Quotulatiousness

November 19, 2017

The case for a “social” statute of limitations

Filed under: Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle recounts a few incidents and wonders if it’s rational or fair to apply today’s social rules to interactions that happened years or decades ago:

These events, after all, took place at least two decades ago. In some cases, cultural norms really have changed. I’d be shocked now to hear a really dirty joke told at work, but in my early twenties, I don’t recall even being mildly nonplussed. I’m not saying that the norms of those workplaces were right, but I am saying that the men who told them did not have mens rea: the knowledge that they were doing something wrong. And in general, it’s a bad idea to punish people for trespassing against rules they didn’t know. Or rules that didn’t exist.

But even if they had known, I still wouldn’t be eager to out and punish them now. I did a lot of things decades ago that I regret, and I would hate to be held accountable for them now as if they’d happened last week. And since I hope to grow and change a bit in the coming decades, I’d also hate to be punished in some far tomorrow for the norms — or even the folly — of today.

So it seems worth asking whether we need some sort of statute of limitations on these kinds of offenses in our culture, not just in our laws. It would not be a blanket pardon for anyone who manages to go unreported through the five- or 10-year mark. It would be a mitigating factor in deciding how to respond in the present to actions from another time: autre temps, autre moeurs.

The question when confronted with reports of decades-old misdeeds is not “Would this guy be a creep if he did this today?” Better to ask: “Was he better or worse than his environment?” And also: “Is there reason to believe he might have changed since then?”

Some cads and criminals would fail all these tests. And if the offense was last year, or if the accused attempts to intimidate the victim or explain away the transgression, then the answer to those questions is probably “No.” But if a man shamefacedly confesses that he made a mistake decades ago, through bad understanding or bad judgment, just how far are we willing to go in shunning him? To the same extreme we would for a recent, remorseless, serial offender?

If so, how many of us are willing to live under that standard — in which the sins of our distant past are ripe for litigation at any moment? In which the court of public opinion issues the same summary judgment immediately after every accusation? In which every defendant’s reputation and contributions are discarded into the same garbage heap, no matter what the age or nature of the offense?

September 15, 2017

QotD: The sexist TV shows of the 1960s

Filed under: History, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Speaking of a different world, there was one big barrier to entry into [the original Star Trek]: its ladies. I’m still not quite sure how to deal with the way women were treated in the show. I’ve found that when watching many movies or shows from the ’60s and ’70s, it’s incredibly hard to relate the characters — not just because plot pacing was slower and diction was different than it is on TV today, but because I’m almost guaranteed to be disappointed by the way the story treats women. Generally, one just has to accept that there is going to be out-and-out sexism in a lot of old movies and TV, and you can either toss out the whole thing or watch it from afar like you’re in a museum, analyzing an ancient culture.

Megan Geuss, “I watched Star Trek: The Original Series in order; you can too, Or: Filling the gaps in your cultural knowledge is equal parts boring and fun”, Ars Technica, 2015-09-05.

August 22, 2017

QotD: Writing about the past

Filed under: Books, History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If you’re writing in the past — or even if you are just living in the present — you should have an idea of how the past was different, and the factors that shaped that.

If you assume the past was just like the present only less “enlightened” you’re presupposing history comes with an arrow, and that today is of course more “advanced” than the past. While this is true of science — of course — it’s not always true of what was inside people’s heads. In many ways because even the poorest of us struggle less than in the Middle Ages, it’s become easier to develop mental habits of laziness and other “rich person” vices. What you think is enlightenment might be considered sheer nonsense by your descendants. For instance the enlightened thing at one time (even Heinlein has a whiff of it) was genetic culling. Now we’re finding that what we know about genes isn’t that straightforward. Throw in epigenetics and someone with a gene to be a “moron” can turn out to be a genius. More, even overtly bad disease genes are linked to genes we need and can’t survive without. BUT the enlightened opinion in the early twentieth century was to improve humanity and save human suffering by culling out the sick and the lame and the “inferior races.” (No, Hitler didn’t invent that.)

Some of our concepts (and I’m not going to name any because it’s a fight I don’t need, but I’m sure you can think of some) will prove just as monstrous to our descendants.

