I saw this word for the first time this week and my heart leaped upward! “At last!” I said.

Let’s leave my heart’s upward mobility aside for a little bit and look at what is happening here. I want to place it on the linguistic level and also on the historical scale.


The linguistic part is easy, even if it may be unfamiliar. There is a Greek verb izein, meaning, roughly, to make or do. Those core verbs are notoriously general in meaning. This verb is the source of the English suffix -ize, which means to make something into something it had not previously been. Think of uses like hypnotize and plagiarize. If you can mange it, do not think of “hide your eyes,” which Tom Lehrer introduced as a nice rhyme for plagiarize.

But as simple as it is, it is also fundamental. This suffix gives us a way to say that something was that and have been made into this. [1] The problem comes with people who will want to say that it was always this. It has not been “changed into this;” it has not been “ized.” In this case, I think they are wrong.

I hope that part is clear. That was the easy part.


The place that slavery has held in the teaching of history in the public schools has been a front of the culture wars for a very long time. When I was teaching history in an elementary school in the early ‘60s, I tried and failed to get a copy of an American History text made for use in southern schools. I had been told that the American story as it bore on race, on states’ rights, and on the Civil War, was told in very different ways than northern texts tell it. Almost certainly true, but I couldn’t get a copy.

A recent article in The Hedgehog by Johann Neem describes the current state of this front in the war. There has been an account of American history called the 1619 Project and a response, a contrasting perspective ginned up during the last days of the Trump administration, called the 1776 Report. To oversimplify each of these oversimplifications in turn, the first says that American history is based on the moral blot of slavery and nothing else; the second says that it is based on the aspirations of the early patriots—liberty, justice, and freedom for some—and nothing else.

Neem wants to begin to talk about an “adequate history.” I think that is an important step in the right direction.

Is there a way to tell an honest story about our past, one that squarely faces the history of race and exploitation without evasion? Most Americans think so. In contrast with the narrow understanding of American history offered by the post-Americans (the 1619 crowd) on one hand, and reactionary nationalists (1776) , on the other, it is the belief of most Americans that the United States is a flawed but worthy nation. [2]

That’s what Americans want, according to a lot of polls by a lot of organizations. But, speaking as a former history teacher here, this lopsided preference that “the truth be told” is not a willingness to be the people who tell it. It is a preference that someone else tell it.

At this point Neem follows William McNeill in making a distinction I think is too much and one I think will not be successful. Here is what Neem says:

The question is what kind of history do we want—and need—to have. The answer determines what we teach in our schools. In other words, we are arguing over what the historian William McNeill called “mythistory.”

“Facts,” McNeill wrote, do not “in and of themselves, give meaning or intelligibility to the record of the past…. To become a history, facts have to be put together into a pattern that is understandable and credible.”

going to save it. His point is about what facts are for. The real problem, according to Neem, “,,,arises in the organization of the facts. One cannot have history without facts, but one cannot put facts together without a conception of history.”

Yes. That is crucial. But I would like to see us get all that work done just using “narrative.” The narrative of our nation is what we want to teach and it is the sense of who we are that strengthens us or weakens us. The facts that support the narrative need to be true, of course, but there are lots of other true facts we are not using. When Sen. Moynihan famously said that no one was entitled to his own facts, he misspoke. He meant that you couldn’t just make them up. But he could not have meant that you couldn’t choose the ones that best supported your narrative. It is what he did, after all.

So I don’t want to follow McNeill into “mythistory.” I have just given one reason. Here is the other reason. No history is going to work if the nation’s people don’t want to tell it. It has to be appealing and it needs to be a narrative you can tell in public. It has to be a narrative that will pass muster with people who would prefer to substitute their own private narrative, but who support your telling because they know there is no other single narrative that will do the just that has to be done.

This is, in other words, “the narrative we have agreed to tell and to support in public.” It is a narrative we like to tell, even though we have a private subgroup narrative that we also tell in the appropriate circumstances.

That’s where we need to wind up. Rejecting the principled hocus pocus of the 1776 Project is a good start. Rejecting the racialization of American history at the heart of the 1619 Project is also a good start. But if there is not a story we want to tell, neither of those will be enough.

