November 24, 2015

QotD: The real lack of diversity issue

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

As an editor, I have the privilege of working with all sorts of interesting and influential Canadians. On paper, many of these people are “diverse” — men, women, black, white, straight, gay, trans, cis, Jew, Christian, Hindu, Muslim. Yet scratch the surface, and you find a remarkable sameness to our intellectual, cultural, and political elites, no matter what words they use to self identify. In most cases, they grow up middle-class or wealthier, attend the same good schools, and join the same high-value social networks. They have nice teeth because mom and dad pay for braces, and hit a nice forehand (or three iron) because mom and dad pay for lessons. They know the best patisseries in Paris, because of that epic backpacking trip between undergrad and law school. And as ambitious young adults, they feel okay about ditching the law-firm grind for a prominent life in politics, art, journalism or activism — because a wealthy parent or spouse is paying the mortgage.

We rightly worry about how many women, or blacks, or First Nations individuals are represented in public life. Yet that concern is rarely extended to people whose marginalization cannot be reduced to tidy demographic categories.

In two decades of journalism, I have written and edited countless articles about Canada’s criminal justice system. But never once have I, or any of my close journalistic colleagues, ever spent a night in prison. I have written and edited countless articles about the Canadian military. But never once have I, or any of my close journalistic colleagues, witnessed the hell of war. Nor, to my knowledge, have I ever had a close colleague who lived in public housing; who experienced real hunger; who suffered from a serious health condition that went untreated for economic reasons; whose career or education was compromised by the need to support impoverished relatives; or who had been forced to remain in an abusive relationship for purely financial reasons. We often describe people like this as living “on the margins.” But collectively, this is a vast bulk of Canadians whose hardship and anxiety are rarely witnessed by politicians and media except through survey data and think-tank reports.

Jonathan Kay, “Diversity’s Final Frontier: The real schism in our society isn’t sex or race. It’s social class”, The Walrus, 2015-11-03.

October 17, 2015

Moynihan’s scissors

Filed under: Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

David Warren looks at the work of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

We are celebrating this year, if that is the word, the fiftieth anniversary of perhaps the most inconsequential sociological study ever published. That was, The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, by the brilliant American politician and thinker, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927–2003).

Working then in the U.S. Department of Labour, Moynihan focused his attention on a counter-intuitive statistical fact. Unemployment among black males was falling, in 1965. But rates of welfare enrollment for black families was rising. This did not make sense. The two lines on this chart had always fallen or risen together. But they had crossed over in 1962. He had put his finger in what came to be called, “Moynihan’s scissors.”

[…] while the “Moynihan Report” is famous, and at one time, everyone claimed to have read it, it contains something so obnoxious to enlightened post-modern thought as to remain invisible to all participants in the discussion.

This was Moynihan’s sociological and anthropological observation that the American black culture was becoming “matriarchal.” Whether without, or more likely with the help of welfare programmes, women were becoming the heads of households, and men were being removed from that station.

(The background: All of the higher civilizations have been unambiguously patriarchal; matriarchy is associated in the prehistoric and anthropological record with savage, gratuitously violent, self-destructive tribes.)

Already, in 1965, one in four black kids in the USA were born out of wedlock. Today it is more than three in four, and levels of bastardy among the other races have risen in course. By the end of the last century (1990s), white children were as likely to be raised in fatherless homes as black children had been in the 1960s. “Progress” has been progressing rapidly.

The Nanny State has replaced fathers as the principal source of income for such families (bankrupting itself in the process), and the feminist movement has supplied the arguments — or more precisely, misandronist slogans and vindictive clichés — for the overthrow of “patriarchy” and its systematic replacement with a shrewish matriarchy in all facets of social life. The movement has been, moreover, so successful in achieving its objects — the emasculation of men, and degradation or actual inversion of traditional morality — that it has now moved on. For with the defeat of masculinity, new horizons of “gender-bending” or “transgendering” have come into view.

Now, part of the reason people can’t get their little heads around what has actually happened — first to the black family, then to the brown, then to the white — is the surviving, basically modern (i.e. pre-post-modern) belief that eunuchs behave much like fairies; that they become docile and effeminate, harmless and nurturing, sensitive and sweet; that their previously reprehensible “masculine” traits will quietly disappear. Some men do indeed respond to emasculation by becoming the pathetic, contemptible wimps that all women, including feminists, instinctively abhor. But some do not.

