Self-Reinvention or Self-Erasure? An Abiding American Dilemma

Washington Post — September 2, 2022

How I ditched my poverty tells
By Tracy Moore

A study published in the journal Nature last month about something called “bridging social capital” elicited many no-duhs on social media. The study’s big takeaway was that when the poor get a chance to meet the wealthier among us, they have a greater chance at succeeding. It is beyond obvious, many have noted, that good connections increase the odds of getting a good job.

But as someone who jumped classes, from living below the poverty line to solidly middle class, I can shed some light on the numbers. Being around the better-off didn’t just forge connections that would lead to employment opportunities. It taught me something more crucial: how to act like I belonged in the first place.

There was only one catch: I would have to stop acting poor, which meant polishing aspects of myself that would prevent those friendships from sticking. Smoothing those edges paid dividends, but at the uncomfortable cost of erasing parts of myself. To create a better life, I had to mask the outward signs of a chaotic home life, troubled self-esteem and the mental health effects of growing up for stretches without even basic amenities. Everyone’s history, painful or not, is intertwined with who they are.

Continue reading Self-Reinvention or Self-Erasure? An Abiding American Dilemma

A Network of Good Deeds: Providing Asylum to Threatened Writers

New York Times — September 2, 2022

I Was Onstage With Salman Rushdie That Day, and What I Saw Was Remarkable

Violence against writers was the topic I was about to interview the novelist Salman Rushdie about at the Chautauqua Institution on Aug. 12. We were being introduced onstage when out of nowhere, like a scene from Mr. Rushdie’s novel “Shalimar the Clown,” a knife-wielding man rushed onto the stage and began to stab him.

Immediately audience members ran to the stage to defend him.

It was a remarkable response. That rush of people leaping from their seats was the opposite of the so-called “bystander effect,” when individuals do nothing, relying on others to help. I would call it “the reader effect.” Reading creates empathy, and Chautauqua is an intentional community of readers. The intuitive response of an empathetic community is to help.

The “reader effect” was the reason I was onstage with Mr. Rushdie in the first place. He had given a talk in Pittsburgh in April of 1997, during which he said that the true fight “is not just about my right to write. It is also about your right to read.” My wife, Diane Samuels, and I, both avid readers, were in the audience that day, and his words moved us to action.

We were renting out a house in our neighborhood that we had bought and renovated. Mr. Rushdie’s words suggested a better way to use the house — as a temporary home for an exiled writer. When persecuted writers flee their homes, they often do so in a rush and can bring little with them. They need to start from scratch.

Continue reading A Network of Good Deeds: Providing Asylum to Threatened Writers

Student loan debt cancellation: good or bad?

[Note: Here’s my two cents on the student loan cancellation plan: I’m all for it. Shoulda been more. But will it survive the imminent rightwing legal assaults? Some further thoughts below.]

From Religion Dispatches:

What with Ukraine, Mar-a-Lago, Jerome Powell, and what-not, I suppose we can be forgiven (ha!) if we didn’t pay a lot of attention to the gnashing of teeth over President Biden’s long-delayed decision to forgive a significant amount of student debt.

As with everything else, the fallout is sharply polarized, with people like Ted Cruz predicting the end of civilization as we know it, and with folks in the Larry Summers wing of the Democratic Party fussing over the possible inflationary impact. (Do these inflation hawks ever fuss over the debate-free passage of ginormous unpaid-for military appropriations? Just wondering.)

And then there’s the “Christian” (i.e., evangelical Protestant) reaction to Biden’s action, as reported in Christianity Today and elsewhere, where scholars and cranks play whack-a-mole with Bible verses having to do with debt.

What I like best is the Can we proof-text this? We probably shouldn’t. But let’s try anyway! aspect of it. Not to mention the dominant focus on rival passages in the Hebrew Bible without much, if any, attention paid to how Jesus responded to debt peonage in his time and place.

Stefani McDade begins her Christianity Today roundup of evangelical responses by reporting on the top four Bible verses being cited by online Christian commentators in response to Biden’s move. The top four verses popping up on her screen were all from the Hebrew Bible—or the Old Testament as CT prefers to call it.

Then McDade cites the reactions of three guys. The first, an Anglican priest from Indiana, is all in on debt forgiveness. This guy actually does quote Jesus a lot. The second guy, from the Cato Institute (that well-known Christian organization), says that you can’t apply biblical texts related to an ancient agrarian society to our situation. The third guy, who works for a Washington PR firm, says let’s not debate this at all:

Instead, we should humbly engage others with our biblical convictions and research about alternatives, cost-benefit analysis, and weighing of unintended consequences as we pursue human flourishing and the common good.

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To Depolarize the USA, We Gotta Bust the Cultural/Educational Binaries


We need to move beyond the binary thinking of ‘us and them’ politics

Author Headshot By Jay Caspian Kang

Opinion Writer

New York Times — September 1, 2022

I am sad to announce that this will be the last edition of this newsletter. This decision was mine, and it was a difficult one to make because I’ve enjoyed the interactions I’ve had with you, my readers. Your emails and messages have made this, without question, the most enjoyable and satisfying writing gig of my career.
This project was always supposed to be free-flowing and open to my own interpretation. Such freedoms are rare in journalism, and while I was both excited and flattered by the opportunity to spill the contents of my brain on Mondays and Thursdays, I will admit that it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to actually say in this space. I am, by nature, a deeply ambivalent person about most things, and did not carry an agenda with me into the job.
But over the past year, as I’ve written about homelessness, education policy, nursing homes, and even dabbled a bit in the culture wars, a central argument began to emerge.
It goes something like this:

Continue reading To Depolarize the USA, We Gotta Bust the Cultural/Educational Binaries