[1] Just so we don’t get distracted, the same transformation is going on in Latin using the verb facere, which shows up in English as -ify. Think of words like “sanctify” or “reify.”
[2] Johann N. Neem, “A Usable Past for a Post-American Nation”

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Trump and the Shallow State

I experienced an awkward event today. It was almost an ambush. I sat down to write a snarky post about Trump’s allegations that he is being hounded by the Deep State. My idea was that Trump’s true preference is a Shallow State, maybe one layer deep. This would be the layer that he and his cronies controlled.

It’s a perfectly respectable point and the opposition of “Shallow State,” an expression no one uses, to “Deep State,” the heart of Trumpist apologetic, sounded pretty good to me. So what happened?
Well, I ran across an article by Robert B. Horowitz, published last year in the journal Policy Studies. Horowitz makes the same point I was making, but he draws the language out of Max Weber’s well-known essay “Politics as a Vocation.” As much as I like writing snarky political essays, Weber language is better, so I will just pass it along. Here is the first part of the abstract of Horowitz’s article.

“Donald Trump and his loyalists invoked the concept of the deep state when confronted with resistance to the president’s agenda. The hazy concept of the deep state was tied to the long-standing conservative critique of the administrative state and the growth of the federal bureaucracy. Together, they conveyed reproach that Trump was subverted by a shadowy network of unelected bureaucrats that illegitimately holds the levers of real power in the United States. But there is no deep state.”

Even if I didn’t accept the analysis in that paragraph, I would gladly celebrate the structure. Look at the three successive sentences; long, complex, and careful. “Donald Trump…invoked the concept;” then “The hazy concept…was tied;” then “Together they conveyed…” And then, like a single stroke on a tympani, “But there is no deep state.”

Lovely. Every now and then, I produce a paragraph like that and I just take the rest of the day off.

Then Horowitz begins to draw on Weber’s language. This kind of conflict, Weber says, is a familiar type. It is the conflict between liberal and populist conceptions of democracy. “Liberal democracy” is what the founders gave us. [1] The populist conception was very vividly enacted by the Trumpist mob who invaded the House of Representatives on the explicit grounds that it was the House that “belonged to “the people.”

Notice how stark the contrast is between the rationales. The Constitution specifies a way of electing a President. It is clunky and it over-represents rural areas, but it is the method they chose. American officeholders, state and federal, take their offices pledging to uphold the Constitution. When commentators accuse Trump of violating his oath of office by doing the things he did and by refusing to to the things he could have done, this is what they have in mind.

The populist rationale is that they don’t like the outcome and are therefore—therefore!!—not bound by it. They argue that in a democracy “the people” rule and they are the people.

Each of these perspectives has integrity because it is held together by a distinct ethic. Weber calls them, respectively, “an ethic of responsibility” and “an ethic of conviction.” [2] You see this ethic of responsibility when the D’s take over and begin passing programs and staffing agencies, as, for instance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) just on the off chance that there might be more floods and tornadoes. You see this ethic of conviction when the raw power of a belief is held to substitute for the truth of it. The “truth” is in how strongly it is held.

That’s what’s really going on here. When the President calls the Secretary of State in Georgia and bases his demand on “All I need is another 10,800 votes,” we see the urgency of the desire overwhelming everything. And Secretary Raffensperger, whose oath required him to uphold the law (that’s the ethic of responsibility), was accused of disloyalty (that’s the ethic of conviction). The heart of the Trumpist charge against V. P. Mike Pence was that he had “let us down.”

I am grateful to Professor Horowitz for reminding me how clean and insightful Weber’s language is. I am unhappy with Horowitz only for depriving me of the transitory pleasure of today’s snarky essay on the Shallow State. Not a bad trade, really.

[1] They did not, of course, call it “democracy, a word that meant “mob rule” in the 18th Century. They called it a “republic.
[2] There is, in fact, a certain bleak humor in the possibility that the master of the ethic of conviction might actually be convicted. There are issues of justice there, but I am focusing on the simple pleasure of the overlapping meanings.

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Why do we call it peer pressure?

I was just wondering.

“Peer pressure” is an expression first recorded in English in 1971. I was surprised to learn that. I was in grad school and in my 30s by then and I would have said that it is an expression I had heard all my life. In fact, I think I remember fighting my way through the Gilbert and Sullivan sense of “peer”—Peers will be peers/and youth will have its fling”—just to get to “a jury of one’s peers.”

