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The Red Bead Experiment

What can we learn about life and work from a bunch of little white and red beads mixed together? Quite a bit, actually. If you’ve never heard of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, you’re hardly alone. He’s been dead for over 20 years, and had already passed away before I’d first heard of him. What he will likely be most remembered for is being instrumental in Japan’s economic revitalization following World War II.

Are We Too Specialized?

Today’s economy is based on ever narrower specialization–people who know their specific domains inside and out, even if they don’t know much else. But this might be leading to greater problems in the future. Specialization only became possible as technology advanced, requiring workers with special knowledge in order to do their jobs. In the past, certain trades were also specialized, and such knowledge was kept within that profession. Apprentices learned from experienced tradesmen, and so it was in many kinds of work for hundreds of years.

Nation States and Independence

Why does national independence matter? What does it even mean? Prior to the 18th century, nations as we understand them did not exist. Political borders existed, certainly, but these were drawn up by various monarchs and despots to delineate their territory. Individuals feeling affinity toward the political body under whose boundaries they lived was uncommon. Once that began to change, though–as modern ideas of nations and political participation took hold–individuals started identifying with nations.

Failures of Liberalism

There is presently a rising tide of right-wing sentiment in Western countries. These aren’t happening in a vacuum–they represent what are, ultimately, failures of liberalism. Brexit, the Tea Party, Donald Trump, and right-wing movements throughout Europe are reflecting changing attitudes that threaten to upend the established order. It’s easy to dismiss right-wing reactionaries as ignorant, racist xenophobes. Often times, that’s exactly what they are. But when they become numerous enough, when they have enough support, it doesn’t matter whether or not they’re wrong.

The Danger of Bad Metaphors

When comparing two groups of people by way of metaphor, make sure it says what you mean to say about each group. An ill-conceived metaphor can undo your argument, and needlessly damage others in the process. This is primarily a response to a New Republic piece by Jeet Heer, released yesterday. Entitled “Breaking Mad,” it compares the Republican Party’s embrace of white supremacy to drug addiction. Imagine an autopsy that concludes the cause of death was a drug overdose.

Institutional Resilience

We all know that large organizations are resistant to change, but why? And is that always a bad thing? Most of us probably take for granted that, the larger an organization is–be it a company, a government, or some other group of people working together–the more difficult it is to make sweeping changes to the organization’s functions. This tendency is derisively referred to as “bureaucracy” and “institutional inertia.” But another way to describe it is “resilience.

What are Safe Spaces Good for?

So-called “safe spaces” get criticized as zones where everything “uncomfortable” is banned, dissenting ideas are quashed, and people are shielded from conflict to the point of being infantilized. But is that really what’s happening? The origin of the “safe space” concept is uncertain. _Dissent_ Magazine offers a few possibilities: The term “safe space” has multiple origin stories—Moira Kenney’s _Mapping Gay L.A. _links safe spaces to gay and lesbian bars, where, as Malcolm Harris [described](http://fusion.

Thoughts on White Pride

What is “white pride” and how does it manifest? Is any aspect of it salvageable, or is it hopelessly racist and xenophobic? We live in a culture in which various minorities are permitted–encouraged, even–to express pride in who they are. Gay pride, black pride, Latino pride, female pride. Everybody’s proud! But the very phrase “white pride” brings to mind rallies of neo-Nazis, hooded Ku Klux Klan members burning crosses, and other uncomfortable scenes of violence and bigotry.

A Crisis of Legitimacy

Right-wing populists seem to be cropping up everywhere these days. What gives? It’s not just Donald Trump in the US, either, though he’s the most salient, evocative example. Conservative anti-government movements have been rising in Europe, as well. It’s becoming less and less common for political parties to engage faithfully with one another–to recognize that, while they may disagree on particular issues, they all ultimately want what’s best for the country and its people.

Freedom and Capitalism

For Americans, it seems that freedom and capitalism have, at some point in our history, become interchangeable concepts. There is no freedom without the ability to own and control capital, and capital that cannot be used as its owner wishes cannot be considered freedom. But is this really right? You’ve probably guessed already that the answer is “no.” But it’s why that matters. How did we come to link these ideas together, and what purpose does it serve?