The popular game has a backstory rife with segregation, inequality, intellectual theft, and outlandish political theories.
- The streets on a classic Monopoly board were lifted from Atlantic City.
- Here's what it looks like if we transport those places back onto a map.
- Monopoly started out as its opposite: a game explaining the evil of monopolies.
Atlantic City's crowded Boardwalk, in front of hotels Schlitz and Dunlop, ca. 1913.Credit: Geo. A. McKeague Co., Atlantic City, New Jersey – public domain.
There have been several attempts to turn Monopoly the game into a Hollywood movie, one with Ridley Scott directing, another starring Kevin Hart. If none have succeeded so far, it's not for lack of an exciting backstory.
Dig deep, and you'll find racial segregation, economic inequality, intellectual property theft, and outlandish political theories. But let's start with the board—a map of sorts and a story in itself.
There's a customized Monopoly board not just for virtually any country in the world but also for movie and TV franchises (Avengers, Game of Thrones), brand experiences (Coca-Cola, Harley Davidson) and just about anything else (bass fishing, chocolate, the Grateful Dead).
To aficionados of the game, however, the names of the streets on the "classic" board have that special quality of authenticity, from lowly Baltic Avenue to fancy Park Place. Those places sound familiar not just if you like Monopoly, but also if you drive around Atlantic City, New Jersey's slightly run-down seaside casino town.
In fact, all the street names were taken from (or near) the city once nicknamed "America's Playground." Going about town, it's almost like you're traveling on the board itself. No wonder its other nickname is "Monopoly City."
This map transposes the streets on the board back onto the map, maintaining the color scheme that groups them from cheap (dark purple) to expensive (dark blue). Here's how they run.
The Monopoly board takes its street names from Atlantic City and a few neighboring places.Credit: Courtesy of Davis DeBard.
Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue are parallel streets in the middle of town, running southwest to northeast. They are perpendicular to most other streets on the board, and as such, cross or touch five other colors.
Three avenues in the east of town. Oriental runs southwest to northeast and crosses Vermont and Connecticut, which run parallel to each other.
Three streets branching off Pacific Avenue: Virginia Avenue, a long street towards the northwest; and St. Charles Place and States Avenue, two short spurs towards the southeast. St. Charles Place is no more; it made way for a hotel-casino called the Showboat Atlantic City.
New York and Tennessee Avenues run parallel and next to each other, northwest to southeast, the former all the way to the Boardwalk. St. James Place is in between both, south of Pacific Avenue.
Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois Avenues are the furthest west of the five street groups running northwest to southeast. In the 1980s, Illinois Avenue was renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
Past O'Donnell Memorial Park—featuring a rotunda dedicated to Atlantic City's World War I soldiers—Atlantic Avenue continues west to Ventnor City as Ventnor Avenue. It is pictured as an inset (left) on this map, which also features Marvin Gardens. That place, in Margate City, is actually spelled Marven Gardens—an error for which Parker Brothers apologized to the local residents only in 1995.
These opulent streets are well-connected in more than one sense. Green is the only color to touch every other color.
The Boardwalk is as huge as Park Place is diminutive. Both are close to the beachfront, the most desirable location in any seaside resort.
The darker history of Monopoly
These names weren't picked at random. In the early 1930s, various informal versions of Monopoly were played throughout the northeastern United States, with local street names inserted for each city. The game's appearance and rules were perfected as it was being played. Around that time, an Atlantic City realtor named Jesse Railford hit upon an innovation: to put not just names but also prices on the properties on the board. Since he knew the lay of the land in his home city, those prices reflected the hierarchy of real estate values at that time.
That hierarchy and those prices were informed by the segregation that was rife in 1930s America. As one of the gateways of the Great Migration in the early 20th century, Atlantic City was a waystation for countless African-Americans leaving behind the stifling oppression of the South for better economic opportunities in the North. However, what they encountered on the way and upon arrival was the same racism, in slightly different form.
Railford played the game with the Harveys, who lived on Pennsylvania Avenue. They had previously lived on Ventnor Avenue and had friends on Park Place—all of which fall into the pricier color categories on the board.
In 1930s Atlantic City, these were wealthy and exclusive areas, and "exclusive" also meant no Black residents. They lived in low-cost areas like Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues; the latter street is actually where the Harveys' maid called home. In many local hotels at the time, African-Americans were only welcome as workers, not as guests. Atlantic City schools and beaches were segregated.
