Tag Archives: sociology

Book Review: Sway; The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, 2008.

These brothers offer an attractive read that is notably more compelling than most pop-psychology fare. While the book does not clearly delineate a list, MC has bucketed the irrational factors referenced in the book. They include:

1. Loss aversion — the tendency to overemphasize what will be lost, at the expense of what may be gained.

2. Commitment — aka sunk cost. Similar principle to the above, but with time and reputation.

3. Value attrition — favoring preconceived traits and circumstances over objective facts.

4. Diagnosis bias — our reluctance to change our minds once we have decided on someone or something.

5. Rose-colored glasses — dismissal of info that contradicts our hopes.  Overestimating our objectivity.

6. Chameleon effect — predilection to act as we are treated / perceived.  Self-fulfilling prophecies–how your behavior can change an outcome.

7. Procedural justice –the value of a fair process. Willingness to punish someone at our own  expense.

8. The disincentive of money to altruism. Paying people for certain sacrifices can backfire as repulsion.

9. Dissension, and the value of blocking — even incompetent and erroneous blocking.  Breaking the spell of groupthink.

Which one sways you the most?  Write to us!

The “Uncanny Valley” of Heterosexuality

Just how common it is for men to marry women, even have children with them, and then come out as gay later in life?  Consistent statistics on “lavender marriages” (when a man marries a straight woman, with or without her knowing that he is actually a closeted homosexual), or gay men with “beards” (girlfriends present to convince others and themselves they are not in fact gay), are obviously hard to come by, however there is much evidence to suggest that it is far more common than many straight people realize.  10% of the population is estimated to be born homosexual. It is a myth that gay men can’t or won’t have sexual relationships with women, even for decades.

Societal, familial, and religious pressure can be faulted for leading individuals to this sad and inauthentic outcome.  Yes, it is the individual man’s moral responsibility to not be pressured into a suboptimal relationship, however our society idolizes romantic love, partnership, and marriage.

The homosexual community has by necessity been built on very subtle messages to one another; in America and many other places in the world, it can still today be considered dangerous to be out.  Therefore, most gay men admit to having become very attuned to details and aesthetics, almost as a means of survival.  So, almost all gay men know how to successfully imitate straight masculinity via observation and study.

However, there is usually a line between The Real McCoy and a copy.

Gay men may successfully mimic straightness for the sake of female validation and companionship (cf: the signaling theory of behavior.  In the animal community, too much “dishonest signaling” actually threatens the species).  Fisherian runaway in sexual selection means metrosexual and dandies likely evolved out of female preference.

Many lavender relationships involve a female considered to be less conventionally attractive than the man, and/or is a female who gives of the impression of being superlatively sexual and plastic.  It is not what a straight guy would find most attractive, but is someone’s best guess of what they think a straight guy would find most attractive.  I call this the “uncanny valley” of heterosexuality.

“The uncanny valley” is a term that was coined in the realm Artificial Intelligence (AI): the closer something comes to successfully approaching our reality, the more repulsive the simulation becomes to us humans–this space is called the “uncanny valley.” For example, cute, non-threatening humanoid robots make us feel comfortable (think C3PO from Star Wars), but those sexbots that are covered in fleshy plastic and hair can be alarming to our senses.

What is a girl to do?  Simply be aware that our society has placed enormous pressure on us all to live out expected roles.  Straight ladies, just because a guy asks you out does not guarantee you will be able to make him happy for life.  But if he is self-actualized first (sexually or otherwise), the chances of success increase dramatically.

*There is a special place in hell for people who out people before they are ready, or who even start rumors.

The Declining Return on Experience

How valuable are wisdom and aging?

In the labor market, possibly not as much as they once were.

The plight of middle-class American workers, especially white middle-aged ones without college degrees, has been well-documented; their employment rate, mental health, physical health, addictions, and mortality rate are all trending in the wrong directions, often feeding off of each other and creating a literal death spiral on the micro and macro levels: for individuals, families, communities, states.

A fascinating recent paper hypothesizes that one unexplored, common denominator catalyst is the phenomenon of decline of  “return on experience.”

The phrase “return on experience” is an ill-defined economic term that refers to the tangible benefits received for individual economic input–the product of years of work experience, age, and general wisdom and street smarts accrued from having been around awhile.

Even for routinized jobs where performance is not commonly expected to depend upon cognitive experience (and unlike judges, lawyers, doctors), task workers have in the past been assumed to become more efficient over time, and also to be rewarded for their loyalty to the profession or company.

What is notable here is the perception of what is earned and deserved, separate from its actual value.

Writes Benjamin Wallace-Wells: “Part of what Case and Deaton offer in their new paper is an emotional logic to an economic argument. If returns to experience are in decline, if wisdom no longer pays off, then that might help suggest why a group of mostly older people who are not, as a group, disadvantaged might become convinced that the country has taken a turn for the worse. It suggests why their grievances should so idealize the past, and why all the talk about coal miners and factories, jobs in which unions have codified returns to experience into the salary structure, might become such a fixation.”

