That has to count for something, right?
I must be getting old and senile. There is something wrong with my brain. I have seen all of these movies in the past year, and for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what happened in them.
I know I attended them. I recall blurs of cgi, loud explosions, and chaotic stories in which the fate of the world hung in the balance, but I can’t remember, or care, about a danged thing that happened in them. It’s weird, but there are also little snippets of things associated with them that are surely false memories.
This is also an oddly spotty problem. I can recall everything about Mad Max: Fury Road, for instance.
Either I have to go in for a neurological check-up, or all of Hollywood does. The latter is highly unlikely, right?
Hamed Abdel Samad wore what I would consider a fairly innocuous shirt on the street in Egypt (“God is busy. Can I help you?”). Watch what happens as a pushy, angry mob forms around him and he is blamed for “provoking” them.
You really don’t want to be anywhere near an Islamist or Christianist. They’ll use any excuse to bully you.
Marcus has a long post on hacker mythology — I don’t have his depth of experience on it, but I’ve had a little exposure.
Back in the 80s/90s, I was on the edge of hacker culture. I was cracking games, I was doing a little phone phreaking, I was poking around in that culture, reading the magazines and trying stuff out. My general impression: “This is easy.” A little knowledge about computers — an epiphenomenological sort of knowledge — was easily amplified into some success in breaking into things. I talked with “hackers” online, and was unimpressed. They could talk a good game, but they didn’t understand much. Their primary skill was in bragging.
Then I got a job as a systems manager for an academic unit, working with VAXen for a lot of scientists who just saw them as tools to get a job done, and they needed someone to take care of keeping everything running smoothly. I worked at that for a couple of years. General impression: “This is hard.” You had to dig deep to understand how to prevent harm to the system. Those were big complex operating systems, and you knew all it took was one of those idiots I used to be reading about some hole in one of many subsystems to take advantage, so you had to read everything and keep up with all those DECtapes that came rolling around with technical issues.
I pretty much lost all respect for so-called “hackers” fast, and have never seen the virtue of hiring hackers to improve security. You don’t hire people who know how to smash things with hammers to enhance the security of locks — they don’t know anything you don’t.
Last night I was entertaining myself by reading a few of the angry rants I’m always being sent, and a couple of them led me to a simultaneously familiar and disconcertingly off bit of territory — it was people proudly using Science as a warrant for bigotry. It was weird because they were using terms I knew and that were legitimately part of a scientific discipline, but they were using them in ways that were crazy inappropriate and that revealed they actually didn’t understand the science. There are a surprising number of people who are babbling about r/K selection theory on the internet.
r/K selection theory gets its name from a simplified equation that tries to quantify how quickly a population’s size can change. It reduces the number of parameters that affect the rate of change in population size, N, to just two: r, the maximum growth rate, and K (for carrying capacity), the maximum number of individuals the environment can sustain. It leads to this appealingly trivial equation:
dN/dt = rN(1-N/K)
That seems to fit, intuitively. When you colonize a new environment and your population size is very far from the carrying capacity, your best bet is to be weedy and breed like rabbits…and if two species are in competition, the one that will fill up the environment first is the one that can pump out babies the fastest. If you’re in a stable environment that’s at capacity, r becomes less important — there’s nothing new to exploit, population size isn’t going to change much anymore, so K becomes the dominant factor in defining your population limits. So if you’re a dandelion or a sea urchin, spew out great clouds of cheap zygotes, 99.99% of which will die, but you’ll be able to grab a foothold in any new patch of sea floor or suburban yard that opens up. If you’re an elephant or a blue whale, there are never going to be very many of you in the world, so it’s better to invest more in infant care, so that, while you don’t have many of them, your babies are more likely to survive.
