Coming soon…

It’s coming up to two years since I started this blog and in that time I’ve made just over 10 blog posts! A remarkable achievement I think you will agree.

I have wanted to write more on here but I’ve had issues with finding the time to write and also trying not to write too much on an individual post – something I think I’ve failed here most of the time!

I have also wanted to try and make videos to complement this blog but at the moment I probably won’t have any video content to upload any time soon.

To try and give this blog a few more signs of life, however, I thought I’d try and upload more often by writing shorter posts which I’m calling my ‘mini Mystery Man’ (MMM) posts. These will be less political and more to do with whatever’s on my mind. Ideally, I’d like there to be, at most, a couple of weeks between each post but I don’t want to make any promises.

Since I don’t have an audience to speak of, I can’t imagine anybody will be really bothered regardless of what I do although I do like doing this even if nobody else does!

More posts coming soon.

Book Review: ‘The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve’ by Steve Stewart-Williams (Part 3)

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This is the third and final part of my review of this book. Believe it or not this was supposed to be just one post! The first and second part can be read by following the links.

Chapter 6 (continued): More About Memes

I ended the second part of this review questioning what determines which memes will be the ‘fittest’; which memes will survive and be circulated in a culture. Dr. Stewart-Williams cites Susan Blackmore’s book The Meme Machine to offer one explanation. Memes, according to Blackmore, need to be able to increase their ‘market share’ by first, being able to get into people’s minds and then secondly, being able to influence people’s behaviour.

In Part 2 I mentioned E. O. Wilson’s theory that memes which improve an organism’s fitness will be more successful than other kinds because organisms have evolved to latch onto fitness-enhancing memes. This is explored further here in the book with the notion that memes relating to sex, relationships, kinship, threats and status do particularly well as they are evolutionary relevant. This may explain why many cultures share similar types of customs such as religions, rituals, traditions, ceremonies etc. as they relate to biological realities.

Since human beings are incredibly varied, the circulation of memes is even more complicated as intelligence and personality type can affect which memes are spread by an individual. This suggests a relationship between genes and memes as intelligence and personality are partially heritable. An individual who spreads memes, or a ‘meme vector’ also has an impact as a highly prestigious individual can influence the behaviour of a large group of people. Stewart-Williams gives celebrities and the Pope as examples of ‘meme vectors’ who have the power to spread certain memes amongst their followers.

This brings us to the subject of cultural phenomenons like religion and monogamous marriage. It is said that memes that increase reproductive success have a good chance of surviving as there will be more individuals who can spread this particular meme. This in turn would help the group who possess the meme to survive over a long period of time. This may explain why religions tend to preach a message of ‘go forth and multiply’.

In contrast, the book describes the religious sect called the ‘Shakers’ who preached total celibacy for its members and eventually died out as a result. These examples can be described as ‘good memes’ and ‘bad memes’ as they are cultural practices that diverge in how good they are for the meme and the groups spreading the meme. In short, the ‘go forth and multiply’ meme is good for the group and good for itself, whereas the ‘total celibacy’ meme isn’t.

Monogamous marriage as a meme is another example presented in the book as one that is good for the group and good for itself. Steve Stewart-Williams points out that in many earlier civilisations with disparities in wealth, it was not uncommon for wealthy, high-status men to have many wives and that this situation may have benefitted women as well in terms of reproductive success. This meant of course that many low status men had no wives at all. This is contrasted with modern societies which, despite having similar gaps between the rich and poor, has not resulted in billionaire men having multiple wives with poorer men having none. The author gives Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos as examples of such men which is interesting since both have divorced their wives since the book’s publication! The reason given for this disparity is the cultural practice or meme of monogamy. This meme may have caught on because monogamous societies became more productive and less unstable than polygynous societies. Polygynous societies were less stable according to the author because of the greater surplus of young unmarried men who would cause more violence and crime.

There is logic to this suggestion but for me this seems like a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. What differentiates modern societies from past ones is the greater availability of resources and technology that protects most people from harm and the need to fight for survival. Poor people obviously exist today, but compared to those who lived in poverty in the past, the living standards of the poor – in Western countries at least – is far superior. It wouldn’t surprise me, therefore, if polygynous societies developed in places with limited resources and high levels of risk which meant there was already a lot of instability whilst monogamy developed in less extreme conditions. Not surprisingly, in a harsh environment there would be a great deal of competition amongst men and thus the high status men would have a monopoly on resources and subsequently women. The young unmarried men would have to fight amongst themselves for whatever was left over. In a stable society with security and plentiful resources, there would be less need for men to compete against each other and more opportunity for them to invest in creating families with low paternal uncertainty. Monogamy, then, could be a product of stability as well as the cause of it.

Many religions are known to promote the ‘memes’ of reproductive success and monogamous marriage which has enabled them to survive and spread over long periods of time. Religion is presented here as being a type of ‘memeplex’ which are memes that exist in clusters like genes in a genome. Since memes are designed primarily to spread themselves, it is argued here that many memes found in religions are designed chiefly to be good for themselves rather than to simply benefit believers. Religious practices like proselytising or ‘spreading the word’ were ways to spread the meme(s) of religion according to this argument.

There is also discussion here over whether memes are ‘parasites’ that occupy our minds and take over them or if memes simply adapt to our minds like an organism to an environment. Religion is suggested as a possible ‘parasitic mind virus’ as certain religious practices are good for its followers but not in all cases. An extreme example is a suicide bomber who sacrifices their life and others for their beliefs. In other words, memes that benefit the religion may not benefit the practitioners of that religion.

Although I consider myself to be agnostic, I have some disagreements here with how religion is conveyed in this chapter. Stewart-Williams writes:

“Most religions involve complex and time-consuming rituals and practices. Time spent praying, proselytising, or worrying how many angels can dance on the head of a pin is time that could have been spent looking for food and mates, or keeping an eye out for predators. Religious memes burn up precious fuel without any obvious countervailing advantage.”

But if this is the case with religion, then why haven’t these so-called religious memes died out? And don’t ‘time-consuming’ rituals and practices give people a sense of meaning and purpose? What doesn’t seem to be considered here is the existential problems that humans uniquely deal with which such activities may have evolved to satisfy. Think also how much time some people have wasted obsessing over a man or woman they can never have or some resource or property they may never own. Hence, it’s not necessarily an advantage for humans to spend too much time “looking for food and mates.”

Additionally, the vow of celibacy and other prohibitions relating to sex that is expected in certain religions are described here as memes that “sterilises the people who hold them.” Similarly, the author writes that the taboos of masturbation, sex before marriage and sex purely for pleasure in many religions is, according to the psychologist Darrel Ray, a way of making people feel guilty and thus redoubling their religiosity:

“the fact that these religious rules are hard to follow is not a bug, it’s a feature.”

Essentially, the stricter the religion, the more its followers will try to adhere to its rules and ultimately spread its memes.

This, for me, doesn’t take into account how people may have benefitted from these practices. If we take the vow of celibacy to start with, it’s true that practitioners of this command deliberately prevented themselves from reproducing, but in doing so they may have had more time to spend doing other worthwhile things. For example, although monks and nuns have traditionally expected to be celibate, they have made many contributions to human knowledge throughout history such as studying, teaching and other activities. Had they being allowed to reproduce, they may not have devoted as much of their time and effort towards these areas.

Furthermore, while it’s true that it is difficult for most people (particularly men) to avoid masturbating or sex before marriage or just for pleasure, indulging in any of these things can come with its own difficulties. Some of these include sexual frustration, unwanted pregnancies, possible sexual exploitation of either men or women, jealousy, heartbreak or some other kind of trauma. You could still argue that total prohibition of these things is an extreme position to take, but the downsides may have been far more costly in the past which could be why many religions proscribed them.

It is clear that Steve Stewart-Williams’ thinking has been influenced by ‘New Atheists’ such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett who I’ve mentioned in other parts of this review. Steven Pinker is another prominent atheist thinker whose work is referenced a few times in the book. While I think all these men have worthwhile things to say in certain cases, I don’t share their general view of religion even though I’m not a particularly religious person myself.

The idea of God as a ‘meme’ is presented here and the author questions why it has persisted throughout human history :

“No one has any trouble shaking off their belief in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. The God meme, on the other hand, is almost impossible to dislodge from some minds, regardless of evidence or arguments.”

I think framing the question in this way comes across as a little arrogant and reductionist personally as it implies that religious people are simply foolish and irrational, even if Stewart-Williams didn’t intend it be so. It reminds me of militant atheists calling God an ‘invisible friend’ or a ‘sky fairy’ as a way to sneer at religious believers. Obviously, atheists don’t all think the same way and people are welcome to disbelieve in God if they wish, but believers presumably don’t consider God to be a ‘meme’ even though others like Stewart-Williams and Dawkins do. I’ve read arguments against this theory which point out that atheist thinking, at least as described by people such as Richard Dawkins, could be considered as a group of memes as well.

Faith is also presented as simply a meme to help religion:

“As Dawkins points out, if you wanted to find a way to insulate a memeplex from rational criticism, you couldn’t do much better than the idea that accepting that memeplex on blind faith in the highest virtue – and doubting is a terrible sin.”

