Nothing to Learn, Here

“As one of my friends from a not-rich part of East Asia says: “Students from my country come to the U.S. these days. They see dirty cities, lousy infrastructure, and the political clown show on TV, and an insular people clinging to their guns and their gods who boast about how they are the greatest people in the world without knowing anything about what is going on outside. They come back and tell me: ‘We have nothing to learn from those people! Why did you send me there?'”

—J. Bradford DeLong, “Is America in Decline?” Pairagraph. September 10, 2020.

Cosmopolitan Values

“But over the past 60 years, college graduates have gone from being 4 percent of the electorate to being more like 35. Now, it’s actually possible — for the first time ever in human history — for political parties to openly embrace cosmopolitan values and win elections; certainly primary and municipal elections, maybe even national elections if you don’t push things too far or if you have a recession at your back. And so Democratic elites started campaigning on the things they’d always wanted to, but which had previously been too toxic. And so did center-left parties internationally.”

—Eric Levitz, “David Shor’s Unified Theory of American Politics.” New York Magazine. July 17, 2020

A History of Race and Racism in America

“I’ve selected the most influential books on race and the black experience published in the United States for each decade of the nation’s existence — a history of race through ideas, arranged chronologically on the shelf. (In many cases, I’ve added a complementary work, noted with an asterisk.) Each of these books was either published first in the United States or widely read by Americans. They inspired — and sometimes ended — the fiercest debates of their times: debates over slavery, segregation, mass incarceration. They offered racist explanations for inequities, and antiracist correctives. Some — the poems of Phillis Wheatley, the memoir of Frederick Douglass — stand literature’s test of time. Others have been roundly debunked by science, by data, by human experience. No list can ever be comprehensive, and ‘most influential’ by no means signifies ‘best.’ But I would argue that together, these works tell the history of anti-black racism in the United States as painfully, as eloquently, as disturbingly as words can. In many ways, they also tell its present.”

-Ibram X. Kendi, “A History of Race and Racism in America, in 24 Chapters.” The New York Times. February 22, 2017.

To accompany Ibram X. Kendi’s, “How to be an antiracist.”

What Kind of Country Do We Want?

“The cult of cost/benefit—of the profit motive made granular, cellular—not only trivializes but also attacks whatever resists its terms. Classic American education is ill-suited to its purposes and is constantly under pressure to reform—that is, to embrace as its purpose the training of workers who will be competitive in the future global economy. What this means, of course, is that universities and students themselves should absorb the cost to industry of training its workforce. Since no one knows what the industries of the future will be, a wrong guess about appropriate training could be costly, which means it would be all the smarter, from a certain point of view, to make colleges and students bear the risk. If this training produces skills that are relevant to future needs, their cost to the employer will be lowered by the fact that such skills will be widely available. In any case, the relative suitability of workers will be apparent in their school history, so industry will be spared the culling of ineffective employees. Those who fail to make the cut will be left with the pleasures of a technical education that is always less useful to them, skills that will be subject to obsolescence as industries change. Certain facts go unnoticed in all this. The great wealth that is presented as endorsing an American way of doing things was amassed over a very long period of time.”

Marilynne Robinson, “What Kind of Country Do We Want?The New York Review of Books. June 11, 2020.

There is so much to like about this essay. The writing is crisp and sharp. The cultural criticism is on point. A bit difficult, but I think worth the effort. I need to read more of her work post haste. Recommended.

We Are Living in a Failed State

“This was the American landscape that lay open to the virus: in prosperous cities, a class of globally connected desk workers dependent on a class of precarious and invisible service workers; in the countryside, decaying communities in revolt against the modern world; on social media, mutual hatred and endless vituperation among different camps; in the economy, even with full employment, a large and growing gap between triumphant capital and beleaguered labor; in Washington, an empty government led by a con man and his intellectually bankrupt party; around the country, a mood of cynical exhaustion, with no vision of a shared identity or future.”

—George Packer, “We are living in a failed state.” The Atlantic. June 2020.

Summarizes the problems of the moment better than anything else I’ve seen. Required reading, particularly by anyone that identifies as Republican or Democrat.