If you don’t have a sense of that, you don’t have a sense of the past, which unfortunately means you don’t have a sense of the present.

If you think that there is an objective way to end poverty or stop drug use, or whatever, and it’s ONLY your way, and even your opponents think your way is right and are being villainous and “evil” by opposing it you not only shouldn’t be writing historical fiction, you definitely shouldn’t be voting. You should find the nearest kindergarten and use it as a safe space.

Because out here in the real adult world, the past and the present and complicated places, with different modes of arranging life that worked with the circumstances at that time, even if they now set our teeth (or our hair) on edge.

If you can’t accept your ancestors were different from you, thought differently and responded to different necessities, you have no business preaching multiculturalism.

Because what makes a culture different is not the hairstyles, the dresses or what they ate, but how one must live to survive. And yes, some cultures are factually worse than others at providing their people with the necessities (or the luxuries) of life. Arguably most past cultures were (barring our finding some atlantian high-developed scientific culture we’ve heard nothing about.)

That doesn’t give you the right to to stomp your feet and rewrite the past to justify your boorish self-regard in the present.

Your ancestors were both more and less enlightened than you in ways you can’t even understand, and your superimposing your beliefs on them is the act of a mental midget standing on the shoulders of giants and peeing down.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “What Has Gone Before Us”, According to Hoyt, 2015-08-03.

July 21, 2017

QotD: Anachronistic “Regency” romances

Filed under: Books, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Which brings us to a discussion about romances, yesterday. Like apparently most people who read Regencies I’ve become aware of a tendency for them to read more and more like modern romances than like something set in that time.

Someone nailed it for me by pointing out that female characters have been getting more modern. For instance, they will do things like not want to marry UNTIL they have sexual experience, so they’ll be engaged and go out to find someone to sleep with them: in a time without either contraceptives or antibiotics and in a time when a unwed pregnancy would ruin not only the woman but all her relatives.

Or they rebel against being the one who was supposed to marry to make the family fortunes. I’m not saying a woman might not wish to marry someone else rather than make the family fortunes, but it would present in her own mind not as resentment to lifting the family out of debt, but as “I’m madly in love with the stable boy.” or whatever. And if a woman was thoroughly opposed to [being] married, it often manifested (at least in Catholic countries, granted, not England) as a “vocation.” What it didn’t manifest as was “I want to pursue a career.” Women married, or if they were unmarried stayed around the house helping with the nephews and the running of the house. If they had the means they might set up household with a companion. But only the poor worked, (even for men “having to” work was a downcheck on status.) If you were a governess or a nurse, it wasn’t for a “career” but because you were desperate.

Oh, and please save me from all the women running philanthropic organizations. While there were of course a number of these run by women, it wasn’t every other woman as seems to be in today’s regency romances. And charities for unmarried mothers would be very heavy on the preaching and getting them to give the baby up for adoption. Not telling them they’ve done nothing wrong and “affirming” their choices. Again, no contraceptives, no antibiotics. Sex and its consequences were serious business PARTICULARLY for women who make more of an investment in reproduction.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “What Has Gone Before Us”, According to Hoyt, 2015-08-03.

July 15, 2017

QotD: Ancient beliefs and modern ones

It is, I suppose, very attractive to the modern mind, with its idea that every Jack and Jill (but mostly Jill) needs a role model that matches his or her external or cultural characteristics that they assume worship of any sort of fertility goddess would mean a great respect for women.

Do I need to tell you this is poppycock?

I shouldn’t need to. We know almost every ancient religion worshiped at least one (often more) female deities, and we know that compared to us in the present so called “patriarchy” women were not only not respected, but were often used in strictly utilitarian ways as in “Mother, caretaker, etc.”

I see absolutely no reason to imagine that primitive humans were better than that, particularly since we do have archaeological evidence (scant, so non-conclusive) to back up the sort of hard scrabble/winner take all existence the great apes bands have, where the word “family” and “harem” are basically equivalent and the alpha male takes all.

In fact the evidence from modern day primitives, whether or not the worship of a female goddess is present, often leads one to conclude that the presence of a female goddess implies stronger patriarchy.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Inventing the Past — The Great Divorce”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-23.

