Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Unwieldy, Cumbersome

Take a peak at this image I have linked to from the Final Fantasy Fan wiki:
I only chose Cloud as a ready-to-hand example of the Japanese trope of giant swords. I myself am not a fan of Final Fantasy, but largely because life is short, I didn't grow up with consoles and somehow, like literature, there are more classics in existence than I could ever get round to playing.

The thing is though, that this is a drawing. And a giant sword slung across your back might look cool, but if you were to put on an oven mitt and grab even just the hotplate off your bbq, or presuming some countries and cultures and rental arrangements don't put a bbq readily at hand - even a bicycle, a standard hot plate or road bike slung across your back is not going to be fun to carry.

You might even say it was cumbersome. Try and swing that thing and you might say that a bbq hot plate or a road bike is an unwieldy melee weapon. History never generated massive, gigantic swords even when the greatest scientific minds were all metallurgists and nobody could come up with better ideas than steel outerwear and steel weapons.

The Japanese Odachi, or Nodachi was as big as they ever made swords when they were all about swords at around 90cm in length, the Scottish Claymore is about as large as Swords ever got that were used or useful for anything at 120cm.

But once you're talking 150cm, and wider than your head and presumably heavier than your torso, a massive sword becomes an easy way to illustrate a concept like superhuman strength, but ultimately just an illustration.

And that's the crux, that's the juice of the example. You have something that looks cool but in practical application is so cumbersome and unwieldy that any brief existence such a thing would have history would judge to be a mistake.

Now the game of prediction is a hard one. You know, investing in the share market with it's bajillion variables, and even a game of basketball, completely beholden to the laws of physics is impossible to pack into a box so tight it becomes predictable.

And yet, predict we might, in a few limited domains. Provided we try to hit the side of a barn and not a bulls eye as such.

Change of pace, I was running the other day. Long distance, low stakes practice run, but a long run. Most of the time there are only two sources of information I measure my performance by on a practice run - how my body feels and also who passes me.

That last run was a long one, and I got passed twice. The first time was what I refer to in my head as a 'cautionary tale' one of those serious runners who gets so lean as to be some kind of skelington sent back from the future to run marathons. This doesn't bother me when a skeleton with only the essential muscle mass to move their frame forward passes me - I never want to get this good and this efficient at running myself. The aesthetic cost is too high. The fact is that in a city of millions, thousands of men and women both older and younger are going to be better runners than I am, even when I am in form.

The second person to pass me was a gorilla, a big beefy dude who looked good and would look good naked. Someone whose domain was free weights in the gym, possibly cross-fit competitions, out for a Sunday run with headphones in (which I consider cheating). This did bother me, because as a general rule big beefy dudes are not efficient runners, not unless they are sprinters doing sprints, and this guy was kicking his heels up when he ran so high that he was almost kicking his own arse.

He was really pushing himself, breathing hard, sweating. He was determined. I took it as a prompt to apply myself more, as without any competition or running companion to pace me I generally just relax into a comfortable day dream while training. So over the next 100m or so I just gradually and calmly reeled him in and overtook him again. Gradually hearing his panting breath drop off into the background.

He must have the same performance criteria as me though, because he never dropped out of my hearing all together. He sort of dropped 30m behind and then managed to keep pace, maybe I did that infuriating thing where once he was no longer on my heels dropped off my pace to match his. Hard to say.

But the next 4km or so, I listened to his heavy breathing and the jangling of his keys or something. And hear prediction comes in. This guys' running style was so inefficient I naturally began speculating as to what distance I'd have to run before he would simply have to stop and crash out of the race. Over what distance could this guy's inefficient kicking back render him no-contest to me. Because in a 100m sprint I'd probably lose. I'd guess up over 3km I might become competitive and then the simple amount of energy he'd have to exert to move his mass the same distance as my mass would compound and compound over time to the point where he'd either have to keep the soles of his feet facing away from the sun and run efficiently or just give up and go home.

In a similar vein, Penn & Teller's Bullshit did an episode about fat guys, or something where they actually raced a bunch of fat people against slender people to demonstrate that stereotypes about fat people's physical strength, stamina, athleticism etc. are perhaps mythical ones. There are indeed a number of athletic specialties that may require both a rotund frame and physical fitness, as shows up in many contact sports, American football, occasionally in boxing, basketball etc.

But Penn & Teller didn't run a marathon between overweight people, normal BMI and underweight people in that domain you'd probably wash out a pretty solid rule that the more weight you carry the less competitive you are at long distance running.

And so enters a predictive rule that is pretty bankable, in my opinion. If something is cumbersome or unwieldy, as time progresses it's chances of failure approach 1. I believe this is also the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Why is it worth writing about? Because we live in cumbersome and unwieldy times. Or perhaps I am simply living in a cumbersome and unwieldy scene.

I care. I care, is the real answer to that question. Not about running form per se. But good people, with good intentions are defeating themselves all around me by devising cumbersome and unwieldy solutions to serious and relatively unserious problems.

Fighting power can be empowering, but it is not the same as being powerful. People fight power and lose quite regularly, that's the nature of power after all. And a good way to predict your loss to power is if you grab up a gigantic unwieldy sword that impresses your friends by virtue of how unwieldy it looks and run off with such gusto that your heels are kicking your arse.

A friend of mine (note: I am not always or perhaps ever, necessarily a good friend) whose husband was hanging out with a lot of prostitutes informed me a few years back that prostitutes now preferred to be called 'full service sex workers' this gained no traction with me and my friend for reasons I can't quite perceive to a specific one, started to get upset that I still referred to prostitutes as prostitutes.

In  my case though my marketing training and probably my rational instincts kicked in, screaming to me that such a tactic, or stratagem was pseudo-intellectual hokum. Long before Youtube algorithms spewed up Steven Pinker's rationale for why such tactics keep getting adopted.

Al Ries and Jack Trout would simply have pointed out that 'Full Service Sex Worker' is an incredibly cumbersome 6 syllable alternative to 'prostitute' the common tongue term. Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote the best marketing book I've ever read, and much of it was poo-pooing bad ideas.

The term is cumbersome, it doesn't mean the objective of the campaign as such, is itself wrong, and that's probably the most important point. Someone generous enough to have sex with someone in exchange for money does not deserve to be degraded, abused, objectified, slandered, abducted, tortured, murdered, raped, stigmatized or excluded. All the issues surrounding the sex industry are legitimately concerning.

But rebranding your profession with a cumbersome unwieldy name is likely to result in sweet fuck all. At best, it gets adopted through voguery by a critical mass that prolongs the term. But it's a matter of time before the people that load the term 'prostitute' with all it's negative connotations are abbreviating the new name to 'fizzles' (because 6 syllables is cumbersome) and employing the exact same negative connotations.

It shouldn't be hard to trouble shoot in the pitch meeting. A simple roleplay 'Hey Jimmy, would you ever have sex with a full service sex worker?' (the social stigma is back already) 'Do full service sex workers work at a 'brothel'? Or should I be calling it a full service sex workplace?'. 'Excuse me are you a sex worker?' 'Yes.' 'Full service?' 'Yes.' 'How much for anal?' 'I don't do anal.' 'So what does full service mean then?'

I'm told, but haven't tried, that one of the great negotiation tools there is, is the question 'Now how am I supposed to do that?' because it creates forced empathy. And well intentioned people that devise rebranding strategies to try and elevate persecuted peoples standing in society may well never actually role-play how that rebranding is going to work. 

I would have been a better friend to my friend if at the time I'd known to force some empathy on her, even though she was not an advocate per se, but someone who had bought into the status and the prestige of fighting power.

And sex workers are beat up on enough, so I'm going to stop beating that dead horse. If you missed the point of the beating, it was simply that in the campaign headquarters when the strategy was devised it should have been predicted as a non-starter strategy based on how cumbersome and unwieldy the proposed terminology was.

I've also watched friends struggle with the modern 'cambrian explosion' of terminology and lingo necessary to talk about identity politics, which is in itself necessary to perceive oneself as part of the zeitgeist, which in itself is a basic human motivation for acceptance/belonging.

My marketing sense tingles again, and I've placed my bets that identity politics current success is based more on what made Nu-metal successful in the late 90s and that it has about the same longevity prospects.

That in itself is a tragedy, that most people are flailing about cumbersome terminology like 'cisgendered male' and 'non-binary femme' and 'gender non-conformist'. They sound, or perhaps look as if they contain more information than the old terminology they supplanted in some cases or appended in others. Let's dig.

'Cisgendered male' does indeed contain more information than 'male', even excluding signalling that this individual is 'in the know' and 'one of us' in terms of lingo and group membership. It tells you that said individual was born with an identity that aligned with their biological sex. Their chromosomes, their appearance and how people treat them etc. Is 'cis' here to stay? Or will it be something that features in some future equivalent Bojack Horseman style flashback to the '2010s' to mark the short lived fads of the decade, like 'not' jokes in the early 90s? Is the teeny tiny little syllable 'cis' cumbersome and unwieldy?

