Links: Education climates, housing, who pays?, fusion, art, and more

* Teacher who got fired after student stole her nude pics sues school district. Good. She should win.

* Welcome to the next housing crisis: chronic undersupply of homes for a growing country. A point I’ve made before but that is worth making again. Housing touches so many other issues: innovation, education, “income inequality,” opportunity.

* “Millennials like socialism — until they get jobs.” Sometimes students express shock and horror that anyone, anywhere would vote for Republicans. When they do, I sometimes ask, “How much did you pay in taxes last year?” They look at me, confused, and then I say something like, “When you can answer that question immediately, you’ll know one reason. Which isn’t an endorsement of the party as a whole or of specific Republicans, but it is a small piece that may offer a partial answer.” People subsidizing others and people being subsidized often have very different views.

* Is the cold fusion egg about to hatch? A question we’ve been asking for 60 years.

* “Why Reston, Virginia, Still Inspires Planners 50 Years Later: How the D.C. suburb’s pedestrian-centric, mixed-use approach came to dominate urban design.” This helps: “Simon’s ideas on urban design dated back to his early twenties, when he bicycled through Europe. As a gregarious conversationalist, he loved how this mode of transit allowed him to meet so many people.”

* “The New Old Masters: New Yorker Jacob Collins and his devoted students seek a radical reclamation of artistic tradition,” which makes many points I’ve long thought about but rarely articulated. For at least the last forty years visual art has been wildly bogus, for reasons Camille Paglia describes in Glittering Images and elsewhere.

* What Higher Education Can Learn From The Fall Of The Newspapers.

* Imagine If Conservatives in Academia Could Safely ‘Come Out.'”

* “Nafta May Have Saved Many Autoworkers’ Jobs.” Things you do not hear from politicians.

* “When will rooftop solar be cheaper than the grid?” In some places, it already is.

* Republican wonk Keith Hennessey: “I oppose Donald Trump.”

On the “manosphere” or “Red Pill”

Someone wrote:

I’m a reader of your blog and enjoy your thoughts on a wide variety of things. I’ve gone in the deep end regarding the Red Pill, I just don’t know what to believe and I’m seriously doubting myself at this moment. I picked up a book called The Rational Male by Rollo Tomassi and while it has good stuff in it, I can’t shake the feeling that it treats women like objects and whores ready to move on to the next guy. My gut tells me that isn’t the case but I could be totally wrong. I guess I’m looking for a deep connection with another woman and in that denial phase with all this information. I was inspired by your articles “Getting good with women and how I’ve done almost everything in my life wrong,” thought you could have some answers. I’m lost and it all seems so insane, if this stuff is true.

I’ll observe a couple of things:

First, I wrote about some of the issues with the communities formed by guys who lose or aren’t succeeding with women in “The appeal of ‘pickup’ or ‘game’ or ‘The Redpill’ is a failure of education and socialization.” That’s a good place to start. My essay on Clarice Thorn’s underrated Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser is also good.

Second, note that almost anyone in the communities you’re referencing ends up in them because they’ve failed in sense. The people—and by people I mostly mean “guys”—who are succeeding or at least satisfied don’t find themselves there. Always keep that in mind when dealing with any conglomeration of people, especially when they come bearing extreme grievances. I’m not the first person to observe that the hardest core feminists and hardest core Red Pillers are more alike in tone and stridency than they’re like normal people who are otherwise curious.

Speaking of normal people, there are some readers and writers who are mostly intellectually interested in the matters discussed by the communities, or who are successful but curious about why they’re successful, but they’re the minority. Everyone else is there to work out their shit. Almost no one will acknowledge this, which is a bad sign. In many domains it’s a bad idea to take advice without knowing something of the person giving the advice, what their interests are, so and forth. Taking advice from a pseudonymous stranger on the Internet who knows nothing of you and your life, while you know nothing or them or there life, is… unwise. As Gildor says in The Fellowship of the Ring:

” ‘… The choice is yours: to go or wait.’ [Gildor said.]
‘And it is also said,’ answered Frodo, ‘Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.’
‘Is it indeed?’ laughed Gildor. ‘Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; how should I choose better than you? But if you demand advice, I will for friendship’s sake give it.’ “

Gildor’s reluctance is the reluctance of wisdom.

Be wary of taking advice from anonymous strangers on the Internet with no stake in the outcome of the event itself (this includes taking advice from me, though I do at least use my real name). Some things in The Red Pill and the constellation of related sites are interesting and possibly true, but those things are dwarfed by nonsense and haters. Relying on it for life guidance is at best perilous. What’s the incentive for posting there? To win Internet points? Who cares? What kind of person compete for this? You don’t know anything about the real people posting. Some are probably decent enough people, but there’s probably a large proportion of keyboard jockeys and Internet losers. The Internet is a great place for anti-social people with no friends to find others like themselves.

In addition, if you’re unhappy with some aspect of your life, be aware that 90% of your effort should be spent doing things and interacting with people in the real world, and 10% or less should be spent online or reading people’s theories or whatever. Pretty much everything useful I’ve ever learned I’ve learned from doing things, and that’s true of most people.

