Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Female unhappiness


Interesting article on female unhappiness ... surveys show fewer women report being happier than they did 50 years ago, prior to the sexual revolution. Proposed causes from the article include: "Women are not wired for the working world," "Women are required to work more and still do the household stuff," "the continued struggle against the glass ceiling," etc.

But I favor another hypothesis:

I think women are much more attuned to social expectations than men are. I think in the 60s, women were expected only to run a great household. Now they're expected to run a great home and have a highly successful career. It's miserably difficult to accomplish both. But I know a huge number of women that have internalized both obligations -- and feel intense guilt at their failure to live up to both ideals.

How many times have I heard women feel guilty about spending time with their family when they feel they "should be working," and feel guilty about working when they feel they "should be spending time with their family."

This is peripherally related to the "double shift" hypothesis in the article, but discernably different I think. It's not about "women are doing more work than they did before." It's about "Women feel like they have to live up to a new, unattainably high ideal." Pre-sexual revolution society had much lower expectations of women. They weren't expected to be the peers of men in terms of their intellectual prowess and professional reputation. Raised demands = lower degree of success relative to those expectations = lowered self-esteem = lowered happiness.

How often it seems women do that to themselves.

And this leads me to the ultimate irony I've always perceived about the sexual revolution. I don't understand why they wanted it. If society told me all I needed to do was stay home and care for the kids, I'd do a spectacular job, and have a love of fun doing it. I could read books, surf the web, garden ... I'd love it. I hate going to "the office" every day.

Why the hell did they want to WORK?

The easy answer is, of course, "They wanted the option to work." Well and good. But what they imposed on themselves (with peculiar feminine logic) was an EXPECTATION to work, and not only work, but work well, at high paying, prestigious, meaningful jobs, as the equals or superiors of men. That's a very different proposition from "having the option to work," an option which I think they should well have. But they gave themselves more than they bargained for, I think.

All of this is of course deeply subjective at heart. They're concerned with "whether they're a good person" much more than "what needs to be done." If they were concerned with "what needed to be done," they would likely make efforts to simplify their lives and reduce the demands from both sides. But that wouldn't satisfy the narcissistic urge to be the "uber-woman." And so they make themselves miserable based on self-imposed expectations of perfection in all realms of life.

Meanwhile, men, who are generally much less driven by social expectations, find their load lightened. They aren't solely responsible for the financial and physical security of their family. Many of their women find themselves driven by misplaced pride to be the primary breadwinner ... and many men are willing to say, "Fine, if you say so -- I'm going back to playing Wii."

The key, I think, is to focus not on social expectations, but on the objective requirements of life. Two sets of jobs need to be done -- money-making in the marketplace, and care of the home. Some division of labor is required, and specialization of labor is one of the key mechanisms for increased efficiency. Does that mean that women should stay home? No. But it means that if they choose to work, they need to recognize the costs it imposes on themselves and their families. The family loses the advantage of specialization of labor. It loses the stability of a person who is rested and relaxed enough to care for the emotional needs of the family. It loses the availability of a person who can take care of the endless needs of domestic life. Fine, go to work for your pride, that's well and good -- but do it knowing the effects of your actions.

But I speak in the language of enlightened self-interest, rather than the language of social expectation. And the response, in the language of social expectation, goes something like, "Well now you're just making me feel bad by reminding me of all the things I'm failing to do in the house." And on it goes.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lynn Margulis

Props to Sadunkal for the link.

One real highlight is the quote:

Margulis has described neo-Darwinism as; "a minor twentieth century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon Biology."

Love that. And love the fact that there are evidently good-hearted scientists out there fighting against the dogmatism of the Neo-Darwinists, whether or not they agree with me, as dogmatism is always the enemy of Truth.

Not quite so impressed with the blog author, however. He claims: "And it was this perception of evolution and natural selection, the image of “nature red in tooth and claw” that was seized with glee by apologists for capitalism who were, at that time, struggling with an outraged public reaction to the inhuman conditions under which the working class, including very young children, were expected to labour."

Who were these capitalists? Perhaps it was Andrew Carnegie, who devoted his later life to philanthropy? Or Andrew Mellon, who did the same? Who were these capitalists who sought to rationalize the oppressed condition of the poor?

