Is Information Technology a Threat to Equality?
James Taranto is a Wall Street Journal writer now internationally famous as a self-important jerk because of this tweet yesterday about the Aurora killings: "I hope the girls whose boyfriends died to save them were worthy of the sacrifice." Like most people who saw it, I thought this was an appalling sentiment. But why, exactly, does it feel so gratingly wrong? I think it's because Taranto was violating one of modern Americans' most sacred values: the notion that all of us are perfectly equal (especially when we need others' help).
Moral and legal equality is vital to the way modern societies run. If you appear in the emergency room, the doctor's duty is to treat you, not to decide that you cut your thumb with that power saw because you were drunk, and therefore you go to the end of the line. If a six-year-old child who lives in the school district shows up on the first day of class, we presume the school must take him in—rather than saying, well, you aren't that smart, so come back in a year. If your house is blown away by a tornado, the government doesn't evaluate how well you built it before giving you aid.
The other day I saw a bus stop to pick up a person in a wheelchair. In New York City this entails a slight delay as the bus is lowered, and its steps folded down, to accommodate the chair. Traffic was backing up. Maybe someone in one of those stopped cars, or on the bus, had a thought like: Why do we all have to wait for you? Why is it so important for you to be able to get on this bus? But woe betide anyone who said such a thing. The prevailing norm (and the law of the land) is that anyone ought to be able to take the bus, and each passenger's reason is as good as the next's.
Now, it may be that this norm flows from the innate decency and goodness of the American people. But Taranto's boorish tweet got me to wondering if perhaps this isn't true. Perhaps, rather, we consider everyone equal simply because we lack the information to rank them.
After all, the notion that all of us are equal in value is shared everywhere in the world. Indeed, it's pretty rare in human history. Much more common is the notion that some people are innately better than others. After a battle in any Shakespeare play, for example, the casualty report consists of nobles who are named and then everyone else (in Henry V, when the king asks who died in battle against the French, the answer is "Edward the Duke of York, the Earl of Suffolk, Sir Richard Ketly, Davy Gam, esquire, none else of name." Just 25 other guys who aren't worth more thought.)
Now, if equality is not a norm born of deep moral conviction, but rather a consequence of inadequate information, then the norm may be in trouble. Not because of a change in moral reasoning, but because of advances in technology.
As private life becomes more exposed on line, and we get used to seamless exchanges of information on ubiquitous computing devices, it will become possible to make judgments about who is more worthy than whom—to get a seat on the bus, to get out of the traffic jam first, to get credit, to see the doctor first and for the lowest fee.
Abundant data is already eroding what had once been a presumption of equality. Example 1: It used to be that the way to stay in good graces with a credit card issuer was to pay their bills on time and not go over their credit limit. Today, it's routine for your interest rate and credit limit to be altered because of your behavior with other bills. Example 2: Not long ago, employees on a company health plan paid roughly the same rate per head. Today, some companies require smokers and overweight people to pay more. In both these examples, equality has given way to a hierarchy of worthiness—a hierarchy based on data.
As the sphere of private life shrinks, those data-based opportunities for ranking people multiply. It is hard to argue with the logic: If you choose to smoke, you're likely to cost the health care system more money. If you're late with a lot of bills, you might be late with the mortgage some day, even if you never were before. But if it's possible to judge all of us all the time on everything, then, inevitably, some people will be judged more worthy than others. And with that judgment goes the decent, democratic and respectful presumption that we're all equally worthy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Follow me on Twitter: @davidberreby
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.
New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.
Quantum Mechanics, Onions, and a Theory of Everything<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="036ae7b8dd661df2d125a3421a0299ba"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bcVruA0AJ-o?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."
Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.