James Poulos’s Illogic

by Rich Yeselson on February 20, 2012

James Poulos posted a much commented upon essay in The Daily Caller the other day, entitled, “What are Women for?”

Poulos has a kind of oracular and circuitous prose style (takes one to know one), and it’s sometimes hard to understand exactly what he’s trying to argue.  And sometimes oracular devolves into just terrible and weird writing as when he intones, “The purpose of lifting the left’s Potemkin skirts is not to score tits for tats.”  Um…I lost him between the skirts, the tits and the tats, and I don’t even want to know where he ended up.

But, allowing for his affectedness, Poulos is actually up to something at once deeply derivative and banal, yet astonishing in the residual, reactionary power he brings to it. For evidence, see this second “response to critics” essay of his.   The argument–once Poulos has dispensed with some pretty tedious “plague on the right and left (but mostly left)” throat clearing–comes down to this: he thinks that women are closer to nature because they are able to give birth, i.e they have a “privileged relationship to the natural world.” And, therefore, “what they are for”, as he argues in the second essay (which is actually the more lucid of the two) is to civilize those who “fill up the world with stuff — machines, weapons, ideologies, and so on — that often objectifies and instrumentalizes people, and often distracts us from its own sterility as regards fruitful human living.” That would be men. After all, as he says in essay one, “a civilization of men, for men, and by men is no civilization at all, a monstrously barbaric, bloody, and brutal enterprise.”

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Unequal Childhoods

by Harry on February 20, 2012

Laura (from 11d) at the Atlantic on Annette Lareau:

Jonah, did you ask your French teacher about why you got that B on that assignment? At 5:00 p.m. today, you have an orthodontist appointment. We’ll pick up Thai food on the way home and then you’ll finish your English homework. Don’t forget to put a book cover on your essay. A book cover always bumps a grade up half a point. Your dad can check your math when he gets home. Do you want tofu in your green curry or chicken? Ian, do you want noodles?

Every once in a while, you step back from yourself as a parent and say, “Dude! Did I actually just say that? I used to be cool. Did some alien take over my brain and turn me into this Mom Machine?” No crab-faced alien can be blamed for transforming me from a slacker in a black dress into what I am today. According to sociologist Annette Lareau, I’m a product of my social class.

The rest here.

This reminds me that I should long ago have alerted you all that the second edition of Unequal Childhoods was published in September. The new edition has a number of additions; including a follow up study of where the children were a decade or so later (none of the outcomes are very surprising, I’m sorry to report, but the details are fantastically interesting), and a riveting and uneasy reflection on some of the methodological and ethical issues with doing a longitudinal ethnographic study, describing the families’ reactions. Lareau gave copies of the first edition to each of the families after it was published, and, predictably, many of them read it and, equally predictably, about half were quite upset about the way they were portrayed. One family refused further contact — I was rather pleased with myself for being able to figure out, when she told me about this, which it was. In fact, the predictability of their reactions is a tribute to the first edition; the adults turn out to be the very people who were displayed to us 10 years earlier; witness Mr. Marshall’s response (cheerful disbelief when told that some of the families were upset: “It complimented everyone!”). This new chapter (14) should be required reading in all graduate level social science methods courses, and I have used it very fruitfully with undergraduates already. Interestingly, some of the families shifted their attitudes to the book over time. One middle class boy gave his father a copy of Outliers as a gift, which made the father better disposed to Lareau. One story is especially poignant, though also hopeful. Like several others, Mrs. Yanelli was annoyed at the way that her family had been portrayed feeling that it “looked down” on and was “highly critical of her family”. But her attitude changed:

Mrs Yanelli cleans the home of a Sociology professor I know slightly. One day he happened to be home when she was cleaning. She saw that he had Unequal Childhoods on his bookshelf. She told him she was in the book, and described how disappointed she and her family were with the book. Later, when I called the Yanelli’s…Mrs Yanelli told me he had “explained” the book to her , saying it was about things that were not right with society, with some people having more than others. She said that he had “made her” understand the book, and now she and her family were “fine with it”.