I know I’m just pissing in the wind for all the effect this will have, but can we please stop playing hard-ass make-believe and just say “tan”? Interior decorators have already come up with a dozen names for this color, calling it “coyote brown” doesn’t make it any more ninja at the end of the day than calling it “taupe” or “latte.” In fact, I encourage all three of you reading this to switch to using interior design color names exclusively in place of these tactical-fluffer color names.
Archive for the ‘bullshit’ Category
So, across various sources that I read in the last few days there have come angry reactions to this piece of psuedo-intellectual reactionary bloviation. Which doesn’t usually come hipster-flavored, but hey, it’s the digital age and anything is possible. Except, according to the title and premise of the piece, getting lost. But swiping at low-hanging fruit is still totally possible in any age and with any technology, so let’s give it one more look than it really deserves.
We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.
Actually I don’t jump off bridges anymore (never did, truth be told) because it’s fucking dangerous. Those aren’t high-dive boards, they’re walkways over an unknown depth of water with an unknown amount of places to haul out and an unknown amount of sharp fucking rocks. I’ve done lots of things in various wild waterways, some adventurous and some not, but jumping off a bridge into one was something I recognized as just plain stupid long before I started carrying any sort of personal electronics around with me.
I’ve also never gone skinny-dipping in the ocean, although I’ve likewise spent some time on beaches, both before and after having service there was something it would even have been possible to care about. Why? I don’t like getting arrested, and even if I had a nudist beach available to me I’m entirely too conscious of what lives in the ocean and how much of it actually spends time close to the shoreline to be all that psychologically comfortable naked to it.
You know what has changed about my behavior on shorelines since I started carrying personal electronics any of the time (I do have a smartphone now, which I resisted for years, but I still turn off the ringer and stow it most of the time I leave the house unless I’m waiting for something alone.)? There is now one additional thing I leave wherever I put my wallet and keys. That’s it. That’s all. If you find the beach boring compared to your smartphone, you have other problems that have nothing whatsoever to do with Google or Instagram.
After this bit of inanity follows a bunch of stories about getting lost, some of them adventurous and exciting, and some of them experiences no one should miss unless they’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury. (Like losing his little brother in a busy city- something no parent or guardian would sign up to go through ever again.)
I’ve got a bunch of stories about getting lost, too. I’m one of those unfortunate individuals with no sense of direction whatsoever, a trait I inherited from both my parents, who also had no sense of direction. I don’t find being lost the least little bit romantic, mostly because it was a normal experience to me growing up and not in any way associated with young adult adventure. I’ve been lost in the woods on foot and in a car, stuck in a vehicle in deep mud or snow a couple of times because of a wrong turn taken trying to leave said woods, lost in a strange city on the wrong side of midnight and in the wrong damn neighborhood to be lost in while a young woman, lost in the empty gaps between cities in the West, lost when the weather presented some real dangers of exposure, lost without food, without water, and lost in more entertaining and hilarious settings. Occasionally it ended in a funny story or some bit of unexpected adventure, but mostly it ended with a lot of stress and cold and sometimes that delightful experience when you’re a small child of seeing real fear on your parents’ faces because they know your situation might not have a happy ending. I’ve had a lot of adventures I remember fondly, but pretty much all of them involved knowing at least roughly where I was fucking going and how to leave again.
I’ve also spent a lot of time eating on the road and in strange places. I’ve got stories about terrifying meals, having to pull over to the side of the road during a road trip so someone could puke after eating somewhere no one should, and a much more prosaic story about spending a number of years only eating in recognizable chain restaurants while traveling after hard lessons learned from those earlier experiences, unless I had a reliable voucher from someone local about where to eat.
I had a lot of fantastic experiences eating in small towns and on the road in the gulf coast south during college, because the biology and environmental sciences department, having to go on a lot of road trips for field trip and collection purposes, had an effective word-of-mouth network going for where to find the best hidden gems to eat. I still have memories of some of the best meals of my life from those times. It reawakened my sense of culinary adventure and made eating at chains somewhere new feel like a personal defeat.
Know what having small portable computers around me has allowed me to do? Repeat that experience everywhere. I can go anywhere there’s good food to be had with a pocketful of recommendations from chow hounds and road food enthusiasts across the nation, and I’m still having some of the best meals of my life that way, or at least something much better than chains and eons and light years better than food poisoning far from home.
I remember the time I picked up my girlfriend from her friend’s house in Massachusetts. She was going to school down in Georgia and this was the first time I’d seen her in months. “We’re back together…finally.” I tweeted, tagging both of our Twitter handles in the status. The flash on my iPhone annoys her and she asks me to put my phone away. I begrudgingly agree and I start to drive. I put my home address into the GPS and follow the voice. She asks me if I want to get lost with her. I ask her what she means and she tells me that she wants to get lost. I ask her where she wants to go and she shrugs. I tell her that there is an interesting looking coffee shop only 2.3 miles away and she sighs. I turn off the GPS and drive. A few minutes go by and I get antsy. I turn the GPS back on and follow the voice, she crosses her arms and is silent all the way back to my house.