My money is on yes. Though of all the things identity politics has hacked up, it's probably the most useful. Norm Macdonald so comically and eloquently described 'cisgender' as 'a way to make normal people feel marginalized.' the offensiveness of that statement to trans people and sympathisers being the joke itself. But like the 'Brown-eyes, Blue-eyes' experiment, that's precisely the value of terminology like cisgender, as far as I can perceive. A forced empathy exercise of employing an antonym to destroy a persons sense of normalcy...

Having said that, the studies on the wikipedia page of the efficacy of the brown-eyes, blue-eyes experiment concluded that it was not very effective in reducing racism, and may have made things worse or put individual participants and moderators at risk of elevated stress and anxiety... so. So it's a fine example of something sounding smarter than it is.

The fact is, Gender dysphoria is rare. That's what makes the prefix 'cis' unlikely to last. 98% of the population where there's reliable studies are applicably 'cis'. Even on the self-report estimates (not requiring diagnosis from a psychologist) in New Zealand it scraped 98.8% of the population are cis. And 'cismale' and 'cisfemale' do not role off the tongue as easily as 'male' and 'female'.

Moving into 'non-binary femme' and 'gender non-conformist' without fully leaving 'cis' behind, there's something to be said about minorities. The whole LGBTIQA+ community might at the upper limits be about 4% of the population. That can be an incredibly large number though in absolute terms, in a city like Melbourne 4% is about 120,000 people that's a city in itself, a whole economy, and LGBT (at least) tend not to be evenly distributed across the land but tend to gravitate geographically to places where they can be a city within a city, particulary between teens to mid-30s.

This in part was why, before looking it up, my guesstimate of the LGB% of the population was way high in around the 15-20% range when it turns out to be closer to the 2% range. So in a city like Melbourne if you frequent Fitzroy and Collingwood, you may feel it necessary to preface your perspective on an issue with 'as a cisgendered...' and use gender neutral pronouns at your barista job, but for how many train stations does that hold? Once you're out of the city limits or off social media, there's less than a 1/100 chance it's going to come up. A person living in the regional town of Sale, Victoria may not interact with a hundred new people in a year.

Outside these queer population centers, 'cis' is all cost no clarity. Now, where's the clarity in a 'non-binary femme?' I've seen this term used by someone, but not been in a situation like a party where somebody introduced themselves to me as a non-binary femme. I don't wish to cheat and look it up before hand, because for me a) that's already cumbersome and b) let's not bias an experiment in which to determine my biases.

Firstly, I notice that the two terms appear to cancel eachother out. Femme being a fancy franch word for woman and presumably has a fairly binary antonym if I know the franch. Non-binary appears to say to expect some mixture between man and woman. Does this refer to sex or gender though? As far as I know non-binary is not trans. It simply suggests they favor a spectrum of gender... It could refer to intersex - ambiguous genitalia. It may be suggesting who is generally attracted to her(?) meaning Bisexuals, heterosexual men, lesbians but proves too effete for gay men. However the same could be true of me, who is attracted to me is not really something I'd ever footnote to describe myself.

To me, non-binary femme is cumbersome precisely because it is so non-descriptive. It is in practice, less descriptive than 'Tomboy' which perhaps might overlap with 'non-binary' if it refers to conformity to gender roles. Non-binary though means nothing specific, allowing for someone to identify as non-binary femme but predicts the exact same behavior as what may have 10 years prior been referred to as 'a straight woman'. It could however also predict the exact same behavior as what 10 years prior was referred to as a 'drag queen'. That is where a convoluted 5 syllable footnote becomes unwieldy, so vague as to not be useful.

And thus this paragraph on 'Gender non-conforming' becomes in itself, cumbersome and redundant. Adopt a low enough bar for GNC behavior and I am Gender non-conforming, owing to my penchant for transvestite lifestyles. I've been known to wear women's clothing, albeit in an artless manner that people for the most part accept. With a broad enough definition, my own dad, an impossible ideal of masculinity for me to grow up in the shadow of, is also a transvestite. Is a guy crying sufficient to be GNC? Or a woman playing sport? Given the ever shifting norms of the gender roles, does one have to stay ahead of the gender role tide to continuously renew ones licence? GNC, NBF sound like they contain more information than we are used to, in a similar phenomena to the conflation bias in statistics, they actually provide less information.

At best these cumbersome and unwieldy terms invite us not to assume, presume or expect. Which I've argued before is a 'pro-anxiety' stance. But given these effects, some people may say 'mission accomplished'

Enter the most contentious predictor of lingo longevity - heuristics.

This is kind of the part where I just have to uneloquently say: tough. There is a wealth and abundance of scientific research out there from eye tracking studies, to years of art history, to biology, to psychology to fMRI scanning and so on and so forth, that shows all of us use unconscious heuristics to determine somebodies sex.

More contentious but still more scientific than those who would contend with them, is the evolutionary psychologists (and biologists) that wield great explanatory power in the phenomena of gender roles.

Heuristic = rule of thumb. Example - If a persons hips are wider than their ribcage, we percieve them as female. If their ribcage is the widest section of their torso, male. These are measurements are eyes, as part of our brain does unconsciously and prejudices us towards that person. It prepares us with expectations, predictions etc. and I expect and predict that trans people are no exception to these heuristics. To hark back to the numbers from earlier, if someone gave you a hundred photos of randomly selected different people and asked you to sort them by gender. Even if you intellectually acknowledge that you can't presume to know someone's gender identity just by looking at them, if you simply hunkered down and relied upon your heuristic mechanisms, by guessing on instinct alone you would anticipate that you would guess correctly 98-99 of the photos.

Consider also that the errors are more likely to be from androgynes rather than trans people, because you are probably discerning enough to recognise the gender role someone is attempting to conform to even if their biology is fighting them.

There are few things in our lives that require higher than 98% accuracy, if you are a surgeon maybe, or a military sniper (and I'm not sure that's the case. Certainly not if you're an air-force drone bomber pilot). But even in most professions most people specialize in, they don't achieve 98% accuracy, hence asking people to adopt and employ terminology to fight against snap decision heuristics that are 98% accurate is what is most cumbersome of all.

Gender dysphoria in all its forms is going to be debilitating. The brunt of that cost is going to be born by the individuals that experience directly subjectively. Some kind of insurance scheme that asks the wider part of society to bear a tiny portion of the cost the individual does might spread the risk and relieve the debilitating aspects some what - eg. to impose a cost of education on why not to violently police gender roles on everyone in a community - may over time remove debilitating stigma and also threats to personal safety etc.

But again, go back to that pitch meeting and try and sell 'ad prefix, or change the pronouns used for everyone you interact with to move from 98% accuracy to 100% ambiguous.' Which doesn't seem to even capture the unwieldy nature.

If I as a caring individual was perusing over the strategic options of identity politics and saw a strategy that said 'change the language everyone speaks, forever.' I'd keep looking down that list, because English maybe, but when it gets to the gendered pronouns of Romantic languages like Italian and Spanish... fuck that cumbersome shit.

In conclusion, this has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of any underlying motivations of cumbersom and unwieldy solutions. That gorilla that was chasing me for 3km or so, probably had more determination, more mental strength than me. He was certainly in a holistic sense fitter and in better shape than me, he just couldn't run me down once I'd been alerted to his presence because he kicked his feet too far up as he ran. He couldn't catch me simply because he was inefficient.

Fighting power is not the same thing as being powerful, even if you feel empowered.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Open Mind

An open mind is kind of like a triangle, a concept everyone is familiar with but there's a pretty solid question as to whether it exists in nature.

I'm riddled with bias and prejudice myself, and one of those areas in which I, and you, are going to be prejudicial is how we differ on what 'having an open mind' means.

For example there's probably a road all people follow along to some extent: not jumping to conclusions, hearing someone out, allowing somebody to say their piece etc.

But eventually it seems possible to part ways on the definition, I head off to my campfire one I might share with you, or you may branch off to sit around a different fire.

For example, there are parties that feel having an open mind translates behaviorally to suspending critical thinking. To receive arguments with no argument. A lack of filters to assess the quality of information received. Even so, this is a treatment of information that is often asked of an audience rather than practiced by the speaker.

A'sail fully unfurled to catch the slightest bit of bullshit in the breeze.'

The campfire I sit around is one where having an open mind does not require the suspension of critical faculty. It means to observe the actual evidence and make judgement upon that and that alone.

Which sounds like what a judge might have to do in a court of law... except there have been plenty of case studies and rigorous experiments to demonstrate that Judges are often prejudice, even by their blood sugar levels and mood. Most people are incapable of practicing the above definition. Including myself and my knowledge of my emotional competency.

I doubt two people could easily share the same understanding of a closed mind - there's again some low hanging fruit easily gathered like 'disregarding testimony based on skin colour.' and so forth, but what about 'not-deferring to an expert authority.' or 'disregarding something because it is part of mainstream medicine?' these are the basis of fun arguments being had constantly now, where one person's open mind is another person's closed one.

