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“I would have expected a big religious revival to explode any minute now”

On EconTalk, Harvard historian Jill Lepore says something that I’ve been thinking — that we are overdue for a religious revival. Russ Roberts asks her about the revival of nationalism and nationalism’s attraction as a “feeling of tribal belonging.” Here is her response:

I think it has a lot in common with religious revivals… I would have expected a big religious revival to explode any minute now, because religious revivals tend to happen in the aftermath of a very significant… sea-change in the body of knowledge… or received notions of how we understand the natural world. So, I think… the accelerating, the sort of knowledge-vault metaphor of the Internet and the kind of revolution of machine learning and artificial intelligence and all the anxiety about a world of knowing that most people don’t understand, at all, is just the kind of thing to set off a religious revival. 

Two other factors: (1) massive economic changes that have left some people behind and added a level of anxiety to modern life even for those who’ve benefited, and (2) the weakening of traditional social relationships due to social media.

I know a lot of very lonely people. And I know a lot of people who have very little economic security. And often the two go together.

The Left seems to be settling on “Antiracism” and an aggressive progressivism as the new “religion.” (See John McWhorter’s brilliant essay at the Daily Beast from 2015.) But I suspect that

I think it’s more likely that we’ll see a religious revival centered around some form of Christianity. Will it be some sort of hyperlocal form of orthodox Christianity as proposed by Rod Dreher in The Benedict Option? Will it be something that comes out of the Emerging Church movement, perhaps a form that borrows elements of progressive political ideology? Will there be a new wave of televangelism empowered by Youtube and social media?

Or maybe it’s already started…

Is the Jordan Peterson Phenomenon a type of religious revival?

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“People who would like to do the right thing, but who just can’t get it up.”

I think what most people seem to be tired of are the sort of lint-headed, wooly-minded – what a lot of people call do-gooders – people who would like to do the right thing, but who just can’t get it up. That kind of candidate is going out of style.

That’s Hunter S. Thompson, describing the failure of George McGovern to beat Richard Nixon. Almost 50 years ago. And yet…

Jimmy Carter in 76
Mondale in 84
HW in 88 and 92
Al Gore in 2000
John Kerry in 2004
Mitt Romney in 2012
HRC in 2016

Ronald Reagan got it up. Bill Clinton, um, got it up. Barack Obama and George W. Bush both seem like do-gooders on the surface. But both of them got it up – Barack Obama with personal grace and high-minded rhetoric, GWB with big-hearted, frat-boy back-slapping.

Maybe Dr. Thompson was right, but it took us a while to catch up. A mojo-less candidate hasn’t won a presidential election since HW in 1988, though a couple have won the popular vote (Gore, HRC). And Trump defeated a slew of milquetoast do-gooders in 2016 – Jeb, Marco, Kasich, HRC.

I’m reading HST’s classic Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. This is the Bible of American political journalism, and it seems that most modern political journalists – while not actively trying to emulate Dr. Thompson – imagine that they would write something similar if they weren’t constrained by timid editors, corporate travel budgets, and other annoying market forces.

This is the first book by Dr. Thompson that I’ve ever read. And it’s quite something. I do fear that someone trying to imitate him might miss the pieces that make the book so special. You might be able to mimic the careening style… or the naïve idealism masked with cynicism… or the admission of bias… or the star-fucking . But are you also willing to be brutally honest? Do you love other people — not just the stars, but the stars too — as much as Dr. Thompson does?

And once someone has done this particular thing, do we need anyone else to do it again?

Two weeks ago, I knew very little about the 1972 election other than that McGovern was a pretty liberal dude who lost to Nixon. And now I’m convinced that American politics is still churning on the same wheel it’s been on since the 1960’s. And 2020 is likely to be a rerun of 1972. I put the over/under on Trump’s margin of victory at 23 points.

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Thoughts on the Placebo Effect

Responding to the latest episode of Russ Roberts’ Econtalk.

Tweet thread starting here:

THREAD. @econtalker Lots of thoughts on this week’s episode on the Placebo Effect and the interview with Gary Greenberg. First, why would something like the Placebo Effect evolve in the human species? 1/12— Tim DeRoche (@timderoche) February 5, 2019

If your body has the ability to heal itself, why would it hold that power in reserve… until a particular type of social interaction triggers the healing response. 2/12

And it is indeed a *social* phenomenon. The patient interacts with another person in a particular way, and then suddenly an ailment begins to wane. As Greenberg says, “The ritual is very very important to the outcome.” 3/12

In the evolutionary environment, they didn’t have hospitals or doctors or trial-tested drugs. So the most likely “ritual” would have occurred between an ailing person and a relative or a shaman of some sort. 4/12

