Quotulatiousness

December 18, 2014

“[C]onservatives are underrepresented in academia because they don’t want to be there, or they’re just not smart enough to cut it”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:55

The advantage of the quote in the headline is that it allows the person saying it to feel more positive about his or her own worldview, while side-stepping the real issue. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry looks at a new report that addresses this issue:

I have had the following experience more than once: I am speaking with a professional academic who is a liberal. The subject of the under-representation of conservatives in academia comes up. My interlocutor admits that this is indeed a reality, but says the reason why conservatives are under-represented in academia is because they don’t want to be there, or they’re just not smart enough to cut it. I say: “That’s interesting. For which other under-represented groups do you think that’s true?” An uncomfortable silence follows.

I point this out not to score culture-war points, but because it’s actually a serious problem. Social sciences and humanities cannot be completely divorced from the philosophy of those who practice it. And groupthink causes some questions not to be asked, and some answers not to be overly scrutinized. It is making our science worse. Anyone who cares about the advancement of knowledge and science should care about this problem.

That’s why I was very gratified to read this very enlightening draft paper [PDF] written by a number of social psychologists on precisely this topic, attacking the lack of political diversity in their profession and calling for reform. For those who have the time and care about academia, the whole thing truly makes for enlightening reading. The main author of the paper is Jonathan Haidt, well known for his Moral Foundations Theory (and a self-described liberal, if you care to know).

Although the paper focuses on the field of social psychology, its introduction as well as its overall logic make many of its points applicable to disciplines beyond social psychology.

The authors first note the well-known problems of groupthink in any collection of people engaged in a quest for the truth: uncomfortable questions get suppressed, confirmation bias runs amok, and so on.

But it is when the authors move to specific examples that the paper is most enlightening.

December 16, 2014

Anton Howes on what caused the industrial revolution

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

In the first post at his new blog, Anton Howes lays out one of the biggest questions about the 19th century:

What caused the Industrial Revolution?

By the term “Industrial Revolution”, the broadly accepted meaning is of (1) innovation-led, (2) sustained and (3) replicable economic growth.

Each of those adjectives are the source of some of the other important questions in the social sciences. Here are some brief summaries of the issues at hand, which I’ll maybe expand upon separately.

(1) Innovation-led

Innovation-led growth distinguishes itself hugely from what we might call ‘Ricardian’ or ‘Malthusian’ economic growth (it’s usually called ‘Smithian’, but that’s a topic for another time). Capital accumulation, population growth, conquest, and education, can all result in initial surges of economic growth. But this is soon brought to a standstill by the brutal reality of diminishing marginal returns, depreciation, and food shortages.

[…]

(2) Sustained

Innovation existed before the Industrial Revolution. Of course it did – you need look no further than the invention of agriculture, writing, bronze, crop rotations, horse collars, windmills, gunpowder, printing presses, paper, and bills of exchange to know that innovations have occurred throughout history before the IR.

The difference is that these were few and far between. Some of them, often grouped together, resulted in Golden Ages, or “Efflorescences” as Jack Goldstone likes to call them. The 1st Century early Roman Empire; the 8th Century Arab World; 12th Century Sung Dynasty China; the 15th Century northern Italian city-states; and 17th Century Dutch Republic are all good examples.

[…]

(3) Replicable

Perhaps most importantly, this miracle quickly spread. First to Belgium, across the Atlantic to the new-born USA, and then to the Dutch Republic still winding down from its own Golden Age, France, Northern Italy, and the multitude of German principalities.

In the last Century it spread to Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and Eastern European countries escaping the shadow of Communism.

In this Century it appears to finally be taking root in various African countries. Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda in particular seem to be leading the way.

The more recent recipients of the IR are experiencing an unprecedented rate of growth, which in itself provides a further miracle in economic history. Britain’s sustained growth only initially manifested itself at less than 1% per year. It took about 100 years for Britain’s first doubling in GDP to occur.

More recent recipients can expect to grow at 7-10% every year, and sometimes even higher. To put that in perspective, growth at 7% per year would result in a doubling of the size of the economy in only 10 years. 10% a year in only 7 years.

December 12, 2014

The British pantomime tradition

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Tracy Morgan looks at a British holiday tradition that didn’t seem to travel to the rest of the empire:

An actor in drag endowed with enormous boobs stands alongside an actress in male britches. Every year they tell the same jokes, flirtatiously sing silly tunes, bring a good-over-evil narrative to life and comment on everything — except much about Christmas. Yet theatergoers consider it a great holiday tradition, because nothing says Christmas to Brits quite like cross-dressing slapstick, screaming children and sexual innuendo.

British pantomimes run from late November through mid-January, and the question is not are you going, but which panto are you seeing? “For many people, a trip to the theater to see the pantomime is as big a part of Christmas as roast turkey dinner,” says Simon Sladen, assistant curator of modern and contemporary performance at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. ’Tis the season for the goodies to take the stage to cheers while baddies slink into view amid boos. A man plays the leading dame, and a woman often plays the starring male role, retelling classic fairy tales like Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk with a comedic twist. Chants from ticket holders include “Oh, yes it is” to “Oh, no it isn’t,” or the classic “It’s behind you!” to warn those on stage of imminent danger.

I’d always wondered where those phrases came from…

Unlike its silent namesake, these colorful productions — aka pantos — are a mishmash of very verbal theatrical genres, from Italian commedia dell’arte’s slapstick to the medieval mystery plays and the Everyman play’s morality. Pantomime, which originally meant “imitator of all,” is “reflective of the world around it,” says Sladen, referring to how it incorporates contemporary political and cultural jokes, modern music and fashion. Members of the audience are meant to see aspects of themselves in the characters and identify with their struggles and successes.

December 9, 2014

QotD: The rise of the word “fuck” in common usage

Filed under: Britain, History, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

During the first World war use of the four-letter word, as it is now called, became universal, or more probably its universal use was first observed by the literate classes. Between the wars the word was presented by writers in a modified form — mucking or flicking — or with its initial only: f—ing. Its use in full — fuck — now seems to be approaching literary, though not conversational, respectability.

A.J.P. Taylor, A History of England: England 1914-1945, 1961.

December 8, 2014

QotD: Talking about “rape culture”

Filed under: Law, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

So I am having a hard time getting my head around something. All week people have been calling me a “rape apologist” and “pro-rape.” I’m being constantly informed that I don’t understand “rape culture.” These often hysterical accusations tend to come from people who seem to understand rape culture the same way some people understand the geopolitics of Westeros or Middle Earth: They’ve studied it, they know every detail about it, they just seem to have forgotten it doesn’t exist.

Now, hold on. I certainly believe rape happens. And I definitely believe we have cultural problems that lead to date rape and other drunken barbarisms and sober atrocities. But the term “rape culture” suggests that there is a large and obvious belief system that condones and enables rape as an end in itself in America. This simply strikes me as an elaborate political lie intended to strengthen the hand of activists. There’s definitely lots that is wrong with our culture, particularly youth culture and specifically campus culture. Sybaritic, crapulent, hedonistic, decadent, bacchanalian: choose your adjectives.

What is most remarkable about our problems is that they seem to take people by surprise. For instance, it would be commonsense to our grandmothers that some drunk men will do bad things, particularly in a moral vacuum, and that women should take that into account. I constantly hear that instead of lecturing women about their behavior we should teach men not to rape. I totally, completely, 100 percent agree that we should teach men not to rape. The problem is we do that. A lot. Maybe we should do it more. We also teach people not to murder — another heinous crime. But murders happen too. That’s why we advise our kids to steer clear of certain neighborhoods at certain times and avoid certain behaviors. I’m not “pro-murder” if I tell my kid not to walk through the park at night and flash money around any more than I am pro-rape if I give her similar advice.

Of course, the problem is that feminists want to expunge any notion that women are gentler and fairer. This requires declaring war on chivalric standards for male conduct, which were once a great bulwark against caddish and rapacious behavior. Take away the notion that men should be protective of women and they will — surprise! — be less protective of women.

