As I write these words, many Americans remain up in arms about President Donald Trump’s peculiar relationship with the truth. On a seemingly daily basis, the nation is greeted with a new round of accusations or indignant retorts from the President–– most of which bear little resemblance to objective reality. Let’s just say The Commander-in-Chief has a very “creative” approach to factuality––about everything from crime and immigration to science and the judiciary. Perhaps he’s joking or trying to shock people. Or maybe he’s a pathological liar. Time Magazine devoted a cover to the President’s “Truth and Falsehoods”; the Los Angeles Times ran multiple “Why Trump Lies” editorials; and The New Yorker is now 14 installments in its ongoing “Trump and the Truth” series. Unsurprisingly, the President doubled-down on his claims, and––in keeping with his fondness for conspiracy theories––has labelled the entire field of journalism “the enemy of the American people.” Endless pundits and commenters have tried to discern a logic in the President’s bizarre behavior––in which mischief and chaos seem the only constants.
Say what you will about Trump, his ability to get public attention is astonishing. And while some critics question the President’s grasp of “reality,” others see a calculated shrewdness in his behavior––an underlying strategy not unlike what Naomi Klein discussed in The Shock Doctrine. “We already know the Trump administration plans to deregulate markets, wage all-out war on ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ trash climate science and unleash a fossil-fuel frenzy,” Klein recently stated, adding, “It’s a vision that can be counted on to generate a tsunami of crises and shocks.” She predicted economic shocks (as market bubbles burst), security shocks (as blowback from foreign belligerence comes home), weather shocks (as the climate is further destabilized), and industrial shocks (as oil pipelines spill and rigs collapse, especially when enjoying light-touch regulation).
“All this is dangerous enough,” Klein added, “What’s even worse is the way the Trump administration can be counted on to exploit these shocks politically and economically. Trump himself forecasted as much often in promising a “radical break” from the past––described by Fox News as a “shock and awe campaign against the Washington establishment.” This new agenda bears little resemblance to earlier “culture wars” between conventional liberal and conservative camps. Moral idealism has no place in Trump’s program of disruption and dishonesty. But his ability to confuse and deceive is not to be taken lightly. The Trump phenomenon raises important concerns about the role of knowledge in contemporary society––and the ways different worldviews are conceived, put into circulation, and frequently politicized. Continue reading “The Performance Art of the Deal”
The bad news for students applying to selective colleges is that getting accepted to any one of them really is harder than it used to be.
As the New York times reports, “Many colleges have reduced the number of American teenagers they accept (in order to globalize their student bodies) at the same time that the American teenage population is growing, as I wrote last week.
“But there is some good news, too, and it’s worth spending a few minutes on it. It sheds some light on the right way for high school students to think about the application process.
“First, amid all the anxiety over this subject, students should remember that the college you attend matters less than many people think it does. Research has shown that students with similar SAT scores who attended different colleges — say, Stanford and the University of California, Davis — have statistically identical incomes. (Low-income students are the exception; the college they attend does seem to matter.) Yes, Harvard graduates make high salaries on average, but it doesn’t seem to be because they went to Harvard.I recognize that this research will not convince many teenagers and their parents. They’ll still care enormously about the admissions process. So another bit of encouraging news is also worth considering: Even if an individual college is harder to get into, there seem to be more total spots at excellent colleges.Over the same period that colleges like Harvard and Stanford have been admitting more foreign students, several other changes in higher education have also been occurring. Continue reading “How you do matters more than where you go”
The eminent sociologist Erving Goffman suggested that life is a series of performances, in which we are all continually managing the impression we give other people.
As discussed in today’s The Atlantic, “If this is so, then public spaces function like a stage in the same way
that our own homes and living rooms do. Architecture, landscaping, the dimensions of the stage, and the other actors around us all offer cues about how we should perform and how we should treat one another.
“A man might urinate in a graffiti-covered alleyway, but he would not dream of doing so in the manicured mews outside an old folks’ home. He would be more likely to offer a kindness in an environment where he felt he was among family or friends, or being watched, than in some greasy back alley. In Goffman’s world, these are conscious, calculated responses to the stage setting. But recently we have learned that some of our social responses occur even without conscious consideration. Like other animals, we have evolved to assess risks and rewards in the landscapes around us unconsciously.
“The evolutionary biologists D. S. Wilson and Daniel O’Brien showed a group of nonresidents pictures of various streetscapes from Binghamton, New York. Some of those streets featured broken pavement, unkempt lawns, and dilapidated homes. Others featured crisp sidewalks and well-kept yards and homes. Then the volunteers were invited to play a game developed by experimental economists in which they were told that they would be trading money with someone from the neighborhood they had viewed. You probably already know how they behaved: the volunteers were much more trusting and generous when they believed they were facing off with someone from the tidier, well-kept neighborhood. Continue reading “Acts of kindness: explained”
The economic recession has had one weirdly positive effect on the art world: democratization. Increasingly, museums and symphonies find that they can no longer get by on the generosity (or lack thereof) to an elite minority. Large cultural institutions need new audiences to justify their existence and to qualify for public dollars. Venues that once couldn’t care less about attendance now anxiously await busloads of kiddies and seniors. “Education” and “outreach” programs have exploded in recent years, with many places literally giving away tickets to boost admissions. Aside from benefitting “social practice” artists who have always occupied the fringes of art world, the is move to larger and more democratic approaches to audience has favored genres that are more friendly to the public.
Here is the scenario. You find yourself in a virtual game-world where you can be anything you want––say, a princess, a superhero, or maybe a dragon. Enter Micha Cárdenas. The question is this: in assuming a new identity, are you really leaving behind the actual “you”? Nearly two decades ago, a now-famous New Yorker cartoon made popular the adage, “On the internet, no one knows you are a dog,” referencing the presumed demarcation between virtual and real personas. But this begs the question of where the expression of the self resides, inasmuch as identity is a largely mental process. Continue reading “Becoming transreal”