Quotulatiousness

August 29, 2016

QotD: Conflating the Hobbesian and Rousseauvian views of mankind

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

[…] there is a second, possibly more important source of the man-as-killer myth in the philosophy of the Enlightenment — Thomas Hobbes’s depiction of the state of nature as a “warre of all against all”, and the reactionary naturism of Rousseau and the post-Enlightenment Romantics. Today these originally opposing worldviews have become fused into a view of nature and humanity that combines the worst (and least factual) of both.

Hobbes, writing a rationalization of the system of absolute monarchy under the Stuart kings of England, constructed an argument that in a state of nature without government the conflicting desires of human beings would pit every man against his neighbor in a bloodbath without end. Hobbes referred to and assumed “wild violence” as the normal state of humans in what anthropologists now call “pre-state” societies; that very term, in fact, reflects the Hobbesian myth,

The obvious flaw in Hobbes’s argument is that he mistook a sufficient condition for suppressing the “warre” (the existence of a strong central state) for a necessary one. He underestimated the innate sociability of human beings. The anthropological and historical record affords numerous examples of “pre-state” societies (even quite large multiethnic/multilingual populations) which, while violent against outsiders, successfully maintained internal peace.

If Hobbes underestimated the sociability of man, Rousseau and his followers overestimated it; or, at least, they overestimated the sociability of primitive man. By contrasting the nobility and tranquility they claimed to see in rural nature and the Noble Savage with the all-too-evident filth, poverty and crowding in the booming cities of the Industrial Revolution, they secularized the Fall of Man. As their spiritual descendants today still do, they overlooked the fact that the urban poor had unanimously voted with their feet to escape an even nastier rural poverty.

The Rousseauian myth of technological Man as an ugly scab on the face of pristine Nature has become so pervasive in Western culture as to largely drive out the older opposing image of “Nature, red in tooth and claw” from the popular mind. Perhaps this was inevitable as humans achieved more and more control over their environment; protection from famine, plague, foul weather, predators, and other inconveniences of nature encouraged the fond delusion that only human nastiness makes the world a hard place.

[…]

In reality, Nature is a violent arena of intra- and inter-species competition in which murder for gain is an everyday event and ecological fluctuations commonly lead to mass death. Human societies, outside of wartime, are almost miraculously stable and nonviolent by contrast. But the unconscious prejudice of even educated Westerners today is likely to be that the opposite is true. The Hobbesian view of the “warre of all against all” has survived only as a description of human behavior, not of the wider state of nature. Pop ecology has replaced pop theology; the new myth is of man the killer ape.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Myth of Man the Killer”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-07-15.

August 20, 2016

QotD: Violence in wartime – the great exception

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

War is the great exception, the great legitimizer of murder, the one arena in which ordinary humans routinely become killers. The special prevalence of the killer-ape myth in our time doubtless owes something to the horror and visibility of 20th-century war.

Campaigns of genocide and repressions such as the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s engineered famines, the Ankha massacres in Cambodia, and “ethnic cleansing” in Yugoslavia loom even larger in the popular mind than war as support for the myth of man the killer. But they should not; such atrocities are invariably conceived and planned by selected, tiny minorities far fewer than 0.5% of the population.

We have seen that in normal circumstances, human beings are not killers; and, in fact, most have instincts which make it extremely difficult for them to engage in lethal violence. How do we reconcile this with the continuing pattern of human violence in war? And, to restate to one of our original questions, what is belief in the myth of man the killer doing to us?

We shall soon see that the answers to these two questions are intimately related — because there is a crucial commonality between war and genocide, one not shared with the comparatively negligible lethalities of criminals and the individually insane. Both war and genocide depend, critically, on the habit of killing on orders. Pierson observes, tellingly, that atrocities “are generally initiated by overcontrolled personality types in second-in-command positions, not by undercontrolled personality types.” Terrorism, too, depends on the habit of obedience; it is not Osama bin Laden who died in the 9/11 attack but his minions.

This is part of what Hannah Arendt was describing when, after the Nuremberg trials, she penned her unforgettable phrase “the banality of evil”. The instinct that facilitated the atrocities at Belsen-Bergen and Treblinka and Dachau was not a red-handed delight in murder, but rather uncritical submission to the orders of alpha males — even when those orders were for horror and death.

