"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Feb 11, 2011

Bwuh?

I agree with a lot that's written in this entry* (even if inspired by the high priestess of the creepily creepy Shakescult).

So, there's that.

But, this fucking doozy makes no fakegodsbedamned sense:

"Rape culture is treating straight sexuality as the norm."

Can someone please, please explain this to me? Because perhaps I use the word "norm" differently than is intended in that sentence, I'm missing what the author means. I'm really trying to understand, but I keep coming back to it and it just doesn't make kosher noises in my brain holes.

Straight sexuality is the norm. It's not only statistically more likely to occur, it's also normative. It's what most people engage in, for whatever personal, social and cultural reasons. And for a host of unreasons, because sex defies scientific rationality, at least at this point of our biological and social evolution.

Now, if the author is just trying to say that the assumption that heterosexual attraction is the only correct way to erotically align with another person or persons is a false one, that it rests on unquestioned premises, ancient religious doctrine, economic disparity, food scarcity and political machination - that makes sense.

Of course, the author doesn't write that at all. I do, because that's as close as I can read the line charitably.

The author explicitly links rape with the idea that most people assume that heterosexual attraction is normal.

And that's a leap without a net, as far as I can tell.

So, help would be appreciated.

* - as in, most of it...

50 comments:

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Gender / power discussions I've seen and/or had can include hyperbole, which is understandable. But when the person asserts that the hyperbolic is real, I start wondering what's up. Naive? Mistaken? Weird agenda? Crooked agenda? Alternate reality? Sexually traumatized person?

Lots of plausible explanations, but in any case, the hyperbole isn't the reality.

I think it'd be intellectually honest, and rhetorically helpful, for the author to explain that strange distortion -- where it comes from, what it assumes, what it's trying to convey.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

And thanks for the linkage!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Just for the record, I find a lot of things I'm reading on my brand new blog list a bit confusing.

For instance, if Matty Y is 7 Hitlers, how many Hitlers is Digby?
~

Will Shetterly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will Shetterly said...

The more I read about "rape culture", the crazier the idea becomes. I think it's a myth to unite members of that particular strain of feminism. Maybe I'll find time to do a proper post on this in the near future. The very quick version is that it makes as much sense to talk about rape cultures as it does to talk about theft, murder, or jaywalking cultures.

This is not to say that there are no rape cultures, but for the term to be meaningful, rape has to be accepted as natural or even desireable by the culture. In Zoroastrian-Judeo-Christian-Muslim culture, rape is a crime, and rapists are punished severely. Yes, we should do more to prevent rape in our culture, but promoting the concept of "rape culture" in a very general sense does not seem useful.

Yeah, I'd better do a full-length post sometime soon.

Cüneyt said...

I think it becomes a little clearer when you pay more attention to the "the" part of "the norm."

Jack Crow said...

Will,

I'm probably more sympathetic to the idea than you are, but I have the same objections to the overarching premise as I do to "Spectacle," "Patriarchy" and the new awful, "Kyriarchy."

I think the proponents of these terms - and I certainly have an ear tuned to Debord, myself - need to do a better job showing the concrete, and in ordinary language.

Cuneyt,

If a room has one hundred dogs and eight-five of them are golden retrievers, what is the descriptive norm for that population group?

I know the question can be answered in a number of ways, beginning with the obvious - the norm is "dog." Or that the norm is "golden retriever." Or that the norm is "female dog," if they all or the observable majority of them also happen to have female genitalia. I also understand that the obvious is not the only.

But...we are sight primary mammals. We identify each other by memorable visible traits. Behavior or traits we witness we most likely recall visually, even if the triggers themselves are not visual. Granted, learning and culture shape how we define and separate those traits, which of course applies not only to our epistemes but to our biases - but, this does not alter the fact that norms, among population groups and populations of traits, exist because we define them as such.

I just don't see how defining heterosexuality as a population norm is also automatically the promotion of a rape tolerant and rape encouraging social apparatus.

Under,

I think that I don't know what you mean.

Charles,

You and me both, from that perspective. My three of four forays into gender conversation have gotten the most hits and the least amount of understanding. I understand hyperbole. I use it, hopefully with comic, or at least sarcastic, effect. I get rhetoric and polemic, too. But - I don't think they're the best way to make a case to strangers. And if JRB is right - and I think he is - and the point of all this nattering is persuasion, at some point you have to translate your idiom into that of your intended audience, no?

adspar said...

"sex defies scientific rationality, at least at this point of our biological and social evolution"

could you explain this? i don't get it.

Jack Crow said...

