Archive for September, 2010

One man’s luxury is another man’s radical performance art

September 27, 2010

My post on gender performativity elicited an interesting comment from a reader named Alex SL:

I remain unconvinced that you can actually suppress gender roles without a 1984-like level of totalitarian suppression. It sure seems as if the vast majority – not all, but the vast majority – of people want to advertise what sex they are, and they want to exaggerate whatever it is that is considered their gender role in their specific society, especially during puberty, in order to be more attractive to the opposite sex.

Trying to completely abolish that is probably not any more hopeful an enterprise than trying to eradicate addictions, egoism, nepotism or lying. Sure, you want to minimize the negative consequences of these things, and you want to discourage them as far as realistically possible, but you will never have a 100% success because it is just too much part of what we are. Should we not be happy enough once everybody has equal rights instead of twisting our own nature beyond breaking point? Equality is already an enormous accomplishment that many cultures in the world still would have to achieve; me not being able to wear a skirt and makeup without being ostracized seems like a “luxury problem” in comparison.

It’s taken me a while to articulate a proper response, given that I did not actually advocate a top-down enforcement of androgyny by the state. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Nelson on scientists as advocates

September 21, 2010

Over at Age of Engagement, Matt Nisbet interviews Michael Nelson, associate professor of environmental ethics and philosophy at Michigan State University, about the role of scientists in a democracy. Here’s an excerpt:

You argue that scientists have a “special responsibility” to engage in advocacy.  Can you explain?

I shutter [sic] when I think about the implications of stripping scientists – those who might know more about some given topic then anyone else – of their citizenship.  I do not think people know what they are saying or implying when they say scientists should not be advocates, or when scientists justify their lack of advocacy or criticize their peers on this basis.  I can hardly imagine anything more undemocratic, unhealthy, and un-American than knowingly stripping someone of their citizenship, or knowingly giving it up. Read the rest of this entry »

Ralph Nader on the two freedoms

September 21, 2010

Chris Hedges writes at Truthdig:

“The corporate state is the ultimate maturation of American-type fascism,” Nader said. “They leave wide areas of personal freedom so that people can confuse personal freedom with civic freedom—the freedom to go where you want, eat where you want, associate with who you want, buy what you want, work where you want, sleep when you want, play when you want. If people have given up on any civic or political role for themselves there is a sufficient amount of elbow room to get through the day. They do not have the freedom to participate in the decisions about war, foreign policy, domestic health and safety issues, taxes or transportation. That is its genius. But one of its Achilles’ heels is that the price of the corporate state is a deteriorating political economy. They can’t stop their greed from getting the next morsel. The question is, at what point are enough people going to have a breaking point in terms of their own economic plight? At what point will they say enough is enough?

via @ericmjohnson.

Malcolm Gladwell gives me a talking point on race and IQ

September 15, 2010

From his December 2007 New Yorker article, “None of the Above“:

[T]he question of whether Asians have a genetic advantage in I.Q. … has led to great excitement among I.Q. fundamentalists in recent years. Data showing that the Japanese had higher I.Q.s than people of European descent, for example, prompted the British psychometrician and eugenicist Richard Lynn to concoct an elaborate evolutionary explanation involving the Himalayas, really cold weather, premodern hunting practices, brain size, and specialized vowel sounds. The fact that the I.Q.s of Chinese-Americans also seemed to be elevated has led I.Q. fundamentalists to posit the existence of an international I.Q. pyramid, with Asians at the top, European whites next, and Hispanics and blacks at the bottom.

Here was a question tailor-made for James Flynn’s accounting skills. Read the rest of this entry »

Kessler and McKenna preach to the choir on gender attribution

September 15, 2010

I guess there was a time when the following was radical, from Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach, p. 38:

[W]e propose that there is a strong possibility that in some nonindustrial cultures gender role is seen as the basis of gender attribution just as in our culture genitals are seen as the basis. In some cultures, as far as members were concerned, the invariant criteria for being seen as male or female (i.e., attributing a male or a female gender to someone) was the role one performed. Thus, a person with a vagina who performed tasks that persons with penises were assigned at birth (e.g., going to war) would be cognitively grouped with those persons with penises and seen to be of the same gender. The genital would have no importance in the gender attribution. Read the rest of this entry »

High IQ in Ashkenazi Jews: What’s the proper reaction?

September 15, 2010

I’ve blogged about two of the three remarkable things said by German economist Thilo Sarrazin — that Muslims were dumbing down Germany and that Jews share a certain gene. He made a third racial statement, of course, about Jews having “high IQs.” Specifically, it’s Jews from central or northern Europe, known as Ashkenazim, that reportedly have the high IQs.

In 2005 three University of Utah researchers made a big splash with a study that sought to explain this IQ advantage in evolutionary terms. Basically, the researchers argued that because Ashkenazi Jews were restricted to intellectually demanding jobs for almost 1,000 years in Europe, they underwent natural selection for higher intelligence, and as a by-product they began to suffer higher rates of certain genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs and Gaucher’s.

If you’re interested, Steven Pinker broke down the researchers’ full argument for The New Republic in 2006. He first summarizes the evidence for Ashkenazi intelligence:

The appearance of an advantage in average intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews is easier to establish than its causes. Jews are remarkably over-represented in benchmarks of brainpower. Though never exceeding 3 percent of the American population, Jews account for 37 percent of the winners of the U.S. National Medal of Science, 25 percent of the American Nobel Prize winners in literature, 40 percent of the American Nobel Prize winners in science and economics, and so on. On the world stage, we find that 54 percent of the world chess champions have had one or two Jewish parents.

Read the rest of this entry »

Thilo Sarrazin makes a fateful remark about Jews

September 13, 2010

Former German central banker Thilo Sarrazin couldn’t content himself with the claim that Muslims are intellectually inferior to other Germans. No, he had to say something about Jews, too.

From the Washington Post:

German-Jewish groups…are among Sarrazin’s staunchest critics, calling him a dangerous racist. Though Sarrazin has spoken positively of Jews, saying they have “high IQs,” he courted controversy after declaring in an Aug. 29 interview that “all Jews share a certain gene.” In fact, observers here say that the official outcry against Sarrazin – including the move to expel him from the board of the central bank – would have been far more muted had he simply stuck to his generalizations about Muslims.

That’s got to warm a Muslim’s heart.

The Weekly Standard contextualizes Sarrazin’s gene remark:

[W]hen restored to their context, it is obvious that in using the six words, Sarrazin was merely attempting, however infelicitously, to express what is in fact a simple tautology: namely, that to the extent that we refer to “Jews” and are not doing so on the basis of religion, then we must be supposing some sort of common “genetic heritage” or, in other more colloquial terms, shared ancestry. Otherwise, the use of the word to refer to persons who are not religious makes no sense whatsoever.

Just how far afield Sarrazin’s reflections are from the Nazi-like notions of “racial purity” that have been attributed to him by his accusers is indeed made clear by the very passage that precedes the six words in the interview. Sarrazin employs here the common German word Volk, which can variously be translated as “people” or “nation.” Read the rest of this entry »

Thilo Sarrazin says Muslims are “dumb[ing] down” Germany

September 12, 2010

What to make of 65-year-old economist Thilo Sarrazin, the “most talked about man in Germany,” according to the Washington Post?

Sarrazin, a board member of the German Central Bank until he resigned under pressure Thursday, has divided the nation by postulating the theory that Germany is being “dumbed down” by Muslim immigrants and their children. Wielding statistics and scientific arguments both in his book and in public comments, he delves into territory largely taboo here since the Holocaust, suggesting that “hereditary factors” are at least partly to blame. Turks and Kurdish immigrants, he asserts, are genetically predisposed to lower intelligence than Germans and other ethnic groups, including Jews.

Presumably his statistics and scientific arguments bear some resemblance to the following chart, reproduced in Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People, which ranks racial and national groups according to their scores on Army IQ tests conducted between 1917 and 1919: Read the rest of this entry »

How the right wing steals your freedom

September 10, 2010

Over at, David Roberts sees GOP climate denialism as part of something bigger and more insidious:

The right’s project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society’s leading institutions. Experts are made elites; their presumption of expertise becomes self-damning. They think they’re better than you. They talk down to you. They don’t respect people like us, real Americans. Here’s Americans’ trust in institutions…from Gallup data (click for larger version):

Of course the decline of trust in institutions is multi-causal, but the right’s relentless assault has certainly exacerbated matters. Here’s another graph to chill your blood, showing the only two institutions in which trust is rising: Read the rest of this entry »

The anthropology of garbage

September 9, 2010

The Believer has a great interview with New York University anthropologist Robin Nagle, who is also the official anthropologist-in-residence at New York City’s Department of Sanitation. She has worked in the field, picking up trash on a route in the Bronx, as described in this Slate series.

Here are some choice bits from the interview:

THE BELIEVER: You’ve said that “garbage is very scary to us culturally, and it is also… one of the single most fascinating things you could ever study.” And, at least back when you started, garbage was a “cognitive problem” that you didn’t fully understand.


[ROBIN NAGLE:] Every single thing you see is future trash. Everything. So we are surrounded by ephemera, but we can’t acknowledge that, because it’s kind of scary, because I think ultimately it points to our own temporariness, to thoughts that we’re all going to die. Read the rest of this entry »