Sunday, April 23, 2017

Waking Up

I watched the movie Passengers last night on Blu-Ray. The movie concerns a mechanic, played by Chris Pratt, one of 5000 space colonists on a 120 year voyage to the (literally) New World, who wakes up from hypersleep 90 years prematurely.

The movie makes a big show of Chris Pratt agonizing over his dilemma, so as to build audience sympathy for his ultimate decision. He waits a year before waking Jennifer Laurence from hypersleep, and he does it out of some particularized deep connection to her video profile and the kind of person he imagines her to be.

I wouldn't have waited a year. I don't mean to make light of the dilemma when I say this; it would be a crappy thing to do to someone, and I would totally do it as soon as I despaired of either putting myself back in hypersleep or waking a crew member who could do it for me. And, because I'm a rat-bastard apparently, I wouldn't pick Jennifer Laurence just because I randomly noticed her hyper-sleeping figure as I was wandering the spaceship. Rather, I would go through every one of the 2500 female profiles to pick the most suitable companion for spending the rest of my natural life aboard a luxury spaceliner.

However, though I might be unconstrained by ethics, I would probably be constrained a more practical consideration: as Mrs. Φ helpfully reminded me, how many girls would throw themselves out the airlock before I found one that would want to be with me. More generally, after I had roused a candidate and fully explained the situation, what would be the probability that I would receive one of the following responses:

  • I have a boyfriend.
  • I play for the other team.
  • I think of you as a brother.
  • I can do better. [Wakes up Chris Pratt.]
  • Where's the airlock?

If numbers one or two were true, I could screen for it in the video profiles. If number three turned out to be true, it would be pretty frustrating, but perhaps not intolerable, especially at my age (late 40s). Number five would depress the heck out of me, but I would eventually get over it and try again.

The possibility of number four is where the game theory gets interesting. Whatever its probability, it would be constrained by the newly awakened male passenger having the same set of options, likewise constrained by the options available to whomever he wakes up. And so it goes . . .

It is an interesting thought experiment to consider how the story plays out if the roles were reversed: what if Jennifer Lawrence woke up first? I ask this not to accuse Hollywood of sexism, but to highlight the dynamics at play. For instance, it is easy to imagine a man getting lonely to the point of despondency; would a woman? Similarly, men nurse infatuation with women based on mere appearance all the time; this is far less common for women. Consider as well the position of the person awakened. We the audience knew it was bad for Pratt to basically chose the course of the balance of Lawrence's life for her without her consent, and her palpable anger when she discovers this has some resonance (even though we're pretty confident they will be back together before the credits roll). But would we have the same sympathy for a man's anger? Or would we expect a man to reason that spending your life aboard a cruise ship with a cute(ish) woman who wants to be with you is hardly the worst outcome imaginable.

All of which is to say that empathy isn't much use in calculating the probabilities of the responses above. Sure, at some threshold of obesity, the woman who woke me up wouldn't be acceptable even as the only sex partner available, but even if that threshold were to be crossed by someone who qualified for the space program, her companionship would still keep me from Opening Hypersleep Pod Number Two.

I sought the consult of the distaff members of my household, but they weren't especially helpful. Mrs. Φ was just as inclined to wake up a dozen people as she would Chris Pratt alone. My elder daughter (disturbingly) thought the airlock would be a rational choice under the circumstances, and was (reassuringly) trepidatious at the prospect of "doing that forever". (My younger daughter ventured no opinion at all.)

Somewhere I once read: "Women are like WiFi and men are like Bluetooth, because women connect to the strongest signal, whereas men connect to the closest." It would seem difficult to be out-signaled by a catatonic stranger, but I'd hate to be the guy that manages it. For instance, what if the person I picked just so happened to have an engaging conversation with someone just before going under; it wouldn't be in her profile, but it might get her imagining waking up with him on the other side. What kind of temptation would that present?

