Is Disgust Real? (Part 2 of a series)

(See also: Part 1, Yes, Women Think Male Sexuality is Disgusting; Part 3, Disney Explains Disgust; and Part 4, Disgust vs. Aggression vs. Fertility.)

One of the theories that undergirds a large subset of my thoughts on how brains work is the idea that Disgust is a Real Thing.

I don’t just mean a mild aversion to things that smell bad, like overturned port-a-potties or that fuzzy thing you found growing in the back of the fridge that might have been lasagna, once upon a time. Even I have such aversions.

I mean reactions like screaming and looking like you are about to vomit upon finding a chicken heart in your soup; gagging at the sight of trans people or female body hair; writhing and waving your hands while removing a slug from your porch; or the claim that talking about rats at the dinner table puts you off your meal. Or more generally, people claiming, “That’s disgusting!” or “What a creep!” about things or people that obviously aren’t even stinky.

There is a parable about a deaf person watching people dance to music he can’t hear and assuming that the people have all gone mad.

For most of my life, I assumed these reactions were just some sort of complicated schtick people put on, for totally obtuse reasons. It was only about a year ago that I realized, in a flash of insight, that this disgust is a real thing that people actually feel.

I recently expressed this idea to a friend, and they stared at me in shock. (That, or they were joking.) We both agreed that chicken hearts are a perfectly normal thing to put in soup, so at least I’m not the only one confused by this.

This breakthrough happened as a result of reading a slew of neuro-political articles that I can’t find now, and it looks like the site itself might be gone, which makes me really sad. I’ve linked to at least one of them before, which means that now my old links are dead, too. Damn. Luckily, it looks like Wired has an article covering the same or similar research: Primal Propensity for Disgust Shapes Political Positions.

“The latest such finding comes from a study of people who looked at gross images, such as a man eating earthworms. Viewers who self-identified as conservative, especially those opposing gay marriage, reacted with particularly deep disgust. … Disgust is especially interesting to researchers because it’s such a fundamental sensation, an emotional building block so primal that feelings of moral repugnance originate in neurobiological processes shared with a repugnance for rotten food.”

So when people say that some moral or political thing is, “disgusting,” I don’t think they’re being metaphorical; I think they actually, literally mean that the idea of it makes them want to vomit.

Which begs the question: Why?

Simply put, I suspect that some of us have more of our brain space devoted to processing disgust than others. I can handle lab rats–or pieces of dead lab rats–without any internal reaction, I don’t care if there are trans people in my bathroom, and I suspect my sense of smell isn’t very good. My opinions on moral issues are routed primarily through what I hope are the rational, logic-making parts of my brain.

By contrast, people with stronger disgust reactions probably have more of their brain space devoted to disgust, and so are routing more of their sensory experiences through that region, and so feel strong, physical disgust in reaction to a variety of things, like people with different cultural norms than themselves. Their moral reasoning comes from a more instinctual place.

It is tempting to claim that processing things logically is superior to routing them through the disgust regions, but sometimes things are disgusting for good, evolutionarily sound reasons. Having an instinctual aversion to rats is not such a bad thing, given that they have historically been disease vectors. Most of our instincts exist to protect and help us, after all.

(See also: Part 1, Yes, Women Think Male Sexuality is Disgusting; Part 3, Disney Explains Disgust; and Part 4, Disgust vs. Aggression vs. Fertility.)

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Wimmins

main-qimg-c1a153d25950add9cb26058ac2771027

Well, I don’t hate women, but I don’t really understand them, either.

Take handbags. What is the deal with them?

I finally asked a woman why women carry handbags. She replied that she does it because she’s anxious and hauling a ton of stuff everywhere she goes makes he feel more confident.

When I want to haul a ton of stuff with me, I use a backpack. It is much more efficient and economical, and I haven’t had to buy a new one since highschool. Most of the time, though, I don’t really feel compelled to bring 20 pounds of stuff with me wherever I go, much less buy new containers for it all the time.

(It’s not that I dislike shopping so much as I dislike spending money.)

Since the internet thinks I am female, I get handbag ads:

Picture 6

I… I think that’s an add for porn. The handbag company must have gotten confused.

But what other things do women shop for? How about this helpful ad:

Picture 8

Words I normally associate with my pantry: rice, beans, spices, organization.

Words I definitely do not associate with my pantry: crazy, sexy.

Who the hell wants crazy things in their pantry? Maybe some of the “personal care” items are sexy (Boob-shaped soap? Toilet paper with penises printed on it? Vibrating tooth brush?) but what is a crazy one? And how is a “crazy” item ever a “must-have”?

Yes, I know, advertisements are lies. But they wouldn’t be making these particular lies if the lies didn’t at least occasionally work. Which means that someone out there saw “crazy sexy must have” and thought “YES I MUST HAVE THE CRAZY SEXY!”

I also get adds for clothing rental services. Like, you can rent a dress for a week and then send it back and get a new dress. If you don’t have enough dresses. Or pants. Or other clothes.

Do you know what every single woman in this entire country has enough of?

Clothes.

The mall overflows with clothes.

Women write articles about how they were so super depressed when [bad thing happened] that they didn’t buy any clothes for months. Months!

In the past three years, I think I’ve bought socks. And that was because I was headed to a wedding and at the last minute couldn’t find one of my regular socks.