As a well-read student of social sciences and history, Moynihan knew better than this. The masculine capacity for violence (at all levels, spiritual as much as physical) does not go away. From Spartan Laconia, backwards and forwards through history on all continents, we see that eunuchs and other “homosexual” (the word is inadequate) guards and soldiers have been employed by the great warrior despots. This is because they make the fiercest fighters. Having no families, no heritage to protect, no women and children to feed and shelter in safety, they become a purely destructive force. They become men who do not care even for their own lives, let alone for the lives of others.

September 9, 2015

The rise of victimhood culture

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ronald Bailey thinks the rise of microaggression-awareness is a symptom of a decline in dignity culture and a sign of the coming of a new victimhood-based culture, and that it’s a really bad development:

Over at the Righteous Mind blog, New York University moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt is signposting a fascinating article, “Microaggression and Moral Cultures,” by two sociologists in the journal Comparative Sociology. The argument in the article is that U.S. society is in the midst of a large-scale moral change in which we are experiencing the emergence of a victimhood culture that is distinct from the honor cultures and dignity cultures of the past. If true, this bodes really bad for future social and political peace.

In honor cultures, people (men) maintained their honor by responding to insults, slights, violations of rights by self-help violence. Generally honor cultures exist where the rule of law is weak. In honor cultures, people protected themselves, their families, and property through having a reputation for swift violence. During the 19th century, most Western societies began the moral transition toward dignity cultures in which all citizens were legally endowed with equal rights. In such societies, persons, property, and rights are defended by recourse to third parties, usually courts, police, and so forth, that, if necessary, wield violence on their behalf. Dignity cultures practice tolerance and are much more peaceful than honor cultures.

Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning are arguing that the U.S. is now transitioning to a victimhood culture that combines both the honor culture’s quickness to take offense with the dignity culture’s use of third parties to police and punish transgressions. The result is people are encouraged to think of themselves as weak, marginalized, and oppressed. This is nothing less than demoralizing and polarizing as everybody seeks to become a “victim.”

August 29, 2015

We need a new publication called The Journal of Successfully Reproduced Results

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

We depend on scientific studies to provide us with valid information on so many different aspects of life … it’d be nice to know that the results of those studies actually hold up to scrutiny:

One of the bedrock assumptions of science is that for a study’s results to be valid, other researchers should be able to reproduce the study and reach the same conclusions. The ability to successfully reproduce a study and find the same results is, as much as anything, how we know that its findings are true, rather than a one-off result.

This seems obvious, but in practice, a lot more work goes into original studies designed to create interesting conclusions than into the rather less interesting work of reproducing studies that have already been done to see whether their results hold up.

Everyone wants to be part of the effort to identify new and interesting results, not the more mundane (and yet potentially career-endangering) work of reproducing the results of older studies:

Why is psychology research (and, it seems likely, social science research generally) so stuffed with dubious results? Let me suggest three likely reasons:

A bias towards research that is not only new but interesting: An interesting, counterintuitive finding that appears to come from good, solid scientific investigation gets a researcher more media coverage, more attention, more fame both inside and outside of the field. A boring and obvious result, or no result, on the other hand, even if investigated honestly and rigorously, usually does little for a researcher’s reputation. The career path for academic researchers, especially in social science, is paved with interesting but hard to replicate findings. (In a clever way, the Reproducibility Project gets around this issue by coming up with the really interesting result that lots of psychology studies have problems.)

An institutional bias against checking the work of others: This is the flipside of the first factor: Senior social science researchers often actively warn their younger colleagues — who are in many cases the best positioned to check older work—against investigating the work of established members of the field. As one psychology professor from the University of Southern California grouses to the Times, “There’s no doubt replication is important, but it’s often just an attack, a vigilante exercise.”


Small, unrepresentative sample sizes: In general, social science experiments tend to work with fairly small sample sizes — often just a few dozen people who are meant to stand in for everyone else. Researchers often have a hard time putting together truly representative samples, so they work with subjects they can access, which in a lot of cases means college students.

A couple of years ago, I linked to a story about the problem of using western university students as the default source of your statistical sample for psychological and sociological studies:

A notion that’s popped up several times in the last couple of months is that the easy access to willing test subjects (university students) introduces a strong bias to a lot of the tests, yet until recently the majority of studies disregarded the possibility that their test results were unrepresentative of the general population.

February 21, 2015

QotD: Campbell’s Law

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

The most common problem is that all these new systems — metrics, algo­rithms, automated decisionmaking processes — result in humans gaming the system in rational but often unpredictable ways. Sociologist Donald T. Campbell noted this dynamic back in the ’70s, when he articulated what’s come to be known as Campbell’s law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making,” he wrote, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

On a managerial level, once the quants come into an industry and disrupt it, they often don’t know when to stop. They tend not to have decades of institutional knowledge about the field in which they have found themselves. And once they’re empowered, quants tend to create systems that favor something pretty close to cheating. As soon as managers pick a numerical metric as a way to measure whether they’re achieving their desired outcome, everybody starts maximizing that metric rather than doing the rest of their job — just as Campbell’s law predicts.

Felix Salmon, “Why Quants Don’t Know Everything”, Wired, 2014-01-14

February 19, 2015

When you “believe” in science

Filed under: Media, Religion, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In last week’s Goldberg File newsletter, Jonah Goldberg looked at the odd situation of people who “believe in” science:

When I hear people talk about science as if it’s something to “believe in,” particularly people who reject all sorts of science-y things (vaccines, nuclear power, etc. as discussed above), I immediately think of one of my favorite lines from Eric Voegelin: “When God is invisible behind the world, the contents of the world will become new gods; when the symbols of transcendent religiosity are banned, new symbols develop from the inner-worldly language of science to take their place.” This will be true, he added, even when “the new apocalyptics insist that the symbols they create are scientific.”

In other words, the “Don’t you believe in evolution!?!” people don’t really believe in science qua science, what they’re really after is dethroning God in favor of their own gods of the material world (though I suspect many don’t even realize why they’re so obsessed with this one facet of the disco ball called “science”). “Criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticisms,” quoth Karl Marx, who then proceeded to create his own secular religion.

This is nothing new of course. This tendency is one of the reasons why every time Moses turned his back on the Hebrews they started worshipping golden calves and whatnot.

At least Auguste Comte, the French philosopher who coined the phrase “sociology,” was open about what he was really up to when he created his “Religion of Humanity,” in which scientists, statesmen, and engineers were elevated to Saints. As I say in my column, the fight over evolution is really a fight over the moral status of man. And, if we are nothing but a few bucks worth of chemicals connected by water and electricity, than there’s really nothing holding us back from elevating “science” to divine status and in turn anointing those who claim to be its champions as our priests. It’s no coincidence that Herbert Croly was literally — not figuratively, the way Joe Biden means literally — baptized into Comte’s Religion of Humanity.

Personally, I think the effort to overthrow Darwin along with Marx and Freud is misguided. I have friends invested in that project and I agree that all sorts of terrible Malthusian and materialist crap is bound up in Darwinism. But that’s an argument for ranking out the manure, not burning down the stable.

November 17, 2014

A proposal to permanently fix the gender wage gap

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

Ashe Schow thinks we need to get serious about addressing this issue, and here is her proposal on how to accomplish this worthy end:

For example, if men want to go into gender studies, let them — that way, they’ll make less money and it will help close the gender gap. But women need to be kept away from such majors. Colleges and universities should in fact create separate lists of majors to give to men and women. If possible, women should not be told about any course of study that will yield lower-paying career choices in the future.

Among others, social science majors feed the gender gap. When women ask about those subjects or departments, colleges should tell them they don’t exist, or that all classes are full, except maybe the ones in economics. Even better, colleges should tell women that engineering, mathematics and finance are actually social sciences. Class rosters must then be watched carefully. If a woman somehow manages to sign up for a sociology class, she should instead be given the classroom number for a course in mechanical engineering.

When women express a desire to pursue teaching or social work jobs, they should be discouraged. In fact, college counselors should be instructed to tell them there are no such jobs available, along with some sort of plausible explanation, like: “There are no teaching jobs available anymore, because Republicans cut the budget and the government is closing all of the schools. How about a nice career in accounting?”

Women who ask too many questions should be promptly steered into a nearby organic chemistry class, because no one can remain mentally alert for too long.

Feminists who might disapprove of this proposal should first ask themselves if they would be making more money had someone forced them to become an engineer rather than an activist. Would they have avoided the misfortunes and oppression they now suffer and condemn had they pursued a more useful course of studies and ended up with a higher-paying job?

