Nielsen Hayden Isms

by Kieran Healy on April 25, 2004

In a bold commercial move, you “Patrick”: and “Teresa”: Nielsen Hayden now have a “Cafe Press Store”: where you can buy various Nielsen Hayden wit and wisdom on mugs, shirts and aprons. Weirdly, though, I remembered one of the reified sentiments — a superb phrase I will doubtless be using at a later date — backwards from the version for sale. The mugs and shirts say “Just because you’re on their side, doesn’t mean they’re on your side.” But my brain had transposed it to “Just because they’re on your side, doesn’t mean you’re on their side.” The first warns against the danger of _giving_ support to people who will betray you in the end or turn out to be driven by interests very different from those you imagine. The second warns against the danger of _accepting_ support from people you don’t know, whose views happen to overlap with yours one area but in fact are part of some bizarro ideology you want nothing to do with. Not so different, I suppose, but I clearly thought the second version was more compelling somehow.

Three points on this. First, it’s actually quite common for great quotations to be edited and rearranged in the process of becoming part of the culture. But I think we can safely say that this is a case of my wonky[1] memory rather than some general push from the _conscience collective_. Second, I think I’m going to buy the “Nutbar Conspiracy Theorist” jersey once I get back to the U.S. And third, I think we need some CT merchandise. Perhaps a version of the “full lineout”: Or just our banner. Or some of the pearls of wit that flow like, um, honey from our, uh, wellsprings of, erm, knowledge. (Any nominations for favorite CT quotes?)

fn1. In the English rather than the American sense.

By Definition

by Jon Mandle on April 25, 2004

Classically, when philosophers teach deductions, we trot out examples like the following: “If Jim is a bachelor, then it follows from the definition (or meaning) of ‘bachelor’ that Jim is an unmarried man.” The conclusion is supposed to follow deductively from the premise about Jim and the definition of “bachelor.” But there’s more: although we could imagine the premise about Jim being false, it’s supposed to be impossible to imagine a bachelor that’s not an unmarried man – that’s supposed to be the additional force of saying “by definition.”

Governor Mitt Romney says that a 1913 law requires that same-sex marriages in Massachusetts be limited to residents only. Here’s his argument:

Our current laws, as they exist, limit same-sex marriage to people from jurisdictions where such marriage would be legal,” Mr. Romney said. “And our understanding is that same-sex marriage is only legal in Massachusetts. And therefore, by definition, only people who reside in Massachusetts or intend to reside in Massachusetts would be able to be married under this provision.”

My question: “by definition” of what? Certainly not “marriage” which he recognizes can – and does – change as the law changes.

Extra credit: will a man who is not a resident of Massachusetts, but who marries a man who is a resident still be a bachelor?

Scottish and Welsh Higher Education

by Harry on April 25, 2004

Chris’s post on higher education in the UK has reminded me of an idea I devised when I was experiencing the regime of UK Higher Ed. Numerous UK academics are dissatisfied with their working conditions in exactly the way that Chris’s correspondent is, though not all of them would feel comfortable decamping. If I were a member of the Welsh Assembly or Scottish Parliament I would be very tempted to capitalize on this. I’d try to get a long-term commitment for funding a small new academic institution in whichever country I was in, which would provide an elite undergraduate and graduate education to a small number of students (at first), and would, by providing much happier working conditions and slightly better incomes, provide a magnet for high-quality academics in English institutions (whom I would pursue aggressively).

[click to continue…]

Red and Blue America

by Kieran Healy on April 25, 2004

Via “Kevin Drum”: comes this comment from political scientist “Hans Noel”:, quoted in the Washington Post:

bq. “Most people say they are ‘moderate,’ but in fact the country is polarized around strong conservative and liberal positions.” [Noel said, and the article continues] … As it becomes more difficult to reach across the party line, campaigns are devoting more energy to firing up their hard-core supporters. For voters in the middle, this election may aggravate their feeling that politics no longer speaks to them, that it has become a dialogue of the deaf, a rant of uncompromising extremes.

Noel is pushing the attractive idea that polarization feeds on and reinforces itself. (Attractive from the point of view of elegant social mechanisms, I mean.) And Kevin can’t see a way to break the cycle. Red and Blue America is the latest version of the Culture Wars thesis. However, while it’s clear that the chattering classes — at least their representatives in the media — have become more polarized over time, I’m not sure I believe that everyone else has.

My main evidence for this comes from a 1996 paper by Paul DiMaggio, Bethany Bryson and John Evans called “Have Americans’ social attitudes become more polarized?” (JSTOR link, institutional subscription required).[1] They used a long time-series of “General Social Survey”: opinion data and measured how skewed the distribution of public opinion on a wide range of questions was, and whether that changed over time. Respondents to opinion questions are generally given a statement and asked to choose a place on a five- or sometimes seven-point scale ranging from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree.” If polarization was happening, you would see more and more people at the extreme ends of the scales and fewer in the middle. But DiMaggio et al found that, with the exception of questions about abortion, the distribution of opinion had not become more skewed. Across a wide range of issues, there were about as many people in the middle in the early 1990s as there had been in the early 1970s. I don’t know of sample-based research that rebuts this finding. At the same time, as an “an update”: by John Evans demonstrates, more recent data suggests that such polarization as does exist is being driven by the political system: “it seems clear that members of the public who are involved in politics are becoming polarized on moral issues.”

fn1. Full disclosure: Paul was my Ph.D advisor and John and Bethany are friends of mine.