Human beings are social primates with social instincts. One of those instincts is docility, a predisposition to obey the tribe leader and other dominant males. This was originally adaptive; fewer status fights meant more able bodies in the tribe or hunting band. It was especially important that bachelor males, unmarried 15-to-25 year-old men, obey orders even when those orders involved risk and killing. These bachelors were the tribe’s hunters, warriors, scouts, and risk-takers; a band would flourish best if they were both aggressive towards outsiders and amenable to social control.

Over most of human evolutionary history, the multiplier effect of docility was limited by the small size (250 or less, usually much less) of human social units. But when a single alpha male or cooperating group of alpha males could command the aggressive bachelor males of a large city or entire nation, the rules changed. Warfare and genocide became possible.

Actually, neither war nor genocide needs more than a comparative handful of murderers — not much larger a cohort than the half-percent to percent that commits lethal violence in peacetime. Both, however, require the obedience of a large supporting population. Factories must work overtime. Ammunition trucks must be driven where the bullets are needed. People must agree not to see, not to hear, not to notice certain things. Orders must be obeyed.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Myth of Man the Killer”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-07-15.

August 15, 2016

Evolved sexual differences

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Amy Alkon on the reason men and women value different attributes in one another:

Why Does Feminism Mean “You Can’t Say That About Women!”?
Feminism, too often these days, means treating women like eggshells, not equals.

If you talk about a woman’s looks — and maybe criticize how much she cares about her looks — you are stomping on hallowed ground, and you’re in for a media reaming (if you make your criticism at all publicly).

By the way, we care about women’s looks — and women care about caring for and showing off their looks — because of our evolved sex differences. Women prioritize status and power in a man and men prioritize physical attractiveness.

This isn’t all we care about in a partner, and it isn’t all we use to judge another person, but these preferences evolved to promote our mating and survival, not out of nowhere. We are living in a modern world with pretty antique psychology — perfect for life in an ancestral environment — so these sex differences in our psychology remain.

I write about these differences in our preferences in my science-based book, Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck:

    Many women think men are pretty rude to care so much about a woman’s looks. In a just world, men would have the hots for women simply for the beautiful people they are on the inside. Unfortunately, in the real world, this is just not how male sexuality works. (The penis is not a philanthropic organization and will not get hard because a woman bought a homeless guy a sandwich.)

    Because male sexuality is all about the visuals, men’s magazines are filled with pictures of naked women with freakishly large breasts and women’s magazines are filled with pictures of beauty products and ass-cantilevering $2,000 stilettos. Men evolved to go for signs of reproductively hot prospects — an hourglass figure, youth, clear skin, symmetrical faces and bodies, and long shiny hair: all indicators that a woman is a healthy, fertile candidate to pass on a man’s genes. Women co-evolved to try to make themselves look reproductively hot, though that’s not how we think of it.

August 6, 2016

QotD: The sunk cost theory of relationships

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

“Seriously?” you’re asking. “Love is like … automobile manufacturing?” Well, no. But companies are composed of people. And people tend to make the same sort of mistakes over and over. This particular mistake is so common that economists have a name for it: the sunk cost fallacy.

A sunk cost is, well, like a sunken ship: It’s gone, and you cannot retrieve it, or you can only retrieve it at immense expense. The correct and rational way to deal with a sunk cost is to ignore it — to make decisions without thinking about the money or time you’ve already invested.

Think of it this way: If you’re horribly ill and you’ve spent a bunch of money on tickets to a show, there’s no point thinking about how much the tickets cost, because no matter what you do, you can’t get it back. What you should be thinking about is whether you will enjoy the show in your current condition. Making yourself miserable will not somehow rescue the money; it just layers another cost — the agonizing hours you will spend wishing that you were home in bed — on top of the cash you used to buy the tickets.

Unfortunately, human beings are terrible at thinking this way. Once we have lost something, we become desperate to get it back. The sunk cost fallacy appears over and over in all facets of human life: Think of companies that spend vast fortunes trying to salvage doomed IT products, or compulsive gamblers who go back again and again trying to get even with the house, a feat that is mathematically nearly impossible over the long run. Even if we’ve never darkened the door of a casino, when we are dealing with sunk costs, all of us easily turn into wild gamblers, ready to take ultra-long shots rather than admit the loss and move on.

And boy, does it show up in relationships. I cannot count the number of women I have watched throw year after year into a doomed relationship because they are desperate to redeem the prime dating years they have already wasted on a man who does not want to share his future with them. Every one of them said afterward that she wished she’d cut things off when it became clear that he wasn’t as enthusiastic as she was.

Megan McArdle, “Happy Valentine’s Day! Now Cut Your Losses”, Bloomberg View, 2015-02-13.

July 29, 2016

Knowing the enemy

Filed under: Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Warren on the kind of recruit ISIS depends upon:

In many mosques, financed by the oil-monied Wahabis, the worst features of Islam are emphasized. The Islamists do much recruiting there, and also in prisons: like the Communists before them, they are looking for psychoses to exploit. And of course, the Internet is a great boon, to all of satanic tendency.

A proof, to my mind, that we deal with the unbalanced, is the incompetence of most terror strikes. The operatives kill and maim a handful when, with the weapons they had accumulated, they could have killed far more. They lack the needed organization and skills. But training psychos is like herding cats.

The Daesh in Iraq and Syria pretend to run a military organization, but from everything I’ve seen, it is poorly disciplined. A real army will reject psychologically unstable recruits: they get in the way of teamwork. They won’t properly focus on whom to shoot. Their reckless, suicidal courage is more a danger than an inspiration to their comrades. Even one-on-one in a boxing ring, a psycho is too wild. He will score a knock-out only by chance, get knocked down easily, and always lose on points. No professional sportsman could want to coach a psycho.

No, war is serious business, and it is a huge scandal that the Daesh were not wiped out in short order. The Arab armies opposing them are also poorly disciplined, for cultural reasons our technologist trainers are ill-equipped to plumb. But behind these dubious allies, is the schizophrenic, shadow-boxing West. Our attacks are almost entirely from the air: mallet blows against the ants in their native sand. We have not wanted to get our hands dirty — to suffer casualties in an electoral season — and besides, the Daesh have been convenient to many political interests, not only within the Middle East.

July 26, 2016

QotD: Natural born killers? Not so much…

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

One of the most dangerous errors of our time is the belief that human beings are uniquely violent animals, barely restrained from committing atrocities on each other by the constraints of ethics, religion, and the state.

It may seem odd to some to dispute this, given the apparently ceaseless flow of atrocity reports from Bosnia, Somalia, Lebanon and Los Angeles that we suffer every day. But, in fact, a very little study of animal ethology (and some application of ethological methods to human behavior) suffices to show the unbiased mind that human beings are not especially violent animals.

Desmond Morris, in his fascinating book Manwatching, for example, shows that the instinctive fighting style of human beings seems to be rather carefully optimized to keep us from injuring one another. Films of street scuffles show that “instinctive” fighting consists largely of shoving and overhand blows to the head/shoulders/ribcage area.

It is remarkably difficult to seriously injure a human being this way; the preferred target areas are mostly bone, and the instinctive striking style delivers rather little force for given effort. It is enlightening to compare this fumbling behavior to the focussed soft-tissue strike of a martial artist, who (having learned to override instinct) can easily kill with one blow.

It is also a fact, well-known to military planners, that somewhere around 70% of troops in their first combat-fire situation find themselves frozen, unable to trigger lethal weapons at a live enemy. It takes training and intense re-socialization to make soldiers out of raw recruits. And it is a notable point, to which we shall return later, that said socialization has to concentrate on getting a trainee to obey orders and identify with the group. (Major David Pierson of the U.S. Army wrote an illuminating essay on this topic in the June 1999 Military Review).

Criminal violence is strongly correlated with overcrowding and stress, conditions that any biologist knows can make even a laboratory mouse crazy. To see the contrast clearly, compare an urban riot with post-hurricane or -flood responses in rural areas. Faced with common disaster, it is more typical of humans to pull together than pull apart.

Individual human beings, outside of a tiny minority of sociopaths and psychopaths, are simply not natural killers. Why, then, is the belief in innate human viciousness so pervasive in our culture? And what is this belief costing us?

