May 31, 2011

Changing strength of social bonds reflected in hit song titles

Continuing the series about how changing patterns of song titles over time reveal broader changes, * let's look at how much social cohesion vs. social anomie there has been. The General Social Survey shows high or rising trust levels from the early 1970s through the late 1980s, a reflection of the greater need to depend on others when violence becomes more prevalent. After awhile, violence becomes too prevalent, plus everyday people have had too many encounters with false messiahs, that they start to withdraw their trust in others.

Because the pool of potential victims now has their guard up, criminals find it more difficult to victimize them, causing the crime rate to peak and then decline. And indeed the peak of the crime rate (1992) lagged behind the peak in the trust level (somewhere between 1987 and 1989). Both have been falling through the '90s and 2000s.

With social surveys, you always wonder how applicable the results are to real life. Over the past two years, I've documented all sorts of ways in which people live more isolated social lives than they used to. Now instead of their behavior, we'll turn to the culture that appeals most to them. The measure is crude but useful: the appearance in song titles of the first and second-person pronouns -- I, me, my, you, your, we, us, and our. While "I" occasionally is used only for self-glorification (like the lame "This Is Why I'm Hot" from 2007), typically it's in the context of one person addressing someone who they're bonded to in some way. The same goes for "you." Obviously "we" is the clearest signal of a feeling of social closeness. Speaking of which, let's take a break first to take in a hit by our good old friend Pat.

Here are the indexes for these three pronouns, along with a total that adds them all up, from 1959 to 2010.

All show roughly the same pattern of shooting up during rising-crime times, aside from a trough around 1980. The peak for all of them is either 1987 or 1989 (only a local peak for "I"), after which point they decline or nearly vanish altogether. As expected, the graph for "we" shows the strongest reflection of social trust levels.

Notice just how weak the social bonds have become -- it's not as though people still trust and are close to a large number of others, but just less than an even more astronomical number than earlier. It only takes two strongly connected people for "I" and "you" to resonate with listeners, yet even that has become rare. People still have plenty of acquaintances, but very few who they feel tight with.

And because a good number of the songs about you, me, and us are love songs, the disappearance of these personal pronouns highlights how distant boys and girls have become. Moreover, singers use these pronouns to refer to boy-girl interaction from first catching sight of another through courtship, heavy involvement, and even after having broken up. So the separation of social worlds of boys and girls is more pervasive than during any one of the phases.

You still hear boys and girls singing about being in the we're-together stage, but hardly at all about infatuation ("When You Walk in the Room") and the navigation of the tempestuous beginning of courtship ("I Think We're Alone Now"), let alone about the stage where it's about to fall apart ("What About Love?"). And forget about covering the full gamut ("Little Red Corvette"). Given how transactional our relations have become, we no more want to hear about the awkward and exhilarating beginnings and endings than we would want to see a fast food ad that dwelt on the exchange of money between customer and cashier, or the stomach ache you got afterwards -- just the yummy part where someone swallows five bowls of pasta.

This is like the picture that Robert Putnam draws in his work on social capital, where we have not merely shrunken the size of our social network, but nearly sealed ourselves off as hermits who transact with other acquaintances at arm's length. But the last period of falling crime only lasted 25 years, which this time around would mean an end around 2017, although perhaps later. It won't take forever, and then people will start re-connecting with each other.

* Here's the original post that explains the methodology and looks at religion and love themes in pop music titles. To reiterate, we look at the #1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and see if their titles mention some theme. For a given year, the index of the theme's prevalence reflects the number of different songs, as well as the number of weeks that this whole group of songs lasted at #1.

May 30, 2011

What's happening to nicknames and twins' names?

The practice of naming your children sure has gone to hell, hasn't it? Girl names like Morgan and Jordan sound like a throwback to the matronly days of Edna and Gladys, while boys have never had dorkier names than Grayson (the other kids at school: "more like GAY-son!") and Jayden (sounds like a porn chick who died on-set of a cocaine overdose).

In poking around the Social Security Administration's list of popular baby names over the years, these patterns that are clear to anyone with eyes to see really jump out. I'll put up something visual later, but here are two disturbing impressions.

First, why is every mother of twins giving them such similar-sounding names? At least I hope it's only the mothers, given how pussy-whipped fathers have been for a couple decades (if they're in on it too, it's another sign of the shamelessness of guys these days who don't stand up for themselves and others). My younger brothers are twins and neither's name resembles the other's, and none of the twins I've known or even known about growing up in real life had alliterative names. I did know a couple of girls whose names were figuratively similar, like Crystal and Jewel, but not so meta-aware as alliteration -- get it, they're twins, so it's only fitting that their first initials should be twins! Yeah, we get it. Browsing Wikipedia's list of famous twins, I don't see much to disconfirm this hunch, except for Millennials. In fact, the only pair of girl twins I've known who had alliterative names were born in 1990.

It's like the kids' names are just part of the overall display that the parents use to show off their taste to their fellow insecure parents. Look, even my twins' names are consonant-coordinated -- jealous? Sure, we all wish our own kids were named Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Jayden and Jordan is just one step away from Faggin and Fogan.

And look at #18 in female twin names -- Heaven and Nevaeh. Girl, ain't I so clever -- it's the same name spelled forwards and backwards! Since Nevaeh is especially popular among black mothers, and since they also have higher rates of bearing twins, they must be over-represented in this trend. Whether you interpret this as a form of Satanic back-masking of the sacred, or as just a nerdy gimmick like giving the Crimson Twins the names Tomax and Xamot, it's a sign of the times that even blacks -- formerly famous for having soul and keepin' it real -- have been pulled under the tide of secularization and geekiness.

The other weird turn that names have taken is the greater difficulty or impossibility of deriving a nickname from them. This typically takes the form of truncation (Mal from Mallory) or using the diminutive suffix "-y" / "-ie" (Nicky from Nick / Nicholas). In looking over the years from 1950 to 2010, it's not hard to see the greater ease of forming nicknames for those born between the mid-1950s and the mid-1980s, and a good deal of given names were already in the informal style -- Larry, Danny, Vicki, Susie, etc.

Once the Millennials are born, though, forget about it. I spent many years tutoring these kids before I began graduate school, and here I've made friends with some of them and interacted with others as a TA. It's no exaggeration to say that hardly any of them go by nicknames. Whether that's a shift toward greater formality in their own minds, or whether their parents chose names that would be particularly difficult to make casual, I don't know. The return to formality among young people is evident all throughout the culture, so I don't dismiss that, but I think the parents shied away from the nicknameable (consciously or not) because they want to impress a higher level of formality on their kids whether they wanted it or not.

I have known girls who shortened Isabella to Izzy, Gabriela to Gabby, and some variant of Madison to Maddy (and then Mad), but that's about it. The boys with older names, I believe, did go by Alex instead of Alexander, Matt instead of Matthew, and so on, but not for the new wave of boys' names. Is Ethan going to be called Ethe, and Hunter Hunty? And what about Makayla, Jordan, and Hannah -- Kay, Jordy, and Han or Hannie sound like a bit of a stretch. The most vivid example is the nickname used by girls with some variant of Rebecca -- it used to be Becky, with the informal suffix. Now it is Becca, which sounds less casual.

With such bizarre trends going on among young people, both from their own preference for greater social distance and from the meddling of their helicopter parents, perhaps it's no wonder that so few songs have had a person's name in the title since a peak in the mid-'80s.

May 28, 2011

Decline in crime has weakened Americans' will to contain homosexuality

Earlier I showed that Americans have gotten much softer on crime as a result of the fall in violence rates over the past 20 years, so much so that women used to be more thirsty for revenge than men are today.

At first glance this looks sensible -- if the problem recedes, don't devote as much effort to curbing it. But of course that lax attitude will only allow the problem to re-emerge after our alertness sinks below some threshold. It is like seeing that the chicken pox vaccine has lowered the prevalence, so with each new batch of infants, we don't have to worry so much about giving them the vaccine. The pathogens are still out there ready to infect our children, so we have to give them vaccines until the bug is effectively gone -- if that ever happens. Unlike smallpox, though, evil will never be eradicated from any human population. So we soften our tough-on-crime attitudes at our own peril.

A similar pattern emerges in the area of allowing vs. containing homosexual behavior. This should be a no-brainer: a conflict of interests is built into the relations between men and women, for reasons that are not relevant here (see any pop evolutionary psychology book), and natural selection has designed individual men and women to try to advance their own interests while not being exploited in agreeing to serve the other's interests.

There is thus a negative feedback loop in male-female relationships, from courtship through mating and parenting, whereby the male keeps the female in check and vice versa. Men keep their women from being such boring, nagging, asexual creatures as they might prefer deep down, while women keep their men from being such reckless, belligerent, hyperpromiscuous animals as they might prefer deep down. Not only are the individuals concerned made better off, but this better regulated system makes the society as a whole a more enjoyable place to live in.

In stark contrast, homosexual relationships break twist this negative feedback loop into a positive feedback loop, since two male minds are much more in synch with each other's desires, and so are two female minds. With the natural fetters of checks and balances torn off, males veer off on a path that is not just more harmful to themselves but to broader society, and ditto for females who become overly womanish.

Although both are in need of containment, we don't care so much about lesbians for a good reason -- women tend to be less harmful to themselves and others than men are. The exaggerated female lifestyle that lesbians embody only raises the society's level of boring and nagging personalities, and slightly drains its overall libido level ("lesbian bed death").

In contrast, the exaggerated male lifestyle that gays embody has proven disastrous to themselves -- witness the AIDS epidemic, as well as the rampant drug use and completely dehumanizing social relations, which rarely rise above meat-market interactions, that are reviewed here. Apparently that was only ended when they woke up to the consequences of their actions. While they were never capable of spreading AIDS into the broader society, they have psychologically poisoned the wider pool of straight females who we straight guys have to interact with, as I detailed here and here in the context of fag hag ego-inflation. Finally, the broader acceptance of homosexuality has killed off whatever entertainment talent they used to have that the rest of us could enjoy. Compare the music of Freddie Mercury, Rob Halford, and George Michael to k.d. lang, Lance Bass, and Clay Aiken.

So, containment of homosexuality is a good thing for everybody. And yet, as anyone who hasn't been living under a rock surely knows, tolerance of it has been shooting up. At the same time, the data suggest what might turn that around at some time in the future.

The General Social Survey asks three questions whose responses show the dramatic recent change in tolerance of homo activity. One asks how wrong homosexual sex is (HOMOSEX -- lol at the names of some of these GSS variables), how much you agree that they should be allowed to marry (MARHOMO), and if a book in favor of homosexuality, written by a homosexual, should be removed from your public library (LIBHOMO).

As I did in the case of attitudes toward crime, I've plotted the trends over time for two groups, one who tends to be more liberal and the other more conservative on the issue, during any given time period. If the change is as extreme as I'm making it out to be, then we should see that the liberal group from earlier times used to be more conservative than today's conservatives. Recall that women from 1980 to 1996 used be screaming for vengeance more than men are today. In the graphs below, the blue line represents the percent of females aged 18-29 -- the group we associate with fag haggery today -- and the red line is percent of males aged 30-44 -- the group we associate with backward bigotry (boooo!!!). You know the world is in a sorry state if today's middle-aged men are more cowardly than the young women of the not-too-distant past.

No surprise that support for gay marriage is way up, although compare young women from 1988 to middle-aged men from anytime in the past decade. Only 14% of young women used to support gay marriage, whereas middle-aged men have been in favor 19%, 34%, 43%, and 46% during the mid-late 2000s, all more pro-gay than young women's views from 1988. The gap has widened quite a bit, too, a general pattern: in 1988 it was 4 percentage points, whereas during the 2000s it has varied between 16 to 37 points. As in the case of attitudes on crime, quite different groups in society were more on the same wavelength during rising-crime times, one manifestation of greater solidarity when we've got to take on a dangerous enemy.

Support for removing the pro-gay book from the library has slid steadily among men over the entire past 40 years, although there was a 2-year anti-gay resurgence in the late '80s. Among women, support actually increased during most of the crime wave, peaking in 1988. This contradicts the view that before the gay awareness and tolerance shift of the 1990s, there had always been some constant level of anti-gay sentiment. In fact, it was increasing along with the crime rate.

My hunch here is that in the days when people were more aware of child molesters, teenage prostitution, and serial murderers, they grew more concerned that a pro-gay book would have encouraged or apologized for sick behavior in general, and in particular if gays were more likely to procure underage runaway prostitutes, entice teenage boys with drugs, fondle their 12 year-old charges if they were a priest, and so on.

Again we see that young women from the not-so-distant past had more anti-gay views than middle-aged men of recent years. We also see the near overlap of views during the height of the crime wave, and a divergence since then.

Belief that homosexual sex is always wrong shows the pattern most clearly. Middle-aged men held this view at a constantly high level during rising-crime times, peaking in 1991, after which the belief steadily dropped until in 2010 it was no longer a majority view (at 48%). Young women became more intolerant of gays during rising-crime times, again contradicting the view that there used to be some constant level of anti-gay sentiment. It went from around 50% in the mid-'70s to a peak of 73% in 1991, after which it has all but vanished, with only 20% believing it in 2010.

My hunch is the same as earlier -- that when people started seeing a rise in depravity in the world all around them, not just from gays but including them, they withdrew their support for an anything-goes, do-whatever-turns-you-on code of behavior. Once the signs of encroaching sinfulness started to fade away, however, they figured "problem solved" and have returned to the tolerant and sympathetic views of the 1950s. You never saw a hard-hitting portrayal of gay depravity in Leave It to Beaver: they were not worried because things looked like they were going along smoothly.

Turning off their defense system in this way of course set the society up for the invasion of criminals who sensed that the average person had grown so naive that they could make a killing and get away with it. They were right. We will see something similar happen after abandoning our watchtowers for so long, not just with respect to violence in general but also the dangers of unchecked homosexuality.

How long will the lessons of their self-inflicted AIDS epidemic last in the collective memory of gays? And how long will the lessons that people learned in the '70s and '80s about the dangers of permissiveness last in the memory of the broader society -- especially for people who have no first-hand recollection of that time?

The record of the last crime wave, however, should give us hope that, although it may take some time for it to kick in, people will recognize the threat and go into attack mode again. But that won't happen by magic: someone needs to be pushing it all along, so that when the attitudes in the broader society shift from inert to combustible, there will already be a flame kept burning to ignite a widespread social transformation.

May 27, 2011

Did the AIDS scare push gays toward lower promiscuity?

There's a lot of inconsistency in the estimates of how promiscuous gay men are -- are they more in the direction of the librarian who wears a sweater vest or the disco dancer who blows random guys in public toilets? Much of those apparent contradictions are almost surely due to differences in when the estimates were taken: before AIDS hit, gays must have felt little restraint, whereas in the wake of their (not our) AIDS epidemic they must have taken more precautions.

The General Social Survey asked questions about how many partners you had in the past year, and what their sex was, from 1988 through 2010. So unfortunately the data stream does not go back into the pre-AIDS era. However, for a good qualitative lit review, see this post by Ray Sawhill / Michael Blowhard. At least we can see what happened in the post-AIDS period.

For comparison, here is a rough breakdown of the number of partners in the past year, for straight males who had had sex at all in the past year:

No change whatsoever, during this time anyway -- we're mostly seeing the more tame 1990s and 2000s, remember, not the '60s through the '80s. I lumped the years into these three groups in order to give decent sample sizes for the homosexuals, since they are very rare in any single year. Here is their pattern over this same time:

Among gays, monogamy rose from 45% in the late '80s through the mid '90s, to 62% by the later 2000s. Having 2 or 3 partners dropped from 20% to 14% over that time, while having 4+ partners dropped from 35% to 24%. Even these recent numbers are still more promiscuous than those of their straight counterparts, but they do show a shift away from the heyday of San Francisco bath-houses.

Since no change in any direction is observed among straights, this shift among gays obviously reflects their fear of getting AIDS. It cannot reflect society's greater acceptance of homosexuality, as that would free them up to greater promiscuity, all else equal. But all else was not equal, and evidently the fear of getting AIDS outweighed the effect of growing social tolerance that would let them do whatever they pleased.

So despite all the whining of their more vocal members about how Reagan allowed the AIDS epidemic to happen, the gays' own lifestyle changes show that they believed that they themselves were to blame. If they had thought it was all a matter of public policy, tolerance, bla bla bla, then they would have acted like fat people and kept eating the same junk diet while shouting at the gummint to gimme more medicine for my diabetes. It's not as though they've fully dialed down their promiscuity to straight levels, but at least they've taken more personal responsibility in their fight against AIDS.

Why doesn't anyone stand up to others anymore?

One sorry effect of the plummeting violence level is that more and more people feel less of a need to strike back at social polluters and parasites. In more dangerous times, the average person feels a lot differently about how much they have to lose by standing up vs. just letting it go, turning away from the problem, etc. Ultimately this weakness will become sufficiently common that the rejects will feel they can cause trouble with impunity, which will send the crime rate up again.

Only after that will the average person re-discover the value of everyday vigilantism. Not pulling a gun on someone who won't hurry up in line, but not standing by while the scum pollute our social spaces -- while also not unplugging ourselves from the larger community like some paranoid hermit, but banding together to send those fuckers packing.

In an earlier post, I explained that the contagion effect of vigilantism is constrained by how closely the spectators share the vigilante's mindset, as well as how real the example is -- was it in real life or only in a video game? That doesn't mean you shouldn't stand up, only that you should be realistic about how widely the example will spread. Although this is only an internet post, not a real-life event that you personally witnessed, and although you may not totally be on the don't-let-it-slide wavelength, here are some cases from my own experience that you can easily adapt to your own day-to-day life.

Again, they don't have to rise to the level of pulling a gun on an attempted robber -- those events are just too rare for the average person to work into their plan for deterring the parasites. It's the examples that happen with greater frequency over time, and that bombard the scum from the widest number of people possible, that send the message that we're not gonna take it anymore. These are just off the top of my head; if you want to skim, I think the better ones are further down. Please leave your own examples in the comments to enrich the total pool.

- Today in Starbucks some creepy middle-aged fat man sat almost right next to me on a two-person couch, when other seats were open. In several years of daily trips there, this has never happened. My gut reaction is that he's a disgusting faggot or a nutcase looking for someone to listen to his visions. Still, giving him the benefit of the doubt -- maybe he's just chilling here for a minute while his drink is made -- I go sit somewhere else. After awhile, he sits in the seat right next to me again. Confirmed weirdo.

He doesn't look violent -- or even capable of it, given how bloated he is -- so I decide not to smack or punch him. Instead I just turn my head, which he instantly responds to with "Oh, Hi!" Speaking slowly, I stare him down and tell him, "Follow me again... and there'll be trouble." "oh.okay." he says and lifts up a newspaper close to his face to hide behind. I moved again, and he didn't do anything to me or, more importantly, anyone else there. I was going to stare him down again as I left, but he still had his face hidden behind the newspaper.

Whatever this creeper's problem was, it didn't take much to shut him down. That's why they try this crap in the first place -- everyone else who he's done this to before couldn't even pick their balls up off the floor long enough to tell off a fat lunatic. If people are that frightened or content to just run away from the problem, he reasons, then he can keep bothering people and never face even small consequences. Again think of the other customers in that kind of situation -- by hoping the problem will just fix itself, you're leaving him there to pester the other people like you who just want to enjoy a nice afternoon in public.

- Last week some entitled black bitch made a sharp turn into the crosswalk that I along with a separate group of two guys were well into. It was not a case of arrogant pedestrians: the three of us must have been halfway through when she zoomed right behind them and right in front of me, probably one foot or less. Taking down her license plate would be useless, and so would yelling at her. You can't really do that much, but you do what you can. I was holding a canvas bag with several hardcover books in it, so I swung that against the side of her car as she drove off. It made a loud noise that she could not have ignored, and hopefully it left a dent.

Like the coward above, she did not do a U-turn to come tell me off or escalate. These people only pull shit like this because they never get called on it at all. The slightest retaliation shuts them down.

- A couple years ago I was hanging out with some undergrad chick friends in the campus dining hall, when one of them, who's pretty cute, spoke up that some guys at a table farther behind me kept staring over at her. Normally, big deal -- guys look at girls all the time, and girls just have to get used to that. But here she sounded bothered. I turned around and saw which ones were looking at us, and shot them a cold stare without breaking eye-contact. It only takes a couple seconds to work. They darted their heads away to the side, down, up, wherever. I could see why she sounded bothered, since they were lifers in the dork squad, the kind of desperate losers who creep girls out just by looking at them. I told my friend to let me know if they started looking at her again, and they never did.

- Night clubs are nowhere as dangerous as they used to be, but you still find enough scum there that it's a good place to practice. A couple months ago I went over several cases (here and here), where a good ol' fashioned pecking order patdown was usually enough to kick the rejects off my territory, although occasionally I did have to escalate things before they'd give up. Several years ago, I related a similar story, except this time the slug was harassing a group of girls in the club.

- Last summer or fall I was walking to get in the checkout line at the supermarket, when a shopping cart came soaring to try to cut me off and get there first. I did get to the spot first, but that didn't stop whoever this was from trying to wedge the front of their cart at a diagonal in front of me, the way that this waste of space probably cuts people off in traffic. It was some Pacific Islander guy (sounded Filipino) who based on his clothes was certainly on welfare, yapping angrily with his wife in some booga-booga language. Like it's not bad enough that they take up so much time haggling with the poor cashier about what is and is not covered by their WIC stamps.

Right away I grabbed his cart, shoved it to the side, and stepped in front, almost right behind the next person in line. Still holding the cart, I swung it around from the side behind me, like you close a gate behind you, so he couldn't try to wedge it between me and the next person again. I heard that angry yapping again, so I turned around and stared him down. He felt absolutely no shame -- he resented me! -- but at least he turned off to the side and didn't try anything again. His little daughter, who couldn't have been more than 10 years old, kept staring up in an attempt to shame me rather than her own sweat-panted failure of a father. I normally don't get much of a rush picking on little kids, but it felt great to stare back down at her with a smug smile on my face, to let her know that her little Gypsy kid shaming tactics were powerless. Thinking back on it, I should have also laughed in her face -- note for future reference.

- Then there was that time that I taught a good lesson to that lardass Mexican couple... but I probably shouldn't talk about that here! Nothing blatantly illegal, although what they did to start it was close to it. The important thing is that they got fucked and I didn't, so don't be afraid that you'll lose.

- This is getting kind of long, so one last example -- one that'll be more widely applicable. In middle school I had dyed my hair purple just for the thrill of it. My family didn't mind; in fact, my mother took me to get the supplies and, after taking me to get my hair bleached, applied the dye herself. Suddenly half of the cute preppy girls in my grade started talking to me, and one would become my closest chick friend. This was the mid-'90s, so I guess that was as rebellious of a boy as they were going to see in real life -- no more leather-jacket-and-switchblade crews by that time.

The dessicated cunt of a principal could not tolerate white kids flouting the rules, although she treated black thugs with kid gloves -- she was a leftover from the radical '60s, but she enjoyed a new power once the identity politics movement of the early '90s took off, especially after Rodney King. After being left alone for months, I suddenly got summoned to the office and was told that I was suspended indefinitely until I came back with normal hair. My mother had been supportive up until then, but didn't want to screw around, and I got my hair dyed back brown that same day.

That power-tripper wasn't going to get away with it, but I didn't know how to react at first. I started just dying the ends again, moving farther up each week, just to see if they'd say anything. Then I decided to launch a more direct assault. The principal had justified my suspension by saying that my hair color was a disruption to the learning process in the classroom. It was a bald-faced lie, but it didn't occur to me right away to challenge that part of it.

So I drew up a simple document that asked, "Have you noticed a disruption to the learning process in your classroom because of Agnostic's hair color?" It had a Yes/No box and signature line for each of my teachers, plus an open space for comments at the bottom. I walked up to every one of my teachers after class and asked them face-to-face what the question said, and would they check Yes or No. That was intimidating -- no email, no getting my mommy to call them -- but all of them checked No and signed their name, even the one teacher who didn't care much for me and was sympathetic to the power-tripper. None left comments, probably because they didn't want to really get on the principal's shit list.

I did not even have to turn that document into the principal, let alone call a bunch of bloodsucking lawyers to fight my battle for me. One or more of my teachers must have told the administration that this little punk eighth-grader had outsmarted the principal and beaten that wannabe dictator at her own game. Realizing that she had been fucked, she left me alone after that.

Years later, a friend of my best friend began ranting about how racist the new black principal was at his high school (not ours), cracking down on whites for nothing while turning a blind eye to black trouble-makers. I said, yeah, I know how that is -- our middle school principal was the same way, fucking bitch. "No dude, you don't understand -- " our mutual friend broke in, " -- it's the same one!" No shit? "No really -- after she left, she went on to run his school." Fuckin' A, man, I hope the kids at her new school struck back at her like I did, otherwise normal kids are going to keep getting screwed over.

Shoot, I got a bunch more of these stories I could tell, but I think you all get the point by now. Again, please share your own to give everyone some more dangerous ideas.

I know it's going to ruffle a few feathers, but this just goes to show how cowed some parents are who consider themselves rebels by home-schooling their kids. Stop running and hiding from the problem and just strike back. Social polluters and parasites can smell fear, and the more common this run-away-from-it attitude becomes, the more emboldened they will feel to really bleed the rest of society.

If some middle school kid with no help from anyone else at all can take on the principal's office and win, then so can the parents. As with all the other examples, the authoritarians are total cowards inside and can only thrive when their subjects just sit there and take it. The slightest subversion from even an isolated individual scares them into compliance -- and you can imagine how fast they'll beat a retreat when confronted with the uproar of a mob of students and parents.

When the problem uses legislation, turn that same legislation against them. When the problem tries to shout you down, you shout louder. When the problem gets rowdy, you get rowdier. When the problem tries to shame you, you shame them double for being so shameless. And when the problem teams up with other problems, then you form an even greater team -- drive those bunch of problems to drown back in the scum-rotten ponds that they came from.

Let's show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown!

May 25, 2011

The downside of being Jewish -- too prone to joining bizarre cults?

The term "Jew-bilation" is used by the Ashkenazim to refer to the warm, tingly feeling they get when they discover that some eminent individual turns out to be Jewish. The website JINFO.ORG keeps a list of accomplished Jewish people in a variety of artistic and scientific fields. Aside from these culture-makers, the disproportionate share of CEOs at top corporations is another source of ethnic pride. In general, it looks like Jews make up 20-30% of these groups, despite making up only 2-3% of the overall population. They're over-represented, then, by about 10 times.

If their way of life, influenced by both genes and culture, has produced such astonishing results, then what's the downside of it all? Otherwise most other groups should have evolved that way. The main trait responsible for their success in culture and business is their higher average IQ, which is about 1 standard deviation above the European average. So the extra costs that are the counter-weight to their greater success could reflect being too smart.

I have a different idea, perhaps not an original one since I haven't read a lot of the relevant literature. Others have talked about it informally, but I ran across some studies that back it up. That is that Jews seem to be unusually prone to bizarre cults, and that can't be too good for you, all else equal. I'm not talking about the zealots, the original Christians, etc., but the ones that are truly mind-bogglingly weird -- Marxism, Freudian psychoanalysis, Objectivism, and so on. But hey, big deal, investing in some wacko intellectual theory will be mostly harmless -- to the academics, anyway, although perhaps not for the rest of society if it gets implemented on a wide scale.

I'm talking more about the weirdo cults that began in the late '60s and peaked during the '70s and early '80s. Unlike Marxist English professors, they were giving up a lot just to belong to a group of misfits -- separation from families, donating labor and earnings to the group, and so on. And unlike the earlier zealots, they weren't following an established religious group that had already earned a reputation for trustworthiness. Most of those cults ended in scandal after enough of the members woke up to the fact that the leaders were a bunch of predatory, exploitative false Messiahs. The ones still left have nothing of their former shape, so I consider that as an end too.

Unlike their numbers in other institutions that we view favorably, their numbers in cults is not a well known story. If it was ever widespread during the heyday of cults, it has vanished down the memory hole as an embarrassment. Non-Jews are not going to come across references either because they've lost interest in cults, having re-branded them New Religious Movements as though the Manson family, Jonestown, and the Children of God were all just budding Christianities.

Here are three quotes that mention estimates of Jewish membership in cults (links added for reference).

From Kaslow & Sussman (1982), Cults and the Family, Volume 4 (p.101):

Spero (1977), for example, cites an estimated twelve percent of American membership in the Unification Church (UC, or "Moonies") to be Jewish, a vastly disproportionate overrepresentation.

From Jenkins (2000), Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History (p.195):

Though estimates vary widely, Rudin and Rudin [1980] suggest that "perhaps 20 percent of Hare Krishnas are Jewish. Jews constitute as much as 30 percent of Divine Light Mission membership, and there are many Jews in Scientology."

And from Saiba (1986), Christian And Jewish Responses To ISKCON: Dialogue Or Diatribe?:

Headlines in Jewish community bulletins and newspapers further highlight Jewish vulnerability to the cults, [2] which are allegedly recruiting Jews in disproportionate numbers. [3]

Here are the two footnotes:

[2] Headlines like 'Jews' Vulnerability to the Lure of the Cults', in the Long Island Jewish World (Dec. 6, 1981); 'The Hare Krishna Alerts Israel to Missionary Danger', in the Jewish Press, Brooklyn, N.Y. (April 5, 1979); and 'Cults: A Growing Threat to Jewish Continuity and Survival in America', in Hakol, Allentown, PA (May, 1977), are but a random sample of the disquietude which has been spreading throughout the Jewish community.

[3] In general, Jewish sources believe that between 15-25% of all cult members are Jewish and that 15% of Hare Krishna members were brought up as Jews (cf. Adahan, 1981:37; Appell, 1978:20). Neff (1979:23) states that up to 45% of any given cult could be of Jewish background. Gittelson and Reed (1981:212) disagree and hold that Jews are not proportionately represented in the cults. The estimates vary, and there are no completely reliable statistics. At times Jews appear more concerned with the number of Jewish converts to Messianic Judaism (cf. Rudin, 1978:353-5).

Although the average Jewish person may not have joined such an out-there cult, their over-representation by about 10 times suggests that their distribution for susceptibility to crazy and blind crowd-following is shifted toward the more wacko end of the spectrum, compared to the European distribution. They seem more likely to lack an instinct for performing basic reality checks, especially toward charismatic leaders of zero-track-record cult movements. That can't be good -- and it isn't. So this would seem to be the main cost of the Ashkenazi way of life that has kept it from growing too common.

Whether this downside stems directly from their higher average IQ -- the cost of being too smart for your own good -- or whether it's an independent feature of their group is not clear. East Asians are also smarter on average than Europeans, and while they did go in for Maoism, and while they do believe more in magic, they don't seem to show up disproportionately in crazy cults. If anything, their distribution seems to be farther away from the fanatical/zealous end than even the European distribution.

We could also check this by looking at Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, who don't have higher average IQs compared to Europeans. If they are no more likely than Europeans to dive head-first without looking into the whirlpool of brand-new cults, that would mean the Ashkenazi tendency toward cultism could in fact be related to their greater brainpower. If these other Jewish groups are just as zealous as the Ashkenazim, then it cannot reflect the cost of being too smart, but rather some other enduring feature of the environments that Jews have found themselves in, and to which greater zealotry would adapt them.

May 24, 2011

What happened to songs with someone's name in the title?

Next in the series of changing themes in #1 pop songs, from 1959 to 2010, is a look at those whose title bears a person's given name or surname (not just a generic title, honorific, or figure of speech). Giving a character a name is one of the most basic ways of making them more human for the listeners, who don't know them. If the character is fictional, having a name makes it easier for the singer to pretend they're real and channel a more authentic feeling.

And apart from making the song more believable, names heighten the sense of social bonding -- it's not just "hey you" or "baby" or going right into the address without calling the person by any title at all. You may not have to be the closest friends to address them by name, but you have to be more than mere acquaintances. If the closeness between two people in a song doesn't even clear this low threshold, that is an honest sign of a lack of intimacy and trust.

For this reason, I excluded two songs where the name referred to the singer themselves, in an act of self-glorification ("Ice Ice Baby" and that "Soulja Boy" song from a couple years back).

Before getting to the data, though, it's worth playing a couple "name" songs since they aren't made anymore.

"Sara Smile"
by Hall & Oates

"Sheena is a Punk Rocker" by The Ramones

"Joan of Arc" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

"James" by The Bangles

"Amanda" by Boston

"Dirty Diana" by Michael Jackson

"Tania" by Camper Van Beethoven

Here is a graph showing the prevalence of name songs among the Billboard Hot 100 #1s (a combination of the total number of different songs and how long the whole group lasted at #1 that year):

As I've detailed elsewhere, during rising-crime times people pull close together and disband when violence levels start falling. That includes the social circles of boys and those of girls, which largely overlap when the world is getting more dangerous (one obvious reason among others being that girls want more protection then), and that separate when the world gets safer.

Sure enough that pattern shows up here, with the rising-crime period of 1959 to 1992 containing just about all of the songs with names. Even by the early '90s these songs were dead, right around the time when social trust levels peaked (trust peaks a couple years before the crime rate does). There does not appear to be a second-order pattern, where the first or second half of this period has most of the examples -- they are pretty evenly distributed. The only exceptions during falling-crime times are "Maria Maria" from 2000, "Ms. Jackson" and "Lady Marmalade" from 2001 (the latter is an adaptation of an earlier #1 from the '70s), and "Hey There Delilah" from 2007.

So here's another sign that the falling levels of social trust reported on surveys are real. For roughly 20 years, the singers of the most popular new songs have not felt close enough to anyone to call them by name, or at least not comfortable enough to do so before an audience. The bonds linking boys and girls have never been weaker, in contrast to a time when every overpass had an "I Love Susie" painted on it, every sidewalk had a square with "Kimberly Loves Bobby" impressed into the cement, and every wooded area had a tree with "Stacy + Mike 4VR" carved into it.

May 23, 2011

Changing themes in pop music, 1959-2010: Life and death and colors

Here's the original post that explains the methodology and looks at religion and love themes in pop music titles. To reiterate, we look at the #1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and see if their titles mention some theme. For a given year, the index of the theme's prevalence reflects the number of different songs, as well as the number of weeks that this whole group of songs lasted at #1.

Below are two graphs showing how common color terms have been, as well as the theme of life and death (any variant on "life," "living," etc. and "death," "die," "kill," etc.).

Color terms show up only during rising-crime times, from 1959 to 1992, being totally absent from 1993 through 2010. As I've detailed before, people become more artistically creative during times of soaring violence; their minds open up to see a wider expanse of the world, and they try to provoke more of a response in the audience. Part of that is simply painting a more vivid picture, and few things there are more basic than using color terms.

There is a second-order pattern, too, where the bulk of songs with color terms show up during the first half of rising-crime times, and endure but at lower levels during the second half. This is the split between a period of initial experimentation, when artists are trying to expand the horizons of our perception using the most basic tools, like showering our eyes with the full spectrum of colors to wake us from our sober and drab slumber. The peak period for color terms in song titles is roughly 1966 to 1972, the heyday of psychedelic imagery. The second period of experimentation rises above the lower-level visual processes like color perception and experiments with more sublime imagery, such as the many religious references shown in the original post in this series.

The theme of life and death also shows up mostly during rising-crime times. There are 4 years in falling-crime times, each with a single counter-example, that go against this trend, although even these exceptional songs only treat the theme of life and not death: "All My Life" in 1998, "Livin' La Vida Loca" in 1999, "Live Your Life" in 2008, and "My Life Would Suck Without You" in 2009 (catchy title, eh?).

It's not surprising that times of rising crime direct the mind toward the themes of life and especially death. Still there is a second-order pattern where most of this emerges during the later half of rising-crime times, when people have shifted into a more apocalyptic mindset. The first years of 1973 and '74 had three songs with death-related words in the title: "Killing Me Softly with His Song," "The Night Chicago Died," and "I Shot the Sheriff." The peak period is 1985 through 1990, and the year with the greatest prevalence was 1987, which saw "Livin' on a Prayer," "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," and "(I Just) Died in Your Arms."

Can witch hunts cause a separate, truly dangerous group from harming people?

Yes I do have a case study in mind (with data) that I'll go into sometime this week, but this post will motivate the idea.

Looking back on history, we notice examples of scapegoating, witch hunts, irrational panics, or whatever you want to call them. A group of people are singled out for suspicion, have their reputations dragged through the mud, are held captive during the trial, and may suffer physical punishment if found guilty. However, it turns out that they did not do any such thing that they're being accused of. Sometimes this lack of blame is discovered during the trial; sometimes not until after their punishment.

With the benefit of hindsight, the trial looks like a complete waste -- a wild goose chase, only one that harms innocent bystanders. Still, there is a positive deterrent effect worth considering, whereby those who are truly carrying out the bad acts that the accused are on trial for get freaked out by the threat of mob vengeance and dial down their evil. Not exclusive to that possibility, seeing the fiery indignation of such a crowd of people might cause them to reflect on their acts, see that they are wicked, and dial them down out of shame. Obviously the second cause can only work on non-sociopaths. How the deterrent effect and the unjust accusation effect compare in size is an empirical question that can only be looked at case by case.

The basic way to see the witch hunt is as a display that the community has lowered its threshold for bringing serious accusations, for deciding that the accused is guilty, and for meting out harsh punishments. Or looked at another way, it shows that the deciders of guilt and punishment have increased their trust in the accusers, and decreased their trust in the accused.

This lowered threshold will result in a greater rate of false positives than before -- where an innocent person is judged guilty. However, with a higher false positive rate comes a lower false negative rate -- now there will be fewer cases where a guilty person is judged not guilty. If even the not-guilty have become more likely to be judged guilty, then certainly those who truly do have a closet full of skeletons will be less likely to escape a guilty verdict after being put through the same witch hunt process.

In the perhaps bogus formulation of economists, the witch hunt atmosphere raises the expected costs to the those who are actually doing whatever the unfairly hounded group has been accused of. This greater cost has two components. First, the atmosphere raises the probability of getting caught for the guilty. And second, since the crowd is now rabid, the size of the punishment dealt to those judged guilty has shot up. "Rats, if even those clearly harmless people are having their feet held to the fire, it's only a matter of time before I'm found out, and with the state they're in, I'll be lucky to be killed quick."

As for feeling shame, something similar applies. The shame that comes from a realization of how others feel about your acts (or would feel, once they were aware) can be broken down into two pieces. First, the probability that a random person in your area or social circle would join an indignant mob tells an onlooker how much confirmation there is that the act is wicked -- if hardly anyone is joining in, it's only a fringe group trying to push their morality on the majority, but if lots more are joining in, they can't all be stupid or crazy. Second, the intensity of the indignation leveled at the alleged act tells an onlooker how certain that member of the mob is that the act is evil -- nobody goes around spewing bile over a trivial moral infraction.

So, the greater the size of the mob, and the more fire-breathing they are, the more shame a spectator would feel who had been doing whatever the accused is being tried for. "Jeez, I never realized that so many people felt so repulsed by those kind of things, which I've been doing myself -- they're probably right, I had better knock it off."

Again, how this deterrent effect stacks up against the unjust accusation effect can only be looked at case by case. If many innocents are judged guilty and subjected to harsh punishments (torture, long prison sentences, death), while there are only a handful of not-so-harmful crimes prevented through deterrence, it's a waste. But other cases may involve a small number of innocents who are ultimately judged not guilty, though not without having their reputations slandered and being confined during the trial, and where large numbers of really sick crimes are deterred by the spectacle.

There is no big red button for us to push -- should we make a certain trade-off or not? -- because we never know during the lead-up to the trial (or to its abandonment) what the costs of unjust accusations will be and what will be the benefits of deterrence. In certain circumstances, these trials appear to be unavoidable, so there's no button in that sense either. Yet in evaluating the trial afterwards, in addition to adding up the costs of the unjustly accused, we should also not forget to tally the benefits of crimes that never happened because the would-be criminals thought twice after witnessing the crowd all but devour someone who was, in the mob's eyes, just like them.

We rarely see these crises-that-were-prevented in the data, but that doesn't mean they're not there. Indeed, because there was a much higher rate of false positives during a period of witch-hunting, it follows that there was a lower rate of false negatives -- a lower rate of letting the bad guys walk free and unmolested.

And like it or not, it's the sheer size and ferocity of the crowd that is responsible for the deterrence, whether through raising costs or inducing shame: a single judge, or handful of judges in the criminal's region, issuing a dispassionate notice that the court has become more trusting of accusers and less trusting of the accused would not have the same effect. For all the criminally inclined onlookers can tell, such a display reflects only the views of a fringe and even they don't hold the view very strongly. This is not to glorify the mob atmosphere as such, but only to note descriptively that it can pack a punch that officials of law enforcement and the courts cannot.

May 21, 2011

Signs of the non-apocalypse

Along with everyone else who's posting sarcastic remarks / pictures about the rapture on their Facebook, I am sure the apocalypse will not come today. There are simply no signs: violent crime and property crime are way down, white people have taken back the cities -- even New York and DC -- and it's rare that you see a spooky figure stalking the area, whether a material one like a crazy bum shouting I'LL KILL THE BITCH! or an immaterial specter.

Still, this (rightly) dismissive view was not always mainstream; in fact, it would have seemed downright foolish. How did the apocalyptic mindset ever become widespread?

During the first half of rising-crime times, people get a little more anxious that the problem may only get worse, but overall they remain naively secure that once the men in white coats crunch the numbers with their computers, the optimal solution will be printed on on the screen, and then it's only a matter of diverting enough public funds to the project. Hence the Great Society.

Somewhere around halfway through a period of soaring violence, though, people realize that no matter what the efforts and no matter what the spending of the men with their hands on the levers and dials of society, nothing has worked and the problem is still getting worse. This shifts their mindset from one of naive optimism to a more apocalyptic form of optimism -- it looks like we're in some real pretty shit now, but if we all band together instead of relying on a tiny clueless bubble of experts, we can drive back the encroaching forces of evil ourselves. Hence the grassroots moral revolution of the mid-'70s through the early '90s.

As an illustration of this shift in attitudes, for those who didn't experience it first-hand, consider just one of signs of the coming endtimes -- the growing ranks of underage runaway prostitutes in urban areas. The runaway problem was not considered so bad throughout the '60s and the early '70s -- they were just free spirits striking out to blaze their own trail, march to the beat of a different drummer, and so on, while having a blast in a Summer of Love commune.

Not until the mid-'70s did cops on the beat and people in the neighborhood begin to notice that most of these kids were escaping a war-zone of a family environment -- sexual abuse from mom's new live-in boyfriend, parents who were drunk or high most of the time, beatings from foster parents who only took them in to collect checks from the government, and so on. Nor were they ending up in much better circumstances once they poured into the city, having to rely on pimps for protection against johns who felt little shame in roughing them up. The pimp at least had a financial incentive to keep her (or him) in decent health: otherwise she couldn't work and the flow of dollars would stop.