Perhaps the open mind exists only as an ideal. I have a core belief that reality wins, the truth will out. This is tempered somewhat “The market can stay irrational a lot longer than you can stay solvent!” by Maynard Keynes, which goes broader than financial examples of fictions versus reality. Consider someone with access to nothing but Nazi propaganda in the lead up and duration of World War 2, the truth of the Third Reich's superiority took a while to play out, in which many people managed to die before it was resolutely defeated by the cold hard reality.

With that in mind let's talk strategy. Why even talk about open minds? Shouldn't there just be an acknowledgement of our own prejudice and biases, that being extant in ourselves probably will also describe other's modes of thinking just as well as our own and respect that. So is asking for an audience to keep an 'open mind' a kind of pathetic plea to simply surrender to your argument and let it into their map of the universe?

Rather, the open mind is a strategic ideal - a higher ground to stand on emotionally where we are not cornering ourselves for an onslaught from reality. Because that's the thing, Youtube is littered with videos that bear titles 'x DESTROYS insert out-group's ideology' and spoiler alert - nothing ever gets destroyed in these videos - somebody talks for a bit generally. But reality will destroy people just as it crushed National Socialism in Germany, British Occupation in India, the civilian population of ancient Pompeii, the Vikings ... and you can bet that when the writing was on the wall there were people in all those situations that couldn't be convinced by anyone that it was. 'Vesuvias is just letting off a bit of steam' someone would have said of the plume of smoke that morning.

Any ideology can be pressed and cornered against reality. An open mind might be considered a form of recognizing the lay of the land, or a kind of intellectual spacial awareness. In matters of strategy I tend to defer to an expert practitioner like Musashi Miyamoto who writes:

"Discerning the order in which the opponents attack, deal with those whom press forward first; keeping an eye on the whole picture... Intent on herding opponents into a line, when they seem to be doubling up, sweep in powerfully, not allowing a moments gap... if you get a group of practitioners together from time to time and learn how to corner them, it is possible to take on one opponent, or ten, or even twenty opponents, with peace of mind."

And now imagine being in a room, perhaps a school hall/gymnasium, and having Musashi attacking you, hearding you and I feel in that experience I would learn that I know nothing about the concept of even standing in a room safely. Putting a weapon in my hand I have no confidence of preventing me from discovering that I'd been cornered, disarmed and dominated and possibly walked into the last room of my life.

So by the metaphor an open mind is being able to perceive the walls of your reality, so you can pivot around the center of a room rather than be driven into a corner owing to a closed mind. To me, that's why you want an open mind. You don't want prejudices that you can trip over.

Given most people's poor statistical intuitions for example, most of us (and I can testify that I myself) get the Monty Hall problem incorrect. It takes an open mind to accept that one should always switch, and this can be demonstrated and proved mathematically - and yet I'm told to this day many people who have had the Monty Hall problem explained to them still refuse to accept that a participant should always switch.

My mind was open enough when first exposed to the Monty Hall problem to be persuaded I'd made an error, and later when passing the meme on at a campfire to someone with a fractionally less open mind (and probably someone worse at explaining it - being me) I actually ran a simulation for the person that made it quickly clear that you should always switch.

That person in this domain though, by being willing to run a simulation of the Monty Hall problem - had an open mind, by my definition. This was not Galileo's prosecutors refusing to look through a telescope lest their faith by corrupted by evidence.

So moving into the realm of pure opinion, how do I think the ideal of an open mind be achieved?

1. Think of Yourself as a Dingus.

This requires the opposite of mindfulness, but time travel. Jump back ten years and you tend to think of your former self as a bumbling idiot, your present self as some kind of intellectual bad ass. But time travel forward - a feat of imagination rather than imaginative memory and you should be able to prospect that in ten years time some improved version of you is going to regret some of the stupid decisions you are making.

It may also help to study a little history, and appreciate that some of the former smartest people in the world believed some real garbage or did some really stupid things - like Isaac Newton blowing all his money on a financial market bubble, Pythagoras' crazy religion he ran, and Socrates annoying so many people he got sentenced to death for it.

Less personal but still related is to get an appreciation of the half life of knowledge and maybe also that true knowledge is obtained via subtraction rather than addition - it's easier to determine what isn't true than what is, so if you develop an appetite for finding out what beliefs you hold are incorrect, you can better perceive reality faster than someone who is constantly trying to add new ideas to their map of the world.

2. Avoid the Ad-hominem

So I have this prejudice against Youtube's algorithms. Not just youtube's but algorithm's in general that try to push content toward me based on what I appear to like. This is very annoying to someone who has the aforementioned appetite for knowledge based on subtraction. If the algorithm was any good, it would learn that if I've just watched a key note presentation on some topic, then the video I next most want to see is one that refutes all the claims that have been made in the video I just watched.

Sadly no, and increasingly of late, this means that if I watch video's of a certain nature, the Youtube landing page quickly transforms into something that suggests I'm a male-rights-activist who has nothing better to do than hate on Islam. And it's because of a stack of correlations and polarization such that if you watch a psychologist or economist talk about psychology or economics, very often they've weighed in on identity politics.

The correlation is not what you might think though, the correlation is actually that white men aged 40+ still dominate most of the sciences and academic professions and economic think tanks and perhaps even literary journalism.

And here is where I feel it is important to avoid an ad-hominem informal fallacy. Case in point - Jordan Peterson. He's a fairly cranky old academic recently guilty of committing a slippery slope fallacy against a Canadian Bill to have gender identity and gender expression added to the Canadian Human Rights legislation.

Lest you already be committing the 'fallacy fallacy' his argument, that forcing people to acknowledge other people's preferred pronouns is an infringement on freedom of speech and that to not respect someone's identity expression through use of their preferred pronouns was morally equivalent to using racial slurs - actually holds. It just wasn't any part of the legal realities of the bill that passed. Much the same that if someone said that should Australia potentially legislate for Marriage Equality people could start marrying their siblings is not a valid reason to vote 'No' but that also doesn't mean incest is a good thing.

But here's the thing, Peterson succinctly, though uncharitably, describes the character of much of modern feminist writing:

"It's so comical watching the feminist postmodernists in particular rattle on about the absence of gender reality and act out the archetypal devouring mother at exactly the same time. For them the world is divided into predators and infants. And the predators are evil and need to be stopped and the infants need to be cared for. Well, that's what the mother does, but adults are not infants, and all you do is destroy them when you treat them that way."

To me if you were a feminist or even just a progressive thinker, that's probably the most insightful piece of feedback as to what gap there is between your ideology and reality - the adult-infant gap.

But a progressive business owner who is instructing their baristas to use gender neutral language when interacting with customers is not the kind of person who will sit and open mindedly read or listen to Jordan Peterson, even when Peterson is speaking within his domain of expertise based on thousands of hours of clinical practice.

Thus never realizing that adults aren't infants and most can cope with the 'trauma' of 'microaggressions', that catering to the needs of a customer base that is hypothetically likely to organize a boycott of your business by their own interest group is a powder-keg customer base you probably don't want to be dealing with, and that if your area has a high concentration of Queer customers it is likely to be gentrifying and their scene will be driven out by increased rents soon even if your business isn't.

This ad-hominem one is probably the biggest obstacle to a closed mind out there. I'm sure it applies to me, and there's some widely yawning gap in my ideology that I fail to perceive largely because I am repelled for some other reason by the very people who tend to articulate that gap in my understanding well. It's very hard for me to describe my own blind spot though, becuase I can't see it, I just follow my first bit of advice though and presume it to definitely be there.

I generally don't have time for ufologists like Dr. Steve Greer, whose documentary 'Sirius' opens with a voice-over that explains what a 'dead man's trigger' is and why Greer need's one. The equivalent of watching a documentary featuring me opening with, 'few people are in possession of a tiger repelling rock, but tohm is so hated by tigers that he carries one all the time. See, even now he is still alive having not been killed by tigers.' I wouldn't be inclined to listen to me if that was the introduction to me as a speaker, which brings me to my final piece of advice.

3. Try being Empirical

Which is to say, test things, test your beliefs, run thought experiments, attempt to practice what you are preaching and in the many cases where it's impractical to run an experiment to convince yourself, try to defer to people who have run the experiments.

There's a few caveats to this. Economics is a wretched science, it's political import means it is almost inevitably bastardized in it's findings. In fact it is far more informative to find economists like Mark Blyth or Yanis or Richard Thaler or finance people like Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Peter Schiff, Robert Schiller ... criticizing economic theory than to ever defer to whoever writes the economics columns in the finance section of your newspaper. The economic status quo is unreliable at best.

To a lesser extent, I can also personally testify that Market Research is very often not empirical research. It faces the same conundrum as somebody employed by an addict to prevent their employer from entering an opium den.

That said, it's okay to defer generally to people who are peer reviewed and have generally invested much more time and energy into obtaining their knowledge than you are willing to. Though I generally don't respect academics, there is something to be said about the buffer their sheltered from practice lifestyle affords them in not being biased - it's why I feel an open mind can reject 'climate change skeptics' who are generally employed lobbyists, professional politicians and partisan newspaper columnists, and considering the 'vested interests' of climatologists trying to perpetuate their research funding is not the act of an open mind but a closed one - because the vested interests are so assymetrical, much like the facts are to the debate.