This implies though that faith is simply ‘irrational belief’ rather than the ‘consideration of things beyond that which we can fully understand or rationalise’. Some believers may have blind faith in a religion, but it’s possible for a religious person to be perfectly rational and still have faith. I’m not a theologian and I’m probably not intelligent enough to get too deep into this topic, but it seems to be me that faith is a different way of conceptualising something that cannot be described in a rational or scientific way. I’ll move on to avoid devoting too much time to this one area of the book.

In the final analysis, I think there’s definitely something to the idea of memes but it probably needs to be developed further in the future.

Here are some other interesting things explored in this chapter:

  • ‘The ratchet effect’ – the progression of knowledge goes in one direction: ‘the cultural ratchet’ – this is not necessarily restricted to humans as several animals have been observed adopting cultural practices. Examples include chimps using sticks to fish for termites and using leaves as napkins which they can learn from copying each other. Other chimp groups may not have developed these practices but can learn them. Orang-utans have been observed using leaves as gloves and apparently riding on falling trees for fun. Animal culture can also include whale or birdsong. Of course, no other animal has been able to accumulate ideas and develop a culture in the way that humans have.
  • Ideas tend to be a combination of previous ideas or what Matt Ridley calls ‘ideas having sex.’ The internet to Ridley is a combination of the computer and the phone. Great ideas are rarely ‘Eureka!’ moments but the product of many smaller ideas.
  • Cultural adaptations such as reading rewired parts of the brain that were involved in visual perception. Obtaining the ability to recognise and interpret words changed the function of that region of the brain. This is an example of a meme ‘parasitising’ the mind.
  • Lactose intolerance is actually not an unusual disorder. Most mammals become intolerant to milk after weaning as they no longer drink it so stop producing the enzyme lactase which breaks it down. Humans are the exception in this case but not all humans are lactose tolerant even though we often assume they are. Humans in areas such as Northern Europe and the Arabian Peninsula began producing lactase throughout their lifespan after we started herding milk-producing animals and consuming their milk. This is an example of memes and genes influencing each other.
  • Cultural innovations such as being able to make a fire and use tools help us but can also kill us. The IQ researcher Linda Gottfredson has argued that intelligence in human beings developed not just to deal with dangers from nature but man-made dangers as well.
  • Technology has helped us in many ways but has probably made humans weaker as well, what Timothy Taylor calls ‘the survival of the weakest’. Compared to other apes, we are physically weaker and have conditions such as short-sightedness and myopia that would have probably died out if we were exposed to the same selection pressures we evolved from. To quote Stewart-Williams: “We simply have to recognise that the longer we live with technology, the more dependent on it we’ll inevitably become.” While not explored in this book, this is particularly relevant to the plight of men and explains some of the problems men are experiencing in society.

Conclusion and Appendix

Steve Stewart-Williams concludes his book by saying that human nature developed as a set of strategies for passing on the genes that created it. During this process memes also developed which started to shape human nature as well. Because of this, humans turned into ‘gene-meme hybrid creatures’ which simultaneously pass on genes and memes. The observations that confused the alien scientist at the beginning of the book can be explained by this theory.

What the future holds for humans, in the author’s opinion, is uncertain as we increasingly have the power to direct the evolution of ourselves and other organisms which can be used for good and bad purposes:

“This is an awesome responsibility, and one we may or may not be fit to carry.”

At the end of the book there are two appendices dedicated to answering criticisms of evolutionary psychology and memetics respectively. Stewart-Williams takes the time to frame the criticisms and then answer them in detail showing that he is thoughtful and contemplative in coming to his own conclusions about them.

In the first appendix, titled ‘How to win an argument with a blank slater’, it is argued that some people dislike biological and evolutionary explanations for human behaviour, a mentality that Martin Daly and Margo Wilson have called ‘biophobia’. One criticism of evolutionary psychology is that it is used to justify inequalities and gender roles and is ‘right-wing propaganda.’ In response, Stewart-Williams writes:

“leaving aside the automatic assumption that “right-wing” equals “bad”, most evolutionary
psychologists (like most academics in general) lean to the left politically.”

I find this quite telling as it explains what I thought was a favouritism shown towards women in this book. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t any truth to the theories of evolutionary psychology of course. Stewart-Williams believes this criticism is an example of the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ – the assumption that if something is natural then it is good:

“This assumption probably explains why the politically correct view on issues such as traditional
sex roles and violence is that they’re entirely due to nurture, whereas the politically correct
view of homosexuality is that it’s entirely due to nature.”

That latter part of the quote may get him in trouble in the future!

Other criticisms explored here include the idea that evolutionary theories are unfalsifiable as we cannot travel back in time to prove their origins. The author states that being false and unfalsifiable are not the same thing and also some theories in evolution have been proven wrong.

Another criticism is the fact that most of the theories in evolutionary psychology have only being tested in ‘WEIRD’ (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic) nations which limits the veracity of their conclusions about human nature. Stewart-Williams concedes this point but notes that evolutionary psychology also draws from other fields like biology and anthropology. This, in my view, is usually where it is strongest.

A further criticism of the field is that it presents every aspect of human nature as a product of adaptation, which is something the biologist Stephen Jay Gould also accused evolutionary psychologists of doing. Stewart-Williams again believes this is a valid criticism but points out that evolutionary psychologists present non-adaptationist theories as well.

If I were to put forward a criticism of evolutionary psychology, it would be that is sometimes doesn’t differentiate enough between human and animal behaviour, particularly in areas like violence and sexuality. There’s a danger that you could project human behaviours onto animals or vice versa and make assumptions that may be inaccurate. Obviously, there is a connection in what underlies theses behaviours in any organism but for humans there is far more variation and complexity as well. There is certainly merit in observing how animals behave and relating it to humans though.

The second and final appendix deals with criticism of the theory of memes and memetics. The first criticism is the fact that memes are difficult to define. Susan Blackmore points out that the famous opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony could be considered a meme by itself or the whole composition could be considered a meme. Moreover, is the idea of a thing a meme or is the thing that is produced from the idea a meme? Stewart-Williams responds by saying that words like ‘idea’, ‘customs’, ‘norm’ and ‘ritual’ are not clearly defined either but are useful enough to explain cultural theories.

A second criticism of memes is that it is just another word for ‘idea’ or the simple observation that ‘good ideas spread.’ The counter argument presented here is that memes are not just ideas, but any feature of culture that could spread and be sustained within that culture. The central theory of memetics as previously mentioned is that memes can be considered ‘good’ if they are adept as spreading themselves regardless of if they are ‘good’ in the sense that they benefit the individuals who spread them. Religious belief is given as an example but I’ve already explained my disagreements about that. Nevertheless, the general theory of memes still makes sense as it is useful for them to be good for people to aid their spread.

Yet another criticism of memes is to what extent they are comparable to genes. Genes are replicated with high fidelity but memes are not. Also, unlike genes, memes have to be reconstructed in an individual’s mind. Furthermore, genes undergo random mutations whereas memes are generally created for a particular purpose. Steve Stewart-Williams answers these criticisms by pointing out that culture is recorded and passed on from generation to generation so memes can be accurate enough to be replicated across time. It’s true that memes have to exist in a person’s mind, but there are similarities in how human beings conceptualise certain things. A fascinating example given here is Pascal Boyer’s observation that many different cultures have similar ideas about ghosts – i.e. they are sentient beings so they sense things. Humans therefore may have certain psychological biases that mean certain memes take hold over others. This is similar to the point made previously about how memes relating to our biology tend to be successful. Memes don’t ‘mutate’ in the way that genes do but are often products of trial and error which was also discussed in the second part of this review. Memes may also be products of mistranslations or misconceptions.

As I said before, I believe there is something to the theory of memetics but it might need to be developed further by other thinkers in the future. However, because language is so complex and flexible, there may not ever be a sufficient way to concisely define the theory of memes.

Summary

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book despite some of my own criticisms of it. Steve Stewart-Williams seems like a good guy who wants to be objective about his findings, even though I may not always come to the same conclusions that he does. If you don’t know anything about evolutionary psychology and want to learn about it, I think this would be a good book to start with. It covers a broad range of topics and is concise and easy to read. If you’re looking for more ‘red-pilled’ content, however, I’d recommend looking beyond this book.

Thanks for reading if you managed to get through all three parts.

Book Review: ‘The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve’ by Steve Stewart-Williams (Part 2)

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This is the second part of my review of Steve Stewart-Williams’ book The Ape That Understood the Universe. The first part can be read here.

Chapter 4: Romance, Relationships and Reproduction

The fourth chapter continues the discussion on sex differences but more in the context of relationships. Relationships are important as they facilitate reproduction:

“humans are not machines designed to last forever; they’re machines designed to last long enough to reproduce.”

Attraction is obviously important if a relationship is to occur. The importance of symmetry in attractiveness is explained which I found very interesting. ‘Symmetrical’ individuals are not only healthier and more fertile but also tend to have more sexual partners. This is because symmetry is harder to create biologically than asymmetry and symmetry enhances beauty. Beauty here is described as ‘a certificate of good health’.

In terms of what men and women uniquely find attractive, it is noted that men typically desire women with an ‘hourglass’ body shape. This includes traits like a large bust, a thin waist and a low waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). Low WHR is an indicator of youthfulness and fertility. Older women have a high WHR and are obviously less fertile. ‘Facial femininity’ is also desired by men in women. This includes features such as large eyes, small nose, high cheek bones, full lips, etc. Again, these are all related to youthfulness.

