August 2021

Selected articles, including Connor Friedersdorf on a better slogan for criminal-justice reform; Sahil Handa on the life and writing of James Baldwin; and Matt Yglesias reminding us all to calm down.

Apologies, again, for the long wait. August was a busy month with a lot of fascinating reading. But you know what they say—better late than never!

Criminal Justice Reformers Chose the Wrong Slogan

Connor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic on the disastrous slogan, "Defund the Police," and a better one for proponents of criminal-justice reform: "Solve All Murders."

Before the public sours on criminal-justice reform more broadly—as it may amid rising fears about crime and disorder in cities—a new focus and rallying cry are needed. And given the spike in homicides that has afflicted the United States during the pandemic, disproportionately killing Black people, there’s an especially strong case for this overdue slogan: Solve All Murders. Precisely because Black lives matter, people who take Black lives shouldn’t get away with it.

The rapidly shifting Hispanic experience of American criminal justice

Keith Humphreys in Slow Boring on the fading disparities between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in the criminal justice system and how that can enrich our understanding of shifting demographic disparities in America.

[I]n an era of widespread despair about criminal justice reform and racism in America more generally, the declining disparities between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites merit reflection. A generation ago, the idea that such disparities would dramatically shrink or even disappear within the criminal justice system would have sounded naive. The fading of disparities should inspire reformers to even greater heights and also reduce cynicism about the alleged intractability of prejudice within American society.

American schools teach reading all wrong

The Economist on how Mississippi, a state not often associated with pioneering reforms, is teaching the rest of the United States to read. (Let's hope the country is open to the lesson.)

Kymyona Burk, who implemented Mississippi’s statewide literacy programme, says that some teachers have had to sneak phonics teaching materials into the classroom, like some kind of samizdat. Teaching reading any other way is “malpractice”, says Ms Burk. And yet for reasons that include politics, partisanship and personal experience, most American children are taught to read in a way that study after study has found to be wrong.

James Baldwin's Radicalism

Sahil Handa in Persuasion on James Baldwin: his life, his writing, his commitment to recognizing nuance—even if it made him an "oddball" in some eyes—and his enduring focus on the individual human spirit.

Baldwin did not want a white nation, and he did not want a black nation; but neither did he want an America that was white and black. Baldwin wanted to build a nation that was neither white nor black: a nation of individuals who were more concerned with what lay inside each other’s skin than outside.

Why a Masculine Ministry Rose and Fell

David French in The French Press on the cautionary tale of Seattle-area pastor, Mark Driscoll, whose ministry attracted young men with a vision of discipline and masculinity, and how that ultimately led down a dark path.

When you can understand this reality, you can start to see Driscoll’s appeal. His ministry did change lives. Others like him—before and since—have changed lives. And when you change a man’s life, you can inspire fierce devotion.

But pastors and leaders must handle that devotion with great care. When countering a culture that often attacks traditional masculine inclinations as inherent vice, the answer isn’t to indulge traditional masculine inclinations as inherent virtue.

Nike's End of Men

Ethan Strauss in House of Strauss takes us on a journey through Nike's ads over the last few decades, and their trend away from hyper-competitive, hyper-masculine fantasy and towards something distinctly different—something many viewers seem not to like.

Michael Jordan was a hyper-competitive alpha male asshole who viciously humiliated not just his opponents, but his teammates as well. The millions who tuned in for the Last Dance documentary found these dark impulses of his to be highly captivating... What the viewers were drawn to in Jordan, what the ensuing memes drew off of, was what Jennifer Lawrence’s character in American Hustle theorized about a good perfume scent: “Historically, the best perfumes in the world, they’re all laced with something nasty.” So yes, masculinity is toxic. And that’s also what people love about it, similar to how they’re addicted to the rotten rinds in cheese. All that striving for greatness is indivisible from the selfish need to inflict cruelty on your dominated foe. Take away the latter and there is no sports. It’s just exercise.

The case against crisis-mongering

Matt Yglesias in Slow Boring reminding us all to calm down.

I think a lot of liberals look at the crisis-mongering insanity from the left and right and say to themselves that we are living through a crisis of liberalism, but I don’t think that’s really true... I would say that we are living through some problems that are both serious and difficult, but not necessarily any more serious or more difficult than the problems of the past, and certainly not serious in a way that should cause one to doubt the basic tenets of liberalism. And then on top of that, we are living through some pretty ordinary political contestation that, as is inevitable in the course of things, involves some people going overboard at times. But mostly I think we’re living through a time of toxic self-involved drama that threatens to make things worse through twitchy overreaction.

In other exciting news, Iain McGilchrist has been reading excerpts from his forthcoming book, The Matter With Things.

This book is an attempt to convey a way of looking at the world quite different from the one that has largely dominated the West for at least 350 years. Some would say, as long as 2000 years. I believe we have systematically misunderstood the nature of reality and chosen to ignore or silence the minority of voices that have intuited as much... Now we have reached the point where there is an urgent need to transform both how we think of the world, and what we make of ourselves. Attempting to convey such a richer insight is the ambition of this book.