October 27, 2014

QotD: The value of co-operation as a social strategy

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

In any species that lives lives other than the solitary, brutish, and short variety, members cooperate. Cooperation is often a utility maximizing approach for basic economic reasons: if I’m well fed because I had a good hunting day, and you’re hungry because you had a bad day, a marginal calorie is worth much less to me than it is to you, so I should share some of my catch with you. This is true for two reasons: first, because if we’re kin, your future reproductive success redounds to the benefit of (some of) my genes, and second, because you might return the favor a day or a year later.

Nature, however, is better at generating frenemies than friends. A better way for me to reproduce my genes is to use a mixed strategy: helping you when it’s easy, defecting when I think I can get away with it, etc. I should ideally take food from you when offered, yet give back as little as I can get away with. I should be seen to be a good ally, and fair, and yet stab you in the back when I can get away with it.

In social species, there’s advanced technology to accomplish these goals: I can marshal alliances, vote people off the island, harass males away from fertile females, seize more than my share of the food for myself and my offspring.

It doesn’t matter if it’s nice; it matters if it’s effective. Gnon has no pity and laughs at your human ideals…especially because he created your human ideals to help you be a convincing liar in social games.

And thus deception slithered its way in to the garden of Eden and/or earthly delights.

What is the take away here? It is this: evolution has crafted every one of us for one mission: to pass our genes on to the next generation. The fact that you, or you, or you, have chosen not to have kids does not refute this; in fact, in supports this. Your genes will not be present in the next generation, and Gnon will laugh.

And what effects does this mission have on us? High libidos? Well, yes, some of that — but so much more. We’re the ape with the run away brains. Any ape that just had a high libido is long removed from the gene pool. Only the apes that also are excellent at joining alliances, marshaling allies, sniffing when the winds are changing, and defecting strategically reproduced with enough success to have contributed meaningfully to our genome.

A million years ago this alliance-making skill meant being on the right side of the alpha ape…and perhaps sneakily supporting the up-and-coming number two male.

Ten thousand years ago it meant being a member of a hunter gatherer tribe, and making status-degrading jokes about the one guy who was acting a bit big for his (deer hide) britches.

A thousand years ago, it meant … well, by a thousand years ago, social alliances for status games were starting to look pretty damned modern. It meant cobbling together wacky alliances from diverse groups like Diggers, Levelers, and Fifth Monarchists in order to overthrow one set of rulers and establish yourself in their place. Once in power there are all sorts of food-and-sex optimizing strategies for those good at the alliance game… like enslaving the foot soldiers of the old regime and selling them into slavery overseas, seizing their land, and more.

Clark, “Gamer Gate: Three Stages to Obit”, Popehat, 2014-10-21.

October 23, 2014

QotD: When “impostor syndrome” meets the “Dunning-Kruger effect”

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

The more I think about things like the Dunning-Kruger Effect and Impostor Syndrome, the more I suspect they’re sociological as opposed to psychological.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the name of a cognitive bias where people consistently rate themselves as being higher skilled than others, even (especially?) then they are decidedly not. In other words, people are nowhere near as good as they think they are.

Diametrically opposed to that is Impostor Syndrome, where people refuse to acknowledge their accomplishments and competencies.

If you’re aware of both of them, you might constantly vacillate between them, occasionally thinking you’re awesome, then realizing that it probably means you aren’t, going back and forth like a church bell. I know nothing of this, I assure you. But the point is that I think they’re almost certainly related to the people that we surround ourselves with.

Matt Simmons, “The Impostor Effect vs Dunning-Kruger”, Standalone Sysadmin, 2013-02-27.

January 30, 2014

Scandinavia’s less-than-utopian reality

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:42

Canadians are often found wanting in comparison to Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, or Danes in any international ranking. Except for smugness, where Canada (of course) is the undisputed world leader. But according to Michael Booth, things are not quite as wonderful in Scandinavia as we’re led to believe:

Whether it is Denmark’s happiness, its restaurants, or TV dramas; Sweden’s gender equality, crime novels and retail giants; Finland’s schools; Norway’s oil wealth and weird songs about foxes; or Iceland’s bounce-back from the financial abyss, we have an insatiable appetite for positive Nordic news stories. After decades dreaming of life among olive trees and vineyards, these days for some reason, we Brits are now projecting our need for the existence of an earthly paradise northwards.

I have contributed to the relentless Tetris shower of print columns on the wonders of Scandinavia myself over the years but now I say: enough! Nu er det nok! Enough with foraging for dinner. Enough with the impractical minimalist interiors. Enough with the envious reports on the abolition of gender-specific pronouns. Enough of the unblinking idolatry of all things knitted, bearded, rye bread-based and licorice-laced. It is time to redress the imbalance, shed a little light Beyond the Wall.

First, let’s look at Denmark, where Booth has lived for several years:

Why do the Danes score so highly on international happiness surveys? Well, they do have high levels of trust and social cohesion, and do very nicely from industrial pork products, but according to the OECD they also work fewer hours per year than most of the rest of the world. As a result, productivity is worryingly sluggish. How can they afford all those expensively foraged meals and hand-knitted woollens? Simple, the Danes also have the highest level of private debt in the world (four times as much as the Italians, to put it into context; enough to warrant a warning from the IMF), while more than half of them admit to using the black market to obtain goods and services.

Perhaps the Danes’ dirtiest secret is that, according to a 2012 report from the Worldwide Fund for Nature, they have the fourth largest per capita ecological footprint in the world. Even ahead of the US. Those offshore windmills may look impressive as you land at Kastrup, but Denmark burns an awful lot of coal. Worth bearing that in mind the next time a Dane wags her finger at your patio heater.

Okay, but how about Norway? Aren’t they doing well?

The dignity and resolve of the Norwegian people in the wake of the attacks by Anders Behring Breivik in July 2011 was deeply impressive, but in September the rightwing, anti-Islamist Progress party — of which Breivik had been an active member for many years — won 16.3% of the vote in the general election, enough to elevate it into coalition government for the first time in its history. There remains a disturbing Islamophobic sub-subculture in Norway. Ask the Danes, and they will tell you that the Norwegians are the most insular and xenophobic of all the Scandinavians, and it is true that since they came into a bit of money in the 1970s the Norwegians have become increasingly Scrooge-like, hoarding their gold, fearful of outsiders.

Finland? I’ve always gotten on famously with Finns (and Estonians), although I haven’t met all that many of them:

I am very fond of the Finns, a most pragmatic, redoubtable people with a Sahara-dry sense of humour. But would I want to live in Finland? In summer, you’ll be plagued by mosquitos, in winter, you’ll freeze — that’s assuming no one shoots you, or you don’t shoot yourself. Finland ranks third in global gun ownership behind only America and Yemen; has the highest murder rate in western Europe, double that of the UK; and by far the highest suicide rate in the Nordic countries.

The Finns are epic Friday-night bingers and alcohol is now the leading cause of death for Finnish men. “At some point in the evening around 11.30pm, people start behaving aggressively, throwing punches, wrestling,” Heikki Aittokoski, foreign editor of Helsingin Sanomat, told me. “The next day, people laugh about it. In the US, they’d have an intervention.”


If you do decide to move there, don’t expect scintillating conversation. Finland’s is a reactive, listening culture, burdened by taboos too many to mention (civil war, second world war and cold war-related, mostly). They’re not big on chat. Look up the word “reticent” in the dictionary and you won’t find a picture of an awkward Finn standing in a corner looking at his shoelaces, but you should.

“We would always prefer to be alone,” a Finnish woman once admitted to me. She worked for the tourist board.

Sweden, though, must be the one without any real serious issues, right?

Anything I say about the Swedes will pale in comparison to their own excoriating self-image. A few years ago, the Swedish Institute of Public Opinion Research asked young Swedes to describe their compatriots. The top eight adjectives they chose were: envious, stiff, industrious, nature loving, quiet, honest, dishonest, xenophobic.

I met with Åke Daun, Sweden’s most venerable ethnologist. “Swedes seem not to ‘feel as strongly’ as certain other people”, Daun writes in his excellent book, Swedish Mentality. “Swedish women try to moan as little as possible during childbirth and they often ask, when it is all over, whether they screamed very much. They are very pleased to be told they did not.” Apparently, crying at funerals is frowned upon and “remembered long afterwards”. The Swedes are, he says, “highly adept at insulating themselves from each other”. They will do anything to avoid sharing a lift with a stranger, as I found out during a day-long experiment behaving as un-Swedishly as possible in Stockholm.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle (via Facebook) for the link.

January 19, 2014

TV as a form of birth control

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:59

There’s been some noise made about how the “reality TV” show 16 and Pregnant has influenced teens to such a degree that the teenage pregnancy rate dropped by a significant figure. Nick Gillespie has a few questions about the claims:

Television: Is there anything it can’t do?

