Jesse Singal

The Detail (Devil Not Included)

A coffee cup at Terra Vista. Detail of photo by B. D. Hilling, 2013.

Be careful with this one. Via Science of Us:

This might seem like too thin a point to harp on, but it’s actually important given people’s tendencies to over-extrapolate from limited study findings: “People who are more racist are more likely to make unprincipled arguments about free speech” is a very different claim than “People who make principled arguments about free speech are more likely to be racist.” This study supports the former but doesn’t say a word about the latter, and there really are some people who are committed to certain free-speech principles regardless of the content of the speech involved. All the more reason to have these conversations in as nuanced and principled a manner as possible.

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Singal, Jesse. “Are People Who Defend Free Speech More Racist Than Those Who Do Not?” Science of Us. 8 May 2017.

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Asymetrically Expected

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of frame from Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, episode 6, "An Aroma Sweet, a Heart Bitter...".

Steve Benen brings both setup and punch line, which is what it is, and he is certainly fine talent―

Republican voters opposed bombing the Assad regime in Syria, until Donald Trump took office, at which point they changed their mind. GOP voters thought the American economy was awful, until a Republican became president, at which point they suddenly reversed course.

And Gallup reported late last week that Republican voters had deeply negative attitudes about the current U.S. tax system, right before they changed their minds in early 2017.

―but come on, Republicans are making it too easy. Or perhaps this is part of their faustian bargain, that such simplicity, daring to be stranger than fiction in a distinctive context akin to denigrating parody and pantomime, is the price of their desires. To say this is how Republicans or conservatives behave—to predict or expect such simplistic behavior—merely for the basis of political affiliation ought to be some manner of offensive stereotype.

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Inexplicable (Duke Bashar al Putin)

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke talks to the media at the Louisiana Secretary of State's office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Friday, 22 July 2016, after registering to run for U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

So … right. Nobody knows quite what to think. Willa Frej tries to explain for HuffPo―

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was busy on Twitter this weekend, showing his support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in a string of tweets after weighing in favorably on Iowa Rep. Steve King’s latest xenophobic remarks.

―but as ledes go, it seems significant that anyone should have cause to attempt such a sentence.

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The Donald Trump Show (Bully)

Donald Trump

While it is true that we find ourselves caught in a sadomasochistic conundrum having to do with the desire to neither suffer nor inflict upon others any real consideration of Donald Trump, the fact is that he is the Republican presidential frontrunner and nobody really understands why. Then again, perhaps part of our confusion is a seemingly contradictory, perhaps paradoxical need for some pretense of civility. That is to say, “Republicans are idiots”, or, “Conservatives are assholes”, just doesn’t suffice.

Jesse Singal of New York magazine’s Science of Us blog opens with the obvious statement: “It is clear at this point that Donald Trump acts more like a bully than a ‘traditional’ presidential candidate.”

And then there are those of us who wonder what part of being a Republican in the twenty-first century doesn’t involve a bully cult.

Part of what’s been strange about the trajectory of the campaign so far is that Trump hasn’t been punished, in any real sense, for engaging in the sort of behavior that almost everyone agrees is terrible in any setting. Yes, each gross incident is followed by a wave of denunciations, but they don’t seem to have an impact — if anything, Trump seems to be gaining popularity by bullying. Science of UsHe’s now the first GOP candidate to break 30 percent in the polls. Even non-supporters — the media very much included — seem more transfixed than indignant.

This isn’t an unusual dynamic in many real-world bullying settings. So examining Trump’s behavior through the lens of bullying research can offer up some insights into how he has been so successful so far, and why his rivals have been unable to knock him down a peg. Jaana Juvonen, a psychologist at UCLA who is the co-author of a recent literature review and an upcoming book chapter about bullying, said that Trump seems to tick many of the requisite boxes when it comes to how bullies act. “Not that bullies are a uniform, homogeneous group, but the sort of classic bully is one who is narcissistic, is after power, often charismatic, and therefore popular,” she said. Check, check, check, and check. But she said there’s an “important and interesting” distinction between being popular and being liked — many bullies may have high status in that their classmates rate them as popular, Juvonen explained, but when individual students are asked if they’d like to spend time with the bully, they respond with resounding nos. This dynamic might help explain some of the personnel shuffling and general chaos that went on in the early days of Trump’s campaign.

To the one, there isn’t anything particularly new about the analysis; the Trump effect remains mysterious. In the end, it is easy enough to find oneself still wondering why so many people admire bullies.