Belying both the binary prejudices of the time and the sliding price scale of the Monopoly board, Atlantic City back then was in fact a place of opportunity where a diverse range of communities flourished. Black businesses thrived on Kentucky Avenue. Count Basie played the Paradise Club on Illinois Avenue. There was a Black beach at the end of Indiana Avenue. For Chinese restaurants and Jewish delis, people headed to Oriental Avenue. New York Avenue had some of the first gay bars in the U.S.
Lizzie Magie (née Phillips), the anti-monopolist who invented… Monopoly.Credit: public domain
It should have been called "Anti-Monopoly"
An Atlantic City-based board was sold to Parker Brothers by Charles Darrow, who claimed to have invented the game in his basement. Parker Brothers marketed the game as Monopoly from 1935. The rights to the game transferred to Hasbro when it acquired Parker Brothers in 1991.
But Darrow didn't invent Monopoly. The original idea, as became widely known only decades after its "official" launch, came from Lizzie Magie (1866-1948), née Elizabeth J. Phillips.
Magie was a woman of many talents and trades. She worked as a stenographer, a typist, and a news reporter; she wrote poems and short stories; she was a comedian, an actress, and a feminist (she once published an ad to auction herself off as a "young woman American slave," to make the point that only white men were truly free); and she patented an invention that made typewriting easier.
Despite that impressive resume, she is now remembered mainly—and barely so—as the inventor of Monopoly. Except that the board game she developed was called The Landlord's Game. She patented it in 1904 and re-patented a revised version in 1924. The game was innovative because of its circular pattern—most board games at the time were linear. But its real point was economic, political, and ultimately, fiscal. The Landlord's Game illustrated Magie's belief in what was later called Georgism.
Known as the "single tax movement" and popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its concepts were formulated by the economist Henry George. He suggested that rather than taxing labor, trade, or sales, governments should derive their funding only from taxing land and the natural resources that derive from it.
As already observed by earlier thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo, a land tax is economically more efficient than other taxes, since it places no burden on economic activity. It would also reduce property speculation, eliminate boom and bust cycles, and even out economic inequality.
Although Georgist ideas were influential for a while and continue to be discussed—among others by Ralph Nader during his 2004 presidential candidacy—they are no longer a vital political force, except in the related field of emissions trading. One popular counterargument to modern Georgism, now also (but not entirely interchangeably) known as "geoism," "geolibertarianism," and "earth-sharing," is that government expenditure has increased by so much since George's day that it can no longer be covered by a land tax alone.
Back around the turn of the 20th century, Magie devised The Landlord's Game to educate its players about the evils of real estate monopolies and, implicitly, about the benefits of a single tax on land.
The Landlord's Game, Lizzie Magie's forgotten precursor to Monopoly.Credit: Thomas Forsyth, owner of The Landord's Game® / public domain
She created two sets of rules: an anti-monopolist one, called Prosperity, in which all were rewarded for any wealth created; and a monopolist one, called Monopoly, in which the aim was to crush one's opponents by creating monopolies. In the latter version, when a player owns all the streets of one color, they can charge double rent and erect houses and hotels on the properties.
Taken together, these two versions were meant to illustrate the evil of monopolies and the benefit of a more cooperative approach to wealth creation. It's very telling of human nature that it's the opponent-crushing version that came out the winner. But, in the light of what happened to Magie, perhaps not entirely surprising.
When Darrow claimed Monopoly as his own, Magie protested. In the end, her patent was bought out by Parker Brothers for a mere $500, without any residual earnings. Parker Brothers continued to acknowledge Darrow as the inventor of the game. Magie's role was not recognised until decades later.
For more on the intersection of Monopoly, Atlantic City geography and 1930s segregation, read this article in The Atlantic by Mary Pilon. She is also the author of a book on the subject, called The Monopolists.
Many thanks to Robert Capiot for alerting me to the article. And many thanks to mapmaker Davis DeBard for permitting the use of his work. Follow him here.
Strange Maps #1078
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
The present-moment awareness that stems from mindfulness practices may be the cost-effective tool that our society needs.
- Mindfulness practices may lead to the human brain's transcendence of previously established associations that lead to racial biases.
- A mindfulness-based program, which has a myriad of benefits, may be more effective than a specific racial bias training program and may benefit BIPOC youth and police officers alike.