The nice thing about r/K theory was that it was so danged simple…and that was one of the reasons it has long slipped out of favor. Its predictive power was weak, because it went too far and reduced populations to too few parameters. Biology is complex, and species have many more strategies for optimizing their success than just how fast they can make babies. This is not my field, but I saw r/K theory decline rapidly in popularity: in the 70s and 80s, when I took and first started teaching introductory biology courses, it was all over the textbooks; and then it slowly faded away. It was replaced with more complex and more accurate demographic models, and a broader study of life history evolution (you want more, you can read about it in Ecology (pdf), again, well outside my field). I rarely encounter the term any more.
Except in one place.
Racist tirades on the internet!
Go ahead and look for yourself. Google “r k selection” and see what comes up. Among the Wikipedia references and a scattering of course pages (which do get it right), I see triumphant declarations from right wingers and MRAs that r/K selection theory proves that they are right. r/K Selection Theory Ends All Political Debate, they announce; all you need to know is a little bit of biology and you can destroy all those liberals. Except the ones that are biologically literate, that is. Would you believe that they are seriously claiming that black people are more like echinoderms and white people are more like elephants, and that being K-selected is superior to being r-selected? Of course you would, because you know they’re stupid. They’re even abusing the theory to claim that different political/religious systems are driven by their misinterpretations of a biological theory.
While Christianity is far more ‘K’ selected than say Marxism, it’s still more ‘r’ selected than the pre-Christian European social orders. An exception to this would be the Roman empire which was based on a pagan belief system, but through its expansion and conquest it gradually became increasingly ‘r’ selected from things like the abundance of sex slaves they kept. This eventually turned into all out sexual degeneracy practiced by many Romans, but especially the elites.
You can’t do that, I splutter. Setting aside the bad history there, the r and K parameters are a simplified (too simplified) abstraction for a lot of biological properties that affect population growth. r is the same in all of those groups; human pairs can pop out roughly one baby a year, but most don’t. K is dependent on the environment as well as the biology of the organism. Because there are multiple factors affecting it, you can’t look at just the number of babies produced and announce that a population is r or K selected; the same organisms with the same r values will grow at different rates in different situations, which is what that r/K formula says. If I put a pair of rabbits on an island with a lot of food, they’ll reproduce rapidly; if I put a similar pair on an island with little food, they’ll reproduce more slowly. This does not imply that there are different r values in the two sets of rabbits.
They do a lot of this kind of misinterpretation and failure to grasp the basic concept. It’s driven by the fact that they also have a peculiar set of value judgements. r is bad, so you take every human characteristic you dislike and assign them to the r strategy. K is good, so all virtues get lumped under that category. This is not biology. Those parameters are abstractions, not descriptions of ethical qualities. K is not synonymous with courage, and r is not the same as promiscuity. You can’t just reify these abstractions to declare that “Person X is like a cowardly little rabbit, therefore he is r-selected, which is a sciencey term, therefore Science has just put the stamp of absolute truth on my assessment.” You can’t do that.
You especially can’t do that because r and K are properties of a species and an environment. But they happily apply them to individuals and categories of individuals. For instance, did you know that some women are r-selected, and others are K-selected? It makes no sense, but it’s all over the place.
With an r-strategy, the quality of the mate isn’t very important; you just spread your genes far and wide. With a k-strategy, you select the fittest mate and monopolize their womb/sperm.
These differing strategies result in differing behaviors and attitudes. A heavy r-woman is a mega-slut (having sex in her teens). She’s bitchy and masculine in her behavior. She’s interested in style over substance (think Jersey Shore skanks).
A heavy k-woman has very few sexual partners over her lifetime. She is feminine and agreeable. She is interested in a long-term, stable relationship with a man of substance.
Wait, wait. So masculine behavior is associated with women being r-selected? Not so fast. It turns out that sometimes not being masculine enough is an r value.
The white (k-selected) population built this country, despite any revisionist history to the contrary, and it is systematically being destroyed, not just by minorities, but by women, and pussy ass men inevitably r-selected by their general lack of aggression/decisiveness. Does this not sound like the modus operandi of r-selection?
I get so confused reading this stuff. Here’s an example of failing to understand what r is, inappropriately applying it to individuals, and being self-contradictory.
