Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Culture

The ‘warspeak’ permeating everyday language puts us all in the trenches

It’s a linguistic battlefield out there. Complot/Shutterstock.com By Robert Myers, Alfred University In a manifesto posted online shortly before he went on to massacre 22 people at an El Paso Walmart, Patrick Crusius cited the “invasion” of Texas by Hispanics. In doing so, he echoed President Trump’s rhetoric of an illegal immigrant “invasion.” Think about what this word choice communicates: It signals an enemy that must be beaten back, repelled

The Boomers’ mistakes are fast creating a crisis for younger Americans

Lyman Stone writes: The Baby Boomers ruined America. That sounds like a hyperbolic claim, but it’s one way to state what I found as I tried to solve a riddle. American society is going through a strange set of shifts: Even as cultural values are in rapid flux, political institutions seem frozen in time. The average U.S. state constitution is more than 100 years old. We are in the third-longest

The myth of the eight-hour sleep

Stephanie Hegarty writes: We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night – but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural. In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month. It

Could a lack of humility be at the root of what ails America?

What happens when everyone thinks they’re smarter than everyone else? Ljupco Smokovski/Shutterstock.com By Frank T. McAndrew, Knox College There are a lot of reasons behind the political polarization of the country and the deterioration of civic discourse. I wonder if a lack of humility is one of them. In his recent book, “The Death of Expertise,” national security expert Tom Nichols described a type of person each of us probably

Muslims lived in America before Protestantism even existed

Sam Haselby writes: Muslims came to America more than a century before the Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. Muslims were living in America not only before Protestants, but before Protestantism existed. After Catholicism, Islam was the second monotheistic religion in the Americas. The popular misunderstanding, even among educated people, that Islam and Muslims are recent additions to America tells us important things about how American history has

Do you see what I see?

Nicola Jones writes: In a Candoshi village in the heart of Peru, anthropologist Alexandre Surrallés puts a small colored chip on a table and asks, “Ini tamaara?” (“How is it?” or “What is it like?”). What Surrallés would like to ask is, “What color is this?” But the Candoshi, a tribe of some 3,000 people living on the upper banks of the Amazon River, don’t have a word for the

How culture works with evolution to produce human cognition

Cecilia Heyes writes: The conventional view, inside and outside academia, is that children are ‘wired’ to imitate. We are ‘Homo imitans’, animals born with a burning desire to copy the actions of others. Imitation is ‘in our genes’. Birds build nests, cats miaow, pigs are greedy, while humans possess an instinct to imitate. The idea that humans have cognitive instincts is a cornerstone of evolutionary psychology, pioneered by Leda Cosmides,

Global WEIRDing is a trend we can’t ignore

By Kensy Cooperrider For centuries, Inuit hunters navigated the Arctic by consulting wind, snow and sky. Now they use GPS. Speakers of the aboriginal language Gurindji, in northern Australia, used to command 28 variants of each cardinal direction. Children there now use the four basic terms, and they don’t use them very well. In the arid heights of the Andes, the Aymara developed an unusual way of understanding time, imagining

The empathetic humanities have much to teach our adversarial culture

By Alexander Bevilacqua, Aeon, January 15, 2019 As anyone on Twitter knows, public culture can be quick to attack, castigate and condemn. In search of the moral high ground, we rarely grant each other the benefit of the doubt. In her Class Day remarks at Harvard’s 2018 graduation, the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addressed the problem of this rush to judgment. In the face of what she called ‘a

The hidden resilience of ‘food desert’ neighborhoods

Barry Yeoman writes: Even before Ashanté Reese and I reach the front gate, retired schoolteacher Alice Chandler is standing in the doorway of her brick home in Washington, D.C. She welcomes Reese, an anthropologist whom she has known for six years, with a hug and apologizes for having nothing to feed us during this spontaneous visit. Chandler, 69 years old, is a rara avis among Americans: an adult who has

The steward of Middle-earth

Hannah Long writes: Around the time Christopher [Tolkien] was commissioned an officer in the RAF in 1945, [J.R.R.] Tolkien was calling his son “my chief critic and collaborator.” Christopher would return from flying missions to pore over another chapter of his father’s work. He also joined the informal literary club known as the Inklings. At 21, he was the youngest—and is now the last surviving—member. The band of friends—J.R.R. Tolkien,

China has placed hundreds of thousands of Muslims in cultural extermination camps

The New York Times reports: On the edge of a desert in far western China, an imposing building sits behind a fence topped with barbed wire. Large red characters on the facade urge people to learn Chinese, study law and acquire job skills. Guards make clear that visitors are not welcome. Inside, hundreds of ethnic Uighur Muslims spend their days in a high-pressure indoctrination program, where they are forced to

Remembering 1968

Jackson Lears writes: The religious dimension of American radicalism was what separated it from the student uprisings in Paris and other European cities during the spring of 1968. American radicals lacked the anticlerical animus of Europeans; priests, rabbis, and ministers enlisted in the front ranks of the civil rights and antiwar movements. King’s decision to bear witness against the war was central to legitimating resistance to it, while provoking government

Have we forgotten how to die?

In a review of seven books on death and dying, Julie-Marie Strange writes: James Turner was twenty-five when his four-year-old daughter Annice died from a lung condition. She died at home with her parents and grandmother; her sleeping siblings were told of her death the next morning. James did everything to soothe Annice’s last days but, never having encountered death before, he didn’t immediately recognize it. He didn’t know what

How Lebanon transformed Anthony Bourdain

Kim Ghattas writes: Growing up in Beirut during Lebanon’s 15–year civil war, I wished for someone like Anthony Bourdain to tell the story of my country: a place ripped apart by violence, yes, but also a country where people still drove through militia checkpoints just to gather for big Sunday family lunches, or dodged sniper fire to get to their favorite butcher across town to sample some fresh, raw liver

How music can fight prejudice

Tom Jacobs writes: The outpouring of hostility toward immigrants and refugees has reminded us that ethnocentrism remains a fact of life in both Europe and the United States. Combating it will require teaching a new generation to view members of different cultures as potential friends rather than threatening outsiders. But what mode of communication has the power to stimulate such a shift? New research from Portugal suggests the answer may