Dude. Here is some free advice for you, since you apparently need it. She was not pissed that you didn’t get genuinely, running-out-of-gas, freezing-in-the-dark, scary-goddamn-neighborhood lost. She was pissed you wouldn’t put down your fucking phone and put your full attention on her, and more pissed that you couldn’t do that for even ten minutes without buckling.
You know what’s nice about putting down the damn phone and going somewhere that’s actually new? Being able to, if you need to, pick it back up again when you’re done and find your way back home. If you can’t take step one of that combination, the problem is not the alienating march of technology, it’s your complete and total inability to leave your comfort zone without being forced to by circumstances beyond your control.
I like being part of the most connected generation of all time BECAUSE it allows me to have adventures without major disaster or anxiety attack on the part of my loved ones. (Who tend to, as loved ones do, worry more about me than I do about myself, after experiences of me vanishing from the face of the earth for hours or a day after I said I’d be home.) I love being able to Wikipedia the old building I’m in and find out what makes it special, that I’d never have known otherwise. I love being able to eat truly new things I’d never have tried otherwise- because I’ve had turn-you-inside-out food poisoning while in the middle of a car trip before and IT FUCKING SUCKS.
I suspect what the author really misses isn’t being lost, it’s being young and having a sense of adventure about the world because all of it really is new and having the freedom to explore it at will is too. But I’m me and he’s him, and I can’t speak for him. I can, however, speak for my portion of the same generation, that hasn’t experienced any alienation whatsoever- and is still entirely capable of engaging with non-digital experiences without a competition.
Via Tam, an essay by John Ringo (of modern-day pulp science fiction fame) on, apparently, the coming zombie apocalypse and how it’s apparently going to be precipitated by bitter geeky men with kitchen-table biochemistry kits engineering homemade viruses to turn women (specifically blonde women with big tits) into their sex slaves. If you wish to read for context you should probably read the whole thing. As Ringo tends to be, it’s pretty highly readable.
When I read it initially I was pretty sure this was a troll, and an entertaining one, but I am assured by others he is either serious or may as well be as the distinction is without meaningful difference. The basic premise is pretty sound- the idea that biochemistry and nanotechnology are advancing to the point where homemade and tailor-designed superbugs may well represent a serious threat, one that is more likely to come from the bored, antisocial, and too intelligent for everyone else’s good individual rather than from state-sponsored or radical religious or political entities.
The problem with the article is where he goes with it next. Excerpted, at some length:
The general trend will go like this. Professor Doktor Herr Apocalyptica will invent a virus that can do something to humans. (Well, in fact, it does it to rats. But humans just happen to have the same brain chemistry.) Not just kill them, do something to them. It may, for example, combining the fields of neurology, psychology and virology, cure depression. No more need for Aderol or NoDepressol or whatever. Your neurology is now reset to perfect normal. There will be others that can do other things. Make you smarter, more socially able, less nervous, shy, crowd phobic, what have you. Make you need almost no sleep. (I’d love that one.)
Then some grad student trying to get their masters or doctorate will create a new virus (as many will be created because when you have a breakthrough like that it creates all sorts of easy, for values of easy, graduate projects) that, just for a laugh, makes any girl who is infected fall in love (or at least lust although love is possible as well.) with him. If you DON’T think a biology geek won’t write that one, you don’t understand male bio geeks.
How does that work? you ask, sceptically.
One proven aspect of male/female sexual interaction, especially (at least so far) for women, is pheromones. All people emit them and they have various effects most of which researchers are still trying to sort out. The geek identifies his specific suite of ‘love’ (lust because they are alot more about reproduction than permanence) pheromones. Then writes a virus that does a series of actions. First it only affects women. (He can, of course, narrow this down if he’s good enough. Only ‘hot’ babes for values of ‘hot.’ And I’m assuming, possibly a bad assumption, that the grad student is a he.) Second it does a series of things. It rewrites them to ‘like’ his pheromones. When sensing his pheromones their libido is enhanced. If he’s smart, their capacity for long-term critical decisionmaking is degraded (as it is in males by sexual cues.) If he really wants to fuck with them (not just…) it triggers massive release of oxytocin and vassopressin (look them up.)
So when a woman gets a whiff of the guy, they can’t get enough. They act like twilight fans seeing a sparkly vampire. Sex must occur and they must have him FOR ALL TIME.
OK. There’s more explanation of how this scenario is meant to work, with a lot more background detail of genetics research*, but given that arguing with a science fiction author about the plausibility and accuracy of future technology is like arguing with an impressionist painter about color fidelity, it’s not really worth picking at. The big, glaring, plaid elephant in the living room here is pheromones, whose use in this piece really demand a Morbo.
