Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

How beards put a brave face on threatened masculinity

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Interesting idea that being clean-shaven shows a man doesn’t feel his masculinity is threatened—with the corresponding idea that growing a great bushy beard is protesting too much. Christopher R Oldstone-Moore, a senior lecturer at Wright State University, where he focuses on gender and masculinity and author of Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair (2015), writes in Aeon:

In the West, for many centuries, shaving has identified a good man properly oriented to a higher order, whether divine or political. Defying this regulation meant being ostracised. But on occasion, a general reorganisation of masculine norms has interrupted the shaving-respectability regime.

Alexander the Great established shaving as the ideal in Greco-Roman civilisation when he imitated classical depictions of eternally youthful gods. Though there was a brief resurgence of beards inspired by Roman emperors, the Alexandrian style held well beyond the Empire’s fall. In medieval centuries, men of the Church made the tonsured head and shaved face marks of holiness and goodness, going so far as to inscribe these practices into canon law. Laymen followed suit, cutting back their beards to be worthy in the sight of God and man. After Renaissance men embraced hairy nature over holy shaving, beards were again curtailed by new codes of gentility enforced by royal courts, which had effectively replaced the Church as guardians of the moral order.

The breakdown of the clean-shaven order in the middle of the 19th century offers a valuable comparison with our own day. At that time, men on both sides of the Atlantic had new reasons to boast, but to also feel uneasy, about their status as men. Revolutions in Europe and the United States declared the rights of man, investing power in a sex, rather than a class. This gave men reason to assert their manhood with pride and, as one might expect, the most radical republicans and socialists were also the most enthusiastically bearded. By the middle of the century, the decline of radicalism uncoupled the link between radicalism and facial hair, allowing men of all classes and persuasions to assert their manly pride. No one expressed this new spirit more vibrantly than Walt Whitman, whose 1855 hymn to physical vitality, ‘Song of Myself’, declared ‘Washes and razors for foofoos … for me freckles and a bristling beard.’ Copies of the poem were sold with a full-length drawing of the poet, to show him true to his word.

As Whitman suggested, beards were liberating and empowering, and were accordingly embraced by men of every rank, from patricians to day labourers. Behind this pride, however, there was an undercurrent of worry. Even as the male sex was granted higher political status, masculine dominance was challenged by nascent feminism in both the private and public spheres. This challenge reinforced men’s determination to abandon razors. Those who championed beards praised them for establishing an unimpeachable physical contrast between men and women that demonstrates male superiority. The authors of a manifesto for facial hair, written in 1853, argued that nature assigned to women ‘attributes of grace heightened by physical weakness’, and to man ‘attributes of dignity and strength’. Men’s work, they insisted, is outdoors in wind and weather, and nature provides them suitable protection. Women’s work is of a different order.

The problem with this line of argument was that, even in the 1850s, the London journalists who penned these words were hardly outdoorsmen in need of beards to guard them from the tempests of Fleet Street. Yet this was precisely the appeal of the beard to urban men both then and now. Disconnection from nature and the increasing irrelevance of physical strength, along with the gradual rise of women in public life, threatened to destabilise common understandings of manliness at the very moment when manhood had achieved new political status. Facial hair served as a tangible symbol of gender difference that was in danger of becoming intangible. It is fair to say that a beard made the man.

Like the 1850s, today there is a renewed gender uncertainty that erupts in peaceful times when older constructions of manliness lose relevance. Then as now, war was limited and distant, and not available as a universal definition of masculine purpose. In the 1850s, the athletic ideal was in its infancy. In our time, sports have become so pervasive that they have begun to lose their specific association with masculinity. Even more than in the 1850s, it has proven difficult to police the boundary between the masculine and the feminine. Politics, business, sports, war, even masculinity itself, are no longer unchallenged male preserves. People born female are asserting their claim to be men, whether altered by surgery or not. Still others are declaring they have no sex or gender at all. Some men have navigated this fluid environment with remarkable aplomb. David Beckham openly embraces his ‘feminine’, fashion-conscious side, while at the same time always sporting a masculinising beard. With facial hair, he can have an effective physical presentation of contemporary manliness.

As they did in the 1850s, men of every region, race, class and political persuasion are again growing beards to declare the reality of masculinity, as well as their own masculine identity. While there is diminished confidence . . .

Continue reading.

