"If you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols like handbags and belts and clothes and shoes and televisions and cars? One thing I’ve learned is that one person’s illogical belief is another person’s survival skill."
Dwarf Fortress: A Marxist Analysis
What one does in Dwarf Fortress is create a colony of an existing dwarven fortress – you’re always sent out as a team from a much larger existing stronghold elsewhere, and your foreign relations with other dwarves are limited to that particular fortress, on the whole. Even though your settlement is independent and self-governing, and the relations with the mother fortress mostly those of trade, the purpose of the game in all its open-endedness can be nothing other than to create oneself in the image of the previous fortress. In other words, fundamentally in Dwarf Fortress you reproduce the existing structure of dwarven society on a merely quantitatively expanded scale.[more inside]
Political theorist Juan Linz died Tuesday at the age of 86. His work focused on comparative government, including studies on totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. Linz was also a prominent critic of the presidential system of government used in the United States and in much of Latin America. In his essay, "The Perils of Presidentialism" (later expanded into book form as The Failure of Presidential Democracy), Linz argued that presidential systems are inherently unstable, as they invariably lead to standoffs between the president and the legislature, each with competing claims to legitimacy. Thus, as in many Latin American countries, presidential systems frequently collapse, and often are replaced with dictatorships. The one exception to that pattern has been the United States--at least until recently. In an interview in January of this year, Linz argued that the US was succumbing to the same dysfunction as other presidential regimes. In Slate, Matthew Yglesias commemorates Linz by warning that the American system of government may be doomed to an endless cycle of crisis and constitutional disintegration, as evidenced by the government shutdown. Dylan Matthews concurs, arguing that the shutdown is "James Madison's fault."
All debates about ideas are shaped by their material conditions...Technology intellectuals work in an attention economy. They succeed if they attract enough attention to themselves and their message that they can make a living from it. It’s not an easy thing to do.
The sound of silence - Research by Dr. Chia-Jung Tsay published in PNAS suggests that top musicians are judged as much for the visual aspects of their performances, as much as for the aural ones, regardless of the experience level of the listener or judge
Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government. "Why does public conflict over societal risks persist in the face of compelling and widely accessible scientific evidence? We conducted an experiment to probe two alternative answers: the “Science Comprehension Thesis” (SCT), which identifies defects in the public’s knowledge and reasoning capacities as the source of such controversies; and the “Identity-protective Cognition Thesis” (ICT) which treats cultural conflict as disabling the faculties that members of the public use to make sense of decision-relevant science. [more inside]
Academics are farmers and intellectuals are hunters - and the hunters may be the future of the liberal arts, writes Jack Miles.
Paul Solotaroff of Rolling Stone investigates the life of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez and the path he took from NFL player to murder suspect.
In 2003, the New York Times published a lengthy article by Lisa Belkin about women who were choosing to leave the workforce to be stay-at-home moms: The Opt-Out Generation. In the the last ten years, the article's conclusions regarding upper-middle-class women's choices about work and motherhood have been debated, studied, rediscovered, denied, lamented, and defended. It's been noted by many that "most mothers have to work to make ends meet but the press writes mostly about the elite few who don’t." Ms. Belkin's piece also never mentioned what what a disaster divorce or the death of a spouse can create for dependent women in such situations. After a decade, the Times is revisiting the topic: The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In.
Why would a liberal education, the deeper acquaintance with a number of diverse modes of symbolic production, enhance our freedom? University of Chicago sociology professor Andreas Glaeser, in his 2005 Aims of Education Address to incoming students, muses: How About Becoming a Poet?
The School of Venus, or the Ladies Delight, Reduced into Rules of Practice (digitized by Google Books) is a delightfully raunchy sex manual from 1680, captured in wonderfully engaging detail. [more inside]
Advice for college grads from two sociologists From the writers of the always-amazing Sociological Images, it is directed towards college graduates, but useful for everyone.
What Do Philosophers Believe? David Bourget and David Chalmers, co-directors of Philpapers.com, have written an article based on the PhilPapers Survey of professional philosophers. It covers the popularity of various views, correlations with age, gender, and geography, a factor analysis that tries to isolate important underlying factors; and discussion of the results of the Metasurvey, bringing out just how surprising some of the survey results are. The article is forthcoming in Philosophical Studies. [more inside]
David Arenberg on being the only Jewish inmate in a state prison.
Social Evolution - The Ritual Animal "Praying, fighting, dancing, chanting — human rituals could illuminate the growth of community and the origins of civilization." [more inside]
In a sense what we have is the Americanisation of Britain, or at least of England. A society where everybody has then sense that they can be anything they want to be, and where hardly anybody can. Crooked Timber's Chris Bertram on the evolution of British society since the seventies.
