Quotulatiousness

January 13, 2017

Jonathan Haidt on the rise of the “microaggression” concept

Filed under: Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

He is commenting on an article in Perspectives on Psychological Science (PDF):

The microaggression program teaches students the exact opposite of ancient wisdom. Microaggression training is — by definition — instruction in how to detect ever-smaller specks in your neighbor’s eye. Microaggression training tells students that “life itself is exactly what you think it is — you have a direct pipeline to reality, and the person who offended you does not, so go with your feelings.” Of course, the ancients could be wrong on these points, but the empirical evidence for the importance of appraisal and the ubiquity of bias and hypocrisy is overwhelming (I review it in chapters 2 and 4 of The Happiness Hypothesis). As Lilienfeld shows, the empirical evidence supporting the utility and validity of the microaggression concept is minimal at best.

I think the section of Lilienfeld’s article that should most make us recoil from the microaggression program is the section on personality traits, particularly negative emotionality and the tendency to perceive oneself as a victim. These are traits — correlated with depression and anxiety disorders — that some students bring with them from high school to college. Students who score high on these traits perceive more microaggressions in ambiguous circumstances. These traits therefore bring misery and anger to the students themselves, and these negative emotions and the conflicts they engender are likely to radiate outward through the students’ social networks (Christakis & Fowler, 2009). How should colleges (and other institutions) respond to the presence of high scorers in their midst? Should they offer them cognitive behavioral therapy or moral validation? Should they hand them a copy of The Dhammapada or a microaggression training manual?

It’s bad enough to make the most fragile and anxious students quicker to take offense and more self-certain and self-righteous. But what would happen if you took a whole campus of diverse students, who arrive from all over the world with very different values and habits, and you train all of them to react with pain and anger to ever-smaller specks that they learn to see in each other’s eyes?

And what would happen if the rise of the microaggression concept coincided with the rise of social media, so that students can file charges against each other — and against their professors — within minutes of any perceived offense? The predictable result of welcoming the microaggression program to campus is turmoil, distrust, and anger. It is the end of the open environment we prize in the academy, where students feel free to speak up and challenge each other, their professors, and orthodox ideas. On a campus that polices microaggressions, everyone walks on eggshells.

H/T to David Thompson for the link.

January 6, 2017

The sustained denial of “gentry liberals”

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

Glenn Reynolds on the many US liberals who refuse to come out of denial:

It’s been nearly two months since the election, and Democrats and leftists still haven’t settled down. The campus safe spaces and cry-ins immediately after the votes were counted were bad enough. But the craziness is still going on.

Why are they so upset? I think it’s because of status anxiety. Our privileged, college-educated left — what Joel Kotkin calls the gentry liberals — feels that its preeminent position in American society is under threat. And people care a lot about status.

What’s more, the people who seem to be lashing out the most are, in fact, just those gentry liberals: academics, entertainers, pundits, low-level tech types, and so on. As journalism professor Mark Grabowski reported, another academic texted him on election night: “Oh my God! We will be the ones ostracized if he wins.”

Maybe we shouldn’t “ostracize” people based on whether their candidate wins, but in a way this professor was right: A Trump victory is a blow to the status of the people who thought Hillary Clinton was their candidate — one that they feel even more deeply because gentry liberals, having been raised on the principle that the personal is political, seem to take politics pretty personally.

Another example that’s been circulating on the Internet comes from YouTube sex-talker Laci Green. When the election was still uncertain, she tweeted: “Regardless of the outcome, we are clearly a *deeply* divided and broken country. So much work ahead to mend, heal, and restore the U in USA.” Just a few hours later, when it became clear that Hillary had lost, she changed her tune: “We are now under total Republican rule. Textbook fascism. F____ you, white America. F___ you, you racist, misogynist pieces of s___. G’night.”

Venezuela’s journey from the “Bolivarian Revolution” to “Zimbabwean levels of hunger and inflationary poverty”

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

Jack Staples-Butler on the moral accountability for outside supporters (particularly the British left) of what has turned into a huge humanitarian disaster in Venezuela:

DENIAL in the face of catastrophic failure of one’s ideas is a predictable reaction from a believer, as per Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance reduction in response to the failure of one’s beliefs. Denial in the face of shame for one’s actions is an experience well-studied by psychologists and criminologists. One 2014 study summarises the role of ‘shame’ in creating both denial of responsibility and recidivism among offenders:

    “Feelings of shame… involve a painful feeling directed toward the self. For some people, feelings of shame lead to a defensive response, a denial of responsibility, and a need to blame others — a process that can lead to aggression.”

Combining both faces of the phenomenon of denial is the behaviour of the supporters, apologists and promoters of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’, the late Hugo Chávez and the PSUV regime in Venezuela, and their response to the present state of the country. Humanitarian catastrophe of an apocalyptic scale is now unfolding in the most oil-rich state in the world. The magnitude of human suffering is indescribable. The scenes of bread queues and shortages familiar to Eurozone-crisis Greece are long since surpassed. Venezuela has become a ‘Starvation State’ which “today drowns in a humanitarian crisis”, with lawless cities and hunger for the majority. It extends beyond humans, as the country’s pets are left in skeletal starvation and the zoos of Venezuela become graveyards of wild and endangered animals. […]

The response of the Venezuelan government to a crisis entirely of its own making has been systemic and organised psychological denial of its own, and particularly to externalise blame through conspiracy theories. Fantasies of ‘economic warfare’ waged by ‘hoarders’ led by the United States are played out in government seizures of foodstuffs and crippling price controls. The most disturbing recent development is the prospect of Venezuelans becoming a population of forced labourers in government-run agricultural projects, a solution that would take Venezuela from Zimbabwean levels of hunger and inflationary poverty to Cambodian levels of state-led starvation.

H/T to Natalie Solent for the link.

January 2, 2017

QotD: A key to Hitler’s early success

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

[Hitler] grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarised version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation “Greatest happiness of the greatest number” is a good slogan, but at this moment “Better an end with horror than a horror without end” is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

George Orwell, “Review of Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler”, 1940.

December 19, 2016

QotD: Handling death threats

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

A while back, someone my mother knows went crazy. The details of this insanity, or how it led them to focus on my lovely, inoffensive mother, are not important. What matters is that a deluge of emails started, and one of them contained a sentence along the lines of “The world would be a better place without you in it.”

Needless to say, like any normal person who gets an email like that, she became understandably worried. I rushed to reassure her. “Mom,” I said, “I get death threats all the time. They never do anything about it.”

Fun fact: “Mom, I get death threats all the time” are not words that reassure mothers. That was an interesting learning for me. But it is not the main point of my story. The point is that what I said remains true: death threats, or even quasi threats, are really nerve wracking the first hundred or so times someone emails you a picture of your house with a crosshairs superimposed on your bedroom window. Then over time, you notice something: the people who sent things like that haven’t followed through.

Am I saying that you never have to worry about people who email you on the internet? No. If someone emails you something like “We are destined to be together, why won’t haven’t you responded to my last 47 notes?” or “I know you are helping the CIA spy on me through my tooth fillings, and if you don’t stop, I will have to take action”, then you should be very worried, and contact the authorities immediately.

[…]

For this was at midday on a Saturday. Think about that; let it marinate for a while. These were adult men and women who had nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon than to vent their political spleen through culinary criticism. Think about how lame your life has to be for you to say “It’s my day off. How should I spend it? Oh, yeah, I’m finally going to get that [expletive deleted]. I’m going to [censored] all over her [bleeping] recipe.”

From that day to this, every time someone winds up the spittle-flecked outrage, I shake my head a little and think “I’m sorry your life is so sad that this is the best use you could find for your spare time.”

That is what you should be thinking every time someone sends you a horrible note, or forwards on someone else’s vituperation in case you haven’t seen it. That’s usually what you should be thinking even when that someone expresses a fond desire to see you exit this mortal life as early as possible. These are people whose lives are so joy-impoverished, so empty of meaning, that they are driven to seek pleasure in someone else’s pain, and power by denuciation. They can only have that pleasure and that power if you give it to them. If they were worthy of either, they wouldn’t need to write these things to you.

You should feel sorry for them. You should not, however, feel the slightest interest in what they think about you.

I especially want to address this to the ladies: this happens to us a lot, and there’s a temptation to reach out to your followers for support, telling them how awful and afraid this makes you feel. That’s classic lady bonding, and I’m all for sisterhood and support. Nonetheless: Don’t. They can see it, and they’re enjoying that they’re making you afraid. You don’t win with these folks by sending a mob of your own followers after them. You win — with them, and at life — by *not being upset*, because what the hell do you care what some anonymous coward thinks about you? Your soundtrack should be “I am Woman, Hear me Roar” and “I Will Survive”, not “Help!” If there are missives that seem genuinely threatening, pass them onto the police. Then stick the rest in your digital circular file and do something fun.

Megan McArdle, posted to Facebook, 2016-12-09.

December 17, 2016

QotD: Otherkin, headmates, and multiple systems

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

Turns out, crazy sex maniacs have cooked up new ways to be crazy sex maniacs.

“Come on,” you’re thinking, “sex is sex and crazy is crazy. There’s nothing new under the Krafft-Ebing sun. I saw that CSI episode about furries and read that article about bronies that made me want to kill myself (after I killed my wife and kids to spare them the horrors of living in America another second.)”

Fine. Meet the “otherkin.” Unlike cosplayers, these dudes genuinely think they are animals trapped in human form. Literally. They’re serious.

How’s about “headmates?” We used to call these “imaginary friends,” but they’re not just for kids anymore. (Cuz that would be age-ist!)

Next? “Multiple systems”:

    [A] person who describes themselves as a multiple system will likely refer to themselves as ‘they’ because they believe they are multiple people….

    And, because that isn’t already batshit insane enough, some multiple systems will have headmates who are animals, otherkin people, and, of course, fictional characters….I’ve not even got to the people who believe they have galaxies, nebulae, universes, and other space shit, either in their ‘headspace’ or as an otherkin. So some people will believe they are actually galaxies.

Or “demisexuals”? They’re “only sexually attracted to people” they have “an emotional connection to.” (We used to call them “normal” and “women.”)

Now meet the “transethnic” and “transabled”: paralyzed black women trapped inside functional white-male bodies.

Naturally, “the favorite pastime for SJAs [social justice activists] is to pretend they’re oppressed, and they are all professional victims. You may very well see otherkin telling people to “check their human privilege” while they talk about how oppressed they are because no one believes they’re really a cat…”

All very weird indeed, but so what?

Well, within living memory, gay “marriage” was unthinkable, transsexuals stuck to the stage, and a “bathroom bill” letting “transgendered” boys use the girls’ washrooms in elementary schools would be one of John Irving‘s forgotten subplots, not something that is about to become law.

Brace yourself for “otherkin-phobia” and the fines and firings that will come with it.

Kathy Shaidle, “My Otherkin Headmate is a Two-Spirited Starseed!”, Taki’s Magazine, 2013-03-05.

December 16, 2016

QotD: Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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

… it might have been worth mentioning that, whatever the validity of PTSD as a diagnosis, most people who experience a traumatic event in life do not suffer from it. As is to be expected of a creature as protean as Man, people respond differently to their experiences. They do not forget the trauma, but its memory does not affect their subsequent lives in any pathological way. I once met an American psychiatrist, John E. Nardini, who had been a prisoner of the Japanese for more than three years, who had seen half his fellow prisoners die of hunger and disease, and who had himself suffered from beriberi, but who felt that the appalling experience, which of course he would have wished on no one, had actually strengthened him. The development of PTSD does not follow from trauma as the night does the day, but depends on many things — no doubt the culture of the traumatized among them.

In any case, PTSD is largely irrelevant to what Heer is writing about. He isn’t writing about post-traumatic stress disorder at all, but rather, a new diagnosis of pre-traumatic stress disorder. I can’t help but recall the case of Mr. Podsnap, in Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend:

    A certain institution in Mr. Podsnap’s mind which he called “the young person” may be considered to have been embodied in Miss Podsnap, his daughter. It was an inconvenient and exacting institution, as requiring everything in the universe to be filed down and fitted to it. The question about everything was, would it bring a blush into the cheek of the young person? And the inconvenience of the young person was, that, according to Mr. Podsnap, she seemed always liable to burst into blushes when there was no need at all. There appeared to be no line of demarcation between the young person’s excessive innocence, and another person’s guiltiest knowledge.

What is most interesting from the cultural point of view about the preposterous nonsense of trigger warnings for Victorian books is the obvious thirst or desire for victimization that they express. Victims are the heroes of the politically correct; their victimhood confers unique moral authority upon them ex officio. And since many would like to be a unique moral authority, it follows that they would like to be a victim. The fact soon follows the wish, at least in their own estimation; and this, of course, provides much work and justifies much power for the self-proclaimed protectors of victims. University teachers become the curators of figurines of the finest porcelain, which only they are allowed to touch.

This is a case in which caricature is the best way of capturing truth.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder: On the phenomenon of campus ‘trigger” warnings’, City Journal, 2015-05-27.

December 15, 2016

Science-based gift-giving advice

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

In the New York Times, John Tierney says most of us are trying too hard and should just relax about our gift-giving efforts:

Social scientists bear glad tidings for the holiday season. After extensively observing how people respond to gifts, they have advice for shoppers: You don’t have to try so hard.

You’re not obliged to spend hours finding just the right gift for each person on your list. Most would be just as happy with something quick and easy. This may sound too good to be true, but rest assured this is not a ploy by some lazy Scrooges in academia.

These researchers are meticulous analysts of gift-giving rituals. Whether they’re drawing lessons from Kwakwaka’wakw Indian potlatches or Amazon.com wish lists, I’ve always found them the wisest mentors for the holidays, and this year they have more data than ever to back up their advice:

Don’t aim for the “big reveal.” Many shoppers strive to find a sensational toy or extravagant piece of jewelry that will create drama when it’s opened. But drama is not what recipients want, according to a new study by Jeff Galak of Carnegie Mellon University.

He and his colleagues have found that gifts go wrong because the givers are focused on the moment of exchange, whereas the recipients are thinking long-term: Will I actually get any use out of this?

Don’t “over-individuate” your gifts. People too often give bad presents because they insist on buying something different for everyone.

In experiments using greeting cards and gifts, psychologists found that people typically feel obliged to choose unique items for each person on their list even when the recipients wouldn’t know if they got duplicates — and even when one particularly good gift would work better for everyone.

The more gifts you select, the more likely you’ll pick some duds. If you can find one sure thing, don’t be afraid to give it more than once.

December 8, 2016

Why do some men send unsolicited photos of their “junk”?

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

Scott Adams says that the “Moist Robot Hypothesis” explains why dick pics are a thing:

The Moist Robot Hypothesis also assumes that most, if not all, of our “decisions” are little more than rationalizations for our instinct to procreate in the most productive way. And by that I mean mating with people who have genetic advantages that would make the offspring successful. That’s why people are attracted to beauty, because it is a visual proxy for good health and good genes. For the same reason, women are naturally attracted to successful men that have talent, money, or some other sort of advantage. (Obviously these are generalizations and don’t apply to all.)

[…]

Our sex drive is so strong that it largely eliminates the option for rational behavior. And as you know, the hornier you get, the stupider you are. Once a guy reaches a critical level of horniness, his rational brain shuts off and he becomes primal. And when he’s primal, he sometimes signals his availability for mating in the most basic way possible: He displays his junk in full preparedness.

If you think the men doing this behavior are extra-dumb, or extra-rude, that might be true. But it is just as likely that such men are extra-horny. That gets you to the same decision no matter your IQ because the rational brain is shut down during maximum arousal.