After decades of being slammed by bluenoses, bureaucrats, and Bruce Springsteen for sexing up and dumbing down the masses, it turns out that the small screen has accomplished what no amount of promise rings, Twilight movies, or mandatory banana-on-a-condom classes have managed to do: reduce the number of teenage births.

At least that’s what the authors of a widely discussed new study say. In “Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing,” (available online for the low, low price of $5.00 from the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Melissa S. Kearney (University of Maryland) and Phillip B. Levine (Wellesley College) write “The introduction of 16 and Pregnant along with its partner shows, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, led teens to noticeably reduce the rate at which they give birth.” According to their calculations, the shows are responsible for “a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following [their] introduction.”


The study is far less interesting for the specific claims it makes about teen birth rates than it is as a variation on persistent attitudes toward cultural production and consumption redolent of Frankfurt School anxieties over media’s impact on the proletariat. In many ways, “Media Influences on Social Outcomes” is simply the latest echo of the idea that TV, music, movies, novels, and the like don’t simply move audiences to laughter, tears, or contemplation but compel them to act in particular ways.

In other words, we’re all just mindless, easily brainwashed dupes who are being programmed by our media.

In more doctrinaire versions of Frankfurt School analysis, the producers of content are drivers and audience members are, well, just passengers along for the ride. To their credit, Kearney and Levine aren’t nearly so deterministic, even though they are quick to ascribe causative power to a particular set of programs.

In 2002’s Is Art Good for Us?, University of Tulsa professor Joli Jensen refers to this sort of thinking as an “instrumental view of culture.” It presumes “that art is an instrument like medicine or a toxin that can be injected into us and transform us.” This view, says Jensen, “is very tempting because if certain kinds of culture cause bad things in society, then you can change that culture and fix society.” The instrumental view implies formal or informal commissars that must oversee and direct cultural production, making sure more “good” art is made. After all, you are what you read, or watch, or hear. Morally suspect art leads to crime, chaos, and bad behavior.

January 18, 2014

QotD: Belief

Filed under: History, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:59

Why do so many people believe in a god? Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is an attempt to examine that question, for Christian fundamentalists, Islamic teachers, Buddhist monks, atheists, and others. He begins by pointing to the commonality of pre-scientific answers in groups of people: “How do thunderstorms happen?” answered by “It must be someone up there with a giant hammer” (our example, not his). Then, probably after a minimum of discussion, a name such as “Thor” becomes agreed. Having successfully sorted out thunderstorms, in the sense that you now have an agreed answer to why they happen, other forces of nature are similarly identified and named. Soon you have a pantheon, a community of gods to blame everything on. It’s very satisfying when everyone around you agrees, so the pantheon soon becomes the accepted wisdom, and few question it. In some cultures, few dare to question it, because there are penalties if you do.

Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, & Jack Cohen, “Disbelief System”, The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day, 2013.

December 29, 2013

QotD: Memes and culture

Filed under: History, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:41

People in all cultures grow up and acquire a set of beliefs. One way of looking at this is to call the beliefs that are inherited “memes”. Just as “genes” code for hereditary traits, so memes are intended to show the inheritance of individual items, rather than a whole belief system. A tune like “Happy Birthday”, a concept like Father Christmas, atom, bicycle, or fairy — all are memes. A whole slew of memes that forms an interacting whole is called a memeplex, and religions are the best examples, which at various times and in various cultures have had, or still do have, many linked-up memes like “There is Heaven and there is Hell …” and “Unless you pray to this God you’ll go to Hell” and “You must kill those who don’t believe in this …” and so on. You will have some familiarity with other religions, and you will appreciate that we’re not saying that your religion is like that. It’s all the others, the mistaken ones …

Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, & Jack Cohen, “Disbelief System”, The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day, 2013.

December 17, 2013

Camille Paglia on “obsolete” men

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:16

Writing in Time, Camille Paglia tries to counter some of the received wisdom of academic feminism:

If men are obsolete, then women will soon be extinct — unless we rush down that ominous Brave New World path where women clone themselves by parthenogenesis, as famously do Komodo dragons, hammerhead sharks and pit vipers.

A peevish, grudging rancor against men has been one of the most unpalatable and unjust features of second- and third-wave feminism. Men’s faults, failings and foibles have been seized on and magnified into gruesome bills of indictment. Ideologue professors at our leading universities indoctrinate impressionable undergraduates with carelessly fact-free theories alleging that gender is an arbitrary, oppressive fiction with no basis in biology.