Perhaps there's a large and important caveat, a kind of ad-hominem but applied to fields of study, schools of thought. There's definitely a hierarchy of the sciences - the 'hard sciences' rank above the 'soft sciences' and even within these categories, physics reins over chemistry, chemistry over biology etc. in the soft sciences it gets more contentious, but as someone who holds an economics degree, imo psychology ranks far above economics, such that an economist trying to argue what a rational utility maximizing individual would do in a situation should shut the fuck up when a psychologist then describes what a person tends to do.

And having said that, even lowly, wretched economics I would probably rank above something like gender studies, for at least in economics you can find tenured professors of economics in universities that will criticize economics ability to describe reality, and economics at least is often tested (and disproved) in practice. Gender studies is just too young, too nebulous and basically not practiced out of tiny insular subcultures. Having said that, I've never studied it myself, nor even read a syllabus, so I don't really know what is going on there, but if an economist should defer to a psychologist over descriptions of human behavior, a gender studies major should definitely defer to a psychologist, anthropologist and biologist.

Most importantly, if you feel I'm singling out the recent phenomena of the popularity of Gender studies, it's because a distressed friend sitting on the pointy end of some closed minds described why so often progressives are not deferring to what psychology knows about people, and that's a form of perfect thinking - I'm paraphrasing but the rationale was 'psychology can be dismissed because it is part of colonialism, and therefore oppression.'

Perfect thinking is the best indicator of a closed mind: you have the perfect partner because whenever he turns abusive it's not him but the mental illness he struggles with. The rational is perfect but the reality you may get cornered against is potentially life-threatening. Doctors poo-poo alternative medicine because they are profit driven, therefore Western Medicine can't be trusted. It's perfect, but again the reality you are closed to is potentially life threatening. All knowledge generated by colonial powers is suspect as it is used to sustain oppression, is a perfect way to disregard virtually everything modern life is based upon, the only remedy I can suggest is watching the people's front of Judea debate what the Roman's have done for them again.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

That guy

I had a seat at a table that offered me a vantage point that not everyone had. By everyone, I meant my work colleagues whom on that night we were all out drinking at some bar that had some drink special on. One female colleague was at the time an entertaining lightweight, getting hostile-drunk incredibly quickly thanks to her small stature and also thanks to her small stature was not particularly threatening in her drunken hostilities.

So I was sitting opposite her when I saw a guy in a group of guys stand up and start grooming, ready to approach my drunk and hostile friend. His own friends, somewhat to his credit actually tried to stand up and push him back down into his seat. Now I can't know anything, but in some way I *know* that this guys agenda was to hit on the drunkest woman at the bar, and he had his sights on my friend for that very reason.

That situation, while not being 'fine' with me, was fine. The scene was public enough that nothing suspicious was going to go down like her leaving the bar alone with a stranger and we her friends were proximate enough to watch her handle the advance on her own, which she did.

But this post is ostensibly about 'that guy', and even though I don't get criticized enough, due to the nature of the forums in which I express my opinion, I suspect one of my critic's common points might hypothetically be that I don't shit on guys enough. Well, today I am going to shit on guys, but I can foresee my conclusions being very much a kind of 'respect the natural order' argument which many possibly including you and me, may not be happy with. You might describe it as 'macho-fascist' or something. I don't know. I don't fully understand ideological nomenclature. Just consider yourself warned.

What was it about a guy that if you asked him what was attractive to him in a woman had him listing 'black out drunk' somewhere in his top three criteria? I'm going to assert that he, quite probably did not find himself very attractive. Perhaps on a broader spectrum, didn't find himself very anything. He was short and overweight, and if I can make a racist generalization about my fellow Caucasian australians, belonged to an ethnic group that is generally found the opposite of exotically desirable, including the accent. And on that point, ordinarily, kudos to someone even having the confidence to approach a woman they liked, but in this case the disparity in sobriety was far too great to sit well with me.

I should disclose that I am a believer in gender roles, not that they should be enforced upon individuals, but that they exist. I'm convinced by the evidence. There's a good Dan Ariely talk on relationships at Google, and he refers to the height-income trade-off. In his example (mitigated somewhat by the search design of the website his data was on) for a 5'9" man like himself to be considered as attractive as a 5'10" tall man, he needs to make $40,000 more. He then asks the crowd that having determined men care about BMI, how much more money a woman with a BMI of 21 needs to make to compete in attractiveness with a woman of BMI 20. For which there is no answer, as men generally don't care about a prospective female partners earnings.

I've put the question about the importance of income to female friends on a few occassions and in terms of self reporting, it's always emphatically that they do not care. This is how I believe in gender roles, I am persuaded by the data (including observed behavior) rather than the testimony.

That example dealing with income and 2 other variables is not an exhaustive one though, but I do believe that for men in particular perform some equation in evaluating themselves and their chances with the population at large or specific individuals. A basic question of 'what do I have to offer them?'

Consider myself and Serena Williams as a couple. Financially I offer nothing, Serena would make more money simply showing up somewhere than I can in a year. Physically I offer nothing, my genes would not make any of our progeny stronger, rather than weaker. I have nothing to offer Serena Williams but my love, if I had founded Reddit it might be a different story.

Fortunately for me, I don't live in a world where I have to compete against every other guy for Serena Williams' affection. There is a significant population of women that I find attractive that find me attractive enough to encourage me to keep trying... nothing. I don't need to devise any strategy, I can simply be myself and be confident that I do have a bunch of stuff to offer an attractive human being.

Thus, I don't feel I am 'that guy'. I might listen to what Alain De Botton has to say about seducing the opposite sex, but I've never felt tempted to buy a copy of 'The Game' and learn the techniques of pick up artists. For me, and I may be an anomoly, the prospect of hooking up with a 'false positive' is far more terrifying than generating a 'false negative' through my lack of pick up techniques.

Which is where I may come across as a bit fascist, or Aryan or something. But here would be my defining trait of 'that guy' - his general evaluation of what he has to offer women is set lower than his threshold of women he is attracted to.

Australia (at the least) has this expression about 'punching above your weight' and the US has that similar sporting analogy of 'out of your league' and I'm not confident that these expressions are tied down to any real specific geography, but they are a common currency in the English speaking world but not quite what I'm talking about when I talk about 'that guy'.

Those expressions work well for somebody whose ambition is greater than their reach, but what of that population of guys that might fit in Louis CK's 'unfuckable' category. When I talk about 'That guy' I'm not referring to when Ryan Phillippe being married to Reese Witherspoon or Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman or Jessica Simpson and that guy she was married to for a while. These guys would do just fine released unto any speed dating event, even if they are the less famous of their celebrity spouses.

So after more than a dozen paragraphs we probably still don't have a shared understanding of who 'that guy' is, he isn't any guy punching above his weight, any guy who is 'lucky' to be with his partner. That guy is the guy that adopts some tactic or strategy, that markets himself perhaps, or preys upon vulnerabilities to try and overreach his own insufficient sense of self worth.

I'm a haver of morbid thoughts, for example, when I cycle past a bridal party having their photographs taken in the park or in front of a nice building, unbidden the thought comes to me that I'm witnessing a celebration of a woman meeting the man most likely to murder her in the world. I'm not anti-marriage, nor as pessimistic as I sound, my mind just entertains these things. And when I used to waste hours a day on tumblr or instagram looking at models wearing caps and high tops and otherwise skimpy outfits, the morbid thought was trying to pick the point in that models career where somebody offered her cocaine, could you pick the moment the drug abuse starts showing up in the photo sets?

Why does my mind leap to this? Even if I were to believe it a reliable cliche that models wind up abusing coke, why don't I assume that's a function of the models increased disposable income and not some guy offering her drugs for free?

Because I believe that guy exists, vague as the boundaries are, I feel there's a psychological profile of a guy that hangs around models and model shoots, maybe the photographer, maybe the assistant, maybe the caterer that is looking for the currency to ingratiate himself into the models social circle and discovers if he offers her coke he has a pretext for spending time with her.

And drugs are particularly insidious and extreme example, but I've seen it the school yard. In part this is Jonah Hill's role in Superbad. The drug is just alcohol, but it's his way to try and get in (and get reevaluated) by Emma Stone. Admittedly Jonah's character is approached by the girls upon hearing they have access to a fake id, but Jonah's complicit, even eager to play drug mule.

It might be that the pasty, pimply, unathletic, asthmatic, overweight kid has access to a relatively unsupervised bungalow where a bunch of the cool kids appreciate the opportunity to have sex and that guy get's to play benefactor, even patron of the cool kids.

There's one caveat I'd like to articulate though. It's possible that the guys I'm trying to describe overlap somewhat with 'nice guys' or perhaps even eclipse them on a Venn diagram, however, I do not believe so much in a 'natural order' that a young man who is tall and good at sports, smart academically and possessing symmetrical features and stylish hair is entitled to his resentment of an objectively less attractive man commanding far more attention from the most attractive women simply because the less attractive man has more confidence to approach and talk to women. If you are shy or reserved that's on you. If you are charismatic and outgoing then bully for you whoever you are.