Adspar,

I'm referring to sexual attraction. We know that we feel attraction, but we don't yet fully understand why or how. Perhaps, in part, because the limbic system is forming before personality does, and itself shapes the socially developed personality we experience as "Self," so much so that we still use and develop pre-scientific theories of attraction which fail to account for the body-with-organs we actually have.

I think I just made that more confusing, so I'm sorry.

adspar said...

Hi Jack,

We do have a pretty decent scientific understanding of sexual attraction, at least the "why."

We know broad trends about what folks find attractive, e.g. symmetrical faces are more attractive, female waist to hip ratio around 0.7 is most attractive to hetero men, hetero women tend to prefer older men, women's preferences vary predictably over the menstrual cycle, etc, and have coherent theoretical explanations for these trends that fall neatly out of sexual selection theory (e.g. hetero men like cues of youth and fertility which indicate reproductive potential, hetero women like cues of genetic quality and resource holding which indicate quality of offspring and ability to provide for them respectively).

We also have a growing understanding of environmental factors that account for individual and cultural/population differences in attraction trends, e.g. where pathogen load is high women have greater preference for cues of genetic quality; men with older brothers are more likely to be gay, etc. This is a very popular research topic, and some of the research is very good (and, as in every field, some of it isn't so good).

Jack Crow said...

Adspar,

I recommend Echidne's series of deconstructions of those traits and gender constructions of attraction - almost all of the evopsych and evo-bio hogwash. These studies only tend to confirm cultural biases, often ones of high wealth or status, in English or Anglophone countries.

The "symmetrical faces" thing was utterly refuted, if I remember correctly, because of sloppy methodology and poor sampling.

All the same, I guess I'll simplify:

Sexual attraction is not rational. It is not scientific.

Randal Graves said...

Down with jaywalkers! And c'mon Jack, of course it's scientific. If a chick's into Sabbath, she's 53% cooler than she otherwise would have been.

I suppose I should pretend to be serious for a moment, your comment I just don't see how defining heterosexuality as a population norm is also automatically the promotion of a rape tolerant and rape encouraging social apparatus, and I'm (probably)oversimplifying, seems to question the notion that the author is promoting that this overarching idea of rape culture (I'm not a fan of blanket jazz, either) could only have stemmed from this dominant social construct, i.e. hetero dudes (mostly white, presumably) running the show. Yikes, what an unwieldy sentence.

Jack Crow said...

Randal,

I don't think it would have occurred to me to write it that way, but in part, yeah.

I'm not arguing or articulating the idea or notion that, since some non-white women have committed rape in places where white men have not had really power, rape is an equal opportunity depredation. I just have a problem with the argument that the acceptance of the normality of heterosex is itself "rape culture."

And you're wrong about science and Sabbath. It's Opeth science supports...

adspar said...

Hi Jack,

It may be true that some ev psych studies confirm cultural biases, but that doesn't mean they're wrong. Many of these findings have proven to be cross-culturally robust, and as close to universal as we can find. Fpr example, every culture sampled, including dozens of small-scale preindustrial societies show preferences for female waist to hip ratios in the 0.7 to 0.9 range! There's also tremendous cross-cultural homogeneity in male emphasis on female physical attractiveness (largely cues of youth and fertility) relative to female preference. I could go on. There are many many studies that confirm that symmetry is attractive, though it may be the case that it is just correlated with other attractive traits (for example, more symmetrical men smell better, and half-faces of more symmetrical people are more attractive).

I'd suggest you read the primary literature before you dismiss it! There's lots of unfair bias in popular culture an various segments of academia against ev psych. In my opinion, much of it stems from a reluctance to apply the humans the same theories that we apply to other biological entities and a desire to explain everything with "culture." But whether we like it or not, humans ARE animals. Sexual selection theory is extraordinarily useful at predicting and explaining sexual behaviours and preferences.

adspar said...

I should also mention that there ought to be a natural alliance between the ev psych community and anarchist/libertarian socialist types because soooo much of ev psych strongl links a variety of social ills to inequality!

Jack Crow said...

Adspar,

I hope Ethan has an opportunity to comment on ev psych, in all honesty. He's more equipped to address its deficiencies, and its innate conservatism, than I.

adspar said...

As an evolutionary psychologist, I don't think the field is "innately conservative," at least no more than any other biological discipline. And even if some finding seems to have conservative implications, that doesn't make it wrong!

Here's a cute example: blind men prefer low waist-to-hip ratio!

Jack Crow said...

It all reads like Lamarckism to me. Evo pysch is in fact Lamarckism, applied to "mind."

