August 27, 2012

Growing youth conformity, back-to-school shopping edition

Here is an NYT article about teenagers delaying their back-to-school shopping until a week or so after the beginning of the new year. Several independent sources, including some teenagers themselves, suggest that this is because kids are scoping each other out during a test period to see what everyone else is wearing at school, and then afterward making their choices based on that.

If the consumer behavior is new, then so must be the underlying motivation. When I was in middle school, I certainly don't remember that mindset myself or among anyone else I knew. You bought some new clothes and just hoped that you would look cool on the first day back from summer vacation. Compared to what they're doing now, it was more of a risk-taking approach.

Kids these days are definitely more conformist and afraid of taking risks, so I wouldn't dismiss the inferences of the article. I'd be interested to find out when this trend began. The article says it's been going over the past several years, but I'll bet it goes back to the mid or late 1990s, when young people started (just started) to get a lot more uptight and hive-minded. It's too bad that news articles rarely seek to trace anything farther back than 5 years ago.

It'd also be neat to see if people said this about when the Silent Generation when back to school in the '40s and '50s, compared to the more daring, wanna-stand-out way people dressed in the Roaring Twenties. Wouldn't be a surprise, but I can't get interested enough to pursue it any further than throwing it out there. Sometimes I wish I had a chick sidekick to look into stuff like this, or write up what I'd looked into. (I did read a couple short books on the history of jewelry, but haven't gotten bitten by the bug to write it up yet).

August 24, 2012

Pedestrian paradise in commercial and residential areas

[I hoped to split this into two posts, one for each kind of space, but they're too inter-related. I'll leave this up for awhile to let people read it, and hopefully that'll allow any discussion about this important topic to last longer.]

One of the sadder ironies of the past 20 years is that, while everyone has increasingly been promoting or at least paying lip-service to sustainable green communities that are easily walkable, their consumer behavior has fueled the sprawl of ever more strip centers and big box centers. This is true even among those who are liberal, wealthy, and educated, except that their dumpy strip centers are called "lifestyle centers" that offer a salon/spa instead of Supercuts, and that their alienating big box centers are anchored by a Walmart for yuppies, aka Target.

Make no mistake -- this isn't a case of the majority pushing for sprawl, which then causes a separate minority to push back with policy recommendations for sustainability. That person who complains about suburban sprawl is the same one who makes frequent car trips to their local lifestyle center, and who even hops back in their car after hitting up the Starbucks at one end to drive to the yoga studio at the other end.

The fundamental barrier to a pedestrian-friendly environment is quite simply automobile traffic, hence the more a location is exposed to roadways, and the thicker the width of those roadways, the more the pedestrian becomes fenced in and opts instead to drive. This makes strip centers the worst, and malls the best structures for pedestrians.

It all boils down to the desire of people going to strip centers to be isolated from other people during their trip (else they would congregate in more bustling locations). No given center can be very big because that would draw too many other customers buzzing around them like mosquitoes. The smaller size leads to a less diverse array of choices in any given center. Why? To be profitable, each smallish center will feature mostly low-risk places like fast-food restaurants -- you can always count on people being getting hungry -- and just one or two riskier, more niche stores like those for hardware, books, clothing, etc. This means that a typical patron will have to visit several shopping centers to meet all of their needs and wants.

The resulting archipelago of strip centers is defined by each center having heavy exposure to roadways -- parallel to the length of the center, and flanking both ends. There are generally no pedestrian walkways even behind the center, which may not be hemmed in by a roadway, but is usually backed by another strip center facing the opposite direction. Each center also has its marina-sized parking lot, where cars are not simply on display but creating another source of traffic that disrupts walking flows. And since each center has its own buffer of space that's set back from the curb, the combined footprint of the archipelago becomes a bit more inflated and sprawling, and thus less inviting to walk.

That buffer space also opens up a niche for parasitic bike riders who colonize what was intended as a walkway. A pedestrian only has to watch out for cars at intersections, but if there are bikes traveling in both directions on sidewalks, they can be pestered by wheeled vehicles at any point in their journey. Plus bike riders are usually self-important jackasses, far ruder than a driver, making strip centers even less friendly to walkers.

Now, this extensive, chunky lay-out with lots of buffering spaces around each location can be ideal for residential land, where each "center" would be a house, cluster of houses, or small apartment building, and where the parking lots and setbacks would be more like front lawns, back yards, and breathing room in between houses. Some degree of spaciousness and physical separation from neighbors makes it more comfortable for the occupants.

And since residential areas do not regularly draw large crowds of in-comers like a commercial center does, we don't have to worry about the average person having to traipse over such vast distances, and being threatened by cars, during some non-existent daily trek all over the neighborhood. Also for that reason, even crossing streets is usually no big deal in a suburban neighborhood, not like crossing those that wrap around busy strip centers.

This simple exploration shows that residential and commercial spaces operate according to different, perhaps opposite laws of how human beings think, feel, and behave. We can therefore reject the New Urbanist credo that the future of mankind lies in heavily mixed-use developments, where stacks of apartments and offices rest on a base layer of shops within a single building. Working and living spaces should not be that close together, certainly not within the same building -- the opposing forces of work and leisure would prevent each space from coming fully into its own.

And as with strip centers, no single building will house a diverse enough array of stores to meet someone's needs and wants, so the residents will still have to traverse an archipelago of mixed-use buildings, still across car-filled streets. Only now they'll also have given up the spaciousness and comfort of living in a nice suburban neighborhood where dwellings are not crammed together live cells in a hive. (Bad suburbs, the more Levittownian ones, are sadly very hive-like.) The New Urbanist dream would in practice be the worst of both worlds.

The residential ideal was mostly achieved with the suburban model of lowish-density housing separated into blocks for comfort, which avoided the off-putting endless string of housing that characterizes Levittowns (where the string is horizontal, one house-and-tiny-side-yard adjacent to another), as well as high-rise apartment complexes (where the string is vertical, each floor-room-and-ceiling stacked on top of another).

What about the commercial ideal? That went the opposite way, stemming from the profoundly different natures of the two realms of life. It had components that were highly concentrated, and that were housed within a single over-arching structure -- namely, the mall. It's been fashionable to hate on malls for 20 years now, not just among elite groups who actively dismiss them in articles, books, documentaries, etc., but also among the masses who simply deserted them. That can give their supporters an "under siege" mentality, not to mention those who are merely nostalgic for part of their childhood or adolescence.

Nothing wrong with that of course, but they don't really convey why malls are superior to other commercial structures. Here I'll only stick to why they were better for pedestrians (and to the dorks: yes, we're aware of the double-meaning). I've been meaning to write about malls vs. the alternatives for awhile, so I may go into other areas later on.

