Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Goodbye Davy Jones

May he find eternal peace in God's kingdom.

The only song to remember Jones by is Daydream Believer. Although I'm going with someone else's version of his big song. This is Mary Beth Maziarz from the Dawson's Creek soundtrack. I think it is a fitting tribute to Jones and the Monkees that his song still made perfect sense for a teen soap opera years after they broke up. besides, I was too young to catch the Monkees the first time around, by the time I saw the show it had been in syndication for years and felt like it belonged to another era.

It's funny but people who hate teen culture the Monkees or Dawson's Creek always pick on it for being unrealistic but I lived a life that was shocking close to what you see on Dawson's Creek. My life was not exactly that of Pacey Witter but it was close enough (my family's financial status was more like Dawson's but my personality was more like Pacey) and my first girlfriend Ellen was so frighteningly close to Joey Potter that it's a bit chilling and she used to sing this song.

You'd have to be young when you first heard it to be really moved by this song. It's more what a young person imagines the realities of adulthood will be like than it really is. But that's okay because it's good to be a teen imagining what adulthood will be like.

Actually, I do a passable version of this song myself but I won't post it here.

Womanly Virtues Wednesday: Catholic Jumper girls

I didn't start out meaning to make this all-Catholic week.

Some in the Catholic mummy blogosphere have run out of things to whine about on their own behalf so they have gone looking for things to whine about on behalf of others. It must be because it's Lent. In any case, it's the sad plight of Catholic singles who get to read nothing but stories of the challenges of being a Catholic mother that is drawing attention. What can the church do for these unfortunate women?

My answer: lex orandi. Save the liturgy, save the world.

But let's talk about other people's answers. What really jumped out at some people was a comment about jumpers. It appeared in response to this post (search for "jumper" and you'll find it) and here is the bit of the comment that got some discussion going:
I don't expect the Church to have a yenta on staff, just see that most people are called to marriage and do a small  part in facilitating that. I tend to see that priests in Latin Mass parishes are more in tuned to this. They are more sympathetic. I also notice that more men go to TLM. I don't look good in a jumper, so I'm floundering around praying that God will send me one of his choices sons.......before my fertility is gone.
One quick note before we get on to the "jumper" issue: I don't want to be cruel but I do hope you will all notice that self-centred that comment is. I say this as someone as capable of being self-centred and selfish as any. Send me one of your choice lambs so I may slaughter it, or send me one of your choice sons so I can use him to make babies before my fertility is gone. It's pretty much the same. You have to wonder what she does if she gets married and it turns out they can't conceive. What is marriage to her then?

But the jumper, what about that? Well, let's give the woman above the credit for at least seeing that the issue is that she doesn't look good in a jumper; that she looks better in other clothes. Others miss this.

The best answer in the Catholic blogosphere was given at a site called Seraphic Singles. And let's start with the really good stuff. She first makes an astute moral observation and then gives some rock solid advice. First the astute moral observation:
Modesty is a good and noble thing, but it is all the sweeter when it is subtle. The virgin who reminds people constantly that she is a virgin is not as modest as the virgin who keeps her mouth shut on such a personal subject. 
And now the rock solid advice:
Now I know somebody is itching to write in and tell me that women don't dress for men, we dress for ourselves, and blah blah blah blah. This has to be complete garbage because I cannot think why any woman would wear a stupid "jumper" unless she were worried about her audience.
The key issue then, is who that audience is: men or other women.

And here is the thing: what image of yourself are you presenting? Let me give you an analogy. A while ago I did some work with a guy named Chris. He's a really nice guy and very competent and dependable and he has a pleasant, self-deprecating sense of humour that puts people at ease. The problem is that that self-deprecating sense of humour necessarily means diminishing his own abilities and work. And people can't help believing him. They think Chris is a great guy to have on the team but they typically fail to note just how good he is at his job. When it comes time to pick people for some future project they think of others first.

For women the same thing happens with what is often mistakenly called modesty. If your "modesty" amounts to telling and showing people that you are a non-sexual being, then people will eventually take you at your word. No man wants to marry a non-sexual being except maybe the man who thinks of women as potential incubators for his babies. (And maybe we could match one of those guys up with the Catholic single I quoted at the top and then they both could use one another to make babies because that would make them both oh-so-much-better than those evil people who use one another for sexual pleasure.)

I disagree with Seraphic on one small point: jumpers are sexy on some women, even devastatingly so. It's up to you to make the assessment and it's up to you to get it right. A jumper can say, youthful and fresh. If you think you have that to offer and some women can and do do have that right through their forties, a jumper might be just the thing. Other women have other strengths. You have to be able to decide what you have going for you. One helpful hint, as Seraphic correctly notes, is to notice how men react and what they react to.

Of course, if you think it is immodest or a sin to be a sexual being in the first place, that will all be impossible for you.  Back to Seraphic:
And as a husband-attracting device, modesty is highly over-rated and always has been. Back in Jane Austen's day, elegantly dressed young ladies made their Empire-waist frocks stick to their bodies by spraying them with water. Desperate matchmaking mothers prompted their scandalized daughters to smile more, to flirt more, to give more encouragement, for heaven's sake, Laetitia. Modesty should of course be on the list of your womanly attributes, but it is down around #5. It is not #1, except in places like rural Afghanistan.
Of course, the real challenge here is be the virtue. It's not enough to do these things, you have to  be the sort of person who naturally is a sexual being, who tends to react in a sexual way even when sex is not going to happen. He made us sexual beings; that is what He made us man and woman means.

 A final thought, I really saw myself in this paragraph from Seraphic (you should really read the whole thing):
If a man wants back all the beauty, romance and fittingness of the Mass before 1963, he might very well want back all the beauty, romance and fittingness of men's fashion before 1963. And if he is that interested in men's fashion before 1963, imagine how he thinks women should dress. 
I'm already married but the point is a good one, fittingness. These things all go together. Real modesty is to dress in a fitting fashion. Fittingness is hard work, hiding your sexuality is lazy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The oddball places popular piety can sometimes go

One thing you might not guess about traditionalist Catholicism if your knowledge of it comes from the press is that it very much an individualist conception of the faith. For the Roman Catholic Church is very tolerant of people and groups of people pursuing special devotions that are meaningful to them and traditionalists encourage these special devotions. Most of the time this is a good thing but every once in a while you get some really bizarre notions springing up.

I was reading a book called The Irish Tradition by Robin Flower and came across a beaut. I'd heard of this particular peculiarity before but had no idea where it came from. Now that I know,  it all makes perfect sense. Anyway, I'll let Dr. Flower explain. He is talking about an idea that seems to have sprung up in 15th century Ireland:
There is one strange and characteristic conception found repeatedly in his [a poet named Angus O'Daly] verse which I find it hard to parallel from medieval literature, though I think it can be found implicit in the art of the time. This is the peculiar way of emphasizing the Virgin as the especial representative of humanity before God. Christ in judgment is depicted as showing the wounds received in the Passion and claiming vengeance on mankind for his sufferings. The poet calls on the Virgin to interceded with her son for her human kindred in the character of the nursing mother. (P127)
That is, of course, heretical. In fact, I can't imagine how you could be more heretical for it denies that Jesus intentionally died for our sins and makes His supreme sacrifice a travesty. But this sort of wackiness is not odd by medieval standards. (For example: some medieval morality plays portrayed Joseph as a cuckold having been betrayed by God and Mary.)

The odder thing, for me, is that I remember hearing this sort of thing when I was a kid from hard-core devotees of the Rosary. It usually wasn't quite so explicit as all that but it tended to shade that way. But even if it only shades that way it's heretical.

It's one of the many things that make me a little uncomfortable with my own Irish heritage (contrary to the impression my name gives, there is actually more Irish in me than anything else). Just yesterday I ran into an Irish woman I know at the grocery store and got a good twenty minutes of oddball stuff like you couldn't imagine.

What Yoga leads to

Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise. 
Funny that they wouldn't mention that.  It reminds me of something. What is the word I'm looking for? Oh yeah, "seduction", it reminds me of seduction. That's how you seduce someone: you get them to play the game while soft-pedaling any discussion of where the game leads. "Hey, just flirt and dance with me—this doesn't have to go anywhere*."

On the other hand, it takes two to play the seduction game**. It's odd that the NYT says "libidinal surprise" as if it were a bad thing. As if women didn't like a little libidinal surprise. And I have to say that my entire experience says there is probably nothing women crave more.

I doubt women go to yoga classes specifically seeking sex but I also suspect that sex is always part of it. If she can really go and stretch on a mat in a hot room in scanty and tight clothing for an entire class with others similarly dressed and not see the sexual aspect, there is no hope for her. (I say not "see" the sexual aspect for she will certainly feel it whether she choose to be in denial about this or not.)