None of this means we’d all be better off with women in corsets on fainting couches. (I like strong, assertive women so much I married one. I’m also the son of one, and I’m trying to raise another.) But somehow feminists have gotten themselves into the position of adopting the adolescent male’s fantasy of consequence-and-obligation-free sex as an ideal for women. Uncivilized and morally uneducated men have, for millennia, wanted to treat women like sluts. And now feminists have embraced the word as a badge of honor. Call me an old-fogey, but I think that’s weird.

Jonah Goldberg, The Goldberg File, 2014-12-05.

December 6, 2014

Everyday life in “The Ghetto Archipelago”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

At Reason, J.D. Tuccille reviews On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, by Alice Goffman:

The police presence in 6th Street is pervasive. Residents, young black men in particular, can expect to be frequently stopped, questioned, and searched. Many initial arrests are for drugs, often possession of marijuana. After that, as Goffman records, the system takes on a horrible logic of its own. Criminal records make employment hard to find, and recurring court dates devour time that might be devoted to work, job searches, or family responsibilities. Without regular income, court fees add up and may prove unpayable. Many of the people Goffman writes about are essentially constant low-level fugitives, hunted by police for missed appointments. Some end up committing additional crimes to pay their accumulating debts to the courts.

People living on the wrong side of the law are both dependent on and vulnerable to those around them. Goffman documents how chronic legal problems prevent young men from attending the births of their children or the funerals of their friends, since the authorities often monitor those occasions looking to make arrests. Those legal problems also provide opportunities for angry girlfriends and other acquaintances to avenge perceived wrongs with a simple phone call to the cops.

Neighborhoods heavily populated by young men on the run (usually in the most figurative sense, since their lives become circumscribed by familiar people and streets) also create business opportunities for those willing to serve their idiosyncratic needs. One memorable character in On the Run is Jevon, whose memory and ability at mimicry allow him to earn money impersonating men to their parole officers for curfew-checking phone calls. Another, Rakim, augments income from his passport photo business selling clean urine to men facing drug tests. Many local businesses-such as rental car lots and motels-have two price sheets, one for mainstream customers and one for those who have no credit cards or ID.

Identification itself is a commodity, with employees inside the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation selling drivers licenses-basically, new identities — for a substantial fee. (Other public employees, from court clerks to prison guards, also find it lucrative to sell favors and services.) “The level of social control that tough-on-crime policy envisions-particularly in a liberal state-is so extreme and difficult to implement,” Goffman writes, “that it has led to a flourishing black market to ease the pains of supervision.”

H/T to ESR who wrote:

Linked article explains why, though I’ve defended the shooting of Michael Brown as a prudent and ethical response to an imminent threat of deadly force, I’ve had little patience with those defending the Ferguson police in general either before or after the shooting.

Yes, the system oppresses people like the blacks in Ferguson, in a way that has little to do with “institutional racism” but everything to do with a vicious cycle of deteriorating ghetto culture coupled with perverse incentives on the police created by “tough on crime” laws.

How do I know? I’ve never been to Ferguson…but Philadelphia is my city. I used to live there, mere blocks from the ghetto archipelago. I’ve seen some of the overspill from what Goffman is writing about. She speaks truth, and we would do well to heed her.

December 1, 2014

QotD: Marriage and divorce

Filed under: History, Law, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The divorce laws of an earlier era were one part of a complex social institution with mutually reinforcing norms and a fairly elaborate system of punishments and rewards. People were encouraged to stay in marriages because divorce was difficult — but it is at least as important that divorce was heavily stigmatized. Even more important is the energy society spent encouraging people to get married in the first place — not just with the gauzy dreams of wedding gowns and perfect babies that help sustain the institution today, but also with a complicated system of carrots and sticks that have now completely vanished. Old maids were stigmatized; women who had babies out of wedlock were shunned. Marriage was the only socially permitted way to cohabit and, for that matter, often the only legal way to do so: Landlords didn’t like renting to people who were shacking up, and hotels that rented to rooms to openly unmarried couples risked being indicted as brothels. On the positive side, getting married often meant a raise for a man, and for both parties, it constituted instant admission to adulthood.