Because the mall is architecturally the opposite of a strip center, is counteracts all of the major problems for pedestrianism posed by them. Most obviously and importantly, the shops are housed within a self-contained whole space, so that none of it is carved up by roadways or bike lanes. You don't appreciate how special it is to walk around such an expansive space in three dimensions (if the mall had more than one level) until you're plopped back onto city streets, where regulations and lighted signals attempt to control the antagonism among drivers, and between them and walkers. So much fucking aggravation that the mall-goer is protected from by the fortress-like walls.

Have you ever been to a fake mall? One that was outdoors and that allows vehicle traffic to cut through the space? There's just nothing more disruptive functionally to the flow of pedestrians who are just heading purposefully from point A to point B, and disruptive psychologically to the wanderers who just want to get lost in the moment without being jarred awake by a car zipping in front of them (with honks and curses for added disruptive effect).

It's true that mall-goers have to face traffic in the parking lot, but that's not part of the main journey. It's outside the mall, on the other side of that transitional portal of double doors. You could spend uninterrupted hours inside, and only have to deal with the parking lot once before and once after that fun time. Moreover, since the mall has so many different types of stores -- even stores within stores, like the department store anchors -- you don't have to visit more than one of them, so you don't repeat one parking lot navigation after another.

Owing also to the higher density of shops, malls are frequently build upward, with two or sometimes three levels. The horizontal concentration is already good enough to make three or four would-be strip centers all adjacent to each other, and then with the next level up, you've got another three or four -- and all it takes to visit that other level is walking a flight of stairs, or if you're tired, an escalator or elevator ride. Not walking across multiple city streets.

Similarly, the parking lots that would sprawl out across the strip center archipelago are often stacked into a parking garage for the mall. Occasionally parking garages for malls are built underground, further reducing the footprint taken up by parking, as well as removing the eyesore of parking lots and garages from the ground-level view. Underground lots may not have been the majority, but they were at least feasible for malls, whereas strip centers do not enjoy the same economies of scale and only rarely build large underground parking lots. Submerging parking lots underground would be a great boon to walkers, whether they were patrons of the location or just passing through.

These diverse benefits of (limited) vertical building separate malls from big box centers, which only occasionally stack one layer on top of another for the departments within the big box store. You generally don't ride escalators or elevators in Walmart, although I've been to some Targets that are two stories. For multi-level parking, they seem to be between strip centers and malls. For walkability, big box centers aren't as miserable as strip centers. What makes malls superior to big box centers lies more in the greater diversity of experiences and of creature comforts and amenities that big box stores skimp on, but that malls provided in abundance.

Speaking of creature comforts, we shouldn't overlook those when measuring how walkable an area is. Strip centers leave the pedestrian exposed to the elements -- have fun walking around even a single strip center, let alone several of them, when it's raining, snowing, beating down heat, or blustering winds. Some strip centers, I'd guess built in the more humane 1970s and '80s, had covered walkways that protected pedestrians somewhat, and that also served to unify the center structurally. That's about as good as they got, and they're damn rare to find these days anyway. Big box stores offer protection within each one, although not between the other stores in the center.

The mall, however, kept out inclement weather all the way through, while sumptuous skylights poured sunshine into focal areas without over-heating them. Seating was far more generous in the mall than in any other public space ever built, other than stadiums and amphitheaters -- benches, chairs, upholstered booths, and even the edges of the ubiquitous ponds and fountains were made wide enough to rest on. Escalators and elevators offered some relief for your feet. No such horizontal people-movers are to be found in any of the horizontally sprawling commercial spaces, only in airports.

And don't forget even more basic amenities like water fountains and restrooms, which are important for pedestrians in a way that they are not for those who can shoot off in a car to find one somewhere else, or go home. You don't appreciate how generous the mall was in providing them until you find yourself walking through a strip or big box center where the owners are usually stingy and inhospitable. If they even have a fountain or restroom, you'll have to buy something first. Malls enjoyed economies of scale, so each store didn't need to provide its own, just a couple that were maintained by a tiny contribution each from all the stores.

There are all kinds of aesthetic superiorities that enliven the pedestrian experience for mall-goers, but they aren't that central to getting around comfortably on foot, so I'll save that for later.

Everyone always asks how a certain type of architecture could improve the human condition, i.e. by affecting -- shaping -- how people think, feel, and behave. Unfortunately the causal arrow points the other way around -- there are sea changes in the emotional make-up of the society, and in our social patterns, that gets reflected in the architecture. We build and re-shape the environment to suit our present desires, so designers and planners cannot keep a lid on what they see as some undesirable aspect of human behavior, unless the people themselves are moving away from it as well. In that case, that particular architect/planner is in the right place at the right time. Otherwise, they're out of luck, and a rival with the opposite thinking will enjoy greater success among audiences.

Over the past 20 years we've moved back to a mid-century zeitgeist of suspicion of normal people, cocooning, emotional restraint, and a devotion to rational efficiency optimization by gigantic corporations and the federal government. That was reflected in the everyday architecture back then with their drive-in restaurants, hive-like Levittown residential developments, and strip centers (like this one) that are laid out just like they are in our neo-Fifties world today. (The idea of a bustling mid-century Main Street is mostly a myth.)

Before that, during the Jazz Age, the ideal was a comfortable neighborhood in the suburbs, not houses packed side by side but separated into blocks, where their bungalow would have a front porch expansive enough to socialize with passersby or entertain guests. And the commercial ideal was definitely not a strip center but, in some parts still a Main Street, but increasingly the majestic department store. Department stores are a whole 'nother post, but they were like the mall before there was the mall, both distinguished from big box stores by the variety of atmospheres and experiences within, and again the greater creature comforts.

Squeezed between the two cocooning ages was the New Wave age of the 1960s through the '80s and perhaps early '90s, where the residential ideal moved away from Levittowns and back toward spacious suburban blocks, and where the commercial ideal was epitomized by the mall. The All-American community was lived that way, no matter if it was in southern California (Saved By the Bell), the Midwest (Family Ties), or back East (somebody help me out with a reference here, like a portrayal of the NYC-metro suburbs).

The mid-century infatuation with automobiles has repeated itself in our time, and so have their car shapes. But I trust that the next time the crime rate starts picking up, it'll be tempered down the way it was during the Reagan years, when it went back to the Jazz Age usage as a symbol of independence for adolescents, and a thrill-seeking device for everyone, but that didn't keep people from wanting to mill about in traffic-free public spaces.

August 21, 2012

Transparency vs. mystery

I don't know what basic psychological trait this boils down to (maybe tolerance of uncertainty), but it affects all kinds of social and cultural preferences. In a falling-crime culture, the inescapable transparency makes it feel soul-starving; a sense of everyday wonder comes from the cozy pockets of obscurity during rising-crime times. There are too many examples to explore in detail, but here are some big ones, mostly drawn from popular rather than elite culture.