Eric S. Raymond, “The Myth of Man the Killer”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-07-15.

July 25, 2016

Danish psychologist on “the relationship between cultural background and criminal behavior”

Filed under: Europe, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Nicolai Sennels is a Danish psychologist who became the focus of debate on the influence of cultural and religious background and criminality:

After having consulted with 150 young Muslim clients in therapy and 100 Danish clients (who, on average, shared the same age and social background as their Muslim inmates), my findings were that the Muslims’ cultural and religious experiences played a central role in their psychological development and criminal behavior. “Criminal foreigners” is not just a generalizing and imprecise term. It is unfair to non-Muslim foreigners and generally misleading.

Discussing psychological characteristics of the Muslim culture is important. Denmark has foreigners from all over the world and according to official statistics from Danmarks Statistik all non-Muslim groups of immigrants are less criminal than the ethnic Danes. Even after adjusting, according to educational and economic levels, all Muslim groups are more criminal than any other ethnic group. Seven out of 10, in the youth prison where I worked, were Muslim.

[…]

Muslim culture has a very different view of anger and in many ways opposite to what we experience here in the West.

Expressions of anger and threats are probably the quickest way to lose one’s face in Western culture. In discussions, those who lose their temper have automatically lost, and I guess most people have observed the feeling of shame and loss of social status following expressions of aggression at one’s work place or at home. In the Muslim culture, aggressive behavior, especially threats, are generally seen to be accepted, and even expected as a way of handling conflicts and social discrepancies. If a Muslim does not respond in a threatening way to insults or social irritation, he, not “she” (Muslim women are, mostly, expected to be humble and to not show power) is seen as weak, as someone who cannot be depended upon and loses face.

In the eyes of most Westerners it looks immature and childish when people try to use threatening behavior, to mark their dislikes. A Danish saying goes “…Only small dogs bark. Big dogs do not have to.” That saying is deeply rooted in our cultural psychology as a guideline for civilized social behavior. To us, aggressive behavior is a clear sign of weakness. It is a sign of not being in control of oneself and lacking ability to handle a situation. We see peoples’ ability to remain calm as self confidence, allowing them to create a constructive dialogue. Their knowledge of facts, use of common sense and ability in producing valid arguments is seen as a sign of strength.

The Islamic expression of “holy anger” is therefore completely contradictory to any Western understanding. Those two words in the same sentence sound contradictory to us. The terror-threatening and violent reaction of Muslims to the Danish Mohammed cartoons showing their prophet as a man willing to use violence to spread his message, is seen from our Western eyes as ironic. Muslims’ aggressive reaction to a picture showing their prophet as aggressive, completely confirms the truth of the statement made by Kurt Westergaard in his satiric drawing.

This cultural difference is exceedingly important when dealing with Muslim regimes and organizations. Our way of handling political disagreement goes through diplomatic dialogue, and calls on Muslim leaders to use compassion, compromise and common sense. This peaceful approach is seen by Muslims as an expression of weakness and lack of courage. Thus avoiding the risks of a real fight is seen by them as weakness; when experienced in Muslim culture, it is an invitation to exploitation.

July 22, 2016

QotD: The dating pool

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

Yes, you can have it all — a high-powered education, a high-powered career, and the perfect high-powered man to go with. Of course, it helps if you’re willing to relax your standards a little, like by widening your pool of acceptable male partners to include the recently deceased.

[…]

Some feminist academics claim that women only want big bucks/high status men because they lack those things themselves. But, a number of studies by evolutionary psychologists have found that women with big bucks and big jobs want men with bigger bucks and bigger jobs. Even women who are feminists. Dr. Bruce J. Ellis writes in The Adapted Mind that when 15 feminist leaders described their ideal man, they repeatedly used words like “very rich,” “brilliant,” and “genius” (and they didn’t mean “genius with a baby wipe!”).