We can see the eyes of the elite first starting to stir awake in the 1976 movie Taxi Driver, where a 13 year-old Jodie Foster plays a runaway who supports her very unglamorous lifestyle in New York through prostitution. She does not look like a free untamed spirit at all, but rather a quasi-prisoner of her pimp and the faceless stream of johns. Even more bizarrely, she left behind a loving, at-least-getting-by family in Vermont, not an abusive household. What was the world coming to when even those families could lose their preteen daughter so suddenly to such a hellhole? *

Although the naive view was starting to really give way, even through late 1978 it was still possible for a #1 pop song, "Hot Child in the City," to portray underage runaway prostitutes as just part of these changing times, so why not just go along with it? That was before MTV, but here is a dance troupe interpreting the song in what might as well be considered a music video. The city does look like a dump -- whose first apartment does not? -- but the overall vibe is still one of free-spirited glamor. Notice the totally nonchalant way that the singer asks the girl to come back to his place, where "we'll make loooove!" The slow-ish tempo and upbeat, catchy sound likewise evoke a lazy summer night at the neighborhood pool, not the racing thoughts of a teenager trapped in a rotten urban hell.

By the early-mid-1980s, the residue of the naive perspective had vanished, and only the more apocalyptic view would prove popular. Bon Jovi's early hit "Runaway" now shows the background of clueless or dismissive parents, an image that today would only come off as attention-whoring by bratty children, but that was unlikely to be crying "wolf!" back during the peak of violent crime, drug wars, and sexual abuse (including by trusted authorities such as Catholic priests, whose abuses have roughly tracked the overall violent crime rate). Although the singer doesn't try to save or convert the girl as Travis Bickle did in Taxi Driver, he still lacks the carefree and indulgent attitude of "Hot Child in the City." The pace is more frenetic and the instrumentation more overwhelming, reflecting the confusion that the girl must be going through, and the music video features the now mandatory nuclear fallout setting.

Around the same time we see and hear the same changes in the video for Pat Benatar's hit "Love is a Battlefield". Also worth noting here is the portrayal of urban blacks. Gone is the credulity of Great Society cheerleaders who saw their problems as only one of poverty. In 1983, even the liberal MTV producers pulled no punches in showing "disadvantaged urban youths" as lecherous and shameless monsters always primed to pounce. Pat had already explored the theme of unseen child abuse in "Hell Is for Children" in 1980, and would return to it in 1985 with "Invincible," from the soundtrack of a movie about a teenage female runaway.

The last major song and music video in this vein was "Janie's Got a Gun" by Aerosmith in 1989, which was more explicit about the abusive household that the young girl was running away from. Shortly afterward the TV show Twin Peaks debuted and would treat many of the same themes as these songs. It's almost as if they can sense the coming reversal of these problems, as this song is slower-paced and not so overwhelming of the senses.

Since the crime rate peaked in 1992, however, this one harbinger of the apocalypse has receded from view, and so too from production by the culture-makers. (I guess Soul Asylum's 1992 hit "Runaway Train" counts, but it doesn't go much into the troubled background or jungle-like atmosphere of wherever the singer ran away too; also it's not as moving musically.) During this period of emos and goths, the only messages that so-called neglected kids try to get across to their parents are that You're such a dumbass for not buying me the wireless controller along with that now-useless PS3 that you got me for Christmas, or Pay my phone bill you idiots or they're going to cut off my service, or You ruined my Super Sweet Sixteen and I'll never forgive you!

Not that the age of spoiled brats, gadget-worshipers, and self-satisfied snark is not in its own way a kind of Hell on Earth. Still, we would have preferred to witness a spectacle like Armageddon rather than wake up one morning to find ourselves slowly turning on a spit over the coals.

* Social science studies of teenage runaways, during their heyday at least, found that the income of their families did not vary much between runaways and the general population. So it was no melodramatic exaggeration to show middle-class kids running away back then. What did differ were two things: 1) a toxic life back home (abusive stepdad, drugged out parents, etc.), and 2) a somewhat anti-social personality of the runaway (well-behaved kids in such abusive households would stay there and try to cope or maybe block it all out instead).

May 20, 2011

The evolutionary psychology of fag-hag ego inflation

A Darwinian framework for looking at human behavior highlights the possibility that the environment that we inhabit now may be quite different from the one we evolved in, and that there may not have been enough time or a sufficiently strong selection pressure for genetic change to have adapted us to our strange new world.

One aspect of modern life that is at odds with the pressures facing our ancestors, and that has only existed for a single generation, is the explosion of the "gay friend" in the social lives of females. (Men cannot stand to be around them.) This is the one exception to the tendency of boys and girls to live in separate social circles during falling-crime times, unlike the more mixed-sex social lives of people going through a wave of violence. Indeed, some females even prefer the gay friend to other types of platonic relationships.

The central dysfunction that results from these friendships is an overly inflated ego in the female. Her homosexual friend fattens her up with compliments and then, like a make-up artist, cradles her self-blemished reputation in one hand, and with the other slathers on concealing reassurances that "girl, you don't have to lose weight for nobody!" and "honey, how many strangers you share your bed with ain't no thang, God gave you that booty to do what you want with it!" And sharing her enthusiasm for the same set of vapid interests like panini presses, designer toiletpaper from Target, and le journalisme of the HuffPo, he stunts her social and cultural growth, where a straight friend would have introduced her to all the exciting things that girls are normally too conformist to seek out on their own.

What makes this level of ego inflation uniquely out-of-control? -- didn't other types of friendships lead to the same thing before? Not at all. The reason is that the normal types of friends that a girl has -- straight females and males -- have an interest in giving her compliments when they don't mean it. Girls adjust for this by discounting their friends' compliments, ego massages, etc.

With her straight male friends, it's only a question of how actively they're trying to get her into bed, and any girl past the sixth grade realizes this. So she doesn't take their efforts to boost her ego very seriously, often dismissing them altogether.

With her female friends, it's only a question of how actively they're trying to plot against her, one-up her, or otherwise play the role of frenemies. Sometime in middle or high school -- college at the latest -- every girl has an experience where her closest friend reassures her that:

no, you totally don't look like a slut in that skirt! omigod are you crazyyy?!?!?!!!?! i mean, like, i would SO wear it myself, but these jeans are the only clean thing i have to wear. (omigod you're, like, making me feel so ugly now, haha!!!) i'm actually seriously jealous -- the boys are going to love you while i, like, disappear into the background! no, you should totally wear that skirt...

Meanwhile the poor girl in the skirt looks like she's wearing one of those Sexy Librarian costumes -- to school, in front of everyone. She notices that the boys aren't just looking at her more than usual, but that they've pegged her as the school slut and now only think of her as a pump-and-dump opportunity, never anyone who they would invest in or settle down with. Maybe she represses this awareness for the next day or so, but sooner or later the realization sinks in that she was stabbed in the back by that jealous bitch who I just knew was always waiting to embarrass me in front of the whole class. Needless to say, before long girls start to dismiss the compliments, etc., of their female friends -- or, as they now see them, their rivals in the dating-and-mating competition.

When her fag friend is blowing up her ego, however, neither of the other restraints kick in. After all, he's not trying to sweet-talk his way into her pants, and he's obviously not a rival in the mating arena (they may both like boys, but never the same boys). He really does have no ulterior motive in showering her with praise and reassurance, so her mind doesn't dampen the seriousness with which she takes in this flow of you're-awesome-just-the-way-you-are.

Because girls love to enthusiastically repeat back something that they agree with -- such as, that any guy would be lucky to date her -- and because gays are like that too in conversation, they both get locked into a positive feedback loop, where the ego inflation spirals ever further out of control. It is no different, then, from a junkie who gets hooked on a drug that did not pose a risk to our ancestors, or a carboholic whose sugar crashes bring them to crave even more carbs to get through the next couple hours, a dilemma that hunter-gatherers would never have found themselves trapped in.

We've managed to demonize hard drugs enough that some fraction of would-be addicts are scared away from them before they even try them out. For the moment, "health food" includes bagels with Nutella, waffles with syrup, and piles of pasta, but that could change as more people re-discover the dangers of dumping so much glucose and fructose into their bloated guts.

Taking away a modern gal's homosexual enabler friend will prove more politically difficult, since they are currently the en vogue minority group ("my Negro friend" is so 1967). Still, that shouldn't stop us from telling the women in our social circles with a gay bff addiction that it's for their own good to give it up -- cold turkey. That's for those who are already hooked. As for those who have yet to suffer fag-hag ego-bloat, nothing works better than attaching a stigma to the dangerous substance.

