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Self in Society Roundup 26

Dawkins as trans-exclusionary, Air, business movies, Hanania, work from home, punishment, immigration, liberal virtues, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
January 10, 2024

Dawkins Replies, Sort Of

In my recent article I discuss Richard Dawkins's trans-exclusionary stance and what's wrong with it. I'm not sure if he was responding specifically to my article with his recent Tweet, but at least he was responding to the sort of claim I make:

"Sex is not the same as gender." But it's not your gender that gives you the physique to tower over woman athletes & break their swimming records. It's your sex. It's not your undressed gender that upsets women in changing rooms. It's your sex. You can't eat your cake & have it.

The problem with his reply is that he is picking up a couple of difficult but relatively minor issues as a way to rationalize a general trans-exclusionary stance. The emphasis with that stance is always that there's something wrong with transgender people, they're causing problems, and society should figure out ways to exclude and punish them.

A trans-welcoming stance, by contrast, recognizes that there's nothing wrong with transgender people and they should be welcomed into society.

For many athletic events, including sports for children before puberty, gender divisions in sports make no sense (and in fact girls often play soccer with boys, for example). Yes, once biological males hit puberty, they tend to (on average!) gain a lot more muscle mass relative to biological females, and hormones do not generally entirely counteract these natural advantages. So there's good reason to prevent transgender women from competing against biological women in certain sports (boxing) and at high levels (swimming, biking). The obvious solution to this is to create sporting tiers based on directly-relevant physical characteristics, such as muscle mass. This would put many transgender women in competition with men and—this point often is overlooked—put some physically small men in competition with women.

Regarding changing rooms and such, Dawkins ignores the obvious problem of biological women who happen to look relatively masculine getting harassed for using women's restroom. The solution is something like providing privacy stalls not only for transgender people but for people generally uncomfortable changing in front of others.

The trans-welcoming stance looks for solutions and avoids demonizing transgender people.

Air and Flamin' Hot—Pro-Business Movies

I really enjoyed the film Air, about Nike's efforts to sign Michael Jordan and market a shoe around him. The best part, for me, was seeing Jordan's mom drive a tough negotiation in which she got Nike to agree to pay Jordan a percent of the sales of each shoe featuring his name. This helped Jordan become an extraordinarily wealthy man. Good for him.

I do have a couple of criticisms, not so much of the film but of its premises. To me, it is stupid to buy a shoe or any product because it is associated with a celebrity. You're just paying extra money without getting extra functionality. So basically I think if you buy an Air Jordan shoe because it says Air Jordan you're a sucker. Perhaps Air Jordans really are so much better that they're worth the extra money, but I doubt it. Maybe you could say that buying Air Jordan shoes confers extra popularity or status or something, but I'd rather impress people who recognize the value of making sensible purchases. I guess companies have got to market to suckers, or at least are strongly tempted to, but from the consumer perspective people should try not to be suckers.

Also, at one point the film portrays Jordan's "percent of sales" deal as sort of a stick-it-to-the-man move. I guess it is in a sense. But what about all the people who physically make the shoe? From a leftist perspective, which for a spell this film seems to take, it seems odd to glorify a billionaire (as in retrospect we can see Jordan became) and ignore the far-poorer people in the production process.

Regardless, I appreciated how the film glorifies athletic greatness, business savvy, and industrial artistry. The esthetic value of an Air Jordan might justify buying it!

I also enjoyed the Disney film Flamin' Hot, even though the details in the film seem to be mostly fabricated. In the film, a factory worker at Frito-Lay comes up with the idea and recipe for Flamin' Hot Cheetos based on kitchen recipes.

However, if you read the actual ingredients of this product, you'll see it has nothing to do with a family recipe:

Enriched Corn Meal (Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil (Corn, Canola, and/or Sunflower Oil), Flamin' Hot Seasoning (Maltodextrin [Made from Corn], Salt, Sugar, Monosodium Glutamate, Yeast Extract, Citric Acid, Artificial Color [Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 6, Yellow 5], Sunflower Oil, Cheddar Cheese [Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Onion Powder, Whey, Whey Protein Concentrate, Garlic Powder, Natural Flavor, Buttermilk, Sodium Diacetate, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate), and Salt.

My view, bluntly, is that if you put that shit into your body, you are an idiot.

So, while I enjoyed the film, I also feel basically tricked by it.

