Raise your hand if you’re a conservative who has cited Edmund Burke without actually having read him closely.
Really—you’re all scholars of the Irish-born MP and oft-celebrated “father of modern conservatism”?
Okay, what did Burke mean by the phrase “the little platoon”?
Yuval Levin explains in his wonderful new book The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left:
The division of citizens into distinct groups and classes, Burke writes, “composes a strong barrier against the excesses of despotism,” by establishing habits and obligations of restraint in ruler and ruled alike grounded in the relations of groups or classes in society. To remove these traditional restraints, which hold in check both the individual and the state, would mean empowering only the state to restrain the individual, and in turn restraining the state with only principles and rules, or parchment barriers. Neither, Burke thought, could be stronger or more effective than the restraints of habit and custom that grow out of group identity and loyalty. Burke’s famous reference to the little platoon—“To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections”—is often cited as an example of a case for local government or allegiance to place, but in its context in the Reflections, the passage is very clearly a reference to social class.
Still feeling Burkean? Ready to go the pipe-and-slippers, Brideshead cultist route and declare yourself a loyal subject of the queen?
Levin reminds us that the context in which Burke wrote those words was a long-running intellectual dispute with a European-born radical, a man who was cheering on the secular revolution in France—and, oh, by the way, also one of the forefathers of our own revolution, favored by none other than Ronald Reagan himself—the Common Sense and The Crisis pamphleteer Thomas Paine.
That the rivalry between Burke and Paine cuts both ways through our hearts—this is precisely the kind of dialectic, if you will, that Levin hopes to provoke in the reader.
Make no mistake, though; Levin is a Burkean. In fact, the most eloquent exponent of Burkean conservatism, properly understood, since George Will circa 1983’s Statecraft as Soulcraft.
While scholarly and measured in tone, The Great Debate is a readable intellectual history that fairly crackles with contemporary relevance.
Indeed, The Great Debate is the must-read book of the year for conservatives—especially those conservatives who are profoundly and genuinely baffled by the declining popularity of the GOP as a national party. How can America, these conservatives ask, the land of the rugged individual, the conquerors of the frontier, choose statism and collectivism over freedom and liberty?!
Levin’s book provides the answer: You’re looking at the Democratic Party all wrong. It’s just as individualist as you are—maybe more so.
And that is the problem!
The first book I read by C.S. Lewis was, perhaps obviously, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I was immediately captivated, and Lewis’s writings became an integral part of my growing up. He was the first author to introduce me to theology and philosophy. During college, his space trilogy offered a delightful escape from textbook reading. But it was also during college that I first encountered C.S. Lewis skeptics, people who criticized his tone and style, deriding him as a not very “serious” scholar.
In a sense, they’re right. Lewis was very jolly. Most of his books seem to glow with laughter. His humorous writing showed that one needn’t divorce serious subjects from good humor. Perhaps this is why some angst-ridden existential types seem to dislike him so: Lewis (even at his most serious) refuses to take life too seriously.
Their dislike of his work could also stem from his casual, friendly writing style. Some people have said C.S. Lewis sounds as if he’s talking “down” to his readers. But his style is only childish in the sense that it is grammatically simple. His pithy writing welcomed readers of all ages and backgrounds. It makes sense that this would anger some intellectuals: most academics write for each other, not for the ordinary reader. Yet that is what Lewis sought to do. When writing books like Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain, he did not merely have Oxford scholars in mind. He presented his readers with lucid arguments on a variety of theological problems. His books could make any churchgoer feel like a scholar.
George Vanderbilt, a late 19th century heir to the family fortune and builder of the Biltmore Estate, reportedly read 3,159 books during his lifetime (approximately 80 books per year). He kept a list of the books he had read in a diary; his last book was Henry Adams’ third U.S. history volume.
Most of us wish we could amass the knowledge that represents. Books give us insights into the perceptions and perspectives of foreign minds. They widen our horizons, and foster our understanding of beauty. But few of us will surpass Vanderbilt’s reading achievements (unless we inherit large fortunes and thus become able to amass and devour the contents of a 10,000-book library). We lack the time available to Vanderbilt; he had neither work nor Twitter to distract him from his reading. Reading takes time—and in our technological, time-driven age, we’ve become ever more aware of how time-consuming reading can be. New Yorker contributor Rachel Arons wrote Monday of a recent proliferation of speed reading apps on the market:
As we’ve transitioned from print to screens, we’ve started clocking how long reading takes: Kindles track the “time left” in the books we’re reading; Web sites like Longreads and Medium include similar estimates with their articles (total reading time for “Anna Karenina”: eighteen hours and twenty-two minutes); in June, Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit, published a book with a stamp on the cover advertising it as a “5 hour read.” … The fact is that little of what we read on the Web today is formatted in discrete pages, so it seems logical that, as reading online continues to supplant reading in print, hours and minutes will become increasingly useful units for measuring our progress.