* ADDED: General advice to women, one of the ways you can be pretty sure a guy is a not reliable is if he always wants to be with you but never quite asks you out on a date. It's always, "Hey want to just hang out," or that old favourite from university days, "Why don't we go up to my room and just talk". . The guys who do this often seem timid, and they may even actually be timid, but you'd still be a fool not to suspect what he's up to. He is timid precisely because he doesn't want to risk anything and he certainly doesn't want any sort of relationship with you but you can be sure he's trying to channel things towards sex.

** What works against women and for the male in the yoga scenario is the numbers. Being surrounded by other scantily clad women an relatively few men will both lower her inhibitions and push her to compete. And that is a powerful combination that works entirely in men's favour.

Blogging The Reef: Honour and Shame

(To read all posts about The Reef click here.)

I said somewhere in one of my earlier posts that ways of life come as packages. Accept a crucial notion such as fate as a major moral force in life and whole lot of other stuff comes with it. One of the big things that comes with fate is an honour-shame morality. That is to accept a moral universe where the primary goal is protecting your honour and avoiding shame.

I put it that way advisedly, by the way, because gaining honour is a nearly impossible thing to do. Trying to increase your honour is a deadly dangerous thing to do because it upsets the moral order and others will try and slap you down.  Think of George Darrow's attitude to Sophy in this regard. He sees her possibility of marrying up as a questionable thing always. It doesn't sit well with him. Anna, on the other hand, while not completely comfortable about it, sees the possibility for it.

And if we watch Darrow carefully, we will notice that he is always on the watch to protect his honour. When (in Chapter 11) he and Anna discuss the "obstacle" that led her to put him off, his sole concern is in protecting his honour. He never has even a tinge of guilt about the thing but rather feels shame.

One of the reasons Darrow is so effective at manipulating people is that he never questions the ends. He never wonders whether someone who has done what he has done to Anna has the right to continue to pursue her. The possibility of shame—that she might not really want him—put him off completely but he never worries whether or not he is worthy of her. That he wants her is the only reason he needs. (and if that puts you in mind of Don Draper, you're absolutely right.)

There is a helpful little matrix to keep in mind when thinking about the differences between honour-shame morality and guilt-redemption morality that most of us know as Christian.

Situation one: You didn't do the bad thing and no one suspects you of having done it.
  • Someone who operates on honour-shame feels justified.
  • Someone who operates on guilt-redemption feels justified.
Situation two: you didn't do the bad thing but some or lots of others do suspect you of having done it.
  • Someone who operates on honour-shame feels shamed.
  • Someone who operates on guilt-redemption feels justified.
Situation three:  you did do the bad thing but no one suspects you of having done it.
  • Someone who operates on honour-shame feels justified.
  • Someone who operates on guilt-redemption feels guilt.
Situation four: you did do the bad thing and others suspect you of it.
  • Someone who operates on honour-shame feels shamed.
  • Someone who operates on guilt-redemption feels guily.
 Obviously, the crucial difference is in situations two and three and if we watch Darrow we will see this over and over again. In Chapter 11, for example, he doesn't dare challenge Anna as to whether the problems with the governess were really sufficient to 1) justify her putting him off and 2) to justify her taking ten whole days to write to explain. And they certainly weren't enough to justify the second. But he doesn't dare push that point because that risks exposing him to shame.

And notice how he lies. I should preface this by saying I think there are situations where lying is justified but notice that Darrow always lies to protect himself from shame, and sometimes to protect others from shame when it suits his purposes.

A final thought: there is no reason why the two moral syndromes can't co-exist in the same society. We all tend to bounce back and forth between the two. At home with your spouse, you'll tend to operate on guilt-redemption (I hope so anyway), but step onto a bus full of strangers and you'll probably start behaving in honour-shame terms. That is why the long-standing hypocrisy that puzzles morally immature people everywhere that it is okay to talk about some things in private but not in public.

And that brings me to Anna. She does go back and forth between the two. Listen to how she justifies her support for Owen's marriage even though it may not be a wise thing:
What I've most wanted for him, and shall want for Effie, is that they shall always feel free to make their own mistakes, and never, if possible, be persuaded to make other people's. Even if Owen's marriage is a mistake, and has to be paid for, I believe he'll learn and grow in the paying.
That is, if anything is, a statement of faith in the possibility of redemption.

 But there is one respect in which Anna is still like Darrow: she does not think quite so much of the ends as she might. She does not seem to really want things.She doesn't seem to dare to want.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sort of political Monday: Catholic liberty?

A lot of Catholics have suddenly become great defenders of liberty in the face of the Obama administration's HHS mandate which would force them to actively support practices contrary to their beliefs. Well, good for them. Sorta, kinda but not really.

For the thing about defending liberty is that you can't do it in a selective way.

You can't run around tossing off terms such as "social justice" (Catholics invented that concept by the way), advocating censorship and pushing governments to become more obtrusive in people's lives under the heading of "charity" for years and years then suddenly start screaming about religious liberty when the government, empowered and emboldened by your support for its continual expansion, finally gets around to biting you.

And it may be too late to do anything about it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Blogging The Reef: Things Elizabeth Bennett Wouldn't Do

(To read all posts about The Reef click here.)

It may seem to some that I am being too easy on George Darrow and, if you are one of those people, it will shortly seem like I am being too hard on Anna Leath. I don't want to paint George as an angel, he most certainly isn't, but I also think we need to avoid making dismissive assessments of characters. I've written about this before: the tendency of some commentators to assess a character and then right them off as worthless.

And George Darrow is not worthless. He is an interesting and attractive character even if we would wish him better. And he provides a foil for Anna Leath and, in so doing, allows us to see some cracks in what might initially seem a faultless facade. This one for example:
Often she told herself that any silly girl who had waltzed through a season would know better than she how to attract a man and hold him ...
And "silly girl" here is not as abstract as it might sound; there is a specific silly girl.
Then one day, at a dinner, she saw him sitting next to one of the silly girls in question: the heroine of the elopement which had shaken West Fifty-fifth Street to its base. The young lady had come back from her adventure no less silly than when she went ...
And here is how young Anna Summers thinks about it:
All night she lay awake and wondered: "What was she saying to him? How shall I learn to say such things?" and she decided that her heart would tell her--that the next time they were alone together the irresistible word would spring to her lips.
Okay, let's think about Pride and Prejudice. I pick it because I assume everyone has read it. There is a moment in that novel that somewhat resembles this. Think of when Lydia (a silly girl if ever there was one) and George come to the Bennett house as a couple after having eloped. So here is the question, can you imagine Elizabeth Bennett looking at her sister Lydia and feeling like there must be something the young Lydia knows that she, Elizabeth, does not and feeling inadequate as a result?

The answer is never. It couldn't happen.

Here is how Anna Summers felt (with added emhasis):
She perceived, indeed, that other girls, leading outwardly the same life as herself, and seemingly unaware of her world of hidden beauty, were yet possessed of some vital secret which escaped her. There seemed to be a kind of freemasonry between them; they were wider awake than she, more alert, and surer of their wants if not of their opinions. She supposed they were "cleverer", and accepted her inferiority good-humouredly, half aware, within herself, of a reserve of unused power which the others gave no sign of possessing.
And what is the thing that they know they want and poor Anna doesn't? In a word: sex. Here she is with George during their first courtship:
She liked to hear his voice almost as much as to listen to what he was saying, and to listen to what he was saying almost as much as to feel that he was looking at her; but he wanted to kiss her, and she wanted to talk to him about books and pictures, and have him insinuate the eternal theme of their love into every subject they discussed.
But he wanted to kiss her! It isn't that she doesn't feel the desire. It's the getting over the stumbling block that stands between the place where speech ends and kissing starts. Something stops her from wanting to do that. What is the Reef between her and the ability to connect sexually with a man? That is something new and modern in fiction.

Let's revisit how Anna thought about things after becoming jealous at the sight of George and Kitty together:
All night she lay awake and wondered: "What was she saying to him? How shall I learn to say such things?" and she decided that her heart would tell her--that the next time they were alone together the irresistible word would spring to her lips.
Notice that the only solution Anna can think of is more talk. What shall she say? She doesn't have a clue what to do.

