Quotulatiousness

February 27, 2015

The changes in language describing changing gender

Filed under: Health, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Charlotte Allen discusses how quickly the language has changed when talking about transsexuality over a very short time:

In 2012 the board of trustees of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) approved a set of proposed revisions to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the new version is the DSM-5), designed to remove the stigma of mental illness from the transgender classification. Earlier versions of the DSM had defined transgenderism as “gender identity disorder,” which seemed to imply illness. The DSM-5 changed that term to “gender dysphoria.” The change paralleled the association’s removal of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. It signaled that whatever problems transgenders might experience were not due to a pathological misconception that their bodies and gender identities were mismatched but to the fact that their bodies and gender identities were mismatched. Hormones, surgery, cosmetics, and different clothes might still be the “cure” (enabling transgenders to qualify for medical reimbursement for a variety of procedures), but the APA was making it clear, as far as it was concerned, that the problem was not inside the transgender’s head.

The medical evidence for a mismatch between brains and bodies is ambiguous. The two studies cited most frequently by transgender activists, published in 1995 and 2000, examined the brains of a total of seven male-to-female transgenders and found that a region of the hypothalamus, an almond-shaped area of the brain that controls the release of hormones by the pituitary gland, was female-typical in those brains. But those studies have been criticized for not controlling for the estrogen​—​which affects the size of the hypothalamus​—​that most male-to-female transgenders take daily in order to maintain their feminine appearance.

Accompanying the APA’s change of classification was a change of vocabulary. Ever since the days of Christine Jorgensen (1926-1989), the World War II serviceman whose surgery in Denmark during the early 1950s brought transgenderism under the media spotlight for the first time, the procedure was known in popular parlance as a “sex change operation.” Then in the 1990s, when the idea of one’s “gender” as something distinct from one’s biological sex began to take hold (thanks to the efforts of academic feminists and other postmodernists, who argued that gender is “socially constructed”), the preferred term became “gender reassignment surgery.” Now the preferred phrase seems to be “gender confirmation surgery.” The change in terminology renders more credible transpeople’s claims to have always belonged to the gender to which they have transitioned.

The once commonly used word “transsexual” has thus become passé ​—​ even verboten in the most sensitive circles —​ just during the past decade. For example, Washington Post reporter Abby Ohlheiser issued a severe scolding to news media for using the word “transsexual” in reference to a 27-year-old male-to-female victim of a grisly murder and dismemberment at the hands of her 28-year-old male lover (who subsequently committed suicide) in Brisbane, Australia, in October 2014. “Although some individuals do identify as ‘transsexual,’ the term is often viewed as old-fashioned and not an appropriate umbrella word,” Ohlheiser wrote in a column deriding the coverage of the crime as “transphobic.” Ohlheiser also objected to media describing the victim, Mayang Prasetyo, as a “prostitute” (Prasetyo had been working as an escort before her death) and reproducing photos of Prasetyo’s busty self clad in a tiny swimsuit that she had posted on the Internet. “Many of the articles covering the murder are laden with provocative photographs of the victim in a bikini, as if any story about a trans person is an excuse to view and scrutinize trans bodies,” Ohlheiser wrote.

February 25, 2015

Dealing with “dark tetrad” personalities

Filed under: Health — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Bobby Stein linked to this column in Psychology Today from last summer, talking about how to deal with sadists, psychopaths, narcissists, and Machiavellians:

There are several personality types that are more likely to harm another than the average person would. Sadists possess an intrinsic motivation to inflict suffering on innocent others, even when this comes at a personal cost. This is because for sadistic personalities, cruelty is pleasurable, generally exciting, and can be sexually stimulating.

In a recent study, Buckels and colleagues examined examples of everyday sadism as part of what they refer to as the “Dark Tetrad,” sadism plus the original members of the “Dark Triad”—psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. These personalities have some overlap and are characterized by callous manipulation, self-centeredness, disagreeableness, and exploitation. In their research, the team sought to determine whether everyday sadism could be captured in the laboratory, as well as whether measures of sadistic personality would predict these behaviors beyond already established measures of the Dark Triad. Among the findings were that sadistic personalities were the most likely members of the Dark Tetrad to select the task involving killing from an array of unpleasant tasks. Those sadists who killed more bugs derived greater pleasure from the act than those who killed fewer bugs.

In a second, related study, those high in sadism, psychopathy, and/or narcissism, as well as those low in empathy and perspective-taking, were willing to aggress against an innocent person when aggression was easy. Only sadists increased the intensity of their attack once they realized the person would not fight back, however. Furthermore, sadists, unlike the other “dark personalities,” were the only ones willing to expend additional time and energy (in this case, first completing a boring task) in order to have the opportunity to hurt an innocent person.

Previous research has found that although psychopaths have no qualms about hurting others, they are more likely to do so when it serves a specific purpose. Narcissists are less likely to aggress upon another unless their ego is threatened. Machiavellians will usually aggress upon others only if there are sufficient perceived benefits and the risk to themselves is acceptably low.

February 24, 2015

The bitter war between men and women

Filed under: Health, History, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Sarah Hoyt recently reposted her rant (in her words) about the ongoing struggle between men and women:

I know this goes completely against everything you’ve ever heard and learned. History — and SF — is full of dreamers who are convinced that if women ruled the world it would all be beauty flowers and non aggression. (To these dreamers I say spend a week as a girl in an all-girl school. It will be a rude awakening.)

Dreamers of the Dan Brown stripe posit a peaceful female worship, with yet more beauty and flowers and non-aggression. They ignore the fact that 99% of the goddess-worshiping religions were scary. And don’t tell me that’s patriarchal slander — it’s not. The baby-killing of Astoreth worship has been documented extensively. (Of course, the Phoenicians were equal-opportunity baby killers.) The castrations of Cybele worship were also well documented. Now, I can hardly imagine a female divinity without imagining hormonal episodes requiring appeasement — but that’s because I’m a woman of a certain age, and that’s fodder for another altogether different discussion. Suffice it to say that the maiden and mother usually also had a crone persona who was … er… “not a nice person.”

Anyway — all this to say since I joined the MOB (Mothers Of Boys) the scales about such things as the inherent equality of men and women as far as their brain structure and basic behavior have fallen from my eyes. (Well, the scales that remained. My experience in school notwithstanding, I’d been TAUGHT that females were getting the short end of the stick and that’s a hard thing to overcome. Learned wisdom is so much more coherent than lived wisdom, after all.)

Again — indulge me — I’m going to make a lot of statements I can too back up, but which would take very, very, very long to document — so it will seem like I’m ranting mid air. Stay with it. If I feel up to it later, I’ll post some references.

Yes, women have been horribly oppressed throughout history including the rather disgusting Victorian period that most Americans seem to believe is how ALL of history went. I contend, though, that women were not oppressed by some international conspiracy of males — yes, I know what Women’s Studies professors say. I would however remind you we’re talking of a group of people — men — who a) have issues finding their own socks in the dresser they’ve used for ten years. b) Are so good at communicating as a group that they couldn’t coordinate their way out of a wet paper bag, or to quote my friend Kate, couldn’t organize a bonk in a brothel. (In most large organizations the “social/coordinating” function is performed by females at various levels.) c) That women being oppressed by a patriarchy so thorough it altered history and changed all records of peaceful female religion would require a conspiracy lasting thousands of years and involving almost every male on Earth. If you believe that, I have this bridge in NY that I would like to sell you. — Women were oppressed by their own bodies.

Throughout most of history women had no safe and effective means of stopping pregnancy. — please, spare me the “herbal” remedies. I grew up in a village that had little access to medicine. If there had been an effective means of preventing pregnancy we’d have known it. TRUST me. There are abortificients, but they endanger the mother as well. However, until the pill there was no safe contraceptive. The herbal contraceptive is a plot device dreamed up by fantasy writers. Also, btw, the People’s Republic of China TESTED all these methods (including swallowing live tadpoles at the full moon.) NONE of them worked. SERIOUSLY.

What this meant in practical fact is that most women were pregnant from menarche to menopause, if they were lucky to live that long. I’ve been pregnant. If you haven’t, take it from me it’s not a condition conducive to brilliant discourse or reasoned logic. On top of that, of course, women would suffer the evils of repeated child bearing with no rest. In effect this DID make women frail and not the intellectual equals of men. And it encouraged any male around to “oppress” them. I.e., when the majority of females around you need a minder, you’re going to assume ALL females need a minder. It’s human nature. Note that beyond suffrage, the greatest advance in women’s equality came from the pill. Not a coincidence, that.

However, the people who think that women were oppressed by an international historical cabal rule the establishment. Including the educational establishment. I find it hilarious that in their minds men/boys are so powerful that they must be kept back and are suspected of being criminals just because they have a penis. This is attributing to them god-like powers to rival what any Victorian housewife would believe.

Anyway — these people have decided all efforts must be made to equal male and female performance in school. Since, in practical fact, this is impossible because males and females develop at different paces and favor different areas, they’ve settled for hobbling the all-powerful males.

You see this everywhere from Saturday morning cartoons to kindergarten to all the grades beyond. In cartoons these days, the girls ALWAYS rescue the boys. (They do it while keeping impeccably groomed hair, too. Impressive, that.) And in school all the girls are assumed to be right and all the boys are assumed to be wrong.

February 17, 2015

QotD: Psychology as the modern civic religion

Filed under: Quotations, Religion, Science, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There’s a certain sense in which psychology has taken the place of religious faith for many in the western world. When people seek answers for the bad that we do, how we can deal with our faults, motivation for a better life, and deeper questions of meaning and purpose, psychologists and psychology are where modern westerners tend to turn.

Where previous cultures saw acts of evil as evidence of internal sin against an external code of righteousness, psychologists tend to explain this as the product of environment and upbringing, external pressures causing improper behavior.

Even many otherwise religious people have so embraced this system of understanding. Many mainstream churches every Sunday have content very similar to the latest psychological teachings and popular psychology with a few religious themes thrown in. Popular teachers and writers such as Rick Warren are less minister of the gospel than motivational speaker, with more in common with Dr Phil than Jesus Christ.

Christopher Taylor, “COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Psychological myths”, Word Around the Net, 2014-05-28

February 7, 2015

Is there a relationship between physical illness and depression?

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last month, Scott Alexander tried to show the evidence, pro and con, on whether we have detected a causal relationship between physical ailments and depression:

Start with From inflammation to sickness and depression [PDF], Dantzer et al (2008), who note that being sick makes you feel lousy [citation needed]. Drawing upon evolutionary psychology, they theorize this is an adaptive response to make sick people stay in bed (or cave, or wherever) so the body can focus all of its energy on healing. A lot of sickness behavior – being tired, not wanting to do anything, not eating, not wanting to hang around other people – seems kind of like mini-depression.

All of this stuff is regulated by chemicals called cytokines, which are released by immune cells that have noticed an injury or infection or something. They are often compared to a body-wide “red alert” sending the message “sickness detected, everyone to battle stations”. This response is closely linked to the idea of “inflammation”, the classic example of which is the locally infected area that has turned red and puffy. Most inflammatory cytokines handle the immune response directly, but a few of them – especially interleukin-1B and tumor necrosis factor alpha – cause this depression-like sickness behavior.

[…]

Here are some other suspicious facts about depression and inflammation:

– Exercise, good diet and sleep reduce inflammation; they also help depression.

– Stress increases inflammation and is a known trigger for depression.

– Rates of depression are increasing over time, with the condition seemingly very rare in pre-modern non-Westernized societies. This is commonly attributed to the atomization and hectic pace of modern life. But levels of inflammation are also increasing over time, probably because we have a terrible diet that disrupts the gut microbiota that are supposed to be symbioting with the immune system. Could this be another one of the things we think are social that turn out to be biological?

– SSRI antidepressants, like most medications, have about five zillion effects. One of the effects is to reduce the level of inflammatory cytokines in the body. Is it possible that this is why they work, and all of this stuff about serotonin receptors in the brain is a gigantic red herring?

– It’s always been a very curious piece of trivia that treating depression comorbid with heart disease significantly decreases your chances of dying from the heart disease. People just sort of nod their heads and say “You know, mind-body connection”. But inflammation is known to be implicated in cardiovascular disease. If treating depression is a form of lowering inflammation, this would make perfect sense.

– Rates of depression are much higher in sick people. Cancer patients are especially famous for this. No one gets too surprised here, because having cancer is hella depressing. But it’s always been interesting (to me at least) that as far as we can tell, antidepressants treat cancer-induced depression just as well as any other type. Are antidepressants just that good? Or is the link between cancer being sad and cancer causing depression only part of the story, with the other part being that the body’s immune response to cancer causes inflammatory cytokine release, which antidepressants can help manage?

– Along with cancer, depression is common in many other less immediately emotion-provoking illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. The common thread among these illnesses is inflammation.

– Inflammation changes the activity level of the enzyme indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase. This enzyme produces kynurenines which interact with the NMDA receptor, a neurotransmitter receptor implicated in depression and various other psychiatric diseases (in case your first question upon learning about this pathway is the same as mine: yes, kynurenines got their name because they were first found in dog urine).

– Sometimes doctors treat diseases like hepatitis by injecting artificial cytokines to make the immune system realize the threat and ramp up into action. Cytokine administration treatments very commonly cause depression as a side effect. This depression can be treated with standard antidepressants.

– Also, it turns out we can just check and people with depression have more cytokines.

There’s also some evidence against the theory. People with depression have more cytokines, but it’s one of those wishy-washy “Well, if you get a large enough sample size, you’ll see a trend” style relationships, rather than “this one weird trick lets you infallibly produce depression”.

[…]

So in conclusion, I think the inflammatory hypothesis of depression is very likely part of the picture. Whether it’s the main part of the picture or just somewhere in the background remains to be seen, but for now it looks encouraging. Anti-inflammatory drugs do seem to treat depression, which is a point in the theory’s favor, but right now the only one that has strong evidence behind it has side effects that make it undesirable for most people. There’s a lot of room to hope that in the future researchers will learn more about exactly how this cytokine thing works and be able to design antidepressant drugs that target the appropriate cytokines directly. Until then, your best bets are the anti-inflammatory mainstays: good diet, good sleep, plenty of exercise, low stress levels, and all the other things we already know work.

February 2, 2015

Your favourite wine might just reveal more about you than you think

Filed under: Humour, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Why pay for therapy sessions, when Wine Folly can tell you all about your inner self just by finding out what kind of wine you prefer:

what-your-wine-says-about-you

If you love Pinot Noir…
pinot-noir-bottle
You’re the person who loves the idea of the beach but hates sand in between your toes. Pinot Noir is the ideal wine because it’s not too fruity, not too herbaceous, not too tannic and not too bold. Your go-to color to wear is gray. You have a silver car.

January 17, 2015

QotD: “Radicalizing the Romanceless”

Filed under: Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Barry is using my second-favorite rhetorical device, apophasis, the practice of bringing up something by denying that it will be brought up. For example, “I think the American people deserve a clean debate, and that’s why I’m going to stick to the issues, rather than talking about the incident last April when my opponent was caught having sex with a goat. Anyway, let’s start with the tax rate…”

He is complaining about being single by saying that you can’t complain about being single – and, as a bonus, placating feminists by blaming the whole thing on the manosphere as a signal that he’s part of their tribe and so should not be hurt.

It almost worked. He only got one comment saying he was privileged and entitled (which he dismisses as hopefully a troll). But he did get some other comments that remind me of two of my other least favorite responses to “nice guys”.

First: “Nice guys don’t want love! They just want sex!”

One line disproof: if they wanted sex, they’d give a prostitute a couple bucks instead of spiralling into a giant depression.

Second: “You can’t compare this to, like, poor people who complain about being poor. Food and stuff are basic biological human needs! Sex isn’t essential for life! It’s an extra, like having a yacht, or a pet tiger!”

I know that feminists are not always the biggest fans of evolutionary psychology. But I feel like it takes a special level of unfamiliarity with the discipline to ask “Sure, evolution gave us an innate desire for material goods, but why would it give us an deep innate desire for pair-bonding and reproduction??!”

But maybe a less sarcastic response would be to point out Harry Harlow’s monkey studies. These studies – many of them so spectacularly unethical that they helped kickstart the modern lab-animals’-rights movement – included one in which monkeys were separated from their real mother and given a choice between two artifical “mothers” – a monkey-shaped piece of wire that provided milk but was cold and hard to the touch, and a soft cuddly cloth mother that provided no milk. The monkeys ended up “attaching” to the cloth mother and not the milk mother.

In other words – words that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has spent much time in a human body – companionship and warmth can be in some situations just as important as food and getting your more basic needs met. Friendship can meet some of that need, but for a lot of people it’s just not enough.

When your position commits you to saying “Love isn’t important to humans and we should demand people stop caring about whether or not they have it,” you need to take a really careful look in the mirror – assuming you even show up in one.

Scott Alexander, “Radicalizing the Romanceless”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-08-31.

January 9, 2015

A tough love approach to dealing with “microaggression” trauma

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Trigger warning: If you are constantly suffering microaggressions from the world at large, you probably need to read all of this post from Chris Hernandez:

I’ve reviewed these reports of “trauma”, and have reached a conclusion about them. I’m going to make a brief statement summarizing my conclusion. While I mean this in the nicest way possible, I don’t want victims of Microaggressions or supporters of Trigger Warnings to doubt my sincerity.

Fuck your trauma.

Yes, fuck your trauma. My sympathy for your suffering, whether that suffering was real or imaginary, ended when you demanded I change my life to avoid bringing up your bad memories. You don’t seem to have figured this out, but there is no “I must never be reminded of a negative experience” expectation in any culture anywhere on earth.

If your psyche is so fragile you fall apart when someone inadvertently reminds you of “trauma”, especially if that trauma consisted of you overreacting to a self-interpreted racial slur, you need therapy. You belong on a psychiatrist’s couch, not in college dictating what the rest of society can’t do, say or think. Get your own head right before you try to run other people’s lives. If you expect everyone around you to cater to your neurosis, forever, you’re what I’d call a “failure at life”, doomed to perpetual disappointment.

Oh, I should add: fuck my trauma too. I must be old-fashioned, but I always thought coming to terms with pain was part of growing up. I’ve never expected anyone to not knock on my door because it reminds me of that terrifying morning decades ago. I’ve never blown up at anyone for startling me with a camera flash (I’ve never even mentioned it to anyone who did). I’ve never expected anyone to not talk about Iraq or Afghanistan around me, even though some memories still hurt. I don’t need trigger warnings because a book might remind me of a murder victim I’ve seen.

And before anyone says it; being Hispanic doesn’t make me any more sympathetic to people who experience nonexistent, discriminatory “trauma”. Discrimination didn’t break me (or my parents, or grandparents). I’ve been discriminated against by whites for being Hispanic. I’ve been threatened by blacks for being white. I’ve been insulted by Hispanics for not being Hispanic enough. Big deal. None of that stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do. It wasn’t “trauma”. It was life.

Scott Adams can predict your diet success rate

Filed under: Health, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

No, he really can:

I can accurately predict whether you will meet your weight loss goals by the way you talk about it.

I mean that literally. I think I could devise a controlled experiment in which I pick weight-loss winners and losers in advance based on nothing but a transcript of folks talking about their fitness goals.

I’ll give you some examples. What follows is a list of things you will hear from people that have no legitimate chance of losing weight and keeping it off. Yes, your thing is probably on this list and it pisses you off to see it. But stay with me and I’ll change your life by the end of this post.

Here’s what people say when they are preparing to fail at a weight-loss strategy.

“I need to exercise more.”

“I’m counting calories.”

“I have a cheat day coming.”

“I’m watching my portions.”

“I’m doing a cleanse.”

“I’m trying the (whatever) diet plan.”

Ten years ago I would have said everything on the list is a common-sense way to lose weight. But science has since shown otherwise. I’ll go through them one at a time.

January 5, 2015

Scott Aaronson on “white male privilege” as experienced at MIT

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Down in the comments on this post, Scott Aaronson gets extremely personal:

… You also say that men in STEM fields — unlike those in the humanities and social sciences — don’t even have the “requisite vocabulary” to discuss sex discrimination, since they haven’t read enough feminist literature. Here I can only speak for myself: I’ve read at least a dozen feminist books, of which my favorite was Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse (I like howls of anguish much more than bureaucratic boilerplate, so in some sense, the more radical the feminist, the better I can relate). I check Feministing, and even radfem blogs like I Blame the Patriarchy. And yes, I’ve read many studies and task force reports about gender bias, and about the “privilege” and “entitlement” of the nerdy males that’s keeping women away from science.

Alas, as much as I try to understand other people’s perspectives, the first reference to my “male privilege” — my privilege! — is approximately where I get off the train, because it’s so alien to my actual lived experience. This is not, insanely, to suggest a lack of misogyny in the modern world! To whatever extent there is misogyny, one could say that there’s also “male privilege.” Rather it’s to suggest that, given what nerdy males have themselves had to endure in life, shaming them over their “male privilege” is a bad way to begin a conversation with them.

But I suspect the thought that being a nerdy male might not make me “privileged” — that it might even have put me into one of society’s least privileged classes — is completely alien to your way of seeing things. To have any hope of bridging the gargantuan chasm between us, I’m going to have to reveal something about my life, and it’s going to be embarrassing.

(sigh) Here’s the thing: I spent my formative years — basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s — feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. And furthermore, that the people who did these things to me would somehow be morally right to do them — even if I couldn’t understand how.

You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year.

My recurring fantasy, through this period, was to have been born a woman, or a gay man, or best of all, completely asexual, so that I could simply devote my life to math, like my hero Paul Erdös did. Anything, really, other than the curse of having been born a heterosexual male, which for me, meant being consumed by desires that one couldn’t act on or even admit without running the risk of becoming an objectifier or a stalker or a harasser or some other creature of the darkness.

Of course, I was smart enough to realize that maybe this was silly, maybe I was overanalyzing things. So I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. But I didn’t find any. On the contrary: I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with “microaggressions,” and how even the most “enlightened” males — especially the most “enlightened” males, in fact — are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.

Because of my fears — my fears of being “outed” as a nerdy heterosexual male, and therefore as a potential creep or sex criminal — I had constant suicidal thoughts. As Bertrand Russell wrote of his own adolescence: “I was put off from suicide only by the desire to learn more mathematics.”

At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs that would chemically castrate me (I had researched which ones), because a life of mathematical asceticism was the only future that I could imagine for myself. The psychiatrist refused to prescribe them, but he also couldn’t suggest any alternative: my case genuinely stumped him. As well it might — for in some sense, there was nothing “wrong” with me. In a different social context — for example, that of my great-grandparents in the shtetl — I would have gotten married at an early age and been completely fine. (And after a decade of being coy about it, I suppose I’ve finally revealed the meaning of this blog’s title.) This is not, in any way, shape, or form, to suggest that I yearn for an era when women could be purchased as property. There were many times and places where marriages did not occur without both parties’ consent, but there was also a ritualized system of courtship that took much of the terror and mystery out of the process. Even that is not exactly what I “yearn” for; I merely say it’s what I felt “optimized” for.

All this time, I faced constant reminders that the males who didn’t spend months reading and reflecting about feminism and their own shortcomings — even the ones who went to the opposite extreme, who engaged in what you called “good old-fashioned ass-grabbery” — actually had success that way. The same girls who I was terrified would pepper-spray me and call the police if I looked in their direction, often responded to the crudest advances of the most Neanderthal of men by accepting those advances. Yet it was I, the nerd, and not the Neanderthals, who needed to check his privilege and examine his hidden entitlement! Contrary to what countless people have said, this is not intended to blame women for their choices — or even, really, to blame the Neanderthals. Rather, it’s intended to blame a culture that told male nerds since childhood that they’d be horrible people if they asked — even more horrible than if they didn’t ask! — thereby ceding the field to the Neanderthals by default.

So what happened to break me out of this death-spiral? Did I have an epiphany, where I realized that despite all appearances, it was I, the terrified nerd, who was wallowing in unearned male privilege, while those Neaderthal ass-grabbers were actually, on some deeper level, the compassionate feminists — and therefore, that both of us deserved everything we got?

No, there was no such revelation. All that happened was that I got older, and after years of hard work, I achieved some success in science, and that success boosted my self-confidence (at least now I had something worth living for), and the newfound confidence, besides making me more attractive, also made me able to (for example) ask a woman out, despite not being totally certain that my doing so would pass muster with a committee of radfems chaired by Andrea Dworkin — a prospect that was previously unthinkable to me. This, to my mind, “defiance” of feminism is the main reason why I was able to enjoy a few years of a normal, active dating life, which then led to meeting the woman who I married.

Now, the whole time I was struggling with this, I was also fighting a second battle: to maintain the liberal, enlightened, feminist ideals that I had held since childhood, against a powerful current pulling me away from them. I reminded myself, every day, that no, there’s no conspiracy to make the world a hell for shy male nerds. There are only individual women and men trying to play the cards they’re dealt, and the confluence of their interests sometimes leads to crappy outcomes. No woman “owes” male nerds anything; no woman deserves blame if she prefers the Neanderthals; everyone’s free choice demands respect.

That I managed to climb out of the pit with my feminist beliefs mostly intact, you might call a triumph of abstract reason over experience.

But I hope you now understand why I might feel “only” 97% on board with the program of feminism. I hope you understand why, despite my ironclad commitment to women’s reproductive choice and affirmative action and women’s rights in the developing world and getting girls excited about science, and despite my horror at rape and sexual assault and my compassion for the victims of those heinous crimes, I might react icily to the claim — for which I’ve seen not a shred of statistical evidence — that women are being kept out of science by the privileged, entitled culture of shy male nerds, which is worse than the culture of male doctors or male filmmakers or the males of any other profession. I believe you guys call this sort of thing “blaming the victim.” From my perspective, it serves only to shift blame from the Neanderthals and ass-grabbers onto some of society’s least privileged males, the ones who were themselves victims of bullying and derision, and who acquired enough toxic shame that way for appealing to their shame to be an effective way to manipulate their behavior. As I see it, whenever these nerdy males pull themselves out of the ditch the world has tossed them into, while still maintaining enlightened liberal beliefs, including in the inviolable rights of every woman and man, they don’t deserve blame for whatever feminist shortcomings they might still have. They deserve medals at the White House. This is obvious hyperbole.

H/T to Scott Alexander, who has much to say about both Aaronson’s painful confession and the rather over-the-top responses to it from the feminist community.

