Ashley Mears on Status and Beauty (full) | Conversations with Tyler

17:26
okay so I think I think that myself I
17:29
might be a little bit of an outlier as a
17:31
as a club girl because I was much older
17:34
by about ten years even though I was
17:36
still referred to ubiquitously as a girl
17:37
but yeah I mean I had a professional job
17:41
in a career and I was I was in here
17:42
doing for one thing but looking at the
17:44
other women that are in the scene I mean
17:47
it’s really quite a range of of outcomes
17:50
I think they it might increase the most
17:55
their social capital in the sense that
17:58
they get more ties to people in
18:00
different kinds of realms than they
18:03
would if they weren’t a part of this
18:05
world so you know if they stayed in
18:07
Nebraska and didn’t try try out modeling
18:10
or if they tried out modeling but stayed
18:12
in the models apartment and didn’t go
18:14
you know to the Hamptons and to San
18:15
Tropez with the promoter I think that
18:18
you know on the margins they do gain
18:20
they gain those kinds of cosmopolitan
18:22
experiences which might be convertible
18:25
for something valuable in the future I
18:27
think that they gain friendship ties to
18:30
people that they otherwise wouldn’t be
18:31
exposed to you especially other women I
18:33
think it is a really important scene
18:35
where women can connect to each other I
18:37
don’t think it’s that valuable of a
18:39
scene where women can connect to rich
18:41
men so this is a question that people
18:43
always want to know like well you know
18:45
don’t these young women these club girls
18:48
don’t they like fetch a rich man for a
18:51
husband and this is a you know kind of
18:53
great dating and mating market and I
18:55
think the answer to that is no why don’t
18:58
why not because the well-to-do men are
19:00
there the attractive women are there
19:03
right in a lot of other settings you see
19:05
frequent pairings what stops it from
19:08
happening in the club yeah so even
19:11
though women who look like fashion
19:13
models are so valuable in this scene for
19:15
lending status they’re devalued for the
19:18
assumption that they’re just beautiful
19:20
and specifically the kind of women that
19:23
are like club girls going out night
19:24
after night they’re seen as being
19:26
unserious like this is this is not the
19:28
pool of future wives this is not the
19:30
pool of future business partners this is
19:32
a pool of hookups and people have a very
19:35
specific term that they use to describe
19:37
girls that are very valuable to the club
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and
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to the promoters but completely devalued
19:43
outside of the club and that’s the party
19:45
girl so people would just dismiss party
19:48
girls as being like I’m serious
19:50
you know like women women that you want
19:52
to have it the party but you don’t want
19:53
to see them the next day yeah so that
19:57
it’s kind of a I don’t know like being
19:59
tainted by going into the club and
20:02
taking advantage of all of the things
20:04
that the club can offer to a beautiful
20:06
young woman by making that trade of her
20:09
beauty for access she’s assumed to be
20:12
just a party girl as you probably know
20:16
there’s some modest degree of evidence
20:18
that attractive people are smarter on
20:20
average at least so why isn’t it the
20:23
case that these suppose and party girls
20:25
a lot of them are quite bright they
20:27
figure out ways of signaling that
20:29
they’re smart which is not hard to do in
20:31
conversation mm-hm
20:33
but have some well-to-do men who maybe
20:35
find it hard to meet the beautiful women
20:37
they want to marry and they go to the
20:39
club and they look for the signals from
20:41
the really smart party girls why doesn’t
20:43
the market work that way why keep apart
20:47
so it definitely can it worked that way
20:50
and I think there’s lots of success
20:52
stories where it does work that way
Melania Trump for example met Donald
Trump at one of these party not not one
of these parties in these nightclubs but
she was introduced at a party that was
run by her then fashion modeling agent
who was actually regular and one in this
whole VIP circuit so she was kind of
connected to this world and that’s where
she met the you know very rich and
successful businessman it by the way she
also had to work pretty hard when she
was introduced to the national stage to
clear the reputation that she’s not a
party girl there was like all of this
effort to say like Melania Trump was a
good girl she didn’t go out too much
right she happened to be at this one
party but she was not a party girl so so
I can work and I think there’s probably
lots of stories where that does work but
21:38
for the majority of the cases of the
21:39
young women who are brought to these
21:42
clubs with the promoters they it doesn’t
21:47
work for them because they’re staying
21:48
with the promoter the promoters job is
21:50
to keep them at the table their primary
21:53
being there is signaling their beauty it
21:57
becomes difficult to try to forge any
22:00
kind of meaningful connection when the
22:02
lights are low and the music is loud you
22:04
know there’s people are you know talking
22:07
but really like shouting into each
22:08
other’s ears and so the the setup of
22:11
that kind of a situation works against
22:14
any woman who’s trying to show that she
22:17
is like a real intellectual or she is
22:19
you know it has some kind of
22:20
occupational or educational prestige I
22:22
have so many naive uninformed questions
22:25
but why is the music so loud in these
22:27
clubs I found the music loud in
22:32
McDonald’s right right and so clubs are
22:38
kind of there also in this business of
22:39
trying to manufacture and experience
22:41
like the that annual Durkheim would call
22:44
this collective effervescence like
22:46
losing yourself in a moment and that’s
22:48
really possible when you’re able to kind
22:50
of tune out the other things like I
22:53
don’t know if somebody is feeling
22:57
insecure about the way they dance or if
22:59
somebody’s not sure of what to say
23:01
having really loud music that has a beat
23:03
where everybody just is the same thing
23:05
which is like nod to the beat that helps
23:07
to kind of tune people into one another
23:10
and it helps build up a vibe and a kind
23:12
of energy and so that’s the the the
23:14
point is to sort of lose yourself in the
23:16
music in these spaces putting aside your
23:19
research interests how much fun was it
23:22
for you to be in these gloves all right
23:25
so I always say like I really wish that
23:27
I had met these promoters when I was 18
23:29
because I was in New York I was studying
23:31
at Hunter College for a year and if I
23:34
had met the promoters then it would have
23:36
been fantastic it would have gotten to
23:38
you know travel and eat and drink for
23:40
free and stay out all night and enjoy
23:44
but when I was going back in into this
23:47
world of New York when I was 30 31 and
23:51
32 yeah it was pretty difficult
23:54
it was pretty grueling so just to put it
23:56
in perspective the dinner with the
23:57
promoters would start at around 10
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o’clock at night we head to a club at
24:01
around midnight and we stay there until
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3:00 a.m. and the high heels are very
24:05
high like the expectation is that when
24:07
where these really high high so it’s
24:09
like physically hard to to keep up and
24:11
be in these phases I think that for some
24:14
of the younger women that’s their thing
24:16
like they’ll of house music or they love
24:18
hip hop music they love to stay out late
24:20
get dressed up be looked at you know get
24:22
drunk have drugs it’s it’s fantastic for
24:25
for a young person it’s hard to convey
24:27
that kind of fun and it was hard hard
24:30
for me you know being like a sober
24:32
thirty year olds to also feel it now why
24:37
don’t they just pay the women to go to
24:38
the clubs as you know in economics it’s
24:40
typically assumed a cash payment it’s
24:43
more efficient than free tuna rolls what
24:46
stops that from happening
24:47
right always asking this of the women I
24:51
would and I would say like you know why
24:53
don’t we just like band together and
24:55
agree to show up at the club together
24:56
and then we’ll each get paid a hundred
24:58
dollars as opposed to going through all
25:00
of these efforts of the promoter you
25:02
know cajoling us and mobilizing us and
25:04
then he gets paid a thousand dollars and
25:06
the answer was always no I don’t want it
25:08
to be work I want it to be fun this is
25:11
leisure not labor and there’s all of
25:12
these efforts that are expended to make
25:14
it look like it’s not work although it
25:16
is I mean the women are performing a
25:18
really valuable labor to the club and
25:20
lots of profits are being made off of
25:22
them but they don’t want to think about
25:25
it in terms of work and occasionally
25:27
some promoters if they’re running low on
25:29
girls or they’re in a desperate
25:31
situation for the night they’ll call a
25:33
girl and and offer her say $40 or $80 to
25:37
come out as paid and this is looked down
25:40
on by other women is as being like an
25:43
act of desperation it’s going to ruin
25:45
the fun of the night because you have to
25:46
be there as opposed to wanting to be
25:48
there but that seems like a funny norm
25:51
so occasionally I may say to give talks
25:53
I can assure you that does not take away
25:55
from the fun that’s what I do
25:58
couldn’t the young women all just drop
26:00
this norm and they would get paid and be
26:02
better off aren’t they laboring under
26:04
some kind of false consciousness here it
26:06
is it – it’s a degrading experience in
26:09
some ways right the loud music so you
26:12
why not on the money side get the better
26:15
outcome right so it’s a degrading
26:17
experience if it’s not fun
26:19
if it’s not made meaningful and the
26:20
promoters that are really good at their
26:22
job they do it really well to make it
26:24
meaningful with the young women so
26:26
they’re not just recruiting models off
26:30
the street you know giving them some
26:31
free tuna rolls and then you know have
26:34
it saying like wear heels and dance it’s
26:37
actually the the promoters spend a lot
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of time developing intimacy and
26:42
connections with the young women they
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talk about each other as friends they
26:45
use this language of friendship they see
26:47
themselves as supporting one another and
26:50
the girls are loyal to the promoter and
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so under these kinds of terms when the
26:56
women go out with the promoter it’s
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usually a combination of things maybe
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she’s needing free dinner maybe she
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doesn’t have any friends because she’s
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new to New York City maybe she is
27:07
sleeping with the promoter and she
27:09
thinks that she’s his girlfriend or
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maybe she really likes the promoter
27:12
because they go to the movies every
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Wednesday afternoon and promoters do
27:16
that they’ll invite they’ll invite girls
27:18
for bowling or for picnics or to you
27:21
know whatever Disneyland and so these
27:24
are relationships that the promoters are
27:25
cultivating which there then profiting
27:27
from so it feels meaningful it doesn’t
27:30
feel degrading and for the women from
27:32
whom it does feel degrading they
27:34
typically don’t last very long or they
27:35
leave over the course of the night and
27:37
they say this isn’t for me let’s say you
27:39
sat down with one of these 20 year old
27:41
young women and you taught them
27:43
everything you know from your studies
27:45
what you know about bodily capital and
