My application to BigThink

Some of you may remember the story of Satoshi Kanazawa, a “scientist” and “researcher” who made fame by raising some “tough questions” about the relationship between race, IQ, and health outcomes. He also pondered the evolutionary reasons why black women are just so damn unattractive (hint: it’s because they have so much testosterone – I’m not making that up). There was a predictable backlash against this brave scholar simply for asking “the tough questions”, and he was drummed out of academia, never to be heard from again.

But the career necromancers that are the BigThink editorial board have raised this errant genius from the depths of oblivion and have restored him to prominence on their group blog site:

Without a doubt, Satoshi Kanasawa is a willful, and highly effective, intellectual provocateur.  In his scholarship, he has boldly overstepped traditional academic disciplinary bounds to posit interconnections and relationships between our evolutionary past and psychological present that address questions very few of his colleagues are even asking, let alone attempting to answer.  In daring to ask these questions, Satoshi has made us think more than most.

His passion for endeavoring to think bigger and his deep-seeded contempt for the constraints of orthodoxy have informed a diverse body of scholarship that have turned a scientific light on an array of taboos, sacred assumptions and unquestioned — even unnoticed — realities.  Like all heretics, Satoshi has become a lightning rod for criticisms across the spectrum which has only hardened his resolve to defy convention and expectation.  In his public writing and blogging, he doesn’t posture or hedge to insulate himself from attack; on the contrary, he opts for the most extreme hypotheticals couched in the most sensitive, real-world contexts — he then stands firm and unflinching against the blowback.

Such a brave maverick! Not letting little things like “proper research design” or “understanding the topic” or “restricting your conclusions to the strength of the data” get in the way of preaching bold truths! Fuck your taboos of scientific rigour, squares! Satoshi is here to blow to roof off your narrow-minded “needing to do things correctly”! [Read more…]

A legitimate Republican

Trigger warning for rape dismissal, extreme misogyny.

So I’ve been walking around angry for the past couple of days. Undoubtedly you’ve heard the latest pearl of idiocy to drop from a member of God’s Own Party:

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Mr. Akin said of pregnancies from rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

Republican Congressman Todd Akin has decided to impart his second-hand medical wisdom on the rest of America, and undoubtedly legislate based on it. First of all, no Mr. Akin you absolutely did not get this ‘understanding’ from doctors. Nobody who has had a conversation about reproduction with any medical professional who isn’t deep in the anti-choice* camp could possibly walk away believing that the human body can recognize rape and stop conception from happening. One would think that nobody who has taken a high school sex-ed course could possibly believe this kind of mythology, but since Todd Akin is likely opposed to sex education as well, there is no inconsistency. [Read more…]

Real life race trolling

For whatever reason (I suspect a combination of relative anonymity and a general distaste for overt racism), I don’t get too many racist trolls here at the site. I thought for sure when I started I would get all kinds of “race realists” and would-be white supremacists and all sorts of slime crawling out of the woodwork. Instead, I’ve found my life sorely lacking the high-quality and high-cognition contributions of those who believe, for whatever reason, that you can tell something meaningful about someone based on the flawed genetics behind the arbitrarily-assembled social constructs we call ‘races’.

That being said, just because they’re not here, doesn’t mean they don’t exist:

A Hawkins man is claiming his civil rights and religious freedom were violated earlier this year when a black man sacked his groceries and a Big Sandy grocery store owner banned the customer from the business. DeWitt R. Thomas filed a federal lawsuit in July against Keith Langston, owner of Two Rivers Grocery & Market.

Yeah, read that over again. You weren’t wrong – the guy who did the racist thing is suing the guys who employ the victim of the racist thing. Do not adjust your internet. This isn’t even the crazy part of the story. Are you ready for the crazy party of the story? [Read more…]

I get (ridiculously sexist) e-mail

I have no idea why, but my fears of getting hate mail or death threats simply have not (yet) materialized. Knowing what I know about what happens to those who poke their heads out of anonymity long enough to point out societal racism or the need for anti-racist and feminist dialogue in a community that may not be the most welcoming to that conversation (yet), I expected the worst. What I’ve gotten instead has been nothing short of amazing. The only unprompted blog-related e-mails I get are either a) people asking me for advice on some sticky piece of ambiguity or another; or b) telling me how amazing I am. I am always happy to do what I can for the ‘a)’ people, and the ‘b)’ people consistently knock me on my ass and leave me sputtering to convey adequate thanks.