I would count “writing” as “doing things,” for me, and the writing only works if it reflects things done. That goes back to the issue of who’s giving advice. Business leaders are too busy running companies to fuck around online. Athletes play and practice their sports at least 90% of the time. I’m a proponent of Starting Strength (in addition: “Everything You Know About Fitness Is a Lie“), and everything I’ve read in Starting Strength would be useless without the context of performing the lifts. When I was deadlifting I couldn’t figure out if I should hold my shoulder blades back. I read the deadlift section and learned the answer is “no.” Although I technically “read” that sentence before I started in earnest, I didn’t know enough to put it into practice until I’d been at it a while. Reading without practice is perilous in a way similar to how taking advice without knowing something of the advice giver is perilous.

Online communities adversely select for pontificators, because doers are out doing. There can of course be a balance between the two—as this blog demonstrates, I have a strong pontificator streak—but I like to think that I do a lot of things too, and those things inform the writing you see here.

Anyway, I read the Rollo Tomassi book, The Rational Male, and it’s interesting in places. But it’s also badly written, badly edited, and badly laid out (or at least the version I read suffered from all three). There’s probably a better book lurking in the book I read. But writing a good book, from the level of the individual word to the level of the book as a whole, is very hard, which is why so few people do it. Writing a good book is also poorly remunerated relative to other activities that take similar amounts of time and dedication. There are of course exceptions to the preceding sentence but on the whole the number of people with the skills and grit necessary to learn to write a good book are better financially served doing other things. Robertson Davies famously said that the only reason to write a novel is because you feel like you must, or go mad, or die. Few writers have that drive. Maybe Tomassi will. Or maybe he’ll remain overly dogmatic.

Beware dogma.

Finally, the people who really matter are the artists and the movers. Be one or the other or both. Talk to real people in real life. Get off the computer. The people on Reddit have no sense of art or beauty. The really important things aren’t happening there. They’re happening in the actual world, where most people aren’t ideologues. Diversity exists and matters—not in the politically correct sense of the term “diversity,” but the real sense. Ideas do matter but they matter most in art and science. If you aren’t taking an idea and spinning it into art, or science, or technology, or business, the idea doesn’t matter. How many angels dance on the head of a pin? For centuries theologians cared. No one does today. Choose what matters. There is some truth in the stuff you’re reading. But the whole story is bigger and broader than any of the reducers to celestial mechanics can imagine.

Sexual Personae — Camille Paglia

It is shocking to me that I have gone for my entire adult life without anyone recommending Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. The book is marvelously full of ideas, making it easy to find ludicrous assertions next to brilliant ones. Rarely have I read a book so full of life yet with so much that is wrong. For example she writes that “Female tragic protagonists are rare. Tragedy is a male paradigm of rise and fall, a graph in which dramatic and sexual climax are shadowy analogy.” The analogy might be “shadowy,” but it is also strained and dubious: there is no reason why sexuality has to be connected to tragedy. But Pagilia also writes from a different underlying philosophical perspective than most of her academic peers:

This book takes the point of view of Sade, the most unread major writer in Western literature. Sade’s work is a comprehensive satiric critique of Rousseau, written in the decade after the first failed Rousseauist experiment, the French Revolution, which ended not in political paradise but the Reign of Terror. [. . .] For Sade, getting back to nature [. . .] would be to give free rein to violence and lust. I agree. Society is not the criminal but the force which keeps crime in check.

sexual_personaeYet few modern sophisticates realize as much. Some contemporary fiction reflects the Paglian-Sadean view—Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is a sterling example—but for the most part it is absent. This passage is also admirable for being comprehensible; compare it to, for example, the passage quotes in “What happened with Deconstruction? And why is there so much bad writing in academia?
Paglia has an important virtue not common to contemporary English professors: she writes clearly and therefore what she says can be evaluated.

The excerpt above is included to give a flavor for Paglia’s writing, but Sexual Personae is impossible to effectively excerpt from, since the book moves from analyses of ancient times up to the late 19th Century, and although common threads bind various sections together it is easy to lose sight of how exactly someone like, say, Emily Dickinson is related to Goethe. I can’t imagine many people will read or want to read the whole book from beginning to end; it covers a fabulous number of artists and periods, and for me the 19th Century and Romantic artists were the least interesting, though you may of course differ. The long introduction and the strongest chapters more than make up for the weakest ones. Even if I had or wanted to develop the knowledge necessary to write such a book I doubt I’d be able to sustain sufficient interest.

Contemporary humanities scholarship has become too focused on pedantry and minutia at the expense of being interesting. Perhaps humanities scholarship has always been like this but the problems are especially evident in an era when relatively few scholars appear to even believe that such a thing as “good writing” can exist. Still, I would like to see a stronger emphasis on “being interesting” and personal experience in most humanities journals. In talking with English professors at conferences about Harold Bloom, I’m struck by their high, level of hostility.

