Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Minor Intellectuals Further Theorize About Selling Out Here

In Organizations, Sociology on February 17, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Editor’s Note: It is nice to see the affinity for the fascinating subject of sartorial conformism on the part of sympathists.  This post is organized as a dialogue, made up of comments to previous posts as well as material written expressly for the colloquy.

Tim Chanecka, Kyoto

Interesting observations, Mr. Inch, and good recollection as well. I would point out further that as one who shared that office with you and MT, it always seemed to me that for most of the rest of us (although if you’ll recall, I also seasonally wore a tie) the choice not to wear a tie was also an act of rebellion against the cultural norm that we were thrust into. In other words, an act of rebellion against a culture that insisted that anything less than a necktie was less than professional. Some of us, I believe you would be included in that group, wanted to be taken seriously as professionals for what we DID, not the packaging in which we did it. I guess that would skew quite seriously the idea that we could become something which we were not by pretending to be it.

At any rate, for me anyway, the wearing o’ the tie has become de rigueur, perhaps for the same reasons MT did and still does it, perhaps because I am in a culture which I cannot change, so I have changed my practices to be more in step with it. It still comes off before I even get out the door in the evening, however.

Dean Williams, Kyoto

What about MY sartorial choices? Something wrong with suspenders and bow ties? It was me, not the slim one, who read and took to heart the self-help smash, “Dress for Success–If You Want to be a Circus Clown.”

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Mr. Inch’s wonderfully ambivalent post deserves a full response, and, at the risk of typecasting Sympathies as a blog focusing on the minutia of social practice, will receive one. For the moment, I would only add that Puritano’s ability to pull off the circus clown look is wholly dependent on the projection of an identity that supports the fashion in question. For those many of us yet to acquire to ability to turn on and turn off more or less at will what for lack of a better word can only be called “charisma”–a conventional, even conservative professional appearance may indeed act as a kind of catalyst through which a measure of social effectiveness may be harnessed. I think that the ambivalence, perhaps even the hint of insecurity, that animates Andrew’s post is precisely born of his uncertainty about how far charisma, charm, and personality can take before he too will need to rethink his rebel pose, his “alternative (…) perhaps less respect-able but nonetheless conformist, relationship to the rules and rituals that regulated life in that particular setting,” and find it in himself to don the noose.

Andrew Inch, United Kingdom

Fascinating stuff, Mr Thomas.  Goffman does indeed provide interesting means for thinking about the self and identity.  I think, however, that in part you have misinterpreted the roots of my ambivalence, and in so doing attribute something rather different to my post than I intended Continue Reading


Of Lincoln, and the Country of my Birth

In Life as Lived on January 25, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Editor’s Note: What follows is a diary entry from 15 months ago assessing life at 33. It will be obvious that this was before Obama’s election, before indeed, he had become a household name, and from a time when the coming economic crisis was already fairly apparent. It should be noted that Sympathies is not a political blog, and this is not primarily a political piece. Still, it reflects a disquiet with the state of the world that, while I certainly don’t retract, has given way, at least temporarily, to a cautious optimism. In other words, for a variety of reasons, it is time for an updated assessment of matters both public and private, but before taking stock of where we are it is wise to recall where we have been. So, without further ado, here is a piece from the time capsule.

young-abe-lincolnIncreasingly, I feel a crisis coming, a point of decision that has been postponed far too long, avoided in fact because of a weakness of will. Either one is destined for action and achievement, or one is not…rather, either one makes the decision to act and to achieve, or one fails to summon the resolve and strength of will, all the while finding new reasons why this should be so.

Case in point: I am a reader and writer first, maybe a talker. What living there is for me lies in these realms; what achievement lies within my grasp ditto. But for a decade I have allowed the regular slide into lassitude to hinder forward movement. Fobbing off the notion that what is done at work is work enough is an unacceptable weakness. But are one’s lack of discipline and minor vices the cause or the symptom of the problem? The answer is the latter; the problem lies deeper. It lies in the character of the age.

People are born into all kinds of situations, situations which imprint their values and norms, their psychoses and their crusades, their taboos and unquestionables. I was born into nothing particular. Or rather, I was born a diffident, private intellectual into a mostly secular household without a governing ideology. Encouraged, but hardly pushed academically, it took me years to even figure out how to approach my potential, and all along the way I have been but infrequently challenged. Have I sought to avoid challenge–fearing that I would not measure up? This is possible. Have I created the conditions for mental atrophy? People have done great work in a variety of life situations–from the depths of debauchery; from the staidness and satiety of the suburban middle-class; from prisons and madhouses; from the gutter and from the palace. Context and daily company cannot be used as an excuse. Continue Reading