Sunday, April 20, 2014

On teen escapism - or empowerment

When the Divergent movie adaptation came out a couple of weeks ago, New Statesman put out an article with an appropriately ominous article: “No wonder teens love stories about dystopias – they feel like they’re in one.” So what is the true dystopia teens feel they inhabit? According to Laurie Penny, who wrote the piece, the young are now hemmed in by environmental doom and capitalist précarité – so they seek virtual escape through fantasies of teen empowerment. But why would such existential treats be reduced to some sort of grotesque totalitarianism, which itself is reduced pervasive adult sadism? It does not become quite clear, so Penny may have done something we all do – project her own anxieties upon the teen fans she ostensibly writes about.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The self-delusion gap

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, accomplished TV journalists and book authors, have written a lengthy feature for The Atlantic, “The Confidence Gap.” In it, they argue that highly competent women do not lean in because that lack confidence. As they worked on the article, Katty at one point shared her long-hel suspicion “that her public profile in America was thanks to her English accent, which surely, she suspected, gave her a few extra IQ points every time she opened her mouth.” Claire laughed, but it turned out she harbored excessive modesty, too. And they offer similar examples of other highly successful women in different areas who suffer from a mild form of impostor syndrome. No doubt, Kay and Shipman will be criticized for blaming women for their mostly subordinate position in the corporate world. I see, however, a bigger problem with their theory – the extent to which they take the exaggerated, chest-pounding self-assurance and will to power of Alpha, and even Beta, males as the norm; and think aspiring women should ape them in always charging upward and taking big risks.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Daddy Cool

The current issue of Scientific American Mind has an article on the potentially beneficial influence of fathers on their daughters (“Where is Dad?”). There are always outliers, but much credible research indicates that the physical or emotional absence of their father can predispose girls to earlier puberty and risky sexual behavior. So how does this work, exactly? Some of the psychologists profiled in the article seem to offer some slightly tortured arguments. Two female evolutionary psychologists claim that seeing their fathers leave “provides young girls with a cue about what the future holds in terms of the mating system they are born into.” The abandoned daughters infer that “men don’t stay for long” – hence “finding a man requires quick action.” On the basis of this inference, they make a rational, if subconscious, choice. They opt for an evolutionarily adaptive “reproductive strategy”– to rev up their own reproductive maturation and seek to get pregnant as soon as femininely possible.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

“Raising a Moral Child”

This is currently the most emailed article on the NYT site. It is written by Adam Grant, a übernerdy superstar in business psychology about whom I have written earlier. The piece offers a meticulous review of all the research. So, how do you do it? Apparently, by the relentless deployment of evidence-based “interventions” – for example, praise rather than reward (but make sure you praise effort rather than ability), model generous behavior, etc. As Grant judiciously concludes, “people often believe that character causes action, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that action also shapes character.” How about theories suggesting that moral development depends crucially on attachment, or the forging of strong emotional bonds between parents (or “caregivers”) and children, rather than on shrewd and systemic, quasi-behaviorist manipulation?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A star – or comet – called Lupita

The NYT carries an incisive analysis of the campaign to launch Lupita Nyong’o, the 31-year actress who won an Oscar for her role in “12 Years a Slave,” into much deserved – if slightly delayed – stardom. The title says it all, and captures the Zeitgeist better than tomes of “cultural studies” drivel: “Capitalizing on Her Leap to Stardom: Lupita Nyong’o Gains the Ultimate Prize with a Beauty Contract for Lancôme.” Still, I wanted to preserve a few extra memorable lines for posterity – or at least until “the cloud” is up in the air: