Archive for the ‘Social Norms’ Category

The Drawing Board: Abortion

Oh, great. Another MAN weighing in on abortion. Well, ladies, if you don’t like it, exercise your “right to choose” to not read it. But as it turns out, this man has the answer. And no, it’s not one of those stupid joke answers like “dude we shouldn’t make abortion legal, we should make it mandatory hahahaha!” That’s dumb, the population would run out. What I will offer instead are a few points of clarification from the legal and moral perspectives, points that will cause you not to reconsider your stance on abortion, but rather to reconsider whether abortion is even a real issue. Sounds interesting, huh? Remember this whole thing is a joke though.

First, let’s evaluate the claim that a fetus has a right to life. Ridiculous. But let’s grant for a second that the fetus is a human being, which, come on, that’s like saying a baby chicken is the same as a real chicken. Regardless, let’s give them that and consider the right to life from a legal perspective. Now, abortion isn’t a pleasant issue, and this could get ugly, so you might not be well suited to this if you have a weak constitution (looking at you, France!). That was a funny joke, huh? But it also segues into me talking about the actual United States Constitution. In one part it says, no kidding: Continue reading

Going Shopping

Dear Retail Clerks,

I am fine. I am always fine when you ask. How are you? I never care how you are. I don’t need your help right now. Does anyone ever require your assistance this quickly? I know to ask if I do need your help. You’re not that difficult to find. I am aware of your sales. If they are not the reason I am here, I can see them advertised–often ostentatiously–throughout your store. Please don’t follow up with me. I can find everything okay. Your store is neither that large nor complexly laid out. If I require a fitting room, I will find it on my own, and then I will consult with your colleague who is relegated to that area. I do not want to sign up for your special membership card, even if it’s free and especially if it only takes a minute.

And yes, I want the receipt in the bag. Everyone does.

You too,

Tim

Teaching, Parenting, Happiness, and Dogma

What popular activity leads to a statistically significant drop in personal happiness, drastically reduces leisure time, and decreases romantic satisfaction? Parenting, of course. We engage in other activities that are, in general, displeasing, but they are often a means to a greater end: We endure traffic or crowded public transportation to live in a neighborhood that better suits our lifestyle, or we work to earn money to sustain that lifestyle. That’s not to say that driving home or working universally reduce people’s happiness—but, when it does, it’s generally for a clearly more desirable end. Not so with raising children. Child-rearing or creation is supposed to, in itself, generate the sort of transcendental happiness that makes it all worth it. New York Magazine’s Jennifer Senior questions the dogma of parenting as a universal good.

Why is there such a dogma? Surely the reverence most religions accord to raising and bearing—well, sometimes just bearing—children plays some role. Maybe parents are aware of the negative effect of children on their happiness level, but merely follow the broader trend of embracing altruistic acts as the ultimate good—the epitome of which is committing most of your life to another human or two. But, perhaps something else not unique to parenting is at work.

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Against Patriotism

America: At least it's got a pretty good flag...

It’s the Fourth of July, which means it’s time for barbecues, fireworks, and celebrating America. I’m definitely in favor of the first; I’m iffy at best on the second (though not necessarily as opposed as Josh). But I’m adamantly against the last one.

There have been a lot of famous, pithy criticisms of patriotism: George Bernard Shaw said, “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.” Bertrand Russell said, “Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.” And, of course, Samuel Johnson most famously called patriotism “the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

And yet none of that wit has changed the fact that people generally regard patriotism as a virtue. Every year—most vocally on the Fourth of July, but not just during this time of year—we hear about how important loving your country is. Pundits and politicians are constantly arguing over what constitutes “true patriotism,” and attacking each other for not being sufficiently patriotic. And if you start questioning someone’s patriotism…well, few things piss people off more.

But why is this? Why should someone love his country? I’ve never understood why patriotism is seen as an admirable quality. Continue reading

In Defense of Jughandles

New Jersey is a state a lot of people like to make fun of. It is popularly stereotyped by its two famous television programs–The Sopranos and Jersey Shore*–and is home to all sorts of crazy quirks, from the law prohibiting us to pump our own gas to the pungent odor north of Exit 13 on the New Jersey Turnpike to the fact that we all live, better or worse, within a modest drive of a major highway. I’m generally okay with my home state being mischaracterized by those who live outside it; they just don’t “get” New Jersey.

*It should be noted that the stereotyping is carried out by people who don’t understand either show.

But it does bother me when New Jerseyans themselves don’t understand when their state gets something right. Enter: jughandles.

Let’s be clear from the start: Everyone hates jughandles–not just New Jerseyans. It’s that everyone else doesn’t deal with them on an everyday basis like we do. At the same time, jughandles are great. Anyone who doesn’t understand why jughandles are great ignores the basic constitution of New Jersey suburbs, which essentially boils down to a dense residential population that has to drive to reach commercial zones.