- Professionally known as Director X, Julien Christian Lutz of the Toronto-based mindfulness organization Operation Prefrontal Cortex believes that many young people that identify as BIPOC lash out violently due to past traumas, the hopelessness that they experience in the face of systemic racism, and other stressors that mindfulness can alleviate.
Researchers at Ball State University and Michigan State University have found that mindfulness practices, including but not limited to mindfulness meditation, may lead to the human brain's transcendence of previously established associations that lead to racial biases.
Like other cognitive biases, racial biases typically lie beyond our conscious attention, informing our conscious thoughts and decisions in ways that science does not fully understand.
Famed psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung once wrote that "[t]he psyche is still a foreign, almost unexplored country of which we have only indirect knowledge; it is mediated by conscious functions that are subject to almost endless possibilities of deception."
Historical factors have contributed to racial biases. In the book "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind," author Yuval Noah Harari discusses the origins of anti-Black racism as it presently exists in North America.
Because African slaves were resilient to the diseases that wiped out many of the indigenous slaves before them in North America and South America, Harari theorizes that "genetic superiority (in terms of immunity) translated into social inferiority: precisely because Africans were fitter in tropical climates than Europeans, they ended up as the slaves of European masters! Due to these circumstantial factors, the burgeoning new societies of America were to be divided into a ruling caste of white Europeans and a subjugated caste of black Africans."
An evolutionary adaptation that once kept my ancestors alive may have ironically contributed to the suffering and death of millions of people around the world.
Racial biases, racism, and systemic racism are interrelated and have been essential conversation topics globally, throughout 2020 and 2021.
Such topics have been incredibly polarizing in the United States, given the residual effects of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the shocking death of George Floyd in May 2020 due to former police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for nine minutes and 30 seconds.
The racism at the center of Floyd's highly publicized death and the deaths of many other Black people throughout the last two centuries has led to outrage across the globe, culminating in the largest civil rights movement in human history last summer.
In Toronto, Canada, this past summer, the Toronto Board of Health voted unanimously in June of 2020 to declare anti-Black racism a public health crisis.
As police violence relates to Black people, less than 9 percent of Toronto's population is Black, and yet, Black people are significantly more likely than other ethnic groups to be arrested, charged, and killed by Toronto police, according to a 2018 Ontario Human Rights Commission report.
The same report states that between 2013 and 2017, a Black person in Toronto was nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be involved in a fatal shooting by the Toronto Police Service.
Julien Christian Lutz, Professionally Known As Director X, Design Exchange, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2019.
Credit: Ajani Charles
Such statistics are troubling to me for many reasons, including the fact that I am the art director for Operation Prefrontal Cortex, a Toronto-based program harnessing the power of mindfulness and meditation to help reduce incidences of gun, mass, and police violence in Toronto.
Lutz is known for directing high-budget, visually distinctive videos for famous artists, including but not limited to Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Jay-Z, and Kanye West.
When I spoke to Lutz about what Operation Prefrontal Cortex is doing to prevent incidents like George Floyd's death, he said that "we're talking to police about it, really implementing mindfulness. And then spreading a message of what mindfulness and meditation can do for everybody.
"We also need to see the research. From what I've seen, meditation does help reduce racial bias. So, we need to do the proper science and test it and test it again to see if these results are consistent, and if they are, well then again, it feeds right back into what we're talking about."
I also spoke to him about the hopelessness that numerous BIPOC youth experience, especially in low-income communities in Toronto and elsewhere, due to receiving the short end of the stick that is systemic racism.
To Lutz, "it's an impossibility to reach some kind of meaningful existence someplace where you can achieve goals and be happy if you can't see that in your world. Then you become self-destructive. And you lash outwards."
Frequent solidarity marches throughout 2020 on behalf of Black people and other marginalized groups were a by-product of many forces, including but not limited to hundreds of years of oppression, the stressors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the global mental health epidemic. These marches illuminated the quiet and overt suffering of millions of people, and the ruthless violence that can grow from the seeds of racial biases.
All human beings, regardless of socio-economic status or intellectual prowess, can experience and perpetuate racial biases. The unconscious nature of biases causes them to be elusive, which is a phenomenon that American writer and filmmaker Ben Hecht once eloquently described in the following way, through his "Guide For The Bedevilled": "Prejudice is our method of transferring our own sickness to others. It is our ruse for disliking others rather than ourselves. We find absolution in our prejudices. We find also in them an enemy made to order rather than inimical forces out of our control."
Mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. Since racial biases are essentially judgments, mindfulness may be a tool that can lead the human brain to transcend such judgments, both consciously and unconsciously.
