September 29, 2012

The pro-gay push as a surrogate Save The Children movement for childless women

Ever since I began trying to reduce all aspects of the gay universe down to their being socially and emotionally stunted in childhood, so many other pieces have been snapping into place.

For instance, women are somewhat more likely to support gay marriage than men,* but their outrage and defensive posturing is so much more extreme than men's when it comes to gay issues. Women are fairly apolitical, and only get that passionate when it comes to topics that strike at the individual woman herself and her kinship sphere, both real and figurative, where she plays a mothering role.

How do gays possibly fit into that narrow range of “the personal is political” issues?

Having observed countless fag hags and their gay BFFs during college and within the past several years, I now see that the female is indulging her maternal instinct with her Peter Pan friend. Aside from those mini-doggies that such women also choose as surrogate babies, you couldn't ask for a more childish grown-up for the woman to treat in a motherly, or at least big sisterly way. Your garden variety man-child today would be an inferior choice, since he's pretty lethargic and plugged into video games all day long, more like an adolescent, whereas the queer skips, claps his hands, and is generally more hyperactive, like a real child.

This applies not only to women who are actual fag hags, but also those who would like to be, yet who live where gay BFFs are in short supply.

Thus, when a homophile female hears the vaguest attack on the normalization of gay deviance, she takes it personally as an attack on a close member of her kin, whether her own small child or her kid brother. And nothing sets the mama bear a-roarin' like an outside attack on her defenseless young 'uns.

This also explains why there's such a panic about “bullying” nowadays. It's always about normal kids teasing or harassing the gay kid. Before the pro-gay movement took off, women in their role as figurative mothers for the young generation were more concerned with serial killers, drug dealers, kidnappers, pedophiles, and so on. Now that those problems have lightened up, they've taken in sissy kids as their new figurative offspring and have switched their targets to other kids who hurt their figurative kids' feelings.

Here is a first-hand account from a lifelong fag hag:

You see, I have been around them since I was a little girl and – if we’re really being honest – growing up, all I wanted was a gay best friend. And I wanted my relationship with said best friend to be like the one between Will and Grace. That special friendship with someone who loves you to the moon and back, would do anything for you and who you just click with.

Someone who loves you to the moon and back, would do anything for you – that's not a friend. She's clearly looking for the unconditional love of a dependent younger kin member, like a grateful son or grateful kid brother. Of course when the queer inevitably starts behaving like an ungrateful son, she'll flip out and feel he's violated the bonds of kinship, rather than the lighter offense of acting like a poor friend. She does mention that her gay BFFs have included “people who I’ve loathed and who have hated me just as much.” Those damn ungrateful faggots just don't appreciate how much I give as a mother!

I think it’s easy to see that this is a community that I feel very strongly about. It’s my home in a sense.

It’s a community that has been my life for a number of years and one that I am defiantly proud of. I will argue gay rights and marriage equality with anyone who cares to disagree with me. I will protect and nourish my close friends to the lengths of this earth. I am a fiercely loyal friend and I have a strong maternal instinct. I have a lot of friends but there is a very select bunch who I hold extremely dear. I literally believe that my friends are the family I have hand-picked for myself. I do not know what I would do without you. You make me smile, laugh and cry.

Now it all comes out. Close friends are not people who you “protect and nourish,” which is clearly an example of the maternal instinct, a phrase she uses explicitly. The gay community is her home and a hand-picked family. Unlike with an authentic family, though, she cannot feel a sense of wonder looking at her children, who are given to mothers and not hand-picked like baubles for her jewelry box (another tellingly shallow metaphor that she uses without shame). Nor will she feel pride at watching her children grow up and live their own healthy and productive lives, since hers are permanently stunted in childhood, doomed to make the same self-destructive mistakes forever – dating drug addicts, catching VD, etc.

To wrap up, there are hard data showing that homophile women are opting out of real marriage and out of having real children. The General Social Survey asks three questions that get at homophilic tendencies – do you think homosexual sex is never wrong, do you agree that they should be allowed to marry, and how many of them do you know well enough to trust, talk about important issues with, etc. The first two options don't even require you to know any in real life. The GSS also asks how many children you have and what your marital status is.

Let's start by using the “gay sex is never wrong” question to identify the homophiles, and restrict respondents to reproductive-age women (ages 18-39). The homophiles are far more likely to have never been married (54% vs. 40%), and far less likely to be currently married (37% vs. 50%). On average the homophiles have 0.4 fewer children, and have a much greater rate of childlessness (65% vs. 48%). Essentially the same numbers come up using the “let gays marry” question to identify the homophiles. A similar pattern of differences shows up with the “confide in at least one gay” question, although both groups show lower rates of marriage and children since this question was only asked in 2006, rather than back through the 1970s.

So homophilia and fag-haggery really do stem from a desire to avoid marriage and having children of one's own, just like with those airheads who spend more money pampering their micro-poodles than they would by putting the fruit of their womb through private school. It can be no surprise that they get so ferocious when someone speaks out against treating their screwed-up pseudo-children as though they were normal, healthy, and well-behaved.

* 50% to 42% in the 2010 General Social Survey

GSS variables used: sex, age, marital, childs, homosex, marhomo, trtgay

September 28, 2012

Emotional disconnection as a feature of guys' fantasies these days

What started my mind on this topic was wondering whether or not the Millennials thought about a person from their daily lives, or perhaps a real-enough character from a TV show or movie, when they're alone with themselves. The steady trend toward social-emotional avoidance for the past 20 years suggests that they probably do so less, and rely more wholly on looking at porno chicks, no imagining at all.

I wonder what effects that has. It's a very new state of technology, so we have no guidance from the past – none of those “Now remember son...” kind of moments. It must numb a person's social skills and weaken the overall pleasure they get, the worst of both worlds.

