Calling race a “social construct” does not mean that the biological ancestry — and specifically West African ancestry — of African Americans is mythical. It also doesn’t mean that my ancestry has no actual implications. (See the map of sickle-cell density above.) And in the future, it may mean even more. Ancestry — where my great-great-great-great grandparents are from — is a fact. What you call people with that particular ancestry is not. It changes depending on where you are in the world, when you are there, and who has power.
Despite the fact that constructivism is the dominant perspective on nationalism (only instrumentalist, which could be thought of as a peculiar subtype of constructivism, rivals it) in academia, it’s one of the toughest concepts for many students to grasp. Especially since so many academic works implicitly rely on primordial it’s assumptions whenever they tackle ethnicity, culture, religion, or other similar concepts. And especially if they do so in quantitative studies.
Austerians don’t get off on other people’s suffering. They, for the most part, honestly believe that theirs is the quickest way through the suffering. They may be right or they may be wrong. When Krugman says he’s only worried about ‘premature’ fiscal discipline, it becomes largely a question of emphasis anyway. But the austerians deserve credit: They at least are talking about the spinach, while the Krugmanites are only talking about dessert.
Paul Krugman’s Misguided Moral Crusade Against Austerity by Michael Kinsley (via thenewrepublic)
But here’s a historical analogy that I remember from an ancient civilizations class so many years ago. The anecdote was so radically counter-intuitive to anything I had ever been taught, that it blew my mind. I’ve been thinking about citizenship and democracy in different ways ever since. It’s a story about the Roman Republic.
As a republic, Rome relied on citizen-armies to fight its wars. When Rome was setting off for war, the male citizens would gather in the Field of Mars (the god of war). Military needs would dictate the number of troops that needed to be raised for a campaign. Then, the citizens would be drafted, one by one, until they made up the requisite number.
But here’s the counter-intuitive part: Because Rome’s was a citizen-army, the citizen-soldiers had to provide their own military equipment. So the wealthiest citizens were always drafted first. (According to my professor, in the history of the Roman Republic the poorest class of citizens were never drafted.) Even when they fought, the wealthier (better armed) citizens always took the front ranks.
This seemed to me remarkable. The wealthiest Roman citizens held the most power in the republic. Only they could enter the Senate or hope to serve as consuls or tribunes. And yet they were the most exposed to the risks of war. Because those who exercised the most power also bore the greatest responsibility—and put their own skin in the game.
Today, America’s military is predominantly manned by the lower social classes. Few members of the social elite ever enter military service. Not surprisingly, austerity politics has followed suit. We’re more likely to cut services for the poor than subsidies for the wealthy or middle class.
I wonder. Would an average ancient Roman citizen even recognize our system as a “republic”?
BTW, it’s perhaps not immaterial to point out that the Roman Republic lasted nearly 500 years (that’s almost three centuries longer than the US has existed). By around 50 BC or so, the citizen-army model gave way to “professional” militaries, often recruited from among the poor. These private armies served under individual (wealthy) generals—like Julius Caesar, who gave us the Roman Empire.
Domestic workers … know when one of their employers would rather spend four hundred dollars on a pair of shoes than pay them a living wage, because they watch it happen. It’s a brutal reminder of inequality.
Steven Harper: I think it’s a number of different factors. I certainly wouldn’t let students off the hook. I think that when you have a confirmation bias and you’re reluctant to view the world in a particular way other than the way you want to view it, you have to take some responsibility for what happens. And increasingly there is greater transparency. I think a second factor, to a very large degree has been law school deans. For many years, a vast majority of them pander to the criteria that go to rankings. Some of them are very destructive to the profession and to the students involved. And then there’s the third thing too that’s fueling all of this, and that has to do with the free flow of government money. Don’t get me wrong, I could not have gone to law school had it not been for student loans, and I had plenty of them by the time I came out, but the difficulty now is that there’s no real accountability between the behavior of deans who are really determined to increase enrollments, and the outcomes for their students in terms of not being able to repay their student loans or get jobs that are sufficient to allow them to repay their student loans. If you default on a student loan, the federal government backs it up and the law school is not out a penny as a result of any of that.
I get a lot of students who describe themselves as “pre law.” I often do try to dissuade them from law school—or at least to consider alternatives. Not because I don’t think they could “do the work” (most of them probably could), but because they often have unrealistic expectations of what lawyers do (and also unrealistic expectations of the odds of landing a good paying job). I suspect Harper’s book, The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis, is probably mandatory reading for “pre law” students.
BTW, not sure many students know this. But the ABA (American Bar Association) doesn’t recommend political science as a good pre-law major (although it is on the list of “traditional” pre-law majors, including history, philosophy, economics, and English). Instead, the ABA recommends a broad liberal arts education.
Mainstream political science is a fine discipline. But I’m not sure it’s very good for preparing lawyers. After all, law is about interpreting documents or essentially doing individual case studies. I’m not sure how know about how politics “works” (which may have little to do with what the law “says”) or how to execute statistical models would be helpful in any kind of litigation.