There is conflicting evidence of whether [racial bias training] actually does any good or potentially makes people defensive and reactive, and potentially do bad things in response. Doing a program like mindfulness, which has a myriad of benefits, can be better and make people less reactive.
In a report entitled "Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Implicit Age and Race Bias," Bryan Gibson of Central Michigan University and his research partner Adam Lueke of Ball State University found that "mindfulness can positively affect peoples' lives in a number of ways, including relying less on previously established associations."
Participants in the study listened to either a mindfulness or control audio. They then completed Implicit Association Tests (IATs), which are commonly used by researchers to measure the strength of associations between concepts like race and evaluations like "good" or "bad."
Lueke and Gibson's research showed that mindfulness meditation led to a decrease in implicit age and race bias.
I spoke to Lueke about his research, and he had this to say: "I think it's really interesting and potentially very valuable that mindfulness has been shown to help de-automatize our engagement with the environment, which can help us interact with people in a much more objective way, rather than allowing our previous histories or experiences or bugaboos of whatever, change or alter the way that we interact with new people that we don't know anything about, and we shouldn't necessarily make assumptions about."
Lueke explained that mandatory and optional racial bias training within organizations often results in resistance from those that have strong racial biases.
"There is conflicting evidence of whether [racial bias training] actually does any good or potentially makes people defensive and reactive, and potentially do bad things in response. Doing a program like mindfulness, which has a myriad of benefits, can be better and make people less reactive."
Capt. Latisha Fox centers herself while learning about basic meditation techniques during an Operation Army Ready: Ready and Resilient seminar at Enduring Faith Chapel on Bagram Airfield.
Credit: Photo Credit: U.S. Army
In Gibson and Lueke's research, the participants were 72 white college students from a midwestern university town, 71% of whom were female. Would the study differ with a more diverse group of participants?
According to Lueke, most people tend to view their group members more positively than those outside of their in-group. So, positive associations will need to be considered in future studies with diverse participants.
"If we were to get a more diverse group of people, we would probably have to switch the measures a bit in order to most accurately figure out whether mindfulness was doing anything on an unconscious or automaticity type of level."
When I asked Lueke about his thoughts on racial biases in general, he had this to say: "It's shortcut thinking, to just automatically label somebody. And pretty much all human beings do it; it's a way of attempting to predict your environment without a lot of information. So if you don't have a lot of information, your brain will attempt to label that individual in order to try to get as much information as possible about them."
"The problem with that is, oftentimes, those inferences can be incorrect and wrong. So it does take those extra resources to disengage from all of those automatic types of evaluations and try to actually do the work to interact with that person and get to know them a little bit better."
Because I wanted to understand how research like Leuke and Gibson's could be enhanced from another researcher's perspective, I spoke to Benjamin Diplock, a Clinical Developmental Psychology Ph.D. Student at York University in Toronto.
Diplock believes that using psychometrically validated measures could be beneficial. "Individuals evaluating psychological measurement (psychometrics) consider the reliability of the respondents' answers when they are filling out a questionnaire."
He also recommended using an MRI and other machines to evaluate biological response markers. For example, "are there particular areas of the brain that light up or that are activated, based off of self-reported feelings of fear related to a Black person?"
The present-moment awareness that stems from mindfulness practices may be the cost-effective tool that humanity needs to access the present while significantly reducing the proliferation of systemic racism and race-based violence throughout communities, organizations, and nations.
More research on the topic is needed, as such research can potentially save some of the most marginalized people's lives on a global scale.
Add these great titles to your wish list or secure copies for yourself.
- We asked BigThink's readers and staff for their recommendations on books everyone should read.
- A collection of fiction and non-fiction works from around the world spanning millennia, these books will expand your horizons.
- Many of these books are long out of copyright, and can be read for free.
Do you ever want to read more but find yourself unsure of what to read? Lots of people have the same problem. To help, we're adding to the collection of "books everyone should read" lists. For this one, we reviewed hundreds of suggestions on what book everybody should read from a post on our Facebook page and combined them with some of our staff's picks.
They span more than 2,000 years of literature, include fiction and non-fiction works, and will make you think, laugh, and cry. So without further ado, here are 13 books you should read when you get the chance.
If you prefer digital books but yet own an e-reader, we've included links to purchase one (at two price points) at the bottom of this list.
"Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one…. cities will never have rest from their evils"
One of the most famous books of all time, Plato's "Republic" depicts Socrates debating the nature of justice. To do so, he appeals to the metaphysical theory of the forms, a vision of a Utopian city designed to exhibit perfect justice, the allegory of the cave, the Ring of Gyges, and the metaphor of the Ship of State.
To say that it has influenced and excited thinkers since it was written (around 375 BC) would be an understatement. The British philosopher Julian Baggini argued that while in this book Plato, "was wrong on almost every point, the questions it raises and the methods it uses are essential to the western tradition of philosophy. Without it we might not have philosophy as we know it."
Plato failed to take out a copyright on his book [it being written over 2,000 years ago likely played a role in this error] and several translations aren't copyrighted either. You can buy a copy at the link above, but it can also be read for free on Project Gutenberg.
"But rest assured: This tragedy is not a fiction. All is True."
Set in an unnamed Indian city during The Emergency, the story follows four people from very different walks of life as the country endures the struggle and changes of independence, a shifting economic picture, and social difficulties. Diving into one of the most controversial parts of India's modern history is no easy feat, but this book does it in a way that manages to keep the focus on the human side of the era.
Praised as one of the 10 greatest Asian novels by The Telegraph, the book won many awards upon release. The Wall Street Journal considered the book "A rich and varied spectacle, full of wisdom and laughter and the touches of the unexpectedly familiar through which literature illuminates life."
"The Tao that can be expressed is not the eternal Tao; The name that can be defined is not the unchanging name."
Taoism's foundational text, and a philosophical work that influenced most Chinese philosophy that came after it. The book attempts to explain The Way (Tao) and the virtues which can express it. Nature and actions in accordance with it are praised. The unity or oneness that underlies the universe is also highlighted.
The oldest known copies of the text date back to 300 BCE. Despite ups and downs in Taoism's fortunes, the rise and fall of other philosophies, and occasional persecution, this book and its wisdom have endured all the while. Hundreds of Millions of people still adhere to some form of Taoism, and this book is the key to understanding their worldview.
Many thinkers have commented on the brilliance of the book. Chinese philosopher and writer Lin Yutang went so far as to say, "If there is one book in the whole of Oriental literature which one should read above all the others, it is, in my opinion, Laotse's Book of Tao."
"Oh dear, you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you alright?"
While the various editions of the book differ, the basic plot remains the same. Arthur Dent, recently forced off Earth due to it being blown up so a freeway could be built, goes on hilarious adventures around the galaxy with President Zaphod Beeblebrox, joyfully existential writer Ix, and Marvin the Paranoid Android—yes, Radiohead got it from here.
Also, the answer is 42, but we don't know the question.
Deemed a "whimsical odyssey" by Publishers Weekly and "inspired lunacy" by the Washington Post, the book series has legions of dedicated fans and several well-known adaptations.
The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." — Mark 12:31
As the holy text of Christianity and a collection of books with many focuses, there can be little wonder why the Bible is a frequently read, studied, criticized, and praised book. Featuring heroes like Sampson, teachers like Jesus, and epic tales like the Exodus, the Bible is a book with a large footprint on history and one to be counted among the great works of literature.
Even if you aren't a Christian, the Bible is worth a read. LearnReligions.com points out:
"If you're an avid reader, this is one bestseller you shouldn't miss. The Bible is an epic story of love, life, death, war, family, and more. It has its ups and downs, and it's pretty riveting. If you're not a reader, this may be the one book worth saying you read. If you're going to read anything, you can say you read the biggest bestseller of all time."
Plus, you know, understanding the belief system of the world's largest religion might come in handy sometime.
While some versions have copyrights, others don't, and most of them can be read online for free. Project Gutenberg has the very popular King James Edition here.
"A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others."
A behemoth of a book centering around a murder, "The Brothers Karamazov" is part mystery, part love story, part court case, and part theological drama all wrapped up in a philosophical novel that has attracted the attention of the world's greatest minds since it came out.
It was declared "the most magnificent novel ever written" by Sigmund Freud. William Faulkner and Ludwig Wittgenstein claimed to have read it regularly. Both Franz Kafka and Martin Heidegger felt the book directly influenced their work. Anything a group like that can all agree on is likely worth reading.
"The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired."
For the person who wants to know how the universe and our understanding of it came to exist but also wants a side of extremely dry British wit, this is the book for you. Featuring only a single equation, E=MC2, Hawking's book explores the history of astronomy, ideas of space and time, black holes, the universe, quantum mechanics, the theory of everything, and frontiers in science without jargon or the assumption that the reader has a degree in the hard sciences.