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On Travel

A former professor of mine once exclaimed that he did not like travel. Student reaction was quite negative. The students who liked this professor then felt a need to defend him; interestingly, their defense wasn’t that it is okay to dislike travel, but that he misspoke, that he didn’t really mean that he disliked travel. This is reflective of a larger and unfair stigma against disliking travel. I say unfair since while most people love the idea of travel, traveling itself is much less pleasant for them for a variety of reasons I’ll explore in this post.

People tend to “fake” traits that are socially desirable if the cost of faking is relatively low. Travel encourages this faking more than most characteristics. It’s easy to see why travel is socially desirable. First, it signals activity, and activity is preferable to inactivity. Travelers backpack, hike, climb, and explore. Second, it signals openness and curiosity. The traveler is interested in cultures other than his own. Third, a love of travel indicates a love of novelty. The traveler has eaten exotic foods or seen exotic animals. Fourth, travel perpetuates the feelings of being in an elite in-group, which is nauseatingly manifested in tired conversations about cities that both travelers have visited*: “Wasn’t Prague beautiful?!” “It was!” and then there is the obligatory listing of the mutual places that each of the travelers visited in said city.** This conversation generally will give both participants a lot of pleasure, sometimes even generating a sort of insular arrogance. People who don’t engage in this self-congratulatory ritual—like my former professor—will be greeted with condescension, the result being that these anti-travel individuals are hesitant to express their preferences in public settings.

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Intentionality and Apologism (or In Defense of Apologism)

I intend to make a simple point: Apologism isn’t bad. In fact, it’s necessary to correct for the human tendency to ascribe intentionality when it’s not there.

Psychological research has demonstrated that when there are morally bad* “side-effects” to a particular purposive (i.e. goal-directed) action taken by Person A, individuals ascribe those side-effects as being intended by Person A. When those side-effects are morally good, meanwhile, individuals generally believe that Person A did not intend the side effect.

*Morally bad in a very generic “murder = bad” sense.

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Why I Hate Christmas

Today is December 18th, which means we’re a week away from the 25th, the two-month anniversary of Christmas. So now seems as good of a time as any to explain why I hate this “holiday” with a fiery passion.

It probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to you to hear that I hate Christmas: For one, I like hating things that are popular. More substantively, though, Christmas combines two of my least favorite things in the world: religion and consumerism.  At Christmas, people are encouraged to buy a bunch of stuff that they don’t need in order to celebrate the birth of a god that doesn’t exist.

Whether or not you’d like to admit it, it’s hard to deny that Christmas brings out the worst of both of these already-pretty-bad things. Every year, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on Christmas, plenty of it horribly misallocated; advertising and the general holiday spirit inspire a sense of “rewarding yourself” and “remembering others” that can only be done through a commercial transaction.* As for the “religious” element of the holiday, Christmas cloyingly spoon-feeds us sweet and formulaic messages about the value of family and generosity: It translates moral and religious dogma into clichés and after-school specials. Continue reading

Against Chivalry

The thesis of this post is simple: Chivalry is bad. I think it is more praiseworthy to be extra courteous to others based on their attractiveness than based on their gender.*

*Don’t worry: I will try to justify this in a bit.

While riding a public bus for nearly every day of the past few weeks, I’ve been able to get a good sense of the bus dynamic. It is common that I’ll witness a man offering his seat up to a woman his age.* I understand offering your seat to a pregnant woman, an individual with a disability, or a senior citizen. I’ve done so myself. The cost to them of standing is vastly higher than the cost to you (assuming that my sense of the NPI demographic is fairly accurate); the benefit you get from sitting certainly doesn’t override the pain they are going through.

*I probably shouldn’t even use the term “woman” and “man” here: The vast majority of these bus riders are students or faculty no older than forty years old.
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In Defense of Grammar

Hi, I’m Tim, and I’m a language pedant.

I’m a corrector; you know, one of those guys that corrects you when you say something incorrectly. Think you can get away with disinterested/uninterested mishaps around me? Just ask Rick Reilly. Use reference as a verb when you mean refer and you’ll get a scolding. Same goes for legitimize instead of legitimate (that’s a long a sound at the end: legitimāte). Don’t get me started on the subjunctive mood. I prefer my friends be accurate there, and I don’t think this is particularly unique of me because nothing can be particularly unique.

The Elements of Style sits within reach on a shelf of my desk; I don’t have time to go walking to the other side of the room (and the real bookcase) in case of a grammatical emergency. In my abandoned novel, William Strunk, Jr. was a prominent character.*

*Probably one of the reasons for the adjective “abandoned.”

Although I’m what most would call a stickler, there are some suggestions I don’t always listen to. And clearly, I like to audaciously flaunt some of the basics. Can’t end with a preposition? Please. No starting with a conjunction? Ever hear of transitions? I can’t remember the last time I didn’t split an infinitive. This isn’t Latin.

Nevertheless, Ammon Shea’s attack on “language pedants”—his words—in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine felt personal. Shea expresses his frustration with “inveterate correctors” and reveals his own plan to topple them: via precedent!

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