July 31, 2013

"Teen kicked out of camp for kissing"

Story here.

Age 15 used to be when you lost your virginity, now you're not even allowed to kiss. For the boy it was his first kiss, and you figure he's at least her age or maybe a couple years older. Think about it -- a junior in high school who's never been kissed. He was apparently encouraged by the counselors and high-fived afterwards, which makes him sound like one of the guys, and the girl who got kicked out was evidently drawn to him.

So it's not like he's never kissed because he's some repulsive outcast type. Youth culture is so neo-Victorian these days that even an average or somewhat above-average guy must wait until 11th grade for his first kiss.

The camp has no religious affiliation; it's in liberal Massachusetts and appears to cater to parents along the Bos-Wash corridor. So it's not as though it's conservative Christians trying to clamp down on sin. The owners are more concerned about their reputation and the response of all parents, so their actions reflect more on the attitudes of the average well-to-do liberal parent who sends their kid there. "I'm not sending my kid off to the type of camp where..."

Helicopter parenting is an across-the-board change. Parents of different political orientations offer different rationalizations, of course -- liberals focus primarily on preventing harm, conservatives add in the protection from corruption. At the end of the day, though, everyone has become an over-protective weenie parent, and kids from all backgrounds are growing up stunted and awkward because of their lack of social experience and connectedness.

July 30, 2013

Despair in cocooning times, resilience in outgoing times

One of the most successful television genres of the 1980s was the sit-com featuring a non-traditional family. A typical episode would show the members coping with the same problems that everybody faces, with the twist that their domestic support base was made up of people outside their nuclear family. Much of the comedy comes from the unique challenges of having to negotiate the trust and caregiving relationships between people who are more distantly related or not at all.

The success of these shows -- among others, Full House, Diff'rent Strokes, and Who's the Boss? -- is a reflection of how resilient people were at the time. What resonated with them was not gloom and feeling sorry about yourself, but relying on a broad social network to keep you going and make it through your troubles. When bad things happen today, there's such a somber and devastated tone, whether it's fictional or not.

Back in the '80s, even Punky Brewster, a sit-com for children, found a way to deal with the explosion of the Challenger shuttle right after it happened. You wouldn't see that on a kids' show today, or on a show from the '50s. All of those "very special episodes" seem weird today because you can't openly discuss the more out-there kind of situations that a normal person might face -- it's too emotionally awkward, reminding you that you aren't in total control of what happens to you, and that you'll need the help of others to get through it. Not good for people who want to shut out the rest of the world.

Also, those episodes appear to be treating a heavy subject too lightly by current standards. There are no slo-mo shots of actors with downcast eyes, no sparse and pathetic piano notes, etc., to remind you that you're watching Something Serious. Victims of sexual abuse or burglary, friends of someone who's suddenly gotten into drugs, or run away, or died -- they all appear shaken up, but they don't waste time reflecting on how bad the news is, or on how devastated their lives might become. They respond by thinking on their feet, looking for a practical way to cope with their trouble or loss, and ultimately moving on with life.

Why is there such faith in resilience in an outgoing period like the Eighties, and why is there such a pervasive atmosphere of despair, malaise, anxiety, etc. during the mid-century as well as the Millennial era?

I think the fear of utter devastation should something go wrong comes from a semi-conscious awareness of how vulnerable we make our lives by socially isolating ourselves from everyone else. All support is concentrated into the nuclear family unit because trust extends no further.

Moreover, individuals start to rely primarily on themselves for support, because even within the nuclear family, members aren't that close to and open with each other. Ward Cleaver and the Beav weren't as informal and trusting of each other as Steven and Alex P. Keaton were. In Leave it to Beaver, Wally and the Beav get into some typical childhood trouble, and get a fair-but-firm lecture from their father reminding them of what they've already learned for themselves. Although physically very close in the claustrophobic sense, father and son are psychologically distant.

Whereas in Family Ties, Steven gives his son advice based on the extensive experience he's had that his son has not yet had, and for situations where Alex has not already figured out for himself what the larger lesson is. Beyond that, the parents and the children help each other through the unpredictable troubles that fate throws in our way, including some fairly out-there situations. There's no pre-programmed lecture as there is when the situation is so familiar; instead, both parents and children alike must resort to trial-and-error to discover the best way through such unfamiliar territory.

The mid-century world of Leave It to Beaver was not coincidentally the Age of Anxiety because folks were aware of how little support they had. Basically none outside the nuclear family, and very little "value-added" advice from within. With such flimsy support, of course small troubles will appear to have devastating consequences.

The Reagan Years had more of an attitude of "we can get through all this" because support networks were more broadly diffused, giving each person plenty of slack should any one of those links weaken. Even if those weakened links struck the nuclear family. In Who's the Boss?, Tony raises his daughter as a widower, though with the help of the woman for whom he works as a live-in housekeeper, as well as his boss' mother who lives there as well. His boss is a divorcee and benefits from having a father figure for her own son.

It seems like it was only during the '90s that the majority of Americans started to get all emo about the devastating effects of divorce on children, how it would scar them for life. Not that people thought it was harmless during the '80s, but that the kids and adults were resilient enough to cope with it and still lead normal, fulfilling lives -- not unlike having to cope with a sudden death in the family. Popular attitudes thus returned to the mid-century norm, which itself was a reversal of the attitudes of the Roaring Twenties, when like the Go-Go Eighties divorce was at least perceived to be getting more common, but that we'd all get through it somehow.

So, perhaps divorce is somewhat devastating -- but only in the context of minimal connections and support outside of the nuclear family, such as during the '50s or the 2000s. There's no slack in the system. It would be interesting to compare the children of divorce, or divorced adults, whose nuclear family broke up during, say, the '80s vs. the 2000s. Or during the '40s vs. the '80s.

Aside from the greater slack in the system during the '20s or the '80s, those affected by divorce probably bounced back more because they weren't so unrepresentative. When only 1% of the population gets divorced, they're probably very troubled or toxic marriages, and the people are probably more anti-social and disturbed. When it's 50% getting divorced, they're more normal personality-wise, hence more capable of springing back.

July 28, 2013

Blond people as the East Asians of Europe (and redheads as the Mongols?)

Sometime I plan on writing up what I see as the major historical races of Europe, and blond hair is one of the defining markers for one of these groups. Basically, Baltic-Slavic-Nordic. Below is a rough sketch of my thoughts so far.

Slavic, meaning where they originated from in the eastern and northern parts of Europe, not southern Slavs whose geography, appearance, subsistence mode, and culture in general are the total opposites of the original Slavs. And Nordic, meaning Scandinavian (although not the Norse / Vikings, who they largely displaced or replaced).

Their language group is Balto-Slavic, a fairly uncontroversial joining of the Baltic and Slavic sub-families within Indo-European. Many today also speak Germanic languages in Scandinavia, but I think those were originally the languages of fiery redheads, from the groups who Tacitus describes up through the Vikings. Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish were adopted by the conquerors of the Vikings, probably before the actual conquest, during their initial entry into Scandinavia.

Their most defining physical characteristic is a high percentage of blond hair. Related to this is what I observe to be higher rates of baldness. As a quick check, notice how bald the Russian and Soviet leaders have been from Lenin to Putin (minus Stalin, an ethnic Georgian). Anglo leaders tend to have fuller heads of hair, particularly if they're more Celtic like Kennedy or Reagan.

As I've described elsewhere, baldness was selected for as an honest signal of monogamous future behavior by husbands. What are your options for cheating on your wife when you're bald? Your wife can project that forecast just as easily as you can, so you both know -- and are perhaps even aware of each other's knowledge -- that the husband isn't going to stray. The best part -- whether he wants to stray or not. It doesn't neuter his libido necessarily, but only his ability to make use of it toward adultery.

The Baltic-Slavic-Nordic race is also obsessed with hygiene, regulations, and order. Outsource the regulation of social behavior to larger-scale third parties like the state, rather than settle things among yourselves. This basic attitude takes slightly different shape in Scandinavian socialist countries, the quasi-socialist Scandinavian Midwestern America, Mormon country, and the heart of the Soviet Union.

All of this makes the blondest race sound like Europe's take on the East Asian morph, such as the Japanese or Han Chinese. Much lighter than their neighbors? Check. More monogamous in actuality, whether or not they have bizarre thoughts or perverted desires? Yep. Obsessed with hygiene, though not so much with disgust in a broad sense? Orderliness, a deeply felt need for regulations in social and even personal life? Involving the state in what are usually personal or grassroots-level matters? Yes, yes, and yes again.

And as with the Baltic-Slavic-Nordic group, the Han and Japanese are not entirely the same. The Japanese are not quite as adapted to large-scale sedentary agriculture as the Han are, because they live in a more hilly and mountainous area with lots of rivers and seas to fish in, and they appear to have mixed with a relatively more go-with-the-flow group. Their state is not as intrusive as it is in China. Japan is more like Scandinavia, and China more like Russia / Soviet core.

Parenting styles are more helicopter parent / tiger mother among these groups, and they tend to spend more time within a nuclear family setting, cocooning away from the community.

