April 28, 2007

MIT admissions dean and adult vs teenage naivete

In a continuing series on the chasm between adolescents and adults, let's look at a perfect example of why adolescents are typically skeptical of the snake oil that adults often try to sell them, and thus why we shouldn't worry so much about their allegedly impressionable minds being corrupted by duplicitous elders. The event also provides more evidence for how a large swath of adults are utterly, hopelessly clueless about teenagers (their own or those of others). This is obviously a bad thing, if for no other reason than that we'll rely on them in the future, so we should try to bridge the divide amiably in order to guide them in a desirable direction, as well as to make their lives easier by sharing with them what wisdom we have picked up.

What's all the hubbub about? It turns out that the Dean of Admissions at MIT, Marilee Jones, not only didn't go to college but lied about having degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (she claimed an SB and SM in biology), Albany Medical College (she claimed a degree in chemistry), and Union College. Furthermore, she had been hiding the truth for nearly three decades! It is fitting that she is a guru of the "less perfectionism" movement in college admissions, which wants parents, guidance counselors, and students to stop stressing out so much about the admissions process and ensure that youngsters have time to lead well-rounded, enjoyable lives. I too would want to de-emphasize being perfect if I were running the admissions office of an elite university but only took a few courses as a part-time, non-degree-seeking student 30 years ago. More coverage from the NYT, Boston Herald, and ABCNews. (Unfortunately the editors must have vetoed the more likely headlines, like "MIT admissions dean: Don't be so perfect -- I'm sure as hell not.")

Now, it's not as if Jones was a professor, lecturer, or anything else that would have required many impressive degrees -- college admissions isn't exactly rocket science, as they say. So I don't mind that she didn't seriously attend college. I can even understand the calculated deceit -- if I signed up for an online dating service, you can bet I'd add an inch or two to my height and wouldn't admit my lie even after 30 years of marriage, unless I finally became cornered.

Instead, what grinds my gears is that she used the megaphone that comes with her office to broadcast the "less perfectionist" message. In fairness, anyone who fell for this bull about letting their kids have more playtime, at a time when admissions are likely more competitive than ever, deserves exactly what they got. I take it for granted that high academic success and having fun are not incompatible, assuming the student is heads-and-shoulders above the average "above-average" student. Clearly, though, the "less perfectionist" movement is geared to the promising but not stellar students, who tend to pack on as many extra-curriculars as possible to sway the wavering opinions of admissions officials. "More playtime" is well and good for those in no danger of being rejected by all of their reach schools, but the target audience here would have been harmed by voluntarily de-fanging themselves in the fight to get into an elite school.

Fortunately, the movement that she leads can't have had an enormous effect, since by their own accounts (see, e.g., some excerpts of Jones' recent talks / writings), the hyper-competitiveness is still a big problem. When you think about it, it's like matronly women encouraging a high school girl to "be herself" and wear the higher-waisted jeans that she may truly want to wear (for whatever reason), but that would result in endless taunting from the popular girls who wear low-rise jeans. Or perhaps a guy who's 5'5, bald, poor, and grouchy lecturing to alpha-males that they shouldn't show off their wealth so much, or their better looks, or whatever gives them a shot at gaining admission to the select club of Boyfriends of Hot Girls (and later, Husbands with Trophy Wives). Any alpha-male gullible enough to swallow this flimflam deserves their single status; presumably, though, few would be so stupid. I imagine something similar must go through the minds of the typical high school student during the application process: "Right, I should be less competitive -- and end up like you, lady." Again, I have nothing against admissions officials; I merely suggest what the typical Harvard applicant must be thinking as he hears Jones' counsel.

So, we conclude that adolescents, far from being impressionable naifs, are instead hardened by the reality that they themselves live: they know from personal experience that following such advice would be suicide. As an aside, another popular hypothesis is that college students adopt some of the loony ideas of their professors during college again because their minds are passive and impressionable. To the contrary, judging them by their actions, they largely don't believe in the platitudes that they mouth. (The ideologues are another story, as they apparently do have faith -- it's hard to convince others when you aren't convinced yourself.) For example, the widespread pattern of "White flight" from dangerous neighborhoods shows just how much White liberals believe that "diversity is strength." As the readers here probably follow Steve Sailer's blog, I assume I don't have to list the other million data-points supporting this conclusion. As another example, though, men in uber-liberal Sweden don't act as if they believe in the radical feminist goals of equalizing all of the parenting chores 50-50.

The key is that college students aren't clueless but shrewd -- shrewd enough to know which way the wind is blowing in Adultland (as hinted to them by their professors), and shrewd enough to understand how to avoid a social or ideological faux pas that might endanger their comfortable station. Mouthing lefty slogans should therefore be interpreted not as a molding of their impressionable minds but instead as rational insurance against future mob reprisals: they cost very little, since you are not obligated to behave according to the slogan, and when "underprivileged" groups become angry, you can say, "Hey, don't blame me -- I'm a multiculturalist! Go after those backward rednecks instead!" It is appauling that those in power recruit the appeal of such slogans when pushing through their ridiculous programs, such as affirmative action and No Child Left Behind, but again this sorry state of affairs is more the fault of race-baiting hucksterism and forcing people to pledge ideological allegiance -- not due to innocent minds being corrupted by others.

Moreover, the "less perfectionism" movement's message itself demonstrates a colossal misunderstanding of adolescent life. The movement deplores what it sees as too much judging of high schoolers, which it feels must be burdening the poor darlings with an undue amount of stress. In part they have accurately assessed what's going on, but they're missing the other huge piece of the puzzle, which is that youngsters in more recent times are inundated with praise. In fact, an annual survey of college students shows that they have become steadily more narcissistic since the measurement of narcissism levels began 25 years ago. I work with middle and high schoolers, and I notice this a lot. At the same time, only being 26 myself, I can't say that my generation -- including me -- is very modest either. I simply note the high levels of "it's all about me" among youngsters to highlight the disconnect between the facts on the ground and the image of drowning Ophelias being painted by the "less perfectionism" movement.

Much of this resource-depleting confusion could be easily cleared up by just relating to adolescents on their own level. That is, investigate and understand objectively what makes their world spin, while still maintaining a bit of social distance. I have found that stressing social distance too much has the opposite effect -- adolescents then assume that you're just another dopey adult who's "forgotten what it's like to be me," and they write off your input thereafter. It depends on the individual, but for me projecting the persona of "my friend's cool older brother" works best. In order for shaming to be effective, the target must actually care more about your view of them than about whether it's raining on the other side of the world. Thus, when they don't do an assignment, I can give them the "Ah c'mon, you're killin' me" routine, and they'll feel like they've disappointed someone they respect. Obviously people are different, though: some adults will have to find a different "in" than my approach, and some students are incorrigible.

Why does any of this matter? Well, for one thing, youngsters grow up and take control of society. If you want that society to be in good shape by the time you become more dependent on others, you'd better make sure that middle-aged adults had good guidance earlier on. And from the adolescents' point-of-view, they would greatly benefit from the accumulated wisdom of their elders -- I'm far from having one foot in the grave, but in the 10 years since I was a high school sophomore, I've learned plenty. By passing this along to current high schoolers, I save them the waste of time and the greater embarrassment of having to find things out the hard way. This task becomes increasingly difficult as the generational divide grows, since the younger generation is more likely to think that the older one is too "out of touch with the times" to have relevant advice, whether they really do or do not.

So to reiterate, adolescents are far more perceptive than many adults give them credit for. On the one hand, that's a good thing, as it means we don't have to worry much about them following the silly advice of the Marilee Joneses out there or agreeing to meet strangers who have contacted them over the internet. On the other hand, though, they are very attuned to the cluelessness of adults and will exploit such gullibility to their own advantage, usually to shirk some responsiblity or other. When my students are honest, they admit how easily they manage to get their way with the pushover tutors, but that fortunately means that the problem isn't intractable: just stand your ground, while still treating them friendly. And bridging the generation gap in this way would benefit both the younger and older generations without compromising the ability of (legitimate) authority figures to maintain order.

April 25, 2007

Different Asians

When I was younger, I was always jealous of the other Asian kids. Why? Because they had kick-ass unarmed martial arts. A Chinese kid could say "Hey, don’t mess with me - I know Kung Fu like Bruce Lee!" What was I going to say in response - "Well, I know Ahimsa like Gandhi?" [Link]

How about: "I'd love to fight, but I've got to get busy with my girlfriend."

April 15, 2007

Sunday morning Hope (again)

Now here's a good example of a well integrated Mexican musician. Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star was born in 1966 to a Mexican-American family in East LA. Her first musical group was with a friend named Sylvia Gomez, who I assume is also Mexican from LA. Yet unlike the new Shakira, she has never even hinted that she is an exotic creature, and as far as I know, she has never sung in Spanish. (I like bilingualism; I mention this fact about her just to show how her ethnic identity never intrudes into her music, let alone dominate it.)

Blue Flower
Disappear (only lasts through first chorus :p )

That's an odd thing about the grunge era, during which Mazzy Star recorded their albums: despite the superficial likeness to the sudden, popular youth rebellion of the late 1960s, the acts of the early-mid '90s were neither political nor narcissistic. This self-effacing tendency may have made the adolescent years of some of its followers more awkward than they otherwise would have been, but give me navel-gazing over moralistic preening any day.

April 10, 2007

Shakira became more Latin, more boring, after coming to America

One of the major menaces the United States faces is the refusal to assimilate among recent, mostly illegal, immigrants from Latin America (mainly the Mexican underclass). Steve covers this topic pretty well, and as I assume most of the readers here follow his blog at least occasionally, I won't dwell further on the reasons why this is a scary thing. As the typical open borders enthusiast ignores the impact that the importation of a new lumpenproletariat will have on crime, education, health care, transportation, and so on, they are left to effuse about how our high and popular culture will become revived, curing it of its lack of "diversity." However, a second's reflection shows that massive illegal immigration will only serve to dull the taste of our culture, for at least two reasons:

1) As the well-to-do use ethnic diversity mostly as a status symbol -- "I can afford to live in a diverse neighborhood because my non-Eurasian neighbors are ambassadors and professors" -- the central criterion of cultural value will be that the product be composed of elements from many different regions, and the devil with whether the result is pleasing or not. Yuppies will gladly patronize a Mongolian-Yemeni fusion restaurant, even if you wouldn't call the stuff food, just to show off their cosmopolitanism to their less refined peers. So, quality will likely decline.

2) There is a real appeal of the exotic, although we are relentlessly bombarded by dazzling new concoctions of the exotic, which change at such a quick pace. As a result, our palette will either become numbed through habituation, or else never be fully satisfied because we are only given a quick tease of one dish before it falls out of fashion and is replaced by another. Again, the arms race for status will accelerate this process.

As a case-in-point, consider the career trajectory of Shakira. Returning to a previous post on what an old fogey I am, I doubt most of the high schoolers I tutor (even the Latin American ones) would recognize any of Shakira's songs from before Laundry Service, her cross-over release, if only the music were played, or if the another singer covered them. As hard as it may be to believe, once upon time (about 10 years ago) Shakira was an alterna-rocker chick with a dark waterfall of hair; and where her lyrics before were more wistful and effortless, they are now more jaded and affected. Her music has lost its somewhat heavy edge and become more Latin-y and pop-y.

So, let's take a walk down memory lane. I wanted to find live performances, even if the sound isn't quite as good as in a music video, to show just how popular she was (packing any house she played with roaring fans), how little she tried to play up her exotic appeal, and how enticingly attractive she was (in addition to her sex appeal, she had girlfriend appeal to boot -- a rare combination). In order, we have: "Pies Descalzos, SueƱos Blancos" (probably from 1996 or '97), "Inevitable" (probably from 1998), and "Ciega, Sordomuda" (from 1998).

If you have the time, or want the music videos with better sound, just search YouTube for "Shakira" and the name of any song from Pies Descalzos or Donde estan los ladrones? (but make sure they're from her brunette days).

You can clearly see that her legions of loyal fans from the '90s were mostly non-white or mestizo and working-class or poorer, and yet she didn't pander to underclass culture the way she has done during her Oral Fixation albums, in which she incorporates hip-hop and reggaeton music, along with lyrics that mostly discuss how beastly men are -- how they lie to and cheat on their girlfriends. She has dialed up the Latin sound and namedrops the land she comes from, again mostly so that her multiculti gringo audience can pride themselves on how diverse their musical tastes are. ("Hips Don't Lie" features the colorless line "Let me see you move like you come from Colombia," and another that translates as "This is how they dance in Barranquilla!")