I used to think that, if I tried really hard, perhaps I could read as many books as Vanderbilt. When I realized that this was probably an impossible goal, it felt something like a punch in the stomach: it was a moment of finitude.
Because of that moment, I could empathize with a girl I recently overheard talking with friends at Capitol Hill Books. Browsing the overstuffed shelves, she mentioned that bookstores often scared her, because she realized she “would never be able to read them all.” It’s only a matter of time before we realize that our to-read booklists can easily surpass the bounds of reason. There are so many tantalizing stories lying outside our grasp, and never enough time to read them all.
Some reject the infinitude stretching before them by deciding not to care. There’s too much to ever possibly absorb, and we become frightened and disheartened by the realization that we cannot have it all. Some become reading automatons, determined to absorb as much information as possible before they die. Speed reading apps, despite their usefulness, can turn reading into a personal competition or race to win. This often takes the joy out of reading, and makes it a chore (though for some, competition may enhance the experience).
When we can, we should read for quality’s sake: savoring every book, re-reading the ones that enchant us most. Yet at the same time, not every essential read is worth savoring. Speed reading is useful for the accumulation of necessary knowledge. Slow reading is essential for the appreciation of written beauty. Perhaps our best reading choices lie at the junction of quality and quantity: we can speed read tedious or secondary works, then slowly absorb the masterpieces worth relishing.
Few of us will meet or surpass Vanderbilt’s incredible standard—even if the speed reading apps may help. But do we really want to read 3,159 books? The Preacher observes in Ecclesiastes, “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” At some point, even the greatest bookworms must set down their books and live the life that enriches our readings with understanding. After all, that’s the lesson of the bookstore’s infinitude: our lives aren’t long enough to chase after the endless.
Brandon Stanton has made a name for himself by taking random pictures of people in New York City. How? That’s the question many are asking, as the New York Times reports that his new book Humans of New York “has become an instant publishing phenomenon.” The book is a compilation of hundreds of his images and interviews.
The project originally started on Stanton’s Tumblr blog and website, HumansofNewYork.com. Stanton, a 29-year-old Georgia native, began walking up to complete strangers on the street, and would ask permission to take their picture. He usually published the pictures with a brief snippet of their conversation.
The stories are often humorous and somber. Take, for existence, two contrasting recent posts—the first features a man unloading boxes of Coronas:
“What was the saddest moment of your life?”
“Probably when I got arrested after a bar fight in Vegas.”
“What was the fight about?”
“I don’t even remember.”
“Do you remember the most frightened you’ve ever been?”
“Probably when I had a gun pulled on me in Canada.”
“I think it started with us trying to pull a tree out of the ground, and ended in us chanting “USA! USA! Then somebody pulled out a gun.”
“I’m noticing a pattern.”
“Yeah, same group of guys.”
The second picture only shows a man’s shoes:
“My girlfriend and I aborted a child a couple of weeks ago.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“We didn’t lose anything. It was a choice.”
“Were both of you equally on board with the decision?”
“She followed my lead, which made it tougher I guess. But I’ve got so much going on right now, and she just opened her own theater show. It’s just not the right time.”
“How’s the aftermath been?”
“You know, I always thought of abortion as a common thing. I’m a liberal guy. Pro-choice and everything. But I never imagined how bloody painful it was going to be.”
“Do you mind if I post your story?”
“With my picture? I’d prefer not.”
Why do people enjoy reading Stanton’s stories and looking at the pictures? Stanton himself doesn’t seem sure, though he credits it to empathy built through the images: “It seemed like a stupid idea, just taking pictures of people on the street,” he told the New York Times. “But there’s a comfort, an affirmation, a validation in being exposed to people with similar problems.”
This explanation may hold true for some—but it also seems a somewhat narcissistic motivation. Do we really only care to read the stories of people who affirm and validate our own problems? Or is there something deeper at root here?