The clearest case of see-throughiness is in architecture. In both the mid-20th century and over the past 20 years, buildings with ceiling-to-floor glass walls exploded in popularity. You see this in down-to-earth places like the drive-in restaurant or the Googie-styled coffee shop, as well as the Apple Store; the Mid-Century Modern house, as well as the Zen Minimalist house; and public libraries and office skyscrapers from both periods. There was also the Crystal Palace of the Victorian era.

John Portman, one of the few sublime and humanistic architects after Art Deco, remarked that these glass walls and doorways rob the entrances of any ceremony or anticipation. With no emotional build-up, there can be no release once you enter the building. Everything that lies within is instantly revealed to the passerby.

This kind of architecture thrives in falling-crime times because people are more paranoid about the threat posed by their fellow man, so they want to see inside to make sure it's totally safe before even getting close to the people in an enclosed public space. Furthermore, they have what to me seem like abnormally restrained emotional systems, so they prefer building features that will prevent any chance of anticipation and release. Just skip right to the end, cross that task off the to-do list, and move on to the next item of business.

In contrast, the higher trust in rising-crime times means that people approaching a restaurant, coffee shop, etc., won't need to inspect it thoroughly in advance. An increasingly dangerous world makes you rely on and support others to get through it, so overblown suspicion of your fellow community members settles down to a more realistic level. Also, being more in a state of preparedness for danger means you're in a state of arousal more often, so your mood or mindset is more congruent with the effects made by bold contrasts that strike an emotional chord, that build up tension and then release it.

Glass is an ancient material, but transparent plastics are not. So, when it comes to product design, the time periods we can compare are more limited to the past 20 years vs. the '60s through the '80s. There were only a couple somewhat popular products that were see-through from the '80s: a Conairphone (and judging from the very bright neon colors, I'd say that was the very late '80s or even the early '90s), and a line of Swatch watches. There may have been other little things like that, but nothing big comes to mind. It was possible to make things that way, but consumer demand must have been low enough to make them a minor novelty at most.

In the past 20 years, all kinds of ordinary stuff has become see-through -- the casing of pens and mechanical pencils, video game devices (both the home console and its controllers, as well as handhelds), inflatable furniture (like those ubiquitous ball-chairs), even one-time-use beverage containers, which used to be aluminum but are now clear plastic (why not opaque plastic?). These are only those that come to mind. Narrow and particular explanations for a change in any one of these categories ignores the larger pattern that product design nowadays is more likely to feature transparency, although that is still not part of most products.

The cocooning behavior of falling-crime times stunts our social and emotional growth, so we move more toward the autistic side of the "people vs. things" spectrum of interests. People then become more curious about knowing what the guts of their gadgets would look like if you dissected them. In rising-crime times, when people are more social, who cares what it would look like? There are more pressing social matters to attend to, like looking out for one another and getting laid.

John Keats, who hailed from the rising-crime world of the Romantic-Gothic era, accused Newton of deflating the wonder we get looking at a rainbow by showing that it could be scientifically explained by light passing through a prism. The accusation may have been misplaced, but it's still the kind of approach that was more common in the falling-crime Age of Reason / Enlightenment, when people were fascinated by Vaucanson's digesting duck automaton and its schematics.

And when Lucas made those terrible new Star Wars movies, he had to "unweave the Force" and explain how Midichlorians cause its effects, like one of those dopey 1950s science reels for schoolchildren.

Speaking of which, every narrative these days, whether it's a novel, movie, or video game, has to have so much back-story. It's basically the same as the gadget whose blueprint is on full display to the user, only now an exotic world is being dissected. Again it's like a neo-Victorian, neo-Enlightenment time, when readers needed to know all kinds of irrelevant shit to make it through the novel. Gothic novels, as long as some are, generally don't use all those pages for back-story or micro-cataloging every detail of the environment: Sublime terror needs mystery to cloak many of the particular details.

Then there's gift cards -- nothing at all left to the imagination of the recipient. You paid a known amount for it, almost certainly picked it up at the check-out aisle, or a nearby display stand, in a supermarket, and might not even wrap it up in anything to delay knowledge of what the gift is. The fact that about half of the shelf space for Christmas cards is for gift card / money holders (often with a part of the front cut out to instantly reveal that there's cash inside), just goes to show how far this transparency thing goes. They only became popular during the '90s, even though gift certificates had existed for a long time before then.

In social relations, there's the hook-up culture. Now, remember that rates of all sexual activity have been plummeting since the early 1990s, so kids these days are a lot less active. However, on the rare occasion when two of them find themselves on a path toward getting it on, they prefer to skip anything emotional in the lead-up, have some joyless sex, and then return to not being in contact with each other.

Those who want us to be more emotionally restrained should be careful what they wish for -- a lack of emotional conductivity leads to robotic transactional relationships. "I'm hot, you're hot, I guess we might as well get each other off, and get that out of the way," so they can go back to their meaningful lives of playing video games and posting inanities on Facebook.

Music of the past 20 years is a lot more obvious, or transparent, about what they're going to deliver. There's no wandering through this corridor, spying some other room, then leaving into yet another inviting space. Norah Jones is so overly cutesy, and the breathiness is laid on so thick, that it doesn't feel like she's guiding you through different places -- just kind of dropping the curtain right away for you to see what's behind it. I think a lot of mid-century pop music is like that too (like "Beyond the Sea"), in whatever other ways it may differ.

Folks had it so much better in the '80s, when good music was mainstream instead of a fringe thing. Even songs in heavy rotation on MTV transport you to a mysterious place, and lead you through a variety of emotional spaces, building up and releasing tension -- "Wrapped Around Your Finger," "Save a Prayer," "La Isla Bonita," "Sweet Child o' Mine," just to name a few.

I'm not a classical music buff, but I got the same impression from the rising-crime Classical period (the Romantic-Gothic era in literature and painting) vs. the falling-crime Romantic period (i.e. the Victorian era). Beethoven and Schubert seem like effortless masters at leading you on a mysterious tour, whereas composers like Brahms or Liszt feel more like they're revealing more. You don't feel that same build-up and release.

I'm not using "mysterious" in the sense of unfamiliar, or mostly mellow with sudden shock scares. From what I've heard, I can't put Wagner in the same group with Beethoven and Schubert. The pop music equivalent is kind of like Radiohead mixed with some dark metal band. It feels more like floating adrift in a heroin haze, and occasionally being jarred awake, than being pulled along this way to see this space, then pulled some other way to see some other space.

Bach was a shining exception from the Age of Reason / Enlightenment period, although I still think Beethoven and Schubert are quite a bit more emotionally nimble and unpredictable.

Jeez, this is going on pretty long now, and I'm drawing on material I don't know so well, so I'd better cap it there. Feel free to add examples in the comments.

August 17, 2012

Greater sibling rivalry in more promiscuous times?

Small children can figure out whether the teenagers and adults around them are sexually more out-of-control or more restrained. They probably put out different levels of pheromones, and their voices, facial expressions, mannerisms, and other body language are all in a different direction too. Do the older people seem awkward or hesitant to touch each other (like hover-handing), or is it more like they can't keep their hands off each other (like when every dude used to walk around in public with his hand on his girlfriend's ass)?

More indirectly, when little kids are exposed to popular culture, they can tell what resonates with the majority -- songs that are emotionally hotter or colder, movies that have more or less T&A, and so on.

Although these things, just to name a few, do not make the kid entirely certain that the grown-ups are promiscuous, it does incline their beliefs more in that direction. On that basis, one of the first things they'll do -- or not do -- is start getting practice with courting the other sex (flirting), as well as advancing in what they do physically (kissing, playing "I'll show you mine if you show me yours"). It's like speaking a language: if the community speaks English, then English it is, and if the community is promiscuous, then prepare to enter that way of life too.

One major consequence of living in a more promiscuous group is that there's a higher probability that your siblings are actually half-siblings because your mother had you all by more than one father. Therefore, in time periods when promiscuity is rising, so should sibling rivalry, and both should fall together too.

By the time I was a child in the early-mid 1980s, the tiny spark of promiscuity that started circa 1960 had spread farther and reached a hotter intensity, to the point where it wasn't just marginal sub-cultures behaving more liberally. My memories of sibling rivalry are also that it was very strong back then.

We have a home video of me, around 4 years old, running around the back yard and clothes-lining my little brothers (who were around 2). It was routine enough that my dad, who was filming it, didn't try to stop me or punish me after the fact, but just made me go over and hug my brothers, say I was sorry, bla bla bla, that was totally insincere. My mother tells stories about how I used to reach into their cradles and pull on the blankets they were wrapped in like a rip-cord and send them spinning and spinning. Then there was something else that I can't recall off the top of my head, something about putting things in there or messing with the cradle or stroller so that they'd have trouble breathing. She says she was truly worried that my little brothers might not make it to 4 years old.

But it wasn't just me -- they started all kinds of shit too when they were old enough. I remember being chased around the house with Cutco knives, for one thing. Their harm didn't even have to come from their own hands: once my brother lied to my mother that I'd done something wrong to him and started crying, so she slapped me right across the face. He started laughing right there, which is a rookie mistake because then my mother knew he'd made it up, and slapped him too, after apologizing to me.

You get the idea. I don't see any of that stuff going on anymore, at least among children in public. When I visited my 4 year-old nephew a few weeks ago, I didn't see him do anything to his little brother that was as brutal as what we used to do. And his little brother is actually a half-brother, so that's an even more striking sign of how little sibling rivalry there is these days. Sure, he calls him a stinky baby whenever he starts crying, but nothing close to what I did to mine nearly 30 years ago. Certainly nothing violent or physical.

There are no surveys of how intense sibling rivalry is in each year, but my impression is that it had already begun to subside during the '90s, which would fit with the larger drop in violent crime and promiscuity. I just didn't see the little kids around the neighborhood clothes-lining each other when I was in high school during the second half of the '90s.

In popular culture, the little hell-raiser character disappeared as well. There was a Dennis the Menace cartoon show in the late '80s. Even the original was from the first year of rising-crime times, 1959, although Jay North was relatively tame compared to the kids in the '80s cartoon. (I saw the original series in syndication on Nickelodeon in the late '80s.) Then there were those Problem Child movies from the early '90s before the crime rate began falling. And of course Bart Simpson's early incarnation as the little hell-raiser during that period, before he became just another dorky smart-mouthed kid. This stock character didn't exclusively mistreat his siblings, but he did target them, or at least was shown as the type who would if he had had brothers and sisters. (For example, he might be shown acting like a devil toward the pets, who are surrogate siblings.)

One objection to this line of thinking is that we can reduce it all to how inclined people are to use violence -- the whole of society has gotten a lot less violent in the past 20 years, and less sibling vs. sibling cage matches are just a special case of that. Nah, this is a lot more of a drop than what we see in the violent crime rates -- it's not like little brothers are only 50% less likely to get clothes-lined nowadays, it's like it hardly happens at all.

The decline in violence explains a good deal of the decline in sibling rivalry, but there's a lot more of a drop left unexplained. The main source of sibling rivalry is genetic dissimilarity, so it should ramp up in more promiscuous times, which tend to be more violent times. Taking both of these factors into account, I think we can explain the rest of that mysterious disappearance of sibling rivalry.

August 16, 2012

Strawberry Switchblade

Found these cute Celtic harmonizing girls on vol. 4 of the awesome (and mostly out of print) Living in Oblivion series. There's a re-issue of their only album, which I'll have to check out.

They were a bit ahead of their time in mixing gloomy lyrics with bubblegummy melodies, which would become a little more popular when college rock hit its peak around 1988 with the Cure, Voice of the Beehive, Transvision Vamp, the Primitives, etc. But, the good part of hailing from 1985, just as the heyday of new wave was winding down, is that it's a lot more body-moving. Even the goths back then were bouncy and upbeat!

August 15, 2012

'90s revival at Urban Outfitters

Early '90s of course. They usually play that heroin kind of indy music that has no melody at all, no memorable chord progression, no riffs, basically nothing to hold your attention and get stuck in your head afterward.

So it was a real shock to hear "Pretend We're Dead", and I actually found myself singing along. Not the catchiest rock song ever recorded, but it gets the job done.

Then I saw they had a bunch of t-shirts with striped patterns, like this one, that were popular around '91 or '92. Kind of the last gasp of multi-color clothing that started in the '60s and peaked in the '80s. Didn't see any Hypercolor, though.

Just about all of the '90s sucked big time, but those first couple years weren't as unbearable as the rest. The wild culture was winding up and going to sleep, although it hadn't fallen into complete hibernation just yet.

Why aren't faggots funny?

Here is an NYT article on the failure of gays to make it in the world of stand-up comedy. Funny people tend to draw a crowd to listen to their jokes sometime in adolescence, whereas pre-pubescent children struggle to come up with their own jokes, humorous observations, ability to relate to the crowd, and so on. So this is another case of gay Peter Pan-ism. (See the pictures for even more vivid proof.)

It's also a great example of their inability to empathize, another one of their Peter Pan-isms. Their routines focus so narrowly on the boring fact that they engage in the butt sex, and whatever is related to that "lifestyle". Really, who cares? Even chick comics riff on topics farther removed from their personal life. The article mentions that their fellow homos don't find queers funny either, while they show up in droves to see fag hags like Margaret Cho and Kathy Griffin.

We also see another example of how lesbians are not socially and emotionally stunted like gays are. I mean, they are women, so they're not going to be that funny or able to work up a crowd, but Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell are basically competent as comic performers, and they couldn't host successful talk shows if they couldn't relate to a crowd at a level above that of a child. O'Donnell may be a fat, obnoxious battle-axe, but that is a more middle-aged than toddlerish trait. And Wanda Sykes is pretty funny, probably because blacks aren't as awkward and retarded as many white people are in front of a crowd.