27:47
sociological theories of exploitation
27:49
you could throw at them whatever you
27:51
wanted they would read the book they
27:52
would listen to your video talk with you
27:55
would that change their behavior any I
27:57
don’t think so no I don’t think so I
28:01
think that they might not be too
28:05
surprised even to learn the that this is
28:09
a job for promoters and the promoters
28:11
make money doing this most of them know
28:12
that they didn’t know how much money
28:14
promoters are making they don’t know how
28:16
much money the clubs are making but they
28:18
know that they’re contributing to those
28:20
profits and they know that there’s this
28:22
inequality built into it you know for
28:25
some of the women that had a belief that
28:28
they had the exclusive affections and
28:31
attention
28:31
the promoter that might come as a
28:34
surprise and those are the those are the
28:36
satyr moments that I discovered in this
28:38
economy when promoters are misleading
28:42
the young women into thinking that they
28:45
genuinely have you know exclusive
28:48
romantic or intimate intentions when
28:50
often a promoter might be sleeping with
28:53
two or three or several models in order
28:56
to get them to come out with him at
28:58
night so for those women they might that
29:02
might be the drawing line because it’s
29:04
such an egregious abuse but in this
29:07
world there’s a widespread assumption
29:09
that everybody uses everybody else I
29:11
mean the women are using the club for
29:13
the pleasures that they can get from it
29:15
they’re using the promoter for the
29:16
pleasures they can get from him the
29:18
access the promoters are using the young
29:20
women the clients using the promoters
29:22
the drawing line is when there’s a
29:24
perception of abuse that people have a
29:27
clear sense that you know lying about
29:30
being exclusively romantic would be a
29:32
clear violation so that would be abusive
29:34
but use is okay mutual exploitation is
29:37
okay the margin do you think this world
29:40
should be taxed or subsidized by local
29:43
policy and I mean the words tax and
29:45
subsidize in a broad way like noise
29:47
ordinances opening hours their implicit
29:49
policy decisions that help her harm
29:52
these ventures what should the policy
29:53
stance be
29:55
okay well this is kind of out there I
29:59
think that as as a labor issue
30:03
this shows the really unequal and unfair
30:07
terms of the modeling industry in
30:10
particular and the modeling industry is
30:12
generating so much profit for the club
30:16
industry I mean the these unpaid women
30:18
in the modeling industry they’re also
30:21
generating huge like untold profits all
30:23
of these other industries that benefit
30:25
from their presence in the clubs like
30:27
finance or real estate where all of
30:30
these networks of powerful businessmen
30:32
get consolidated in part you know
30:34
softened through the presence of unpaid
30:36
women from the modeling industry so I
30:38
think that there could be some case to
30:40
be made that fashion unpaid fashion
30:44
models or low paid fashion models are
30:46
doing enormous unpaid labor for all of
30:48
these other hugely profitable industries
30:50
where disproportionately the profits are
30:52
going to men so I could see
30:54
redistribution working in that direction
30:56
but if you can’t talk them out of what
30:59
they’re doing given everything you know
31:01
and you would be the person to try to do
31:03
it right right is it that you’re you
31:07
know paternalistic or maternal istic
31:09
towards them or you don’t want to
31:11
respect their preferences or I mean how
31:15
do you see this at the meta level I
31:16
think that people participate in their
31:18
own exploitation all the time I mean you
31:20
see this in all kinds of different forms
31:22
of work as academics like yeah you get
31:24
paid for your talks but you’re doing a
31:26
lot of work that’s unpaid and
31:28
uncompensated and often unrecognized as
31:30
well like all of the service work all of
31:33
the other things that academia runs on
31:34
it also a lot of this is free labor that
31:38
we give up because we believe in it and
31:39
we find it validating and someone should
31:41
tell us not to do it but we’d probably
31:43
still do it anyway because it’s
31:44
validating so I think that exploitation
31:46
works best when it’s pleasurable and
31:49
when it’s made meaningful but that
31:50
doesn’t mean that the inequities can’t
31:52
be challenged at a structural level if I
31:56
had a subjective level people consent to
31:57
them whose evidence say that academics
32:01
are left-leaning dentists tend to lean
32:03
more toward the right what are the
32:04
politics of fashion models on average
32:07
but they’re they’re young this is a
32:10
population of people who are young and
32:12
often you know politically unexperienced
32:15
and often not educated especially for
32:17
women the age for a fashion model is
32:19
typically they’re late teenage years
32:21
into their 20s this is the company this
32:23
is the age for you know going to college
32:26
so so yeah um I would have to say that
32:31
they are amorphous and you know perhaps
32:34
they’re leaning left if for no other
32:36
reason because it’s a creative industry
32:38
and they’re exposed to more creatives
32:41
and Bohemians who tend to lean to the
32:43
left or tend to be more progressive why
32:46
is the scouting model so common for
32:48
finding women who might be fashioning
32:50
fashion models there’s a scout he goes
32:52
up to a woman he says you have that look
32:54
come with me why are things done that
32:57
way I think that’s happening less and
33:00
less in a digital and globally connected
33:02
world so it used to be that Scouts would
33:04
travel all across the like nine time
33:06
zones of Russia and go to these beauty
33:09
pageants across all these different
33:10
little cities and you know pluck someone
33:13
from obscurity and send her to Paris but
33:15
now there’s so many small modeling
33:17
agencies or even even just women with
33:20
Wi-Fi connections and instagrams all
33:22
around the world that they can email
33:24
their pictures directly to a scout who’s
33:26
based in New York so I think that that
33:27
model is starting to cut down where the
33:31
professional paid Scout whose job is to
33:33
go on the hunt will become less and less
33:36
or is becoming less and less but that
33:38
person will just look through pictures
33:41
on their computer they’re still scouting
33:43
but in a different form but isn’t there
33:45
some physical presence or charisma that
33:47
doesn’t come through in a photograph and
33:49
you need a good scout for that because
33:51
modeling may be mainly isn’t even about
33:54
looks right so the thing that models
33:58
sell in the market is called a look but
34:00
you’re definitely right that it’s part
34:02
physicality but part personality and
34:04
that comes through in a picture it comes
34:05
through in a walk and also a
34:06
conversation I think a lot can be
34:08
captured in video and zoom and Instagram
34:12
so you know I think there are ways to
34:15
capture that but a scowl maybe who gets
34:20
a
34:20
picture and gets the videos that they
34:22
like from somebody would eventually need
34:25
to go and meet them in their part of the
34:27
world it also probably you know
34:29
depending if it’s a woman in her age to
34:31
meet her parents as well and to develop
34:34
a rapport so that someone would feel
34:37
good about sending their teenage
34:38
daughter to a new market how good a
34:41
scout would you be a fashion models well
34:47
I’m a little bit shy I think when I to
34:49
go and talk to people so I think that a
34:52
good Scout they have to have a good eye
34:54
that’s the primary thing to to see that
34:57
what they would call like a diamond in
34:58
the rough I could do that I think that
35:00
any model that’s gone through the system
35:02
and is exposed to this kind of look over
35:05
and over can make these assessments and
35:07
to kind of see things together how
35:08
different features come together but I
35:11
think that Scouts also I’ve spent some
35:13
time with them they have a kind of ease
35:15
and talking to young people and they
35:16
have an ease and talking with their
35:18
parents and I I just don’t have that I
35:20
think I would feel awkward or like
35:23
creepy or in some way like offering
35:25
false dreams that I think probably I
35:27
would have serious hesitations about
35:29
trying to pull somebody into the
35:32
modeling industry if a good quality
35:34
Scout goes up to a 17 year old young
35:36
woman and approaches are about being a
35:39
model I mean what’s the median or modal
35:41
reaction to that okay so I know this
35:46
from interviewing the the models for my
35:48
first book it surprised its surprised
35:51
because I say I said so a scout has to
35:53
be able to identify a look and to be
35:55
able to see how somebody who is not in
35:59
the context of the fashion modeling
36:00
industry could be you know really great
36:02
under certain kinds of conditions and so
36:04
these are usually young women’s their
36:06
scouting stories are like you know I was
36:08
just coming out of soccer practice or I
36:10
was just getting off of like an
36:11
overnight airplane and I had braces and
36:14
you know I was the ugly duckling and
36:15
yeah nobody nobody looked twice at me in
36:18
middle school and then here’s this
36:20
person you know saying I should be a
36:21
model in London or something so yeah
36:24
surprise
36:24
but do ninety percent just tell the guy
36:26
to buzz off or what do they do I think
36:30
if it makes I mean that surprise can
36:31
come with like fear that this is some
36:34
it might be shady it could also come
36:36
yeah with the sense of like disinterest
36:40
I think that a lot of people in the
36:43
modeling industry they have a couple of
36:44
experiences with getting scouted so the
36:46
first time might be complete surprise
36:48
and like yeah this might be creepy or
36:50
like buzz off not interested right now
36:52
but if it happens again or a third time
36:53
then it the idea starts to start to
36:56
develop that maybe there’s something to
36:58
it and I was yeah did you respond so
37:04
sorry having a couple of times in at the
37:07
mall that a scout would would come
37:09
approached me which state is this yeah
37:12
so I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta
37:14
sent a lot of diamonds I fashioned malls
37:16
in Atlanta and my peers and so yeah
37:19
Scout would come up and say like all you
37:20
I’d love for you to come into the office
37:22
and you know we could probably work if
37:25
you’re interested – have you ever
37:26
thought about becoming a model but by
37:27
that point by that time that that had
37:30
happened I was already told by people
37:33
and like my friends in high school that
37:35
you know I was skinny enough that I
37:37
looked like one of these girls in these
37:41
magazines and I should consider it so it
37:42
was already kind of on my mind that it
37:44
was something that I wanted to do and
37:45
then of course my mom she sent me a
37:47
Vogue magazine 1993 Cindy Crawford was
37:52
on the cover I still have it and I and I
37:55
just got really into whatever fashion
37:57
modeling was I didn’t fully understand
37:58
but I was like I want to be this do you
38:02
regret having been a model no not at all
38:06
I regret that I didn’t use it in a
38:11
smarter way
38:12
because I was I think that you know I
38:14
started traveling to Milan in Japan when
38:17
I was 19 and 20 and so that’s still
38:21
quite a young age I think like mentally
38:25
and emotionally to kind of pick up and
38:27
go somewhere but if I sometimes feel
38:31
like if I had had
38:32
I don’t know better if I knew what I
38:35
know now you know back then I could have
38:38
built stronger connections with
38:41
interesting people like I could have
38:43
tried harder to understand the
38:46
creative side of producing fashion yeah
38:50
I could have tried tarted to get
38:52
involved in photography which I found
38:54
interesting but it was always kind of on
38:55
the margins of so it it opens up all
38:57
these doors that you know frankly at 18
38:59