Some people can identify a moment when they have an overwhelming sense of the “other”: a moment in which our alienation from the mental, emotional, and physical existence of billions becomes sharp and poignant. Perhaps this moment happens while driving down a highway or staring out the window of an airplane. But in that moment, you suddenly realize: there are millions of lives, stories, and perspectives that you will never know. All human beings yearn for connection, for a destruction of mental and emotional alienation. We often have a sense that, if only we could, strangers on the street could become our kith and kin.
One of the greatest beauties of Stanton’s project is that it breaks down this barrier of finitude, if only for a brief moment in time. He enables readers to see and experience the perspective of a stranger. The viewer will probably never meet Stanton’s subjects in person—but in that moment, the reader and stranger share a connection. This is one of the beauties of literature: it bridges the divide of “other,” enabling us to taste and experience life beyond our own. Stanton’s project, with its juxtaposition of image and text, does the same. By cataloguing shared features of humanness, replete with longing, regret, and joy, he identifies a hidden community bridging all geographical, intellectual, social, and racial divides: a hidden community of simple humanness.
The MetaMetrics corporation has created a book difficulty measurement device, called the Lexile system. It purports to rate books based on their difficulty level—but readers who study their grading system find it faulty. Mark Mitchell at Front Porch Republic and The New Republic contributor Blaine Greteman both criticize the program, both on a practical and philosophical level. Greteman writes,
On my way to work I pass the House on Van Buren Street where Kurt Vonnegut began Slaughterhouse Five—but with a score of only 870, this book is only a fourth-grade read. By these standards Mr. Popper’s Penguins (weighing in at a respectable 910) is deemed more complex … many of the smartest and best have learned the Lexile model too well. They’ve long been rewarded for getting “the point” of language that makes “a parade of its complexity,” and they’ve not been shown that our capacity to manage ambiguity without reducing it enables us to be thinkers rather than mere ideologues. It’s this kind of thinking that makes us “humans” rather than mere “machines.”
They are right. The Lexile measure is quite faulty in its analysis of books. Oftentimes, its ratings do not make sense. But that does not mean the entire concept of the measurement is wrong. It has some limited uses that may be developed with time. Having used the program recently for report research, I have observed a few of the Lexile system’s benefits and drawbacks. It is important to note, at the outset, that Lexile doesn’t even attempt to measure the content of books. The website explains:
A Lexile text measure is based on the semantic and syntactic elements of a text. Many other factors affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including its content, the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book. The Lexile text measure is a good starting point in the book-selection process, with these other factors then being considered.
Thus, the creators themselves note that the Lexile sytem is not all sufficient. It is merely a starting point. Lexile measurements will never be fully objective: they only measure the outward difficulty of things. They cannot truly measure content. Teachers who base their entire curriculum off of Lexile scores will be sorely disappointed.
That being said, the Lexile system could be a useful tool in comparing the rigor of various curricula. It most definitely should not be the sole measurement of books’ usefulness for a class, but if a teacher wants to determine which curricula might be more challenging for students, the Lexile measures offer a preliminary framework for comparing works. The Lexile system’s website has a search engine to find books’ Lexile scores. This could help parents who want to buy books for grammar-challenged kids.
Greteman says that the “Lexile scoring is the intellectual equivalent of a thermometer: perfect for cooking turkeys, but not for encouraging moral growth.” He is right. But cooking a turkey takes more than a thermometer. The ability to pick the perfect herbs, spice rub, stuffing, and condiments—the real content of a turkey’s taste—lies in the skill of a cook. They, not their tools, create a good turkey. Does this mean good cooks should throw out their thermometer? No. Any good cook will have a thermometer on hand, to test and determine the “readiness” of the bird. A thermometer can’t judge a poor or excellent turkey—but it can tell you whether the turkey is appropriately cooked for eating.
The Lexile system is, similarly, a tool: like any tool, it is insufficient. Perhaps its creators will find ways to incorporate qualitative measurements into their scoring system—but do we want them to? I don’t mind utilizing a little common sense alongside the Lexile “thermometer.” Any good teacher should know better than to believe Sports Illustrated for Kids’ Awesome Athletes is more complex than Jane Eyre.