And yet, how cosmopolitan can such an audience be if they never knew who Shakira was until she bleached her hair and sang in English? It's not as if she was an obscure figure before 2001; anyone who had a remote interest in Latin American music would have been told that she was the hot star sweeping Central and South America by storm. Her new audience is the type that loves to bemoan the Puritanical current in American culture, but it's hard to escape the conclusion that they themselves are mortified by their pale, exposed nakedness, struggling to conceal their shame with colorful decorations. And since her new audience's primary (and probably only) goal is to merely camoflauge the fact that they're just another "Aryan from Darien", any old slapdash bunch of foliage will do the job, in contrast to a truly eclectic approach whereby an expert gardener or florist agonizes over how best to arrange the disparate elements into a harmonious whole, discriminating ruthlessly along the way.

This is the bright cultural future that we have to look forward to, if current immigration trends continue: genres being phased out due to lack of sufficient diversity value, and the rise of a flavorless melange that caters to the lowest common denominator of all cultures -- fucking and tribal boosterism. Of course, that's a pretty big "if."

On a final constructive note, there are at least two ways for different groups to produce interesting new cultural combinations: 1) borrow the best from another culture (say, the way The Pogues successfully blended Irish folk and Anglo-American punk idioms), and 2) intermarriage that results in new genetic combinations -- these halfies might have a unique combination of traits relevant to cultural production, enabling them to see or do things that individuals from their parents' culture might not (for example, a half-Ashknazi Jewish / half-Chinese group might be unusually gifted in both verbal and visuospatial modalities). Unfortunately, lack of assimilation retards both of these processes, the first by disallowing the very notion that you should judge the culture of another and keep only what you like (survival of the fittest), and the second by giving plenty of opportunities for immigrants to mate within their own group rather than outbreed. So, while eclecticism can yield much new worthy material, we return to the importance of reversing current immigration trends (mainly by restricting access to a small cognitive / cultural elite from the rest of the world) if we want to realize that potential.

April 8, 2007

Grandma knows best: marry a good cook

My grandmother's in town for the week (this weekend being Easter and her 86th birthday), and she's been cooking up a storm. As she was making raspberry pie last night, she advised me to marry a woman who knew how to cook -- "some women today don't even know how to boil eggs!" I know how to make a few things, and I've picked up some rules here and there, but you don't fully realize how much you're missing until your Scotch-Irish hillbilly grandmother comes to visit. Fortunately for me, my tastes bias me toward women who are famed for their cooking skills -- turn on any food channel and see for yourself how overrepresented Italian women are. Make that Italian babes. One thing I remember about day-time TV in Barcelona is how modern the food show women were, and how even the hip hostess would be wowed by the prowess of the "cooking segment" girl, as if you were expected to show your career-woman sophistication by actually creating the food rather than by dropping the names of restaurants.

Here, well-to-do females are judged status-wise not so much on how artful their cooking is, but on where they bought the raw materials (Whole Foods, Dean & DeLuca, etc.). In Spain at least (and I'm sure in other places), artistry still counts for something, and one's peers are duly impressed by the culinary magician of the group. The same holds true of interior decorating (er, interior "design") -- who cares what it looks like, as long as it came from Crate & Barrel, Baker, or wherever else? Now, Dean & DeLuca and Baker Furniture certainly offer plenty for the gourmand and the aesthete to relish, but if these raw materials are turned into a superior result, in all likelihood the buyer had a chef prepare the food (or bought it pre-made from a high-end grocer) or hired an interior designer to plan out their living space. So how is this an accomplishment of the buyer?

Awhile ago, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller worried thus over the lack of concern with cultivating oneself that now characterizes a large fraction of the wealthy and well educated:

The [Victorian] question "What are [a prospective mate's] accomplishments?" refers not to career success, but to the constellation of hobbies, interests, and skills that would have adorned most educated young people in previous centuries. Things like playing pianos, painting portraits, singing hymns, riding horses, and planning dinner parties. Such accomplishments have been lost through time pressures, squeezed out between the hyper-competitive domain of school and work, and the narcissistic domain of leisure and entertainment. It is rare to find a young person who does anything in the evening that requires practice (as opposed to study or work)--anything that builds skills and self-esteem, anything that creates a satisfying, productive "flow" state, anything that can be displayed with pride in public. Parental hot-housing of young children is not the same: after the child's resentment builds throughout the French and ballet lessons, the budding skills are abandoned with the rebelliousness of puberty--or continued perfunctorily only because they will look good on college applications. [hat-tip to Steve]

I could understand if the lack of well-roundedness could be explained by the same reasons that Bach was probably not an excellent cook -- he was busy doing other, important things. But when you consider what the average yuppie is doing with their time, it's hard to interpret their lack of attention to bettering themselves in such a charitable way: instead, the cultural forecast promises a creeping current of crudeness.

April 6, 2007

Sports for shorties?

Tonight saw the debut of the 5th season of The Ultimate Fighter, a reality show in which mixed martial arts fighters compete to win UFC contracts. This season the fighters are from the 155-lb lightweight class, and so all appear 5'9 or shorter. Even though this is the one sport I actually enjoy watching, I never get into it as though I could imagine myself as one of them -- most of the guys are over 6' and 180 lbs, whereas I'm 5'8 and 135 lbs. Now, even the shorties have 20 extra pounds of muscle that I don't, but if I went on a weight-gaining / muscle-pumping regimen, I could probably get near 150 lbs. So, shorties like me who watch get the sense that "that could be me if I dedicated myself to it."

As I have no interest in sports, can some of the readers explain why there aren't weight / height classes in non-combat sports? That way, almost all teenage guys would get involved in the sports culture. I and people like me never did because, for one thing, we would get mowed down by taller, bigger guys. But pit the average height / weight guys against each other only, and you'd get an interesting match. It wouldn't be hard to just lower the net a bit when the average or short guys played, and I don't think height affects your ability to kick a field goal, so the goalposts could be the same. Ditto lacrosse, and pretty much anything else. You'd feel silly at first, but assuming you were good at the sport against those in your same class, the other kids at school would give you respect.

As things are, the only sports that non-beasts can join are pretty brutal: wrestling, boxing, martial arts, and so on. The trouble is that these are closer to the "barely civilized form of beating the shit out of each other" end of the sports spectrum, which many guys aren't interested in (except for the more Natural Born Killer types like my 5'7 younger brother, who did wrestling in HS and is now enlisted in the Army). Notice that they are all individualistic sports -- however, most guys want to play or watch sports in order to join a larger team, and to contribute to making it a winning team. That leaves a huge pool of demand unmet by the supply of high school sports, and given what a psychotic sports culture we have, that looks pretty odd. So what's the deal?

April 2, 2007

Dilemmas of overachieving girls: The tough-minded response

I'm not trying to sound dismissive of their frustrations, but after reading a recent entry at The Audacious Epigone on the distributing of didactic comic books among underage Hispanic females to warn them of the dangers of getting used and knocked up by older men, something tells me we have graver ordeals to worry about. That said, there are a few interesting aspects of teenage life in a current NYT feature article on the pressures facing overachieving high school girls. Readers can probably anticipate much of what I would say to the main storyline of the article, so I'll only comment on some of the more peripheral -- though still important -- points. The response is split into two posts, this one more tough-minded than the other, since it's difficult to integrate both lines of thought into a single post.

First of all, thank christ that a major elite newspaper has so exquisitely discredited the canard that young girls these days aren't being encouraged to excel, that they are being steered away from certain career paths, and so on. College-bound girls these days are all but smothered in encouragement and given free rein to "find their own voice."

Moving on, the first peek into life at Newton North High School is a scene that should provide a disturbing reminder of the quality of university literature and philosophy classes to those who had to sit through them. Despite the profound title of the course, "Man's Search for Meaning," it's clear from the picture and the few quotes from the discussion in the article that this is one of those "glorified book club meeting" courses, although at a public high school you're not paying $3000 per semester to stroke each other's cerebral genitalia by quoting Sartre and affecting the mannerisms that you believe Serious Thinkers are supposed to put on. The narrative thread about how smart and sophisticated these girls are would have been better portrayed if the article had shown the girls conducting lab work or offering tough but constructive criticism of a friend's essay (rather than agreeing with everyone else in a discussion).

Here's one thing girls definitely do not have to worry about:

These students are aware that because more girls apply to college than boys, amid concerns about gender balance, boys may have an edge at some small selective colleges.

