Link-Dropping: Narrative of Injury, Drugs, Hoarding, Imagination, Near-Far

So much of interest in the world!

Hoarding and the Sociology of Consumption at Everyday Sociology Blog: Karen Sternheimer makes the point that hoarders just mirror the culture of ‘too-muchness’ and in fact differ from ‘non-hoarders’ primarily not by how much stuff they have but by how they store it:

“Watching the cluttered lives they lead make it tempting to see the hoarders as oddballs who are totally different from ‘normal’ people.  [Yet] the proliferation of self-storage businesses attests to how much stuff many of us collect. One in ten American households rented a storage unit in 2007, and the United States is home to about 86% of the world’s self-storage facilities. … Accumulating stuff appears totally normal, and only a problem if not stored properly,” whether in a storage unit (out of sight, out of mind) or in a bigger house or garage. …

packing - sept 2009 - attic

“Our consumer-based culture suggests that our possessions define us, that brands identify our social position and social status. Giving things is also the way we are encouraged to show others we love them on their birthday and special holidays. On some level it shouldn’t be surprising that those experiencing psychological problems have taken these values to extremes,” e.g., by feeling they cannot part with anything someone else has given them.

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The Parable of Prohibition by Johann Hari at Slate is a review of Daniel Okrent’s “superb new history,” Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,
and is excellent in its argument for legalising drugs.

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Richard Beck at Experimental Theology writes about politics and ressentiment, the Nietzschian term meaning resentment and anger (though its seems to me that anger is part and parcel of resentment). He responds to a book by James Davison Hunter (To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World), in which Hunter “defines ressentiment as ‘a narrative of injury.’ According to Hunter, ressentiment has come to define American political discourse. That is, those on the Right feel ‘injured’ and ‘harmed’ by Obama. Just as the Left felt ‘injured’ and ‘harmed’ by George W. Bush.”

As Hunter writes:

“The sense of injury is the key. Over time, the perceived injustice becomes central to the person’s and the group’s identity. Understanding themselves to be victimized is not a passive acknowledgement but a belief that can be cultivated. Accounts of atrocity become a crucial subplot of the narrative, evidence that reinforces the sense that they have been or will be wronged or victimized. Cultivating the fear of further injury becomes a strategy for generating solidarity within the group and mobilizing the group to action. It is often useful at such times to exaggerate or magnify the threat. The injury or threat thereof is so central to the identity and dynamics of the group that to give it up is to give up a critical part of whom they understand themselves to be. Thus, instead of letting go, the sense of injury continues to get deeper.”

As Beck says,

“in this logic, it is only natural that wrongs need to be righted. And so it is, then, that the injury–real or perceived–leads the aggrieved to accuse, blame, vilify, and then seek revenge on those whom they see as responsible. “

This dynamic of identity formed by seeing oneself and one’s group as victim and others as perpetrators seems at the heart of rivalry and violence in our world, in politics as everywhere else, writ small and large.

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The Pleasures of Imagination by Paul Bloom in the Chronicle of Higher Education is an exploration of why humans like to participate in “experiences that we know are not real. ” He starts out with a sort of hypothesis to partially explain this phenomenon — “We enjoy imaginative experiences because at some level we don’t distinguish them from real ones” — and then  looks at the power of aliefs (v. beliefs), empathy (“In both fiction and reality, then, you simultaneously make sense of the situation from both the character’s perspective and from your own”), and what’s so compelling about fiction.

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Robin Hanson has been exploring the near-far hypothesis for a few months now. In one of the latest essays, he suggests that school is ‘far’, that school helps kids build self-control by encouraging far views, and that “schools evolved in many ways to encourage far views,” including a focus on broad abstract concepts and a neglect of practical skills, a focus on sight and words over pictures and other senses, an emphasis on central ideal moral concerns,  and making kids feel destined for high status. (If this is all new to you and you’re interested, check out his Near-Far Summary for a little intro.)

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