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Guest Post - nothing to do with ICE
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.22.18

Nworb Werdna* writes: I just came across a tremendous anecdote about Horace Engdahl, the man who currently controls the rump of the Swedish Academy, the body that awards the Nobel Prize for literature. All his opponents have resigned, and now there are not enough members left to elect any replacements. This is because Engdahl is besties with Jean Claude Arnault, the French cultural entrepreneur whose exuberant sexual predation has brought the Academy to the brink of collapse. Arnault has been charged with two counts of rape by the authorities in Stockholm, after one newspaper printed 18 women's accounts of being assaulted by him. A recent radio programme found 28.

But Arnault was an incredibly powerful figure in the Stockholm cultural world, partly because of his friendships, and partly because his wife (who denies everything) was herself a member of the Academy. He did once grope the Crown Princess Victoria, but that was hushed up. His nickname around town was "Sticky Johnny".

In any case, Engdahl used to be married to a woman called Ebba Witt Brattström, and the couple were featured on the front of a woman's magazine in 1998 as "The Royal couple of Culture". It's a rather sweet photograph, with both smiling cheek to cheek. But Engdahl had expected to be on the cover alone. When he discovered that it had been used on the cover, rather than inside, he rushed round to the magazine's office and shouted: "You bastards! You've fucked me up the arse! I don't want to be made intimate with my wife!"

Just in case any of you were still thinking of Sweden as a paradise of progress and equality.

Heebie's take: "Sticky Johnny" is hilarious, although being a serial rapist is less hilarious. What a couple of pricks!

*I always write Wendrew and then re-derive from there what it actually must be.

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I Really Don't Care
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.21.18

Have we discussed Melania's jacket and Krauthammer's demise in the comments already?

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Big Sort II: Electric Boogaloo
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.21.18

Nick S. writes: A few notes and disclaimers up front, then a short summary of the book section, and finally some additional related thoughts and links.

Introductory Thoughts

1) I'm inclined to read The Big Sort not as a single argument but as a series of thematically related observations. In other words many of the stories or descriptions don't logically support a thesis (that the experience of partisanship in every-day life is increased by people moving to ideologically similar communities?) but offer some perspective of what Bishop is thinking about in the category of "experience of partisanship" (my phrase not his).

2) I haven't finished the book, I got into section III and then went back to re-read my section for this summary, so I'll be curious to know if he ties it together later in the book or if somebody wants to make the case that it's more tightly structured than I'm giving it credit for.

3) Apologies for a somewhat hastily written summary.

Chapter 4: Culture Shift: The 1965 Unraveling

Bishop argues that 1965 was an inflection point in American (and international politics). He mentions a couple of ways of looking at that. First, he offers the idea that what transformed politics was post-war economic success and that increased the importance of "post-materialist" political issues ("personal freedom, abortion rights, gay rights, [the environment, etc . . .]") this view is attributed to Professor Robert Inglehart who also speculated that post-materialist politics would lead to lower trust in government. Bishop then says (oddly), "Looking back, we can see when post-materialist politics in the United States reached a point of no return. It was in the summer of 1965 . . ." and then summarizes a number of indicators of social confidence and trust that have declined since then.

Bishop mentions a number of ways in which people's connections to social institutions have weakened since 1965 -- an increasing percentage of people identifying as Independents politically, declining membership in civic groups like the League of Women Voters or, yes, bowling leagues, declining membership in mainline religious denominations, declining newspaper readership, . . . .

Bishop speculates that 1965 was a particularly disruptive and traumatic year in America. But notes that those declines in civic trust occur internationally ("In 1981, Gallup took the questions about trust and confidence that had been part of its polls in the United States and asked them simultaneously in eleven advanced industrial societies. The polling firm found that levels of institutional trust were low everywhere. Compared with the other ten nations, in fact, trust levels in the United States were fairly robust.").

Politically he argues this lack of trust was why we didn't see major liberal policy initiatives when Democrats took control following the election of Bill Clinton ("What separated Johnson's administration from Clinton's wasn't the power of the right wing, the reticence of business, or Democratic perfidy, [Marc] Hetherington argues. The difference was that people trusted the government in 1965 and they didn't in 1993")

Chapter 4: The Beginning of Division: Beauty and Salvation

Bishop tells a story of how political polarization has happened which echoes much of "Culture War" stories from the 90s (and the understanding "Trump Voter" stories from last year) but which is set in West Virginia in 1974. In a fairly poor, heavily union community religious objection to textbooks selected by the school board resulted in a massive cultural fight which ended up creating a new partisan identity which was religious and Republican. I'll quote at length this descrition which also connects directly to the questions Moby Hick was asking about Section I:

In the fall of 1974, after the strike was well under way, the Heritage Foundation sent a lawyer to consult with some of the movement's stalwarts. ... Conservative activists in Washington hadn't created the movement in West Virginia; Horan and the people in the coal camps of Kanawha County had done that themselves. But the Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups recognized within the uprising a potent and, as it turned out, enduring combination of Private Protestant values, distrust of an intrusive government, racial insecurity, and a millennialist belief that America was losing its moral authority and world standing. Whole liberals either romanticized the textbook strike as "class warfare" or labeled strikers "religious fanatics," conservatives got busy channeling Horan and the others into the New Right coalition and the Republican Party. The New Right Movement wasn't created as a a result of a conspiracy. It was emerging from places like Campbells Creek. The ingredients of conservative ideology were scattered across the country. They just needed to be gathered, organized, and put together using the right recipe. In 1975 the Heritage Foundation formed a group to help coordinate some two hundred textbook protests that had cropped up nationwide. It asked donors to "help Heritage stop forcing pornography and other objectionable subjects into schools all over America."