All of these groups like minimalist aesthetics too, in contrast to their neighbors who value at least a little ornament in their visual culture. What their neighbors call bland and soul-starving, they would call calming and meditative.

What about their material culture drives them all this way, and their neighbors in some other way? It's the age-old story of farmers vs. herders. The Baltic-Slavic-Nordic race appears to be the end result of adaptation to the European plain, which is designed for large-scale sedentary agriculture. Ditto their East Asian counterparts.

The Celto-Germanic race was made for more hardy living up in hilly or mountainous regions, relying more on transhumance pastoralism than on planting and harvesting crops. They don't suffer as much from OCD, and if anything skip a little on personal hygiene while being moved more forcefully by a sense of disgust. Strong central states that could mediate as third parties in lower-level disputes are hard to come by in hilly, mountainous regions, so they're more adapted to face-to-face relations, whether revenge and feuding after an insult, or the culture of hospitality to prevent anyone from getting on anyone else's bad side.

And because herding livestock involves less drudgery but more risk, Celto-Germanic people are more party-hardy or "work hard, play hard" types, while the Baltic-Slavic-Nordic group is less spirited and joyful, either nose-the-grindstone or just total listless drop-outs (the opium den, the drunken Balto-Slavic peasant).

As for unusual hair color, they're more likely to have a good fraction of redheads rather than blonds. Generally, though, their look is dark hair and light eyes.

These differences come into focus most sharply in the artificial country today called "Deutschland." The western and southern regions are more Germanic, and the northern and eastern regions more Nordic. The innumerable conflicts that follow this fault-line are often described as a form of civil war or civil conflicts -- the Protestant Reformation vs. the German Catholics, the Nazi north vs. the Conservative south, Scandinavian orderliness in the north vs. the carnivalesque Oktoberfest in the south, the more dynamic south and the more listless north, and so on. Soviet influence doesn't go back to the Reformation, and was probably not terribly out of place in the east. At worst, adding yet another layer of what was already there on top of itself.

But the more I look at it, the more it seems like an inter-group conflict, and not always within a single nation-state where "civil war" would make more sense. It's a larger clash of civilizations that's been going on since the Baltic-Slavic-Nordic group began its push from the east and drove the Germanic groups farther west -- the last major migration with chain reactions throughout Europe.

That's enough of a sketch for now. The title of this post comes from a comment to the post below on the greater tendency for blonds to play it safe, and so not wind up at the highest levels of cultural achievement. Someone named "The Blondest" stole the words out from my mouth about the similarity between blonds and East Asians. I'm copying the whole comment below the asterisks, to reinforce what I've said, while showing that it's not just crazy armchair theorizing.

If you've met enough people, been to enough places, or at least read about them, I don't think these basic ideas should be too controversial, although you might not have tied them all together in your awareness before.

* * *

Blondes are bascially less-spergy more atheletic East Asians. I say this from my experience being a blonde man. Blondes are more practical in their thinking than dark haired white people. A lot of the biggest white losers and white winners I know tend to be dark haired white people. While most of the blondes I know are successful, yet not at the top of their fields.

Also I noticed that I and my blonde family members and friends tend to be less criminal than dark haired whtie people. I have known some whtie felons, nearly all of them tend to be dark haired.

On the flipside of things. Most of the creative people I know tend to be dark haired white people. My mother is a pretty good artist compared to me, and she is dark haired. Most of the musicians and interesting academics I knew from college were dark haired.

Also I noticed that me and many blonde people have an easy time with East Asians. A lot of my friends tend to be East Asian. Many blonde people I know have close East Asian friends. Most of the whtie guys that date or marry East Asian girls tend to be blonde. Also I noticed a lot of academic books written about East Asian culture tend to be from blonde people. Also most normal weeboo (white anime fans) tend to be blondes. They are not into the tenacle porn stuff like many dark haired weeboos.

A huge number of gay guys I know are natural blondes. However, they tend to be more normal and sociable than dark haired white and East Asian gay guys.

My blonde friends tend to have far more diverse and bigger circle of friends than most East Asians I know. Also I have noticed the most hardcore whtie spergs tend to be dark haired white people, and the most normal autistic white people tend to be blondes. They usually have good jobs and some success with women compared to the dark haired white spergs.

Most Blondes I know tend to be atheletic and not fat. A lot of exercise science majors I know are blonde. Many blondes are health nerds. A lot of blonde people are into paleo-diet like my brother in law.

The smartest vets and cops I know tend to be blondes too. They usually have degrees and study their fields of work. And I noticed blondes tend to be politically moderate yet oprn minded about controversial subjects like race realism. They usually do not have extreme political opinions even in a moderate sense. Ann Coulter and Wendy Davis are bottle blondes I might add.

Lastly I have met a lot of blondes with STEM degrees, but they have little interest in theoritical stuff like string theory. They usually want to become IT professionals, engineers or geneticists.

Blondes are usually viewed as being cute and childish, because blondes are simply more laid back about life than dark haired white people. However, this seriousness of dark haired white people is one of the reasons why they are more accomplished than blondes.

I think if the Nordic region had been a island with considerable distance from other landmasses. I believe it would be culturally like a less perverted and more atheletic version of Japan made up of tall blonde people. I think gene flow from dark haired people have somewhat hastened this directional selection toward blondeness. In some alternative universe, the Nords would be their own distinct race of blonde giants. They would be known for their good economics yet bland pop-culture. Actually that sounds like the Nordic countries today.

PS: Sorry for the bad spelling and grammer. I did not edit this well. Also I am not looking to have a flame war with anybody. I am serious about my observations, but they are still just my observations. I am very interested if anybody has noticed the same things I noticed about my fellow blondes. Also I am not defending blondes. We are less creative and somewhat more spergy than dark haired white people.

July 26, 2013

The host-houseguest relationship in cocooning times

With everybody holed up in their homes all day long these days, and what with the OCD household maintenance that goes along with this cocooning behavior, it's tough to carry out a normal guest-host relationship if the guest will be staying over.

As a guest, you feel like every choice you make causes a disruption to their OCD routine, so you feel out of place and in a hostile environment. Just the opposite of how guests should feel. And hosts, instead of enjoying some new company and a brief shaking up of their routine, are more in damage control mode, trying to look out for and clean up after the "mistakes" that the guests have made -- as inconspicuously and as inoffensively as possible, of course. They wouldn't want to be rude. So they hardly feel at ease either.

Aside from the OCD stuff, the sheer amount of time that people spend in the domestic sphere these days makes it much more likely that guests and hosts will get on each other's nerves. When everyone's more outgoing, perhaps not all of the individuals will even be in the house at the same time. Or maybe they're setting off as a group to go do something fun for most of the day, and treating the home as a place to crash and recuperate after all the excitement.

Unfortunately, it's not just the fault of the hosts but of the guests too. It's not only the hosts who treat the guests as a threat to the OCD maintenance of the household, but the guests who view their hosting household as a disruption to what they're used to back in their own OCD-governed household. "How can our hosts possibly do things this way? It just doesn't make any sense! We have to get them to change, at least while we're here. I mean, it's their duty as hosts."

Just as there's no greater slap in the face as a guest to be treated like a source of uncleanliness and disruption, there's no greater disrespect toward the hosts than to bristle at how things are done in the hosting household, questioning the hosts' sanity, intelligence, purity, and so on. Right when you arrive as guests, you spray down the hosting household and quarantine yourselves from their unclean and incorrect way of living.

Houseguests and their hosts don't just let things go and not worry about what the proper way to do things is going to be. It should be more informal, but instead it's highly formal, distant, and obsessed with what's proper -- the only open question is whose determination will lead to their own OCD routine becoming established for the duration of the stay.

In my experience and observation, Baby Boomers seem to behave the best as guests and hosts -- it's a fairly grown-up thing to be doing, and they had the most experience as adults during the rising-crime period when guest-host relationships were at their peak (hitch-hiking being another one).

Gen X only started to live in their own places, and so could only begin acting as hosts, during the '90s, when the culture had already changed direction. Same with Gen Y. At least both of those generations had some experience with houseguest relationships when they were young, during sleepovers. For example, there were times when I'd spend 3 to 5 days over at my best friend's house during the summer between 4th and 5th grade. (Much of that time was spent outside or away from home, though -- and out of his parents' hair, returning to an earlier point.) He even invited me to a weekend sleepover at his uncle's place. Communal ties were so extensive back then.

Nevertheless, Gen X and Gen Y are still pretty inexperienced as adults, at best feeling awkward and unsure, and at worst are as I described earlier. The sleepover experience only protects them against behaving like total brats. A decent fraction behave all right, I'm talking as always about averages.

Millennials didn't even have extensive sleepover experience as children, so they're even less able to act as house-guests or hosts. Sheltered from social interaction during the critical period of primary and secondary school, they've ended up selfish and bratty as young adults. They're presumptuously demanding and intrusive as guests, and egotistically territorial as hosts. Avoid at all costs.

The houseguest culture seems to have been pretty minimal during the cocooning mid-century, after having been more common and unremarkable during the Jazz Age (The Great Gatsby has Jordan Baker staying over at the Buchanans', and Klipspringer the piano player at Gatsby's). If the society has gone through a full cycle before, we can do it again.

