1. While we try to stay away from plugging anything too exuberantly, and Lord knows TV/movie recs can make one less likely to watch, not more, still – writer/director Whit Stillman is coming out with a new show on Amazon, Cosmopolitans, which sounds like a not-so-veiled reference to his acclaimed feature debut about young WASP life in NYC. Vanity Fair this week got a preview of the pilot, and TV snobs will be heartened to know that Stillman cited Everybody Loves Raymond and Desperate Housewives as favorites. Cautiously optimistic, Stillman said that even if the show doesn’t get picked up, he’s happy to have just a pilot: “I really feel that my IMDB page will look a little less pathetic.” Anyway, if you don’t have anything better to do, watch/vote for it – Stillman’s as good as it gets, and we couldn’t be more excited.

2. Over at the Onion, a man candidly writes in op-ed form, “I’m Always Open To Feedback That I Can Get Defensive About And Ultimately Ignore”:

That’s all there is to it! Whether it comes from my employer or spouse, a close relative or dear friend, I welcome constructive criticism, invariably become really, really touchy about it, and then never take anyone’s suggestions to heart.

I’m not the kind of person who just closes himself off to the viewpoints of others. I consider my willingness to listen to another person’s concerns while refusing to accept even the smallest portion of the blame one of my greatest strengths. I’m comfortable enough with myself to hear people out for at least a few seconds before I interrupt, grow increasingly combative, decide I don’t want to hear a word they have to say, and then storm out in a huff before they’ve even finished talking…

Try me: If you notice an area in which I could stand to improve and feel like having absolutely zero impact on my behavior, just let me know. I’m all ears when it comes to taking criticism, stewing about it, and then somehow deflecting it back as quickly and snidely as possible while letting my festering resentment take the place of any actual change.

3. Carl Richards at the NYT finally gives David Brooks a run for his money in the sophisticated self-help department (Brooks, we love you) in his article on “Learning to Shun the Instagram Life”. Needless to say, we don’t believe it can be shunned quite to easily, but there’s some good analysis in the pre-“It’s up to you!” section:

The model Cameron Russell explored a similar disconnect in her TEDx talk about modeling. As she noted, even though models have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair, they’re also the most insecure people you’ll ever meet [physically] because they’re always judged by their looks. According to Ms. Russell, a woman who started modeling at 16, she is insecure because she has to think constantly about what she looks like. So, even as we envy the beautiful people, perhaps they’re envying us for looking average.

Reminds me of Deresiewicz’s Ivy League article a couple weeks back. Why are fund managers (like Richards) often insecure about financial success, models physical ‘perfection’, A-students academic success, and so on? Meeting the standard can be worse than failing it; meeting the standard tempts us to buy into it – this is extremely important – and take short-to-medium-run affirmation at the price of long-run neuroses. There’s also a little bit of Campbell’s/Luther’s Law(s) here; the desire for ‘success’ in any category may help bring about failure:

They’re only stories. Let’s say all those things happened. By making these stories our focus, we’ll never be satisfied. There will always be something else we don’t have that someone else does, and our envy becomes a trigger for all the bad behavior we’re supposedly trying to avoid. After all, it’s really hard to focus on saving as much as we can and sticking with our financial plan if those things get in the way of having what we think we want right now.

I’m feeling a little too lazy right now to pursue whatever holiness/spirituality analogy there is, but I get the sense there is one. Parallels ad nauseam on the Campbell’s link above.

k101884. In social science, Stephen T. Asma critiques Terry Eagleton and Roger Scruton, who have both written books on the phenomenon of religion with more nuance and balance than Dawkins et al, for being too cerebral and failing to consider the ‘working-class’ majority, for whom religion is “a set of feelings (affects) first, group identity second, and beliefs only last.” As chronological priority, it probably works; as logical priority, it’s hopelessly reductive and sociologically determined, as one might reasonably (and sadly) expect from the discussion about religion today. Worth the read for an overview of Scruton and Eagleton, not so much for any of Asma’s insights.

