Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Viewing & Reading - May 31

With apologies for the lack of posts, despite my earlier pledge to blogging regularity, here are a couple of things that might properly fall under the label of miscellany.

1. Nicholas Kristoff seems to have experienced an epiphany, and I wonder whether it is due in part to having conversations with his fellow New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat. Be that as it may, his Saturday column sort of doubles down on an earlier column which exposed the ideological monolith of contemporary American universities. (The earlier column is linked from the latest one.) I say "sort of" doubles down, because while Kristoff's point is absolutely correct, he lacks the explanatory persuasiveness that the column could have enjoined -- namely as to why and how it is that "liberals" of a particular variety are so dominant throughout the contemproary humanities and social science disciplines. I still cringe at the usage of the word "liberal" in these contexts, because it is a peculiar Americanism that has infected the braoder English language perception of political theory. The liberals Kristoff refers to are not liberals so much as leftists with a quite specific view as to the form of the collective they wish to shape. Classical liberals have had the word wrested from their grasp and are now referred to, often inaccurately, as "conservatives", even though many of them are not conservative. But kudos go out to Kristoff. He has touched a nerve, and as a liberal (in his own understanding of the word) he has credibility in making the diagnosis he's made in the way that Douthat could not succeed in doing.

2. Here is a link to an Anthony Bourdain / Parts Unknown programme that was first broadcast last year I believe. It was re-broadcast yesterday evening and it contains compelling, anecdotal evidence about the current drug use epidemic in the United States that is far more serious than media outlets are able to convey, in their obession with (for instance) Donald Trump's tweets. One of the most interesting aspects of my research into human nature over the past year or so is the encounter with the nature and scope of addiction as well as the philosophical questions that stem from addiction research. Some of the anecdotal evidence that pertains to a proper consideration of substance abuse are the following: its correlation with rates of loneliness, despair and social breakdown, its relationship to the notion of habit (bad addictive habits and the good habits that are necessary to adopt in order to re-wire the regions of the brain) and probable genetic predispositions to addictive behaviour. The brain's reward centers (the ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens, amygdala and the prefrontal cortex) need re-wiring through supportive and intricately threaded social networks of small groups and voluntary agencies to counteract the corrosive and dangerous personal impact of addiction. It is staggering to me that media coverage of social issues that seem to be banal or even frivolous receive vastly disproportionate amounts of attention in relation to the substance abuse epidemic currently ravaging many parts of North America. Bourdain places himself vulnerably at the centre of this important narrative (by talking about his own prior addiction to heroin) and thumbs up to CNN for allowing him to do so.