25 Things About Me

A number of folks have tagged me on this meme, so I'll play along--any excuse for a bit of unabashed egotism. I figure y'all already know about as much trivia about me as you'd care to so I'm altering the format slightly: here are 10 things that I believe, but can't really defend. I may not have as large a number as the rest of y'all, but I can guarantee that I'm more pretentious about it!

I have plenty of controversial opinions about various things, but usually I can either back them up with a pretty decent amount of evidence or else I can freely admit that I'm mostly just speculating and what-ifing. These 10 things, however, are all theses that I really do believe in, but ones that I'd be hard pressed to back up in a real conversation. As such, it feels a little uncomfortable--I'm not used to discussing beliefs that I can't back up! You should feel free to supply me with evidence against any of these, if you want to change my mind. If you happen to have any evidence in favor of them I'd certainly appreciate it!

  1. I believe that gender is a purely social construct, with no relation to one's underlying sex*. I use "sex" to refer to one's physiology (which bits you happen to have) and "gender" to refer membership in a distinct group, defined by certain social behaviors. My views on sex are pretty mainstream: females lactate and give birth; males produce sperm, &c.

    For gender, my belief is that it is solely a cultural phenomenon. In my culture, the gender possibilities are defined as the binary of Women / Men. Membership is determined by the expression of fairly arbitrary characteristics such as stoicism and mechanical competence, or domesticity and empathy. Other cultures use different traits to assign membership to various genders--e.g., attending the festival of Koothandavar each year (something that, for the most part, men and women tend not to do but that many aravani do--if I understand correctly). I further believe that gender roles and expectations are strongly influenced by the political goals of the empowered group (and yes, I use the term "patriarchy" un-ironically, and wish I had a t-shirt that said so).

  2. I believe that sexuality, like gender, is another trait that is primarily culturally dictated**. Once upon a time it was only natural that young men were hot for wise, older guys and that older guys were hot for young, nubile men and everyone liked sexing women. Nowadays it's perfectly natural that some people like only chocolate while others strongly prefer strawberry. Other folks go for a Neapolitan blend. These attitudes and arousals seem to be rooted in a primal urge, but I believe that this urge is shaped and molded to a very great degree by society. It is important to note that I'm not saying people aren't "legitimately" straight, I'm merely saying that the straightest guy Chicago would never have turned down a trip to the baths with Alcibiades, had he been raised in ancient Athens instead.

  3. I believe that language has a profound impact on thought (my boss is a neo-Whorfian, and she certainly has plenty of evidence... I simply haven't studied enough of it to really hold my own in an argument).

  4. I believe the question of God and His existence to be an utterly moot one. In other words, although there may well be a God in His Heaven, this fact is of far less importance and relevance to our life than, for example, the discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle. I first heard the term (and the rejection thereof) "interventionist god" in Spong, and thoroughly agreed that such a god does not exist in human history. Perhaps we might find evidence of the Creator's Hand as the catalyst of the Big Bang, which would certainly provide some key explanations about the origin of the Universe, but they would be of the most academic nature and would be of real interest (on a practical level) to only a handful of dedicated researchers. This is what I mean when I describe myself as an Atheist--sure, there might very well be a blind watchmaker, but who cares?

  5. I believe that Beauty (which I also use to refer to non-analytic experiences and emotive interactions) is just as necessary for us as Truth (i.e., the use of reason and analysis to experience the world). It's certainly easy to argue that analyticity is necessary--if people gave up on reason they simply wouldn't last very long; they'd wander off cliffs and forget to eat. Beauty is hard to argue for. In fact, by its nature it is contradictory to reason and, thus, impossible to truly justify analytically. It feels right, though. So there.

  6. I believe that the concept of "race" is a vestige of an outdated pseudo-science, and that the term "ethnicity" is much more useful. Actually, I think that this belief is really not very controversial any more.

  7. I believe that there exist fundamental truths about the world, and I believe that these truths can be approximated (although certainly not fully obtained) through our experience in the world. This means that I also believe in "replicability" and in "time", and that I feel that sensory evidence informs us, imperfectly, about the world as it truly is. This doesn't seem terribly controversial, either, but you'd be surprised! And, I have to admit, it isn't really a position that I can honestly defend based on anything more than my own intuitions.

  8. I believe that it is possible to have a committed, long-term relationship based on respect and love with multiple partners at the same time (and, conversely, to be in a respectful and successful committed relationship with someone who has multiple other partners). Some people are more jealous than others, and not everyone would want such a relationship, but I think that it is often possible. I presume that this jealousy is also subject to cultural molding, but I don't really have a strong belief about that.

  9. I believe that Soviet-style communism is a viable economic / political plan. I do not believe that it's ever worked, but over the last hundred years it's never had a fair test. Stalin mortally wounded his fledgling government, and then the Cold War was the finishing blow for that experiment. By the early 50's Russia was no longer a communist country but, rather, a militaristic dictatorship with an insufficient infrastructure that was doomed to fall apart.

    The experiment has been attempted elsewhere, but has largely been sabotaged by outside entities who were not operating in good faith (in some cases, like Iran, this entity was the ruling party itself. Mostly, though, it's been the US). Nicaragua and Cuba were even more vulnerable to US intervention than the Soviet Union and we made damn sure that it failed (although it's worth comparing the quality of life in Cuba, embargo and all, to other Latin American countries). It's well worth reading Chomsky's short essay "The Threat of a Good Example".

  10. I believe I'll have another drink.

* I had a nice chat with a respected Developmental Psychologist at Northwestern, and she said that there actually were numerous social / behavioral factors that were very clearly motivated by biology. For example, at certain ages male children have much larger amounts of testosterone than female children, which has a distinct effect on how they act--an effect that would be present regardless of how they were raised. So, I suppose that I don't really believe that it is exclusively cultural (the way that, say, imaginary numbers are 100% the product of human thought) but I still don't think that biology plays a very large role in who people are, compared to culture.

* This belief, in its strongly-worded form, is probably the one I'm least committed to. I was raised as, and present as, a straight guy. As such, I have no intuition about other folks' experience--I suspect that my gay friends would say that they simply have no feelings of arousal for women whatsoever, and never have, end of story. And, furthermore, I might very well get the chance to sleep with David Bowie some day, only to realize that the experience is completely anerotic for me.

#3: absolutely. of course, I have never studied this phenomenon, either, but by experience I have observed it many times.