In short, the legal system of yesteryear didn’t have to worry that harsh divorce laws would discourage marriage entirely; any marriages that they did discourage probably shouldn’t have happened. But people would continue to get married, because there wasn’t any viable alternative for the majority of people who wanted to live on their own and raise a family without the neighbors talking — or calling the vice squad. In the same way that European politicians didn’t have to worry about bad incentives during the immediate postwar boom years, when anyone who could breathe and carry a tool bag could get a job. When the boom weakened, however, the laws intended to shore it up instead kicked out more of the props underneath the job market.

We might well find the same story with no-fault divorce. Even if you accept the premise that marriage needs to be strengthened — which I do! — and even if you accept the premise that the state therefore has a right to force people to stay married, which is a bigger stretch, I’m not sure that the state should. As conservatives are fond of noting, societies, like economies, are very complex organic systems. We do not understand them, much less control them with a few simple tweaks.

Megan McArdle, “Can Limiting Divorce Make Marriage Stronger?”, Bloomberg View, 2014-04-16

October 29, 2014

Passionate about #gamergate? Ken White has a few thoughts for you to ponder

Filed under: Gaming, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

The Popehat grand poobah suspects that if you’re passionate about #gamergate, you’re probably wrong … or at least, wrong-headed about your passions:

GamerGate is label-heavy, and labels are lazy, obfuscating bullshit.

Labels are supposed to be shorthand for collections of ideas. I might say “I am libertarian-ish” because it’s not practical to go around announcing the whole array of views I hold about demolishing public roads and privatizing the air force and so forth. This, up to a point, is useful.

It stops being useful when we argue over labels instead of over ideas. Take, for instance, “feminist.” A person who describes themselves as “feminist” might associate that term with their grandmother being the first woman in the family to go to college and their mother defying a sexist boss in a male-dominated job and the development of laws saying women can’t be relentlessly harassed in the workplace or fired for being women.1 Someone who routinely criticizes “feminism” might be thinking of Andrea Dworkin saying all heterosexual sex is coercive, or that time a woman snapped at him when he held a door open, or the time someone embarrassed his friend by saying his joke was sexist. When these two people use the term “feminist” in an argument, they are talking past each other and engaging with strawmen rather than ideas. The feminist is engaging the anti-feminist as if he opposes women in the workplace or supports gender-based hiring, which he doesn’t necessarily. The anti-feminist is engaging the feminist as if she thinks all marital sex is rape and as if she thinks jokes should get him fired, which she doesn’t necessarily. Neither is really engaging in the particular issue at hand — because why would you engage with a person who holds such extreme views? Why would it matter if the person you are arguing with has an arguable point on a specific issue, if they also necessarily (based on labels) stand for everything you hate?

Oh, and reacting before thinking (or instead of it)?

People are going to say things about your favorite parts of the culture. Some of these things will be stupid or wrong. It is swell to use more speech to disagree with, criticize, or ridicule the criticism. But when you become completely and tragicomically unbalanced by the existence of cultural criticism, or let it send you into a buffoonish spiral of resentful defensiveness, people may not take you seriously. Rule of thumb: a reasoned rebuttal of wrong-headed cultural criticism mostly likely won’t require you to use the word “cunt.”

There are ten points Ken covers in the original post. I really do recommend that you read it all. By my count, he gores everyone’s ox by the time he’s at point four (and by point five, he’s blaming Canada in the footnotes).

October 27, 2014

The mayoralty race in Toronto

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

I haven’t lived in Toronto for a couple of decades — and when I did, the city hadn’t been amalgamated so the role of the mayor was much more symbolic than real: the mayor had peers in North York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, East York and York. Now, the psychological stakes are higher even though the role of the mayor hasn’t changed all that much — still only one vote on council, but the advantage of the bully pulpit. That said, the voters in the former city of Toronto often feel that the mayor should “really” represent them more than those uncultured swine in the former satellite municipalities. The place is still called Toronto, but the sensibilities of former city of Toronto voters are affronted that the barbarians in the suburbs inflicted the Ford brothers on them. In a sense, Rob Ford was an over-sized middle finger gesture by the rest of Toronto directed toward those effete downtown snobs.

