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The Thing That’s Annoying You Isn’t Necessarily the Problem
Irritation is a powerful force. It has the whiff of righteousness.
The other day a decision tree was going around on social media. It was comedy: a European perspective on whether or not men should wear shorts (punchline: No, we shouldn’t.) It asked questions like: "Are you at the beach?” and answered them with snappy rejoinders like, "Then cover your damn legs!"
This was clickbaity fluff, good for a snort, and pretty forgettable. A few weeks before that, there was a widely read piece in The New York Times in which an acclaimed fashion critic (whom I’ve never heard of, but what would I know of acclaimed fashion critics?) used similar rhetoric about winter coats: "Are you skiing? No? Then go get a stylish trench coat like in Mad Men." Personal Bias Alert: Early this past winter (prior to reading this bit of snark), I briefly tried a return to the Judd-Nelson-in-The-Breakfast-Club trench coats of my youth. The result? I was totally effing freezing. So I bought a ski jacket. Now, in winter, I will be the warm, comfy guy in a ski jacket imagining that, wherever I go, I am being silently judged by eminent fashion critics.
These two are not isolated examples. I see a lot of this in online discourse these days, and since it no longer quite makes sense to distinguish media outlets as "respectable" vs. "trashy," it makes sense to take a closer look at the power and the nature of this rhetorical form whereby an attitude pretends to be a conclusive argument.
We get, for example, headlines like: "Let's Stop Pretending Gyms Aren't Sexist." I made that one up, but 'twill serve, 'twill serve. The rhetoric here presents the reader with two choices: Quit pretending (and be on the side of righteousness) or keep pretending (and be an accessory to sexism).
It’s interesting to note, too, that most attitudes disguised as arguments seem to be the result of unexamined irritation in the arguer. For example, I am not crazy about people eating on the subway. For some reason, I just don’t want to watch you eating in that enclosed space. But am I going to go write an article against “these pigs” who eat on the subway? Hell, no. Why? Because I can’t really think of a rock-solid logical argument to support my irritation and my right to tell you where you may and may not eat your lunch. Yes, the space is tight, but it’s not like you’re dropping food on me. Rats are not scurrying around your feet. Many other online writers do not, however, share my reticence and will happily dash off “5 Reasons Your Nasty Lunch is Grossing Me Out on the Subway.”
Irritation is a powerful force. It has the whiff of righteousness. It inspires dread in the meek. If you read old accounts of any society that eventually erupted in some form of ethnic cleansing or witch-hunting, you’ll hear people gossiping and commiserating about the annoying habits of the marginalized group, nodding their heads in agreement about the ways in which these people obviously don’t “get” the rules of society that are perfectly obvious to anyone with common sense.
Call me old-fashioned, but even if your editor is leaning over your shoulder demanding that you churn out this manipulative crap, I think you should probably resist. Words have power, and the line between opinion and fact is not nearly so clearly demarcated as it once was. So when your rhetoric suggests that something you’re saying should be completely obvious to anyone who isn’t an idiot, you’re basically bullying people into agreeing with you.
The counterargument, of course, is that educated readers are supposed to be skeptical and think critically about things like the rhetoric that writers employ to manipulate them. Caveat emptor. And for sure we ought to be educating people not to be passive consumers of everything they read or hear. But a) even the most highly attuned readerly apparatus can’t completely short-circuit the deeper, darker forces of the psyche — fear, insecurity, the desire to be part of the in-crowd. So a smart reader faced with an unrelenting barrage of bullying headlines is likely to become either a neurotic wreck or a total cynic. And b) why would we want to absolve writers of all responsibility for talking meaningfully and advancing sound logical arguments? We all know everyone on the internet is scrambling to grab attention — that digital media’s very survival depends on clicks and likes and shares — but why should we in our role as consumers of this “content” enable (and hasten) our collective rush to the bottom?
Anyway, so, Judgy Decision Chart, I say unto you: Summer is upon us and I’m wearing some damn shorts. I shall proudly display my hairy, pasty legs and knobbly knees because New York in summer is like a freakin’ sauna and I value not being miserable. And I’ll be honest: I can’t help hating you a little for making me secretly wonder, even for a moment, whether I’m the only one in New York who didn’t get the memo.
Annoying as I may find you though, know this Judgy Decision Chart: Should you roll up in some chinos and docksiders and a Nantucket Red™ pre-faded polo with the collar turned up and a pair of Ray-Ban aviators perched atop your head, you can count on this: I’ll do you the basic human courtesy of not writing an article denouncing you for it.
Come talk to @jgots on Twitter.
And — hey! — check out Think Again — my new podcast for Big Think. Promo episode is up. Full launch 6/20.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.