Saturday, April 28, 2007

Is marriage a chain reaction game?

I was chatting with one of my friends a few days ago (this really is *his* view, not mine, this is not an artificial conceit or persona on my part, this is already a secret blog) and he suggested that marriage was in fact a chain reaction game. A bit like musical chairs. Everyone would be better off if everyone stayed unmarried. Then you could go out with your same-sex friends every night. Presumably one could switch sexual partners quite often and quite easily as well, though oddly he did not mention this effect.

But alas, one of your friends sees an opportunity to pull off an above-average marriage! He strikes. Why? Not out of love, but rather backwards induction. He knows that sooner or later all the others will marry and he will be left out in the cold. Others in the group all see the need to marry too. Everyone pairs off and loneliness sets in.

Que triste!

Addendum: As for a cure, somehow the image of the nursing home recurs in my mind.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Whose inequality?

Wednesday I was in The City and out of The Suburbs. It is always startling how much better looking people are in The City, and how much looks matter there. These same good-looking people are left-wing Democrats to a high degree. They are reveling in the primordial inequality, namely that of looks and social alliances. Inequalities of wealth are of more recent vintage, from an evolutionary point of view. It is interesting how well young Democrats do at this inequality game and with what enthusiasm; only a few southern Republican women can rival them.

Out here in The Suburbs looks really don't matter, at least not for the married. Some couples are better looking than others, but that doesn't determine their relative social status. Perhaps "Job" is the primary determinant of status, and yes it does seem to come before income.

I think of The Suburbs as a revolutionary development. Pull people apart from their neighbors and pair them off in separate parcels, so that looks don't much matter. Enhance some of the new realms for inequality competition, namely jobs and income. Overall lower the level of inequality competition. Subsidize the ugly. Put them in cars.

I am always intrigued by peoples' attitudes toward The Suburbs.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Cylons

The Skin Jobs, I mean. They are so needy. So believing. So desiring of God and religion. Of course they were created by The Toasters, who in turn were created by humans. (How far up does the chain in fact extend? How many intermediaries stand between the humans and "the real God"?) Knowing their creation doesn't seem to influence their theology one bit. They are monotheists, with a totally constructed mythology. One point of the show is that created beings cannot help but be irrational, cannot help but be needy, cannot help but want to believe. Even the Cylons. The Skin Jobs. In part the show is about what it means to be a created being.

What do the Skin Jobs maximize? It is far from obvious. They are so deeply, deeply imperfect in this gnostic world. They are among TV's best creations, which is saying something.

Sharon is now my favorite character on the show. Does every created being rebel against its creator(s)? Will the Skin Jobs rebel in full against The Toasters?

Will modern humans -- as found on Earth -- turn out to be descendents of the Cylons? (What would that say about us, yet one step down in this chain of creation?) Then what sort of creatures are Adama, Roslyn, and the others?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cultural arguments and whether we follow their implications

Many people argue that the United States could never get to as low a level of guns as Japan. I find this easy to believe, and it is an argument against radical gun control proposals for the United States.

But say you use this argument, and suddenly you are asked to advise Japan. Should you endorse their gun control regime? Probably. It is hard to believe that Japan should seek to move to the higher-gun equilibrium found in the United States.

Gun control critics often use the "cultural argument," and indeed I do too. But we often the invocation of this argument with a kind of mental and emotional partition. How willing are we to raise our hands and say "I favor gun control in many of the world's countries." Why do we think that these other countries somehow do not count? Why do those cases not disturb our self-images as "gun control critics"?

Note that the more you cite "American Exceptionalism" the less likely your American views will hold around the world and that means your views are really just a special case for a few outlier countries.

It is especially worrying when cosmopolitanites are inconsistent in this manner.

Gun control

That's the topic of the day it seems. I know all the debates on whether it can work. I am more interested in the question of whether its critics *wish* it could work. Do they wish it could work?