From the very beginning of his book:

One thing is certain: changes in facial hair are never simply a matter of fashion. The power of beards and mustaches to make personal and political statements is such that, even in the “land of the free,” they are subject to administrative and corporate control. That Americans do not have a legal right to grow beards or mustaches as they choose was confirmed by the Supreme Court’s 1976 ruling in Kelley v. Johnson, which upheld employers’ authority to dictate grooming standards to their employees. Such infringements of freedom are a strong hint that something more than style is at stake. In fact, beard history fails to reveal fashion cycles at all, presenting instead slower, seismic shifts dictated by deeper social forces that shape and reshape ideals of manliness. Whenever masculinity is redefined, facial hairstyles change to suit. The history of men is literally written on their faces.

Judith Butler, one of the luminaries of gender studies, has argued that our words, actions, and bodies are not simply expressions of ourselves; they are the way we form ourselves as men and women. Our identities, in other words, are made and remade by what we do and say.2 [In other words, our identities are constructed from a selection of memes. – LG] In this sense, cutting or shaping facial hair has always been an important means not just to express manliness but to be men. Society enforces approved forms of masculine personality by regulating facial hair. We arrive, then, at the first principle of beard history: the face is an index of variations in manliness. As religions, nations, and movements formulate specific values and norms, they deploy hair, as well as other symbols, to proclaim these ideals to the world. When disputes arise about contrasting models of masculinity, different treatments of facial hair may indicate where one’s loyalties lie.

The idea that facial hair is a matter of personal choice remains popular despite abundant evidence to the contrary. Choosing to wear a beard in modern America, for example, can still get you drummed out of the military, fired from a job, disqualified in a boxing match, eliminated from political contention, or even labeled a terrorist. This reality relates to the second principle of beard history: facial hair is political. Because ideas of proper manliness are bound up with social and political authority, any symbol of masculinity carries political and moral significance. This explains why facial hair has the power to outrage and why it is subject to social controls.

Another misconception holds that shaving or not shaving is a matter of convenience, and that developments in razor technology explain the prevalence of smooth chins over the past century. The truth is quite different. Shaving is as old as civilization itself, and the absence of modern conveniences has never prevented societies from taking advantage of the symbolic power of removing hair. We arrive, then, at the third principle of beard history: the language of facial hair is built on the contrast of shaved and unshaved. Using this basic distinction, and its many variations, Western societies have constructed a visual vocabulary of personality and social allegiance.

I’m going to find this book very interesting. I had a beard for three decades, and the Aeon article has caused me to consider why: was I defending my beleaguered masculinity?

I don’t think so. I really did hate to shave, so as soon as I got away from small-town Oklahoma to college in the East, I grew a beard. In those days having a beard was uncommon, so that when I went home I had to endure comments about my having joined the House of David basketball team. (And those rather modest beards shown in the photo were shocking to small-town Oklahoma at the time.)

Reading the essay made me delve for other reasons for my not shaving other than hating it, and I do recognize that my (somewhat domineering) mother hated my having a beard, so there’s that. But I truly did hate shaving, and only when I started shaving again for my new job responsibilities did I consider figuring out how to make it something I enjoy. And even now, when I am retired with no need to shave, I still begin each morning with that pleasurable ritual which, in my experience, has a very positive cumulative effect.

So for me, I believe it’s more that I’m drawn to the pleasures of shaving than I’m focused on issues regarding masculinity. And, as I note in the book, the pleasures go beyond the simple sensual pleasures of the shave: there’s the appeal of the gadgetry, for example.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2019 at 9:49 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Shaving

The excellent Parker slant and Bathhouse aftershave with lather by D.R. Harris

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D.R. Harris always makes a great lather, and this morning was no exception, thanks in part to the Maggard Razors 22mm synthetic shown. And I have to say I love the Parker slant (which they call a “semi-slant,” presumably to make it less frightening to the inexperienced shaver—but it is a slant, and quite a good one), though on the whole I think I would like the plain handle’s appearance better than the graphite handle shown.

Three passes and a BBS result, and then a good splash of Bathhouse witch-hazel-based aftershave, which has the very interesting ingredients shown. Unfortunately, they no longer make it, but then they never did: they sourced it from a supply company, from which you can buy a gallon for $34.30—either a lifetime supply or the first step in an excellent DIY collection of Christmas presents. They even have a suggestion on how to proceed:

Private Label Tip

To enhance with essential or fragrance oils, combine preferred oils with a 1:1 ratio of Polysorbate 20 at 0.25%-0.75% of your final product’s weight. Start small and build from there, as you cannot remove fragrance if you add too much.