There used to be a lot of popular gay singers in the '70s and '80s, all in the closet of course, whereas now there are none. I don't think there were that many successful gay comics back then, but it still goes to show how much better they'll fit into society if there's a pervasive climate of homophobia.

August 8, 2012

Are gays more infantile even as children?

There's a long article in the NYT Magazine about boys who dress like girls, which notes that 60-80% are future gays, some of the rest are future pre-or-post-op trannies, and some presumably small percent will wind up normal.

So they're mostly a subset of gays and others with screwed up sexualities. We can treat them as a "right tail" of the gay distribution, and infer that whatever is out at this tail is more prevalent among gays on average, compared to normal boys. That's the same way that we look at the percent of white people who can dunk a basketball, the corresponding percent among Chinese, and infer that whites are taller on average, even if most whites cannot dunk.

What then is the defining feature of these girl-boys profiled in the article? You should read it yourself because these traits do not show up in statistics about gays, so the profiles will give you a window into a group you could otherwise know little about.

Well, it definitely is not femininity (indeed, most do not consider themselves to be girls). For one thing, they have zero interest in babies, probably the single most important component of female nature. Their complete lack of interest in baby-rearing dolls, despite their fascination with fashion dolls, is just a special case of the general pattern that gays have no nurturing instinct.

Little girls aren't exactly getting ready to marry and raise their own children, but even from an early age they are fascinated by cute babies, spontaneously move to nurture them, and take jobs as babysitters. Grown men aren't as nurturing as women, but they still feel an urge to do their part in raising the young 'uns, or if childless, usually would like to have kids of their own. Little boys, though, find babies yucky and smelly and without other redeeming qualities. Thus, the gay callousness toward babies is one of their many Peter Pan traits, not a feminine trait (just the opposite).

Instead, what comes across in the profiles is that the girl-boys are unable to handle minimal stress, are desperate and needy, attention-whoring, temper tantrum-throwing, insecure about being ugly even at 4 years old, egocentric, narcissistic, demanding that others applaud their awesomeness without having earned it at all, because they're just such special snowflakes -- in a word, they're infantile, even more so than their male and female age-mates.

It's true that those traits are higher among females than males, but that's only because females are more neotenous, or resembling children. As the writer mentions, the behavior of girl-boys is if anything a parody of how girls dress and act. They are not "even more feminine" than girls, they are even more juvenile.

As children mature socially and emotionally, first during elementary school when they mostly interact with same-sex peers, and later during adolescence when they interact more with the opposite sex, they gradually lose their bratty, clingy, narcissistic, and attention-whoring ways. The simple reason is that no one other than your close blood relatives thinks you're a special snowflake, so they won't put up with any of your disruptive bullshit. So within your peer group, it's either shape up or ship out, something you never truly experience from your parents. Extreme diva behavior results only when the child is sheltered from the corrective influences of their peers.

The narcissism, etc., of gay adults is well known and provides yet another vivid example of their Peter Pan-ism. But at first my hunch was just that their development got arrested in childhood, perhaps around age 10, by whatever pathogen caused damage to the part of their brain that controls sexuality (the damage to the developmental regions being collateral damage).

However, it seems as though gays are super-infantile already as children -- not normal children who got stuck or regressed. Or maybe they began as normal infants, but then got infected as toddlers and became frozen there. On reflection, I guess their Peter Pan-isms are more typical of toddlers than of later elementary school kids. (If I recall correctly, there is no season-of-birth effect for gays, so that suggests the pathogen does not strike them as newborns.)

Why this subset of gays, the girl-boys, chooses to act out narcissistically by wearing girls' clothes, instead of some other way, I don't know. I guess they picked up on the fact that pretty little girls tend to get more attention than crude little boys, so they decided to ape the girls' appearance and mannerisms, although again not their mindset or overall behavior. They're hoping that their superficial resemblance to girls will get them the standing ovation that they just, like, totally know they deserve.

The article says that most of them will grow out of flamboyant girly clothing, so it's clearly not some deeply ingrained impulse that they just can't control. They chuck it overboard when they find some other way of whoring for attention, like joining the drama club or whatever during adolescence. Wearing pink dresses and eyeliner was merely a transient strategy for demanding that the world give them a great big hug, during a stage in the lifespan when males have few endearing qualities, so why not look like a girl?

I know I recently said that gays tend to wear little jewelry or other forms of body adornment, and yet here they are doing just that as children. What gives? My explanation rested on their social immaturity, that wearing jewelry and other adornments is a way to signal group membership, commitment to a mate, etc.

As small children, the girl-boys aren't trying to do any of that, and they aren't even trying to use jewelry, etc., for the purposes that little girls do -- namely, to establish or invite others into a social bond. Girls adorn one another to make friends, but girl-boys are instead using their girl friends to get assistance in looking dazzling, the better to whore for attention.

Girls also adorn themselves to start attracting boys; it's a sign of their intentions to be approached by boys, ultimately leading to a steady relationship. But girl-boys are not dressing up to get a feel for attracting mates -- after all, when they come out as gay, they won't be wearing long hair, eyeliner, dresses, etc., to pick up their fellow queers.

So, unlike the generally social bonding reasons that girls adorn themselves, girl-boys dress in drag for strictly egocentric and narcissistic motives -- the faggot as a toddler in caricature. Once that appearance no longer suits their needs, beginning in adolescence, they drop it like a hot potato, while teenage girls continue to try to make themselves look pretty for the boys. (Granted, more so in some eras than in others.)

I wonder why no one else has tried to mine this gay Peter Pan idea for all its worth. Others have noticed things here and there, but not pushed the idea as far as it allows. Obviously liberals are too biased and sanctimonious to even entertain the idea. Unfortunately, though, most conservatives are just not very curious people. For getting through daily life, that's probably a good thing -- don't wander over where we weren't meant to go. So they fall back on amusing but clearly wrong explanations about gays being exaggeratedly feminine. But when you really stop and think about it, a prancing little sissy is more like a toddler than a chick.

Going beyond personal nostalgia in admiring the past

What keeps nostalgia from leading to regression is putting yourself in the mind of someone who, back in the good old days, was as old as you are now. Then you're not just pining for a return to how you remember those times, but discovering that your current self too would enjoy those times more than the present times. It really was a better world for everyone to live in -- young, middle-aged, and elderly -- not just a time that you have biased warm fuzzy memories of.

Now that a lot of people who were children in the 1980s are in their 30s, they should take a stronger look at how much better it was for 30-somethings back then, not only for small kids. It may, however, make you even more depressed at how bad things have gotten.