What are some other films about business? I'd put Joy on the list, along with A Most Violent Year. One of my favorites is The Intern, with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, which is not based on a true story (neither is Violent Year). I absolutely love the film Pinball. The Founder and Moneyball also portray business leaders in a basically positive light. The Social Network is interesting; it portrays Mark Zuckerberg fairly negatively. Wall Street features the famous "greed" speech that puts business in a very bad light. I quite enjoyed the films about Steve Jobs, especially Steve Jobs. The Big Short portrays business people mostly at their worst; regardless, it's a great film. The TV series Halt and Catch Fire takes an interesting look at the early computer industry (it's only loosely related to real events); the characters are alternately erratically self-destructive and intensely productive. There are other movies and shows that I haven't seen and others that I'm sure are slipping my mind.

Quick Takes

Hanania: Christopher Mathias of HuffPost: "Richard Hanania, a visiting scholar at the University of Texas, used the pen name 'Richard Hoste' in the early 2010s to write articles where he identified himself as a 'race realist.' He expressed support for eugenics and the forced sterilization of 'low IQ' people, who he argued were most often Black. He opposed 'miscegenation' and 'race-mixing.' And once, while arguing that Black people cannot govern themselves, he cited the neo-Nazi author of ''The Turner Diaries,' the infamous novel that celebrates a future race war."

Work from Home: A study (via Kevin Bryan via Cowen) pertains only to "the data entry sector in India" (does that extrapolate? I doubt it). "We find that the productivity of workers randomly assigned to working from home is 18% lower than those in the office. Two-thirds of the effect manifests itself from the first day of work with the remainder due to quicker learning by office workers over time. We find negative selection effects for office-based work: workers who prefer home-based work are 12% faster and more accurate at baseline. We also find a negative selection on treatment: workers who prefer home work are substantially less productive at home than at the office (27% less compared to 13% less for workers who prefer the office). These negative selection effects are partially explained by subgroups that likely face bigger constraints on selecting into office work, such as those with children or other home care responsibilities as well as poorer households." This illustrates that productivity is not the only thing worth measuring: If a worker is less productive but provides children with better care, is that a net loss or a net win?

Crime and Punishment: Bryan Caplan thinks the alternative to a strictly utilitarian conception of justice is a strictly retributive conception. He says, "I maintain that the morally correct action is to make Hitler suffer as much as possible. Though you can't make him die twenty million times, you should try your best to approach that ideal." That is stupid. We have good reasons to temper a generally retributive system with some common-sense limits. For starters, we don't want to be the sorts of people who torture others, because that's morally corrupting. And we know that power tends to corrupt. And we know that legal systems can make mistakes. "Life in a human prison as the maximum sentence" is a reasonable position.

Cell-Cultivated Meat: Axios: It's making some progress, but don't call it "lab-grown."

Nuclear War: We still could all kill ourselves. Axios: "China has expanded its nuclear arsenal on land, air and sea."

Builder Mindset: Gena Gorlin: "Both the 'drill sergeant' and the 'Zen master' mindset share a common underlying worldview on which our lives do not fully belong to us, in that we have relatively little agency over the goals we set and the means by which we pursue them. The 'builder's mindset,' by contrast, flows from a qualitatively different and deeply countercultural worldview: one on which all of our efforts can and ought to be organized around the ultimate goal of building and enjoying our own best life."

Contemplation for Aristotle: Gregory Salmieri has out a nice talk contrasting Aristotle's and Rand's approach to ethics. Aristotle saw contemplation as an end in itself, detached from the rest of life; Rand saw reason as a means to sustain human life.

Immigration: The Ayn Rand Institute's Agustina Vergara Cid has been leading that organization's charge for freer immigration. In this recent discussion with her, Onkar Ghate points out that one's position regarding "normal" immigration might not be the same as one's position regarding a refugee crisis. Nikos Sotirakopoulos notes that the usual concerns about "cultural assimilation" pertain to Muslim immigrants who often have very different ideas about issues including women's rights and free speech. I think that Ghate is right to talk about the dark ideology of Islamism but that he wrongly equates that with Islam as such. There are many variants of Islam as there are of Christianity.

Liberal Virtues: Aaron Ross Powell talks with Peter Boettke. Powell makes the case for sympathetic joy. Boettke argues that usually toleration is enough, especially when government is not promoting the values and behaviors of some over others. Worth a listen to the end.

Religious Anti-Liberalism: Kevin Vallier summarizes: "Religious anti-liberal doctrines favor a strong coercive establishment of religion. The state must recognize true faith. It must also use law and policy to help people enjoy spiritual goods. These doctrines also reject liberal theories of political legitimacy. The state receives some of its legitimacy from a higher power (God, Allah, Heaven, etc.). The state must recognize its divine authority and fulfill its religious mission." Vallier here is interested in moderately anti-liberal movements, not totalitarian ones.

Get 'Er Done: Kelly Maher has a good story about how putting off a simple chore ended up costing her a lot of time.

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