Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sex with her ex revisited.

I wrote a short post a while ago that said this:
I keep thinking about those women who have sex with one of their best girlfriend's ex. Or, rather, I keep thinking about why this offends us so. I don' think we're wrong to think this. I especially don't think the woman who discovers that one of her friends had an affair with her ex is wrong to feel that way. That said, coming up with good reasons to justify the feeling of being offended is difficult.
Mikolaj gave an interesting response to that in the comments to that earlier post:
That's easy to explain based on the assumption that men are polygamous and women are hypergamous (we are talking about premarital sex, so this is post-Christian, so monogamy is no longer a frame of reference). Obviously, in any relationship, the man's polygamy and woman's hypergamy cannot be both fully realized, so this is a struggle that often leads to the dissolution of the relationship.

Case 1. He, being polygamous, dumped her for variety. The best girlfriend helps him obtain the variety, even if she is not the first women he sleeps with afterwards.

Case 2. She, being hypergamous, dumps him for a guy with a higher status. The girlfriend proves she was wrong assesing his and her relative status (best girlfriend is bound to have a similar status).
I think that is an interesting possibility and I read variations of this argument on a lot of men's sites. I don't think it works. There are a couple of factual issues to start with. The first is the assumption a woman's best girlfriend is bound to have a similar status. In my experience that is almost never the case. The second issue is the point I started with women having sex with their best friend's ex. I didn't ask about men who do this and I didn't for a reason.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Gender performance

"I identify as ..."

There is an inevitable tension between saying that you identify as something and the notion of gender performance. A performance is something that can be evaluated. Gary Oldman is said to be brilliant in his performance as Churchill in a recent movie. I haven't seen it so I cannot say. I can tell you, however, that Brian Cox was awful in his performance as Churchill earlier this year. It would seem that performance requires a standard.

I should add that Cox was hampered by a very bad script. He also looks wrong for the part. Were those factors enough to make it impossible for him to succeed?

And that is where gender performance gets trick, really tricky, in a hurry.

Just this morning I was looking at definitions of gender performance provided by the Quora site. There are three definitions up as of today.

Here is the first:
Gender is part of what you might know as Performance theory. This theory states that we are, all of us, always performing. Gender is part of this theory because the way we present, whether masculine, feminine, or non-binary, is viewed and assessed by other people. As a trans woman I understand gender as a performance because I do not wake up flawless like Beyonce. I only present feminine after putting effort into it.
There is an interesting tension at the heart of this one. Our writer, whose name is Josephine Hoskins, says she is a woman. And yet she can only "present feminine after putting some effort into it". But notice who she chooses as an example of someone who doesn't need to do that. Beyoncé! That's a little odd because if there is anyone on the face of the earth who is a hard-working a skilled gender performer, it's Beyoncé. Beyoncé's fame is a function of her ability at gender performance. She does it so well that millions of women take her as a model (Beyoncé's fans are mostly girls and women). And there is a huge factual mistake here: Beyoncé does not wake up flawless. No one does. Beyoncé wakes up and starts performing her gender just as every single one of us does.

The flawless claim here is hiding another assumption, an assumption that Hoskins, as a trans person, no doubt struggles with. But how to put it. We can't simply take Hoskin's own self description "I am a woman" claims to be ontologically equivalent to "Beyoncé is a woman". From the perspective of gender theory, we cannot say that Beyoncé is "actually", "really" or "truly" a woman. So the only way out is to claim that Beyoncé is flawless, that she doesn't have to put effort into it. And that is factually wrong and insulting. For most of the "yous" in this world, Beyoncé puts a lot more effort into being Beyoncé than you put into being you and that is why she is so successful at it.

Okay, but if we stop circling around, we might want to claim (while pretending that we are "admitting") that Beyoncé actually has "something" that she builds on. What that something is we have not defined but if we're going to stay within the confines of gender theory, and I plan to for this post, that something cannot be anything biological. So what is it?

One tempting answer is to flesh out Hoskins answer and say that through genetic fluke Beyoncé is blessed with a face and body that corresponds to existing notions of femininity. This is an attempt to say that it is not the biological facts that are determinative but that these biological facts just happen to correspond with a cultural fact, a "social construct" in the jargon of gender theory (and gender theory is laden with jargon). That has two kinds of problems. The first is that it's circular: we're effectively saying that she succeeds at something because she genetically matches that something when the task was to define what that something is in the first place. The second, and bigger problem, is that it makes light of Beyoncé's considerable achievement that she is one of a small group of strong and determined women who have created a new notion of feminine beauty that challenges dominant notion of blonde and white. That took courage and a lot more hard work than most of us are capable of. Sorry, but in the self-presentation sweepstakes, Beyoncé is queen of the world. If there was a gender performance category in the Olympics Beyoncé would have taken home the gold medal in at least 4 of the last 5 games.

And that provides another reminder of why we cannot attribute Beyoncé's success to whatever it is that she was born with. At the Olympic level you are necessarily competing with people who have also been extraordinary gifted. In the rarefied atmosphere where Beyoncé lives you either perform at a very high level or you crash to the ground. Natural gifts mean nothing there.

 Back at the beginning we had two seemingly different statements. "I identify as ..." and then Hoskins' "I am a woman". If, however, we refuse to accept any definition of woman, then both claims—either to "identify as" or "I am"—are meaningless.

But Beyoncé proves otherwise. Just by being Beyoncé and being very, very good at being Beyoncé she proves something about femininity and that is that performance matters. We are, as Hoskins puts it, "viewed and assessed by other people" and some people are assessed as being better at being a woman than other people are.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases."

That's Barack Obama talking to Prince Harry (that's a NYT link). 

One of my favourite memories is of a friend of mine responding to the condemnation of a girl's ex-boyfriend by her father. After listening to this man run down all the faults—the instability, the lack of purpose, the general untrustworthiness—of this man, my friend turned to me, held her thumb and index finger about a quarter-inch apart and said, "He came this close to getting that one right." What she meant was that every fault this father saw in this man was actually true of his daughter.

I have the same reaction to Obama's comments on the internet. Up until now, people like Obama have had the privilege of living in world where only their reality got represented, where he and people like him got to live cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases. The media, academics and the entertainment industry were all on the same channel. Suddenly, he's been forced to face the fact that other people see things very differently and he doesn't like it one bit. He wishes these people and their contrary views could be made to go away or that they could at least be hidden away where he doesn't have to think about them.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A clarifying moment

I had a very revealing conversation recently. In the midst of it one of the two people I was talking with apologized for being shallow. I rushed in to assure her that she was not shallow. Turned out her apology was ironic. This was clear to her and the the other woman in the conversation but not to me. The conversation, I should add, took place on line and there were no emojis attached to her statement. She just said what she said and felt that it should have been obvious that she was being ironic and the fact that her friend also grasped this is proof that she's not crazy. She said something that she and another person took as a sane, rational thing to say.

What she said was that she had watched a particular video at the surface level. She acknowledged that the surface meaning was incoherent but she liked that surface meaning and wanted to stay at that level. This followed by "I guess I'm a shallow person." I was supposed to understand that this was not an actual apology.

I know what your thinking: isn't staying on the surface another way of saying "shallow"?

That doesn't make her shallow. Well, not immediately anyway. 

It's a funny way of thinking though. I don't think it's her fault. It's just the way two generations have been brought up now. I remember noticing it first in the 1980s when I was working with teenagers. There was a funny transition where kids stopped being able to take criticism because they personalized. To admit they had done a bad thing was the same thing as being a bad person. As a consequence, you couldn't criticize their actions without wounding them deeply. I think you see the same dynamic at work here—it is impossible to recognize shallow behaviour for what it is because that reasonable judgment is taken as condemnation of the entire person which would not be reasonable.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Our feelings can and do lie to us

There is a perverse strategy that some men and all the women in my life have exercised at some point. It comes to mind now because of Christmas is coming and the strategy is often used with giving Christmas presents.

Here is how it works. I state a desire. I'd really like to do X or receive X. For some reason, X is deemed undesirable. It's a big part of this strategy to never give reasons; the rule is silent refusal. No woman ever tells you why she doesn't want to give you X or do X. She just doesn't do it. And if you ask after the fact you run into a great wall of deflection and aggression.  It may well be that there is no reason. I quoted Proust about this a few posts ago: The unconscious spirit of devilry which urges us to offer a thing only to those who do not want it."

My guess is it's really about power. A few years ago researchers took advantage of the security cameras in parking lots at shopping malls to establish that people really do to take longer getting out of a parking space when they know someone is waiting. It suits us to give people what they want when it enhances our feeling of power—thus someone with a new baby or a new lover falls over themselves pleasing them. Once a relationship is firmly established, the power trip shifts around the other way. Now it becomes a matter of my not being driven by your wants.