Not all sections are equally strong; the sections on Shakespeare, Sade, and Spencer are amazing, but the closer Paglia draws to the present the less plausible her interpretations become. But her attention to myth, to pattern, and to the ways art and life draw on each other excuse other flaws, which may be the flipside of strengths. As noted above, however, the number of fascinating moments is high:

Theatrical self-transformation, a seductive principle of our time, can never be reconciled with our time. From antiquity on, professional theater has been under a moral cloud. Autocrat, artist, actor: freedom of persona is magical but destabilizing. [. . .] Art remains an avenue of escape from morality. Actors live in illusions; they are skittish shamans, drenched in being.

and one senses that Sexual Personae is a virtuosic display that needs more attention. Hence this post.

Life: The artists and the analysist edition

“One advantage of thinking about psychoanalysis as an art, instead of a science, is that you don’t have to believe in progress.”

—Adam Philips, “The Art of Nonfiction No. 7” in The Paris Review. Compare to “Politics repeats itself while science and art make it new.”

Life: The right attitude toward art edition

“They regarded art not as a quest for aesthetic perfection but a joyful inquiry into the inexhaustible variety of the world, closely allied with history, natural science and the arguments of everyday life.”

From Jonathan Rée’s “A Few Home Truths,” hidden alas behind a paywall.

Politics repeats itself while science and art make it new

In “Coolidge biography shows how little American politics has changed” Philip Greenspun points out that “Coolidge is primarily about events that occurred roughly 100 years ago, but the political debates often seem as though they could be in tomorrow morning’s news.” Greenspun points out a large number of similarities, though I do think there are more notable differences than he lists; one of the more prominent is the calls, whenever something bad happens, for the federal government to Do Something. Many of those calls in Coolidge’s time were directed at the local or at most state level.

Still, most of what he says is correct and to me the many similarities between 1910 – 1930 and the present imply that a lot of political posturing is wasted signaling. Energy towards politics would probably be better directed towards art, science, and technology—the latter fields at least move unambiguously forward, and in my view the first field does too.* A really good book lasts for decades or centuries while political opinions are almost always of the moment The effort expended in fields that make progress move not just the individual but the whole of humanity forward; most energy spent on politics is just a circle and maybe even a circle jerk.

Science and technology in particular increase the size of the pie that politicians (and the voters who elect them) can fight over.


* When I hear people—usually professors or wannabe professors—argue that art doesn’t move forward like technology (sample, from Wendy Lesser’s Why I Read: “There is no progress in the world of letters, as there is, say, in science or manufacturing. As the centuries pass, we do not get better or smarter at reading, and the authors among us do not get better at writing”), I usually ask them why people keep creating so much new art and why so many people want the new stuff, not the old stuff. By now, there are an infinite number of books to read and an infinite number of songs to hear. If art really didn’t move forward and become better over time, at least as defined by popularity, we wouldn’t see people constantly move towards the new. I haven’t heard a really good response to this point.

Why fiction? Why reading?

When we pick up a decent book, we live not once but twice, and each new book allows us to live again and absorb the thoughts of someone who has absorbed thousands of other people’s thoughts. The book is the most powerful medium yet invented for intellectual stimulation, growth, and change. The bounty is endless and in the contemporary world very cheap. Most, though, reject the gift. Is this not strange?

Pretty much everyone who is deeply interested in reading gets and/or writing gets some version of the utility question that I answered in the first paragraph (and have answered in other places). Each answer has its own idiosyncrasies, but I think they have a common core that revolves around knowledge and pleasure. The issue is on my mind because a friend wrote me to say regarding Asking Anna, “thanks for having thought through that book content and made it available for people like me to read and then not have to do some of the work. I like that.” The crazy thing is that crazy people have been doing this for centuries: packaging many thousands of hours of thinking into works that take only a few hours to read.

That’s true of fiction and nonfiction, and in some ways lately nonfiction has been leading the perceive quality race. But historically fiction has tended to advance the state of the art in prose, with novelists especially leading the charge towards renewing the language. Arguably this tendency has decreased over time, but I’ve never read a great nonfiction writer who didn’t also read fiction, or read a lot of fiction at one point.

Good novelists tend to be obsessed with the quality of their prose in a way fewer nonfiction writers are. Too many nonfiction writers focus on content at the expense of form and beauty; some have been glamored by some of the stupid literary theory that passes for erudition in some academic circles (Katharine Frank’s books, like Plays Well in Groups: A Journey Through the World of Group Sex, suffer from this, though she is merely a salient example and far from the only offender).

Fiction tends to train us to attend to language, and books like Wood’s How Fiction Works and Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer do the same. When one becomes sufficiently attuned to language, poorly written work or even work that is merely competent becomes aggravating, like a song messed by a drunk guitarist.

That’s my short utilitarian defense of fiction, but I read it for pleasure. The history of the West is one in which pleasure is suspect, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition; sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for less-good reasons. That tradition encourages us to make sure that pleasure is always deferred, and that’s the tradition that led to the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution and hence to the present day. We’re still getting somewhat used to enormous material wealth, at least by historical standards. But pleasure has its own importance, and there is pleasure in the many lives we can choose to live through books. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that so many people do not make the choice.

Every great book is the result of years or decades of studying and experience, distilled into a volume you can read in a few hours. How could you not want that?

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