Gregory Currie, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nottingham, recently argued in the New York Times that we ought not to claim that literature improves us as people, because there is no “compelling evidence that suggests that people are morally or socially better for reading Tolstoy” or other great books.
Actually, there is such evidence. Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009 that individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective. This link persisted even after the researchers factored in the possibility that more empathetic individuals might choose to read more novels. A 2010 study by Mar found a similar result in young children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their “theory of mind,” or mental model of other people’s intentions.
The science of learning is a relatively new discipline born of an agglomeration of fields: cognitive science, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience. As with anything to do with our idiosyncratic and unpredictable species, there is still a lot of art, especially in teaching. But the science of learning can offer some surprising new perspectives:
FIFA, you have a problem. The player walk-off led by AC Milan’s Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng last week to protest racist abuse during a friendly match against a lower-tier Italian club could mark the beginning of a player revolt against the ineffective anti-racism efforts by soccer‘s international administrators. Until now, players have been required, under threat of cards and suspensions, to take no action in response to racist abuse from the crowd, but instead to leave it the issue to the referee and match officials. But the efforts by FIFA and its affiliates — wrist-slap fines imposed on teams and national federations whose fans have transgressed being the strongest sanction used thus far – haven’t stopped the abuse. Boateng’s action was a defiant rebuke, not only to the racists in the crowd, but to the officialdom that has failed to effectively tackle the problem. If walking off becomes a trend, which it threatens to do, it will present a profound crisis for the game’s administrators. http://keepingscore.blogs.time.com/2013/01/05/is-fifa-facing-a-player-revolt-against-racism/?xid=newsletter-daily
Let’s get the cynicism out of the way first. Yes, the takeover of Al Gore’s Current TV by Al Jazeera, a pan-Arab broadcaster headquartered in and funded by the Qatari state, is unlikely to send tremors through the current American media landscape. The revamped “Al Jazeera America” channel—and, yes, it will actually be called that—will have a hard time winning its way into the American mainstream. Current TV, after all, is a fringe player with a small viewership. And some U.S. conservatives, like Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, remain convinced Al Jazeera is anti-American propaganda, a cipher for terrorist-sympathizers and anti-war peaceniks. Others simply doubt the ability of an international news channel to spark interest in the U.S. Writing in the Guardian, American media critic Michael Wolff dismissed Al Jazeera English—the broadcaster’s international challenge to the BBC and CNN—as “so boring that there is no real reason to be hostile to it.”
But there are real reasons to welcome Al Jazeera’s $500 million entry into tens of millions of American households.
The international effort to boycott products made in Israeli settlements got a boost recently from a formidable quarter. South Africa announced it would label imports from the West Bank not “Made in Israel” but perhaps “Made in Occupied Palestine.” It seems a small thing. The new regulation stops well short of calling for a boycott on Ahava beauty products and other exports manufactured or grown by Israeli companies on Palestinian land occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.
But the labeling regulation makes such a boycott more feasible, which is one reason Israel is making a big deal of it. Another reason, of course, is that on the question of moral heft, South Africa ranks as a heavyweight. From the 1960s to the end of the 80s, an international boycott and disinvestment campaign against the Pretoria regime was one of the factors that led to abandoning the apartheid system that long let the white minority rule the black majority.
Want to help the poor? Start by taking money out of their hands. More specifically, cash — coins and paper bills are the silent enemy of the poor, with costs often out of proportion with their day-to-day convenience.
On one level, it’s ridiculous to think of cash as problematic; if you have a mountain of paper money, you aren’t exactly impoverished. And at times cash seems like exactly what we need. Saying “yes” to cash can seem like saying “no” to overspending and steering clear of big banks, which means saying “no” to credit-card debt, overdraft fees and Big Brother. In the age of zeroes-happy bank bailouts and household credit-card debt on the order of $800 billion, cash stands for individual empowerment and no-nonsense finances. Right?
The irony of this line of thinking is that most of the people espousing the virtues of cash simultaneously enjoy the safety and cost savings of electronic money. Even those who despise credit cards usually have bank accounts, receive payments via auto deposit, use stored-value cards for public transit and more likely than not pay their rent or mortgage, utilities, medical expenses, Internet service, hotel bills and auto insurance by transferring sequences of 1s and 0s between faraway computers. Click. Sure, you may still need a bill or two now and then for Salvation Army Santas, waiters and bellhops. But for the most part, the better off you are, the less you need cash — and the easier it is to avoid it.