Sunday, February 08, 2004

The Book I Read for my Wife

Today I finished reading You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation", by Deborah Tannen, Ph.D. Basic premise, women want love and intimacy, men want respect and authority. Women have "rapport" talk, men have "report" talk. I pretty much agree, I guess. She doesn't go much into any of the evolutionary reasons for this. I think men are always verbally sparring and establishing dominance heirarchies because at heart they are still the race's warriors, and as such are always trying to have a military structure ready to go, just in case. Men are taught to repress emotions because they are seen as luxuries that may get in the way of survival. Particularly as young men develop testosterone-fueled tempers, they must learn to supress and control them. So, you wind up with an overall structure of supressed emotions. And, guess what? You don't care that your emotions are suppressed, because you have been taught that they are not important to survival, and, in general, you don't care about trivialities. So, maybe the follow-up book can be "I Do Understand, but I Really Just Don't Care".

The book also did a lot of quoting from novels, movies, and plays. This somewhat put me off. I find most modern literature unreadable and totally irrelevant -- it's not somewhere I would go to look for insight.

As Hilary Clinton said, "It takes a village to raise a child" -- probably true, but it only takes one man to impregnate all the women of the village. That is why men are the natural warriors, genetically we are expendable. The growth and survival of a population is determined solely by the number of fertile females. I think this is discussed in "The Lucifer Principle", by Howard Bloom.

I had forgotten, I e-mailed Howard Bloom in November of 2002 after reading that book. It's a good read, a lot of good stuff on the instinctive nature of human behavior, particularly pecking order. Here's what I sent:

Having had 4 children go through high school, I didn't need much convincing as to the instinctive nature of much of human behavior, particularly in matters of breeding. If you want to observe heirarchies of pecking order, any high school is the perfect place to start.

Some other thoughts:

  1. Columbine as "revenge of the betas". I think that video games, where betas get to be the heroes (alphas) and kill the bad guys, undermine the normal pecking order, which is strongly reinforced by physical interaction. The betas play video games long enough and say "to hell with a bunch of alphas, I'm not taking it anymore".
  2. Someone recently told me that they thought that there was a continuum between alphas and betas. Probably somewhat true, but I would bet that there is a statistical survey that could draw a pretty clear line to distinguish alphas: "Have you deflowered more than n virgins?", where n = 0 or 1. "Droit de signeur" was the institutionalized version of this.
  3. Another difference: when women say "no" to betas, they mean "no". When women say no to alphas, they mean "yes" and the alphas know it.

I, of course, am a beta all the way. But, geeks rule!

This also reminds me of a zen lesson I gave my middle daughter when she was in high school. She was upset because one of the magnet program girls was dissing Revelers (sorority-girls-in-training high school club that mostly just throws parties). I told her that this was an incredibly boring topic. She was incensed and wanted to why I thought it was boring. I told her, her high school (2000 kids) was too big for pecking order to be established between all the individuals. So, cliques were needed to establish a pecking order heirarchy. The various cliques can have their place in the heirarchy, and then the individuals can establish pecking order within their clique. Everything with a backbone establishes pecking order (per The Lucifer Principle), backbones are 250 million years old. So, if 250 million year old software is not boring, I don't know what is. I don't remember if she bought it or not.

I guess this is something else that didn't ring true to me with "You Just Don't Understand". The claim seems to be that women are less heirarchical than men, that they stress equality rather than superiority. I don't know, the female cliques at Dunbar seemed to be stronger than the male ones. Does the fact that they are about who is liked vs who is respected really make a difference?

Before "You Just ...", I read "Chindi" by Jack McDevitt. He writes great space operas, with lots of astro-archeology. Seems very plausible, particularly if advanced civilizations do have short, 10,000 year life spans, that you're going to find a lot more dead alien civilizations than live ones. A good read, but I think he is getting in a bit of a rut.

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