Where is blond accomplishment?

I've been puzzling over what blond hair is all about, and there's something there relating to neoteny, or kiddie-fication, withdrawn social orientation, clinging to mommy's skirt rather than fending for oneself, and so on.

The selective forces don't matter yet -- first we have to get a decent feel for how blonds differ from the ancestral dark-haired morphs. Then we can try to come up with stories about why it spread where it has.

One striking clue about blond differences is that they don't appear to appear among the most eminent people in cultural fields. At the very least, they're way under-represented, but so far I haven't found any. All sorts of things keep a person from achieving the highest levels of eminence, but a more neotenous / kiddie mindset and behavioral style would be one of those things.

First, a quick reminder of how common blond hair is around Europe:


So we shouldn't waste time looking at eminent Italians, all of whom are going to be dark-haired. What about where there's a good amount of variation in hair color, like Scandinavia?

I browsed over the Wikipedia article on Scandinavian literature and picked out the ones who even I, a non-specialist, recognize. If hair color is unrelated to accomplishment, blonds ought to make up at least 30%, and more like 50% or more. Instead they are all dark-haired: Ibsen, Strindberg, Knut Hamsun, Hans Christian Andersen, Soren Kierkegaard, Aleksis Kivi (OK, I didn't recognize him, but he's the only Finn listed, and described as one of the greatest in Finnish), and Astrid Lindgren (she looks brown or red-brown, but not blonde).

What about film? Bergman and Lars von Trier are both dark-haired, and so is Paul Verhoeven from uber-blond Holland.

Music? Grieg and Sibelius were dark-haired (even if Grieg is also part Scot), and most pop stars are dark as well.

Painting? Munch is dark-haired. In the Low Countries, so are Rembrandt and Rubens.

Acting is not as creative and does not require as much technical mastery as the other fields listed above. Blonds show up in acting, though even there it may be an under-representation.

That's 15 major figures, and not a single blond, in an area where perhaps half the population has light hair. Yeah, I know, these maps may not have the same threshold for "blond" that I'm assuming -- maybe 80% have "light" hair, but only 10% have yellowish / straw "blond" hair. Still, 0 out of 15. And anyway, just about all of these figures have dark hair, not light brown, so moving the goalposts to include light brown under "light hair" would not change the finding.

And of course, I'm only looking at the figures who are eminent enough for me to already know who they are. I didn't go through every entry on the Scandinavian lit page. But that proves my point -- if there are any blonds to be found, you have to look much farther down the totem pole.

Also, it doesn't seem to relate to "non-dark" hair, but specifically to blond hair. Red hair is also not like the ancestral dark color, but no one ever said anything about redheads being neotenous, kiddie, adorable, cute, etc. -- rather, that they were fiery, temperamental, horny, and so on. Red hair doesn't get up anywhere near 50% even where it's most common, maybe 10-15% max. Still, a quick survey would uncover Ridley Scott as a ruddy-haired, eminent film-maker. And perhaps a couple of the Scandinavians, though more in the auburn band of the spectrum.

Maybe the results would be different if I looked at science, technology, engineering, and math. That's a project for someone else to do. But a quick check doesn't look promising -- Copernicus was dark-haired, as were Niels Bohr and Niels Abel. Tycho Brahe is more of a redhead (both in appearance and behavior -- losing his nose in a duel over a math formula). Linnaeus is harder to check on, though he appears light brown.

A more systematic approach would be to go in order from 1 to however-many in Charles Murray's lists by field in Human Accomplishment, but I didn't bring that with me on my trip.

Whatever blond hair does, maybe that partly explains the relative lack of accomplishment in the Baltic Sea area.

July 23, 2013

Interior decorating more popular in cocooning times, leading ultimately to greater alienation

Ever since people began to abandon public places and spend more and more time at home, the attention to interior design and decoration has taken off like a rocket.

There was that whole obsession with IKEA that began in the '90s era of feeling richer (the Clinton years), when we all felt the urge to purge our embarrassingly cheesy '80s furniture. It picked up even more steam during the mid-2000s housing bubble, when everyone felt like it would only add to the already guaranteed soaring value of their home. And yet it's still going strong, right through the recession. The whole Western world has become obsessed with interior decoration.

How can you look at a room and tell that its owners had the interior decoration bug? There are too many signs of conscious, deliberate choices, and cross-coordinated choices (will these picture frames echo or clash with the drawer pulls?). Like, "Hey, look over here! A decorator chose meee to play in the cast of characters here. Good choice, wouldn't you agree?"

None of it looks haphazard, or organically grown over time. Aside from the deliberateness of the whole look, it also looks like you could have bought the entire room yesterday and had professionals install it today -- a room in a box, a carbon copy of the showroom where you purchased every one of the items. That's another thing -- the items all look like they could have been bought in the same store (and just may have been), further emphasizing how artificial and effortful it looks, rather than organic and intuitively thrown together.

Here are a few views of the ideal style of the early 21st century:


Look at how many shades of blue are cross-coordinating with each other in the top-left picture, and the heavy use of different shades of orange and brown in the bottom picture. The top-right one is using texture more, but the effect is the same -- so many cross-coordinated woody or grainy textures. So many items in a single room that fit together so precisely could never have occurred by accident. We're very aware of how deliberately designed the room is.

However, in the not too distant past, living rooms have more of that "What were we thinking?" kind of look. But that's precisely the point -- we didn't give that much thought to interior decoration back then, because we spent so much more time outside the home. As long as it had a little homey charm, and even if it would look cheesy to a designer, it was fine by us.

Have a look at how uncoordinated rooms used to look in the 1980s:


I know, it's totally a low blow to put that pastel-o-rama room in there, but that was a pretty common look. The upper-right room doesn't look too offensive, though -- could have been used for a teen comedy movie. And the top-left one is looking understated, sophisticated, and most of all organic and lived-in. It looks like it took awhile for the owners to acquire all of the different items. Is that a sheep holding up the coffee table? LOL. The Eighties style could get so irreverent -- not at all like the on-the-nose irony or camp of the past 20 years. It could have been the location for a dinner party scene in Hannah and Her Sisters or When Harry Met Sally.

What they all share is a lack of a matchy-matchy feel. In the top two, a few colors, textures, and shapes are repeated -- but that could have been by chance (and probably was). The bottom one does look a bit more like the gay decorator with AIDS next door had more of a say, still, even there you have to examine it more closely to see the repeated colors. They don't pop out like the 21st century ones do. The sofas are clearly copies of the same design, but it doesn't look like you slaved away thinking how to match them with other things in the room.

Summing up: not exactly what you'd find in a museum of interior design, which would be more designer-centric.

Nah, for the heavily designed look of a cocooning culture, you have to go back to the mid-century. Indeed, during our own age of cocooning, reviving the mid-century modern style has become a national mania. Here's a look:


These are obviously decorator rooms, judging from the stand-out signs of a "color scheme" that pervades the place. The furniture all has that signature style of the legs being tapered and super-smooth in texture, increasing your awareness of the non-accidental nature of how these items wound up in this space. They were chosen to have a common "signature style."

Also, like the Millennial-era pictures, there's a heavy use of display objects meant to tell the viewer something about the owner's personality or interests, or to just look impressive. There aren't as many objects on display in the '80s rooms, aside from things you could find in anyone's home, like lamps and flowers. We expect to see flower vases, lamps, and potted plants. But when we see statuettes and figurines, we're meant to ask why they made that choice? And even the expected things like vases are given unusual shapes that call attention to themselves. "Hey, look at me! I'm not your ordinary flower vase -- I'm designed."

And of course, before the cocooning mid-century was the outgoing Jazz Age. Everything looked more elegant at that time, but compared to the mid-century, it still looks so undesigned. The left picture is from the '20s, and the right one from the early '30s:


Each of the furniture pieces looks different, not obviously from a single designer or single store. Some colors match each other, but it could be by chance. It's not an overpowering color scheme. And the display objects are pretty soft-spoken -- vases, lamps, or plates that aren't meant to blab about your uniquely awesome individuality. They have that same homey, charming, lived-in look of the '80s rooms. It doesn't look like the owners lost sleep over what would be put in the room and how they'd be arranged.

They could easily have been acquired at different times from different sources, the only requirement being that they basically get along with the existing ecosystem -- not that they have to loudly conform to the other elements and strengthen the single unified style.

So did people just not care about design during the '20s and the '80s? Far from it -- they simply directed that concern outside the nuclear family's house. In those periods, the home was not our sanctuary from the outside world, which was way more exciting and stimulating than your dull living room. If you weren't going to lock yourself in your house all day long, why obsess over it trying to meet all of your aesthetic dietary needs?

When you're more outgoing, you'd better worry more about non-domestic architecture -- public buildings, commercial areas, outdoor entertainment places like parks or golf courses. As spiffy as the mid-century and Millennial-era domestic interiors look, everything else architectural was soul-draining in those periods. The spiritless big box skyscraper, the strip shopping center, the drive-in or drive-thru fast food joint, the abandonment of parks -- those staples of mid-century and Millennial architecture more than cancel out the design-y look of their homes.

