Does cognitive science relieve us of responsibility--or require us to redirect our effort?
Vampire Economics

Happy Mother’s Day

Jonathan B. Wight

R.I.P. Joanne M. Wight (1920-2007).

My mom wasn't perfect. But she did a lot of things right. She was a good listener when I was bedeviled by the cruelty of teens. She loved to laugh and party. And she was unconventional in the extreme. She encouraged all of her four kids to live, live, live and seize the day.

Despite her early adoption of yoga and mediation, she didn't quite get the part about letting go of ego. When she turned 70 my siblings and I hosted a birthday party for her closest 50 friends (she had legions of them). But she insisted the invitations go out inviting them to her 80th birthday—so they would all compliment her on how young she looked! To that end I wrote President George Herbert Walker Bush and told him she was turning 100, and would he please send her official White House greetings and congratulations? His office did, with a machine-signed photo, making it a nice joke (although they're now on to this scam and don't write such letters anymore).

My mom was a poster child for trouble and trickery, especially as a tom-boy youth. She once had a boyfriend who ticked her off, so she sent him a package of raw fish in the mail. She once locked a salesperson in the chicken coop and went off to play. She could be notoriously impertinent, telling one waitress to "Get hep with the mayo, chickee!"

She was shipped off to Smith College, sharing the same train from Chicago as Bette Friedan. Mom always said Friedan was hapless in terms of practicality and had to be led from one train to the next by her classmates. Unlike Friedan, mom was pretty lame when it came to her intellectual endeavors. She had a wandering mind and never seemed to go deeply into academics, spending the bulk of her college time dating boys and watching movies. At the end of her first year the dean wrote my grandmother to say that it would be better if Joanne did not return. My mom, anticipating such a letter, waylaid the mail and tore up the letter. When fall semester came she simply showed up at Smith and somehow eeked out a major in English.

She wasn't an academic but she wowed people with her charm and vitality. She served in the State Department for over twenty years making friends all over the world. She was meticulous with her rolodex, taking detailed notes of birthdays and anniversaries, and would send hundreds of hand-written letters a year. We academics like to think that what we do intellectually is the most important aspect of success in international relations. But my mother instinctively practiced a successful diplomacy of moral sentiments. Emotions and friendships often trumped ideology.

Today is dedicated to all those who mother in the world.


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Hear hear!

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