Formula: Product Weight x Percent you are scenting at = Amount of essential oil to add to your formulation.

Example: 104 oz. x .25% = 0.26 oz.

Package true to your brand’s aesthetic in a cosmo or boston round bottle with a narrow mouth for ease of use.

You can print your own labels and Bob’s your uncle: nifty Xmas gifts.

The ingredients are shown on the label, but from the link, two versions:

Common Names:
Organic Aloe Leaf Juice, Phenoxyethanol, Witch Hazel Water, Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Tartaric Acid, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, DMAE Bitartrate, Glycerin, Organic Alcohol, Organic Sugar Cane Extract, Organic Bilberry Fruit Extract, Organic Sugar Maple Extract, Organic Orange Peel Extract, Organic Lemon Peel Extract, Organic Cranberry Fruit Extract, Organic White Willow Bark Extract, Tea Tree Leaf Oil, Bergamot Peel Oil, Tea Tree Leaf Oil, Roman Chamomile Flower Oil, German Chamomile Flower Oil, Geranium Oil, Polysorbate 20, Polysorbate 80, Organic Alcohol, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate
International Nomenclature:
Organic Aloe Leaf Juice (Aloe Barbadensis), Phenoxyethanol, Witch Hazel Water (Hamamelis Virginiana), Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Tartaric Acid, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, DMAE Bitartrate (Dimethylaminoethanol Bitartrate), Glycerin, Organic Alcohol, Organic Sugar Cane Extract (Saccharum Officinarum), Organic Bilberry Fruit Extract (Vaccinium Myrtillus), Organic Sugar Maple Extract (Acer Saccharinum), Organic Orange Peel Extract (Citrus Sinensis), Organic Lemon Peel Extract (Citrus Limon), Organic Cranberry Fruit Extract (Vaccinium Macrocarpon), Organic White Willow Bark Extract (Salix Alba), Tea Tree Leaf Oil (Melaleuca Alternifolia), Bergamot Peel Oil (Citrus Bergamia), Tea Tree Leaf Oil (Melaleuca Alternifolia), Roman Chamomile Flower Oil (Anthemis Nobilis), German Chamomile Flower Oil (Chamomilla Recutita), Geranium Oil (Pelargonium Graveolens), Polysorbate 20, Polysorbate 80, Organic Alcohol, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate
It’s quite a nice aftershave. Bathhouse doesn’t seem to have added any fragrance, but I think I would go with lavender.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2019 at 9:36 am

Posted in Shaving

A Guide to Impeachment by the NY Times

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The NY Times offers this concise guide (at the end of this article):

  • What Impeachment Is: Impeachment is charging a holder of public office with misconduct. Here are answers to seven key questions about the process.
  • What the Accusation Is: President Trump is accused of breaking the law by pressuring the president of Ukraine to look into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a potential Democratic opponent in the 2020 election. A second person, this one with “firsthand knowledge” of Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, came forward and is now protected as a whistle-blower.
  • What Was Said: The White House released a reconstructed transcript of Mr. Trump’s call to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
  • A Visual Timeline: Here are the key figures and dates as Mr. Trump and his allies pressured Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.
  • Why Now: A whistle-blower complaint filed in August said that White House officials believed they had witnessed Mr. Trump abuse his power for political gain. Here are 8 takeaways from the complaint.
  • How Trump Responds: The president said the impeachment battle would be “a positive” for his re-election campaign. Mr. Trump has repeatedly referred to the whistle-blower as “crooked” and condemned the news media reporting on the complaint. At the beginning of October, Mr. Trump publicly called on China to examine Mr. Biden as well.


Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2019 at 2:28 am

The banana-republicizing of the United States: This Governor Still Guides His Billion-Dollar Business Empire, Even Though He Said He Wouldn’t

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A banana republic is a country—prototypically a Latin-American country—whose politics and government are dominated and controlled by business interests—prototypically United Fruit Company. The problem with corporations, which are legal persons and also memeplexes with their own goals and immune systems and the like, is that as persons they are sociopaths and as memeplexes their only goal is growth and protecting themselves. Thus the ideal goal of government—the welfare of the commonwealth and the citizens—is beside the point.

Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette-Mail has a report in ProPublica:

Last fall, Gov. Jim Justice called reporters to his office in the West Virginia Capitol for a hastily arranged news conference.

Sitting behind a table and flanked by GOP lawmakers, the governor touted the latest budget surplus and announced a proposed pay raise for teachers and a plan to fix the state’s underfunded public employee health care plan.

But within minutes, he ended the event and dismissed the lawmakers, saying they had pressing state business. The governor took just one question.

“Nobody else? Great,” he said, banging his palms on the desk. “Let’s go.”

Justice had somewhere else to be. Across town, one of his energy companies, Bluestone Coal Corp., was due in federal court. The firm had sued a competitor for $80 million after a drilling accident had flooded a mine. And as Bluestone’s owner, Justice was playing a key role in the settlement talks. The parties spent two days negotiating a deal, and he was there when they gathered in a courtroom to present their agreement to the judge.

“May I say something?” the governor asked at one point, according to a transcript of the hearing.

“Certainly,” U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston responded.

Surrounded by nearly two dozen lawyers, the governor proceeded to explain the finer points of the agreement.

Justice’s involvement in his company’s legal matters is a far cry from what he pledged more than two and a half years ago when he took office as West Virginia’s governor. Back then, the billionaire promised to put his business empire aside and focus on public service. In an arrangement that echoed that of President Donald Trump, Justice said his adult children, Jay and Jill, would run his family’s coal mines, resorts and farms.

“Being governor,” he wrote in a January 2017 note to state employees, “is a full-time responsibility.”

But as his courtroom appearance makes clear, Justice remains deeply enmeshed in his businesses. In fact, he has frequently used official public appearances, and the trappings of his office, to promote them.

Over the past year, he has hosted a news conference at the governor’s office to tout a settlement between his coal companies and his administration’s tax collectors. He has used an interview at the governor’s mansion to press his luxury resort’s $75 million lawsuit against its insurance companies. And he’s turned an appearance at a statewide business gathering — held at that same resort — into breaking news about his family’s plans to reopen a coal mine.

The governor’s dual roles are now fueling complaints and political headaches, just as Justice is seeking a second term as the state’s chief executive. Critics in both parties say that Justice is an absentee governor, often leaving the state without strong leadership at a time when West Virginia faces key challenges, from a painful economic transition as the coal industry declines to the struggle to emerge from the worst drug overdose crisis in the country.

“The governor is running his businesses, and the state of West Virginia gets neglected as a result of it,” said Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, a Democrat who brought a lawsuit against Justice, alleging the governor is violating the state Constitution because he does not “reside” in Charleston. Justice lives in Lewisburg, near his Greenbrier resort, about 110 miles from the capital, but he has opposed the lawsuit. His lawyers say the Constitution’s term — reside — is too “nebulous” a concept for a court to enforce.

On the campaign trail, Republican rival Woody Thrasher is questioning Justice’s commitment to public office. “I think he’s a worker,” Thrasher told a Wheeling newspaper this month. “I just don’t think he works on state government. I think he works on his personal businesses, which quite frankly probably need more help than the State of West Virginia does, if that’s possible.”

Justice declined to be interviewed for this report; however, he issued a statement through a spokesman for his companies.

In it, he acknowledged his ongoing involvement in his businesses but said his interactions are limited, with his adult children running day-to-day operations. “Because the businesses employ thousands of West Virginians, I continue to have an interest in their success and do check in on them from time to time,” he said. “There are also times where I have specific historical knowledge of a particular aspect of one of the businesses, and Jay and Jill will ask me about it.”

His primary interest, he added, is West Virginia.

“Above all,” Justice said, “as I travel from one end of the state to the other, my No. 1 focus is continuing to do everything I can as governor to make sure West Virginia will continue to improve, put people in good-paying jobs and attract industry and tourism to our wonderful state.”

Unlike his recent predecessors, Justice has refused to place most of his holdings into a blind trust, which would put them under the control of an independent manager and shield him from at least the appearance of a conflict. Instead, the governor has retained ownership in 130 corporate entities, and his assets are valued by Forbes magazine at $1.5 billion.

Many of Justice’s businesses, from coal mines to farms to a casino, are regulated by the state, and some of them do business with the administration.

An investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica in August found that, despite what the Justice administration called a “moratorium” on state spending at The Greenbrier, state agencies have paid for more than $106,000 in meals and lodging at the luxury resort since Justice became governor.