The only aspect of human pheromone research that is “proven” is that they have been proven to affect the vomeronasal organ in humans (but not the olfactory tissues- we really are relatively smell-blind, at least to effects that subtle), and some of them have been proven to have gender-specific effects. (My personal favorite one is the male pheromone that gets other men, but not women who remain oblivious, to avoid particular restroom stalls.) There’s a pretty good, and pretty exhaustive, review of the literature on human pheromones and sexual attraction here; if you are interested in the subject I highly recommend it, as it’s a good primer on what’s been done so far and what the strengths and weaknesses of the obtained results are. The upshot is that some strong evidence of pheromone effect on menstrual regulation has been found, but the sexual attraction results are either negative, inconclusive, or positive but riddled with methodological issues. If one were to apply the same tactics to researching the arousal potential of Nora Ephron movies, one would likely find a similar or stronger correlation.
The thing of it is, though, that if human pheromones really worked like Ringo seems to think they do, it would not be an even slightly mysterious phenomenon or a recent discovery. This would be a gross, obvious effect that everyone had known about since the beginning of recorded history. The only animals that pheromones actually work this way on- provoking strong, reliable sexual attraction that produces an immediate behavioral effect- are, for the most part, insects. If humans worked like butterflies and flies do Ringo’s scenario would be tantalizingly plausible; but they simply don’t, and we know this not because of the research that’s been done on pheromones so far, but because no known humans actually act like this, nor have they ever that anyone’s ever reliably witnessed. Even mammals for whom definite and strong pheromonal signaling effects are known don’t work like this; for mammals, pheromones seem to play a strong role in estrous and menstrual cycles (and indeed, that’s the only effect in humans that convincing and reliably reproducible evidence seems to come for), but not so much in direct sexual attraction and mating.
Boringly, it just doesn’t make any evolutionary sense for a mammal to work like this, especially not a mammal like humans that lives with lots of other members of the same species and has a wide pool of mates to choose from at any given time, and whose true reproductive bottleneck isn’t mate availability or quality but the sheer amount of resources that must go into raising each and every offspring. When your reproductively mature life stage lasts only days or even hours, it makes sense for mating to be a powerful overriding drive that completely hijacks all of your behavior and is controlled primarily by chemical signaling; the life history of insects that work like this is driven by very brief periods of frantic activity with the nearest available mates that result in big population booms of which only a few will survive, by good luck, to reproduce themselves. If you invest years of your own life and massive amounts of energy and nutrition merely to raise a single offspring to reproductive maturity, it makes no sense at all to be chemically compelled to fling yourself at the nearest correctly-smelling mate- especially if you are surrounded at nearly all times with a wide variety of perfectly workable options. This isn’t a barrier that Moore’s law can overcome; in order for increasingly precise and powerful technology to be viable, the underlying structure that it works on has to exist in the first place. Ringo’s scenario is no more plausible than the idea that it’s possible to engineer lobsters into an army of coordinated stealth underwater computer hackers.
What’s worse, the only thing individual about pheromones that we’ve really found is the major histocompatibility complex; even if one were to target that in their “love virus”, the only thing it would actually accomplish is making the targets particularly interested OR particularly DISinterested in you depending on their current phase in menstrual cycle and whether or not they were on hormonal birth control at the time.
It’s a fun scenario. Given that Ringo tends to be infectiously readable, and he’s right enough about the nature of male biogeeks (which is why there’s two to three times as much research on the response of women to male pheromones as the other way round, even though the research on men that’s been done has shown as much measurable effect), I’d probably read it, though maybe not pay money for it. But as a “I’m totally not kidding, this is how the zombie apocalypse will happen” scenario… sorry John, blonde cheerleader sex zombies are no more plausible now than they were in seventies exploitation drive-ins.
*Although the one human genetics researcher of my actual “I can just ring you up and explain my latest wild hair” acquaintance ranted for several minutes on the subject of RACIAL GROUP GENETICS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY! as well how pretty much everything Ringo’s describing as target traits are massively polygenic affairs that simply can’t be targeted that way or any other remotely plausible virus-engineering way. So, you know. Take with an entire pillar of salt.
Now that the stupidest part of the year is well upon us, I have a request for those of you who must endure the bullshit that is air travel in the US this season.
If the blue-gloved stasi at the metal detector/lookey-loo machine tries to touch you, insist on fresh gloves.
In my wildest moments of optimism*, I can hope that this will catch on like gangbusters and be a lever applied at the fulcrum of budget as the demand for more and more gloves skyrockets, and the TSA comes crumbling down and joy returns to the land and nobody demands papers please and….
Yeah, and maybe I’ll get that letter of marque, too.
More realistically, you’ll at least have the peace of mind that the dimwitted goon about to grope you didn’t just grope Brittni Ambir’s active herpes outbreak ’cause hey, look at the cans on that one huh with the same gloves, and cause them some annoyance in the process.
*Usually called “christ, cheer up once in a while would you?” by friends
So once again learning from the pros at Popehat….
Hey Atomic Nerds,
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Check out our site and let us know if you want anything. We would love to send you some samples of our products.
Your product is fucking stupid and if you think we’re endorsing anything baby related you’ve very clearly never read our blog.
I should’ve looked into the option for a pony. I could’ve named it Adhesive Intoxicant. Or Huffer Sparkle. It’s a glue joke, son, work with me here.
Look, you hopped up pretentious fuckskids of inferiority masquerading as trendy, there is one goddamn thing that has been utterly fucking pivotal to the advancement and continuance of human progress in the history of the fucking world, eclipsed in importance only by beer, and I am utterly fed the righteous fuck up with every half-wit with an art history degree and a pot of boiling water fucking it up.
Coffee is not this fucking hard, people.
I may be biased by a recently uninterrupted string of bad experiences, but the continued existence of Starbucks backs my claim that shit-awful coffee is still way too common. What’s worse, Starbucks has been the model for every hipster-filled pretentious nouveau-trendy hole in the wall with shitty parking designed only to be accessible to people who’s job consists of carrying an ipad around all day and pretending they’re worth a tin shit in a gold mine. Over the last few months, I’ve been to more than a handful of coffee establishments, ranging from “Gimme some fuckin’ bean juice and get me out the door” to “Our organic free range fair trade cruelty free salmon bagel won best of the block for food served next to a tattoo parlor!” and a good chunk in between.
You know who had the best coffee out of the lot? The goddamn Obligatory Cow Reference in Secret Location, CO at Blogorado. The greasy fucking spoon. Was it great coffee? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s pretty damn good. Fellow coffee snob MattG insists that a good portion of this is due to the company we always have at the Obligatory Cow Reference, and I’ll allow that does bring a good bit of leniency to the standards, but that aside, the coffee is still pretty un-suckful.
The reason for this trend of bad coffee is that, probably thanks to the Seattle Shit-in-a-cup, burnt beans and overextracted brew has become way too accepted as “good coffee,” and it absolutely ball-shreddingly cunt-staplingly IS NOT GOOD.
Let’s take the first problem first: burnt coffee. Unless you fell out of the monkey tree yesterday, you’re probably aware that coffee beans have to be roasted before they can be ground and brewed. A few special cases aside, this happens between 375 and 425F, and can take from 90 seconds to 15 minutes. It will be a smoky process regardless, but apparently every goddamn roaster with ironic glasses has decided that more is more in terms of smoke, and the ideal output product from a coffee roast should look more like the trash can from Auschwitz than a small brown pellet. The fucking goal is to cook out the moisture, and break down the proteins, sugars, and phenolic materials into something complex and delicious. It’s fundamentally a Maillard reaction. That’s an art to do well, I will grant, but it’s not fucking rocket surgery.
Sugars go first, into formic, acetic, and lactic acids, which are responsible for tart flavors. As the roasting continues, acids and astringent phenolic stuff (like chlorogenic acid) are broken down to reduce overall acidity (this can be fucked up later even if done correctly here, don’t worry aspiring trendwhore baristas). This is, counter-intuitively, also where the bitterness starts to ramp up, and where we start running into that choking on a burnt log flavor, since the byproducts from the Maillard that cause the browning of the bean start to ramp up as the bean darkens- or in layman’s terms: IT’S FUCKING BURNT YOU GODDAMN BOIL ON THE ASS OF DECENT CAFFEINE DELIVERY. Body is shot like a car in Fallujah, and the only flavors left are hate and failure.
There’s an argument to be made that I should be pissed off about how they’re grinding the beans, but really, the brewing process is more at fault in any of these cases than grain size, from what I can tell, so I’m going to skip it. Ideally, you want to extract about 20% of the overall coffee solids to make a full, balanced cup of brew. To do this, you have to first get the proportion of coffee to water correct (Hint: You need more coffee than you think!) and second, you need the correct fucking temperature of water. Amazingly, we have had the technology to heat water to specific thermal levels for… let me check here… ah, right, THE LAST FUCKING CENTURY OR SO. Coffee water needs to be heated to between 190F and 200F. DO. FUCKING. NOT. FUCKING. BOIL. THE. FUCKING. WATER.* Higher temperatures extract more bitter compounds. Hence, over-extracted. Some drip machines are slapdash affairs, and compensate for inadequately heated water by leaving the water in contact with the coffee for longer. This is popular with conical filter machines. This also leads to over-extracted coffee.
The starting point for coffee to water ratios should be no lower than 1:15. Most of the old Better Homes and Fuck Dens from The Good Ol’ Days are actually not terrible on this point- one of my grandmothers of the “It was good enough before the darkies could vote, it’s good enough now!” mold insisted on 1.5 Tbs coffee per mug in the pot (using the average 11 oz mug). This gave a ratio better than double the starting point for standard American drip coffee to not suck, and it has served me well. Remember, it is always better to use MORE coffee in the brew; you can dilute if it’s too strong, but you can’t fix too weak.
The Obligatory Cow Reference has an old(er)-school basket type jumbo brewer. It’s got enough ass to get the water hot enough, they use enough coffee for the water, and the basket filter doesn’t leave the water in the grounds for too long. End result: Pretty damn good coffee, unfucked by some shitskid with a fixie.
Look, good coffee is a high art. It does take some practice. But you know what it also takes? Having a fucking example that wasn’t made from the ashes of Juan Valdez’ donkey brewed for half an hour at 212F as a starting point to judge your own output by. Are clove cigarettes really that damaging to the palate? Jesus, people.
So with the explanation out of the way, here’s what I’ve come up with as a rule of thumb. Call it Stingray’s Law of Brew Selection, or Stingray’s BS: If you see more pump bottles full of flavor shit by whatever brewing device is in operation, just get a glass of water and snort a rail of ground-up No-Doz, because I swear on a stack of dead civets that if I get one more shitty cup of mud from a fuck-leaving with a neck tattoo and a hole the size of a golf ball in the ear** I’m going to solve the problem with ten gallons of diesel and a fucking road flare.
*Unless you’re at an altitude where water boils pretty close to 200F instead of 212. Here at 7200′, small quantities will boil around 203F, larger batches where the weight of the water brings some pressure to the party will go higher, up to the 206-208 range. If you try to use a pressure cooker to get the temp higher without boiling, I will hunt you down and do violent things to you. Like make you drink your own coffee. There is a specific style that does this, and brews around 230F, but, uh, damn.
**Some days I’m really tempted to keep a nice, super-heavy Masterlock in my pocket for these special snowflakes, and then when the coffee sucks, beckon them in close, lock it through the ear and run like hell.
Tam has gone all observant and noted that “Ey, youse gotta be tough in New Yawk” is in fact bullshit.
As it turns out, there’s a similar problem elsewhere. “Don’t mess with Texas!” “Wild West, etc!” You know the song. As we have driven our way through the perfectly flat monotony to Deepinahearta, TX to visit friends, a curious condition was observed. Nobody would set one lead foot even a mile per hour over the posted speed limit. For good reason too, as given the non-stop squealing of the fuzz-buster on the dashboard, LabRat and I soaked up so much radar that we now have either cancer or superpowers. But yeah, when your local 5-0 inspire this sort of thing, let’s get a little ego check on that “Don’t mess with” attitude, hmm?
Hey, kids, it’s time for another round of Bullshit Evo-Psych! YAAAAAAY!
Title of article: Do Men Find Dumb-Looking Women More Attractive?
A new study says yes.
Oh, you know this one’s going to be fun. It’s also another entry in the classic genre of “equally dim views of men and women”.
In an article soon to be published in Evolution and Human Behavior, University of Texas–Austin graduate student Cari Goetz and her colleagues explored what they called the sexual exploitability hypothesis. The hypothesis is based on the differences between male and female reproductive strategies as humans evolved. For ancestral women, casual intercourse with an emotionally unattached man who had no clear intention of sticking around to raise any resulting offspring constituted a massive genetic gamble. By contrast, for a man with somewhere around 85 million sperm cells churned out every day—per testicle—the frivolous expenditure of gametes was far less detrimental to his genetic interests.
An classic framework. Kind of a bit too classic, given that this basic assumption can suffer a lot when the life histories of species or entire groups are taken into account. As I will go into in further detail.
Goetz and her team began with the assumption that—because our brains evolved long before prophylactics entered the picture—female cognition is still sensitive to the pregnancy-related consequences of uncommitted sex and women remain more reluctant than men to engage in it
You don’t need… “female cognition” to understand that random sex can have more potential negative consequences for her than for him. Not all of them or even most of them have anything to do with pregnancy, either. What’s foremost in a woman’s (or, well, a female North American college student, but at least the two study demographics were the same) mind when considering accepting or rejecting casual offers from men actually seems to be the twin questions of whether he presents a physical threat to her safety, and whether he’s likely to be any good in bed.
I mean, you can and apparently these authors are making the argument that it’s actually our primitive ladybrains evaluating the chances of pregnancy completely outside our consciousness, but assuming we do things for secret hidden reasons rather than conscious reasons that are actually perfectly sound and utilitarian is questionable at best.
They set out to test the idea that any indication that a woman’s guard is lowered—that she’s “sexually exploitable”—is a turn-on for your average man. “[T]he assessment of a woman’s immediate vulnerability,” surmise the authors, “may be central to the activation of psychological mechanisms related to sexual exploitation.”
Fill in the appropriate square on your “misogyny and misandry are buddies” bingo card.
This is an inflammatory hypothesis, of course, and the language employed in the field doesn’t help matters. It’s worth noting that in the evolutionary psychology sense, the word exploitable simply means that a woman is willing or can be more easily pressured into having sex—which takes her own desires, rather disturbingly, out of the equation. Even if she’s the aggressor, a prostitute, or a certifiable nymphomaniac, having casual sex with her would still constitute “exploiting” her (or at least her body), according to this model.