The Roaring Twenties and the Go-Go Eighties had Art Deco and a Deco-inspired revival, the elaborate department store and the bazaar-with-oasis shopping mall, and fast food restaurants that were not garish or covered in advertising on the outside (visible from the next street over). All of those enriching places more than made up for the domestic interiors that don't look like much effort went into making them look nice for the owners and visitors.

Something important to keep in mind when you hear the triumphalist accounts of how epic our homes look today compared to the '80s, and how fierce our toothbrush holders look nowadays. True, they don't have that nondescript look of the '80s or '20s, but no one would have minded back then because they had a rewarding social life outside of the home.

The dramatic rise of all these designer wall paints, designer nesting tables, and designer wastebaskets is merely a reflection of how deprived our lives have become of a sense of belonging outside of the nuclear family. Having given that up, we're struggling to create amusement and pride of place within our homes -- all while the look and feel of places outside the home only become more and more bleak, depressing, and alienating.

Man is not a solitary animal, and at least outside of Sicily is not meant only to "belong" to a nuclear or extended family, but a broader community of genetically unrelated fellows. It can be no surprise, then, that there's such a pervasive mood of anxiety, malaise, and atomization in those periods that try to create a sense of place only within the home and not across the broader community.

July 22, 2013

When did hoarding and "organizing" begin?

Personal memories, photographs, and media portrayals of home life in the 1980s show no hint of "organizing," i.e. crypto-hoarding.

When I was in elementary school, the bathroom had toilet paper on the roll, a bar of soap on or near the sink, maybe toothbrushes and a reusable cup there too for brushing your teeth, another bar of soap plus shampoo and optional conditioner in the shower, bath and hand towels, bath mat, and random stuff in the medicine cabinet.

Now people hoard so much extra crap that they need extra shelves, stands, cabinets, etc., to organize it all. Usually it's just a bunch of near-empty containers, or stuff they never use. And all of a personal indulgence nature -- body gel for the shower, a separate facial cleanser, exfoliator, cotton balls, q-tips, moisturizers, candles, fragrances, just all kinds of pointless crap that they never use or get any enjoyment from. Girls are way worse about hoarding bath-related crud, but guys these days still have their fair share of stuff they're stockpiling "just in case."

And yet, it's so rare to find basic first-aid stuff anymore. Rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin... good luck finding band-aids in someone's bathroom. Who needs those when you need to make room for more never-to-be-used bottles for cleansers, toners, moisturizers, etc.?

I still remember this one time during my freshman year of college, probably spring of 2000, when a girl I knew down the hall came frantically to my door. She'd cut her finger on the edge of a discarded can lid that she hadn't seen while putting something in the trash can. It was a decent slice, though nothing gory -- but still something that needed basic first-aid. All that junk that college girls brought with them and stocked up on at the Container Store and Bed, Bath, and Beyond -- but no first-aid supplies.

Good thing she came to me. She'd already washed it with soap, so I swabbed some hydrogen peroxide on with a q-tip, I can't remember if I had an anti-inflammatory gel to put on afterward, flipped through the box of band-aids next to my sink for the right size, and wrapped her sliced-open finger. It's not just stopping the blood and keeping the area protected against infection -- for girls, giving them something to block the sight of a wound puts them at ease too.

Her anxiety was gone, and a warm appreciative smile lit up her face. Normally she was the sassy, wisecracking broad type, and she probably thought I was cold and uncaring about others. It turned into one of those charming moments where you see another side of someone that you'd never expected, and you're both aware of it, but neither of you say so out loud (which would make it awkward). You just keep it to yourself and laugh about it, feeling a little humbled by the surreal event.

We weren't even real close friends, nor attention whore / emotional tampon co-dependents. I guess she raced over to my door first because she saw it was already open. Getting into trouble builds character (especially humility) because it forces you to reach out to others for support who you normally would not admit any vulnerability to. Now that young people take no risks, and get into so little trouble, they rarely have to reach out to less familiar peers and learn any humility. So they wind up kind of shallow and empty, personality-wise, like the Silent Gen did during the mid-century.

Where was I going before I remembered that experience? Oh right, how cluttered with pointless junk people's living spaces are these days compared to the '80s, when everyone would have had basic first-aid ready, and not mounds of creams, shower gels, air deodorizers, and stockpiles of toilet paper and shaving razors. People stock so much hand sanitizer, and almost no band-aids.

The climate must have changed after the '80s but before 2000, then. Sure enough, all of this OCD behavior about containing and organizing clutter -- rather than not acquire so much in the first place -- shows explosive growth only during the '90s. The primary supplier for the clutter addict is the Container Store, which only opened their first store outside of their native Texas in 1991. They're first covered in the NYT in 1998, when they had 18 stores (and would more than double to 38 stores by 2006). Organized Living, its primary rival, only had two stores open in 1993, growing to 25 by the mid-2000s.

Folks were more socially connected back in the '80s, and didn't result to accumulating junk that they'd never use, in a pitiable attempt to fill their daily lives with a modicum of meaning. "A store filled with containers?" they'd ask a time traveler from 2015. "Why hang on to so much crud in the first place?"

As for the more extreme end of the spectrum, "hoarding" as we know it today didn't catch the NYT's attention until this article in 1993. "So Much Clutter, So Little Room: Looking Inside the Hoarder's Lair · Independent Living Is Exposing Elderly To Eviction Threat." And this one from 1997: "Most of us aren't such extreme cases -- sufferers of hoarder's syndrome, in the lingo of organizing consultants." Before then, hoarding only referred to gold hoarding or something similar. Not cases of people ruining their own lives. The term "professional organizer" in the relevant meaning only shows up in 1992, and "organizing consultant" in 1997.

By the way, when did people start hoarding paper and plastic grocery bags? I'll leave that one as an exercise for the reader. Had to have been around the mid-'90s. They rationalized it as being friendly to the environment, but what's so eco-friendly about an always-growing pile of plastic bags in your closet? There are even containers to put on the closet door or wall to store your hoard of plastic bags, just in a more compact space, pulling them out when "needed" -- i.e., never, because the damn thing keeps on snowballing.

It's worth keeping in mind how recent some of these bizarre social and cultural changes are -- if they're not part of ancient history, we have more hope of wringing ourselves free of them.

July 21, 2013

Falling trust within the parent-teacher organizations

Just poking around a box of old things and found the school directory from my final year of elementary school, 1991-'92. But it's not a directory of phone numbers for the administration or teachers. Instead, it has every student's home phone number, address, and name of the parent or parents they're living with. You can even tell if a kid's parents are divorced -- only one parent's name is listed, or the parents are listed on separate lines with separate addresses and phone numbers. Students are grouped under their teacher, whose name heads the page.

It's a nice sturdy booklet that was drawn up, printed, and distributed by the ____ School Association, whose name makes it sound like an unaffiliated parent-teacher organization. *

Can you imagine such a thing being circulated these days? Like, cuh-reepy! Invade my privacy much? Did you seriously just post my home phone to the whole school? I mean, really? -- letting other parents know we're divorced, really?

For yuks, I went to the website of this same ____ School Association (can't believe it still exists), and they don't mention anything about such a directory. Not that they'd post the thing online, but no mention of putting it together, distributing it, letting parents know how to get it, or referring to it at all.

Parents can't support one another without any means of contact, so the disappearance of such a directory shows how fragmented the community has become in just 20 years. Your kid is your business, and my kid is my business, and someone else's kid is their business. My kid isn't going to have any kind of social life, so why would he need to know any of his schoolmate's phone numbers or where they live? When they're in high school, they can get a Facebook account and interact with their peers online. I'll require them to make me a friend, so in effect he won't get to carry on any kind of interactions that I don't approve of.

In the good old days, children had an active social life -- I remember using the directory several times when I'd made a new friend at school and wanted to call them up to make plans to hang out. With the address info, you could totally stalk the boy or girl you had a crush on, though I don't remember anyone doing that or even talking / joking about it. We weren't that awkward around each other like kids are today.

More importantly, though, the parents were a lot more connected to each other. I'm sure they used that directory way more than their children. Growing up in the '80s and even the very early '90s, we enjoyed a lot more allo-mothering than children who grew up in helicopter parenting eras like the mid-century or Millennial periods.

Our older female kin, especially mother's sister and mother's mother, were there to help raise us a lot more than they are now (because of maternal paranoia, not an aversion among would-be allo-mothers). Hiring babysitters used to be common, and they often stayed with us for hours after school to keep us from falling into latchkey kid behavior.

And then there were all the other mothers in the neighborhood. They saw the neighborhood kids as everyone's responsibility and enjoyment. Hence inviting them to sleep over, hosting them at birthday parties, taking part in trick-or-treat on Halloween, and so on. Well, that less exciting "and so on" stuff involved keeping in touch with other parents. How else can they be each other's eyes and ears? I'm sure some used the directory to start gossiping, but gossiping has its place in policing communal norms. Not to mention in case of an emergency.