Let us assume for argument’s sake that it is true unmet expectations send many middle-aged Americans into their death spirals.

So what now?

If it is well-preached that life is not fair, then it is time we take the next step and know that  the labor market is unfair.  Millennials have already had to grasp this: taking on oppressive loans for college degrees that are less like vocational training and more like labor market hazing.  A test to see, “how badly do you want it?”

Robots will replace almost every physical task job, and many service jobs, leaving all but the most cognitively-demanding critical-thinking jobs. Whether one can or wants to take those remaining roles on is beside the point.  The bifurcation of job types, and thus income distribution, means our hand is forced to individually choose between two stark lifestyles.  Unfortunately, complacency and willful ignorance means that many Americans must make this choice later in life, after attachments to their past have been made.  What millennials never had, baby boomers are currently having pried away. Who can say which is more painful.  We do know that a fixation on what was, without grasping what is, is an error that never goes uncorrected.





Trump ≠ Conservatism

“Somehow an explanation of Donald Trump’s political success has to incorporate the fact that Trump won a higher share of the Latino vote and black vote in the presidential election of 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012.”

David Frum argues that Trump’s ascendancy is less about something old (racism, nativism, protectionism), than about something new (discouragement, political exploitation).  Do you agree?


Never Think Alone

According to a recent article by the authors Philip Fernbach and Steven Sloman, human knowledge is remarkable not for its individual capacity, as is commonly thought, but by the sophistication of its sharing.  We humans are at the top of the food chain because we grasp the importance of planning, division of labor, and organization creation.

“Most of what you ‘know’ — most of what anyone knows — about any topic is a placeholder for information stored elsewhere, in a long-forgotten textbook or in some expert’s head.”

There is an obvious evolutionary advantage to working together in this way and sharing in the world’s consciousness: it forces us to rely on each other for emotional and material support, and encourages growth and enhancement of the species.

In other words, our prime talents are of curation, collaboration, and association, rather than true memorization or understanding.  And the more something is understood by people in general, the more we think  we individually know.  One can see this extended to politics–we rely on others to help us put the truth together, with very little (or even no) firsthand experience with the matter at hand: poverty, abortion, corporate ethics, pollution, earned-income tax credits, food packaging.

So, always remember that your conversation partner’s irrationality is a pretty rational response to their lack of knowledge.

Univ of FL, Plaza de Americas


Book Review: Promises I Can Keep

The 2005 book Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage, aims to answer the question of why young, unmarried, uneducated women choose to have one or several children, despite their inability to support them without government assistance.  The authors provide fair and respectful explanations that leave the reader generally satisfied with a plausible narrative to the shameless “welfare queen” trope.

After profiling young mothers for several years in urban Philadelphia, the authors concluded that these women seek the “achievement” of children and single motherhood in the absence of any other obtainable goals.  Early motherhood does not hold these women back from college, a white collar job, a caring husband and a house in the suburbs–statistically those things were never within reach for them to begin with.  Many of the mothers interviewed claimed that without their children to take care of, they would have succumbed to the violence and drugs of their surroundings.

In addition to providing purpose, children heal the emotional isolation prevalent in blighted urban neighborhoods.  The stereotype of poor and minority families fiercely looking out for one another is illusory; many of the women profiled were raised in neglectful, abuseful, broken households.  Without their children, many said they would have no one to look out for them, and no one to love in return, especially since marriage or longterm commitment from the fathers was so culturally atypical.  Many of the women preferred to be single parents since there was a dearth of drug-free, non-incarcerated, employed men around to be eligible partners and co-parents.

Since the book was written, very little has been done on the public policy front to incentivize family stability in the inner city.  But this book  will cause you to question any preconceived notions of teen mothers as lazy or entitled–rather than desperate and shut out from the quality of life that so many of their  young adult peers enjoy.

Book Review: The Way We Never Were

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, is a 1992 sociology book by Stephanie Coontz.  In it, Ms. Coontz dismantles the idyllic conception many people have of American marriages and families in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Very real sexism, violence, and poverty were more commonplace, but they have since been glossed over to fit a narrative of midcentury supremacy that “should” be looked at as a model for contemporary society.  This model is used to reached desired outcomes today, regardless of clear cause and effect.  For example, violence was not much less prevalent back then–it just went unreported more often, especially domestic violence.  So this is not a good excuse for, say, making legal divorces harder to obtain, as it was in the 1950s, even though many conservatives would like to do so and it sounds plausible that a society that makes divorce so easy has more violence.

Conservatives are especially guilty of over-romanticizing the post WWII era.  Conveniently, most of the middle-aged people now in charge of our country were either not born or were children at that time–protected from the harsh realities.  The truth is, many of that era’s policies are unfit for today’s demands, and while we were without some of today’s problems, there was a whole other set to take their place, because we live on an imperfect Earth.

LIR recommends this book if you want to challenge your perceptions.