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TOPIC: sociology


Spain, A Perfect Political Graveyard Of Old Left And Right

If the Left is increasingly fighting to preserve hard-won social victories, and the Right wants change, what does the traditional Left-Right division mean anymore?


MADRID — It has long been said that the Left is more prone to rifts because its aim is to free people from all forms of exploitation. But now, it is the right which deals with the most infighting. Are they now the ones who want the most change, even if that change is made through cuts?

Take architects for example. Some debate about what to build on an empty plot of land, while others discuss how to preserve a building worn down by time. Finding a solution for the latter seems to be faster. Deciding what to create is harder than deciding what to preserve.

That is why, according to popular wisdom and analysis, the Left experiences more divisions than the Right.

Progressive politicians have a positive goal, while conservatives have a negative one. The Left wants to create a new world, and this opens up endless questions. Do we nationalize banks and certain industries? Do we design a social security system, or a Universal Basic Income? Do we cap prices on certain areas, such as rental housing, or do we let the market take its course and then assist the most affected sectors? The God of progress offers infinite paths.

[On Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced that he would dissolve parliament and the country would hold snap national elections on July 23 following the very poor showing of Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) in Sunday's local elections. The center-right People's Party and far-right party Vox gained ground.]

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Fear And Sadness: The Price Of Our Atomized Society

Personal empowerment is a modern social value that fuels loneliness, anxiety and depression. The remedy for those is not pills or "programs," but kindness and sociability.


BUENOS AIRES — Statistics suggest anxiety has become the condition for which medics are most frequently prescribing drugs. Our worries, and our anticipation of pain in its various forms, have become a constant. There has never been as many lonely and isolated people as there are today, with many willingly living this way. Their numbers contribute to and even compound this collective anxiety.

French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) saw the deterioration of communal living as a cause of some of our gravest social problems. The French philosophers, he said, had exalted a "science of the me" instead of a science of "us" that would help forge social individuals. Without an overarching authority or effective moral and legal checks, he observed that it was in fact unfettered selfishness that had flourished since the Enlightenment.

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A "European Union Of Jihadists" — ISIS Has Its Own EU Army


PARIS — The Nov. 13 attacks that saw jihadists slaughter at least 129 people in Paris raise two crucial questions: Who ordered these attacks? And who carried them out?

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Germany Asks: Can We Even Use The Word "Race"?

One of the most controversial words in the German language is the focus of a conference in Dresden, a city that itself is filled with highly charged meaning, past and present.

DRESDEN — "The theme of the conference could not be more relevant," says Klaus Vogel, director of the museum. But he says it without pride, without pleasure, since the most current source of that relevance are the desperate waves of refugees fleeing to Germany.

Beyond the hardships of those arriving, are of course the fears that their arrival can give rise to the resurfacing racism, to prejudice towards the "other." Those who are of another faith, of another culture, of another race.

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Miguel Jurado

A Close (But Not Too Close) Look At Personal Space

Boundaries of personal space can depend on geography and wealth. City planners and interior designers should keep it all in mind when drawing up blueprints for the future.

BUENOS AIRES — The problem with Guille is that he's a close talker. It's not like he has nasty breath or smells bad, but he gets in your face, even as you keep inching back. Leandro is the opposite: You try to move closer to talk to him, and he steps away. As you feel the need to approach a bit more, he again retreats, like in some kind of ritual dance.
A while back, I realized the reason for this is that each of us has our own idea of what represents an ideal distance with people, a bubble that feels neither too crowded nor too distant. Guille's bubble is clearly much smaller than mine, and Leandro's much bigger.
In 1966, anthropologist Edward T. Hall was the first to discuss this subjective frontier, or "personal reaction bubble," which influences our behavior. His book The Hidden Dimension describes four types of space: intimate space (about 46 centimeters around us), which is normally reserved for lovers, children, close relatives, friends and pets; personal space (from 46 to 120 centimeters), used in conversations with friends, colleagues or at gatherings of people you know; social space (120 to 240 centimeters), meant for strangers, new acquaintances or members of recently formed groups; and public space (more than 240 centimeters), used for large gatherings, public speaking, seminars or the theater.
Clearly Guille's personal space is less than 46 centimeters, which is why he's always entering mine, and Leandro's is bigger, which is why his body language always suggests that I'm encroaching on his! Hall was very clear on this: Personal space draws out our comfort zone and psychological security, but it's very difficult to measure. It changes according to personal experiences, culture, the time we live in, age groups and social classes. In the West, for example, Hall's studies found that the average person's personal space extends 60 centimeters from each side of the body, 70 centimeters to the front and 40 behind. But in Latin cultures, it's smaller. Anglo-Saxons seem to require the most.
The personal space divide
There are also social differences. Rich people expect to have larger personal space than the poor, who tend to live closer together. In large cities such as Buenos Aires, personal space tends to be smaller than in the countryside.
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El Subte, the subway in Bogota at rush hour Photo: galio
In some situations, people make exceptions about their personal space because life demands it: taking the subway, getting into the elevator, going to a concert or taking part in protests all require sacrificing personal space a bit. In these cases, people respond differently: they accept the discomfort more graciously, for example, if it's for fun or just for a short while. With public transport, it's different.
Psychologist Robert Sommer says people tolerate crowds on subways, buses and elevators by dehumanizing those next to them. That is, they regard them almost as objects instead of people invading their intimate space. Which explains why people tend not to make eye contact and look so lifeless on the subway.
The point is, distance influences our behavior and should, therefore, be considered when it comes to designing and furbishing buildings. Experiments on human communication have shown, for example, that people prefer to face each other when talking, rather than sitting next to each other. Obviously, you might say, so they can see each other's faces. Yet those studies also show that as personal distance increases, they prefer to sit beside one another, even in the best acoustic conditions. That is, we tend to keep ourselves inside our personal space.
Another finding is that the size of a room determines conversational distance. In smaller rooms, people tend to move closer, rather like my friend Guille.
Daniela Arce Valiente