The depth of perversity that now begins to play is amazing. The giver doesn't suggest something else she'd prefer. Instead, she picks some third option that neither she nor you wants. The consequence is that everyone gets the worst possible option. You get something you don't want and the giver gets to give something she doesn't really want to give, a fact that is painfully obvious in the hesitant and unenthusiastic way the giving is done.

The end result is that an easy opportunity to make one person happy gets turned into an opportunity to make everyone unhappy.

My mother was past master at this sort of thing. One of my sisters, for her sixteenth birthday, wanted to go to a then-trendy restaurant with her friends. My mother refused and instead took the whole family to what was the most expensive restaurant in town—a stuffy place where no one had a good time and where my sister broke down in tears. The meal at the trendy restaurant would have cost them $250 in today's dollars. The meal they actually purchased was $1200 adjusted for inflation. This by the way, in the middle of a recession.

One fascinating aspect of this is that our feelings lie to us. Think of what it feels like to get into your car when you know that someone else is waiting for your parking spot. I always feel rushed and somewhat put upon. My feelings tell me I'm being put upon. Rock-solid research says that I'm actually sticking to the other person.

I suspect that our feelings lie to us in a similar way when we have an opportunity to satisfy a loved one's desires. We know what they want but we feel like that's not special enough. We might think, I can give them that anytime but this is a special occasion so I want to give them something really special. And conjuring trick is complete: The fact that something would be special for the loved one becomes the reason the giver doesn't want to do it. We are more aware of the fact that it won't be special for us.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cat Person 2

Here's some telling language:
Roupenian’s story is the fiction version of “It Happened to Me: I Had Bad Sex Because It Felt Awkward to Say No.” 
Your having bad sex because of your failure to say "No" is not something that happens to you. It's something you do to yourself. This is not a trivial matter; it isn't a matter of someone being a bit sloppy with language. This shows a disease in thought that plagues our times.
In fact, “Cat Person” specifically tapped into a need that those xoJane personal essays also fulfilled: honest, vulnerable narration of women’s real-life experience. So much about women’s lives and bodies is framed as shameful, embarrassing. We’re taught to hide our periods, fake orgasms and say yes to a date so as not to hurt a guy’s feelings. 
As I said would happen in my previous post on the subject, the justification for reading this story turns out to be honesty. Except that it's not honest. You were taught to fake orgasms and to say yes to sex so as not to hurt men's feelings? By whom? Shouldn't these people be getting the Harvey Weinstein treatment for doing that? Except that no one taught anyone anything.

What has happened is that you made choices. You made choices in a complicated world where choices play out in complicated ways. You made choices in a world where doing the right thing or making the best possible choice is often difficult and might cost you something. That makes you just like every other human being who ever lived.

A man's take on Cat Person

Have you read it? Everyone seems to have done. I'm going to spoil it below if you haven't read it yet.

It's one of those stories that gets praised for being disturbing rather than entertaining. I think people read stuff like this because they convince themselves that no matter how uncomfortable and dirty reading it made them feel, they've at least read something "honest" or "true".

Much of the discussion is about who to blame or who to blame most. Some are offended that people are doing that. I can sort of see that but why else would you read a story like this? For pleasure?

Forget making judgments for a moment and consider point of view. The entire story is told from the woman's point of view.  There is free indirect speech giving us access to only one character's thoughts. There is only one character we can really judge and that is Margot. We can reasonably conclude that the guy, Robert is socially inept guy who comes across as creep but it's not a story about him and we only have access to him through the eyes of a deeply flawed person so we can't trust what we're told.

Here is the key moment in the story. It describes the thoughts of a woman about to have sex she doesn't want to have. Remind yourself before you read it that "having sex you don't want to have" is one way of defining rape. But this is not rape.
Margot recoiled. But the thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming; it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon. It wasn’t that she was scared he would try to force her to do something against her will but that insisting that they stop now, after everything she’d done to push this forward, would make her seem spoiled and capricious, as if she’d ordered something at a restaurant and then, once the food arrived, had changed her mind and sent it back.
That is, in a sense, pretty damning. Margot has set this in motion and she fails to stop it because she is unable to summon the "tact and gentleness" it would take to stop it. Why not? The implicit accusation is that men have fragile little egos but step back and you'll see that the most obviously fragile ego here is Margot's. Why did she let things get this far in the first place?

We should know the answer to that last question. Margot is responsible for what happened to her. Her neediness, her pathetic pursuit of affirmation from a guy whom she should have realized was incapable of giving her what she wanted is what drives the events. She walks into it step by step but she is in control every step of the way.That so many people have read this and yet hesitate to hold her fully responsible says a lot about how messed up our attitudes about women are. (If only there was some movement that promoted treating women equally, as adults responsible for themselves.)

The story ends with the guy being really creepy—stalking her and then calling her nasty things. She, on the other hand, ends up surrounded by supportive friends on campus, all of whom seem to have been told all about her sordid experience. I don't find that part credible. I don't believe someone who is as socially inept and who understands herself as poorly as Margot does could share the details she does. I think she'd veer between two extremes: 1. hiding everything and 2. making false accusations against the guy; she'd do both to try to protect herself from feelings of shame because people who need affirmation as desperately as Margot does can't handle shame.

Is there anything at all in this for men? Not in the story itself but there is something in the reaction. There are men who've responded by seeing themselves in the story. Here's the lesson; DON'T DO THAT! You are not seeing yourself. What you are doing is reporting that Margot is real: there are women like her in this world. There are a lot of them.

Okay, I'll stop shouting. But it's a story about Margot not Robert. Men need to stop thinking that we need a woman's perspective to understand ourselves. Women are not pure, truth-telling children who can see that the emperor has not clothes. Women are just like you and just as likely to act in manipulative ways to try and hide their vulnerability. Know thyself so you aren't at their mercy.

Second lesson: don't have sex with women like Margot. Not ever. You want sex but you don't need sex and sex with someone like Margot is never worth it.

Sex is a social skill. The mistake is to treat it as if the mystery, as if the magic is something incredibly private, intimate. All the meaning you need to understand sex is on the surface. The point is to get good enough at understanding what you can see and stop foolishly pursuing some imagined mystical truth about women and sex. You can figure out everything you need to know about what a woman is going to be like in bed by attentively observing her outside of bed. If you can't relate to her well outside of sex you won't be able to relate well through sex. Sorry, but that's the way it is and it's not going to change.

(You could have sex with someone not so much as a human being but as a human-sex-toy and that could be satisfactory I suppose, so long as you don't think about what that says about you.)

Final question, knowing what you know about Margot, how do you think the story would have worked out if she'd interacted with a normal, well-adjusted guy her own age instead of a creepy loser like Robert? Imagine further that this well-adjusted guy somehow misses the warning signs and actually has sex with her. Would it be good sex? You're probably holding back because you don't want to be harsh but having sex isn't a human right. It's not enough that you want it and a woman is available. Margot's problems aren't going to be fixed by having sex and it's not your job to fix her. It's her job to fix herself and the things that need fixing can only be fixed outside of bed.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Discuss among yourselves.

I found this on a hipster girl blog from the early 2000s:
"generosity and selflessness are not the same"
I think that's a rather profound point. And which would you prefer? In yourself or in others? I don't anyone should actually have to think about that.The right answer should be obvious.

"You're only saying that because it's what you want!"

The quote in the header was something a woman I know said to her then boyfriend. She said it with vehement anger in her voice. What had inspired the remark was a model in a leather jacket taking part in a televised fashion show.
I don't think she was completely wrong. If she'd showed up wearing that jacket, her boyfriend would have been pleased to see it. On the other hand, I doubt the guy consciously chose to say what he did in order to encourage his girlfriend to buy a leather jacket. He wasn't putting any pressure on her. He most likely didn't think about it at all. He said it with no conscious motive; he said it because he believed she would look good in the jacket and for no other reason. And she knew that. That's why she was so angry about it. The jacket reflected an image he had of her and she didn't want to have to live up to that image. For him that is. She had no trouble living up to it for the rest of the world. There was nothing random about his associating that style with her nor was it some personal fantasy he was imposing on her. It was a style of dress she was fond of. It was exactly the sort of clothing she bought for herself when she wanted to feel good about herself. One of the reasons they had become a couple in the first place was because he took her self-image as a glamorous woman who could wear a leather jacket seriously and she liked that about him.

The event in question happened a long time ago in a house that I and five other students rented. It stands out in my memory not because there was anything unusual about the intensity of the woman's anger but because it was the first time I'd seen a woman of my generation do that. I'd seen similar responses hundreds of times growing up. My mother did it to my father all the time. That's what made it weird. I had thought that sort of thing was supposed to be over. The women of generation were going to be different; they weren't going to be full of hypocrisy and mixed messages like my mother's' generation had been.

At a committee meeting a few years ago we were sitting around chatting waiting for everyone to show up. A woman remarked that she had seen my wife looking very glamorous a few days before. I joked that she was on her way to work in a female-dominated office and that it was the lot of a husband that our wives put more effort into dressing up for work than they did for us. I said this in a joking tone meant to imply irony. I needn't have bothered, the women on the committee went off on a long riff about how they do that to their husbands. It's not surprising that they said it. It's true. They all said they should do something about it but they said it in the same tone they'd use to say they should exercise more.

My experience is that women don't just put on nicer outer-clothes, they will even put on nicer underwear for occasions the man in their life won't be a part of. And it's not hard to figure out why. It makes them feel more confident. The need becomes intense when they're out to meet their girlfriends from college or, as mentioned above, going to a female-dominated office. These are intensely competitive situations and it's important for a girl to feel good about herself in a situation like that. Any man who would begrudge her dressing up in these situations is a boor who deserves to be alone.

The point worth noting is that she dresses up on these occasions because it is what she wants. If she wants a boost to her self-confidence when meeting with the girls or because she wants a little attention from men she's willing to make the effort. But why is it some sort of injustice that her man should want her to do it for him?

The answer to that is because she has been trained to think that way. She is taught from an early age that men's desires are illegitimate. Both hard-core traditionalists and feminists line up on this.

It's important to acknowledge that this is a logically consistent position. Women aren't being irrational when they stop making an effort a man who has committed himself to her. If it is true that men's desires are illegitimate, then it is perfectly reasonable for women to use those desires to achieve what they want and to get angry or passive-aggressive if he hints he'd like some just because he likes it. There is no purely logical reason for her to ever change.
"The unconscious spirit of devilry which urges is to offer a thing only to those who do not want it." Proust
I quote Proust because this is the sort of issue he loved to comment on. A man falls in love with a woman in a large part because of her own image of herself. She shows him that she likes to look and feel glamorous. She isn't a liar about it and he isn't stupid about it—they both she isn't like this all the time and she doesn't want to to be like this all the time. Just sometimes.  But there is a promise being made in these transactions. We spend a lot of time denying this. We say that men ask for too much and sometimes we do. They say that men have unrealistic expectations about what happens to women as they age and sometimes we do. But we aren't always wrong. A lot of the time we are right.

Friday, December 8, 2017

"Can we be honest about men?"

David French asks that question on his way to making a horrible, terrible argument over at National Review. He begins by asking, "When will it stop?" and quickly, way too quickly, concludes,
The obvious answer is never. At least not until we stare human nature in the face, confront it squarely, and call men to live according to a higher and better purpose.
Okay, sure, but are we really supposed to believe that having a compulsion to masturbate in front of women is human nature? That's French's claim: that this is what happens to human nature when it's not controlled. You, know, I'm a tad bit skeptical. I think people having sex is what happens when human nature tends to lead to and it's a damn good thing or else humanity would cease to exist. I agree that we need moral and social constraints on our sexual impulses but I doubt very much that human nature has all that much to do with what these men have done.

Human nature tends to be shaped by what leads to procreation. Masturbating in front of women, as Louis CK and Harvey Weinstein did, is a remarkably inefficient way to procreate. Let human nature run wild, and such men will be eliminated from the gene pool. What's stunning here is not that men have a strong sex drive or that they are acting in incredibly boorish ways about it. What's stunning is that we have a bunch of grown-up and powerful men acting like badly adjusted adolescents.

I direct you here to Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women. This is a universally acknowledged masterpiece coming of age story written by a strong feminist. In the penultimate story, the title story, in the book, the heroine fantasizes about sex. The sex she fantasizes begins when her clothes mysteriously fall off. She'll be standing near some guy and whoosh, off they come. That, I put it to you, is a normal adolescent sex fantasy. Sex fascinates you but you don't have the slightest clue how to make it happen and you're not entirely sure you want to happen. In fact, you most likely don't want it to happen for a few years yet. But it's very exciting to think about so you devise fantasies wherein it happens but it isn't actually your responsibility because your clothes just fall off, if you're a girl having the fantasy, or her clothes just fall off, if you're a heterosexual boy having the fantasy.

And you might actually do it. When I was a teenager, I was over at my friend Bruce's house and his 17-year-old sister Barb came into the room wearing a dressing gown that fell open and she was naked underneath. And then she left the room quickly. It's a cherished memory. That said, it was several years before I figured out that there was nothing accidental about it. Again, though, this is pretty normal. Responsible parents will pretend not to notice. It's only if it keeps happening that they will say something.

Charlie Rose, an incredibly successful and very intelligent man, was apparently doing this sort of thing when he was over the age of 40! Think about that for a while. It's not hard for celebrities to get sex. You know, normal sex where you socialize, flirt, slowly build up to a kiss and then more. There would have been a constant stream of women offering them that. No, these men are freaks. Weird, maladjusted freaks in positions of great power and influence. That didn't happen because people aren't raising boys to have "to live with a "virtuous purpose, to use his God-given characteristics to advance that purpose, and to understand that he will always be held accountable to that purpose" as French argues. That happened because powerful men were not held accountable.

Is God is telling you to man up?

A friend of mine shared this on Facebook this morning.

I know why he posted it. It's a joke and we're supposed to laugh and that laughter is supposed to give us some relief. But maybe life is tough because you're supposed to be a man, because you can, in fact, handle it if only you;d make a serious commitment to be the bad-ass man he means you to be.

Saturday, December 2, 2017


In the past, philosophers usually assumed thinking to be a superior cognitive skill capable of penetrating the essence of reality. So thinking was associated with truth, while individual experience was dubbed subjective and downgraded to mere appearance. In fact, the opposite is the case. It is our direct individual experience that is unerringly true; being one with the external world, it cannot be wrong.
I think that's right. More here.

Sex with her ex

I keep thinking about those women who have sex with one of their best girlfriend's ex. Or, rather, I keep thinking about why this offends us so. I don' think we're wrong to think this. I especially don't think the woman who discovers that one of her friends had an affair with her ex is wrong to feel that way. That said, coming up with good reasons to justify the feeling of being offended is difficult.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Information and affirmation and our fact-free society

Language use gives us both affirmation and information. If I call an old friend from college up and ask her for contact information of another friend, common decency requires that I spend some time with her asking how she is doing and explaining myself. She knows full well that the only reason I called her is to get in touch with another woman and yet she rightly expects to be affirmed. There are few conversations that don't include both elements.

A conversation can be mainly about one or mainly about the other. If I am calling my old friend mainly to get information from her I may well be lying when I give her affirmation and she may well be peeved about this after the conversation no matter how polite and affirming we both pretend to be. I might also call her up simply to talk. Facts will come up in that conversation too but they will serve as a pretext for the affirmation I seek just as my feigned interest in her can be only a pretext for my real interest in getting information about another woman.

The word "pretext" and its etymology are interesting here. There are necessary formalities that cannot be dispensed with. I call Mary and ask how she is feeling and how her life is going before asking for Karen's number because it is Karen I really want a relationship with. But I can also call Mary and ask her if she knows what Karen is up to as a way to re-establish contact with Mary because it is Mary I really want a relationship with.

And here we find a seemingly trivial point that has huge implications: When I am interested in information the quality of that information matters but when, as in the second case, I am calling Mary to see if she values me enough to kindle a possible relationship, the information I use as a pretext to this affirmation matters little. It can be an outright lie. I can call and say, "Do you remember that woman, I think her name was Karen, who did some outrageous thing in second year? I don't know why but I thought of her and wondered how she turned out and thought you might know." The truth is that I only picked Karen because she was someone I knew Mary would remember while the real reason for my call is that someone told me that Mary and Jim divorced a year ago and I'd like to ask her out and "chat about old times".

There is nothing particularly sinister about this. That said, no child raised on Sesame Street or Barney and Friends is going to place a lot of value on facts. Being affirming is going to trump being accurate every time. This is what happens when you take competition and struggle out of children's lives. It feels like a "nice" thing to do because it seems as if no one's feelings get hurt.