Thank you, author, though I’m not going to be very nice to you in this post, for at least acknowledging that if not continuing to think it through- specifically that it assumes the viewpoint that a sexual encounter that doesn’t result in marriage involves the man “winning” and the woman “losing”.
From a strictly biological viewpoint, this worldview is baffling. Translated into terms evolution actually operates on, the strategy makes one party more fit and another party less fit or no more fit. In order for the male to increase his fitness, the mating has to result in offspring and the offspring have to grow to become reproductively successful themselves, which is exactly what needs to happen for the female to increase her fitness. There is no scenario in which the male increases his fitness but the female does not. There are scenarios in which the male gains fitness at less cost or risk to himself than the female and vice versa, but none in which, biologically speaking, all sexual encounters that result in a fitness gain for the male are exploitation.
Underlying this entire model (not to mention article) is a conflation of mating events with reproduction. This is a frequent weakness in sexual selection research, but at least researchers studying wild animals have a somewhat plausible excuse in that the difficulty of observing their target population makes definitively tying matings with offspring by parent, event, and identity difficult, but no one studying humans has this excuse. We have geneaology, interviews, and DNA tests to answer nearly any possible question we may have about someone’s grandchildren, lack thereof, and what in their life path led to children, grandchildren, or none of the above. Which is one of many reasons why making your study demographic one that almost entirely consists of people who aren’t yet ready or willing to reproduce* for the purposes of this kind of study insane.
Using matings and offspring as interchangeable things with any hope of producing useful results depends on several things about your target species: you need the window in which its members are willing to mate and the window in which they are fertile to be identical or nearly so, and you need the cost of raising offspring to be relatively low, so that an individual who mates is pretty much the same as an individual who reproduces. If you are studying, say, snakes, this model is fine and dandy. If you are studying (most) birds, you have half of what you need; an obvious window of fertility and matings, but costly offspring that are by no means guaranteed to make it to reproductive age without a great deal of investment. If you are studying humans neither is true; humans are willing to mate regardless of fertility status, and the cost of raising offspring is extremely high.
So high, in fact, that it would have been impossible for a lone woman to raise an infant to adolescence on her own during our evolution. So high that some anthropologists estimate it couldn’t be done in the environment we evolved in with just the mother AND the father alone, either. “WOOP FOOLED YOU SURPRISE BABY OFF TO SPREAD MY SEED KTHX BAI” would have been a complete nonstarter as a reproductive strategy just because the only way the baby would actually survive would be if the child had substantial investment from other people besides the mother.
Chimpanzee mothers don’t need or want paternal investment from the males because the period of dependence is much shorter and the nutritional needs of the infant are less dramatic; they raise their babies entirely by themselves and are very protective, and possessive, of them. Human women, in all cultures around the globe, seek out helpers to help them with their children- and also unlike chimps and most other primates, are vastly more willing to abandon or kill a baby, especially under stress. (And even the devoted single moms of primatehood have their thresholds.) It’s not just us, either; in birds with very high investment requirements to raise offspring, abandoning eggs or chicks when confidence in the mate’s investment (or, more compassionately, confidence in the odds of raising them being possible) drops sufficiently is a common thing.
This is not to say that promiscuity cannot be a perfectly workable reproductive strategy, for a male OR a female; the mother simply needs to have sufficient investment from other sources, like relatives, a social network of friends (who like as not are mothers themselves), or those who will help with childcare in trade for something else. Under this model, however, what should make a woman attractive to a promiscuous male isn’t her exploitability, but rather her support network, especially if she’s successfully raised at least one other child to prove she can do it. A promiscuous male seeking out a female looking for strong paternal investment a isn’t win/lose fitness arrangement if he gets her pregnant, it’s lose/lose. Promiscuous men/promiscuous women in which all the men invest a little bit and family helps is win/win. Highly invested man/highly invested woman is win/win. Some blend of the two in invested polygyny or polyandry is also win/win. Humans are very flexible like that, and each arrangement as its advantages and disadvantages; but promiscuous/low or no investment plus individual seeking high investment is a combination that’s much less effective for anybody**.
Back to the article.
So how did this team put their sexual “exploitability” hypothesis to the test? Goetz and her colleagues planned to call a bunch of undergraduate males into the lab and ask them to rate a set of women in terms of attractiveness based on their photographs. But first they needed to pick the appropriate images. To figure out which sorts of women might be deemed most receptive to a sexual advance or most vulnerable to male pressure or coercion, they asked a large group of students (103 men and 91 women) to nominate some “specific actions, cues, body postures, attitudes, and personality characteristics” that might indicate receptivity or vulnerability
I see no possible way in which this line of approach could be compromised or confounded by cultural variables. How bout you guys?
These could be psychological in nature (e.g., signs of low self-esteem, low intelligence, or recklessness), or they might be more contextual (e.g., fatigue, intoxication, separation from family and friends). A third category includes signs that the woman is physically weak, and thus more easily overpowered by a male (e.g., she’s slow-footed or small in stature). According to the authors, rape constitutes one extreme end of the “exploitation” spectrum—cheesy pickup lines the other.