A new study by Common Sense Media shows that the vast majority of children ages 0 to 8 use tablets and smartphones, and for increasing periods of time. The New York Times shared some especially interesting statistics from the report:
Those children are spending triple the time on mobile devices — about 15 minutes daily — that they did in 2011, with playing games, using educational apps and watching videos among their most popular activities, said the San Francisco-based child advocacy group. Four out of 10 children younger than 2 are also using mobile devices, a jump from one in 10 two years ago. The findings come amid increased concern over the time children spend online as families snap up gadgets, game consoles and computers.
“This shows for the first time the development of a true digerati generation from cradle onward,” James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, told the Times. “Used wisely, technology blended with good content can be a positive form of media, probably better than passive TV viewing. But there are still dangers of too much screen time, and this should be a wake-up call to the tech industry and to parents.”
Many companies have touted modern technology’s educational uses for young children (a claim viewed skeptically by some). But Common Sense Media’s research showed many lower-income parents are still unaware of educational apps’ existence. The report’s authors wrote this could create an “app gap” between children from differentiating incomes:
This study indicates that, as of this point, there are many more privileged than lower-income children using educational content on these platforms and that there is still much work to be done to put the platforms for this content in the hands of those most in need. Among all children ages 0 to 8, about one in four (28%) has ever used educational gaming apps (such as puzzles, memory games, math, or reading programs) on a cell phone, iPod, iPad, or similar device … But there is a big difference when looked at by family income. For example, 41% of children from families that earn more than $75,000 a year have used educational apps, compared to just 16% of children from families earning under $30,000 a year.
Those wanting to reach “children in need,” the authors say, should educate parents on the apps available.
This study also shows the percentage of children who read or are read to on a daily basis has dropped 11 points since 2005 (from 58 percent to 47 percent). “Average time spent reading or being read to also appears to have gone down somewhat”–from :33 to :25 a day. Yet 47 percent of children ages 0 to 1 are watching TV or DVDS—at an average of nearly two hours (1:54) per day. Amongst all children ages 0 to 8, that’s an average of :53 per day watching TV and DVDs.
Do children need wider access to educational apps? Perhaps so; if parents are going to distract their children via mobile devices and tablets, those distractions might as well be educational. There are benefits available via these gadgets, both to busy parents and their children. But there should also be limits on such media usage. According to the Times article, the American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that excessive screen time for children may lead to attention problems, exposure to inappropriate content and obesity. But also, it appears that reading (and being read to) has suffered from the trend. While technological distractions can ease parental burdens, their isolated, addictive attributes should promote caution.
Most educators would agree that the long-term cognitive and imaginative benefits of reading (especially interactive reading between parent and child) far outweigh those of a smartphone app. But a child who refuses to do anything but read needs a break just as much as the app-addicted child. Most parents I knew growing up would encourage their children to “get fresh air” and play outside. But some reports show children’s outdoor activity is also becoming less common with the increased use of technological gadgetry.
It is not the so-called “app gap” that seems, on the face of this, troublesome. Rather, it is parents’ embrace of technological distraction (and education), without question of its intrinsic good, which seems one of the most troublesome indicators in the report.
I picked up Irmgard Keun’s 1932 novel The Artificial Silk Girl at the Neue Galerie in New York, basically on a whim. It promised to be a dizzying tour of Weimar Berlin, last call before Hell and all that, from the perspective of a young, single woman whom the introduction compares to Madonna’s “Material Girl.”
Certainly our heroine, Doris, is materialistic in a certain sense. She pays her bills by dating men. Her closest relationship is with her stolen fur coat. (The letter she writes to the coat’s rightful owner is a terrific, tilt-a-whirl study in ambivalent amends.) But she isn’t hard-headed; her desires are a collage of sentiment and hunger. She maintains her girlish figure easily, since throughout most of the novel she can’t actually afford food. She writes her hopes and dreams in the notebook she’s covered with little paper doves:
I’m going to be a star, and then everything I do will be right–I’ll never have to be careful about what I do or say. I don’t have to calculate my words or my actions–I can just be drunk–nothing can happen to me anymore, no loss, no disdain, because I’m a star.
Kathie von Ankum’s translation is full of sharp, funny cockeyed lines, usually describing men—”his usual politics is blonde,” for example. But Doris goes through some truly rough times, and the most memorable sections of the book are its most poignant. This book made me choke up over a dead goldfish: “Put him back in the water!”, this universal human desire to reverse the irreversible. There are parts of this book which sound like Walker Percy:
So they have courses teaching you foreign languages and ballroom dancing and etiquette and cooking. But there are no classes to learn how to be by yourself in a furnished room with chipped dishes, or how to be alone in general without any words of concern or familiar sounds.