Now, weddings. That’s another biggie. I hear they are a big deal with women. Like, first you have to hang out around this guy for a long time, with no knowledge of whether he wants to keep hanging out with your or is going to dump you tomorrow, and then suddenly bam, he gets down on one knee like a knight of old and gives you a rock. A sparkly rock! And like a magpie, you jump up and down and squeal with joy because you are so goddamn surprised that anyone would actually give you a rock, even though it’s actually just a boring old clear one and your favorite color is purple. Sure, it sparkles nicely, but tourmaline is way awesomer:

Tourmaline crystals
Tourmaline crystals

images

This actually a piece of amethyst, not tourmaline, but it is purple and so still interesting
This actually a piece of amethyst, not tourmaline, but it is purple and so still interesting

So, even though I can get a lovely chunk of tourmaline for 50 or 60 dollars, I’m supposed to demand that my boyfriend spend three month’s salary on one of the clear rocks or else he doesn’t love me. Three month’s salary that could have been spent on books, mind you.

Then come all of the parties. Bridal showers with chicken cloacas where people give me underwear as though I didn’t already own underwear and laugh and giggle about the prospect of my fiance seeing me in my underwear as though he hadn’t a hundred times already. A bachelorette party where… actually I don’t know what happens there. I’ve never been to one. A bachelor party where my fiance celebrates what a downer it is to be yoked sexually to me for the rest of his life by getting drunk and watching strippers, or whatever it is that people actually do at those things.

Then we spend about the cost of a new car or a tiny house or two on a big party for all of our friends. (Parties are nice, I suppose.) Of course I will spend a thousand dollars on a white gown, as though anyone in the audience could possibly be fooled into thinking I’m actually a virgin despite having lived with the guy for the past two years, and then I will never wear the damn thing again for the rest of my life. (For that much money, the dress ought to be a computer.)

And then, thank god, it’s over. I’m exhausted, you’re exhausted, and after a vacation if we can get off work, we’ll go back to living exactly like we did before.

Yes, I understand the point of marriage. I even understand the point of the wedding ceremony. What I don’t understand is why women want to spend so much money on so much useless stuff.

And don’t get me started on the diet ads… I hate diet ads.

Moderates are Dumb, Trapped in a Random World

It’s 104 degrees outside. I am not adapted to this heat and I am not pleased. So I have a global warming-related graph for you today:

From Yale Alumni Mag, "What do Americans think about global warming?"
From Yale Alumni Mag, “What do Americans think about global warming?

It’s a pity the text on the image is so small. I’m going to try to replicate it, just in case you’re having trouble reading the caption:

Stable: Earth’s climate system is very stale. Global warming will have little or no effects.

Random: Earth’s climate is random. We do not know what will happen.

Fragile: Earth’s climate is delicately balanced. Small amounts of global warming will have abrupt and catastrophic effects.

Gradual: Earth’s climate is gradual to change. [?] Global warming will gradually lead to dangerous effects.

Threshold: Earth’s climate is stable within certain limits. If global warming is small, climate will return to a stable balance; if it is large, there will be dangerous effects.

In case you are wondering how big each group is, here you go:

leiserowitz_6-americas

The left to right ordering of the bubbles is probably not coincidental: global warming believers tend to be liberals, while deniers tend to be conservative. The disengaged, cautious, and doubtful tend toward political moderatism, not picking either obvious side.

Amusingly, I consider myself a political moderate, though to be fair, it’s a moderatism of considering myself “somewhere between anarchism and fascism.”

Some people are “moderates” because they just don’t want to get into annoying arguments with others, a position I find very reasonable in this day and age. But others are moderates because they just aren’t smart enough to make sense of either side’s arguments.

The Disengageds and their neighbors are the most likely to favor the Random hypothesis: the climate is totally random and we can’t predict it at all.

I suspect this is what life is actually like for unintelligent people: stuff seems to happens for no particularly coherent reasons at all.

IQ tests measure, among other things, your ability to figure out patterns. Finding patterns in data and making non-obvious connections requires cleverness and insight. For those not gifted with such skills, many of life’s events seem simply random.

It’s all about the patterns.

Yes, Women think male Sexuality is Disgusting (Part one of a series)

(See also: Part 2, Is Disgust Real?; Part 3, Disney Explains Disgust, and Part 4, Disgust vs. Aggression vs. Fertility.)

And they ought to.

So, I’m going to let you in on a little not-so-secret: childbirth is horrendously painful. Don’t believe those bastards with their natural birth hoo-ha. There is nothing magical or wonderful about childbirth. You bleed copiously, you can barely walk for the next two weeks, and before modern medicine, you stood a good chance of dying in the process.

The US’s homicide rate is 4.7 deaths per 100,000 people per year. The UK’s is 1. Japan’s is 0.3. (Source.)

The “developed nations” have a maternal mortality rate of 16 women per 100,000 births. (Source.) (Note that one woman may give birth to more than one child in her lifetime.)

The “developing nations” have a maternal mortality rate of 230 per 100,000 births (and a much higher number of children per woman,) and some countries have maternal mortality rates around 1,000 per 100,000 births. If the average woman in these countries has 5-7 children, that works out to 5-7% of women dying in childbirth. (Though not every year.)

In other words, in the state of nature, childbirth is kind of like being stuck in the middle of WWII.

 

Let’s consider the male side of things. Given enough available females, a male could, hypothetically, sire one child every night for 30 years, resulting in 10,957 children, plus or minus a couple depending on the leap years. We’ll call 11,000 our “hypothetical male maximum.”