Chapter 6: Economics of The Big Sort: Culture and Growth in the 1990s

Another section that I'll gloss over fairly briefly. His overall tone is Richard Florida-esque in saying that certain cities and areas of the country have prospered both economically and culturally from being centers of the high tech boom of the 90s ("Portland [OR], Seattle, Dallas, and Austin gained at the same time the Cleveland Plain Dealer described the depopulation of its city as a 'quiet crisis' and the Baton Rouge Advocate published its series ['Leaving Louisiana']."

The differences in attitudes between "High-Tech" cities (compared to Low Tech cities) are: More interested in other cultures and places. More likely to "try anything once." More likely to engage in individualistic activities. More optimistic. More interested in politics. Volunteering increasing (but less overal than Low-Tech cities). Church attendance decreasing. Community projects decreasing. Club membership decreasing. On the other side of the count "Low-Tech" cities were: More likely to attend church. Club membership declining but less rapidly than High-tech cities. Community projects increasing. Volunteering increasing. More active participation in clubs, churches, volunteer services, and civic projects. More supportive of traditional authority. More family oriented. More feelings of isolation. More feelings of economic vulnerability. More sedentary. Higher levels of stress. Political interest decreasing. More social activities with other people.

Bishop talks about how cities appear to be an important unit for links the economic success of cities that did well in the 90s to higher rates of patent generation (he doesn't appear to discuss the possibility that both economic success and patent generation might have been driven by the presence of software industries -- but I'm not sure when the explosion in technology patents happened).

One other thing that struck my was a long discussion about the early signs of what is now the "opioid crisis" in the communities which were struggling in the 90s. In 2005 "Harlan County was producing a community play [Higher Ground] about civic failure -- about the county's battle with drug addiction, primarily the painkiller OcyContin. It was a struggle the county had lost so far." It continues:

The OxyContin sales force targeted Appalachian doctors. Reports in the Lexington Herald-Leader found that Purdue Pharma's marketing plan for its new medicine was to seek out physicians who were already prescribing large amounts of painkilling drugs. In 1998, according to the newspaper, Purdue shipped more OxyContin per capita to portions of southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky than to any other region or city in the nation. (In 2007 Purdue Pharma and three of its executives agreed to pay more than $650 million in fines for the misleading ways in which it had promoted OxyContin.) Richard Clayton, and addition expert who heads the University of Kentucky Center for Prevention Research, told the Lexington newspaper, "This may be the first epidemic -- if it is an epidemic -- that started in rural areas."

This seems like a good example of the ways in which Bishop has a good eye for important stories, even if I'm not that his attempts to put them in a larger context are completely successful.


1) I think the most intriguing idea in this section is his description of the ways in which loss of institutional trust is both a predictable element of "post-materialist" politcs and explains why government is less ambitious. I don't find his explanation totally convincing, but I think it's an important question and that even if his explanation is only partially correct it's still worth thinking about.

2) I realize that, having written this summary, I finally understand how this section connects to his broader thesis. As I said I said above this section is mostly about national and international tends which only tangentially relate to the sort of localism that he talks about in the first section. But I know think the connection is that he's committed to a perspective that the broad changes that he's describing are bottom-up phenomena rather than being driven by elite actions of opinions. If he stated that explicitly I don't know that it would be convincing but I think it's an underlying idea of the entire book. As such the question Moby Hick asked about the first section remains quite relevant, "I think that brings to mind what is my main dispute with The Big Sort (as summarized so far here). I don't think it's a sort happening naturally, I think it's a deliberate choice by one party that started years ago, but most explicitly with Rove's 51% strategy."

3) I think there's a natural sympathy for people on the left for the problems of Appalachian and rust-belt communities which have declined in the last decades. That sometimes involves seeing them as canaries in the coal mine demonstrating the ways in which capitalism fails local communities (for some reason the example that comes to mind is Grace Lee Boggs saying that one thing she finds exciting and stimulating about living in Detroit (and having seen all of the changes over the last decades) is Detroit proves that capitalism has failed and that other alternatives need to be developed). There's a tension between that and a Richard Florida-esque celebration of the "creative class" which has succeeded economically, which Bishop doesn't examine, but which is interesting.

4) I have praised Bishop for having a good eye for important stories. One thing that he doesn't mention which seems like a crucially important element of the story is increasing economic inequality. That seems like an important topic for any assessment of "post-materialist" politics.

5) Thinking about 2,3 & 4 together. The old William Gibson line about, "The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed." does not imply that this is a bottom-up phenomenon.

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