But people's feelings do get hurt in a society that values affirmation. People will notice right away who gets the most affirmation and who gets the most sincere affirmation. Any five-year-old child will figure out who the kindergarten teacher really likes most no matter how much the teacher pretends to love all her charges. You can get affirmation wrong just as you can get information wrong. I can call Mary and talk about Karen and what a wild and irresponsible woman Karen was meaning to flatter Mary and make her feel good about herself hoping to reestablish the friendship we cemented over coffee and moral discussion at university and maybe move on to something amorous. What I don't know is that the divorce from Jim has left Mary feeling very bitter. She regrets being so sensible and settling down so quickly and feels like she cheated herself out of a lot of good life experience. She politely declines my invitation and then calls Karen herself and says, "There is a bar here that has a Burlesque night and I thought of you because you're the only woman I know who'd have the courage to go to such a thing." And the two of them go out and have a great time drinking Jack Daniels and establish a great friendship based on letting loose a little that becomes central to both their lives.

A society that values affirmation would be one that cares little about information. At the same time, it would not be a society where people lived in peace and harmony. To the contrary, it would be a society that competed for affirmation and one that punished people for not affirming us even though they don't know us. It would be a society where gay men sought out bakers who didn't want to decorate cakes for gay weddings even though they had no desire to buy a cake from this particular baker in the first place. It would be a society where people are forced to use made-up pronouns. It would be a society where people harshly condemned all men as rapists while shamelessly exempting a real rapist because he was a candidate for the political party they support. It would, in short, be the society we live in.

A society that values information more than affirmation can easily tolerate different truth claims. A society that values affirmation more than information cannot.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Be Greek!

"The words, you are good with the words man."

Roy says that to Don in "The Hobo Code" the 8th episode of the first season of Mad Men. It is the best episode of the entire series and one of the most important. Here the most important themes are established.

Don's answer is, "Well put." So he wins the battle. Roy isn't good with words.

Who wins the war is an open question.

It's not entirely clear that what Don said in the first place to inspire Roy's criticism in the first place was any good. He compares his experience with marijuana, apparently his first, to Dorothy going over the rainbow and everything being in colour. It's powerful language in service of not terribly profound thought.

I got wondering about Isocrates yesterday. I'm doing research on Erasmus and have taken to comparing him with Ignatius of Loyola. It's an edifying comparison that has worked mainly to the advantage of Ignatius. Anyway, I was reading specifically about how humanism influenced Ignatian spirituality and Isocrates came up. Despite an extensive education in philosophy, I don't know much about Isocrates. He was a target of Plato and, as often happened with targets of Plato, the damage was long lasting. Pascal's pointed criticism had a similar impact on the Jesuits; they too won the battle but have not won the war even today.

And the battle carries on with Don versus Roy, Don in the place of Isocrates and Roy in the place of Plato. Except that Roy is a clown and Plato was a genius. Roy wasn't just bad with words, he didn't have anything important to sat either. How would Don have fared if he had come up with someone who is as "good with the words" as he was? We'll never know. Plato, however, was better with words than anyone he came up against.

That said, was he right? Did he have something to say? I know, that's an impertinent question.

He was obviously right about a lot of individual issues and wrong about a lot of individual issues. The question is whether he was right as a hedgehog and not as a fox: was the one big thing Plato cared about right? I think the answer to that is no.

And that's enough of that for a Friday morning.

I started my research with Wikipedia. Yeah, I admit it, I always start with Wikipedia. And I found this fascinating quote:
Our city has so far surpassed other men in thought and speech that students of Athens have become the teachers of others, and the city has made the name “Greek” seem to be not that of a people but of a way of thinking; and people are called Greeks because they share in our education (paideusis) rather than in our birth.
Isocrates point, again relying on Wikipedia, was not that everyone should be Greek. He meant, rather, to warn the Greeks that their culture was available to others and that they had to educate themselves to protect their freedoms. His intention, however, is beside the point. There is an idea of freedom here that is worth acquiring and the way to do that is humanism,

Also from that Wikipedia page:
He promoted the Greek ideals of freedom, self-control, and virtue; in this he influenced several Roman rhetoricians, such as Cicero and Quintilian, and influenced the core concepts of liberal arts education.
Another person who shared these ideals was Saint Paul.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK and now Al Franken and the problem with the "toxic masculinity" charge

Here is a thought experiment for heterosexual men. Imagine you have an opportunity to have sex with a female celebrity you feel a strong erotic attraction to.  You can keep who it is to yourself. Imagine that the good witch of the north suddenly appears and tells you that all you have to do is click your heels together and think of ... whatever it is you desire.

Is the first thought comes to your mind that this celebrity would watch you masturbate? Me neither. There is something juvenile about these men, they are like petulant little boys acting out because they can't get women to take them seriously as sexual beings.

And now, Al Franken, whose excuse is that he thought it was funny. Franken gives the game away. This is all about acting out instead of growing up.

What it isn't is "toxic masculinity".

Go back to that thought experiment I started with. It's narcissistic. Why do I say that? Because the woman's desires and hopes never enter into it.

What we have here is not an excess of masculinity but a masculinity deficit.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The cost of maintaining our illusions

An institution I do volunteer work for made provision for the needs of people who were "gluten-intolerant" some five years ago now. Today, we get virtually nobody. We might see one person a week. That's .06 percent of our clientele. We'd made provision for 3 percent on the assumption that need would eventually grow beyond that. Instead, the opposite happened.

Something similar happened with nut allergies. We never see anyone with a nut allergy anymore. Of course, nut allergies became a big concern many years ago. Give it another decade and I would not be surprised if we have not a single person with gluten intolerance.

There are of course, some people who really can't eat gluten and there are others who really can't eat nuts but they make up a very tiny percentage of the population. Most of the people who decided just 3 to 5 years ago that they were gluten intolerant were just imagining things.

It fascinate me to watch people shift. One woman just up and admitted that she realized she'd been fooling herself. Others, however, are obviously counting on the rest of us not remembering how emphatically they'd insisted that their gluten intolerance was real.

There may be some people who genuinely have non-Celiac gluten intolerance but it's always been clear that many of the self-diagnosed cases were nonsense. I suspect that there was more than placebo affect, which is the usual cause of false self-diagnosis, at work here. I suspect many people genuinely improved their health by cutting out gluten for the simple reason that this forced them to cut their carbohydrate consumption way back. But that's not all. I think the other thing at work was the need to feel special.

There is a power trip that goes with making other people accommodate your "needs". It feels good to see the person who has invited you to a dinner party prepare a special menu. It even feels good to spend extra money to by special, gluten-free products or to refuse meals and treats. There is a price for all this too. In the case of gluten-free products it's a literal price. But there are other kinds of costs as well. People don't want to exclude you but the extra trouble involved in feeding you leads them to sometimes just leave you off the list. Even something as simple as passing up those chocolate chip cookies someone brought into the office has a certain cost.

On the other side of the ledger, the feeling of being special also declines. When gluten intolerance was new and exciting, there was a certain kick that came with being able to declare that you had it. Eventually it gets to be old news though and there is a point where people start meaning it when they say they feel sorry for you. Once upon a time they were keen to hang onto your every word as you explained what it was like. Now they just act as if you have some sort of defect.

Meanwhile, you're still paying for those expensive gluten-free products. Worse, there are fewer options than there were when gluten intolerance was new and exciting. You're also going to fewer dinner parties. Finally, there is a lot of great food you just don't get to eat anymore.

The deeper problem is that you most people genuinely believe they have a problem. These are illusions not fantasies. But once the cash value of maintaining an illusion exceeds the gains it brings, things start to shift around. Now the psychological need is on the other side pushing against this illusion. One day you're going to just go ahead and eat something you've been telling yourself and others is bad for you. And nothing horrible is going to happen when you do. And then you'll gradually slide away from your gluten-free diet. If you're lucky, none of your friends will say anything about it.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Who is really clinging to the past?

Someone I was reading this morning linked to an old Atlantic article that complained, "Why Is a Music Genre Called 'Americana' So Overwhelmingly White and Male?"

The key thing to remember when confronted with this sort of argument is that the terms "white" and "male" here don't refer to race or sex. These terms stand for everything urban Democratic Party supporters detest, supporters who themselves are, ironically, very white and male.

This irony is lost/not-lost on people like Giovanni Russonello when they write pieces like this. He has to know what is going on but denial is a powerful emotion. So out come the clichés.
Before it became a term for a musical genre, "Americana" was slang for the comforting, middle-class ephemera at your average antique store -- things like needle-pointed pillows, Civil War daguerreotypes, and engraved silverware sets. 
What's so "comforting" about this stuff?  There is an argument hiding way in the background here and we can all fill it in. It goes something like the following: "This music, like nostalgia-inducing items purchased at an antique store, is like a security blanket that people cling to rather than acknowledge that America has changed."

