Thursday, December 31, 2015

ho arrrrrh ho!

The polar express took me to the frozen north! They have no internet, so i couldn't alert you.
(translation - vacation laziness)
Q: What is the only activity that makes you feel like both santa and a pirate?
A: Going home for the holidays. You start with a satchel of presents, and end up with a bag of booty.
As an infant crammed her happy finger into my right nostril on the train ride home today, i realized that of the three major forms of cross-country public travel, train is the only one in which the "normal" rules of society are suspended, and people treat each other more like we're supposed to all the time. For only on a train, do tiny children run around and interact with any stranger they might wish. It doesn't happen on planes, because of paranoia and elitist pretension. It doesn't happen on busses, perhaps partly because bus trips are often shorter than train trips, but mostly because of one seemingly insignificant detail - trains are carpeted. Busses are not.
Whatever the reason, tiny children on train trips often are, for one brief moment in their lives, exempted from the fear of strangers we vomit into their sweet heads on every other day of their maimed, crippled lives.
A message of holiday cheer, you ask? I can actually do one better.
Any intelligent person would look at this world and conclude that humans are flawed, and that our time on this planet will very, very soon be done. It's all over but the fiddling, and the universe will soon be well rid of us.
That's a perfectly reasonable conclusion, and to hope otherwise is laughable, pie-in-the-sky naivete.
And yet...
I want to tell you a story.
During the trench fighting in World War I, the opposing sides could hear and speak to each other like no war before or since. These were professional killers, mind you. Well brainwashed into the zero-sum mentality that pervades humanity - kill or be killed. Most people have little or no awareness of how brainwashing is a natural part of becoming a regular member of society...but many have at least a glimmer of the fact that a profound and merciless process is required to turn the average many, moe, or mabel into a regimented murderer.
And yet...
Time and again, it turns out, in locations too numerous and far-flung to be statistical aberration, these systematically dehumanized humans with their fingers literally on the triggers, defied the rules of the game. They said NO to duty. They said NO to patriotism. They found ways to NOT kill or be killed. In their long standoffs, each side was required to shoot a certain amount of ordinance every day. So they eventually took to firing their loads like clockwork, never changing their aim or the time of day...until both sides knew, down to the second, exactly what was coming, and where.
And then, whenever some officer made an inspection, these soldiers would conjure up feats of death-defying bravery, perhaps zig-zagging across a field being shelled and coming out the other side unscathed. It is a certainty that many medals, and probably no small number of promotions, were awarded on both sides for nothing more than brazen wool-pullery.
Can you know that these things happened, and still abandon ALL hope for our species?
Neither can i.
merry maxmas,

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"Divided Labours"

(an evolutionary view of women at work)
-by kingsley browne
Know any unyielding feminists who insist that gender roles are social constructs, and won't brook any protest to the contrary? Perhaps you even ARE one such?
This is the book you need to give them...or this is the book we need to read.
Yes, i said "we". If i'm not a classic example of the aforementioned type, i'm close enough. I think militancy can be forgiven - the history of gender relations took a turn for the apocalyptic around 20,000 years ago, and any attempt to disavow or rationalize that is shameful. mr. browne explains, women be women and men be men. They have different biological personalities, and imposed workplace equality won't change that. The anthropological literature displays remarkable cross-cultural consistency in personality differences, and the burgeoning biological literature is finding no contradiction. In general, men are more competitive, driven by status and resources, and willing to take risks. Women are more nurturing, risk-averse, and less greedy and single-minded. Can it be any wonder that women's careers overwhelmingly tend to stall around middle management? Our entire commerce paradigm (indeed, our entire "success" paradigm) is based upon the male personality! Evolutionary theory traces these differences to asymmetrical parental investment - women carry the babies, then feed them. Males? Much less. Add to that the fact that male reproductive success has long been linked to status and resources. Hmm...with male personalities inherently more stressful, the lifespan gap may finally make sense too.
Does browne go too far? Oh yes, with phrases like "our patriarchal social structure - to the extent we have one" (italics mine). No, mr. kingsley, patriarchy is so deeply embedded that, in all our languages and institutions, the very notion of humanness is male. "Male" is default. Normative. Females? Systematically brutalized and dehumanized since the agricultural revolution (and the FANTASY ISLAND episode in which florence henderson turns down a high-powered job in order to be with her kids, is still abhorrent sexism of the worst kind). Browne also holds up the model of "natural" human behavior as that of a hunter/gatherer - but social hunting is a profoundly recent activity, in terms of the millions of years of human development. And he doesn't make the point (though perhaps he ought) that humanity's current barbarism is easily understood through the light of evolutionary theory - if you systematically remove women from the decision-making process for thousands of years, the result will be avaricious, unbalanced aggressiveness - in a word, brutality. Sound familiar? He does, however, agree that changes should be made to reduce economic disparity (and holds up Australia as a successful example). He also makes the curious (but suspect) observation that women actually have MORE socially-acceptable life choices - wealth and status-seeking being essentially the only path open to men (thankfully, growing numbers of stay-at-home dads are challenging this paradigm). Here again, he neglects the fact that every facet of our current social structure has been shaped by males - he seems to want us to accept our differences at face value, but i rather think that the true personality of our species will never be reclaimed until all our institutions reflect a merging of the female and male.
Browne also reminds us that you can't measure individuals by statistical generalities - there are plenty of aggressive women and non-competitive men walking around. He speculates about the reports that our military readiness has been in decline, and lays it at the feet of women's inclusion in all aspects of service. Speaking for myself, anything that diminishes our military capacity is okay by me.
DIVIDED LABOURS is part of a series called "Darwinism Today", each one readable in a single sitting, and designed to make advanced science accessible to all. Especially brilliant is "The Truth About Cinderella" by martin daly and margo wilson.