Sunday, August 29, 2010

Light Sunday Reading

Three interesting articles worth your time today. First, on the practice of ageism. When we think of ageism (discrimination based on age) we usually couch the debate in terms of mistreatment of the elderly. In an ironic twist, we now have retirement communities actively discriminating against young people, to the point of "hunting for children" and kicking them out.

They leave tracks and make unique sounds. Newborns bellow, toddlers shriek and teenagers play music that is not typical around Sun City.

Mr. Szentmiklosi and his fellow child-hunters have their work cut out for them. The number of age violations in Sun City, a town of more than 40,000 residents outside Phoenix, has been rising markedly over the years, from 33 in 2007 to 121 in 2008 to 331 last year, a reflection of a trend at many of the hundreds of age-restricted communities nationwide.

The vigorous search for violators of Sun City’s age rules is about more than keeping loud, boisterous, graffiti-scrawling rug rats from spoiling residents’ golden years, although that is part of it. If Sun City does not police its population, it could lose its special status and be forced to open the floodgates to those years away from their first gray hair.

The end result would be the introduction of schools to Sun City, then higher taxes and, finally, an end to the Sun City that has drawn retirees here for the last half-century.

As if we don't marginalize the elderly enough already in this country, now the elderly themselves (and their bizarre network of "child hunters") are working over-time to isolate the rest of us from environs like Sun City (I'm reminded of that 80's song by Little Steven "I Ain't Gonna Play Sun City").

And do these communities really cater to and attract people in their 50's? What exactly does a 55 year old have in common with an 85 year old (other than nothing)? I think I'd go out the window before I ever agreed to live in one of these mausoleums.

But maybe the elderly are hunting children because children are crazy...literally. One of my favorite topics is explored in-depth in this Sunday NYT Magazine article: Can Children Be Depressed?

Is it really possible to diagnose such a grown-up affliction in such a young child? And is diagnosing clinical depression in a preschooler a good idea, or are children that young too immature, too changeable, too temperamental to be laden with such a momentous label? Preschool depression may be a legitimate ailment, one that could gain traction with parents in the way that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) and oppositional defiant disorder (O.D.D.) — afflictions few people heard of 30 years ago — have entered the what-to-worry-about lexicon. But when the rate of development among children varies so widely and burgeoning personalities are still in flux, how can we know at what point a child crosses the line from altogether unremarkable to somewhat different to clinically disordered?
The short answer, of course, is that you can't. The reason why "few people had heard of these afflictions 30 years ago" is because they hadn't been invented yet. Via Labeling theory, we come to understand the medicalization of deviance, the power of Big Pharma and the psychiatric-industrial complex, and how this kind of over-pathologizing serves as a form of social control.

Finally, as if that isn't enough light beach reading material for you, how about a brief review of the Symbolic-Interaction hypothesis known as Sapir-Whorf, which posits that the language we speak shapes our reality (heads up, 1101 students):
For decades, Whorf’s theory dazzled both academics and the general public alike. In his shadow, others made a whole range of imaginative claims about the supposed power of language, from the assertion that Native American languages instill in their speakers an intuitive understanding of Einstein’s concept of time as a fourth dimension to the theory that the nature of the Jewish religion was determined by the tense system of ancient Hebrew.

Eventually, Whorf’s theory crash-landed on hard facts and solid common sense, when it transpired that there had never actually been any evidence to support his fantastic claims. The reaction was so severe that for decades, any attempts to explore the influence of the mother tongue on our thoughts were relegated to the loony fringes of disrepute. But 70 years on, it is surely time to put the trauma of Whorf behind us. And in the last few years, new research has revealed that when we learn our mother tongue, we do after all acquire certain habits of thought that shape our experience in significant and often surprising ways.

Excellent. I've always favored Whorf's work (despite the methodological criticisms), so it's nice to see him and his thesis receive the love.

Happy Sunday.

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