The Reagan and Bush years really were the height of communal involvement in child-rearing. How odd that history will associate the mid-'90s with the view that "it takes a village to raise a child." Most of the libs took away a bureaucratic and technocratic message from that book, while the new majority of pseudo-cons got their panties in a bunch about how it only takes a nuclear family to raise a child. Yeah, look where that got you, with your stunted and bratty Millennial spawn.

Actual face-to-face involvement from folks outside the home is too practical to appeal to today's ideological liberals, and too bond-building to appeal to today's cocooning conservatives.

* Something to keep in mind when you hear about declining PTA involvement during or after the 1960s -- they're missing all those local ones from the '70s and '80s that were not part of a national umbrella group. Why? Because the parent-teacher relationship doesn't scale up above the school or perhaps district level. Beyond the local level, it just becomes an abstract advocacy group, not a group that negotiates between actual parents and teachers.

July 19, 2013

"Organizing" as crypto-hoarding, and emotional dysfunction

Hoarding is an extreme behavior, representing the far tail of a distribution. It's like being on death row. Violence is not a black-and-white thing, nor is accumulating stuff. Just because you're not on death row doesn't mean you aren't in prison for violent crime, and even if you're not in prison, you may be more violent than other free men.

The same with accumulation -- just because you don't have heaping piles of junk preventing easy passage from one area of your house to the next, doesn't mean you don't show the same type of behavior as a hoarder, only at a lower intensity.

The next step down from a hoarder is the organizer, the type of person who has made more than one trip to the Container Store during their lifetime. (Get out of jail free if it was just before you left for college and your parents dragged you along.) You might think that the organizer is the foil to the hoarder -- sweeping the entire house clear of clutter, sealing it in containers, and rationally organizing the containers into a nested system of categories. What could be further from the slob who lets the piles of junk spill all over the place, with no containment or organization at all?

In fact, the organizer is merely a hoarder who is socially aware enough to put a tidy, acceptable facade onto their dysfunctional accumulation of stuff. Other than being more considerate toward others, the organizer and the hoarder are nearly identical.

Both are crippled by OCD, to name the most obvious similarity. It's useful to think of OCD as reason run riot -- rather than make decisions and act based on intuition, they must draw up an explicitly articulated list of rules and regulations to follow, no if's and's or but's about it. Emotion is what motivates, drives, and directs us on an unconscious or intuitive level, so OCD is characterized by a profound emotional dysfunction.

The importance of emotion in decision-making was brought to popular audiences' attention in Antonio Damasio's 1994 book Descartes' Error, which drew on case studies of neurological patients who'd suffered damage to their emotional centers. They could reason perfectly fine, generating an infinite list of possible courses of action to take, and even projecting what the likely consequences of each course would be.

The only problem? Without emotion to drive them, they were incapable of attaching weights to any of the choices in their endless list of possibilities, and failed to ever pick one and junk the others. Or throw their hands up and pick at random. Indecisiveness became their defining abnormality. They lived aimless lives because with no emotional impulse toward A and away from B, C, and D, they could set no real goals for themselves.

Absence of emotion, paralyzing indecisiveness, and forever entertaining all possibilities rather than whittling them down to the ones that you value the most -- those cases sound so close to the OCD organizers and hoarders. They don't actually like the stuff they're keeping, but they don't dislike it either. They're emotionally disconnected from most of their items, and hence cannot attach weights to them in order to tell us whether they like something or not.

Maybe a contrasting third group will help. Hoarders are embarrassed by their piles of junk, while people with collections proudly display them and derive some joy and pleasure from adding to and subtracting from them.

Organizers are much closer to hoarders: they want to keep all of their containers and neatly arranged items out of plain sight, and feel anxiety about being judged if someone from outside were to open their cupboard -- "Oh crap, they're going to see how extreme my organizing tendencies are, and I just know they're going to think I'm some kind of weirdo now..." Also like hoarders, and unlike collectors, the organizers don't enjoy adding items to their existing store of stuff, and it's like pulling teeth to get them to get rid of large amounts of stuff that serves no utilitarian purpose in their lives, and from which they derive no real joy or pleasure.

In the organizer's mind, you never know if some of this stuff will come in handy some day (utilitarian value), or if I'll grow to like it later on, or perhaps somebody else will find it valuable (subjective value). You hear the exact same stalling tactics from hoarders. But with organizers, they take an extra step in stalling and refusing to make a decision about the item's worth to them, and whether they should keep it or not -- just box it up in a container, and hide the containers behind closed doors ("in a storage space").

This layer upon layer of quarantining alleviates their anxiety for a little while, but eventually they'll run into the container again and it'll flash across their brain -- do I want to keep this stuff or not? As they continue this stalling tactic, while still accumulating more and more stuff, the containers appear to be breeding, multiplying far beyond the original storage area.

Ultimately they must face the same decisions as the hoarders about what to keep and what to get rid of. And that makes them just as anxious and panicky as the hoarders, because they too are incapable of feeling anything good or bad toward their things, hence incapable of discarding anything.

Their characteristic response of anxiety, panic, irritation, and so on, prove that they have no sentimental attachments to their things -- if someone asked you to get rid of something truly valuable to you, you'd respond more with disgust, and anger but more of a righteous anger type. How dare they suggest that I throw away my parents' wedding pictures? Tossing them in the trash can would be desecration. "You don't really need to keep your grandmother's ashes and the urn they're in, do you? Let me just help you dump them out in the yard and donate the urn to the local goodwill store." You couldn't help but make a disgusted face, flaring your nostrils, lifting your upper lip, and narrowing your eyes.

Similar interventions to clear up the stuff of an organizer or hoarder do not elicit disgust, but fear (panic, anxiety), perhaps mixed with some anger, though of an irritated rather than righteous type. They're just getting ticked off that you're forcing them to confront these decisions earlier than they'd planned -- why can't they just wait a little longer, and decide later? Your offense is not tempting them to commit sacrilege, but putting them on the spot when they just want to hide from their decisions-to-be-made.

This focus on a functioning emotional/intuitive system vs. a broken system is important, lest we mislead ourselves into condemning the accumulation of stuff per se. I'm all for having stuff, as long as you're going to be using it for some mundane utilitarian purpose, or you really like it -- in a way that shows on your face when you interact with it. As you no longer have use for the thing, or no longer really like it, get rid of it, maybe reacquiring it when and if you find the need for it again. (Assuming of course that the ridding and acquiring costs are low.)

That's the most striking thing about these organizers and hoarders -- they don't actually like any of this stuff that threatens to, or actually does spill out of overpowered storage spaces. And they don't hate it either -- no feelings toward it one way or another. Bizarre!

I also think that focusing on their dysfunctional emotional system tells us what kind of interventions won't work. Like, say, asking them to think of it from an outsider's point of view -- would they really value this stuff enough to keep holding on to it all? The organizer / hoarder cannot attach value to anything themselves, so how could they possibly imagine others doing so? It's like asking a color-blind person to imagine what colors a person with normal sight would see.

They would need to hear it from representative and unbiased others in order to get it. If everybody else swears there are two different colors in the picture, and you insist there's just one, well, OK, maybe you guys are right, even if I can't understand it at all. The trick for helping organizers to recover is that they probably won't hear this message from unbiased others, but those who seem to have a strong desire to get them to stop accumulating so much junk, stop pretending that organizing it makes it better, and stop delaying the inevitable. That sounds too hostile for them to accept.

Maybe the intervener could take a random poll of neighbors or passersby? I don't know, but these things have to be kept in mind.

Ultimately these far more pervasive problems of organizing (less intense hoarding) will clear themselves up when people's emotional/intuitive systems start working again, as a result of becoming more experienced. Everyone's so sheltered in their domestic sphere, interacting at most with the nuclear family, that they have almost no experiences to serve as the foundation for intuition. You only develop intuition from experiences -- you get a feel for what is likely, what the pattern will look like.

Once people's emotional/intuitive systems come back online, they'll find it trivial to give a positive score to this thing and a negative to that thing, a high positive to this and a low positive to that, and so on, making it almost effortless to only keep holding onto the stuff that you find useful or enjoyable.

In an earlier post I explored the web of dysfunction related to cocooning behavior, and OCD, anxiety, self-doubt, and indecisiveness were central. I didn't notice at the time that OCD and its reliance on explicit rules rather than intuition reflected a broken emotional motivation system, and a broken decision-making system for everyday life, where intuition should be the guide.

Still, at least once before, our culture has rid itself of entrenched OCD. It last became deeply rooted during the mid-century, but began to evaporate once the outgoing and intuitive era of the 1960s took off, with the problem more or less licked by the mid-'70s, and seeming more like the stuff of tall tales by the '80s. And if we've done it once, we can do it again.

July 18, 2013

Suburban archaeology: Carvings on lamp posts

I've been meaning to do "photo tour" posts of the everyday remnants of the New Wave age that can still be seen in your own neighborhood, if you have a curious eye.

During Christmas vacation of 2011-'12, I did a lot of exploring around the place where I grew up from middle school onward, Montgomery County, MD, in suburban DC. I wrote up a brief post to collect my thoughts and introduce the two topics I planned to go into more detail about -- beer and soda cans and bottles out in the woods, as signs of people having socialized there; and carvings in tree bark.