That being said, I do get a fair amount of spam from people who advertise themselves as ‘publicists’, hawking this book or that one. A lot of them are pr0-religion or talking about some miracle cure for some disease; a very precious few are about interesting and useful scientific studies; most of them, however, are useless and deleted immediately. Despite my repeated attempts to unsubscribe from whatever mailing list I’m on, they flow in at the rate of one or two a day, which I am happy to chalk up as a minor annoyance.

Until today, when I received an e-mail entitled “Fake it Till You Make It” – 10 Fantasy Football Tips Every Girl Should Know ASAP: [Read more…]

Got to find the reason, reason things went wrong…

I once attended a forum for black students held at York University, where there were a number of seminars and sessions to try to broaden the discussion and (I guess) impart some life skills. One of these forums was about developing and harnessing economic power, moderated by two women who had a successful business consulting firm. Some of the stuff was useful (invest in real estate, work closely with other black businesses to keep money ‘in the community’), while some of the stuff was a bit… different (sell your real estate and buy platinum bouillon!). In a fit of mysticism that I have found to be distressingly common among black intellectuals, they encouraged us to think of ‘money’ as part of an acronym:

Mobilize Our Natural Energy Yield

Which is, y’know… not where the word comes from, but whatever. Small quibble.

The point of the acronym was, I think, to divorce our minds from the concept that paper money is actually worth something in and of itself. Money is, and always has been, a proxy for the time and skill that goes in to the production of goods or services. Since its very early days, it has grown and expanded to represent a lot of other things as well, but at its fundamental level money is what you exchange for goods and services according to the level to which you value them.

The recent economic collapse revealed that our concept of ‘money’ had moved dangerously far away from anything resembling goods and services, and has instead mutated into a seemingly-arbitrary score that different groups use to decide who is better than the other. And when we started realizing “hey, wait a second, this whole thing is built on fairy dust and leprechaun tears”, it collapsed. But at some point, there was MONEY flowing between places, right? So where the hell did it all go? Did it just disappear into the ghost of the machine? Maybe. Then again, maybe not: [Read more…]

Good because it’s good

So maybe this makes me a ‘centrist’ (a label I abjure because my conception of a ‘centrist’ is someone who can’t make up their damn mind), but I don’t see myself as being particularly partisan. A political party or movement wins my allegiance because I agree with their ideas today, not because I agreed with their other ideas yesterday. The whole phenomenon of “my father voted Republican, his father voted Republican, and right or wrong I’ll vote Republican too” seems equal parts idiotic and insane to me. Of course, voting Republican period seems idiotic and insane to me, so whatever.

This morning I talked about my approach for Canadian health care reform, which is nowhere near as big a political football as it is among our southern cousins. The ideas I put forward, as far as I can tell, don’t belong to any political party. They could be spun as products of either conservative thinking (“it’s time to stop throwing away hard-earned taxpayer money on a bloated bureaucracy that doesn’t deliver for Canadians. Let’s reign in spending by eliminating government waste!”) or liberal thinking (“we must find a fair and equitable way to deliver health care that focuses on providing the right service to the right person at the right time!”). The ideas aren’t good because Bob Rae or Thomas Mulcair thinks they’re good (or because Stephen Harper thinks they’re bad), they’re good because they’re good.

In the same way, I find the fight over the Affordable Care Act in the USA to be patently absurd. Aside from the fact that it is a massively watered-down version of a good law, there’s really not much in there to dislike: [Read more…]

Less relevant by the minute

Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved stories. Even as an adult, I am drawn to the narrative arc – the pacing, the twists and turns of a good plot, the art of a well-crafted climax – these have always been like magic to me. In my younger days though, I was drawn to Greek mythology in a big way. It wasn’t just the fanciful tales, although I liked that aspect a lot – it was the fact that each story was attached to some kind of lesson. They weren’t just stories told for amusement – they were expositions of human foibles and an accounting of how ancient peoples saw the world.