What women desire in men appears to be more complicated. Some masculine traits such as having a deep voice or a beard may have evolved primarily to intimidate other men rather than attract women. Studies have apparently found that women prefer slightly feminine faces for long-term mating and more masculine features for flings. This might be linked to women’s ovulation cycle although this isn’t mentioned in the book. I’ve read elsewhere that women who are approaching ovulation can subconsciously dress in more revealing clothing and be more attracted to alpha, masculine men because of a higher sex drive which suggests a reproductive function. The desire women could have for more feminised faces in men may be more to do with decreased sex drive after ovulating.

Not to labour on this point too much, but again I noticed a slight favouritism shown towards women, or femininity at least, here. Steve Stewart-Williams argues that whilst femininity is always desired by men, masculinity may not always be desired by women:

“in the context of pair bonds and parenting, masculinity isn’t always a blessing.”

Why not? Is femininity always a blessing? It’s worth pointing out that men have traditionally been expected to protect their women and children from harm if necessary which is far more important in long-term relationships than flings. More masculine men would be better at doing this than less masculine men.

Similarly, is femininity always linked to long-term relationships? By this logic, same-sex female relationships should be the most stable and peaceful of all types of relationships yet not only are lesbian couples more likely to divorce, but violence is more prevalent in same-sex couples than heterosexual couples. I’ve read somewhere that lesbian couples are, on average, the most violent although I couldn’t find anything to confirm that. You could argue that lesbians may have more testosterone than most women but they still have less than most men.

At the end of this chapter it’s noted that men’s testosterone levels decline in pair-bonds and more so when they become fathers whilst bachelors apparently have more testosterone. This could be a built-in adaptation for pair-bonding as testosterone increases sex drive which, if committed men’s testosterone levels remained the same as when they were single, could make them more tempted to sleep with other women.

Even so, men who were husbands and fathers were traditionally expected to uphold masculine virtues that they could pass onto their sons or their families in general. Some online commentators have suggested that the problem with boys and young men today is not ‘toxic masculinity’ but a lack of masculinity from limited contact with fathers or male teachers. This shows that masculinity should be something that women desire in long-term relationships as well as flings.

I’ll shut up about this from now on.

Other interesting topics explored in this chapter include:

  • A description of the ‘Westermarck effect’. Named after a Finnish sociologist, this is the phenomenon of ‘negative sexual imprinting’ – i.e. humans and animals who are raised together don’t find each other attractive. This is commonly seen in the revulsion people feel towards incest. To what extent animals follow this rule however has been debated. A old Chinese custom called ‘sim-pua’ whereby a boy and a girl in an arranged marriage were brought up together in the boy’s family led to marital difficulties like infidelities. Bizarrely, it is said that girls who reunited with their family found themselves attracted to their male relatives. Similarly, although siblings in the ruling families of Ancient Egypt married each other, this was mainly for political purposes. Cleopatra married two of her brothers but also had children with the famous Romans Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. Tutankhamun was the product of incest but had stillborn children with his half-sister and died at a very young age.
  • Romantic love or ‘passionate love’ leads to intense physical and psychological symptoms – obsession, high energy, mood swings, sexual desire, etc. but is also fleeting – ‘the sizzle often fizzles’. It is likely linked to reproduction as we often don’t know much about the person we may be ‘in love’ with at first so we project things onto them. Like sex, the intense feelings may disappear after we have interacted with the object of our affection! Ideally, romantic love should lead to ‘companionate love’ – there’s a nice quote from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin here – where sex isn’t the central component. Companionate love allows couples to stay together which is important for raising very dependent offspring which humans have.
  • Men and women tend to be jealous about different things regarding their partners. For men, sexual jealously is common as they fear paternity fraud if their wives cheat on them. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to feel emotional jealousy as they fear abandonment. Both men and women can feel sexual and emotional jealousy though as these are often interlinked.
  • The ‘Cinderella effect’ – children are more likely to be killed by a step-parent than a biological parent. Humans however commonly care for children who are not their own without harming them.
  • Humans are likely ‘mildly polygynous’ as, unlike in species like birds, males are slightly larger than females which is, according to David Barash, “one of the hallmarks” for a polygynous species. In many civilisations some men have had multiple wives although pair-bonding has always been common as well.
  • Animals that have promiscuous mating systems, such as chimps and bonobos, engage in ‘sperm competition’ as females can have many different males’ sperm in their reproductive tract. As a result,  males who produce the most sperm have a better chance of reproducing so these species have very large testicles relative to the size of their bodies. Males in monogamous/polygynous species like humans and gorillas have much smaller testicles.

Chapter 5: All About Altruism

In the penultimate chapter, the focus shifts from human relationships to the altruistic tendencies of humans and animals. Many organisms will risk and sacrifice their lives to save others – whether it’s a soldier diving on a live grenade to protect his fellow troops, a bird pretending to be injured to distract a predator away from its eggs or a bee using its stinger to protect its hive. How could such behaviours evolve if evolution is a brutal struggle for survival? Like in the other chapters, both biology and culture are considered.

It is pointed out that both humans and animals favour kin over non-kin, a key component of William D. Hamilton’s ‘kin selection theory’. People’s greater willingness to help their relatives over non-relatives is one evidence of this, particularly for a ‘high-cost’ altruistic act like donating an organ. Further evidence of this tendency can be seen in the fact that people leave most of their inheritance to their relatives and are also more likely to kill a non-relative than a relative – a call-back to the ‘Cinderella effect’ in Chapter 4. Kin altruism has even been observed in plants and bacteria. All this makes perfect sense from an evolutionary standpoint as kin share genes with each other so it is mutually beneficial for them to help each other.

One way in which humans differ from other organisms is our intense ‘groupishness’. For the most part, we have been able to live in large populations without killing each other and cooperated in building large, complex civilisations. We can be very generous to complete strangers and dislike those we feel are taking advantage of another person, even if we don’t know them. Humans have also fought and died for a particular group, such as a religion, an ideology or their own country. The downside of this group solidarity of course is there is often antagonism towards other groups, reflecting Jonathan Haidt’s point that groups make us team players but not saints.

It has been speculated by some that ‘group selection’ has overridden individual selection as ‘extreme altruism’ – acting for the good of the group, benefitted the group as a whole. Stewart-Williams, however, disagrees with ‘group selectionists’ and instead argues that humans are more individualistically minded. People generally have to be given incentives in order to cooperate and punishments to discourage destructive behaviour. He also points out that, whilst examples of ‘extreme altruism’ such as the aforementioned soldier sacrificing himself are admirable, they’re also rare. Our altruism towards others beyond our kin likely evolved from living among smaller groups where we would encounter the same people on multiple occasions and so would have to regularly cooperate with them. Large scale cooperation, then, may be an example of evolutionary mismatch.

The fact that altruism is motivated in part by self-interest has led to some people being upset by its implications. George R. Price, a colleague of Hamilton, was said to have been so depressed by the idea that altruism is primarily self-interest that he started performing random acts of kindness towards strangers. This depression may have contributed to his eventual suicide although that could have been chiefly motivated by his suffering from thyroid cancer. Steve Stewart-Williams notes the irony of humans being upset over our self-interested tendencies as this suggest humans aren’t so selfish after all. He argues that humans are likely a ‘grey area’ – somewhere between being selfish monsters and selfless angels which is my general feeling as well.

Whilst reading this chapter, I couldn’t help feeling it could have been a little shorter as a lot of this seems obvious and is briefly covered elsewhere in the book. Steve Stewart-Williams argues though that the most obvious tendencies need the most explaining.

There is still a lot of interesting information presented here. To summarise:

  • Hamilton’s rule: called the ‘E = mc2 of evolutionary psychology’ by Oliver Curry, this equation (br > c) states that the benefits of an altruistic act can be large enough to compensate any cost to the altruist, with ‘b’ being the benefit, ‘r’ the ‘degree of relatedness’ between an altruist and recipient and ‘c’ obviously being the cost of the act. The ‘degree of relatedness’ is the probability of 2 organisms sharing the same genes due to shared ancestry. Because offspring share 50% of their genes with each parent and each sibling, the degree of relatedness, r, would equal .5 between them. For grandparents and grandchildren, this would be .25, for cousins, .125 and so on. Essentially, the higher the value of ‘r’, the more the benefit of an altruistic act will outweigh any cost the act may cause. This explains partly why we’re more likely to help relatives, particularly close relatives, over non-relatives.
  • Humans and animals don’t necessarily favour kin naturally, but instead favour ‘kinship cues’ such as early life cohabitation or phenotypic similarity. Scientists who swapped around litters of squirrel pups found that the pups were still close to those they were nursed with even if they weren’t related.
  • Altruistic acts can be forms of delayed co-operation: a favour from one person to another can be returned in the future – Robert Trivers’ reciprocal altruism theory. Trivers argued that humans have emotional preferences that lead to us desiring reciprocal relationships. We get angry if we’ve been cheated and feel gratitude if we have received help. We’re also more concerned that non-relatives return favours more so than relatives as the costs will often be greater in these circumstances.
  • Reciprocal altruism has been tested using computer simulations. In one simulation, different computer programs interacted with each other and were programmed with unique strategies when they encountered another computer program – e.g. ‘Always co-operate’, ‘Always defect’. Points were awarded depending on how the programs responded in their encounters. For example, ‘free-riding’, whereby one program defected and the other co-operated, would give the defector 5 points and the co-operator 0. Mutual co-operation would give each 3 points and mutual defection would give each only 1 point. The program with the strategy ‘Tit-for-tat’ usually earned the most points as it co-operated in its first interaction and then copied the response it received from a program on a second encounter – i.e. if it got a defection from a particular program it would defect it next time, etc. More sophisticated strategies have been designed which have been more successful but ‘tit-for-tat’ is still reflective of how organisms tend to interact amongst themselves.
  • Vampire bats have been observed operating a ‘tit-for-tat’ strategy as they sometimes regurgitate blood taken from their prey for other bats who haven’t fed, especially if the recipient bats have shared blood with the altruistic bats previously. This is an interesting (albeit disgusting) example considering that we tend to think of vampires in general as predatory and exploitative.
  • Altruism may be ‘a peacock’s tail’ – a form of sexual selection. The evolutionary psychologist David Buss has found that, cross-culturally, both men and women desire kindness in a long-term mate. ‘Big game hunting’ in hunter-gatherer societies may also function more as a form of sexual selection rather than simply to obtain food as it would be easier and less dangerous for hunters to catch smaller prey. Hunters are also expected to share their spoils with the rest of the tribe rather than keep it for themselves. Culturally, it is a test of strength, skill and bravery and the best hunters tend to have more sexual partners.