That report prompted lawmakers to call for an overhaul of the state’s ethics rules. One proposal would make West Virginia the first state to mandate that governors place all of their assets into a blind trust. Separately, federal investigators have issued subpoenas seeking information about the administration’s dealings with Justice’s businesses.

Justice has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly dismissed concerns about his business interests. He maintains that they present no conflicts of interest, because he has stepped away from day-to-day management while he’s serving as governor.

Justice’s own actions have undercut that argument.

In August 2018, the governor called reporters to the Capitol to talk about his business empire’s delinquent taxes. Millions of dollars in various state levies tied to Justice’s family coal operations had been overdue for years, providing frequent fodder for his political opponents and the media.

“Today’s a really neat day for me in that I think we can put to bed once and for all this tax issue that’s been looming around forevermore,” Justice said.

Speaking in the reception room just outside the governor’s office — historically used for official government press events — Justice took reporters on a rambling verbal tour of his mining holdings and the challenges of the coal industry. He spoke in detail about how he refused to file bankruptcy to avoid debts, and he outlined the back-and-forth over selling most of his coal operations to the Russian firm Mechel, before buying them back years later.

“It has stretched our companies beyond belief to overcome this situation right here,” the governor said. “It’s been a struggle.”

But when reporters asked for specifics on how much his companies had ultimately paid in taxes — and whether the governor cut a deal with his own tax collectors — Justice was short on details.

“I don’t know what the amount is,” he insisted. “I think that’s a question you would really have to ask my son.” (Justice’s son, Jay, who was not at the news conference, has refused to answer such questions.)

Pressed for more information, Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy cited taxpayer confidentiality, but Justice interrupted. “I think you can tell them that it was audited,” the governor told the tax official.

Two months later, Justice was focused on Bluestone Coal and its ongoing lawsuit against Pinnacle Mining Co., the operator that had flooded the mine. The negotiating session was scheduled for 10 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2018, in federal court. Justice’s official calendar informed his staff, “DO NOT SCHEDULE” on that day.

But with tensions rising over the state’s underfunded health care plan for teachers and other public employees, the governor scheduled a news conference to tout Republican accomplishments. . .

Continue reading.

I have to admit that I’m surprised at the forbearance of the citizens. Maybe they simply are ignorant, or if not ignorant, too intimidated to stand up for their rights even in the privacy of the polling booth. Or perhaps it’s something else. I don’t get it.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2019 at 5:03 pm

I keep returning to this image

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2019 at 4:36 pm

“What Teaching Ethics in Appalachia Taught Me About Bridging America’s Partisan Divide”

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Evan Mandery, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the author of A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America, writes in Politico:

BOONE, N.C.—On the first day of my “Justice in America” seminar at Appalachian State University, I offer a deal to a student named Forrest Myers. I explain that I’m a tough grader and that the class average will be around a B-minus. “I’ll give you an A,” I say. “All you have to do is designate someone to get an F.”

The other students laugh nervously while Forrest considers the deal.

I’ve asked this question at the beginning of every semester for over 20 years, mostly to liberal northeasterners at Harvard and the City University of New York. It’s a good starting point because it tends to show commonality. The beginning of ethical thinking is to accept that other people’s interests matter. In all my years of teaching, I’ve never had anyone take me up on my offer.

But I’ve come here seeking difference, not similarity. The 2016 election exposed a national rift so deep that it feels as if even reasonable conversation is impossible. I’m a liberal New Yorker, but I know that plenty of people on both sides of the political spectrum worry that this divide poses an existential threat to the American democratic project. On the most controversial issues—race and immigration, to name just two—we’ve lost the capacity for compromise because we presume the most sinister motives about our opponents. I’ve arrived here in the fall of 2018, hoping to find a wider range of views—not to change anyone’s opinions but rather to see whether there remain principles and a shared language of ethics that bind us together.

So I’m as curious as everyone else in the class about how Forrest is going to answer.

Lean and wearing a red t-shirt, Forrest massages his wire-rimmed glasses as he thinks. “I’d rather get the grade on my own merit,” he says at last. “And I don’t want to have anyone mad at me because I gave them an F.”

The offer’s losing streak intact, I extend it to every student in the class. “Raise your hand,” I say, “and you’ll get an A. All you have to do is point to someone who’ll get an F.” No hands go up. With a young woman named Sienna Lafon, I sweeten the offer: I’ll give everyone in the class an A, including her. She simply has to pick one student to get an F.