I'll tell you the problem with that argument.  Giovanni Russonello doesn't believe it. For starters, does anyone really worry about people who nostalgically cling to a past that has been left behind? The threat here, the thing that Russonello can't be honest with himself above, is that this past is very much present. Americana is popular and that popularity indicates that the world is not changing in the ways he wants to believe it should be changing.

This is even more clear if we look at his conclusion:
... if an art form is going to name itself after this country, it should probably stop weatherproofing itself against America's present-day developments
If you click on the link he provides you get a story that begins, "There is a strange dichotomy occurring in 21st-century America: The country is becoming more diverse and less equal."  It backs this claim up,
Federal Reserve data and Bureau of Labor statistics show that although the nation is becoming less white, wealth is being disproportionately allocated into white hands. Wealth and income gaps continue to widen along racial lines, with whites earning $2 for every $1 earned by African Americans and Hispanics. That gap has remained consistent for 30 years -- despite affirmative action policies of the 1970s and early '80s. According to research by the Urban Institute, white households held four times the wealth of black households before the Great Recession, and that factor managed to increase to six times by 2010.
Meanwhile, the face of poverty, lack of opportunity and discrimination in employment and criminal justice remains overwhelmingly black and brown. The recent census data and court challenges to programs aimed at creating an egalitarian, racially integrated society force the question of whether America is prepared to reconcile the harsh realities of its tortured past with the potential progress of its multiracial future.
 I don't doubt that the actual facts in those two paragraphs are correct. What I would like you to be skeptical about is the way the language spins the facts to support an ideology. Notice, for example, "wealth is being disproportionately allocated into white hand" (emphasis added). "Allocated" says this is an intentional act. That implies that somebody, or a group of somebodies, is handing out the money and they are doing so in a  racist manner. That goes way beyond saying that the system is biased in a way that disfavors some racial groups. And then notice the "harsh realities of its tortured past". Okay, no one can dispute that there were harsh realities but the language here implies that that tortured past, and only that tortured past, explains growing inequality today.

There is a whole boatload of questions being suppressed here. The "programs aimed at creating an egalitarian, racially integrated society", that are supposedly in danger, for example. These statistics tell us that these programs have achieved the exact opposite of what they were supposed to do. Why then is it so important to save them?

It's reasonable to ask who is really clinging to the past here. I'd argue that we are seeing the children of baby boomers everywhere in the world are desperately clinging to the illusions their parents fed them. Russonello writes,
Five years later, Dylan had left folk behind. He was already being called "the voice of his generation," but to merit that title he couldn't just keep writing about revolt -- he had to make sizzling, mercurial music that actually sounded like mutiny.
The events he is describing here happened more than 50 years ago. Take a listen to a revolution in music that was as far in the past in 1967 as Dylan going electric is now.

Try to imagine someone coming along in 1967 and not only saying this is what real revolution sounds like but simultaneously claiming that people who liked rock music with electric guitars were clinging to the past. The level of self deception at work here is mind boggling.

Back to Russonello one more time:
By implying that bands like Dawes encompass some omni-American ideal, the Americana genre doesn't just reify the notion that a white male perspective defines the American experience. It runs the risk of confusing oldness with authenticity.
That was plausible in 1967.  Since then, we've seen a lot of revolutionary ideas come and nothing much has changed. Today, it is just as plausible to ask if maybe there are some things about the human condition that just don't change come what may. That we tend to struggle with pretty much the same challenges and, therefore, the wisdom of the past is still worth listening to. They didn't know how to change the human condition but they knew how to live with it.

Dawes uses some pretty newfangled jargon here but what he is talking about is as old as humanity.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

On being punched in the face

"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face." Mike Tyson
You may cringe at the source but there is deep wisdom in that quote. Plans seem deeply reliable to the people making them but they are easily disrupted. You may think that punching people in the face is a brutish, unthinking persons way of solving problems and that civilized, rational people make plans. And you'd be absolutely right to think that. And that's your problem right there. For not only is life full of brutal, unthinking persons, far more important, nature is brutal and unthinking. Any nasty jerk who wants to can derail your plans and it could happen any time but even pull of the extremely unlikely feat of avoiding brutal jerks all your life, life itself will punch you in the face.

There are probably a number of corollary principles that follow from that but the one that occurs to me is this: A person who has never been punched in the face will tend to put too much faith in plans.  That probably explains a lot of millennial angst—a generation that was raised in a very structured, protected fashion is getting punched in the face for the first time and they really don't like it. The correct lesson to take when life punches you in the face is to learn to roll with the punches. Millennials aren't doing that. For now, they are doubling down on plans. They still have time to learn.

In case you're asking, I have been punched in the face, both literally and figuratively.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Is this escapism or stoicism?

The following is a rambling and very personal post that just trails off instead of reaching a conclusion.
This carnivalesque portrait of provincial Italy during the fascist period, the most personal film by Federico Fellini, satirizes the director’s youth and turns daily life into a circus of social rituals, adolescent desires, male fantasies, and political subterfuge, all set to Nino Rota’s classic, nostalgia-tinged score. The Academy Award–winning Amarcord remains one of cinema’s enduring treasures.
I've been listening to a couple of podcasts that could nicely be summed up as  "a circus of social rituals, adolescent desires, male fantasies, and political subterfuge". The podcasts in question are called Creek of the Week and Beyond Yacht Rock. Both are light and amusing and really funny provided you have a very high tolerance for sophomoric and vulgar male humour. I, as my wife would insist, pretty much have to have a very high tolerance for sophomoric and vulgar male humour. If I didn't I'd have to hate myself.

That will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me only through this blog as I don't engage in much of it here. There is some but not a lot. You could read that two ways. Either 1) I am a deeply conflicted person who puts on a false front for public consumption or 2) I'm a person who strongly believes that the public and private spheres should be kept separate. I tend to favour the second but I can understand why others might go with the first. I believe they are wrong but, the problem is, they have access to exactly the same set of facts as I do—that facts are not in dispute, only the interpretation of those facts.

And I'll just leave that there.

Back to the podcasts, while I laugh very hard at both, I'm feeling a bit uneasy about it. There is something ineffectual and wimpy about this. Both podcasts are also nostalgic, something that isn't necessarily a problem but can be.

Closely related to that, both podcasts are deeply political and partisan. The partisan side of it—mostly blind, irrational rage at Donald Trump—I don't share. That actually makes it more troubling as I can recognize something of myself in their rage even though I don't share their particular set of paranoid concerns. I have my own set of paranoid concerns. The similarity I recognize is a way of not-really-dealing with reality.

And I'll just leave that there too.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The risk of puritanism

The men who've been lately alleged to have committed various acts sexual harassment and/or assault—think Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Mark Halperin—all directly or indirectly supported harsh judgments against young men on university campuses. The same is true those of the many people who knew what was going on and never said a word about it. Think about that for a while: the people who insisted that the ludicrous "statistic" that one of every five female university students is sexually assaulted chose to do nothing about actual sexual assault happening in their own social and work lives.

Don't even think of calling this hypocrisy. This had nothing to do with concealing their true character. This was pure, sanctimonious puritanism right out of the Joe McCarthy playbook. These people have cheerfully smeared men and raised fears of a non-existent "rape culture" for years solely for the power thrill it gave them. They pilloried all men as rapists while exploiting women not because they are one thing in public life and another in secret. No, they are the same power-abusing jerks all the time. And now it's come back to bite them on the ass.

Friday, October 27, 2017

What exactly is this ugly word supposed to mean?

[Jennifer] Lawrence is known for speaking her mind, yet she says that didn't make a difference on this specific occasion. "I asked to speak to a producer about the unrealistic diet regime and he responded by telling me he didn't know why everyone thought I was so fat, he thought I was perfectly 'fuckable.'
 The word is new but the concept goes back decades. It's an insane notion on the face of it. For starters, that's a ridiculously low standard. There are very few women men wouldn't be willing to have sex with.

It's just a fact of our evolutionary psychology. As discussed here before, both men and women would have sex with a frighteningly large number of people if it were simply a matter of desire. Everyday, the vast majority of men and women on this planet walk by several dozen people they'd have sex with. That they don't is a reflection of circumstances other than desire. We tend to want not just sex but sex under conditions we feel comfortable with.