So, if you’ve become the man you would’ve married in the ’50s, don’t be surprised if your mating pool starts to seem about the size of the one that comes with Barbie’s Dream House. Biology is neither fair nor kind. What those pushing feel-good sociology don’t want to believe or tell you is that you increase your options by being hot — or hotting yourself up the best you can. Obviously, looks aren’t all that matter, but while your female genes are urging you to blow past the hot pool boy to get to the moderately attractive captain of industry, men evolved to prioritize looks in women, so powerful men will date powerfully beautiful waitresses and baristas. As evolutionary psychologist Dr. David Buss writes, “Women’s physical attractiveness is the best known predictor of the occupational status of the man she marries and the best known predictor of hypergamy.”

Amy Alkon, “The Spinster Cycle”, The Advice Goddess, 2012-04-03.

July 18, 2016

QotD: Mediocrity

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

Moreover, as Somerset Maugham said, only a mediocre writer is always at his best, to which one might add that mediocrity is necessary for us to know what the best actually is. Mediocrities therefore perform a valuable service; they also serve who only stand and act routinely.

Some are born mediocre, some achieve mediocrity, and some have mediocrity thrust upon them. I don’t want to boast, but whenever I have sat on a committee, which I have always tried to avoid, my mind suddenly runs to unaccustomed platitudes, and I hear myself saying the most obvious and self-evident things as if they were revelations. There is something about a committee that fosters mediocrity; on a committee, one becomes as individual as a lemming and as colorful as Pravda.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Rise of the Middling”, Taki’s Magazine, 2016-07-09.

June 29, 2016

QotD: The hacker tribe

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

Scratch the surface of “Silicon Valley culture” and you’ll find dozens of subcultures beneath. One means of production unites many tribes, but that’s about all that unites them. At a company the size of Google or even GitHub, you can expect to find as many varieties of cliques as you would in an equivalently sized high school, along with a “corporate culture” that’s as loudly promoted and roughly as genuine as the “school spirit” on display at every pep rally you were ever forced to sit through. One of those groups will invariably be the weirdoes.

Humans are social animals, and part of what makes a social species social is that its members place a high priority on signaling their commitment to other members of their species. Weirdoes’ priorities are different; our primary commitment is to an idea or a project or a field of inquiry. Species-membership commitment doesn’t just take a back seat, it’s in the trunk with a bag over its head.

Not only that, our primary commitments are so consuming that they leak over into everything we think, say, and do. This makes us stick out like the proverbial sore thumb: We’re unable to hide that our deepest loyalties aren’t necessarily to the people immediately around us, even if they’re around us every day. We have a name for people whose loyalties adhere to the field of technology — and to the society of our fellow weirdoes who we meet and befriend in technology-mediated spaces — rather than to the hairless apes nearby. I prefer this term to “weird nerds,” and so I’ll use it here: hackers.

You might not consider hackers to be a tribe apart, but I guarantee you that many — if not most — hackers themselves do. Eric S. Raymond’s “A Brief History of Hackerdom,” whose first draft dates to 1992, contains a litany of descriptions that speak to this:

    They wore white socks and polyester shirts and ties and thick glasses and coded in machine language and assembler and FORTRAN and half a dozen ancient languages now forgotten .…

    The mainstream of hackerdom, (dis)organized around the Internet and by now largely identified with the Unix technical culture, didn’t care about the commercial services. These hackers wanted better tools and more Internet ….

    [I]nstead of remaining in isolated small groups each developing their own ephemeral local cultures, they discovered (or re-invented) themselves as a networked tribe.

Meredith Patterson, “When Nerds Collide: My intersectionality will have weirdoes or it will be bullshit”, Medium.com, 2014-04-23.

June 22, 2016

QotD: “Weird nerds are made, not born”

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

Of all the sound, fury, and quiet voices of reason in the storm of controversy about tech culture and what is to become of it, quiet voice of reason Zeynep Tufekci’s “No, Nate, brogrammers may not be macho, but that’s not all there is to it” moves the discussion farther forward than any other contribution I’ve seen to date. Sadly, though, it still falls short of truly bridging the conceptual gap between nerds and “weird nerds.” Speaking as a lifelong member of the weird-nerd contingent, it’s truly surreal that this distinction exists at all. I’m slightly older than Nate Silver and about a decade younger than Paul Graham, so it wouldn’t surprise me if either or both find it just as puzzling. There was no cultural concept of cool nerds, or even not-cool-but-not-that-weird nerds, when we were growing up, or even when we were entering the workforce.