Sienna says she won’t do it.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because it’s not fair,” she replies.

“What’s going on?” I ask. If someone accepts the deal, the class as a whole will be better off. In the language we’ll develop during the semester, it’s a utilitarian no-brainer: The class GPA will rise from 2.7 to near 4.0. Still, no one bites.

A student named Jackson says finally, “I think we should just earn what we get.”

These answers, with the exception of some southern accents, sound almost identical to ones that I hear from my typical class at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Of course, we’re still in the realm of hypotheticals. It’ll be several weeks until we get to late-term abortions, gun bans and the death penalty. Donald Trump’s name has yet to be spoken. The conversations will no doubt become more fraught as things get more real.


Finding a place to teach ethics in the South was more difficult than I had imagined. My initial idea was to go to the most remote school that would have me, but most don’t even offer an ethics course. The philosophy department of a community college in rural Tennessee was interested until the administration balked at my qualifications. They’d have accepted a degree in religion, but not one in law. When I stumbled upon Appalachian State, the school immediately seemed like a good fit—open to me and the kind of conversation I wanted to foster.

“App,” as the students call it, was founded in 1899 by the son of a Confederate veteran and his brother in Boone—a remote community in the Blue Ridge Mountain highlands that had been pillaged by Union soldiers, a wound from which its economy never fully recovered. Their ambition was to train public school teachers in the so-called “lost provinces.” Today, the college is part of the University of North Carolina system with 19,208 students, 92 percent of whom are from the state.

On the surface, App possesses all the hallmarks of the American academy—a grassy quad framed by a student union, dining hall and library. Kiosks beckon students to concerts and club meetings. But underground run a pair of pedestrian tunnels, connecting the east and west campuses, that have been designated as free speech havens. These dank passageways are filled with graffiti—most of the messages are positive, but the students tell me that a swastika was painted there last October and then quickly painted over by other students. When I visit, the space feels sinister, but also strangely healthy—a messy marketplace of ideas that I like to think portends open-mindedness.

Boone feels like any other college town. Ambling down the main drag—King Street—wafting incense lures me into the Dancing Moon Earthway Bookstore, where I peruse an impressive collection of paranormal titles and herbal teas. The store hosts Thoughtful Thursdays and a poetry circle. The centerpiece of the “Boone Mall” is Anna Banana’s consignment shop and the place to eat is the F.A.R.M Cafe (Feed All Regardless of Means), a locally-sourced community kitchen where customers pay what they can.

But Boone is a little blue island in a sea of red. You’d have to drive about 30 miles to find another polling district that voted for Hillary Clinton, and there are only a total of five within a 75-miles radius. The district’s eight-term incumbent Congresswoman, Virginia Foxx, opposes abortion, co-sponsored legislation to end birthright citizenship and said the nation had more to fear from Obamacare than from any terrorist.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, I read widely—and somewhat unsatisfyingly—to try and understand the root causes of polarization. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy moved me, and it’s impossible to read George Packer’s The Unwinding, which takes place largely in North Carolina after the Great Recession, without being unsettled by the coming apart of bedrock American institutions. But nothing I read fully explains the mistrust—daresay hatred—that has evolved between liberals and conservatives.

Coming in, I assumed some of my students would reflect the conservatism of the surrounding region and others the liberalism generally prevalent among college students. What I didn’t know is whether my students—and young people generally—are predestined to sort themselves into those mutually loathing tribes, or if a shared conversation about foundational ethical beliefs could alter their views of people with whom they disagree.


My class is modeled on one created by Michael Sandel, a charismatic, globetrotting political philosopher who has taught “Justice” to more than 15,000 Harvard undergraduates. It’s the perfect vehicle for learning about people’s political values. The syllabus pairs readings in classic philosophy—John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, Aristotle, John Rawls—with modern policy dilemmas including abortion, affirmative action and hate speech.

But inevitably, all journeys of ethical discovery begin with the trolley problem.

“A trolley is barreling down the tracks to which five people have been tied,” I explain during our second meeting. “You can flip a switch and divert the trolley, but you’d kill someone else who’s been tied to the sidetrack.”

I ask a young woman named Kierstin Davis what she would do. (It’s her real name—all of the students quoted here consented to participate in this article.) “I probably would flip the switch because I know less people would be killed,” she says. Almost all of her fellow students concur, albeit reluctantly. The notable exception is Jackson.

