Friday, December 04, 2015

in local news, Taylor Swift donated 50k to Seattle Symphony projects after hearing a work by John Luther Adams

Now, to be sure, for the likes of Taylor Swift 50 grand could be taken as a single honey-roasted peanut.  Still, it's not something to complain about if a pop musician decides to donate to a symphonic cause.  The way I see it the boundaries between styles of music, across the board, should be considered permeable.

Slate asks why there are so few women mass shooters, a theme and variations on the downwardly mobile single dude as the archtypal mass shooter

Statistically the person most likely to reach for a gun and shoot a bunch of people is a white guy, particularly a white guy who is single, divorced, or badly estranged from a woman. 

The sentiment that maternal instinct makes it seems less likely that women would kill a bunch of people, well, maybe that presumes too much on the universality of maternal instincts in women? 

Most shooters are “single, separated or divorced,” according to a sweeping analysis of mass shooters that the New York Times published this October; Robert Lewis Dear, who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado on the day after Thanksgiving, was twice-divorced and estranged from his children.

In a lengthy excerpt it's proposed that women internalizing a sense of failure rather than externalizing it may be one of a number of possibilities:

Candice Batton, director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, has spoken to NPR about how men are also more likely to transmute a sense of failure or shame into a sense of righteous anger toward some external group. Whereas women “are more likely to develop negative attributions of blame that are internal in nature, that is: ‘The cause of my problems is some failing of my own: I didn’t try hard enough, I’m not good enough,’ ” she says, men “are more likely than females to develop negative attributions of blame that are external in nature, that is: ‘The cause … of my problems is someone else or some force outside of me’. And this translates into anger and hostility toward others.”

Taken together, these arguments help explain the twisted mentality that drove Elliot Rodger to kill six people in revenge against “all you girls who rejected me,” or the way that poverty and high levels of male unemployment stoke the sick doctrine of white supremacy that Dylann Roof used to justify his shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.
The feelings of entitlement behind so many mass shootings may explain why shooters skew not just male but white male. According to the findings of a 2013 study at the University of Washington: “Among many mass killers, the triple privileges of white heterosexual masculinity which make subsequent life course losses more unexpected and thus more painfully shameful ultimately buckle under the failures of downward mobility and result in a final cumulative act of violence to stave off subordinated masculinity.” As Madfis explains, “If we’re talking about mass murderers, they often have gone through life with a series of losses—they’ve failed in lots of respects, haven’t gotten jobs they wanted, been passed over for promotion, these kinds of things. Then something bad happens, they get fired, there’s kind of an acute event” that triggers the shooting.
This makes it all the more surprising that Farook and Malik were just two years married, new parents, and, at least in the perception of Farook’s co-worker, “living the American dream.” This tragedy doesn’t fit inside any of the frameworks available to us for understanding mass shootings. And as more details emerge, they may suggest a new, horrifying schema of violent crime.

So it may be a bit too swift to say that it's chiefly white guys who are mass shooters, though in the United States that seems to be the case. The motif of white privilege seeing itself as victimized might not just be restricted to dudes.  One of the things Hanna Rosin has touched upon in the last few years is the paradox of white women who are able to make livings as writers lamenting the reach of the patriarchy when, paradoxically, they may not necessarily be the women most harmed by such patriarchy as is.

And the failures of men to live up to cultural expectations of manliness may, some suggest, be more universal intraculturally:

most working‑class men such as Gary are trapped by a changing economy and an intransigent masculinity. Faced with changes that reduce the options for less-educated men, they have essentially three choices, none of them very likely. They can pursue more education than their family background or their school success has prepared them for. They can find a low-wage job in a high-growth sector, positions that are often considered women’s work, such as a certified nurse practitioner or retail cashier. Or they can take on more of the domestic labour at home, enabling their partners to take on more work to provide for the household. These are ‘choices’ that either force them to be class pioneers or gender insurgents in their quest for a sustainable heroism; while both are laudable, we can hardly expect them of most men, and yet this is precisely the dilemma that faces men today.

What does it take to turn the anger of despairing men into violence? The grief and antagonism that erupt after every school shooting focus on either a prevailing gun culture or mental health problems, but masculinity is surely an indispensable component. Research has shown that the roots of these paroxysms of violence are in the toxic relationship between ‘masculinity threat’ – a man’s individual perception that he cannot live up to the ideals of dominant masculinity – and a cultural betrayal, the sense that men are owed something they are no longer getting.

An author or two have gone so far as to say that men, when presented with the risk/reward scenarios of contemporary culture may "go on strike".

But it can be tough for me, even as a guy, to see any of this as a "war on men". At the risk of putting things rather bluntly, the men who are having sex with a partner of choice on a regular basis in a committed or semi-committed or even uncommitted relationship are probably not all that inspired to diagnose a war on men in American culture.  It's the men who have failed to secure or maintain/retain a romantic partnership who seem most likely to feel very strongly the cards are all stacked against them.

