More on tattoos

I feel like I’m probably one of the last people willing to outright condemn tattoos and say it’s bad to get them.

As I said in my other post on tattoos, I have no grounds on which to judge the people who get tattoos. There are people I love and respect who have tattoos, and I can’t honestly say their tattoos have made me love or respect them perceptibly less. I recognize that I am a relic of the very last flickerings of a strange and brief moment in history when (some) humans abandoned tattoos and most other types of body modification.

One of the most common justifications I’ve heard for tattoos is that the body is a blank canvas. For the longest time I just didn’t see what the point of that statement was, but now I understand it to be not just an empty and confusing statement, but a wrong one.

To see the body as a blank canvas is to miss the intricate masterwork that is obviously there already. I don’t medicalize lightly, but seeing the body as a blank canvas is indicative of some kind of body-dismorphic-disorder-meets-some-kind-of-blindness…body appreciation blindness?

It’s fascinating that whatever this disorder/blindness is, it seems learnable. Is there such a thing as cultural epidemiologists? If so, they should study this.


Exploring diversity preferences, part i

Sometimes I find it frustrating when people talk about how important diversity is but then they go live very non-diverse lives: they marry people who look and think like them, they move to neighborhoods where everyone looks and thinks like them, they get jobs in industries where everyone looks and thinks like them, etc. It’s always someone else’s job to provide the diversity they go on and on about. My wife summed it up well. Clearly there is a split between what economists would call people’s stated and revealed diversity preferences.

Digging deeper into my thoughts, I realized “diversity” can be said to have many possible dimensions. Most commonly, when people say diversity they are talking about racial diversity (a mix of people of different races). In organizational, recreational, or social settings they might also be referring to gender diversity (a mix of men and women). Those who are a bit more savvy as culture warriors might include sexuality diversity (a mix of people who are straight, gay, bisexual, etc.). Occasionally you can hear calls for socioeconomic diversity (a mix of people from lower, middle, and upper classes and/or the cultures associated with those classes) and on very rare occasions, calls for intellectual diversity (a mix of people of different ideologies and belief systems)–this last one disproportionately coming from Jonathan Haidt.

(Religious diversity is sometimes called for as its own dimension, but it is often confused with racial diversity–e.g. “Muslims” used for “Arabs”–and properly fits within intellectual diversity anyway. Outside of maybe Ireland, nobody cares much about white Catholics and Protestants getting along anymore.)

Next I decided to examine my own stated and revealed diversity preferences.

Diversity type: Racial
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: strong

I have trouble getting worked up over complaints that countries, neighborhoods, companies, or schools are “too white.” Same would go for “too Japanese” or “too Nigerian.”

Yet I’m in an interracial marriage and several of my closest friends are black. Before I got married and since about my sophomore year of high school, I dated black girls almost exclusively. And what’s more, on a meta level this diversity is an aspect of my life I enjoy and appreciate.

Diversity type: Gender
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: weak

While I might be a feminist in some sense, I just don’t care that much about how many women work in tech, how many women are CEOs, how many female broadcasters get their own shows on CNN, and so on.

Nor do I have many female friends. Discounting family, the only women I’d say I’m close to are a couple former coworkers and my best friend’s wife. Compare that to dozens of male friends, at least half of whom I’m equally close to. And I’m fine with that.

Diversity type: Sexuality
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: weak

I have no problem working and socializing with gay people, but I don’t long for them if they’re not there. And, unfortunately I suppose, they have not endeared me to their political causes–quite the opposite. (“Unfortunately” because I really do think their causes such as gay marriage etc. are generally well-intentioned.)

I had a number of very close friends in high school and college who were gay, but my only remaining of those friends has become more of a friend of a friend. I have not acquired any new gay friends since then. I’m not sure why; one theory could be that when you’re married and have kids you just wind up in different circles from most gay people even if you otherwise share similar interests. Apparently I don’t care enough to change that.

Diversity type: Socioeconomic
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: strong

This one is interesting since in theory, when I think about where I’d want to live or work, I’d say I prefer to be surrounded by people who are approximately in the same or slightly higher socioeconomic class as me. (That is, people who read nonfiction, actively listen to classical music, don’t pay much attention to sports, have 401Ks, eat raw vegetables, etc.)

But I find myself with friends who smoke, earn way less money than me, have southern accents, and/or never finished college. I value those friendships and the perspectives and groundedness they provide for me as well. Knowing I was moving closer to several such friends recently was very comforting to me.