But, since I don't even accept the validity of "consciousness," we'll probably have to part ways on this particular subject.

adspar said...

How do you see Lamarckism? There's no genetic inheritance of environmentally acquired traits in ev psych?

Furthermore, I don't think the field has properly dealt with consciousness at all, so I don't think you'd have much issue with that. ! I don't think you'd have any problem with the discipline at all if you had a proper introduction!

I'm continually surprised by objection to (their strawman understanding of) ev pscyh from the left. I totally understand it coming from the right.

Will Shetterly said...

Adspar, yes, it's important to remember that humans are animals, but it's also important to remember that animals are amazingly adaptable--see the many youtube videos of critters raising animals that are not of their species.

adspar said...

adaptability is a critical principle of evolutionary theory. no theory of evolution posits that human behaviour is "fixed" by genes, merely that certain trends are strongly favoured. there's room for tremendous variation and adaptation, as i hinted with my comment about environmental predictors of certain preferences!

Will Shetterly said...

adspar, so long as that "tremendous" is there, I'm happy. I just had a twinge when you mentioned waist sizes, 'cause I was reading about a culture recently that values fat, and for the health of the women, they're setting out to change what's considered attractive now.

adspar said...

Hi my friends,

Thanks to Jack for his patience as I hijacked this thread! I've posted the beginning of a guide to ev psych for leftist-anarchists on my own blog. I'd love to continue the conversation there!

Cüneyt said...

Cool, then. You mean norm as statistical norm. And the blog writer clearly takes exception to the fact that most people take a statistical concept and extrapolate it to mean something desirable, fit, or just. Look up "normative."

That said, obedience to state power is normal. How does it feel to be abnormal?

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Jack --

I just have a problem with the argument that the acceptance of the normality of heterosex is itself "rape culture."

Well that's it, isn't it?

When I try to understand the proposition, all I hear/get is this:

"Rape is heterosexual. Man raping woman. Nothing else is rape."

I suppose it's meant to be a twist on that idea I heard attributed to Camille Paglia, or maybe Andrea Dworkin, that all hetero sex is rape because of the power disparity. All of it. Not just a bigger part than many are willing to admit. All of it.

HUH?,

I say.

Same gig here.

Cüneyt said...

And I'm not trying to be pedantic by telling you to look up "normative," Crow. It can be used not only to say "typical" but to say "ideal" and healthy, fitting, right as opposed to alternatives which are not. I mean, as I said, obedience is the norm in the same way you say heterosexuality is the norm, and maybe gender-queer folks and non-heteros and political radicals want to change the conversation to What, Exactly, Makes the Norm?

Jack Crow said...

Adspar,

Your examples take socialized gender and treat it as biological determined. That's the root problem with evolutionary psychology.

Cuneyt,

I used the word "normative" above for a reason.

And I don't assume I belong to the statistical norm. I'm an anarchist. I am not the norm. That is not a moral critique of my position. It's an element of observable data. That doesn't lead me to conclude that everyone who accepts some form of power is a knowing member of an ill defined, mushy and amorphous "power culture."

Jack Crow said...

Cuneyt,

That's not what the article in the original wants - a "changing of the conversation." It states, in admirably plain language, that "treating" straight sexuality as the norm IS rape culture. An impressive leap, but wrong. My wife is not a vector of some sort of ill-defined rape culture, just because she assumes that most people are heterosexual. And I use my wife as a specific example, because she works in medical office where three of her four physicians are lesbians. Her daily population group skews to a different norm - and she still reaches a common assumption, because that common assumption does describe a common and observable data set: most people have sex with someone of the opposite visible gender.

And again. I know what normative means. It's why I used it, above.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Why it's a bad idea trying to fractionalize and make "scientific" a wholly subjective notion like sexuality:

Here's Adspar, above.

We know broad trends about what folks find attractive, e.g. symmetrical faces are more attractive, female waist to hip ratio around 0.7 is most attractive to hetero men, hetero women tend to prefer older men, women's preferences vary predictably over the menstrual cycle, etc, and have coherent theoretical explanations for these trends that fall neatly out of sexual selection theory (e.g. hetero men like cues of youth and fertility which indicate reproductive potential, hetero women like cues of genetic quality and resource holding which indicate quality of offspring and ability to provide for them respectively).

Blah blah, dee blah, dee blah-blah. ZCBVHWOEINBEO!