There is a great scene in the magnificent film 8 Femmes (Eight Women) where a spinster played by Isabelle Huppert confronts a maid who has seduced her employer and says, "How do you do that?" And the maid says the equivalent of, "Oh, you know.' The point being, "If you have to ask ..." But poor Anna does have to ask.
This partly consoled her for missing so much of what made their "good time"; but the resulting sense of exclusion, of being somehow laughingly but firmly debarred from a share of their privileges, threw her back on herself and deepened the reserve which made envious mothers cite her as a model of ladylike repression. Love, she told herself, would one day release her from this spell of unreality.
But it didn't.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What betrayal looks like

I think this is supposed to be a human interest story:
A 99-year-old Italian man is divorcing his wife of 77 years after he stumbled across letters she had written to a secret lover in the 1940s.
The damning discovery days before Christmas led the galled grandfather to confront his once two-timing wife immediately, London’s Daily Telegraph reported.
The 96-year-old woman, identified in court papers as Rosa C., reportedly confessed to having an affair 60 years ago, and then tried desperately to persuade her hubby to stay.
It's the kind of thing you read out to someone over coffee so you both can laugh.

I'll tell you what jumps out at me though: she kept those letters for 62 years. That is more than adding insult to injury; it's cruelty. She deserves zero pity from anyone.

Manly Thor's Day Special: Hypergamy part 3

Part one is here and part two here.

The perhaps not obvious subtext of all discussion of hypergamy is the critical assessment of men by women. It's hiding, for example, in the final paragraph of the Stephanie Coontz piece that started all this:
I am not arguing that women ought to “settle.” I am arguing that we can now expect more of a mate than we could when we depended on men for our financial security, social status and sense of accomplishment. But that requires ditching the Lois Lane syndrome, where we ignore the attractions and attention of Clark Kent because we’re so eager for the occasional fly-by from Superman. 
It's that word "settle" that gives it away.  Women look at men and they make critical assessments and then they make a choice of some sort. And the challenge a woman is presented by hypergamy—meaning the fact that she will be aroused by male status—is that she has to make the decision over and over again. The problem is not, as Coontz would have it, that Lois Lane is waiting for Superman to fly by but that Superman regularly does fly by and she responds when he does. If she doesn't actively decide not to act on her impulses, then she will inevitably end up acting on them.

That's why I keep coming back to the male equivalent: the hot young woman who walks into the room and he responds. So too, when a man a woman believes to have status starts flirting with her—she responds. The point is not what she intends to do but what just happens. And it can seem like the really important question is, "At what point does a response become a threat to a relationship?" And lots of jealous boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives worry about that a whole lot.

Here is the issue: You go to a party where your partner interacts with attractive people and  then comes home and you have great sex because she or he is so aroused from those interactions. Do you treat that as a threat to your relationship?

I think what you really want to worry about is not the fact that everyone gets aroused by others but what they are or are not willing to commit to. Significantly, the word "commitment" doesn't appear even once in the Coontz article and that is rather odd for an article that is about marriage. Coontz examines the question entirely in terms of what a woman can get out of marriage and that is a recipe for failure.

The point here is not that men resent being judged and criticized, although we do. The deeper point is that we hate and are terrified of being left. Women fear being cheated on and with good reason. A lot of men cheat. The flip side of that is that a lot of women do leave men and they do so much more easily and often than men leave women.

(And maybe she only leaves in spirit. We've all seen the marriage where the woman stays but constantly disdains and criticizes her husband.)

Going back to the Kate Bolick piece that inspired Stephanie Coontz in the first place, you can see the nightmare right in the opening sentences of her article:
In 2001, when I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things.
That makes her a male nightmare.  If there is one thing every marriage-minded male has in common is that he has been or will be an "Allan" at some point. And it tore him apart. Kate Bolick doesn't see it but she has incredibly low status as a marriage partner because she does things like breaking up when there is no good reason other than her not being ready.

A big part of the reason is that she has quite a lot of status in others ways. Just look at her. And she gets published in The Atlantic. But you wouldn't marry her for love because you can never love a woman who might just leave you at any time.

What Bolick doesn't see is that sex and glamour is all she has to offer. As a lover, which is to say more than just a sex partner, she is a complete failure. She doesn't see that, quite possibly because she has so much status as a sex partner. Read this and note how little self awareness there is here:
And yet, as a woman who spent her early 30s actively putting off marriage, I have had ample time to investigate, if you will, the prevailing attitudes of the high-status American urban male. (Granted, given my taste for brainy, creatively ambitious men—or “scrawny nerds,” as a high-school friend describes them—my sample is skewed.) My spotty anecdotal findings have revealed that, yes, in many cases, the more successful a man is (or thinks he is), the less interested he is in commitment.
When she was twenty-eight she broke up with her boyfriend for "no good reason" and she turns around and gets snide about high-status men who aren't interested in commitment. Never once does she seem to ask herself just why it is that she even gets to spend so much time with high-status urban males. Does she seriously think that she'd have done so if she didn't have such high value as a sex object?

 I know, what a pig I am for even thinking so. But what does a woman who could turn around at any second and leave you offer? What is is she good for other than sex?

Guys, don't let women blame this one on us.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hypergamy pt 2: hypergamy and polygamy

Part one is here and part three here.

Here is the teaser paragraph from a much-discussed piece by Katie Bolick:
Recent years have seen an explosion of male joblessness and a steep decline in men’s life prospects that have disrupted the “romantic market” in ways that narrow a marriage-minded woman’s options: increasingly, her choice is between deadbeats (whose numbers are rising) and playboys (whose power is growing). 
The situation Bolick describes above—a world in which a few high-status males have lots of opportunities for sex with multiple partners and a whole lot of others do not—is called polygamy. What women like Bolick fail to note, and James Taranto did note, is that this situation has come about entirely because of women's choosing patterns and not because of men.

And one big hint that Bolick is lying, to herself at least,  is right in the opening of her piece:
In 2001, when I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was (and remains) an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track relationships, were bewildered. I was bewildered. To account for my behavior, all I had were two intangible yet undeniable convictions: something was missing; I wasn’t ready to settle down. 
Katie Bolick talks about how "marriage-minded women" have fewer options but the obvious problem with that is that she has not been marriage-minded most of her life. Actual marriage-minded women in their twenties probably still have the same number of options they ever did. They face a situation that is tough but manageable. The women for whom life is suddenly much tougher are those who decided to just have fun for a decade or so "not settling down" and then decided to settle down only to find themselves trapped in a new kind of polygamy.

If women decide to pursue sex based on their desires alone, those desires will lead them to pick "high-status" partners and those partners will, because there are so few of them, be in a position to have multiple partners rather than settle with one. Meanwhile, large numbers of lower-staus men will simply abandon the field, getting by on porn and video games.

The probem then, which Bolick refuses to see, is not that women have to settle for what they don't want but that men have little reason to make a commitment. There is nothing in it for them. And, once you know that, you can find tons of evidence for the proposition in Bolick's own article:
My spotty anecdotal findings have revealed that, yes, in many cases, the more successful a man is (or thinks he is), the less interested he is in commitment.

Take the high-powered magazine editor who declared on our first date that he was going to spend his 30s playing the field. Or the prominent academic who announced on our fifth date that he couldn’t maintain a committed emotional relationship but was very interested in a physical one. Or the novelist who, after a month of hanging out, said he had to get back out there and tomcat around, but asked if we could keep having sex anyhow, or at least just one last time. Or the writer (yes, another one) who announced after six months together that he had to end things because he “couldn’t continue fending off all the sexual offers.” And those are just the honest ones. 
What she fails to see is that the non high-status men she so dislikes are also not interested in commitment for the simple reason that it offers little or nothing to them. Unless you consider years of paying child support to the mother of your child while having no input into how the money is spent and much less time with the child an "incentive" of some sort. And all this so people like Katie Bolick can call you a "deadbeat".

And what is "high status" anyway?
Years ago in university I took a job as bouncer for a few years and suddenly found myself high status. It was a very limited sort of high status as it only applied within the doors of the dance club where I was working. As long as I was there doing my job, women flocked to me, men deferred to me and scared staff would coming running to me when there was trouble.

Outside those environs I had no status. It took some getting used to because I would spend five nights a week getting a level of sexual attention from women that I'd never had before in my life and then I'd go to class the next day and it would be gone. I knew I was the same guy in both situations but women treated me like a completely different guy.

The funny thing was that even in my early twenties I knew the status I had was bogus. I knew I was doing a  stupid, high-risk job that didn't pay nearly enough that I would have cheerfully traded for just about any one of a dozen other options had they been available.

So we need to start by recognizing that "status" is a context-specific thing. And, as I've said before, hypergamy is not a rational choice. It's a tendency to respond sexually to male status. Women in any given social arrangement will tend to respond sexually to men who have status in that social arrangement.

You can fool them, of course, and that is why there is an entire industry teaching lower status men how to intentionally achieve the effect I pulled off accidentally when I became a bouncer. They call it having "game". And it also only works in highly specific contexts. You can fool a woman at a bar but she'll spot you as a fraud right away if she meets you at your workplace where your status is easier to read.

