Tag: behaviour

Why do people you agree with seem more sophisticated?

Posted by – July 20, 2012

It’s a persistent trend that people on both sides of an issue tell themselves that their side is generally more nuanced and sophisticated than the other. Christians think that atheists are basically angsty teenagers with no sense of history or personal experience. Rightists think that leftists are over-emotional simpletons.

When these groups discuss matters amongst themselves, they don’t need to talk about the fundamental matters they agree on. Instead, they can move on to something deeper, and reveal what they themselves doubt or disagree on about the shared position. Leftists consider themselves to be deep thinkers, and they like to talk a lot about advancing leftism with other leftists, or about the best version of leftism. So leftism seems like a very large topic to them, whereas rightists practically ignore it.

When these opposing groups talk to each other, they’re constantly getting bogged down by the fundamental differences. The other side can’t even get the basics right! So of course they start thinking that the other side is simplistic, radical and can’t listen to reason. If only our side had their fanatical unity, maybe we could get somewhere…

Academics have to practice a lot to leave behind even a small part of this type of bias, but they do have some success. Consequently, they see non-academics on both sides as simplistic and non-nuanced. They are on a meta-level of sophistication.

Eating awareness / obesity hypothesis

Posted by – April 23, 2011

Hypothesis: people who can generally remember everything they’ve eaten throughout the day are generally less obese than people who can’t.

Sex inequality observation of the day

Posted by – February 4, 2011

When I find an offer in my mailbox to fix our roof, remove snow from it or do a paint job, it’s always (or has been until now) from a man. There are surprisingly many. When I go to the office of a public authority to deal with something peripheral to my goals that I don’t really want but have to, I almost always talk to a woman about it. Perhaps one of the underlying reasons for my raging misogyny.

Are men the designated voluntary trade / doer -sex and women the designated coercive hassle / administrator / controller -sex? Obviously not, because the police and army are male, and the background decision-makers in everything are usually male too. But there’s something to this – perhaps not so much in the societal power -sense but the social psychology sense.

Novel reading phenomenon

Posted by – January 14, 2011

Here’s an experience I don’t remember having before: reading two articles in two tabs and doing numerous other things at the same time (my powers of concentration are inexistent) and noticing halfway through that I’ve been mentally putting all the bits of them in the same place, confusing the two articles for a single one. One was this New Yorker piece about the “composure class”, made up of surreally balanced and successful people and new ideas in the mind sciences, and this Atlantic one about the world’s financial future and specifically its new, meritocratic, internationalist elite.

edit: …by which I didn’t mean to say that they were so similar, but they shared some themes (or people types), and overall the effect of mixing them up was very interesting. Maybe they should have been the same article.

The source of national populism

Posted by – October 6, 2010

In most every European country, a national populist party has emerged over the last 15-20 years to capture a meaningful (and fast growing) share of the vote. The standard analysis has been to examine the voting public: how has it and its environment changed to cause it to change its voting behaviour? I propose that the more important change has been in the existing political parties and the mentality of the intelligentsia that determines their policies.

In the twentieth century, politics (in democracies) focused on negotiating around the different interests of different voting blocs. Underlying the negotiation was a wider concept of national interest: different Finnish parties hoped to benefit different groups of Finns, but they all focused ultimately on a Finnish national interest (with the exception of little practical importance of internationalist communists). Politicians were driven by status: they wanted to be the top dog, bringing home the big prizes to their voting bloc and ultimately arising to statesman status. This philosophy is still the norm among the broad public, but academics, political commentators and cultural circles have generally moved to a very different political ethic: one of abstract universalism motivated by personal satisfaction and internal status.

The intelligentsia interacts among itself, and its status points are won not by practical results but by any exercise of ideological power. Admirers of the Soviet Union didn’t lose their credibility by being outrageously wrong – on the contrary, their ongoing defiance of reality has won them a certain sense of nobility. The echo chamber of the European Parliament self-importantly celebrates itself not despite colossal amounts of waste, inefficiency and malicious bureaucracy but because of it – after all, they must be powerful people to pull all that off. Nay, not powerful, but powerfully good. After all, do they not devote much of their energies to fighting global climate change, solving the problems of global poverty and inequality and curing their own societies of parochialism, racism and lack of diversity? If you’re unhappy with the practical results, maybe you should give them more resources and power – or perhaps strive to achieve the ultimate good and become a political activist yourself.

This is, of course, a standard historical cycle: wealthy and dominant cultures, able to do as they please, produce a priest/idealist class which divorces itself from the mundane, earthly concerns of boring normos. This is how the pyramids were built, and also very much the internal story of the Soviet Union. The immediate result in the west has been the aforementioned rise of national populism – people who previously weren’t actively interested in nationalism outside of sports and historical reminisces are now voting for national self-interest, not because they’ve changed but because they used to vote for that no matter which party they chose. Unfortunately for them, the people in charge of these populist parties tend to be cynics, incompetents or both, so there is little promise of achieving their goals.

Porn for girls

Posted by – July 12, 2010

I recently watched about 50 hours of Gilmore Girls inside a couple of months, so you may want to take a moment to mentally readjust how seriously you take anything I say.

Now, unless you’re some kind of retarded sexist, you’ll know that women watch pornography just as much as men do – at least for a sufficiently broad definition of porn. The purpose of porn is, ultimately, fantasy depiction. For men, that means

  • having sex with beautiful people
  • getting status (some say: to get sex with more beautiful people)

When men watch Led Zeppelin concerts on dvd, part of what they’re getting is the fantasy of having an incomprehensible amount of status, in the eyes of men and women alike. Of course, men fantasize about sex a lot more than about being in Led Zeppelin – just like most of their meals are stomach-filler, not culinary art.

Women are way more complicated than this, so they need eg. Gilmore Girls. Why did I choose Gilmore Girls? Why not Twilight (the fantasy of being “different” and passionately fought over by impossibly handsome, ancient, powerful and magical non-human creatures without doing much and for no apparent reason) or Sex and the City (live in Manhattan, spend scads of money on fashion while being a useless ditz, enjoy a neverending variety of penis without ever ending up on the trash-heap for being old or slutty)? Gilmore Girls is much more nuanced and wholesome than that – it offers an entire life plan, simultaneously depicting three generations: one on the cusp of adulthood, one in maturity and one in old age. And yet, incredibly, for all its detail and multidimensionality, it is pure fantasy, to a sometimes absurd degree.

At the centre of GG is Lorelai Gilmore, a thirty-something manager of an inn who always has something snappy to say, and her highschool-aged daughter Rory (she goes on to study at her choice of any ivy-league college in subsequent seasons). Their (genuinely) clever-funny banter is a big part of the show. Lorelai’s parents are super-wealthy WASP types, allowing the series to spend a lot of time in their stately mansion and in the higher reaches of society, where Lorelai is courted by powerful, handsome men with fast cars.

But wouldn’t it be boring to have a modern female lead just ride on her family’s money? It sure would, which is why Lorelai ran away from home as a teenager when she got pregnant and never attended college. Pretty cool! Having broken contact with her parents, she raised her daughter as a single mother without getting a single dime (this is reiterated many times during the series) from her parents or, apparently, from the father, who is an elite badboy, also from the upper classes. Normally things end up badly for single mothers with no support, but as I say, Lorelai becomes a manager and a houseowner and her daughter is set for the Ivies (and I meant what I said earlier, she gets acceptance letters from everywhere, all the way up to Harvard). Thusly Lorelai is able to combine cool pop-culture infused disdain and ridicule for the trappings of wealth and high society, actually partake of and enjoy that society and be a hip, non-stuffy single mom whose daughter is her best friend all at the same time.

Watching GG and enjoying its large, complicated cast and intermingling array of plots and then realising that all the contortions are necessary just to maintain this otherwise contradictory fantasy is like looking into a kaleidoscope and suddenly realising it’s a complete engineering plan for a flying ocean-liner.