Chapter 6: Memes on the Mind

The final chapter in the book focuses on culture and how cultural evolution affects human beings. Before I read the book, I skimmed through the chapters and wasn’t that interested in this one as much as the others. When I read through it properly, though, this chapter turned out to be one of my favourites.

The theory of ‘memetics’ is presented by the author as how the evolution of culture operates. Stewart-Williams believes this theory can act as a unifying framework even if it is not the one true answer to the question of how culture develops over time.

‘Memes’, which were mentioned in Chapter 2, are ‘units of culture’ that spread like genes and are subject to the same pressures such as nature selection. Memes can be trivial or of great importance. Intriguingly, ‘memes’ are themselves a meme as the word has passed into common usage and outcompeted similar terms like ‘cultural variant’ and ‘culturgen’.

Like the ‘gene’s eye view’, Steve Stewart-Williams believes that memes act ‘selfishly’ in order to spread and be passed on. In this way, memes don’t have to be good for people in order to thrive in culture but generally are as this works to their advantage. In short, memes are successful if they are good for themselves rather than good for people. Examples of memes that are disadvantageous to us are chain letters, hoax emails and cultural practices like smoking.

Memes can be established whether or not humans have deliberately created them. I really liked the section on ‘blind selection’ which explains how certain things can appear to be ‘intelligently designed’ but are in fact shaped by trial and error and experience. One example of this is Breton fishing boats. Boats that could withstand the unpredictable ebbs and flows of the sea were copied and those that failed and sunk were discarded. Effectively, a rule of ‘whatever works’ operated in ‘selecting’ what types of boats were produced. The French philosopher Alain noted that “the sea herself…fashioned the boats”.

Another example is the development of teddy bears. Over time, the toy bears gradually became cuter and more baby-like in response to market forces after initially being uglier and thinner. In both cases, nobody sat down and designed these successful products from scratch – they had to be developed over time by observation.

This reflects how we came to understand and influence human behaviour. Thinkers from Jordan Peterson to Nassim Nicholas Taleb have pointed out that first humans have to act and then observe themselves acting in order to figure out how we function in the world. Our understanding of ourselves is often ‘after the fact’. This is also evident in institutions that have been shaped by human nature such as the law: the American Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes observed that “the life of the law has not been logic but experience.”

Stewart-Williams summarises this phenomenon when he says:

“we’re swept along by currents we barely understand and over which we have little control.”

Religion, like the law, in another institution that deals with human nature but how much religion is a product of blind selection itself is one of intense debate. It is presented here as a collection of memes or a ‘memeplex’ but more on that later.

Language is a common example in this chapter of how a cultural product operates like an evolving gene or organism. Languages aren’t designed but develop across time and can go extinct if they are no longer used. Words are created and discarded and languages can be subdivided into dialects or eventually brand new languages. Like a family tree, languages can have a common ancestor – e.g. French and Spanish share a common ancestor in Latin. Language however is also a product of biological evolution as young children have evolved to pick up language very quickly.

Science is another example of a human invention that works like evolution. The science philosopher Karl Popper described scientific knowledge as being an evolutionary process as it involves variation and selection of theories. Tested theories that prove to be correct are ‘selected’ whereas theories that are unproven or disproven are discarded. A scientific theory can also ‘evolve’ to become more accurate.

Where memes and culture differ from genes and biology is how they are spread and passed down across generations as we are culturally influenced by many things whereas we are only genetically influenced by our families. We have been able to advance our technology and knowledge of the world by building on the work of those that lived before us – ‘cumulative culture’. Stewart-Williams points out that it would take one human millions of years to acquire all of the understanding of the world that many generations of humans have gathered and passed on to others. Whether we are great thinkers and innovators or just ordinary people, we are reliant on the knowledge of others to be able to function in society. This is increasingly the case as we become ever more technologically advanced.

“we’re surrounded by machines and technology whose inner workings we don’t understand and could never hope to understand. Humans are chimpanzees reciting Shakespeare – dunces with the technology of geniuses.”

This ability to build on existing knowledge is in large part due to our ability to imitate and copy others – ‘adaptive culture’. But which memes do humans copy and pass on? Like in Chapter 2, which deals with evolution from a biological perspective, here several hypotheses of cultural evolution are explored to explain its function, such as the idea that its primary purpose is to enhance inclusive fitness – boost survival and reproduction. Evolutionary theorists like E. O. Wilson state that people have evolved to latch onto ‘fitness-enhancing memes’ and ignore fitness-diminishing ones.

Culture nevertheless evolves independent of considerations of an organism’s ‘fitness’ as often what is good for the group takes precedence over what is good for the individual in many cultures. Individuals may suffer or benefit from memes designed to benefit the group. As has already been pointed out, some memes can also be circulated even though they have no apparent benefit to the group or individual – annoying scam emails, ‘earworms’, bad habits, etc.

This leads to the final hypothesis of what cultural evolution is about: the survival of the fittest memes. But what determines which memes are the ‘fittest?’

Come back soon for the third and final part of this review!

Book Review: ‘The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve’ by Steve Stewart-Williams (Part 1)

4/5 stars

Overview: A fascinating analysis of how evolution may have shaped the behaviour of humans and animals. I felt that the book was more favourable towards women though.

This is one of the few ‘first-hand’ books I’ve read about evolution and evolutionary psychology. Most of my knowledge of this subject has been from ‘second-hand’ sources, i. e., people outside the field writing about the findings of those who study evolution. The author, Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams, is a psychologist at the Malaysia site of the University of Nottingham. I first became aware of him whilst following Jordan Peterson on Twitter as Dr. Peterson has retweeted some of Stewart-Williams’ posts often about human sex differences. As I’m interested in men’s issues and anything to do with the sexes in general, I decided to buy his book to see what he had to say about the nature of men and women but also to broaden my knowledge of evolution.

The book has been widely praised by prominent figures in the field of evolutionary psychology such as Geoffrey Miller, David Buss, Helen Fisher and Matt Ridley along with Michael Shermer who wrote the foreword to the book. Shermer is the author of the book The Moral Arc which appears to have a similar theme to Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature as both books claim that societies are becoming progressively less violent and more rational and cooperative. While this claim is very debatable, I found what Shermer wrote in his foreword to be very sensible in terms of how people should think about societies and scientific enquiry.

Foreword

Shermer compares creationists – people who deny and/or criticise evolution – with what he labels ‘cognitive creationists’ which battle over “the nature of human nature”. Cognitive creationists are those who believe “evolution only applies from the neck down”. Thomas Sowell’s book A Conflict of Visions and Pinker’s The Blank Slate are cited as offering the ‘tragic’ or ‘realistic’ vision of human nature and reality as opposed to the ‘unconstrained’ and ‘utopian’ vision put forward by cognitive creationists. Michael Shermer promotes a ‘realistic vision’ whist states that human nature is constrained by biology and evolutionary history. The goal of political systems when taking this vision into account is to promote positive incentives over negative ones. Shermer essentially argues for a conservative/social democratic political philosophy:

“family, custom, law and traditional institutions should be the primary source of social harmony with government as a back-up alternative.”

Shermer, however, also takes a centrist position by comparing “conservative creationism” – i.e. promoting intelligent design theory and anti-evolution – with the post-modernism of academia – “the Far-left, regressive left, Alt-left” although he concedes that the latter is far more widespread. The centrist viewpoint is made more apparent by Shermer’s argument that adopting his realistic vision of human nature could help heal the widening political divisions in Western countries. I think this could be naively optimistic though because facts can always be presented in such a way as to serve whatever narrative post-modernists (and others) are promoting. Despite Ben Shapiro’s famous remark that “facts don’t care about feelings”, others have pointed out that feelings often  don’t care about facts.

Chapter 1: Humans from an alien’s point of view

Steve Stewart-Williams introduces his book by imagining how humans would appear to an outsider, specifically “an alien from Betelgeuse III” which is “gender-neutral, asexual, apolitical,” etc. This theoretical alien observes humans then presents its findings in a report to its fellow extra-terrestrial colleagues.