It is also true – as far as I can tell from discussions with women over the years – that sometimes a dick pic actually results in dating and sex. I realize how hard that is to believe. But sometimes (maybe one time in 500) it actually works. You would think those odds would be enough to discourage even a man with a temporarily suspended intellect, but that view ignores the basic nature of men: We’re risk takers when it comes to reproduction.

December 3, 2016

QotD: Gender and transgender

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

The Oxford English Dictionary defines transgender as ‘[d]enoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex’. It is a relatively new term. According to equality-law professor and trans activist Stephen Whittle, the term ‘transvestite’ was first used in 1910 by the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who would later found the Berlin Institute where the very first sex-change operations took place. ‘Transsexual’ was not coined until 1949; ‘transgender’ not until 1971; and ‘trans’, which is a very British term, not until 1996.

The first reported sex-change operation may have taken place at Hirschfeld’s Berlin Institute in 1931, but the procedure only became widely known after American Christine (George) Jorgensen travelled to Denmark in 1952 to undergo sex-change surgery. In 1954, following Jorgensen’s transition, US endocrinologist Harry Benjamin began using the term ‘transsexualism’ to describe a unique condition of sex and gender role disorientation.

Throughout the 1960s, transsexualism, and the clinical response to it, remained a contentious issue. Medical professionals in the US were largely opposed to the idea of offering sex-change surgery. A 1965 survey showed that just three per cent of US surgeons would take seriously a request for a sex-change operation. And yet, by the early 1980s, thousands of sex-change operations had taken place.

The Hopkins Hospital, affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, became the most prominent institution to offer transsexual surgery during the 1970s. Under the guidance of psychologist John Money, psychiatrist Eugene Meyer and plastic surgeon Milton Edgerton, the Hopkins Hospital utilised the ‘single theme’ method for diagnosing transsexuals. This involved determining whether or not the patient had an intense conviction to be the other sex.

But, as the rate of referrals increased, by the late-1970s, some of the negative after-effects of sex-change surgery became apparent. These included: medical complications, demands for reverse surgery and suicide attempts. Moreover, it was discovered that, due to the self-diagnostic nature of the ‘single theme’ method for determining treatment, some patients had learned what kinds of things they needed to say in order to receive surgery.

Hopkins Hospital eventually stopped performing the operations in 1979, after Jon Meyer, the chair of the sexual behaviours unit, conducted a study comparing 29 patients who had the surgery and 21 who didn’t, and concluded that those who had the surgery were no more adjusted to society than those who did not have the surgery. As Meyer told the New York Times in 1979: ‘My personal feeling is that surgery is not proper treatment for a psychiatric disorder, and it’s clear to me that these patients have severe psychological problems that don’t go away following surgery.’

While physicians and commentators argued over whether or not medical intervention benefited the patient, for some of those who chose to undergo treatment, it was a lifeline.

Naomi Firsht, “The Rise of Transgender: In the space of a century, transgenderism has become a mainstream concern”, Spiked, 2016-10-28.

November 29, 2016

QotD: Imagined agency

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

If you engage with [childrens’] interest, you can also help them toward appreciating and understanding the context, most obviously the history and politics, but also the life lessons to be learned from the decision making and engineering, for example the parable of the Panther and the T34 (tldr: “Good enough now is sometimes better than perfect, later.”)

You can even view stories about soldiers and soldiering as workplace adventures, since most of them hinge on office politics and team building.

And, in this context, the violent video games are just another learning tool, for all that they are also fun and a way to let off steam.

The third cost is more nebulous: imagined agency.

Children don’t have a lot of real agency, and, not only is it hard for a child to imagine modern adult agency, it’s also not very exciting.

One of the reasons action stories are compelling is that the main conflict is explicit and easy to grasp, and character agency simple and tangible: you know who Sharpe is struggling with because they are trying to kill each other; and you know he has agency because he has a unit of men, a rifle, and that big French cavalry sword.

