Friday, June 30, 2006

Anatomy and chemistry

Connect the Right Dots! Don’t make unfounded or automatic assumptions. Become more data-driven in your decisions Mohit Malik
Recently, I came across an intriguing study where researchers found that men give a higher rating to sexual traits (like flirtatiousness) than women in terms of perception about themselves and the member of the opposite sex they just interacted with. The authors of the study found that after a five-minute conversation with a stranger of the opposite sex, men were more likely to interpret ambiguous or friendly behaviour as indicating sexual interest. For the study, people of opposite sexes were paired together. Within their brief conversation, partners introduced themselves and talked about college experiences. After the allotted five minutes, each man and woman walked to a separate room to answer questions about their perceptions of their study partner, themselves and the conversation.
The men and the women rated themselves and their partners on personality traits such as extroversion, agreeableness, physical attractiveness, sexual traits and interaction behaviours. They were also asked if they thought the person they'd just talked to was sexy, flirtatious, seductive or promiscuous. As it turned out, men rated their women partners higher in sexuality than the women rated the men. Researchers found that “men generally think in more sexual terms than women.” My colleagues had many interesting observations on these findings (regretfully, none suitable for publication in this site). So what's new, you already knew that?...
All the dots are often not visible, and these are usually the important ones. Researchers also mentioned that “men's ratings of women were also associated with physical attractiveness but unrelated to whether he saw her as agreeable or felt the conversation was enjoyable.” In plain words, if attracted to a woman, men automatically assumed, ‘she is interested in me'. The quality of conversation was irrelevant. Effect begetting the cause? Similarly, we often carry around other such premise of cause and effect, which, sadly, are untrue.
[For more on identifying and using such ‘theories' effectively, read Using Theory to Gain the Edge ] Mohit Malik heads the leadership and strategy practice at Anoova Consulting . The views expressed in this column are his own. If you have ideas or suggestions for future columns or comments on this one, please contact me directly at mohit.malik@AnoovaConsulting.Biz

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Evolution of solution

The caste system is an anachronism that needs to be removed from Indian society. This can only be done if the terms in which people identify themselves and one another are changed. Therefore, to begin with, all surnames that indicate a person’s caste should be dropped. CPI (Muddled) Samrat June 22, 2006
I am no friend of the communists, but the way some green-horns understand our society and get to publish their hare-brained views, is really surprising. Social infirmities can't be wished away and the political parties are busy interrogating them in multi-layered encounters with the people. It's puerile to pooh-pooh all that from the comfort of one's key-board and cabin. Tusar N. Mohapatra

Male Matters

Harsh Kabra The Times of India Wednesday, June 21, 2006
With his recent book titled Manliness, Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield may well have rekindled the debate on the role and attributes of masculinity in contemporary societies. But the gender-neutral context he sets his contention in does not entirely hold good for India. For one, gender is extremely crucial, even exaggeratedly defining, here. The ensuing prejudices render weak the groundwork necessary to build a fair perception of masculinity.
For young boys, growing up isn't so much about masculinity as it is about being men. Then there's the deficit of fathering, an apparent legacy of the industrial revolution that divided fathers and boys between factories and schools. Surrounded by women at both the home and the school, boys are left wanting for models of masculinity. Where then do they pick their masculinity from? Media is one learning ground, but it teems with images of men whose identity stems from belligerence, violence, unforgiving competitiveness, adventurism or occasional pride in bending the rules. Another learning ground is the peer group, itself shy of adult support and therefore a questionable agency to be setting the standards of masculinity. In both instances, the more aggressive, anti-system guys are construed as more masculine.
However, in emulating such stereotypes, being male inadvertently becomes being not-female or even anti-female, where emotion or consideration is to be zealously shunned. According to Nancy Chodrow's work on gender identity acquisition, women usually care for both young boys and girls. But while girls learn to be female by identifying with and remaining close to a caretaker of the same gender, boys learn masculinity through a process of individuation and separation from the mother. And these early experiences, she noted, create an objectifying sense of self in men.
Even as the boy is forever told to be different from the mother he first starts relating to, there simply aren't enough, ordinary men around to qualify this difference with wider emotional behaviour, otherwise relegated to silver screen histrionics. Boys therefore learn masculinity, not by imitation and identification, but by separation and censure. It's time then that primary schools involved more men in the teaching process. And it's time fathers became regulars at crafts projects and parent-teacher meetings. There sure is a crisis of masculinity, but the solution lies closer home.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Third Sex