To borrow a phrase with some currency in Roy Baumeister's writing, it's less clear there's a "war on men" so much as that many a man may be faced with a highly unpleasant reality check about his actual "sexual market value".  Baumeister has gone so far as to suggest that monotheistic religious scruples may have substantially inflated the sexual market value of the average guy who, were monotheistic sexual scruples abandoned altogether, might go from having a wife and a couple of kids being a plausible future ot never making it so far as second base without establishing some basis for the mating game.

Eh .. Baumeister seems to overstate the potential case there, even if it's conceivable he's got a point that on strictly genetic grounds we're descended from half as many men as we are from women, which Baumeister proposed showed us that in mating game terms half of any generation of males is a genetic dead end.

and right next door to the aforementioned Aeon piece ... what some call an epidemic of low female libido? Featuring a proposal that maybe monogamy is the problem?  It's like there's this theory being proposed ...


The American psychologist Christopher Ryan argues that the institution of modern marriage – meaning an exclusive couple bound by romantic love – is antithetical to long-term excitement. Ryan is best known for Sex at Dawn (2010), a book authored with his wife Cacilda Jethá, that makes the case that sexual monogamy is deeply at odds with human nature. He is among a growing number of researchers suggesting that the rift between women’s purportedly limitless sexual potential and their dulled actuality might owe to the circumstances of intimacy. Accordingly, the conjugal bed is not only the scene of dwindling desire, but its fundamental cause. The elements that strengthen love – reciprocity, closeness, emotional security – can be the very things that smother lust. While love angles toward intimacy, desire flourishes across a distance.
To Ryan, low desire is not the ailment, but rather a symptom of an ‘all-encompassing problem’ spanning the burdened interplay of work, stress, isolation and expectations for parenting, family and monogamy. These days, reports regularly surface with the gloomy news that people are working harder and longer and with less satisfaction, that collective levels of stress have increased, that families are isolated and cut off from networks of kin, and that diagnoses of mental illness are growing steadily. To develop drugs to boost libido, Ryan says, is analogous to ‘giving antibiotics to pigs because of the shit they’re standing in’.
At the same time, suggests the historian Coontz, people are investing more of their personal identity in the pair bond, demanding more of their partners while expecting less of the world. With so much at stake in a relationship, from personal identity to financial security, one might sooner find fault with one’s own mind and body than attribute feelings of numbness to the nature of togetherness itself.

Take all these things together and a person could sometimes wonder if the sex was more consistent when it was not presumed to be there for the social bonding in a dyadic relationship or something. 

But then, to make a deliberately cold point, maybe libido diminishes naturally the closer you get to the hour of your death?  Maybe frustration with diminished sex drive can be construed as a moment to contemplate one's own inevitable end?  That's probably too Puritan a sentiment ...

which reminds me, the Puritan Richard Baxter went so far as to say that marriage ought not be denied to the frigid and impotent as there were social and communal benefit to husband and wife whether or not they had any sex at all, by and large.  To Baxter even a sexless marriage between two people who in all other respects share affection for each other had much to commend it, another detail on which a certain former pastor from a former megachurch here in Seattle differs from Puritans.

A recent tweet of his, actually, highlights something the above articles allude to, which is that many a guy can resent that that wife isn't there for him (whether he hasn't gotten her or got her and lost her) because the supposition has been there's someone for everyone and if you play by the rules and work hard she'll show up. 

A Christianese variation of this is to quote the passage in Proverbs that says he who finds a wife finds what is good and has favor from the Lord.  Although ... many marriages were arranged and not necessarily by the groom to be.  And for those who may have forgotten, it's not entirely beyond the realm of possibility that some proverbs can have an ironic reading, such as the one about how a bribe will work wonders. The proverb about the wife showing one has favor from the Lord could be taken in literal and ironic ways, if we keep in mind that the Israelites told Moses, "Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you led us to die out here in the wilderness?"

Still, let's take a gander at something a moment--
The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil. Eccl 9:9

5:09 AM - 5 Nov 2015

I'm sure Job felt that way circa Job 2:9 when his wife said "Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!"

Not that this alleged advice Driscoll imputed to Ecclesiastes 9:9 wasn't offset by the grim observation of Ecclesiastes 6:1 or anything, you know, where Qoholet laments that to some God gives wealth and comfort but not the capacity to ever enjoy it.  Emo boys have ever been with us, it seems, and one of them wrote Ecclesiastes, dare we suggest.

But it's worth noting Ecclesiastes 9:9 does not really say that a wife, if you even have one, is a reward God gives you for all of your earthly toil.  That Driscoll could tweet such a sentiment on November 5, 2015 suggests he has not learned much. If Mark Driscoll really thinks that a wife is a reward given by God to a man for all his earthly toil what does no longer having the wife mean?

Maybe there's a case study we could consult?  How about ...

God told Ezekiel he was going to, with one blow, kill Ezekiel's beloved wife, the delight of his eyes; furthermore, Ezekiel was forbidden from publicly mourning her loss.  Perhaps Driscoll can explain how this was all a reward Ezekiel was given for his earthly toil?