Maybe not. But I can tell you for sure that when I looked at “pressure” in this expression, it hit me like “relief” in “tax relief.” A Democratically inclined wordsmith pointed out that you are saying something about taxes when you call a reduction in the rate, a “relief.”

In the expression “tax relief” you appear to be saying something about “the lifting of a burden.” In fact, English gets the word from the Latin levare, “to lift up, to lighten.” But the power of the expression is the silent categorization of taxes as the kind of thing from which one ought to desire relief. Taxes are not, in this construction, “the price we pay for civilization.” [1] “Relief” is a word that instructs us not to look for a benefit, but only at the immediate cost. And that is the power of “relief” in the expression “tax relief.”

What is the power of the word “pressure” in “peer pressure?” It helps us that it is a recent coinage. We still have a grip on ways “pressure” was used back in the 70s. Pressure, for instance, is not persuasion. The reason “make him an offer he can’t refuse” has become so well known is that it sounds like a bargaining situation—that’s the value of the word “offer”—but the narrative shows us that coercion is meant. Similarly a “pressure defense” in basketball makes it very difficult for the offense to operate at all. The “pressure” in a high pressure job has to do with the offer of rewards and the threat of failure.

As I was saying, we are familiar with “pressure” as a general notion. So we introduce pressure as something one’s “equals” might exert. [2] For our purposes, it doesn’t really matter in what way these others are your equals. The definition in etymonline.com says that when it was introduced around 1300, it meant “equal in rank, character, or status.” If fact, the images that a search turns up all have to do with teenagers as if adults no longer have to take account of the views of their peers. [This set of two images suggests the product of the search. Note that there is nothing remotely like pressure in the left hand image and that the right hand image relies on cigs. Oooh.]

The value, I think in looking at the expression “peer pressure” as an idea is all the other things it excludes. It excludes instruction, for example. If you want to do what the others are doing and don’t really know how, it would be very helpful if someone would teach you. There is no pressure in this instruction; no implicit threat.

It excludes emulation too. I was very nervous about starting doctoral studies—as one might be who escaped his undergraduate institution with very low GPA and who was admitted to a masters’ program on probation—and if I had showed up at Oregon and discovered that all the other male members of the group were wearing beards, I would have grown a beard as fast as I could push the hairs out of my chin. That is true even if they were very generous and accepting to beardless new members. I would have wanted very much to look like them and not shaving for awhile is the easy way. [3]

That is emulation. Entirely apart from any negative sanctions [4] you are attracted to the way your peers are. That is another meaning you walk by when you accept “peer pressure” as the kind of influence peers exert.

[1] Thank you Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Here is a longer (and better) version of the quotation: “It is true, as indicated in the last cited case, that every exaction of money for an act is a discouragement to the extent of the payment required, but that which in its immediacy is a discouragement may be part of an encouragement when seen in its organic connection with the whole. Taxes are what we pay for civilized society, including the chance to insure.”
[2] The English “peer” derives from the Latin “par,” equal.
[3] There is a very funny spoof of “the beatnik culture” in the movie What’s so Bad About Feeling Good?” These beatniks are determined to reject the values of the majority culture (bourgeois) and they reject it in lockstep, identically.
[4] Have you noticed that although you used to have to be careful to distinguish positive from negative sanctions, you don’t have to any more. “Sanction” now means “negative sanction” and if you want to mean something else, you have to specify and then swim upstream for awhile.

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Hesses Pass the Torch

For completely understandable reasons, there has been a lot of discussion lately about the peaceful transfer of power. It is the linchpin of any democratic system at the level of the nation-state. For smaller groups, the “transfer” is often the transfer of responsibility and obligation. And power too, of course.

My family—using the word to denote both the family I was born into and also the families we produced—has just last week had a peaceful transfer of power and I would like to tell you about it. Since the death of my parents, the top row of the family has been the four sons and their wives—for convenience, “the Brothers.” I am the second of the original set of four. Now, with the death of the eldest, the first of the new set of three.

The children of the Brothers—no grandchildren yet—have been labelled “the Cousins.” There are nine of them, all shown in this picture. Since they are all in their 50s and 60s by now, you could assume that the cast of characters has been stable for a long time. That is true.

But the Cousins have not been a group for a long time. By my calculation, less than a week. We went into this most recent family reunion expecting it to be the last one. It would have a nice narrative arc to it. We began these reunions after the death of the second parent, my mother, in 1988. We have met every few years since then. The idea that this series would come to an end with the death of the first son seems almost obvious. Maybe just “tidy.”