In its analysis, the alien takes a similar view to the singer Bjork in her song ‘Human Behaviour’: “if you ever get close to a human, and human behaviour, be ready be ready to get confused…” Unusual human characteristics are noted such as knowingly eating unhealthy food which to the alien is akin to “having an appetite for poison” to humans being afraid of animals such as snakes and spiders despite rarely encountering them.  Another trait that confuses the alien is humans using contraceptives during sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy or “blocking their own fertility” as the alien describes it. The rest of the book after the alien’s report essentially describes the biological and cultural influences behind the observations that baffled the alien.

The alien also reports on human sex differences and wonders why some humans find them upsetting – a reference to the ‘blank slate’ vision of human nature prominent in certain progressive circles. Although, like Stewart-Williams, I don’t believe in the blank slate vision, I did find some issues with how he describes sex differences in this book. It could well be my own bias coming through, but I did roll my eyes a little at the way men and women are described in the alien’s report:

“the larger ones (males) tend to be more aggressive, more sexually reckless, and more willing to take life-threatening risks. The smaller ones (females) tend to be more selective about their sexual partners, more involved in childcare, and somewhat longer lived.”

While the differences described are valid, it does seem that women come across in a more favourable light than men. This is a pattern seen throughout the book which is overall my main criticism of it. Dr. Stewart-Williams even notes in the third chapter which explores sex differences:

“if the new theories painted an unflattering picture of either sex, it wasn’t women. As we’ll soon see, evolutionary psychologists argue that men are naturally more violent than women, more prone to infidelity and more prone to taking stupid, life-threatening risks.”

This should be music to feminists’ ears! Again, there is nothing necessarily incorrect about what is stated here, but to me the claim begs the question whether we would even be allowed to have an unflattering view of women. A big problem when talking about sex differences at present is that people have no fear of being negative or critical about men (nor should they) but are, conversely, reluctant to portray women in a negative light out of fear of being labelled sexist or misogynistic. While talking about sex differences might be controversial, having an unflattering view of men certainly isn’t.

If an objective alien did in fact arrive from another planet to observe men and women, it may draw more politically incorrect conclusions than the ones presented in this book. Imagine, for example, if the alien stated the following:

“The males appear to be less emotional and more independent. They also produce more exceptional individuals, both good and bad. The females, on the other hand, seem more emotional and dependent, and overall produce less exceptionally good or bad individuals.”

Had Steve Stewart-Williams written something along these lines, his book would have been far more provocative and controversial. To be fair, he has done research on pro-female bias: one of his studies suggested that people are generally more upset about differences that are favourable towards men than women which is explored in this article. Also, considering that sex differences are only one topic of many covered, I perhaps shouldn’t be too harsh about the book overall. That being said, I’ll return to this point a little bit later on.

With that little rant out of the way, I’ll return to the alien’s report. Stewart-Williams writes some rather lame jokes in the report which gives it a feel of a children’s science book. In fact, it reminded me of a children’s TV show I watched as a kid called Dr. Xargle (pronounced ‘zar-gull’) about an alien teacher who educates his pupils about human beings and planet Earth. An example of this is the alien writing “on the other tentacle…” – get it? The alien doesn’t have hands, but tentacles instead, because it’s an alien – LOL! It’s no doubt intended to make the book less dry and more light-hearted so I suppose I’m being a little harsh.

After presenting the alien’s report, Stewart-Williams explores how humans have evolved over time and produced the strange and sometimes contradictory behaviour that perplexed the alien anthropologist. The complexities of human beings are stated to be due to the evolution over time of both genes and culture. Richard Dawkins famously coined the word ‘meme’ to describe ideas, cultural practices, customs and traditions that spread and have passed from generation to generation like genes. The word of course is now more commonly used in relation to the internet. Daniel Dennett has additionally argued that humans are ‘gene-meme hybrids’.

Chapter 2: The nature and function of evolution

The second chapter goes further into the nature and function of evolution and what the author considers to be common misconceptions about it. One of those is the idea that evolution is about ‘survival of the fittest organisms’ or a violent struggle for dominance. Stewart-Williams insteads argues that evolution  is about ‘reproduction of the fittest’ and nature is ‘an orgy, not a bloodbath’. Sex organs are not designed for survival but for reproduction and one sex – typically the female – can choose to mate with the opposite sex depending on certain traits it may possess:

“the mind of one sex can help shape the body of the other.”

The peacock’s tail is described as a sex organ designed to attract females – it is compared to a Cuban cigar or some other indication of high status – even though it may hinder the peacock’s survival due to it advertising to predators or slowing it down.

[As an aside, while this is a common interpretation of the peacock’s tail, I’ve found an interesting, alternative theory about its function which differs to what is presented in this book. I’m planning on writing about it at some point in the future.]

Several definitions of evolution are put forward and explored until the author hones in on what he and other evolutionary psychologists believe to be the true definition of evolution: the survival of the fittest genes. Genes that survive and replicate across time are more successful or ‘fitter’ than genes that don’t. This explanation follows the ‘gene’s eye’ view of evolution put forward by William D. Hamilton and explored in Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene. This is said to explain why organisms such as ants will sacrifice themselves for other ants in their colony as collectively they are all siblings and share the same group of genes. Even though the sacrificed ant is being selfless, its genes are acting ‘selfishly’ in order to aid their own survival.

Although genes have no thoughts or motivations, they act as if they want to be replicated and spread regardless of how this affects the organism that possesses them. I quite liked the quote that “a chicken is an egg’s way of creating other eggs” as a way to illustrate this point. Like most theories, the gene’s eye view of evolution has its detractors such as the biologist E. O. Wilson but I think it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.

Also explored here is how the mind and evolution are interconnected. The mind, according to Stewart-Williams, is “a mechanism designed to propagate its owner’s genes”. Fear, lust and other emotions and desires effectively act like spikes and shells in their function of protecting and sustaining an organism.

Some other interesting points made in this chapter include:

  • Human evolution may be accelerating due to technological advances as our culture is in a constant state of flux. Biologists like Stephen Jay Gould, however, believed that evolution had ground to a halt because the unstable and unpredictable environment we evolved from has largely disappeared.
  • ‘Evolutionary mismatch’ explains why we enjoy food we know is bad for us – like sweets and candy or “human-made superfruit” – as we never evolved in an environment where abundant amounts of very sweet food existed.
  • There are also ‘mismatch diseases’. For example, breast cancer is more common now because women spend less time pregnant or breast-feeding in their reproductive years and so have more menstrual cycles. This leads to more fluctuations in their hormones which can lead to cancer. Women are also now more likely to get post-partum depression as they are less likely to live near close relatives.
  • Some behaviours are by-products of adaptations or ‘spandrels’ which have no apparent function. One example is thumb-sucking – apparently also seen in elephants sucking their trunks – which is a by-product of suckling for milk. Other examples are the male nipple and, possibly and perhaps to the chagrin of feminists, the female orgasm.

Chapter 3: Sex differences in animals and humans

As mentioned before, Chapter 3 of the book explores differences between the sexes. This section of the book is what got me interested in reading it in the first place and, like I said, where I had some disagreements with the author. The controversy surrounding sex differences is noted, particularly within the social sciences, and common sex differences observed between humans and animals are also noted. Some of the most common are:

  • Males are generally larger than females. The difference in size varies among animals. For instance, male elephant seals and gorillas are much larger than their respective females. In humans, the size difference is not as striking. In many birds the sexes are roughly the same size – also called ‘sexual monomorphism’
  • Males have a higher sex drive and a greater desire for multiple sexual partners. The book describes the famous experiment whereby young men and women were approached by somebody of the opposite sex and asked if they wanted to go out with them and if they wanted to go to bed with them. Most of the young men said yes while none of the women did. Females are choosier than males.
  • Males are more ornamented than females and have more ‘built-in weapons’ – peacock’s tail, deer’s antlers, lion’s mane, narwhal’s horn, etc.
  • Males typically ‘pay’ for sex – “intercourse is often presented as a resource that women possess and men pursue.” Most prostitutes are women with male clientele whereas the opposite is far more rare. Pornography is consumed by more men than women.
  • Males are more aggressive and fight more. Men are more violent – at least physically – than women.
  • Females grow up faster than males – ‘sexual bimaturism’. In contrast to the greater size of male elephant seals and gorillas, the females reach reproductive maturity several years before them. Females also tend to live longer.
  • Females do most of the caring of the young. Male involvement in care across species is far more variable. This is reflected in children: girls tend to play with dolls whereas boys engage in rough and tumble play.

I have no issues here as many of these differences can be clearly seen in both humans and animals. After laying out these differences, Stewart-Williams explores the biology behind them.

Robert Trivers’ parental investment theory is described which states that the sex that invests more in their offspring is more selective in choosing a mate. In most cases, this will be the females. This difference stems from the distinctive sex cells possessed by males and females. Males produce the smaller sex cells, sperm, whilst women produce the large ones, eggs, and to a lesser degree.  This affects the number of offspring an individual male or female can potentially have.

Some men have fathered hundreds of children whereas the most children a woman has given birth to is 69 – this was a Russian peasant called Valentina Vassilyev. Stewart-Williams believes this has led to what he and his colleague Andrew Thomas call the ‘males compete/females choose’ pattern or MCFC. In some species there is a reversal – FCMC or ‘females compete/males choose’ such as in Gulf pipefish and ‘Jesus’ birds but the males in these species invest more in offspring than the females. Therefore, the differences in behaviour between the sexes can be best understood if we take into account these size disparities in sex cells. These size differences in sex cells are interestingly reflected in the size differences of spiders.

Also discussed is what men and women find attractive in the opposite sex. For men, it is youth and beauty and for women it is wealth and high status. Reinforcing this is the fact men are more visually stimulated than women are – e.g. pornography. Similarly, females of other species also prefer males that can provide food, resources, living space etc. To quote Stewart-Williams:

“men and women, in effect, selectively breed each other for the traits they most want in a partner.”

The author goes on to explore the prevalence of violence amongst men compared to women. In humans, men commit 90% of murders and are around 70% of murder victims, a phenomenon also seen among chimpanzees. This is especially concentrated within younger men leading to Margo Wilson and Martin Daly coining the term ‘young male syndrome’. This difference between the sexes is explained by the fact that violence pays off more for males than for females. In the animal kingdom, for example, elephant seals can obtain a harem of females by fighting off other males which can be seen in other species too.

The science and reasoning behind this is sound but it is in this section that I have some disagreements with Dr. Stewart-Williams. He notes that men get harsher sentences than women for the same crime but seems to suggest this is because men are more violent rather than possible favouritism towards women. There’s no denying that males are generally more violent than females in both humans and animals but for me this is where sex differences get a little bit more complicated. The author writes:

“the behavioral geneticist David Lykken summed up the situation well when he observed that, if we could cryogenically freeze all the males in this age bracket (MM: adolescents, young men) we would instantly eliminate most of the crime and violence that plagues human societies.”

True, but it could be argued that we would lose a lot of innovation and creativity as well. Notice how similar this quote is to current ideas about ‘toxic masculinity’. Increasingly, men are seen as a ‘problem’ that societies need to ‘fix’ in some way. One solution presumably is to make men more like women. What is rarely discussed, however, is how women relate to male violence, unless they are on the receiving end of it.

It has already been pointed out that women are attracted to men with wealth and high status. How could men achieve both these things, especially in the past? Through violence of course. This suggests that women, particularly younger ones, may have some attraction to men who behave violently, which explains some of men’s behaviour as a result. This is not to shift the blame of male violence onto women or trivialise female victims of it, but just to show that neither sex lives in a vacuum. Women being less violent does not necessarily mean they are ‘more peaceful’. If male violence needs to be controlled then certain features of female behaviour need to be controlled as well. As you can imagine, this is not something that is suggested in this book!

Stewart-Williams ends the chapter by stating:

“To the extent that men are naturally inclined towards violence, for instance, we should aim to dampen this male-typical behaviour, thereby reducing the size of the sex difference in violence.”

Are there any female-typical behaviours that need to be dampened? If so, what? The reader is left to think about that themselves – or not. I’ve suggested one thing that could be discouraged at least.

Another difference described in this chapter is the the greater amount of parental care of children done by women compared to men. A couple of suggestions are offered to explain why this is the case.

The first is paternal uncertainty, a problem that affects men but not women as a man could end up raising a child that is not his own if his wife has been unfaithful. Women can end up unknowingly raising another person’s child if there is a mix-up but every woman who has been pregnant and given birth knows that she’s a mother whereas a man could think he’s a father of a child when he isn’t. This is succinctly summarised by the phrase: ‘mummy’s baby, daddy’s maybe.’ Stewart-Williams notes that men invest more in their children if paternal uncertainty is lower. Men therefore do less childcare because they cannot be entirely sure that a child is truly theirs.

A second argument put forward is the idea of ‘mating opportunity cost’. Men who spend time raising children are sacrificing time that could be spent mating with other women so it is suggested that men are less involved in childcare because of this.

The author states on a few occasions that women are more ‘parental’ than men. Although I’m not a parent (Stewart-Williams, in fairness, is), I can imagine a lot of fathers – particularly divorced fathers struggling to gain access to their children – being irked by this statement. It is true that females care more for their young than males in both humans and animals but, again like with male violence, for me this is where sex differences become complicated.

Men generally do less childcare than women but will typically spend more time working to provide for their families. This is something acknowledged by Stewart-Williams in the fourth chapter but as ‘indirect care’. Nevertheless, providing for families is not trivial as it may determine if children are living in poverty or not, an important concern for responsible parents and society in general.

Other aspects of parenting should be considered as well. Parenting does not just mean childcare but also includes setting a good example and teaching a child about the right and wrong way to behave – things traditionally associated with fatherhood. It would have been useful if the author had talked about the negative consequences of fatherlessness on children, especially boys, as this would show that fathers are important – for humans at least. While I don’t think this is Stewart-William’s intention, I think certain people (feminists, for one) would use the argument that women are ‘more parental’ to argue for giving women exclusive custody of children or delegitimising fatherhood.

I’ve more to say about this chapter and I might do in a future post but to avoid getting bogged down in one section of the book I’ll move on.

Part 2 coming soon!

Mystery Man Speaks

As I mentioned in my introductory blog post, I have occasionally thought about making videos relating to what I’ve written about on here but had hitherto decided against it as I believed I could express myself better in words than I would be able to through speaking or appearing on camera. After I started writing on here, however, I began having ideas about videos that could complement this blog. Although I still had doubts about making and uploading videos via my Google account considering how censorious YouTube can be – and is increasingly becoming – I figured that life’s too short to spend wondering whether or not I should or should not do it so I’ve gone ahead and taken the plunge. I’ve uploaded a video onto YouTube where I read out my post about Laura Bates’ Men Who Hate Women book. I have ideas for videos in future that are a little bit more creative than this one although I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post them.

Like I’ve found with writing posts on here, I probably won’t be able to create and upload content as much as I’d like to. I’m in the slightly frustrating position of having a lot of things I want to write/talk about but not having the time – nor sometimes the effort required – to spend writing and uploading posts which is why months can go by between one post and another on here. This is not a big deal obviously as I’m under no pressure to do anything and I don’t have an audience waiting for new content.

Moreover, I don’t think I would like to have a massive following as that brings with it its own pressures and stresses. It would be arrogant and presumptuous of course to think that I would be able to create such a following in the first place. I’ve always considered what I’ve been doing here as mainly for my own amusement so any response I get from it is a bonus and definitely appreciated. I don’t have much experience in making videos so I can’t promise high quality, expertly produced videos but hopefully what I upload will be of interest to someone.

If you want to watch the video in all its glory it can be found here.

Race to the Bottom

The death of the African-American man George Floyd in May 2020 has led to a surge in support for the organisation ‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM) and a quasi-religious belief that black people in the Western world are unfairly discriminated against by a white majority. A video of Floyd been restrained by police officers which showed him lying on the ground with a knee pressed against his neck and the news that he died shortly afterwards has led to accusations of police brutality and systemic racism. Possibly due to restlessness brought on by the Covid-19 lockdowns, there has been a feeding frenzy for removing anything displaying or associated with oppression of black people particularly relating to slavery. Statues have been toppled, the names of buildings and streets have been changed and certain films and TV shows that are now deemed ‘controversial’ because of their potential racist connotations have been censored.

In the US, statues of historical figures like Robert E. Lee and Christopher Columbus have been pulled down or have faced calls to be pulled down and the state flag of Mississippi has been changed to remove the Confederate flag that was displayed on its canton. Additionally, Reverend Al Sharpton and film director Spike Lee, neither of whom are known to be silent when a controversy involving race relations arises, were on hand to rage about the evils of the USA and its history as an apparent white supremacist country. Perhaps they were rubbing their hands together over the opportunity to be relevant again. Rioting also broke out following George Floyd’s unfortunate demise which has resulted in cities like Minneapolis, where the incident took place, looking like a heavily bombed war zone in a distant third world country. This was reflected in other US cities like Portland.

The UK has also been engaged in hysteria over its supposed crimes of racism despite having nothing to do with what happened to Mr. Floyd.  Certain historical people with links to the slave trade and the British Empire have been attacked and vilified even though both of these things have not existed for over a hundred years. In cities like London, even the statues of widely revered figures like Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln have not been spared defacement by angry mobs whose own understanding of history is probably limited. In what the journalist Rod Liddle might call ‘peak wank’, the street sign of Penny Lane in Liverpool was sprayed with graffiti because some activists incorrectly assumed it was named after James Penny, an 18th Century merchant who lived in Liverpool and was involved in the slave trade. The hysteria was initiated in Bristol by the pulling down of a statue of Edward Colston, another merchant involved in the slave trade, which was subsequently dumped into the nearby river. Admittedly, I had never heard of Edward Colston until the incident involving his statue took place but there was no democratic mandate for the statue to be taken down. Frank Furedi in an excellent article for spiked noted:  “the pulling down of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol confirms that anti-racist protest has become meshed with an outburst of mass psychosis. What was really disturbing was not the actual tearing down of the statue but what happened afterwards. The statue was dragged through some streets before being thrown in the river. It was almost as if what was being dragged was a person rather than a statue.”

Since Britain has been for most of its history a predominantly white populated country it’s not surprising that many people, whether they had power or not, held prejudiced attitudes towards other races and so discriminated against them. However, to say that people today have the same attitudes would be ridiculous. Rather than recognising that slavery has been prevalent throughout human history, that every race of people has been slaves at one time or another and that the British Empire was one of the first to end it, people are instead told that Western countries like the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia are places of exploitation and white privilege. The constant portrayal of the British Empire as an evil organisation has intensified and white people – particularly straight white men – are showered with shame for their ancestors’ involvement in it by BLM and its supporters. As Peter Hitchens noted in one of his columns: “Sometimes I think the radical Left are more nostalgic for the British Empire than any retired Indian Army colonel ever was. They need it, to hate it.”