In any case, the rules of the game for men are pretty easy to figure out: either take big risks to get and maintain status or bitterly accept your low status and what goes with it.

And the definition of insanity is ...
And what is Katie Bolick's solution to the problem? It will sound familiar to you:
... as the economy evolves, it’s time to embrace new ideas about romance and family—and to acknowledge the end of “traditional” marriage as society’s highest ideal.
But that, of course, is exactly what feminists and others have been saying for as long as there has been feminism.  We have been doing nothing but embracing new ideas about romance and family for the last sixty years. Katie Bolick, quite rightly, doesn't like where this bus has gotten her but her "solution" is to get right back on the same bus and hope it takes her somewhere different this time.

Or, to put it less charitably, Katie Bolick blew it big time. She had all the assets she needed to make a success of her life only she blew it all not being "ready to settled down" and now that it is too late, she is trying to move the goal posts so that she can be a winner after all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Blogging The Reef: Givré

(To read all posts about The Reef click here.)

And now we move onto book two and with that move a whole lot of things happen. For example, we move from Paris to a country Chateau called Givré. If you know how to pronounce "je" in French, the G here is pronounced the same way as the J in "je", a sort of sliding sound instead of a hard one. In any case, gee-vray. I'll get to what it means below.

What is really quite astounding is that almost the entire rest of the novel takes place at this big country house. We started with a very modern story set on trains and in hotels and theatres in the big city and now it's like the rest of the story is trying very hard to be a classic English novel only set in a French Chateau. Sort of like an Ann Radcliffe novel.

The other big shift is that we get another consciousness. Until now we have experienced everything through George Darrow's eyes. From now on we will alternate between Anna Leath's viewpoint and his. No other character gets a perspective.

There is one odd little transitional phase right at the beginning, however, where we are neither inside George nor Anna's consciousness but get straight third person narration. It's worth reading at some length:
The light of the October afternoon lay on an old high-roofed house which enclosed in its long expanse of brick and yellowish stone the breadth of a grassy court filled with the shadow and sound of limes.

From the escutcheoned piers at the entrance of the court a level drive, also shaded by limes, extended to a white- barred gate beyond which an equally level avenue of grass, cut through a wood, dwindled to a blue-green blur against a sky banked with still white slopes of cloud.

In the court, half-way between house and drive, a lady stood. She held a parasol above her head, and looked now at the house-front, with its double flight of steps meeting before a glazed door under sculptured trophies, now down the drive toward the grassy cutting through the wood. Her air was less of expectancy than of contemplation: she seemed not so much to be watching for any one, or listening for an approaching sound, as letting the whole aspect of the place sink into her while she held herself open to its influence. Yet it was no less apparent that the scene was not new to her. There was no eagerness of investigation in her survey: she seemed rather to be looking about her with eyes to which, for some intimate inward reason, details long since familiar had suddenly acquired an unwonted freshness.
If you were to reprint this novel leaving out all of book one I don't think anyone would notice. That reads like the beginning of a novel and not like the opening of a book two. Neither the house nor the lady are named.

The key word here is "unwonted", which is to say the lady was looking at the house in an unaccustomed way, seeing it in a way she had not seen it before.

And then, Wharton pulls an amazing little trick on us in the very next paragraph.
This was in fact the exact sensation of which Mrs. Leath was conscious as she came forth from the house and descended into the sunlit court. She had come to meet her step-son, who was likely to be returning at that hour from an afternoon's shooting in one of the more distant plantations, and she carried in her hand the letter which had sent her in search of him; but with her first step out of the house all thought of him had been effaced by another series of impressions.
And that tends to slide right by. We don't stop and think, isn't it amazing that our impressions of the scene correspond exactly to what this lady, now that we know a little more about her, was also experiencing. And we are now firmly on Mrs. Leath's side as a consequence. And that is the way Wharton wants it. We have been introduced to Darrow and we know some dirt on him. Now we don't get introduced to Anna Leath so much as we get pulled into so that we identify with her.

Or are we subject to the same illusions?

Here is what the illusions feels like:
The possibilities which the place had then represented were still vividly present to her. The mere phrase "a French chateau" had called up to her youthful fancy a throng of romantic associations, poetic, pictorial and emotional; and the serene face of the old house seated in its park among the poplar-bordered meadows of middle France, had seemed, on her first sight of it, to hold out to her a fate as noble and dignified as its own mien.
And here is what it feels like to see past it:
Though she could still call up that phase of feeling it had long since passed, and the house had for a time become to her the very symbol of narrowness and monotony.  Then, with the passing of years, it had gradually acquired a less inimical character, had become, not again a castle of dreams, evoker of fair images and romantic legend, but the shell of a life slowly adjusted to its dwelling: the place one came back to, the place where one had one's duties, one's habits and one's books, the place one would naturally live in till one died: a dull house, an inconvenient house, of which one knew all the defects, the shabbinesses, the discomforts, but to which one was so used that one could hardly, after so long a time, think one's self away from it without suffering a certain loss of identity.
If we pay attention, however, we will see that Anna Leath is a repeat offender in this regard. Her entire entire life has been spent trying to get beyond the illusions and get at real "life". That word "life" has incredible weight for her. She uses it as if it was loaded with special power the way many people use "love" and then have to pile adjectives such as "real" in front of it because the rest of us are not paying a profound enough reverence at the sound of it.

And, if we are willing to be just a tiny bit critical, we might also note that she has a history of failure. And it was precisely her desire to escape from one trap that led her to leap into another. To put it bluntly, is she seeing life anew or just turning the same illusions around again in her imagination?

If we don't like that question, we could just read her as a typical chick lit heroine whose life is a mess but we are on her side always as she tries to turn it around and we'll hope that George ill make a transition as wonderful as that Mr. Darcy did and that all will turn out wonderfully. That is what Anna Leath is hoping:
In Mrs. Leath's hand was the letter which had opened her eyes to these things, and a smile rose to her lips at the mere feeling of the paper between her fingers. The thrill it sent through her gave a keener edge to every sense. She felt, saw, breathed the shining world as though a thin impenetrable veil had suddenly been removed from it.

Just such a veil, she now perceived, had always hung between herself and life. It had been like the stage gauze which gives an illusive air of reality to the painted scene behind it, yet proves it, after all, to be no more than a painted scene.
So let's get back to Givré. The word comes from "givre" (notice there is no accent on the E in the basic form) which means frost. As with English, the word operates both as a noun and as a verb as in "to frost". "Givré" is the past participle of the verb: frosted.

And when something is covered with frost it is veiled.

So here is the question, does Anna Leath really understand the full consequences of removing the veil. Is the veil we see in form of life we see at Givré like real life only through a veil or are veils a condition of the kind of life that takes place there? Or, more broadly, is some sort of veil essential to any form of life?

I don't want to suggest I know the answer to those questions. And even if I did there is no reason anyone else should take me as an authority. But I think it is the question we need to be asking ourselves as we read this book.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A lighter political item

If you set yourself up in the business of mocking others, you should know that the day will inevitably come when others mock you. Which brings us to Robert Stacy McCain.

He got upset about a young woman named Tina Korbe who sat down in a short skirt to do an interview. As you will know, if you've ever seen a young woman in a short skirt sit down (and I never miss an opportunity if I can help it), it tends to ride and the girl has to grab the skirt and pull. And this happened when Ms. Korbe sat down and then poor McCain had comment.

You can see how she might have difficulties from this still from the video.

Now you need to know two things about Mr. McCain to appreciate the full significance of this. One is that there is a notorious shot about of him as a younger man in a Speedo bathing suit. And it's not just that, as a young man, he made an unfortunate fashion choice. No, it's that, how to put this delicately, he's the sort of guy who has assets that it's normally considered over-the-top to have on clear display and that a Speedo tends to highlight. And only a very charitable person would assume that there wasn't some intentionality at work.

The second thing you need to know is that he has made extensive use of revealing photographs of beautiful young women to attract readers to his blog.

So you can just imagine the ripple of cruel mockery that rolled across the web when he chose to criticize Korbe for wearing a skirt he considered too short. But here's the utterly tone-deaf part of it, he head-lined the piece with "Who wants to see Tina Korbe's Thighs?" And nine-hundred thousand conservative men privately thought, "Uh, me!"

But do you know what hits me? It's that she is well-dressed. She doesn't look like a slob or a frump and that is a pleasant change from what we've been through from both women and men these last few decades. It's a short skirt but it's well within current standards for professional dress by young women. (And why didn't it occur to somebody at CPAC that it would be courteous to provide a table of some sort for women to sit down behind for interviews like this?)