You won't be prepared for it either by hearing people now in their 50s and 60s complaining about how cool it was to be a 20 or 30-something in the '80s. They'll readily agree to that assessment, and provide you with lots of examples once you bring it up. But you're not supposed to get spontaneously nostalgic about how cool you were in your 30s, and how boring the society is now. It's like they're afraid of hearing, "Well, you were over 30, so how cool could life have really been for you?" Due to this silence, it's something you have to figure out on your own.

But people in their child-rearing years used to have quite a social life, before they decided to lock themselves indoors all day with their nuclear family. Although I don't have kids, I still see how much aggravation helicopter parenting adds to the lives of those who do. You get cabin fever, and you're not allowed much of an outlet since after all they are your family. We don't even have cathartic movies anymore like Vacation and The Shining.

Parents of Millennials get so snippy with them, constantly pester them via cell phone ("What were you doing when I called 15 minutes ago???"), and result to impersonal, emotionally cool, and rational-intellectual ways of interacting with their children. All signs that they're always on the verge of a nervous breakdown, doing whatever it takes to hold themselves together.

During the heyday of New Wave, my mother used to go out dancing with her close friend every weekend. She was in her late 20s and had three children -- me, around 3 or 4, and my brothers who were 1 or 2. Sometimes my dad would go, and more often he'd stay home. And both parents used to go over to other grown-ups' houses for "dinner parties," whose main attraction was actually booze. (My parents say it was not uncommon for party guests to drive home drunk in those days, something that the supposedly reckless and hormone-blinded teenagers today almost never do.)

Also, if neither parent was home to look after us, they hired a... shoot, what were they called? I know I saw them in movies before... oh that's it, a babysitter!

You don't see that level of sociality even among unmarried and childless adults today, who would rather stay at home and plug themselves into one of their many devices instead.

And of course with church attendance so much lower than it was during the most recent religious revival, grown-ups have abandoned one of the most reliable ways to get to know one another and create enduring social bonds. I distinctly remember what ear-to-ear smiles the grown-ups used to wear when they greeted each other before and after church. Daily life was a lot more dangerous and topsy-turvy then, so being near those who would get your back and help you through your troubles must have made them feel blessed.

Don't forget how much time the elderly used to spend hanging out with one another at the mall.

There are many more aspects of adult life that could be discussed, but I'll end it there for now, and come back to it now and then. Perhaps the easiest way to sense this for yourself (if you're of a certain age) is to look back at how much great music there used to be for adults -- not corny, and not ponderous, but sophisticated, and in an organic rather than phony way. Here is an earlier post on that topic, which I only feel stronger about more than a year later, having picked up Graceland by Paul Simon, So by Peter Gabriel, It's My Life by Talk Talk, and Diamond Life by Sade. Forget about being 7 years old again in the '80s -- I'd kill to be in the over-30 crowd back then too.

August 6, 2012

Pastoralism and endurance sports (including soccer)

That's strange -- a runner from Great Britain just won the Olympic gold medal in men's 10,000 metres. I thought it was Ethiopians who ruled at running long distances... Ah wait, his name is Mohamed Farah and he's Somali.

What explains the dominance of long-distance running by Ethiopians, Kenyans, and other related people in that corner of the world? Very simply, it is their adaptation (through natural selection) to a way of life called nomadic pastoralism. They gain their subsistence by herding livestock rather than hunting and gathering, tending small-scale gardens, or cultivating larger fields of crops. The nomadic groups of pastoralists tend to live in harsher climates with little arable land, so they wander over great distances in search of scarce pastures for their herds.

Having to endure a continual trek across such vast distances must have selected for the ideal physiology of long-distance runners. You don't really need too much explosive strength like you do in sports that involve sprinting, jumping, and throwing, or those that involve hitting projectiles with shock weapons. You just need to be able to move yourself on foot for a very long stretch of land without getting too tired.

The nomadic form of herding livestock is more common in the East African highlands, across the Sahel into West Africa (trekking through the Sahara Desert), and in Central Asia, with patches across the Middle East. There are also spill-overs of pastoralist groups into neighboring countries that are generally not pastoralists. And not surprisingly, the few excellent endurance runners from these non-pastoralist countries are actually pastoralist minorities. For example, one of the top 20 times in the men's 10K is held by Boniface Toroitich Kiprop, technically from Uganda, whose population are mostly gardeners, and a country with limited success in endurance sports. However, the district that he's from is right on the Kenyan border and is mostly populated by cattle-herders.

So far the Central Asians haven't come to rival the pastoralist Africans in the 10K, marathon, etc., although I'm not sure how interested they are in Olympic competition. Alternatively, the Africans may have an extra advantage from being genetically adapted to high altitude. (That can't be their primary strength, though, since no other people from high-altitude regions dominate long-distance running.)

Apparently the nomadic pastoralist way of life has not only selected for superior endurance among the human herders, but also among their horses. In the world of equestrian sports, endurance riding tends to make use of various Oriental horse breeds -- "Oriental" in the older sense of the Near and Middle East -- such as the Arabian. These breeds are famed for their endurance over long distances, unlike those that have been bred to be beasts of burden, who will only have to traipse around the farm of a settled agriculturalist.

There is another form of pastoralism, called transhumance, where the herders don't travel such great distances to unpredictable locations, where instead they have a more fixed pattern of movement between summer and winter pastures. Generally this means the summer pastures are at higher elevation and winter pastures at lower elevation. The herders have more permanent homes near each place, and their migration is a predictable over time -- being seasonal -- and over space -- going from one known choice location to another.

That would seem to select for a greater level of endurance, but just not at the level of the more nomadic groups that rule at distance running. Also, the setting up, maintenance, and defense of their relatively more permanent settlements would keep the pressure on their ability to use strength, as well as endurance, to make a living.

Transhumance is found across the Near and Middle East, the dairying northwestern part of South Asia, Southern Europe, the Alps, Scandinavia, and the British Isles (particularly the Celtic groups). Again it's mostly where there are mountainous pastures to thrive on in the summer, plus lower-lying pastures for the winter.

What endurance sport do these types of pastoralists dominate? Soccer. It is mostly an endurance sport, but it also features rare but important bursts of speed, not to mention giving the ball an occasional good hard kick. The people who dominate at soccer are the cheese-making countries of Europe, particularly the more southern ones, where once again adaptation to higher altitudes may give them an extra advantage.

The Northeastern region of Europe, where large-scale agriculture has traditionally excluded pastoralism, tends not to do very well in soccer, especially adjusting for population size. For example, Russia has a population of around 140 million, while Spain's is nearly 50 million, so the best soccer players in Russia are a much higher percentile within the country. With so many more people, they should be able to find more of those rare gems, and yet they perform more poorly than the Spanish at soccer.

The Near and Middle Eastern countries seem to do OK at soccer, but not as good as the transhumance pastoralists from Europe. Soccer is a team sport, so regions with lower social cohesion won't produce the greatest teams, even if their individual athletes have the right physiology. Societies with higher levels of pastoralism tend to be more rugged individualists, whereas in Europe pastoralism has always co-existed with settled agriculture as well, where people will put up with their neighbors for collective welfare.