There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. CS Lewis on The Inner Ring.
Psychohistory, the imaginary scientific field created by Isaac Asimov in his "Foundation" series, may no longer be fiction:
Song Chaoming, for instance, is a researcher at Northeastern University in Boston. He is a physicist, but he moonlights as a social scientist. With that hat on he has devised an algorithm which can look at someone’s mobile-phone records and predict with an average of 93% accuracy where that person is at any moment of any day. Given most people’s regular habits (sleep, commute, work, commute, sleep), this might not seem too hard. What is impressive is that his accuracy was never lower than 80% for any of the 50,000 people he looked at.Full article at The Economist.
And that's a bad idea. Much of standard group behavior data in Sociology/Economics/Psychology is based on Americans. Which don't seem (contrary to universal assumptions) to be shared by a lot of the World.
The New York Times asks seven 'experts': Does makeup ultimately damage a woman’s self-esteem, or elevate it? [more inside]
Unpacking the Beauty Premium, Borland J & Leigh A, unpub., 2013.
The first Australian study of the financial return to physical attractiveness finds its worth an astounding $32,150 in annual salary, with men of above average looks typically commanding $81,750 compared to $49,600 for men with below-average looks.
Men with below-average looks were 15 per cent less likely than normal to be employed and were typically employed for a 9 per cent lower wage. They were also less likely to be married and less likely to married to a woman of high income.
In 2012, 40 percent of Americans didn’t vote. The research on this website is an attempt to determine why so many citizens opt out of this fundamental civic duty, using extensive survey research as well as interviews with nonvoters to give a voice to those who are often ignored or marginalized by politicians and the news media. [via this phys.org article that provides a nice summary]
"Reading is always an act of empathy" - John Green of Crash Course (previously) explains "How and Why We Read" (... and recommends his favorite books). [more inside]
You can accurately judge a person just by looking at their shoes, psychologists say. "Researchers at the University of Kansas found that people were able to correctly judge a stranger's age, gender, income, political affiliation, emotional and other important personality traits just by looking at the person's shoes." Virginia Postrel responded: "The study made a solid contribution to research on first impressions, but it was hardly earthshaking. By getting so much attention, however, it demonstrated a sociological truth: People love to talk about shoes. Even those who dismissed the research as silly often felt compelled to call radio stations or comment on websites, providing details about their own choices. Why this fascination with footwear? " [more inside]
How to Stay Stuck in the Wrong Career (PDF) (non-PDF version requires free registration): Conventional career change methods...are all part of what I call the “plan and implement” model of change. It goes like this: First, determine with as much clarity and certainty as possible what you really want to do. Next, use that knowledge to identify jobs or fields in which your passions can be coupled with your skills and experience. Seek advice from the people who know you best and from professionals in tune with the market. Then simply implement the resulting action steps. Change is seen as a one-shot deal: The plan-and-implement approach cautions us against making a move before we know exactly where we are going. It all sounds reasonable, and it is a reassuring way to proceed. Yet my research suggests that proceeding this way will lead to the most disastrous of results, which is to say no result. (by Herminia Ibarra, who expands on these ideas in her book Working Identity)
A study-based analysis of UK gaming magazines in the 1980s and 90s argues that the analysis of computer games, independent of attributes such as the platform or narrative, becomes more evident after March 1985 when the term 'gameplay' begins to be used in this media.
"This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex and the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?"
Chimp Fights and Trolley Rides from Radiolab's morality episode: "try to answer tough moral quandaries. The questions--which force you to decide between homicidal scenarios--are the same ones being asked by Dr. Joshua Greene. He'll tell us about using modern brain scanning techniques to take snapshots of the brain as it struggles to resolve these moral conflicts. And he'll describe what he sees in these images: quite literally, a battle taking place in the brain. It's 'inner chimp' versus a calculator-wielding rationale."
"Parting with treasure easier said than done: Churchgoers give far less than they think" is the latest feature article from the Association of Religion Data Archives, which "strives to democratize access to the best data on religion." The site includes a browsable archive of religious survey data, a quick statistical roundup, international religious profiles, feature articles on topics like the rise of Mormons, Muslims and nondenominational churches in the USA ("nondenominational and independent churches may now be considered the third largest religious group in the country...Only the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention are larger"), links to sources like the 2010 U.S. Religious Census, a Religion Research Hub (with tutorials and helpful advice on best practices when theorizing, conceptualizing and measuring religious behavior) and lots more.