Such bullshit in that quote. I am attracted to women. Symmetry of the face is not something I go looking for, nor is a perfect 0.7 waist/hip/torso ratio. I've had skinny girlfriends, average ones, chubby ones, curvy ones, less curvy ones. Some of them had asymmetric eyebrows, nostrils, eyes, ears, teeth. Shit, I think one had more freckles on her left cheekbone than her right. No wonder I broke up with her!

Don't try to make something like sexuality a thing that breaks into statistical categories. To use a phrase that I find almost completely useless for most things,

it is what it is.

Nothing scientific about it, any more than business deals are about some "art" of "dealing."

adspar said...

"Your examples take socialized gender and treat it as biological determined. That's the root problem with evolutionary psychology."

What do you mean by "biologically determined"?

Ethan said...

I wish I wasn't too sick to contribute usefully...

adspar said...

Ethan,

Feel better! The flu has me knocked out pretty good; this is about all I've had the energy for.

Charles,

Sexuality does break into statistical categories. This doesn't mean that every person neatly fits into a category, or that one's membership in a category guarantees specific behaviours or preferences. But it is possible and scientifically useful to look at stable patterns within groups that might have fuzzy boundaries.

Ethan said...

adspar, thanks.

I did want to say that I think Jack's estimation of my qualifications are a bit higher than I would place them, but that I am interested in this stuff.

I would quickly like to point out that while our brains shape our behavior, the reverse is also true.

Jack Crow said...

Adspar,

I mean by "biolgically determined" pretty much exactly that, as ignoring the social/cultural milieu which does not depend upon alleles, chromosomes and genes.

Evo psych fails to appreciate the limits of genetics. It takes the worst of Dawkins and Dennet and makes them into a faith position.

I don't mean to say that you don't do science, but that you do it from a preformed opinion of human personality, biology and gender which you then try to qualify with just-so stories.

Jack Crow said...

Ethan,

Here's to hoping you feel better.

Jack

Jack Crow said...

Charles,

Our positions differ slightly, in so much as I believe that sexuality can be treated scientifically and rationally, within the limits of the discipline, but that it is not scientific or rational, in its expression of behavior.

adspar said...

Jack,

So you're using "biological" to mean "genetic." (I'd use terms differently, but whatever.) It is simply not the case that evolutionary psychology ignores culture or attributes all traits only to genetics. Trying to understand cross-cultural variation is a huge part of the field! Can you give me a specific example that might explain why you have this impression? As for "just-so stories," I suggest this article.

Ethan,

I wouldn't argue that at all.

adspar said...

i think the link didn't work, sorry. here it is:

http://www.facelab.org/Publications/abstracts?id=274

Jack Crow said...

Adspar,

I didn't mean "genetic." I meant "biological."

Jack Crow said...

As long as evolutionary psychology's main claim to fame is to treat socialized gender as biological gender, introducing here will get you a hostile audience.

adspar said...

Jack,

"Biological" just means pertaining to life. So then, yes, ev psych treats socialized gender as a biological phenomenon. What other option is there? Society is a biological phenomenon.

In my own work I tend to use "sex" rather than "gender," out of recognition that the latter is a flexible social construct, whereas the former is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, a genetic feature. The scientific study of animals (and plants for that matter) distinguishes between male and female. This distinction is scientifically useful, and helps us understand the world. I suspect that evolutionary psychologists are better than most folks at treating sex and gender in value-neutral terms, and respecting individual differences.

adspar said...

Jack:"I don't mean to say that you don't do science, but that you do it from a preformed opinion of human personality, biology and gender which you then try to qualify with just-so stories."

If that's what someone does, it isn't science. Bad ev psych might do that, but good ev psych doesn't. (Again, see the link I provided above for a paper that refutes the "just-so stories" criticism.) Naturally everyone brings their preformed opinions to their work. Theories are subject to confirmation or disconfirmation by evidence, not stories.

Jack Crow said...

Gender essentialism, dolled up as science. Not buying it.

And no - society is not just a biological function, nor is it exclusively the expression of our biology. Much of what shapes us is inhuman. Our own exosomatic knowledge is largely not biological. We store our culture outside of our biology, and it is not without profound influence. These computers, books, statues in stone and clay, law codes written on iron or stone - not human biology. Some, never biological.

And yet, they influence not only the shape of our worldviews, and their varieties, but how we organize ourselves.

The problem with evolutionary psychology is the same problem which plagued sociobiology (which evopsych is, renamed after that was tainted by its fails): it draws overbroad conclusions based on socially particular, temporally limited subject populations. It has no real evidence how human forebears, never mind pre-human hominids, expressed allegedly acquired human traits.

It's a series of socialized presumptions, masquerading as science.