Widely praised on release, the book became a best seller and went through several editions, including "A Briefer History of Time" and an illustrated version.
"It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU the caption beneath it ran."
The magnum opus of George Orwell, this novel considers a then-future England under the boot of a totalitarian state known as Oceania. The plot follows mid-level bureaucrat Winston Smith as he tries to navigate the surveillance state in which he lives, works, loves, and secretly dreams of rebellion. All the while, Big Brother is watching.
As one of the most influential novels of the 20th century, it should come as no surprise that the review from Victor Pritchett read: "I do not think I have ever read a novel more frightening and depressing; and yet, such are the originality, the suspense, the speed of writing and withering indignation that it is impossible to put the book down."
"What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either."
The story of a road trip from Minnesota to California features discussions of life, philosophy, hang-ups, and the effect of altitude on how well a motorbike runs. The problems of living life from a Romantic point of view against a Classical stance are a crucial part of the novel, and the attempt to find a middle ground lasts long after the road trip ends. All the while, ghosts from the past stalk the characters and ask questions that even they weren't prepared to answer.
The original New York Times review called the book "intellectual entertainment of the highest order," and it has become the best-selling philosophy book of all time.
"I haven't seen Calvin for about 15 minutes now. That probably means he's getting in trouble."
An anthology of comics by the great Bill Watterson depicting a young boy and his stuffed tiger, the series was the most popular comic strip in the United States for much of its run and continues to be loved by millions. While lacking an overarching plot, the series features several running gags and never loses its ability to touch on elements common to every childhood.
Praised as "vibrant, accessible, and beautiful" by mental floss and "one of the most beloved comic strips of all time" by the New York Post, this series is among the champions of comic strip fun.
"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly. No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried. Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked. "They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone." "And what difference does that make?"
Our first staff pick is the hilarious, zany, and shell-shocking story of bomber pilots in WWII just trying to stay alive while they navigate the bureaucracy of the U.S. Army Air Corps. It follows the misadventures of John Yossarian as he and his squad mates try to get out of having to complete their ever-increasing quota of missions. The book also considers (anachronistically placed) elements of American society that began to emerge in the '50s and the absurdity of human existence.
The New York Herald Tribune called the book "A wild, moving, shocking, hilarious, raging, exhilarating, giant roller-coaster of a book." Despite the non-linear plot, surreal occurrences, and dense language, Harper Lee said it was the only war novel she ever read that made any sense.
Widely considered a cult-classic, the book, fittingly, didn't win any awards on release and has been deemed a significant work of the 20th century.
"It is important to understand that the system of advantage is perpetuated when we do not acknowledge its existence."
Our second staff pick is from psychologist and Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum. Written in 1996, the book returned to the New York Times' best-seller list in June of 2020.
A bold consideration on how we discuss, or fail to discuss, race in America and its effects on our psychology, the book has sparked endless conversations and advanced debate since it first hit shelves. Featuring personal stories, empirical data, and her previous work in this field, the book makes a strong case for the need to engage with issues of racial identity in ways that many people currently do not.
Kirkus Reviews concluded that it is:
"A remarkably jargon-free book that is as rigorously analytical as it is refreshingly practical and drives its points home with a range of telling anecdotes. Tatum illuminates 'why talking about racism is so hard'' and what we can do to make it easier, leaving her readers more confident about facing the difficult terrain on the road to a genuinely color-blind society."
"'That is all. With the exercise of a little care, the nettle could be made useful; it is neglected and it becomes hurtful. It is exterminated. How many men resemble the nettle!' He added, after a pause: 'Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators.'"
Our final staff pick is a masterpiece that tells the story of reformed criminal Jean Valjean, his adopted daughter Cosette, the people they met from all parts of French society, and the battle of the human spirit against the injustices of the world. Along the way, it takes the time to consider questions of life, death, God, evil, justice, convents, revolution, love, and French slang.
Described as "one of the half-dozen greatest novels of the world" by no less a writer than Upton Sinclair, and a frequently adapted favorite of audiences since its release, the book continues to speak to an essential part of our humanity in a way few others have.
When you buy something through a link in this article Big Think earns a small affiliate commission. Thank you for supporting our team's work.
New research spotlights how low-income Black households face greater financial distress and vulnerability as a result of the pandemic economic crisis.
