Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Public intellectual?

Tyler Cowen, whom I admire despite disagreeing with him about some things, recently shared an old video of Woody Allen and Billy Graham debating about God and asked, "Where's Jordan Peterson?" The point being that Peterson is everywhere and, perhaps, a little too visible.

This January Cowen said that Jordan Peterson was the most influential "public intellectual" today.

That's an interesting expression. My first thought was, "Is there any other kind of intellectual?"

You might respond by saying that a university professor known only to his students is an intellectual. After all, you might continue, Peterson himself was relatively unknown for most of his career and we wouldn't want to argue that he became an intellectual by becoming famous. By that standard all popstars are intellectuals.

And yet ...

When I was a kid, Pierre Trudeau was deemed an intellectual. Growing up in a very Liberal family (meaning they were both ideological liberals and supporters of the Liberal Party of which Trudeau was the leader) I initially took the claim at face value. As time went on, however, I noticed some odd things about this intellectual. One was that while Trudeau wrote books and everyone in my parents' circle had purchased at least one of those books, Federalism and the French Canadians, nobody ever talked about what was in the book. When I picked up the copy on our shelves and read it myself, I was struck by how stiff the binding was. I suspect it had been read once but probably not twice before I got to it. And when I tried to engage people on the content of the book, they clearly had no idea what Trudeau had written.

It got worse. The more I engaged with Trudeau's writing, the less impressive it seemed. Trudeau had made much of being opposed to "nationalism" but, when you read him, it rapidly becomes clear that he doesn't clearly define what he means by the term. Worse, he is decidedly selective about whose nationalism he condemns. He is merciless in dissecting the nationalism of the Quebecois and the United States but blind to the equally noxious nationalism in the rest of Canada.

Finally, he was a fraud. He liked to accuse Quebec nationalists of having roots in right-wing nationalism of an ugly authoritarian and racist stripe. In some cases that accusation was fair but in other cases he used unfairly, even against people who had opposed that sort of nationalism back when it took real courage and integrity to do so.

As if that wasn't enough, we later found out that Trudeau himself had an ugly history of supporting the sort off hateful ideas he accused others of having done.

Now, you may be waiting for me to announce that Trudeau was not an intellectual. I'm not going to do that. He was an intellectual. He was not a very important intellectual in the long run. Does anyone read him anymore? Probably not. But he was very important to his time and, even if no one read him terribly attentively (or retentively) at the time, the ideas he cared about were much discussed because he cared about them.

When deciding whether someone is an intellectual (or whether someone or something fits into several other categories such as whether something is art) we shouldn't mix up categories. Whether they are good or important intellectuals are separate questions.

Here is what I would conclude. A university professor is not necessarily an intellectual. "Intellectual" is not a credential you get from any sort of institution and it is precisely because no institution can give you that status that intellectuals are important. They exist to challenge ideas that dominate institutions. If all Jordan Peterson ever did was repeat ideas already in favor in universities, he'd still be unknown.

So, to turn back to the question above, Jordan Peterson was not an intellectual until he became famous. Fame is a necessary condition for being an intellectual even if it is not a sufficient condition.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Rude question: What's the difference between a twink and an incel?

I posted about twinks two days ago. Walking my dog later, it struck me that, physically, twinks are very close to incels. The are small men with little muscle or hair. Men who don't look or act manly.

 Troy Sivan is gay but this is a very heterosexual video aimed at teenage girls. His being gay isn't an obstacle because the whole point of this sort of thing was perfectly explained by The Simpsons years ago:

 If you're a teenage girl just starting to think about love, there is no less-threatening choice than a small and weak gay man.

And there is nothing new about this. Here is a song that is widely condemned for it's misogyny. Pay close attention, though, and you'll notice that it's actually a very girly song. The attitude you see on display here is of a teeange girl afraid of getting hurt mentally rehearsing how she's going to deal with a breakup before such a thing is even a possibility.

It's a bitchy song about one girl who is afraid of everything: she's afraid of the boys who really want her and she's afraid of the mean girl who will steal that boy from her. That's the attitude that drives the song. That's why millions of girls bought it back in 1965. Nothing has changed. Don't believe anyone who tries to tell you differently.