But it was all a bit too much to write up, and I didn't take any pictures. Plus I only come back here one or two times a year. Seems like I've got time to get around to it now. I headed off for about two or three hours today, and snapped about 50 pictures, mostly to capture the beverage containers. I'll be sure to trek around on further visits to detail the tree carvings.

That'll still take a little while to format the pictures and write up the post, though. So for now how about a more modest goal -- carvings on lamp posts. Usually it's tree bark or wet cement, but occasionally you do see metal landmarks carved into as well.

The location is Edwin W. Broome Middle School... well, that's what it was back in the day, anyway. Couldn't find quick data on its history, but I believe it started in the '60s as a new middle school to accommodate the Baby Boomers, and lasted through the early '80s, when the Baby Bust had become apparent and the region no longer needed an extra middle school. Members on Classmates.com seem to be somewhat from the '60s, but mostly the '70s and early '80s.


After that, it was known in local legends for being a loony bin, although "mental health clinic" is what it's referred to as online. Not sure if it was out-patient or what, but it had a shady reputation when I moved here in 1992. It used to house drug rehab programs as well.

And yet, although the building itself has gone through many stages of use, the surrounding area I'm pretty sure has always been open to the public -- the baseball fields and playground in the back, the tennis courts off to the side, the grassy areas on each side. So young people have always had the opportunity to visit this place, and I remember hanging out with friends there into the mid-'90s. When I visited last week, there was a father and teenage son playing each other at tennis.

But in general, it's rare to see young people there these days. That teenage guy was there with his dad, typical of a cocooning period (the social circle collapsing into the nuclear family only). The handful of other guys I saw passing through on their way to the woods, bike path, etc., were over 40. It's strange to see that playground go totally unused, and especially since school's out for summer.


One sign that the site has been abandoned as a hang-out spot for young people is the lack of graffiti from the '90s or later. True, it could just mean that the behavior patterns changed while the attendance stayed the same. But I remember that place pretty well, and over the '90s, it became less and less frequented by young people. In the mid-'90s, often me and my group of friends would be the only ones there for the entire evening (back when kids were still out in unsupervised public places after dark).

It all comes down to attachment to place, which makes you feel like hanging out there more, as well as leaving your mark behind somehow. If the mark is an extension of you, then you will physically remain connected to that place, even if you move away or die.

And it doesn't have to be anything deep -- that might actually kill the mood of informality, familiarity, and closeness that you want for your favorite places. Quite a few carvings that I've seen sound more like smartass yearbook messages (back when kids still signed each other's yearbooks).

Here are some pictures of carvings I found on the lamp posts both in back of the building, close to the bleachers, as well as some off along the side driveway. Nothing on the posts way out from the building, since nobody would see them. Click to enlarge.


The first reads, Tracey Frye was here "81". Tracey, you are so busted, and thank you for recording the date for us archaeologists from the future. Then there's, Robin + Frak... I think they meant Frank, but were enjoying themselves too much to pay attention to proper spelling. Next, Vicky N Rusty, followed at the end by, Paul + Kathy / True Love, inside of a heart shape.

It's charming to see 7th graders who are convinced they've found true love. Libido is part of the foundation for love, so as young people became less horny and less active over the past 20 years, they've also lost the ability to fall deeply in love. It's back to the emotionally neutered world of Leave It to Beaver.

Even though only Tracey dated her carving, the names alone date the others -- when was the last time you met young people named Robin, Frank, Vicky, Rusty, Paul, or Kathy? (Today it would be Katie or Kate.) Those are middle schoolers' names from the '70s.


Jerry likes Kim, that looks familiar enough. Again, when was the last teenage Jerry you met? Kathy Ten (?) + Nobody -- that's self-aware enough to make me think it's from the early-to-mid 1990s. But that's assuming Kathy wrote it herself. If it's someone else poking fun at her, or putting her down, maybe it's from the '80s after all.

Kathy G. Did not want to come out side -- is that the same Kathy as the one nearby? Or was Kathy so common of a name that they had to distinguish two Kathys (Kathies?) by giving one a last initial? I like the mysterious context to so many of these carvings. Were Kathy G.'s friends giving their wet blanket friend a hard time in writing, or was Kathy G. registering her own displeasure? It's definitely a girl's handwriting, but it could be female friends of hers. I know it's of no great consequence, but it's one of those messages that can just make you wonder. Not some off-putting, lame sticker that says OBEY or "____ Eating Meat" under a STOP sign.

Red Hot -- another enigma. Are they gesturing toward someone else, or are they letting us know about the carver themselves? And do they mean really good-looking, or rarin' to go, hot and bothered? I'm leaning toward the latter -- people weren't that hung up on looks back then (not like the era of "Sexy and I Know It"). The handwriting looks unisex to me. The frank sexuality makes it seem like a guy wrote it, but I could also see it coming from a boy-crazy bad girl. Not necessarily a slutty / man-eater type either, perhaps just a tease who wanted to scandalize the boys for fun.

It's so bizarre to think that these are messages from middle schoolers. "True Love" and "Red Hot" -- kids grew up pretty fast in the '70s and '80s. Today not even adolescents or 20-somethings would dare to carve stuff like that onto a lamp post, probably because they don't feel those things very much anymore. Red hot isn't just generic horniness, one of those itches you feel like scratching just to get it over with. Young people still feel that today. But something that's red hot isn't going to cool down for awhile... is it? So evocative for just two little words.

Tracey Frye must be around 45 years old today. I wonder what markers of place from their youth the Millennials will have to look at when they're 45?

July 17, 2013

Reality shows about parenting that best portray the zeitgeist

As part of my semi-annual check-in with current TV shows, I've been sampling the various reality shows about housewives. You don't have to like any of them to treat them like National Geographic, though that assumes they aren't the freak show kind of reality show.

Like how the first several seasons of The Real World on MTV gave a strikingly -- and painfully -- accurate view of contemporary youth culture of the early-mid-1990s. Then it devolved into gimmick-driven plots and casting based on freak show / Jerry Springer principles. You could learn a lot about the state of the world in 1992 from watching the original seasons, and really get a feel for the massive change in direction that the entire culture was taking at the time.

I've only seen two episodes, but Pretty Wicked Moms has a great contrast between a mother who would have half-way fit in back in the '70s or '80s (Emily) and her quintessentially 21st-century foil (Miranda). Emily is, by today's standards, pretty laissez-faire around her 2 year-old, unless she acts up, which results in punishment. Her daughter is outgoing, polite, and generally cheerful.

Miranda is crippled by OCD, scheduling her nearly 2 year-old son's day down to the half-hour, and lets him throw tantrums and even slap his own mother without punishment (she's insistent on the no-spanking rule). Her son is withdrawn, bratty, and embarrassing in public. And while both mothers are blonde, Emily is a go-with-the-flow Celtic type, and Miranda an overly orderly and micro-managing Nordic type.

Now, hypothetically, the differences between the kids could be inborn, and the parenting styles of the two mothers turn out different because they're reacting to different initial conditions. But I don't buy that as a general explanation. There has been such a dramatic and rapid change in parenting styles over the '90s and 21st century. That seems much more likely due to plasticity in the adult's choice of preferred parenting styles, than to such a broad change in how newborns begin life.

The show feels a little grotesque, but it is hardly rare to find hyper-OCD mothers like Miranda these days. Apparently "critical response" is negative, but then the target audience probably wants either extreme caricature for freak-show value, or whitewashing portrayals for phony uplifting value. Pretty Wicked Moms might cut a little too close to the bone.

The Real Housewives of New Jersey is definitely a freak show -- When Guidos Attack. The Real Housewives of Orange County feels that way too -- No-Longer-Girls Gone Wild. Same old boring attention-whoring and parading that's the norm among young people, but with way more leathery skin.

However, the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (at least the current season that I've seen) focuses more on how the parents are raising their kids, and how they relate to each other as fellow parents in the community. Perhaps because Beverly Hills is close to the entertainment industry that produces TV shows, they haven't taken the approach of finding the grossest caricatures of out-group members to cast for a freak show (e.g., quasi-Pakistani guidos from Noo Joyzee obsessed with family honor and vengeance, gated-community Republicans from the OC, sassy independent black women from Atlanta, etc.). You actually get more of a fly-on-the-wall look into mainstream American parenting trends of the 21st century.

Often a single event will showcase so many separate though related trends. Like when one of the housewives throws a birthday party for her four year-old daughter. Each pint-sized attendee is over-shadowed by one or both parents, so that there ends up being far many more grown-ups than children at a child's birthday party.

In the good old days, when these parents were themselves children, the parents of the guests only showed up long enough to drop them off and pick them up. A birthday party is supposed to be one of those protected events where little squirts outnumber the grown-ups and get to run wild, a carnivalesque turning of the tables for one day. Being surrounded by so many grown-ups makes the kids feel like they're being supervised even more than usual, or that it's actually a celebration for the grown-ups.

And the OCD mothers running around constantly managing the children's activities at what is supposed to be a more go-nuts kind of occasion, when before they just left us alone to play among ourselves.