As recently as 1991, the top movie in America could still associate homosexuals with transvestite serial murderers, and a major pop music star of that period would only come out as gay in 1998 when he was caught cruising for anonymous sex in a Beverly Hills public restroom. Acceptance only became obvious to the average American in the late '90s when Sex and the City began. Even the gay bff in My So-Called Life, which ran during late 1994 and early 1995, was still in the closet to everyone but a handful of friends, a source of endless can't-we-all-just-get-along-ing typical of the alterna-grunge heyday.

So it's hardly too late to roll back the mainstreaming of gay enabler friends. Society has been taking it up the butt for far too long by the gay movement -- now more than ever, the Joker's plan for change has never been more urgent: This town needs an enema!

May 19, 2011

Conformity and lack of shame

The brou-ha-ha over Dominique Strauss-Kahn's alleged molesting of a hotel maid in New York brings up an interesting question -- is conformity good at making a society more pro-social? The French pride themselves on how conformist they are. When everyone knows their place and behaves as they're expected to, the machine operates smoothly.

In the more rambunctious and informal and less ritualistic Anglo countries, we would seem to be always on the brink of chaos -- there's less of a behavior plan set down for us, and even if the codes were clearer, we would still be more likely to tell the planners to go fuck off and search for a more docile race of slugs to order around. (Maybe the Chinese.) How could pro-social behavior ever emerge without powerful pressures to conform to the set of roles that are there to make sure social life goes along without a hitch?

Well, as it turns out the Anglophone countries are dramatically more pro-social than more conformist, formal, and ritualistic countries such as Japan, Spain, Italy, and -- yes -- France. The OECD recently released a bunch of data on social indicators in the rich countries, one subset of which deal with social cohesion. Only one of these indicators measures a costly action rather than cheap beliefs, so we'll look at that one. At the link, go to section 8 and find the spreadsheet for "Pro- and anti-social behavior." They've already made a visually simple chart that I won't paste here since it would get shrunken too much to be legible.

Their pro-social indicator is just the percent of people who in the past month either volunteered their time, gave money, or helped out a stranger. The average for the OECD is 39% making these small but helpful sacrifices. America leads the world at 60%, with Ireland just a shade behind, followed by Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Canada, who score from 54% to 59%. (There is a large drop-off with the next group of countries.) The more formal countries mentioned earlier are much less pro-social: only 31% of the French sacrifice in these ways, 30% of Spaniards, 27% of Italians, and 26% of Japanese.

Is this pattern general? Yes. The OECD report also has a good-enough measure of conformity -- the percent of communities that report some degree of tolerance for minorities, gays, etc. It's not perfect, but it is a measure of how much deviation from the norm is sanctioned. Among the developed countries, here is the relationship between pro-social behavior and tolerance:

The fit is very tight. Spearman's rank correlation is +0.74 (two-tailed p less than 1 x 10^(-7) ).

One way to look at these data is to ask how much more likely people in the Anglo countries are to sacrifice -- about twice as likely. A better way is to convert these percentages into z-scores, which will tell us how far apart the average American is from the average Frenchman -- 0.75 standard deviations. To make this easier to understand, if we considered the tendency toward pro-social behavior as though it were height, it would be as though Americans were 2.25 inches taller than the French on average. That size of a difference would be noticeable to any clear-sighted observer of both societies, such as Alexis de Toqueville.

How can the Anglo countries wind up morally stronger than the others, if we are floating adrift without the pressures of conformity to steer us in the right direction? The answer is that by refusing to outsource our moral sense to some abstract set of social conventions, and instead internalizing it as a rule of thumb to "do what you believe is right," we're able to tap far more deeply into the reptilian part of our brain. Acting more on instinct than on calculations of the costs and benefits of obeying vs. disobeying the role structure, we are much more likely to feel a sharp painful sting if we think about doing something wrong, and conversely to feel impelled by our own involuntary nervous system -- not by an awareness of the desires of others -- to do the right thing.

Where we ever got the idea that social conformity is the superior way to produce good behavior is beyond me. It's like imitating 12 year-old girls, whose world is governed by conformity, rather than grown-up men, who don't need anyone else to prescribe to them what's acceptable and unacceptable behavior. We didn't even need a theory about how the mechanistic chain of causation worked -- all we had to do was look at hollow husks of a society, such as France or Japan, where conformity rules, in stark contrast to more spiritually vigorous countries like America or Australia where we don't need planners to tell us what to do.

We see this split even within our own country at different points in time. During the highly conformist 1950s, and even the '60s to a lesser extent (remember that the counter-culture was a fringe), the average American was morally rudderless. That was the era of the Silent Generation and the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit -- just do what you're expected to by your superiors, and you'll be rewarded with a Barcelona chair for your office and a space-age vacuum cleaner for your wife. It took until the more don't-tread-on-me era of the later '70s and the 1980s for Americans to rediscover the more robust moral compass within.

May 18, 2011

Changing themes in pop music titles, 1959-2010: Religion and love

To get a little more quantitative in the claims I've made about people's mindsets changing when the crime rate starts soaring or plummeting, let's look at how prevalent certain themes are in popular culture, which responds to audience demand of the day.

I'm only looking at song titles, not the entire lyrics because I don't have a lyrics database, but I can go through titles easily. The songs are those that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during a given year. This understates the prevalence since it only sees the tip of the iceberg; it sets a convenient threshold so we can compare similar cases across time, instead of cherry-picking songs to confirm our hunch.

My prevalence index is the sum of the number of songs that feature the theme in their title, and this sum is weighted by how many weeks the whole block of songs stayed at #1. The more songs there were, and the longer the whole group were topping the charts, the more in-the-air the themes of their titles were. *

The crime rate began increasing in 1959, peaked in 1992, and has been falling since. The Billboard data begin in 1959, so they allow us to see what happened during the rising-crime and falling-crime periods both. There are earlier Billboard data, but they had three separate precursors to the Hot 100. If I can figure out which is the closest to the Hot 100, if any is, I might go back and look at those to see what went on during the falling-crime period of the 1940s and most of the '50s.

This will be a continuing series, whenever I get time to flip through the lists. To start off, here are graphs showing the prevalence of religious themes, the theme of love in general or the abstract, and more concrete images of love.

For religion, I included words dealing with man's relation to higher powers, rituals, religious buildings, and so on, whether Christian, Hare Krishna, pagan, or whatever. I excluded lesser supernatural beings like angels, genies, ghosts, as well as magic, which I might look at later.

As in the broader culture, we see an increasing influence of religion during rising-crime times, and particularly during the apocalyptic sub-period that lasts throughout the second half of the rising-crime period (here, the mid-'70s through the late '80s or early '90s). The peak years are 1986 and '87, each with 4 songs, lasting a total of 6 weeks in '86 and 9 weeks in '87. These are "Kyrie," "Papa Don't Preach," "Higher Love," and "Venus" for '86; and for '87, "Livin' on a Prayer," "Jacob's Ladder," "Heaven is a Place on Earth," and "Faith."

The profound secularization of the 1990s and 2000s is reflected in the near total lack of song titles with religious themes, with the sole exception of "Inside Your Heaven" from 2005, which only lasted one week. This provides one hint among many that the so-called family values revolution, or the push for family-friendly entertainment, that exploded during the past 20 years has had little to do with religion or morality at all, and more to do with helicopter parents trying to shelter their kids from any issue of consequence to mankind. Just throw them on the treadmill of leveling up their Pokemon creatures, and they'll never have to learn about good vs. evil, the profane vs. the sacred, and so on.

For abstract love, I included any variant on "love," so sometimes it is a bit more concrete (like "I Wanna Love You"), but overall it shows how common the general theme of love has been. There's a clear increase during rising-crime times, notwithstanding random ups and downs, and there is no clear peak year. It even lasts a few years after the high-point of crime, peaking in 1993 and still hanging around in '94. From 1995 through 2010, the theme is still there -- it's one of the most common in pop music -- but at far lower levels than during rising-crime times. Kids have so little passion these days, especially in the relations between boys and girls, which are more at-a-distance, emotionally shallow, and understood as more of a contract than an involuntary attraction and mental possession. It's just like the 1940s and '50s in that way.

For concrete love, I included the more direct images of "eyes," "kiss," and "heart" (and their variants). Others could be added, but these ones are more charged than "hands," "arms," etc. Again there's an increase during rising-crime times, perhaps only during the apocalyptic second half. The peak years are 1981, which had "Kiss on My List," "Bette Davis Eyes," and "Private Eyes," and 1989, which had "Two Hearts," "Lost In Your Eyes," "Cold Hearted," and "Listen to Your Heart."

