Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bought me a little tub of whelks

From The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Page 118.
Later that same day this lovely young English girl, this person in whom I was about to entrust my permanent happiness and well-being, took me to a seafood wagon and bought me a little tub of whelks. If you have never dined on this delicacy, you may get the same experience by finding an old golf ball, removing the cover and eating what remains. The whelk is the most flavourless and indestructible thing ever to be regarded as a food. I think I still have one of them in a jacket pocket somewhere.

Unknown title by Ian Stephens

Unknown title by Ian Stephens

Click to enlarge.

Needs ashes by Ted Key

Needs ashes by Ted Key

Click to enlarge.

Testosterone, the elixir of service

From The Anthropology of Manhood by Sebastian Junger. An excellent piece of writing - a clear argument, concise, critical information that is not widely shared, he stays on point.

Some readers are bashing Junger for not taking the battle to the shrill androphobic postmodernist intersectional feminists. But his essay is not about proving why these malevolent creatures are wrong. He is exploring what the nature of the issue might be and what can be done to address it.

The structure of his argument is (paraphrased)
The preindustrial age was mortally dangerous.

Danger could be mitigated by aggression.

Biological reproduction requires a division of labor in a dangerous world.

Child carrying women needed protection.

Men are biologically disposable.

Testosterone is the fundamental source of male aggressiveness.

Women select mating partners for their aggressiveness (testosterone).

The world is incinceivably safer than it was.

The need for male willingness to be aggressive and sacrifice is, temporarily suspended.

We have not crafted an alternative channel for productive use of male aggression.
The structure of the argument is clean and appealing. Junger forebears chasing after ancillary interesting issues in order to not cloud the central argument.

For example, there are interesting studies indicating women have a disposition for intra-sex hierarchy and violence but of a social nature. In other words, women are just as enthusiastic at establishing hierarchies of women and they use social violence in order to do so. They use words and shaming and peer pressure instead of physical violence. Men establish their hierarchies as well but more frequently do so through physical confrontation and engagement. They fight.

There is an enraging tragedy on-going in Britain illustrates this. Since the 1980's there have been slight news reports of grooming gangs across Britain, especially in the older, more run-down post-industrial cities. Older men are grooming vulnerable younger women into the sex trafficking trade through physical intimidation, violence, and drugs. Young women typically from poorer, dysfunctional families.

The chattering class in Britain and the State itself has turned a blind eye to the situation. The grooming gangs of men were overwhelmingly muslim Pakistani and Bangladeshi men and the victims were poor white women. The self-anointed elite were so paralyzed at seeming racist or islamophobic that they happily ignored the situation.

In the early 2000s it became to big to ignore. See Rotherham for the first big State action to rein in the violence being imposed on lower class women. Dozens of men finally being convicted for their three decade long run of sexual terror on hundreds of young lower class women. The revelations of local council and police authorities dereliction of duty is hard to stomach. Not just passively turning a blind eye but actively intervening to protect the sex traffickers from the fathers, brothers, and boyfriends of the young women who tried to intervene and stop the abuse.

But Rotherham was not the inly instance of mass grooming gangs. There are dozens more still on-going and the authorities remain as reluctant to intervene as ever. The most recent expose has been in Telford with more than a 1,000 victims.

Feminist activists and politicians in the UK have been far more interested in protecting their own status than in protecting the most vulnerable. From that perspective, modern feminism appears to be much more a racket to secure additional privileges of upper class educated professional women than a set of principles to actually defend women from crimes that are real and brutal. There is much more press about a hand on the thigh twenty years ago or the utilitarian calculation of Hollywood's casting couch than their is about brutal rape of lower class women.


I can see why Junger did not succumb to discussing the ancillary issue of intra-sex social violence and related issues.

Some key passages in Junger's essay. Well worth a read.

Ignoring the fact that a lot of early socialization is done by mothers and female kindergarten teachers, those two young women might have a point: The vast majority of murders, assaults, rapes, armed robberies, and threats to the public safety are committed by young men. Most men are not criminals, of course, but a huge majority of criminals are men. Men make up 93 percent of the American prison population, and young men die from accidents and violence at up to six times the rate of young women. The cause is not just poor socialization, however: Male violence is a problem across all societies, communities, and races, and the primary driver is testosterone, which declines steadily throughout a man’s adult lifetime. As testosterone levels go down, so do rates of violence and accidental death — which would not be the case if socialization alone were to blame.