The man stands approximately zero chance of dying in the process of siring children, does not endure pregnancy or childbirth, and even if he depends on someone else to do all of the childcare for him, he still has a reasonable chance at his offspring making it to maturity. (After all, Genghis Khan didn’t get to be the most evolutionarily successful man in recent history by raising all of his bastards.)

In other words, for men, there is basically zero cost to impregnating a woman (other than, obviously, finding one.) Even under harsh economic/environmental conditions, every additional woman a man mates with is an additional chance at offspring. The only limiting factor is how many women he can convince to mate with him.

A woman, by contrast, can produce at max only about 20 children (9 months gestation + 6 months nursing / 25 years fertility). (State of nature does not have baby formula.) She needs a maximum of 20 mates, and can make do with <1 if she has to share.

Where the male number of potential offspring is practically limitless, by human standards, the female is decidedly limited. Which means that women must be picky. A male who has sex once with someone kind of meh is not seriously limiting his ability to have tons of awesome children. A woman who has sex with a guy who’s kind of meh is potentially wasting one of her very limited chances of having children on a loser.

Note: I am not claiming that 11,000 is a realistic number. Obviously even Genghis Khan himself probably didn’t have 11,000 children. The point is that male and female reproduction are vastly different, creating very different incentives.

The average male has approximately zero to lose and all the offspring to gain from a random fling, and thus is mentally ready to consider the majority of women as potential mates. If some of those women happen to not be particularly attractive, well, it’s no big loss.

Women, by contrast, endure high-risk pregnancies and births, for a very limited set of children. They therefore cannot risk having children with inferior males.

So it is in the male’s interest to mate with everyone in sight, but in a woman’s interests to eliminate the vast, vast majority of potential mates, winnowing her selection down to the best 1-4.

Which means that all other potential suitors, whether they’re 14 men in a small hunter-gatherer band or 4 million men in Tokyo, are sexually useless.

In fact, they’re less than useless: they’re a threat. Because it takes only one act of violence for one of those men to get another potential offspring, and for a woman to lose one of hers.

The difference between optimal male and optimal female strategies leads to conflict–not just between men and women, but also between men and men. If one man mates with 550 to 11,000 women, (11,000/20 children per woman = 550), that implies that 549 to 10,999 men are not mating with those women. And those men are going to be pretty pissed.

Monogamy is one of the more elegant solutions to this issue. The relative guarantee of one mate per person reduces conflict and increases parental investment in the children. But monogamy requires fidelity–reducing female interest in the sexual desires of the majority of men even further.

Disgust in the face of unnecessary male sexual attention helps keep women loyal to their husbands and protects their long-term evolutionary interests, even if people express it in really annoying ways.

(See also: Part 2, Is Disgust Real?; Part 3, Disney Explains Disgust, and Part 4, Disgust vs. Aggression vs. Fertility.)

Open thread / Links / Aaargh

So I wrote this great (by my standards, anyway,) post, and then there was a glitch and it disappeared. Totes frustrating.

So while I re-write it, here’s an Open Thread / Links post. Feel free to chit-chat, ask questions, whatever. Just keep things civil or whatever.

Some things I’ve been reading:

1. The incredible story of one couple’s trip across the Democratic Republic of Congo: Lubumbashi to Kinshasa. (I actually read this a while ago, but have been meaning to recommend it.) Story is notable in several ways:

A. The raw descriptions of what life is actually like in the heart of the DRC, where even Coca Cola can’t go because there are no roads.

B. The perspectives on what has happened since the end of colonialism (basically, the collapse or outright destruction of colonial infrastructure like roads and buildings):

When I walk around our cities, I often think about what their ruins will look like to explorers in a thousand years
“We also pass a ruin of what once must have been a grand building. The walls are marked with logos from a Belgian University. This must have once been some scientific study centre of sorts.”

 

C. It was the first thing I’d read in about a decade that gave an actually positive impression of religion.

 

2. Real History of the World, which is kind of like my blog, but devoted to the conspiracy theory that all human life began in Africa and then spread out from there to the rest of the world. “But wait,” I hear you saying, “Isn’t that, like, the accepted scientific consensus on the origins of humanity?” Why yes, yes it is. But Real History of the World thinks that “they” (“albinos”) are trying to keep you from knowing that.

Their site is part actually accurate, part inaccurate (jfc, “Black Celts” are not black-skinned people, they are Welsh people with dark hair like Catherine Zeta-Jones:

This is what the old books mean by "Black Celts"
This is what the old books mean by “Black Celts”)

and part insight into the irrational paranoia of people who hate you.

This website is a good demonstration, btw, why I don’t believe conspiracy theories.

 

3. More perspectives on people who hate you (or at least me): Black Girl Dangerous’s This Is What Rihanna’s BBHMM Video Says About Black Women, White Women and Feminism

Still from Rhianna's music video about torturing a white woman for money
Still from Rhianna’s music video about torturing a white woman for money

“Yes, there are images of a woman being kidnapped, held hostage, and even hung upside down from the ceiling while topless. These are the kinds of images we see a lot in violent revenge films. They can be upsetting and harmful. I didn’t like seeing them here. But they’re also not the entire story.

Let me tell you what I see when I watch this video: I see a black woman putting her own well-being above the well-being of a white woman. …

if a white woman has to suffer some so that she, a black woman, can survive, so be it. After all, white women have been surviving on our suffering for hundreds of years.” –Black Girl Dangerous (Her bold, not mine.)

Feminists declaring themselves “allies” with people who beat, rape, and murder women is, of course, as much a betrayal of feminism’s goals as Anarchist communities getting taken over by Marxists.