Nothing focuses the mind on flesh and organs quite like the belief that the world won't last much longer. This same pattern shows up in horror movies. Note that this greater emphasis on the material fabric of the body does not mean that the culture was less focused on the spiritual or supernatural, since I've shown earlier that rising-crime times make us dwell on those topics as well. The human mind is Cartesian, seeing people as made up of a material body and an immaterial spirit. So soaring violence levels train our minds on the constitution of human beings as a whole -- both matter and spirit.

The drop-off during falling-crime times is pretty dramatic, although there are a few songs that mention kissing in the title. Just listening to my albums (almost all from rising-crime times), it seems like every other one has a song with "eyes" in the title, whether or not they hit #1. "Angel Eyes," "Eyes Without a Face," "All Eyes," "Somebody's Eyes," "Heaven In Your Eyes," "Prisoner of Your Eyes," "World in My Eyes," and others. Since people started closing themselves off from others around 15 to 20 years ago, they don't make a deep enough of a connection with other people to take particular note of their eyes.

I've mentioned before how young people don't even make eye-contact when they dance, preferring the standing lapdance on the rare occasions when boy and girl actually do dance instead of hiding in their same-sex circle. Now that everyone's a prude, kissing is down -- except among fat, ugly people in public (ever notice?). And talking abour your "heart" or someone else's requires you to let your guard down for a moment, which everyone is either afraid to do or, more commonly, snickers at the very idea as though their life were one endless episode of Seinfeld or Family Guy.

That's it for now. Upcoming posts will look at the themes of life and death, kinship, the weather and natural world, color terms, materialism, and whatever else would be relevant to earlier claims I've made.

* Specifically, each year's index is S*log(1+T), where S is the sum of the number of distinct songs, and T is the total time in weeks that this set of songs were at #1. I've log-transformed time because that's how people perceive it when judging how long a cultural trend has lasted -- there's a week, several weeks, several months, a year, several years, etc.

The index gives greater weight to the number of different songs (the index increases linearly with this variable), compared to the total time they are hits (the index shows diminishing marginal returns with this one). The reason is that I'm trying to capture how widespread the average listener would have perceived the theme -- so 5 songs each at the top for 1 week would be seen as a sign of much broader prevalence of the theme than 1 song at the top for 5 weeks. Listeners mostly look at how widespread the theme is across various individuals, and less so how long-lasting it is over time.

May 17, 2011

When can a small rebellion cause a large shock to the system?

Continuing on the topic of vigilantes, could a real-life Dirty Harry reverse the trend of Americans getting softer on crime, as detailed further down? Probably not, and two classical series of experiments about conformity suggest why.

In the Asch experiments, a test subject was shown two lines, one clearly longer than the other one, and asked which was longer. The twist is that he answered last, after about a dozen others said that the short one was actually longer (they were in on the experiment, not true test subjects). After hearing so many other people say the short line was longer, most people conform and say so as well, against their initial hunch. Maybe those other respondents saw something I didn't, or maybe I just don't want to stick out.

However, when there was even a single person from the fake subjects who told the truth -- that the long line was longer -- it canceled out the conformity effect, and the true test subject agreed with who they must have seen as the lone voice of reason. "Phew, so I wasn't the only one who thought so!" All it takes for the individual to rebel is to witness even a small potential group of like-minded rebels. This is value-free, of course: we could be talking about the criminally inclined who, while conforming to the norms of obeying the law, are on the look-out for signs that others are exploiting others and getting away with it.

The same result was found in the Milgram experiments, where the true test subject kept giving increasingly dangerous shocks (or so he thought) to a fake test subject, as punishment for answering test questions wrong. There was an authority figure who gave the true subject the orders to shock the fake subject, and while some aspects of this figure affected how willing the true subject was to give harmful shocks -- such as how near vs. far he was standing -- the single most powerful variable was the presence or absence of another (fake) subject who openly rebelled against the authority figure's orders. Just as in the Asch experiments, the full weight of the authority figure was blasted away by the individual witnessing even one other person stating out in the open that it was wrong, openly defying his orders, etc.

By the time Dirty Harry came out, crime rates had been rising for just over 10 years, and they would only get worse, peaking finally in 1992. In that context, the mass of the population were growing more discontent with how the authorities were handling the crime problem, as revealed by their attitudes from the General Social Survey reviewed in a post below. Seeing Dirty Harry on the big screen, or reading about Bernie Goetz in the newspaper, was confirmation to the average person that they were not alone in wanting to strike back at the hoodlums, and this emboldened them to seek tougher crime policies. I wish I had data on how short of a fuse the average person had when someone slighted them back then.

However, during our era of plummeting crime rates, fewer and fewer people feel angry about criminals; the days of "nothing is too harsh" are long gone. Therefore, a real-life Dirty Harry these days would not serve as a catalyst for a widespread backlash against the establishment -- the average person has to have a shared mindset with the rebel in order for the latter's example to provoke a broader chain reaction. In the Asch experiments, if a test subject had screwy vision, maybe he would truly believe that the short line was longer -- and thus not be stirred by the rebel respondent who stood out among the others in saying the long line was longer.

So, it does give hope that when the population is prepared for it, even a small rebellion can ramp up in a faster-than-linear way, as each one of the witnesses to the original act can start their own little rebellion, which in turn can be witnessed by many others. In this way, it grows incredibly quickly like the spread of a rumor where each person tells several others. "Hey, did you hear about that guy who stood up for himself on the New York subway and shot those parasitic little fuckers?! So it's not just us who's been thinking about doing that!"

At the same time, it should make us more realistic when the population is growing more and more resistant to the idea that the bad guys are bad -- that instead they are "disadvantaged," etc. You can't lead by example if the audience doesn't feel like paying attention. But as we saw below, attitudes can cycle up and down, so you can always bide your time until the next wave of violence makes people more open to treating criminals as exploiters rather than as victims of noxious social environments.

Newspeak encounter of the day -- fascist loose cannons

Listened to the commentary track on Dirty Harry and wasn't surprised to hear that it caused many libs to wee-wee their panties back when whining was still a legitimate form of argument. Still, it's funny and sad to read that Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert -- and lots of others, judging from the hundreds of thousands of google results -- throw the word "fascist" around when describing the moral worldview of the movie.

Now, that was 1971 when the counter-culture was still strong, and I realize that people don't ejaculate the term so often in public these days. But it nevertheless shows just how stupid the political culture was, and to some extent still is, when famous critics can use the word "fascist" -- with all its images of rigid hierarchy, marching in lockstep, knowing and unquestioningly respecting your given role so that the machine functions smoothly, etc. -- to describe a do-what-you-think-is-best outlook, and a way of acting that cuts the individual free of the society's regulations if they are only getting in the way of achieving the goal (here, of protecting the group).

If anything from that era was totalitarian, it was the liberal bureaucracy that told Dirty Harry to just follow orders from above, to not second-guess their appropriateness by thinking for himself. This is for the greater good: after all, when one piece wiggles out of its proper place in the machine, it will throw every other sub-system outta-whack, and the broken apparatus will no longer be able to protect the group. So just shut up and do as you're told.

I'm sure there are conservative morons who think Dirty Harry shows the value of hierarchical discipline and obeying authority, but they don't make it into the critics circle, so I couldn't easily find any famous examples.

The mandarin class is fundamentally drawn to the powerful -- at least when their favorite party is in power -- so they are always caught completely off-guard when Dirty Harry figures arise. I mean, they just don't make any sense. Vigilantes are anti-authoritarian, which is good if our guys are not in power but bad if they are. And they're acting to protect the larger community (unlike anti-authoritarian loner / hermit types), which is good, but their protection reaches a level that the rulers have proven impotent to achieve. This embarrasses and even discredits the rulers, and again that's good if our guys are not in power but bad if they are.

So sure, if the other guys are in power, let's welcome the vigilantes -- just think of the terrible publicity it'll give our rivals. Then again, given how the enjoyment of power fluctuates between parties, you know what, it's better to not risk being on the side of loose cannons, just in case it's us who's in power.

This explains why so much criticism of movies that treat the theme of authority sounds ridiculous -- since the intellectual class only talks to itself and lusts for power or at least influence over the powerful, they only hear arguments that take the sanctity of following orders for granted. They argue instead over whose plan for society should be rigidly adhered to, lest the whole thing come crumbling apart. The handful of anti-authoritarians who go into academia, the media, etc., are of the loner / hermit type who want to cast off society's shackles so that they can be left alone to themselves and maybe their family, not so that they can better do their job as a member of the team or group or community. They watch X-Files, not Aliens.

I'm not sure where to go to find commentators who might get it. Obviously not the typical places where critics hang out. But outside-the-establishment haunts on the internet are mostly peopled by nerds, and they too fall into the same groups as mainstream critics, although with more of the "just leave me alone" / "the truth is out there" hermits, and fewer chap-lipped dicksuckers of the powerful. If anyone's run across a good place online or off, say where in the comments.