July 13, 2017

“Stop lamenting the days of ‘objective’ news reporting. There was never any such thing”

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Sarah Hoyt on the ridiculous nostalgia for the “objectivity” of the three networks era (or earlier):

It never fails. Someone gets in a discussion (yes, on Facebook. Where else? It’s where the fossilized stupidity of ages past has come to die and decay, forming a substratum not unlike oil, but far less useful. Well, unless you’re a blogger in need of post ideas.) about some of the latest misdeeds of the press, like say CNN’s bizarre pivot from all Russia all the Time to threatening posters for funny memes (Yes, of course I can barely resist the GIF posts when I see that. Unfortunately they take more time than writing.) and someone comes on and laments the days when the media was “objective.”

This is when I’d dent my desk with my head, except I have one of those standing desks that’s made of plastic which pops right back up. Good thing too.

I too would love the mythical times when kings were just, ordained by G-d and pulled the sword from the stone. They are as real as the days of “honest” media.

Look, take it from someone who went through journalistic training. EVERY good journalist (a minority as in all other professions) TRIES to be unbiased. This is relatively (but only relatively) easy when writing about the incident on first and main where a dog bit a man. It is far less convenient/easy when writing about a politician who embezzled something. And since politics touches everything these days, the result of the media’s obsession with making the personal political, it’s becoming impossible to report ANYTHING objectively, including the dog/man incident. I mean, do you want to get mobbed by PETA? What about people who love leash laws? What about the lobby to eliminate pit bulls?

Having training in journalism, and friends in the profession, I can tell you those “great” long ago times when all newspapers spoke with a unified voice, the narrative made sense and “everyone agreed” on what was sane and sensible, were anything but bipartisan, or impartial.

What they were was UNIFIED and totalitarian, in the sense that your entire media experience came from a very small number of people, who mutually vetted each other, and who had all been educated in the same colleges and believed the same things.

The era of newspaper “objectivity” also happened to be the era of newspaper monopolies, as Tim Worstall pointed out the other day. The supposed objectivity was a function of their need not to create opinion space for competitors to arise that would threaten their monopoly position for commercial advertising and classified ads (especially the classified ads). True objectivity is a difficult problem anyway:

I’m simply going to say, like Heinlein did, at about my age, that I’ve never seen any event I was witness to reported with ANY degree of accuracy. In fact, often they are completely and insanely wrong. But the report fits the left wing “narrative” in which they are good and moral so there’s that.

Prior to the industrial era, and the unification of newspapers and the distribution of some of those throughout the nation, shaping the opinion of all the smaller wanna bes, media was gloriously, loudly, obviously biased.

Stands to reason. Being humans we can’t hope for “no bias.” No, listen to me, it’s impossible. My husband and I are as close as two human beings can be, and have been married for over 30 years. Yet if we both witness something and describe it, our different backgrounds and natures come to the fore.

July 12, 2017

QotD: Modern myth-making

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… evidence of myth making is everywhere, and not just in the far past, when it’s easier to swallow just-so stories.

There seems to be this strange idea that we must tell stories of the world as we wish it to be and then it will automagically become so. And because no part of the world, and no time in History can compare to Western society in the current times (and very few can compare to the United States of America) the way to bring their stories into existence is to tell us how bad we are in comparison to everyone else.

The fact that this is a blatant lie doesn’t matter. They still do it.

They are convinced, if they can shame us with these imaginary superior cultures that we will somehow adopt the ways they want us to.

One egregious demonstration of this is the claim that other times and places were more tolerant of different sexual personas. This one makes me want to SCREAM because… well… define “more tolerant.”

Traditional societies often had niches for sexually different people, including but not limited to those who lived as the opposite sex. BUT when the ignorant parrots of the western world go on about this stuff, they usually know just enough about the other culture to project all sorts of happy thoughts upon it. The thing is that assuming the persona and lifestyle of the opposite sex was often not a choice, and not because the person “felt” one way or another. Certain social circumstances dictated a certain change. Like, in Romania (I think) a woman whose brothers have been killed was almost required to assume a male persona in order to support the family. Whether she wanted to or not. And I have a vague idea that in certain parts of India, a woman who cannot find a husband is allowed to “marry” another woman. Note there is no mention made of sexual desire for her own gender. It’s more a matter of fitting neatly into society.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Inventing the Past — The Great Divorce”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-23.