It being Beverly Hills, the festivities are a lot more elaborate and expensive, but I saw the same thing -- minus the rented ponies and llama -- while driving through a middle-class suburban neighborhood not far from mine.

You also get a very good overall impression for how vapid and childish women tend to remain when they're cut off from broad social contact, and instead interact only with nuclear family members and superficially with other community members. It keeps their social maturity level stunted at around that of a 10th-grader.

So over the past 20 years of the "family values revolution," we've returned to the state that Betty Friedan was bemoaning in The Feminine Mystique, and that is shown well in the character of Betty Draper on Mad Men. The exodus from the domestic sphere that raised the maturity level of the average woman by the 1980s was not so much about working for a wage vs. working as a homemaker -- it was about having broad social contact vs. kin-only contact. Just getting out of the house more, and being more connected to all those people out there.

For instance, you don't see Betty Draper volunteering at a local church, in the way that many mothers, younger and older, had taken to by the '80s height of the religious revival. Or organizing a bake sale with the other neighborhood mothers (or women in general) to raise funds for the school, library, and so on. Or donating time, money, or effort to a local historical preservation society, of the kind that were really hitting their stride in the '70s and '80s.

Inequality is a lot worse, and growing, since the Fifties, so today's neo-mid-century housewives are definitely more competitive and crass than their most recent incarnations. Still, it's striking how Leave It to Beaver the world of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills feels like. No sense of a tightly knit community -- defined by actual affective ties, not by the mere lack of open animosity or violence toward one another.

Cohesive communities belong not to the Eisenhower years (the era of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit), but to the Reagan years. The communal bonds of church life and of town hall meetings that you see in Footloose, the Hill Valley preservation society raising funds to save the town square's clock tower in Back to the Future, the entire city of New York showing up to rally around the Ghostbusters, the Cheers bar where everybody knows your name -- you don't feel that in Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best. There, it's more isolated nuclear families with at most superficial "bonds" among the family units.

So, if you're looking for a more educational experience from those 1000 channels you're paying for, tune in to Lifetime or Bravo for these two exceptions to the freak show rule of reality TV.

July 15, 2013

Autistics are more carboholic and more obese

Across the various camps within the overall movement to normalize infantilization, there's a systematic whitewashing of all of those embarrassing facts and patterns that remind normal people that the group we're now supposed to accept and embrace is in reality shamefully kiddie.

And it's considered in poor taste to highlight how infantile the group is, and to hold adolescent and adult norms as ideal, as though nothing could be meaner than grown-ups ganging up on or ostracizing the little kids who can't stick up for themselves.

The main example of this is, of course, the homo acceptance movement. You can't get much more infantile than a bunch of hyperactive airheads who build their very identity on the foundation of finding girls yucky.

After them is the autism acceptance movement. As with homosexual drama queens disturbing you at your hang-outs and place of work, we're just supposed to "not judge" autistics and let them disturb us or our children with their toddler-like self-centeredness. "They can't help it, they were born that way." Oh yeah, I forgot -- why bother holding quasi-children to any norms or standards, when parents these days already let normal children act like total brats?

I feel bad taking on autistics now, because they aren't as loathsome as faggots. They aren't aggressively in-your-face, and while the parent / surrogate parents who promote autism acceptance are engaging in a form of attempting to normalize deviance, at least it's not a viscerally disgusting crime-against-nature kind of deviance.

Still, I'm fed up with normal people not being allowed to point out how infantile autistics are, to get the individuals themselves, their caregivers, teachers, or community members to start reining in their toddlerness. For their own good, and for ours.

I just spent the weekend with an autistic step-relative who I only see once or twice a year. I didn't pick up on her eating habits before, but they became crystal-clear this weekend because she's put on so much weight. Knowing the basics of what causes obesity, I suspected that she ate too much carbs.

Well, it turned out far worse -- it was like she ate only carbs, in fact only starch and sugar. She might have had a piece of cod or salmon one night, but as a rule she stuck to starch and sugar. Three or four kinds of candy, potato chips, pretzels, rice (with a little egg foo young), bread, cinnamon buns, raspberry pie (that had little filling, mostly the crumbly pastry stuff), ice cream, fruit juice, fries, milkshakes...

I've never seen someone so determined to eat only sucrose, or in a pinch, glucose and fructose from separate foods. She eats like a 2 year-old, not a 22 year-old. Food preference would seem to go along with their poor motor, language, and social skills, keeping them in toddlerhood. Is that typical?

From the background section of a recent presentation:

Food selectivity (i.e., consuming a narrow range of food by type, texture, and/or presentation) is often cited among children with [Autism Spectrum Disorders]. Typically, children with ASD have strong preferences for carbohydrates, snacks, and/or processed foods and rejection of fruits and vegetables.

Bingo. Keep that in mind any time you hear about "picky eaters," autistic or otherwise. Their kid isn't a hardcore carnivore, or a strict spinach-eater. He's a sugar-sucking starch junkie.

Here is a lit review that suggests the picture isn't so clear on the tastes of autistics, other than their wanting less variety. Going through the references, though, it seems like most of the ones showing that autistics are getting mostly normal nutrition reflect the intervention of parents who put their kids on a strict diet. Especially the data showing a lack of dairy intake, which suggests the parents put them on a gluten-free / casein-free diet. These super-parents are the minority who over-ride their kids' preferences for their own good.

In the lab studies where the kid was offered different types of food by an experimenter, and who therefore expressed their underlying preferences, they were more likely to refuse non-starchy foods, and were more accepting of starch.

Not surprisingly, autistics are much more likely to be overweight or obese (source):

In the new study [of autistic children], researchers classified...about 15 percent as being overweight... Another...almost 18 percent were obese...
In comparison, a previous estimate based on a nationwide sample of children of similar age...found that about 11 percent are overweight and 10 percent obese.

That amounts to a difference between the average autistic and the average normal kid of 0.37 standard deviations. If we thought of being lean as like being tall, it's as though autistic children were on average an inch shorter than normal kids. Not the largest gap in the world, but still something you'd notice in real life. Particularly at the extremes like morbid obesity.

And remember that autism is a "spectrum" disorder, not a black-and-white thing. There are spergs who are less extreme than autistics, and the semi-spergs just below them. They will show these food traits too, if not to quite the same extreme. But just think of what the typical geek or nerd subsists on -- a 7-11 diet. All starch and sugar, perhaps with a little animal protein and fat somewhere down there, like those puny little shrimp underneath the mound of ramen noodles.

Every time you see someone eating that stuff, you want to try to shame them by asking them if they're still 5 years old. Or at least give them that disgusted, disappointed, and disapproving look, like "seriously bro, wtf?" or however you say that.

But, you're not supposed to judge or shame anyone anymore. Hence why the parents of autistic children allow them to blimp out even more than today's already lardass children. Helicopter parents of normal kids set at least some kind of boundaries. But since autistic kids can't help it, it feels too mean to deny them whatever they want at any given moment. If that warps their bodies and minds even more than they already are, well, that's their problem, not yours. You feel nice and generous for letting them get what they want.

To project into the future, as our population becomes more and more autistic, we can see how joyless and addictive our daily lives will become. Feeding is such a basic thing, and we're going to feel no satisfaction or fulfillment from it because there will be less animal fat and protein, and more carby junk that puts you on a treadmill of addiction, leaving you perpetually hungry and aching to snack.

It also goes to show how lacking in pleasure a cerebral person's life is, even when it comes down to something as material and corporeal as food. It's just another joyless addiction in their repetitive OCD existence. Autistics are the prototypical group of people who live entirely within their minds, whose senses are all outta-whack and whose bodies don't work right in the world. The void of satisfaction, fulfillment, and pleasure ought to be the strongest wake-up call to all these cheerleaders for our Revenge of the Nerds zeitgeist.

July 14, 2013

Prom pictures, from indoors and intimate to outdoors and distant

I've been going through stacks of old pictures at home, and noticed that most of the ones from the '40s and '50s seem to be taken outside, while the ones from the '70s and '80s are set in just about every imaginable location, including tons of indoor shots. Also, the people in the mid-century pictures look more purposely staged and posing for the camera, while the pictures from the good old days look more informal, candid, and fly-on-the-wall, as though the people being photographed weren't self-conscious or aware of the camera.

And true to form, pictures from the past 20 years, especially from the 21st century, appear to have returned to the mid-century pattern. There aren't lots of candid, informal indoor snapshots. Everybody wants to go outside to take pictures these days, and it's all more formal and choreographed.

That's a bit too much to visually compress into a single post, though, so I thought I'd restrict things to a single occasion, to "control for" other possible differences. And an occasion where pictures could be shot indoors or out -- not opening presents on Christmas, or summer vacation at the beach.

I also want to look mostly at young people, since they're the group that changes the most drastically when the culture goes through a major change in direction -- for example, during the 1960s (more spirited and outgoing) or during the 1990s (more sarcastic and withdrawn). And something with an abundance of pictures on the internet -- prom.

For those who weren't teenagers in the past 20 years, or haven't had teenage children, here's a view of what prom pictures invariably look like. They're so uniformly shot outdoors and in large groups that you'll only find one or two that are not, within the whole 1000 or however many results that a Google Image Search returns for "prom 2010." The first two are from the mid-late-1990s, and the bottom two from the 21st century. Click any to enlarge.