Perry Anderson's book length three part series on the history of India from the beginnings of its independence movement, through independence and partition into its recent history as a nation-state is the latest in a series of erudite, opinionated and wordy articles in The London Review of Books by the UCLA professor of history and sociology on the modern history of various countries, so far taking in Brazil, Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, the EU, Russia, Taiwan and France. [more inside]
A Confederacy of Bachelors [NYT] Meet the brotherhood of Fortress Astoria: Danaher Dempsey, Luke Crane, Rick Brown and Shyaporn Theerakulstit, best friends and artists. They have no children, no linear career histories, no readily disposable savings. The four men, all heterosexual, approaching 40 and never married, have lived together for 18 years, give or take a revolving guest roommate, cohabitating in spaces like an East Village walk-up, a Chelsea loft and, now, a converted office space in Queens. [more inside]
Excellence is mundane. Excellence is accomplished through the doing of actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, habitualized, compounded together, added up over time.: An Ethnographic Report on Stratification and Olympic Swimmers (1989) [more inside]
"Why Is the Teen Birth Rate in the United States So High and Why Does It Matter?" Kearney MS & Levine PB (2012) Journal of Economic Perspectives, 26(2): 141–63. [more inside]
The New Elitists (NYT) - "...omnivores seem highly distinct and their tastes appear to be a matter of personal expression. Instead of liking things like opera because that’s what people of your class are supposed to like, the omnivore likes what he likes because it is an expression of a distinct self. Perhaps liking a range of things explains why elites are elite, and not the other way around. By contrast, those who have exclusive tastes today — middle-class and poorer Americans — are subject to disdain. If the world is open and you don’t take advantage of it, then you’re simply limited and closed-minded. Perhaps it’s these attributes that explain your incapacity to succeed." [more inside]
"when i went into cyberspace i went into it thinking that it was a place like any other place and that it would be a human interaction like any other human interaction. i was wrong when i thought that. it was a terrible mistake." Pandora's Vox: On Community in Cyberspace [more inside]
Reflections On The Norwegian Massacre (60 min audio interview) On July 22, 2011, Norway suffered a catastrophe: its main government buildings were bombed, and scores of young people were killed and maimed at a summer youth congress. Nils Christie, a prominent Norwegian sociologist and criminologist, talks with CBC IDEAS about what happened and what it means for his country. [more inside]
According to research recently published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research[DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2011.01711.x], tattooed people drink significantly more than their peers (as well as other risky behaviours).
Brené Brown: Listening to shame. Filmed this month at TED in Long Beach, CA. (YouTube) Also see: The Power of Vulnerability (yt, previously on MeFi), and The Price of Invulnerability. [more inside]
Sam Richards: A Radical Experiment In Empathy (button underneath the video makes "interactive transcript" available, at link) [more inside]
Victorian Farm | Edwardian Farm -- 18 hours of BBC experimental archeology/historical documentaries, online. Archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn and historian Ruth Goodman spend two years living the life of rural country farmers.
On November 22, 2011, TEDxBrussels held an all day event whose theme was: "A Day in the Deep Future." Speakers were asked to try and contemplate what life will be like for mankind in 50 years. Overview. [more inside]
Robert Paul Wolff is most famous as the author of In Defense of Anarchism and as the "only person on the face of the earth who has read, cover to cover, Immanuel Kant's Inaugural Dissertation, Karl Marx's doctoral dissertation, and Newt Gingrich's doctoral dissertation." His memoir has also drawn considerable interest. But as a part of his blogging he has habitually offered "micro-tutorials" to encourage his readers to re-acquaint themselves with the classics of what might be called the Heroic Age in the study of society -- the writings of Marx, Freud, Weber, Ricardo, Mannheim, and others. His newest micro-tutorial, on Durkheim's Suicide, begins today.
Sociologist Lauren Rivera of Northwestern spent two years researching the way elite financial and law firms really select their new hires. The original paper is behind a sciencedirect paywall, but Bryan Caplan has a nice write-up about the results. You're much better off with a degree from a tippy-top school than just any Ivy -- but they don't actually care about what you learned there. Your grades don't matter that much as long as they're not bad. Climbing a famous mountain or making a varsity team, especially if you're nationally competitive, would be wise. And oh yeah -- they do care what you got on your SATs. More reax from the Chronicle of Higher Ed and physicist Steve Hsu.
An article in the Guardian asks why do so many Goths stick with their subculture through their adult lives, through career, parenthood and well into middle age. [more inside]