One more thing, I see a a generational conflict here that is not unlike what led to the undoing of feminism in the 1980s. Older feminists in that decade looked at younger feminists and had exactly the same sort of freakout that McCain and others had here. Come on guys, prove you are smarter than feminists: look at Ms. Korbe and repeat after me, "this is what the future of conservatism looks like" and then deal with it.

Catholic I told you so

In the cold light of morning, It has suddenly hit a lot of orthodox Catholics that they are about to lose the contraception battle with President Obama and that Catholic charities are indeed going to be paying the bill for contraction used by their employees. I told ya so: you have to know how to count heads if you want to play politics. You never had the numbers to win this battle.

An additional thought. Don't ask the wrong question. "Does the church have authority to teach on sexual ethics?" is the wrong question.Any Catholic who really is a Catholic has to answer yes on that question. But if Saint Thomas Aquinas were here, he'd remind us that questions of authority are preceded by questions of credibility. If we ask, "Does the Catholic church today have credibility on matters of sexual ethics?" the only honest answer has to be, "No, not really".

I don't like that either but that is the way it is and it's going to take a long time to regain credibility.

Sort of Political Monday: Existential crises

Don't feel bad if you don't follow Canadian politics as even most Canadians don't bother. But if you do, you will know that the son of a former prime minister made a bit of a fool of himself recently. The Canadian media, who usually get his back when he says stupid things, have been raining abuse on the poor guy. So I thought I'd stick up for him. Just a little.

Not because his argument isn't stupid but because everyone else makes the same stupid argument so it doesn't seem fair to be so harsh on him for merely doing what he sees his betters doing. Here is what he said:
I always say, if there came a point where I thought Canada really was Stephen Harper's Canada, that we were against abortion, against gay marriage, that we went backwards in 10,000 different ways, maybe I'd consider making Quebec a country. Oh yes. Absolutely. I know my values very well, even if I no longer recognized Canada.
It's a highly familiar argument, one that his father as well as former Prime Minister Jean Chretien made thousands upon thousands of times.  All except for one tiny twist and it was that tiny twist that messed things up for him.

But the fundamental argument is the existential crisis. "We have to stand for certain values or else we stop existing as a country". Young Trudeau went the extra step of saying that he'd consider separatism if it came to that. But, you know, the really crazy part of the argument is the first step: the claim that there is an existential crisis because the other side is doing what it promised it would do when it ran for election.  If young Trudeau had said that certain political moves will destroy the country as we know it hh would have said something immensely stupid but no one would have criticized him for doing so.

Here is the same wacky argument coming from the other end as advanced by Andrew Coyne:
The second, opposed tendency is to take a genuine existential threat like separation, the breakup and destruction of the country, and normalize it as just another "option" — a delusion in which Quebecers have been encouraged for decades.
Separatism could be a bad thing, especially for Quebec, but that isn't good enough for Andrew Coyne. He needs to rule the option an illegal move that would be an existential threat. But no it wouldn't be. Canada would get along just fine without Quebec. (Quebec without Canada, OTOH, would be Greece with rougher winters.) But it would not be an existential crisis for Canada. We'd get along okay, quite possibly better, without Quebec.

There are, of course, real existential turning points, but, you know, the thing that makes them so potent is that they aren't recognized as such when they are passed. If everyone is screaming that "X is an existential crisis", you can be pretty sure it isn't. All the people screaming about the supposed existential crisis are doing is trying rule the other side out of court. As a general rule of thumb, you probably wouldn't go too far wrong if you voted against every politician who ever made such an argument. And I don't mean that as the casual toss off it may sound. The whole point of liberal democracy is that government is not the guarantor of our culture and values.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Blogging The Reef: Gender Performance

(To read all posts about The Reef click here.)

It's time to move on from Book One of The Reef to the rest of the story and the theme I want to carry forward is what I call "Gender Performance". I don't use the expression the way some others do*.

For me the interesting thing is that to adopt any role first means to be alienated from it. To use a common example, if you get hired to wait tables, you learn the role by playing the part. As others beginning with Sartre have pointed out, waiters tend to over-play the part, that is to be a bit artificial about it, in order to learn it. You don't begin by considering what it feels like to be a waiter or even as yourself what a waiter believes. You begin by dressing in a certain way, walking in a certain way, talking in a certain way.

So what about becoming a woman? (Or a man, of course, but this book is about the task of becoming a woman.) In a sense it seems ridiculous because it seems a matter of what chromosomes you have. But it isn't really that way. You learn to play the part and our culture is full of games that little and not-so-little girls play on the way to becoming a woman.

Now the opposing idea is naturalness or authenticity: "just be the person you really are". Wharton plays with that idea by putting it into George's head. I think she means for us to think of it as a modern idea. In the great English Novels , "artificial" and "artifice" were compliments and someone like a Jane Austen heroine rated herself, and was rated by others, based on what she had made herself. When George Darrow sees Sophy Viner, he thinks he sees in her something he calls naturalness and he compares that with the artifice of Anna Leath.

And we should not forget that Darrow prefers artifice. He gets frustrated with the delay from Anna Leath—he gets frustrated with the reef that seems to block his approach—but there is never a time when he prefers what he calls the naturalism of Sophy. He just finds that easier.

But he bores of her.

But the thing we might wonder about is whether George is right to contrast the two women this way. He looks at Sophy's ambitions to be an actress and thinks she will not succeed because she is too natural and his experience is that great actors put their artifice into being a character on stage and are quite boring when not. That is probably true, but I don't think we should let George fool us into thinking that Sophy is not performing. I'd suggest that the real issue is that Sophy is putting so much into the act of being a woman that she doesn't have anything over to play parts on stage.

Consider this description of Sophy and George walking around Paris and her describing her life to him:
She had the gift of rapid definition, and his questions as to the life she had led with the Farlows, during the interregnum between the Hoke and Murrett eras, called up before him a queer little corner of Parisian existence.
Now George thinks that he fully grasps Sophy and that he is seeing right to the bottom of her; he thinks that she is easy to define. But we might look at the expression "the gift of rapid definition" and see someone who has so mastered a role that we get a clear vision of what they are about. A bad waiter, someone who doesn't play the role well, might get mistaken for just another customer. And, I suppose, someone who doesn't feel comfortable playing the role of customer might be embarrassed by having someone assume they are a waiter and ask them where the men's room is. But if Sophy is really good at playing the part of being a woman, then a man might fool himself into thinking he is figuring out quickly what she means for him to be figuring out.

Okay, you may say, but is there any evidence that Sophy is doing anything like playing the part of being a woman? Yes, there is and I think it is a crucial scene if we want to understand book one. It's a little earlier in chapter four. George and Sophy have spent their first night in adjoining rooms in Paris and he goes and knocks on her door:
It instantly opened at his knock, and she came forth looking as if she had been plunged into some sparkling element which had curled up all her drooping tendrils and wrapped her in a shimmer of fresh leaves.

"Well, what do you think of me?" she cried; and with a hand at her waist she spun about as if to show off some miracle of Parisian dress-making.

"I think the missing trunk has come--and that it was worth waiting for!"

"You do like my dress?"

"I adore it! I always adore new dresses--why, you don't mean to say it's not a new one?"

She laughed out her triumph.

"No, no, no! My trunk hasn't come, and this is only my old rag of yesterday--but I never knew the trick to fail!" And, as he stared: "You see," she joyously explained, "I've always had to dress in all kinds of dreary left-overs, and sometimes, when everybody else was smart and new, it used to make me awfully miserable. So one day, when Mrs. Murrett dragged me down unexpectedly to fill a place at dinner, I suddenly thought I'd try spinning around like that, and say to every one: 'Well, what do you think of me?' And, do you know, they were all taken in, including Mrs. Murrett, who didn't recognize my old turned and dyed rags, and told me afterward it was awfully bad form to dress as if I were somebody that people would expect to know! And ever since, whenever I've particularly wanted to look nice, I've just asked people what they thought of my new frock; and they're always, always taken in!"
And there is nothing to suggest George isn't fooled. In fact, as I will get to in a moment, there is plenty to suggest that he is much easier to fool than he realizes. But the thing I want to highlight is how good Sophy is at being a woman.

A hint of this, by the way, comes from their situation. Nowadays, we think of rooms with a connecting door as the stuff of economy hotels aimed at families doing the tourist thing. At the beginning of the century these "chambres communicantes", as they were called, were the height of modernity. Now note that George has put he and Sophy into these rooms and Sophy has accepted that. For what possible reason could he have done this other than the hope they would have sex? She has to have noted this and its significance.