I just know there's a point at which some guys get into 'date rape' territory, and the correlated strategies of offering free drugs, free drinks and/or a place to crash. The sexual harassment in the workplace territory, where coercion comes into play. Or adopting a tactic like negging.. or any other strategy that involves tearing someone else down until you feel they are on your level or beneath you.

These things exist, they are done by men to women and they are parasitical and abusive. To engage in such is to be worthy of reprehension.

Just by comparison to 'nice guys' and since they haven't been discussed in a while, a slight recap, but they commanded highest mindshare when someone compiled a 'nice guys of OkCupid' tumblr, of a depressingly recurrent phenomena of men who complained in their profiles about putting years of work into women, treating them like the princess they felt they were and not getting any intimacy out of them, being relegated to the friend zone, blah blah blah. Even though 'nice guys' became a social taboo, there's an SNL sketch from the 90's called 'not getting any' that more or less expresses the same sentiments. The 'of OkCupid' tumblr juxtaposes the complaints with statements from the self described nice guys with statements to disqualify them from being nice at all. (hence the overlap).

However, I extend some sympathy to nice guys (some), on the basis that in part owe their frustration to a prevalent stupidity. That is the gap between what people report they are looking for in a guy (perhaps sensitivity, thoughtfulness, creativity, loyalty, devotion) and what they actually look for in a guy (perhaps symmetrical features, height, shoulder width, smell, confidence, resourcefulness etc) and ad to that owing to the halo effect people often see qualities in people they are attracted to that are to the world at large not actually there. Hence if you look closely you'll find partners of abusive narcissists capable of describing their partners as sensitive, thoughtful and a good listener.

Nice guys to some extent are trying differentiation strategies on faulty market research, they are hearing Sarah say 'I want a guy who isn't afriad to cry' because Sarah doesn't want to be heard to say 'I want a guy with bright white perfect teeth and blue eyes' because nobody wants to look that superficial. Had nice guy asked Sarah's friend what Sarah was looking for though, he may have got a response much closer to the truth, because Sarah's friend is not as invested in Sarah's public image, nor necessarily a love rival so is more likely to base her judgement on what Sarah does rather than what Sarah says.

By contrast, 'that guy' is evaluating himself pessimistically, and perhaps his love/sexual interests rather accurately. That guy is less likely to whine about the game being rigged against him, of wasting time and effort, he is trying to re-rig the game.

Interestingly, while there's an equivalent to 'nice guys' across the gender line, that is simply so normal, so commonplace and so non-threatening that nobody discusses it except in books like 'He's Just Not that Into You' and it's adaptation into movies and Sex and the City episodes, there's no real corresponding 'that girl'. I've heard limited instances of a female partner attempting to keep their male partner drug dependent, but these stories are usually about exploiting some practical concern or control rather than tearing someone down to the point that they would sleep with her.

Perhaps their are women that call their male partners 'stupid' and 'worthless' and keep them 'hen-pecked', but I still don't see that as the equivalent of the guy that says 'Hey Katie, hey Jessie have you ever tried MDMA?' or (arguably) worse 'Do you wanna hear me rap?'

The most obvious reason being, somewhat counter-intuitively, women are not as bombarded with the message that the man you obtain defines your status in the world, even though for much of modern history the only thing a woman could do to get status was to marry a man of status. Instead for some reason if Eugene date's Eustace he knows his standing in the social order will not budge from where he already is, but if he date's Naomi, both men and women will think more of him, see more of him.

You hear far more media stories of a high school kid asking some female celebrity to be his date to a prom or a school dance or something than you do of the reverse situation. Furthermore, men are far more often sold things using completely irrelevant female models. Ad to that the prevalence and availability of porn and you don't so much get a sense of entitlement to a young and buxom sexual partner as an imperative to obtain one.

There would appear to be an easy and convenient workaround to sleeping with people you don't feel you ordinarily would deserve or be able to keep, and that is prostitution. To simply pay somebody more attractive than you feel you would obtain in the meat market on the money market.

I don't like that solution though. I have my misgivings about prostitution and sex work, I'm pro-stop killing them or abusing them on the job, stigmatising them in the media etc. But I'm anti growth of that industry.

What I would say to Eugene the loser, is that he should date Eustace the loser, who would actually be happy to date Eugene and they may be so happy together that they stop caring about whether other people think they are 'losers'. This is much better than Eugene trying to make Naomi feel like such a loser, through psychological attacks or introducing harmful destabilizing elements into her life (ostensibly as an act of goodwill) until Naomi feels she stands lower than Eustace and Eugene.

Which I know, sounds like 'respect the natural order' but I'm assured to some extent, the natural order exists. Criteria may differ between the sexes, and sexual orientation, but apparantly we have a pretty good intuitive sense of how attractive we are - psychological impediments aside like body dis-morphia etc. This is the attractiveness that drives 'approachability' I would say, there's obviously a whole heap of stuff we need to find out about a person to maintain our attraction over a sustained period of time. But this intuitive sense of our attractiveness who we can reasonably approach and who is 'out of our league' makes sense at least to me. Our social brains fairly early in our sexual awakening must process hundreds of thousands of micro-expressions, bits of data that calibrate in our subconscious where we stand. Given that attractive kids get better treatment from adults, it's probably wired in earlier for a lot of us.

But to me, for consistencies sake, if it's a problem that young girls and grown women are bombarded with constant messages that 'this is what it looks like to be an attractive woman' then this is happening behind closed doors in the women-only part of society, and it must be a problem for the male population at large to be receiving that same message. And I take issue with that message that says 'if you are unattractive boy, women equivalent to your attractiveness don't exist, just attractive women and you have to find some way to get one.' maybe it results in relatively harmless compensation techniques, maybe it results in predatory behavior. It's not worth the risk.

I don't have a good answer, but I notice 'that guy' doesn't get talked about much. So little in fact that I don't know what 'that guy' is referred to. His unattractiveness may render him so non-threatening that women don't even notice this is going on. They just quietly state in a rehab session or NA meeting that 'Brody gave me my first hit because I was a popular girl at school'.

Terminology like 'male privilege' and 'entitlement' can foster the image of a powerful male, and that may look like a jock, or a tall guy in a suit with a square jaw. A white guy. Whatever, and I don't exclude jock's from being 'that guy' as they may pessimistically evaluate their self worth much lower than their outward appearance might suggest, predatory behavior, sexual frustration and a sense of entitlement are a common constellation at all strata of the male hierarchy. 'That guy' may allegedly even be a world class photographer.

To me they are uniformly defined by a disparity in some criteria between their perceived self-worth and their perceived worth of their target. That's got to be a destructive social element worth being on the look out for. At the very least something to aspire to not become.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Desirable Misery

I'm not a researcher, so I have no hard or even compelling evidence for this, but I'm willing to bet that it is within everyone's personal or anecdotal experience to have experienced the following process:

1. We like something bad for us.
2. Things get really bad.
3. We adopt a new thing that is good for us.
4. Things get better.
5. We are comfortable again so abandon the new thing in order to return to the old thing.

Maybe it's as simple as a diet, to an unhealthy or even abusive relationship, it might be a corporate strategy, or a pattern of political election outcomes. Whether in the general or specific, people tend to take x steps forward, then y steps back. The ratio of x:y would require hard research.

You may have heard the expression 'no good deed goes unpunished' and this description of Iceland's post GFC situation by Mark Blyth, is a good example of the above outlined narrative. A party steered them heavily into the global financial crisis, they get voted out, a new party comes in, the economy recovers and the voters vote back in the party that steered them into the financial crisis.

Politics is complicated though. But it often seems that history confronts us with a mind bending lack of momentum - a clear pattern of progress running from the Middle Ages to the Modern era, where science is embraced, people of all color and creeds are not just tolerated but embraced and legally recognized, our differences are broken down as social constructs and we pursue a more egalitarian and meritocratic way of life. And yet there still seems to be viable political parties and ideologies that fly in the face of the direction of history.

Good things just can't get their momentum going. At the end of every 4 week raw vegan challenge seems to be a bacon cheesecake. 

And with a diet, and perhaps even an adult relationship, we can understand that powerful compelling emotions are driving people back to their failed strategies rather than reason. But what about voting for economic policy? How can people get so emotional about something as boring as economics?

Body language. I'm a believer in it. And once again not because I've done the hard clinical research to know what facts I can point to, but because I've done sufficient self experimentation to be confident that gaming body-language is just too cerebral a task for somebody to do at the same time as speaking out loud.

Hence, you might expect that I'd expect that by reading body language a person could tell if another person was lying. I don't. I heard tell that when you ask people, even professionals you'd expect to be more proficient at detecting liars (cops, trial-judges, trial-lawyers) are no better than a coin toss at determining who is lying and who isn't. 

However I'm also told that if you change the question from the very cognitive 'tell me who is lying?' to 'who do you trust?' people jump significantly upwards in their accuracy. Because 'trust' is an emotional, instinctive evaluation, detecting lies invites us to pay too much attention.