The sad part is this would function just fine as a study of how people seeking to actually sexually exploit someone select victims. It’s just a complete failure as a study of evolved reproductive strategy.
By asking students for the relevant cues, the experimenters reasoned, they’d keep their own ideas about what makes a woman “exploitable” from coloring their study. When all was said and done, the regular folks in the lab had come up with a list of 88 signs that—in their expert undergraduate opinions—a woman might be an especially good target for a man who wanted to score. Here’s a sampling of what they came up with: “lip lick/bite,” “over-shoulder look,” “sleepy,” “intoxicated,” “tight clothing,” “fat,” “short,” “unintelligent,” “punk,” “attention-seeking,” and “touching breast.”
Attempting to keep out confounding variables fail. The next paragraph is also pretty much just a quick and dirty anthropological review on straight male undergraduates’ ideas of which women are “easy”. Although the fact that they took their study images off the internet is possibly relevant, in a “their study was pulling people’s photos off Facebook and OKCupid” kinda way.
Now it was time for the test. A fresh group of 76 male participants was presented with these images in a randomized sequence and asked what they thought of each woman’s overall attractiveness, how easy it would be to “exploit” her using a variety of tactics (everything from seduction to physical force), and her appeal to them as either a short-term or a long-term partner. The results were mixed.
That should not be surprising.
Physical cues of vulnerability—the pictures of, say, short women and hefty ones—had no effect. These women were not necessarily seen as easy lays, nor were they judged as especially appealing partners for either a casual fling or a lifelong marriage.
I’m… glad we had a study to determine this.
On the other hand, the more psychological and contextual cues—pictures of dimwitted- or immature-seeming women, for example, or of women who looked sleepy or intoxicated, did seem to have an effect: Not surprisingly, men rated them as being easy to bed. But more importantly, they were also perceived as being more physically attractive than female peers who seemed more lucid or quick-witted. This perceived attractiveness effect flipped completely when the participants were asked to judge these women as potential long-term partners. In other words, the woozy ladies were seen as sexy and desirable—but only for fleeting venereal meetings. They lost their luster entirely when the men were asked to rate these same women’s attractiveness as prospective girlfriends or wives.
One might almost take this as a hint that sex is actually not the same thing as reproduction, psychologically speaking.
The possible evolutionary logic behind this interaction is fairly straightforward: In the latter case, the man would risk becoming the cuckoldee, not the cuckolder. (Of course you could also argue that men might rather marry a woman who looked like she could hold up her end of the conversation over French toast.)
Oh, obvious and non-hateful explanation, you so crazy. Alternatively, there’s an important and substantial difference between what people seek when they’re after the pleasure of sex itself and what they seek when they’re after a partner to relate and reproduce with- and this need not be complex evolutionarily produced psychology, but rather basic observation and reasoning skills.
In a follow-up study (that ended up being published first), the authors tried to add some nuance to their sexual exploitability hypothesis. Graduate student David Lewis led a project to narrow in on the specific type of man who would be most alert to the sort of “exploitability” cues outlined above. Not every man, it seems, is equally proficient at homing in on these weak spots in women. So he and his colleagues asked 72 straight men to evaluate the same photos as before, and in the same way. But this time, the researchers also measured some key personality traits in the male raters, as well as the extent to which they desired and pursued uncommitted sex. The students were asked, for instance: “With how many different partners have you had sexual intercourse without having interest in a long-term committed relationship with that person,” and, “How often do you experience sexual arousal when you are in contact with someone you are not in a committed romantic relationship with?”
Again, this would be an excellent sociology study of sexual exploitation.
The main finding to emerge from this follow-up study was that the more promiscuity-minded men who happened also to have deficiencies in personal empathy and warmth were the ones most vigilant and responsive to female “exploitability” cues. Men without this critical calculus—say, a disagreeable man who prefers monogamy, or a caring one who likes to play the field—are more likely to have these cues fly right past their heads and miss the opportunity to capitalize on an “easy lay.”
….Framed this way it almost seems like some sort of defect in these guys.
o rather than the sexual exploitability hypothesis summing up the male brain as one big ball of undifferentiated stereotype, the caveat here is that there are multiple subtypes of reproductive strategies in men. Not all men are pricks, in other words.
Happily I didn’t need either the author of the article or the architects of the study to tell me that. And the exploitative men are still much likelier to be the losers in the fitness game. Sadly they won’t disappear in a few generations as a result, because evolution almost certainly didn’t directly create them in the first place.
It’s easy to see the sexual exploitability hypothesis as misogynistic, but I don’t believe the authors are advancing a chauvinistic ideology
Nah, I just think they’re using a chauvinistic ideology to inform their ideas of what constitutes fitness instead of thinking through the reproductive math and taking into account what raising children requires for a savannah forager*** instead of a North American youth.