It’s just much much easier to play soldiers in the garden, than aid worker, doctor or even adventurer. After a certain age, a child can only spend so long pretending to climb a mountain or pushing through the jungle undergrowth, but they can spend an entire afternoon enjoying a running skirmish, especially if they have those cool laser tag guns that actually track hits.

If you take away the plastic gun (with it’s don’t-shoot-me orange cap), ban Call of Duty, and censor books with guns and explosions on the cover, then — to me — it feels like you’re saying, Don’t imagine making important decisions, balancing risks, or being proactive.

M. Harold Page, “Children and War Toys and Violent Video Games and Action Stories”, Charlie’s Diary, 2016-11-15.

November 25, 2016

QotD: Megalothymia, the malady of our age

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

… so many people want to glom onto the moral stature of the civil-rights movement and reenact it for every single American with a grievance (save for conservatives who, like the Civil War re-enactor who’s always forced to play a Confederate, must always be cast as the bad guys). If you take all the people idiotically, reflexively, and sanctimoniously invoking Jim Crow at face value, it’s hard not to conclude they’re reflexive and sanctimonious idiots — or simply dishonest. And while that’s probably true of some, it’s clearly not true of many. Instead, I think you need to see this tendency as a Freudian slip, a statement of yearning, a kind of self-branding or what you (well, probably not you) might call moral megalothymia.

Megalothymia is a term coined by Francis Fukuyama. It’s a common mistake to think Fukuyama simply took Plato’s concept of “thumos” or “thymos” and put a “mega” in front of it because we all know from the Transformers and Toho Productions that “mega” makes everything more cool.

But that’s not the case. Megalothymia is a neologism of megalomania (an obsession with power and the ability to dominate others) and thymos, which Plato defined as the part of the soul concerned with spiritedness, passion, and a desire for recognition and respect.

Fukuyama defined megalothymia as a compulsive need to feel superior to others.

And boy howdy, do we have a problem with megalothymia in America today. Everywhere you look there are moral bullies utterly uninterested in conversation, introspection, or persuasion who are instead hell-bent on grinding down people they don’t like to make themselves feel good. If you took the megalothymia out of Twitter, millions of trolls would throw their smartphones into the ocean.

Make no mistake: This is a problem across the ideological spectrum, because it is a problem of human nature in general and modernity in particular. But in this context, it’s a special malady of elite liberalism.

Jonah Goldberg, “Moral Heroism without Morality”, National Review, 2015-04-03.

November 19, 2016

QotD: Dealing with people

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

A witch didn’t do things because they seemed a good idea at the time! That was practically cackling. You had to deal every day with people who were foolish and lazy and untruthful and downright unpleasant, and you could certainly end up thinking that the world would be considerably improved if you gave them a slap. But you didn’t because, as Miss Tick had once explained:

a) it would make the world a better place for only a very short time;
b) it would then make the world a slightly worse place; and
c) you’re not supposed to be as stupid as they are.

Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith, 2006.

November 14, 2016

“… he should have subtitled it, ‘500 Years of Aristocratic Testosterone Poisoning'”

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

M. Harold Page, guest-posting at Charles Stross’s blog:

Every so often, somebody posts some wistful meme about how nice it would be if duelling were legal again.

I’m increasingly less gentle in my response. Partly I don’t want non-sword folk to start to thinking of Historical European Martial Arts as some kind of Fascist death cult (we really aren’t, and we’re a very geeky and inclusive movement).

Mostly though, as a historical novelist, swordsman, and father of a teenage boy, I can tell you that duelling was — and — a bloody stupid idea.

Look, I like swords. Love them, even.

I revel in their history, evolution and context. I get a buzz from handling originals — earlier this year, I examined a well-notched sword from the Battle of Castillon and I could almost hear the English army annihilating itself by charging a superior force in entrenched positions.

Most of all, I like fighting with swords or writing about people fighting with swords; Zornhau!

All this is what leads me to think duelling is essentially a bloody stupid idea.