George is the one who is just floating along lying to himself about what he is really doing at each stage. If you read the chapter carefully, you'll see lots of hints that show us that George is in full seduction mode. I described this before, again using the expression incorrectly, as "passive aggressive". Usually, we use passive aggressive to mean lying to others about our true intentions but in this case George is lying to himself about his own.

But Sophy knows him better than he realizes. She has seen him make a fool of himself in his pursuit of Lady Ulrica. In chapter two she tells him about how the other members of Mrs. Murrett's salon speculated, not terribly kindly, about this pursuit of his. And she did a bit of speculating of her own:
But of course you don't remember. We were all invisible to you; but we could see. And we all used to wonder about you----"

Again Darrow felt a redness in the temples. "What about me?"

"Well--whether it was you or she who..."

He winced, but hid his disapproval. It made the time pass to listen to her.

"And what, if one may ask, was your conclusion?"

"Well, Mrs. Bolt and Mademoiselle and the Countess naturally thought it was she; but Professor Didymus and Jimmy Brance--especially Jimmy----"

"Just a moment: who on earth is Jimmy Brance?"

She exclaimed in wonder: "You were absorbed--not to remember Jimmy Brance! He must have been right about you, after all." She let her amused scrutiny dwell on him. "But how could you? She was false from head to foot!"

"False----?" In spite of time and satiety, the male instinct of ownership rose up and repudiated the charge.

Miss Viner caught his look and laughed. "Oh, I only meant externally! You see, she often used to come to my room after tennis, or to touch up in the evenings, when they were going on; and I assure you she took apart like a puzzle. In fact I used to say to Jimmy--just to make him wild--:'I'll bet you anything you like there's nothing wrong, because I know she'd never dare un--'" She broke the word in two, and her quick blush made her face like a shallow-petalled rose shading to the deeper pink of the centre.
"Whether itw as you or she." that is a very significant line. Who led the dance between the two?  Sophy thinks, and we have every reason to believe thinks correctly, that Lady Ulrica was in control and George was the easily fooled one. And notice the way Sophy evaluates Lady Ulrica as a woman. It's not that she is playing a role in a dance of seduction that Sophy sneers at but that she plays at being something she couldn't deliver" "I know she'd never dare un—". Sophy has no such doubts about herself.

And George is fooled completely. Both times.

By the way, you'll want to remember Jimmy Brance. He doesn't come up again for a long time but it's important to remember who he is when he does. For now, the connection between Sophy and Jimmy seems to have been a little intimate don't you think?

George is a man after all. He is proud of his ability to impress women sexually. But he misses so much. Look at how the chapter 5 ends. George has been in his room speculating about Sophy next door in an erotic way. All he sees in his mind's eye is sex. But Edith Wharton wants us to notice something else:
Now and then a sound from her room brought before him more vividly the reality of the situation and the strangeness of the vast swarming solitude in which he and she were momentarily isolated, amid long lines of rooms each holding its separate secret. The nearness of all these other mysteries enclosing theirs gave Darrow a more intimate sense of the girl's presence, and through the fumes of his cigar his imagination continued to follow her to and fro, traced the curve of her slim young arms as she raised them to undo her hair, pictured the sliding down of her dress to the waist and then to the knees, and the whiteness of her feet as she slipped across the floor to bed...

He stood up and shook himself with a yawn, throwing away the end of his cigar. His glance, in following it, lit on the telegram which had dropped to the floor. The sounds in the next room had ceased, and once more he felt alone and unhappy.

Opening the window, he folded his arms on the sill and looked out on the vast light-spangled mass of the city, and then up at the dark sky, in which the morning planet stood.
 It's just the morning planet to George, But Wharton wants us to remember that it is Venus and Venus is the goddess not of sex but of erotic love. George is musing idly about the possibility of something is just sex to him but it will be so much more to Sophy. George can't see that.

* "Gender performance" is an expression coined by people who do "gender theory". For those you you unfamiliar with this stuff, tit can get pretty wacky. You hear the word "theory" and you think science but there is a subsection of the academic world who use the word "theory" to mean, making stuff up to try to make the world a better place. They are quite literally anti-realist and I think it is safe to say that whole "theory" movement has proven to be a dead end. I'm not going there but there is, of course, nothing to stop you from going there if you want.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A little light culture

I don't have any strong feelings about Adele one way or the other. I don't see much depth there and doubt very much that she will  make much of a lasting impact on anything or anyone. But that's okay, she's just a popstar, the cultural equivalent of junk food.

But junk food, not very good for you. I don't mean that there is anything unique about her songs. The problem with them is that they are just like so many pop songs of our era; they display an attitude that is self-absorbed to the point of narcissism.

Here is the opening of her megahit "Someone like You":
I heard that you're settled down
That you found a girl and you're married now.
I heard that your dreams came true.
Guess she gave you things I didn't give to you.
Okay, there are only 5000 already existing pop songs that start this way. And if your familiar with the type you will know there is only two ways to go after that opening move: bitter loser or pathetic loser. "Someone Like You" goes with pathetic loser.

And not just pathetic but also stupid and selfish and mentally unstable. Think about the significance of these lines:
I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn't stay away, I couldn't fight it.
I had hoped you'd see my face and that you'd be reminded
That for me it isn't over.
Here's some rock solid advice: don't ever do that. Fight it and win. Your ex is married to someone else—don't show up at the door uninvited. This is where he starts thinking about calling his lawyer to see if he can get a restraining order to stop you doing this again. It's not just that this is a stupid, self destructive thing to do it's also mind-bogglingly inconsiderate of others.

If you are sitting around just listening to the song and crying it could all seem meaningful. But that's the problem with songs like these. Take a moment to consider how other people feel and it becomes obvious that this is creepy, stalker-like behaviour. But the song doesn't encourage us to think of others, it encourages us to wallow in our selves like we were the star of a show wherein everyone else is a supporting actor.

One hundred and twenty four million views on YouTube! And that isn't 124 million separate people, that's a bunch of really sick puppies tuning in to listen to this thing over and over again.

That other approach—the bitter loser song—is below. It is also crazy but at least the the protagonist is not deluding herself about her intent. Her well-wishing is pure sarcasm: she hates this guy. Oddly enough, you'd probably be better off with this attitude because it is so over the top you'd either realize it or get committed. And if you are just sitting around listening to songs to help you get over it, playing this really, really loud has got to be better for your soul than crying to "Someone Like You"(language warning):

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What do you think when you read this headline: "Family dog kills newborn boy in home near Calgary"

Well, lots of stuff but I mostly think, "What breed?" Because, as I guessed correctly, the story is a whole lot less surprising, and even more depressing, once you know the answer to that question:
A pet husky has killed a newborn boy in the family’s home just north of Calgary, RCMP said Thursday.
There are some dog breeds that ought never to be left around children. Husky is one of them. 

Dog breeds are not like races. Breeds were created intentionally by emphasizing certain behaviourial traits going back a long time. You can and should exclude dogs and especially some breeds from some sorts of situations. Huskies are sweethearts most of the time. But let one get hot, tired or feeling threatened about his place in the social hierarchy and look out. And leaving a child within reach of or alone with a Husky, German Shepherd, Doberman or other breed with dominant tendencies is morally insane.

Bad, bad choice as a family pet.

By the way, if you are looking for evidence that our civilization is headed for collapse, check this line from the story out:
The dog is in quarantine until the family and municipal bylaw officers decide whether it should be put down.
Seriously, they have to think about that one? Just put the dog down folks.

Incorrect thought of the day

This is from the US News site:
An analysis of the DNA of a family whose members have suffered from the disease confirmed that the gene is vital because it paves the way for the body to process a hormone known as kisspeptin.

"Without kisspeptin, a human being cannot attain sexual characteristics of his/her gender and child-bearing capacity. Kisspeptin is absolutely required for the start of the puberty process in humans," said study author Dr. A. Kemal Topaloglu, of the department of pediatric endocrinology at Cukurova University in Adana, Turkey.
You can tell he isn't from around here because he said "cannot attain sexual characteristics of his/her gender and child-bearing capacity". A North American scientist would have said something more neutral. I mean, he has learned some of the correct lingo and that is why he says "gender" rather than "sex". Except that everything he says applies to sex and not gender.

