30 November, 2011

Chicks Dig Jerks

So, maybe I'm a bit disgruntled. Or maybe I'm just more perceptive right now. Either way, the following are some thoughts on the fairer sex that have been rolling around in my gourd for the past few weeks.

We humans are no different than any other species insofar as we have certain predispositions coded right into our DNA, thanks to evolution. I don't think that there will be much resistance to that assertion. We are predisposed to find sugars to be sweet, for instance, because they are an energy-rich source of food, and our ancestors millions of years ago who thought that such substances tasted good ate more of them, and had more energy, and had more sex. There's no controversy (among educated folk, that is) here.

Now, I will assert that one of these predispositions is that women seek mates with certain properties. We see this sort of thing all over the animal kingdom. Peahens select for mates the peacocks with the most brilliant plumage, et al. But we human males don't have bright tail feathers (I'm sad to say). So in order to understand this phenomenon, we have to understand what the underlying message is. The females don't prefer the tail feathers for their own sake; they prefer what they represent. They represent a robust male with a healthy immune system, among other things, for only such a male has the energy and resources to grow such a tail. The tail also correlates with testosterone levels.

Ah, testosterone. The most combustible chemical known to humankind. An accelerant better than any hydrocarbon in the arson of life. Testosterone may allow the peacocks to grow their bright displays, but it does other things as well. LIkewise, in humans, testosterone allows men to grow facial hair, have deep voices, and so forth (the so-called secondary sexual characteristics). And, likewise, the testosterone does more than just that in men as it does in peacocks.  

Testosterone is directly proportional, in men, with aggressiveness, competitiveness, assertiveness, violence... Your alpha-male mentality is caused, largely, by high levels of testosterone in a man's blood. Okay, no surprise there. Everyone knows that. But what does that mean?

Well, here's what I think. I think that, just a peahens are genetically predisposed to favor peacocks with the brightest and biggest tail feathers (a display of testosterone), women are largely predisposed to favor men who are aggressive, assertive, competitive, and so forth. 

Now, of course, human women are sentient and intelligent whereas the peahens are, largely, not (at least not to the same degree). Human woman are members of a society, and have evolved a frontal lobe that the peahens lack. There is a social veneer on top of the animal instincts in modern humans, and I would be wrong to ignore such a veneer. I'm not suggesting that women will always choose the most testosterone-laden mate; there are many other factors involved in a woman's choice. But I don't think that I am remiss in saying that women will be, on average, most attracted to such men, whether they choose them or not.

It is cultural. Our (Western) society tends to lionize and reward asswipes. The cutthroats get ahead time after time, and the good guy, as they say, often finishes last. It is a dog-eat-dog world out there, especially among men. Mens' social hierarchies tend to be much more stratified and rigid than womens' social hierarchies, and right there at the tops are invariably the alpha-male personalities.

Would you like an example of what I'm talking about? Well, here you go. Contemporary women thought that Marlon Brando's character from 'A Streetcar Named Desire' was one of the sexiest men they had ever seen, and fawned over him. That's right.  Even though he beats Stella, and cheats on her, women at the time found him almost irresistible. Such a hunk. I think that says a lot.

I have my own  anecdotal evidence, as well. I won't go into extreme detail, but I have personally experienced throughout my life, and have talked with many other men who have experienced throughout their lives, being passed over for somebody who is at least a tad more of a jerk. Ask any guy about how many times he's been put into what is colloquially called 'the friend zone' because they come across as nice, caring, and compassionate. They'll bear me out on this one.

So here is my cynical conclusion. If a guy wants any chance at getting a girl, he will almost certainly follow the following prescription:
1. Be aloof. It drives most girls crazy when they don't have your attention, and they will devote time and energy in getting it
2. Be unsympathetic. Don't listen to a girl's problems or desires.
3. Constantly avoid spending time with her, except when it is convenient for you and not her. I don't know why, but this works almost every time
4. Tell her that you don't care. Even if you do. Or at least, don't bring the subject up unless you absolutely have to.

That combo right there works 4 times out of 5. Men will change once they've got the girl, and then they'll be the nice guy that they probably are. But out the gate, you can't be nice. You'll lose to the tactics I described above almost every time.

In short, chicks dig jerks. But it isn't their fault.


The following is a discussion that I had with one of my favorite intellectual sparring partners. We got to talking about whether or not gay marriage ought to be allowed, and it became a discussion of not only that issue, but also of the virtue of having the government involved in the marriage business at all. If nothing else, I think that it was an interesting conversation. I would love to hear each of your thoughts on the matter!

So, without further ado:

ME: I cannot understand why the government feels the need to be involved in marriages...

THEM: The family is the fundamental unit of society. The traditional family unit (father, mother, child) is the BEST environment (I understand there are GOOD environments, too many to be listed here). Strong/healthy "best" family environments equals an educated, responsible, socially confident/competent, et al, person. For a philosophy of government envisioned by our founders (one of self government) there is no better family endorsement to make. That being said, I don't think restrictions should be placed on other associations among adults (co-habitating). Government endorsement (marriage licenses) of the traditional marriage is practical and essential for the "best" society.
Let me clarify, best family environments are the MOST COMMON place to find the "educated, responsible...". I understand bad people can come from "best" environments. The validity of my point still holds. Government should endorse specific family relationships for best society and government.

ME: I think that the issue of whether or not marriages (in the traditional sense) foster healthy children is irrelevant to this issue. The government ought not endorse any form of marriage; at least, not at the federal level. There is no valid reason for it to do so.
To take your argument to its logical conclusion, one would have to also crack down on single-parents (divorcees or widows/widowers alike), since they also don't fit the 'one-man-one-woman' definition of marriage.
The government has no business issuing marriage licenses any more than they do issuing pregnancy licenses or faux-hawk-hairstyle-wearing licenses. A marriage is, quite simply, a religious ceremony symbolizing a union between to individuals. Legally, it is a civil union between to adults, wherein the formalize their relationship with one another and become, for some purposes, a single legal entity. The federal government has no business interfering with religion or the free exercise of property rights (which is in essence what such a legal union breaks down to), so I can't see how it has business interfering with a marriage, either through endorsement or denial.

THEM: Healthy children/adults are not irrelevant. Good government (federal or state) requries good citizens. We have already clarified that government endorsement and not punishment of freedoms is best government. That government had original support of its citizenry and continues to have mine.

ME: My problem is not quotidian, it is from first principles. The concept of limited government ought to be extended into this realm; the government should not get involved in marriage one way or the other.
And then there's the edge-of-the-wedge side of things... if we permit the government to micromanage our personal lives in this regard in the name of 'healthy families,' then what is next? The abolishemnt of any form of non-traditional family- get a divorce and your children become wards of the state? Become widowed and have 180 days to remarry so that 'the children can have a father?' Where does it end?
And even you will admit that a traditional family doesn't always produce good results, and non-traditional families don't always produce poor ones (in fact, from as far as I have been able to research, the rates of success in children is statistically independent of whether they were raised by heterosexual parents or homosexual parents, but I digress...). So how can you presume to legislate accordingly?

THEM: Good government (We the People) saw the benefits of a best marriage relationship (from religious ceremonies or not) for society and government as a whole and [we] want those to continue. If government endorses all relationhips or none, the same [result then] follows. I know, currently, [the] government does not endorse all relationships but it has divided and marginalized its support for the traditional family since at least the 60s. What has happened? Bigger government and an unwise, unhealhty, citizenry growing ever more dependant on government for its sustanance and survival. If government fail to endorse the best [family format] we will naturally get whatever else comes.

ME: It seems that you're making the argument that a shift in government policy toward alternative lifestyles has led to the nanny-welfare-state that we have now, and I must say that I emphatically disagree.
The modern quasisocialist state that we have today traces its roots to the Progressive movement around 1890, culminating in the election of our second-worst President ever, Woodrow Wilson. It was Progessivist ideas that seeded the soil; it was FDR who watered the fields and sowed the crop of increasing government with the tractor of War.
I would contend that our reliance on the Federal Government for basic necessities comes more from the actions of those Presidents, and later on in Johnson's 'Great Society,' than from any cultural shift toward tolerance. To claim that giving homosexuals basic civil rights would lead to a more invasive federal government is a leap that no amount of argument or evidence could bridge.
The government should neither endorse nor condemn any particular form of 'family.' We should treat marriage as a legal matter similar to incorporation, since that is what it really is. Any added context to marriage is supplied on a personal (or community/religious level) and ought to stay personal.

THEM: Of course the welfare state was started by someone, I think we agree on the historical context. You won't disagree that the disintegration of the traditional family unit (nurturing mother, protective providing father) adds to the welfare state? I don't argue tolerance or alt lifestyle, let them do what they want. The question was (if I'm not mistaken) does government have a purpose in supporting/endorsing the institution (incorporation) of marriage? Since our government (when its healthy) relies almost exclusively on the product of traditional families I say the answer is yes it does and can endorse that incorporation. Based on your last statement our society (which is essentially the government) has endorsed that in the past. Asking "why?" seems imply more that it's silly. I don't think so.

ME: You are correct in ascertaining that my purpose was to call into question whether or not government has a purpose in supporting/endorsing (or, for that matter, denying/preventing) matrimonial incorporation. I don't think that it does; I can't foresee a breakdown in society simply because children are not exclusively raised in the type of family you described above.
As a microcosm, I offer myself up as an example. My parents are divorced, and each has remarried and redivorced (and in the case of my mother, married thrice). One of my brothers lives in OK, one in ID. My father doesn't fit into the protective stereotype described above, and my mother doesn't fit the nurturing one. Yet I would say that I am a productive member of society; certainly, I am not a detriment to it.
I know that what I just described is anecdotal evidence, but my point is this: the government, on principle, should not interfere with what is essentially a business decision, and a religious decision. As long as that decision is agreed upon by two consenting adults, I honestly don't see the problem. And honestly, a homosexual couple with a child is overwhelmingly likely to have adopted that child, and I submit that child who is adopted by parents in a stable, loving relationship who are committed to raising that child is going to do better than they would have in the situation they were adopted out of, regardless of whether those parents are black or white; straight or gay. There are good parents in each category; there are bad parents in each.

THEM: I allow exceptions in all cases as long as it's accepted that there is a best situation for a child to be reared into a productive member of society. It's the traditional family which has served well in that position for ages, and it that situation I think our government (society) has the right and repsonsibility to endorse and protect. Luckily most of us are okay despite what our parents (in any situation) have done to us. However there are common denominators (family background included) among those on social assistance, and those who are incarcerated. Strong healthy traditional family is not THE answer, but part of the answer. I come from almost exactly the same background as you. My mother, too. Being a father now, I hate to admit or accept my weaknesses as a father, but they are painfully obvious to me. I used to think it was better my father wasn't around because I would be more like him (not what I wanted). Now that I am a father I am not so sure. That's always what we argue from, our own perspective.

ME: At the end of the day, I don't see any reason whatsoever why a homosexual couple who desire to get married ought to be treated any differently than a heterosexual couple who wishes to do so. The sociological evidence is quite clear- there is no appreciable distinction between a child raised by the latter and a child raised by the former. Any time there is resistance to giving homosexuals their right to legal unions it almost always comes from the religious right. They couch their arguments in sociological terms, be we all know what the real deal is: they're inspired by a religious bigotry, and nothing more.

03 November, 2011

Some Thoughts After Watching a Few Episodes of Carl Sagan's Cosmos

This is the Hubble Deep Field photograph. It shows an area of the sky equivalent in size to a tennis ball held 100 meters away... 2.5 minutes of arc. That is a tiny sliver of rather nondescript sky in the constellation Ursa Major, but this photo shows thousands of galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars, and all at a distance of many thousands of light years away.
If this doesn't absolutely blow you mind, well...
I don't know what will.
When one really begins to ponder the significance of this photo, it is hard to overstate how impressive and grand our idea of our universe becomes. This photo represents 1/500,000 (one part in five hundred thousand) of the total sky as viewed from earth... so multiply all those figures I listed above for the number of galaxies and stars in this photograph alone by a 500,000 and you will approach the number of galaxies and stars in our observable universe... a conservative estimate at that, since this photo was purposely taken in one of the emptiest (in terms of visible light) patches of night sky that they could find.
Look at all of that... all of that matter, all of that energy, all of that space. That is a tiny fraction of the observable universe, and we have every reason to think that the observable universe (from Earth, that is) is itself just a tiny fragment of the universe as a whole.

For further perspective, gaze at this photo, taken by Voyager 1 at a distance of 6 billion kilometers from earth. That tiny, blue pixel in the farthest right ray of sunlight contains everything that we are- literally, our whole world. That tiny speck, easy to overlook and insignificant, represents the entirety of yours and my existence. 
The next time that you begin to entertain delusions of your own grandeur, remember that you are an absurd bag of molecular carbon- a mere chemical reaction, writ however large- resting on a tiny ball of rock and metal which can barely be seen from the extraordinarily close (astronomically speaking) vantage point of only a few billion kilometers. 
Wars have been fought by other bags of carbon over which one of them shall control a tiny fragment of this tiny fragment but for only a tiny fragment of time.
It certainly gives one pause to stop and think, if nothing else...
We live in a philosophically absurd world, and the only sense that we can make out of it comes from observation and experiment... in other words, from science. And yet, a vast number of people hold the idea that somehow their life is special- granted some cosmic meaning by an invisible deity. They hold the idea that our world is somehow special for the same reason. They would do away with science and leave in its stead the clumsy and repressive methods of faith and superstition.
If we are ever to make it off of this pale, blue dot and explore the universe beyond or rather puny horizons, we must first cast off the shackles of religion and superstitious belief. We must embrace the truth- and that means simultaneously embracing the knowledge that we are but an almost infinitesimally small part of this universe, neither necessary for its existence nor special among its many quintillions of molecular collections.
So there you have it... the astronomically large and the infinitesimally small. The entirety of the universe is the former, and we humans and everything we create are the latter. 
There is a kind of grandeur in this view of the universe... a sense of awe, wonder, and beauty that is unparalleled in my life. It astonishes me time and again how people can willingly turn away from this compelling and magnificent view of existence and instead opt for the close-minded, dogmatic views of religious superstitions. I am told all the time that since I am an atheist, my life must be drab and bland. My life, the theists tell me, must not have any wonderment in it at all, since I am a godless disciple of science. 
When I hear things like that, I chuckle softly to myself. For I have in my mind at all times these beautiful and consequential images, courtesy of NASA (and, the latter, Carl Sagan himself). And I know that no religion, no deity, could ever come close to the awe-inspiring and wonderful universe that is reality.