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The Best Books I Read in 2016

Acting on a prompt from Andrew Seal at the USIH Blog, I submitted the following as a long comment there—which seems appropriate to reproduce here. Andy asked not about the best books published in 2016, but the best books we had read during the year—no matter when produced. I read: Read more…

Varieties of Civil Disobedience for the Age of Trump

This New Yorker piece by Jelani Cobb briefly surveys 1960s history to get at the necessity of conducting “democracy in the streets.” That period of history is worth revisiting for the reasons Cobb suggests. One thing Cobb doesn’t address, however, is the variable forms of protest and civil disobedience that might be utilized from the period.

What actions, tactics, and considerations might best help in resisting an administration whose party controls both houses of Congress? The same history Cobb cited is instructive. The Sixties suggest three to four forms of protest. At least one other tactic, from earlier periods, might also be helpful. These forms constitute distinct nodes, even while some overlap exists. Read more…

13th: A Brief Review

Yesterday I watched 13th—a new Netflix documentary on racism and mass incarceration (trailer here). What follows is a quick and dirty review. Read more…

Christopher Lasch: A Maddening Physician for Our Times

I’m reading Christopher Lasch’s 1995 essay collection, The Revolt of the The Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy. I’ve read Lasch in bits and pieces before, but never an entire book straight through. This first sustained encounter has been, in short, maddening. Read more…

A Chief Concern: On Being a Humanist and an NFL Fan

I guess I picked a bad year to stop paying attention, in general, to the NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs. I say “in general” because, over the past 3-4 weeks, I’ve been eyeing a few stories about the team’s successes. The Chiefs are doing well and I’ve mostly missed out.

My first love has always been baseball, but, until this year, I had been paying attention to the Chiefs since 1989. I watched a great many games during the Schottenheimer and Vermeil years. I even attended a playoff game once, in the 1990s, with my father and uncle. I kept following the Chiefs during the first few years of Reid’s tenure.

But I had given up on the NFL—meaning, primarily, watching games—because of the concussion scandal. Why bother with a league and a game that had put its players at risk for so long? It was revolting. It’s hard for this humanist to put aside he disgust I felt for NFL owners, league officials, and coaches. No league, nor the overseers of any organized sporting activity, should ever put profits over the health of its players. I know that corrections have been made to health protocols. But are they enough? How can concerned and feeling fans be sure? (Aside: Yes, one can be a “feeling fan” in the context of football.)

Returning to the present, this Chiefs team seems like fun. They have interesting offensive players, a smart head coach, and an above average defense. They are not the best team in the NFL. That title belongs to the Patriots. Yet the Chiefs appear to be among the best of the rest.

Do I risk attending again? Should I make the Chiefs a concern for my fan-level affections for the remainder of the season and through the playoffs? – TL

Red Hot Take: On “Anti-Intellectualism”

File under “Tim’s Unpopular Political-Cultural Hot Takes”:

We do not live in “era of virulent anti-intellectualism.”* Nobody cares that much about intellectuals, and no one is seriously opposed to the creativity and complexity implied in “the life of the mind.”

We do, however, live in an age of anti-elitism, manifest primarily as anti-expertise. We live amidst a revolt against technocratic policy expertise. That’s all being chucked in favor of business expertise, or some facsimile thereof, which has been uplifted by bad ideas.

Regarding intellectualism, if anything, there is a tendency, in various media, to overintellectualize most everything. In politics, this turns what should be routine matters of justice and equality (or injustice and inequality) into fine-grained, useless abstract debates about impractical ideas. We have think tanks that remove the practical from policies, abstracting things into the so-called “market of ideas.” This renders those useful policies useless to common people. We are awash in bad ideas, which inform that overintellectualization.

– TL

*This hot take was inspired by my reaction to the introduction and conclusion to this article, forwarded by my friend Ben Alpers.

First Drafting the History of Trumpism

I really appreciate this first draft on the intellectual history of Trumpism from David Greenberg (in Politico Magazine). I agree with his affinity for Nash and the notion of paleoconservatism.

For my part, I would’ve given more emphasis to anti-elitism and also included anti-cosmopolitanism, as guiding ideals. Both are often written about today under the rubric of anti-intellecutalism (broadly defined). Both also animated resentment toward Progressivism and enthusiasm for the New Right. For the period since the 1990s, I also would have talked about the cross-over effects of deregulatory liberalism (i.e. neoliberalism)—i.e. how resentment toward it helped garner white middle-class votes for Trump.

But this is a fine start. David doesn’t name Niki Hemmer, but links to an August piece by her on the Neofascist urge (i.e. the Alt Right). – TL