And you can stop trying to sell it here. Because although I have a lot of points of disagreement with liberal capitalist feminists, they have me convinced when it comes to the bad science, faulty premises and gender essentialism of sociobio/evopsych. That's not personal hostility to you, just to this bad school of thought which you happen to believe justifies a leftist critique of society.

I see no correlation between waist size and the problems of class. I see no need to introduce Dawkinist biases into the discussion, especially given the Social Darwinist conclusions which most of their adherents end up promoting.

My original post was an objection to an overbroad statement. This discussion has now become about my refusal to accept a counter-statement and school which is equally overbroad, and equally useless.

Jack Crow said...

You might as well quote the Talmud or the Avestas at me, Adspar. Your school will never have my adherence.

I reject it, fundamentally, as useless, and moreso, as obstructive.

I look at who uses it - British tories, rape apologists, the corporate media and American sex "gamers" and I know its value.

adspar said...

Jack,

You're rejecting a straw man. Based on what you've written here, you very clearly do not understand evolutionary psychology, and seem to have muddled ideas about basic concepts of biology. That's a damn shame, because it makes sense of so much, and could be very useful for someone who cares so passionately about human affairs. Your misunderstanding of the field is no doubt a result of our failure to communicate, though we face significant systemic obstacles when we try (if you think the corporate media is a friend to evolutionary psychology, you are very wrong), but I also sense irrationality in your hostility.

You seem not to want me to keep this conversation going here, which is why I've started one on my own blog. (If nothing else I hope you'll at least answer my question here.) I want to make one last point though, in response to something you said about me, which is that I don't believe that evolutionary psychology "justifies a leftist critique of society." Justification is a moral issue, and science is no basis for moral judgement. What I believe is that many key findings in the field provide strong evidence, supported by sound theory, that many leftist prescriptions for improving society are likely to be effective if implemented.

Jack Crow said...

Adspar,

Please don't mistake my lack of expertise or belief in your field for stupidity.

You talk down to me again, the conversation ends.

I am more than familiar with the arguments and counter-arguments, and I know when I've synopsized, or elided certain details.

But, I am not arguing with a straw man. Evolutionary psychology is deterministic, overbroad and reductive. It's a restatement of sociobiology, often by former sociobiologists who've just renamed their reductionism and gone on to sell articles and books for good dollars and pounds.

Its connection with the truly contemptible, hateful and awful Dennett and Dawkins is deserved, because they make that connection explicit - and they are no more and no less than scumfuck assholes.

Evo psych rests, fundamentally, on the premise that localized behavioral expressions, *now*, derive from a lineage of inheritances traceable to a *then* which cannot be mapped, is not understood, and about which only the very broadest assumptions can be made.

In short, its a faith premise; one which is more often than not used by people to justify largely conservative and hierarchical modes of existence, now.

EdgarBox said...

jack you are a blind old man

adspar said...

Jack,

I certainly don't think you're stupid. I wouldn't bother having such a long conversation if I didn't respect you. I'm quite fond of your writing.

I hope you don't mistake my evaluation that you're fundamentally misunderstanding ev psych for me "talking down" to you. I base my evaluation not on your rejection of the field, but based on a series of things you've said that are simply incorrect. If I'm right, if you are misunderstanding, I'd think you'd want to know that. But when telling someone that they seem to be misunderstanding, there's always the risk of seeming (or being) condescending. I think if you take a cool-headed look at what I've written you'll see that I've tried to be respectful within that dynamic.

Thanks for hosting this conversation. I'll end my participation here, and I welcome you or anyone else who'd like to discuss this topic further to comment over at my blog.

Jack Crow said...

Adspar,

Until your discipline can dispense with unproven modularity, gender and race essentialism, arguments from a presumed "mental fossil record" which of course can never be demonstrated, sociobiology, Dawkins' selfish gene and its general use as a justifier of the worst social norms and localized prejudices, I'm not really interested in discussing its value to leftist revolution.

Edgar,

Your contribution is the finest example of intelligent discourse yet. We are all your students, now.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Our positions differ slightly, in so much as I believe that sexuality can be treated scientifically and rationally, within the limits of the discipline, but that it is not scientific or rational, in its expression of behavior.

That's pretty much how I see it. I'm not arguing for a total dislocation from science, I'm saying that this notion of "evolutionary psychology" isn't doing what it's pretending to do. I'm saying it's playing at science-ish-ness.

You can study things with scientific methods, yet still not understand them. Merely using the results of observation and "experimentation" doesn't automatically mean you can define rigidly that which you've observed and experimented upon.

Ev Psych isn't science. It's science-ish.