Monday, September 13, 2010

Little Thoughts

I am steering clear of Big Thoughts today; sometimes one just has to write something, anything.

1. Whenever I despair of psychiatry's approximations, I am consoled by economics. Am I the only person who wearies of the endless liberal/conservative tug-of-war on taxes? Really, wouldn't one think that in 2010 it should be possible to empirically determine the optimal tax rate in terms of effect on economic stability and growth? No? And people are surprised we haven't figured out depression?

2. It is official, according to Thomas Friedman and David Brooks: the United States is in a national funk, 300 million slackers with respect to the values that made this country great. Is this surprising? Having achieved the greatest prosperity in the history of the world, and lacking a coherent antagonist (Islamic terrorism is more akin to organized crime than to an Evil Empire), complacency sets in. It is human nature. Is it necessary that not only the 20th, but also the 21st, be American centuries? When can we mutate into a more temperate version of Canada?

3. Paul Bloom's How Pleasure Works (Bob's review here) is an entertaining if unchallenging stroll through his pet theory of "essentialism," the human tendency to believe in and attach to unique and individual identities as opposed to interchangeable sets of properties. I particularly enjoy his discussions of objects such as artworks or even random possessions of celebrities that retain the transferrable "life force" of their originators. The collector (and bibiophile) in me loves this: one accumulates loved objects as a reservoir of life force, a tide that in the case of hoarders gets out of hand.

4. Check out Douglas Coupland's amusing "Dictionary of the Near Future"--I particularly like his "pseudoalienation" (technology as an intensification of the human, alas) and two varieties of melancholy.

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