At least when I was in middle and high school, thinking about a girl in my school always involved some kind of initial social interaction – my mind's eye didn't start the movie in media res, so to speak. Sure it was incredibly superficial, no Shakespearean dialogue or anything, and of course the beforehand talking and flirting didn't last very long – let's get to it, you know. But there still had to be some kind of minimal emotional connection to ease my mind into another state. And I don't mean that it had to be sweet – it could've been flavored with any believable emotion, whether sentimental or debauched.

This simple practice of thinking about someone in real life must serve to keep you grounded particularly during those times when you're most tempted to spiral off into outer space, whereas porno encourages you to keep divorcing yourself further from reality. Even better, it heightens the pleasure by compounding the physical catharsis with a social-emotional feeling of triumph – like, “I can't believe I just made it with Kelly Kapowski...” You don't feel that simulated sense of accomplishment when staring at a dirty magazine – the girls have no importance in your life. And given the two ways of going about it, imagining someone in a real-life situation makes you more ambitious and confident when pursuing girls in real life.

One of the great mysteries in pop cultural history is the disappearance of narrative plots and character roles in porno movies. They used to be universal, and if that mode survived for so long in a competitive industry, it had to have been meeting some kind of audience demand. Otherwise it wouldn't have been worth the cost of writing the script, building and dressing the sets, and having the players memorize their lines, all of which would count now as pure waste from the producers' view.

Obviously nobody watched those movies for the narrative, dialogue, etc., themselves – just about any movie playing in theaters or on home video would've done a far better job at that.

I think it must have been a need to get more into the setting emotionally before getting on to your main business. It doesn't need to be finely textured; even the thinnest semblance of reality helps you to suspend disbelief and let your mind wander into the mind of the dude on the screen, where the act seems to follow from some minimally plausible scenario. It doesn't have to be drawn-out or complex, just enough to put your mind at ease that you're not merely watching a documentary shot of on-camera prostitution. The latter style would only heighten your self-awareness and prevent even the most fleeting connection with the girl you're picturing.

And what's with all the close-up shots of the man's overjoyed face in porno movies from the good old days? Seems like they haven't done those in ages. It's a simple reaction shot, helping the viewer to empathize and experience it more viscerally. Unconsciously your mind is thinking, “Damn, if she twists his face into that shape, this girl must be the fuck of the century.” The target audience of porno today must have no need at all to resonate on the same emotional wavelength as the dude whose body they're watching.

And then there's all the T&A that used to be shown in popular movies, but has since disappeared. It seems like every movie from the 1980s is about 90% the real movie and 10% soft-core porn. There was thus more than one way that guys met their need for a blending of characters-in-a-narrative and naked girls, to enrich the overall experience. Over the last 20 years, those two functions have been split apart, with popular movies showing no skin at all, and dirty movies dispensing with any plausibility and going for a prostitution documentary style.

I have little interest in the history of porn per se, only for what it reveals about larger changes within our society. Psychological states, social patterns, attachment styles, etc., don't leave direct traces like bones and stone tools do. Their lasting impressions are more indirect, and anyone interested in finding out what went on then and what's going on now should not be above the approach of “leave no stone unturned”. In fact looking at an off-beat case like dirty movies makes the overall pattern of change much more vivid than some other case studies – even where you'd think empathy, the need for emotional closeness, etc., might always be zero, there's actually a striking change over time.

September 25, 2012

Decoding the homosexual face, 1

I'm going to split up this topic into more digestible posts because there'll be plenty of pictures, and if the past is any guide, lots of text too.

Somehow we have all perceived that gays have a pattern of facial expression that's different enough from normal men for there to be a fuzzy yet discernible range of gay faces. In fact, right now, make the gayest smiling face you possibly can. Go ahead...

I'm willing to bet that most of you worked in some element of the surprised face – eyebrows straight up, upper eyelids raised for a wide-eyed stare, or perhaps dropping your jaw and/or opening your mouth, though without any tension in your lips, like slack-jawed.

Here are two prototypical gay smiling faces that use each one of those elements of the surprised face, the first an HIV-positive contestant from Project Runway, and the second a queer who plays a nerd on Big Bang Theory:

Go through pictures of homosexuals in google images – with the safe search ON – or watch them on TV or movies, and if you're surrounded by them where you live, as I am, just observe the range of expressions. The surprised face is one of the most pervasive features of their looks. They don't always project it in such caricatured fashion, but they are far more likely to blend pieces of it in to any given expression than a normal person would be. And that means a normal male or female – females older than 10 years old don't go around lifting their eyebrows up in any old context, normal males even less so.

Rather, the people they resemble in this way are small children. It is thus one of their many Peter Pan-isms, something unexplainable by appealing to theories about their being feminized or hyper-masculinized. Instead they are infantilized. Little kids have so little experience with the real world that they are in a more frequent state of wonder than grown-ups are.

And that's especially true for the world of social interactions, where they're often unsure of how they're supposed to behave. When a social interaction is going along well, they're shocked and excited that they haven't messed it all up – un-self-conscious social interaction is not something they take for granted, being so immature. So they respond with more frequent surprised signals on their face. Omigosh, you mean I did it right?!?!?!!! Yay me!!!!

In such a context, gays even clap their hands excitedly more than normal men do, for the same reasons as they show the surprised face, again appearing like small children. The difference is that normal onlookers read their expressions as silly and airheaded instead of cute because they're so embarrassingly age-inappropriate. (Though of course plenty of fuck-ups collect faggots as friends because they find emotional stuntedness endearing.)

In a post to follow, I'll look more at their seeming inability to produce a joyous smile, it always being tinged with nervousness, surprise, anguish, and more rarely fear or disgust. Then I'll turn to their tendency to use the disgust face where normal people would use an upset face. The common theme will be Peter Pan-isms, and the emotional trainwreck that a child would turn into if forced to interact in an adolescent or adult social world. Pressure overload!

September 20, 2012

Constrained emotion vs. unchecked reason in damage prevention

The other day during a BS session with my realtalk buddy, the topic came up of how intellectuals can support all kinds of destructive policies. I've been reading a book on the facial expression of emotions, so I just threw it out there -- maybe the cerebral types find no problem going for wacko stuff like that because they have low, almost minimal emotional reactivity.

First, here is a thorough post on the brains of liberals and conservatives. It's about a year old, but I doubt any more recent work will overturn what seems pretty solid so far -- that liberals have stronger analytical reasoning regions compared to conservatives, while compared to liberals conservatives have stronger emotional regions.

The author, a liberal, only sees the good side of the ability to generate propositions, forecast or deduce their likely consequences, and revise these in light of incoming information. And emotion is something that's only OK in small doses -- he issues the standard warning against emotion "getting in the way" of the reasoning process.

I searched the post and comments for "Damasio" and "Descartes" and came up empty. I realize that after awhile, all popular science books will see their take-home messages gradually evaporate, but I think that's especially true for Descartes' Error during the '90s through today (it came out in 1994). The upshot of his book is that emotion aids the decision-making process by attaching weights to the various outcomes that the analytical part can think up and forecast about. Neurological patients with defective emotional centers live incredibly screwed-up lives because they don't feel strongly to go this way or that, so they often decide on whim.

The past 20 years have seen a return to Renaissance Humanist, Enlightenment, Victorian, and Mid-century Modern faith in clarifying, path-clearing reason over blind emotion and baseless superstition. While the academics who research emotion have been making steady progress since Damasio's breakthrough book, there is very little audience today for a popular science book about the importance of emotion. It cuts against not only the faith in reason but also the craving of snark. Too bad he didn't write it around the time of Julian Jaynes -- that was the ripe time for those ideas.

For example, that whole Emotional Intelligence literature never caught on with the pop sci readers. That seems strange because those readers love paradigms that attack IQ research in the context of racial differences; it allows them to morally preen as racially sensitive white people. However, they turn out to love the IQ research on within-race differences -- it shows how superior the brainiacs are. The Emotional Intelligence program did not seek to over-turn "racist" tests, robbing the pop sci readers of the opportunity to show it off in public. Even worse, it argued that IQ isn't the be-all end-all of psychological differences, and that autistic nerds have their own suite of problems that empathetic people do not.

Rather, what sold like gangbusters was Howard Gardner's idea of Multiple Intelligences. The pop sci crowd really loved that because they weren't superior to the slobs at Wal-Mart in just one way, but in multiple ways! Please, Prof. Gardner, relish us with the details about all of the wonderfully different flavors of intelligence that we smartypants excel at. As it turns out, tests of the multiple intelligences all share a common factor, just like all other IQ tests.

Getting back to how the cerebral types can so easily corrupt and ruin a society, I see their emotional numbness playing two roles.

First, because they lack a strong sense of empathy, the suffering of their intended beneficiaries doesn't shock them out of their delusion. An autistic person does not change his ways upon picturing "a boot stomping on a human face -- forever".

Second, and more importantly, emotions are linked to basic bodily drives, so they can be satiated, and indeed be followed by a refractory period where the person cannot feel that emotion or act on it. This negative feedback loop keeps a person from eating and eating until they truly do eat a horse, or from punching and wrestling with someone until they actually do tear their head off, or from sleeping with one person and then another until they wind up fucking anything that moves.

Those idioms all show that the limits on our drives are not the result of our conscious effort, strength of the will, good intentions, etc. Emotions just were not designed to keep us engaged in those activities forever and ever, satisfying our desire with one example after another until all possible satisfactions became actual satisfactions.

This draws a narrow circle around the corruption, damage, fabric-fraying, and so on, that an emotional person can do. They want to punch someone, they pick a fight, maybe injure several people or at most a dozen in a bar-room brawl, and then they're done fighting. They want to scream real loud, they get in someone's face, they blow off steam, and then they mellow out. When emotions motivate some extreme behavior, the release during catharsis makes sure that they won't feel like doing so again for a long while.

With reason, it's the opposite. Subscribing to abstract principles, deducing their implications, and implementing them in special cases was not designed to slake a corporeal thirst. For most of our species' history, nobody's mind wandered near that mode of thinking. There is never a feeling of satiety -- you can always strive to instantiate your cherished principles in yet another real-world case. From the principles that human rights are inviolable, democracy falls under human rights, and that we ought to defend such rights, we get one special case after another of striving to Spread Democracy, usually with little success.

I don't think Vietnam or Iraq would've been possible without that kind of mind. An emotionally reactive, racist redneck might have gone over to Vietnam, kicked some ass in a couple bar fights, and then come back home satisfied from having busted some skulls. How many could he kill? Probably no more than 10, if he was a real killer type, and likely not even one. But when someone in the liberal establishment wants to aggress against Vietnam because it follows from the principle that Communism must be contained, then the lack of a satiety mechanism could keep them going until hundreds of thousands are killed.

That example shows how reason-based policies extend indefinitely not only across time but space as well. It's not enough to contain Communism in Vietnam but in all of Southeast Asia, and then Asia, and then the whole world, including such strategic lynchpin countries as Grenada. Damasio mentions that emotionally crippled patients often develop collecting / hoarding behaviors, and I wonder if there isn't a similarity in the cerebral types who have to implement their cherished principles in every conceivable locality, no matter how worthless -- searching half-senile old ladies at the airport, putting in a wheelchair ramp to a moon bounce, passing out condoms and sex toys to Yale freshmen, etc. The OCD completist cannot sleep until all the boxes are filled in their checklist, whereas the hothead doesn't have to kick everyone's ass just to call it a night and go hit the hay.