Diversity type: Ideological
Stated preference: strong
Revealed preference: strong

This is the one type of diversity I care about enough to evangelize. And sure enough my own world is full of this kind of diversity, as I can think of names of close friends from several religions and a quite full range of political orientations.

In a follow-up post, I’ll give my impressions on the stated and revealed preferences of the polite/”mainstream” culture around me. I’ll look for patterns in those preferences and compare them to my own, and then try and figure out what makes this topic so frustrating for me.

Update on Trump predictions

It’s hard to keep updated on my Trump predictions since I have stopped following the news, but as I’ve said before, bits and pieces slip by my personal journalism embargo. So I know that recently Trump fired Bannon, and I remember hearing something about Sessions being close to the chopping block too.

The day after Trump was elected, I predicted there would be massive turnover in his administration, and it seems like the examples above fit that pattern.

Part of that prediction was that with all the turnover, the Trump administration would gradually become more liberal. I don’t know whether that part of it is happening.

The gist of my predictions was that Trump would turn out to be an overall left-of-center president whose actual policies far more resembled what Hillary’s would have been than those outlined in his campaign. I am now much less confident in that overall prediction. (Luckily nobody took me up on it with a bet.) I now think Trump might be motivated in large part by a combination of contrarianism and narcissism that combine to make him inclined to want to please alt-right types so long as it keeps him in the news.

…Unless this is just all some long game he’s playing, which I don’t rule out either.

The main thing that’s changed is I’m no longer motivated to watch and seeing how things play out. Whereas before I at least wanted to see if my predictions came true because it would indicate whether my model of Trump was accurate, I’ve now mostly lost interest.

Am I a feminist?

I don’t normally think of myself as a feminist but I must be one in the larger scheme of things. Here are a few of my feminist “credentials,” as such:

  • I am unhappy with the notion of women being treated unfairly or unkindly just for being women.
  • I admire and am genuinely impressed with many of the women I have worked with or for.
  • I believe that a woman can be as good as a man at basically any job (with the understanding that there will be statistical divergences).
  • I happily support and perpetuate my daughter’s apparent interest in “unladylike” things such as cars/trucks, bugs, dirt, worms, and laughing at farts.
  • I don’t think it should be illegal or even an undue hassle for women to vote, drive, own property, run businesses, etc.

So what differentiates me from feminists? Why don’t I think of myself as one?

I think the overarching answer may be that unlike most feminists, I am either comfortable with or encouraging of human sexual dimorphism in all its forms; no active push against sexual dimorphism exists as part of my thought process, or at least I can’t recall any.

Some of it boils down to taste, of course. For instance our society exaggerates some forms of sexual dimorphism, such as with the convention that women wear relatively long hair on their heads but shave off their leg- and armpit-hair–and I am supportive of this; I would not rally for this to be overturned.

There might be subconscious biological underpinnings here: body hair retains scent-producing bacteria very well, and strong scents are used by many animals–perhaps including humans for most of our evolutionary history?–as markers of dominance or territorial ownership, so by shaving their body hair women remove a path to dominance and territorial ownership, which would benefit me as a man…but that’s highly speculative. Had I grown up in a society where women wore their hair short and didn’t shave, I doubt I’d object.

Some of the difference between me and feminists boils down to our viewpoints too though. I don’t see an inherent problem, for example, with women being underrepresented or overrepresented in various fields, or tending to perform better or worse on standardized tests, or things like that. To me these are just instantiations of sexual dimorphism. I am OK with them, while feminists actively oppose them.

Contrary to many feminists, I also think sexual dimorphism explains a lot of the obstacles many women face (and blame on men). For example, women claim they are often talked over or assumed less competent by men at work. There are certainly some misogynistic men out there, but I feel confident the vast majority of these cases simply fall into the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” problem where men and women are accustomed to interacting in different ways that don’t always translate well when their roles are interposed. We should be aware of our behavior and thoughts and try and correct for that in a work environment, but I don’t see it as a Huge Moral Atrocity That Needs A Policy Solution  Right Now.

Some aspects of feminism, as with identitarianism in general, seem to me like a monomania in which little molehill inequalities are constantly discovered and made into mountainous issues backed by conspiracy theories. For instance, men sometimes separate their legs when seated. Maybe there are physical reasons, maybe it’s acculturated, but it doesn’t matter because This Is Man-Spreading! The Patriarchy even wants power and influence over space on subway seats and park benches!