*** Feminism is r-type
“In r-type populations, females exhibit more male traits, such as increased size, aggression, and competitiveness. In this milieu, this is an effective aspect of an r-strategy, as r-females need to both provide for their offspring, and fend off threats, due to male abandonment.
It is interesting that modern feminism, so often associated with the left, exhibits a denigrating view of the rewards offered by offspring rearing, an embrace of sexual liberation for women (ie promiscuity), a denigrating view of men which would facilitate short-term mating relationships, as well as an increased drive to compete aggressively alongside males, in traditionally male endeavors.”
You can’t do that. You can’t declare that feminists, who are biologically human, are r-selected, while misogynists, who are also biologically of the same species, are K-selected. This is simply rank nonsense.
But further, this same article defines the r strategy as having lots of offspring. But talk to a feminist: they are all about limiting and controlling reproduction, having fewer children or none, and pursuing other roles in society beyond just making babies. By their own deeply flawed definition, feminism is K-type. But apparently the attributes of these parameters vary depending on sex…which makes no fucking sense at all. They argue that
r/K selection theory is an incredibly powerful paradigm, capable of flaying a liberal’s mind faster than any other concept on the planet. I think they’ve confused stupefaction at the demonstration of egregious idiocy by the ‘conservative’ with “flaying”.
Oh, we’re not done with the inconsistencies. Did you know that
Homosexuality is a dishonorable mating strategy? On some days, homosexuality is biological futility, doomed to die out as they fail to reproduce, and on others, well, we have to fit this into the r/K paradigm somehow, and r is bad remember, so they’re somehow using this to breed rapidly.
This example finally provides an evolutionary justification for homosexuality. Mimicking a female gives the Anticompetitive cuttlefish access to females, which he would otherwise never acquire. Likewise, almost all human fags are bisexual, and many men become gay only after failing with women. Being gay permits the occasional “experimental” bang with a girlfriend. Hence the K male’s aversion to fags and fag hags.
I don’t even…
Here’s another blatant attempt to coopt science to defend their bigotry.
Hatred for liberals is genetic, they say.
“…Competitors who evolved to revile those who violated the Competitive strategy. These groups would easily dominate such a group competition. Individuals that were imbued with a fierce contempt for cowardice, a hatred for selfishness, and aversions towards such behaviors as interference in free competitions between men, opportunistic advantage taking, rule breaking, sexual sneaking and disloyalty to the group would form, and function within, successful groups unusually well.”
In other words, homophobia is not latent homosexuality, it is a rational genetic strategy. As is hating hippies.
You know, none of that follows. It doesn’t even make logical sense, even if one accepts the false premises underlying it.
This bogosity is incredibly popular among the ignorant, however. Would you believe liberals and conservatives can be explained by r/K theory?
For humans, it would be advantageous to be able to switch from one mode to the other as the situation demands. A microbiologist over at anonymousconservative.com thinks that humans do just that. There is evidence, he says, for bit of programming in our brains that triggers a transition from “r” to “K” mode, based on environmental cues. In a 30-page scientific manuscript titled “Modern Political Thought in the Context of Evolutionary Psychology” posted at his website, he makes his case that left-wingers (i.e., American-style liberals) are acting in r-selection mode, while right-wingers (i.e., American-style conservatives) are acting in K-selection mode.
Oh, god. Look at the formula at the top of this article. There is already a switch in that oversimplificat that triggers changes in rates of population growth: it’s N. You don’t have to invent brain programming to do it.
I don’t even understand how, when all you’ve got in the formula is a reproduction rate, you can leap to the conclusion that conservatives are K-selected and liberals are r-selected. Again, it is totally inappropriate to mangle the theory this way, but who makes more babies? Rural Mormon conservatives or upwardly mobile urban feminists?
Note also the entanglement of evolutionary psychology here. This is another common theme: our conservative, exploitive, bigoted perspective is supported by evolutionary psychology and ecology, and therefore it is true. Never mind that EP is a collection of ad hoc myths calculated to justify inequities, and that they have to lie about ecology to twist it to fit their preconceptions.