Hence the power of asking the right question. In all my experience of economic instruction, my instructors have been openly critical about how unemployment is measured in official statistics. It's seemingly designed to be misleading - the pollster asks members of the population 'in the past four weeks have you or are you actively seeking employment?'

Think on that. A group of people in suits are tasked with finding out what relative unemployment rates are. 'How do we find out if somebody is unemployed?' they asked, and the answer they came up with is 'ask them if they've been actively looking for a job.' whereas I'd bet good money your intuition would be 'why don't we ask people if they have a job?'

Consider polls on the popularity of the government, on preferred party, on preferred leader etc. Now imagine you are sitting in a room with a bunch of people tasked with 'find out if the government is doing a good job or not.' One answer certainly would be along the lines of 'do you like the government, who do you prefer etc.' another could be along the lines of 'how satisfied are you with your quality of life?' and 'are you optimistic about the future?' line of questioning. Yet another line would/could be to dispense with asking people for their opinions and find objective data like changes in real wages, inflation, household debt.

And you'd notice that all these approaches are taken, but polls focus specifically on people's preference for one party over another. And these get far more attention than the latter group of objectively determinable economic measures, and both of those crowd out the non-partisan qualitative self-evaluation.

What does this have to do with anything?

 Imagine that you live in a spacious comfortable home on a large expanse of lush green land overlooking the ocean. The climate is temperate all year round and you manage to pull in a lavish wage working quite modest hours at something you love while affording you the time to have catered dinner parties with your friends, spend time with family and other loved ones and cook yourself new and exciting recipes for lunch while also taking twice annual vacations to exotic destinations around the world. You have it all and one average day in your good life a pollster calls you and asks 'how satisfied are you with your life?' how do you answer?  

Now imagine that you have somehow achieved this lifestyle while you are living under the rule of your ideological antithesis. Take a second to imagine who they may be. It might be some White Supremacist version of Colonel Sanders, or Kim Jong Un, or Isis or a Transgendered Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders composite.

You might think that that might change your answer, your moral outrage at the state of the government would blind you to your immediate quality of life. But I suspect that un-primed by the pollster to think about the political leadership, you'd actually just appraise how satisfied you are with your day-to-day life.

Thus if while living your dream life the pollster instead called to ask 'how satisfied are you with the leadership of [your worst nightmare]?' we would have jumped from a very positive answer about the reality of being you, to a very negative answer about the reality of being you.

Thus we enter the realm of desirable misery. Why you can observe that some political leaders draw most of their support from the very demographics their policies hurt the most. And that cuts both ways, there were a lot of people in the occupy wall street movement condemning the top 1% who themselves were in the top 20% and are themselves massive beneficiaries of the rigged game that they are opposing.

It's a kind of anti-Machiavellianism that I suspect, but haven't researched, is actually the prevailing instinct of most people on this planet. And I don't mean anti-Machiavellianism in terms of being opposed to glib self-serving amorality, but more a reversal of 'the ends justifies the means' to 'the means justifies the ends.' Or in much plainer speech: the 'how' is far more important than the 'what'.

And it's easy to come up with good examples of anti-Machiavellianism - 'not cheating is more important than winning the competition.' Hey hey, good stuff. 'being honest is more important than avoiding being in trouble.' I'm with you. 'Abstinence only sex education is more important than teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.' No, no, no can't you see the evidence? Abstinence only education has dismal results. 'Inflicting austerity budgets is more important than paying back the debts.' that doesn't seem right? Isn't the point of austerity to pay back the debts?

Empiricism is actually in my experience, incredibly rare. Few people approach being open minded. Most are anti-Machiavellian. Let's return to our pollster scenario and introduce another concept.

The second concept is called 'going upstream' taught to me, quite informally as a TQM principle. In its literal application you might notice that your drinking water is dirty, you walk upstream a bit and you find a heap of garbage in the river. You could immediately fish it out, or keep walking up stream, discovering that there's a group of campers generating the garbage going into the river that is generating your dirty drinking water. Had you just cleared out the garbage from the stream, the fix would only have been temporary. By murdering and eating the campers you have solved the dirty drinking water problem and filled your belly with delicious people.

Suppose a pollster, in fact, a fully fledged researcher called a person and asked them about their quality of life. And that person was all like 'I'm pretty miserable.' rather than bumming out the researcher, this bleak self-reported state excites them and the researcher 'goes upstream' to find out the root cause of this citizens misery.

They find the person, the citizen, doesn't like their job much. 'So quit it?' no good, can't quit it without finding a new job. 'So find a new job?' don't have time to do the job searching or conduct the interviews, besides I'm only qualified to do a job more or less like this one. 'So retrain, go back to study?' I don't have the time to job hunt, what makes you think I have time to study? Besides studying is expensive. 'So take out a loan?' I already have a loan. 'So refinance?' I could, but then I couldn't afford to lose the income to take the time to study to repay the debts I have. 'Okay... so studying is a dead end. What don't you like about your job?' the commute. 'You don't live near where you work?' I can't afford to live near where I work....

And so on and so forth. Until I would bet, dollars to donuts, that what is upstream is their house. And I can't imagine a more universal demonstration of the principle of desirable misery. Because it's hard for people to imagine that their home, their abode, their shelter, the place they can call their own, do their unwinding, get their rest, raise a family etc. as the presiding and ultimate cause of a person's misery. I would also bet my dollars against donuts, that if you ask a generally dissatisfied person the one thing they did right, the saving grace in their life their answer will most often be 'buying a house.'

And it isn't anything magical about the house itself, it's actually all the bad voodoo in the very magical process known as 'the financialization of housing' and technically a case could be made that it isn't buying a house that made people miserable, but all the fucking other players in the market that have eroded adequate housing as a human right into housing as poker chips. But your decision making ability stops at your individual decision to participate in it.

That's the most ubiquitous form of desirable misery, but really it's every. The home ownership that makes you miserable is useful though in term's of drawing people away from thinking that there's something crazy about the American rust belt population that keeps voting for a party that takes away their incomes, reduces their welfare and hands the savings over to rich people who are actively trying and celebrating the loss of their jobs. There is nothing crazy or abnormal about it, these people, like people everywhere are simply acting on their beliefs instead of evidence.

You do it to. If you were one of those rare empiricists that based your beliefs on the facts and acted on your beliefs, you wouldn't drink, wouldn't smoke, wouldn't drive a car, be renting your housing somewhere close to where you work and saving money to mitigate against future job insecurity. You wouldn't have a credit card, would prepare your own meals, wouldn't get married and on and on and on. 

I'm a freak and I don't do half that incomplete list. One of the paradoxes of life, I'm told, by a psychiatric professional is that 'pleasure causes pain' The 'original sin' of evolution if you will when we had far less mastery over our environment and couldn't expect to find a bag of Doritos in the wild every day.

Desirable misery is a recurring theme in the works of a lot of thinkers I love and respect, whether it's Alain de Botton talking on Why you'll probably marry the wrong person, or Gabor Mate explaining that addicts substitute 'pleasure' for 'happiness'. Dan Gilbert talking about how we are terrible at forecast what decisions will make us happy.

The most frustrating manifestation though, is that scenario, the 'no-good-deed-goes-unpunished' principle. Where when our desires drive us off track, forcing us to do the hard work to get on track - it appears all in the service of getting to a place where we can once again act on our desires. 

It might cause chagrin to the individual under a diet regime, but it causes severe mental anguish to a community changing from progressive to conservative political regimes.

But if you can understand your own ability to sit in your dream house, on a perfect summers evening and pay out some government that hasn't been able to take away your dream, then you can understand why people whose lives have been crushed by the economic policies of a party can turn out in force to their rally. 

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Sugar Cookie Cutter

Where to begin? Anywhere I guess. So there's an inversion when you start drawing of at the very least, appreciation of lines. A craggy weathered face, where all the collagen has broken down, the skin folded is a drawing dream. The extremely old are some of the best studies. And sure, craggy old faces enjoy their time in black and white giclee print photographs, but for the most part, once you put a pen or brush down and assess what's easy on the eye - we as human beings tend to prefer the smooth contours of youth.

And this inversion applies doubly to women. In fact, when starting out there was nothing worse to draw than 'cute girls' because every mark you make blemishes their skin. It is an exercise in restraint. The nose particularly is problematic, putting in a bridge can instantly hag-ify the face, and some schools simply mark the nose with little more than a dash.

And of course, the less lines you have to work with, the less marks you make the harder it gets to differentiate. Furthermore, there's a developmental difference for any comic inspired artist in particular when drawing the big 2 genders. It's not just that you can draw in the bridge of a nose more readily and in most styles with male characters, but their boxy anatomy is kind of straight forward as well. Moving from the red and green men that inform pedestrians when to cross an intersection to drawing a superhero is not that big a stretch, most of the developmental challenge of learning to draw male characters is in learning the musculature - which for ripped superhero type characters provides vast options for articulation - and therefore variation.