And of course anywhere else in the world that these societies have colonized, also do very well in soccer. Brazil and Argentina are the obvious examples, where they were seeded not only by Southern Europeans, but where they continued their cattle-herding way of life. Other countries like Uruguay, Chile, and Mexico, do well in soccer, but they also tend to have more indigenous mixture, and the gardening societies of the Americas have not selected for endurance. Also, the cowboy culture did not thrive as strongly in these latter countries as in Brazil and Argentina, who are still leading beef producers.

What about the Scandinavians? They aren't so hot at soccer, but they do dominate in cross-country skiing. That can't be because they're more familiar with snow, because on a per capita basis Norway and Sweden leave Russia in their dust. But Norwegians and Swedes have been shaped more by transhumance pastoralism than have the more strictly agriculturalist Russians. Also, you don't find Eskimos or other Arctic peoples excelling at cross-country skiing, and they're more familiar with cold weather and the snow than anyone. Their way of life was traditionally hunting and gathering, which in the African savannah might have involved lots of moving on foot, but in the Arctic has relied heavily on boats (for marine hunting) and sleds pulled by a team of animals (for travel over the land).

I hope this little tour through human biodiversity will encourage the HBD crowd to study and apply what is well known about different types of subsistence -- hunting and gathering, horticulture, agriculture, and pastoralism. Getting a hold of subtler differences within each type would do even better. Too much thinking about group differences -- as rare as that already is -- focuses on continent-level races, lumping together the very different Mongolians and Han Chinese, or societies at different levels of economic and political development, ignoring the profound differences between the more advanced East Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, and China, and the more advanced European countries, because hey, they're all smart, hard-working, and economically globally competitive.

I don't mean to get so snarky, but you do see too much of an East Asian fetish among many who are into HBD, and a basic awareness of how different subsistence types lead to different higher-level social properties would correct this naive fetish.

August 4, 2012

When was pop music invaded by vocal fry (creaky-croaky voice)?

Younger girls these days speak with a lot of vocal fry, or giving their voice a creaky-croaky delivery. See this previous post to get a better description, examples from YouTube, and an explanation of why it signals social avoidance. (And thus, the rise in avoidant personalities has caused a rise in the use of vocal fry.)

All commentators mention that this vocal register became famous with the singing styles of Britney Spears and Kesha. But it must have gotten started gradually before them. If it does track social avoidance, it probably would've gotten started around the early '90s. You wouldn't hear it much, perhaps not at all, in songs from the '70s or '80s.

I've found two examples that pre-date Britney Spears by awhile, both released in 1995: "Who Will Save Your Soul" by Jewel, recorded in '94, which has vocal fry in many spots of the verses; and Marilyn Manson's cover of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)", recorded in '94-'95, which also has pretty extensive vocal fry. The Manson song was more of a caricatured voice, didn't climb as high up the charts (though it was popular), and is by a male. So you might call that one a little unrepresentative, though it still is there, years before Britney Spears and more than a decade before Kesha.

The Jewel song is more relevant -- by a girl, not in a context of caricature, and delivering world-weary lyrics about only trusting and relying on yourself. And that song was on the radio and MTV non-fucking-stop.

I couldn't think of these off the top of my head, but followed some hunches by reading through the Billboard Year-End Singles chart (here is 1995, with other years at the bottom). If you remember the singer projecting a kind of cocooning, through-with-boys, or other jaded kind of attitude, that's probably worth looking at. If it's clingy or needy, it won't have vocal fry, since she's trying to get him to come closer, not push him away. That clingy-needy song "Stay" by Lisa Loeb, for instance, has no vocal fry.

Browse through that Billboard list if you're up for it, and let us know if there are other examples of persistent vocal fry in pop music before Kesha and Britney Spears.

Fucking Jewel, I knew I didn't like something about her, right when that song came out. That whole "I'm too scarred and wounded to let boys get close anymore" vibe that she put out. But girls who have creaky-croaky voices are avoidant and never let boys get close in the first place -- that too-wounded thing is a total facade.

August 3, 2012


Earlier I mentioned in passing the switch from Burger King to Wendy's as my go-to fast food place. Having gone there for awhile longer now, I notice several other things that make it a much more enjoyable experience than the alternatives. This is based on just the one I normally go to, but even if they're not typical, they've been allowed to remain by the corporation, rather than systematically gutted by efficiency experts, and that still speaks well of Wendy's.

- Booths with cushioning for both your back and butt, and in a red color. You hardly ever find seating that's comfortable and nice to look at in ordinary fast food restaurants anymore.

- Actual plaster on the sloping part of the ceiling, although the flat part of it is covered with the standard sterile acoustic panels. It isn't architectural splendor, but little details like seeing a texture on the walls or ceiling goes a long way to making the place feel alive instead of a glass-and-concrete machine for eating.

- Much better music. Burger King's wasn't unbearable like Starbucks, but it leaned too far toward Nickelback and Norah Jones. That junk shows up in Wendy's too, but there's a lot more '80s pop rock / adult contemporary, so you're guaranteed to hear a pleasing melody and some catchy riffs during your meal. In just a few weeks, I've heard multiple songs by Phil Collins, Steve Winwood, The Police, Belinda Carlisle, and "Don't Dream It's Over" was playing when I walked in today.

- People actually stay in the dining room to eat, and what's more, they're not fags, freaks, druggies, or crazies. It feels like it did back in more outgoing times, when everyone ate outside the house. It's not just a white yuppie sanctuary, or a hang-out for food stampers. It's men and women, children, teenagers, adults, and elderly, black, white, and other, professional and just-scraping-by.

This all seems to be in keeping with its overall conservative orientation. It's not heaven on Earth, but that's the wrong way to look at things. Everyday life should be enjoyable too, and these seemingly simple features used to be standard not very long ago.

August 2, 2012

Gay Peter Pan-isms: No jewelry or body adornment

If gays are supposed to be more feminine, and if they're supposed to be so obsessed with getting attention for their fashionable clothes, then why don't they wear any jewelry? And why don't they opt for other forms of body adornment or modification? (Leaving aside the post-op freaks.)

To document this, just do a google image search for gays, gay men, gay pride parade, or whatever you want, and notice how little body adornment there is. Sure, back in the day some of them used to wear an earring in their right ear to signal they were queer. Even back then, though, that was it -- no more adornment than normal men, who were just as likely to wear an earring, just in the left ear. Not to mention the rings, necklaces, wallet chains, pins and buttons, sweatbands, etc., that could all be found on normal men. Even when queers did "accesorize," it wasn't as much.