Anyway, thought it made sense the other night, and thinking it over has convinced me even more. There really is no telling how bizarre the cerebrals will wind up making our world. They do not feel satiating pleasure and cathartic relief, but instead are caught on an addictive, joyless treadmill.

September 17, 2012

More sexual partners among those who knew a murder victim

The original "Aha!" moment that started me off on the program of how we respond to a rising or falling-crime environment was the close fit between falling crime and falling sexuality (and vice versa, of course). After linking as many disparate phenomena together as possible, it looked like more of them could be explained as reactions to a rising or falling crime rate, rather than something else being the fundamental driver, such as competition over mates.

Freudian psychobabble is just one of many bogus theories that have sexuality laying underneath all of the other social, cultural, economic, psychological, and political changes. I haven't seen others pan out either, e.g. the idea that a more male-biased sex ratio would lead to greater violence as more males compete for access to fewer females.

The threat of violence, physical security, knowing people who've got your back -- that's the basic stuff that really matters. Even Maslow's dubious hierarchy got that part right.

As for the mechanism behind rising crime rates and its broader effects, the main one I proposed was a shortening of the time horizon. When the forecast says rising violence, then you should discount the future more -- get off your butt and do whatever you need to do, just in case tomorrow never comes. Life takes on a faster pace and people are more ambitious or driven. If, however, the forecast says falling violence, then the future's looking ever safer, so don't worry -- put off today what can almost certainly be done tomorrow. Life becomes more vegetative and people become more comfortable with mediocrity.

Getting more vs. less reproduction done in a given length of time is just a special case of this idea.

What distinguishes my idea from the others (that sex, etc., is behind it all) is that people don't need to experience violence themselves. They probably hear about it through word-of-mouth, as well as through communications media if the society is literate. That's good enough to tell what the forecast is. Indeed it's better than trying to base the forecast on your personal experiences, since you're just one person, and the news you hear is aggregating over whole regions or countries. The theories that make violence an effect posit a direct personal link -- the more you compete for mates, the more likely you are to use violence to get your way, or to run into a competitor who treats you violently.

My view is related to Terror Management Theory, a very rich body of psych research that shows the effects (or non-effects) of priming people to think about their own mortality. These researchers' interpretation is more humanistic, about how man seeks reassurance of permanence in the face of his awareness of his own frail nature. I buy that in the cases that touch more on religion, patriotism, art, etc. But for cases like reproduction, I think it's more of a pragmatic thing -- no time to procrastinate!

As with my view, the theory here doesn't require people to have a personal run-in with their own or someone else's death. Just thinking about it, and letting it sink in, is enough.

So, do even indirect experiences with violence and murder have an effect on our dating and mating behavior? Near the most recent peak in the murder rate, the General Social Survey asked people if they knew anyone who'd been killed in the past year. This would provide a prime about violence and death that they didn't experience first-hand. Also, it gives the person a decent idea of the trend in the crime rate. Most people won't know a single recent murder victim (even near the height of the crime wave, only 10% of respondents did). The murder of someone you know must tell you that it's becoming common enough that it's closing in on your social network -- not just something that goes on in some rotten ghetto.

The GSS also asks how many sex partners you had in the last year. Obviously other things affect that, so I controlled for age, sex, education, and race (white vs. non-white). I also controlled for whether you'd ever been hit or punched, and whether you'd ever been shot at or had a gun pointed at you. These last two variables allow us to control for the overall danger or rambunctiousness in a person's life, whereas the "know a murder victim" variable tells us more about what broader social picture the person has seen, beyond first-hand events.

In a multiple regression, the strongest predictors of number of sex partners are age and sex, with younger people and males having more partners -- not interesting. Then comes race, with non-whites having more partners, again nothing new there. Just below that, though, is how many recent murder victims you know -- the more of them you know, the more partners you had in the past year. Education and personal gun violence are not significant predictors. Having ever been punched could be, depending on how you correct for large number of hypotheses being tested. It's as the theory predicts: those who've been hit have more partners.

So personal experience with violence matters less than what you pick up about it from your broader social ties. And remember that it's not simply that some people live in more risky areas, have more rambunctious lifestyles, etc. -- even after controlling for all that, the strongest non-demographic predictor is how many murder victims you know. Having that experience pushes your behavior in a faster direction, apart from however fast or slow it is due to your age, race, sex, and personal encounters with violence.

How strong is this effect? Here is a graph that shows number of partners in the past year, where red is 0, blue is 1, and green is 2 through 100+. The left bar shows people who didn't know any murder victims of the past year, and the right bar those who knew at least 1. Red is 0 partners, blue is 1, and green is 2+.

The respondents are only those aged 18 to 39, to control for the main predictor. They are also those who've been punched before, to show that it happens even among the rambunctious. Further restricting the graph to whites, college-educated, etc., does not change the pattern and only reduces the sample size, so I left it open to all races and education levels. The pattern is a little more pronounced among males than among females, but not that much, so I left it open to both sexes too.

Those who knew a recent murder victim were far less likely to have been celibate in the past year -- 2% vs. 9%. They're also a bit less likely to have had only 1 partner in the past year -- 54% vs. 65%. And they're far more likely to have had 2+ partners in the past year -- 44% vs. 27%.

We've controlled for all kinds of possible confounding variables that would link knowing murder victims and having more sex partners, and still that relationship holds. Getting a vivid sense that the threat of violence may be closing in on your social circle makes you speed up your plans.

Is that good or bad? Well, ignoring all pointless hypothetical thinking, and looking directly at real life from the past 60 years, it's clear that America and the West generally was not on the brink of the apocalypse during the 1980s and early '90s, even if it felt that way at the time. Maybe teenagers started earlier and had a few more partners in a given length of time, but they weren't like Gypsies or anything. The country was not overwhelmed by births to teenagers.