If I had any female readers, I'd ask them.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

AMOGing the not-a-date

In Chapter 7, "The Direction of Purity" of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Josh Harris writes:

God calls us to the same zeal for righteousness in premarital relationships. What exactly does that look like? For me and many other people I know, it has meant rejecting typical dating. I go out with groups of friends; I avoid one-on-one dating because it encourages physical intimacy and places me in an isolated setting with a girl.

Commenter LDiracDelta explains how this works in practice:

Sure, a borderline stand-up comedian with charisma oozing out of him can use a "group dating" strategy, but not a future engineer. I knew I had to peel the ladies away into one-on-one dating as I was/am never going to be the life of the party.

This would be a specific example of how Harris's lack of empathy for men further down the status pyramid manifests itself. Because of his physical attractiveness and social dominance, Harris found it easy to AMOG the "groups of friends" after-church get-together's he attended in lieu of dating, and here, without really thinking about it, he experienced abundant adoration from hypergamous females. That's not to say that every woman he met regarded him as a suitable romantic partner; after all, a woman's head doesn't always follow her loins. But it is to say that a woman's head doesn't go where her loins haven't gone first, and Harris personally never had to concern himself with a woman's loin-iness as a primary obstacle.

Dirac's insight is that this is pretty fundamental to the psychology of one-on-one dating: it creates space for men who will never AMOG the "groups of friends" to build attraction with a specific woman.

Parenthetically, as I was thinking about how my experience with female friends differed from Harris's, it occurred to me that those experiences were the same in one respect: we both were only friends with girls who were attracted to us, irrespective of our attraction to them. That's a shame, but it's not necessarily a complaint: a number of writers have pointed out that a woman's social aversion to lower-status men can save us a lot of time in the long run. We men, while limited in our choice of potential friends, are free to select among them for amiability rather than attractiveness.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Paying for Privacy

So, my email inbox has been filling up over the last couple of weeks with (apparently unsuccessful) advocacy with respect to a vote recently taken by Congress repealing some incipient regulations on how ISPs treat their customers' web browsing data. I'm only a concerned citizen in these matters, not an expert, but as I understand it, Congress has removed ISP regulatory authority from the FCC and returned it to the FTC, the upshot of which is that Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and (I assume, although their name never comes up) Time Warner / Spectrum are now free to collect the same customer data that Google and Facebook collect. You can read about this issue here and here.

Now, Google (for instance) offers its users extensive privacy "opt-out" settings. Time Warner, in contrast, offers no such settings that I can find. It does provide an opt-out webform request, and that only applies to its phone service, assuming that I'm reading it correctly. Otherwise, its customers have only their word that they will not disclose any of our "personally identifiable information". I'm hoping this means that Time Warner isn't letting the Dole company in on Φ's taste in banana pr0n, but I'm not really sure.

My attitude can best be summarized in this quote:

Privacy advocates draw a distinction between websites tracking their users and broadband carriers doing so. Websites generally rely on advertising revenue to survive and their services are basically provided free or at reduced cost in exchange for visitors watching ads. The carriers, on the other hand, charge whopping sums for their service and can track everything a consumer does online whereas a website can only record actions taken on that site.

Here is an analogy: it's gratuitously insulting (as it is intended to be) that next Sunday, the Google website will carry image of Cesar Chavez instead of our risen Christ. But then, I'm not paying Google for its blog-hosting either, and if I ever become sufficiently aggravated, it would be (relatively) easy for me to use somebody else's free blog-hosting service.

Microsoft, in contrast, occupies a near de facto monopoly on operating systems, its customers pay Microsoft directly for its operating system, and the path-dependence is such that switching operating systems is almost impossible. Given all this, I believe that Microsoft has no business putting this on my sign-in screen:

Did you catch it?

Clicking on one of those little tidbits opens up a website in your default browser:

My brief exploration of the YouthSpark site shows it to be mostly harmless. I don't think the drive to Get-More-Women-in-Stem, in and of itself, is likely to be especially productive, but that's not the point. The point is, <angry caps>I DIDN'T RENT YOU PROPAGANDA SPACE ON MY COMPUTER!</angry caps>. And I shouldn't have to go digging through my OS settings for the one that says, spare me your treacly bits of cause-o-the-day virtue signalling.