The last few reunions have been organized by a few of the Cousins. The idea was that each of the brothers would offer one of their clan to help do the planning and communication for that year. It didn’t work exactly that way, but it was close enough for us to feel that we had a system in place. But it was sputtering for a variety of reasons and the natural end seemed near.

I had no idea that the Cousins would constitute themselves as a group this time. By “group,” I don’t mean “pool,” as in the set of Hesses from which the organizers would be drawn. I mean “group” in the sense of meeting together, taking the measure of the group’s appetite for decisionmaking and deciding to be the ones—the group—that would make the next family reunion happen. It appears that is what happened.

How did it happen?

Someone like me would be sure to wonder just how such a thing happened. My theoretical predisposition is that there is a condition that makes if more likely and then an event that triggers the happening itself. I’ve heard stories about the trigger. One of the nine cousins, one who has had a lot of experience with business groups and therefore with “ice-breaking exercises” suggested a round of stories in which each person would be required to brag on himself or herself. [1]

That was an inspired choice. For one thing, the proposal would have taken some such form as “Why don’t we…?” The pronoun does not refer to a pool of people, as the Cousins have been; it refers to a group of people. It refers to the people in the room at the time and by happenstance or good planning, that included all nine Cousins. For another, in the several versions of the story I heard, the verb “brag” was used, as in “You have to “brag on yourself.” Well…”bragging” is not something Hesses are good at. The range of practice varied, as you would expect among the four fraternal households, but out and out bragging was not encouraged anywhere and was probably criticized most of the time when it appeared. [2]

Further—again as I was told the story by several participants—some of the early braggers were found to have bragged inadequately and were required to do it again. Something a little more egregious, please. I feel real delight in that. Not only do you have to brag, but you have to brag “enough” and there is a community of your peers making sure that the new norm—a norm distinctly different than anything that obtains among the Brothers—is honored. It is a simple and powerful way of saying two important things. One, “We” are not “Them.” “We” means everyone in the room. “Them” means the parents of everyone in the room. If the goal of the exercise was to distinguish “Us” from “Them” it is hard to think of a better one. And it was all done in high spirits, as it should have been.

Handing off the Torch

I wasn’t there, obviously. If we want to think of this as one generation handing the torch off to the next generation, I am of the handing off generation. There would be no reason at all for me to be there. All the members of the taking the handoff generation were there, however, and as I hear the stories, everyone had a part in constituting the group. I mean by that that everyone contributed something without which the group would not have become what it is.

That doesn’t mean it is a done deal, of course. All the agreements they made—whatever they were—could come to seem precipitous as the lives of each member pick back up again. The communications that were instant that night in that room could get frazzled over time and space. There is no way of knowing.

Still a group was formed and I, for one, am not going to bet against them. I hope to be an honored member of the “previous administration;” [See The West Wing, Season 7, Episode 22] to be told when and where the next reunion will be and to be invited to attend.

This event, whatever its eventual outcome, makes me hopeful. I attended this reunion confident that it would be our last. I may have reassured several inquirers that it would be the last. I don’t feel that way anymore. I am eager to see what happens next and I am prepared to be a fan.

Best of luck, everybody!

[1] I do, sometimes, use “themself” where the context will allow it, but not in a story about my family. No sir/ma’am!
[2] My parents famously disagreed about the appropriate attitude toward their progeny. Mother liked to say she was “proud” of her boys. Dad attempted to correct her, saying that they were “pleased.” In all likelihood, Dad was pleased and Mother was proud.

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We the people

What does the preamble to the Constitution really say? If you back away from it far enough so that you can see only the outlines, you find some surprising things. Here is today’s example

We, the people of the United States, in order to achieve a number of common goals (six are specifically listed) adopt this constitution. The logical flow is certainly clear. We have some common goals we would like to achieve. In order to help us do that, we adopt this constitution.

What happens if there are other goals, more attractive goals, that some us hold. What if some of these goals are in conflict with the ones we have specified? It doesn’t mean that we don’t have common goals; it means only that there are other goals that are more important to some of us.

Consider for instance “securing the blessings of liberty” and “promoting the general welfare.” We should probably take “liberty” as “independence from other nations,” especially Great Britain. It could not mean “liberty” as freedom from constraint. You can’t have a society in which constraint is not available to society at large to be exercised against breakers of the agreement. And furthermore, it cannot mean that the government is not empowered to specify the procedures for achieving the general welfare.

