[Updated: 8:40 am]
1 (of 6). “The Culture Wars are Real”: Beck’s Minions Attack John Fea
You may or may not know that Glenn Beck has a “news” website called The Blaze. I didn’t—until Messiah College professor John Fea, author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, recently relayed a story about being featured on the Beck site.
The Blaze feature, authored by Billy Hallowell, brought attention to Fea for a line in a recent Patheos editorial wherein Fea opined that “Obama may be the most explicitly Christian president in American history.” Hallowell’s story has garnered 848 comments (as of 3 pm yesterday), and Fea has reported receiving nasty e-mails and voicemails. As an aside, I was somewhat surprised at the attention Fea received because, beyond the title, Hallowell’s article isn’t particularly incendiary.
I forward this for your consideration because, well, our relatively quiet blog community might garner this kind of attention at some point. It seems logical since we both write about recent political issues (and candidates), and receive some popular attention from moderates and lefty types. Granted, that attention comes from thoughtful corners. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a rhetorical bomb-thrower from the right doesn’t hit us soon.
This was the title of a recent Slate article by Eric Hynes. Hynes focuses on the short-shrift this golden age is receiving from the Academy Awards, but I agree fully. I particularly enjoy the work of Errol Morris. His The Fog of War comes up in the article, and I use that documentary religiously in my twentieth-century American survey courses (as well as The Weather Underground, which complements Fog nicely). The point of Hynes’s article is that we have lots of screening choices.
3. Perceived Social Rank and Cognitive Ability
Check out this summary of study by a team of Cal Tech researchers. Here are some relevant passages:
Our cognitive abilities and decision-making skills can be dramatically hindered in social settings where we feel that we are being ranked or assigned a status level, such as classrooms and work environments. …The finding flies in the face of long-held ideas about intelligence and cognition that regard IQ as a stable, predictive measure of mental horsepower.
“This study tells us the idea that IQ is something we can reliably measure in isolation without considering how it interacts with social context is essentially flawed,” says Steven Quartz, professor of philosophy at Caltech and one of the authors of the new study. …”This suggests that the idea of a division between social and cognitive processing in the brain is really pretty artificial. The two deeply interact with each other.”
I’m still sorting all of this out, but I’d say this study might have something profound to say to intellectual historians—particularly those whose work covers class-based societies (i.e. all of us). Cue the study summary:
Throughout the 20th century, IQ was used in different arenas as a way of sorting or classifying people into niches. Because people believed it to be a more abstract notion of cognitive ability, it was thought to have strong predictive validity of mental capabilities even from age six. But IQ was always measured in social isolation. “That reflects a long tradition of intellectual history, of considering rationality and cognition to be this isolated process,” Quartz says. “But one of the things that we’re learning more and more in social neuroscience is the role of our social contexts and the social adaptation of the brain.” Understanding the role social context plays and its differential impact on the brain may ultimately help educators and others to design more effective learning environments.
And last but not least:
The present study found some unexpected trends, including the tendency for female subjects to be more affected than males by the implicit signaling of social status during the test.
4. Economically Instrumental Universities
USIH friend and public intellectual(!) Ethan Schrum [right] recently penned an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch that chastises the Obama administration for a having a narrow view of the role of higher education in recent American history. Here’s Schrum’s conclusion:
Obama, by contrast, told students they were at Michigan to get skills and training for building their personal finances and the American economy. He gave no indication that a student might be at the university to be formed as a person, as a thinker and communicator — and as a global citizen.
Obama’s narrow, short-sighted rhetoric for American higher education puts our universities in peril. We must wake up to the possibility that universities might be living on borrowed moral capital and begin framing higher education policy in ways consistent with our universities’ noble traditions, before it is too late.
Sure, this is a long-running problem that pre-dates Obama’s recent speech. But the president deserves a tongue-lashing for using the nation’s bully pulpit to promote a one-sided, and frankly erroneous, view of higher education. Although I understand the needs of the campaign trail (“It’s the economy, stupid!”), Obama could’ve been more honest.
5. A Forthcoming Work of Possible Interest
(a) Bernard Hodgson (forthcoming), “Democratic Agency and the Market Machine,” Journal of Business Ethics.
[From PhilPapers] “The alliance of pure market economies with democratic polities has traditionally been a problematic one. It is argued that orthodox theoretical conceptualizations of market behaviour and the application of such theory to our communal lives have entrenched an incoherent alliance. In particular, the reductive mechanism characteristic of both neo-classical economic theory and its deployment in our socio-economic order has severely undermined the telic agency required for the autonomy or self-rule definitive of an authentic democratic order. Such reduction is observed to function through the disabling of the cognitive capacity of consumers and by disempowering the agency of workers such that coercion is misconceived as freely agreed contract.”
6. From My OAH-RSO Feed: New Books and Articles of Interest
This month’s RSO is loaded with intellectual history—more than I’ve sampled below. Be sure to check out entry (i)!
(a) Barry, John M., Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty (New York: Viking, 2012).
(b) Bromell, Nick, “A `Voice from the Enslaved’: The Origins of Frederick Douglass’s Political Philosophy of Democracy,” American Literary History, 23 (Winter 2011), 697-723.
(c)Fischer, David Hackett, Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies, New Zealand and the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
(d) Goodman, Joyce, “The Gendered Politics of Historical Writing in History of Education,” History of Education (London), 41 (Jan. 2012), 9-24.
(e) Laats, Adam, “Monkeys, Bibles, and the Little Red Schoolhouse: Atlanta’s School Battles in the Scopes Era,” Georgia Historical Quarterly, 95 (Fall 2011), 335-55.
(f) Lee, Maurice S., Uncertain Chances: Science, Skepticism, and Belief in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
(g) Lee, Michael J., “American Revelations: Biblical Interpretation and Criticism in America, circa 1700-1860” (PhD Diss, University of Notre Dame, 2009).
(h) Matteson, John, The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2012).
(i) Murphy, Paul V., The New Era: American Thought and Culture in the 1920s (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012).
(j) Powell, Tara, The Intellectual in Twentieth-Century Southern Literature (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012).
(k) Rose, Anne C., “The Invention of Uncertainty in American Psychology: Intellectual Conflict and Rhetorical Resolution, 1890-1930,” History of Psychology, 14 (Nov. 2011), 356-82.
(l) Szalay, Michael, “Ralph Ellison’s Unfinished Second Skin,” American Literary History, 23 (Winter 2011), 795-827.