On the contrary, the arguments made in favor of racial and individual supremacy -- of the morality of 'nature tooth and claw' came from the Nazi or National Socialist party. And in the United States, 91 of the 126 votes against the Civil rights act (like 3/4) were by the populist, non-elitist Democratic party. The massive social purges were performed in the Communist countries, Russia and China, while the relatively capitalist US was developing a social welfare system.

Associating Capitalism with dogmatic Survival of the Fittest-style Darwinism seems deeply at odds with the facts, but this author (a scientist, not a historian or a political scientist) makes the claim without support or citation. Yikes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Baby instincts

Just got home with my first baby, and man is she delightful. In learning the ancient tricks of parenthood, though, I've been constantly amazed at the amount of knowledge already packed into the baby when she arrives. Not intellectual, abstract knowledge, but instinctual knowledge. For example, she knows how to make sucking faces when she's hungry. Or cry when she's cold.

On the surface, this looks pretty simple. But the closer I look at it, the more remarkable it seems. What mechanism makes her want to do that? The common and superficial Western answer is "Instincts developed and refined by evolution." Well and good, but what is an instinct? What is it, actually, in the organism that makes them perform a behavior?

The articles on the web give only the superficial answer -- "inherited." How so? If genetically, then shouldn't it be possible to "shut off" the instinct with genetic manipulation? We haven't done that yet to my knowledge, so this doesn't strike me so much as an experimental and scientific explanation as an "everything came about through evolution of genetic material, so the answer to every question in biology must be found in evolution." And anyway, how many complex interactions of genes must go into telling a baby how to make a sucking face, manipulate the tongue, and periodically swallow to get milk from a nipple they've never seen before in a world they can't possibly understand?

Or is instinct non-genetic? Is it something else?

Reductionists would argue that the child has some sort of pleasure sensor, and that the release of pleasure-chemicals is triggered by the instinctual behavior. Perhaps. But what pleasure chemicals are released by crying when cold? And what tells the body that those particular chemicals are "pleasure chemicals" to be sought, as opposed to "pain chemicals" to be avoided. This solution seems only to beg the question.

I really have no idea. And that makes watching my little girl eat that much more of a spiritual experience. Because every day it seems more and more obvious to me that somebody put those instincts in her, and I'd really like to shake his hand.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Laws of Form

(Props to Sadun Kal)

"Discoveries of any great moment in mathematics and other disciplines, once they are discovered, are seen to be extremely simple and obvious, and make everybody, including their discoverer, appear foolish for not having discovered them before. It is all too often forgotten that the ancient symbol for the prenascence of the world* is a fool, and that foolishness, being a divine state, is not a condition to be either proud or ashamed of.

Unfortunately, we find systems of education today which have departed so far from the plain truth, that they now teach us to be proud of what we know and ashamed of ignorance. This is doubly corrupt. It is corrupt not only because pride is in itself a mortal sin, but also because to teach pride in knowledge is to put up an effective barrier against any advance upon what is already known, since it makes one ashamed to look beyond the bonds imposed by one's ignorance.

To any person prepared to enter with respect into the realm of his great and universal ignorance, the secrets of being will eventually unfold, and they will do so in measure according to his freedom from natural and indoctrinated shame in his respect of their revelation.

In the face of the strong, and indeed violent, social pressures against it, few people have been prepared to take this simple and satisfying course towards sanity. And in a society where a prominent psychiatrist can advertise that given the chance, he would have treated Newton to electric shock therapy, who can blame any person for being afraid to do so?

To arrive at the simplest truth, as Newton knew and practiced, requires years of contemplation. Not activity. Not reasoning. Not calculating. Not busy behaviour of any kind. Not reading. Not talking. Not making an effort. Not thinking. Simply bearing in mind what it is one needs to know. And yet those with the courage to tread this path to real discovery are not only offered practically no guidance on how to do so, they are actively discouraged and have to set about it in secret, pretending meanwhile to be diligently engaged in the frantic diversions and to conform with the deadening personal opinions which are being continually thrust upon them.

In these circumstances, the discoveries that any person is able to undertake represent the places where, in the face of induced psychosis, he has by his own faltering and unaided efforts, returned to sanity. Painfully, and even dangerously, maybe. But nonetheless returned, however furtively."

G. Spencer Brown, The Laws of Form, Appendix 1.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


"We have to learn again that science without contact with experiments is an enterprise which is likely to go completely astray into imaginary conjecture." — Hannes Alfven

"Today's scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality." — Nikola Tesla