Friday, August 12, 2011

Video Essay: Defining Hipsters

An approved topic for the Regent's exam is to "discuss a stereotype that you once believed but that later proved inaccurate." Stereotyping is defined as "a generalization about a group of people whereby we attribute a defined set of characteristics to this group based on their appearance or our assumptions."

Stereotypes are definitions - we define a certain group by their "group" actions, or perceived group actions by using extended definitions. But are stereotypes always bad? Sometimes we use stereotypes to help us quickly identify and make sense of the world around us. They allow us to make predictions about what to expect from those stereotypes. It costs us relatively little psychologically, we don't have to deal with, or don't have to modify our behavior, because we know how those stereotyped are going to act. But most of all, they are beliefs that are shared, otherwise we wouldn't stereotype in the first place. So stereotypes are superficial, giving us just enough material to get us into some serious trouble. When we let assumptions, or stereotypes, rule our behavior that is when we can get into difficulties.

But we love to laugh at stereotypes . . .

According to Andy Fram at James Madison University's breezejmu "Most people fit stereotypes to some degree. There used to be plausible credibility for denying such horrible accusations. You used to be able to say, 'I wasn't any stereotype. I definitely wasn't a bro, I sure as hell wasn't no smelly hippie, I was my own person.' But then they invented hipsters and you couldn't get away with that anymore."

College humor offers us a definitional visual essay of Hipsters.

So why is it okay to laugh at this stereotype? Is it because Hipsters self-identify as such, because they cultivate the Hipster brand/look?

Another common college essay prompt asks students to "Write an essay in which you define yourself in terms of your race or ethnicity." Does this mean that stereotypes are valid, or unoffensive, if they are autobiographical; when we are asked to define ourselves because of our heritage, family, or community?

We form stereotypes when we run across a broad sample of specific behavior, or presentations of such. Do you think the media has some responsibility for the stereotypes we share? (Remember it takes a whole society to make sense of stereotypes).

When are stereotypes useful? When are they hurtful? Do you think the stereotyped Hipster will prove inaccurate, or do you think it is something those Hipsters are proud of? Can you think of other stereotypes that people are proud of? Can you define yourself based on some stereotype you are proud of?

Video Essay: Classifying and Dividing College Roomates

Students are often asked to write Classification/Division essays that either break apart a whole into parts (Division), or sort items into categories (Classification). A popular prompt for this assignment is to classify roommates into categories - as does this video from

The video essay takes the broad category of Roommates and then subdivides it into Monsters. From there it divides monstrous roommates into six different kinds from "The Robot" to "The Zombie."

How would you classify your former or current roommates? Can you think of a broad category of roommates (like monsters) and then subdivide it further?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Debt, Red Herrings, and the Church of Global Warming

James Taranto wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal on the Anti-debt ceiling Republicans that wound up at the global warming issue, an issue that has divided people. An issue that has removed the lens from such environmental disasters as drought-driven famine in Somalia to indigenous cooking fires which "Kill a million and a half people and nobody gives a damn. But become a part of this big climate thing and everyone comes knocking on your door," at least that's what Burkhard Bilger reports in "Hearth Surgery" from The New Yorker, but I digress . . .

James Taranto, a conservative writer, reports that liberals believe, “Some of the congressional Republicans who are preventing action to help the economy are simply intellectual primitives who reject modern economics on the same basis that they reject Darwin and climate science.

"Darwin is a red herring here. Although disparaging people for holding harmless religious beliefs as 'intellectual primitives' is awfully uncivil, we agree . . . that people who 'reject' the theory of natural selection are mistaken.

In argumentation a red herring is a fallacy where an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. So how is Darwin a red herring when it comes to economics? Read on . . .

Taranto goes on to say, "But the comparison between Keynesian economics and global warmism is on target. Both are liberal dogmas disguised, increasingly thinly, as science. Both are supported by circular logic, and thus lack falsifiability, a necessary characteristic of a scientific theory. If the weather gets warmer, that's because of global warming; if it gets colder, that's 'climate change' and proves the theory too. Had unemployment stayed below 8%, as the Obama administration promised it would, that would have proved the 'stimulus' worked; since it peaked at 10% and has held steady above 9%, that proves the stimulus wasn't big enough. Heads I win, tails you lose.”

Here Taranto mentions another logical fallacy--circular reasoning. A circular argument restates the same problem in a different way, such as, "The roads are congested because too many people are driving." Can you see the circle in Taranto's presentation about the debt debate?

A recent article in the The Chronicle of Higher Ed by Laurie Fendrich begins by saying, "I argued that because the majority of the Republican Party is against basic science, the time has come 'for people who are educated to boldly stop pretending that being a Republican is a viable option for an educated person.'" She goes on to connect "global-warming deniers" to the debt crisis. When studying perceived media bias think about why pundits choose certain labels. Obviously, "global-warming deniers" is a reference to "Holocaust-deniers," people who believe that the Holocaust never happened. But it was the vitriol of Professor Fendrich's opinion piece that caught my attention and reminded me of something Freeman Dyson wrote in the foreword to The Best Science and Nature Writing of 2010.

"Environmentalism has now replaced Marxism as the leading secular religion of our age. Environmentalism as a religious movement, with a mystical reverence for nature and a code of ethics based on responsible human stewardship of the planet is already strong and is likely to grow stronger."

Prof. Fendrich's piece reminds one of those "hell fire and brimstone" preachers of old. In the case of climate change, maybe she should consider why there are skeptics in the first place? As the global warming religion heats up, some are skeptical of prophets who profit, such as Al Gore who left office a relative pauper and now lives in splendor with digs in Nashville, Arlington, and Malibu after garnering a Nobel Prize and Academy Award for global warming projects.

Fendrich and Taranto are ideologically opposed, one is a liberal and the other a conservative, so don't expect them to agree. When you begin writing arguments, remember to avoid fallacies and address counterarguments. Yes, you must respond to counterarguments and you should do so in a respectful and logical manner, no matter how "stupid" you think the opposing side.