While Aesop’s Fables are not, strictly speaking, Greek mythology, they are perhaps the best exemplar of that type of morality and psychology as taught through story that we have. While Jesus of Nazareth (supposedly) taught in parables, it can often be an arduous exercise to pick out the nuggets of useful knowledge from the heaps of nonsense (what kind of shepherd abandons an entire flock to search for a single lost sheep? A bad one, I’d imagine). The fables attributed to Aesop are far clearer and more real-to-life.

One of the most famous, at least among the secular community, is the Emperor’s New Clothes. The reason it’s famous in our clique is because it so perfectly mirrors the public perception of religion – everyone is told how important and meaningful and significant it is, but as soon as someone takes a critical look at it the whole edifice quickly unravels to reveal one naked fallacy after another. However, turned on its head, there’s another valuable lesson contained in that story. One about the vanity and blindness that accompanies unchecked power and how it can lead people into situations where they completely fucking embarrass themselves: [Read more…]

Lazy, spoiled, entitled whiners

I think if I was ever really hard up for cash, I could make a pretty decent living as a conservative columnist. It would actually be pretty easy – all I’d have to do is learn to stop thinking things through and rely on ‘common sense’ to justify all of my boneheaded, reductive, stereotypical leaps to whatever conclusion was sure to resonate with those who hadn’t bothered to learn anything about an issue. I could have made a killing opining on the Montreal protests – it was the first time most Canadians (myself included) were paying any attention to Quebec’s provincial political scene. All I’d have to do is denigrate this group or that group (maybe blame it on immigrants to boot), and collect my cheque.

Unfortunately, I am a liberal, and a skeptic liberal at that. I just don’t have it in me to pass off simplistic pseudo-explanations as statements of fact – not for money, anyway. Since announcing my intention to travel to Montreal (and a number of times since returning – and once while I was still there), I’ve had many conversations about the protests, and managed to get my counterpoints down to pretty concise talking points. [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Why we #Occupy

I have not written about the #Occupy movement in a while, owing somewhat to the disappointing failure of Occupy Vancouver to resurface at the beginning of this month. However, I have not stopped believing in the validity and necessity of the cause. I recognize that there is a Sisyphian task of convincing the general public – like a frog in a pot of gradually warming water – that there is an urgent problem that needs addressing. Most people would rather retreat to trite platitudes about ‘laziness’ and ‘entitlement’ and ‘handouts’ instead of bothering to take a moment and look around and realize that something is really rotten. The myths about hard work and achievement that this society was built on are hollow in the face of reality, but like so many other things, it is easier to perpetuate the myth than make the necessary change.

There are few people on television I find more odious and more historically unnecessary than Sean Hannity. I say ‘odious’ for reasons that I imagine are obvious to anyone who’s watched him interview anyone that isn’t Ted Nugent. He hops from ‘question’ to ‘question’ (they are actually not questions, but straight-up lies thrown at a guest who is not given a chance to respond before the next salvo is launched), reducing the interview to little more than a televised bullying session. I say ‘historically unnecessary’ because men like Hannity have always been around, arrogantly strutting and trying to pass their stereotypes off as wisdom. This is perhaps no better displayed than in this video: [Read more…]

Movie Friday: RCA, Sony, and big black cocks

Name three stereo types…

Animated gif of a young man shaking his head 'no'

No? Not even a little? All right then, let’s move on.

One of the things that stuck out for me when I was studying cognitive psychology is the extent to which our brains are happiest when they have the least amount of work to do. We have a wide variety of mechanisms evolved specifically to let our brains ‘coast’ and do as little work as possible. Stereotypes, whether about people or groups or behaviours (or anything, really) are one very popular and powerful way of classifying information without having to put a lot of thought into it. Of course, the downside of stereotypes is that they often lead us to make erroneous conclusions based on bad information.

Those stereotypes propagate, and we come to see the entire world through the lens of our own lazy ignorance. For example: [Read more…]