But given these appalling statistics, it’s not uncommon to hear well-meaning people declare that if women ran the world, it would be a better place. . . . That immediately breaks down when women feel threatened, however. During the American Civil War, women in the South publicly shunned men who had not enlisted in the Confederate forces. And I watched a similar process in Sierra Leone when word came that rebel forces were advancing on the jungle town of Kenema. Women began exhorting men to defend them, and the men dutifully rushed off with whatever weapon they could grab — cutlasses, shotguns, clubs, old rusting AKs. Nothing pacifist or collaborative about the women at all.


Furthermore, men are eminently disposable; kill most of the men in a society and it quickly recovers, but kill most of the women and it dies out within generations. Because of all these factors, a common definition of manhood throughout history has been a willingness to put the safety of others above one’s own. (As anthropologist Joyce Benenson put it to me, “The definition of a man is someone you can count on when the enemy comes.”) Male violence encourages women to partner with males who are able to defend them — an evolutionary irony that is clearly self-perpetuating.


Sex traits, such as women having less body hair or men having more testosterone and bigger muscles, are the product of millions of years of evolution. Humans split from chimpanzees 6 million years ago and have been shaped in large part by what each sex found desirable in the other. Individuals with desirable traits were more likely to pass their genes on to the next generation, so those traits gradually spread through the population. As a result, there is no way to discuss what men are, biologically, without addressing what women choose, sexually.


Given the level of violence in human history, then, it’s not surprising that many studies show a female preference for partners who can protect them.


That creates a problem, though: Men who are hormonally predisposed to violence make great warriors but dangerous partners and fathers. To counteract that threat, men experience a significant drop in testosterone when they become fathers — and even when they hold a child. Female preference for high-testosterone males, coupled with a drop in male aggression around children, may be an evolutionary balancing act that allows the maximum number of children to survive.


And one study found that 90 percent of “bystander rescues,” in which a person tries to save a stranger, are performed by men. One in five rescuers dies in the attempt, but heroism may pay off: A recent study found that Medal of Honor recipients from World War II went on to have significantly more children than unrecognized combat veterans from that war, after other variables were adjusted for.


But in a safe, affluent society such as the United States, men rarely get the chance to pass the “avalanche test,” so they must rely on more mundane ways to define themselves. Until recently, one easy definition was whether you did the work assigned to men; likewise for women. The sexual division of labor reaches far back into our primate origins but seems to be diminishing. Because of testosterone men have, on average, about twice as much upper-body strength as women. That has long made them capable of doing jobs that women may struggle with. Hydraulic power and the internal-combustion engine have obliterated those differences, however; a woman on a backhoe can move just as much earth as a man on a backhoe. Cultural hurdles remain, but at least the physical barriers to those jobs have been largely removed.


Unlike men, women know with absolute certainty that their children are their own, and each child represents a huge chunk of a woman’s reproductive potential. As a result, it’s very easy to get women to emotionally invest in their children. Men, on the other hand, are stuck taking paternity on faith and have been programmed by the implacable math of evolution to impregnate women and keep moving; their reproductive potential is limited only by the number of sexual partners they have. That makes fatherhood a poor measure of manhood; plenty of good men don’t have children, and plenty of bad fathers have made enormous sacrifices for their community or their nation. So in our modern age, how does a man demonstrate his worthiness — his manhood — if he has no children to raise and no enemy to fight?
Mother nature has all sorts of oddities up her sleeve. While men are biologically predisposed to indiscriminate mating (given that the attendant risks are so low compared to those of a woman), more men are barren than women. The data is hard to find but my best estimate across rarely encountered research is that about 80% of women in modern societies have at least one child in their life while only 70% of men do so.
Both the triumph and the tragedy of modern society is that we have eliminated almost every hardship and danger from daily life. For the most part that is a great blessing, but it comes at a cost. The very efficiency of mass society makes people feel unnecessary, and therein lies a profound threat to our dignity.
Junger is exploring how to repurpose the biological imperatives of testosterone towards more productive uses. He does not articulate it this way but one definition of manhood is to protect and to serve. To protect means to master, to defeat those who would do violence to your own. To serve means to master oneself in service of others. We focus on the physical courage and violence towards external enemies, but I would argue that the our definition of manhood has always included service. Junger gives a handful examples of quotidian service such as giving up a seat to the elderly and weak.
What these men all have in common is that they put the welfare of others ahead of their own. Some were willing to die for it and others were just willing to stand for an hour on a crowded subway, but regardless, they were thinking firmly outside themselves.
I agree. Violence may be inherent but it is not destiny. A moral code, and societal norms, which rewards men for serving others is achievable. If we wish to do so.