Drawing an appealing female figure is a skill. A fine balancing act, and as soon as I started working on a project requiring me to draw a whole cast of females, I noticed I was stamping them out as a cookie cutter. I've been drawing for years, but it seems I just figured out once how to draw a sexy lady image, and then left it at that - my go to construction. What is more interesting than my own stalling though, is how common that is.

For example:
These are the two female cast members of Japan's number one serialized comic 'One Piece' Nami and Robin. This series has been running for over 20 years putting out about 40 issues a year averaging around 16 pages. Eichiro Oda, the writer and artist has created around about 1,000 named characters for the series and in my opinion is one of the best character designers in comics... except Nami and Robin could have been cut with the same mold from dough and simply decorated differently. In Oda's defense there are characters like Big Mom, Brulee, Miss Christmas etc. that have different body shapes, one of the first prominent female characters was Alvida, an obese pirate captain that later had a dramatic transformation into the standard Oda bikini body. the number of women that share Nami and Robin's proportions is at least 2-1.

Oda isn't the prime offender, and despite the cookie cutter effect he creates characters with distinct personalities, if not distinct busts. My impression is that many in the western art world look at Japanese comic aesthetics as 'prescriptive' there are right and wrong answers. There are generally accepted definitions of what a 'cute girl' looks like. However turning west there are artists whom are quite successful even though their cookie cutters are quite inflexible. Perhaps the most prominent in my mind is J Scott Campbell's work. Where proportions are almost entirely constant and even facial features are quite close to identical. Do a study of his works (as I briefly did) and you notice immediately that there's just one way of doing things. Campbell's the artist I would absolutely go-to for this cookie cutter effect, but many of his contemporaries like Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Greg Capullo etc. do so to a greater rather then lesser extent.

Prominent female artists are a much more recent phenomena particularly in the west, but if you look at the works of Loish perhaps the best known and most internet famous new gen artist, you can see a go to facial construction in there although she has much more diverse body types and ethnic feature exploration.

blah blah blah blah blah. Just about everyone does the cookie cutter, particularly when it comes to women. While phrenology has been thoroughly debunked as a science, it still kind of applies in art, albeit not with measurements of the skull, but what features indicate which personality traits.

I suspect, for historical reasons, what is happening is that a male character is nuetral - thus you articulate your character out from a male mule - male protagonists are pretty generic if you look through comic book history and that's because they are the eyes and ears of the reader - presumed to be male. Then you thicken a male's neck and frame and they become a pin-headed thug, you make them lithe and elongated and they become the serpentine string-puller. You shorten them and emphasize the forehead they are a brainiac.

If you widen their hips, give them breasts and round their jaw off they become the character archetype of 'a woman'. And I would suggest that it is non-controversial to say that much of the roles women are given to play in most of narrative history - is a woman. A love interest, or the love interest's competition. They are little more than a macguffin, interchangeable for another precious and desirable object - including I guess, each other.

I'm sure there are more exceptions to the rule, but in terms of facial features, the one artist I found that stands out as having distinguishable female characters is Jeremy Treece and sure, ultimately it's a matter of preference in the absence of me bothering to construct the computer models that measure non-similarity across stylized artwork...but if you scroll through his feed and find two female characters side by side, you'll be able to distinguish them by their facial features alone. To the same extent that if two women you know got identical haircuts, you'd still be able to tell them not just apart but who they were - something you can't do with J Scott Campbell.

I could speculate in a psuedo-scholarly fashion as to what historic cultural trends lead to this state of affairs, but it would be just that. I can speak from experience and say that it is simply much harder to draw an appealing beautiful woman character than it is to design an appealing old woman character.

The saying after all goes 'if at first you don't succeed, try try again.' and I suspect the moment you do succeed, that's it. You rest on your laurels. Once you've gone to all the effort to pin down a design of Veronica that 'pops' that you intuitively say 'yes' to, then are you going to start from scratch and avoid the same solutions to design Veronica?

There's two interesting things at play here - the first requires you to recall that throughout human history, the technology to draw or paint a female form developed centuries before the technology to photograph one. Sculpture preceded painted portraits as well and at the very least survived better. Hence we have venus dolls from 35-45 thousand years ago. That means that long before the fashion industry began in Louis' court of Versailles, abstracted stylized images defined the unrealistic body types of women, and possibly influenced fashion and photography, not the other way around. It's the arts since classical antiquity after all, that were based around narratives and literally defined the roles and value of female characters - fashion photography is a relative narrative vacuum by comparison.

The second interesting aspect is that if you consider the printing technology available for comic artists in the 1950's, you had a very limited color palette often applied 'paint by numbers' style by some employee at the printers, this lead to cookie cut characters all over the shop. Also a prevalence of dark haired male protagonists, like Bruce Wayne & Clark Kent, but curiously, given that you couldn't differentiate characters based on color scheme, like Ryu & Ken - why did nobody think 'Eureka! I could draw their facial features differently so they look distinct and different!' The obvious answers that come to mind are - comics in the 1950's was not where ambitious artists sought employment, deadlines meant most of the artwork was a rush job, nobody took them very seriously then starting a long term trend of people taking comics too seriously.

Now, all of this may seem to be leading into a feminist critique of how women's bodies are portrayed in popular art media. Alas no, I could concede all the criticisms in terms of the adverse affects it has on the development of women and women's esteem. I'm just not of the camp that believe ideals of feminine beauty to be arbitrary - a manufactured cultural conditioning that came about through an oppressive conspiracy.

I may as well lay out my prejudices, and keep in mind that being male I'm insulated from the ramifications of holding one belief over another, I'm also horribly horribly superficial. It's not so much that I feel ideals of beauty aren't arbitrary, but that gender roles aren't arbitrary either - even though they may be almost entirely constructed. There must be some irreducible bedrock that accounts for the fact that there are at least 2 distinct sexes and they are different.

Without actually knowing that bedrock, the most plausible explanation I defer to is an evolutionary psychology that defines male and female sex by their sex cell. (Why not chromosome combinations? I don't know, perhaps the sex cell size is consistent across species...?) Large sex cell = female, small sex cell = male. From this arises the concept of 'sexual investment' and there's a clear disparity between the sexes on this point. I forget the exact numbers but it's something like in the time it takes one female to produce one offspring, a male can sire 50-100.

Obviously, it doesn't pan out that way, but without going into too much detail - if you are interested, or interested in thoroughly debunking evolutionary psychology, you can go digging - but multiple iterations of game theory establish that if you have high sexual investment due to possessing (in humans at least) the large sex cell, your best strategy is to be discerning. If you are in possession of small sex cells your best strategy is to be resourceful and specifically command a lot of resources.

Both have to be desirable. And in an attempt to triage this post into something manageable, I'm not going to compare across sexes.

Without a doubt culture has an impact on the ideals of beauty, the past 30 years has seen a continental shift from t - a in the t'n'a equation. It's hard to find a picture of Elle Macpherson, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista that emphasizes their posterior, inconceivable for any current modelling shoot.

However, certain themes seem constant throughout history, not even recent history. The big one being hip to waist ratio, full breasts are always popular, and symmetrical or 'average' faces and long lustrous hair. There's other interesting tidbits, like this one about gender and contrast, walking motions, helpfulness, exoticness etc.

I have time for this camp because evolutionary theory produces coherent explanations - they all center around fertility and health. Furthermore, the kinds of people that advocate these explanations of beauty ideals tend to not be the kind of spokespeople I'd be inclined to distrust. You know, if it was former Whitehouse Communications Director Anthony 'The Mooch' Scaramucci saying that the reason men only dig broads with a hip to waist ratio of 0.7 because that means you wanna bang them and any other chicks are disgusting.

Instead you tend to get a bunch of middle aged academics calmly outlining their research and generally don't have much of a horse in the race.

While I don't believe that 'ideals of beauty' are arbitrary, there's two things that are clear to me - narratives are important and context is important.

Last first, context. I remember being a young uppity upstart employee at a typical corporate environment and having a chat with a middle manager. At some point in the chat, even though it was a positive exchange I realized I was being evaluated - as was he - but I inparticular was being evaluated through the context of the managers own ambitions. Namely, if he had the education I had the things he would do with it. However having had the education I had, his ambitions were ambitions that didn't even occur to me. Just as if I was meeting a 6'8" person and I got stuck on how good they could be at basketball, when they just want to be an artisan breadmaker. Or if you are a woman and men treat you nice because you are attractive or poorly because you aren't.

Being evaluated on your appearance - your reproductive value - in the wrong context ie. school or employment, is problematic for numerous entangled reasons. Such a predisposition if common, and it is common, results in both false positives and false negatives. There's the halo effect, where your attractiveness creates a bias in how intelligent, trustworthy, honest etc. you are percieved to be, and also the likelihood that you received more attention and better grades from teachers in your schooling further skewing your actual merits. On the inverse there's the glass ceiling, the threshold at which stereotypes about beautiful people obstruct your ability to be taken seriously. I haven't done enough research to see how these play out, but I suspect they certainly don't cancel each other out.