At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson mulls who Torontonians should be voting for (or against):

With days to go we are confronted with two choices here in the Imperial Capital: The polished millionaire non-entity or the white trash millionaire bruiser. It is in moments like these that the vasty fields of Saskatchewan beckon with unusual strength. What are housing prices like in Regina anyway? What’s the price for a Toronto-sized shoe box without the Toronto sized traffic and political idiocy? This used to be a boring city placed within a boring province. It’s gotten very interesting of late and in the very worst way. I miss Mel Lastman. Heck I miss Art Eggleton, if such an emotion is even possible.

The Toronto Sun, a usual bastion of populist common sense, has decided to endorse John Tory. Given the farce that has dominated municipal politics these last twelve months I can’t blame them. The Fords have become so terribly embarrassing. Vulgar, crude and probably violent as well. Respectable people can no longer abide by the Fords’ antics. John Tory could not be more respectable. He says all the right things in all the right ways. The Right respects him, the Left respects him and the Centre looks upon him as a long-lost lover miraculously returned. Who are we to oppose?

[…]

Then there is Team Ford. Rob, Doug and whichever brother is currently running the family business. I don’t think I’d ever invite any of them over for tea. They have a natural ability to alienate those around them. It’s almost a talent. They have a flare for screwing things up. Toronto has never seen anything quite like them and will likely never again. A god awful mess. They are, however, the only conservatives running in this election. A house trained Doug Ford would likely do more to trim municipal government than John Tory. The latter needs to be liked but the former doesn’t give a damn. Therein lies the difference. One is a carefully managed artifice and the other is a sincere disaster.

What I like most about the Fords is their lying. They lie like children. Attempts at deception, misdirection and deflection are so obvious they have a kind of charm. Beneath the trailer trash manners and the millionaire bank accounts they are actual, albeit deeply flawed, human beings. These are rare enough traits that they should be encouraged.

I don’t want a smooth mediocrity bankrupting Toronto, or striking half-baked compromises with the Left. If the Imperial Capital is going to go, let it go with a bang and not a well-heeled whimper. Let’s have Doug Ford’s fat blond figure standing right in the middle of municipal politics for the next few years. For sheer obstructionism he can’t be beat. A clear message to the great and good that there is a mass of people in this city who no have interest in being patronized to.

October 26, 2014

Canadians’ ambivalent views on the Canadian Armed Forces

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In Maclean’s, Jonathon Gatehouse reflects on the reaction of bystanders just after Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot while standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, and how Canadians are still uneasy about the role of the military in Canadian society:

They came together with haste and purpose. Three civilians and two members of Canadian Forces, all working frantically to save the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.

In the first minutes after the Hamilton reservist was shot twice at Canada’s National War Memorial on Oct. 22, it was passersby who joined in the challenge of trying to staunch the bleeding and keep his heart beating. Photos captured their desperation. A red-headed woman, her legs stretched out across the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, administering artificial respiration while a uniformed man performs CPR. A man in a dark business suit helping to keep the blood where it was needed by holding the kilted Cirillo’s bare legs in the air. And two more — a grey-haired lady and a man in an army beret — applying pressure to his wounds. All of them as anonymous as the fallen combatant inside the granite sarcophagus that the soldier was guarding.

A discarded backpack leans against the tomb, next to a Thermos mug of morning coffee. A black attaché case has been tossed to the flagstones. Right beside that lie the two military assault rifles—one belonging to Cirillo, the other his regimental partner—perfectly stacked, stocks tucked tight against the brass foot of the monument. By the book, even though they were never loaded, per standard honour detail practice.

[…]

The Canadian public and its military have been out of sync over duties and mission for more than a decade. It is a gap that doesn’t make much sense. In the aftermath of 9/11, we have come to venerate first-responders — those who run toward danger — as local police, the RCMP and Parliament Hill security did in their shoot-out with Zehaf-Bibeau. But we remain slightly suspicious of the motives of people who volunteer to serve in the army, navy and air force, as if there is something nobler — and more Canadian — in playing defence than being on the offensive.

The events of the past week illustrate that we live in an age where such distinctions have been rendered meaningless. First the murder of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, run down by ersatz jihadi Martin Couture-Rouleau in a shopping mall parking lot in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. And now the death of Cpl. Cirillo at the hands of another “self-radicalized” fellow citizen. Like it or not, Canada is in this fight, abroad and at home. Facing enemies who don’t give credit for past good deeds, and have few, if any scruples about whom they target.