For one thing, stuff like that often betrays bad faith and an eagerness to fight rather than merely correct wrongs. But for another thing it’s a kind of autistic obsession in which the nuances of life are considered intolerable. I believe the world can accommodate a few double-standards. Some double-standards benefit me, others do not, but unless I specifically know where they came from and am confident that they serve no useful purpose (I seldom have this confidence or understand where one might get it) I tend to see them as Chesterton Fences.

There are other aspects of feminism that definitely repel me. Not every feminist does this, but there is a contingent who is quick to blame everything they dislike on men, or everything they dislike a man doing on the fact that he is a man, complete with made-up pathologies and strawman reasoning. I have even seen them get offended at men who don’t join in with them while they do this.

 How could I be expected to get down with that?

Losses all around

I can’t think of a single winner from the recent events in Virginia:

  •  Obviously the biggest losers are the victims who wound up dead or in the hospital. No innocent person should ever expect to meet that fate when they go out into public.
  • I’m a great admirer of Robert E. Lee, and he deserves better advocates than these autistic reactionaries whose whole world is an echo chamber on the internet. Lee’s memory has already been dragged through the mud for decades, and it fares even worse from an event like this.
  • The Alt-Right, Neo-Nazis, and the Klan are totally clueless on PR. In fact, I can’t think of a more perfect way to paint them as vile lunatics than the actions and messages they’re already propagating on their own. It’s like Conquest’s Third Law, except it’s applied to a loosey-goosey jacky-wacky internet movement instead of a bureaucracy.
  • Trump hasn’t done himself any favors here either. My most charitable interpretation is that Trump is aware that news stories almost always blame the pro-white side in a clash of any kind but then quietly reveal facts later that indicate it was the other side who was the real aggressors, so Trump wants to distinguish himself by not jumping into the fray and dogpiling on the pro-white side the way Obama did. Also, Trump is constantly attacked, viciously, by the same journalists now awaiting a statement of condemnation from him, and he might take it personally.
  • America’s race relations probably won’t unravel from this event (in fact I think they’re generally much stronger than the media would have us believe) but crap like this sure doesn’t help.

The New McCarthyism

To most people, the name Joe McCarthy is synonymous with paranoia and witch-hunts. “McCarthyism” itself has become a term to describe an organizational state in which innocent people are subjected to accusations and have their careers and lives ruined by those with a mob mentality.

Of course, there really were communists in positions of influence in McCarthy’s time, and McCarthy exposed many of them. McCarthy is so reviled today not because we are now communists (although the term “communism” has lost a bit of its sting to many people) but because his methods seem to us so out of proportion to the threat he was trying to counter. Thanks to McCarthy, someone who merely expressed reasoned and even limited criticisms of capitalism, or who merely associated with critics of capitalism, risked being brought before a tribunal and blacklisted for life as a traitor.

A succinct way to summarize a typical modern commentary on McCarthyism would be that it was the conflation of “wrong” with “evil.” It is somewhat ironic, then, that McCarthyism is perfectly encapsulated in recent events at Google, the “Don’t be evil” company.

Last week a Google employee wrote a long, polite-yet-firm criticism of diversity hiring practices and the assumptions behind them. He made it explicit that he was not opposed to the goals of those practices, and offered suggestions for other ways to accomplish them. This piece of writing was quickly labeled a “screed” and a “fulmination” by journalists, and held up (mostly by people who never read it) as evidence of the very oppression the employee claimed was fallaciously assumed. Here, the people seethed, was a living specimen of evil!

After several days of fuming editorials and much public outcry for the employee’s head on a stake, Google fired him. The mob cheered for a moment and then began chanting its familiar mantra: “Not enough!”

One of the secondary points that had been made by the ousted employee was that Google claimed to support a culture of openness in which weighing evidence was valued over succumbing to bias, but that he knew the “women and minorities in tech” issue was such a sacred cow no dispassionate conversation about it would be permitted. This was his explanation for writing anonymously, and Google proved it to have been a valid one.

Cultures need immune systems. As a society that values inclusion and equal opportunity, we benefit from having a mechanism to identify and disenfranchise malicious racists, misogynists, and would-be traitors.

But this mechanism needs to remain finely calibrated to be useful, otherwise it causes a turbulent backlash. The end result of ordeals like this one at Google is not that women and minorities are put on their way to better representation in tech, but that all the people quietly keeping their heads down grow more resentful and less receptive to change. It’s a massive own-goal from a Progressive standpoint, but they might not realize it until decades later when people are calling them the new McCarthyists.