It seems odd that these two should have come into such conflict in the Covid pandemic. “Liberty” has been interpreted in some states as freedom to maintain active pools in which the virus can mutate and attack other citizens. This, of course, prolongs the pandemic and puts fellow citizens at risk of disease and death. It opposes the general welfare in the most flagrant ways.

When we go back to the formal structure of the Preamble—we, the people, in order to achieve certain common goals, adopt this Constitution to help us pursue them—there is no reason to think that “liberty” would come to be interpreted as freedom to oppose the general welfare, but it has.

There are two elements in this degradation. The first, alluded to above and illustrated by the anti-vax collage is that “liberty” has been expanded to impractical dimensions. The second is that common knowledge of what the “general welfare” requires has been denied in principle.

It was always the case, of course, that just what constituted the general welfare could not be independently inferred by each citizen. The idea was always that the stratum of citizens with the best sense of what the nation required would be trusted to say what that is. That is what has made taxes and military drafts possible. But if any formulation of “the general welfare” can be denied as without basis—a fabrication, perhaps a plot—then the general welfare can be asserted generally, but it cannot be specified. The implications of the general welfare for our own actions also cannot be specified. We need to be able to trust some account of what to do or we will never effectively coordinate our actions; that means that to the extent the general welfare requires the cooperation of the whole society, we will fail.

And we are failing.

What we would have to do differently in order to succeed is not a mystery. First, we would need to revise our understanding of “liberty” as the right to do whatever I think is right or, more commonly, whatever I think should be allowed. It cannot be that. Second, we would need to trust the most reliable notion of the general welfare we can get. No point in holding out for a perfect one. The best one we can get will be good enough.

Then, having resolved that one conflict—liberty v. the general welfare—we can give our best effort toward solving our most urgent common problems. We are not doing that now.

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“You can’t do it with turtles”

That line comes from George Fairbairn, the keeper of the turtles at the London Zoo. These are the turtles that William G. and Naeara H. stole and returned to the sea. William confesses that although he feels good about having launched the turtles, the project doesn’t seem to have launched him.

“You can’t do it with turtles, says the keeper, “but with people, you never know straightaway what does what. Maybe launching them did launch you, but you don’t know it yet.”

In 1975, Russell Hoban published Turtle Diary. Ten years later, they made a very engaging movie of it, starring Glenda Jackson and Ben Kingsley. It is the story of how two Londoners who are living bleak, unsatisfying lives, learn how to live more richly. I like the book better than the movie because the book separates the narrators. One chapter to William G, then one to Neaera H.

I’ve read the book many times by now, always one narrator at a time, and still I find new things. These are meanings that were always there in the sense that they were always available. I guess I find the meanings I am ready to find.

In her first chapter, Naeara delivers herself of this line: “I am tired of meek and cuddly creatures, my next book will be about a predator.” In fact, there will very likely not be a next book and what is wrong with her previous subjects—Gillian Vole and Delia Swallow—is not how cuddly they are, but how safe. Getting over the need to be “safe” is Naeara’s challenge in this story.

She does pretty well. In one of her last chapters, she has this:

I was [had been] waiting for the self inside me to come forward to the boundaries from which it has long ago withdrawn. Life would be less quiet and more dangerous, life is risky at the borders. Gillian Vole and Delia Swallow life in safe places. “Come,” I said to the self inside me, “Come out and take your chance.”

The story of how she did that is a different story than the one that called to me yesterday. Yesterday, I was attracted by how she describes this “coming alive” process to herself. Here are some of the ways.

She thinks of the turtles that she and William H. freed from the London Zoo and put into the aquarium. “All they had was themselves,” she says, “but they would keep going until they found what was in them to find.”

And then about herself:

No one could make me freer by putting me somewhere else. I had as much as the turtles: myself. [2] At least I, too, could die on the way to where I wanted to be. Gillian Vole! Not enough, not nearly enough. [1]

No one could make me freer by putting me somewhere else. I had as much as the turtles: myself. [2] At least I, too, could die on the way to where I wanted to be. Gillian Vole! Not enough, not nearly enough. [1]

As she begins to move toward more awareness, she has a moment when she looks around her apartment and sees it as full of things she doesn’t need and hasn’t cared about for a long time. Very sensibly, she packs them up and gets rid of them. But there are things in the apartment that can’t be dealt with quite that way.

