Mary’s Monday Metazoan: A horror story

This is not a pleasant story. Sometime in the 1960s, a hunting dog shimmied up a hollow space inside a tree, presumably after some smaller animal, and when the hollow narrowed, got stuck. There was no rescue. The poor dog died of thirst, alone in the dark, and then its body was mummified by tannins in the wood, and remained there for decades until the tree was cut down. And there he was.

Now its on display in a museum, which is rather grim. I hope none of you are claustrophobes, because this would give me the heebie-jeebies.

Cadet Bone Spurs gets burned

Tammy Duckworth addresses the Republicans.

I will not be lectured about what our military needs by a five-deferment draft-dodger. And I have a message for Cadet Bone Spurs: If you cared about our military, you’d stop baiting Kim Jong Un into a war that could put 85,000 American troops and millions of innocent civilians in danger.

It’s a good speech. I do have concerns that it takes praising the military, rather than the lives of children or ordinary working people, to rouse some rudimentary sense of shame in the electorate.

What being a man means to Andrew Sullivan

It’s all about the testosterone. Testosterone is magic.

…in the years of being HIV-positive, my testosterone levels had sunk, and I decided, given my lassitude, depression, and lack of sexual desire, to go on hormone replacement therapy to get me back in a healthy range for a 30-something male. It was a fascinating experience to witness maleness literally being injected into me, giving me in a sudden jump what had been there all along, and what I now saw and felt more vividly. You get a real sense of what being a man is from an experience like that, as the rush of energy, strength, clarity, ambition, drive, impatience and, above all, horniness overcame me every two weeks in the wake of my shot. It was intoxicating. I wrote about this a couple of decades ago, in an essay I called “The He Hormone.”

Gosh, I’m glad he’s feeling well. But wait — all those things he describes are normal healthy human traits. Why is saying they are what being a man is all about? That’s weird. He’s not going to…he’s not saying…oh, crap, he is saying it.

The visceral experience opened my eyes to the sheer and immense natural difference between being a man and being a woman, and helped me understand better how nature is far more in control of us than we ever want to believe.

So Andrew Sullivan now knows what it’s like to be a woman: it’s when your testosterone is low, and you feel lassitude, depression, and lack of sexual desire. That experience qualifies him to identify the difference between men and women. Men have “energy, strength, clarity, ambition, drive, impatience and, above all, horniness”. Women lack those things. I guess you ladies just swan about limply, not knowing what to do with your lives, passively accepting whatever penis comes your way. I did not know this. I had to read the musings of a gay Catholic man to learn about the true nature of women.

I do at least agree that nature, i.e. your endocrine system, has a great deal of control over your state. This is no surprise. The problem in his ignorance is that he’s assigning positive, healthy feelings that men and women can and do experience to masculinity.

Maybe I need to explain that hormone replacement therapy is not just for macho men. Women also get HRT — only they get estrogen, not testosterone. And it can have the same kind of energizing effects on libido and activity. Both estrogen and testosterone decline with age, so getting a boost in those hormones sends a physiological signal that you’re a younger you. The mistake is to assign the advantages of youth to just one gender. Well, one mistake — Sullivan doesn’t seem to be at all concerned about side-effects of testosterone, like increased heart disease and potential effects on prostate disease. I might also worry that, given the example of his writing, testosterone shots might make you stupider.

And, oh, man, his article does get stupider. It evolves into the usual ill-informed whine about #metoo.

I mention this because in our increasingly heated debate about gender relations and the #MeToo movement, this natural reality — reflected in chromosomes and hormones no scientist disputes — is rarely discussed. It’s almost become taboo. You can spend a lifetime in gender studies and the subject will never come up. All differences between the sexes, we are now informed, are a function of the age-old oppression of women by men, of the “patriarchy” that enforces this subjugation, and of the power structures that mandate misogyny. All differences between the genders, we are told, are a function not of nature but of sexism. In fact, we are now informed by the latest generation of feminists, following the theories of Michel Foucault, that nature itself is a “social construction” designed by men to oppress women. It doesn’t actually exist. It’s merely another tool of male power and must be resisted.

In addition to now understanding the natural differences between men and women because he experience lassitude and depression, like a woman, he has now also spent a lifetime in gender studies classes to know that they never ever consider taboo subjects like chromosomes and hormones and all those biological thingies like genitals and breasts and Man’s Natural Energy and Strength. All the differences between men and women are non-existent, you see, imposed on women by the Patriarchy.

This is amazing bullshit. We seem to be oscillating between two ridiculous interpretations of feminism from people who despise the whole concept.

On the one hand, feminists are all man-haters who are all about the power of the Sisterhood, working to overthrow male dominion and turn all men into sex-slaves or eunuchs. They go on and on about the feminine power of their vulvas and put on non-stop propaganda like the Vagina Monologues. They all voted for Hillary because they know in their hearts that women are the superior sex.

On the other hand, feminists don’t believe in chromosomes or hormones, think all people are exactly alike, and consider their human ideal to be an androgynous hermaphrodite — which is what we’d all be, if it weren’t for that damned Patriarchy forcing people with a certain arrangement of chromosomes (which don’t exist) to wear pink frilly clothes and hate math.

As someone who supports feminism, and who has feminist friends who have never expressed anything even close to those caricatures, I’d appreciate a little consistency, clarity, and intelligence from critics of the movement. They seem to alternate between those two views while never recognizing that they’re mutually contradictory.

Here’s what I understand. Feminists think men and women have a range of biological differences, and they aren’t just matters of chromosomes or gonads; there are differences in behavior, sexual interests, and social interactions. All of these differences are real and should be respected, just as differences between individual men or individual women are real. There are also imaginary differences forced on people by culture; those are not “real” in the sense that they are not intrinsic to male or female bodies.

Feminists are not in the business of denying reality, like conservatives. Most women have breasts, some don’t; most men do not have breasts, others do. These are totally undisturbing facts. The problem is that some people like to insist that all women must have breasts, and no real man is allowed to, ignoring the reality and trying to force compliance against nature. That strict binary division is an example of a social construct.

Similarly, the imposition of certain expectations that must correlate with biological roles is also a social construct. Women should have long hair, but men with long hair are weak hippies. Math is masculine, sociology is feminine. Women are depressed and uninterested in sex, men are energetic and horny. Sullivan’s essay is a textbook example of this kind of reification of social constructs, equating them falsely with intrinsic biological forces. When women like sex or are good at math, they are violating Sullivan’s imaginary boundaries, and they must therefore be destroying all differences between the sexes. It’s a bizarre absolutist insistence on strict dichotomies and fixed social roles.

It’s also really stupid. Maybe Sullivan should lay off the magic hormone shots, it’s turning him into an even worse meathead.

We are all Florida now

Over at the Miami Herald, there is an article about “Twenty life lessons to be learned from the Stormy Daniels/Donald Trump affair, as illuminated by the Wall Street Journal, Slate.com and, fittingly, InTouch Weekly magazine”. The author is…Carl Hiaasen. I read it, and it suddenly sunk in that this situation is exactly what would happen in a Hiaasen novel: bumbling, incompetent crooks, corruption at all levels of government, and now I expect a resolution that does not involve the wheels of justice grinding towards certainty, but chance and chaos terminating a series of coincidences.

I also think that maybe there is something to that “whole universe is a simulation” nonsense, if we’re willing to admit that it is coded as a tragic comic-opera spiced with absurdity.

Dig into the racist circle jerk

Take a browse through Nancy McClernan’s blog, especially for the past few weeks. She’s tying all the threads together: evolutionary psychology, human biodiversity, Steve Sailer, Steven Pinker, Jerry Coyne, Phillipe Rushton, the Pioneer Fund, Arthur Jensen, The Bell Curve, all the usual suspects. It’s the ugliest bit of knitting I’ve ever seen.

One of the many interesting examples is this story about how racists tried to use sports statistics to prove the inferiority of black people — they just can’t handle the intellectual demands of playing quarterback, goes the claim. Who is the source for the statistics behind this argument? Steve Sailer.

In one of my essays, I wrote that the position a quarterback is taken in the college draft is not a reliable indicator of his performance as a professional. That was based on the work of the academic economists David Berri and Rob Simmons, who, in a paper published in The Journal of Productivity Analysis, analyze 40 years of National Football League data. Their conclusion was that the relation between aggregate quarterback performance and draft position was weak. Further, when they looked at per-play performance — in other words, when they adjusted for the fact that highly drafted quarterbacks are more likely to play more downs — they found that quarterbacks taken in positions 11 through 90 in the draft actually slightly outplay those more highly paid and lauded players taken in the draft’s top 10 positions. I found this analysis fascinating. Pinker did not. This quarterback argument, he wrote, “is simply not true.”

I wondered about the basis of Pinker’s conclusion, so I e-mailed him, asking if he could tell me where to find the scientific data that would set me straight. He very graciously wrote me back. He had three sources, he said. The first was Steve Sailer. Sailer, for the uninitiated, is a California blogger with a market research background who is perhaps best known for his belief that black people are intellectually inferior to white people. Sailer’s “proof” of the connection between draft position and performance is, I’m sure Pinker would agree, crude: his key variable is how many times a player has been named to the Pro Bowl.

If you’re citing Steve Sailer, you’re really dredging the cesspool. Do go read the rest — scroll down to the bottom of the page, there’s a list of links to this month’s posts, and they’re all good.