Most of the remedies would likely have been completely bogus or weak, especially relative to current remedies. What would have been the value of the Placebo Effect in that environment? Is it a variation of the Hawthorne Effect? 5/12

We have to assume that good doctors – consciously or unconsciously – make use of the Placebo Effect all the time. 6/12

Do MDs get any training in how to use the Placebo Effect to improve their patients’ health and quality of life? My guess is no, but I’d be pleased to learn otherwise. 7/12

If there was training, you’d want the MDs to understand: (1) In what domains is the Placebo Effect most effective?, (2) What are the ritualistic triggers that enhance the effect?, and (3) In what cases would use of a Placebo put the patient’s health at significant risk? 8/12

If you wanted to cut health care costs (anyone?), wouldn’t greater use of the Placebo Effect be a *huge* tool in the toolbox? Sugar pills barely cost anything. And don’t have any side effects. 9/12

What if – at the bottom of every standard form in the doctor’s office – there was an opt-out box you could check, “I do not grant my doctors permission to administer placebo treatments in order to enhance my health.” 10/12

Assuming that most people would not check the box, doctors would then have the right to administer placebos to most patients, especially in domains where the Placebo Effect is powerful and the risk to the patient is low. 11/12

You’d avoid a lot of unnecessary interventions and empower the patients to heal themselves. (Again, training the MDs would be absolutely critical.) 12/12

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Something Wild – just as much a “hero’s journey” as Star Wars

Thank God I missed this movie when it came out!

I say thanks, because it was such a pleasure to see a classic movie from my adolescence, but as a grown man.  It was a time machine for me, but — instead of reminding me of the first time I saw it — it reminded me of who I was when it was made.

Like True Romance and Risky Business, this is a movie about a lonely, mild-mannered man who — led by a woman — escapes his humdrum existence and taps into power he didn’t know he had — his wits, his sexuality, his capacity for violence.  Like a mythic hero out of Joseph Campbell, he emerges from his journey ready to take on the responsibilities of adulthood.

Yes, these movies are myths. Wonderful, subversive myths.

Also, it’s another American story about two misfits on the run.  Somebody should write a dissertation comparing the journey of Charlie and Lulu to that of Huck and Jim.

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She loves a Monkey’s Uncle

 

Such a delightful find yesterday.  Came up on a Spotify playlist that my wife Simone was listening to.

Well, I don’t care what the whole world thinks
Call us a couple of Missing Links
Love all these monkeyshines
Every day is Valentine’s
I love the monkey’s uncle
And the monkey’s uncle’s ape for me.

I should have recognized those harmonies for the Beach Boys.  And written by the brothers who wrote “It’s A Small World”!

UPDATE:  The Sherman Brothers also wrote all of the music for Mary Poppins AND the 1974 musical adaptation of Huckleberry Finn.   Apparently, everything in life leads — eventually — back to Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn.  Here’s their song “Cairo, Illinois” performed by Paul Winfield (as Jim) and Jeff East (as Huck):

 

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My new book coming in May 2019 on the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Ed

I’m very pleased to announce that my new book will be released next May on the 65th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.  This is the culmination of several years of work with my good friend and mentor Gloria Romero, who is the former Democratic majority leader of the CA State Senate.

Gloria is so passionate about ending the link between where a child lives and what public school the child is allowed to attend, and she has convinced me that this is one of the primary civil rights battles of our day.  My book is about the state laws that allow (and often require) school districts to discriminate against you based on where you live.  These policies keep most middle-class and poor kids out of the best public schools, encourage residential segregation by class and race, and drive up housing costs.  We can do better.

This is not a Left vs. Right issue.  Liberal writer Malcolm Gladwell has advocated for opening up the best public schools to all-comers, and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a Republican, once called for an educational system “in which parents are free to disregard neighborhood-school assignment, and to send their children (with transportation paid) to whichever school they choose.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right that a child’s fate should not determined by their zip code, and school assignment is the place where all of it starts.

As I finish up writing this book, I’m looking for your stories about how you’ve been affected by attendance zones (or school district boundaries).  Has your child been blocked from attending a quality public school because of where you live?  Have you lied about where you live in order to get the best possible education for your child?  Have you paid $200 thousand extra for a house in order just to gain access to a public school… only to learn that the school isn’t a good fit for your kid?  If so, please email me at tim [at] timderoche.com.  I’d love to hear your story (confidentially, of course).

This is one of two new books that are coming out in May 2019.  This is the more serious one, the other one being a bit more playful and even silly.  More on the other book, later.  But I’m very eager to get each of them out into the world.

(Cover design by the incredible @printgonzalez, of course.)

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