January 3, 2015

“Secular Stagnation and Cast-Iron Frying Pans”

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At the wonderfully named Worthwhile Canadian Initiative blog, Frances Woolley looks at some of the ordinary human cussedness that prevents wonderfully clear and understandable economic theories from working quite as efficiently as their formulators expect:

1. Economies grow when people buy stuff.

2. Over time, people accumulate more and more stuff.

3. People can only handle so much stuff. Sock drawers get full of socks. Cupboards get full of cups. Bookshelves get full of books.

4. It’s hard to get rid of stuff. Economic models typically assume disposing of unwanted things costs nothing. But life isn’t like that. Sorting out stuff that can be tossed from stuff that is worth keeping takes time and effort.

5. People are “loss averse”. Throwing things away — clothes that don’t fit, vinyl LPs — hurts psychologically.

6. There’s no need to replace perfectly good stuff. True some stuff, like mobile phones, only lasts a year or three. But other stuff, like cast-iron frying pans, lasts for decades.

Taken together, observations 2 through 6 imply that, as people get older, they buy less and less stuff. Combined with observation 1, these observations explain why countries with aging populations experience lower rates of economic growth.

My only quibble is with the final sentence of point 3: bookshelves don’t get full … you just run out of immediate book storage options. Bookshelves are never really full, they’re just temporarily over-booked.

December 31, 2014

The psychological value of online gaming

Filed under: Gaming, Health, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:17

At Massively, Andrew Ross talks to the lead author on a recent paper that — unlike the pop-psych headlines in the newspapers — shows a much more positive side to gamers and online gaming:

Every time we talk about scientific research on Massively, readers argue that results from game studies should be “obvious” and are a waste of time/money or that everyone knows MMOs are filled with anti-social trolls. Kowert told me that game studies are “not unique in these criticisms,” though “they may seem stronger within this field due to the perceived frivolity of games and gaming as a field of study”:

    Even though gaming continues to grow in importance and popularity within society, there is still so much that remains unknown about how and why people are using this medium and what are its potential uses and effects (both positive and negative). For example, it has long been assumed that online game players are all reclusive, overweight, lonely, teenage males. This is reflected in the cultural stereotype of the group as seen in the news media and popular culture (Make Love, Not Warcraft, anyone?).

In her paper Reconsidering the Stereotype of Online Gamers, Kowert and her colleagues examined the validity of these stereotypes. As we discussed yesterday, the results proved that the opinions people hold about gamers don’t quite match the media’s stereotypes, even among non-gamers. Without research, we wouldn’t have this information, and for me as a gamer, it’s encouraging to know that times are changing. Plus, it gives you ammo when Uncle Frank tries to put down your hobby this holiday season.

During my examination of the research into online games and real world friendships among emotionally sensitive users, I realized I could see myself in the findings. As a child, I was very shy; part of the problem was that I didn’t know how to react to people’s emotions. One article about social gaming and lonely lives argued that people who game a lot can sometimes have trouble connecting with non-gamers. Many “enthusiastic hobbyists” also have this issue, whether their hobby is sports or soap operas or games.

Kowert says this is correct to an extent; we’ve all met the hardcore sports fans who spouts sports jargon. “There is some uniqueness in the social profile of individuals who choose to exclusively engage in hobbyist activities that are mediated by technology, such as online games,” Kowert told me. “For instance, you state that you were shy as a child and preferred standing in the background rather than diving right into new social situations. Knowing this about yourself, you may have been more apprehensive to join, let’s say, a sports club or a board game group, than popping in on an online forum discussing sports or joining online gaming club.”

In other words, it’s not that all people who play online games are shy or are using the internet to overcome some of their social problems, but for those who suffer from those problems, online gaming could be a good way for them to meet others. Being online allows people to share a social space without the fears and consequences associated with face-to-face socialization. For example, I rarely went to parties in high school, but I did run events in the online games I played, especially in older MMOs. In more raid-oriented MMOs, people constantly told me I was doing something “different,” something unique or strange, and that made me stand out as also being different. In short, I was using the game world in a different way than other more mainstream gamers did, which echoes Kowert’s research about emotionally sensitive players using game spaces in unique ways. She explains:

    Previous research has largely focused on the relationship between MMORPG play and social outcomes, as MMORPGs are believed to have a unique ability to promote sociability between users (see Mark Chen’s 2009 book Leet Noobs for a more in-depth discussion of the social environment of MMOs). As cooperation between users is often crucial to game play, the social environment of MMORPGs differs from other genres, such as multi-player first-person shooter games where gameplay is more about competition than cooperation and the social environment is more often characterized by competitiveness, trash-talking, and gloating (for more on this research see Zubek & Khoo, 2002 [PDF]). These differences in social environments are likely to differentially impact the social utility of the space as well as the social relationships that may come from it.