But that’s not all! I won’t go through every element of perfection (the other best friend is fat but always cheerful; there’s no scary crime or resentful poor people; Lorelai has a gruff, handsome admirer who fixes any mechanical problems but sex takes about five years to come into the picture while she considers her options) but I must mention one because it’s such a delightfully direct, visceral fantasy. Lorelai and her daughter are slim and beautiful, and notorious for constantly eating vast amounts of fast food, ice cream, snacks, fine dinners at the WASP parents’ mansion, everything and anything. This is not just a minor in-joke, this is pointed to in EVERY EPISODE. When the two slim girls decide to order food in, as they do most nights, they might get food from four different restaurants just for the variety. Other characters comment continually on the vast amounts of food they’re putting away (no, the series doesn’t conclude with the fat best friend murdering Lorelai). This becomes a part of their personalities – they’re not some boring losers worrying about calories or fat on their midsection; let’s party, get tubs of Ben & Jerry’s and watch movie classics all night! What do you mean, are they going to get to work and school on time in the morning? This is girl time, and anyway, one of their fun sides is drinking coffee all the time because they’re so HYPER and FUNNY and RANDOM!

Okay, I’m starting to give the impression that I’m somewhat overanimated about this whole thing. Mostly it amuses me, and it’s a fun series anyway, but I guess getting too close to other people’s fantasies can end up being rather distasteful. It’s like how women are always rather intrigued about the idea of men’s sexual fantasies, but might become a bit resentful after watching a tv series depicting them.

Pickup in Vicky Christina Barcelona analyzed by Roissy

Posted by – May 15, 2010

Back when I saw Woody Allen’s movie Vicky Christina Barcelona I wrote that it had some remarkable pieces of seduction technique. This has been confirmed by analysis by one of my favourite Internet hate figures, Roissy:

0:46 – 0:55 Juan’s body language is half his game. His gait is steady and slow, his face expressionless except for the flash of a slight wry smile. When he approaches, he takes his sweet time getting there. Also notice how he lets his gaze deliberately linger on the less attractive/less playful Vicky first, and then switches looking at Cristina. He knows, before he’s even said one word, who the potential cockblock is and how the process of disarming her takes precedence before anything else. Always address the less attractive/more anal retentive girls in a group first, unless it’s a mixed group of men and women, in which case address the men first.

The hidden systems

Posted by – May 11, 2010

What economic system do you live in? For readers of this blog, the answer is probably some blend of market capitalism, corporatism and socialism. It is defined by your interactions with the state: sometimes it gives you resources or subsidises your choices, sometimes it expropriates resources and taxes your choices, sometimes it does neither. All of the time it arranges things for the benefit of powerful institutions.

But that’s far from being the only economic counterparty you have (unless the state is completely socialist) – the state is only special because it has the violence monopoly, so in theory it can dictate anything it wants. In a free market system, you also have a counterparty in your employer, in the customers of your yard sale, in people who trade stocks with you (or your pension scheme) and so on. These are all market systems themselves, and free market theorists like to call the free market system “natural” because it seems to occur wherever there’s no coercion.

Margaret Thatcher famously said that there’s no such thing as “society”, but only individuals. That sounds like a rather pointless truism, but I suppose she had in mind something like the small-scale economic arrangements I listed in the previous paragraph, which are all free market and (supposedly) show by their existence that humans are inherently meant to operate in free markets. However, it seems to me that one of the most significant economic arrangements has been omitted here – that of families (ostensibly families are important to conservatives, but I think Thatcher may have been an exception). Families, it occurred to me, are instances of neither free markets nor coercion, and typically operate under some some kind of socialist syndicalism. For many or most people they’re also more significant than any other economic arrangement in their lives.

Let me address some obvious criticisms of that idea. Firstly: are families really both free and non-market? Most libertarians I’ve talked to would probably say that they are free markets, because they’re arrangements people freely choose in their own best interests. And if they don’t freely choose them, well, then it’s a system of oppression. I’m not unsympathetic to that viewpoint, but it strikes me as a rather too coarse a distinction.