She sees that her apartment has had “invisible wires criss-crossed in patterns of pain that had been there for years. I saw myself in days past, years past, stepping carefully and trying to keep my balance.

She also sees that she has been nose to nose with one particular pixel for a long time. She doesn’t say “pixel;” this is a 1975 book. She talks about the way a picture in a newspaper is made up of many half-tone dots. The idea expands really fast for her.

Each incidence of anything in life is just a single dot and my face is so close to that dot that I can’t see what it’s part of. I shall never be able to stand back far enough to see the whole picture. I shall die in blind ignorance and rage.”

Incidentally, if you have ever been there—I have—you learn that you don’t get to that ultimate despair while you are in the worst of it. That despair comes as you begin to come out of it and get a look at where you have been. So I take this wail of despair as a very good sign and I begin to have high hopes for Naeara H.

Thinks work out very well for Naeara. For one thing, she begins to have much more realistic expectations of life—of her life. There may never be another Delia Swallow and other cuddly creatures book, but the author is going to be just fine. And for another thing, she makes a friend of the zookeeper, who has been a part of her background for as long as the plot to rescue the turtles has occupied her.

These changes show up in her writing, of course. She is a writer, after all, and this is the last thing she writes:

Stiff but not formal
A dead cat says hello
This winter morning.

[1] The predator she bought, a water beetle, the hoped-for subject of yet another children’s book, wasn’t enough either.
[2] Not true, of course. Any biologist could tell you what resources the turtles have that Naeara has never dreamed of. Still, it’s a nice metaphor.

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Sugar and Spice?

The question of gender norms is contentious. (I like to begin with understatement.) I intend today some observations of this contentious subject which I expect will not be contentious. We’ll see.

Judge Barbara Milano Keenan of the 4th Circuit wrote the opinion, which holds that the Charter Day School (CDS) violated the constitutional rights of the girls enrolled in their school by requiring them to wear skirts. I’m going to offer a few quotes from Judge Keenan’s opinion first.

“The record is clear. By reducing girls to outdated caricatures of the “fairer” sex, the gender stereotypes animating the skirts requirement negatively impact female students throughout their educational experience. CDS’ stereotyped rationale for the skirts requirement – that girls are “fragile” and require protection by boys – is both offensive and archaic.”

She also wrote:

“Another expert opined that the skirts requirement “contradict[s] modern educational practices that foster independence, agency, and self-confidence,” by “teach[ing] both boys and girls that girls should value appearance over agency, and attractiveness over autonomy.”

And further:

“According to CDS, its female students are “fragile” and must acquiesce to having boys hold umbrellas over them when it rains. Considering this jaw-dropping assessment of girls’ capabilities, we may never know the full scope or all the consequences of CDS’ blatant, unapologetic discrimination against its female students. But the skirts requirement, harmless as it may seem to the defendants, requires only a pull of the thread to unravel the lifelong social consequences of gender discrimination.”

I think those three are enough to give the flavor of Judge Keenan’s views. What I would like to do is to look at the structure of the argument. The gender styles I will consider here are of two kinds: a) similar and b) different.

The point under consideration is that there are costs to girls at CDS of being required to adopt distinct outfits. I would think, just looking at the question broadly that either set of gender styles—similar and different—would grant benefits and impose costs. If you were starting at the beginning—a choice societies do not have—you would ask what the costs and benefits of each set are.

So you would say that treating boys and girls as equal,(and here “equal” mean “identical”) has these costs and these benefits and that treating boys and girls as equal but dissimilar has those costs and those benefits. When you were done,
you would look at that pattern of costs and benefits and say that the one pattern is better than the other.

Doesn’t that sound sensible? Impossible, of course, but sensible. In actual fact, societies trail their histories behind them like so many tin cans. Or they build on their unique foundations the way only they can. Take your pick; nobody starts from scratch.

The wrong way to do it is to pick the style you don’t like and to say that it imposes costs. Yes it does. Every style imposes costs. What we want to know is how great the costs are and who is required to pay them; also what the benefits are and who receives them. An “assessment” that looks at one model of gender styles and finds that it imposes costs doesn’t deserve the term “assessment.”