I *wish* gun control could work. I doubt if it does, at least not "locally." (There might be some very long-run way to get to the low-guns equilibrium.) I suspect most critics would be, no matter what they say, unhappy to learn that it could work, if indeed it could.

What does that mean about their motives?

What does this mean about *my* motives?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

How to make the suburbs collapse

The suburbs are soooooooo dependent on quick and easy parking. In fact there is no other justification for their existence. That said, no further justification is needed. A Filene's Basement store just opened up next to my favorite Borders. The two share a parking lot.

It feels like trying to park in midtown Manhattan.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Manipulating the altruistic

I loved the film *After the Wedding*, which I saw last night. One sub-theme of the movie is how easy it is to control the altruistic. You need only offer money to save someone's life. What does it cost to save a life, a few hundred bucks in India? Even less?

"Bark like a dog, and I'll save an Indian life!"

This is perhaps one reason why people have so little altruism for very poor strangers. They have evolved so they are not open to these kinds of manipulation.

Imagine using charity to, in effect, pay altruists to embarrass themselves, just for kicks.

Oddly I had a conversation about this topic in a taxicab today. If you are altruistic, it is easy to precommit. Hire someone to give money to India, and require them to pull away the money from the Indians if you don't lose those pounds on your overweight frame. What should we conclude from the fact that no one seems to do this?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Today's CNN headline

Danny Bonaduce's wife files for divorce.

Are they serious?

Chatting in line

What would be the welfare gains if we banned customers from talking to the sales clerks, and vice versa? I find that at least once a week I am frustrated, waiting in line, while the customers and sales clerks chat merrily. They don't seem to care. They don't know how truly important *I* am. They think their little conversation means something in the broader scheme of things.

What are they doing, negotiating over the price?

I have a modest proposal: let us ban such conversations, on penalty of death.

Of course zero conversation does not mean zero communication. The sales clerks will be given, by their employers, little signs to hold up, communicating the most frequently needed pieces of information. Customers might carry around little signs as well. Like "no, I won't give you my email address." On the whole I expect the transactions to become more efficient.

I fear only the second-order effect that fewer sales clerks will be hired.

Or if these conversations go away, might customers flee and Borders would close down altogether?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Wind that Shakes the Barley

The movie receives very good reviews, but why should I see it? Films with an Irish theme are almost always noxious; an Irish theme is perhaps the best predictor of a boring and overrated movie. The problem is that too many people will go see the film simply because they feel that being Irish, or seeing Irish things, is cool. In contrast I expect a bunch of old geezers croaking about the incomprehensible, with a sickly sweet sentimental ending, hidden under art house pretense.

Are there exceptions to the rule that movies about the Irish are bad? Scorsese's *Gangs of New York* comes to mind. Most of the other exceptions you wish to cite aren't exceptions.

It was never great, but now this web site is simply junk. Only one step above the National Enquirer. They use more "celebrity ledes" and keep up "stale" and possibly false science stories for days on end. Rarely does the main story offer real news. The relative value of has been going up, and there is a lesson in that.

Monday, April 9, 2007

What is real dogmatism?

Today I was thinking about dogmatism. Is there a more or less fixed amount to be doled out to each person? Often those who appear the most dogmatic are, on most issues, the most open-minded. Take a highly religious person who believes that her favored social structure follows directly from the World of God, and is convinced as such. That same person might be especially open-minded on many empirical questions in social science. Her favorite social structure is not, in her own mind, threatened. She can pursue truth on the empirical questions and she doesn't see much "dangerous" at stake.

The non-religious, in contrast, might base the case for their favored social structures on empirical questions. They might be very dogmatic on empirics, precisely because so much is at stake in the empirical debates.

When looking for open-minded people, should we look for people who are closed-minded but in a very concentrated way in just a few areas? Their dogmatism is "soaked up" by the religion, and then they are free to be open-minded.

Or does a dogmatic attitude in one area simply predict dogmatic attitudes more generally?