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The Unapologetic Impulse In American Culture
Judging by the abundance of “guilty pleasure” TV shows, many people in America seem to feel overly constrained by the norms of public civility. The expectations of reasonableness and respect in everyday life must feel like quite a burden given that we are so regularly compelled to scorn such niceties and revel in an hour or two of petty backstabbing housewives, New Jersey shore grotesques, and bullying chefs, financiers, contest judges, and talk show hosts.
In what follows, I will explore the idea that there is an “unapologetic impulse” in American culture. This impulse, I will suggest, accounts for some popular entertainments (like those listed above), but also for the plausibility – the “ring of truth” – that seems to attend certain kinds of political arguments.
One manifestation of the unapologetic impulse is a certain irritability about “political correctness.” The gripe looks something like this:
In our daily lives we are compelled to refer to every different kind of person that we meet using his or her preferred group label. A man must never call attention to the sexual characteristics of a woman in public. We have to listen politely to people with beliefs and lifestyles that we disagree with and detest. Even when we absolutely know something to be true, if it puts certain groups in a bad light we are nevertheless forbidden to say it publicly. We are always under the watchful eyes of others who are judging whether or not our groceries, cars, homes, travel habits, and other decisions conform to a sound personal environmental policy. We must be ever careful not to tip anybody else’s sacred cow.
Maybe all of this irritates you. The unapologetic impulse seizes your gut. Your eyes roll while your head tilts back and to the side. You take in a deep exasperated breath. You tighten up and start to flush red with aggravation. “It’s enough!” you want to scream. “I don’t care!” “FUCK THIS BULLSHIT!”
What’s going on here? It is easy to lampoon the constraints of “political correctness.” This ease is interesting in and of itself, actually. But let’s consider for a moment what we’re really talking about. Most of the constraints that are listed in the “gripe” above are really just shortcuts for communicating respect under relatively impersonal circumstances.
Consider a situation where all you know about a person is whatever is indicated by his external appearance and his appearance seems to situate him in a known social group. You have no desire or reason to hurt this person. In fact, the situation naturally calls for congeniality. You know that it would be hurtful, or at least uncongenial on your part, to apply a group label to him in a way that he finds offensive.
Why wouldn’t you want to try to avoid being hurtful? If you know that Jewish people prefer to be asked “are you Jewish?” rather than “are you a Jew?” then why wouldn’t you want to choose the former?
Now, maybe you have some Jewish friends and you’ve developed the kind of trust and intimacy that allows you to laugh together about Jewish jokes – jokes that include lines like, “a Jew walks into a bar….” But until this trust and intimacy is established with others, why wouldn’t you want to hedge close to your best estimation of what would count as respectful?
I think that most people in America genuinely want to be and are respectful in this way, in situations like these, most of the time. And yet, the unapologetic impulse nevertheless starts to simmer, and bubble, and sometimes bursts: “I don’t care what you want to be called!” I don’t care if this makes you uncomfortable!” “Just let me be myself!” “Let me talk how I want to talk and do what I want to do!” “I shouldn’t have to apologize for myself!”
There seems to be a contradiction here, which I want to highlight: I am suggesting that a person can both genuinely want to treat others respectfully and have the thought that treating others respectfully is somehow inauthentic (it is not “just being myself,” “doing what I want to do,” etc.).
Perhaps too optimistically, I want to suggest that it is usually the latter thought that is a distorted self-representation. The person who has this latter thought is trying to express his deep anxiety about the artificiality of modern progressive values. In order to do this, he leans on an exaggerated reconstruction of what he imagines to be the “tried and true” traditional values that the artificial values have displaced. Rather than address the problem of apparent artificiality directly, he dodges it and takes up the artifice of a more stable, “old-fashioned” posture.
If he has an “authentic” view at all, then it is the generally progressive view according to which everybody deserves to be treated with respect – like I said, he genuinely wants to treat others respectfully. So it is his old-fashioned posture, his playing the old-fashioned racist or playing the old-fashioned sexist that is inauthentic. This is the dodge, the put-on. It is a rather lazy way of avoiding the challenges and consequences of his own values.
What am I trying to describe when I use the phrases “anxiety about the artificiality of modern values” and “the challenges and consequences of his own values”?