So what exactly does this word mean? It might be more useful to think of the concept than just this particular word. There are two related senses we find used in. There was an example in the comments at the Althouse blog the other day. Althouse had put up a post about the ongoing trainwreck that is Megyn Kelly's career. The very first poster had this to say,
I know she has had a rough year, but I'd still do her.
She's still got that going for her. 
I've heard that sort of comment all my life. It's so stupid even if meant ironically that there isn't much to say about it. It's like saying, "I'd accept $1 million for my 15-year-old Subaru". No one's offering and they'd be the ones doing you a favour if they did.

And yet it continues to be said. Keep that in the back of your mind.

The other use of the term, the one directed at Jennifer Lawrence, I think is a relative one. Think about characters in teen dramas. Blake Lively was twenty the first year she played teen-aged Serena van der Woodsen. That's pretty standard practice as actual teens are rarely as good at acting. Teen characters played by actual teens only work if the kids are not expected to extend their acting range beyond goofy. But if teens are going to be played by people in their twenties, the actor playing the part has to be plausible as a teenager.

If we go back to movies and TV shows, the female lead has to have enough sex appeal that it's going to be plausible that the male lead would want her in the face of the competition. And that is a tough standard, a much tougher standard than real life. The female lead is going to surrounded by exceptionally good looking women. She has to be plausible as the one who draws your eye. The script and the camera are on her side, as they were when Blake Lively played a teen, but there are limits to what the highly paid creative staff can do.

Of course, this is only an issue because the entertainment industry is  one of the most sexist work environments on the face of the earth. Women are hired for their looks and for their willingness to do sexual things. Outside stripping and prostitution, I can't think of any other field where women are treated so unfairly. The woman at the car rental counter who gets only five seconds of screen time has to be smoking hot to get the part. Even women meant to look unattractive are typically played by super-hot young women made up to look less attractive and/or older.

Now, it must be said that Jennifer Lawrence deludes herself. She couldn't make it in a field that didn't operate like that. Her career depends absolutely on her looks. Yes, she can act but she wouldn't even have had a shot at a career if a) she didn't look like she did and b) she wasn't willing to sell herself as primarily a sexual being. She's like a prizefighter, she got her job in the first place because she could go in the ring and stomp the competition, she can't complain now that she only gets to keep her job so long as she can keep that up. If the job was purely a matter of acting skills, there are thousands of women who'd rank above her. She's profited from the very sexism she now decries. That said, this is an appalling industry we should all stop supporting.

What would a non-sexist entertainment industry look like? I don't think anyone even has a clue. There never has been such a thing.

In any case, the ugly word means, this woman is still plausible as the most exciting character on the set even though she's going to be surrounded by lots of other exceptionally beautiful women. And I can understand that even though I don't support the way the industry works. She has to shine in a way that she stands out over every other woman in the cast.

The only the other thing to say is that it didn't used to be quite this bad. It used to be a standard plot line that the male lead would find the "girl next door" more attractive as a partner than the bombshell. That's not to say that the female leads were anything less than beautiful but they didn't have to be the most beautiful woman on the set.

I don't know exactly when that stopped being the case. The change had definitely happened by 1994. In that year, The Mask made a joke of the old convention. The male lead has a the choice between seemingly nice girl in reporter Peggy Brandt or femme fatale, and gangster's girlfriend Tina Carlyle. He duly chooses Peggy who promptly betrays him to the police and then ends up with Tina, who turns out to be trustworthy and caring. I remember thinking at the time that this was a nice send up of a plot cliché. In retrospect, that's not so clear. Once upon a time, Hollywood that character trumped sexiness. That hasn't been the case for a couple of decades now. That The Mask could make a joke of it shows that Hollywood had decided that the standards the rest of us look for in a partner were just a quaint joke by 1994.

Monday, October 23, 2017

More polarity

Both are trans-identified, but belong somewhere in between genders, and they've amassed huge social media followings as gender nonbinary, femme, and fabulous human beings. They've become celebrities in their own right, with Jacob regularly walking down the red carpet at LGBTQ galas and Alok featuring in the Janet Mock–narrated HBO documentary The Trans List.

But if you think all that would land them a date, you'd be wrong. And nobody is more puzzled than me as to why such obvious catches are having dating problems when so many clamor for their attention.
The related article is here. Short version: two celebrities who identify as "non-binary" can't get a date. Think about that: they're famous and quite literally no one wants to have sex with them. The problem is not that no one they find attractive wants a date with them. No one wants them. No one! They are not unique in this. I seem to remember that Morrisey of the Smiths couldn't get a date either. That said, it's difficult.

I could argue this one at length but I'll cut straight to the point. In our culture you can be anything you want. You can identify with any of a whole bunch of genders. You can even make up a new one and identify with that. If that isn't good enough, you can do what the two lonelyhearts described in the article above did and be non-binary. If, however, you want to have a shot at happiness, you should do the following:
  1. Be a man or a woman, 
  2. Be very good at being a man or being a woman,
  3. Stick to it.
It really is that simple. You're free to do otherwise but any other choice is a one-way ticket to unhappiness.

Friday, October 20, 2017

What and when was the sexual revolution?

Harvey, the man who launched a thousand philosophical contemplations:
First, here is Harvey himself, who early on in this on-going debacle said this:
“I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”
Stop the presses. Harvey has in fact put his finger on one serious cultural truth.
That's from an interesting piece in the American Spectator. The claim there is that the "sexual revolution" , by throwing away all the old rules, left a generation lost and confused. The next step, not explicitly made in the piece, is that poor Harv was one of these.

There are (at least) two ways we might think about the sexual revolution. One way, the American Spectator way, is to speak of a system of sexual morality that was working and then along came chaos and now we all reap disaster. We can nuanced in this view. We don't have to pretend that the sexual morality of the early twentieth century was perfect. We can admit lots of problems but argue that throwing all the rules out was crazy. And it was crazy. All that said, I still think there is another way of looking at things. This other way says that the sexual morality of the first half of the twentieth century was doomed no matter what happened; that if a twelve-year-old Hugh Hefner had ridden his bicycle into traffic without looking and had been killed by a passing truck the history of the 1960s and 1970s would not have been substantially different.

What happened in the 1970s was crazy. That said, Harvey Weinstein is a monster and the only person to blame for that is Harvey Weinstein. Even without rules, some people managed pretty well. We can't keep going that way so we won't. That said, if feminists and/or social conservatives get their way, we'll be plunged into a new puritanism that will make the 19th century look like a glorious age of freedom.

Monday, October 16, 2017

This is about them

It seems to me that what ultimately makes Weinstein significant is nothing about the man himself but the society that welcomed him. He could have peddled porn like Hef, he might have become a rock music promoter or he might have made action films. He probably would have made much more money had he done any of those things than he did selling art films. In choosing that option, Weinstein was satisfying a need for something other than money.
What he wanted was no great mystery. He wanted power and influence and he wasn't going to get it selling himself. He needed to make connections with the sort of people that can get connections with those who have power and influence. So he went to the people who make art house films. 

They needed him because their relevance was on the decline. Their movies didn't make money and Harv knew how to fix that. He probably didn't seem like a complete monster at first. He was a bully in a business that desperately needed a bully to make things happen. Feelings were hurt but money was made. And Harv was off to the races.

And then it started to become clear just how bad he was. Now Hollywood was facing a serious moral test. And they failed and failed miserably and they kept on failing for decades. Meanwhile, they lectured the rest of us about morality and politics.

And the same applies to the Democratic party and the press.

Monday, October 9, 2017


Note: None of the photos used in this post belong to me. I think they constitute fair use and I'm not making any money out of them but if you do own them and disagree, I will cheerfully take them down.

There is a piece on the Powerline blog entitled "Peak Elitism at the NY Times". It makes one of those points that are hard to argue with: that the New York Times is deeply elitist while pretending to be egalitarian. Indeed, "deeply elitist while pretending to be egalitarian" is a pretty good definition for the word "liberal".

While agreeing with what Steven Hayward of Powerline had to say on the subject I found the conclusion of the piece odd. He goes through a whole lot of stuff from a wedding announcement that is unquestionably sign that we are dealing with an elite couple but then picks on a charming little story at the end of the piece as "peak elitism".

Here's the little story.
The couple dated at Princeton, but had met a few years earlier, in 2007, in North Haven, Me., when Ms. du Pont offered a ride to Mr. Sutherland and a friend, whom Ms. du Pont knew. The two men had just moored their sailboat and were preparing for a long row back to the dock, whereas she was piloting her family’s motorized tender. They took the ride.
There is nothing elite in that tale. I never went to Princeton and my wedding announcement never appeared in the New York Times but I can relate to that. I've owned several sailboats in my lifetime and I'm not rich.