The Worst Co-Worker Of All? Joe Complainer

Studies show that complaining to colleagues creates a large share of office stress. Two writers recently tried to abstain from sharing their woes for a whole month.

SANTIAGO DE CHILE — Thirteen years ago, when my mom was immersing herself in the Japanese alternative treatment therapy reiki, she shared with me the spiritual practice's five principles.

As I read them, I thought that applying them to my daily life would be an impossible task. Its first two principles advise not to be angry and not to worry. The others are to honor your parents, teachers and the elderly, to earn a living by honorable means, and to show gratitude for everything around you.

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Stefan Ulrich

Lying Power, Humans Can't Always Handle The Truth

Lies and mistrust are spreading throughout society, destroying the relationships between people and states. How could it come this far? And what can be done about it?

MUNICH — At the beginning there was the lie. Well, nearly at the beginning. If you eat from the tree of knowledge you won't die, but rather become like God, so the snake said. Only God knows what would have happened if Eve hadn't believed the lie. But she bit, and man was driven out of the Garden of Eden, and the lie has been with us since.

The lie, and her elegant sister, ruse, had a shining career in mythology and history. It aided Jacob and thereby Isaac. It helped the Greeks win the battle of Troy with the lie of a wooden horse. Later on, various popes justified their claim to power with a forged certificate of a gifted Constantinople. Adolf Hitler claimed Poland had attacked Germany. And Walter Ulbricht never wanted to build a wall.

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Nic Ulmi

Our Prehistory, When Mankind Was Kinder

Scientists are increasingly revising the idea of human nature as inherently competitive and violent. A documentary explores the possibility of a prehistoric "utopia," when people lived without cruelty or war.


LAUSANNE There was a time when there was no violence. It's not a dream, a fable or mere philosophical speculation. The sciences of archaeology, anthropology and evolutionary biology, along with studies of the brain and psyche, are increasingly reconstructing a profile of human nature characterized by empathy and cooperation. It's in sharp contrast to the more generalized perception of humans as inherently violent and competitive.

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Adam Leszczyński

Poland, Where Happiness Goes To Die

Why are Poles such a gloomy and miserable lot, always assuming the worst and refusing to love thy neighbor? It turns out, cheerlessness here has deep roots.


WARSAW — A sudden explosion of frustration from 21-year-old Polish tennis star Jerzy Janowicz, ranked No. 51 in the world, surprised journalists after his recent Davis Cup upset to an unknown Croatian junior ranked No. 668.

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Lan Fang

Beijing's Broken Policy Of Population Control

BEIJING — China's central government has imposed new requirements to severely limit the population in the country's "mega-cities." In the booming capital, whose population has topped 20 million, the focus has been on using economic regulations to stem the rising number of inhabitants.

“Controlling the population by controlling business categories” is one of the key new policies, and includes relocating outside the city limits sectors such as the production of furniture, building materials, garment and small commodity wholesaling.

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Pascale Kremer

The Underpriviledged 'Ghosts' Haunting French Universities

Young people sign up for higher education solely for scholarship money, while officials turn a blind eye to those permanently absent from class. Is this a twisted way to buy social peace?

PERPIGNAN – The sociology exam started less than half an hour ago. In small groups of two or three, a continuous flood of students is leaving the University of Perpignan lecture hall n°4.

None of them answered any of the questions on the test. They only came in to sign the attendance sheet so that they could continue to be eligible for their scholarship. “We just sign and leave as quickly as possible," says one. "Here, we’re being paid to do nothing.”

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Pierre Brechon and Frederic Gonthier

Call Of The "Individual" Links Turkish Protests To French Gay Marriage Debate


PARIS – From the Turkish protests in Istanbul to the French anti gay-marriage protests, and from euthanasia rights to fledgling forms of participatory democracy, it is difficult to ignore the growing aspirations of Europeans toward autonomy and freedom of choice. This new individualization dynamic is silently revolutionizing European values.

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