I wasn’t really capable of seeing it’s a
39:03
significant subset of models who at
39:05
least to me appear to be distant
39:07
unapproachable and they look pissed off
39:09
why is that
39:11
there’s a wonderful dissertation at the
39:14
University of Amsterdam called my
39:16
fashion models don’t smile don’t they so
39:20
it depends which segment of the fashion
39:22
modeling market we’re talking about so
39:23
if you look in your catalogs that you
39:26
know used to come in the mail that now
39:28
are mostly online models are pretty
39:30
relatable that they they have the kind
39:32
of look that would be described as
39:33
girl-next-door or like a classic apple
39:35
pie and you see a lot of smiles when
39:37
people are selling things directly in
39:39
the catalog or commercial realm on
39:40
television commercials as well really
39:42
relatable people aspirational in the way
39:45
they look they look good but they’re
39:46
connecting they’re smiling and they’re
39:48
not meant to be intimidating unlike the
39:51
editorial side of fashion which is like
39:53
the catwalk or the magazines especially
39:56
the vogue magazines these are the kinds
39:59
of looks of models that are projecting
40:02
what people in the fashion world think
40:05
of as being in fashion and those kinds
40:08
of models almost never smile there’s
40:10
almost never a smile on the catwalk it’s
40:12
remarkable it’s supposed to be all about
40:13
showing the clothes and projecting this
40:16
aspirational distant kind of beauty that
40:20
is not meant to be relatable
40:22
if I could add you know just a lesson
40:24
from the art world is that the more the
40:28
more people and the more kind of
40:30
socially different types of people that
40:32
a work of art is meant to relate to the
40:35
lesser its value so in the editorial end
40:38
of the market the fact that your average
40:40
consumer doesn’t get that kind of look
40:43
doesn’t doesn’t get that cold distant on
40:45
smiling body your face that’s kind of
40:48
deliberate it’s not meant to make sense
40:50
to you it’s meant to make sense to like
40:51
the Anna Wintour’s of the world now when
40:54
your work on modeling in Japan you once
40:56
wrote that Western female models in
40:59
Japan
41:00
or often portrayed as quote silly
41:02
harmless and incompetent why is that
41:04
equilibrium in Japan so yeah I’m out in
41:09
Japan and these are just some
41:10
observations I mean I don’t know if it’s
41:13
I didn’t do a comparison with the local
41:18
models like Japanese models but indeed
41:21
there were lots of observations I took
41:24
of the Western models coming into Japan
41:27
and doing all kinds of just bizarre
41:30
silly things infantilizing things I
41:32
think that there’s some interpretivist
41:35
cultural studies that I reference in
41:38
that paper that suggested this is a way
41:40
of I don’t know diffusing or yeah
41:43
diffusing the Western hegemony or maybe
41:47
maybe bridging the divide between you
41:50
know Western beauty and Eastern Beauty
41:52
but I’m really not sure but that also
41:55
might account for what you call the
41:57
models passivity in the Japanese market
41:59
well yeah but it’s really the terms of
42:01
the work in the Japanese market it
42:03
produces passive passivity unlike
42:06
anything I’ve ever experienced because
42:08
the the language barrier and the the
42:13
ways that models would usually have a
42:15
little bit of control in the casting
42:17
situation is to talk to show their
42:20
personality is you know to connect to
42:22
relate and it’s really difficult in the
42:24
Japanese market because Western models
42:27
not only do they not speak Japanese in
42:28
most Japanese people do not speak
42:30
English the fashion world and lots of
42:32
other worlds
42:33
so the solution there is that every
42:36
agency has like a manager whose job is
42:39
also to drive the models to their
42:41
castings and then introduce the models
42:43
to the clients and then clients talk in
42:45
Japanese and the model stands there and
42:48
then the manager introduces the next one
42:50
so it’s like a just a very weird kind of
42:53
passive experience it also meant that a
42:56
lot of my time in Tokyo was spent in the
42:58
back of a van being driven around with
43:00
like Ukranian teenagers looking out the
43:03
window in the middle of these tracks we
43:07
usually have a segment overrated versus
43:09
underrated I’ll toss out a few notions
43:12
you tell me what you think are you
43:15
the importance of what sociologists call
43:18
loose ties overrated or underrated is
43:24
there an option to say it’s like
43:25
appropriate of course yeah I think this
43:30
is appropriate I mean I think that I
43:33
would be either some somewhat doing a
43:39
disservice to my discipline if I were to
43:41
say that it’s been overrated because it
43:43
is one of the major findings within
43:45
economic sociology that’s kind of
43:47
continually shown that there all these
43:49
advantages for having loose ties
43:51
arms-length ties the French sociologist
43:54
Pierre Bourdieu overrated or underrated
43:57
Oh again I have to be careful here
44:03
because you know one of my fields is
44:04
cultural sociology again write a paper
44:06
without citing the guy and I really
44:09
would say it’s a very 1970s 1980s French
44:13
notion of hierarchy that is itself
44:15
hierarchical very limited he covers
44:18
gender only much later yeah it probably
44:21
doesn’t even apply to the rest of France
44:23
yet truer true or false it’s true yeah
44:27
it’s true and there have been important
44:28
correctives
44:29
to that but I think that it was a huge
44:31
contribution to insert culture into
44:34
class hierarchy so everybody pays homage
44:37
for that reason the movie Zoolander
44:40
overrated or underrated underrated and
44:42
we should all still watch Zoolander this
44:46
is a fantastic treatise on like gender
44:48
and the impossibilities of male Beauty
44:51
it’s one of my favorites Miami Beach is
44:54
it actually fun overrated what do you
44:56
think overrated yeah over it overrated
44:59
although there’s you know pockets of it
45:02
that I think are probably more
45:03
interesting but they the kind of glossy
45:05
glitzy glamorous part of Miami Beach
45:07
totally overrated I mean it’s your thing
45:10
of like all glamour bad food Osaka Japan
45:15
what do you think um it’s been like 15
45:19
years by yeah yeah I like those little
45:25
octopus fried balls under right
45:27
okay you didn’t remember it would have
45:30
to be overrated right REM the musical
45:35
group you went to school in Athens
45:37
Georgia yeah underrated there yeah
45:39
although you’re at right now I think
45:41
that well because of that hit song it’s
45:43
the end of the world as we know it
45:44
they’re they’re having a moment coming
45:46
back
45:47
perhaps unfortunate champagne I don’t
45:50
like it am I wrong am I missing
45:52
something
45:52
data signaling so much of your work is
45:56
about signaling do you have to conclude
45:57
champagne is overrated I have to
46:00
conclude is overrated but there is
46:02
something really delightful about it as
46:04
a party good because you can shake it
46:06
and spray it without like destroying
46:08
clothes unlike say red wine and it’s
46:10
bubbly and you know this is kind of mad
46:14
it has a sort of fun magical quality so
46:16
yeah on the whole overrated but well
46:19
overrated because you can get all those
46:21
things with Prosecco here’s a question
46:24
from a reader and I quote quote how has
46:26
her own beauty and glamour influenced
46:28
her career academic career does she find
46:31
beauty based biases in academia either
46:34
positive or negative end quote yeah well
46:38
I think it looks matter everywhere in
46:39
academia is no exception
46:41
in my own experience there’s this
46:45
double-edged sword for women’s beauty so
46:49
some studies show that you know it’s
46:51
important for women especially to
46:53
conform to these traditional notions of
46:56
beautiful but they can’t overdo it in
46:58
the professional workplace so some
47:00
makeup is appropriate but like too much
47:03
eyeliner is considered you know to
47:05
sexual and inappropriate so yeah I tried
47:09
to balance that for instance even before
47:11
I got my job at Boston University I was
47:14
coached by my adviser to dress you know
47:17
in a fairly drab way to really try to
47:20
assert my authority
47:22
and and to distance myself from the
47:25
femininity and the beauty which was kind
47:27
of always going to be plaguing me
47:28
because of my work and because the fact
47:30
that I was a model so I tried to
47:32
distance it as I could you know dye that
47:35
question though for sure I think at an
47:37
interactional level having having beauty
47:41
definitely eases the way for for people
47:45
to respond more favorably to me because
47:49
of that halo effect of beauty so you
47:52
know maybe people are more more likely
47:56
to answer an email or to agree to a
48:00
meeting or the meeting will go smoothly
48:01
and people will listen more to what I
48:04
say
48:05
because I look the way they do I’ll find
48:07
that out I mean that questions to be
48:10
continued because as we know as women
48:12
age they so-called lose their bodily
48:15
capital aging is comes with a decline of
48:18
beauty for women and so yeah I’ll have
48:21
to answer that and say you know 10 or 15
48:23
years what kinds of emotional labor do
48:27
women professors have to perform that
48:29
maybe the male professors do not yeah
48:32
this is like a perennial conversation
48:33
that I have with my women colleagues
48:35
about the number of students that ask
48:40
for exceptions in their grades
48:43
especially of younger faculty young
48:46
women faculty the number of students
48:48
that open up with their problems and you
48:51
know we are more likely I think to keep
48:53
tissues in our offices for crying
48:55
students then like our male colleagues
48:58
so there’s there’s that yeah just kind
49:02
of being being a crutch to students and
49:05
being seen as somebody that’s more
49:07
relatable by virtue of age and by gender
49:10
means that we have more of these kinds
49:13
of drains on our I don’t know emotional
49:16
work than male colleagues I don’t know
49:18
if you if you would agree or if you find
49:20
that do you also keep tissues in your
49:22
office I don’t but you know my office is
49:27
so crowded I think actually everything’s
49:28
in there and probably that includes some
49:30
tissues I think if you broadly as being
49:37
anthropological even though you’re
49:38
sociologists and if you if you view
49:41
academia with your anthropological hat
49:44
on what about it seems most comical or
49:47
most stupid to you or just strange and
49:49
bizarre
49:50
the stranger bazaar well it’s a really
49:52
interesting question there’s so many
49:53
things about it I guess the way that it
49:58
portends to be so meritocratic I mean
50:01
thinking here about academia and the
50:04
world of professors the way yeah the way
50:08
that it’s very meritocratic and
50:09
ostensibly within sociology were so
50:12
attuned to inequalities by gender and by
50:15
class and by race like that’s the bread
50:17
and butter of our discipline and yet we
50:19
reproduce inequities all the time I mean
50:22
not in the least with this notion of the
50:26
disproportionate amount of emotional
50:27
work of women faculty disproportionate
50:30
ways that women faculty and people of
50:32
color do more service work certain kinds
50:37
of hierarchies get reproduced in the
50:39
hiring all the time you know so even
50:42
though we’re supposedly all about equity
50:45
it’s just the fact that you know
50:47
somebody who’s tied to a prominent
50:50
person or an Ivy University will catch
50:52
our eye and so we’re starting and we
50:54
have now discussions about how to
50:56
safeguard against those biases but yeah
50:59
there’s kind of a bizarre thing the way
51:01
we reproduce inequalities all the time
51:03
if we’re concerned about inequality
51:05
including for women who have a
51:06
childbearing cycle shouldn’t we just
51:08
abolish tenure right and or maybe not
51:16
abolish it but maybe change the terms of
51:18
it so that the clock doesn’t completely
51:21
overlap with the so-called biological