 

4. Rushton’s Race, Evolution and Behavior: A Life History Perspective (second abridged edition.)

Rushton lays out an impressive array of data in support of his theory that different branches of the human family tree (whites, blacks, and Asians,) mature at different rates (eg, different gestation lengths) and have different r/k reproduction strategies.

On a similar note, “Multiplication is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children is actually an anti-racist book. I only read the first few pages before I had to leave the bookstore, but the author had some interesting, Rushton-supporting information about cross-cultural infant development rates, including early crawling in African infants.

 

5. Next, I am totally going to finish Moby Dick.

In Defense of Planned Parenthood

Abortion and birth control are important tools in the ultimate human thriving toolkit.

Unless you want to eliminate all the robots and go back to agricultural labor (which is not going to get you an interstellar society,) you will have to deal, somehow, with all of the humans who don’t have the chops to survive in society. Letting people starve in the streets is inhumane and inspires people to fund large social welfare states, which may have negative long-term effects.

Historically, death rates were very high, especially infant mortality. My great-great grandparents lost over half of their 16 children before the age of five; such was normal.

The effects of declining infant mortality are happy parents, of course, but also long-term degradation of the gene pool, overpopulation, and eventual systemic collapse as we burn through the Earth’s resources. We’re already seeing this, both in increasing reaction times (it looks like Whites are getting dumber, and Ashkenazi IQ is probably plummeting, relatively speaking,) and the flooding of high-breeding peoples out of their exhausted biomes into fresh territory to consume (to the detriment of those trying to maintain a non-degraded biome.)

As I believe I have mentioned before, there is nothing like a parenting forum to convince you that parents are idiots. Unfortunately, a very large percentage of people become parents because they are too dumb not to.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who tried to reassure me that this was not a problem. “Don’t worry,” they said. “Dumb people have always had more kids than smart people.”

“No,” I said. “No no no. Dumb people did not historically have more kids than smart people.” History was brutal; 20-50% infant mortality was the norm, and people who did a better job taking care of and providing for their children had more children who made it to adulthood than those who didn’t.

No one in their right mind wants to simply eliminate all maternal and childhood medical care (and hygiene) so we can return to the age of high infant mortality. There are far better solutions than giving everyone Smallpox and seeing who makes it. But you also do not want a situation where the primary barrier to reproduction is actually intelligence.

The obvious solution is free IUDs for everyone. Globally. The long-term planners will get theirs removed when they’re ready to have children, and the short term planners will be able to go about their business without making “oopsies.” People who want 18 children will still be able to have 18 children, but people who don’t have the resources to support children don’t have to have any.

Abortion also plays an important role in the maintenance of modern society. Ideally, free abundant birth control would eliminate most of the need for abortion, but there will always be mistakes, medical complications, and non-viable fetuses of various sorts. Eliminate these earlier, not later.

These are not the children of intelligent, healthy, well-adjusted people who have some weird phobia of childbirth. These are fetuses with health problems and fetuses whose parents don’t have the resources, mentally or physically, to take care of them. The apple does not fall far from the tree, and genetically, those children will inherit their parents’ traits. If you are not volunteering to raise those fetuses (and their fetuses) yourself, then I think you should give some serious thought to who you think will.

After all is said and done, I don’t care what Planned Parenthood does with aborted fetuses, so long as they’re disposed of hygienically. They’re already dead, for goodness sakes.

The Utility of Anxiety

Disclaimer time: I am not a doctor. I am not a psychologist/psychiatrist. If you have a mental illness/disorder/concerns, take them up with a trained professional who knows what they’re talking about. For the love of god, DO NOT make medical/mental health decisions based on my speculative babbling about what might have been useful to our ancestors.

Carrying on…

Americans are an anxious people.

According to the Kim Foundation (I don’t actually know who they are, but they are the first hit that comes up when you Google “Percent Americans with anxiety,”) about 18% of us have some form of anxiety disorder, such as, “panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and phobias.”

An additional 10% of us have mood disorders, eg, “major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder.”

(The Anxiety and Depression Association of America gives the same stat, citing the National Institute of Mental Health as their source.) The NIMH made some lovely graphs:

 

NCS-R_AnxietyDisorders-Chart2-360_147928_2 NCS-R_AnxietyDisorders-Chart1-360_147927_2

Also from the NIMH:

NSDUH_AMI-_2012_GRAPH_148270_2

There’s a lot of interesting data in this graph. For simplicity’s sake, from here on out, when I say, “Women,” I am referring primarily to “white women,” but remember that no group is entirely lacking in crazy.

Also, the graphs for mood disorders:

NCS-R_MoodDisorders-Chart2-360_148105_1 NCS-R_MoodDisorders-Chart1-360_148104_1

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, those numbers don’t add up!”

They don’t have to add up. You can get diagnosed with two things at once. Or five. It just depends on how often you go pester the shrinks.

It’s no secret that women are kind of crazy, but I still find the numbers a little shocking. According to the Huffington Post, 25% of women are on psychiatric drugs of some sort. The article also claims that, “One in four women is on antidepressants,” so I guess 100% of women taking psychiatric drugs are on anti-depressants, or the math got fucked up somewhere.

Why do 22-25% of women feel so bad that they need psychiatric medication just to deal with their lives? (Not to mention 15% of men.)

Some quick possibilities:

1. Shrinks are handing out pills like crazy, whether patients are actually mentally ill or not, because who wouldn’t like to be happier and better-adjusted?

2. Something about modern life makes people (especially white women) very anxious.

3. Highly anxious people are a side effect of low infant mortality + the baby boom expanding the class of parents.

4. Anxiety/depression are actually adaptive, and so we are supposed to feel this way.

5. Some combination of all of the above.

Personally, I lean toward #5.

Now, a quick aside: I don’t really like feelings. Oh, sure, I’m okay with the good ones. Happiness, love, joy, enthusiasm, sure, I like those. But the rest of the feelings I could generally do without. I especially dislike other people’s emotions. “I am having a sad,” translates all too quickly into, “I am yelling at you.” So, as I stated at the beginning, if you think you need help handling your emotions, or the people around you think you do, please consider getting help. You don’t have to live in pain.

That said, I think anxiety is supposed to serve some purpose that modern conditions have gotten out of whack.

I have already posted about how depression, in small quantities, may help keep us out of trouble and sleep through the long European winters. In general, there are a lot of traits where I think a little bit may be beneficial, even though a lot is damaging.

So what purpose could anxiety serve?

According to WebMD, the most common causes of anxiety include:

  • Stress at work
  • Stress from school
  • Stress in a personal relationship such as marriage
  • Financial stress
  • Stress from an emotional trauma such as the death of a loved one
  • Stress from a serious medical illness
  • Side effect of drugs, legal or otherwise
  • Medical symptom, eg, low oxygen

The last three I consider perfectly rational biological responses–it’s very understandable that someone who can’t breathe feels anxious. But other than coffee, I doubt these are seriously affecting the overall anxiety rates.

That leaves us with “stress,” (which is basically a synonym for “anxiety”) from pretty much every part of life. Almost 20% of women cannot cope with work/school/relationships/finances without medication. It is tempting, therefore, to think that our entire modern lifestyle, from large, dense cities to two-income households could not exist without medicating women into not freaking out.

But why would they freak out in the first place?

Biochemically, “stress” is the feeling of your body responding to threatening or potentially threatening situations via your “fight or flight” response. In nature, fight or flight is very useful: it prepares you to run for your life or fight to the death. According to Wikipedia, Fight or Flight works like this:

The reaction begins in the amygdala, which triggers a neural response in the hypothalamus. The initial reaction is followed by activation of the pituitary gland and secretion of the hormone ACTH. The adrenal gland is activated almost simultaneously and releases the neurotransmitter epinephrine. The release of chemical messengers results in the production of the hormone cortisol, which increases blood pressure, blood sugar, and suppresses the immune system. The initial response and subsequent reactions are triggered in an effort to create a boost of energy. This boost of energy is activated by epinephrine binding to liver cells and the subsequent production of glucose. Additionally, the circulation of cortisol functions to turn fatty acids into available energy, which prepares muscles throughout the body for response. Catecholamine hormones, such as adrenaline (epinephrine) or noradrenaline (norepinephrine), facilitate immediate physical reactions associated with a preparation for violent muscular action.

Oh, look, it’s our old friend, the amygdala! (See also here, here and here.)

According to Neuropolitics,

The basolateral amygdala has been linked to conditioned fear and disgust learning, while the central amygdala has been linked to conditioned fear learning. … liberals had elevated amydalar responses to the viewing of a political commercial about nuclear war.

Hart et al. (2000) selected an equal number of blacks and whites, repeatedly showing them pictures of white and black faces while performing fMRI. They noted: “across all subjects, we observed significantly greater…BOLD signal in the amygdala to outgroup vs ingroup faces, but only during later stimulus presentations. …

Further, Phelps found that activation in the left amygdala and right amygdala (all the way to the insular cortex) were correlated with a negative bias towards black faces on the Implicit Association Test.”

Last time I took an implicit association test, it told me that I prefer fat people over skinny and blacks over whites. I don’t know why everyone else fails these things.

the only region that was activated in both the Implicit Association and Startle Eyeblink tests was the left-superior amygdala. … Phelps noted: “the region in the amygdala most strongly correlated with negative evaluation [of black faces] was the left-superior amygdala”.

Richeson et al. (2003) performed an fMRI investigation of the impact of interracial contact on executive function, and uncovered a critical findings with regards to racial prejudice: it is inhibited by right hemispheric neural networks such as the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate. Richeson’s findings of a right-hemispheric network that inhibits racial prejudice shows the push-pull mechanism of the amygdala and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, especially on the right side.

… Cunningham used two different exposure periods: an subconscious exposure of 30 milliseconds; and, a conscious exposure of 525 milliseconds. During the subconscious exposure, which was not long enough for most of the subjects to even be aware of the black and white face photos, Cunningham found the right amygdala to be activated in the black minus white condition, … Longer presentations of racial stimuli favor activation in the left amygdala, at least according to Phelps.

But with the 525 millisecond presentation, the amygdala’s racial responsiveness was inhibited, meaning it didn’t take very long for another area in the brain to assume control. And that region was located predominately in the right hemisphere, confirming the work of Richeson. Cunningham noted: “the regions Richeson et al. identified as underlying the control of prejudice were nearly identical to the regions identified in this study as being associated with modulation of automatic evaluations”.

Here is where I get speculative:

When we meet another human, we automatically assess whether they are a threat or not. If we know them well or they look like someone we know (and like), they go into the “not a threat” category. If they don’t look familiar, they go into the “might be a threat” box, and your body begins preparing to run/fight for your life.

Your brain makes this assessment subconsciously and begins preparing your fight or flight response before your conscious networks have even kicked in. Your conscious networks appear to be trying to override your unconscious ones–perhaps by just rationally evaluating potential threat, or perhaps by yelling at your amygdala to stop being so racist.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this mental push-pull between the amygdala and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex created more stress. 

Men seem to cope better than women with stress and aggression. They have a naturally higher aggression “set point” due to being descended from the men who killed all the other men. Aggression has historically been a winning strategy for men, but not women. Aggressive women, historically, were more likely to kill their own children or, if pregnant, get their children killed by someone else. Being the smallest, weakest person around makes aggression a losing strategy.

Personal anecdote time: In my younger, dumber days, I was a lot more aggressive than I am now. Not so much in real life, because men are bigger than me and I’m not dumb. But in the relative safety of the internet, certainly. Then I got pregnant. Suddenly, I couldn’t stand aggression. I remember watching a YouTube video of police aggression. My heart started racing. My palms were sweating. I was reacting as though the aggression were in the same room with me, not a recording on a little screen of something that happened hundreds of miles away. After that, I stopped watching TV News and stopped fighting with random strangers on the internet. I couldn’t take them anymore.

Aggression is useful for finding mates, because it gets people out of the house and helps them talk to each other. Sometimes it also results in punching.

Pregnant women have no need for aggression. They have already found a mate, and now they need to keep him. (Mates are very useful for bringing you food during that healing period after birth.) Further, pregnant women need to protect their fetuses (and later, babies.) The mother needs aggression only to save her own life or her child’s life.

School, work, corporations, and daily city life all involve being constantly around hundreds if not thousands of unrelated people. And as you probably already know, trust and diversity are negatively correlated. (Or just read the book.)

Corporations are stressful because they’re full of aggressive men, who interrupt more, take credit for other people’s accomplishments, are noisy, and use their physical size to intimidate each other. Women respond to this in a variety of ways you’re already familiar with, including the consumption of large quantities of Xanax to keep them from freaking out and having a meltdown every time a strange man gets into an elevator with them.


You know what? This… isn’t helping.

Neither are these:

Carmen Tarleton, white woman whose ex husband doused her with lye and beat her with a baseball bat
Carmen Tarleton, white woman whose ex husband doused her with lye and beat her with a baseball bat
Carmen Tarleton's ex husband, who will not be executed.
Carmen Tarleton’s ex husband, who will not be executed.
Still from Rhianna's music video about torturing a white woman for money
Still from Rhianna’s “empowering” music video about torturing a white woman

Anxiety exists because it helped our ancestors avoid dangerous situations, but modern life basically requires spending high amounts of time in anxiety-inducing situations. Some people eventually learn not to freak out and suppress their instincts, but for many people, repeated stimulus exposure only makes things worse.

 

But aside from preparing people to flee or fight,  I suspect that anxiety serves another purpose: it forces women to do whatever it takes to remain part of the group, the tribe, because the tribe is survival, and outside the tribe is nothing but the howling wind and empty, barren waste. Female survival and evolutionary success has not historically depended on dominating the tribe, but on not getting kicked out.

Anxiety does not manifest itself as a rational response. Someone else does something wrong, you tell them not to, and afterward, you feel anxious. Objectively, you are in the right. The other person did something wrong. But your emotions tell a different story. Your emotions say that you are wrong. This is because you are not at peace with your tribe, with your friend or family member.

Or let us suppose that you say something innocently, even helpfully to another person, and they take it the wrong way and become angry and yell at you. Afterwards, do you feel mad at them? Or do you just feel unhappy that they are feeling so unhappy?

Okay, maybe not you, my faithful reader. You probably aren’t female.

Anxiety is one of those things that I suspect is good in moderation. A bit of concern for safety makes people pay attention as they go about their business. Double-checking that the locks are locked and the stove is off before going to bed could save your life. Being willing to put aside hurt feelings and make amends with others makes life more pleasant, and is probably crucial to living in large communities. Taken in excess, any of these behaviors becomes debilitating–the person develops agoraphobia, OCD, or pathological unwillingness to stick up for themselves.

A small amount of anxiety may also be useful in getting people to pay attention to little details. It’s making sure that all of the is are dotted and ts are crossed that makes sure airplanes stay in the air, after all.

Peter Frost has laid out a series of posts on guilt, and by contrast, shame. Now, here I must make a confession: I lack an intuitive sense of the distinction he is drawing between guilt and shame, or perhaps just lack sufficient exposure to “shame cultures” to really get it. Regardless, I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to suspect that “guilt” and “anxiety” may be deeply linked.

Frost proposes that, “Pervasive feelings of guilt are part of a behavioral package that enabled Northwest Europeans to adapt to complex social environments where kinship is less important and where rules of correct behavior must be obeyed with a minimum of surveillance.” 

While most commentator posit the European guilt complex arose in response to specific events, eg, the Holocaust, Frost traces it back to a much earlier time, citing, for example, Aelfric of Eynsham, an English abbot born in 955:

He who cannot because of shame confess his faults to one man, then it must shame him before the heaven-dwellers and the earth-dwellers and the hell-dwellers, and the shame for him will be endless. (Bedingfield, 2002, p. 80)

And The Song of Beowulf:

That was sorrow to the good man’s soul, greatest of griefs to the heart. The wise man thought that, breaking established law, he had bitterly angered God, the Lord everlasting. His breast was troubled within by dark thoughts, as was not his wont.

(Personally, I’ve always thought Grendel was a metaphor for plague, and Beowulf plunging into the lake represents a human sacrifice by drowning/throwing the sacrificed victim into the lake to appease the gods, but I am really not an Anglo Saxon culture expert.)

Frost pushes back the potential beginnings of guilt culture even further, to the semi-sedentary Scandinavian/Baltic hunter-gatherer/fishing communities of 8,500 years ago. He suggests that in this environment, guilt made people cooperate, Prisoner’s Dilemma-style, and community sanctions against defectors ensured that they stayed a low enough percent of the population that they couldn’t take advantage of the folks who felt a lot of guilt. Quoting Frost:

What is to stop some individuals from exploiting the guilt proneness of others while feeling no guilt themselves? This free-rider dilemma may have been resolved in part by identifying such individuals and ostracizing them. It may also be that these semi-sedentary communities were conducive to evolution of altruistic behavior, as described by Maynard Smith’s haystack model (Wikipedia, 2013). According to this model, guilt-prone individuals are at a disadvantage within any one community and will thus become fewer and fewer with each generation. If, however, a community has a high proportion of guilt-prone individuals, it will have an advantage over other communities and thus expand in numbers at their expense. And if these communities disperse and regroup on a regular basis, the overall proportion of guilt-prone individuals will increase over time. …

There is an obvious issue that arises if a guilt-ridden society suddenly obtains a large number of individuals who don’t buy into the whole guilt complex.

… it was the hunter-fisher-gatherers of the North Sea and the Baltic who led the way to behavioral modernity, i.e., individualism, reduced emphasis on kinship, and the market as the main organizing principle of social and economic life. Their mode of subsistence was not wiped out by agriculture, unless one sees fishing as a kind of farming. They not only survived, but also went on to create what we now call the Western World. Not bad for a bunch of losers.

The guilt complex is obviously deep in Christianity. My researches so far have not revealed a similar guilt complex in other religions, though to be fair, Hinduism is vast and well beyond my understanding. IMO, some Christians take this guilt to an unhealthy level:

Self-flagellation, from the Wikipedia
Self-flagellation, from the Wikipedia

The Wikipedia further claims:

Some members of strict monastic orders, and some members of the Catholic lay organization Opus Dei, practice mild self-flagellation using an instrument called a “discipline”, a cattail whip usually made of knotted cords, which is flung over the shoulders repeatedly during private prayer. Pope John Paul II took the discipline regularly.

The Wikipedia page on Flagellantism, a Medieval Religious movement, deserves reading in its own right, but I will try to quote a representative bit here:

The 11th-century zealot Dominicus Loricatus repeated the entire Psalter twenty times in one week, accompanying each psalm with a hundred lash-strokes to his back. … The movement did not have a central doctrine or overall leaders, but a popular passion for the movement occurred all over Europe in separate outbreaks. … The prime cause of the Perugia episode is unclear, but it followed an outbreak of an epidemic and chroniclers report how the mania spread throughout almost all the people of the city. Thousands of citizens gathered in great processions, singing and with crosses and banners, they marched throughout the city whipping themselves. … The movement spread across Northern Italy, up to 10,000 strong groups processing in Modena, Bologna, Reggio and Parma …

The German and Low Countries movement … established their camps in fields near towns and held their rituals twice a day. The ritual began with the reading of a letter, claimed to have been delivered by an angel and justifying the Flagellants’ activities. Next the followers would fall to their knees and scourge themselves, gesturing with their free hands to indicate their sin and striking themselves rhythmically to songs, known as Geisslerlieder, until blood flowed. Sometimes the blood was soaked up in rags and treated as a holy relic. … some towns began to notice that sometimes Flagellants brought plague to towns where it had not yet surfaced. Therefore later they were denied entry. They responded with increased physical penance.

The anchorites were early hermits/monks who were literally walled into tiny rooms they never left for the rest of their lives:

The original Tiny House
Medieval illustration of anchorite cell

Maybe if Xanax had existed in Medieval Europe, people would have been less prone to walling themselves up in churches.

Note that self-flagellation and anchoritism are not rational responses to life in Medieval Europe–not only do they not solve problems like the Black Death, they may have exacerbated them. They are extreme emotional responses to overwhelming feelings of guilt and anxiety.

Properly balanced, guilt and anxiety can prompt people to treat each other fairly and be attentive in their work. Unbalanced, the individual (or society,) becomes unhinged. They start demanding that their own societies be destroyed because they they must have done something wrong to have more advanced tech than other societies, or groveling for forgiveness for things they didn’t even do:

white woman begs forgiveness

White woman begs forgiveness for slavery

Anxiety and guilt have their good sides. Society probably couldn’t exist without them. But they have to be in balance.

Somali Autism

Approximately one in 88 children has been diagnosed with autism, but in Minnesota, one in 32 Somali children and one in 36 white children have the condition.

A recent study–the Minneapolis Somali Autism Spectrum Disorder Project–reviewed the diagnosis paperwork to make sure the autism diagnoses were accurate, and concluded that they are. They did not go interviewing kids in search of symptoms, just looked at the records of people who’d already been diagnosed.

According to the NY Times, “But the Somali children were less likely than the whites to be “high-functioning” and more likely to have I.Q.s below 70. (The average I.Q. score is 100.) The study offered no explanation of the statistics.”

Well that one seems obvious: average Somali IQ is probably below 70.

Supply your own map if you feel like it
Average IQ by Country, from Memolition

Also, “While some children back home had the same problems children everywhere do, parents said, autism was so unfamiliar that there was no Somali word for it until “otismo” was coined in Minnesota.”

You might think it’s just something in the Minneapolis water supply, but another study, this one from Sweden, found something similar:

Children of migrant parents were at increased risk of low-functioning autism (odds ratio (OR) = 1.5, 95% CI 1.3-1.7); this risk was highest when parents migrated from regions with a low human development index, and peaked when migration occurred around pregnancy (OR = 2.3, 95% CI 1.7-3.0). A decreased risk of high-functioning autism was observed in children of migrant parents, regardless of area of origin or timing of migration. … Environmental factors associated with migration may contribute to the development of autism presenting with comorbid intellectual disability, especially when acting in utero. High- and low-functioning autism may have partly different aetiologies, and should be studied separately.

So what’s up with white kids with autism? Did they get screwed by migration, too?

There is one thing that Minneapolis and Sweden do have in common: lack of sunlight. Somalis may be particularly at risk of Vitamin D deficit, or some other disorder caused by differences in the night-day cycle at different latitudes.

But again, whites have similar rates of autism despite having had thousands of years to adjust to high-latitude winters, while African Americans, who ought to be more similar to the Somalis in their winter/light adaptions, have much lower rates.

In fact, I can’t really think of anything that whites in Minnesota and Somalis in Minnesota might have in common that they wouldn’t also have in common with African Americans in Minnesota. Or Sweden.

The obvious solution is that Somali autism might just be caused by totally different stuff than white autism. Perhaps migration itself caused the high Somali autism rates, or the stress and trauma of war and dislocation. Or it could have something to do with the Somali preference for cousin marriage, but perhaps the autistic kids never got noticed back in Somalia because of high infant mortality rates.

The Insidious Approach of Death

A friend recently attended their 20th highschool reunion, the sort of event that makes one feel very old. Worse, three of their classmates have already died.

I thought that sounded way statistically unlikely, especially given the group’s demographics, but I ran the numbers, and it turns out that it’s only a little unlikely. Given the small N, we’re probably talking about random chance making the class unlucky rather than a particular propensity for death, but it’s unfortunate either way.

Highschool reunions are also a great (by which I mean depressing) opportunity to see who has aged the most. Some classmates look hardly older than the last time you saw them, while others look like they got hit by a semi full of old. Hopefully not you, of course.

In “Quantification of biological aging in young adults,” Belsky et al confirm what I’ve long suspected: that different people age at radically different rates, not just emotionally/mentally, but also biologically.

From the abstract: “We studied aging in 954 young humans, the Dunedin Study birth cohort, tracking multiple biomarkers across three time points spanning their third and fourth decades of life. We developed and validated two methods by which aging can be measured in young adults, one cross-sectional and one longitudinal. Our longitudinal measure allows quantification of the pace of coordinated physiological deterioration across multiple organ systems (e.g., pulmonary, periodontal, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, and immune function). We applied these methods to assess biological aging in young humans who had not yet developed age-related diseases. Young individuals of the same chronological age varied in their “biological aging” (declining integrity of multiple organ systems). Already, before midlife, individuals who were aging more rapidly were less physically able, showed cognitive decline and brain aging, self-reported worse health, and looked older.” (bold mine.)

” We scaled the Pace of Aging so that the central tendency in the cohort indicates 1 y of physiological change for every one chronological year. On this scale, cohort members ranged in their Pace of Aging from near 0 y of physiological change per chronological year to nearly 3 y of physiological change per chronological year.”

“Study members with advanced Biological Age performed less well on objective tests of
physical functioning at age 38 than biologically younger peers (Fig. 5). They had more difficulty with balance and motor tests (for unipedal stance test of balance, r = −0.22, P < 0.001; for grooved pegboard test of fine motor coordination, r = −0.13, P < 0.001), and they were not as strong (grip strength test, r = −0.19, P < 0.001).”

“Study members with older Biological Ages had poorer cognitive functioning at midlife (r = −0.17, P < 0.001). Moreover, this difference in cognitive functioning reflected actual cognitive decline over the
years. When we compared age-38 IQ test scores to baseline test scores from childhood, study members with older Biological Age showed a decline in cognitive performance net of their baseline
level (r = −0.09, P = 0.010).”

“Neurologists have also begun to use high-resolution 2D photographs of the retina to evaluate age-related loss of integrity of blood vessels within the brain. Retinal and cerebral small vessels
share embryological origin and physiological features, making retinal vasculature a noninvasive indicator of the state of the brain’s microvasculature (32). Retinal microvascular abnormalities are associated with age-related brain pathology, including stroke and dementia (33–35) … study members with advanced Biological Age had older retinal vessels (narrower arterioles, r = −0.20, P < 0.001; wider venules, r = 0.17, P < 0.001).”

“… these biologically older study members were perceived to be older by independent observers.”

“Based on Pace of Aging analysis, we estimate that roughly 1/2 of the difference in Biological Age
observed at chronological age 38 had accumulated over the past 12 y.”

“… our analysis was limited to a single cohort, and one that lacked ethnic minority populations. Replication in other cohorts is needed, in particular in samples including sufficient numbers of ethnic minority individuals to test the “weathering hypothesis” that the stresses of ethnic minority status accelerate aging.”

“Three Dunedin Study members had Pace of Aging less than zero, appearing to grow physiologically younger during their thirties.”

While I suspect measurement error is at play, I’d still like to know what those guys did.