Friday, November 20, 2015

Is Shame Necessary?

I am indeed enjoying and learning a lot from the book Is Shame Necessary? by Jennifer Jacquet. It looks like it is, as guilt is a private emotion, and shame has public uses. Jacquet does not advocate a return to public shaming devices like the stocks, but she does explain how shame can function in changing social norms.

The thing that struck me this morning was a quotation from an Atlantic article, by Michael J. Sandel, about the market society as distinct from the market economy. Jacquet quotes Sandel saying, "The difference is this: A market economy is a tool---a valuable and effective tool---for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor." Sigh.... Exactly!

This has been troubling me for some time. People are valued according to the amount of money they make, salary-wise, or money they bring in to an organization, even a non-profit organization, not according to their actual contribution of volunteer labor or organizational ideas or management or loyalty or care. Hence, often they are not valued at all, and are treated with disrespect or are valued less than, say, a "major donor" who might, say, give money but not actually attend the event, or complain about the seating or lighting.... See what I'm getting at? Hmm, it appears to be a Cranky Doodle Day in the blog. Put 'em in the stocks! (I'm missing a pun on stocks here. And thanks to Austen Redman for the image of stocks in Chapeltown, Lancashire, England!)

So, just to be clear, when I complain about the excesses of consumerism or capitalism, I guess I am talking about the "market society," the infiltration of money-based value into the rest of society and culture, not about the economic system itself, which has some things to commend it. But so does socialism. (I'm missing a Hillary pillory, feel the Bern joke here.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

As Nature Made Us

I've been immersed in nonfiction lately. My daughter needed As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, by John Colapinto, for a sociology course, so I checked it out from the library for her, renewed it, and read it myself. Wow! Truly, wow. Not only is the case fascinating, and the boy (now a man) a brave and beautiful soul, but the science, controversy, and internal conflict among scientists is eye-opening, too. I was struck when one scientist praised another for actually being more interested in the truth than in his career, which reminded me of earlier controversy connected to Sigmund Freud. We always think scientists, who often praise themselves for objectivity and the scientific method, are interested in truth, but, apparently, that's as rare in science as anywhere! Sigh....

Now I am reading Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool, by Jennifer Jacquet, in hopes of finding out whether, indeed, we can shame big business, careerist politicians, tyrants, and terrorists into changing their behavior. Hmm. She's a very clear writer, and, clearly, a scientist or social scientist interested in testing her hypotheses and backing up claims with evidence. So that's good.

Next up is Unsuspecting Souls: The Disappearance of the Human Being, by Barry Sanders, which appears to argue that "the human being," the individual we used to value and respect, "died" in the 19th century, and the 21st century's willingness to blow people up, for example, is part of that legacy. I must be seeking an explanation, if not consolation, for what goes on today. Yes, it's a fight against despair, a fight for understanding, and a "fight" for compassion. But how can we fight for compassion? Well, with words and actions and votes, I hope, since here in the USA we are coming up on an election year. Despite the fact that compassion is viewed as a weakness among many vociferous types in the USA, I still vote for it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Just Desserts

OK, for dinner last night I had two desserts: a piece of peach pie, fresh from the oven, yes, still warm (!), and a piece of German chocolate cake. Not small pieces, either. And a little champagne. I would have brought the French champagne, but it cost $50, so I brought the California champagne. This French and German-themed fare was offered at the meeting of our book group, to discuss All the Light We Cannot See. The peach pie was for the tinned peaches that Marie-Laure finds in the house, and the German chocolate cake was for the German occupation of France. Sigh...

After All the Light and Lila, I read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell, about turn of the (18th to 19th) century Japan, and how the Dutch East India Company managed to operate there despite a general policy of Japanese seclusion. Oh, it's about much more!--but that gives it a setting in time and place, somewhat unusual for David Mitchell, really!

As with All the Light, this Thousand Autumns shows beautifully how people behave--well and badly, motivated by greed or honor or lust or a crazy yearning for immortality or raw cruelty. I was deeply moved by the rare choices not to inflict harm or take vengeance. In both of these novels, there is great loss, and you hope that someone good will get to live a happy life. In these fictions, as in life, not everyone gets their "just desserts," but some do get their peaches.

And that makes it a Fat Tuesday on a Wednesday, the Hump of the Week. With Peaches and Leaves by Jonathan Koch.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Right after I finished All the Light We Cannot See, I picked up Lila, by Marilynne Robinson, and read it in two days--the fastest I've ever read something by Robinson. I'd been eager to read it, as it completes a trio of her books set in the small Iowa town of Gilead, which Lila discovers to be a Biblical name after she marries a preacher. As with the other books, I was absolutely gripped by character, by the internal searching, by the simplicity of diction, which gets at the profundity of thought, longing, suffering, and joy. There is a balm in Gilead.

The book was at hand thanks to a fabulous-but-forgotten gift card I received for some committee work a couple years ago. Another, more recent gift card, also set aside for a rainy day, but not forgotten for quite so long, rescued me from running out of writing journals. I am grateful for all I am given, even the stuff I forget.

In case you can't read the small print, that blurb on the Lila cover says Robinson's prose contains "the high loneliness of an old blue grass tune." Yes! And look at those wildflowers. I yearn for my own back yard to look like that someday. Right now it is covered in red and yellow leaves, except for one bare spot I got on Tuesday afternoon. We got the front yard pretty well cleared, but it keeps coming down! As will the temperatures, all too soon...

Makes you want to curl up with a good book. I see that Marilynne Robinson has a new book of essays out, The Givenness of Things, but it may take me a while to get to that. Meanwhile, there's more dense fog in the weather prediction, so another beautiful cloaked morning to wake up in, and maybe another sunny afternoon for raking...