The Dangers of Placing Too Much Faith in Yourself
Kids do the darnedest things. For instance, one time late at night, when I was 9 or 10, I opened the drawer in the kitchen, took out the biggest knife, and lightly pressed its point into my chest. I hadn't done some homework assignment and I was thinking that maybe I would just kill myself. I suppose anyone who'd come in just then (no one did) would have been alarmed. But I was not—it's not a particularly intense memory, and I hadn't thought about it in years. Because as I looked down at the knife, I knew I wasn't going to break the skin. The prospect of real violence, though close, seemed to be behind some unbreakable transparent shell; I could see all the details of catastrophe, but I couldn't touch them. I felt as if I was watching a rehearsal for some other life, which I would not live (or leave). Lately, though, James Luria's amazing piece in Slate (which reminded me of this long-forgotten moment) got me wondering: What if I'd had a gun?
Luria did. He was 8 or 9, and steaming mad about the immediate crappiness of his life, so he figured he'd shoot his father. Which he was about to do, with a shotgun he'd loaded, when he stopped himself.
He wasn't a particularly weird kid. Neither was I. I'm guessing from his piece and current occupation that we were both bookish, harmless-seeming boys who grew up to be law-abiding harmless-seeming adults. We were just acting strange for a few moments. And the case for strict gun control amounts to this: When people act out-of-character, strangely and unpredictably, it is better that they not have access to a lethal weapon. Luria came close to blowing away his father, who didn't deserve it. If I'd been playing with a pistol instead of a kitchen implement, I could have shot my head off.
How do you argue with that? Well, for one thing you claim that strange, wild, terrible moments are mostly confined to strange, wild, terrible people ("the truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters"). Once you have declared that strangeness and chaos belong only to clearly designated weirdos, you can then go on to claim that self-control and training are so well-developed in the rest of us "normal" people that guns pose no problem ("70,000,000 million gun owners obeyed the law today"). In other words, the argument for easy access to guns is an argument that most people are reliably rational—that they see their interests clearly ("I will not improve my lot if I shoot my father") and have the self-mastery to to follow through on their insights ("so I will put this shotgun away").
Now, obviously, most people can be pretty reasonable about guns most of the time (if that weren't so, every town in the United States would look like the O.K. Corral). Gun deaths result from terrible departures from reason and self-control—the bullet forgotten in the chamber, the impulse to suicide made easy by a rifle, the overwhelming rage that reaches for a gun, the too-quick mis-assessment of a harmless person. It's comforting to think that such things only happen to deeply disturbed or impaired people. But as Luria reminded me about my own life, that's just not so. Wild, strange, terrible behavior isn't confined to people we have marked as deranged. It's a part of everyone's life. We are all a great deal less reliable than we'd like to think. We are all a good deal weirder, moment by moment, than we seem. In the placid suburbs of Philadelphia, a friend of mine, when she was a 14-year-old, asked her boyfriend to copulate with his dog. And he did.
Vast amounts of psychological research have been devoted to the way people infer whole histories from a few facts about each other—both for the better ("a fine upstanding officer would never do that") and the worse ("gay people can't be parents!"). I've come to think of this kind of "social cognition" as a vast effort to reassure ourselves. I want to believe that your past performance is an indicator of your future behavior. I want to believe that your good works in one realm mean you will do good in another. I want to believe that in a crisis I will behave as I expect and hope I will. But against this desire is all the evidence that we can't assume that the past is a guide to future behavior (see David Petraeus or, much more tragically, the case against Yoselyn Ortega). Nor can we assume that people's well-earned social status in one context will make them immune to evil in another (see Jerry Sandusky or this video from Steubenville.
I think we're better off when we don't overconfidently rely on what we think we know about others, or about ourselves. When, instead, we build systems that assume that anyone can have wild, strange, even evil moments. For example, as Ezra Klein reports here, the Israeli military in 2006 stopped having soldiers take their guns home with them when they were off duty on weekends. The result was a 60 percent drop in suicides on weekends by soldiers.
I don't deny that some people are especially deeply troubled. Far from it. But while the mass killers get the media coverage and stoke our fears, the fact is that most gun deaths result not from that kind of madness but from the far more common and ordinary kind: The kind that comes and goes in ordinary lives. And so gun control—reliance on rules and systems—seems to me a better bet than relying on the wobbly and uncertain bonds of self-control.
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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.
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