And the reality is that many a woman as well as a man may have desires to be married but won't marry. Long ago Driscoll proposed that if we didn't find things for young guys to do that they might turn to antisocial violence, whether radicalized Islam or gangs or stuff like that.  Paradoxically there are those on the left who may never entirely appreciate that what they saw as Driscoll stumping for right wing social conservative marry-and-breed stuff seemed to Driscoll and his advocates as an attempt to head off young male violence at the pass.  Driscoll might not have been so blunt as to publicly declare that if a dude's got a wife and he's getting action he's not going to want to risk that doing something as stupid and violent as shooting up a school, but within the culture of Mars Hill this was slightly more than a tacit understanding for those who heard Driscoll preach and teach about men being like trucks that drive more safely and better carrying a load.

The problem is that in contemporary American romantic idioms whether a guy (or a gal, for that matter) has the "load" of marriage and family life is not something that can be unilaterally decided upon.  If two dozen single guys I met during my time at Mars Hill could have, by sheer fiat of self-expressed will, simply gotten that lovely wife they wanted they may have all voted for the same woman. Fortunately, a woman gets to choose. What some forget about marriage in earlier eras was that sometimes marriages got set up where neither of the marrying parties necessarily picked the pick.
Having someone(s) to lose can be valuable and can inspire men and women to refrain from venting frustrations in antisocial ways but all of that verbiage in the non-disclosure agreements that were bandied about in the Mars Hill days revealed that family can be a double-edged sword.  The desire to be able to provide for your loved ones can be the power of silence as well as the motivator to be productive. Richard Baxter (back to him again) once wrote that a man who could be content with poverty himself can be inspired to theft when he sees his wife or children pinched by want.  In such ways a man who had never before thought of stealing what was not his might become a thief.

What these various articles circle around is that guys, and downwardly mobile white guys in particular, can be eager to take up arms to avenge their bitterly observed loss of status.  If in the sexual marketplace women are instructed that they have the default role of accept or reject rather than actively seek that might explain, if only partly, why a lifetime of rejection and failure could be something they'd internalize rather than externalize.

Or at least ... that seems to be the prevailing pattern ... which the recent shootings may not necessarily connect to.

25 years ago Milli Vanilli retroactively got stripped of that Grammy they won and a proposal that the pop music industry paradoxically became more rather than less fake afterward.

As far as the public knows, no one has quite tried to “pull something like this again,” if “this” means “drastically lying in liner notes and publicity about the provenance of hit songs.” But Milli Vanilli’s influence is a bit counterintuitive: Their fall from stardom presaged more artifice in pop, not less. In his recent book The Song Machine, John Seabrook details the complex, well-funded apparatus of songwriters and producers and executives who mint most pop songs these days, an apparatus that isn’t hidden from listeners but is also not fully understood by most of them. The system in part has its roots in the work of Lou Pearlman, the now-incarcerated entrepreneur who assembled the Backstreet Boys after witnessing the backlashes to Milli Vanilli and New Kids on the Block—backlashes that were both rooted in the idea that talentless people were lying about being talented. According to Seabrook, “Pearlman wondered what an urban-sounding group of five white boys who really could sing might do in the marketplace.”

130 million records sold later, we have an answer. It’s not often appreciated that a core part of the appeal of the Backstreet Boys—and the other boy bands that followed, some also managed by Pearlman—was that its members really could sing. These teenagers, brought together by newspaper ads to wiggle in CGI videos to songs written by Swedish studio pros, were positioned as a more “authentic” alternative to the likes of Milli Vanilli. Which puts a pretty fine point on what a shell game authenticity can be. Today, autotune is everywhere, producers spend hours “comping” vocals (i.e. piecing together the very best syllables out of dozens of takes), and the Backstreet Boys songwriter Max Martin has nearly as many No. 1 hits as the Beatles.

None of this is a secret. For members of the public still subscribing to the idea that musical merit should be connected to natural musical ability, vocal prowess is often the saving grace, the exonerating factor, that lets them enjoy many of the slickest acts working today. It is essential to the myth of One Direction, for example, that they have verified pipes, that they were generated from a talent contest. Lady Gaga, whose shtick parodies and embraces the insane fakeness of pop, is often praised because she “really can sing.” Or think about what sets Adele apart: She uses many of the same songwriters as the rest of Top 40—Max Martin’s on 25—but she sells more in large part because of how she belts. Morvan and Pilatus didn’t have the fig leaf of vocal talent to protect them once the provenance of their music became clear. But the songs they fronted were as undeniably catchy—if saccharine, over-earnest, cheesy—as they were before the ruse was up.

Saccharine, over-earnest and cheesy also describes the songs of The Beatles, particularly their earlier songs--the Beatles may be thought of as the most enduring example of what can happen when a boy band is full of young guys who can sing and write their own stuff and aspire to do as much as they can manage with it.  The Beatles managed to transcend the straitjacket of a more or less boy band beginning. 

And perhaps in spite of the things we might like to tell ourselves, we're never entirely over affection for art that is saccharine, over-earnest, even cheesy so long as we can be persuaded that it is thoroughly sincere.  Some words drip and ooze with such unrestrained sentiment we can scarcely help wanting to believe the words could only be said in earnest, eh?