Okay kisspeptin (great name BTW) is absolutely required to start the puberty process but there is clearly more as the article goes on:
Dr. William F. Crowley Jr., director of the Harvard Reproductive Endocrine Sciences Center at Harvard Medical School, said the condition affects no more than one in 10,000 children, and perhaps even fewer.
So why should we care so much about this rare condition? Here's why:
"This is a very rare cause of a very rare condition," he said. "But every piece of this puzzle winds up being very important to putting the whole thing together." 
What happens to you in this crucial development stage is complex and multifaceted. Who knows what traits are the result of when and how crucial hormones are or are not released. Imagine, just to pick one hypothetical, what the result would be if it turned out that hormone release in these years was what determined whether or not a boy grew up heterosexual? And imagine that a series of treatments were devised so that parents could make sure he did? That would shake a few things up.

Manly Thor's Day Special: Hypergamy pt 1

Part two is here and part three here.

 It's a rare day when James Taranto doesn't write something that is well worth your time but his Valentine's Day piece was so good it shouldn't be missed. He hits on a lot of stuff but the thing that really caught attention all over the web was some important corrective remarks he made on the subject of hypergamy:
 Most important, the problem that female education poses to marriage is a product of female, not male, mate preference—of what Coontz calls "the cultural ideal of hypergamy—that women must marry up."

That is where Coontz goes badly wrong. Any evolutionary psychologist will tell you that female hypergamy--more broadly defined as the drive to mate with dominant males--is an animal instinct, not a product of human culture, which can only restrain or direct it. 
This is worth dwelling on for Stephanie Coontz makes not one, but two huge mistakes and it is important to grasp that Taranto is correcting both but he corrects the second one at a  whisper.

The first is that Coontz calls hypergamy a "social ideal". If she were an academic she'd have called it a "social construct". She thinks it is something more like the Twist, a trendy sort of dance that can be replaced by other dances than say, self-preservation, a powerful instinct that will never go away even though some people can, with great effort, bring themselves to die for others.

Most of what Taranto then goes on to say is about that point. But the second one is just as important to understand. Here it is:
... female hypergamy--more broadly defined as the drive to mate with dominant males ...
In case this isn't blunt enough, I'll define it even more broadly,
Female hypergamy:  the tendency to get sexually aroused by male status.
Hypergamy is an instinct, not a choice. And it's not about marriage, it's about sexual arousal. It's not rational. If you've ever seen a woman put a loving relationship at risk in order to have one night's sex with a dominant male, you'll know what I'm talking about. And if you haven't seen it, you haven't been paying attention. The woman isn't stupid: she doesn't think, "Hey maybe this other guy I'm hooking up with will fall in love with me and we can make babies together". No, she doesn't think at all; the body part in control is not her brain.

All women respond this way. Every single last one, so any woman who tells you differently is lying. If she is sexually faithful to you that is either because she successfully resists acting on the impulse or she doesn't really have the option, which is to say she successfully resists acting on the impulse the same way I successfully resist the impulse to have sex with Norah Jones*. But don't let her tell you she doesn't feel the desire.

It isn't hard to think of the male parallel. You've seen the guy at the restaurant with his girlfriend, who is looking intently at the menu,  salt shaker or even a blank spot on the table every time the really hot waitress comes by. He does this because he knows his girlfriend doesn't like it when he is sexually aroused by hot young women.

But it's important to see that they don't really see it quite the same way. From the guy's perspective, he is forcing his eyes elsewhere because he knows how he will react if he looks. As men, we know we are subject to irrational sexual impulses for the simple reason that they are screaming in our ears twenty four hours a day. Most women aren't like that, their sexual impulses are intermittent, so they can easily fool themselves into thinking that human sexual impulses aren't as strong as they really are. So when she sees the hot waitress with the big breasts coming towards them, she expects her boyfriend has a choice about whether or not he will react and she wants him not to react. So when he glances at the waitress's breasts when she bends over, the girlfriend sees that as a choice and it's a threat to her.

And her own instincts are also a threat to her for the very same reasons. That's why women like Stephanie Coontz live in denial about what hypergamy really is. You'll notice that many women  treats their own hypergamist tendencies as if they were choices, as in a  choice to marry up, as opposed to "guy walks in the room and suddenly she goes twang". She'll tell you she simply prefers certain traits in men as if she had thought about it and made a decision in favour of one type over another. Or she'll lie to you and herself and tell you that, for example, she'd consider dating a man who is shorter than she is and insist that it's just because she's never met one who "really interested her" but it could happen, you know, any day now.

And she'll do contradictory things like imagining a husband in the same terms she thinks about puppies and then dating a string of guys who are more like fully grown Rottweilers and wondering why she never meets Mr. Right. Or she'll fall in love with a guy and them immediately set about "domesticating" him and then their sex life goes to pot because he doesn't do it for her anymore after she succeeds. And then she'll maybe find herself in bed with another guy and have no idea how she got there.

Women don't want us thinking about them as driven by impulses but they are. If you want any kind of successful relationship with a woman, you need to be thinking of these all the time. A whole lot of what she does only makes sense in terms of these irrational impulses.

More to come next week.

* Originally this read "super models" but, thinking about it, I can't think of a single super model who turns my crank. Norah Jones, OTOH, is a dream. Paradoxicaly, a huge part of the thing I have for her is driven by my sense that she has very high moral standards when it comes to sex—that she'd never do such a thing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Blogging the reef: "cisgender"

(To read all posts about The Reef click here.)

Trust me, this post really does have something to do with Edith Wharton It will take a few paragraphs to get to the point.

I was reading some quite painful to read stuff yesterday and came upon a guy who identified himself as a "cisgender male". New to me.

Wikipedia quotes two people I've never heard of named Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook who say it means "individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity".

In the same article I first saw "cisgender" I also saw the question "What do you think of when you think of gender?" Honest answer: French grammar. I never think of sexuality when I hear the word "gender" and I never will. Which is why I will never use the word "cisgender". But you can see why people who really care about such things had to come up with a word. They wouldn't want to use "normal" would they?

But the thing that jumps out at me is how a tragic world view comes along with it. Here is the definition again with some added emphasis:
... individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity.
And the obvious question is: Assigned by whom? "The gods" is the only plausible answer. "The gods" here might mean "random genetic fluke" rather than "Hera and Zeus had an argument and I got punished for it" but either way it means FATE!  Primitivism is always and everywhere a crucial part of modernism.

So who do you think is the primitive modernist in The Reef? Our first temptation is probably to say Sophy Viner but I think that is wrong but there certainly seems to be evidence for it at first glance. Here is how she responds to having seen Oedipus on stage (Chapter 6):
When at length the fateful march of the cothurns was stayed by the single pause in the play, and Darrow had led Miss Viner out on the balcony overhanging the square before the theatre, he turned to see if she shared his feelings. But the rapturous look she gave him checked the depreciation on his lips.

"Oh, why did you bring me out here? One ought to creep away and sit in the dark till it begins again!"

"Is that the way they made you feel?"

"Didn't they you?...As if the gods were there all the while, just behind them, pulling the strings?" Her hands were pressed against the railing, her face shining and darkening under the wing-beats of successive impressions.
"As if the gods were behind them all the while, just behind them, pulling the strings." But do note that everything we learn of Sophy here comes through George. All we can say for certain is that here is that George sees this primitive fatalism in her and that it affects him powerfully. That could be because it really is in Sophy or it could be that it's something about George that responds so powerfully to her because he is driven by a primitive fatalism himself.

Either way, the great illusion of modernism is that you can reintroduce fate to human self understanding and somehow not have all the other stuff that went with it in the ancient world come along for the ride.

By the way, in comparing The Reef with The Wings of the Dove, one interesting data point is the unopened letter. In The Wings of the Dove (at the end of chapter 37) Merton hands Kate Croy a letter that Millie had written to him before her death for delivery to him after her death. Kate throws the letter into the fire unopened. In (chapter 8) The Reef, Sophy brings the letter that has finally arrived from Anna Leath to George Darrow and he throws it into the fire unopened. In both cases, the action signals an acceptance of fate by the person who does it. And both James and Wharton are absolutely correct to recognize this as a key element of modern morality.

Blogging the Reef: It is time to speak of Sophy

(To read all posts about The Reef click here.)

There is a persistent strain in the criticism of this book that Edith Wharton is not fair to Sophy Viner. For much of the twentieth century it was common to suggest that Wharton looked down on Sophy and that her purpose to indict Sophy for snobbish reasons.

Since the 1980s, we have known better than to make that mistake because we now know that the Sophy's affair is based on one that Wharton herself had with a journalist named Morton Fullerton. Far from looking down on Sophy, Wharton identifies with her. And yet the sense remains that Sophy is not treated fairly in the novel. Why?

I think the current sense that there is something unfair in the treatment of Sophy derives from the feeling that Wharton has refused to allow Sophy to tell her own story. Meaning that we never get inside her head. There is never any free indirect speech telling us what Sophy thinks. So everything we learn about her comes through the consciousness of others. And there are very good reasons to doubt the motives of those others.