Now, these shots can be found from somewhat older pictures, too, which confirms what I said earlier about the snapshots coming from just about any imaginable location and combination of people. Here are some outdoor prom pics from across the 1980s. Overall they look more comfortable, cheerful, and lost-in-the-moment rather than the above shots, where there's more of an air of what-are-we-supposed-to-do, um-I-guess-this-will-be-kinda-cool, and stretch-your-face-muscles. The '80s teens look more like socially savvy young adults, while the Millennial-era teens look more kiddie, like children playing dress-up.

Notice how normal the black couples look, by the way (back when white and black people still made pop music for each other).



Here's where the pictures take on more of that bygone-era feeling. I've seen a handful of these indoor shots from Millennials on Facebook, but they're very rare. And it's not just prom that's moved outdoors and has that forced/posed look -- graduation parties are another good example. As with the outdoor shots, the '80s teenagers below look more at ease in a real-life social setting, more happy to be hanging out with one another, and more eager for what the night holds in store for them. And not only the higher probability that back then they'd be getting physical. It was one of those intense events that continues to bond the social group together long after the party's over.



These are the kinds of pictures that make you proud as parents that your kids are growing up into normal, healthy adults, even as they hold onto that sweet and adorable quality of youth.

The Millennial-era teenagers look awkward and in need of parental supervision and direction to get through the event. You may not feel something as sorry as pity, but definitely disappointment. You can just feel how anti-climactic the night is going to be for them. But hey, raising stunted out-of-place children is worth it to make sure that their peers don't exert any influence that would twist them out of shape, after all your years of tireless sculpting. If that means they can't act on their own well into young adulthood, hey, that's their problem, not yours.

So what's up with pictures moving outdoors, when not too long ago people were comfortable taking them indoors? I think it has to do with the new feeling toward the home as a sanctuary or refuge in an age of cocooning. People don't hang out in public much anymore, and spend most of their time locked indoors with their nuclear family or potential seed of a nuclear family (like cohabiting with a partner). It's the one place where you can set your mind somewhat at ease (I stress "somewhat," since there's still all of these new OCD maintenance routines for the home).

In that environment, someone snapping your picture feels like an invasion of your privacy. Before, people were so in-touch with one another that taking an indoor picture didn't feel like, "Omigosh, my privacy -- violated!" Now everyone's so anxious about letting their guard down and letting others get close, and here you are catching them off-guard. And you're not even an outside intruder -- you're probably a nuclear family member or close friend. But these days, even people who are supposedly close are not supposed to let it all hang out around each other. Even among "friends," spontaneity is, like, actually kind of creepy...

Moving the pictures outside relieves that anxiety about being caught with your pants down. It's still on your private property -- not in an unsupervised public place -- but not where you tend to be more yourself. Going outside raises your alert level somewhat, so you'll avoid that natural look that you're afraid of giving off indoors. Posing, putting on your best kabuki face, allows you to go through the formality of taking pictures "for memory's sake," while not actually opening up in order to make them memorable. People expect you to look more formal and posed outdoors, so they can't blame you for acting the way you deeply want to. You'll have plausible deniability about being a socially awkward weirdo.

OK, now that that's out of the way, we only have a few more things to get out of the way -- the limo ride, the dancing-apart, etc. -- before we can call it a night and wake up refreshed for a return to the comfort of complaining on Facebook and playing texting games.

July 12, 2013

Is the east coast more autistic?

I'm visiting home for a little while, and trying to keep my eyes peeled for regional differences, now that I've spent enough time out in the mountain west to get a feel for them. "Home" is suburban Maryland, near DC.

Rather than list a whole bunch of subtler differences, how about a real vivid one that I just saw? A youngish girl riding around our neighborhood on a bike with a halter-top and leggings. At first I thought, "Now there's a blast from the past..."

That is, until our paths came closer and I saw all those damned devices -- sunglasses on a cloudy and somewhat rainy day, gigantic headphones, and her head snapped down to look at some screen that she was holding / diddling with one hand while she attempted to steer the bike with the other.

Now I've seen texting while walking and driving plenty of times before, but I've never seen someone whose brain is so plugged-in that they can't even enjoy a nice bike ride around the neighborhood. There are way more bike riders out west, too, and hardly any here. Yet, like the only one I run into is too busy offloading her brain onto a device to have any fun.

And she was not riding her bike to go to work, run errands, etc. So no chance that she felt compelled to connect to her device in order to multitask under pressing time constraints. And anyway, all that stuff about girls being "busy" is bullshit. Busy "accomplishing nothing," to use another phrase du jour. She appeared to be riding her bike around the streets purely for leisure, yet unaware that she'd ruined any hope of enjoyment by putting herself on a digital treadmill.

The east coast is definitely more anti-social, disrespectful, and generally retarded. But is it also more autistic, more device-dependent in their choice of how to keep others out? I bet you'd see more girls texting while dancing in clubs here than out west, or even texting while coupling.

Time to join the party out beyond the plains, if you haven't already. It's not an oasis or anything, but it beats the hell out of the rotten eastern half of the country.

July 11, 2013

Today's wave of OCD stems from yesterday's wave of childhood sexual abuse

There are certainly many pathways that lead toward OCD behaviors in adults, and I sketched out the place of OCD in the broader web of dysfunction seen during cocooning times. I traced it mostly to social isolation.

However, there is another major, separate pathway by which OCD rises during a period of falling crime and cocooning -- the effects in adulthood of sexual abuse in childhood. During a rising-crime period, such abuse becomes more common, since violent crimes track one another over time. What happens when these young victims become adults old enough to be raising children of their own? That will unfold much later, when the crime rate is in its falling rather than rising phase, and when the broader society has started to cocoon.

Here is a brief journal article on the relationships between childhood sexual abuse, obsessive-compulsive behaviors in adulthood, parenting styles, and their children's perfectionism, anxiety, and other negative emotional states. Not all of it has been mapped out, but it looks like a fair amount has been uncovered.

Adults who have a history of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to develop OCD behavior. So part of the rise of OCD over the past 20 years is due to the emergence of adulthood symptoms of childhood abuse, sustained during the epidemic of the '60s through the '80s, but particularly during the '80s.

Somehow the abused parents transmit perfectionism to their children. Other studies suggested it was through the parents' OCD, with the kids adopting a perfectionist style to comply with their parents' OCD. This one didn't find such an effect, although none of the parents here had clinical levels of OCD. Perhaps the abused parents practice more permissive or authoritarian parenting styles, which are associated with perfectionism in children. They didn't measure parenting style here, so that's just a guess.

Whatever the mechanism turns out to be, though, it's clear that childhood sexual abuse leaves its mark on the victim, who as a parent expresses adulthood symptoms, which their child responds to by becoming more anxious and perfectionist.

Generation X and Gen Y was the most susceptible to sexual abuse as children, and their children, the Millennials, are the most anxious, self-doubting, and perfectionist generation in decades. So the study results would seem to apply to long-term changes and generational dynamics at the society level.

There was an earlier epidemic of sex abuse toward children during the 1920s (also a period of rising homicide rates), making the Greatest Generation the main targets. When they became parents in the mid-century, a good number would have been expressing symptoms -- OCD behavior, permissive or authoritarian parenting styles, or whatever -- that their children, the Silent Generation, responded to by being anxious, perfectionist, etc., just like the Millennials.

So here's a separate but crucial pathway whereby falling-crime periods are marked by a rise in OCD -- the delayed effects of an epidemic of childhood sexual abuse from the earlier, rising-crime period.

The flipside of that is the Baby Boomers having had relatively safe and abuse-free childhoods during the 1950s and early '60s, and growing up to become more well-adjusted parents -- not overly permissive or authoritarian -- and whose kids were not perfectionist, in childhood anyway.

I don't think the questionnaires used to measure abuse set the threshold at forcible rape. It probably includes a lot of gray-area encounters. Not that many victims of the worst forms of child abuse would tell everybody about it as adults, let alone those who experienced the milder or murkier forms. So just because you haven't heard of too many people having had such experiences, doesn't mean they did not. Rampant OCD these days is one sign that there are more people than you'd think who had something happen to them when they were little back in the '70s or '80s.

To end with a case study for further reading, here is one mother's account of her OCD drive to keep her kids' room uncluttered and immaculate, to the point where she snapped one day and took away all of their toys. And here is her personal history, where she says that it all started with sexual abuse when she was in elementary school in the mid-to-late 1980s.

The literature review in the article tells us that this link is not a coincidence, but read through both to get a better feel for the connections that run from sexual abuse, vulnerability, and violated trust in childhood to an OCD parenting style in adulthood. That awareness, plus a sense of the timing of the sex abuse epidemic, helps to clarify why there seems to be such a paranoid and distrusting undercurrent to our culture of OCD.

It's not just the nerdy-spergy kind of OCD -- there's this palpable suspicion of the polluting and disruptive influences of strangers. That's why you have to seal your children off from their peers, from all other grown-ups, home-school them, home-church them, and so on.