51:23
clock for women who want to have
51:26
families so perhaps there could be a way
51:28
to lengthen it or pause it or start it
51:32
you know in a way that makes it fit
51:35
better with with having kids there’s
51:40
also a couple of you know yeah so I had
51:43
my kids right when I got tenure I had my
51:46
first child she arrived right after I
51:49
received my positive tenure decision I
51:51
didn’t plan it that way but it worked
51:54
out really luckily but I remember in
51:57
graduate school a couple of people had
51:59
kids in grad school and I was thinking
52:00
like no this is a ridiculous it’s not
52:03
the right plan like I could never
52:05
imagine having kids in grad school but
52:06
actually it does make sense to in grad
52:10
school you have a lot more control over
52:11
your time you’re a lot more flexible
52:13
fewer demands and you can kind of
52:16
stretch your grad school clock in a way
52:18
so in some ways I sometimes looking back
52:20
I think like that’s also an option to
52:22
maybe loosen up the expectation that
52:27
that women have kids after their careers
52:31
are all stitched up because that’s what
52:32
I followed and it it worked out for me
52:34
but it can’t work out for everyone and
52:36
it also was quite a big stress for those
52:38
six years if you think about the
52:41
question like what is your unified
52:43
theory of you you have this early career
52:46
as a fashion model and your current
52:49
career as an academic and also as an
52:52
author they’re all winner-take-all
52:55
sectors do you think of yourself
52:58
as in some sense you keep on doing the
53:00
same thing in different areas or do you
53:02
think of your current career as a
53:04
rebellion against what you did before so
53:09
I should say I was a really good student
53:12
all throughout high school in college
53:13
and I got into the modeling kind of as a
53:17
as a side job and then I I found a way
53:20
through sociology to turn my experiences
53:23
and modeling into an academic project
53:26
and I could kind of even see when I was
53:28
in college reading these ethnographies
53:30
at the workplace because I took this
53:31
great class on the sociology of work I
53:34
could see like wow someone should really
53:35
do this of fashion modeling and like I
53:38
could be the Barbara Ehrenreich you know
53:39
in sociology of like fashion in high
53:42
status and so in some ways I I’ve always
53:47
been a scholar I’ve always been I mean
53:49
I’ve always been a student first and
53:51
foremost my my alignment was an academia
53:54
and I was always looking searching for
53:56
the status and the the winner-take-all
53:57
hierarchy of academia and modeling kind
54:01
of got me there and you enjoy the thrill
54:05
of winner-take-all markets yes I know I
54:09
mean I can’t say that I’m like a winner
54:13
in the academic field I mean yes having
54:16
good a good
54:17
your job is because I know that they’re
54:19
increasingly in short supply but in some
54:21
ways it’s such a it’s less volatile of a
54:25
world than these cultural production
54:27
fields me it’s the complete opposite job
54:29
model once you get a tenure track job
54:31
and once you get tenure especially you
54:33
kind of can’t be fired
54:35
I mean barring you know some real
54:36
problems but I mean it’s lifetime
54:39
security in an age in the workforce in
54:42
which this is just shrinking it’s so
54:44
rare to have this kind of privilege of
54:46
lifetime job security and really like
54:48
knock on wood because as the
54:49
universities are facing these challenges
54:51
it just entered my mind in the last
54:54
month of like wow what would happen if I
54:56
didn’t have this lifetime job security
54:58
that I’ve counted on but it’s a complete
55:00
opposite fashion modeling is a 180 where
55:02
you can be dismissed you know from one
55:04
day to the next and your fortunes can
55:06
change for the better or for the worse
55:07
so yeah it’s a winner-take-all maybe
55:12
like in terms of prestige but once
55:14
you’re in the tenured world it’s pretty
55:17
study there’s a common perception that
55:20
Korean culture is relatively oppressive
55:23
for young women there’s a certain way
55:25
they’re expected to look or maybe to
55:27
have plastic surgery yeah you agree with
55:29
that and if so why is it yeah and I saw
55:34
this on the question like I thought that
55:36
maybe you’re asking me at first because
55:37
my you know my dad is half Korean so my
55:41
grandmother it’s Korean she was born and
55:44
raised in Hawaii but but in any case so
55:46
yeah I never been to Korea and so my
55:48
Korean connections actually really I
55:51
know from the literature but so to your
55:53
question it’s a common perception that
55:57
it’s a plastic surgery is oppressive but
56:01
I think make from my understanding you
56:05
know there’s an opposite reading which
56:06
is that it’s really validating and and
56:09
really quite pleasurable to modify the
56:11
appearance so in your write in South
56:15
Korea it’s it leads the world in double
56:18
eyelid surgery to make that eyelid fold
56:20
that is typical of Western shape I but
56:24
less so of an Asian shaped eye and so
56:26
this is often read as like oh this is
56:28
like internalized white Western hegemony
56:30
on to Asian people but I actually think
56:33
it’s a bit more complicated than that
56:35
there’s a certain kind of beauty they is
56:39
really popular around because throughout
56:42
Asia because of the rise of k-pop stars
56:45
and this kind of Asian beauty has a very
56:48
specific kind of face that’s like very
56:50
pale skin with a certain kind of makeup
56:53
regime around it and yes that the eyes
56:57
but I think it would be hard to say that
57:00
anybody is looking in Asia to the west
57:03
as the beauty standard I think within
57:05
Asia people are looking to kpop is a
57:07
beauty standard now and you know in the
57:10
u.s. like there’s all kinds of things
57:12
that could be read as oppressive to the
57:14
that people do like hair extensions and
57:17
these um eyelash extensions you know to
57:20
make really long and dark eyelashes and
57:22
all kinds of all kinds of practices that
57:25
when you actually talk to people they’re
57:27
very validating or they feel pleasurable
57:29
where do those pleasures come from sure
57:32
Marxist could say that it’s all false
57:34
consciousness but I think that there’s
57:36
probably lots more interesting answers
57:39
in America today for women what do you
57:42
think distinguishes most clearly notions
57:45
of upper class beauty and lower class
57:47
beauty yeah alright so I think that
57:54
upper class beauty upper class bodies
57:58
are pretty uniformly thin and that’s you
58:02
know the the economy of plenty whoever
58:05
has money can afford quality food and
58:07
getting to the gym as opposed to an
58:09
economy of scarcity having a kind of
58:11
plump you know a rotund belly would be a
58:14
sign of having extra money or of wealth
58:18
so yeah I definitely thinness and if you
58:21
look at the rates of obesity and
58:23
overweight you there’s a very clear
58:25
divide like upward people who are upper
58:28
class tend to be thinner my people who
58:30
are lower class tend to be larger so
58:31
that’s one kind of clear distinction
58:36
otherwise you know all of the things
58:38
that are signals of beauty tend to be
58:41
things that people who have money can
58:43
afford to invest in so straight teeth
58:46
clear skin you know blonde highlights or
58:52
just kind of shiny hair kept up nails
58:55
clothing signifies a lot I mean these
58:57
are all things that can be people with
58:59
money can work on themselves to achieve
59:02
for a very last segment return to what I
59:05
call the Ashley Mears production
59:07
function me who first spotted your
59:10
talent as an academic okay so there
59:15
there were two of them at the University
59:18
of Georgia in the sociology department
59:20
it was William Finlay he’s a sociologist
59:22
of work and and also James Coverdell
59:25
they wrote a book on headhunters and so
59:27
they were attuned to questions of
59:29
non-standard work for Carius work and
59:32
when I I took the sociology of work
59:34
class with James Coverdale and he was
59:37
like yeah you should do this like a
59:38
sociology of work about fashion models
59:41
definitely then he put me in touch with
59:42
that with William and I was yeah I was
59:45
just emailing with them last week like
59:47
they they stayed my mentors for a long
59:49
time and if you’re looking for promising
59:52
young sociology or anthropologists for
59:55
that matter what’s the non obvious
59:57
signal you look for yes hard work they
59:59
should be smart and so on but beneath
60:01
the surface what strikes you if somebody
60:05
is read a lot and if they’ve read
60:07
eclectic things and they have that kind
60:09
of breadth that strikes me because that
60:11
means that they’re curious and
60:12
interested in a lot of different things
60:14
and that they can bring that to whatever
60:17
is our topic they end up landing on
60:19
what’s the weirdest set of things you
60:22
like to read or have read other than
60:24
about fashion modeling in the party and
60:27
like you know guidebooks for restaurants
60:30
and Economist’s right so I read a lot of
60:35
ethnographies within sociology that’s
60:38
probably not a surprise that’s kind of
60:39
within my field but I’m also reading now
60:42
because I have two kids I like to read
60:44
advice books for parents you know
60:46
ranging from kind of kitschy ones on up
60:50
to like from economists on like what the
60:53
data say are the best child
60:55
practices so that’s where I’m kind of in
60:58
now I mean yeah having having kids maybe
61:00
not a surprise kind of put me in this
61:02
like parenting literature and what’s the
61:04
best advice you either have read or
61:06
would offer to other people on parenting
61:08
to people on parenting sure you’ve read
61:12
all these books you have an opinion tell
61:14
the parents out there I said maybe I
61:19
still need some advice but what do you
61:21
say so usually that kind of question
61:26
would invite into an individualistic
61:28
answer and that’s the problem with the
61:30
literature that it’s all like you as an
61:32
individual parent what you should or
61:33
shouldn’t do and you know maybe because
61:37
I’m a sociologist but but yeah my advice
61:41
for parents in this country is to
61:43
mobilize because it’s a complete crisis
61:45
that we don’t have paid parental leave
61:47
that there’s no state supports for
61:49
daycare I think that that’s one of the
61:52
tragic but really important things about
61:54
the pandemic right now is that it’s it’s
61:56
revealing just how difficult it is to
61:59
combine a career with family and the
62:03
United States is just exceptional in how
62:06
unfriendly it is for family policy yeah
62:09
mobilize what is your most unusual
62:13
writing or work habit ok these are
62:19
interesting questions so I used to have
62:22
something I used to have it like a
62:23
pretty consistent flow before I had kids
62:25
that got that got disrupted and that’s
62:27
what a lot of people say is like they
62:28
write in like these certain chunks of
62:30
time day after day and that’s how
62:32
they’re able to accomplish it but so
62:35
here’s a weird habit that I picked up in
62:38
college I mean it stayed with me if I
62:40
eat something sweet in college I would
62:42
munch on like a box of Dunkin Donuts to
62:44
get through a term paper and now I find
62:47
like whatever cookie is my kids have no
62:49
like I always have you know some sweet
62:52
junk food this is probably not really
62:54
great advice there for anybody but it’s
62:56
just my habit now just to the audience I
63:00
would like again to recommend Ashley’s
63:02
book it is called again very important
63:05
people status and beauty in the global
63:07
party circuit
63:09
it is quality research fantastic fun to
63:12
read I learned a great deal from it I
63:14
think it will be a big hit
63:15
definitely one of my favorite books of
63:17
this year or indeed would be of years
63:20
past and Ashley thank you very much for
63:23
joining us and best of luck with
63:25
publication thank you thank you so much
63:27
again