In the middle of the 20th century a sense of disorientation and relativism about authority and values, which had been festering among elites for almost a century, spread throughout American society. Think of “The Sixties.” At the same time, surreptitiously, progressive principles of respect for different kinds of people began to take root – even among people who would ostensibly represent themselves as “anti-progressive.”
People who identified as progressives ultimately could not avoid the disquiet produced by “new” values that lack a traditional authoritative foundation. People who identified as anti-progressives ultimately could not avoid imbibing progressive values and were thus subjected to the same disquiet – both groups, then, suffered from “anxiety about the artificiality of modern values.”
In this way, neither progressives nor anti-progressives fully came to terms with the challenge of maintaining values that are not founded on traditional authority. And neither set was yet prepared to live in the social world that would develop as a consequence of the “new” values. Both groups would thus have to cope with “the challenges and consequences of their own values.”
This is the story that I’m toying with as an explanation for the ubiquitous unapologetic impulse in contemporary American culture. It is not just an impulse that “Red State” people have; it is not just for political conservatives. Not at all.
I speculate that it is the same impulse that quickly transforms intellectual conversations among “lefty academics” into caddy gossip-fests. Or it drives the same initially earnest conversations into the always self-aggrandizing differentiation of people into “smart” and “stupid.” American academic culture, which is laudably defined by anti-hierarchical sentiment and resistance against all forms of domination, slips into these very vices when the unapologetic impulse bubbles up and in a moment of indulgence bursts: “Fuck it! Let’s be bad! Give me the dish!”
And I would venture to say that “Red State” people and “Blue State” people alike enjoy the thrill of vicarious incivility produced while watching “guilty pleasure” TV shows. I’m not just talking about crass “reality TV” here. Highly sophisticated shows, like Curb Your Enthusiasm, also play to the unapologetic impulse. Revenge movies like Inglourious Basterds and Man On Fire may also fit in (not to mention obvious cases like Falling Down).
There are other things going on here, of course. The unapologetic impulse draws on the libertarian strand in American culture and the idealization of youthful defiance. Sometimes the unapologetic impulse is exacerbated by the “delayed gratification” involved in observing certain norms. For instance, the payoff of recycling and other efforts at sustainability do not produce immediately gratifying changes and an impatient person will easily get fed up: “I don’t have time for this!”
In the case of irritability about “political correctness,” the unapologetic impulse is also connected to the implicitly comparative character of progressive values. Presumptively, “these values are better than the old values and I can explain to you precisely why.” Advocates for “old-fashioned values” might, on the other hand, claim: “this is what we have always believed, this is the way that it’s always been done.” The “old ways” don’t need to be justified by an argument for their superiority; they are self-evidently good and right. So say the traditionalists, anyway. Progressive values always have something to prove and the opponents of progressive values are always on the lookout for hypocrisy among self-identifying progressives.
There is much more to say about all this. I've only just begun to play with the idea. But, unfortunately, I’ve already run long.
Ask yourself: is there an unapologetic impulse in American culture? What in American culture and politics can we better understand if we posit this impulse as a prominent motivation?
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
How can we promote the creation of new neurons - and why is it so important?
- Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth.
- After birth, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain: the olfactory bulb (which is responsible for our sense of smell) and the hippocampus (which is responsible for memory, spatial navigation, and emotional processing).
- Research from the 1960s proves creating new neurons as adults is possible, and modern-day research explains how (and why) we should promote new neuron growth.
Two parts of the brain can continue growing through neurogenesis<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTAwODc1MH0.4GDLlZmkwuD0-pJ0s0UWcUoYXMy95a-AM61a_QAlAeA/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e77e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e23499fdf3b2185533979083fd02db7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="brain made of twigs and plants concept of neurogenesis" />
Neurogenesis is still possible well into adulthood in two very important parts of the human brain.