Is it any wonder that so many high-achieving young women, despite all the happy talk about their academic success, find themselves in the early stages of their careers in chronic uncertainty or anxiety about their prospects for an emotionally fulfilled private life? When an educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood, then women will be perpetually stuck with boys, who have no incentive to mature or to honor their commitments. And without strong men as models to either embrace or (for dissident lesbians) to resist, women will never attain a centered and profound sense of themselves as women.

From my long observation, which predates the sexual revolution, this remains a serious problem afflicting Anglo-American society, with its Puritan residue. In France, Italy, Spain, Latin America and Brazil, in contrast, many ambitious professional women seem to have found a formula for asserting power and authority in the workplace while still projecting sexual allure and even glamour. This is the true feminine mystique, which cannot be taught but flows from an instinctive recognition of sexual differences. In today’s punitive atmosphere of sentimental propaganda about gender, the sexual imagination has understandably fled into the alternate world of online pornography, where the rude but exhilarating forces of primitive nature rollick unconstrained by religious or feminist moralism.

October 1, 2013

Candy-coat my world and keep me safe from my trouble and pain

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 15:04

I linked to an entertaining rant by Ace last week that talked about the “nummification” of modern life. At risk of being identified with the “get off my lawn you [26-year-old] kids” bracket, here’s another tale of western society’s almost complete flight from adulthood by Christopher Taylor:

But the culture has become a bit too childish and cutesy for me. If you look around you can see what’s happening easily enough. Adam Carolla recently went on a rant about Starbucks “coffee” and how childish its all become. I won’t link it here because it gets pretty foul and sexualized, but the basic gist is this: you didn’t have a coffee before work, you had a shake. That Caramel Moccachino with whipped cream and sprinkles on top wasn’t a coffee, it was candy in a cup.
You can extend this further. I saw an ad recently on TV for adult vitamins, clearly targeted at men. The selling point? They’re gummy vitamins. Multi-Vites! They’re chewable and sweet! Take a few of those in the morning before your coffee shake. And for lunch? A “power bar” which is a candy bar with vitamins in it.

This isn’t adult behavior, its Halloween all day long. Remember when you were 11 and mom wouldn’t let you gorge yourself out of the plastic pumpkin bucket you filled on Halloween night? And you kicked the side of the bed vowing that when you grew up you’d eat all the candy you wanted?

You’re supposed to grow out of that stage.


I’ve written about the annoyance of frat boy culture here many times, where men are perpetually the party boy they imagined themselves being in college. Never grow up, never get serious, always avoid responsibility. Your hair getting gray? Return it to your “natural” color with dye! Hey, idiot, gray is your natural color. Put away the Viagra, you’re old. Deal with it.

Except that’s not even the problem any more. We’re being told that adolescence now extends to age 25 by sociologists. Yes, I know sociology is about as much science as astrology, but this isn’t a suggestion, its a diagnosis.

Taylor also links to this BBC News Magazine article from last week, which advances the notion that expecting young people to become adults at 18 or even 25 is no longer realistic:

Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, says we have infantilised young people and this has led to a growing number of young men and women in their late 20s still living at home.

“Often it’s claimed it’s for economic reasons, but actually it’s not really for that,” says Furedi. “There is a loss of the aspiration for independence and striking out on your own. When I went to university it would have been a social death to have been seen with your parents, whereas now it’s the norm.

“So you have this kind of cultural shift which basically means that adolescence extends into your late twenties and that can hamper you in all kinds of ways, and I think what psychology does is it inadvertently reinforces that kind of passivity and powerlessness and immaturity and normalises that.”

Furedi says that this infantilised culture has intensified a sense of “passive dependence” which can lead to difficulties in conducting mature adult relationships. There’s evidence of this culture even in our viewing preferences.

“There’s an increasing number of adults who are watching children’s movies in the cinema,” says Furedi. “If you look at children’s TV channels in America, 25% of the viewers are adults rather than children.”

He does not agree that the modern world is far more difficult for young people to navigate.

“I think that what it is, is not that the world has become crueller, it’s just that we hold our children back from a very early age. When they’re 11, 12, 13 we don’t let them out on their own. When they’re 14, 15, we hover all over them and insulate them from real-life experience. We treat university students the way we used to treat school pupils, so I think it’s that type of cumulative effect of infantilisation which is responsible for this.”

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