As for narrative, well you only have to look at the history of Disney films, particularly pre Tangled-Frozen. The Disney Princesses are ostensibly main or titular characters, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White etc. but often their role is just to stand around looking pretty, pass out and then be rescued by a prince. They also all fit in the same mold, slightly different accessories.

Before giving too many props to Disney's recent change of pace, self-consciousness. It's worth noting that they are making live action adaptations of all their old films and reviving them as such. The characters from Frozen although being partially explained by being sisters share the exact same build and proportions just one is blond and the other a red head. And they both have close to identical proportions to Rapunzel in Tangled. Google 'Moana Frozen Tangled' and you get composite images like this one that kind of demonstrate that the cookie cutter is still in effect design wise. Moana has a slightly broader nose but otherwise identical head to her fellow princesses such that the design team at Disney has very little work ahead of them as essentially needing to adjust skin tones and render a different hair style.

I'm not sure I have a beef, I simply noticed in myself an inability to draw a diverse female cast, and that in turn limits my ability to tell a story with a female cast. Since of the turn of the century, the standard tale of male hero rescues 'the girl' has generally put in some token scene where the woman in need of rescuing aids and abets the hero through her own initiative. She isn't completely helpless, she deceives a gaurd, stamps on his instep pushes him down a staircase and has her cuffs off ready to escape with the hero by the time he's cleared a path to her.

This is a hangover from years of design contentedness. We don't quite yet have a John McClane and Hans Gruber dynamic for women. It's usually sassy fox vs a cruel bitch. There are more diversity of womens roles generally speaking in a tarot deck than in most fiction.

And maybe, just maybe it starts with figuring out how to draw a feminine nose bridge.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rethinking Conservatism

I don't spend much time shitting on the right, to the extent that I wondered whether my friends fervor was turning me conservative. There's little chance of that though, given the sheer weight of empiricism that does shit on just about every foundational cornerstone of modern right wing policy.

Virtually everything right wing politics promote has a disastrous track record. Small government, low taxes, free markets, tough on crime, war on drugs, foreign policy, economic management, sexual education, the war on terrorism, trickle down economics, climate skepticism...

Like the dress  it seems the world is currently divided roughly evenly into people who look at reality and say 'all the evidence shows that right/left policy is a failure.'

And although I'm one of those people who sees the dress as white and gold, though it turns out to be blue and black in reality, a fact I can only just accept, but will.

So, and I defer to the relevant statistical bodies, I look at the picture of right wing policy and see that they just fucking don't work, and tempting as it is to walk through right wing government's stand on minimum wages through to the war on terror, you won't trust me, but they are all crap.

So what in the 21st century, the opening 5th at least, does it mean to be on the right?

I've attempted this before in a very unviewed post called 'Them and them' so I won't try and rehash, but I basically ascribe a belief in right wing politics as to being particularly prone to the self-soothing psychological belief known as the just-world hypothesis. Since writing that unpopular post I've watched a bunch of Alan De Botton's talks and BBC programs on youtube, and there's one in America where he explores the prevalent belief in 'meritocracy' often expressed as 'equal opportunity' and his exploration of meritocracy is a very thorough exploration of how the just-world hypothesis in particular crops up in right wing politics.

His (Alan) stance is that meritocracy is a very cruel belief system, because it makes people believe that success is just a matter of grit, and also it puts in sight goals and ambitions that are simply unobtainable to a lot of people. Such that if you hold a belief in 'equal opportunity' and you wind up in a not nice house with a low paying miserable job and all alone, you have no recourse to blame the world, even though it might be the world that is much more to blame than your effort to do better.

But yes, a conservative, or right winger I believe, believes that life is a meritocracy. That people who enjoy the sweetest fruits our society and economy have to offer have earned it, and those who haven't have simply been slack, unmotivated, unambitious etc.

Such an underpinning belief makes it hard to acknowledge or indeed legislate against phenomena such as Nepotism, Chronism, Bribary, Private Schooling, Scholarships, Donations, Tax Evasion, Price Fixing etc. when your emotional identity is fixed on a belief that your success is pinned to your honest effort.

I also suspect to be conservative, on the questions of achievement 'how' is much more important than 'what'. What a conservative is trying to achieve is an afterthought, thus if there aren't many jobs it can't be that wages are too stingy to attract people into the workforce who would rather spend their time in leisurely poverty or selling drugs or something, but because wages are too high and employers simply can't afford to employ all the people they would.

Thus if a conservative government wins a mandate to lower the minimum wage, and unemployment rises, they are more likely to double down and campaign for a mandate to lower the wages even further than to question that they may have got the 'how' wrong.

There would, in fairness be a left wing analogy, simply because you would expect one. It's a human trait. Although no left-wing party as far as I'm aware, mainstream viable at least, promotes polyamory (it's hard enough to get the left to even endorse same-sex marriage in Australia) but many of my left leaning friends might be open to the idea of open relationships. When this results in even faster relationship decline than exclusive relationships though, again there will be a lot of left-leaners that would sooner double down than admit that monogomy is just much less hassle for only slightly less novelty.

Thus if you think that government should be small and regulation should be deregulated and markets should be set free and religion part of a formal education and borders controlled and condom usage should not be taught to teenagers and marriage is between a man and a woman, you probably lack the awareness to be ashamed of how anti-Machiavellian these policies are. The ends would well and truly disqualify the means. 

Now can I rinse a concept like 'conservatism' and wring it out and shake it loose of all that it has come to mean and devise some respectable concept of conservatism that possibly could provide value to the world? Of course I can, because I am fairly conservative myself. Just not 'a conservative' as you would imagine it to mean, basically since the French king first had his supporters sit to the right of him.

A conservative stance would be heavily empirical, an insistence on the tried and true. The conservatists should basically be the breaks, the custodians of the efficiency and utility in extant systems. Conservatives should hold in their heart a belief that the onus is on a new technology to prove itself.

Conservatives should be advocates not just for the Lindy effect, but for understanding and proving the Lindy effect. It's kind of crazy that Conservative governments tend to be much more enthusiastic for small government (in lipservice only) and deregulation and free markets, these are radical ideas, albeit they do somewhat hark back to an older tradition of economics that assumes that everything adjusts just fine and nothing can possibli go wrong.

But conservative leadership should also reflect a conservative gambling attitude, a risk averse stance. Conservative should stand logically, for nature conservation - on the simple presence that you don't risk something important (the habitability of planet earth) to gain something unimportant (a slight increase in GDP growth).

The principle of diversity - that diversity builds robust systems more capable of surviving and thriving shockwaves might be an example of a principle you would conservatively try to implement across policy - in terms of immigration, investment, education, environmental protection, competition regulation etc. Diversity as risk management should be at the core of conservative politics, even though 'diversity' and 'conservation' seem a contradiction in terms.

The only practical democratic corporation in the world - Semco, of Brazil although it has a constitutional Monarch in terms of its majority shareholder - Ricardo Semler, faced a particular problem in its legendary restructuring process. They were really successful, and so they faced the temptation to expand and grow, but they also realised a driver of their success was the culture they had designed and incubated, and to bring in too many outsiders too quickly risked killing the culture and threatening the companies success. This would be the scope of a conservative approach to immigration - not nationalism, but a kind of control where migrating families were not left in alienated ghettos. It would be a matter of trying to conserve the benefits of diversity and community, while minimising the adverse impacts of transplanting alienated and traumatised people en masse into a community and then under-supporting them.

The details might be tricky, but you'd replace off-shore processing and detention centers for refugees for example, with billeting homestay like orientation periods. Not forcing people to learn the boring beauracratic and collonial origins of a country like Australia (given that knowing our boring/tragic history is not part of Australian culture anyway) but having an immersive environment to kick start learning 'survival english' and learn the other practical aspects of the existing culture like which side of the street traffic comes from, personal space and inside voice volumes etc. Build relationships with local police that are non-adversarial and reprogram an assumption of corruption and abuse that is often what law enforcement represents in countries of origin.

Do that for 3 months and then allow them to relocate into a city or area with high-density social housing and form communities of their own. Alienation gone, diversity up, new cuisines on the menu.

Take the 'conservative' intuition that a bankrupt Greek state has to pay back it's debts by reducing Government spending (austerity). An actual conservative would notice that if the government sector reduces it's spending the most likely thing will be a collapse in investment, meaning a reduction in income meaning not only worse humanitarian outcomes, but also a shrinking ability to repay the loans.

To truly be conservative you would have to do what history and empiricism have shown - which is namely not to impose austerity budgets, but to increase government spending to stimulate an economy and restructure the debts to maximise the eventual returns to the creditors.

You want a left wing, rocking the boat with radical ideas and testing all the long held beliefs and assumptions, but I see a definite role to be played by an actual respectable conservative political movement that is essentially making not necessarily safe bets but smart ones and learning constantly, incrementally.

If this was how the 'right' was calibrated, in such a world I'd want it to be long odds that the left would ever get in, they would have to be really left, and found a really compelling and innovative proposal for reform to do so. 

Currently, sadly the left looks a little bit too much like the right, and the right looks irrationally like the left, just garnished with xenophobic nationalism and debt deflationary economic policy.

They could earn a reason to continue existing though.