And so, Microsoft, if you're listening, know this: I'm done. I took these screen shots while doing the books on the Windows 10 computer at church this morning. The day you stop supporting the Windows 7 I use at home is the day I switch to Linux. I'm not paying you to hijack my screen saver for your own purposes, no matter what they are.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

On Lacking Empathy

A post on inter-class empathy over at Ace of Spades reminded me of Josh Harris.

Josh Harris ran into a spell of bad press last year, and my point is not to pile on. I read the book that made him famous, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, back in 2000 or so when our church youth group was reading and discussing it. I didn't have much of a problem with the book's theology, though I perhaps should have been more skeptical of our ability to operationalize his courtship-only counsel ex nihlio, and it would be especially ill-advised for someone to adopt it personally outside of a broad, like-minded community.

But there was one passage from chapter ten, "Just friends in a just-do-it world," that made me question the utility of his advice to me personally, or rather, a still-single version of me. It's the chapter where is uses as a metaphor that old Tootsie-pop commercial:

So the boy poses his question to the owl, who sits in his tree like some mountaintop guru: "How many licks does it take to get to the chewy center of a tootsie pop?"

The owl thoughtfully takes the sucker and removes the wrapping.

He licks once. "One," he counts.

He licks again. "Two," he says.

He licks a a third time. "Three."

And suddenly, CRUNCH. Throwing patience to the wind, he bites into the chewy center of the tootsie pop. Handing the bare Tootsie Pop stick to the boy, the own announces his answer to the mystifying question: "three."

Harris then explains the metaphor:

When I consider friendships with girls, I feel like that boy! I don't want to reach the chewy center of romance -- I just want to be friends. But I don't always know how much attention a friendship between a boy and a girl can handle before -- crunch -- we've crossed the line between friendship and more than friendship.


Have you ever realized that a friendship has tipped over into romance. If so, then you know how difficult it can be to avoid this situation.


To my shame, I have a whole file of my own CRUNCH stories: friendships with girls complicated, and sometimes ruined, because we became romantic.

I remember exactly where I was when I read this, and I remember closing the book and contemplating the picture of Harris on the back of the dust jacket. Harris, partly of Asian background on his mother's side, is (apparently) quite handsome physically, and (I was assured by Mrs. Φ) personally charismatic. He was the sort of person who was always going to do well in the mating market no matter what strategy he followed. And so he did: he married at only 23 the year after IKDG was published.

What bothered me about the quoted passage was that it betrayed a lack of awareness that, for many of us, our opposite-sex friendships were never in any danger of "going crunch". Certainly mine weren't, and in retrospect, most of my social acquaintances with girls didn't actually qualify as "friendships" anyway. A few did, but these also support my point in that I did not reciprocate their attraction. Those few girls were nice to me, and I like to hang out with people who are nice to me. But I knew perfectly well that I wasn't going to consider anyone that fat as a romantic prospect.

The bottom line is that, by age 28, I was a far better practitioner of the no-dating lifestyle than the king of no-dating himself at only age 23, if Harris's "whole file" description of his dating life is to be believed. And I did it without even trying, or rather, trying to do the opposite. Harris's book would have had more traction with me personally had it included something that sounded like it was written for people like me, not just for people like himself.

However . . . this also makes me somewhat skeptical of the that-book-ruined-my-life stories for which Harris has lately been apologizing. All these criticisms of Harris in both the Christian and secular press have been exceptionally free of any photographs of people allegedly harmed by following his advice. Which makes me wonder: was it really Harris's book that was your problem? Or were you, like me, always going to have a difficult time of it? Show me a picture of a woman that I would have totally dated/courted/married/whatever and I'll give her tale of woe some consideration. But until then, I'm prepared to give Harris himself, whatever limitations his life experiences imposed on his book, a pass.