- A paper by a team of Princeton researchers highlights devastating socioeconomic inequalities between racial groups worsened by the pandemic shutdowns.
- By the middle of June, the rates of new debt were similar for Black and Latinx households at more than 80%, while about 70% of white households reported new debt.
- When the pandemic ends, tens of millions of households will still find themselves stuck in a devastating financial hole, and a disproportionate amount of those will be Black and Latinx households.
Researchers from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs are reporting that low-income Black households are facing greater economic precarity and vulnerability as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to white or Latinx low-income households.
A snowballing crisis
We've known that COVID-19 has been disproportionately fatal to Black Americans as compared to white, non-Latinx Americans, and that these deaths (as well as hospitalizations) have shone a nasty light on racial disparities undergirding the U.S. healthcare system. But now a team of researchers from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs are highlighting devastating socioeconomic inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic. Their report details how low-income Black households experienced higher rates of job loss, greater uncertainty accessing food and medical resources, and higher rates of debt than white or Latinx low-income households.The paper, published in the journal Socius, is the first of its kind offering systemic, comprehensive, and descriptive estimates of the impacts of COVID-19 crisis on low-income Americans from March 2020 to mid-June. The authors' findings spotlight a snowballing crisis in which a growing number of families with low-income reported financial insecurity, then took on more debt to manage their expenses for resources.
The authors aimed to determine the economic impacts of the pandemic on lower income Americans, and spotlight racial disparities within that socioeconomic group. They analyzed factors a family needs to satisfy basic survival needs including job loss, housing instability, and insecurity around food and medical resources.
"Media coverage has focused on the racially disparate effects of Covid-19 as a disease, but we were interested in the socioeconomic effects of the virus, and whether it tracked a similar pattern," said study co-author Adam Goldstein, assistant professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs in a Princeton University press release.
Goldstein noted that it was clear that Black households in America were disproportionately affected amongst low-income households who struggled at the beginning of the pandemic.
"Even among low-income populations, there is a marked racial disparity in people's vulnerability to this crisis," said study co-author Diana Enriquez, a doctoral candidate in Princeton's Department of Sociology.
For the study, the researchers used data that came from two different tracking surveys. The primary data source was a bimonthly survey series of Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. The respondents were recruited through the mobile app, FreshEBT, for managing SNAP benefits. Also used was the U.S. Census Bureau's publicly available Household Pulse Survey, which is drawn from representative household samples rather than solely from program recipients. Using these sources, the authors surveyed people who were using the SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Several waves of surveys were sent out between the end of March and mid-June, a window of time when Americans were starting to feel the first economic hits of the shutdowns, but before their economic status had been transformed in a major way.
Participants were asked about their present and perceived situation related to employment status, housing status, ability to access food and medical resources, and amount of debt. For instance, survey respondents were asked if they currently had stable housing and also if they believed their housing status would be stable after that 30-day period.
The authors found that lower-income Americans who were already receiving government assistance had experienced major impacts in all areas except for housing status. Here were the major findings from each survey wave between the end of April and mid-June:
- Nearly 35 percent of all survey respondents reported losing their jobs by mid-June.
- 67 percent said that they missed paying at least one bill at the beginning of the shutdown.
- 77 percent of households reported missing a bill or payment on their rent.
- 54 percent of individuals said they had skipped meals, were dependent on friends and family for food, or had visited a food pantry due to the shutdown, despite being covered by SNAP. (This figure rose to 64 percent by the end of the month of June.)
But when the researchers looked at the data in race categories, it was clear that, on average, low-income Black households had taken much greater hits than low-income white households had. The magnitude of racial differences varied across indicators and data sources, but Black respondents fared consistently worse than non-Hispanic whites in both survey data sets, and Latinx respondents fared worse than whites in the Household Pulse Survey.
Here were the major findings when evaluated on race:
- At the start of April 2020, 30 percent of Black households reported a job loss. By the end of the month that number rose to 48 percent.
- 80 percent of Black households surveyed reported taking on greater debt to cover their bills by the end of April 2020.
- By the middle of June, the rates of new debt were similar for Black and Latinx households at more than 80 percent, while about 70 percent of white households reported new debt.
These survey results have put a magnifying glass on how badly the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted vulnerable households who were already living near the poverty line.
"Research shows that these types of debts and unpaid bills — even small ones — can compound over time and trap low-income households in a cycle of financial distress," Goldstein said. And when the survey results are analyzed for differences amongst racial groups, it's clear that those most vulnerable to this snowballing financial devastation are Black and Latnix households.