That’s the part I am counting on you to see as uncontroversial. You can’t argue in favor of one or another gender style without upsetting people, of course, but I am hoping it is still possible to argue that asking a good question is better than asking a bad question.

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Many positive statements could have been made

Former President Trump [1] went on a platform called Truth Social on Thursday evening and offered this assessment of the January 6 Committee hearings:

“So the Unselect Committee of political HACKS refuses to play any of the many positive witnesses and statements, refuses to talk of the Election Fraud and Irregularities that took place on a massive scale,”

There is a lot to be unhappy about in this little paragraph, but the thing that really bothers me most is part about “positive witnesses and statements.” The Committee is working with what can be shown to be true and what can be plausibly inferred from that information. The scale goes from true to untrue. Trump is proposing, instead, a scale that goes from “good for us” to “bad for us.”

It isn’t ridiculous for Trump to say that there were many balloting irregularities. Those charges were made at the time, investigated at the time, and rebutted at the time. So Trump’s allegations are false, but they are not ridiculous.

But “many positive statements and witnesses” is ridiculous. If the charges against Trump—that he did what he is shown to have done—could be rebutted by these positive witnesses, that would be important. But I hear in Trump’s protest, what he said to Brad Raffensperger of Georgia, “All I need is another 11, 000 votes. Find them.”

Any coach who has lost a close game has had fantasies of cozying up to the scorer and saying “All I need is 11 more points, and I will have won.” You watch a runner stopped just short of a first down and you want to say to the Line Judge, “All I need is a few more inches.”

The proper answer to these pleas is, “Coach, it doesn’t work that way.”

The perspective in these examples is that the rules of the game ought not be followed if they don’t produce a win for my team. In the era of instant replay, you can show that a called ball was actually over the plate, but the game still goes by the plate umpire’s call. Even calls that can be overturned, like “he was out of bounds when he caught the ball” are overturned on the basis of what we now know really happened. They are not changed because the coach who is unhappy about the call gets to change the calls he does’t like. “Many positive calls could have been made?”

[1] Former Presidents are customarily referred to as “President.” No one bothers to say “Former President Carter” or “Former President Bush.” It is different with Trump, of course, because he does not consider himself a former President.

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Happy and Loyal Women

Every now and then, you see and ad and you wonder who in the world they had in mind when they created that one. That’s how I felt when I saw this one

And how did I see this one? Well, our choir director sends out to the choir copies of or versions the music we should be familiar with by rehearsal. The device he uses to send these is free, which means it will have advertising. This is one of the ads. It was at the top of the column of ads for several weeks. I noticed it the first week—who wouldn’t?—but I didn’t start wondering about it for several weeks afterward. And what I wondered was this: who is this ad for?

The woman is there so you will read the text. Youngish, attractive; the little affiliative tilt to the head. Fine. She looks like someone you might want to affiliate with. It’s the traits that bother me. This dating site features “happy” and “loyal” women.

I think I could justify “happy” in the text. You don’t want to date dismal women. But on a dating site, “happy” seems too much. Is she always happy? Are there things she is happy about? Is she “happy” no matter what?

I wouldn’t want to characterize myself as knowledgeable about dating sites, but I did have a very interesting experience of online dating in my late 60s, and I have thought about these things in a way very few old men would have thought about them. I would have been puzzled if a woman had put in her profile that she was “happy.”

I don’t know any men who wouldn’t like to think of themselves as able to “make their wives happy”—to be a part of her life that tickles her or intrigues her so that she likes having you around. For myself, I was looking for a woman who was content. Not someone who needed a date or a boyfriend (he terms to use get a little wobbly for old people) but someone ready to invest in a new relationship to see what would happen.

“Happy no matter what” would have made me uncomfortable in a profile. As a part of the dating site’s ad, it’s just a puzzle. It isn’t my favorite puzzle though. For that, I’d have to vote for “loyal.” You can get in touch, by using this dating site, with women who are “loyal.” As a personal trait to feature in a dating app, that seems even odder than “happy.”

Who are they loyal to? What other traits have had to learn to take a back seat to loyalty? The app seems aimed at men who prize loyalty as if it is something they have been missing. Have they married before and to women who were not loyal? I would have thought that loyalty is something that would develop in the relationship. As part of a larger relationship, you know what you are being loyal to because you know who you are being loyal to.