If you’re a child in a family, the family supervises your life and determines your best interest for you, rather like an ideal communist state. But you probably don’t hold that against them (or you do when you’re a teenager, which is probably the brain’s way of saying that it wants to get out and control its own resources and make its own babies). Or if you’re married to someone, you may very well feel like a hostage, staying in an unpleasant situation for the kids, out of memories of love or because you don’t want to lose status or be poor. A libertarian might say that that’s still free choice, because you chose to get married and can choose to get divorced, but again, that doesn’t quite capture the entire situation. And even if only physical coercion counts, plenty of people in marriages still experience that or the threat of it.

If we accept for the sake of argument that families aren’t a form of coercion or instances of free markets, what are they? At first I thought that they were some form of socialism, but that’s not true for all families at least. Some families have a Soviet-style implementation where power is concentrated and one or both parents (or plausibly grandparents) decide for the benefit of all. Some have a more syndicalist system where everyone gets some kind of say in everything. Some hippie families have probably even tried anarcho-syndicalism. Some families live under despotism, where one person rules for his own benefit. In fact a market system family is one I haven’t really ever seen. Could it work? What other systems are there?

Fifties week

Posted by – May 3, 2010

We were burgled a couple of days ago in the middle of the night. Very unsettling to know how easy it was for someone to get in and root around the place. I immediately started having violent fantasies about catching the guy (sexist assumption).

He only took an axe (!) and my wife’s wallet before being disturbed, whereupon he fled. One consequence of this is that my wife doesn’t have cash, an ATM card or any debit or credit cards, so she has to ask me for money. Patriarchy reinstated! “How much do you want, honey? What, you going shoe shopping or something? Okay, but don’t spend it all in one place…”

Can’t pay for love

Posted by – April 29, 2010

Leonard Cohen is coming to Helsinki, boy oh boy! More specifically, to a massive sports arena named after its sponsoring beer company. Still, I thought I had a kind of emotional obligation to see the man at least once.

I go to the website they’re selling the tickets from. Good tickets are 90€. I’m incurably cheap, so that kind of shocks me, but it wouldn’t exactly break the bank. Okay, let’s make the plunge. Crappier tickets start from 60€ – but what would be the point if you can’t see the man up close? I vacillate for a while over it (I’m also horribly indecisive) and next thing I know, the best tickets are sold out already. I start to feel bad about the whole thing, forking over too much money to sit in a sports arena, looking at a jumbotron with thousands of others. I suddenly decide not to buy a ticket.

<bitter> So yeah, have a lot of fun, jerks. I’m talking to you, 58-year-old hags who couldn’t even name a Cohen album, let alone remember any words. Make sure to get lots of pictures with those camera phones. </bitter>

I don’t know, the transaction just didn’t feel right in the end. Of course the guy’s right to ask for however much he can get, and obviously there’s enough demand to justify that level of supply discrimination. That’s what money was invented for. But trying to decide to buy the tickets, I just couldn’t feel the joy in going. There are going to be something like 15 000 people at that concert – at those ticket prices, that’s over a million smackers. As whispers of beauty and tenderness flow one way, tens of thousands of hours worth of labour flow the other. It’s not the price that I balked so much as that vision. As the proles jump at the chance to pay for their football gods’ unimaginative excesses, as the religious tithe while the pope creeps around in gold and ermine, so would I be overpaying for a beloved poet, touched only by my money, hundreds of meters away in an arena. Is that as beautiful a moment as the songs are? What kind of love requires me to declare my own relative worthlessness so loudly?

Of course, it’s not love at all, it’s business. But when it comes to Cohen, love is what I want, and that’s what the songs have already given me. So I don’t feel too bad about the concert anymore.

I did get to see Randy Newman the other night. Thankfully that love is shared by few enough people not to trigger my emotional reservations, so I had a great time.