Hilzoy makes an appearance, talking analytic philosophical critiques of the neuroscientific way of talking about free will. It’s a bit dry, but <3 Hilzoy, and as usual, she’s pretty much got it right.
TIL China apparently maintains “an orphanage for the offspring of murderers.” (Article is about this propaganda-department-stamped Chinese reality show in which a cute young woman interviews people who are on death row for unambiguously awful crimes.)
Emily Bazelon has an interesting take on Bully (the documentary recently involved in a ratings controversy with the MPAA). Teaser:
I asked Hirsch why he didn’t mention Tyler’s diagnoses ["Tyler, who died when he was a junior, was diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, and Asperger’s (autism with a normal to high IQ) in sixth grade."] “I really felt that by not disclosing it, we wouldn’t allow the audience to prejudge,” he said. “It was a decision we thought about a lot. Ultimately, we thought the film would be more powerful without it.”
To Ann Haas, a senior project specialist for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this was a serious error. When I played Bully for Haas, she recoiled in horror, and I don’t use the word lightly. “To leave Tyler’s mental health problems out of the film is an egregious omission,” she said. “It is really misinformation. The filmmakers’ had the opportunity to present bullying as a trigger, as one factor that played a role in a young person’s suicide. But to draw a direct line without referencing anything else—I’m appalled, honestly. That is hugely, hugely unfortunate.”
Haas feels strongly about this for a few reasons. First, research shows a strong link between Asperger’s and suicide and a link between bipolar disorder and suicide as well. This means these facts about Tyler are important to understanding his decision to take his life. There’s more, too. From Haas’ point of view, by presenting such an incomplete version of the facts, Hirsch has created a real risk of suicide contagion—the documented phenomenon of people mimicking suicidal behavior in light of media representations. “I worry terribly about the contagion effect,” Haas said. “One message of this move is: ‘Bullying kills’—as if it’s a normal response to kill yourself, when of course most people who are bullied don’t do that. Young people who feel bullied could harken back to the movie, and it could be a powerful draw to suicide for them. If Tyler had been accurately portrayed as a kid with mental health challenges that were very hard for him to manage, he wouldn’t seem so attractive. We might feel sympathy for him, but he wouldn’t have the emotional pull of a character who is being romanticized. When you turn a real person, who had a very painful, distressing life, into a kind of fairytale character, that’s something young people are much more likely to identify with. And identification is at the heart of contagion.”
Also rationalizes the demonization of the bullies, which, as Bazelon’s earlier and amazing reporting on the Phoebe Prince bullying-suicide case demonstrated, has much more to do with satisfying an entertainment-news consuming public than with reflecting the truth of the situation, and can have horribly destructive and unjust consequences.
John Lanchester celebrates Marx’ 193rd. It’s interesting, but should be taken with a pinch of salt. E.g.:
…can it be true that capitalism consistently and reliably immiserates? Can it be true that the system is destructive, if people who live under it quite simply live longer? Take the Millennium Development goals, announced at the turn of the new century, and setting targets to reduce infant mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015 from a starting point of 1990 (the books slightly cooked by setting the starting point ten years in the past), halving the number of people who live in absolute poverty, doubling the percentage of children getting at least a primary education. Can an achievement on that scale be ignored? If a system does that, can you say that it produces nothing but immiseration? Marx himself said that there were moments when the capitalist mode of production could transcend itself, as in the invention of the joint stock company. Further evidence of this possibility for self-transcendence would have exerted great pressure on his intellectual models.
Didn’t realize anyone was claiming the Millennium Development goals had actually been achieved, which isn’t to say there haven’t been achievements. But the achievements of the past 20 years have been driven largely by the emergence of China and India’s massive peasant populations from an essentially feudal way of life (made even more miserable than the old feudalism by the dominance of political power by capitalist priorities), and their integration into the capitalist system. Marx’ critique of capitalism was never based in any kind of nostalgic idealization of feudalism. It was rooted in the destabilizing contradictions built into capitalism itself — the exploitation and alienation that are structurally necessary to the functioning of its mode of self-reproduction, and so impossible to overcome while that mode of reproduction is maintained.
Has there really been a decline in exploitation and alienation in the world? Or even in China or India? I don’t think so. (Gonna take this opportunity to plug Jia Zhanke again, whose movies about the radical changes to life in China are some of the most vivid representations of the extreme alienating character of the current wildly productive system of labour exploitation.) And how wonderful is it to sit atop the global capitalist system? This wonderful, says David Foster Wallace:
By way of example, let’s say it’s an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired, and you’re stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home – you haven’t had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job – and so now, after work, you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the workday, and the traffic’s very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store’s hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can’t just get in and quickly out: you have to wander all over the huge, overlit store’s crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough checkout lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can’t take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.
Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your cheque or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn’t fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etc, etc.
Not so wonderful. Rings true. Not that it hasn’t had its odd and uncomfortable-making perks…