And it is not especially exotic. We know how to do this because we have done it before. As one commenter remarks:
When I was a boy my Father made it clear that particular traits and behaviors were expected of me. I was to be respectful (and protective) of girls - especially my sister. Never be a bully. Tell the truth. Look people in the eye, shake hands, introduce yourself, say 'please and thank you,' pitch in, keep promises, have courage, don't whine, offer to help, stick up for the little guy, etc. This is what a gentleman does, I was taught. Not optional behavior. Learned and drilled into me.
As someone, Glenn Reynolds perhaps?, has observed, our caricature of more traditional "Victorian" or patriarchal society was actually an extraordinarily sophisticated balancing of trade-offs. Social norms which rewarded a broad range of behaviors which expected risk-taking, courage and service to others on the part of men in return for selective mating access to women.

Those social norms could be misdirected, they could be over-onerous, they could be exploited. The sixties and seventies saw a postmodernist effort to free everyone from the burden of those norms. Be who you are; let it all hang out; self-discovery; self-actualization; tune in, turn on, drop out. It was all about the self freed from the burdensome norms of society.

Such focus on the self did not deliver the goods. We are a social, biological animal. Throwing out the social norms did not bring about utopia, it saw, at the margin, the return of the savage. We threw the baby out with the bathwater. We lived out Chesteron's admonishment of the fence. Do not reform that which you do not yet fully understand.

We are slowly finding our way back from the edge of barbarism. What the new social norms might look like is not clear and it is likely impossible to actually build them anew, they are an emergent order responding to the modern excesses that occur without social norms. I suspect that they will look much like the old norms with a slight rebalancing of the trade-offs and a better recognition of the interconnectedness and interdependencies between the individual and the community.

Those interested in demonizing the other, of demeaning men as a group, in hoarding class privileges, do a disservice to advancing a societal conversation we need to be having.

The Universities have been to this nation, as the wooden horse was to the Trojans

From The English Works of Thomas Hobbes, vol. 6 (Dialogue, Behemoth, Rhetoric) by Thomas Hobbes. Specifically from Behemoth.

But who can teach what none have learned? Or, if any man hath been so singular, as to have studied the science of justice and equity; how can he teach it safely, when it is against the interest of those that are in possession of the power to hurt him?


The rules of just and unjust sufficiently demonstrated, and from principles evident to the meanest capacity, have not been wanting; and notwithstanding [213]the obscurity of their author, have shined, not only in this, but also in foreign countries, to men of good education. But they are few, in respect of the rest of the men, whereof many cannot read; many, though they can, have no leisure; and of them that have leisure, the greatest part have their minds wholly employed and taken up by their private businesses or pleasures. So that it is impossible that the multitude should ever learn their duty, but from the pulpit and upon holidays; but then, and from thence, it is, that they learned their disobedience. And, therefore, the light of that doctrine has been hitherto covered and kept under here by a cloud of adversaries, which no private man’s reputation can break through, without the authority of the Universities. But out of the Universities, came all those preachers that taught the contrary. The Universities have been to this nation, as the wooden horse was to the Trojans.
We are at an awkward time for those of us who esteem education and admire the history of educational institutions, particularly the ivy covered walls of higher learning. The ivy of those past ideals has withered and we see more and more ideological authoritarianism, suppression of diversity, rejection of ideas inconsistent with a narrow hate-driven ideology. I am confident that postmodernism will collapse under its own autophagy and self-contradictions. But it will continue to cause significant harm before it passes from the stage.