Richard Rohr Meditation: Knowledge of Good and Evil

The first step toward healing is truthfully acknowledging evil, while trusting the inherent goodness of reality. 

Knowing and naming brokenness is essential in the journey toward wholeness. We will not be well by denying the wrongs that we carry within us as nations and religions and communities. Nor will we be well by downplaying them or projecting them onto others. The path to wholeness will take us not around such awareness but through it, confronting the depths of our brokenness. . . . As Hildegard of Bingen [1098–1179] says, we need two wings with which to fly. One is the “knowledge of good,” and the other is the “knowledge of evil.” [1] If we lack one or the other, we will be like an eagle with only one wing. We will fall to the ground instead of rising to the heights of unitary vision. . . .

.. In July 1942, the same month that the Nazis began their first big street roundups of Jews in Amsterdam, Etty Hillesum wrote in her diary, “I am with the hungry, with the ill-treated and the dying, every day, but I am also with the jasmine and with that piece of sky beyond my window; . . . It is a question of living life from minute to minute and taking suffering into the bargain. And it is certainly no small bargain these days.” [3] Etty was looking at suffering straight in the face. Her friends, her family, and she herself were under the sentence of extermination. It was now beginning to be carried out. And yet Etty held within herself the “handsome mixture” of pain at the plight of her people, and of what one people can do to another people, along with a continued delight in the gift of life and its ineffable wonder. “I have looked our destruction, our miserable end, which has already begun in so many small ways in our daily life, straight in the eye . . .” she writes, “and my love of life has not been diminished.” [4] To look life straight in the eye, to see its pain and to see its beauty—this is an essential part of glimpsing the way forward.

Why Is the World So Beautiful?

Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek sees beauty as a compass for truth, discovery, and meaning. His book A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design is a long meditation on the question: “Does the world embody beautiful ideas?” He’s the unusual scientist willing to analogize his discoveries about the deep structure of reality with deep meaning in the human everyday.

.. “Each of us is born to become an accomplished, if unconscious, practitioner of projective geometry.”

.. That’s right. That’s one of our most impressive abilities that humans, children, do routinely without thinking about it — although they have to learn it, or parts of it — and yet, we have not been able to teach sophisticated computers to do it. That is, humans do an astonishing feat, routinely and very quickly. That is, they interpret the messages coming through little, little openings in their eyes and project it on a two-dimensional screen, the retina at the back, which then, the light gets turned into electrical signals. And from that crazy, scrambled encoding, we reconstruct an external world of three-dimensional objects in space. We recognize that if we move our head, they’re still the same objects, and we determine these effortlessly. We do a job which is — it literally is impossible. We use all kinds of tricks and rules of thumb to guess what the external world is, and sometimes it’s wrong, with optical illusions, but basically, in most circumstances, we do this remarkable feat of reconstructing a three-dimensional world from two-dimensional information that’s all scrambled up with things on top of each other

MR. WILCZEK: We take it for granted, but nature has equipped us with extraordinary abilities in geometry. I knew this abstractly, but in preparing the book I decided I should actually learn something about [laughs] perspective and projective geometry. And it was a real revelation. I’m terrible at drawing, just terrible — the worst person I’ve ever met. But I [laughs] learned some of the rules of perspective that artists use, and they are just so beautiful. They’re so elegant. And using them, I was empowered to create accurate buildings and town squares and so forth. I just astonish myself. And I wasn’t able to reproduce it consciously, but now, with knowledge, I was able to do it. And it was just magic to suddenly see these things emerging from geometric constructions, and it looks like the external world. And it had a tremendous effect, historically and psychologically, when these rules were discovered in the Italian Renaissance. It’s one of the things that really powered the Renaissance — the artists took enormous joy in their sudden ability to render the world the way it actually looked.