We can’t just blame this behavior on stupid people engaging in circular arguments to excuse their biases, however. These ridiculous appropriations of an old theory in ecology have also been ripped off by racist cranks and published in the academic literature. J. Philippe Rushton, anyone?
This article discusses the r/K theory of Social Biology and how it relates to humans. The symbols r and K originate in the mathematics of population biology and refer to 2 ends of a continuum in which a compensatory exchange occurs between gamete production (the r-strategy) and longevity (the K-strategy). Both across and within species, r and K strategists differ in a suite of correlated characteristics. Humans are the most K of all. K’s supposedly have a longer gestation period, a higher birthweight, a more delayed sexual maturation, a lower sex drive, and a longer life. Studies providing evidence for the expected covariation among K attributes are presented. Additional evidence for r/K theory comes from the comparison of human population known to differ in gamete production. The pattern of racial differences observed to occur in sexual behavior has also been found to exist on numerous other indices of K. For instance, there are racial differences in brain size, intelligence, and maturation rate, among others. The findings suggest that, on the average, Mongoloids are more K than Caucasoids, who in turn, are more K than Negroids. Recently conducted studies have extended the data in favor of r/K theory, and further research is currently underway, including whether r/K attributes underlie individual and social class differences in health and longevity.
Aaargh, the stupid, it burns. Let’s use some archaic racial classifications, try to update it with some hot new sciencey lingo (this paper was published in 1988, when the r/K stuff was on the wane…but it’s not as if a guy who peddles 19th century racial “science” is going to be very current), and then pretend we’re actually doing research to measure population-specific variation in r values. This is typical Rushton, trying to bullshit his audience with false claims of a scientific foundation for his prejudices.
But it’s an amazingly popular strategem. This is lying with science on a par with what creationists do, and it’s everywhere in the most unpleasantly odious communities on the internet: racists, misogynists, and crank conservatives, all the people who have recently won bigly in the political arena. We should be afraid. And we need to fight back more against pseudo-science.
Sometimes, you just don’t want to know about the lifestyles of the tentacled.
The vampire squid lurks in the eternal midnight of the deep sea and a cloak-like web stretches between its eight arms. When threatened, it turns inside out, exposing rows of finger-like projections, called cirri. Vampire squid eat mostly “marine snow”—a mixture of dead bodies, poop, and snot. The soft cirri help the animal transfer food to its mouth, seen here in the center of the frame.
Ask an atheist, and they will tell you that religion poisons everything. There is an understanding that human nature is not fixed, but is susceptible to all kinds of influences — people make decisions based not simply on what they are, but on how they were brought up and shaped by their environment. They are likely to note that an American is most probably a Christian, not because they thought it through and worked out the logic and evidence, but simply because they were brought up in a predominantly Christian culture; if they’d been born in India they’d most likely be Hindu, in Italy Catholic, in Iran Muslim, in Sweden Lutheran, etc.
Where this awareness fizzles out, though, is in domains where we’ve absorbed and accepted the dominant worldview — suddenly, the conventions become not a plastic response to history and contingency and idiosyncratic circumstance, but “human nature” and the arguments become all about the necessity of maintaining the status quo: “that’s the way it is”, “are you some kind of freak?”, “we wouldn’t be this way if it weren’t adaptive.” There is a pressure to conform, because everyone is expected to behave the way everyone else is.
We wouldn’t hesitate to be iconoclastic if the issue is one of faith. Break it down, we’d say, shatter those chains and think for yourself. Other topics, though, are suddenly taboo. Try to go to most atheist meetings and question, for instance, conventional notions of masculinity. A significant number of those radical superstition-breakers will be appalled and start whispering about you, and divisions will form and some will cast you out. There will be references to such distinguished defenders of the fixity of gender norms as Steven Pinker and Christina Hoff Sommers when they want to appear highbrow, and mutterings about cucks and SJWs when they don’t care. They are willing to be infidels only on narrow matters of religion, but on anything else, they are as hidebound and inflexible as the most dogmatic Catholic.
