Links: Mate-choice copying, incentives, college, oppression in the U.S., and more!

* Mate-choice copying in single and coupled women: The influence of mate acceptance and mate rejection decisions of other women.

* Uncle Sam is coming for your savings; live perpetually in the hedonic present or be prepared to be called one of the one percenters. What will happen to the millionaires next door? (Link goes to one of the best books I’ve ever read). Is it worth the work to become wealthy?

* Top ten reasons why heterosexual women report having sex; the title is mine and as always linking does not imply endorsement.

* “Why college isn’t always worth it: A new study suggests the economic return on a college degree may be a lot more modest than you think.” This better matches anecdotal yet seemingly universal observation, and it better matches work like that in Paying for the Party. The more I learn about college and about pre- preschool education the more skeptical I am of both as panaceas.

* I Was Arrested for Learning a Foreign Language. Today, I Have Some Closure.

* The U.S. used to be a haven for dissidents and a place where Darkness at Noon could be published. Now we inflict Darkness at Noon on others: “From Inside Prison, a Terrorism Suspect Shares His Diary: ‘Guantánamo Diary.’”

* When Bread Bags Weren’t Funny, or, we are now spectacularly rich in ways that rarely make the news.

* “The One Thing No One Tells You Before You Have Kids: Don’t get a dog.” Though to me this seems obvious.

* “Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say: How the language police are perverting liberalism.” The vehemence of the reaction against this piece supports its points.

Getting good with women and how I’ve done almost everything in my life wrong: Part I

An interview between me and Tucker Max about how I used to suck with women and now I’m okay just went up on his Mating Grounds podcast. You should go listen or read the transcript. Then again, when I told my fiancée that I used to suck with women and now I’m okay, she said, “Wait, when did that happen?”, so know that at least one knowledgeable person thinks I’m advertising falsely.

Let’s take this paragraph to wait for you to listen to the podcast and come back.

When Tucker asked if I wanted to be on the podcast, I thought I should say no, primarily because my child-adolescent-adult trajectory hits the broad bounds of normal. But a lot of the guys listening to the podcast are 13 – 22 and having struggles similar to mine. I began imagining what I would tell my earlier self and what I think I’ve learned. The answer turned out to be “quite a bit” (though most of the following is likely to be obvious to older guys who have their lives together).

This started as notes, eventually morphed into paragraphs, and then by accident I had an essay. Call it a hazard of the writing life. I really meant it to be shorter.

Growing up

Last month my Dad said, correctly, that I was a pretty weird kid. When your parents say you’re weird, you know it’s true. I don’t entirely know now why I was weird from ages 10 – 14 or so and I still don’t know why I chose a lot of non-functional behaviors, like obsessively playing video games and Magic Cards. I had an exacting, precise, nerdish disposition, but that alone doesn’t explain why I was such an anti-social loser. Computer games can to some extent substitute for the real world and for that reason they can be dangerous. For me computer games were a real-world substitute. Anything that makes you avoid the real world, broadly defined, for long periods of time is not good.

Eventually and with much effort I grew out of that phase, and despite the unpleasantness at the time I did learn some useful, actionable things. Like: choose hobbies that increase your overall attractiveness. Such hobbies are very rarely video games. Almost no girl says, “I want a level 50 wizard” or “I want a guy who gets home from school and watches five hours of TV.” Girls want the guy who makes the TV or the music, or who is an athlete, or who has some other status markers that matter to both men and to women.

In high school and college, sports and music are probably the biggest, most prominent, and most important actionable things (choose “action” wherever possible) that attract women. If you have the choice between playing the latest video game or playing your guitar, choose guitar. If you have a Friday night in which you can play video games, alone or with your video-game fanatic friends, like you always do, or go do almost anything else, choose “anything else.” It took me shockingly long to realize this. Try to make “anything else” happen.

(My fiancée was listening to the Podcast and heard me describe playing Starcraft on Korean servers, and she said, “How many hours did you spend playing?” The answer is… depressing. During that period I built almost no useful skills.)

Let me emphasize that choosing “actionable” things matters. To some extent, thoughts and beliefs that do nothing to change actions don’t matter. So if you’re reading this and thinking, “I suck” or “I suck with women” or whatever, that may be interesting, but the only really interesting thing is the steps you can take right now to make things better. For me, quitting video games was in and of itself a huge boost. I’d argue that quitting video games is going to be good for almost any guy.

Certain domains simply don’t interest most women or interest them very little. As noted, video games are one. Sports, as a spectator activity are another. Few women want to know about the travails of the Knicks, or how the ’92 NBA Championships. Guys who watch four hours of sports a day are, all else being equal, handicapping themselves.

I’m not saying you should never play video games or watch sports—plenty of successful guys do—but if they must be done they should be done in measured ways. As a teenager I was for whatever reason incapable of playing video games in a measured way. They became a substitute, rather than a complement, to the real world, and that is a problem.

Some valuable domains that still don’t in and of themselves interest women much. I’ve never heard women discuss among themselves Unix systems programming, or for that matter any kind of programming. Few women hunt live animals or express deep interest in car minutia. It is possible to attract women as a second-order effect by doing these things—tech millionaires probably do okay if they’re famous, and domain mastery can be sexy in the right circumstances—but they’re not as good as being an athlete, or a musician, or a comedian, or better still an athletic musician who does some comedy too.

What else? I wish I’d learned when I was younger how to relax. Talk to people. Try to have fun. Simple stuff that comes naturally to many but didn’t come naturally for me. I wish I’d understood that almost everyone has the same problems and feelings I was, but they weren’t expressing those feelings. That includes all the embarrassing experiences and sensations. I wish I’d realized that funny stories often follow a simple formula: they are embarrassment + time. Reading, and especially reading fiction, helped teach me these things.

These comments now sound insanely simple, but for whatever reason I was really bad at interacting with people, and I terrified of social judgment. But that judgment isn’t actually all that important, and most people will respect effort more than no effort at all.

I was really afraid of girls when I was an early-ish teenager, for reasons not obvious to me anymore. It’s really hard to debug the mind of the 13-year-old you used to be. I don’t think it was totally logical. Maybe it was evolutionary. Maybe it was my own psychology at the time. I had a disproportionate fear of negative consequences. Maybe I was scared of being isolated than I already felt. I hadn’t realized that in many if not most domains, any individual can choose to be in the game or out of the game, and I chose to be out of the game.

Change came slowly. At some point too I began thinking about most of the magazines that women read and the shows they watch, and they’re all about relationships, all the time. The vast majority of women are intensely interested in men and attracting men. Seems obvious in hindsight, but it’s useful to state explicitly. The metrics they use to evaluate men are similar to but subtly different than the ones men use to evaluate women. So many attractive women are insecure about their bodies, and they make themselves more insecure by looking at all these Photoshopped models. It’s crazy. In some ways women have more unreasonable standards for themselves than men do for them!

I also had almost no positive role models for dealing with women. I didn’t have older cousins or brothers or whatever, and I wasn’t easily mentored (this is one reason why I think Mate, the book Tucker and Geoff Miller are writing, is so important). My ideas about women came from Disney movies or pop culture or fantasy novels, none of which are terribly accurate or do a good job representing real women (in advertising everyone is ready to fall into bed all the time, or buying the right jeans makes you sleep with someone).

In fantasy novels of the sort I read, to put it politely, the psychology of the female characters did not (and does not now) map well onto actual women. To put it less politely, these novels idiotically portrayed women as either highly virtuous prizes to be won by male heroes or villains or as evil sluts. This generalization includes fantasy novels written by women.

In life, of course, the vast majority of women are neither and dislike being treated as highly virtuous prizes or as evil sluts. I don’t even like using the word “slut” for reasons articulated well by Mark Liberman; the word “projects bad associations based on a framework of ideas that I don’t endorse.” I’ve also realized that most sexual shaming occurs from women to women, rather than from men to women, and most man to woman sexual shaming occurs because the former can’t get the latter and retreats to social attacks as compensation.

Teachers or other adult figures didn’t help much either, and being a teenager can be very isolating in American society because one only has equally ignorant peers for information. Teachers have strong incentives not to be level with students. If teachers tell students important truths about social relations or male-female relationships, parents will go ballistic. As kids begin discovering essential truths they often feel “the world [is] corrupt from end to end,” but we then propagate the cycle with our own children. Even today, in 2015, it seems radical to ask, as this article does, “What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure?” Instead, we collectively leave each generation to rediscover everything for themselves. Then we get made when someone like Neil Strauss writes a book like The Game, which, while not a perfect work, is still a net improvement for average guys who know nothing, like I once did.

For me getting hobbies helped. I noticed that guys who were more successful with women did a lot of stuff, with “stuff” being defined broadly. Hobbies meant running and working out. They meant getting jobs. They meant writing for the newspaper. They meant reading. Reading is essential, and when I moved on from fantasy I mostly read literary fiction and interesting nonfiction. Both helped me develop more empathy and understand what other people feel, even if most people won’t admit those feelings to anyone but their closest friends. Fiction is often a forum that paradoxically offers greater honesty that nonfiction.