There’s a tradition that has sprung up in Ottawa over the past years. After the conclusion of the official Remembrance Day ceremony, members of the public approach the War Memorial, remove the poppy from their lapels, and lay them on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s a small act of respect, and an attempt to connect with our fading, black and white past.

This year will be different. Not just because Nathan Cirillo died at that very spot, but because of what happened in his final moments. When a red-headed lawyer, a grey-haired nurse and a suit-clad government bureaucrat joined with a colonel and a corporal to try and save a soldier’s life, a page turned. The sacrifice, in full colour and public view, can’t be ignored. Everyone has become a witness. It is part of our present, and our uncomfortable future too.

Andrew Sullivan on the end of gamer culture

Filed under: Gaming, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Andrew Sullivan carefully dips his toes into the #gamergate war:

Andrew Sullivan on the end of gamer culture

Many readers have warned me not to dip a toe into the gamergate debate, which, so far, we’ve been covering through aggregation and reader-input. And I’m not going to dive headlong into an extremely complex series of events, which have generated huge amounts of intense emotion on all sides, in a gamer culture which Dish readers know far, far better than I. But part of my job is to write and think about burning current web discussions – and add maybe two cents, even as an outsider.

So let me make a few limited points. The tactics of harassment, threats of violence, foul misogyny, and stalking have absolutely no legitimate place in any discourse. Having read about what has happened to several women, who have merely dared to exercise their First Amendment rights, I can only say it’s been one of those rare stories that still has the capacity to shock me. I know it isn’t fair to tarnish an entire tendency with this kind of extremism, but the fact that this tactic seemed to be the first thing that some gamergate advocates deployed should send off some red flashing lights as to the culture it is defending.

Second, there’s a missing piece of logic, so far as I have managed to discern, in the gamergate campaign. The argument seems to be that some feminists are attempting to police or control a hyper-male culture of violence, speed, competition and boobage. And in so far as that might be the case, my sympathies do indeed lie with the gamers. The creeping misandry in a lot of current debates – see “Affirmative Consent” and “Check Your Privilege” – and the easy prejudices that define white and male and young as suspect identities (because sexism!) rightly offend many men (and women).

There’s an atmosphere in which it has somehow become problematic to have a classic white, straight male identity, and a lot that goes with it. I’m not really a part of that general culture – indifferent to boobage, as I am, and bored by violence. But I don’t see why it cannot have a place in the world. I believe in the flourishing of all sorts of cultures and subcultures and have long been repulsed by the nannies and busybodies who want to police them – whether from the social right or the feminist left.

But – and here’s where the logic escapes me – if the core gamers really do dominate the market for these games, why do they think the market will stop catering to them? The great (and not-so-great) thing about markets is that they are indifferent to content as such. If “hardcore gamers” skew 7 -1 male, and if corporations want to make lots of money, then this strain of the culture is hardly under threat. It may be supplemented by lots of other, newer varieties, but it won’t die. Will it be diluted? Almost certainly. Does that feel like an assault for a group of people whose identity is deeply bound up in this culture? Absolutely. Is it something anyone should really do anything about? Nah. Let a thousand variety of nerds and post-nerds bloom. And leave Kenny McCormick alone. This doesn’t have to be zero-sum.

October 17, 2014

The latest moral panic

Filed under: Gaming, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:22

In sp!ked, Allum Bokhari looks at #GamerGate:

The gaming community is no stranger to cultural warfare and moral panic. In the 1990s, a cohort of censorious, ‘family values’ politicians waged a ceaseless campaign to regulate the gaming industry, following a series of panics over the ultra-violent Mortal Kombat series. In the early 2000s, the socially conservative activist Jack Thompson gained notoriety for engaging in a stream of litigation against video-game companies, arguing that they were responsible for everything from gang violence to school shootings.

The tenor of moral panic has changed since then. Now, the main source of fear, loathing and general misanthropy in the gaming industry stems from the cultural left rather than the socially conservative right. Similar to the old right, the new cultural warriors argue that games promote violence and reinforce so-called rape culture. Arguments that games perpetuate sexism and racism are also fairly common. Instead of being seen as mere escapism, the tastes of modern gamers are portrayed as dangerous and subversive, a threat to right-on values. Gamers ought to be feared and shunned. In this remarkable video, a cultural warrior goes on a tirade against mainstream gamers, culminating in the destruction of a copy of the controversial video-game Grand Theft Auto V before a cheering crowd. The misanthropic disgust with ordinary gamers is palpable.

The growing contempt of the games-industry elite for the preferences of gamers has accelerated in recent months. Following a major confrontation between gamers and activists last August over allegations of journalistic favouritism, article after article has been published decrying the gaming community for its alleged bigotry, sexism and narrow-mindedness. The worst examples of ‘social-media harassment’ were used as an excuse to present gamers as a mass of hateful savages. To those familiar with the regular and sometimes absurd panics over football fans, this language will sound familiar.

You may well ask how these activists are able to sustain these bizarre beliefs, particularly given the mounting evidence that gamers are actually a pretty diverse and welcoming group of people after all. One explanation is their fondness for echo-chambers, maintained through exclusive email groups, social media blocklists and mass deletions of user comments on open forums. The extent to which the new cultural warriors will go to remove uncomfortable opinions from view is quite extraordinary. Reinforcing, rather than challenging, one’s own biases has become the norm.

October 16, 2014

The trouble with “parenting” in 2014

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Health, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Jan MacVarish discusses the problems facing today’s parents that inhibit natural parenting instincts and replace them with the diktats of the bureaucracy:

Here are two scenes which illustrate contemporary parenting culture.

In the first, I am called into my son’s primary school by the ‘family-liaison officer’. I am surprised to learn that she is investigating the concerns of a teacher who has overheard my son and his friends discussing their mothers’ favourite punishment methods. Whereas one of the mothers (who I know) reportedly kicks her boy in the privates with her stilettos, and another (who I also know) prefers to administer an ‘African slap’, my chosen method is, apparently, to hit my son with a frying pan. Visions of Tom and Jerry immediately spring to mind, and I laugh at the ridiculousness of the schoolboys’ conversation. The family-liaison officer admits that it is highly unlikely that a mother such as me (white and middle class) would engage in such behaviour, but, she tells me, she is nevertheless obliged to ask if I have ever deployed the family skillet as a weapon. I am now amused, bemused and starting to see that this could have played out very differently if I were perceived to be one of those ‘other’ parents.

Scene two: While swimming in the local pool with frying-pan boy, I notice a mother engage in an exhausting 20-minute argument with her one-year-old baby boy. He had slapped her, so she was asking him in a quiet, controlled voice to look her in the eye and apologise for ‘hurting mummy’. Being a baby, he refused to comply, and became more and more upset as the request was repeated again and again. My sympathy was equal for both mother and child: he was sobbing and she seemed forlornly trapped in some kind of ‘good parenting’ ritual, in which the parent conveys to the child the emotional consequences of their actions – ‘you hurt mummy, that makes mummy feel sad’ – and expects the child to take ‘ownership’ of their actions.

Both of these scenes demonstrate the abandonment of common sense and, indeed, any kind of ‘instinct’ when it comes to adults relating to children. When you remove any element of instinct from parenting, you replace trust, care, love and joy with empty rituals of ‘safeguarding’ or ‘good parenting’. The family-liaison officer’s dutiful yet hollow investigation makes clear just how corrosive the institutionalisation of parent-blaming in schools has become, while the mother’s exchange with her baby in the pool showed how futile and joy-draining following abstract, good-parenting guidelines can be.

October 11, 2014

“[French] society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles”

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:47

The Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard on the reception Gérard Depardieu received from a “conservative” Russian politician:

Gérard Depardieu’s move to Russia had the effect of making the actor repent sexual activities conducted in Europe, a conservative Kremlin politician has said.

Reacting to the publication of Ça s’est fait comme ça, Depardieu’s memoir in which he discusses stints of employment as a grave robber and a male prostitute, Vitaly Milonov expressed sympathy for the actor.