“You kill the one person,” he says without hesitation.

Jackson is wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a Carhartt shirt. His baseball cap, which he got on a trip to Yellowstone, displays the outline of a bison and mountains. In the discussion of grades, Jackson was the one who said that everyone deserved equal opportunity. I remind him of this, but he’s ready with a distinction: “In this situation you don’t have a choice—somebody has to die, so it goes beyond equal opportunity and becomes what this outcome is going to be.” It’s clear that Jackson will be a force. The distinction he’s drawing is smart—no one had to get an F in my first example, but, more importantly, it’s clear that he likes this kind of intellectual jousting.

I return to Kierstin and change the facts. It’s her mom who’s tied to the tracks.

“I’m going to save my mom obviously,” Kierstin replies, “but I would feel bad.”

Utilitarianism can take you to dark places. It certainly has no room to accommodate youthful sentimentality.

Now, I say, the trolley is loaded with nuclear weapons. Five million people will die in a fiery inferno, including innocent babies, unless Kierstin throws the switch. “I probably would save my mom to be honest,” she says.

Most of the students nod their heads in agreement, voting for mothers over cities.

But Jackson once again stands out. He says he’d kill his mom or even a baby if it meant saving more lives. “I mean, someone has to die either way and I’m fine putting my life—even if I had to spend the rest of my life in prison or whatever it is—to save the five versus the one.”

I haven’t known Jackson for long, but I believe that he would sacrifice himself for the greater good, and I can see that his classmates believe it too. Even if they don’t share his willingness to throw the switch on a family member, they see him as principled, not cruel. It’s a type of selflessness and consistency that seems lacking in contemporary discourse, in which people are too willing to prioritize what’s politically expedient over fundamental values. It’s what feels wrong, for example, about liberal intolerance of dissenting speech, especially on campus, or the rush to punish alleged sexual predators without due process. And it’s what feels equally wrong about conservatives who claim to revere life, and yet can display such brazen cruelty to immigrants and prisoners.

My students don’t come to class with signs around their necks announcing their political leanings. None of them were even old enough to vote in the 2016 election. But the near unanimity with which they responded to the trolley question is notable. Over the years, I’ve noticed that most people analyze these sort of dilemmas in more or less the same way.

Indeed, Jesse Graham, a professor at the University of Utah’s business school, says that for all their ideological differences, liberals and conservatives are pretty much identical in how they view trolley-like dilemmas. Graham has conducted a dozen studies on “trolleyology,” which occupies its own niche in social psychology research. “Liberals are a little bit more likely than conservatives to say, ‘OK, yes you can push the guy off the bridge to save the five people,’” Graham says, emphasizing a little. “It’s questionable whether you’d even say there’s a difference there,” he continues. “Overall liberals and conservatives are really similar.”

Libertarians, however, are a different story. We don’t talk much about them—not members of the political party with that name, but rather people who believe in limited government. There are a lot of the latter (estimates range between 7 percent and 22 percent), and they merit greater discussion. Graham and his collaborators, including New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, have collected reams of data on people’s values at One instrument, called the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, measures the extent to which a person is influenced by five moral foundations: harm-care, fairness-reciprocity, ingroup loyalty, authority-respect and purity-sanctity. In a study of 12,000 libertarians, Graham found that libertarian responses to the MFQ differ more from either liberals or conservatives than liberals and conservatives’ answers differ from each other.

Graham explains that the libertarian cognitive style is cerebral rather than emotional. “Libertarians are far and away the most likely to say, ‘Yeah, push the guy off.’ They just see it as a math problem,” he tells me. “They have no squeamishness about having to kill the person.” It’s coldly calculating, but also, arguably, rigorously ethical. As Graham tells me this, I can’t help but think that efforts to unpack what separates red states from blue states haven’t been careful to differentiate between conservatives and libertarians. Venn diagrams of voters generally categorize voters as Republicans and Democrats or liberals and conservatives. But as is becoming increasingly apparent, the cool-headed libertarian in my classroom who’s willing to sacrifice his mother for the greater good doesn’t fit neatly into any of these circles.

It occurs to me that if America is going to come together, it’s going to have to reckon with Jackson Cooter. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting. Later in the article:

Perhaps not surprisingly, when we arrive, five weeks into the semester, at our discussion on the ethics of gun control, Jackson’s is the dominant voice. To prepare, we’ve read Milton and Rose Friedman’s capitalist manifesto, Free to Choose; an ethnography of gun owners; and a brief history of the NRA. The central question is how broadly the right of gun ownership should be construed.