Take those kinds of complaints up with natural selection, not the theorists untangling its sometimes-wicked ways. The authors are trying—admirably, I think—to decipher an implicit social algorithm in the hopes of better understanding gender relations.
Why is it the people saying “IT’S JUST SCIENCE YOU CAN’T ARGUE WITH IT” are almost always citing lazy, shoddy science?
I’m not going to bother fisking the rest of it; the upshot is the author takes some stabs in the dark at recognizing that there’s more to fitness than mating events, that their “easiness” variables are hopelessly muddled, and also that evolutionary psychology is cripplingly prone to just-so storytelling. Read the rest of it if you like (it may make you think better of the author), but as for salient points to make, I’m done right here.
*This is not the same as “young people”, see also, rates of teen pregnancy in which the parents willingly set out to have a child. But these people don’t usually go to college, at least not then.
**Bear in mind I’m talking about African hunter-gatherers and NOT modern North Americans. The environment in which we developed our reproductive behavior did not contain any form of social services, food banks or food stamps, orphanages, easy long-distance travel, charitable organizations, free clinics, or anything else that makes an unintentional child with minimal paternal/family investment possible to raise to adulthood. Infanticide of children whose needs were beyond low available resources was a sad, unfortunate norm until we developed civilizations- and our sexual psychology must have evolved millions of years before that happened.
***Another thing missing from this model is that humans don’t occur in lone, ranging patterns outside of civilization, they form small, tight communities. Exploitative behavior of all kinds tends to have a very high social cost unless it’s embedded in the structure of the culture itself. (Which sometimes happens, but generally only in cultures richer in resources that can afford to outbreed the loss of children due to neglect.) In other words, a serial deceiver generally isn’t fooling anyone after long at all.
Via commenter BH, an Atlantic article arguing that everyone has missed the point of Makode Linde’s “brilliant” golliwog cake.
The article does go into some detail missing from the original reporting on it, the important bits of which were a) The culture minister and her entourage had no clue what she’d be walking into other than that it was purportedly about female genital mutilation, and b) the minister had been under media fire previously for supposedly being pro-censorship of art, or at least heavily critical of “provocative” art. So yes, it was basically a setup meant to put a politician in a no-win scenario, which banked on her going along with it, which was a pretty good bet.
It also argues that it was actually a brilliant piece of art whose point was to demonstrate Sweden’s disconnect from the reality of Africa and Africans and illustrate the alienness of the experience of being black or African in Sweden. The article concludes:
There’s no doubt that Adelsohn-Liljeroth and the many Swedes involved in campaigning against FGM seem to be kind-hearted, noble-minded people who oppose racism and would like to help the victims of female genital mutilation. Linde, even if he has corralled them all into a disastrous photo op that could even cost Adelsohn-Liljeroth her job (it shouldn’t), probably doesn’t mean to embarrass them personally so much as draw attention to the subtle racial politics of Sweden’s popular conceptions of FGM and Africans generally. That’s not an easy thing to explain to people in words, but a screaming cake seems to have done it.
To which I would reply: no it didn’t. If it had, neither the Atlantic article nor the Africa Is A Country article explaining it would need to exist.
For one thing, that’s not what Linde said it was supposed to do at any point, and as the artist one presumes he would know. (His statements on the cake have been mostly semicoherent and range from LOL I TROLL U to “you’re just not sophisticated enough to understand”, and reinforce the “performance artist as unrepentant and undirected attention whore” impression.)
For another, if your art needs to come with a lengthy explanation of what exactly it’s supposed to express, it has essentially failed as art. Guernica doesn’t need to come with a “war is horrible” pamphlet in order to understand the painting, although if you’re unschooled in art history you’ll probably wonder what the point of having everyone’s features squashed on one half of their face is*. Even if you don’t know it was painted during the Spanish Civil War in the aftermath of a bombing, the idea that it’s about senseless suffering and chaos comes through just fine on its own. It’s not standard representational art, but it’s not enigmatic either.
Not all art is even meant to express something other than “pretty!”, or for that matter “ugly!”. It doesn’t necessarily need to. But when it IS meant to express a particular thing, it’s on the artist to make sure their point is even possible to take from the result, much as it’s on the writer to communicate their ideas efficiently and not on the reader to possess advanced detective skills to find it. Dumb audience members who aren’t going to get it and probably don’t want it exist, but when almost the entire world can’t find the expressed idea, that’s not on the audience as a failure, it’s on the artist.
It’s entirely possible that all that’s being expressed is that it’s possible to make really racist images and have people go along with them as long as you manipulate them in the correct ways, and then deduce that what makes this possible to accomplish is a meeting in Swedish culture of norms of avoiding conflict with the abstractedness of Africa and Africans to most Swedes. But I really do not think that makes the cake, or the artist, brilliant. Upsetting people by being blantly offensive not a high-order skill, and sadly neither is manipulating politicians who are feeling public opinion pressure.
At the end of the day it’s still just a really offensive cake.
*The point of cubism is to show all perspectives from one point of view. That’s pretty much the entirety of it.