We Tell Stories that Reinforce Power: God, Royalty, and Professionals in Popular Culture

Borgen

The stories in our culture reinforce the power structure of society. And western culture has become so globally dominant that it’s big enough to contain any story of rebellion against authority (emphasis on contain) without itself being threatened. Anyone want to buy an Occupy T-shirt? Even protest can be commercialized. True story: I met someone starting college with a desire to work in forensics and asked why and they said their favorite TV show had been CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. And that became their path to the professional class. That investment of time, money, and work will reinforce a certain kind of power structure. And so what? What modern culture has a different class structure? They might be speaking a different language, but do they support a different use of power? Continue reading

Women in Translation in the U.S. and Only One of Us Is Sleeping

Josefine Klougart

Waiting for Josefine Klougart in the bookstore, I overheard a man talking about Three Percent and searched online, finding the journal dedicated to literary work in translation. By the number that gives the publication its name, only 3% of books published in the U.S. are works in translation—but that is all books, the majority are nonfiction—the number is around 0.7% for literary fiction or poetry in translation.

Of that 0.7%, the books by women are at most half, let’s estimate—rounding down, in this case, 0.3% of all of the fiction and poetry books in translation published in the United States are written by women. Using another international lens, look at how many women have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, from 1901 to 2016, over the course of one hundred and fifteen years, only fourteen women have been awarded the prize, the other 99 (with a few years skipped for World War II) were men. Continue reading

Precedent for Digital Democracy: Comedy, the Best Party, and the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland

Jón Gnarr, Mayor of Reykjavík, Iceland

Reading Jón Gnarr, How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World, I found that a platform for citizens to inform each other and vote on issues had been implemented in Reykjavík beginning in October 2011. He has a chapter called “The World is Getting Better and Better” where he talks about the online platform Betri Reykjavík for citizens to find all the information about plans and projects for city districts and “read the ideas, opinions, and suggestions of others, discuss the proposed concept, present your own ideas, and then vote for or against.” In the chapter “And Now?” he writes: “Democracy is the key to a progressive society. I believe in direct democracy. More precisely: in direct digital democracy.” Continue reading

The Nordic Countries and a Winnable Campaign for Women’s Rights in the US

Vigeland Family

From the audience, listening to Sanders, it sounded like harangue. This is completely different, the opposite of the inspirational tone delivered by Obama, and it was different in another way. Sanders, in an early televised debate, lauded Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. This is the real difference between the candidates: Sanders didn’t present an amorphous hope, an idealized change, he pointed directly at social policy that works, that’s currently in place in other countries, social programs where the citizens have placed a significant portion of their income to public rather than private consumption. In the Nordic countries when they pay taxes, they’re paying for benefits: paid parental leave, day care, universal public K-PhD education, health care, home health care for the elderly. It’s not individuals making sacrifices for other people, when someone pays taxes in the Nordic countries they are buying services for their own benefit. And through their collective effort, they created a place where one would want to live. Sanders directed our nation’s attention at smart social policy that works. Rather than repeat the self-referencing common to America, he directed attention to other countries, people who have made choices to create social benefits.

I wanted to share this idea with my friends. Continue reading

Networked Humanity: How Do We Know What is Right or Wrong?

Paris

In The Anatomy of Inequality, author Per Molander describes one of the ways conservatives defend the status quo, a tactic called knowledge skepticism. By saying we can’t know a thing for certain, over the years conservatism has attempted to undermine egalitarian theories from advancing an alternative to the status quo. In human history, the status quo has been conditions of great inequality—an exception being the period after World War II to the 70s and on to present day in the Nordic countries. But in the United States, beginning in the early 70s with the Powell Memo, a concerted campaign by the right has been advanced to dismantle the social welfare state and, asserting the small government rhetoric now familiar to us, has succeeded in cementing rule by wealthy and corporate interests effectively crafting policy for their benefit without regard to the public.

A recent application of knowledge skepticism has been to create doubt in commonly understood science—probably the most extreme case is denying the Holocaust. Obviously knowledge skepticism is applied selectively in conservative rhetoric. When it is convenient to defend one’s interests with absolute certainty in the knowledge that one is right, conservatives can be unequivocal. Moral relativism is another way to defend the status quo, and Molander mentions its use as a bulwark against Enlightenment thinkers asserting the natural rights of all human beings.

The inability of humanity to take a valid course of right action could suggest there is an awareness of right action that people have no access to—due to self-interest or eternal ignorance—or that no right action exists for the world because humanity embodies natural forces that we have no ability to direct. Biological drives, instincts, and desires take their expression through humanity. And seen this way, we are expressions of a force of nature that is beyond our control. There is no right or wrong way about it: we are a force of nature. But Western Civilization is nothing if not an attempt to subdue nature, to have dominion over nature, and so long as civilization exists it will attempt to control human nature. Continue reading

Cinematic Experience: From Spectacle to Empathy

A new housemate once told me she didn’t like movies, and I was surprised, how could she not like movies? She said she didn’t like having her emotions manipulated. And sure, I’ve cried at the movies. Even a good documentary can move me. It’s empathy happening.

Say you’re watching a movie at home and you have no empathy for the protagonist, what’s to keep you interested, keep you from turning off the show and moving on with your life? Perhaps curiosity? Suspense? If you don’t want to know what happens next, the movie has failed. And in that sense, every movie is a suspense film. Continue reading

Why Mars? A Multiplanetary Species, But It Won’t Be Humanity: Outer Space as Salvation Myth

It’s powerful, practical even, to charge your employees with great purpose. Scientific discovery, satellite communications, asteroid mining are all useful and practical reasons to launch rockets, and where humanity steps back in awe, Elon Musk takes his SpaceX employees further by saying they’ll make us a multiplanetary species. Granted our technology will explore and work in outer space, but to understand how earthlings would fare on another planet you only have to visit the zoo. Continue reading