I don’t really like him all that much, but I’m with him, because every human being is like a stove for my heart that is homesick but not always longing for my parents’ house, but for a real home–those are the thoughts I’m turning over in my mind. What am I doing wrong?
Perhaps I don’t deserve better.
The future does hang over this book, and thin acrid drifts of it waft through the novel here and there: Doris ruminates on being asked whether she’s a Jew; she gets caught up in the ecstasy of a political rally. Berlin is filled with the desperately poor, especially veterans. It’s a city of people who have slipped down many rungs of life’s ladder, and Doris begins to feel herself slipping too.
I ended this book loving poor Doris, and Keun seems to love her too. She strains to come up with some kind of demi-happy ending for her heroine, Doris who believes that “it is particularly those things you have stolen with your own hands that you love the most”; but she can’t quite reach happiness, and settles for chastening.
Americans have epicurean tendencies, according to Steven L. Jones of the Bird and Babe blog. Epicureanism was first espoused by 4th century Greek philosophy Epicurus, and posits “pleasure” as the supreme good of life. In Jones’ mind, Americans are epicurean in three key ways:
Aponia, the epicurean doctrine of avoiding bodily pain or exertion, explains the American fascination with efficiency and technology … Ataraxia, the epicurean doctrine of avoiding mental anguish (literally not getting yourself worked up), explains the perpetual criticism of Americans being apathetic, anti-intellectual or uninvolved in our political life … Agnosticism explains the general lack of concern of Americans for deep thinking about religion.
Peter Lawler has some corresponding thoughts at Big Think Tuesday, suggesting “people are less and less obsessed with the past, maybe especially (but not only) in America. We have no historical sense, a sense which could give us a sense of place, purpose, and limits, as well as the chastening that comes with reflection on experience.” A Thursday piece by Carina Chocano in Aeon Magazine complemented Lawler’s observations and tied them into Jones’ definition of Ataraxia. Her piece, “Je Regrette,” explored society’s reluctance to express regret:
Life is not mysterious, it’s mathematics. All we have to do is track our productivity, our spending, our steps, our calorie intake. All we have to do is count our friends and likes and follows. The illusion of control that these tools grant us over every aspect of our lives is powerful. There is always something we can do today to avoid regret tomorrow. To admit regret is to admit to a previous failure of self-control. ‘In the reigning economic models of decision, human beings are “calculating machines” who decide their preferences based on calculations of utilities and probabilities,’ Landman writes. ‘We deny regret in part to deny that we are now or have ever been losers.’ In a culture that believes winning is everything, that sees success as a totalising, absolute system, happiness and even basic worth are determined by winning. It’s not surprising, then, that people feel they need to deny regret — deny failure — in order to stay in the game.”
According to these authors, modern culture is largely obsessed with pleasure. Thus we must avoid pleasure’s evil twin, pain, in all its physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual manifestations. This involves a purposeful forgetfulness, as well as a present fixation on positive sensations that undergird feelings of control.
Chocano thoughtfully points out that “The point of regret is not to try to change the past, but to shed light on the present. This is traditionally the realm of the humanities. What novels tell us is that regret is instructive. And the first thing regret tells us (much like its physical counterpart — pain) is that something in the present is wrong.” Ergo, regret rests a blazing hot finger on areas of regress or foulness in our history. It alerts us to pain, and often to sin. No wonder such feeling is antithetical to Epicureanism.
Having just finished The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, this idea of regret stood out to me. The book’s protagonist, Hester Prynne, is caught in adultery and forced to wear a scarlet “A” (for “adulteress”) as a public, permanent chastisement for her sin. As the years unfold, regret molds her thoughts and actions: she grows humble, penitent, and servant-hearted. The Puritans begin to soften toward her. Hawthorne writes that “not the sternest magistrate of that iron period would have imposed” the scarlet letter upon her any longer. Yet she continues to wear it. Why?
Hester, it seems, did not want to forget. Her life had been shaped and marked by this letter. Though it would undoubtedly have brought more pleasure to cast it away (as she does so temporarily in a moment of passion), she continued to wear it. Perhaps she recognized the good wrought through evil signified in that letter. Perhaps she understood she was wiser and stronger for that letter.
Historical characters have a different perspective on the past than our modern populace. Their everyday activities: sewing, weaving, cooking, cleaning, farming, etc., all emphasized the permanence and inter-connectedness of things. Garden vegetables found their way into evening dinners and canning jars. Wool became yarn, cloth, quilts and socks. Nearby trees became fences and firewood. Life functioned as a tapestry: stretching from its origins into the future, never wasted, never fully forgotten. Even the simplest error became opportunity to regrow, reuse, or remake something.
Should parents control what children read? Writer Neil Gaiman says no: in a lecture published in Tuesday’s Guardian, he argues the idea of “bad books” for children is “tosh,” “snobbery and foolishness”:
There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you. Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.
Gaiman has a point. Many parents take comics away from their children, fearing they’ll never read “real stuff”—yet often comics serve as a bridge into deeper material. Victorian morality tales usually present cardboard, cookie cutter pictures of childhood life. Little girls and boys don’t want to read it—they can see it’s fake.
But should children have free rein over reading material? While exploration is key to fostering imagination, it is also true that strong ingredients build a healthy mind: just as most parents won’t allow their children to only eat junk food, so children should not be allowed to only consume sugar-coated reads. Parents should encourage children to pick up substantive books. This encouragement needn’t “destroy a child’s love of reading,” as Gaiman writes. The very best books merge excellent content with delightful style. They foster knowledge while appealing to the imagination.
In case it might be helpful to readers, here is a list of 10 titles—many Newbery winners and classics—that seem to fit this description. The books are organized loosely by complexity.
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This book tells the story of a stranded airplane pilot, who meets an otherworldly little prince in the Sahara desert. The little prince is a fascinating character, and the author’s watercolor illustrations are beautiful. There is a gorgeous pop-up book version.
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norman Juster
The Phantom Tollbooth was a personal childhood favorite. Its protagonist, Milo, is a bored little boy who discovers a “phantom tollbooth”—and with it, an imaginative world in which numbers, words, music, and sounds come to life.
A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
This work is another imagination-stretching tale: Meg Murray’s father, a government scientist, has disappeared. Along with her little brother Charles, Meg sets out on an intergalactic adventure to find him.
At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald
George MacDonald has written several other lovely children’s books—The Princess and the Goblin is a must-read. But this book is perhaps his sweetest. A little boy named Diamond meets the mysterious lady North Wind one blustery night, and she brings him on many adventures through the night sky.
The Tale of Desperaux, by Kate DiCamillo
DiCamillo’s book was recently adapted for film, but of course the book is better. It has lovely, interesting characters: perhaps most notably, the deeply conflicted rat Chiaroscuro.
African-Americans, for understandable reasons, tend not to be “regional” people. And given their history, I can understand fully why a resident of South Phoenix might feel closer to Harlem or the South Side of Chicago than to the Valley of the Sun as a whole, for example. But apparently, increasingly, the rest of us are starting to think the same way. Marketers like Claritas Prizm have divided our population into 66 tribes with colorful names like Money and Brains, God’s Country, Big Sky Families, Boomtown Singles, and other such. And America’s Zip codes are classified by which is dominant.
What seems to be happening is that, say, the Money and Brains pockets of Southern California identify more with similar pockets in New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Dallas than they do with Southern California as a region; and the same all over the country. The one exception to this is when sports comes on TV; for the duration of the game, all the tribes of Eastern New England rally behind the Red Sox, all of Southeast Michigan behind the Detroit Tigers, and the Los Angeles Basin behind the Lakers.
(Sports team owners themselves are not that regionally loyal, often moving to whichever city will build them the nicest stadium at the expense of the public. Los Angeles Lakers? Los Angeles Trolley Dodgers? The only time there are any appreciable number of lakes in Los Angeles is during a severe El Nino, when the city gets national attention—and more than a little schadenfreude—for mudslides. And for most of the last half of the 20th century there was not a single trolley to dodge in the city. The explanation, of course, is that the Lakers were once in Minneapolis, a place richly endowed with lakes, and the Dodgers were in Brooklyn.)
Furthermore, members of these tribes change tribes when they marry, when they have kids, and when the kids move out of the house. I have noticed that in many parts of our society the apartheid between People With Kids and People Without Kids is radical; they live in different kinds of places, and they vote differently. Admittedly, when you have kids, you kind of go into what I call the “baby monastery” and have to do different things for the next 20 years than you used to, but to completely segregate yourself from People Without Kids—or for People Without Kids to segregate themselves from you—is sad. Read More…