Bad, not mad

I like this take from Allen Frances, a psychiatrist.

Confusing mad and bad is a very dangerous precedent. It’s not at all restricted just to Trump. The National Rifle Association happens to believe that whenever there’s a mass murder, the person must have been crazy. It’s not the guns that did it; it’s the crazy person. They actually work hard to get the mentally ill more armed. There are against laws that restrict arms for the mentally ill, but then the minute there’s a serial murder, any kind of homicide, it’s the crazy person who did it, not the gun. We are criminalizing mental illness. We have 350,000 people with mental illness in jail because they couldn’t get treatment. We’re medicalizing bad behavior.

When the Harvey Weinsteins and Tiger Woods and all the others get caught with their pants down, the first claim is sex addiction: “I’ll go off for a rehab program and I’ll be cured in a month.” We’re medicalizing immorality. We’re medicalizing people who rape and say they have mental disorders. Bad behavior is part of the variety of human nature. Only a small portion of bad behaviors are done by people who are mentally ill. Most bad people are not mentally ill; most mentally ill people aren’t bad. When we confuse the two, it’s a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill. It’s terrible for them to be lumped with Trump because most of them are well-meaning and well-behaved, and Trump is neither.

I mean, the other problem with this is it treats Trump as if he’s a one-off and he’s crazy. It takes away from the fact that we’re crazy for having elected him.

The Republican party is full up with cunningly sane people — they are not insane at all. From their perspective they’re being productive and accomplishing their goals in an effective way. It’s just that their goals happen to be driven by narcissism and greed, and are destructive to everyone around them.

That last line is important. I expect the Russians were tinkering with our elections, but all they did was play into the worst features of the American electorate. If we could wall off all foreign interference, we’d still have the problems of gerrymandering and voter suppression and ignorance and xenophobia working to elect Republicans.

The wisdom of Rick and Morty

For years, I’ve been getting this constant urging to debate, debate, debate. We’re supposed to engage creationists in debate. We’re supposed to battle Nazis in debate. We’re supposed to meet bad speech with more speech, which I guess is fine, but why the fuck is the form of the speech supposed to be debate? Debate is a weirdly specific and artificial mode of interaction, it’s often not particularly effective at engaging people, and it never settles anything. I’ve noticed that creationists often prefer to set up debates, because all they’re doing is bringing in a foil who will be ignored while their chosen insipid viewpoint is given equal status with serious, scientific positions.

So why are we giving in to them and doing debates?

Now here’s a beautiful argument that addresses that issue.

Hey folks, today I’d like to talk about the alt-right, debate, and Scary Terry.

If you’re a fan of Rick and Morty, you’ll probably remember the Freddy Kruger inspired but legally distinct character of Scary Terry, and his “You can run but you can’t hide, b***h” catchphrase.

He’s mostly known for saying “b***h” at the end of every sentence, but it’s a key plot point that he keeps repeating “You can run but you can’t hide” because Rick and Morty eventually evade and defeat him by not taking his advice, and hiding from him instead of running.

And now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with anything, let alone the alt-right and debate?

Well, it’s in reference to the talking point that all leftist “SJWs” have to do is debate the alt-right, rubbish their arguments, show them up, and you’ll defeat them!

So when Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, or any other alt-right figurehead says “debate me, that’s the only way you’ll defeat me!” you need to ask yourselves one little question:

“Since when are we taking this guy’s advice on anything?”

The fact is, you can engage with their arguments, you can debunk their claims, make a mockery of their ideas, all without their involvement! Their participation is not required in any of this, you don’t need to help give them an audience for this, they are broadly irrelevant.

The alt-right, the neo-nazis, their currency is attention, they need it to thrive and for their ideas to spread. You can engage with that, without giving them an audience, without granting them participation in the process.

You don’t need to ignore them, you don’t need to stop engaging with their ideology or their rhetoric, but you do need to stop handing them the megaphone they crave. Don’t take their advice and let them set the rules.
Spencer calls for a white ethnostate, and “peaceful” ethnic cleansing.

Ok, let’s debate the idea. It’s absurd on it’s face. What happens to POC who don’t want to leave their homes? There could be no establishment of an ethnostate without violence, so it is a threat of violence.

So, remind me again why I’d need Spencer’s participation to rubbish his ideas?

It is far more effective to cut people like him out of the conversation entirely, talk about his ideas without having to deal with him, or anyone like him, in a debate setting.

Giving them platforms, agreeing to their debates, you’re just being a useful idiot and spreading their ideology for them.

I like it. Cut ’em off. Don’t bestow them the credibility of sharing an equal footing with you. There are terrible, stupid, discredited ideas out there, and the appalling nature of their arguments is not a good reason to elevate their representatives. Tear them down without promoting their proponents.

No more debates.