[…]

People talk airily about duelling as a “safety valve” or a “test of manhood”.

However, consider what happens when it’s OK and almost mandatory for young men to challenge each other to mortal combat for reasons that can best be called whimsical…

Alfred Hutton — one of the saints of the modern Historical European Martial Arts movement (real soldier, instructor of sabre to the British Army, early investigator of Medieval martial arts treatises) — wrote a wonderful book called The Sword and the Centuries in which he gathered all the anecdotes of tournaments and duelling he could find. Honestly, he should have subtitled it, “500 Years of Aristocratic Testosterone Poisoning“.

Especially if you are the parent of a young man, or have ever sustained a sword injury, the sections on French duelling culture are truly horrific. Duelling wasn’t so much a safety valve as a public health emergency.

We’re talking young men going out for a bottle of wine and coming back in a hearse because another youth caught their eye in the wrong way and they felt impelled to issue an immediate challenge.

We’re talking three versus three duels where a stranger gallantly — read bloody stupidly — offers to make up the missing third on one side. And almost everybody dies.

Reading between the lines, we’re also talking appalling peer pressure, bullying and legitimised murder — a duel is an awfully handy way of getting rid of an unwanted heir or rival.

October 29, 2016

QotD: IQ and different types of intelligence

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

My last IQ-ish test was my SATs in high school. I got a perfect score in Verbal, and a good-but-not-great score in Math.

And in high school English, I got A++s in all my classes, Principal’s Gold Medals, 100%s on tests, first prize in various state-wide essay contests, etc. In Math, I just barely by the skin of my teeth scraped together a pass in Calculus with a C-.

Every time I won some kind of prize in English my parents would praise me and say I was good and should feel good. My teachers would hold me up as an example and say other kids should try to be more like me. Meanwhile, when I would bring home a report card with a C- in math, my parents would have concerned faces and tell me they were disappointed and I wasn’t living up to my potential and I needed to work harder et cetera.

And I don’t know which part bothered me more.

Every time I was held up as an example in English class, I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. I didn’t do it! I didn’t study at all, half the time I did the homework in the car on the way to school, those essays for the statewide competition were thrown together on a lark without a trace of real effort. To praise me for any of it seemed and still seems utterly unjust.

On the other hand, to this day I believe I deserve a fricking statue for getting a C- in Calculus I. It should be in the center of the schoolyard, and have a plaque saying something like “Scott Alexander, who by making a herculean effort managed to pass Calculus I, even though they kept throwing random things after the little curly S sign and pretending it made sense.”

And without some notion of innate ability, I don’t know what to do with this experience. I don’t want to have to accept the blame for being a lazy person who just didn’t try hard enough in Math. But I really don’t want to have to accept the credit for being a virtuous and studious English student who worked harder than his peers. I know there were people who worked harder than I did in English, who poured their heart and soul into that course – and who still got Cs and Ds. To deny innate ability is to devalue their efforts and sacrifice, while simultaneously giving me credit I don’t deserve.

Meanwhile, there were some students who did better than I did in Math with seemingly zero effort. I didn’t begrudge those students. But if they’d started trying to say they had exactly the same level of innate ability as I did, and the only difference was they were trying while I was slacking off, then I sure as hell would have begrudged them. Especially if I knew they were lazing around on the beach while I was poring over a textbook.

I tend to think of social norms as contracts bargained between different groups. In the case of attitudes towards intelligence, those two groups are smart people and dumb people. Since I was both at once, I got to make the bargain with myself, which simplified the bargaining process immensely. The deal I came up with was that I wasn’t going to beat myself up over the areas I was bad at, but I also didn’t get to become too cocky about the areas I was good at. It was all genetic luck of the draw either way. In the meantime, I would try to press as hard as I could to exploit my strengths and cover up my deficiencies. So far I’ve found this to be a really healthy way of treating myself, and it’s the way I try to treat others as well.

Scott Alexander, “The Parable of the Talents”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-01-31.

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