But they are wrong. Masculinity is not one simple thing. There is no rulebook that says “You must have short hair; you must enjoy football; you must sneer at queers; you must eat steak and work out on weekends.” Having a penis does not imply that there is a suite of behaviors you must accept, while not having one means you cannot engage in them. There is a link between biology and behavior, but it’s weaker than you think and requires constant reinforcement from culture in order to sustain itself. We know this is true because different cultures have different notions of masculinity. There is no one true male nature.
Cartomancer has a long and thorough post on the nature of masculinity in ancient Greek culture. It’s amazing. Right there at the root of contemporary Western culture, they can’t even get this fundamental biological essentialism right — different cities had different perspectives on what it means to be a man, almost as if the Y chromosome does not dictate every aspect of your identity.
I have spent some time outlining the Homeric models of manly behaviour, because they show us threads that continued to be important in the culture of the Classical city-states of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, widely regarded as the high water mark of Greek culture. But to talk of one Greek culture is clearly a mistake. The different city states each took their shared Homeric inheritance and distorted it in different directions, placing emphasis on different aspects of their shared culture and in so doing creating different and competing conceptions of masculinity.
Spartan culture, for instance, was radically authoritarian, militaristic, anti-intellectual and anti-capitalist. Full Spartiate citizens were expected to be full-time warriors, living in communal barracks with their fellow men and spurning the trappings of wealth, comfort and sophistication. To them courage was everything, the model of Achilles their ultimate goal. The Spartan approach to courage comes across well in the saying, recorded by Plutarch, that Spartan mothers expect their sons to come back carrying their shields or on dead on top of them (that is, having won the battle or having died trying – throwing away your heavy metal hoplon shield to better escape a pursuing enemy was an unforgivable crime in Sparta). The Greek word we usually translate as “courage” is andreia – literally “manliness”, and the two were pretty much synonymous in Sparta (compare the Latin virtus, from vir, man, which is the root of our “virtue”).
They don’t say much about femininity — there’s another lengthy essay that needs to be written — but it’s too often implicit that the feminine is the mirror image of the masculine. If courage and virtue are manly traits, then women must be timid and weak, or they are violating norms. If men of other cities are less diligent in pursuing glorious death in battle, they must be “pussies”, or that universal put-down, “women”. If a woman expresses courage like a man, she must be “butch”, a “dyke”, and must therefore be ugly and less desirable as a woman.
We are soaking in these attitudes. Fire up an online video game and do poorly, and watch the reaction: you must be a “pussy” or a “fag”. It’s gotten so bad that if you merely defend the equality of women, you are a damnable SJW who is betraying men.
But we can fix that! We tried to bring up our kids to be tolerant and open and willing to explore their identities beyond blindly accepting gender-defined paths, and I think they turned out pretty good. There are sub-communities within atheism that are conscious of other ways of thinking than the default patriarchal set, just as there are better ways of thinking about the universe than the indoctrinated godly explanations. We can learn to be better and recognize the artificiality of so many conventions in our society, so we can break them. This ought to be understood as the default position of atheist organizations everywhere. No gods, no masters, no dogmas about human nature.
There’s a flip side to human plasticity, though. If we’re flexible enough that we can be made better, then we must also recognize the possibility that culture can make us worse. If atheism is liberating, it’s also true that Catholicism is persuasive, and we could be living in a society that constantly tells us we need to be more Christian (hey, we do!). If the truth is that gender roles are more complicated and less rigidly dictated by biology than many people believe, there can also be a culture that promotes the lie that there is only one true way to be a man, and we have that, too, and it harms people as badly as the most demented religion out there. It’s called the alt-right, or the manosphere, or machismo, or any of a thousand names that some will automatically accept as virtuous (it’s built into the language that man equals virtue, after all.) Abi Wilkinson reports on her experiences with toxic masculinity.