Businesses such as Ben and Jerry’s, Nike, H&M, Amazon amongst others have responded to the current climate by supporting BLM in the hope of getting the appeal of the ‘woke’ market and possibly because they fear being called racist for not saying anything. In one bizarre incident, Yorkshire Tea came out in support of BLM on Twitter after Yorkshirewoman Laura Towler of the group Patriotic Alternative had commended them for their initial silence on the subject. Virtue signalling in this way may make a lot of people feel good about themselves but it doesn’t address any of the problems that BLM claims to want to solve. Genuine problems facing many black communities such as family breakdown, gang violence and fatherlessness are never addressed as this would mean looking beyond the so-called problem of ‘institutionalised racism’. Also, the more radical desires of BLM such as defunding the police and wanting, in their own (now removed) words, to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another” are never mentioned in the mainstream media.

Moreover, despite the apparent rampant discrimination against black people, what is rarely discussed in public is the fact that white working class boys are now the worse performing group in terms of education in the UK which inevitably will affect their future prospects. Charles Murray has similarly detailed the dividing fortunes of the white population in the USA in his book Coming Apart which shows the emergence of an increasing white underclass.  The problems plaguing these communities are similar to those seen in many black communities of family breakdown and drug abuse. It is also not the case that black people have some kind of hive mind and think and feel the same way about all of this. In the UK, the rapper Zuby has spoken out against the hysteria over racism and I was pleasantly surprised to hear him once on BBC Radio 5 Live criticise the idea that there was ‘institutionalised racism’ in the country which the presenter was clearly surprised about.

What has been lost in this obsession with BLM and ‘institutionalised racism’ is the actual circumstances of George Floyd’s death. Like in almost every event, the facts and details of what happened are somewhat different to what most people perceive them to be. Many people probably assume for example that George Floyd was a victim of police brutality and that he choked to death because of the police officer kneeling on him. Since this has become the ‘founding myth’ of BLM in its current form, it’s important to analyse what actually happened in Minneapolis on 25th May 2020 in order to fully consider the narrative that has been put forward and its consequences.

The facts of George Floyd’s death, according to Wikipedia, are the following:

1. Floyd purchased cigarettes at a grocery store around 08:00pm.

2. A store employee believed Floyd had paid with a counterfeit $20 bill.

3. Two employees left the store and crossed the street to an SUV which Floyd was sitting in and demanded that Floyd return the cigarettes but he refused – this was captured on a security camera.

4. A store employee called the police and said that Floyd had passed “fake bills” and was “awfully drunk” and “not in control of himself”.

5. Police officers James Kueng and Thomas Lane arrived at 08:08pm and went in the store and then to Floyd’s SUV.

6. Lane tapped the window of the SUV with his flashlight to get Floyd’s attention and told Floyd to show his hands. He tapped again when Floyd did not obey. Floyd apologised and opened the car door. After asking three times for Floyd to show his hands Lane drew his gun and ordered Floyd to show his hands. Lane put his gun away when Floyd complied.

7. Someone parked behind the SUV started recording a video at 08:10pm. Following a brief struggle Lane pulled Floyd from the SUV and handcuffed him.

8. At 08:12pm Kueng sat Floyd on the sidewalk against the wall in front of the restuarant. Floyd was asked if he was “on something” and he said no. Keung told Floyd that he was acting “real erratic” and asked him about foam around his mouth. Floyd responded that he was ‘hooping’ earlier. Floyd was calm and said thank you according to criminal prosecutors.

9. At 08:13pm Floyd was told he was under arrest and walked to the police car across the street. Floyd fell to the ground next to the car. The officers picked him up and placed him against the police car door. Floyd said he was claustrophobic and not resisting arrest. Kueng and Lane attempted to put Floyd in the car but he said he couldn’t breathe. Lane said that Floyd was bleeding from his mouth because of thrashing back and forth when in the back of the car and hitting his face on the glass separating the front and back seats.

10. Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao arrived at 08:17pm and joined Kueng and Lane. Chauvin assumed command.

11. Floyd told the officers he could not breathe when he was forced into the police car. Kueng was struggling with Floyd for at least a minute.

12. Chauvin pulled Floyd across the backseat from the driver side to the passenger side then out of the car. Floyd fell to the pavement and laid on his chest with his cheek to the ground. He was still handcuffed. He was conscious but stopped moving.

13. Three of the police officers restrained Floyd by applying pressure on him. Lane was applying pressure on Floyd’s legs, Kueng on his torso and Chauvin on his neck. Thao stood nearby.

14. Floyd stopped moving around 08:20pm and said “I can’t breathe!” “Please!” “Mama!” Lane asked for an ambulance for “one bleeding from the mouth”.

15. Floyd repeats 16 times that he can’t breathe. A witness said: “You got him down. Let him breathe.” Floyd said: “I’m about to die” and Chauvin said “Relax”. An officer asked Floyd: “What do you want?” and Floyd responds “I can’t breathe” and “please, the knee in my neck, I can’t breathe.”

16. Around 08:22pm an officer called for an ambulance on a non-emergency basis which was turned to an emergency a minute later. Chauvin’s knee was still on Floyd’s neck. A passerby said to Floyd: “Well, get up, get in the car, man.” and Floyd responded “I can’t” with Chauvin’s knee still on his neck. Floyd cried out “Mama!” twice then said: “My stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts” and requested water then said “don’t kill me”.

17. One witness pointed out that Floyd was bleeding out of his nose and another witness told officers Floyd was “not even resisting arrest right now.” Thao said Floyd was fine because he was talking. The witness responded that he wasn’t fine and told the officers to get Floyd off the ground and into the police car. He also said that they were enjoying it because of their body language.

18. By 08:25pm Floyd appeared unconscious and bystanders confronted the officers about his condition.

19. An ambulance arrived at 08:27pm. Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost a minute after the ambulance arrived despite Floyd being silent and motionless. Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for 7 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd was put onto a stretcher and put in the ambulance.

20. The ambulance requested assistance from the Minneapolis Fire Department. The firefighters arrived at the store at 08:32 but were apparently not given clear information on Floyd’s location which delayed them getting to the ambulance. Floyd went into cardiac arrest and when fire department medics reached him he was unresponsive and pulseless.

21. Floyd was pronounced dead at 09:25pm in the Hennepin County Medical Center emergency room. In the first autopsy, Floyd was found to have heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use but it was concluded that his death was due to “a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained.”  However, a second autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family concluded that he died from “asphyxia due to neck and back compression” with apparently no underlying health problem contributing to it. This autopsy did not include a toxicology report or samples from Floyd’s body.

When I first heard about this incident, I saw the video showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck which was recorded by a witness standing on the other side of the police car from where the restraint was taking place. Only Floyd and Chauvin can be seen and someone can be heard saying “You’re enjoying it” etc. to Chauvin which strengthens the idea that the video is depicting police brutality. This is likely the video that was seen by many other people as well. Since I started writing this, another video was leaked showing the body cams of both Keung and Lane that recorded the incident from the officers’ point of view. The video starts from when the officers approached Floyd in his SUV and ends with his restraint beside the police car before his unconscious body was loaded into an ambulance. The events described in the Wikipedia article more or less match up with what happens on the video.

The officer who speaks to Floyd is a little forceful towards him at the beginning of the video but it isn’t clear if they had interacted beforehand or not. While Floyd initially appears calm, he starts crying and telling the police officer not to shoot him. The officer and the woman sat next to Floyd tell him to stop resisting. Once Floyd gets out of his car and is taken to the police car he is sat against the wall as indicated in the Wikipedia article and says thank you whilst still crying. Floyd claims to be claustrophobic which is why he is reluctant to get into the police car. Floyd says he’s “not that kind of guy” to use counterfeit dollar bills and can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” before he is restrained on the ground by the officers. At certain points he said he just had Covid-19. Floyd starts screaming and talking fast whilst he is saying he can’t breathe. The officers eventually restrain Floyd on the ground and tell him to stop moving while Floyd says “please let me stand”.  Before he goes to the ground he can be heard saying “I’m gonna lay on the ground” and “I’m going down”. When Floyd was on the ground he seemed to be slurring his words like “I can bleethe”. People on the street talk to Floyd and tell him to stop resisting. One of the officers asks if Floyd is on PCP. When Floyd is on the ground in restraint he cries out “Mama” and “Mama I love you” a few times then starts breathing heavily before going quiet and still. The police keep Floyd in this restrained position for several minutes after he had stopped moving and talking before he is placed in the ambulance.

After watching the whole video, it’s clear to me that Floyd was acting distressed and incoherent so the response by the police officers was not altogether surprising. Floyd at several points starts crying, screaming, talking very quickly and generally looks erratic indicating he had, as the first autopsy indicated, recently used fentanyl and methamphetamine. This behaviour might also have been because he was going into cardiac arrest. How much been restrained on the ground by the police officers contributed to his death is hard to tell because it is not obvious how much pressure they were applying to Floyd’s body and if they were obstructing his breathing. However, I don’t believe the police officers’ restraint of Floyd was the primary cause of his death because before he was restrained, Floyd was saying he couldn’t breathe and when he was held on the ground his breathing was heavy rather than restricted. The cause of death stated in the first autopsy appears to me to be more truthful than the second one.