That’s no longer true. My younger colleague @puellavulnerata observes that for a long time, there were only weird nerds, but when our traditional pursuits (programming, electrical engineering, computer games, &c) became a route to career stability, nerdiness and its surface-level signifiers got culturally co-opted by trend-chasers who jumped on the style but never picked up on the underlying substance that differentiates weird nerds from the culture that still shuns them. That doesn’t make them “fake geeks,” boy, girl, or otherwise — you can adopt geek interests without taking on the entire weird-nerd package — but it’s still an important distinction. Indeed, the notion of “cool nerds” serves to erase the very existence of weird nerds, to the extent that many people who aren’t weird nerds themselves only seem to remember we exist when we commit some faux pas by their standards.

Even so, science, technology, and mathematics continue to attract the same awkward, isolated, and lonely personalities they have always attracted. Weird nerds are made, not born, and our society turns them out at a young age. Tufekci argues that “life’s not just high school,” but the process of unlearning lessons ingrained from childhood takes a lot more than a cap and gown or even a $10 million VC check, especially when life continues to reinforce those lessons well into adulthood. When weird nerds watch the cool kids jockeying for social position on Twitter, we see no difference between these status games and the ones we opted out of in high school. No one’s offered evidence to the contrary, so what incentive do we have to play that game? Telling us to grow up, get over it, and play a game we’re certain to lose is a demand that we deny the evidence of our senses and an infantilising insult rolled into one.

This phenomenon explains much of the backlash from weird nerds against “brogrammers” and “geek feminists” alike. (If you thought the conflict was only between those two groups, or that someone who criticises one group must necessarily be a member of the other, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention.) Both groups are latecomers barging in on a cultural space that was once a respite for us, and we don’t appreciate either group bringing its cultural conflicts into our space in a way that demands we choose one side or the other. That’s a false dichotomy, and false dichotomies make us want to tear our hair out.

Meredith Patterson, “When Nerds Collide: My intersectionality will have weirdoes or it will be bullshit”, Medium.com, 2014-04-23.

June 16, 2016

QotD: Humanity’s near-infinite capacity for rationalization and self-deception

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

So how can an otherwise functional intellect close itself to all this irrefutable evidence and claim that the Holocaust was either a hoax or nowhere near as large in scope as claimed?

The answer, of course, lies in the nearly unlimited human capacity for self-deception. We are really, really good at both rationalizing our own preferences, and “explaining away” evidence that points to something we don’t want to be true. Denying Auschwitz is a piece of cake for someone with conviction when you consider that people can deny, on the spot, the reality of things that happen right then and there. That’s how you can have 9/11 truthers. That’s how you can have people claiming that the Charlie Hebdo attacks were a false flag operation perpetrated by a sinister race of “magical Jews” who can shape-shift. That’s why it doesn’t even matter if police officers wear body cameras — because you can videotape the most justified shooting of an armed perpetrator, and there will still be people who will watch the video and claim that the police officer executed someone in cold blood for no reason.

It’s because when you are invested in an ideology, you have to make reality subordinate to that ideology. And when the physical evidence points to the possibility that your ideology doesn’t match reality, then you have to deny that reality, or face the possibility that you ideology is wrong. It’s much easier to dismiss historical records or claim that a video was doctored than to examine your beliefs and concede that everything you believe is wrong.

But reality doesn’t go away when you deny it. Those buildings and crematoriums at Auschwitz still stand, and every time someone denies what they were used for, they deny the humanity of all the people who died there. And just as importantly, they deny the human ability to commit such atrocities, which in turn paves the way for a repeat of those atrocities. To borrow my friend Kathy’s words, there’s a world of difference between “Never Again” and “It can’t happen here.”

Because if a society of civilized, educated people, the nation of Goethe and Schiller and Beethoven, can build and staff a place like Auschwitz and systematically murder millions of people in just a few years — if orderly, fastidious Germans can go from bookkeeping to putting on a uniform and herding women and children into gas chambers at gunpoint because they perceive the approval of society and enjoy the power they are given — then it can happen anywhere, at any time.

