Quotulatiousness

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.

December 22, 2014

A new paper on the exaggerated claims that MMOs are harmful

Filed under: Gaming, Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

By way of Massively, the abstract of a new paper by Dr. Rachel Kowert and her co-authors, investigating claims that massive multi-player online games are a public health threat:

Highlights
• The psychosocial causes and consequences of online video game play were evaluated.
• Over a 1- and 2-year period, evidence for social compensation processes were found.
• Among young adults, online games appear to be socially compensating spaces.
• No significant displacement or compensation patterns were found for adolescents.
• No significant displacement or compensation patterns were found for older adults.

Abstract

Due to its worldwide popularity, researchers have grown concerned as to whether or not engagement within online video gaming environments poses a threat to public health. Previous research has uncovered inverse relationships between frequency of play and a range of psychosocial outcomes, however, a reliance on cross-sectional research designs and opportunity sampling of only the most involved players has limited the broader understanding of these relationships. Enlisting a large representative sample and a longitudinal design, the current study examined these relationships and the mechanisms that underlie them to determine if poorer psychosocial outcomes are a cause (i.e., pre-existing psychosocial difficulties motivate play) or a consequence (i.e., poorer outcomes are driven by use) of online video game engagement. The results dispute previous claims that online game play has negative effects on the psychosocial well-being of its users and instead indicate that individuals play online games to compensate for pre-existing social difficulties.

QotD: Celebrity gossip as a common good

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

Celebrity gossip is psychologically healthy.

It provides an outlet, a useful sublimation, of our self-destructive subconscious compulsion to lean over the back fence and cluck (or tweet) about the godawful things our relatives, friends, and neighbors do.

Celebrities are not our family. Although there are so many celebrities that we are probably related to some. But they’re not the niece looking daggers at us across the Thanksgiving turkey because of what we said to Uncle Bill about her hookup with that McDermott idiot. They’re not the daughter locked in her bedroom running up our Visa card bill with online shopping for new makeup, clothes, and other mall finds.

Celebrities are not our friends. They don’t borrow our money or power tools. They don’t forget it’s their turn to carpool the kids to junior high. They don’t come over when we’re busy watching The View and litter the kitchen table with used Kleenex, pouring their hearts out about their (remarkably frequent) divorces. They don’t get caught — unless Dean McDermott is late to the set for his televised therapy session on True Tori — necking with our spouses in the coat closet at our cocktail parties.

P.J. O’Rourke, “Welcome to Showbiz Sharia Law: No talent? Kind of dim-witted? No shame? Perfect. The celebrity industry needs you — just don’t ever veil your face”, The Daily Beast, 2014-05-04

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.

QotD: Fear and fairy tales

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

The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it – because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.

G.K. Chesterton, “The Red Angel”, Tremendous Trifles, 1909.

December 15, 2014

The world of the imagination

Filed under: Gaming, Health, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

At BoingBoing, Jason Louv talks about getting back into his teenage passion (Dungeons and Dragons), but also worries that as a culture, we’re losing our opportunities — and capability — to imagine:

There’s just something about high Arthurian or Tolkienesque fantasy that cuts so deeply into the Western unconscious, finding a far more central vein than anything that Lovecraft or Edgar Rice Burroughs or Jack Kirby were able to mine. Nothing beats the experience of the Grail Quest, of becoming a heroic adventurer in a medieval world full of fantastic creatures, on a mission to slay the dragon and liberate the princess — or at least get some decent gold, treasure and experience points.

Until I left for college, fantasy paperbacks and comics were my world when I was alone, and role-playing games were my world when I was with friends. And how much more real, in a way, the inner palaces of my adolescent imagination felt to me than the gritty “reality” of so-called adult life, of endless war, losing friends to drugs, economic chaos, tumultuous relationships, chasing dollars.

Am I so wrong to want to go back to the Garden?

The Interior Castle

While our culture dismisses any use of the imagination as wasted time — something that distracts us from the “real” world of quantification and monetization — mystics and artists throughout history have told us that the imagination is the vehicle which brings us into contact with reality, not away from it.

William Blake is an exemplar of this approach — “The world of imagination is the world of eternity,” he wrote. “It is the divine bosom into which we shall all go after the death of the vegetated body. This world of imagination is infinite and eternal, whereas the world of generation is finite and temporal.”

In 1577, the Spanish Carmelite nun Teresa of Ávila wrote a prayer manual called The Interior Castle, which describes her path to union with God as a kind of epic single-player Dungeons and Dragons game. In it, she describes a vision she received of the soul as a castle-shaped crystal globe, containing seven mansions. These mansions — representing seven stages of deepening faith — were to be traversed through internal prayer. Throughout the book, she warns that this imaginary internal world will be consistently assaulted by reptilian specters, “toads, vipers and other venomous creatures,” representing the impurities of the soul to be vanquished by the spiritual pilgrim.

Sixty-five years earlier, St. Ignatius of Loyola designed his Spiritual Exercises as the training manual of the Jesuits, in which adherents were to deeply imagine themselves partaking in incidents from the life of Christ, creating inward virtual realities built up over years as a way of coming closer to God. Similar techniques exist in many world religions — in the stark inner visualizations of Tantric Buddhism, for instance. Such mystics speak not just of the vital importance of daydreaming and fantasy, but of the disciplined imagination as literally the door to divinity.

As we progress into the 21st century, this is a door that we are slowly losing the key to. The French Situationist author Annie Le Brun, in her 2008 book The Reality Overload: The Modern World’s Assault on the Imaginal Realm, suggests that information technology is causing blight and desertification in the world of the imagination just as surely as pollution and global warming are causing blight and desertification in the physical world. We are gaining the ability to communicate and hoard information, but losing the ability to imagine.

I literally cannot get my head around what it must be like to be a child or teenager now, raised in a completely digitized world — where fantasy and long reverie have given way to the instant gratification of electronic media. There can be no innocence or imagination or wonderment in the world of Reddit, Pornhub and 4Chan — just blank, numb, drooling fixation on a screen flickering with horrors in a dark and lonely room, the hell of isolation within one’s own id. I recently saw a blog post about a toilet training apparatus with an attachment for an iPad. No, no, no.

Just as electronic media is stripping us of our right to privacy, so is it stripping us of our right to an inner world. Everything is to be put on public display, even our most intimate moments and thoughts.

We need to go back. We need to re-discover the door to the inner worlds — a door that I believe encouraging young people to read printed books, and to play analog role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, can re-open.

December 13, 2014

Science shows the amazing power of … the high heel

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

Many of you think that high-heeled shoes for women are sexist and explotiative. On first blush, I mostly agree with you … but we may all be wrong:

The allure of high-heeled shoes is no secret among women, who have used them to entice men from the streets of Ancient Rome to the New York City sidewalks of Carrie Bradshaw. Heels have also been a controversial symbol in the battleground of sexual politics.

Now a scientific study in France has measured their power.

Scientists from the Universite de Bretagne-Sud conducted experiments that showed that men behave very differently toward high-heeled women. The results, published online in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, may please the purveyors of Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo shoes — yet frustrate those who think stilettos encourage sexism.

The study found if a woman drops a glove on the street while wearing heels, she’s almost 50 percent more likely to have a man fetch it for her than if she’s wearing flats.

Another finding: A woman wearing heels is twice as likely to persuade men to stop and answer survey questions on the street. And a high-heeled woman in a bar waits half the time to get picked up by a man, compared to when her heel is nearer to the ground.

“Women’s shoe heel size exerts a powerful effect on men’s behavior,” says the study’s author, Nicolas Gueguen, a behavioral science researcher. “Simply put, they make women more beautiful.”

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