December 27, 2014

ESR on the origins of open source theory

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Eric S. Raymond acknowledges the strong influence of evolutionary psychology on the development of open source theory:

Yesterday I realized, quite a few years after I should have, that I have never identified in public where I got the seed of the idea that I developed into the modern economic theory of open-source software – that is, how open-source “altruism” could be explained as an emergent result of selfish incentives felt by individuals. So here is some credit where credit is due.

Now, in general it should be obvious that I owed a huge debt to thinkers in the classical-liberal tradition, from Adam Smith down to F. A. Hayek and Ayn Rand. The really clueful might also notice some connection to Robert Trivers’s theory of reciprocal altruism under natural selection and Robert Axelrod’s work on tit-for-tat interactions and the evolution of cooperation.

These were all significant; they gave me the conceptual toolkit I could apply successfully once I’d had my initial insight. But there’s a missing piece – where my initial breakthrough insight came from, the moment when I realized I could apply all those tools.

The seed was in the seminal 1992 anthology The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. That was full of brilliant work; it laid the foundations of evolutionary psychology and is still worth a read.

(I note as an interesting aside that reading science fiction did an excellent job of preparing me for the central ideas of evolutionary psychology. What we might call “hard adaptationism” – the search for explanations of social behavior in evolution under selection – has been a central theme in SF since the 1940s, well before even the first wave of academic sociobiological thinking in the early 1970s and, I suspect, strongly influencing that wave. It is implicit in, as a leading example, much of Robert Heinlein’s work.)

The specific paper that changed my life was this one: Two Nonhuman Primate Models for the Evolution of Human Food Sharing: Chimpanzees and Callitrichids by W.C. McGrew and Anna T.C. Feistner.

In it, the authors explained food sharing as a hedge against variance. Basically, foods that can be gathered reliably were not shared; high-value food that could only be obtained unreliably was shared.

The authors went on to observe that in human hunter-gatherer cultures a similar pattern obtains: gathered foods (for which the calorie/nutrient value is a smooth function of effort invested) are not typically shared, whereas hunted foods (high variance of outcome in relation to effort) are shared. Reciprocal altruism is a hedge against uncertainty of outcomes.

December 26, 2014

QotD: Realism versus cynicism

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:01

I don’t think I have a negative assessment of human beings. I think I have a realistic assessment of human beings. I think people like to think that people are better than they are. It is true that I don’t live in a cloud of hope, which I have a certain contempt for. If people really thought about it, which they don’t, I think that they would agree with me.

Fran Lebowitz, quoted by Lauren Ingeno in “Fran Lebowitz: I Am Not a Hostess. I Am a Prosecutor”, George Washington Today, 2014-04-20.

December 24, 2014

QotD: The Christmas card

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

Is the Christmas card obsolete? I suppose the answer depends on what function you think the Christmas card is intended to serve, if any at all. Surely it is no longer intended to convey information. Email and social networks do a more efficient job, and including a Christmas newsletter or family photograph (I do both) will earn you only scorn from any self-respecting British snob.

Some believe that the Christmas card list, where we keep track of old favours and slights, is a sort of passive-aggressive vendetta. There is truth in this. Late in 1974, two sociologists, Phillip Kunz and Michael Woolcott, posted more than 500 Christmas cards to people they did not know. Some of them were “high status” cards, using expensive materials and signed “Dr and Mrs Phillip Kunz”. Others were from “Phillip and Joyce Kunz” or used cheaper stationery or both.

The Kunz family received, along with a complaint from the police, some rather touching replies: “Dear Joyce and Phil, Received your Christmas card and was good to hear from you. I will have to do some explaining to you. Your last name did not register at first … Please forgive me for being so stupid for not knowing your last name. We are fine and hope you are well. We miss your father. They were such grand friends.”

But what is most striking is that more than 100 strangers felt obliged to send a signed card in response. That is the power of reciprocity. (Response rates were particularly high if “Dr Kunz” had written on a fancy card to a working-class household. That is the power of status.)

If this is what Christmas cards are all about — mindless reciprocal obligation coupled with some social climbing — then I think we can all agree on two things: we could do without them; and we’ll never be rid of them. Thomas Schelling, a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics, once advocated a bankruptcy procedure — wiping clean the list of people to whom we “owe” a Christmas card. If only.

Tim Harford, “The Christmas card network: ‘It is not clear new technologies are expanding our number of genuine friends’”, TimHarford.com, 2014-12-09.

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