Friday, May 18, 2018

"Age of twink"

There was a piece in the New York Times called, "Welcome to the Age of the Twink". If, like me, you had no idea, it's a term from the gay subculture that means a small, skinny, hairless manboy. That such a term would exist is no surprise. If there is a body type, there is a type of person with a fetish for it.

A lot of people have heaped abuse on the article and with good reason: it's poorly written, poorly argued and poorly researched. It's the last that I want to focus on. Just the title makes a claim that twinks are culturally important now. What sort of evidence is given to back up this claim? Here's a list of what I can find in the article:
  1. There is one character in the movie Call Me By Your Name who fits the definition.
  2. there is a Slovak porn company that specializes in the type
  3. Zac Efron looks the part in a muscular sort of way
  4. figure skater Adam Rippon
  5. You can find a history of the type in the work of a fashion photographer named Ryan McGinley
  6. You can also find the type in fashion photographs chosen by a designer named Hedi Slimane
  7. Three movie stars: Tye Sheridan, Lucas Hedges and Nick Robinson plus a bunch of guys in Dunkirk.
  8. Musical artists Olly Alexander and Troy Sivan
  9. A German male modeling agency called "Tomorrow is Another Day" specializes in the type.
 That is one awfully narrow set of cultural references. Most of them (#s 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9) are closely connected to the gay subculture.

Even opinion journalism should be based on something. That the writer had a feeling about something, which is all we have here, is not enough.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The last Smooth Song of summer

This is very well written. It's Teflon smooth. That is to say, it doesn't stick. Heck, it barely even registers. And yet it is a supreme example of the songwriter's craft. (Yes, it did that on purpose.)

I have a funny memory that goes with this. Years after this was a hit, it was played as an oldie on the radio and my first girlfriend used it as a pretext to start talking about how she would deal with a break up. She spoke of the pain and how she wasn't certain how well she'd deal with it. And I felt for her. I had no intention of breaking up with her but we were teenagers and at that age you know, even if you don't discuss it, that it's highly unlikely you'll be together for the rest of your lives. My focus was entirely on her as I listened: I didn't want to hurt her but I knew at least enough not to make promises I couldn't keep. I felt for her.

Ah, to be that naive again. If I had a time machine I'd go back and whisper in my ear, "She's already planning her exit strategy you moron!" I spent a lot of my teens and twenties feeling sorry for women who had the moral consciences of professional killers.

The point of all this being that the lyrics of this are beyond disingenuous. She was always planning for this to end and now she wants to feel sorry for herself. Not one line, not one word of the song is devoted to any pain her ex might be feeling. She's supposed to help her deal with it and then disappear. There is a name for that sort of thinking but I use it too much so I won't actually write it here.

I've done smooth songs of summer for a number of years now and it's time to move on to something else. This seemed like a good song to end it with.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Another image

What is this selling:

It's part of the display outside La Vie En Rose lingerie store here. In a sense it's obvious. This picture is selling a bra! Except that it's a lot more complicated than that.

For starters, the focus of attention is her face. I'm incorrigibly heterosexual and yet I don't look at her breasts when I see that picture. I look right at her face. I don't have to force myself to maintain eye contact. To the contrary, it's her eyes that keep pulling you up. You'd have to force yourself to look down. That seems an odd way to sell lingerie.

That's because it's not selling lingerie directly. What you see here is the equivalent of the sporting goods store that offers free skateboarding lessons. That picture is a free lesson in how to be sexual for women. You look at that picture and try and duplicate the look she's giving.

Go ahead and try it!

I'm serious. Try and duplicate that expression.

As Wittgenstein says, it's interesting that we can imitate a facial expression without having to check in the mirror to see that we've gotten it right. And you can do that, man or woman, with that photograph.

There's a feeling that goes along with that expression. Do you feel automatically feel it when you make the feeling? Or do you have to be able to get the feeling before you can make the expression? The model could tell you. It must be interesting to make your living "turning it on"  for photographers you feel no attraction to. Then again, a lot of women can do that.

Being sexual is not a magic bullet. You can't turn it on for just the person or persons you want to. Some women find that an unbearable burden. I feel their pain. Then again, that's just the way it is so deal with it.