At the New Republic, art critic Jed Perl claims that “Liberals Are Killing Art.” Not that the Right doesn’t have its frequent bouts of iconoclasm, but Perl’s mainly using the word in the more traditional, less party-implying sense (I think so – hard to tell (did the editor just give it a click-baity title?)) Anyway, it’s certainly worth reading:

The erosion of art’s imaginative ground, often blamed on demagogues of the left and the right, is taking place in the very heart of the liberal, educated, cultivated audience—the audience that arts professionals always imagined they could count on…

The trouble with the reasonableness of the liberal imagination is that it threatens to explain away what it cannot explain. Nowhere in the past seventy-five years has this tendency to bring art’s unruly power into line with some more general system of social, political, and moral values been more pronounced than in the efforts of scholars, critics, and the public to reconcile their admiration for the experimental adventures of twentieth-century literature with the authoritarian, fascist, and anti-Semitic views of some of the greatest modern writers. Let me again emphasize that I believe there is no question that many of the views of W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound are repugnant and ought to be regarded as repugnant; and in the case of Pound, his actions during World War II, when he broadcast on behalf of Mussolini, surely rise to the level of treason. What interests me here is the insistence, when treating these admittedly extreme cases, on some fundamental link between artistic and political or social expression. I know why that link is emphasized. The rational mind, with its desire for logical equations, is upset by the idea that a great artist can be a bad person, and would perhaps prefer that the art also look bad, or at least be tainted. And behind this desire for a logical equation is the liberal imagination’s refusal to believe that art can lay claim to some irreducible mystery and magic.

5. Prospect magazine recounts a trip to Hawaii, a place which was very depressing because no one was allowed to be depressed. He meets a Hawaiian who’s jealous of his Britishness (there you can be depressed and it’s normal), and they speak a little about how pressure to be happy can actually inhibit what it commands.

It turned out that she was a specialist in depression. I said, “But we’re in Hawaii—surely no one can be depressed here? Aren’t these supposed to be ‘The Happy Isles?’ Isn’t this the land of ‘aloha?’”

She pointed out to me that: (1) In Hawaii the same ratio of people are depressed as anywhere else; (2) The problem with Hawaii is that you are expected to be happy—by idiots like me, for example—so that when you are depressed, you are not just depressed, you feel guilty about being depressed too, so you’re doubly screwed; (3) And, finally, because Hawaii is technically the United States too, if you’re depressed, guilty and broke as well, when you’re supposed to be affluent, then you’re in triple trouble.

“Yep,” she concluded, “Hawaii really sucks.” The problem is that we are now suffering the Hawaiianisation of everywhere. The Happy Isles of Great Britain? Sounds as much of an oxymoron as Antarctic agriculture. Coming out as “depressed” has become all the rage—among cricketers, footballers, even surfers (and, unbelievably, one old Italian café-owner I happen to know, who is now on Prozac instead of a hearty diet of raw chilli and double espressos).

But the spread of depression is partly a side-effect of our addiction to happiness. Conversely, understanding why we are so miserable should liberate us from being too miserable about it. We can feel good about feeling bad. In other words, we need a decent philosophy of failure to save everyone from thinking what failures they are.

Extras: This week’s Grace in Practice Award goes to state law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri, who were able to de-escalate protests over this week’s tragic shooting of an unarmed civilian by a local officer. After mob-defense tactics had been slowly making the situation worse, state police walked unarmed and unprotected in the midst of a crowd. Our prayers are with Ferguson.

And the Awkward Ecumenism Award goes to the largely Roman Catholic First Thingswhich published a feature arguing that Reformed Christianity is the Church’s most viable way forward. Perhaps it takes a certain amount of ecclesiological geekiness to find this entertaining, but a couple of highlights:

Christianity needs to be realistic both in its theo­logy and in its liturgy. With the central place it gives to the singing of the Psalter [!], the Reformed tradition ministers to the hearts and minds of Christians set for cultural exile…

Christianity is moving to the margins of American life, and Christians are heading into cultural exile. The question is: How will we survive? The answer is: as Paul did in the first century.