Still, I guess you can’t put “willing to develop relationships that are worth being loyal to” on a dating app.

I may be overthinking this. I do that sometimes. Still, it seems to me that if you are going to put money into advertising, you would like to tailor the ad to the market you want to attract. The model isn’t glamorous in the least, for instance. That would be another market. This market is defined, I think, by men who want a relationship with an attractive woman who is happy and who is inclined to be loyal.

The whole pitch gives me a very uncomfortable feeling.

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I might be angry

I think I have the standard array of kinds of anger. How would you know for sure? Still, I get angry and I watch other people get angry. I see people that I think are probably angry but who don’t know it. I see people who know they are angry and who are trying not to splash it on passersby.

But when it is happening in me, it isn’t always clear. The hot angers and the cold angers are clear, of course. I feel them to be “passions” in the old sense of the word, in which they are active and I am passive. They act on me. But there is another kind of anger that I feel as a vague uneasiness.

I know that “uneasy” isn’t very helpful. Let me try some analogies. It’s a little like vertigo. You know which way is up and which way is down, but things don’t look that way at the moment. It’s a little like the feeling you have when you stub your toe and it hasn’t started to hurt yet. You know the sequence so well; still, there is a time between the bump and the pain when you are feeling something that doesn’t have a name. It does have a signal function. You know what it means; you just don’t know what it feels like. Or it’s like the first signals of nausea. These signals establish that something is wrong and then you are going to start to feel nauseated shortly, but you don’t feel that way yet.

As Bette and I have gotten to know each other better—we met in January of 2005—I have begun to be more willing to say, “I think I’m angry.” Bette used to say, very sensibly, “About what?” And I would say, “Not sure yet. Workin’ on it.” By now, this is familiar territory, so she says, “Let me know when you find something out.”

I don’t always find out, actually, but I usually do. Feeling like these are like the message the cop gets in the British crime shows I like so much. “Meet me at the train station at 9:00 and I’ll tell you something you need to know.” That’s what these early angers are like. I do the kinds of things that have some prospect of clarifying the message. I go hang out with some people or go for a bike ride or do a little more work on one of the essays I am always working on. Usually, one or the other of those things—or maybe its just the passage of time—bring some clarity.

The clarity is a movement from unease to some hypothesis or other about just what it is. A hypothesis is a great help. You can test a hypothesis. Maybe an acquaintance made a remark that hit the target and started making things happen and I just didn’t notice. Now I realize what he really meant and I can try a name out on this particular “making things happen.”

If I’m right about that, it often brings a good deal of clarity. It’s like putting in one piece of the puzzle and all of a sudden you see the outline of the object. So now I have a pretty good idea what the source of my anger is That’s a really good moment for me because now I get to make choices. I like making choices.

If, in hindsight, I decide that the remark was a deliberate provocation, then I will need to decide if it is more like a fart or more like an opening salvo. If it was a frivolous insult and really had more to do with how he was feeling at the time, I can safely let it go. Maybe open a window. If it was an opening salvo, then I need to do something or it is just going to get worse.

There is the question, of course, of just what to do. Tit for tat is sometimes exactly the right thing. If the opening salvo was part of the process of locating some poor schmuck who can’t defend himself, then tit for tat says, “I’m not the one you are looking for.”

Sometimes letting this one pass, but signaling that there will be a response to the next one is the right thing. Sometimes, just bringing it up to the surface is the right thing. There are, as you would expect, all kinds of ways to bring the issue—hypothesized issue—to the surface. I like something like, “When you said X, what did you mean?” There are other phrasings, of course. “I thought you said X. That’s the way I heard it. Did you say that and, if you did, what did you mean by it?”

A currently popular style is to say that X hurt your feelings, the theory being that you are the one who knows whether your feelings are hurt or not. That doesn’t work very well for me because I don’t always know how I am feeling. But it also has the disadvantage of moving the question away from what is meant to what the emotional outcome was. That’s not really the direction I want the conversation to go. I like to get clear on intentions and outcomes. Those are the things that matter most to me.

Those are the things that help me decide what, if anything, I am going to do. When I am sure that I am angry and I am sure the feeling arose from that particular interaction (hypothesis confirmed) and I have decided how best to respond, then I am pretty much at ease. I can wish it hadn’t happened. I can wish I had not provoked it, which is always a possibility. But if I know what to do about it, I’m pretty much OK.

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