Notice that there is far less of this sort of thing for men. There are such images but they aren't very popular. There is a limited market, probably mostly gay, for pictures of men looking sexual. That should remind us about something about the image above—something we might otherwise fail to remark upon—and that is that that is a homoerotic image. It's meant to get women aroused. Lot's of men probably do too but the image is aimed at heterosexual women. That's the big difference that comes with selling stuff to women. Heterosexual men are not interested in erotic images of other men. Heterosexual women are interested in obsessed with erotic images of other women. Not all women but an awful lot of them. They're interested because that's the best way to learn how to be sexual. You teach yourself how to look and feel like her.

The trans community can tell us a lot about this. People who believe they are women born in a man's body have a term for the quality the woman in the photograph above has. They call it being "fishy" and a person who has this quality is described as a "fish". To attempt to be a "fish" and fail is to be a "brick". I know what you're thinking and you're right: that's not very nice. I would never talk about other people that way but they're talking about themselves.

Anyway, that picture is a lesson in how to be a fish. It's not aimed at the trans community. At the same time, I'm sure members of the trans community would be welcome at this store. The pitch is aimed at biological women because there are a lot of them.

That picture is also a lesson in the deep differences between men and women.

Sorry, but it's true.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Rosie* was never expecting to wind up single at 30" or why more women should read Jordan Peterson

Rosie, not her real name, and her husband decided to separate and then all her friends started getting divorced too. You can read all about it at the NY Post.
Is it a coincidence that most of our friends find their soulmates and then start having babies all within the same few years of each other? Of course not.

There is a big social component to the times at which we each decide to make major life decisions like marriage — including, research suggests, when and if those marriages end.

According to a study conducted across three US universities, you’re 75 percent more likely to get divorced if at least one member of your close friendship circle ends their marriage.

Yep, 75 percent.
I can testify to that. I have watched women I've known ruin their own and their children's lives by deciding to get divorced shortly after a female friend did. There is a whole lot of evidence that all sorts of correlations hold. If someone you know commits suicide, the odds of your doing so go way up to.

"If Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?" Well, actually ...

But notice something about that lead I quote in the header: "Rosie was never expecting to wind up single at 30." As we read on in the article it is either stated explicitly or implied that these women either left their husbands or mutually agreed with their husbands to end their marriages. And yet the article speaks of these events in passive terms, as if this was something that happened to these women instead of, what it was, something they decided to do. How does something you've chosen to do become something that happened to you?

The answer to that is: When you have failed to become a morally responsible adult. That's the way children think.

Jordan Peterson's advice isn't the only way a woman-child like the women in the article could fix themselves but it's good advice. Especially rules two and three:
Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping

Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you
The  expert quoted in the NY Post piece is directly confronted with the second issue only to counter it an empty platitude.
So what is the lesson in all this? Should we be choosing our friends based on the strength of their marriages in order to innoculate our own against failure?

Dan reckons early intervention and open communication is a better option.
 Yeah. Here's an example of an early intervention: Lisa decided to leave Joe early in their marriage. And here's an open communication: I hate you! You can see how those might not help.

Here's what I think. We all make friends we later need to get rid of. It can be fun and even liberation to hang around with some irresponsible jerks at college and immediately thereafter. Then it gets to be time to move on. You keep hanging around with jerks and that's going to mess up your life.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Selfishness disguised as virtue

There was an article the other day that responded to some criticism of the fundraising associated with the Humboldt tragedy. Some people have noticed that the amount of money collected for the hockey team is huge and that it is unlikely the hockey team will use the money effectively. Not surprisingly, the comments section filled up with abuse. One commenter started by saying, "Canadians just wanted to show they care." That is exactly what's wrong.

"When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing." Anything else is narcissism. You can see it right in the wording, Canadians just to show they care. Yeah, it feels really good to be part of this.

Again, look at this headline from Macleans: "Humboldt GoFundMe account expresses a nation’s grief in dollars and cents". I know, everyone feels good about this but there is nothing to celebrate here.

By the way, have you seen anything that looks like an explanation of why the crash happened? I don't mean speculation about trees blocking the view and so forth. I'm not sure why the truck driver would need a view. He had a stop sign with a flashing red light. Did he not see that?

Okay, maybe it's too early to answer those questions. But there will be answers sometime right?