Tag Archives: sociology

The Rise (or Return?) of the Post-Secularist

Last week, my news feed blew up with a surprising announcement: the “Post-Seculars” have arrived.

Before I get into what exactly that’s supposed to mean, let’s deal with the source of this news.  This new classification of human being comes to us from an article published in the American Sociological Review, and is based on data collected from the General Social Survey (GSS), a biennial survey of American households that, among other things, asks respondents about their attitudes regarding religion and the sciences, as well as general familiarity with facts about the latter.

Now, that’s about as much background as you’ll get from your standard internet source, but fortunately for you I’m a nerd, so I read the actual paper (with skimming.  I’m not a robot).  Basically, participants in the GSS were asked a lot of questions like: “does science increase opportunities for the next generation,” “should science receive more government funding,” “is the Bible the actual word of God,” etc.  Yes, the religion portion is absurdly Judeo-Christian-biased, but they tried to cover more ground with some personal rankings of general religiosity.  In addition, the participants were asked to answer some questions to test scientific knowledge, like: “does radioactivity occur naturally?”

Our sociologist friends found that 43% of participants adhered to what they refer to in the article as the “traditional” perspective (religiously focused with little to no understanding of/appreciation for science) and 36% could be labelled as “Moderns” (the opposite of Traditionals).  The remaining 21 percent were something in between.

But not “in-between” like Richard Dawkins playing dress-up with Papal robes.

Continue reading

Not Strictly Literary: 6 Unexpected Subjects You Learn About in English

I’m currently in the last year of my English undergraduate degree. Well, kinda. I will probably have to do an extra semester to finish off my credits completely, but after next semester I will have finally finished all my English requirements.

Like many students, I kind of fell into my major. In my first year of full time studies I was seriously considering a degree in economics, or anthropology. Until I took a class in those subjects and quickly changed my mind. Once I started figuring out what kind of classes I actually liked, I started talking about doing my degree in Sociology, Political Science, or Environmental Ethics. Then, when I transferred to UVic, I decided I would take their writing program. Well I thought I was decided, until I was invited to join the English Honours program. That invitation totally went to my head and I dropped everything in order to pursue that (very structured) program.

Because of the number of required English classes (and because I blew many of my elective classes during first year), I’ve been taking pretty-well only English classes for the last two years. During that time, I began to ask myself if I had made the best choice. After all, English is really just reading books, isn’t it? Couldn’t I do that in my own time?

Ah, reading for fun/relaxation. Can’t wait until I get to do that again.

Now that I’m getting close to the end of my degree, I’m able to look back and be thankful for (almost) all of the English classes I needed to take. Yes, I still feel like there are a million others I wish I could have taken, but I think I would have felt that way regardless of my major. There are more fantastic courses out there than what you can possibly fit into one undergraduate degree.

Getting close to the end has also allowed me to reflect on the many English courses I have taken and realize just how broad a range of subjects they actually address. I’ve included a few examples below.


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One of the texts we are translating for our final project.

I’m currently finishing off a class on Middle English that I did not want to take. Not at all. I’m required to take a class in early English literature, so I chose this class after a friend recommended the professor. I was then pleasantly surprised to find that it was a fantastic class. It was also not at all what I was expecting.

English has evolved considerably since the 12th century, so it’s hardly surprising that trying to read Middle English texts is like reading an entirely different language.

At the beginning of the class our professor touched on many of the other languages that have influenced the formation of the English language. Then, as the class progressed, a lot of the work we did in class involved translating various works. The translation process required a basic understanding of how to parse language, something I had almost no experience with. Like many English speakers, sentence structure is something I know intuitively, not something I’ve intentionally learned. However, if my experience in Quebec this summer taught me anything, it’s that knowing how to break down language is key to learning a new one. So I’m hopeful that the linguistic skills I’ve been struggling to learn in this class will help me with my future language learning goals. Continue reading

Facebook Censorship: A Sign of the Times?

source: serc.net The internet was recently given a leak of Facebook’s censorship standards. Amine Derkaoui, a previous “employee” of Facebook (employee is in quotes here because he was paid $1 an hour plus commission, which is, in a word, horrid) was so disgruntled that he gave Gawker the handbook used by Derkaoui and other assumedly disgruntled workers to know which photographs and comments to censor on Facebook, which ones to send upwards for decision by an administrator, and which ones were ok. Gawker published the one-page “cheat sheet” summarizing the standards on their website.

source: gawker.com

A summary of Facebook's censorship standards, leaked to Gawker

This gives an interesting perspective of what is considered “acceptable” and tasteful by popular consensus. Ear wax is censored, snot is not? (I guess if it was, millions of baby pictures would have to be deleted). For example, the “cheat sheet” says that “Digital/cartoon nudity” should be censored, but “Art nudity ok”, excluding all digitally created images from “art”, which is sort of a surprisingly passe way for Facebook to define things.

