What was unacceptable can become acceptable

from: Marantz, Andrew. 2019. Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation. New York: Viking.

Marantz writes –

After Trump won, the late professor Richard Rorty enjoyed a posthumous moment of mini-virality. My [Marantz’s] Facebook feed was full of people posting an eerily prescient excerpt from Rorty’s Achieving Our Country, a collection of political lectures published in 1998. With the left wing of the Democratic Party in decline [during Clinton’s years, presumably], Rorty argued, the only politicians “channeling the mounting rage of the newly dispossessed” were right-wing populists. If this continued, he wrote, then, sooner or later,

“something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for [both Trump and Sanders, although for Sanders primarily urban and suburban]…. One thing that is very likely to happen is that gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out [Trump only]. Jocular contempt for women will come back in fashion…. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back.”

What was unacceptable can become acceptable. Acceptability is just a norm, and norms can change for the better or for the worse.

Whenever this passage was posted on Facebook, commenters tended to treat Rorty’s words like a prophecy, a revelation of the fact that the American experience had always been doomed to fail. But Rorty put no stock in revelation. “We should face up to unpleasant truths about ourselves,” he continued, “but we should not take those truths to be the last word about our chances for happiness, or about our national character. Our national character is still in the making.” As the title of this book suggests, he did not believe that we are doomed or that we are saved. He did not believe that We Are Good or that We Are Bad. He believed something more liberating and also more terrifying: that history is contingent, that the arc bends the way people bend it. The American attitude toward fascism has long been an article of faith: it can’t happen here. But if history is contingent – if anything can happen – then our worst fears are not impossible but improbable, which is not at all the same thing. (59-60)

According to Rorty, the way a society talks to itself – through books, through popular films, through schools and universities, through mass media – determines that society’s beliefs, its politics, its very culture. (60)

Rorty argued that a transition from one moral vocabulary [a broad system of thought; how a society talks to itself] to another happens roughly the way a paradigm shift happens in science. (60)

“The world does not speak,” Rorty wrote. “Only we do.” To change how we talk is to change who we are. (61)

Kindness is more important than ever

Washington Post’s science writer Sarah Kaplan reports (March 31, 2020):

Psychologists are worried about the long-term effects of our new, socially distant reality. Decades of research has shown that loneliness and isolation are associated with high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, weakened immune systems and a host of other health issues.

But there is also hope in the data. Studies have revealed that human connection — something as simple as getting an offer of help from a stranger or looking at a picture of someone you love — can ease pain and reduce physical symptoms of stress. People who feel supported by their social networks are more likely to live longer. One experiment even found that people with many social ties are less susceptible to the common cold.

Spring Blossoms in Phoenix, Arizona, VII

Early April 2020

The flowers of a Creosote Bush:

A stand of Creosote Bushes which have yet to flower. It seems that specimens of the same species flower at somewhat different times. The result is that bees and other insects can feed on pollen for a longer period of time. The yellow flowers at the right belong to a Brittlebush. The spindly cactus in the foreground is a Cholla (CHO yah) which will bloom in a couple of weeks:

Some of the flowers of this Senna bush have gone to seed. The seed pods feed some of the desert’s animals such as Javalinas (hah vah LEEN oz) known widely as Peccaries, a pig-like animal:

The flowers of this Beavertail Prickly Pear are dark orange. The yellow flowers in the upper right background belong to an Engelmann’s Prickly Pear:

Spring Blossoms in Phoenix, Arizona, VI

Early April 2020

Blanket Flower. The most common desert blooms seem to be yellow because the Brittlebush predominates and most trees bear yellow flowers, but this annual is mostly red:

The flowers of this Argentine Giant are white:

Chuparosa – “Red Trumpet” in Spanish:

The Ocotillo looks like spiny dead sticks during the winter until the rains come. With spring, it grows new leaves along the “sticks,” and then it flowers:

What color would you call the flowers of this Hedgehog Cactus?:

I don’t know the name of this succulent. As you see, its flowers are red:

The flowers of the Beavertail Prickly Pear are dark orange. The yellow flowers in the upper right background belong to an Engelmann’s Prickly Pear:

Spring Blossoms in Phoenix, Arizona, V

Late March 2020

Desert Marigold:

Senna. In a future post I’ll have a picture of a bush with a profusion of seed pods:

Argentine Hedgehog in full bloom. A Purple Prickly Pear is peeking out from behind the Hedgehog on the left:

Globe Camomile, also known as Stinknet. This pernicious, invasive plant looks beautiful, but it’s liable to take over Arizona’s grazing lands and parks:

An entire field of Brittlebush: