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Monday, November 08, 2010

What Supernatural Solution to the World's Problems Would You Choose

Eric and I just got haircuts and had lunch, and, perhaps somewhat in the spirit of the "what's your favorite over-simplified monocausal explanation for our sucky world" post from earlier this morning, we tried to decide what supernatural ability we would endow all humans with that would go furthest toward overcoming the world's suckitude. We came to lightning-fast agreement. We both thought making every human an empath would ameliorate a multitude of sins -- making it harder to deceive one another, making us experience ourselves the suffering we caused. Gag, we're such liberals!


Martin said...

You should check out, a site run by a collaboration of sociologists studying morality. There is a "moral foundations" quiz. Here's what I scored. Liberals care about harm and fairness and disfavor loyalty, authority and purity, while conservatives are the opposite, as shown by the blue and red bars. Apparently I'm more anti-conservative than pro-liberal in my moral foundations.

jimf said...

> We came to lightning-fast agreement. We both thought
> making every human an empath would ameliorate a
> multitude of sins. . .

Yes, that's what jumped to my mind, even before I got to
your solution.

Stormgren paused for a moment, letting his mind run back
through the years. Then he smiled.

"If you want a single proof of the essential -- how shall I
put it -- **benevolence** of the Overlords, think of that
cruelty-to-animals order which they made within a month of
their arrival. If I had had any doubts about Karellen before,
that banished them -- even though that order has caused me
more trouble than anything else he's ever done!"

That was scarcely an exaggeration, Stormgren thought. The
whole incident had been an extraordinary one, the first
revelation of the Overlords' hatred of cruelty. That, and
their passion for justice and order, seemed to be the
dominant emotions in their lives -- as far as one could judge
them by their actions.

And it was the only time Karellen had shown anger, or at least
the appearance of anger. "You may kill one another if you
wish," the message had gone, "and that is a matter between
you and your own laws. But if you slay, except for food or
in self-defense, the beasts that share your world with you --
then you may be answerable to me."

No one knew exactly how comprehensive this ban was supposed to
be, or what Karellen would do to enforce it. They had not
long to wait.

The Plaza de Toros was full when the matadors and their
attendants began their processional entry. Everything seemed
normal; the brilliant sunlight blazed harshly on the traditional
costumes, the great crowd greeted its favorites as it had
a hundred times before. Yet here and there faces were turned
anxiously towards the sky, to the aloof silver shape fifty
kilometers above Madrid.

Then the picadors had taken up their places and the bull had
come snorting out into the arena. The skinny horses, nostrils
wide with terror, had wheeled in the sunlight and their
riders forced them to meet their enemy. The first lance flashed --
made contact -- and at that moment came a sound that had never
been heard on earth before.

It was the sound of ten thousand people screaming with the
pain of the same wound -- ten thousand people who, when they
had recovered from the shock found themselves completely
unharmed. But that was the end of that bullfight, and indeed
of all bullfighting.

-- Arthur C. Clarke, _Childhood's End_


POWDER: Suffering ...

jimf said...

> Gag, we're such liberals!

Pam Spaulding sez:
Enough of this "It Gets Better" bullshit. The false optimism
is giving way too many people the impression that they're
making a difference when they're only treating the symptoms
and not the cause. Until we get in there and actually teach—actually
raise awareness—it won't get better. And not only do we have
to teach our young people, we have to teach their parents,
their teachers, and their administrators.

The other kids get it. Read all their comments on the article.
They totally get it. They just don't have any support to do
anything about it.

It's all you adults out there who are the real problem. No, I
do not respect your beliefs. Your beliefs can shove it. Your
beliefs are the problem. Your beliefs are not just a different
perspective; they're a wrong perspective.

Yeah, those "It Gets Better" videos on YouTube -- especially the ones
from the pols and the celebrities (including Obama and
Hilary Clinton) -- make me slightly queasy.

The "culture of bullying" goes way beyond just kids (especially
males) perceived as being gay.

The radical solutions proposed, e.g., in 1985 by Dr. Brian G. Gilmartin
in the book _Love-Shyness: Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment_
(downloadable from ) --
such as segregating public- (and private-) school students by
temperament -- are just as far from any kind of reality today
as they were 25 years ago (and would be just as prohibitively
controversial today).

jimf said...

I was browsing the other day in Louann Brizendines _The Male Brain_
( ),
which contains (p. 23):

The pecking order clearly matters more to boys. Studies show that
by age two, a boy's brain is driving him to establish physical
and social dominance. And by the age of six, boys tell researchers
that **real fighting** is the "most important thing to be good
at." Scientists have also learned that boys are remarkably fast
at establishing dominance in a group through rough-and-tumble

In a study conducted with boys and girls at a nursery school, the
boys demonstrated a clear hierarchy by the end of their first
play session. Among the girls, some dominance hierarchy was
established too, but it was more fluid. In the boy groups, however,
by the end of just one play session, the boys unanimously agreed
about the ranking position of each boy, and these rankings remained
stable for the remainder of the six month study.

How do boys know so quickly who's tough and who's not? While bigger
boys typically rank higher in status, researchers found that the
leaders weren't always the biggest. In the study, the alpha boys
were the ones who refused to back down during a conflict. These
boys aggressively demonstrated their strength by picking on,
intimidating, or roughing up boys who challenged them. In the
hormone tests taken on all the boys in the group, it turned
out that the alpha boys had higher testosterone levels than the
other boys. And to the reseachers' surprise, the rank a boy
had attained in the group by the age of six predicted where
he'd be in the hierarchy at age fifteen.

Of course, only one boy can be top dog, so the rest must find
other way to succeed and avoid being picked on in the boy pack.
One strategy is to form an alliance with the alpha boy by
giving him things he wants and doing him favors. . .

Boys can usually work things out within the checks and balances
of the boy pack, but this cruel _Lord of the Flies_ system still
strikes horror in most mothers' hearts -- including mine.
Regardless of how mothers feel about it, though, boys instinctively
know they must learn how to succeed within the male hierarchy.

The political right wing would fight tooth-and-nail to prevent
their sons' school careers being "sissified" by adults intervening
to prevent the establishment of these "_Lord of the Flies_"
hierarchies. Many teachers and administrators probably feel
the same way (or in any case, don't want to challenge those
who do). And it's not **just** Republicans who would feel
that way. Read the history of the Kennedy family (Joe and the
boys) and tell me how any kind of deliberate "sissification" of
male children would go over in **that** clan.

The losers in these dominance games, including kids (gay or not)
who commit suicide, would be, in this view (mostly unspoken, but
it wouldn't take much for it to become explicit), simply
"collateral damage" in the necessary process of turning boys into

jimf said...

There are other science fictional solutions in the literature.

One, of course, is the prenatal and early childhood conditioning,
augmented by drugs, in _Brave New World_ and in George Lucas's
"remake", _THX-1138_. In fact, one of the suggestions in Brian
Gilmartin's book sounds almost like something out of THX-1138:
he floats the idea of giving antidepressants to toddlers. The
idea there is that no one (or at least, no little boy) should
have to enter elementary school handicapped by a personality
in the "melancholic" quadrant of the Eysenck Cross. In contrast
to THX-1138, where everybody is pacified, the idea would be
that everybody, thorough antidepressants (or **something**)
would be brought up to the rough-and-tumble readiness of the
average "red-blooded" American boy.

Another familiar suggestion would be to get rid of males
altogether. All human babies, grown from genetically-engineered
zygotes, would be chromosomal XX.

Cf. the (new) _Outer Limits_ episode "Lithia".