They're also less likely to have piercings and tattoos, or else that would've been a huge stereotype by now. There was an explosion in the popularity of piercings and tattoos over the past 10-15 years among hetero guys, and no one ever said "that's such a homo thing to do." Leaving aside the occasional fag with an earring in his right ear, I can't remember ever seeing one with other parts of his face pierced -- that's more of a straight hipster thing. Ditto for tattoos -- at least ones visible in everyday situations. I can't remember ever seeing a queer with one, and I must see dozens every day in my city.

As I pointed out before, gay men favor shorts, sandals, and t-shirts, just like other man-children. Their concern with clothing is not to look dashing -- that would be too grown-up for their tastes. They want to feel as kiddie as possible. Perhaps their aversion to body adornment is another aspect of that. (Search this blog for "Peter Pan" to see just how much of their weirdness can be explained by that principle.)

That is the main split between the more and less adorned -- you earn the right to wear more adornment as you get older. Adornment has many functions, but two of the most important are to signal which group you belong to, and what your rank is within that group. During the 2000s, for example, sporting a puka shell necklace meant you belonged to the frat crowd. And throughout the world, gaining a level in status is usually accompanied by an extra piece of decoration (still widely in use even in America within the military, or who's allowed to wear cuff-links within the office). Aside from cases of signalling one's hierarchical rank, other major status changes that proceed with maturity, like a rite of passage, also tend to involve wearing more jewelry, such as putting on an engagement ring, and then after that a wedding ring.

Pre-pubescent children are allowed some decoration, but not too much and not too soon. And when you are allowed, you feel like, "Awesome, they're letting me be more of a grown-up!" I still remember how psyched up I got when, around age 8 or 9, my mother let me pick out a gold necklace at the Ohio State Fair. It was a thin chain with a winged skull pendant, like a frontal Hells Angels logo, that had red stone or glass in its eye sockets. Man, I wore that thing everywhere. Or maybe you tried to look more mature and badass by wearing a shark's tooth necklace. Even if it was just one of those rings from the 25-cent vending machine, you felt more grown up putting it on.

And the same goes for body modifications. You have to earn the right to be designated a member of some particular tribe whose members have a particular tattoo, scarring, or branding design. Even within that group, you acquire more mods as you rise in status. That lives on in America within the military, although it's much more informal and unofficial. And again, when you were little and were allowed to slap on a few temporary tattoos, didn't you feel more grown up?

Queers then, as perpetual children, do not feel like initiated members of a group who should display their allegiance to their overarching tribe, so they don't wear body adornment for that purpose. And no, putting a rainbow flag on their car bumper or hanging one in their house window doesn't count -- that's not their body. And since stunted man-children have not gained any kind of higher status within their group, gays feel no need to wear adornment to show their status or rank. And obviously they don't wear rings, etc., to show commitment, given how uninterested they are in fidelity.

And it's broader than the lack of their own unique jewelry, tattoo designs, etc., to mark themselves apart from heteros. They don't adorn themselves to show membership in any group, not just the homo tribe, nor do they indicate status within any group. They just feel that it's against their nature or something, and would really prefer not to go there. It's just like a kid who doesn't want to do more mature things like signalling commitment or adherence to anyone other than himself.

As far as I know, I'm the only one to notice this pattern and give an adequate explanation, although admittedly most of the results for "gay jewelry" weren't very academic. Just about every theory involving homosexuality is totally idiotic, so I'm happy to have come up with a reductive, single-minded research approach that not only explains most of what everyone else had noticed, but explains new patterns too -- ones that are not explainable by other popular approaches, e.g. that male homosexuality is about feminization. Instead it's about infantilization.

Whatever pathogen damages the brain to cause homosexuality (the Gay Germ, as Greg Cochran calls it), apparently harms the area(s) responsible for emotional, social, and moral development. They stay stunted at around age 10, or perhaps develop twice as slowly as normal males.

August 1, 2012

Children of over-protective disciplinarians still end up selfish and bratty

Helicopter parents have fooled themselves into believing that their kids will turn out well-mannered and considerate if they could only remove them from "bad influences" in their peer group, and insist on strict rules and correction of bad behavior.

The drive to curb their kids' exposure to bad influences in practice leads them to shelter them from all contact with their peers -- it's not like the parent can tell in advance who'll end up being a good or bad influence. They might choose a house in an area where fewer Bad Influences live (wink wink), but even in their mostly-white middle-class neighborhood, you still never know.

So the end result is the common practice these days of locking kids up indoors all day, with the occasional time outside in the back yard (still isolated from peers, though), and the rare contact with peers being planned out and supervised by grown-ups (the "play date").

Parents today also spend a lot more effort on elaborately correcting their kids. I don't mean only when they do something really wrong -- I remember getting corrected plenty for that -- but having every little act being micro-managed and supervised by the parents to make sure it passes a threshold of politeness and appropriateness. Parents are always telling their kids what to do these days, for every little thing.

Why then do these children grow up to be such self-centered, tantrum-throwing brats? People have been saying that for awhile once Millennials started entering the workplace as late teenagers to get their first job experience. All that effort by their helicopter parents apparently did nothing to give them good manners.

The simple reason is that socialization depends on socializing. Kids know that their parents are never going to throw them out of the house, more or less no matter what they do wrong, because the parents' love, tolerance, and so on, is fairly unconditional. Children don't have to earn their keep withn the family.

Therefore, if the only or primarily source of feedback is the child's own parents, they won't get very strong correction during development, however much frequent nagging and lecturing they may endure. Thus they will persist in their bratty behavior, which can stick well into adulthood. It's one of those "sensitive window" things, although the window is pretty long -- all of childhood and adolescence. But by the time helicopter parents let their kids do their own thing at age 30, it's too late to learn how to act properly around others.

In contrast, children whose parents encourage them early on to socialize with others their age, wind up getting lots of harsh negative feedback. If you act like a brat around a genetic stranger, they'll kick you out of the group, talk shit about you behind your back to your friends, threatening further consequences, and perhaps even result to violence. Parents hold back so much when it comes to punishment -- maybe a thrashing on the butt with a belt is as bad as it tends to get. Pull that same stunt with someone who isn't family, though, and they may try to pound your face in.

This peer correction is a slow and steady process, but ultimately the kid's behavior is shaped to fall within a range acceptable to the peer group he belongs to. Because everyone else in the group doesn't think the kid is someone special, they won't allow really selfish behavior or panicky whining upon receiving punishment. The kid grows to consider others more and becomes more accepting of their punishment when they've screwed up.

Human beings did not evolve in a literate, mediated world, so all this has to take place in face-to-face interactions. Parents are really naive, bordering on stupid, if they think that their kid's peers can socialize him online or through texting. Just look at a 12 year-old's internet comments or their mouthing off in online multiplayer video games.

So, by exaggerating the threat posed by bad influences, even within their well behaved neighborhood, helicopter parents have denied their kids the benefits of interacting with everyone else in the peer group. It can be no surprise that these kids end up socially, emotionally, and morally immature.