When Bad Actions Have Good Consequences
Phoney-baloney outrage. Black-hat, white-hat exaggeration. Every day, I get emails some activist organization or other, suggesting that the nation hangs by a thread, about to drop into a bottomless pit of slimy hells unless I sign a petition or contribute at least $25 to someone's campaign for a vital office in Wisconsin or Nebraska. It's all theatrical political hooey, which has about as much relationship to a real human emotion as a waxwork Prince to the real one. Clyde Haberman came across an example the other day and used it to call b.s. on this kind of fakery. As he writes here, this kind of thing isn't merely annoying. It's bad for society when people pretend that in our public life, Good must associate only with Good—no ambiguity allowed.
The trigger for Haberman's exasperation is a statement issued at the end of last month's Tribeca Film festival, signed by 30 artists. It criticized the festival for accepting support from Brookfield Properties, because that company, as landlord of Zuccotti Park, evicted the Occupy Wall Street encampment there. The Festival, said the statement, shouldn't let this bad company rebrand itself as a friend of free expression.
This statement has many dumbbell passages (like the one saying its signers have just learned at the Festival's end that Brookfield is a Festival sponsor, when it has in fact been one since 2005). But Haberman zeroes in on the crucial lie at its heart: The claim that a bad action means its performer must be a bad actor—if Brookfield did a bad thing by evicting OWS, then Brookfield is bad in all that it does. This idea is, of course, ridiculous, and everyone knows it, at least in the conduct of their private lives. All of us over the age of 7 know we have done some good and some bad in the world.
Yet when the subject shifts from personal life to public affairs, we're invited to take seriously the claim that there are no lights and darks mixed together in the life of institutions. And the fallacy isn't confined to political propagandists. Consider this passage from Wendell Berry's Jefferson Lecture last month at the Kennedy Center in Washington. He is recounting the moment when he was walking about the Duke University campus and came upon a statue of the school's namesake benefactor, James B. Duke, whose fortune was made, Berry writes, by ruining the livelihoods of thousands of tobacco farmers:
on my first visit to Duke University, and by surprise, I came face-to-face with James B. Duke in his dignity, his glory perhaps, as the founder of that university. He stands imperially in bronze in front of a Methodist chapel aspiring to be a cathedral. He holds between two fingers of his left hand a bronze cigar. On one side of his pedestal is the legend: INDUSTRIALIST. On the other side is another single word: PHILANTHROPIST. The man thus commemorated seemed to me terrifyingly ignorant, even terrifyingly innocent, of the connection between his industry and his philanthropy. But I did know the connection. I felt it instantly and physically. The connection was my grandparents and thousands of others more or less like them. If you can appropriate for little or nothing the work and hope of enough such farmers, then you may dispense the grand charity of “philanthropy.”
It's hard to dispute this view from the farm, until we remember that there are other interests in the world, and other people. Because the logic of this passage is that in a better world, a world that is just and respects hard work and Nature, there would be no Duke University. And therefore no Rockefeller University. And no Carnegie Mellon. And no Harvard or Yale, for that matter. No Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to do good work against malaria. All such entities, created by capital accumulated by making other people's lives hard, must be counted "fruit of a poisonous tree," as lawyers call evidence gathered by improper methods. Does Berry suggest that no great institution is worth the pain that made it possible? I have a hard time reading this passage any other way.
The problem with such a claim is simple: Everyone alive today has been shaped by the injustices and cruelties of the past. To suggest that no good could come from Duke's despoiling Berry's ancestors is not different from suggesting that no good could come from the era when Berry's earlier ancestors despoiled Native Americans of their land, or the day they decided to grow that cancer-causing weed, tobacco. If good consequences cannot grow from a bad beginning, then there is literally nothing good on this earth. To look at history insisting that virtue cannot arise from vice is tantamount to declaring that you wish you didn't exist.
Haberman has come to a similar conclusion about the poisonous roots of great institutions:
Were it not for the largess of men widely denounced in their time as robber barons, New York City might not have Riverside Church (financed by the Rockefellers), or the Metropolitan Museum of Art (J.P. Morgan) or Carnegie Hall (self-explanatory).
Was Baptist Medical Center, now defunct, morally bankrupt for having taken money from John Gotti? Or Long Island Jewish Medical Center for having created a bone marrow transplant unit with a gift from a foundation led by another prominent mobster, Thomas Gambino?
Fair question, don't you think?
Illustration: Eve tempts Adam, which was a bad thing, except that it was also a good thing. Detail from "The Fall of Man," Pietro Mera
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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.
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.