As pointed out in the body and comments of this "women in science" post at GNXP, males have greater variance in IQ, so that there are proportionally more males than females at elite (as well as special ed) levels of IQ. To achieve gender equity at a place like Harvard or Stanford, where you figure the mean IQ of undergrads is about 140, they must either turn away more males than females, or (more likely) a greater proportion of brainiac males are willing to go to less sexy universities for whatever reasons -- to save money / plan for financial independence, to graduate more quickly, or because their geeky interests bias them away from "well-rounded" environments like Harvard. For instance, here is uber-geeky CalTech's profile: 29% female for undergrad, 30% female for grad students. Now, CalTech is very prestigious, but the point is simply that lots of other brainy guys might be drawn to similarly geeky and rigorous places, such as U. Illinois - Urbana Champaign, which don't have the sex appeal of elite liberal arts schools.

In any case, the fact that more females apply to college than males means almost nothing at the elite liberal arts colleges that the girls profiled are interested in. The surfeit of female applicants is likely due mostly to more lower-IQ females than males wanting a bachelors degree to make a decent buck in adulthood, while males go to vocational school or what have you.

And speaking of IQ, notice that the girl who scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT is the daughter of brainy Northeast Asian immigrants. That's a pretty easy way to boost our nation's mean IQ through immigration -- obviously let in Chinese PhDs, but bring over more "mail order brides" from the impoverished areas of Northeast Asia for smart but low-status delta-males in the US. Their children will be smarter than average, harmless / law-abiding, and contribute a lot to the tax base. NB: I am not advocating this position out of self-interest, as I am generally unattracted to Northeast Asian women.

Oh, and in case you didn't know, SAT prep is a booming business:

High-priced SAT prep has become almost routine at schools like Newton North. Not to hire the extra help is practically an act of rebellion.

This is a great way to make money for young adults in transition like me: I make $35 an hour for private tutoring, though I could probably charge $50 (I don't like haggling; just leave me alone and let me work). If you're smart and did well in school, and most importantly can communicate with your fellow human beings (which a lot of math / SAT tutors are hopeless at), it's a great job. You don't have to prepare lessons, and all of the relevant knowledge is already in your head, so you don't need lots of extra training. Working with smart, motivated students (like those you'd find if you lived in Newton, Mass.) means that you can take a more abstract, Socratic approach, which is more stimulating for you as a tutor. It's not a full-time job, obviously, but it's still good money.

However, it blew my mind to read this:

Esther’s ethics teacher, Joel Greifinger, spent considerable time this winter on moral theories. An examination of John Rawls’s theory of justice led to extensive discussions about American society and class inequality. Among the reading material Mr. Greifinger presented was research showing the correlation between income and SAT scores.

I'll say again: it is absolutely astonishing that a teacher at an elite liberal high school can point out the obvious, while anyone who cites data from The Bell Curve (which also examines the correlation between class and IQ) is pilloried as a racist eugenicist. The article doesn't mention how the teacher elaborated on the data -- you might first guess that he went the easy route of saying, "See kids, IQ doesn't measure anything useful other than how much money your parents have to spend on tutors." (Wrong.) But we have to bear in mind that this was an ethics teacher presenting a Rawlsian view of justice. I've never hidden the fact that I think a Rawlsian approach to policy is only bolstered by the empirical data on wealth and IQ correlating as they do, as well as the data on the substantial heritability of IQ. Smart people didn't do anything to earn the genes which were bequeathed unto them by their parents, so we are rewarding natural inequality by allowing income and IQ to correlate so highly.

It's pretty easy to correct for that by some mild redistribution of wealth, subject to the obvious provisos (e.g., the poor could only use the extra money to better their station, not to buy cognac, diamond jewelry, or garish automobile rims). The moral rationale is straightforward: imagine that society financially rewarded those who scored highly on some trait on which you score lowly -- unless you're a masochist, you'd hope that the more blessed would help cushion the blow somewhat, rather than abandon you to fend for your hopeless self. Now, unless you're someone special -- which you're not -- why shouldn't this hold true from the point-of-view of the low-IQ as well?

Moving on, though:

There is something about the lives these girls lead — their jam-packed schedules, the amped-up multitasking, the focus on a narrow group of the nation’s most selective colleges — that speaks of a profound anxiety in the young people, but perhaps even more so in their parents, about the ability of the next generation to afford to raise their families in a place like Newton.