Image by EtiAmmos on Shutterstock<p>Although most people are aware that aging or bad habits such as heavy alcohol use can contribute to the deterioration of our brains, not many of us give thought to how we can generate new brain cells.</p><p>Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth. </p><p><strong>After birth, however, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain:</strong></p><ul><li>The olfactory bulb, which is a structure of the forebrain that's responsible for our sense of smell. </li><li>The hippocampus, which is a structure of the brain located within the temporal lobe (just above your ears) - this area is important for learning, memory, regulation, of emotions and spatial navigation. </li></ul><p>Of course, when this information first came to light <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13860748" target="_blank">back in the 1960s</a>, the next natural question was: How do we promote neurogenesis in those areas where it's still possible? </p><p>Researchers today believe there are activities you can do (some of them may be things you already do on a daily basis) that can promote neurogenesis in your brain. </p><p><strong>Why is it important to promote the growth of new neurons in adulthood?</strong></p><p>We produce an estimated 700 million neurons per day in the hippocampus - this means by the time we reach the age of 50, we will have exchanged the neurons we were born within that area of the brain with new (adult-generated) neurons. </p><p>If we don't promote this exchange with the growth of new neurons, we may block certain abilities these new neurons help us with (such as keeping our memory sharp, for example). </p>
4 ways to promote neurogenesis in your brain<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTE3NjczNH0.qyzh_AIUPKfaQIa1QEq4yTNCAAK9nYkH3HFV9vWXwww/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C104&height=700" id="64a68" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee1307fe2dd61ae425552da56db3c5ff" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="child playing trumpet concept of learning a new instrument neurogenesis" />
Learning a new instrument helps promote neurogenesis.
Photo by DenisProduction.com on Shutterstock<p><strong>Intermittent fasting</strong></p><p><a href="https://law.stanford.edu/2015/01/09/lawandbiosciences-2015-01-09-intermittent-fasting-try-this-at-home-for-brain-health/" target="_blank">A 2015 Stanford study</a> examined the link between <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-ways-to-do-intermittent-fasting#section1" target="_blank">intermittent fasting</a> and neurogenesis. Calorie restriction and fasting can not only increase synaptic plasticity and promote neuron growth but it can also decrease your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases and boost cognitive function. </p><p><u>Two of the most common ways you can intermittently fast are: </u></p><ul><li>16 hours per day every day - this is a method where you are able to eat for an 8 hour period of the day and fast for 16 hours of the day. Many people begin their "fast" after dinner, pushing their morning meal far enough towards lunch that most of their "off" eating time happens while they are asleep anyways. </li></ul><ul><li>24 hours every week - this is a method where once a week you fast for an entire day. Some people prefer this method because the rest of the week can resume as normal - but for many, this is a difficult way to fast. </li></ul><p><strong>Traveling to new places</strong></p><p>While traveling is something many of us enjoy — scenic routes and new fun experiences — these things also promote neurogenesis while we're on vacation. <a href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/travel/ct-xpm-2014-01-28-sc-trav-0128-travel-mechanic-20140128-story.html" target="_blank">Paul Nussbaum</a>, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, explains that the mental benefits of traveling are very clear.<br></p><p><em>"When you expose your brain to an environment that's novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts. Those new and challenging situations cause the brain to sprout dendrites (dangling extensions) which grow the brain's capacity." </em></p><p><strong>Learning a new instrument</strong></p><p>The mental health benefits of music have long been studied, but did you know that learning a new instrument can promote new neuron growth? </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996135/" target="_blank">this 2010 study</a>, learning to play a new musical instrument is an intense, multisensory motor experience that requires that acquisition and maintenance of skills over your entire lifetime - which of course, promotes the new formation of new neural networks. </p><p>When is the best time to begin learning a new instrument? Childhood, of course. </p><p><em>"Learning to play a new musical instrument in childhood can result in long-lasting changes in brain organization," </em>according to the study mentioned above. </p><p>While learning an instrument in adulthood will also promote neurogenesis, children who began training with a musical instrument before the age of 7 have shown that they have a significantly larger corpus callosum (the area of the brain the allows communication between the two hemispheres of the brain) than many adults. </p><p><strong>Reading novels</strong></p><p>A study from <a href="http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html" target="_blank">Emory University</a> showed there was an increase in ongoing connectivity in the brains of participants after reading the same (fiction) novel. </p><p>In this study, enhanced brain activity was observed in the region that control physical sensations and movement. Reading a novel, according to lead researcher Gregory Berns, can transport you into the body of the protagonist. </p><p>This ability to shift into another mental state is a vital skill that promotes healthy neurogenesis in those areas of the brain. </p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Paul Krugman on the Virtues of Selfishness<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7ZtAkm6C" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="828936bf6953080e9018307354c0c02b"> <div id="botr_7ZtAkm6C_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7ZtAkm6C-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> The Nobel Prize-winning economist on the virtues of selfishness.
Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?