Recognizing that other people were doing the sorts of things I wanted to be doing helped. What were they doing that made them successful, and what was I doing that made me unsuccessful? I began asking those kinds of questions and fishing for answers, which took a long time to come to fruition. Have you ever been in a situation in which the obvious losers of a group call the obvious winners of a group losers in order to make themselves feel better? Me too. Except that I was among the losers, and I wanted to not be.

Clearly some guys do much better with women than others, and it’s not a bad idea to figure out what those guys are doing. The same is true of women: I’ve met women who are great at flirting, who are great at making guys feel like a million bucks, and who are pragmatic about the guys around them. They do great. I’m thinking of one girl in particular who I was friends with in high school, who consistently had boyfriends and fuckbuddies and so forth because she was fantastic at making guys feel great about themselves. She smiled at guys she liked, laughed a lot, made plans to meet (and didn’t flake), and so forth. She not surprisingly batted way out of her league and had a spectacular sex life for someone her age.

Reading

No single book from that period stands out as definitive, but in college I discovered evolutionary biology, which was tremendous. Evolutionary biology gets unfairly maligned in various forums, and the pop version of it sometimes get fairly maligned in others, but reading it suddenly made a lot of previously inexplicable behaviors explicable. Why do girls say they hate dating assholes yet keep dating assholes? Why are “nice” guys so often unsuccessful (the scare quotes around “nice” are key). Why do so many people say various things and then act contrary to the things they say? Why is Saturday night behavior so often regretted Sunday morning?

I wouldn’t argue that evolutionary biology has all the answers about every facet of human behavior, and I would argue that people diverge widely along many axes, but I will argue that evolutionary biology describes the way average human male and female reproductive incentives differ and how that gives rise to most of the observable conflict one sees on average between the sexes. I’d also argue that understanding evolutionary biology is one way of consciously overcoming whatever ingrained behavior might be primarily genetic; if you want to act contrary to what you think the default path might be, it helps to understand the default path and how it came to be. Where did I start? I don’t remember. Miller’s book The Mating Mind found its way to me early. So did The Evolution of Desire. Both are excellent places to start.

There are also a reasonable number of people—though they’ve got to be a small percentage, for obvious reasons—for whom understanding sex and dating simply isn’t a priority, and if you’re one of those people, I don’t know why you’re reading this essay. Those people presumably go find other productive things to do.

Most of what I began to do in high school is in the podcast. I mentioned getting a job (briefly at an Old Navy, then at a YMCA, and later in college as a lifeguard, which I should’ve started in high school). I started doing simple stuff like… talking to people, and saying yes to events, and so on. For someone who was pathologically unhappy from ages 10 – 14, that was a big step.

There wasn’t a definitive, epiphanic moment for me. Progress was slow, and had I somehow known what I know now it would’ve been much faster. But I did notice that when I was a teenager—and really for my entire life—I’ve heard people confidently state stuff that is totally wrong. In high school heard all these guys bragging about all this stuff that at the time I couldn’t judge, really, but that I now know to be at best wrong and at worst incomplete.

Let’s take one example: You’ve guys confidently pronounce, “Women just want money” (Tucker and Miller did a whole podcast on the subject.) But I know plenty of guys who do really well with lots of great women yet don’t have a lot of money. Some have none at all. Musicians are a classic example: Many have no money and tons of groupies. For most guys, having “enough” money helps, but the amount a guy has to have to hit the gold digger set is astonishingly high—so high that it’s probably not worth pursuing if your goal in a modern Western country is to maximize your success, defined however you’d define it, with women.

Consider one literary example of too much money focus: Matt from Megan Abbott’s novel Dare Me. The novel is about a cheer team ruled by a top mean girl, but the team is roiled when a young coach shows up (this sounds like a teen novel, but it’s not: the rivalry leads to murder, affairs, and to real-world issues rather than “young-adult,” literature-world issues). Matt, the coach’s sad sack husband, barely appears in the novel because he works all the time.

His wife cheats on for many reasons, but boredom is a prominent one. Matt’s “child” might not even be is. This is how Matt appears to the novel’s protagonist and to his wife: “He’s working. He never, ever stops.” Or: “He is always on his cell phone and he always looks tired.” Or: “He works very hard, and he’s not interesting at all.” Among many contemporary women boredom is the greatest enemy.

Most have “enough” money, and even those who don’t are often bored by their low-skill service-sector jobs or by their schooling and would rather choose fun, exciting, louche guys over stable boring guys. That may be a fault of the women themselves—now more than ever a propensity to boredom is really a character fault in those lacking curiosity—but it’s still pervasive enough to merit mentioning.

A guy can’t cure every woman’s boredom. Nor should he try. I’ve tried without much success. In the process I did learn that I’m the wrong guy for a lot of girls—if you don’t like books or talking about ideas, or if you want to go out four nights a week, I’m the wrong guy for you. But I am really, really the right guy for some girls. Those same girls find a lot of guys annoying, shallow, or boring. I’ve met girls at book readings, where the baseline crowd is 40+. A girl in her 20s stands out, like I did as a guy at the same age. But we gravitated to each other because the kinds of people who show up at book readings are very different from most people.

I won’t call Dare Me a great novel. But its unusual voice makes it more honest than most novels that might loosely define its genre. It does have a less varnished understanding of how many women feel than most novels. Much narrative art is designed to flatter its readers’ and watchers’ existing prejudices and self-conceptions. Finding art that challenges prejudices and self-concepts is harder (have you noticed how I keep saying and implying that the hard things are worth doing?). Matt has an important lesson for guys: he misallocates resources because he assumes that coach just wants more money.

She doesn’t: she wants attention, she wants sex, she wants to feel desired—she wants the things most women want. Money is great, and more is obviously better than less, but in most situations most guys don’t need that much money. They need to be able to buy drinks and event tickets and pay rent. They need enough cash to have clothes that fit, and that amount is arguably lower than it ever has been thanks to “fast fashion.” Advertising has wrongly convinced guys that material goods get the girl. That’s not true. Guys don’t need enough money for luxury cars or exotic vacations or flying first class or the many other things that guys imagine will get them laid. That’s one of many important points Miller makes in Spent.

The amount of money needed to play the money game is absurd. The money game demands hundreds of thousands of dollars a year—or having a million dollars or more. For most guys, the jobs and businesses that yield so much cash also consume way too much time and energy. Unless you love the work for its own sake—if you get your jollies from building website backends or financial accounting, do it—playing the money game is a waste of time.

I’m not entirely sure where the association with money and romantic success comes from; perhaps it’s from art, or from the fact that guys who are ridiculously, absurdly wealthy can use their money to attract women, but even then they’re a) probably not having the highest quality relationships and b) again, that domain is blocked for most guys most of the time. By definition we can’t all be in the top 5%. The key is understanding when being in the top 5% or top 1% matters and when being average or above average is sufficient.

Most women also aren’t gold diggers and don’t like being treated as such. The number of actual gold diggers is small, but, as with sociopaths or bipolar people, they can be quite costly if they’re not recognized rapid. A significant number of women will also be turned off by guys who transparently want to buy them.

You’re better off focusing on knowledge and activities that don’t require tons of money. In addition, the more you as a guy reading this interact with women, the better off you’ll be. You’ll start to empathize with women, and that will help. I’ve had a couple experiences that really helped me in that regard.

Part II is here.

Why don’t more men go into teaching? Fear of The Accusation

In the NYT Motoko Rich asks “Why Don’t More Men Go Into Teaching?“, and he gives a variety of answers but not an important one: any male teacher is only one accusation away from having his entire career derailed and a potentially lengthy, onerous police investigation. I thought about going into teaching, but stories from existing male teachers were persuasively dissuading.

At the K-12 level, men have the (many) problems that all teachers face—obnoxious “do something” administrators, angry parents, medium- to low-status occupation, etc.—plus the need to teach defensively and to think about how any words or actions can be interpreted in the worst light possible. Being one-on-one with a student is dangerous. It’s often normal to touch someone for emphasis, or hug someone in a non-sexual manner, but that can’t happen. In short, many of the little things that are part of normal human interactions are forbidden or dangerous.

William Deresiewicz just published Excellent Sheep, a polemic about education and what students need; one excerpt, “Students crave emotional mentorship from their teachers that their parents can’t give them. There’s nothing wrong with that,” describes how students want and need mentorship. Male teachers can’t really provide that at the K – 12 level. School policies and culture are ironically curtailing what is arguably the best part of education. It’s been said that guys in foxholes no longer fight for their country or their ideals, but for the guys next to them. I suspect that many students—and I’ve experienced this—don’t try to excel in a given class for the specific skills or the subject or the future job. They excel because they’re compelled to by the person in front of them. Yet that person can’t forma genuine connection without being able to spend at least some one-on-one time with some students.

The dangers are real and the cultural feelings are pervasive, though they rarely rise up to the level of official discourse. Still, check out the stories in “Teachers of reddit, have you ever had a student try to seduce you? What happened?” Or see the stories in numerous similar threads. They reveal a level of well-founded paranoia on the part of male teachers.

Teachers deal with hundreds of students every year. One grandstanding neurotic, to use Camille Paglia’s phrase, can create a huge amount of work and a level of gossip and innuendo that could take years to dissipate—if it ever does.*

The paranoid attitude is also not limited to K – 12. When I was a first-year student at the University of Arizona, I was driving to L.A. to see my family for Thanksgiving and told some students, many of whom were from Southern California, that if they wanted a ride they could hitch one. That ride could be worth hundreds of dollars, relative to a flight. I also went to school three thousand miles from home, where I got a lot of help with matters like this—mostly from my cross country coach, but to a lesser extent from professors and others. I can appreciate what it’s like to show up somewhere and have no resources.

Nonetheless, I told some other grad students that I’d told students they could get a ride to California, and the other grad students were shocked. That’s so dangerous! Are you crazy? What if something… happens? Would you give a ride to a woman? That’s super risky, dude.

They’d internalized the defensive mindset (and a mindset that portrayed a lot of latent sexism for a supposedly feminist group). Their reaction helps explain why so much teaching is so poor. And I was dealing with legal adults, most of whom lived autonomously! Nonetheless, the other grad students were expressing a real fear. The fear that male K – 12 teachers live with is legitimate and governs their behavior.

So why put up with the usual problems teachers face if a teacher can’t even do the job really well? Answer: Don’t.


* Paglia writes that she favors campus efforts to deal with genuine sexual harassment and rape, but that “I was concerned about the possibility of false charges by grandstanding neurotics, with whom I’d had quite enough contact at Bennington. Every sexual harassment code should incorporate stiff penalties for false accusation, presently rarely mentioned.” In 2014, stiff penalties for false accusations are still never mentioned.

The links we click tell us who we are—

The most-clicked link in “Men are where women were 30 years ago?” comes from this sentence: “In addition, a lot of early socialization about sex and dating is so bad that men and probably women too need to learn how to overcome it.” Usually readers follow more links from the beginning of posts than the ends of post, and the fact that relatively many found this link compelling may tell us something important about what people in general or at least readers of this blog want to know.

I think there’s a level of systematic dishonesty or at least eliding the truth about gender relations and sexuality when many people are growing up, and as a consequence a lot of people hunger for real knowledge. But even as adults that knowledge is still often hidden behind ideology or signaling or wish fulfillment fantasy.

Men are where women were 30 years ago?

In “Studying U.S. Families: ‘Men Are Where Women Were 30 Years Ago’,” Stephanie Coontz makes some interesting points but, it seems to me, is missing some of the important forces acting on men. She says, for example, that

In some senses, men are where women were 30 years ago. Fifty years ago, women were told, this is your place, stay in it. But about 30 years ago, it was, yes, you can do other things [. . .] Men are at the point where they’re beginning to discover that there are things beyond the old notion of masculinity that are rewarding.

I think the basic issues are simpler:

* Most people have no pre-defined roles in gender or work; this is good in some ways but has costs in others and leads to a lot of confusion, especially given the predominant ideology in schools.

* At some point, probably around 1980 or so (1973 could work, though this wasn’t widely recognized at the time) we entered a period of greater societal, technological, and social volatility. It is hard to predict what the future will look like and what skills and roles will be valuable. My only guess about what will be perpetually valuable is read, writing, and math.

In addition, there is a large number of people (certainly a minority but a reasonably substantial minority) brought up in religious environments that they accept uncritically but that don’t map well onto the modern social world and onto modern hypocrisy. Someone like Dalrock is the consequence (not that I don’t endorse everything he writes or even a plurality of what he writes, but he does criticize many of the social-sexual currents in contemporary Christianity).

* All Joy and No Fun is an interesting book for many reasons, but one is its point about raising contemporary children: many if not most of us don’t know what we’re raising them to do, or be. This makes the task inherently difficult.

* When writers say things like:

It’s so hard to continue the revolution in family life in a situation where there’s so little support for family-friendly work policies, where there’s not good child care available, when there isn’t parental leave. Why don’t we have them?

They actually mean that they want stuff other people are going to have to work to pay for. Not surprisingly most of us want something for nothing. We also have a problem in that lots of old people vote, so their interests are well-represented among the allocation of the federal budget, but not a lot of children do. It’s easy to call for handouts and hard to pay for them.

* Feminism has had a marketing and perhaps a content problem for decades. Among my female students at the University of Arizona, virtually none wanted to be identified as feminists. People who do want to be identified should contemplate why. It may be that students get the motte and bailey issues of modern feminism (do read the whole thing).

* Things that are adaptive in short-term relationships may be maladaptive in long-term relationships and vice-versa, yet I too seldom see this point.

* Men notice the kinds of men who women tend to be attracted to, and a lot of the men women are actually attracted to don’t appear to be the kind who Coontz probably thinks they should be attracted to. In addition, a lot of early socialization about sex and dating is so bad that men (and probably women too) need to learn how to overcome it. Books like Mate and Self-Made Man are important in this respect.

* It should be obvious by now that what people say they want and what they actually do are often quite different.

If you want to understand frats, talk to the women who party at them (paging Caitlin Flanagan)

Caitlin Flanagan’s well-researched and -argued “The Dark Power of Fraternities: A yearlong investigation of Greek houses reveals their endemic, lurid, and sometimes tragic problems—and a sophisticated system for shifting the blame” does everything an article of its nature should do except for one important thing: talk to the women who go to frats.

The minute women stop going to frat parties, frats are going to either disappear or shrink to irrelevance.

I taught at the University of Arizona for four and a half years and unlike Flanagan have talked to lots of college women about frat parties, few of whom harbor illusions about frat parties or their purpose. Many sororities apparently tell women not to get drunk, since being drunk makes them easy victims, and to go in groups. Women would sometimes say—including in class—that they wouldn’t go to frat parties except in groups. Why? To protect themselves (from themselves or from the frat guys is sometimes an open question).

I’d sometimes ask why they’d go places they felt were sufficiently dangerous to require a group. Usually there wouldn’t be a real answer; it was as if I’d broached a new, un-analyzed subject for the first time. One woman did answer, however, and said simply that “It’s where the party’s at.”

(c) Stephanie GA of Flickr

(c) Stephanie GA of Flickr

Ten points for honesty, but I think that if I were a woman I wouldn’t go. Yet college girls keep going, despite apparently being aware of the dangers. Flanagan mentions “the issue of sexual assault of female undergraduates by their male peers” but doesn’t note that most women seem to know someone who had something unfortunate happen to them at frat houses. This doesn’t seem to deter many of them.

Flanagan never writes as much. It’s a huge, obvious blank spot in her otherwise fascinating article. Women are not stupid—at least I don’t think they’re stupid—and most know what they’re doing when they get drunk and/or go to frat parties. I’ve written as much here and here (“It seems that many people go through a two-step process to get what they really want: they drink, which gives them an excuse to decry their actions while drunk at a future date while achieving their hedonic ends—which are often sexual.”)*

Men are interested in frats because they offer a way of forming a cartel that in turn attracts women. I remember talking to a student in a frat, who was giving me the usual bullshit about frats when I stopped him and said: “Let’s conduct a thought experiment: if instead of increasing the probability of a guy getting laid, joining a frat decreased the probability by 1%, do you think anyone would?” There was a long pause. He wanted to respond but he also knew that his intellectual credibility was on the line (he was a bright guy).

There’s another important flaw in Flanagan’s article: while she does cite a horrific rape of a woman identified only as “Jane Doe,” in Doe’s case justice does happen: the perpetrator is caught, arrested, and convicted. The system worked in this instance! The frat helped the cops get the guy. As such it’s a curious example in an anti-frat article.

She does note one thing that deserves more frequent mention:

Furthermore, in 1984 Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, with the ultimate result of raising the legal drinking age to 21 in all 50 states. This change moved college partying away from bars and college-sponsored events and toward private houses—an ideal situation for fraternities.

A lot of 18-year-olds like to drink and regardless of whether legislators and/or lobbyists like MADD think they have the capacity to make that decision, many do make it anyway. To my mind their making of the decision indicates that they have the capacity… to make the decision. One way to chip away at the appeal of frats, for both men and women, would be to legalize drinking; based on what I’ve heard a lot of frat boys and sorority girls drift away from their Greek affiliation when they turn 21. Some of that probably comes from the dawning realization that real life is en route but some probably also comes from the opening of different avenues for drinking and mating rituals.

College presidents have realized as much and launched the Amethyst Initiative, which is a plea to drag reality back into law and politics.

Anyway, the minute the Flanagans and college presidents and parents of the world can convince women not to show up at frat parties is the minute we’ll see the end of frats. Based on America’s bipolar feelings about drinking and sexuality in general, however, I doubt we’re going to see it.

EDIT: I should add that I’m not pro-frat, as one of two people suggested; I’m also not anti-frat, although years ago I wrote this snarky letter to the editor of the New York Times (“Although the fraternity system as it exists is flawed, it does serve one important purpose: it voluntarily segregates a large number of drunken fools from the rest of the student population — some of whom may be interested in novel concepts like learning and academics”). Today I mostly think that frats serve an evident need or want, and although I myself wouldn’t want to join one—I don’t have the right personality—I see why many others do.


* A sorority girl once told me that her sorority cohort didn’t want to attend sober events with frats because the other girls didn’t know how to talk to boys, or talk to boys without the aid of booze.

Links: James Wood, news and fiction, sexuality and narrative, the paperback, bars and babysitting

* James Wood: “On Not Going Home.”

* “Is the News Replacing Literature?” Unlikely, but high-quality analysis of the news often has a literary quality. But quantity still has a quality all its own and writing 800 words, 8,000 words, and 80,000 words are all very different beasts and having written pieces of all three lengths I can say that what works at one length won’t at another.

I’m also fond of saying that not-very-good nonfiction can still be useful while not-very-good fiction rarely is.

* Someone on Reddit “capture[s] the vagaries of sexual consent through a series of personal stories;” many people have such stories but few share them widely, for obvious reasons. See also “The power of conventional narratives and the great lie.”

* The tooth fairy and the traditionality of modernity.

* “How Paperbacks Transformed the Way Americans Read;” ebooks are now doing something analogous.

* Smartphone sales growth slows, presumably for obvious reasons: when I first got one I used it for the same stuff everyone else does: maps, looking up random stuff, sending/receiving naked pictures, listening to music, and maybe one or two other things. With the model I have now I do basically the same stuff, as well as find Citi Bike locations and coffee shops. The new version does some of those things slightly better / faster, but were it not a business expense I doubt I’d bother.

* “Bars are too loud and cafes too quiet.” Mostly, bars are too loud.

* “My bad baby sitters year;” mostly a lost world, especially when it comes to finding forbidden objects / photos.

Links: Artists, sex, utility, antibiotics, books, hypocrisy, and more!

* From Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen, and thus perhaps more cerebral and less salacious than might be otherwise expected: “Why don’t people have more sex?

* A lesson we have to learn, over and over again: “Not everyone is going to like the thing you made, and that’s okay:”

Consider this, about having perspective on criticism: If you enjoyed making a thing, and you’re proud of the thing you made, that’s enough. Not everyone is going to like it, and that’s okay. And sometimes, a person who likes your work and a person who don’t will show up within milliseconds of each other to let you know how they feel. One does not need to cancel out the other, positively or negatively; if you’re proud of the work, and you enjoyed the work, that is what’s important.Don’t let the fear of not pleasing someone stop you from being creative.

(The main situation in which it’s not okay is when a person acts as a gatekeeper or has the ability to block forward progress if they don’t like your work; this is a major and under-discussed problem in academia.)

* Why don’t French books sell abroad?

* “When We Lose Antibiotics, Here’s Everything Else We’ll Lose Too.” We’re losing antibiotics.

* Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) of Tennessee’s preschool program show that preschool doesn’t appear to improve the later school performance of those enrolled, or much of anything else.

* On the good news front: “Fed up with slow and pricey Internet, cities start demanding gigabit fiber.”

* “Overall, we Americans have a stronger attachment to U.S. dominance than to fair play or anyone’s rights.”

* An interview with the author, essayist and critic Daniel Mendelsohn; this is especially useful:

I think undergraduates should be kept away from Theory at all costs. I don’t think people should be allowed to even hear the word “theory” until they’re doing graduate work—for the very good reason that it’s impossible to theorise about texts before one has deep familiarity with them (not that that stopped anyone in the 1980s when I was in grad school). Undergraduates should be taught to have a clean appreciation of what texts say and how they say them, and learn how to write intelligently and clearly about that. If undergraduates had to have a model of criticism it ought to be popular criticism rather than traditional academic criticism.

* “The Stem and the Flower,” or, the distressing politicization of everyday life.

* This quote does not come from the sort of source you would expect it to come from: “When the history of how the United States became a dystopian, surveillance state is written no one will be able to say that we were not warned.”

* “The Other Side of the Story: When I was fourteen, I had a relationship with my eighth grade history teacher. People called me a victim. They called him a villain. But it’s more complicated than that.” This may tie into the first link in this list.

Clublife: Thugs, Drugs, and Chaos at New York City’s Premier Nightclubs — Rob the Bouncer

Clublife is a rare example of a book weaker than the originating, (and eponymous) blog. The blog used to be filled with posts containing subtle and sometimes surprising points about bouncers and standard bump-n-grind clubs. The book has some of that, though perhaps less subtle (“I’ve never met anyone who goes to clubs who’s worth a shit” or “They come to these places and toss aside the conventions of a civilized society, doing shit you wouldn’t see them do anywhere but there”) than the source material. Many of the later blog are about blogging instead of bouncing.

The major fringe benefit of being a bouncer appears to be hitting on the women in the clubs, or being hit on by them. If you’re not interested in that—and Rob isn’t—one of the prime reasons to work in that environment goes away. It’s like staffing a restaurant where you don’t like the food. Many people don’t want and aren’t interested in casual sex with strangers. Which is okay, but disliking that activity is naturally going to make clubs seem bizarre and stupid; English departments must seem bizarre and stupid to people who don’t like to read. Regardless of the quality of the experience to someone who enjoys the experience, it’s going to be crap for the wrong sort of person.

Rob is the wrong sort of person. Everyone else at the club seems to be working an angle, either sexually (in Rob’s words: “looking for a place to park their genitals for a night”) or by selling drugs. Not working one of those two angles defeats the point of the club experience. I want to encourage Rob to read Camille Paglia, who is so fond of socially sanctioned Dionysian excess.

Rob depicts the business this way at the end of the book:

Taking, after all, is what the nightclub business is all about. It takes and takes and takes, and gives nothing back. The entire thing is a setup. It’s a scam. It’s a great big mound of shit, all painted up in pastels and fluorescents and hosed down with enough cologne and perfume to disguise the stink.

The scatological metaphor is effective—Rob is good and often very good on a sentence-by-sentence level—but he’s only partially right about nightclubs: they do take. But they also give people a place to sleep with or attempt to sleep with strangers. How many men in particular achieve their purpose there is less clear: presumably some do but many don’t. The minute you don’t want that, then a club is “a scam.”

The book eschews the random, disconnected format of a blog and instead uses a memoir narrative that shows Rob getting into the business and going through the lifecycle of a single club. But the narrative seems forced and false, and a Diary of an Unlikely Call Girl-style reprint might’ve been an improvement.

The Rob we see in the book has a long “history of screwing things up for myself,” which is okay, but he seems to hate everything about what he’s doing and to have built a decent shell of bitterness and resentments that may or may not reflect the real person. He especially hates the many “guidos” who populate New York nightlife for whom he “stands on a box and plays zookeeper [with] for eight hours.” His disdain for guidos occurs primarily because disdain for most racial and ethnic groups is now politically incorrect, and for good reason; imagine that every time he uses the word “guido,” he uses the term “black.”

Still, there’s a lot to be said for first-person accounts of unusual, poorly understood market niches. To some extent my father and I are doing that for grant writing and nonprofits in Grant Writing Confidential, but the dearth of lascivious or potentially lascivious detail means that few people who aren’t involved in trying to get the money are going to be interested. There are things to like in Clublife.

Counterpoint to the sex-plot post: Jenny Diski on The Sexual Life of Catherine M.

It’s intellectually important to acknowledge being wrong and to look for ways you can be wrong and yet very few people do this or do it honestly. I probably don’t do it honestly either, but I will still post a long quote that somewhat contravenes my recent essay “The sex plot: a discussion for novelists and readers:”

the great open space of sexuality permits all the possibilities of abjection, power, narcissism, pleasure-seeking, dour determination, creativity and mechanisation. It would be very hard to devote such a great deal of life and thought, time and effort to it as Millet does without getting it all pretty much confused. Everyday pornography is linear in order to keep a single idea afloat in an ocean of polymorphous potential. Sexuality gets out of hand, it runs rampant with meaning unless you keep to a very firm remit. The sexual story can transform from pumpkin to princess to swan with injured wing and back again in the blink of a thought. It is a nothing, an empty arena, that might be everything. And everything is more than we can cope with. The obsessive, fetishistic, single account that pornography provides is what keeps sexuality within bounds. Here is the danger of writing the sexual life: you lose the boundaries unless you steadfastly restrict yourself to the detail. At times Millet seems to be attempting to do this, but again and again, like a painter who writes explanatory notes over her picture, she tries to explicate, to flesh out the doing with her intellect, and then the sexual life is shown up for the kaleidoscopic and random playground of ideas it is.

That’s from Jenny Diski’s 2002 review of The Sexual Life of Catherine M; if sexuality is “a great open space” that “permits all the possibilities of objection, power, narcissism” and so forth then sex plots really can or should propel a lot of fiction. Diski’s view (I believe she is speaking for herself here and not describing the memoir in question) is not necessarily incompatible with the essay but certainly it feels different, especially with the way she says that “sexuality gets out of hand, it runs rampant with meaning.”

A subject or person or feeling that “runs rampant with meaning” could be one surprisingly complete definition of art, which may also encourage “the kaleidoscopic and random playground of ideas” that nonetheless must be somehow restricted if a work of art is going to take any form at all. Art without some form does not exist, like a platonically perfect work of art that never goes further than conception. Execution is everything.

Still, I’m not sure that sexuality can really get “out of hand” and run “rampant with meaning,” at least in terms of the physical act itself, because there are a limited number of physical acts and, in practical terms, a limited number of partners and configurations. Contrast this with, say, science: there doesn’t appear to be any obvious limits to the things that people want or the weirdness of the present universe. That doesn’t mean that sexuality doesn’t usually interact with other parts of life, but in the modern Western world I’m not sure that sexuality and relationships need to be the primary focus of so many novels.

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