Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The trouble with 200 page books

I'm already close to finishing The Trouble With Diversity.  The problem with this book is that the author decided to write in the breezy genre of 200 page books with contrarian ideas.  It's a Slate column expanded to 200 pages but with a viewpoint that would rattle most Slate readers.  I basically agree with him when he critiques our fetishization of identity, and our conflation of identity with culture.  When you have a roomful of students wearing similar clothes, listening to similar pop music, majoring in the same subject (especially if that subject tends to attract or instill a certain point of view), eating at the same food trucks after class, and apparently following the same opaque mating rituals as everyone else in their generation*, I question how much diversity of culture there is in that room.  There may very well be cultural differences between their parents, but the kids resemble each other more than they resemble their parents (which is a fine thing).

So I'm with the author when he questions both the existence and the value of diversity of identity, or the conflation of ancestry and culture.  I'm definitely not on his side when he questions the value of cultural diversity.  I like living in a world with opera and rap and rock and Broadway show tunes and Mariachi music and Gospel and pop crap and everything else.  However, I suspect that if he had another 100 pages he would have conceded that point.

Where I'm definitely not with him is his last chapter, in which he argues that bias against religions is different from cultural/racial bias.  He says (correctly) that all cultures and races are equal, so bias against them is wrong, but since religions make truth claims it follows that taking issue with them is simply disagreement, not irrational prejudice.  He has a point, but he's pushing too hard on it.  The American truce over religion is one of our greatest social achievements, right up there with (and directly connected with) the way that we made English and Irish and Italian and Norwegian and Hungarian and Serbian and Croatian and (to a certain extent) Ashkenazi Jewish people into the same undifferentiated "White" people.  OK, we didn't work out all of the kinks with accepting the Jews, and somehow Spaniards got partially excluded from our giant paella of identity, but still.**

Anyway, when he says on page 179 that religious beliefs should be fair game in Supreme Court nomination hearings I have to disagree.  As long as a judge's rulings are articulated in a framework that can be delineated and critiqued separate from religion, we are all better off respecting the truce.  We Americans have only had one Civil War (hence we capitalize it), which is way better than Europe's track record, and a lot of Europe's internal conflicts coincided with religious lines.

Anyway, this reads to me like a book that went contrarian in too few pages.

*This grumpy old man still doesn't quite get how the youth have apparently done away with the formal concept of a date, a ritual that was dying even in my day, despite my adherence to it.
**We have A LOT of other things to answer for when it comes to race, but the fact that Serbs and Croats, and Irishmen and Englishmen, and Germans and Frenchmen, and Russians and Ukrainians, can all live peaceably in the US is something to be damn proud of.  If you don't believe me, take a vacation in Crimea.

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