Interesting to see Thomas Hobbes of 300 some years ago identifying the same malady - Universities, cathedrals of learning and temples of knowledge, betraying their mission and those preacher/teachers peddling disobedience and attacking men's reputations. Wooden horses, old and new.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A few were doggedly sunbathing in defiance of the fact that the sky was a duvet of clouds

From The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Page 118.
It was a better day for walking than bathing – cool and overcast. Still, there were a fair number of people on the beach. Some were pretending to enjoy themselves. A few were doggedly sunbathing in defiance of the fact that the sky was a duvet of clouds. A small number were actually swimming, or at least bouncing in the waves. Years ago, when my wife and I were just dating, she took me on a day trip to the seaside at Brighton. It was my first exposure to the British at play in a marine environment. It was a fairly warm day – I remember the sun came out for whole moments at a time – and large numbers of people were in the sea. They were shrieking with what I took to be pleasure, but now realize was agony. Naively, I pulled off my T-shirt and sprinted into the water. It was like running into liquid nitrogen. It was the only time in my life in which I have moved like someone does when a piece of film is reversed. I dived into the water and then straight back out again, backwards, and have never gone into an English sea again.

Since that day, I have never assumed that anything is fun just because it looks like the English are enjoying themselves doing it, and mostly I have been right.

On that island stands a church; in that church is a well; in that well swims a duck. by Kay Nielsen

On that island stands a church; in that church is a well; in that well swims a duck. by Kay Nielsen

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Domestic habits

Domestic habits

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Teachers account for from 1% to 7% of total variance at every level of education

From Education and Intelligence: Pity the Poor Teacher because Student Characteristics are more Significant than Teachers or Schools by Douglas K. Detterman.

From the Abstract.
Education has not changed from the beginning of recorded history. The problem is that focus has been on schools and teachers and not students. Here is a simple thought experiment with two conditions: 1) 50 teachers are assigned by their teaching quality to randomly composed classes of 20 students, 2) 50 classes of 20 each are composed by selecting the most able students to fill each class in order and teachers are assigned randomly to classes. In condition 1, teaching ability of each teacher and in condition 2, mean ability level of students in each class is correlated with average gain over the course of instruction. Educational gain will be best predicted by student abilities (up to r = 0.95) and much less by teachers’ skill (up to r = 0.32). I argue that seemingly immutable education will not change until we fully understand students and particularly human intelligence. Over the last 50 years in developed countries, evidence has accumulated that only about 10% of school achievement can be attributed to schools and teachers while the remaining 90% is due to characteristics associated with students. Teachers account for from 1% to 7% of total variance at every level of education. For students, intelligence accounts for much of the 90% of variance associated with learning gains. This evidence is reviewed.
Something to keep in mind when considering how much we invest in improving schools and training teachers.

Friday, March 16, 2018

'I will never master this country’ and I was right.

From The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. Page 115.
Now it can’t be argued that being a downtable sub-editor on the Bournemouth Evening Echo was the most stressful and high-powered job in journalism in the 1970s, but it was stressful enough for me. The problem was that I knew nothing like as much as I ought to know to work safely as a journalist in Britain, and I lived in constant fear that my employers would discover the full extent of my ignorance and send me back to Iowa. Employing me was an act of kindness. I had only the barest working knowledge of British spelling, punctuation, grammar and idiom, and almost no acquaintance at all with vast areas of British history, politics and culture.

I remember one day I was given a Press Association story to edit that I couldn’t follow at all – or actually could only partly follow, which made it even more confusing. The story was clearly about declining stocks of seafood off the west coast of Cornwall, or something like that – it was all about bivalves and molluscs, I remember – but scattered through it were frequent unrelated references to a certain well-known northern railway station. I didn’t know if this was a mistake or just the Press Association being eccentric in some way that I didn’t yet understand. I had no idea what to do, so I just read the story over and over. For two or three paragraphs the text would make sense and then suddenly there would be a mysterious, seemingly nonsensical reference to this railway station.

As I sat there, helpless with uncertainty, a copy boy came past and dropped a slip of paper on my desk, and all suddenly became clear. The slip of paper was a correction, and it said: ‘In Cornish fisheries story, for “Crewe Station” please read “crustacean”.’

And I thought then, ‘I will never master this country’ and I was right. I never have. Luckily for me, the people I worked with were kind and patient and looked after me.