However, the trend toward vegetation and procrastination of the past 20 years, the Slacker Era, are appauling. It's far worse for something perfectly good to go to waste, like 20-something playing video games while living at home, or boys and girls pushing back courtship until college or later, missing the opportunity to fully develop emotionally and socially during adolescence. The level of procrastination that we currently see is way worse than the downside of the fast-paced life of the Go-Go Eighties. At least they got shit done.

And in the case of young people, what they put off today cannot be returned to later on down the line. If you just put off dating for a year, no big deal. But put off social interaction too long, and the developmental window has already closed. It's like a woman who puts off conception until after law school, then realizes she's infertile. Development and maturation wants to stick to a pretty tight schedule, so that's where the culture of procrastination really screws up the society.

GSS variables used: partners, cideknew, gun, hit, age, sex, race, educ

September 12, 2012

The early years of helicopter parenting

Here is a Retro Junk article about sleepovers during the '90s, written by someone born toward the end of 1986. Judging from when he was a pre-teen, and the cultural references made, he's talking about roughly 1993 through 1997 or '98. The article has a reader rating of 198 (thumbs-up minus thumbs-down), whereas the typical article has a rating of under 10, and it's only been up for a couple months. So the picture he paints must be pretty representative.

Those were the years that helicopter parenting had already begun its ascent, when you could just pick up hints of the shifting norms in parenting, and hence the shift in the quality of childhood. I turned 13 in 1993, and so had very little contact with pre-teens during the mid and late '90s, but I do remember how quickly trick-or-treating disappeared, now that I was the candy-passer-outer and had a feel for how many showed up, whether the parents were there or not, and if so how they acted.

First parents would accompany their kids, but stay at the end of the driveway. Then fewer kids showed up at all, and in those cases with the parents moving farther up the driveway. In recent years they walk them all the way up to the porch with their hands fastened securely on the poor little kids' shoulders. Maybe this year they'll show up clinging to their mommy's skirt, or being carried by their doofus dad in one of those pamplemousse thingies.

Those years were also when the wienie patrol started to overhaul playgrounds across the country to make sure kids couldn't have fun on them, removing monkey bars, tire swings, teeter-totters, merry-go-rounds, and lowering the height of everything. And that was when toy guns had to look goofy and embarrassing enough that no boy would want to play with them, and they couldn't fire caps to make smoke with a loud bang.

But getting back to the sleepover article, you see the same gradual changes underway there too. Because sleepovers generally are invisible to the broader public, inside accounts like that are incredibly helpful to understand what was going on. Some of it sounds fairly familiar from my sleepovers during the mid-'80s through the early '90s -- ordering a pizza, staying up late, watching a violent movie, etc. Today sleepovers wouldn't even go that far toward letting kids enjoy an unusual level of freedom.

However, there are also signs that helicopter parents were already starting to push back against the children's demands to grow up and become independent. He describes bringing up the topic with his parents as something that required finesse and good negotiation skills, rather than just asking for it openly and the parents agreeing without argument, happy to know that their kid wasn't a total loser with no friends. There was also a fair amount of planning and coordination directly between the parents, almost like scheduling a play date.

Before that, I think if the parents did talk to each other, it was just about when to show up and whether or not they needed to bring a sleeping bag. From memory, though, it seems like it was mostly us kids who informed our parents of whose house we were sleeping over at, when we needed to show up, and what we'd be doing. The parents let us plan our social lives -- yep, even in elementary school -- and stayed out of our way. In fact, a good part of the time, we didn't plan the sleepover in advance at all -- we spontaneously felt it would be so awesome to have a sleepover that night, and ran begging to our parents, who'd usually go along with it unless there was Real Serious Business the next day. Like I said, they were already OK with the idea, and if anything chuckled at our childishly earnest pleas, as though we thought they might actually turn us down.

And finally there's the activities during the sleepover. From the mid-'90s onward, it looks like they stayed in the host's house the entire time, whereas I remember going out for awhile before it got real late. Usually it would have been something ordinary like playing out in the front yard or the street for awhile, maybe hanging out in the park during dusk (unsupervised of course). But not infrequently, the host parents would take us out to eat at Wendy's or wherever, to go skating at the roller rink, play a round of mini-golf, go bowling, or play video games in an arcade. As we got past 10 or 11 years old, they might also drop us off at the mall to run around exploring for awhile before heading home for the night.

Even within the house, the activities apparently shifted away from physically engaging to more passive things, primarily video games and watching TV or movies. Earlier this year I discussed how Millennials are getting nostalgic for not having much of a life as kids, since their wistfulness revolves almost entirely around video games played at home and TV shows. The sleepover article doesn't mention building forts out of boxes or couch cushions, sheets, and blankets, or pillow fights, or jumping around the bed like maniacs, or other physical ritualistic stuff like Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board (a game that only chicks played, but still something physical).

He made an effort to cover every aspect of the sleepover, from the planning before to the big pancake breakfast the day after, so I don't think he simply forgot to mention those things. You just don't get the impression that physical activity was part of the activities. He didn't mention listening to music either, which used to be standard, at least once you were 9 or 10. Good music animates your body, so that's pretty physical too. Overall the activities seem more adapted to a childhood of vegetation and hibernation.

By now it's even worse, with intensive scheduling of play dates, micro-managing what the kids will be eating, and generally treating them in more of a paternalistic, patron-client way than an encouraging, guest-host way. It's as if it were a mere case of overnight babysitting than throwing a party. But we can see the seeds of that already by the mid-1990s, maybe a little earlier, part of the cocooning trend during falling-crime times.

September 7, 2012

Junk gods

Here is a press release about the new findings on what noncoding DNA does. Only a couple percent of our DNA codes for proteins, which are the building blocks of our micro-biological machinery. The other 90-some percent was thought to be mere "junk DNA" that had little importance for biological functioning. At least that was the view of the vast majority of lay readers and popular science writers who discussed the topic before (specialist researchers were probably more careful).