July 8, 2017

The past was not just like today in fancy dress

Filed under: Books, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

My QotD entry yesterday (The Marxist influence on modern “Regency” romances) gets an interesting echo in this article by Megan McArdle:

Open a historical novel, and you’ll find characters who would, sexually speaking, not have much difficulty fitting into the 21st century dating scene. Authors usually pay lip service to the era’s taboos, and sometimes use them as plot devices. But even there, the assumption is that what is being suppressed, or happening on the sly, is pretty much the same as what 21st century Americans enjoy, or wish they were enjoying. Humans have been having sex for millions of years. How different could it have been?

Quite, argues sociologist Gabriel Rossman. (The link is frank, but not prurient.) Ask an anthropologist, or a classicist, just how different it can be. Even things that look superficially similar — Greek tolerance toward homosexuality, for example — turn out upon closer examination to have been quite different. It wasn’t what we call “homosexuality”; neither the social nor the physical activity resemble a modern gay couple all that closely.

Since this is a family column, I will leave the frank discussion to Professor Rossman. But a couple of less … er … colorful examples may suffice to illustrate just how culturally and time specific sex actually is.

Take kissing. Pretty basic, yes? We might imagine that the cultural rules for when people kiss would vary, as indeed they do in our own culture, where very orthodox religious groups proscribe it before marriage, and libertines kiss strangers on national television. But it’s hard to imagine that the activity itself really varies all that much.

Except it does. For starters, a whole lot of cultures don’t kiss, at least romantically. It isn’t necessarily proscribed; they just don’t do it. The idea that kissing is a foundation for further sexual activity is to us so natural that it rarely occurs to any of us to question it, and yet, this is apparently a learned behavior, not an instinctive one, because in large cultural areas it is seen as weird and doesn’t happen.

(And so it is, if you think about it. If you enjoy kissing, I recommend not thinking about it very hard.)

Is sex the same, without the kiss? In some aspects, obviously. And yet try to imagine the West’s romantic literature, its poetry, its art and film, without the kiss. The result feels different not just in degree, but in kind.

July 7, 2017

QotD: The Marxist influence on modern “Regency” romances

Filed under: Books, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Which gets us to why these romances of people sashaying around in costumes while being 21st century moderns go against the wall: It is the perverse and self-aggrandizing view of history of the modern Marxist.

Because their religion is all pervasive, it projects itself into the past. Forget that there was no contraception, there was no modern medicine and the deaths in childbirth were shockingly high and that it was for women eventually a number game: have children often enough and you will die of something going wrong with the pregnancy and the birth. Women are just like men in their view and as “entitled” to consequence free sex. Everything else would be an injustice.

In the same way everyone is “entitled” to being supported while doing whatever they please, be it painting or rescuing unwed mothers. Anything else would be “unfair.” And since they all froze in kindergarten when “unfair” was the battle cry that would bring the teacher down, they think that complaint trumps EVERYTHING.

So they know those people in the past were just pretending at being unenlightened, but really were doing wrong ON PURPOSE. Which is why they hate the past and keep trying to remake it into the current-day-Marxists shining idol image which is always of themselves.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “What Has Gone Before Us”, According to Hoyt, 2015-08-03.

July 3, 2017

Explaining the food of yesteryear

Filed under: History, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In a post from a few years back, Megan McArdle explained why the North American diet of the mid-20th century was so dreadful (at least to a modern-day foodie):

Here are my prime candidates for why I think they ate like that:

  1. Most people are not that adventurous; they like what’s familiar. American adults ate what they did in the 1950s because of what their parents had served them in the 1920s: bland, and heavy on preserved foods like canned pineapple and mayonnaise.
  2. A lot of the ingredients we take for granted were expensive and hard to get. Off-season, fresh produce was elusive: The much-maligned iceberg lettuce was easy to ship, and kept for a long time, making it one of the few things you could reliably get year round. Spices were more expensive, especially relative to household incomes. You have a refrigerator full of good-looking fresh ingredients, and a cabinet overflowing with spices, not because you’re a better person with a more refined palate; you have those things because you live in 2015, when they are cheaply and ubiquitously available. Your average housewife in 1950 did not have the food budget to have 40 spices in her cabinets, or fresh green beans in the crisper drawer all winter.
  3. People were poorer. Household incomes grew enormously, and as they did, food budgets shrank relative to the rest of our consumption. People in the 1960s also liked steak and chicken breasts better than frankfurters and canned meats. But most of them couldn’t afford to indulge their desires so often.
  4. The same people who chuckle at the things done with cocktail franks and canned tuna will happily eat something like the tripe dishes common in many ethnic cuisines. Yet tripe has absolutely nothing to recommend it as a food product, except that it is practically free; almost anything you cooked with tripe would be just as good, if not better, without the tripe in it. If you understand why folks ate Trippa alla Romana, you should not be confused about the tuna casserole or the creamed chipped beef on toast.

  5. The foods of today’s lower middle class are the foods of yesterday’s tycoons. Before the 1890s, gelatin was a food that only rich people could regularly have. It had to be laboriously made from irish moss, or calf’s foot jelly (a disgusting process), or primitive gelatin products that were hard to use. The invention of modern powdered gelatin made these things not merely easy, but also cheap. Around 1900, people were suddenly given the tools to make luxury foods. As with modern Americans sticking a flat panel television in every room, they went a bit wild. As they did again when refrigerators made frozen delights possible. As they did with jarred mayonnaise, canned pineapple, and every other luxury item that moved down-market. Of course, they still didn’t have a trained hired cook at home, so the versions that made their way into average homes were not as good as the versions that had been served at J. P. Morgan’s table in 1890. But it was still exciting to be able to have a tomato aspic for lunch, in the same way modern foodies would be excited if they found a way to pull together Nobu’s menu in a few minutes, for a few cents a serving.
  6. Over time, the ubiquity of these foods made them déclassé. Just as rich people stopped installing wall-to-wall carpeting when it became a standard option in tract homes, they stopped eating so many jello molds and mayonnaise salads when they became the mainstay of every church potluck and school cafeteria. That’s why eating those items now has a strong class connotation.

  7. There were a lot of bad cooks around. These days, people who don’t like to cook, or aren’t good at it, mostly don’t. They can serve a rich variety of prepared foods, and enjoy takeout and restaurants. Why would you labor over something you hate, when someone else will sell you something better for only slightly more than it would cost you to make something bad? […]
  8. Look at the sources of our immigrants. Immigration is still the major way that countries get new foods (if you don’t believe me, go out for Mexican food in any European country and report back). With the notable exception of the Italians, in the 19th century, most immigrants were from places with short growing seasons and bland cuisines, heavy on the cream and carbohydrates. After we restricted immigration in the 1920s, that’s what we were left with until immigrants started coming again in the 1960s. Of course, Louisiana had good French food, California and Texas had a Mexican influence, but by and large what we ate in 1960 was about what you’d expect from a German/English/Irish/Eastern European culinary heritage, adapted for modern convenience foods. And people liked it for the same reason I like jello salad: It’s what they were used to.
  9. Entertaining was mandatory. Because people didn’t go to restaurants so much, they spent time having people over, or eating at someone else’s house. If someone had you over, you had to have them over. This meant people had to have “company dinners” they could make, or at least a stock of canapés they could throw together for a cocktail party, even if they weren’t very good at it. Cue the weird focus on prettying everything up, more than occasionally to the detriment of the food itself: if you can’t make it good, you can at least make it pretty, to show people you made an effort.

June 11, 2017

QotD: The role of women in pre-modern society

Filed under: History, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Traditional societies more often than not have less room for the individual than the Western society, which means that projecting our idealized intent onto such societies, and viewing deviation from our norm as “tolerance” is an act of provincial stupidity.

The truth is it has been the Judeo-Christian tradition, flowering into the enlightenment coupled with the material wealth fostered by the industrial revolution and, yes, capitalism (in however small measure it is allowed even in the west) that has allowed our society to develop ideas of self fulfillment, of “pursuit of happiness” which would be considered downright strange in the past.