..  Yes. And people who started to work on artificial intelligence thought at the beginning that would all be trivial, because it’s so easy, [laughs] we don’t have to work very hard. They thought that would be very easy, whereas, say, teaching a computer to play chess would be very difficult. But it’s turned out to be just the opposite. The things that we do unconsciously and are part of our daily lives and are important for survival are things we’re really, really good at.

..  But in science, we need to have a more precise concept. And the concept that we use that’s more precise, that has something in common with the common usage but is a special case of it and gets amplified in different directions, is that symmetry in physics and mathematics means change without change.

Now, that seems kind of mysterious and mystical, but it means something very concrete. Einstein’s theory of relativity, it says that if you ride by the world at a constant velocity, any constant velocity, although things will look different — so some things will be coming at you, other things will be moving away, faster — that the same physical laws will apply to this new configuration of the world. So, you can make a change in the way everything looks, [laughs] but you don’t change the laws.

A simpler example might be helpful here. We’re used to the idea that a circle is a very symmetrical object. What does that have to do with change without change? Well, a circle is an object that you can rotate around its center by any angle, and although it might have changed, and every point, in fact, moves, the circle as a whole does not move, and that’s what makes it symmetric. If you take a more lopsided shape and you rotate it, there’s no way — it won’t come back to itself until you go all the way around. So if you take an equilateral triangle, it’ll come around after you turn it one-third of the way. So it has some symmetry, but much less than a circle. So that’s a concept, change without change — things that might have changed, but don’t — that picks out special kinds of objects, like circles.

.. It turns out that very symmetric laws seem to be the laws that nature likes. Nature likes laws and likes equations that support enormous possibilities for transformation, where things look different, get different names, and different situations are described, but the same equations apply.

..  “Deep propositions have a meaning that goes beyond their surface.” This is so interesting. “You can recognize a deep truth by the feature that its opposite is also a deep truth.”

.. MS. TIPPETT: So one of the conflicts was, is light a particle or wave? And, in fact, it is both.

MR. WILCZEK: It’s both, and…

MS. TIPPETT: It’s both, right.

MR. WILCZEK: …sometimes it’s useful to think of it one way, sometimes it’s useful to think of it another way. Both can be informative in different circumstances, but it’s very difficult — in fact, impossible — to apply them both at once.

MS. TIPPETT: To apply them both at the same time.

MR. WILCZEK: And I think that’s the essence of complementarity, that you have to view the world in different ways to do it justice, and the different ways can each be very rich, can each be internally consistent, can each have its own language and rules, but they may be mutually incompatible. And to do full justice to reality, you have to take both of them into account.

MS. TIPPETT: Somewhere you say, “Complementarity is both a feature of physical reality and a lesson in wisdom.” And I think just what you just said about reality is equally true of — and I know you have to be careful to do too much of this stretching these things, but it’s equally true of the human condition.

MR. WILCZEK: Oh, very much so. [laughs] Oh, I think so. When people ask me what my religion is, I say I’m a complementarian.

MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] That’s right.

MR. WILCZEK: I believe that it’s really interesting and really fun and really informative, and the right thing to do, to be able to look at things in different ways and appreciate their different ways of looking at things that each have their own validity. And they may conflict if you try to apply them both at once, but OK, that’s fine. You apply one at a time [laughs] and try to appreciate both.

MS. TIPPETT: And in terms of this — I have spoken with physicists who will say: Of course, they take their daily perceptions seriously on some level; they understand that, essentially, what we perceive to be reality is full of illusion, and including the perception that we have freedom and choice. But you also present this as another piece of complementarity — two things that, in fact, are true, but hard to speak about in the same moment — that you, as a human being, are nothing but a collection of particles and light; and you are a thinking, feeling human being. [laughs]

MR. WILCZEK: Yes. I think those are both true. [laughs] And they are different ways of organizing our experience of the world, and each one tells us important things. Each one can be very useful in certain applications. But they’re very difficult to apply simultaneously, because they’re just from different worlds.

..  “All colors are one thing.” This is what we learned: “All colors are one thing, seen in different states of motion. And that is science’s brilliantly poetic answer to Keats’ complaint that science unweaves a rainbow.”

.. I’m saying that by understanding the world better that you gain a new perspective on what you are and a different feeling about your place in reality that’s more realistic; also, richer. And there’s good news, and there’s bad news, but in any case… [laughs]

MS. TIPPETT: Right, it’s challenging.

MR. WILCZEK: …it’s something you can — by understanding it deeply, you can certainly enrich your experience of the life you’re given.

MS. TIPPETT: You also cite somewhere what you say is, for you, one of the most beautiful passages in literature, from the 20th-century physicist, Hermann…

MR. WILCZEK: Hermann Weyl, yes.

MS. TIPPETT: …Weyl on spacetime. He’s talking about spacetime from a “God’s-eye view”: “The objective world simply is, it does not happen. Only to the gaze of my consciousness, crawling along the lifeline of my body does a section of this world come to life as a fleeting image in space which continually changes in time.” That’s a very — it’s almost a mystical image. That the world is, it does not happen, is quite a remarkable thing to try to take in.

MR. WILCZEK: Yes, but it’s really, I think, very much what the theory of relativity suggests. It’s really basic, to think of spacetime as a whole, because there are relationships between things that happen in different parts of space and at different times that are significant in forming the laws and the regularities of the world that are very, very difficult and awkward to express if you carve the world into time slices, as we experience…

MS. TIPPETT: Right — past, present, future.

MR. WILCZEK: …and regard them as separate and unrelated, or as snapshots, each a thing in itself.

Relativity teaches us to think of spacetime as a whole and that it’s very unnatural to divide them. So it leads, I think, very much to the worldview that Hermann Weyl was alluding to there, that the world — that is, spacetime — it simply is. It does not happen. It already encompasses all times.

..  “I know not how I appear to the world, but to myself I appear like a boy on a beach who came upon some particularly beautiful pebbles, while the great ocean of the unknown lay before me.”

So he realized that he understood some things very well, and he understood what it meant to really understand something, but part of that is realizing that you don’t understand a lot of things. And there’s a profound humility that comes from really understanding something, because then you understand what it means to really understand something. [laughs] And you realize how much is missing that is different.

MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] And you feel that way as a physicist at this juncture in physics, which is so far from what Newton could have imagined, also.

MR. WILCZEK: Yes. We’ve done very, very well. Physics is pretty good. [laughs] Physics, we’ve attained a high level, although there are certainly big holes in our understanding. But when it comes to the mind, when it comes to understanding society, our understanding is much, much less satisfactory and, I’m fully aware of that.

Trump Is ‘Losing a Limb’ With the Departure of Hope Hicks

The departure of Ms. Hicks, arguably the least experienced person to ever hold the job of White House communications director, capped an astounding rise for a political neophyte whose seemingly implausible career hinged on a deep understanding of, and bottomless patience for, her mercurial charge.

.. Ms. Hicks had stopped monitoring news coverage of herself, restricting her television intake to Fox News, which she often watched on mute,

.. Jia Tolentino tweeted: “Goodbye to Hope Hicks, an object lesson in the quickest way a woman can advance under misogyny: silence, beauty, and unconditional deference to men.”

..  Ms. Hicks’s success was viewed as a product of other qualities, including her nuanced understanding of Mr. Trump’s moods, her ability to subtly nudge him away from his coarser impulses and her skill as a liaison for some of the most prominent journalists in the country.

.. “When she tells you something, you know she is speaking to the president, because she is with him all the time,” said Steve Scull

..in an administration riven by infighting, Ms. Hicks’s privileged position with the president meant that, for journalists, she was among the few officials whose information was deemed reliable, or at least not often compromised by personal squabbles.

.. Those confident in Ms. Hicks’s future prospects sounded more concerned about Mr. Trump and his ability to work without an aide he has relied on nearly every day for three years.

“This is not losing a staffer,” Mr. Feldman said. “This is like losing a limb.”

The Anti-Christian Alt-Right

The Perverse Thought of Right-Wing Identity Politics

.. “The Church has become the number one enemy of Western Civilization. Soon the only people left in Christianity will be third-world immigrants and a handful of self-hating whites.”

..Hillary Clinton devoted a speech in Nevada to deploring its influence on the election. “These are race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas, anti-woman—all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘alt-right,’” she charged.

.. Clinton could not name a single member of a movement that, she warned, imperiled American democracy

.. The movement exists almost entirely among anonymous users of the Internet. It has no institutions, no money, no political representation, and no traditional media.

.. It enjoys the close attention of the liberal establishment it seeks to discredit and the conservative movement it intends to displace.