Nonetheless, and setting Mr. Trump aside for a moment―for a lifetime, if we could―we might consider part of the bully phenomenon in and of itself:

“They feel like they’re going to be the next target,” Juvonen said of bystanders and victims in bullying situations. “They don’t want to further risk their status or make themselves more vulnerable, so they know to stay quiet. But then the bully has further promoted his status, because nobody is now publicly coming out to say, ‘Wait a minute, this is not right what you’re doing’ … that’s why you need a coalition, you need a united force.” As of yet, that united force hasn’t quite emerged in the GOP primary. The bully is still shoving and screaming his way across the playground, and the teachers are nowhere in sight.

Practicality is one thing, but let’s face it: There really isn’t a bad time to stand up to bullies. If The Donald can take that away from us, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

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Image note: Donald Trump shows an angry face, in undated, uncredited photograph.

Singal, Jesse. “An Expert on Bullying Explains Donald Trump’s Mean, Consequence-Free Rise”. Science of Us. 10 September 2015.

Worth a Few Minutes of Your Time

Suou's Reflection: Detail of frame from Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor.

This is worth keeping an eye on:

Few recent books have spawned as many arguments as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Until last week, though, I hadn’t seen anyone claim that Sandberg’s feminism-in-the-workplace manifesto is anti-science. And yet that’s exactly what Amy Alkon, an advice columnist who frequently dips into psychological research, argued in the New York Observer on Friday.

Drawing on evolutionary psychology — basically, the idea that many of our behavioral tendencies were shaped long ago, when the sorts of pressures that needed to be overcome in order to survive and reproduce were a lot different than they are today — Alkon writes that Sandberg simply ignores fundamental, biologically, and genetically predetermined differences between male and female behavior, and that because of these differences, Sandberg’s advice could actually be harmful if followed.

This sort of thing pops up from time to time — it’s not uncommon to see pop-science accounts that use evo-psych to make sweeping statements about human nature, particularly on gender issues. In one recent incident Science of Us readers might remember, for instance, researchers used evo-psych principles to tell a rather nonsensical story about why Kim Kardashian’s butt appeals to so many men. But Alkon’s column, even if it draws on some long-standing and stale claims about the differences between men and women, deserves a thorough debunking simply because it’s such an egregious example of the subgenre.

Jesse Singal of New York magazine’s Science of Us blog offers the well-considered response to one of those strange defenses of sexism that starts with the premise that “women are meeker than men, and less likely than men to bond, friendship-wise, with members of the same gender — behaviors forged by, you guessed it, evolution”.

And Singal really does deserve some credit for patience; repeatedly dismantling these arguments does nothing to prevent them from popping up again, but this is also the sort of thing people can steel themselves against for the future; and once one learns the familiar patterns, one is well equipped to respond to this nonsense when it arises in personal circles. The thing is that being polite does not mean sitting back and letting your friends embarrass themselves and denigrate others blindly pushing this sort of stuff. The number of advocates who, when challenged, resent the suggestion of misogyny suggests blithe ignorance, lest we have grossly underestimated the will while focusing on the habit.

And, frankly, that latter is a bit unsettling; this isn’t really some sort of conscious calculation so many people make in such a way that it looks like a conspiracy. This is just people being people. But that’s the thing: We can attempt to politely correct the record, and if it really is that big a deal to one of our friends, well, yeah, good luck with that. No, really, I can’t tell you to leave them behind; neither can I suggest you are remotely obligated to stick around.

But it seems somehow improper to leave them to wallow in potentially contagious ignorance. Indeed, we might even suggest it is dangerous. The thing is that this comes up enough that it would probably be helpful to have a response at hand. For now, Singal’s is pretty useful.

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Singal, Jesse. “No, Evolution Doesn’t Disprove Lean In’s Arguments”. Science of Us. 18 May 2015.

Freedom (American Check the Party Mix)

Science of Us“Take that, American companies with product names that sound as though they come from the language of a country that disagreed with the U.S. on a foreign-policy issue!”

Jesse Singal

What? It’s not like this is surprising. Or is this another moment from American history people would prefer pretend never happened?

Freedom fries? Freedom toast? Freedom poodle? What’s that? Going to forget that first freedom kiss?

Yeah. Not surprising in the least.

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Singal, Jesse. “Americans Punished French-Sounding (But American) Brands During the Iraq War Argument With France”. Science of Us. 4 May 2015.