And yet, Sophy Viner remains a compelling and likeable character. In fact, she is easily the most likeable character in the book. This is a sad story entirely because of her. The other characters in this novel may have it hard but we never feel that any of them have had it harder than they deserve nor do we worry that they won't manage to pull through. Sophy Viner, on the other hand, will haunt you if you read this book. You'll wish you could meet her and help somehow.

So, no, Wharton is not unfair to her. Quite the contrary. And rather than ask whether Wharton should have let Sophy tell her story, I'd suggest that the real challenge to us is: Can we treat Sophy as an end and not a means? For all the other characters, especially George Darrow but also Anna Leath and even Owen Leath, treat her as a means to achieve some end of their own.

And let's talk some more about George because he has an interesting history. As I said above, the affair Sophy has is based on one that Wharton herself had with a man named Morton Fullerton. He has come up before on the blog. For Morton was Merton. Henry James based Merton Densher on Morton Fullerton. And that makes for an interesting contrast in itself. For James's Merton is a relatively moral character compared to Kate Croy who is a consumer of persons. Wharton's George Darrow is very much a consumer of persons with regards to Sophy.

Whose name, oddly enough, means wisdom. That could be an accident in that Wharton just needed a girls name and she liked the sound of Sophy but I don't think so.

A couple of things to note. Tragedy makes its appearance again and that, I think, should have us thinking of the contrast between this modern sad story and tragedy. Lily Bart's story is a tragedy but Sophy's is just sad. And, somehow that makes it worse.

Darrow, not surprisingly, wants to see her life in tragic terms. That, of course, is right in character as then she could be a purely aesthetic object, a means for his pleasure and not an end in her own right. (And I ask you, isn't that exactly what Merton tries to do with Milly Theale?)

Let's wrap up with a little erotic voyeurism as is only appropriate for the day after Valentine's.

The influence of Keats' The Eve of St. Agnes on Wharton's Ethan Frome is much discussed but I don't that anyone has noted the reference to it here. George is sitting in his room, which adjoins hers, and he listens to her moving and imagines what he might see if he were in her room (it's a sort of auditory voyeurism):
Now and then a sound from her room brought before him more vividly the reality of the situation and the strangeness of the vast swarming solitude in which he and she were momentarily isolated, amid long lines of rooms each holding its separate secret. The nearness of all these other mysteries enclosing theirs gave Darrow a more intimate sense of the girl's presence, and through the fumes of his cigar his imagination continued to follow her to and fro, traced the curve of her slim young arms as she raised them to undo her hair, pictured the sliding down of her dress to the waist and then to the knees, and the whiteness of her feet as she slipped across the floor to bed...
That ellipsis is in the original. The source for that is this:

Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
  Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
  Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
  Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
  Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:       
  Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
  Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
  In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.

And the affair is not unlike Porphyro and Madeline in some ways.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Can you spot who is missing from this list?

The New York Times Jon Caramanica is unhappy with recent Grammy trends.

Look at the list he gives in his piece and tell me if you can think of a recent female winner who was mostly peddling comforting nostalgia that he doesn't list?
This year it was Adele, who won six for her work on “21” (XL/Columbia). In 2003 Norah Jones took in five for “Come Away With Me” (Blue Note), and in 1999 Lauryn Hill did the same with “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (Ruffhouse/Columbia).

Coincidence? Perhaps. But for the umpteenth time, the Grammys went with familiarity over risk, bestowing album of the year honors (and several more) on an album that reinforced the values of an older generation suspicious of change. In the recent past that trend has included the Dixie Chicks’ “Taking the Long Way” (Columbia), in 2007; the Ray Charles duets album “Genius Loves Company” (Concord/Hear Music), in 2005; the collaboration-heavy Santana album “Supernatural” (Arista), in 2000; the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss collaboration, “Raising Sand” (Rounder), in 2009; and the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack (Lost Highway), in 2002. That it was done this year under a veneer of progressivism — the anointing of a modern young star as a marquee talent — only makes it more loathsome. 
 Notice who is missing? Think of a woman singer who made music that was mostly warmed over Stax-Memphis and won five Grammy awards for her second CD? Yes. Amy Winehouse. She belongs on that list.

 Why isn't she there? I'd guess mostly because her sort of nostalgia reinforced the values Jon Caramanica wants to see reinforced. 

"Are universities becoming just finishing schools for girls?"

It's a question that is being asked a lot lately.

To be honest, my terribly incorrect response to this is, "If only". Whether you think finishing schools are a good idea or not, they had a purpose and that was to prepare girls for public life. They'd actually learn stuff there. As near as I can tell all girls are learning from university is how to be drunken pigs who dress like call girls and can't manage a successful relationship with an actual man.

What you might not guess if all your experience of universities comes from recent decade is that universities were not originally intended to be places people went to in order to be able to get a better job. A long, long time ago they were set up to train people for the church. But they gradually became the place where upper middle class people sent their sons in order that they would be exposed to the right sort of culture. They were, in fact, finishing schools for boys. Actual professions—law, medicine, engineering—were only grudgingly allowed in. And even once in, the assumption was that a boy would learn about other stuff.

After the Second World War, researchers started noticing that people who went to college had better jobs and made more money than people who did not. And they assumed that what they were getting was "education" by which they meant training. They didn't think "education" as in being exposed to a culture and set of experiences you couldn't get anywhere else.

From the second they started accepting government money, universities started playing a double game. They had always intended to use the money to support a way of life. For that is what university is for the people who work at one. They wanted to support a kind of culture and behaviour. At the same time, though, they had to concede to government demands to "train students for the rapidly changing modern world" or whatever boilerplate you wanted.

It is because that culture is what really matters to them that universities do such odd things sometimes. Why did Harvard spend so much of the twentieth century trying to exclude Jews even though that meant excluding many of the best students?  Because Harvard is about the culture and experience more than the education and they believed that letting a lot of Jews in would destroy that culture. Why do elite universities now spend so much time excluding Aisians today even though means excluding many of the best students? Same reason.

And that is why it shouldn't come as a surprise that not only are universities failing to produce students with degrees that are actually needed, there has actually been a surge in humanities and soft social science degrees that, while they may have all sorts of other benefits, are not good for getting a job.

And, are you ready for this unexpected result, seventy percent of the graduates with useless-for-jobs degrees are women. What is more, during the recession, an increasing number of women have dropped out of the labour force and gone back to school to get further not-good-for-jobs degrees. And thus you get the young woman on the "I'm the 99 percent" website talking about her four degrees in comparative literature and her $150 thousand student debt and she's working part time at a coffeehouse. And she's not happy about it.

You know, teaching girls how to be good wives and housekeepers is an antediluvian notion but such an education would actually be of some use to them.

UPDATE: Before someone puts words into my mouth, no I'm not advocating a return to anything. The point is that even if you see what you are doing as replacing an outmoded idea of education  you still have to replace it with something better.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The uselessness of the UN part 5000

From the BBC in that "neutral" way that only they can put it:
The UN's human rights chief has said the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court, after several inquiries concluded it was highly likely crimes against humanity were occurring in the country.
The concerns are absolutely legitimate of course but there is no reason the same concern shouldn't have been raised by the UN in any of the last forty years.

Sort of political Monday: Flirting with Godwin

Yes, I'm going to go there but it isn't as bad as it it's going to sound at the start. Okay?

It's really important to remember that Stalin got where he did by being a very good bureaucrat.

And now the bit where I reassure you a bit: No, I'm not saying that bureaucrats are all little Stalins. No, they are more like aristocrats. Boring, uninteresting aristocrats who manage to be depressingly dull even when they are corrupt and they are as corrupt as any other class of people, which is to say they are corrupt a lot.

But the take away is this: Whether aristocrat or bureaucrat they're all the same—just some 'crat trying to run your life.

That's the really disturbing thing (and what opens the doors for the little Stalins), bureaucrats hate your freedom because it is a threat to their power. And the way they lure you in is by promising to take a away your freedom to fail. They won't pitch it that way of course. They'll tell you they are protecting you from the uncertainty and unfairness of life. And, as soon as you believe them, they'll have you hooked.

No matter how big, no matter how deadening, now matter how expensive a bureaucracy gets, you can be sure that the bureaucrat class will create another crisis to justify yet more bureaucracy. And then they'll hire (a probably unsuspecting) Clint Eastwood to say

... but after those trails, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one ...
Don't believe it folks. The best kind of government and the best kind of country is the one in which you are free to not pull together. That doesn't mean that everyone gets to do what they want. That just isn't possible, but any time someone starts telling us we need to "act as one" as a nation, you can be sure their real agenda is to take away your freedom.