.. “Everything we have seen over the past year suggests that the alt-right will be around for the foreseeable future.”

.. The alt-right purports to defend the identity and interests of white people, who it believes are the compliant victims of a century-long swindle by liberal morality. Its goals are not conventionally conservative.

It does not so much question as mock standard conservative positions on free trade, abortion, and foreign policy, regarding them as principles that currently abet white dispossession.

.. Its creed, in the words of Richard Spencer, is “Race is real. Race matters. Race is the foundation of identity.”

.. the alt-right represents something more nefarious, and frankly more interesting, than white identity politics.

.. The alt-right is anti-Christian.

.. Its leading thinkers flaunt their rejection of Christianity and their desire to convert believers away from it.

.. Greg Johnson, an influential theorist with a doctorate in philosophy from Catholic University of America, argues that “Christianity is one of the main causes of white decline” and a “necessary condition of white racial suicide.”

.. it argues that Christian teachings have become socially and morally poisonous to the West.

.. Its intellectual birth is marked by the 1918 publication of the first volume of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West.

.. While the movement is often accused of advocating racial supremacy, its appeal is more often to cultural difference. A generation tired of multicultural pieties

.. A cultural relativist, Spengler rejects as a “ridiculous distortion” any view that privileges European thought or history.

.. “Each culture possesses its own standards, the validity of which begins and ends with it.

.. Spengler therefore sees the world as divided into fundamentally different cultures, whose identities he interprets in morphological terms. Cultures are like plants

.. They live through a determined cycle of birth, growth, maturity, and death. During its lifespan, a culture gives expression to the animating “form”

.. Spengler had no scholarly expertise in non-Western cultures (his advanced studies were in mathematics), and Decline of the West is frequently nonsense as both history and sociology. But its interpretations of cultural artifacts and their hidden symbolic meanings are often brilliant and have enchanted readers for a century.

.. All cultures are unique, but some are more unique than others. “We men of the Western culture are an exception,” Spengler claims. At the heart of his book is an interpretation of the culture he namedFaustian,” a term widely used in the intellectual circles of the alt-right.

.. a single idea permeates the arts and sciences of the West. Its distinctive mark is an intense striving for “infinity.”

.. our culture has uniquely sought to see all things in relation to the highest or most distant horizons, which, in turn, it seeks to surpass and extend.

  • The vaults of medieval cathedrals, the
  • discovery of perspective in painting, the
  • exploration of the New World, the
  • development of orchestral music, the
  • invention of the telescope and
  • calculus

—in Spengler’s story, all express the Faustian drive toward transcendence.

.. He argues that there is no Christianity without Western civilization. He arrives at this conclusion by claiming the West begins not with ancient Greece or Rome, but with the high Middle Ages and the birth of scholasticism, Gothic architecture, and polyphony.

.. Its cultural achievements are not testimonies to faith in God. They are the monuments of Faustian man’s attempt—in speculation, stone, glass, and sound—to propel himself into infinity. Of this aspiration, Spengler maintains, “the Gospels know nothing.”

..  In the minds and hands of Europeans, Christianity became a religion that affirmed the unceasing expansion of human freedom, power, and knowledge.

.. There is no biblical god for Faustian man, but there is high Christian culture, which is a tribute to his identity.

.. To a young man lacking a strong identity he says, “This heroic culture is your inheritance, and yours alone. You stand in a line of men who have attained the highest excellences and freely endured the hardest challenges.

.. Albert the Great, Cortés, Newton, Goethe, the Wright brothers all carry this daring spirit, and so do you.”

.. in his 1933 book Hour of Decision, he foresaw the rise of democratic “Caesars” and growing racial animosity. Who will give birth to the next great culture? Not Europeans

.. Spengler predicted the future would belong to the race that had preserved its “strength” in face of the rising “colored menace.”

  • If Spengler is the alt-right’s cultural critic,
  • Julius Evola is its political mystic.
    • Umberto Eco mockingly called him “the magician,” and the
    • future Pope Paul VI condemned his writings in a Vatican newspaper
    • Evola is the most right-wing thinker possible in the modern world. There is nobody to his right, nor can there be. His influence on the alt-right is detectable in one of its most controversial features: its rejection of human equality.
    • “We don’t belong to the liberal family,” writes popular blogger Hunter Wallace. “Nothing is less self-evident to us than the notion that all men are created equal.” Here is the movement’s clearest dispute with conventional conservatism
    • The alt-right denies that constitutional democracy is worthy of principled veneration. For Evola, its popular acceptance is a sign we are living in a spiritual dark age.

The basic problem with modernity is “desacralization,” the collapse of spiritual meaning in daily life. Work, family, and citizenship are no longer saturated with spiritual importance, but are understood in functionally secular terms.

.. materialism “kills every possibility

.. Spengler’s fundamental flaw was that he “lacked any understanding of metaphysics and transcendence,” which led him to conclude that human cultures are irreducibly different.

.. Evola believed more or less the exact opposite, arguing that there are timeless and universal principles that have provided the foundation for every true civilization. He referred to these perennial truths as “Tradition,” and he traced the disorders of modernity to our loss of contact with it.

.. No, the world had been slouching into spiritual poverty ever since the eighth century b.c., when the world of Tradition began to disappear.

.. Revolt Against the Modern Worldclaimed that these primordial societies—whose existence can be accessed only by way of myth and legend, not critical scholarship—all operated on the same principles.

.. In a traditional culture, every aspect of human life, every social activity, role, and caste, was dedicated to the service of an otherworldly order; indeed, they were ritual pathways into it. “According to Tradition,” Evola imagines, “every authority is fraudulent, every law unjust and barbarous, every institution is vain and ephemeral unless . . . they are derived from above.”

.. His key claim is that traditional societies were hierarchically ordered under an absolute ruler, who embodied the sacral order itself.

..  Men Among the Ruins, he argued that political conservatism is intrinsically impossible in a democratic age. True political order can never come from below; it must always be imposed from above.

.. only a transformative leader could elevate humanity out of its degraded state. Such a leader could not appeal to the masses—this was the mistake of the vulgar fascisms of Mussolini and Hitler—but must inspire submission through lofty contempt for democratic norms and popular tastes.

“The presence of superior individuals bestows on a multitude . . . a meaning and a justification they previously lacked,” Evola wrote. “It is the inferior who needs the superior, and not the other way around.”

Evola was less clear about what this sacred authority looked like than what stood in the way of its realization.

.. The problem is that Catholicism forbids the sacred state. And a state without absolute spiritual unity is no state at all.

.. Benoist is the leading theorist of the European New Right, an intellectual movement that began in France in the late 1960s

.. however, no return is necessary if we simply move beyond Christianity altogether. Evola did not believe in a personal deity, but his criticisms of Christianity were political rather than theological. With Benoist, the alt-right becomes explicitly and confessionally anti-Christian.

.. took its inspiration from the failed “conservative revolution” of Weimar Germany.

Carl Schmitt, Ernst Jünger, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and Spengler were its chief figures

.. Most of its members, including Spengler, took sides against the Nazi regime, but they also sought a path for the West beyond the twin evils of American democracy and Soviet communism. Benoist comes from this anti-liberal tradition

.. Benoist is the leading theorist of the European New Right, an intellectual movement that began in France in the late 1960s

.. attempt to envision a post-Christian future for people of European descent.

.. his 1981 work On Being a Pagan

.. Paganism’s central claim is simple: that the world is holy and eternal. “Far from desacralizing the world,” Benoist tells us, paganism “sacralizes it in the literal sense of the word, since it regards the world as sacred.”

Paganism is also a humanism. It recognizes man, the highest expression of nature, as the sole measure of the divine.

.. God does not therefore create men; men make gods, which “exist” as ideal models that their creators strive to equal.

.. Benoist’s case against Christianity is that it forbids the expression of this “Faustian” vitality.

.. It does so by placing the ultimate source of truth outside of humanity, in an otherworldly realm to which we must be subservient.

.. He accuses Christianity of crippling our most noble impulses. Christianity makes us strangers in our own skin, conning us into distrusting our strongest intuitions. We naturally respect beauty, health, and power, Benoist observes, but Christianity teaches us to revere the deformed, sick, and weak instead.

.. Benoist’s theology is in the service of a political warning, and it is this, more than his Nietzschean posturing, that attracts the alt-right.

.. Christianity is unable to protect European peoples and their cultures.

.. Christianity is not our religion.

..  Benoist means that Christianity renders Western culture morally lethargic and culturally defenseless.

.. its universalism poisons our attachments to particular loyalties and ties.

.. “If all men are brothers,” Benoist claims, “then no one can truly be a brother.”

.. Politics depends on the recognition of both outsiders and enemies, yet the Christian Church sees all people as potential members, indeed potential saints.

.. Christianity imparted to our culture an ethics that has mutated into what the alt-right calls “pathological altruism.”

.. Its self-distrust, concern for victims, and fear of excluding outsiders—such values swindle Western peoples out of a preferential love for their own.

.. Christianity today is the enemy of the West and the race that created it

.. we ought to see ourselves through the eyes of our pagan critics

.. They distort many truths, through both malice and ignorance, and lead young men into espousing views and defending authors they scarcely understand.

.. “Christianity provides an identity that is above or before racial and ethnic identity,” Richard Spencer complains.

.. invoking race as an emergency replacement for our fraying civic bonds.