Note, I’m not implying that we’re perfect. Being human, we can’t be perfect. And if we don’t get lost looking for an imaginary past, our grandchildren might look upon us as intolerant barbarians.

HOWEVER I’m implying looking for lessons in the distant and the primitive does nothing for us here and now, particularly when most of those lessons are crazy made-up stuff.

For instance, what good is it saying that women were revered in pre-history, when we know that more than likely women in pre-contraceptive days and particularly in poor times and places were sort of a baby factory whose life was limited and confined by their biological function? What does it teach women? That merely letting go and daydreaming about a past that never was will make them superior to men?

Is this what we want?

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Inventing the Past — The Great Divorce”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-23.

March 19, 2015

There’s a deep-seated problem with how we measure the so-called “standard of living”

Filed under: Economics, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

My family are tired of hearing me say any variation on the expression “the past is a foreign country”, but I ring the changes on that phrase because it at least frames some of the problem we have in trying to comprehend just how much life has changed even within living memory, never mind more than a couple of generations ago. At the Cato Institute, Megan McArdle tries to avoid saying exactly those words, but the sense is still very much the same:

The generation that fought the Civil War paid an incredible price: one in four soldiers never returned home, and one in thirteen of those who did were missing one or more limbs. Were they better off than their parents’ generation? What about the generation that lived through the Great Depression, many of whom graduated into World War II? Does a new refrigerator and a Chevrolet in the driveway make up for decades and lives lost to the march of history? Or for the rapid increase in crime and civic disorder that marked the postwar boom? Then again, what about African Americans, who saw massive improvements in both their personal liberty and their personal income?

We should never pooh-pooh economic progress. As P.J. O’Rourke once remarked, I have one word for people who think that we live in a degenerate era fallen from a blessed past full of bounty and ease, and that word is “dentistry.” On the other hand, we should not reduce standard of living to (appropriately inflation adjusted) GDP numbers either. Living standards are complicated, and the tools we have to measure what is happening to them are almost absurdly crude. I certainly won’t achieve a satisfying measure in this brief essay. But we can, I think, begin to sketch the major ways in which things are better and worse for this generation. Hopefully we can also zero in on what makes the current era feel so deprived, and our distribution of income so worrisome.

My grandfather worked as a grocery boy until he was 26 years old. He married my grandmother on Thanksgiving because that was the only day he could get off. Their honeymoon consisted of a weekend visiting relatives , during which they shared their nuptial bed with their host’s toddler. They came home to a room in his parents’ house—for which they paid monthly rent. Every time I hear that marriage is collapsing because the economy is so bad, I think of their story.

By the standards of today, my grandparents were living in wrenching poverty. Some of this, of course, involves technologies that didn’t exist—as a young couple in the 1930s my grandparents had less access to health care than the most neglected homeless person in modern America, simply because most of the treatments we now have had not yet been invented. That is not the whole story, however. Many of the things we now have already existed; my grandparents simply couldn’t afford them. With some exceptions, such as microwave ovens and computers, most of the modern miracles that transformed 20th century domestic life already existed in some form by 1939. But they were out of the financial reach of most people.

If America today discovered a young couple where the husband had to drop out of high school to help his father clean tons of unsold, rotted produce out of their farm’s silos, and now worked a low-wage, low-skilled job, was living in a single room with no central heating and a single bathroom to share for two families, who had no refrigerator and scrubbed their clothes by hand in a washtub, who had serious conversations in low voices over whether they should replace or mend torn clothes, who had to share a single elderly vehicle or make the eight-mile walk to town … that family would be the subject of a three-part Pulitzer prize winning series on Poverty in America.

But in their time and place, my grandparents were a boring bourgeois couple, struggling to make ends meet as everyone did, but never missing a meal or a Sunday at church. They were excited about the indoor plumbing and electricity which had just been installed on his parents’ farm, and they were not too young to marvel at their amazing good fortune in owning an automobile. In some sense they were incredibly deprived, but there are millions of people in America today who are incomparably better off materially, and yet whose lives strike us (and them) as somehow objectively more difficult.

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