Ultimately, this research shines a light on a disturbing truth emphasized by Goldstein: "Even in a miraculous scenario where the pandemic ends in a few months and low-wage workers are rehired, tens of millions of households will still find themselves stuck in a financial hole without additional infusions of economic relief."
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
In a New York Times essay published the day of his funeral on July 30, 2020, Congressman John Lewis wrote that his "last days and hours"—in which he watched widespread protests over George Floyd's murder and saw a square in downtown D.C. christened Black Lives Matter Plaza—filled him with hope. "Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity."
Human dignity is a powerful phrase invoked to peacefully protest against violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. But when we talk about human dignity, what do we mean?
The inherent worth of all human beings
Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.
Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect.
Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it.
But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.
From the 19th century to today
With Google Books Ngram Viewer, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.
We can also map human dignity against mentions of liberalism to see that discussion of human dignity increased with discussion of liberalism.
Then we can search through individual mentions to find how human dignity was discussed and understood over the last 200 years.
For example, German rabbi Dr. Samuel Hirsch gave a lecture in 1853 on "The Religion of Humanity" in which he condemned slavery. "That which we love in ourselves, our true human dignity, compels us to recognize and love the same human dignity in all others," Hirsh said. He wrote:
If I can look upon my brother-man as a creature, as a thing void of any will of his own, instead of as a free personality, that furnishes ample proof that I have not yet recognized the true human dignity in myself. To own slaves is spiritual suicide and homicide. This sin is in no way excusable on account of the kind treatment accorded to the slaves by their owner, as he never can treat them humanely. When man becomes a piece of property he is robbed of his human dignity.
In 1917, Kansas State Normal School published a journal on teaching that called for instructors to help each pupil "make completer use of his one lifetime" because "an abundant life, a life of awareness, a life of dignity is an undertaking worthy of gods."
Thomas Bell's 1941 novel Out of the Furnace centered on an immigrant Slovak family in Pennsylvania. A character muses that it wasn't "where you were born or how you spelled your name or where your father had come from" that mattered; instead,
It was the way you thought and felt about certain things. About freedom of speech and the equality of men and the importance of having one law—the same law—for rich and poor, for the people you liked and the people you didn't like. About the right of every man to live his life as he thought best, his right to defend it if anyone tried to change it and his right to change it himself if he decided he liked some other way of living better…. About human dignity, which helped a man live proudly and distinguished his death from animals; and finally, about the value to be put on a human life, one's enemy's no less than one's own.
In a 1953 speech, then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles argued that communist countries might be able to achieve short-term material gain, but "results so produced are not a glory but a shame. They are achieved by desecrating the dignity of the human individual." Dulles believed human dignity meant being entitled to a life that included physical well-being and "freedom to think, to believe, and to communicate with one's fellows," "opportunities which permit some exercise of individual choices," and "the contemplation and enjoyment of what is beautiful."
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
One hundred years after U.S. law stopped allowing Black Americans to be treated as property, Black writer James Baldwin was still calling for Black Americans' dignity to be equally recognized. It was not enough, not nearly enough, that the 14th Amendment ensured equal protection of the laws; what mattered was how Black Americans were treated by their fellow human beings. In a 1960 Canadian television interview, Baldwin said, "I don't know what white people see, you know, when they look at a Negro anymore. But I do know very well—I realized when I was very young—that whatever he was looking at, it wasn't me… I was not a man."
In his seminal 1963 book The Fire Next Time, Baldwin seemed to echo Dr. Hirsh's argument from a century earlier:
I am very much concerned that American Negroes achieve their freedom here in the United States. But I am also concerned for their dignity, for the health of their souls, and must oppose any attempt that Negroes may make to do to others what has been done to them. I think I know—we see it around us every day—the spiritual wasteland to which that road leads. It is so simple a fact and one that is so hard, apparently, to grasp: Whoever debases others debases himself.
This, then, is a common thread in our historic understanding of human dignity: Anyone who treats another human being as less than human undermines their own human dignity in addition to undermining the dignity of their victim.A 1964 New York University Law Review article argued that privacy was a key aspect of human dignity. "A man whose home may be entered at the will of another, whose conversation may be overheard at the will of another, whose marital and familial intimacies may be overseen at the will of another, is less of a man, has less human dignity, on that account," wrote author Edward J. Bloustein, who later became president of Rutgers University.
The future of dignity
Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."
The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all.