.. identity politics on the left is a response to the same erosion of belonging.

.. we lack a compelling civic theology for the twenty-first century—a theology of the nation

.. In its absence the alt-right will continue to grow.

.. A nation will become an idol, however, if its cultural inheritance is not oriented toward, and inwardly transformed by, a divine inheritance.

.. “The inheritance we receive from Christ,” the late pope argued, “orients the patrimony of human native lands and cultures toward an eternal home land.”

.. It speaks of tradition, while transmitting no traditions. It guards a false patrimony, while destroying real ones

..  Race offers no inheritance, and its mere preservation reflects no human achievement.

.. Our stories, art, music, institutions, and religious traditions—unlike race—are transmitted only through special efforts of human intelligence and love. They are a bequest of the spirit, not blood.

.. The alt-right speaks a seductive language. Where liberalism offers security and comfort, the alt-right promises sacrifice and conflict.

.. . For Christians, the problem with Faustian man is not the vaunting heroism of his aims. It is the pitiable smallness of his goals.

We are not meant to merely aspire to the infinite. We are called to participate in it—to be, in a word, deified.

Faust could not overcome death. Through Christ, Christians already have.

Christians, Take The Alt-Right Seriously

the alt-right appealed to the young men — all of whom are white, conservative, and Evangelical — because it’s daring, and because the spirituality of megachurch Evangelicalism (in the kid’s view) is insipid. There was nothing much to inspire or to hold them. The alt-right fake “gospel” offered them an easy explanation of why they felt alienated and powerless, provided them with an enemy, and stoked their rage.

..It is anti-Christian, and it has strong arguments to make — not “strong” in the sense of “persuasive” (Rose is very much against the alt-right), but not arguments that can be easily dismissed with cries of “bigotbigotbigot!”

.. The alt-right is not stupid. It is deep. Its ideas are not ridiculous. They are serious. To appreciate this fact, one needs to inquire beyond its presence on social media, where its obnoxious use of insult, obscenity, and racism has earned it a reputation for moral idiocy. The reputation is deserved, but do not be deceived. Behind its online tantrums and personal attacks are arguments of genuine power and expanding appeal. As political scientist George Hawley conceded in a recent study, “Everything we have seen over the past year suggests that the alt-right will be around for the foreseeable future.”

.. The alt-right is anti-Christian. Not by implication or insinuation, but by confession. Its leading thinkers flaunt their rejection of Christianity and their desire to convert believers away from it. Greg Johnson, an influential theorist with a doctorate in philosophy from Catholic University of America, argues that “Christianity is one of the main causes of white decline” and a “necessary condition of white racial suicide.”

..“Like acid, Christianity burns through ties of kinship and blood,” writes Gregory Hood, one of the website’s most talented essayists. It is “the essential religious step in paving the way for decadent modernity and its toxic creeds.”

.. Alt-right thinkers are overwhelmingly atheists, but their worldview is not rooted in the secular Enlightenment, nor is it irreligious. Far from it. Read deeply in their sources—and make no mistake, the alt-right has an intellectual tradition—and you will discover a movement that takes Christian thought and culture seriously. It is a conflicted tribute paid to their chief adversary. Against Christianity it makes two related charges.

Beginning with the claim that Europe effectively created Christianity—not the other way around—it argues that Christian teachings have become socially and morally poisonous to the West. A major work of alt-right history opens with a widely echoed claim: “The introduction of Christianity has to count as the single greatest ideological catastrophe to ever strike Europe.”

.. Nietzsche got there first, of course — and he was not wrong about Christianity being a religion that exalts the meek.

.. Oswald Spengler’s Decline Of The West as a foundational text of the alt-right:

If Spengler’s theology is tendentious, his portrait of Western identity is deceptively powerful. To a young man lacking a strong identity he says, “This heroic culture is your inheritance, and yours alone. You stand in a line of men who have attained the highest excellences and freely endured the hardest challenges. Albert the Great, Cortés, Newton, Goethe, the Wright brothers all carry this daring spirit, and so do you.”

.. The juxtaposition was comic, just as it is comic to think about an obese, slovenly white guy vaping in front of his TV wearing a t-shirt sporting an image of, I dunno, Charlemagne, and a slogan claiming to be part of his lineage.

.. someone who is poor and at the bottom of the social hierarchy would find it consoling to identify with a hero — specifically, a racialized hero

.. There is no better introduction to alt-right theory than [Alain de Benoist’s] 1981 work On Being a Pagan. Its tone is serene, but its message is militant. Benoist argues that the West must choose between two warring visions of human life:

  1. biblical monotheism and
  2. paganism.

Benoist is a modern-day Celsus. Like his second-century predecessor, he writes to reawaken Europeans to their ancient faith. Paganism’s central claim is simple: that the world is holy and eternal. “Far from desacralizing the world,” Benoist tells us, paganism “sacralizes it in the literal sense of the word, since it regards the world as sacred.” Paganism is also a humanism. It recognizes man, the highest expression of nature, as the sole measure of the divine. God does not therefore create men; men make gods, which “exist” as ideal models that their creators strive to equal. “Man shares in the divine every time he surpasses himself,” Benoist writes, “every time he attains the boundaries of his best and strongest aspects.”

.. Benoist’s case against Christianity is that it forbids the expression of this “Faustian” vitality. It does so by placing the ultimate source of truth outside of humanity, in an otherworldly realm to which we must be subservient.

..  He accuses Christianity of crippling our most noble impulses. Christianity makes us strangers in our own skin, conning us into distrusting our strongest intuitions. We naturally respect beauty, health, and power, Benoist observes, but Christianity teaches us to revere the deformed, sick, and weak instead. 

Paganism does not reproach Christianity for defending the weak,” he explains. “It reproaches [Christianity] for exalting them in their weakness and viewing it as a sign of their election and their title to glory.”

.. Christianity is unable to protect European peoples and their cultures. Under Christianity, the West lives under a kind of double imprisonment. It exists under the power of a foreign religion and an alien deity. Christianity is not our religion. It thereby foments “nihilism.”

.. its universalism poisons our attachments to particular loyalties and ties. “If all men are brothers,” Benoist claims, “then no one can truly be a brother.”

.. Politics depends on the recognition of both outsiders and enemies, yet the Christian Church sees all people as potential members, indeed potential saints.

.. Christianity imparted to our culture an ethics that has mutated into what the alt-right calls “pathological altruism.” Its self-distrust, concern for victims, and fear of excluding outsiders—such values swindle Western peoples out of a preferential love for their own.

.. “Christianity provides an identity that is above or before racial and ethnic identity,” Richard Spencer complains. “It’s not like other religions that come out of a folk spirit.

.. invoking race as an emergency replacement for our fraying civic bonds. It is not alone; identity politics on the left is a response to the same erosion of belonging.

.. The alt-right is anti-Christian. But you cannot effectively fight the alt-right with progressive pieties and outrage. Nor can you effectively resist it with conventional conservative pieties, ones that do not address the crises that the alt-right is responding to

.. Richard Spencer is evil, but he is not stupid.

.. If elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large.

.. Conventional conservatism is doing nothing, or nothing effective, to resist this tyranny. Do you know who does stand up to it, unapologetically? The alt-right. Andrew Sullivan’s piece is not about the alt-right, but I see both him and Matthew Rose sounding a very similar alarm. Pay attention; this is serious.

.. You too, conventional liberals: your own acceptance and promotion of illiberal, racialist ideology under the guise of “social justice” is calling up these demons on the Right. The best way you can fight the alt-right is to fight the SJWs, whose militancy, and whose effective militancy, can only make the alt-right stronger.

The Jordan Peterson Moment

My friend Tyler Cowen argues that Jordan Peterson is the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now, and he has a point. Peterson, a University of Toronto psychologist, has found his real home on YouTube, where his videos have attracted something like 40 million views.

In his videos, he analyzes classic and biblical texts, he eviscerates identity politics and political correctness and, most important, he delivers stern fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright and self-disciplined — how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives.

.. His worldview begins with the belief that life is essentially a series of ruthless dominance competitions. The strong get the spoils and the weak become meek, defeated, unknown and unloved.

For much of Western history, he argues, Christianity restrained the human tendency toward barbarism. But God died in the 19th century, and Christian dogma and discipline died with him. That gave us the age of ideology, the age of fascism and communism — and with it, Auschwitz, Dachau and the gulag.

.. Since most conflict is over values, we’ve decided to not have any values. We’ll celebrate relativism and tolerance.

.. Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. Women are choosy maters. … Most men do not meet female human standards.”

.. Life is suffering, Peterson reiterates. Don’t be fooled by the naïve optimism of progressive ideology. Life is about remorseless struggle and pain. Your instinct is to whine, to play the victim, to seek vengeance.

.. “The individual must conduct his or her life in a manner that requires the rejection of immediate gratification, of natural and perverse desires alike.”

.. Instead, choose discipline, courage and self-sacrifice.

.. Much of Peterson’s advice sounds to me like vague exhortatory banality. Like Hobbes and Nietzsche before him, he seems to imagine an overly brutalistic universe, nearly without benevolence, beauty, attachment and love. His recipe for self-improvement is solitary, nonrelational, unemotional. I’d say the lives of young men can be improved more through loving attachment than through Peterson’s joyless and graceless calls to self-sacrifice.