Clancy Martin praises Dallas G. Denery’s The Devil Wins for being the first systematic history of Western thought about lying, noting that one of the book’s more intriguing arguments is that “our Western understanding of deception has undergone a radical change from Augustine’s time to Rousseau’s”:
For Augustine, lying is always wrong and is an expression of our fallen state; for Rousseau, “the occasional lie” can be justified because we have been forced into deception by our decadent society. “If there is a before and an after in the history of lying, then Rousseau’s Discourses may well mark the moment when the one becomes the other,” Denery writes. “With Rousseau, deception and lying become natural problems, problems with natural causes and, hopefully, natural solutions.”
Indeed, Rousseau proposes some solutions in Émile, his treatise on the education of children, when he insists that—contrary to the notions of his own day, but in agreement with psychological research in the 21st century—most children lie because they are coerced into doing so by their own parents. I have called these “broken-cookie-jar lies”: What kind of deceptive behavior is a parent engaging in when he or she asks a young child, caught with a cookie in hand and a broken jar on the floor: “Now, who is responsible for that?”
Justin Wolfers charts the recent dominance of economists:
There’s an old Bob Dylan song that goes “there’s no success like failure,” and it’s a lesson that’s been central to the rise of the economics profession. Each economic calamity since the Great Depression — stagflation in the 1970s, the double-dip recession in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the 1991 downturn — has served to boost the stock of economists. The long Clinton boom that pushed unemployment down to 3.8 percent was good news for nearly all Americans, except economists, who saw their prominence plummet. Fortunately, the last financial crisis fixed that.
Today, the profession is so ubiquitous that if you are running a government agency, a think tank, a media outlet or a major corporation, and don’t have your own pet economist on the payroll, you’re the exception.
Jill Lepore discovers that the “average life of a Web page is about a hundred days”:
No one believes any longer, if anyone ever did, that “if it’s on the Web it must be true,” but a lot of people do believe that if it’s on the Web it will stay on the Web. Chances are, though, that it actually won’t.
In 2006, David Cameron gave a speech in which he said that Google was democratizing the world, because “making more information available to more people” was providing “the power for anyone to hold to account those who in the past might have had a monopoly of power.” Seven years later, Britain’s Conservative Party scrubbed from its Web site ten years’ worth of Tory speeches, including that one. Last year, BuzzFeed deleted more than four thousand of its staff writers’ early posts, apparently because, as time passed, they looked stupider and stupider. Social media, public records, junk: in the end, everything goes.
Which is why the Wayback Machine exists:
Election guru Larry Sabato finds that slogans are often “simplistic and manufactured, but the best ones fire up the troops and live on in history.” His unsolicited advice for Hillary and Jeb:
The last time she ran for president, then-Sen. Clinton used “The Strength and Experience to Bring Real Change.” That was workmanlike—and boring. At least for the ’16 Democratic contest, she’d be better off with “Let’s Make History Again” coupled with the Helen Reddy tune “I Am Woman.” Don’t forget, about 57 percent of Democratic presidential primary voters are women.
Wow. Transgender man writes to the Pope after getting rejected from his church. On Saturday, the Pope met with him. http://t.co/hb73WbsUwB
— Gabe Ortíz (@TUSK81) January 26, 2015
A reader puts it well:
It seems to me that this is pretty big Pope news; he had a private audience with a transgender man and his fiancee. It’s inconceivable that such a meeting would have occurred with either of the two previous Popes. Which is a pretty sad indictment of them, in that Jesus clearly would have had such a meeting.
Moving forward, backwards:
Maria Konnikova examines the research of Angela de Bruin:
De Bruin isn’t refuting the notion that there are advantages to being bilingual: some studies that she reviewed really did show an edge. But the advantage is neither global nor pervasive, as often reported.
Where learning another language does pay dividends:
One of the areas where the bilingual advantage appears to be most persistent isn’t related to a particular skill or task: it’s a general benefit that seems to help the aging brain. Adults who speak multiple languages seem to resist the effects of dementia far better than monolinguals do.
In a review of Robert Beachy’s Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity, Alex Ross ponders why the city proved a relatively hospitable place for a thriving gay subculture that emerged at the turn of the 20th century. One reason? A deep and abiding connection between Romanticism and German culture:
Close to the heart of the Romantic ethos was the idea that heroic individuals could attain the freedom to make their own laws, in defiance of society. Literary figures pursued a cult of friendship that bordered on the homoerotic, although most of the time the fervid talk of embraces and kisses remained just talk.
But the poet August von Platen’s paeans to soldiers and gondoliers had a more specific import:
Yatzchak Francus has discovered for himself that “having recovered from a brain injury is vastly different from having recovered from any other injury”:
No one thinks that a broken leg or a kidney stone or pneumonia fundamentally changes the essence of who you are. But when you’ve had a brain injury, people don’t believe that you are quite the same, although no one will actually say so. Perhaps it is the expression of a universal personal terror. The brain is who we are in the most fundamental sense. We are what we think, and we think with our brain. Not for nothing does Descartes’ summation endure.
The perceptions of my injury endure as well.