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“Get off my lawn”-blogging

Jay Livingston critiques the recent pronouncements of sociologist and cigarette shill Peter Berger, who recently has moved into cultural criticism of New York’s mayor for living with “a woman to whom he is not married” (this is apparently a European sort of thing, I guess they don’t have unmarried partners in the parts of the U.S. where Berger hangs out).

But what impresses me is that Berger is doing regular blogging at the age of 84, writing a long essay each week. That’s really amazing to me. Some of the blogging is a bit suspect, for example the bit where he claims that he personally could convert gays to heterosexual orientation (“A few stubborn individuals may resist the Berger conversion program. The majority will succumb”)—but, really, you gotta admire that he’s doing this. I hope I’m that active when (if) I reach my mid-80s. (As a nonsmoker, I should have a pretty good chance of reaching that point.)

P.S. More rant at the sister blog.

P.P.S. In comments, Mark Palko reports that author/editor Frederik Pohl is blogging at age 92! Pohl’s blog appears to be less get-off-my-lawn and more reminiscences (for example, this memoir of Ray Bradbury).


  1. Mark Palko says:

    I think I’d go a bit further than “less get-off-my-law.” Pohl apparently hasn’t experienced the rightward shift we normally associate with seniors. (I wonder how common this is among people who came of age during the Depression) (note the link to Daily Kos)

  2. Lee Sechrest says:

    Well, come on!I think I deserve a little bit of credit for the fact that I am still reading blogs like this one at the age of 83.

  3. John Mashey says:

    Mark: can you expand on
    ‘Pohl apparently hasn’t experienced the rightward shift we normally associate with seniors.’

    I.e., can you explain what you meant and maybe cite some sources, as there are multiple interpretations possible.

    I am interested in topic from a related angle: if one looks at groups active in climate anti-science (like Heartland Institute climate conferences, or the physicists who signed a petition to the American Physical Society to change its position on global warming from a standard one to a “we know nothing”), such groups exhibit a strong skew towards older, white male, and often strongly conservative.

    That does not mean old implies more conservative, nor does it even mean old+conservative means anti-science. (As a fine counter-example to the latter, there is George Shultz, who at 90+ gushes over his solar panels and Nissan Leaf.)

    Anyway, do you mean that:
    a) Liberals/moderates get less so.
    b) Conservatives get more so.
    or some combination, or something different?

    • Mark Palko says:


      Actually I was questioning what I saw as the conventional wisdom that equates older with more conservative. I suspect that actual relationship is more complex and I’d like to see some research on the question.

      I also wonder if coming of age in 1930-45 might tend to produce greater empathy and willingness to act collectively to solve social problems, particularly compared with coming of age from, say, 1950 to 1965. It seems possible that spending formative years with hardship or the threat of hardship would create a life-long difference in attitudes. I’ve seen anecdotal evidence of this but I’d like to see something a bit more solid.

      I suspect that a twenty year old who held liberal values i945 was more likely to retain them than a twenty year old who held liberal values in 1970 but without data that’s just a guess.

      Maybe Andrew has some relevant numbers.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        My father (1917-2012) always grumbled about the “fat cats.” As a Wall Street Journal reader, I would point out that William Howard Taft wasn’t Chief Justice of the Supreme Court anymore, that these days the rich are less fat than the poor. But, for some reason, that never persuaded him that the WSJ Editorial Page was the fount of all wisdom.

  4. Andreas Baumann says:

    To be honest, I find it unsurprising that someone whose magnum opus was called “The Social Construction of Reality” (’66, with Thomas Luckmann) and who has done work in the study of religious conversion, especially NRMs, believes that gays can be converted. However, I think he grossly overestimates how efficient such a program – given our current knowledge – would be. Consider that the Moonies’ infamous “brain-washing” only converted 1%-2% of recruits(!).

    • Andrew says:


      Yes, Berger’s claim that of an above-50% conversion rate seems like some combination of bragging and wishful thinking, as is his claim that Americans outside of NYC would not vote for a politician living with his girlfriend.

      In these cases, the difficulty with a concept such as “the social construction of reality” is that there can be many social constructions but there is only one reality. Berger can construct and construct all he’d like, but that won’t turn gay people into straight people and it won’t stop Americans from voting for politicians who are living with their unmarried partners.

      On the other hand, based on a quick look at the comments on Berger’s blog, he can go on writing silly things like this for awhile without his core readers questioning him. To them too, perhaps, gay people are easily convertible in their sexual orientation and Americans outside of NYC are unwilling to vote for politicians living with their unmarried partners (the evidence of Los Angeles; Houston; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; and Hickman, Kentucky notwithstanding). That’s one way misinformation gets spread: an authoritative source makes iffy statements in a venue where they are not questioned, and people believe what they read. In this case, I was bothered enough by this to blog on it.

      • Andreas Baumann says:

        I think it depends on what you understand “homosexuality” to be, since it has (at least) three components: attraction, identification and practice. If you consider homosexuality to be defined mostly by whether you experience attraction primarily to members of your own sex, then “converting gays” is a lot harder than it is if you consider it primarily a matter of discouraging same-sex sexual relationsships. But something else, which is also very interesting, is in play here – which Berger also points to this in his depiction of how we’ve experienced “A shift in the advocacy of homosexual rights from freedom of choice to respect for destiny.”

        In other words, the classical approach for LGBT rights was consistent with the frame-work of the liberal state: people should be allowed to do what they please, as long as they do not cause harm to others. This was the classical approach, exactly because – as Michel Foucault wrote – “the sodomite was a recidivist, but the homosexual is a species”. As long as the dominant conception of “homosexuality” is performing an illicit or ill act, then it’s perfectly plausible to “cure homosexuals”, in the sense of imposing celibacy or some such. However, with the internalization of homosexuality – with it becoming an identity and not an action – we find such an idea of conversion abhorrent. Whether it is possible: I don’t really know. Working with new religious movements, as I do, you stumble into some rather strong conversion stories. Supplemented by a psychotropic drug regimen, I suppose you could push the efficiency a great deal upwards. Of course I personally – like Berger – do not believe one should embark on such endeavours.

        (I refrain from commenting on the marriage thing, because I honestly do not know very much about the matter at hand).

        • Andrew says:


          I agree that Berger’s reflections on these depictions are interesting. But his claim about being able to convert people just seems silly. He’s making an extreme claim with no evidence. And it doesn’t help that earlier in his blog post he made an extreme claim (on how Americans would vote) that is falsified by data. He just seems like a big talker, full of swaggering certainty.

          • Andreas Baumann says:

            “[…] Last scene of all, / That ends this strange eventful history, / Is second childishness and mere oblivion, / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” (Shakespeare).

  5. Andreas Baumann says:

    On another note: speaking of geriatric bloggers, anarchist political philosopher Robert Paul Wolff has a blog over at