Now it turns out that most of that junk actually does something functional, though still largely unknown in the specifics:

In addition to showing that up to three-quarters of our DNA may be transcribed into RNA, the data strongly suggests, according to Gingeras, that a large percent of non-protein-coding RNAs are localized within cells in a manner consistent with their having functional roles.

The current outstanding question concerns the nature and range of those functions. It is thought that these "non-coding" RNA transcripts act something like components of a giant, complex switchboard, controlling a network of many events in the cell by regulating the processes of replication, transcription and translation -- that is, the copying of DNA and the making of proteins based on information carried by messenger RNAs.

Allow me to get a little New Age-y and suggest that the most successful religions may have been on to something in their beliefs about how life is created and maintained. They have an elite group of gods (perhaps in the form of a holy trinity) whose performances are the clearest. They're like a 2% of spiritual beings that code for spiritual building blocks.

Something in the human mind doesn't find it plausible that so few beings would have such awesome power on their own, so religions that are more on the monotheistic side often have all sorts of intermediary spiritual beings to help orchestrate the work of the Big Guys upstairs -- a "switchboard" of saints, angels, lesser gods, legendary figures, etc. That's in practice, regardless of whether or not it fits with orthodox elite doctrine.

They also have devils, demons, imps, and so on to assist the life-destroying work of the Big Guys underground. Sure enough, researchers are going after all this noncoding DNA for its role in disease. Maybe a devilish coding gene can only cause disease with the orchestrating help of legions of demons throughout the "junk" DNA.

If there's some kind of bridge or analogy between the natural and supernatural -- not an identity, of course -- then perhaps religions that are farther in the strictly monotheistic direction have gotten too far out of touch with reality. Puritanical strains tend to scrub out the wide variety of lesser or intermediary spiritual beings, portraying things more as God vs. The Devil alone. Revival strains tend to paint those smaller guys back into the picture, whether it's the Counter-Reformation's emphasis on saints, or the Pentecostals' putting the Holy Spirit closer to center-stage, to take two familiar examples. At least judging by similarity to the natural world, the revivalists may have been on to something.

I'm pretty ignorant of biology at such a micro scale, but I never bought into the "junk DNA" idea -- not because I had a compelling alternative to promote, but because by that point I'd had enough experience with the personality types who pushed the "junk" idea, enough to know they had to be full of it. Kind of like the idea that "humans only use 1% of their brains."

There's a basic but ultimately not too important logical objection -- then why has natural selection maintained all that waste? Some for insurance, sure, but that much?

The central objection I have to those kinds of theories is that they're full of arrogance and betray an utter lack of curiosity and wonder. Since those types of people never understand the real world, or at least the living world, their theory must be as airheaded as it sounds. "We don't understand it" becomes "There's nothing there to understand." (Or if you prefer, "Highly illogical.")

This attitude is most prevalent among glibertarians, but they're just the right tail of our entire population, which is sadly moving steadily in their direction. The popularity of the phrase and the activity of "debunking" shows how low we keep sinking.

You might have expected these types to only make religion the target of their debunking, but for the profane-minded, nothing is sacred. Even DNA -- the most materialist cause you could point to in the creation of life -- was not safe from their glib dismissal. "Mostly filled with junk, snicker snicker."

Now that their view has been overturned, they just act a little surprised and embarrassed for having been factually incorrect -- not humbled, ashamed, or penitent for coasting through conversations on the topic with such arrogance. They will not develop a new sense of awe before the wonders of nature, but simply update their list of factoids to reflect the most recent reports, lest they be one-upped by some other mouth-breathing nerd on the internet.

I can't emphasize strongly enough how this kind of glibertarian atheist type has not simply replaced a sense of wonder and reverence of a religious nature with the same feelings derived from more material sources. The greatest science writers have that, like Richard Dawkins, but most do not, and their typical reader does not have a Romantic bone in their body. Popular science books for them are not a portal to an encounter with the Sublime, but an armory to be pillaged for their never-ending snark wars.

September 5, 2012

Gay experiences with crime and violence

Earlier I showed that homosexuals are more likely to become serial killers. Taking serial killers to be the extreme right-tail of the group's entire distribution across the violence spectrum, it stands to reason that on average they're more psychopathic than normal males.

What about on the victim's side? You always hear about how bullying is so widespread against gays. But the General Social Survey says otherwise. I split male respondents into those whose sex partners in the past year were only female vs. not heterosexual. It turns out that queers were a tiny bit less likely to have ever been punched or beaten in their lives, 52% vs. 56% for straights. Also, they were equally likely to have been shot at or been threatened with a gun, 33%. (The comparisons do not change if we restrict respondents to urban-dwellers.)

So much for the idea that violent people are more likely to target gays, a la the moral panic over fag-bashing. I think it's just because gays are so emotionally stunted that getting punched is some kind of end-of-the-world thing that they have to broadcast a sob story about.

That idea is confirmed by looking at how afraid men are to walk the streets of their neighborhood at night. Obviously we have to control for the fact that gays are more likely to live in urban, hence more dangerous areas. It turns out not to matter which definition of "urban" we use, so I left it as open to include the greatest sample size (the 100 largest Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas, and "other urban"). Compared to straights, gays are more than twice as likely to be afraid to walk their local urban streets, 49% vs. 23%.

The only evidence I found for gays being more subject to crime is for robbery and burglary. Again looking just at urban-dwellers, in the past year 7% of straights vs. 14% of gays had been the victim of burglary (I'm fighting off a joke here…), and 2% of straights vs. 5% of gays had been forcefully robbed. Maybe this is due to their being drawn to the more run-down ghetto parts of town, so that the "urban" control is missing that finer difference in where they live. That could also explain some fraction of the difference in how fearful they are of their streets, although certainly not such a yawning chasm.