Amrita Nandy-Joshi The Times of India Saturday, June 17, 2006
I was chatting with a young district collector, picking his brains about reasons behind choosing the services. The conversation veered around and finally the collector's thoughts settled upon his college life. His eyes seemed to move to a distant past. The nostalgia and memories were writ large on his face. He spoke of friendships and ragging, the lectures and the food in the mess. A product of one of the premier engineering colleges in the country, he reminisced on the excitement of being surrounded by bright people. Talking of his classmates, he said,"My class had all male students except three non-males". Not very surprised by the skewed sex ratio of a civil engineering class, I was stunned by his choice of words. "Non-males? Why do you say that?", I asked in quick succession."
Arrey yaar, they wore those thick glasses and salwar-suits, oiled their hair. Ugly girls and with no personality. Not worth being called women". The collector had just thrown his female classmates outside society's accepted binaries of male and female. Women he described as ugly and with no personalities (a misnomer for sexuality) were part of the same bright group of people he remembered. It was interesting to note that he could differentiate between female and women but equally shocking to find that the meanings behind his words were still stuck in their traditional phallocentric spaces. Those bright females were not women because, to him, they lacked physical appeal. And they certainly did not have what it takes to be a man. Non-males was the only other category that they could be sidelined to.
Seeing my horrified expression, he soon realised his slip and aggressively tried to cover up with what can best be called political correctness. This high-lighted yet another sad truism for me, that political correctness is largely being used to camouflage certain thoughts with a polite, velvet veneer to cover crude, socio-cultural biases and beliefs. It has become a new tool of hypocrisy in the hands of those who live in a milieu where political correctness is de rigueur. Beauvoir's words make for a perfect quote here: "We are told not that femininity is a false entity, but that women concerned are not feminine". The contrary facts of experience are impotent against the myth.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Egalitarian redistributionist policies

Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour by Helmut Schoeck
A fascinating study of human behavior and motivation, August 9, 2004 Reviewer: Patrick Henry "clasicalliberal" - See all my reviews
I loved this book, a true tour-de-force. Although I am a fairly fast reader, it took me a while to get through this, because after reading 10-15 pages, I would have to stop and assimilate the information Schoeck was presenting. Absolutely fascinating.
Schoeck has assembled a vast array of information on the manifestations of envy in societies spanning the globe and across time. He has ferreted out information from the sociological and anthropological literature, fiction literature, cultural fables, crime data, political debates, among other sources. He uses example after real world example to show how ubiquitous envy is as a state of mind, and how various cultures deal more or less successfully with it. Societies that are successful in dealing with envy are essentially those that largely suppress its active, overt expression.
Numerous cases from the sociological and anthropological literature indicate how primitive societies, where objective differences between society members are much smaller than in more developed cultures, actually have more severe problems with the expression of envy than do cultures where such differences are larger. He shows how world-wide in primitive cultures, the 'evil eye' is universally regarded as the sorcerous expression of envious malice, and further shows the lengths to which primitive peoples will go to avoid or deflect the evil eye.
Schoeck reveals from objective sources that such envy appeasement is not limited to primitive societies, but that egalitarian redistributionist policies are merely the manifestation of envy avoidance and/or appeasement in industrialized nations. Schoeck spends extensive energies analyzing the egalitarian-utopian impulse and its various practical experiments. Those of a socialist/egalitarian bent [generally known as 'liberals' in the US, and contemporary as opposed to the classical type] will not like this book, because Schoeck makes an iron-clad case that their reasons for promoting such an unattainable society are either 1) envious malice seeking to deprive others of envied assets or 2) the appeasement of envy in others.
Schoeck shows, from the writings of people who have promoted utopian social models, that the motive for doing so is to create an envy-free society. He marshals an impressive body of documentation showing that policies such as progressive taxation are essentially institutionalized envy.
The so-what of all this is where Schoeck shows that uncontrolled envy inhibits all innovation and technical progress, and the destruction of achievements made in a society. He cites evidence showing further, how the legitimization of envy, and its subsequent appeasement, results in a vicious cycle in which the crocodile must be continually fed, as each social difference successively assumes the position of the BIGGEST difference, and becomes the new target for elimination by those who are envious of differences.

Friday, June 09, 2006

White Guilt and black anger

I’m reading Shelby Steele’s new book White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era... Remember, Steele is writing about a time when America actually was still a racist country 50 years ago. And yet, black leaders were not as angry then as today's liberal white-appointed "leaders... Steele’s book is in part the story of how, in a span of just 40 years, America could go from being a place where the murderers of Emmett Till could go free because they were white, to a place where O.J. Simpson could go free because he’s black. And it all revolves around how the civil rights movement, at the very moment it succeeded in achieving its goals, cynically betrayed its own ideals and became just another industry, an industry revolving around the exploitation of white guilt.
White guilt is the key, because in Steele’s formulation dysfunctional “black anger” varies directly with the guilt-ridden white liberal establishment that indulges it. In a truly oppressed people, this kind of anger would be unthinkable. There were no displays of “Russian anger” in the USSR, nor is there “Muslim anger” directed at the totalitarian states that oppress them. Just like black anger, Muslim anger is directed at a target that will indulge it: America or Israel. If Palestinians were truly an oppressed people we wouldn’t even know about it, because Israel would have driven them out and eliminated them long ago. The Palestinians' angry and dysfunctional existence revolves around the world’s indulgence of it.
Steele notes that the exploitation of white guilt leads to a perversion of character, wherein the victim can elevate himself above the guilty oppressor, thus creating “an empowering feeling of license.” He writes from the personal experience of having been a militant radical in the 1960’s, “the feeling that being black released me from the usual obligation to common decency and decorum.... I was licensed to live in a spirit of disregard toward my own country.”
Suddenly, with the perception of white guilt, Steele realized “I could use America’s fully acknowledged history of racism just as whites had always used their race--as a racial authority and privilege that excused me from certain responsibilities, moral constraints, and even the law.” It was “an abusive power very similar to the abusive power that had been wielded against me--a power of privilege deriving solely from the color of my skin,” capable of muscling “concessions from the larger society on the basis of past victimization...” Every black problem could be magically explained away “because it was an injustice to make victims responsible for their own problems.” posted by Gagdad Bob at 7:22 AM 7 comments

Monday, June 05, 2006

Make money, make funny, make honey

Feminine Mythtique Ambika Shukla Saturday, June 3, 2006
Ho hum, here’s the umpteenth attempt by the umpteenth woman to explain what women really want, as if we were some kind of mutant species that had to have our strange noises and signals decoded. We’re actually not fooled. The longer men pretend they don’t understand, the longer they have an excuse to skip doing any of the things we want them to. Ignorance is bliss, right? I mean, did you know that when we ask you to put the toothpaste cap back on, it might actually mean what we mean, and not some Martian code for “make love to me quick”.
It’s not that men don’t know, it’s just that they don’t want to know, or that they don’t want to admit to knowing. Women are less self-delusional. We know what men want. That’s why the makeup, the perfume, the lingerie, the gym, we’re not knocking ourselves out for nothing. We’re not fooling ourselves that it’s our charm or intelligence or baking skills that men want, we know pure and simple, it’s our bods. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be all fat and floppy, walking around wideeyed wondering what it was that men really wanted?
Men on the other hand don’t do anything to brush up on fidelity or consideration, romance, humour, foreplay or any of the things we’ve been bleating on about for years. Of course, they know what we want; it’s just that the selfish sods don’t want to do anything about it. So they do the next best thing, they pretend to be all confused by the strangeness of the female and how hard it is to decipher what she wants. How can a guy be blamed when he doesn’t even know what makes her happy?
It takes a nuclear scientist, naturally, to figure out that she might just appreciate a little time and interest, and a genius to understand that maybe, she might not be thrilled by her partner sleeping with her best friend. But the poor chap couldn’t have fathomed that, could he? Party’s over, guys. Your cover’s blown. We know you know. So here for the last time is the list: Provide for us, amuse us and love us to bits. Simple. Make money, make funny, make honey. Your time starts now.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Mother-father-infant triad

One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read is The Human Animal, by Weston LaBarre. LaBarre was both an anthropologist and a psychoanalyst, and this book deals with exactly what I attempted to outline in Chapter Three of my book, that is, how primates and proto-humans eventually evolved into proper (some of us, anyway) human beings. Being that it was published in 1954, many of the details in his book have undoubtedly been superseded by more recent research. And yet, he captured the big picture in a way that few people even attempt to do these days.
I don’t know of anyone else who cites LaBarre as an influence, but if nothing else, he’s a very entertaining writer, full of pithy and astringent comments, asides, and insults. Interestingly, he was a militant atheist, but that doesn’t bother me. So long as someone has a piece of the truth, their overarching philosophy is of no consequence to me. I feel the same way about Schuon, who is LaBarre’s polar opposite. I could never go as far as he does in his condemnation of modernity, but his spiritual genius is so luminous that I just have to overlook that part.
Chapter 6 of The Human Animal deals with sexual differences and the evolutionary circumstances that allowed humanness to emerge. LaBarre makes the provocative statement that “human society is biologically based upon the human body, and most especially upon the human breast and human sexuality.” In an evolutionary tradeoff, human brains grew so rapidly that women had to give birth earlier and earlier, to the point that the brain's incomplete neurology could only be wired together in the extra-uterine environment. The resulting infantile helplessness meant that the evolutionary unit switched from the mother-infant diad to the mother-father-infant triad. This symbiotic relationship further modified all of its members, as they adapted to each other. For example, “the whole emotional pattern of greater closeness in the mother-child bond has ultimate effects upon the more intense inter-individual bond between the sexes.”
Furthermore, this is why “a society’s attitudes toward women and toward maternity will deeply influence its psychological health and all other institutional attitudes.” LaBarre could write in 1954--well before the degradations to womanhood brought about by the feminist movement--that “It is a tragedy of our male-centered culture that women do not fully enough know how important they are as women.” Sadly, today so many women only know how important they are as men. This is a tragedy of monumental proportions, in part because it also results in men not understanding their own role in terms of being men.
One of the keys to understanding male-female differences lies in examining the different ways in which we are permitted to love. As a child we must love in one way, but in order to become an adult we must love in others. Naturally the process is infinitely more complicated for males. This is because our first love object is the mother with whom we are merged. Male identity must me wrested and won from this primordial matrix, otherwise there will be no manhood, only maleness. On the other hand, female identity is absolutely coterminous with their primordial union with the Great Mother, both literally and archetypally. All primitive men know that women can magically make children with their bodies. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons that women are generally more “grounded” and secure in their identity than men are. It would also explain the essential restlessness (and sometimes rootlessness) of men, along with the psychological adaptiveness of male homophobia.
Femaleness as a category is secure: its undeniable signs are menstruation and maternity. But manhood--as opposed to mere biological maleness--has no such obvious visible markers. Rather, it is something that must be constructed and achieved. The adaptive mechanism that allows males to become men is culture. What connects mother to infant is very concrete: the breast and all it symbolizes and implies. Likewise, what connected male to female was the evolutionary change that made females sexually available year-round. But what connects man to man?
“What connects father and son, male and male, is the mystery of logos and logos alone...” It is through this shared pattern that “father can identify with son and permit his infancy, within which son can identify with father and become a man, and within which a male can perceive and forgive the equal manhood of his fellow man.” At the foundation of the State “is our struggle to find both paternal power and brotherly justice in the governing of men.” This is why something very psychologically noxious happens when government becomes mother.
A similar thing happens when God becomes mother or mother becomes God. It interferes with the primordial basis of culture qua culture, which is to convert boys to men. This would explain the universal practice of various male initiation rituals, in which boys are sometimes brutally wrenched away from their mothers in order to facilitate male “rebirth” and full membership in the society of men. Again, femaleness is given by biology, but maleness must be proven, not just to oneself, but to the group. If appropriate models are not given for this drive, we will simply have pathological versions of it, such as the urban youth gang, which is all about proving one’s manhood. In fact, this is why so much contemporary rap and hip hop is so perversely male.
In a matriarchal culture so lacking in male role models, these boys are constantly trying to prove that they are what they imagine a man to be. This is why they are such pathetic, brooding, aggressive, and hyper-sexualized caricatures of manhood. (And ultimately this results from female sexuality reverting back to the mother-infant diad, with no role for men.) Other males--we call them liberals--often take women as their role models, with predictable results. They regard auto-castration as the quintessence of civilization.
Again, male sexual development is inherently more complex and hazardous, for men must first love and identify with the female, only to make a clean break of it and then return to the same object as an adult. Many things can go wrong with this process at each step along the way, as the road is filled with conflict and ambivalence. It explains why men often have the harder time growing up. But women have their problems as well. Some can never graduate from their default setting of loving the infant or mother to loving a man. posted by Gagdad Bob at 7:48 AM 3 comments