind of comic exempted from the ban because the rabbis were convinced a badhkin was more abusive than humorous.  So thank heaven for small mercies.

[Seven Quick Takes is a blog carnival run by Jen of Conversion Diary]

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Introduced you to 'Landslide'???? Oh goodness. Welcome to the wonderful world of Steve Nicks and, while you're at it, check out Fleetwood Mac. You won't regret it.Good luck with all your work!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17359788578212299468 Dylan

    Other than the fact that it's terribly, terribly written and completely expository (it makes the Emile, on which it is clearly modeled, look like an actual novel by comparison), what's so "yikes" about the exact passage you excerpted? Can you really be such a HP&TMoR; fan/transhumanist and also think that treating so-called "cognitive biases" as limitations to be overcome is tantamount to "unweaving the rainbow"? I agree that David Brooks's (I know you'll be crotchety about that, too, but it's actually the older convention for non-plural possessives when the word ends with an S) broader conception of happiness and fulfillment seems pretty bankrupt, but I don't see how this passage illustrates that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    I am shocked to hear the Stevie Nicks news. The Smashing Pumpkins also do a fantastic cover of Landslide BTW.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4U4opbXoMss

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00008144506750160156 Matthew

    Landslide is amazing. I am a proud member of the Facebook group "Fleetwood Mac for Spring Fling" and you should be too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    I'm sure going to sign up, Matthew.


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