Something interesting about the released standard is the fact that it is clearly representing three categories of social unacceptability. The first, the depiction, commitment, planning, or lauding of criminal activity, is expected in a list like this – sexual assault, organized crime, nudity, and hard drugs are pretty normal in a “delete this” list for any censorship website.

The second category is more nuanced – I can only describe this second category as anything which debases humanity. This includes more obvious things like human organs, mutilation, violent speech, or anything encouraging or lauding mutilation or defacement of the human body (and, in some cases, animals). This also applies to willing defacement: threats of suicide, self-harm, and anything promoting eating disorders – this is interesting in light of the fact that pro-ana groups are still on Facebook. Maybe closed groups are immune to censorship – or the people getting paid next to nothing in other countries just haven’t caught them yet.

Another example of the censorship of non-illegal debasement of humanity: the prohibition of any photoshopped pictures of humans, “whether negative, positive, or neutral.” This is interesting; perhaps it is simply the case that it’s too hard to gauge the positive or negative spin of a photoshopped picture, but I think this rule isn’t just about bullying – it’s about the fact that Facebook doesn’t want to turn into Reddit (if they don’t, then they should stop trying to be Tumblr and take away the “follow” option). Their prohibition of any “versus” photo – any image grafting two photographs of people side by side in comparison – would be for the similar reason of “trying to keep Facebook untacky”. This rule is especially ironic considering Mark Zuckerberg’s famous-now-that-we’ve-all-seen-The-Social-Network first project facemash.com. Prohibitions of holocaust denial fall under the goal of no human debasement – but they apply to the third category as well.

The third and final category I’ll call “Nobody Get Mad At Us Please.” The most interesting rule in this one is the censorship of any maps of a part of Turkey (Kurdistan) and the prohibition of language or images against Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, as those laws seem suspiciously anti-free-speech-ish, and Turkey is a part of the UN.

The internet as it is currently developing has been compared to the semimythical Wild West of early American history – looking back in 50 years on this time, we’ll probably be astonished at how unregulated everything was. Governments just don’t have a good enough grasp on this new platform for data and information to be able to figure out how to effectively and efficiently (and ethically) regulate it – yet. This conversation applies to file sharing and copyright infringement as well, but Facebook’s censorship guidelines illuminate a more necessarily practical standard – things made up by businesses and not government are almost always more necessarily practical, if perhaps less ethically consistent.

Fairy-Tale Weddings and the Decline of Marriage

So marriage is less popular than it was 50 years ago (this may not be terribly surprising but which I am going to back up with SCIENCE): a study by the Pew Research Center (my new favorite thing) revealed that while in 1960 72% of adults were married, only 51% were in 2010. The median age of first marriages also went up like 6 years – 28.7 for men and 26.5 for women; up from 22.8 and 20.3 (respectively) in 1960.

A lot of comments on these statistics revolve around the idea that marriage is being taken less seriously, which certainly has merit: the rising divorce rate makes divorce a less socially discouraged decision and therefore diminishes the permanent sense of the commitment taken. Also, varied living options and mobile societies make the legal ramifications of marriage more public; no longer a church ceremony involving the boy down the street and a community event, marriage is for many people predominately about tax laws and the legal status, not the community proclamation.

And yeah, those things are probably true. But I suggest that there might be another factor: that, as much as marriage is becoming unimportant socially, we are taking weddings way too seriously psychologically.

For the Millenials (born between 1980 and 2000), weddings were presented to us as the Happy Ending to stories. Marriage was the denoument – the end-all-be-all – the MacGuffin. Disney movies, early romantic comedies, books, and plays all dramatize the beginning of a relationship – before commitment, when things are exciting (right?) – and a wedding at the end serves as the success. The idea of a princess wedding fascinated females (I wasn’t/am not by any means a very girly girl, for example, and even I can remember slumber party discussions of wedding colors, flower selections, and first-dance-song-choices) of our entire generation.

source: madameguillotine.comThis may have had something to with Princess Di’s wedding – or at least, that wedding didn’t hinder the fairy tale story by any rate. Kate and William’s wedding will serve a similar (if possibly less dramatic) purpose for the continuation of the happy-ending weddings portrayed in fiction.

So we, in a weird, way, take marriage way too seriously – idealistically. We fetishize it. It has to be Perfect – and so we have modest weddings costing about $10,000 and shows like Bridezillas, a half-and-half(ish) divorce rate, and the married adult population decreasing by about a third in 50 years. Fairy-tale representations of weddings may be part of the cause of marriage’s approachingly fictional status.

This increase in expectations in our generation might also affect the increase in marriage age – the tendency among young adults now is to become established (don’t get married before you own your own home!) and stable before marriage, instead of going through that scarier economic climb with your spouse. The wedding has to be perfect, and so does the relationship and your economic status – and so we wait.

Is this a bad thing? After all, 44% of Millenials think that marriage is becoming an obsolete institution. Cohabitation is increasingly popular. One possible trouble might lie in the instability of couples leading to more single, economically depressed parents, raising children and working on their own: quite the contrast to the fairy-tale weddings we grew up hearing about.