Rioting is the correct response to the wrong question

I understand rioting. I understand being really fucking mad about something. Anger is a natural and valuable response to certain conditions. If a lion is trying to eat your kid, for example, a sudden burst of anger that drives you to kill that lion or die trying is totally reasonable. In the modern world, we have a lot fewer lions, but there are still plenty of threats.

So if you really believe that your people, your community, your extended family, people who look like you, etc., are under literal, homicidal attack, then the most sensible thing to do is get mad as fuck about it. The sensible thing is to get so damn mad that no one will risk killing any of your people ever again, because if they do, you’ll burn their city the fuck down.

So rioting is perfectly sensible.

The only question is, do the police actually target any particular groups of people?

Well, no. They don’t. We’ve got some pretty good data on the subject (victimization surveys, etc.,) and the police really don’t seem to disproportionately kill black guys. Police have a very high encounter rate with blacks, yes, but this is largely due to blacks committing a lot of crime. (Again, victimization surveys indicate this.)

I read a story the other day about a white man who died after a police officer shot him in the stomach for not showing his ID while dropping a cat off at an animal shelter. I don’t see any riots for this guy, even though his death is just as awful as every other police brutality death.

I really do hope for less police brutality. But the narrative is a lie.

Princesses all the way Down

Doing my Chanukah/Christmas/Festivus/whateverthefuck I’m celebrating shopping. [Note: I wrote this post a while back.] Looking at the toys. Thinking about what the kids would like. Remembering my own childhood. Reflecting on Barbies, Lammily, Bratz, Princesses; Ninjago, Thomas, Super Mario Bros.

Once upon a time, I was the kind of person who stressed out a lot about the kinds of messages society sends kids, the way parents force their kids into particular molds, etc.

Then I actually had kids, didn’t get enough sleep for about 8 years and counting, and mellowed the fuck out because my priorities became things like, “What do you mean you didn’t eat lunch?” and “oh no there are no wipes in the diaper bag” and “GO TO BED IT IS PAST YOUR BEDTIME.”

I have also learned some things like, “Even though we own tons of dolls, the boys never touch them,” and “the girl likes to do everything her brothers do, but always seems to append ‘princess’ to it.”

I’m going to go out on a very sturdy limb and say that gender roles are part socialization, and part innate. Some things do appeal more to boys, on average, than to girls, on average, and vice versa. Some activities appeal more, too. And in my limited observations of my small-N and their companions, girls and boys do seem to have different basic, instinctual ways of moving and relating to the world. (Basically, boys fling themselves into action, ignore you, and get in trouble more. Girls move smoothly and thoughtfully, are responsive, and generally only need gentle reprimands because they actually seem to desire to be good.)

For the past god knows however many decades, at least two as far as I’ve been aware, there’s been a fairly constant discussion, especially on the left, about the terrible terrible ways things like Barbies and Princesses and the genderization of toys socialize girls into feminine roles and give them eating disorders and generally perpetuate all of the ills of Patriarchy. Some of these arguments have been valid; many have been very silly. (You think Barbie’s bad? Seriously? Have you visited a toy aisle lately? Let me show you some Monster High Dolls’ dimensions. Or Bratz or a half-dozen other lines that are even less realistic and skinnier than Barbie.)

Despite this, these views have gotten very popular. Take the recent success (so far) of the Lammily doll, marketed as the “realistic Barbie”. You can even buy, I shit you not, stickers to simulate stretch marks, cellulite, and acne for your kid’s doll.

(You know what I suspect kids don’t really want in their toys? Realism. That’s why bright purple ponies sell better than realistic looking toy horses. The whole point of play is that it’s imaginary.)

Despite how this might sound, this is not actually progress. (Let’s assume that we want progress, where progress = fixing all of the stuff feminists complain about.) Why? Because Lammily is a single blip in the ocean of dolls that have become even less realistic than Barbie over the past 20 years.

Once upon a time, Legos were marketed (and sold) as a basically gender neutral toy. I had Legos; you probably did, too. Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, all sorts of toys featured girls and boys on the packaging and were bought by parents of all genders. Sure, girls liked dolls and boys liked trains, but there was a lot of stuff in between. Even Disney movies aimed to be gender neutral, with such exciting flops as The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under.

Disney animation almost shut down completely under the weight of such crappy movies, until the release, in 1989, of The Little Mermaid, the first modern “princess movie” and the movie that saved Disney animation. Since then, they’ve released the occasional “Lion King”, with cross-gender appeal, (and the occasional dud, like The Hunchback of Nortre Dame, Jesus, what the hell were they thinking?) but their core success has revolved entirely around the Princesses.

Little girls love princesses. I don’t know why. I think it’s because princesses get awesome clothes and look pretty.

Lammily gets boring ass clothes and stretch marks.

When I was a kid, “princesses” were not a thing. There was She-Ra, Princess of Power, but she was a very different phenomenon. Today, it is totally normal for little girls to wear sparkly princess tutus literally everywhere. Ballet and dress-up clothes have become completely normal.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Lego released its Star Wars lines, Ninjago, etc., until finally I suspect someone looked at the shelves and said, “Gee, all of this is explicitly marketed to boys.” So to make it up, they started a line explicitly aimed at girls, the Lego Friends.

Tinkertoys comes in pink. So do Lincoln Logs. But rare is the successful Disney animation with a male lead.

My theories:
1. Little kids don’t give a crap what grownups argue about online, and marketers have figured out some successful marketing scheme.
2. The people who complain about kids’ toys aren’t generally the people with kids. People with kids don’t care, and will buy their kids whatever.
3. People who tend to complain about kids’ toys have also chosen to have very few children compared to people who are explicitly anti-feminist and pro-genderizing of toys. As a result, the current crop of kids may actually have a tendency (socially and/or genetically induced) to want to be more gendered and play with more explicitly gendered items than previous generations.

The one exception is masculine toys linked to conservative culture, like b.b. guns. Those are probably way less popular.

I Suck at Holidays

I mean, I’d like to enjoy holidays. I’m pretty sure a lot of people actually do enjoy them, so they have an abstract sort of appeal, like tomatoes. But when I bite into a real tomato, all I get is a mouthful of wretched, vile mush.

I like Halloween. Nothing horrible happens on Halloween, and costumes and candy are fun.

It’s only been in the past 2 or 3 years that I finally figured out why people exchange gifts at Christmas (and other holidays)–establishing trading/exchange networks with people in times of plenty means you can invoke those networks in times of trouble and people will think you a trustworthy trade partner who will pay them back later–and sort-of why they give each other lingerie (it has something to do with a Pavlovian association between underwear and genitals, as a means of signaling to someone that you’d like to mate with them. Frankly, that seems needlessly complicated since people can talk.) (I still don’t understand why people wear Victoria Secret’s “Pink” clothing line.)

The main point of holidays, I think, is to cement social, religious, or cultural ties. The 4th of July and Thanksgiving unite us as Americans (unless you are not an American, in which case you can substitute the best holiday you have); Christmas is about Christians and family; Passover is about Judaism and family. They’re all supposed to be fun, happy times spent with others.

To Know Thyself is the Hardest Thing

The problem with understanding oneself is not so much the internal, self-reflective aspect, but understanding others well enough to place oneself in relation to them.

For example, being a very small, shy, quiet, and generally oblivious to the world around me person, who has always felt like the rest of the world was loud and brash and big and violent, I conceived of myself, growing up, as more peaceful and less prone to violence and aggression than others.

In more recent years, I’ve come to realize that this is not quite accurate. While I do feel more fear than others, I also get madder–perhaps some exaggerated “fight or flight” response.

People are very, very bad at realizing how they compare in traits to other people. Take the Anti-Violence organizers who beat the shit out of their ex-Roommate. “…Nikole Ardeno and Emanuel Velez, who allegedly jumped the man as he was walking down the street on Tuesday. Police say the defendants kicked the victim as he was unconscious, causing him to have seizures and vomit blood.

Police Chief Chris Luppino says Ardeno was still wearing the same “Stop the Violence” T-shirt that she had on the night before when she led a march in the city protesting two recent shootings.”

I suspect these two folks do not know themselves very well.

(And I am glad to at least be able to say that I am a saint next to them.)

Unfortunately, Dumb people don’t know they’re dumb, and smart people don’t know they’re smart.

“Across four studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd.”

So the big question is, how the hell do we figure out what we are dumb about, and what we’re smart about? Or whether we actually get angry a lot and need to cool down more, or if people are just being jerks about our legitimate concerns? How do we achieve some clarity of thought about our place in reference to those around us?

Throwing Women Under the Rotherham Bus

If you haven’t heard of Rotherham, it’s a town in Britain where a major scandal recently occurred: Muslim immigrants kidnapped about 1,400 girls over the past decade, raping them and selling them into prostitution. The police had plenty of information coming in about this, but decided it was better to cover up what was happening than to actually bother to rescue anyone, out of fear that doing so would make them look racist.

If it weren’t so goddamn tragic, it’d be hilarious.

The important lesson here isn’t that immigrants are bad. Most immigrants are not bad. The important lesson is that all of the people who claim to be looking out for women did and have done jack shit about the systematic kidnapping and raping of over a thousand girls.

And, look, speaking as a female, I take that kind of personally.

So, what were the feminists doing when this broke? Oh, right, they were too busy talking about a handful of women who were sent death threats over Gamergate to pay attention to the actual violence done to over a thousand women.

A liberal, feminist acquaintance who lives in the UK recently posted, perhaps rhetorically, ‘Why are so many Brits are becoming hostile to immigrants?’ I responded, ‘Well, there was that business in Rotherham,’ and he responded that the media has been under pressure to dig up anything negative they can find on the immigrants.

Later I looked back on this exchange and thought, “Wait a minute, this person, who no doubt considers himself a good person, who believes that he cares about women, just responded to a case of over a thousand women being kidnapped and raped with some twaddle about the media looking for ways to make immigrants look bad? What the fuck?”

As far as I am concerned, feminism is fucking done. I sincerely hope that someone steps up to the plate to help women, because god knows we need it, but it certainly isn’t feminists.

The rest of the liberals are just as negligent. They have completely abandoned the notion of giving a shit about women, except when they want our votes against Republican candidates.

And conservatives, when they pop up, are still blathering on about outlawing abortion, as though this were the 1970s.

Enemies to my right, no friends to the left–what’s a girl to do?

(Incidentally, the Sierra Club recently came out in favor of increased immigration. Increasing the US population is a fine position, if you don’t happen to have trees as your supposed priority.)

(To be fair, my conservative relatives would have put a bullet into anyone who tried to kidnap me when I was a kid. That counts for a little something in my book, though it is balanced by them nearly killing each other when I was a kid.)

As for Rotherham, the lesson there is that if our ability to interact with outsiders is so bad that we’re too scared to arrest them for kidnapping, then we should not be dealing with outsiders. Let someone who is confident that they are not racist and whom you are confident is not racist handle the arresting. And if we can’t be confident that people are capable of being non-racist, then we need to seriously rethink our immigration policies, because why would we let people into our country if we think we (or our neighbors) are going to be racist toward them? People deserve to live in places where they are warmly accepted by those around them, not subject to racist assholes. And people deserve to be protected from criminals, not to have a special class that gets a free pass from the police.

Who Owns a Country?

“There have been periods where the folks who were already here suddenly say, ‘Well, I don’t want those folks,’ even though the only people who have the right to say that are some Native Americans.” — Barak Obama, 11/25/14

As I see it, a country is like a garden. Run well, the garden will make food. Run badly, you end up with a bunch of dirt.

As much as anarchist philosophy appeals to me, unfortunately, running a garden well requires at least some coherent strategy bundled up with some property rights, otherwise obvious issues arise–if you’re not guaranteed rights to your garden from year to year, you have no interest in building up the soil, and end up with dry dirt. If just anyone can come eat your produce, they probably will, and you’ll have nothing to show for your effort. If a neighbor can dump their trash on your property, they often will.

Countries are obviously more complicated than gardens, but much of a country’s success or failure depends on how well it is run. North and South Korea, for example, began with very similar conditions, but now are radically different due to communism being kinda like trying to run a country while throwing bricks at yourself.

The point of gov’t is to make running the country easier by having a coherent decision-making and executing system in place, instead of making it up from scratch or trying to get 300 million people to all cooperate at the same time. It is the gov’t’s ethical duty to look out for the interests of its citizens and run the country to their benefit, because, frankly, no one else will. If the American gov’t doesn’t take care of Americans, the Canadian gov’t is unlikely to step in and do the job.

(Note: this does not countenance aggression against other countries.)

Unfortunately, governments experience all sorts of mission creep and sometimes do dumb things like communism. Or if you’re an American, the Republicans try to take all of your produce and give it to corporations, while Democrats want to tear down your garden wall and let anyone who walks by snack on your orchard. (Leading, pathetically, to the idea that the best strategy is to try to prevent the gov’t from actually governing at all.)

As an American citizen, I assert that Americans do, in fact, have a right to determine who does an does not come over their borders. We may decide to let in anyone who wants to come. We may decide to let in no one. But that is our decision, our right to make. All of us have that right, not just the Indians.

(Last time I checked, “Indian” was the preferred term by a small margin, with “Native American” reserved for more academic uses, like Anthropology.)

I happen to have some Indian ancestry (I happen to have ancestry from a fair number of groups.) This does not mean I have any more right to determine what goes on in this country than any other citizen. A citizen is a citizen. We have equal rights.

To say that Americans don’t have the right to run their own country… You cannot say that, and still claim to be acting in the interests of Americans, the gov’t’s one and only purpose.

Of course, that does not mean the policies involved are wrong. (There is nothing to stop a dictator from imposing good policies. Unfortunately, there’s not much to stop them from imposing bad policies.)

So, how do we understand the POTUS saying something anti-democratic, and that many people would interpret as basically treasonous? Surely the president doesn’t actually have any such intentions.

To return to our previous discussion of memes, the term “American” does not necessarily mean “all citizens of the US.” Rather, the term is taken to mean the remnant population of conservative whites. I think the statement actually means, not “Americans have no right to determine who enters their country,” but “Conservative whites have no right to determine who enters this country,” which is a more sensible statement, given that there are plenty of people in the country who are not conservative whites, and might have different opinions on the matter. (It is probably not much of a coincidence that most new immigrants tend to vote for the democrats.)

Of course, when giving conservatives the finger, I think it reasonable to consider whether the policy being pursued is actually in the best interests of everyone already here, but that’s a separate matter.


So, building on last night’s potential revelation, let’s review what we may or may not know about amygdalas.

I had read (summaries of) studies indicating that conservatives have larger amygdalas than liberals. From this I concluded that amygdalas were likely to be involved in some sort of processing that produces more conservative results.

But what does the amygdala do? Articles indicated involvement in the disgust reflex. I concluded that people who are more easily disgusted are just more likely to feel disgust in response to novelty.

But, Frost brings up a good point: has the initial orientation/amygdala data been confounded by researchers failing to control for ethnicity? If researchers have classed, say, Muslims who vote Labour as liberals, then obviously the data is meaningless?

There is an to solve this conundrum: Just find some data that controls for ethnicity and measures liberalness or conservatism, (rather than use self-reported orientation). If no suitable studies exist, do one–go to some rural college, collect an ethnically similar cohort, give them a quiz about their attitudes toward novel foods and other such non-emotionally charged things that seem to correlate with political orientation, and then scan the brains of equal numbers of liberals and conservatives and see what you get. If you find some sort of correlation, repeat the experiment with other ethnicities. If you find nothing, widen your scope to compare whites from different areas, or whites who are further apart in political orientation. If you still find nothing, do a multi-ethnic study and see if the initial results were just ethnic differences in party affiliation.

Recent articles further indicate that my interpretations may have been wrong, or that the picture is more complicated than I realized, eg, Neural and cognitive characteristics of extraordinary altruists, “Functional imaging and behavioral tasks included face-emotion processing paradigms that reliably distinguish psychopathic individuals from controls. Here we show that extraordinary altruists can be distinguished from controls by their enhanced volume in right amygdala and enhanced responsiveness of this structure to fearful facial expressions, an effect that predicts superior perceptual sensitivity to these expressions. These results mirror the reduced amygdala volume and reduced responsiveness to fearful facial expressions observed in psychopathic individuals.”

This does not support my “conservatives have larger disgust reflexes becuz amygdalas,” theory, but would be consistent with a “extremely conservative people were mis-categorized as liberals in other studies,” result.

More research is necessary.

Peter Frost and Amygdalas

(I promised I’d get to this.)

Amusingly, Peter Frost, over on Evo and Proud, just recently posted, “Are liberals and conservatives differently wired?“, which describes some of the recent studies on the subject and draws conclusions broadly counter to my own. I thought you should know.

Actually, I suspect that most of the reason for or ‘disagreement’ is that we are using a different organizing schema to class people as “liberal” or “conservative.” Frost is starting with people’s self-reported affiliation, noting the differences found in the experiments, and then noting the (rather large) ethnic differences between the two groups and speculating that much of the observed difference may be primarily ethnic, rather than some grand approach to principles.

I started by first controlling for race, because otherwise (IMO) we end up smushing most of the non-whites into incorrect categories by assuming that they are voting for candidates and policies for the same reasons as whites. IE, “attitude towards blacks” and “attitude toward people who are ethnically different from yourself” might be roughly synonymous if you happen to be a white person who lives near black people, but they’re not at all synonymous if you happen to be a black person. Of course black people tend to vote for candidates who seem most likely to not be racist against black people, but that’s not the same as being liberal. (That’s just common sense.) However, since we live in a country where the majority of people are white, we tend to default toward the white POV when talking about political affiliation, and so many people who are not actually liberal at all may call themselves liberal just because they vote for the Democrats (and possibly, though I suspect less likely, vice versa.)

Any study looking for neurological differences between “liberals” and “conservatives” that just uses self-reported political orientation and doesn’t control for ethnicity seems rather dubious. If it turns out that all of my understanding of neuroprocessing is compromised, I’m going to be sad and will have to re-research everything.

Once you factor out the wonky racial dynamics, I think there is actually such thing as more or less liberal people. In the case of the British study Frost cites, I strongly suspect that the Muslims who vote Labour are actually quite conservative. Likewise, African Americans have very high rates of church attendance and strike me as fairly conservative overall, though not as conservative as most Muslims. The same is more or less also true of American Hispanics and Asians, while most white Europeans strike me as more liberal than American whites.

The Genetics of Altruism

As I touched on earlier, there is probably something genetic underlying people’s attitudes toward altruism, or at least a genetics-environment interaction.

To be clear, we are looking at the pattern of “conservatives have a small network of people whom they would sacrifice a great deal for, and a large # of people whom they don’t really care about, with a fairly sharp distinction between them” vs. “liberals have a large number of people about whom they care a moderate amount, with no sharp distinction between levels of caring,” aka “high tribalness” vs. “low tribalness”.

Lots of other people who are not me have done a TON of work on this subject, so I am not even going to attempt to summarize all they have said and done. For now, I’m just going to try to keep this short, and limit it to my own best suspicions:

Conservatives probably are, or were socialized by, people who are genetically more closely to their communities (or ancestral communities) than liberals.

In technical terms, we are talking about levels of consanguinity. In slightly more popular terms, we’d call it levels of in- or out-breeding. Unfortunately, the term “inbred” is an insult in American (western) society, because we have strong cultural norms (memes) on the subject (memes not shared with many other parts of the world, which have very different opinions on the subject of optimal marriage partners.)

To be clear: I am NOT saying, “Hur hur hur, conservatives is dums becuz they marry their cuzins.” This is a discussion of *comparative* levels of consanguinity in one’s ancestors and in one’s community, not whether or not one married one’s cousin or raped one’s sibling.

Now, a bit of necessary background: Different people (and regions of people) have different levels of consanguinity. For example, the descendants of a group of one hundred people who got stranded on a tiny island in the Pacific with no outside contact with the outside world for a thousand years, even if they have scrupulously followed the no-cousin-marriage rule, will obviously all be very closely related to each other, and genetically distinct from outsiders. Two individuals chosen at random from this island will be very genetically similar, sharing many (if not most) traits, and sharply different from outsiders.

By contrast, take a city founded at the confluence of several major trade routes, in the midst of relatively hospitable territory. People from different ethnic groups come and go in the city, marrying and leaving descendants. Any two randomly chosen citizens could easily be more closely related to and share more genetic traits with people from hundreds or thousands of miles away than with each other. So long as no one imposes segregation, a few thousand years of mixing (or a couple of generations, take your pick,) will produce a community of descendants who are distantly related to lots and lots of people, but less closely related than the islanders to their own immediate families. Where the islanders are sharply distinct from the rest of the world, the citizens blend gradually into the world.

This implies that islanders actually share more genes with their children than the citizens. Island-altruism toward one’s family or virtually anyone on the island will therefore propagate the individual’s genes. The citizens, who share fewer genes with their own children and immediate family and only a few with their neighbors, do not benefit as much genetically from altruism. The citizen who dies for their fellow citizen is closer to an evolutionary dead end, eliminating most of their altruism from the gene pool, while an islander who dies for their fellow islander has saved a much larger proportion of their genes. However, it is not in the citizen’s interest to do nothing for their fellows. After all, those guys do share some of their genes. The citizen, then, will display low-levels of altruism toward lots of people, without much ability to distinguish “us” from “them” (because there is no sharp “us” or “them”), but not massive sacrifices beyond the small level of genetic sharing. The islander will sacrifice readily for their fellows, but has no reason to sacrifice for outsiders.

Now, truely isolated islanders are a rare exception, as they are unlikely to have much of an adaptation for dealing with outsiders due to it never coming up. With no notion of “outsiders”, such communities can be quite nice–socialistic to the point of being indistinguishable from liberal communities, even. Japan comes immediately to mind. Yes, the Japanese have had a bad history of trying to conquer the outside world and I would characterize the people as generally conservative, but Japan itself is a socialisty state with far more equality and social cooperation than the US.

American conservatives, by contrast, interact with and are affected by the outside world far more. They consequently have a much more active hostility toward outsiders.

Implication: the idea that conservatives don’t support socialism is simply a side effect of living in a multi-ethnic society. Conservatives support socialism for themselves, but not for people whom they see as outsiders. (Which is, of course, genetically sensible.) Liberals support socialism for a much broader group of people, which is sensible for their genetics. The difference between these two groups in this discussion lies not so much in their treatment of their own, but in the nature of the distinction between “their own” and “not their own”, and their willingness to extend altruism beyond their own.

Disclaimer: I have followed a genetic train of reasoning here. As I noted, memes and genes go together; it’s entirely possible that we could get identical results just by raising people in tightly-knit culturally united communities or loosely-knit culturally diverse communities, with the results being entirely environmental. In reality, I suspect there exists a semi-complicated interaction between peoples’ natural inclinations and the environment they’re raised in and/or live in, where some people are well-adapted to certain environments and will thrive in them, and others are mal-adapted to those environments and become stressed out (perhaps pathologically so,) and would probably be better off elsewhere.

The Great Informationing

I’ve never been convinced by the Singularity argument (when graphs start going straight up, my assumption is that a crash is immanent,) but I do believe we are in the midst of a great period of data conglomeration via the wonders of Google, Wikipedia, Snopes, etc., etc., with the effect that many formerly disparate strands of thought will (are) finally find each other, producing new insights.

The process has most likely been going on for quite a while, of course. For evidence, I point to the general plethora of nonsense that was widely believed back in the ’80s–UFOs, faith healing, crop circles, ley lines, ESP, psychics, horoscopes, Satanic daycares, and religion in general–that has drastically declined in popularity since the internet arrived.

The potential for data conglomeration to really benefit people seems most obvious in medicine.

There are probably some downsides, of course. Our general bullshit detection modes aren’t all that advanced, after all. So there’s still a lot of nonsense wandering around. But one can hope for a brighter future.