Jackson begins with a historical argument. “Our military fought the British military,” he says, “but the real reason we seceded, at least according to the historical record, is the militia of private citizens that took up arms.” His point is that the Second Amendment exists principally to check government power. Many of the students support the sentiment.

“One of the principles of good government is providing a way in which citizens can topple it when they don’t have faith in its ability to govern justly,” says Cole Cadman. He’s the only Jewish person in the class other than me and is generally a social liberal. It’s clear that the gun issue resonates in a way that transcends political labels.

“What do you think is a condition under which rebellion against the federal government is required?” I ask. “Suppose Trump nationalized The New York Times?”

A couple of students demur, saying they still wouldn’t revolt. But Jackson nods his head vigorously. “The second they undemocratically go against the Constitution,” he says, “is when I’m going to revolt.”

“Can the militia have nuclear weapons?” I ask.

“I’ve actually thought about this a lot,” Jackson replies. In the past, “Cannons were mostly privately owned, and people had far more than muskets to begin with. I think that the intention would have been that as the military develops—let’s say the repeating rifle, then the citizen has that option.”

“So what’s the limit?”

“If we had nukes, it would be chaos,” Jackson answers. “But you have to be able to defend against the government.”

“Your bottom line of justice is very similar to mine,” I tell Jackson, “but how do I know that everyone’s like you? How do I know that group number two won’t say, ‘The government’s allowing abortions,’ or group number three says, ‘They’re allowing black people to vote, so we should nuke Congress?’ Whose conception of government overreach should control?”

“That’s a hard question,” Jackson confesses. He thinks for a long time before adding, “They believe they’re doing right, and I’m not God. I don’t get to say what’s right and what’s wrong. When I say I’m going to revolt, I’m obviously going to think that I’m right.” Recognizing that libertarianism taken to the extreme is anarchy, Jackson asks, “Can I keep thinking about this?”

“Of course,” I answer.

Strikingly, Jackson’s defense of gun ownership never once mentions a love of guns. He’s a “little-d” democrat who wants a super-process in place in case democracy, as his classmate Cole puts it, “fails to work or provide any meaningful benefits.” Resolving the ambiguity of for whom it’s supposed to work and who’s supposed to decide when change within the system is futile might be impossible, but it’s important to recognize the argument for what it is. It’s not about guns for the sake of guns, it’s about protecting civil liberties, and it’s deeply ethical.

And this is where our somewhat fanciful classroom discussion reveals real-world implications. Imagine a gun control debate that avoided an argument over the value and necessity of guns, but instead was framed around how to protect civil liberties and limit gun violence without excessive governmental involvement. Imagine if care were taken to frame the discussion not as outsiders trying to impose their will on people whose culture they did not understand, but rather as one among people with a shared interest in protecting the safety of their children. My suspicion is a conversation like that would reveal useful common ground. It’s an epiphany.

And it leads quickly to epiphany number two, which seems dramatically more important. If Americans are serious about reducing polarization, they’re going to have to start doing some careful listening, because what Jackson is saying has very little to do with what we say he’s saying.

If one looks—and listens—carefully, a consensus reveals itself across a wide diversity of fields on the importance and untapped power of listening. The names and nuances of these approaches to careful listening differ, but they share two basic qualities.

The first is  . . .

This PDF (free) “The Listening Guide method of psychological inquiry” should be of interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2019 at 3:31 pm

Tempeh Batch 5

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Technical specifications:

3 cups dark red kidney beans
6 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar added for last 10-15 minutes of cooking
3 tablespoons brown-rice vinegar added to drained and dried beans after they cool to 95ºF
1 packet tempeh starter

Using open method in 9″ x 13″ Pyrex baking dish. In oven with the light on at 2:00pm. The 3 cups of cooked beans made a good thick layer in the Pyrex dish.

I notice my recipes are becoming plainer. Maybe I’ll even try soybeans for the next batch.

Here’s the sequence:


After 24 hours:

After 48 hours — and I’m giving it about 3 hours more:

I think the dark band after 24 hours shows that the starter was not evenly mixed to begin with.

The photos are all in the same orientation to make it easier to compare progress.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2019 at 2:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

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