Let me tell you what all the details in that story mean. A mooring is a sort of permanent anchor. It's a very heavy weight to which a chain and line are attached. The weight is dropped into the water and buoy is attached to the top of the line. A mooring is permanent but less solid or protected than tying up to the dock. When you arrive at the club or marina, you get in a small dinghy to row out to your boat. This dinghy is called a tender. Most tenders run between 7 and 10 feet in length.  Here's what a typical tender looks like:

As you can see, it's the sort of boat you wouldn't want to go far from shore in. If you look a little closer, you will see that it carries an impressive amount of people or cargo for it's size. They are mostly practical craft, ideal for ferrying people and stuff from the dock to a moored boat. (They are also a lot of fun to play in when you are a little boy—I learned how to sail and row in a small tender.) They are not terribly efficient rowboats, especially when you have more than just one person in them. Going a couple of hundred yards is a chore.

Okay, take a closer look at the transom of that tender and you can see a little piece of plywood. That is a motor mount that is there so a small outboard. Motorized tender usually means a tender with an outboard. Now, if you have an outboard, you don't care about the rowing qualities of the boat. Most motorized tenders are inflatable boats, which are a pig to row. Here's an example of what that looks like:

Okay, now you can imagine the scene. The two guys have been sailing, probably in some sort of small keelboat as dinghies usually get stored on shore. The story says this happened in North Haven, Maine, so there is a good chance they were sailing a small racing class called an Ensign. They look like this:

They've tied up and derigged their boat (that means taking the sails down and folding them, putting away stuff, cleaning up so your parents don't tear into you about the mess you left and locking the hatch). Maybe they're tired after a day's sailing. In any case, they have a long row back to the dock in their tender and along comes a girl one of them knows in a tender with an outboard and offers them a ride. They accept and get in. Everything is pretty cramped, everybody, knee-to-knee and one of them is probably holding the painter (that's the line coming off the bow) of their tender so it gets towed back to the dock.

Yes, you have to be a part of a certain culture to understand all of this. Just as you need to be part of a certain culture to understand about guns. It isn't about wealth or privilege. Yes, there are yacht clubs that cost a lot to join and, even if you have the money, you need to have connections to join. And, yes, the people in the NYT wedding announcement sound like they are part of that world but there is nothing about the experience described in the paragraph selected as "peak elitism" that belongs to that peak-elitist world. For there are thousands of other yacht clubs where ordinary, middle-class people belong where you could meet your future spouse in exactly the same way. (And there are gun clubs that only billionaires can afford to belong to.)

Yes, let's condemn elitism, or at least let's condemn people who lecture the rest of us about inequality while living very comfortably. But let's try to understand each other too. This is a charming story that puts a very human face on our couple so that we can relate to them instead of hating them.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Partial defence of Hef

Hugh Hefner lived to 91. Sinatra made it to 82. Dino was 78 when he died. To me, this  suggests that 1950s swinger lifestyle was healthier than the rock and roll generation that followed.

When my family moved back to Quebec in the 1970s, we moved into a much more tolerant and more permissive culture than what we left behind in New Brunswick and Ontario, the two places we had lived previously. The TV stations in Quebec already featured nudity, there were strip bars and porn theatres  on the strip right beside the DQ and McDonalds. Playboy and Penthouse magazine were everywhere. As a young teenager, I was suddenly plunged into a very different world where access to porn was, by the standards of everywhere else I'd live up to that point, was ridiculously easy. And that is not to count the "erotic art photography" books that were found on coffee tables in the nice, middle-class neighbourhood we lived in. If it had any adverse effects on me, I don't know what they are.

Others I've read this week have been much more eager to chalk up really negative effects to Hugh Hefner's influence. There's too many to quote but Hugh Hefner's Legacy oF Despair:
This is also one of those stories where cultural conservatives and feminists line up, which is something that ought to give both those groups pause.

It's all dreadful nonsense of course. I'm perfectly willing to believe there were some pretty weird scenes inside the gold mine and that women were exploited. I'm also willing to believe that some aspects of our culture started to go bad around the time Playboy was first published and have only gotten worse since but I hoped that the editors at National Review were still able to understand the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and wouldn't let their writers get away with that sort of sloppy reasoning. (They've published at least four variations on the story I cite above now although I am happy to report there was one sane voice at NR.)

But even beyond that it's just insane to think that one man and one magazine could have had the sort of culture influence to caused all the negative effects Hefner is supposedly guilty of. We were going that way anyway and would have done so if Hugh Hefner had been run over by a bus the morning he got the idea for Playboy. (And Marilyn Monroe's sad pathetic life would have been every bit as sad and pathetic.)

What Hugh Hefner did manage to do was to get very rich by catching a wave and riding it. This had the effect of disconnecting him from reality enough that he went some pretty weird places. That said, I doubt they are any weirder than what we will eventually learn of current media stars when their stories begin to leak out. Before all that happened, though, the man did something absolutely brilliant.

He came very close to being a failure. As is well known, the original name for the magazine was to be "Stag Party". If it had gone out under that banner, it would be just another forgotten men's magazine today. Choosing Playboy with the suggestions of connoisseurship was a masterstroke. An entire generation of men were seeing a level of wealth that had never been possible in history until that point. Playboy  offered them a how-to guide to this new world.

But why pictures of naked women? If you really have to ask that, you're operating on a very poor understanding of men. In addition to which, most of us assumed that access to such things was one of the perks that many of the elite we set out to emulate took as their right. And we were right!
The sexual revolution came and it's still steamrolling along some seven decades later. Last weekend we had the annual Panda Classic College football game here in Ottawa and you should have seen how the college girls here dressed for it. Life changed and it's not going back to what it was anytime soon. Don't blame Hugh Hefner; he just caught the wave.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Temporary change in comments policy

The blog has been bombarded by spam the last few days, all from the same source. I've turned comment moderation back on for a little while until these clowns give up and go away. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

What is this image selling?

I saw this at the curb for garbage collection day this week.

I can imagine the planning meeting.

Project manager: "We need a cover for a new book for children called Looking at Insects by David Suzuki."

Graphic artist: "How about a photograph of David Suzuki and a couple of children looking at insects?"

That's a 1986 edition. By 1992, the cover looked like this:

That's meant to be more inclusive but it strikes me as a little creepy that Suzuki appearing to look at the little girl that way rather than the butterflies. The decision-making process here is interesting. They decided to stay with a white girl but update her fashion choices while going with a black boy. Is Suzuki looking towards the girl meant to encourage girls to study sciences? I would think it more likely to encourage girls to seek adult approval by doing whatever adults want them to do. The more independent little boy is the sort of role model you should use to if you actually want children to study science. This is a study in sexism disguised as anti-sexism.

I don't know how the little girl gets her hand on Suzuki's shoulder here without having a longer right arm than left. My guess it's not her hand—that they took an outtake from the session used in the first cover and edited the new butterflies, the  girl and the boy into the shot and changed the colouring a bit to get this. You can just imagine the angst-ridden decision not to have the little boy touching Suzuki: what messages are we most scared of appearing to send?

Not related to the design: this is a book on a subject that Suzuki is actually an expert in. Most of what Suzuki writes about he is not an expert in. There is nothing wrong with that. I think anyone should be able to write a book about anything. The problem is that when someone such as Suzuki or Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson writes about matters they are not experts in we get something I call expertise creep. None of those men, for example, is an expert in climate science so we shouldn't attribute any more authority on the subject to them than we do to any interested amateur. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out that way.

The pattern that we actually see played out works like this. A scientist with an actual area of expertise branches out into science education after their career doing real science (or, in Nye's case, engineering) has passed its prime. They prove to be very good at science education but they aren't content to stop there and get a taste for telling other people how they ought to be living. Thereafter they produce a series of preachy books and TV shows that are mostly political activism mixed with a very little science in fields they have no expertise in. Despite this, we're all supposed to rollover like good little puppies because SCIENCE!!!

I suspect the implied argument goes like this: "Okay, these guys aren't experts in climate but they are experts in science." And it pretty much has to be implicit. Make it explicit and the stupidity at work becomes obvious.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The men are revolting

I listen to two podcasts hosted by rabid, hate filled men. I do this because the subjects of their podcasts is not politics so their rabid, hate-filled side rarely comes to the surface. One, Creek of the Week, is about Dawson's Creek  and the the other, Beyond Yacht Rock, is about music I hated when it was new but have come to love. There are two things about these shows I find a little off-putting but can easily overlook. One is the regular tirades against politics and people the hosts hate and fear. The other, and this is a bit odd, is the constant stream of really vulgar commentary. In fact, I occasionally find myself laughing along with the vulgar jokes. As I listen to my podcasts in bed as I fall asleep at night, I have to laugh quietly and I manage this but sometimes I laugh so hard the bed shakes.

