Smart people saying smart things

Smart people saying smart things December 17, 2011

Herman Melville: “Poor Man’s Pudding and Rich Man’s Crumbs” (1854)

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.

“Blandmour,” said I that evening, as after tea I sat on his comfortable sofa, before a blazing fire, with one of his two ruddy little children on my knee, “you are not what may rightly be called a rich man; you have a fair competence; no more. Is it not so? Well then, I do not include you, when I say, that if ever a rich man speaks prosperously to me of a Poor Man, I shall set it down as — I won’t mention the word.”

James Surowiecki: “Living by Default

Homeowners are getting lambasted for doing what companies do on a regular basis. Walking away from real-estate obligations in particular is common in the corporate world, and real-estate developers are notorious for abandoning properties that no longer make economic sense. Sometimes the hypocrisy is staggering: last winter, the Mortgage Bankers Association—the very body whose president attacked defaulters for betraying their families and their communities—got its creditors to let it do a short sale of its headquarters, dumping it for thirty-four million dollars less than the value of the building’s mortgage.

When it comes to debt, then, the corporate attitude is do as I say, not as I do. And, while homeowners are cautioned to think of more than the bottom line, banks, naturally, have done business in coldly rational terms. They could have helped keep people in their homes by writing down mortgages (the equivalent of the restructuring that American Airlines’ debt holders will now be confronting). And there are plenty of useful ideas out there for how banks could do this without taxpayer subsidies and without rewarding the irresponsible. For instance, Eric Posner and Luigi Zingales, of the University of Chicago, suggest that, in exchange for writing down mortgages in hard-hit areas, lenders would take an ownership stake in a house, getting a percentage of the capital gain when it was eventually sold. Lenders, though, have avoided such schemes and haven’t done mortgage modifications on any meaningful scale. It’s their right to act in their own interest, but it makes it awfully hard to take seriously complaints about homeowners’ lack of social responsibility.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: “A Muscular Empathy

This basic extension of empathy is one of the great barriers in understanding race in this country. I do not mean a soft, flattering, hand-holding empathy. I mean a muscular empathy rooted in curiosity. If you really want to understand slaves, slave masters, poor black kids, poor white kids, rich people of colors, whoever, it is essential that you first come to grips with the disturbing facts of your own mediocrity. The first rule is this–You are not extraordinary. It’s all fine and good to declare that you would have freed your slaves. But it’s much more interesting to assume that you wouldn’t and then ask “Why?”

This is not an impossible task. But often we find that we have something invested in not asking “Why?” The fact that we — and I mean all of us, black and white — are, in our bones, no better than slave masters is chilling.

Meghan O’Gieblyn: “Sniffing Glue: A childhood in Christian pop

If you’re wondering what teenager in her right mind would listen to a forty-year-old Vegas showman with a Jersey accent rap about Jesus, the answer is: me. In junior high, I saw Carman in concert three times. The Standard was the first CD I ever bought. I rocked out to Carman on my Walkman on the way to youth group and dished with my girlfriends about what a hottie he was. At the concerts, I bought his T-shirts and posters, and when he called out “Who’s in the House?” I made my arms into letters, YMCA-style, with the rest of the crowd and shouted “JC!”

I was homeschooled up until tenth grade, and my social life revolved around church. I grew up submersed in evangelical youth culture: reading Brio magazine, doing devotions in my Youth Walk Bible, eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Left Behind series, and developing a taste in music that ran the gamut from Christian rap to Christian pop to Christian rock.

Libby Anne: “My Life as a Daughter in the Christian Patriarchy Movement — How I Was Taught to Obey Men, Birth 8 Kids and Do Battle Against Secular America

Deep within America, beyond your typical evangelicals and run-of-the-mill fundamentalists, nurtured within the homeschool movement and growing by the day, are the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements. This is where I grew up.

I learned that women are to be homemakers while men are to be protectors and providers. I was taught that a woman should not have a career, but should rather keep the home and raise the children and submit to her husband, who is her god-given head and authority. I learned that homeschooling is the only godly way to raise children, because to send them to public school is to turn a child over to the government and the secular humanists. I was taught that children must be trained up in the way they should go every minute of every day. I learned that a woman is always under male authority, first her father, then her husband, and perhaps, someday, her son. I was told that children are always a blessing, and that it was imperative to raise up quivers full of warriors for Christ, equipped to take back the culture and restore it to its Christian foundations.

… I was taught that those outside of our beliefs, including humanists, environmentalists, socialists, and feminists, were evil, selfish people who were destroying our society, and that Christians who did not share our beliefs were “wishy-washy” and “worldy.” There is a very “us versus them” mentality in Christian Patriarchy. They were the enemy, the agents of Satan out to destroy belief in God and pervert the world. They cared only for themselves and their own desires and were not to be trusted. I was taught that the world outside was a scary and dangerous place. If I stayed under my father’s authority, I would be protected and safe.

You also have to remember the sense of purpose that accompanies the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements. We were raised to fight the enemy, be that Satan or the environmentalists, socialists, and feminists, to come against them in spiritual warfare and at the polls. This is why Michael Farris, a proponent of Christian Patriarchy and the leader of the Home School Legal Defense Association, founded Patrick Henry College in 2000 to train homeschooled youth in the law and government. There were more interns from Patrick Henry College in the Bush White House than from any other college. Put simply, their goal is to take over the country, instituting godly laws ruling according to Christ’s dictates.


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