I'll just let Steve Sailer answer that one. However, Esther has resolved not to enter a lucrative profession but theology:

"I have such a strong sense of being supported by my faith,” she continued. “It gives me priorities. That’s why I’m not concerned about making money, because I know that there is so much more to living a rich life than having money."

On the one hand, I'm glad to hear that her criteria include more than making a shitload of money, but after pausing for a few seconds, it strikes me to ask: Who wants to place bets on whether or not she'll marry a rich lawyer, doctor, or banker? That's fine with me, of course, and she can marry whom she wants, but then she should drop the faux rebellious act -- rejecting consumerism means accepting the consequences, much as a mendicant monk does, not mouthing objections to the rule of the almighty dollar while her parents and husband subsidize her million-dollar house, leather-interior car, and Movado watch (the last two visible in the "multimedia" interactive feature).

Well, beating up on teenage girls is pretty easy to do, so I'll leave it there. Really, though, my main gripe is not with the kids themselves, so much as it is with the quixotic mush-heads who have abdicated their role of guidance, preferring instead the slogans "Do what you want" and "You're special just the way you are." In the next post, I'll take a more empathetic tone in addressing some of the other features brought up in the article.

April 1, 2007

Aging, solipcistic neurotics can't find love

Via Half-Sigma. Good god, why do tri-state area Baby Boomers insist that every fart they pass must be written up into an NYT feature story? This one, recently the #1 most emailed article, superficially profiles various men (and the odd woman) whose living spaces are awful to the point of repelling potential love interests. Consider, for example, the first photo, which shows a man who owns a stuffed baby seal as just one of many oddities. Now, this guy writes advice columns for the internet dating site match.com -- if those skeptical of the worth of online dating sites were looking for something to hang your suspicions on, there you go. However, the sub-text to the whole story is that there are all these gray-haired New Yorkers who are still "looking for love" -- at their age? Whaddayu freakin' kiddin' me?

I've already visited this theme before, so I'll try not to say much more. First, if human generation time is 20-25 years, then you'd expect to be grandparent by about age 50. At least, your body expects you to be. Athletes tend to fall within a circumscribed age range, and it's plain to see why. The same is true for pornographic actors and actresses, also for clear reasons. Less obviously, it's still clear that rockstars and rappers tend to fall into the same age range, as well as most criminals and soldiers. From roughly age 15 to 25, with I'd say a five-year grace period until 30, that's when you have to attract a mate by showing off, earning glory, achieving fame, or whatever your speciality may be. That goes for men as well as women, although women have fewer niches to exploit -- basically, being pretty and flirtatious.

These behavioral adaptations are buttressed by psychological adaptations, such as the feeling of falling deeply and madly in love with another person, so much so that one gets butterflies in the stomach on merely spying one's crush from afar. I doubt anyone profiled in the NYT article remembers what that feels like, since part of growing up is forgetting the entirety of one's adolescence, but this fact should give them pause as they ponder whether to devote time, money, and effort to "finding love." Would it be worth it to seek out sexual intercourse if one were impotent? Hardly, and it would be equally foolish to search for true, romantic love after one's biology has stopped reacting that way to the opposite sex. Passionate love serves an adaptive purpose up until roughly age 25-30 -- after that, you should already have had children, and from then on you've still got grandchildren to look forward to, so this part of your wiring shuts off. Having one's emotional stability held hostage by the mercurial demon of romantic love is not a strategy befitting a breadwinner or nurturer: the focus should be on your kids, work, and social allies, since you've already won her over.

And as with all sorts of impetuous behavior -- such as shoplifting, joyriding, entering a mosh pit, or rushing off to join the army -- we become largely rid of this psychological hijacker sometime in our mid-to-late 20s. After that, forget about falling madly in love again; strike while the iron is hot.

Now, few will learn these important lessons if they fritter away their lives trying to "find themselves" like most Boomers do. This is especially true if they don't have at least occasional contact with children or teenagers, since as I pointed out here, it's easy to forget how old you are unless you have them around to remind you of the disconnect between the youth and you. Ignorant of how long they've lived as adolescents, they awaken too late to the reality that they can no longer do all manner of things they took for granted during their salad days, such as fall in love. It soon falls to their parents, by upbringing more skeptical of altering human nature by sheer willpower, to say "you shoulda listened to me when I told you to marry young!" Bah, what do octogenarians know, anyway? -- it turns out you actually are getting any younger.