Last week, I played the Beyond Yacht Rock podcast for my wife as we were on vacation. When it got really vulgar I said to her, in case you've eve wondered what locker-room talk is actually like, it's like this. I said that because women tend to have an erroneous notion of what locker-room talk is like, a subject for another day.

Anyway, it hit me this morning that this attitude, which seems more and more common on the left and the right, is part of a growing man rebellion. I know, I know, I'm late to the party. Others have been writing about men being on strike and so forth for years. Most notably, Dr, Helen, whom I quoted yesterday, has written a book about it. Her argument, however, is about men being own strike and a strike is something that happens when you mean to return to work. I think something far more basic has happened—men have told women to take this job and shove it. They quit.

Our society has lost the power to manipulate men. This will have huge ramifications. I think women are already feeling the impact of this.

Case in point. I was listening to a feminist podcast I like called Stuff Mom Never Told You. A recent episode (August 11) dealt with a fairly extreme male movement called Men Going Their Own Way. These are men who refuse to enter into committed relationships, refuse to earn any more than they need to survive and refuse to engage with society. I suspect it's a pretty small, fringe movement. So how are feminist podcasters going to deal with this? I was expecting mockery and fear, fully expecting to hear the expression "white supremacist" applied to them. Instead there was a mixture of alarm and sympathy. The two women hosting the podcast ended up showing a lot of sympathy for these men, allowing that they did have grievances. Their only real counter argument was that the men were taking the wrong approach by dealing themselves out. They argued, I'm not making tis up, that men should embrace feminism instead because that is where they will find real freedom.

I suspect that what had the two hosts, Emilie Aries and Bridget Todd, sense that the Men Going Their Own Way movement, while small and a little silly, represents something much larger. Men are less interested in entering into committed relationships with women and, as a consequence, much less committed to the larger society around them. That spells TROUBLE. And they don't have the foggiest notion what to do about it.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The return of the bitter pill argument

The bitter pill argument (see here and here), for those who aren't familiar with it, is the claim that the sexual revolution has been a bad deal for women. That they were pushed into accepting greater sexual freedom and birth control and now are in a bad position where men have all the power in sexual relationships and are not marrying because it's so easy to get "cheap sex".
The share of Americans ages 25-34 who are married dropped 13 percentage points from 2000 to 2014. A new book by sociologist Mark Regnerus blames this declining rate on how easy it is for men to get off. 
Regnerus calls it “cheap sex,” an economic term meant to describe sex that has very little cost in terms of time or emotional investment, giving it little value. 
Regnerus bases his ideas, in part, on the work of British social theorist Anthony Giddens, who argued that the pill isolated sex from marriage and children. Add online pornography and dating sites to the mix and you don’t even need relationships.
"Isolated sex from marriage and children" in this context means that it used to be that sex carried a high risk of pregnancy and, therefore, women were very unlikely to give it outside of marriage. The pill and abortion removed this possibility and made pre-marital sex common. This gives men too  much power and leaves women their victims because men no longer feel they have to get married in order to get sex.

That's an interesting claim to say the least given that many feminists would argue the exact opposite saying that the high risk of pregnancy forced women into marriages they did not want along with a life of economic servitude. I'm inclined to give the most credence to feminists here as I don't see any evidence that most women are anything less than very enthusiastic for the pill and the freedom it gives them. In addition, I've never heard a man say that he wasn't getting married because he was already getting all the sex he wanted. Indeed, I've never heard a man say that he was getting married because that way he could get regular sex. The more common answer is that we get married because we are in love.

The more likely explanation, it seems to me, is on the other end of the equation: marriage has gotten too expensive. Marriage always was an expensive proposition for men not just in terms of financial exposure but, more significantly, in terms of emotional exposure. The situation for men has gotten much worse with divorce laws that make it easier for women to leave us and courts that tend to rule against men on matters of custody and child support. As the risk associated with marriage for men have gone up, fewer men are signing on.

But there is more than that as Dr. Helen, who also makes the point about the expense of marriage, notes.
It is harder to control men now than it was in the past and many control freaks don't like that sort of thing. Men are doing more than going their own way: they are finding ways to maintain autonomy and freedom in a world of increasing restrictions on their sexuality and livelihoods. Sex may be "cheap," but marriage is not -- and until our society understands that men are not pawns to be used by women and politicians for their own purposes, men will continue to go their own way, whether researchers want to believe it or not.
I'd go on to make a couple of other points that Dr. Helen is perhaps too polite to make.

  1. One of the consequences of the sexual revolution is that most men now have first-hand experience with multiple women. When you do that you can't help notice that there are huge differences between women sexually. To be blunt, some women are better than others and, more to the point, some women are a lot worse at sex that others.
  2. On top of that, women's enthusiasm for sex drops off considerably after an initial honeymoon period. That is inevitable and no one's fault. That said, there are huge differences in the way women react to this cooling off. Some take it as their responsibility to keep the flame alive and some don't. Some treat it as not their responsibility or even assume that it's a sign that love has died row as just an illusion and want to leave. 
Marriage is about more than sex but it is a sexual relationship at base and being married to a woman who doesn't care enough to put a lot of effort into sex is like slow death. In the past, it was just part of the deal. You made your vows and you took your chances. Most men didn't know there was any other possibility than what they got. Our expectations are now changed and we're simply not going to settle for the deal that was good enough in the past anymore.

Final point, even marriage-minded men will be very cautious about entering into a deal because it is no longer possible assume that women will hold to their commitments. Calling me sexist for saying so but most women are far more susceptible to the mood of the moment than men are. A woman's feelings about her marriage, about sex and about her job are highly influenced by the way she feels right now. Even her memories are conditioned by what she feels right now.  Only a woman who feels that marriage is a sacred trust that must be held out even through her dark times can be depended on and they are few and far between.

Bottom line: if you want more men to marry you'll have to make marriage a better deal for us. Dr. Helen nails it, "men are not pawns to be used by women and politicians for their own purposes." So stop trying to treat us as if we were.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Modernity and Catholicism

"Modernity can be defined in many ways:
  1. the rise of capitalist democracies in the eighteenth century,
  2. the scientific revolution,
  3. the divisions of Church and state,
  4. the primacy of subjective consciousness (Descartes),
  5. skepticism about ultimate metaphysical explanations coupled with 
  6. an ethics of autonomy that gives rise to liberal secular culture (Kant),
  7. the use of historical studies to relativize all absolute truth claims."
That comes from an interview with Thomas Joseph White o.p. at First Things. I've made it into a numbered list. I've further messed with it by splitting one of his points into two in numbers 5 and 6 above.

The kind of approach Father White thinks Catholics should take to modernity is made clear in something he says immediately after providing these definitions.
What makes these three works modern is that they take seriously and engage directly with the modern problematization of knowledge of absolutes, whether that problematization is metaphysical, historical, or religious. 
The three works he refers to are John Henry Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua, Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange's Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, and Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity. They all do indeed "engage" the modern problematization of knowledge. That said, I don't think Garrigou-Lagrange's work belongs with the other two. He doesn't so much engage modern thought as attempt to obliterate it with a Thomistic hammer. Thomas remains an interesting and important thinker, particularly for what he says about ethics, but his writing on the nature of "reality" is interesting only for historical reasons. The sooner Catholic thinkers stop trying to use his thoughts on "being" the better.

That is a subject for another day perhaps. Others have already dealt with it and I doubt I have anything new to add to the matter. What interests me is that anti-modernist Catholics have felt the need to resist at least some of those seven items listed above ever since the late 19th century. The word "modernism" was coined by Catholics to describe those who would accommodate the faith to some or all of those elements of modernity. Many, many Catholics still carry on the fight.

And we can see an interesting unity that exists between some supposed arch-enemies within the church. We might think, for example, that readers of the National Catholic Reporter and hard-core traditionalist Catholics who read Lifesite News would have nothing in common but both are terrified by the notion that market forces might shape the culture. As a consequence both arch-liberal and arch-traditionalist Catholics tend to want to regulate markets more and more, resist democracy, distrust science*, and want to limit individual autonomy.

I tend to think that Catholicism should accommodate itself to most things on that list. The really problematic issue are #4 and #6 but even they, if properly understood, are different kind of a problems than they initially seem.

One thing I am fairly certain of is that defining "knowledge" is not the solution.

* Liberal Catholics, like liberals in general, will tell you they support science, by which they mean they like to cite it when it supports their beliefs about matters such as climate change. Ask them about evolutionary psychology,  for example, and you'll hear a different tune.