Links: Demography, arrests, books as art, are marriage and porn substitutes?

* The Shit Test Encyclopedia; note as always that linking does not imply endorsement and that often the most interesting pieces are ones in which I do not find plausible many claims. Adam Phillips’s book Becoming Freud falls into this category, though it is the only book by or about Freud that I’ve found palatable.

* “Demography Is Rewriting Our Economic Destiny,” an underappreciated and significant issue; this can be read profitably in tandem with Bryan Caplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think.

* “Decades-long Arrest Wave Vexes Employers: Companies Struggle to Navigate Patchwork of Rules That Either Encourage or Deter Hiring Americans With Criminal Records;” if a third of Americans have arrest records something is seriously wrong with our society.

* “The Innovative Art of the Book-Preserving Underground: How do illustrations for new editions of Fahrenheit 451 or Breakfast at Tiffany’s stay fresh? Artists for The Folio Society remain true to the text.” I’ve bought Folio Society books.

* “Americans aren’t getting married, and researchers think porn is part of the problem,” which must be read skeptically.

* “The Henry Ford of Books,” about James Patterson, who is not good at sentences but perhaps he knows as much: “he is philosophical about his critics, in particular critics of his craft. Patterson decided long ago that he’d rather be a successful popular novelist than a mediocre literary one.” I have often been told that I should be writing nonfiction, and perhaps my own smaller circle of critics are correct. I’ve started a couple of Patterson books without finishing them.

* “How to be an expert in a changing world,” which, like many Graham essays, is about more than it appears to be about; this for instance applies to artists: “Good new ideas come from earnest, energetic, independent-minded people.”

* “The Birdcage: How Hollywood’s toxic (and worsening) addiction to franchises changed movies forever in 2014.” Here is me on Birdman and note too that the author is nostalgic for a time when movies were central to the culture, which hasn’t been true for at least a decade.

Links: The mind-boggling cruelty of the drug war, changing your mind, status, love, social porn, and more

* If you read nothing else today read “Financial Hazards of the Fugitive Life, which concerns Alice Goffman’s brilliant book On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City.

* Loving what I used to hate, note especially the section on weight lifting, and also this: “We don’t need to preserve our first opinions as if they are our pure, untarnished, true nature.” It’s good in combination with “Being wrong, and a partial list of ways I’ve been wrong.”

* “So You’re Not Desirable …:”

The old axiom says beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to initial impressions, this statement is not really true: Consensus about desirable qualities creates a gulf between the haves and have-nots. But the truth of this maxim increases over time: As people get to know each other, decreasing consensus and increasing uniqueness give everyone a fighting chance.

* Speculative but fits my experience: “Women Call Other Women ‘Sluts’ to Guard Their Social Standing.”

* Man claiming to have been an “All-Source Intelligence Analyst, with the BDE S2 shop” describes the Bowe Bergdahl incident in ways largely ignored in the rest of the media; I would not call this the final word.

* Another Redditor describes the breakdown of Venezuelan society.

* Sugar is incredibly, unbelievably bad for you; “The data says that the dose on average that is safe is six to nine teaspoons of added sugar per day. Currently, Americans are at 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. That excess is driving obesity, diabetes, lipid problems, heart disease, cancer, dementia, fatty liver disease — virtually every chronic metabolic disease that you can think of is being driven by this excess of sugar.”

* “Social porn: why people are sharing their sex lives online.” (Maybe.)

* “Prisoners of Sex,” interesting on many levels including this mention of “the tension between our culture’s official attitude toward sex on the one hand and our actual patterns of sexual and romantic life on the other.” Also useful in the context of the link immediately above.

Links: Looking Up, change, real estate crowdsourcing, publishing, porn, men, game, and more

* Jeff Sypeck: “Some books you plan to write; others simply happen:” about Looking Up: Poems from the National Cathedral Gargoyles.

* How People Change.

* “The Real Estate Deal That Could Change the Future of Everything:” letting local people invest small amounts in local projects. The barriers are primarily regulatory.

* “Study: Porn stars aren’t ‘damaged:’ A report finds adult actresses are happier than the rest of us — and that being naked might lead to self-esteem.”

* Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur–How to Publish a Book describes what I’m going to be doing and what you might be thinking about doing.

* The 5-Year Humanities Ph.D.: finally.

* The Rules Revisited: Men Don’t Have Commitment Problems.

* The Game life cycle.

* Standup desks gain favor in the workplace. I’m using one, and I’d file this under under the “obvious development” category.

* Awesome: Soaring Rents Drive a Boom in Apartments.

* If Peter Thiel And Garry Kasparov Are Right, Then We’re In Trouble. The essay mentions their book, The Blueprint: Reviving Innovation, Rediscovering Risk, and Rescuing the Free Market, which I pre-ordered; it’s likely the sort of book that, even if it’s wrong, will still be interesting.

Philip Zimbardo and the ever-changing dynamics of sexual politics

A friend sent me a link to Philip Zimbardo’s talk, “The demise of guys?“, which recapitulates and shortens Hanna Rosen’s long Atlantic article, “The End of Men.” Based on the video and reading lots of material on similar subjects recently (like: Baumeister, Is There Anything Good About Men?, although I do not find all of it compelling), I replied to my (female) friend:

1) There is still a very strong preference for males in much of the developing world, including India and China.

2) Barring unpredictable improvements in reproductive technology that bring us closer to Brave New World, I do not see substantial numbers of women wanting to live without men. There are some, have always been some, and will always be some, but they’re in the minority and probably will be for a long time.

3) I wouldn’t be surprised if what’s actually happening is that we’re seeing an increasing bifurcation in male behavior, as we’re seeing in many aspects of society, where the winners win more and the losers lose more than they once did. I suspect you can see more guys getting a larger number of women—a la Strauss in The Game, guys in frats, and guys who want to play the field in major cities—but also more guys who substitute video games and porn for real women, or who are incarcerated, or otherwise unable to enter / compete in mating markets. This makes women unhappy because they have to compete for a smaller number of “eligible” guys, the word “eligible” being one women love to use without wanting to define it. Women on average aren’t punishing men as much as one might expect for playing the field—see, e.g., this Slate article. Notice how Baumeister is cited there too.

4) Guys are more likely to drop out of high school, but they’re also more likely to be in the top 1% of the income distribution. They’re overrepresented in software, engineering, novel writing, and lots of other high-octane fields. They’re also overrepresented in prisons, special ed classes, and so forth. If you concentrate on the far reaches of either end of the bell curve, you’ll find guys disproportionately represented. Feminists like to focus on the right side, Zimbardo is focusing on the left. Both might be right, and we’re just seeing or noticing more extreme variation than we used to.

5) I’m not convinced the conclusions drawn by Zimbardo follow from the research, although it’s hard to tell without citations.

6) If guys are playing 10,000 hours of video games before age 21, no wonder they’re not great at attracting women and women are on average less attracted to them. This may reinforce the dynamic in number 3, in which those guys who are “eligible” can more easily find available women.

7) Most women under the age of 30 will not answer phone calls any more and will only communicate with men via text. If I were on the market, I would find this profoundly annoying, but it’s true. Many women, at least in college, make themselves chiefly available for sex after drinking heavily at parties; this contributes to perceived problems noted by Zimbardo, instead of alleviating them. If women will mostly sleep with guys after drinking and at parties, that’s what guys will do, and guys who follow alternate strategies will not succeed as well. Despite this behavior, many women also say they want more than just a “hookup,” but their stated and revealed preferences diverge (in many instances, but not all). In other words, I’m not sure males are uniquely more anti-social, at least from my perspective. When stated and revealed preferences diverge, I tend to accept evidence of revealed preferences.

EDIT: At the gym, I was telling a friend about this post, and our conversation reminded me of a student who was a sorority girl. The student and I were talking and she mentioned how her sorority was holding an early morning event with a frat, but a lot of the girls didn’t want to go if there wasn’t going to be alcohol because they didn’t know how to talk to boys without it. Point is, atrophied social skills are not limited to one sex.

8) For more on number 7, see Bogle, Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus; I read the interviews and thought, “A lot of these people, especially the women, must experience extreme cognitive dissonance.” But people on average do not appear to care much about consistency and hypocrisy, at least in themselves.

9) In “Marry Him!“, Lori Gottlieb argues that women are too picky about long-term partners and can drive themselves out of the reproductive market altogether by waiting too long. This conflicts somewhat with Zimbardo’s claims; maybe we’re all too picky and not picky enough at the same time? She’s also mostly addressing women in their 30s and 40s, while Zimbardo appears to be dealing with people in their teens and 20s.

10) If Zimbardo wrote an entire book the subject, I would read it, although very skeptically.

Week 36 Links: A Jane Austen Education, what Facebook is like, The Longform.org Guide to the Porn Industry, A Game of Thrones as comedy, and more

Who put a bikini on this poor statue?

* Reading this review of William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education is bizarre because it’s like reading about myself, right down to the love for Madame Bovary:

In 1990, William Deresiewicz was on his way to gaining a Ph.D. in English literature at Columbia University. Describing that time in the opening pages of his sharp, endearingly self-effacing new book, “A Jane Austen Education,” Deresiewicz explains that he faced one crucial obstacle. He loathed not just Jane Austen but the entire gang of 19th-century British novelists: Hardy, Dickens, Eliot . . . the lot.

At 26, Deresiewicz wasn’t experiencing the hatred born of surfeit that Mark Twain described when he told a friend, “Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shinbone.” What Deresiewicz (who has considerable fun at the expense of his pompous younger self) was going through was the rebel phase in which Dostoyevsky rules Planet Gloom, that stage during which the best available image of marriage is a prison gate.

Sardonic students do not, as Deresiewicz points out, make suitable shrine-­tenders for a female novelist whose books, while short on wedding scenes, never skimp on proposals. Emma Bovary fulfilled all the young scholar’s expectations of literary culture at its finest; Emma Woodhouse left him cold. “Her life,” he lamented, “was impossibly narrow.” Her story, such as it was, “seemed to consist of nothing more than a lot of chitchat among a bunch of commonplace characters in a country village.” Hypochondriacal Mr. Woodhouse, garrulous Miss Bates — weren’t these just the sort of bores Deresiewicz had spent his college years struggling to avoid? Maybe, he describes himself conceding, the sole redeeming feature of smug Miss Woodhouse was that she seemed to share his distaste for the dull society of Highbury.

The major difference is that I’m 27 and he describes himself at 26.

* A description of Facebook: “It seemed too much like tv, in reverse. Everybody transmits and nobody watches.” This is why I read Hacker News comments.

* Slate.com posted “The Longform.org Guide to the Porn Industry, which has a bunch of fascinating essays that are safe for work in the sense that they don’t have explicit photos on them. None are quite as good as David Foster Wallace’s “Big Red Sun” in Consider the Lobster, but that’s like accusing a basketball player of not being Michael Jordan. As I read the essays, I kept thinking of Philip K. Dick in some inchoate, ill-defined fashion—perhaps because he’s done so much to shape my thinking about reality and unreality.

Anyway, the next couple links stem from the Slate links:

* “Larry Flynt used to defend Hustler by calling the nude photo layouts “art.” I would come to joke that the porn video is indigenous Southern California folk art. The cheesy aesthetic — shag-carpet backdrops, tanning-salon chic, bad music, worse hairdos — and the everyman approach to exhibitionism are honest expressions of life in the land of mini-malls, vanity plates and instant stardom.” Evan Wright.

* “Those who enjoy whatever private pleasure is to be gained from receiving physical pain publicly would appear not to overlap at all with those who enjoy whatever private pleasure is to be gained from inflicting shame collectively.” From an article nominally about Sasha Grey and the porn industry, but really about expectations in cultural narratives of shame and redemption.

* “I’d call your right now, but I think you’re attending a retrograde ceremony for the artificial binding of two people in a legal contract regarding their sexual and financial behavior. I hope said ceremony at least has an open bar.”

* “Publishing—at least in general, and at least below the very top echelons of management—is not a fast-paced business, and the sense of urgency and desire for efficiency you might find in the offices of an investment bank or law firm don’t generally exist, simply because publishing doesn’t generally attract the sorts of people you often find in those fields.” This may bode ill for the future of the industry as it exists now.

* “I don’t know exactly what the future [of publishing] will look like, but I’m not too worried about it. This sort of change tends to create as many good things as it kills. Indeed, the really interesting question is not what will happen to existing forms, but what new forms will appear.”

* This is pretty funny: “A Game of Thrones” (the TV show) as a buddy comedy.

A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What The World's Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire — Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam

A Billion Wicked Thoughts is good but not great; it covers a lot of much-discussed studies from an angle that, although novel, isn’t quite novel enough. The book is like Why Women Have Sex: both are written by pairs of popularizing intellectuals who probably want to earn more money and affect the social conversation more than they could through writing purely academic work. Anyone really interested in issues around sexuality and evolution is better served by The Evolutionary Biology of Human Female Sexuality, which is insanely detailed and concomitantly worth reading.

In A Billion Wicked Thoughts, the forward by Catherine Salmon notes, “There is a lot of truth to the belief that if you can imagine it, you can find it as Internet porn.” If you can imagine it and can’t find it, you probably have a good business model. Or you can make the porn yourself. But the ubiquity of online porn, combined with its breadth, makes it a trove of information about behavior that, as Ogas and Gaddam point out, most people are reluctant to share. If they do share, what they share and how they shade information can render that information nearly useless. In contrast, the Internet feels anonymous enough to let your search engine rip. So Ogas and Gaddam decided to study search queries, sort them (apparently using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk), classify them, and analyze them. We also get lots of specific sample search queries, like “family nude beach” (167), “anal sex benefits” (168), and “nude construction workers” (168). These illustrate important points, I’m sure, and I’m not including them in this post purely to ensnare unwary search engine users.

Using Internet search queries reduces some forms of bias while presumably introducing others—like what we know about people who don’t use the Internet. Still, the project is interesting, and Ogas and Gaddam structure the book as a series of chapters that use Internet porn search classifications as headers, note some of those searches, and explain what those searches might mean using research that draws from evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, sexology, and similar fields. It’s a readable introduction, but it’s also part of a torrent of pop sex books over the last decade, which you can find through Amazon’s “if you bought this, you’ll also like this. . .” feature. If you’ve read enough of those books, you probably don’t need this one. Read this Salon Q&A instead.

The prose in A Billion Wicked Thoughts is competent—and, unlike Sex at Dawn‘s whacky metaphors and comparisons that strive for style and instead hit silliness, it rarely strays into the ludicrous. Although the purpose of nonfiction is to convey information, the best nonfiction goes beyond that stage to become art (Umberto Eco makes this as a subsidiary point in Confessions of a Young Novelist). A few jokes might even be intentional—I particularly like “On the web, group sex porn has exploded into a variety of sub-genres” (emphasis added)—but A Billion Wicked Thoughts doesn’t quite get there, although there’s nothing wrong with it.

But having little wrong isn’t enough to be right, and they still use coinages like “The Miss Marple Detective Agency” to describe a large body of research demonstrating that women’s physical reactions to sexual stimuli often differ markedly from their psychological reactions to sexual stimuli. You can get a lot of the material in this chapter from the New York Times article “Women Who Want to Want,” starring psychologist Lori Brotto instead of psychologist Meredith Chivers instead of psychologist Lori Brotto.

The upshot shot of the chapter is that many women appear to physically respond to sexual stimuli even when their conscious minds aren’t responsive or even find it disturbing—and those same women are frequently unaware of the phenomenon. Ogas and Gaddamn analogize the situation to the mind-body problem in philosophy (which also happens to be the name of an excellent novel by Rebecca Goldstein). The upshot: “women need to be psychologically aroused.” This appears to be true, but although the research points in that direction, it isn’t perfect; we have effects, but the causes remain uncertain.

There’s still evidence in that direction, and Ogas and Gaddam discuss much of it, including the female penchant for romance novels (which, although sexual, also focus much more on narrative and emotional connection than porn) and the male penchant for porn featuring anonymous sex focused in particular on body parts. They’re also aware of their own biases, as when they note “We all have our favorite theories that fit our experiences and prejudices.” That’s true, and it’s hard to shake ideology out of sex research. It’s also hard to shake one’s own training, and mine in literature makes me think some of their literary analysis is suspect, but they’re good at a naive version of Franco Moretti’s distant reading, as when they note how rare it is for heroes in romance novels to be truly, consistently poor:

In modern romances, the heroine often has a high-powered, high-paying job of her own. Romances feature women who are corporate executives, politicians, and financiers. Since such heroines no longer require a man to provide for their needs, has this cultural transformation led to more romance heroes with limited resources?

Not at all. If a heroine is rich, then the hero is even more rich.

They cite Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance, which studies the genre from a politically inflected but still fascinating perspective. They cite a lot in general, and their notes / bibliography is close to 100 pages. I always admire a book with a very, very big bibliography. In this respect, A Billion Wicked Thoughts satisfies.

A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What The World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire — Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam

A Billion Wicked Thoughts is good but not great; it covers a lot of much-discussed studies from an angle that, although novel, isn’t quite novel enough. The book is like Why Women Have Sex: both are written by pairs of popularizing intellectuals who probably want to earn more money and affect the social conversation more than they could through writing purely academic work. Anyone really interested in issues around sexuality and evolution is better served by The Evolutionary Biology of Human Female Sexuality, which is insanely detailed and concomitantly worth reading.

In A Billion Wicked Thoughts, the forward by Catherine Salmon notes, “There is a lot of truth to the belief that if you can imagine it, you can find it as Internet porn.” If you can imagine it and can’t find it, you probably have a good business model. Or you can make the porn yourself. But the ubiquity of online porn, combined with its breadth, makes it a trove of information about behavior that, as Ogas and Gaddam point out, most people are reluctant to share. If they do share, what they share and how they shade information can render that information nearly useless. In contrast, the Internet feels anonymous enough to let your search engine rip. So Ogas and Gaddam decided to study search queries, sort them (apparently using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk), classify them, and analyze them. We also get lots of specific sample search queries, like “family nude beach” (167), “anal sex benefits” (168), and “nude construction workers” (168). These illustrate important points, I’m sure, and I’m not including them in this post purely to ensnare unwary search engine users.

Using Internet search queries reduces some forms of bias while presumably introducing others—like what we know about people who don’t use the Internet. What can see about all those searchers who aren’t looking for porn? What can we say about sample bias?
The authors are aware of this and say, for example:

The male desire for older women is also reflected in the popularity of ‘mom’ searches on PornHub (since teen content is highly visible and easily accessible on PornHub, users may be more likely to manually type in searches for content they don’t immediately seen.

But how do we know about the proportions of searchers to non-searchers? This may be an example of the old joke about the “Streetlight Effect:

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is.

Internet searches are where the light is right now.

Still, the project is interesting, and, in the absence of other data, it makes some sense to use what’s available. Ogas and Gaddam structure the book as a series of chapters that use Internet porn search classifications as headers, note some of those searches, and explain what those searches might mean using research that draws from evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, sexology, and similar fields. It’s a readable introduction, but it’s also part of a torrent of pop sex books over the last decade, which you can find through Amazon’s “if you bought this, you’ll also like this. . .” feature. If you’ve read enough of those books, you probably don’t need this one. Read this Salon Q&A instead.

The prose in A Billion Wicked Thoughts is competent—and, unlike Sex at Dawn‘s whacky metaphors and comparisons that strive for style and instead hit silliness, it rarely strays into the ludicrous. Although the purpose of nonfiction is to convey information, the best nonfiction goes beyond that stage to become art (Umberto Eco makes this as a subsidiary point in Confessions of a Young Novelist). A few jokes might even be intentional—I particularly like “On the web, group sex porn has exploded into a variety of sub-genres” (emphasis added)—but A Billion Wicked Thoughts doesn’t quite get there, although there’s nothing wrong with it.

Having little wrong isn’t enough to be right, and they still use coinages like “The Miss Marple Detective Agency” to describe a large body of research demonstrating that women’s physical reactions to sexual stimuli often differ markedly from their psychological reactions to sexual stimuli. You can get a lot of the material in this chapter from the New York Times article “Women Who Want to Want,” starring psychologist Lori Brotto instead of psychologist Meredith Chivers instead of psychologist Lori Brotto.

The upshot shot of the chapter is that many women appear to physically respond to sexual stimuli even when their conscious minds aren’t responsive or even find it disturbing—and those same women are frequently unaware of the phenomenon. Ogas and Gaddamn analogize the situation to the mind-body problem in philosophy (which also happens to be the name of an excellent novel by Rebecca Goldstein). The upshot: “women need to be psychologically aroused.” This appears to be true, but although the research points in that direction, it isn’t perfect; we have effects, but the causes remain uncertain.

There’s still evidence in that direction, and Ogas and Gaddam discuss much of it, including the female penchant for romance novels (which, although sexual, also focus much more on narrative and emotional connection than porn) and the male penchant for porn featuring anonymous sex focused in particular on body parts. They’re also aware of their own biases, as when they note “We all have our favorite theories that fit our experiences and prejudices.” That’s true, and it’s hard to shake ideology out of sex research. It’s also hard to shake one’s own training, and mine in literature makes me think some of their literary analysis is suspect, but they’re good at a naive version of Franco Moretti’s distant reading, as when they note how rare it is for heroes in romance novels to be truly, consistently poor:

In modern romances, the heroine often has a high-powered, high-paying job of her own. Romances feature women who are corporate executives, politicians, and financiers. Since such heroines no longer require a man to provide for their needs, has this cultural transformation led to more romance heroes with limited resources?

Not at all. If a heroine is rich, then the hero is even more rich.

They cite Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance, which studies the genre from a politically inflected but still fascinating perspective. They cite a lot in general, and their notes / bibliography is close to 100 pages. I always admire a book with a very, very big bibliography. In this respect, A Billion Wicked Thoughts satisfies.

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