“It wasn’t easy for him in France,” he told Russian newspaper MK. “There, society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles.”

“I view Gérard’s book as sort of repentance, confession of old sins. Now that he breathed in the purifying air of Mordovia, all that filth left him. He sincerely repents what he was forced to do in his youth in France. He wants to live in a new way, without all that filth.”

October 9, 2014

“Political barriers make it harder to innovate with atoms than with bits”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:30

Virginia Postrel on the barriers that slow down — or completely stop — innovation in far too many non-digital fields:

… I sympathize with science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson and venture-capitalist Peter Thiel, whose new books lament the demise of grand 20th-century dreams and the optimistic culture they expressed. “I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done,” writes Stephenson in the preface to Hieroglyph, a science-fiction anthology hoping “to rekindle grand technological ambitions through the power of storytelling.” In Zero to One, a book mostly about startups, Thiel makes the argument that “we have to find our way back to a definite future, and the Western world needs nothing short of a cultural revolution to do it.”

Their concerns about technological malaise are reasonable. As I’ve written here before, “political barriers have in fact made it harder to innovate with atoms than with bits.” It’s depressing to see just about any positive development — a dramatic decline in the need for blood transfusions, for instance — greeted with gloom. (“The trend is wreaking havoc in the blood bank business, forcing a wave of mergers and job cutbacks.”)

When a report about how ground-penetrating radar has mapped huge undiscovered areas of Stonehenge immediately provokes a comment wondering whether the radar endangers the landscape, something has gone seriously wrong with our sense of wonder. “There’s an automatic perception … that everything’s dangerous,” Stephenson mused at a recent event in Los Angeles, citing the Stonehenge example, “and that there’s some cosmic balance at work — that if there’s an advance somewhere it must have a terrible cost. That’s a hard thing to fix, but I think that if we had some more interesting Apollo-like projects or big successes we could point to it might lift that burden that is on people’s minds.”

Postrel argues that Stephenson’s fix would not work, and that our nostalgia for the early days of the Space Age blind us to the reality that most Americans in that era did not believe that the money for the Apollo missions was well spent (with the brief exception of July, 1969). She makes the point that our culture has changed significantly and those attitudinal changes are much more of the reason for today’s hesitancy and doubt about progress:

We already have plenty of critics telling us that our creativity and effort are for naught, our pleasures and desires absurd, our civilization wicked and destructive. We live in a culture where condemnatory phrases like “the ecosystems we’ve broken” are throwaway lines, and the top-grossing movie of all time is a heavy-handed science-fiction parable about the evils of technology and exploration. We don’t need Neal Stephenson piling on.

The reason mid-20th-century Americans were optimistic about the future wasn’t that science-fiction writers told cool stories about space travel. Science-fiction glamour in fact worked on only a small slice of the public. (Nobody else in my kindergarten was grabbing for You Will Go to the Moon.) People believed the future would be better than the present because they believed the present was better than the past. They constantly heard stories — not speculative, futuristic stories but news stories, fashion stories, real-estate stories, medical stories — that reinforced this belief. They remembered epidemics and rejoiced in vaccines and wonder drugs. They looked back on crowded urban walk-ups and appreciated neat suburban homes. They recalled ironing on sweaty summer days and celebrated air conditioning and wash-and-wear fabrics. They marveled at tiny transistor radios and dreamed of going on airplane trips.

Then the stories changed. For good reasons and bad, more and more Americans stopped believing in what they had once viewed as progress. Plastics became a punch line, convenience foods ridiculous, nature the standard of all things right and good. Freeways destroyed neighborhoods. Urban renewal replaced them with forbidding Brutalist plazas. New subdivisions represented a threat to the landscape rather than the promise of the good life. Too-fast airplanes produced window-rattling sonic booms. Insecticides harmed eagles’ eggs. Exploration meant conquest and brutal exploitation. Little by little, the number of modern offenses grew until we found ourselves in a 21st century where some of the most educated, affluent and cultural influentially people in the country are terrified of vaccinating their children. Nothing good, they’ve come to think, comes from disturbing nature.

Emphasis mine.

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