Sunday, March 20, 2011

Two barroom speculations and a rant

To be taken at the appropriate level of seriousness... (this was the drift of my side of a conversation w/ Matt P. and CWA last night) NB I expect blogging to be near nil next week, though I might post dispatches from Dallas. 

BS1. All professions will eventually become professions for women, just as all names will eventually become names for girls. (Of course there are more possible names than professions...) The argument is of the "Griffiths" variety and runs as follows. Once any profession becomes over, say, 60% female, it stays that way; men are far less likely to enter it. This effect is much stronger than the reverse one. (Aptitude etc. are largely irrelevant for most professions; social pressures are much more important in determining what people decide to pursue.) Over time any profession becomes more than 60% female because of random fluctuations. QED. (An implication is that this should happen sooner in smaller professions, subfields, etc. There is some evidence for this in, e.g., vet-med.)

BS2. Why are one's past struggles and sufferings such an important part of self-definition? In particular, why are all the best barroom stories tales of mishap? A standard answer, re struggles, is that one is reluctant to admit that effort was ever wasted, but this doesn't extend to suffering. An alternative resolution: one gives meaning to one's life by making a narrative out of it; it is naturally desired that one's narrative will appeal to others, and the easiest way to appeal to others is to appeal to their Schadenfreude, which is the most enduring of human emotions.

R. The invasion of Libya worries me because it suggests that people have either forgotten the lessons of Iraq or learned the wrong ones. This is especially true of the British and the French, who I suppose were especially liable to suspect that Iraq was a failed war because unilateralism or the fake WMD excuse. Yes, it was bad to start a war unilaterally and worse to start it on false pretenses, but neither of these has much to do with why Iraq ended up so badly: that failure was due to the lack of any clear positive goals, the fact that "regime change" is a misnomer for "regime removal," or the thoughtless replacement of tyranny by anarchy. (No one's admitting to the term "regime change" but David Cameron clearly has it on his mind.)

6 comments:

Elisa said...

Men flee once it becomes a chick thing ... seems highly plausible to me. Reminds me of a friend of a friend who was telling people without irony he wanted to become "a male nurse," as though the fact that he was male wasn't obvious.

I have a theory that there are two kinds of happiness, one being stable contentment and the other being an unstable state with lots of highs and lows. By choosing stability you give up the lows but the highs as well -- this is why some bipolar people choose not to go on medication. I think young people tend to prefer instability (or, maybe, their lives are unstable through no choice of their own), and as we get older we choose contentment. But we still treasure those unstable times. The memory of pain makes us happy.

Sarang said...

I tend to agree w/ the two-kinds-of-happiness idea. But it's interesting that we choose to recollect _negative_ powerful emotions rather than positive ones, at least in company. Perhaps recollecting extreme past happiness is a little depressing because we feel older and duller, whereas recollecting past pain makes us feel emotionally snug and bulletproof? Though there's something about the specifically _narrative_ aspects of this too: for some reason it's easier to talk interestingly about unpleasant things...

Elisa said...

It's not just conversation -- conflict makes for better fiction, too. Movies, books, TV shows, etc. about generally happy people with no problems would mostly suck.

Sarang said...

But why are all happy families alike?

Ted said...

Re R: On the flip side, leaving Libya be means accepting its gradual transition into a country in the state of protracted (and likely contagious) civil war. The French have seen it happen before in Congo-Rwanda and Sierra Leone-Cote d'Ivore; Libya is too close to Europe for a similar outcome there to be acceptable.

Unlike Iraq, Libya does appear to have an organized opposition. It's not crazy to hope that things will play out there like they did in post-Milosevic Serbia or post-Trujillo Dominican Republic.

Sarang said...

I don't mean to deny that a civil war might be a nuisance ("contagion" seems rather farfetched though, North Africa is not sub-Saharan Africa) but I definitely do not agree that the opposition is "organized" in the relevant way. One can always find inklings of a viable opposition if one looks for them, all kinds of names came up in the early days of Iraq, etc. And I don't see that Libya's proximity to Europe, such as it is, has much to do with anything.