In modern parlance, this is part of the phenomenon known as the “alt-right”. More sympathetic commentators portray it as “a backlash to PC culture” and critics call it out as neofascism. Over the past year, it has been strange to see the disturbing internet subculture I’ve followed for so long enter the mainstream. The executive chairman of one of its most popular media outlets, Breitbart, has just been appointed Donald Trump’s chief of strategy, and their UK bureau chief was among the first Brits to have a meeting with the president-elect. Their figurehead – Milo Yiannopoulos – toured the country stumping for him during the campaign on his “Dangerous Faggot” tour. These people are now part of the political landscape.
On their forums I’ve read long, furious manifestos claiming that women are all sluts who “ride the cock carousel” and sleep with a series of “alpha males” until they reach the end of their sexual prime, at which point they seek out a “beta cuck” to settle down with for financial security. I’ve lurked silently on blogs dedicated to “pick-up artistry” as men argue that uppity, opinionated, feminist women – women like myself – need to be put in their place through “corrective rape”.
I know about the “men going their own way” movement, which is based around the idea that men should avoid any sort of romantic or sexual relationship with women. I’m aware of “traditional marriage” advocates, who often argue that you should aim to marry a very young woman as she’s likely to be easier to control. I also learned the difference between an “incel” who is involuntarily celibate, and a “volcel” who makes a deliberate choice to avoid sexual activity, and sometimes also masturbation, often in the belief that ejaculation depletes their testosterone and saps them of masculine power.
I’ve read their diatribes, too, and what I find dismaying is how often they cite science as somehow backing up their views, but to their minds, “science” means rationalizing their rigid and deterministic gender essentialism. Good science says no such thing. Neither does history or philosophy or sociology or anthropology or psychology. We have a responsibility to stop these lies. They are as damaging to human psychological development as dogmatic Christianity or Islam, and if you are concerned about removing obstacles to our species’ potential, as most atheists will say they are, then you have an obligation to combat the propaganda of these pseudo-scientific Y chromosome worshippers as you do the propaganda of religion.
I am haunted by a dream, a dream that is far too likely to be true, and wakes me up in the middle of the night. In this dream, my wife wakes up in the morning to find my body cold and still in the bed next to her. I feel no pain for myself — I’m dead — but I burn with the agony of loss that she feels, and the pain that wracks her when she calls our kids, and the reverberations of sadness that I will be responsible for causing. If you live life in the embrace of friends and family, you know what I’m talking about. Love and happiness exact a cost, every moment filling a pool of tears that grows deeper with our closeness, and as we grow older they well close to the surface, until…they inevitably break and fall in sorrow and grief.
I’ve been married for thirty-six years. Thirty six years of inseparable mutual devotion in which a lachrymal ocean has grown, that we work together to shore up and contain, because there will be a flood of grief when that dark shore is crossed. I can imagine some grim shadow of it. I can dread it.
And I can sympathize when the partner of long-time commenter Nerd of Redhead dies after 43 years of marriage. That is a rending I don’t want to contemplate…and yet it’s what haunts me, too.
io9 has compiled 10 most appropriate Pratchett quotes for those of us feeling a bit unhappy right now. Here’s two I really like..
Commander Vimes didn’t like the phrase “The innocent have nothing to fear,” believing the innocent had everything to fear, mostly from the guilty but in the longer term even more from those who say things like “The innocent have nothing to fear.”
There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty.
The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: ‘What’s up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don’t think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass! And at the other end of the bar the world is full of the other type of person, who has a broken glass, or a glass that has been carefully knocked over (usually by one of the people calling for a larger glass), or who had no glass at all, because they were at the back of the crowd and had failed to catch the barman’s eye.
They left out the one I’m feeling right now.
If there was anything that depressed him more than his own cynicism, it was that quite often it still wasn’t as cynical as real life.
I bet some of you have a favorite Pratchett quote. Share.