Marko Kloos, “on the holocaust and self-deception”, the munchkin wrangler, 2015-01-28.

June 1, 2016

QotD: The evolutionary advantage of conformity

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

In the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA) an individual could not survive outside the group of their birth and so conformity was a matter of life and death. Conform or be cast out. Conformity to arbitrary convention was not in fact arbitrary but signalled affiliation. Conformity banded groups together.

Today, however, conformity is often counter-productive. Trying to enforce the arbitrary conventions of one’s in-group impedes social cooperation on the scale that makes modernity possible. Conformity also slows the development of new ideas and new ways of doing things — the essence of growth and progress. Even though conformity is now counter-productive the desire to conform and to enforce conformity is buried deep–the atavism of social justice.

Individualism and liberalism are foundational ideas for modernity but these adult ideas battle the desire to conform in our childish hearts.

Alex Tabarrok, “The Developmental Roots of Conformity Bias”, Marginal Revolution, 2016-05-20.

May 27, 2016

QotD: Teenage sex

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

A wise and cynical friend of mine once described the motivation behind puritanism as “the fear that someone might be fucking and getting away with it”. I think the subtext of the periodic public panics about teen sex has always been resentment that sexy young things just might be getting away with it — enjoying each others’ bodies thoughtlessly, without consequences, without pregnancy, without marriage, without “meaningful relationships”, without guilt, without sin.

The traditional rationalizations for adult panic about teen sex are teen pregnancy and STDs. But if teen pregnancy really had much to do with adult panic, anti-sex rhetoric would have changed significantly after reliable contraception became available. It hasn’t. Similarly, we don’t hear a lot of adult demand for STD testing in high schools. No; something else is going on here, something more emotional and deeper than pragmatic fears.

Conservatives and liberals alike are attached to the idea that sex ought to be controlled, be heavy, have consequences. The Judeo-Christian tradition of repression, which yokes sex to marriage and reproduction, is still powerful among conservatives. Liberals have replaced it with an ethic in which sex is OK when it is harnessed to building relationships or personal growth or therapy, but must always be undertaken with adult mindfulness.

Both camps are terrified of mindless sex, of hedonism, of the pure friction fuck. Lurking beneath both Judeo-Christian and secularized taboos is a fear that too much pleasure will damn us — or reduce us to the status of animals, so fixated on the drug of orgasm that we will become unfit for marriage and society and adult responsibility. What has not changed beneath contingent worries about pregnancy and STDs is the more fundamental fear that pleasure corrupts.

And beneath that fear lurks something uglier — the envy that dares not speak its name. The unpalatable truth is that a teenager’s “immature” hormone-pumped capacity to have lots of mindless sex makes adults jealous. The conscious line is that the kids have got to be stopped before they have more sex than is good for them — the unconscious line is that they’ve got to be stopped before they have more fun than we can stand.

Eric S. Raymond, “Teen Sex vs. Adult Resentment”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-05-29.

May 9, 2016

QotD: Towards a theory of pedestrian behaviour

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

One of the things I enjoy is urban running — i.e., running through the streets of cities. When we travel, this is one of my favorite ways to see cities, and it also helps me run further because I do not get bored. But trying to run through sometimes crowded pedestrian areas can be frustrating, since one is trying to move faster than the crowd and the crowd typically does not expect a runner coming up behind them on the sidewalk. As a result of many such runs, I have developed two laws of pedestrian behavior:

  • Groups of pedestrians will expand to fill the width of the space allotted. If the width changes, groups of pedestrians will respond very quickly and expand their group spacing to fill that width. While this behavior is almost certainly natural, it is almost impossible to distinguish a group walking naturally from one purposefully trying to block passage by a faster pedestrian. Corollary: Groups too small to fill the width of a passage or sidewalk will weave.
  • Groups of pedestrians, everything else being equal, will choose to pause and congregate at the bottleneck in any sidewalk, thus constricting an already narrow passage. DisneyWorld is a great location for spotting this behavior. Corollary: A disproportionate number of people will choose to stop right at the exit door from an jetway when exiting an aircraft.

Warren Meyer, “My Contributions to Social Science”, Coyote Blog, 2015-01-06.

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