Overall then, the idea that queers are any more subject to violent or even property crimes is totally bogus. I'm certain that they got made fun of more growing up (and into adulthood, back in the good old days before everyone was a pussified homophile). But being so emotionally stunted, they never were able to develop thick skin, and every little remark or dirty look sends them into a neurotic meltdown and public temper-tantrum.

GSS variables used: sexsex, sex, srcbelt, hit, gun, fear, burglr, robbry

September 4, 2012

Neon lights and caryatids (female-shaped columns)

Shot on location for Scarface, where it plays as the Babylon Club:

It's nothing to shout about, but still the eclecticism looks carefree and playful, taking part in the fun-loving, coked-up party culture of southern Florida in the 1980s. Compare to the more campy Piazza d'Italia, another place that combines the classical with the futuristic: because the latter is so much more spastically self-conscious -- "Hey guys, dig what two styles I'm combining -- it appeals to critics, who believe that a work must always "say something." Whether they like it or not, it at least garners their respect for Saying Something, so they include it in architecture history books as an exemplar of Postmodernism. *

Critics seem to be numb to pleasure, especially the guilty kind, where you're going with the flow and not thinking or asking any questions, just letting your senses play around. They prefer the opposite of a guilty pleasure -- something that you cannot enjoy, but that on a conscious, rational level, you tell yourself that you should, usually on the basis of some authority who proclaims, It's a Very Important Piece (git the fuck outta here!).

*Not really that dopey when referring to architecture, as long as you steer away from the superstar architects and look broadly at the visual culture back then, kind of like how Art Deco had no celebrities, manifestos, or other forms of attention whoring.

September 3, 2012

Cocooning and authoritarianism, the basic picture

That seemed like a shorter title than cocooning and authoritarianism, Corporatism, Communism, technocracy, and bureaucracy. You get the idea of what kind of political and economic institutions I'm talking about.

In this first post, I'll take a look at the link empirically, both across regions and over time. Then in the next post, I'll propose two mechanisms that could explain this relationship, one social and the other emotional.

The groups with the lowest degree of cocooning are hunter-gatherers, e.g. the Bushmen of southern Africa, where people don't have private homes and spend most of their plentiful free time socializing and gossiping (and at such close distances that "personal space" as we know it scarcely exists). They also have established social ties to a variety of neighboring groups, wandering over toward one when they're in need of what it can provide, then touring around to another when they need that group's support. These people have nothing like an elite authority who manages their affairs, and come closest to the egalitarian ideal.

After them are the pastoralists, who also are not tied to any patch of land and thus spend much of their time interacting with others. They do hold private wealth, though (mostly in livestock and jewelry), so these interactions can take an antagonistic form over some contested resource like grazing land, travel routes, etc. But then there's the flip-side where they entertain guests to a higher standard than they would enjoy themselves, with the expectation that sometime later on the hosts will play the role of guests in their turn. Whether it's the culture of honor or the culture of hospitality, pastoralists largely carry on in a grassroots, face-to-face manner.

And they too have limited political hierarchy, although more nested grouping than hunter-gatherers have -- livestock herders are too fiercely independent and proud to tolerate too much for too long. They might band together to take out a common enemy, but even these phases show limited authoritarianism and more of a band-of-brothers ethos, like the early period of Mongol expansion. Hierarchical decision-making is not an enduring feature of their societies.

Then come the somewhat more cocooning horticulturalists. They hang out mostly around the home, where their gardens are, with the women doing the hard work at home and a handful of guys getting drunk or high, perhaps while playing music, in the men's hut (kind of like a small frat). They don't interact too much with their "neighbors." When they do, it is even more likely to be hostile than it is for pastoralists, who at least have a reason to be hospitable toward strangers. But gardeners do not go on prolonged travels where they may be in need of the kindness of strangers; lacking the expected benefits that they themselves would receive as guests, they feel little need to extend it as hosts. When kindness is shown to others, it is typically a potlatch kind of ceremony where the Big Man tries to show off how wealthy he is by giving so much away. That produces more of an implicit patron-client relationship between the Big Man and the peons, not a guest-host relationship between long-term equals, but where one is only temporarily in need and the other able to provide.

Their political institutions are also more stratified, going up to tribal chiefdoms or small kingdoms that are meant to last. Not being very nomadic, they don't have the option to pick up and move somewhere else if they're on a crash-course with their neighbors, so that higher authority gets implemented; it isn't just there symbolically.

Finally there are the agriculturalists, who have given birth to the most hierarchical forms of governance, from Ancient Egypt and the Aztecs to Communist Russia and China. These large-scale crop-growers are even more tied to a patch of land than the gardeners are, who at least move every now and then once the current garden is no longer worth planting in. Most of their day is spent carrying out the drudgery needed to make their own private farm work, pretty much restricted to interactions with close kin. Like the gardeners, they don't go on long treks, so they do not have elaborate hospitality cultures. But they do have larger common interests with their non-kin neighbors, like setting up and maintaining an irrigation system that will provide water to all of their fields. So tend not to interact with their neighbors even violently. There's just not much face-to-face socializing of any kind; even behavior needed to coordinate their interests is through intermediaries, e.g. some official who visits each household to collect the dues that fund a public good.

As for changes over time, which are better at showing cause and effect, consider the more outgoing and free-wheeling times in the United States of the early 1900s through the early 1930s, as well as the '60s through the early '90s, which reached their peak during the Roaring Twenties and the Go-Go Eighties. Those were also periods marked by a steady erosion of faith in technocrats and centralized authority, which was gradually replaced by a belief in entrepreneurialism and soft libertarianism (not the wacko kind), again peaking during the '20s and the '80s.

In the more cocooning mid-century, the public grew steadily more in favor of Big Business, Big Labor, and Big Government meeting up to hammer out a harmonious plan for the whole society, not quite outright Communism or Fascism, but about as close as America could get to it. (Speaking of which, the mid-century was also the peak of Stalinism and Fascism in Europe, so it wasn't just a pattern here.) The men in white coats had figured out what was best for you, and you had better take their prescriptions seriously -- or ignore them at your own peril.

Then in the cocooning era of the past 20 years, we've seen a steady reversal of Reagan-era beliefs in decentralization, distrust of experts, and action from below. Remember all those vigilante movies that followed Dirty Harry? That was the point -- the system and its experts are too limited in their knowledge, morality, and efficacy, that those lower down the chain of command may have to make more decisions on their own instead of just following orders.

It began with the worship of Clinton after the '90s economic boom got going -- praising the technocrats who set the right dials to the right settings, rather than the lower-down businessmen who actually did the hiring and expansion of their businesses. It only grew under Bush, whose massive top-down programs for widening home-ownership rates, making all the nation's children smart, and spreading democracy to the Middle East, hardly anyone raised an eyebrow at. And of course this airheaded faith in the experts has only gotten worse under Obama, who everyone thought was a magician, or who at least would know who to select as his magician sidekicks. Just look at how many true believers there were in the economic magicianship of Big Government there was during the late 2000s recession compared to the early '80s recession.

Confusion often results surrounding the first part of a rising-crime, more outgoing, more decentralizing period, for example the 1900s or the 1960s. Each of those periods began at the epitome of the previous phase, the Gilded Age and the Fifties. The social-cultural shift away from that is gradual, so for awhile in the early transition there is still a good deal of the previous phase kicking around. The Progressive Era still believed in the power of bureaucracy -- just get the right people in office to pass the right laws, and problem solved. Same with the '60s -- just vote in Johnson, and pass the Great Society programs, and problem solved. That is an inheritance of the Gilded Age (or Victorian era in Europe) and the Mid-century Modern period in America, and it was steadily eroded as people gradually withdrew their faith in technocratic experts.

I won't go in depth for every period of rising and falling homicide rates (the primary link to less vs. more cocooning behavior). But consider also the falling-crime Age of Reason / Enlightenment era, who gave the world the idea of the Enlightened Despot, and whose faith in men of learning to wisely plan society was growing compared to the previous Early Modern period that was marked by the Wars of Religion and the Witch Craze in Europe. Indeed the Early Modern period (ca. 1580 to 1630) saw a revival of the Medieval culture of revenge and dueling, immortalized in all those revenge tragedies of the Elizabethan and Jacobean years. That showed a belief in local, face-to-face solutions to your problems, distrusting the central authorities' ability to solve them for you.

After the Enlightenment, homicide rates began rising during the Romantic-Gothic period, and there was by any look at these societies a more outgoing and free-wheeling culture. They gradually lost their faith in technocracy and placed their hope more in bottom-up, local governance, and an overall revival of all things regional, especially to break away from a huge empire.

And as with the other rising-crime periods, the very beginning of the Romantic-Gothic era still carried a good deal of the previous era -- namely the naivete that ushered in the French Revolution. As with the Progressive Era and the Great Society, that was a relic of the mindset in the previous period (the Enlightenment), which was steadily eroded and built over with the views shown in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the unsheltered and clear-sighted daughter of two naive ideologists from the Enlightenment era.

Even by the time people were cheering on Napoleon, it was not because they wanted authoritarian planning and rule within their own society, but because he could conquer foreign nations and enrich the glory of his fellow countrymen back home. It's like the regular high school students who cheer on the jocks at a football game, hoping that they'll crush the rival school's team and give them -- the regular students -- something to be proud of. It's not to celebrate the superior status the jocks will enjoy afterward.

That took a little longer than I expected, but I guess it's better to spend more time documenting the pattern in the first place. The next post proposing two related psychological mechanisms for this pattern will be quite shorter.

September 1, 2012

Obligatory dorm-room makeovers

Here is an NYT article about how sheltered the Millennials continue to live, even after they've shipped off to college.

Far from wanting to start their own lives, which necessarily means beginning with little and building up over time through effort, they want their parents to shell out $200 or $300 and up to furnish their dorm rooms, to keep them up to the standards they've been used to at home.

Their helicopter parents are of course only too eager to oblige. I mean, how are Kaylabella and Chaysen supposed to get any work done without a standing mirror, big screen TV, and a stocked fridge nearby?

With that level of material comfort, physical security, liberation from household chores, and lack of direct parental supervision (although now subject to a continual stream of cell phone check-ups), you'd think they'd be in hog heaven and living it up all the time.

In reality, though, college kids have never been in a more ongoing vegetative, joyless state, nor been so averse to the party hardy culture that is supposed to pervade the campus. The girls are plugged into Facebook and texting, while the guys are plugged into video games (alone) and internet porn. On the rare occasion when they do throw a party, they just sit around chit-chatting or huddling around the two beer pong players.

It feels like one of those Parents Weekend parties when kids act all well-behaved so they're none the wiser, only the monitor and spotlight are so internalized that that's their ordinary way of carrying on!

Adolescents need to start off low on the totem pole, to motivate them to get stuff done, and to enjoy and savor a higher state of being once they experience it. It also makes them pool their limited resources and thereby develop social bonds. When your dorm room is nothing to write home about, you enjoy the party that the hosts worked on to make sure that it'd be a blast. Not to mention the anticipation beforehand. And all of that required a team effort, not just running your mommy and daddy's credit cards.

I also think that a drabber dorm room forces them to seek out relief through social means -- even a dopey-looking room comes alive with the right people and the right activities. All this dorm room makeover stuff seems like a way to avoid such social channels, and to seek relief by surrounding themselves with distracting toys.

Then it's just more of the same once they graduate college but move back in with their folks until age 35. How about a tax break for parents who spend less than $10 on their kids' freshman dorm decor? Something. Shit.