Probably the biggest mistake made by the police officers here though was to keep Floyd restrained in the same position long after he became motionless. If they had changed their position, let him go or tried to get him up after he had appeared to lose consciousness the outcome may have been different. Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether or not Floyd would have survived regardless of how the police were restraining him but it may have prevented Floyd’s death from having the impact that it has had. Floyd been in restraint even while he stopped talking and struggling seems to be where the trouble started. The first video of the incident and the man saying “Look at you, you’re enjoying it..” starts around this point and likely what fuelled the outrage. From my own admittedly amateur point of view, I can understand why Floyd was put in restraint but also believe he should have been taken out of it once he stopped moving.

Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck seem, to me at least, unnecessary given that Floyd was already being restrained by Keung and Lane and Floyd stopped struggling with the officers. Floyd appeared to be in some distress likely caused by the drugs detected in his body after his death so it makes sense that the police would try to restrain him. A more drastic form of restraint might have been required had Floyd posed a threat to other people but this does not appear to be the case. If Floyd was saying he couldn’t breathe while he was being restrained then this should have prompted Chauvin to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck.  I used to work in a health care setting where restraining people was sometimes required and we were taught about ‘reasonable force’. This is force that can be used on somebody which has to meet two requirements: that it is necessary and proportional. In other words, restraining Floyd may have been necessary but the kneeling was not proportional to the threat posed by him.

The image of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd is probably the main reason why George Floyd’s death has had so much impact. While it’s hard to tell how much force Chauvin was using, the wide-eyed look on Floyd’s face on one of the photographs that circulated following the incident – such as the one shown on the Wikipedia article – gives the impression that he is being choked on the ground by Chauvin. Somebody I showed the photo to also made the mistake of thinking Floyd was trapped underneath the police car when in fact he was beside it. It’s possible other people came to the same conclusion which adds to the alarming image.  Chauvin been a white man and Floyd been black did not help matters either. Had it being Tou Thao, who is Hmong-American, or Keung, who identifies as African-American, that had knelt on Floyd’s neck instead of Derek Chauvin the incident may not have had the impact that it did. This also raises the question whether or not this unfortunate episode was racially motivated since only two of the four police officers involved, Lane and Chauvin, are white. Interestingly, Chauvin and Floyd once worked overlapping shifts as security guards for a nightclub but the club’s former owner was unsure to what extent they knew each other.

Accusations of police brutality were reinforced when it was discovered that both Chauvin and Thao had incidents in the past of potential misdemeanours with Thao also having a lawsuit filed against him and another officer for apparently using ‘unreasonable force’ during an arrest in 2017. Thao was not involved in George Floyd’s restraint but he was cooperating with his fellow officers and said “say no to drugs” when George Floyd was saying he can’t breathe and witnesses were protesting. However, there have been no accusations of ‘Hmong/Asian-American racism against black people’ like there has been with white people. While you could argue that the actions of the police officers was excessive and disproportionate to the threat posed by Mr. Floyd, there is no evidence that racist slurs or prejudiced attitudes were expressed towards him. Unjustified police brutality against black people may be an issue in some cases but applying it to every case does not help deal with the problem or rebuild trust between the police and the communities they serve.

There are good and bad people in every profession and the police are no exception. There are no doubt people in positions of power in the police force that are not suited to the role but there will be highly competent and professional officers within these organisations as well. Since there are dangerous criminals and thugs among us, there needs to be people who are willing and able to maintain order and stability and people who will support them in doing so. It’s worth considering that the kind of people who would find police work appealing are also the kind of people who may enjoy conflict and the opportunity to restrain somebody.  Inevitably, this allows controversial situations such as the George Floyd incident to occur. However, it is overall a good thing that such people exist as there is plenty of crime and disorder around which needs to be dealt with but this can obviously go too far. 

It is hard to see what good will come out of the response to George Floyd’s death. Will relations between black and white people improve after this? It would appear not as white people are now reduced to constantly genuflecting to black people in apology and organisations like BLM can now make more and more demands on black people’s behalf. This submissive attitude however is futile as no matter how far people, companies, organisations and institutions grovel to these groups, it will not be enough as their real animosity is towards Western civilisation as a whole. While I am wary of using the term ‘far right’ or ‘white supremacy’, the consequences of presenting white people as racist oppressors and black people as their victims will push more people into exploring these ideas as a way of asserting their identity. That being said, it would be a good thing if white people as a group had a positive identity instead of always being viewed negatively.

Whether or not the police’s reaction would have been different if George Floyd had been white is an impossible one to answer but the aftermath of Floyd’s death has probably made race relations worse rather than better as many black and white people will continue to resent each other. Although BLM claims to want to help black people, its main purpose seems to be to keep them in a state of victimhood whereby their circumstances do not improve. That way many black people will continue to dislike and distrust white people and Western civilisation.

Since most Western countries have embraced the thinking of BLM, it doesn’t look like this attitude is going to change any time soon. If BLM’s demands become more excessive and extreme, many countries in the West could be heading into a race to the bottom in terms of overall decline.

Laura Bates takes on the manosphere

A new book has just been released which claims to take us through the world of the manosphere and men’s rights activism. The book has been written by Laura Bates, the founder of Everyday Sexism, a project which, according to her description on Amazon, is “an ever-increasing collection of over 100,000 testimonies of gender inequality, with branches in 25 countries worldwide.” This project allows men and women – but mainly women – an opportunity to complain about any grievance that they have faced which they believe to be because of sexism. In her new book, titled Men Who Hate Women, Laura Bates argues that there are hidden online groups of misogynistic men that threaten to explode into the public.

If the premise of this book fills you with a sense of dread and foreboding, it’s worth noting  that Ms. Bates’ other works include a book which shares the title of her platform, Everyday Sexism, as well as Girl Up and Misogynation, the latter of which has the subheading: ‘the true scale of sexism’. In other words, Laura Bates may have a particular viewpoint which colours her perception of those who object to feminism and activists like herself.

I was partly tempted to buy the Kindle version of this book to see how the ‘manosphere’ is perceived from a more mainstream or outsider perspective. While I knew it would be more or less a smear campaign, it is interesting to see how people unfamiliar with the subject would react to it. In the end, it was not worth paying money and spending time on something that I knew I would not agree with. Also, some of the money would have gone to Laura Bates so anything I could say to criticise her or her book would have been futile.

A short extract of the book is available to read on Amazon where the book can be bought as well as an audio sample of Bates (I think) reading her masterpiece out loud. While I can’t write a review of a book I haven’t read all the way through, I can comment on the part of the book I have read and give my thoughts on it.

Bates introduces the book by asking the reader to imagine a world where “tens of thousands of women are raped, beaten, mutilated, abused or murdered every year, because of the simple fact that they are women”. She also asks us to imagine “a world in which thousands of men band together, united by a common code of vitriolic rage” directed towards women. In case you haven’t guessed it, it turns out you don’t have to imagine – this world exists, it’s our world! I’m not trying to make light of female suffering or deny that there are men who do very bad things towards women, but it appears that Bates believes this is not something that most people are aware of. In reality, all humans regardless of their sex suffer in some way or another and there are plenty of women who have ‘vitriolic rage’ against men.

Interestingly, the book has been published by Simon and Schuster which is not exactly an obscure publishing company. If the suffering and concerns of women wasn’t taken seriously by the elites of society as Laura Bates suggests, how could this book exist in the first place? Would this same company publish a book with the title Women Who Hate Men which responded to Bates’ claims? The answer is probably not.

Bates next makes an odd claim: “we don’t like to risk offending men” – well if you say so, Laura. We’re more comfortable making jokes at the expense of men than we are of women for one thing. She also claims “We do not, as a rule, talk about male perpetrators of violence against women. We describe a woman as having been raped; we discuss the rates of women sexually assaulted or beaten. We do not speak in terms of men committing rape or being sexual assaulters and violent abusers.” Has Laura Bates read any other feminists? What about all the talk about ‘toxic masculinity’?  Bates has something to say about that as well: “Those who speak of’toxic masculinity’ are not criticising men, but rather defending them: describing an ideology and a system that pressures the boys and men in our societies, in our families to conform to unrealistic, unhealthy and unsustainable ideals.” This is the classic ‘patriarchy hurts men too’ argument, stating any problems that men have are not the result of feminism – which presumably helps men by calling them privileged oppressors – but from how societies have been organised which paradoxically benefits men as well.

There is more standard feminist fare: “Crushing gender stereotypes are damaging to men as individuals, as well as to the society in which they live.” How does Laura Bates know that? Maybe many men are comfortable with their masculinity. Maybe men who do damage to society are at fault not because of their masculinity, but because of other things like mental illness. Maybe misogynists do exist and maybe these men who really do hate women exist because of how feminism has portrayed men over the past few decades. Bates would no doubt consider that last suggestion to be an example of victim blaming. Feminists like Laura Bates think this way about men because they’ve concluded that masculinity is a bad thing and therefore it’s impossible for a man to be both masculine and a good person. You may be surprised to hear that Bates is married to a man – her husband presumably has to keep whatever masculinity he has to himself.

Bates goes on: “the real threat comes from the very forms of rigid ‘manhood’ their so-called saviours are desperate to preserve and promote.” What exactly are these ‘rigid’ forms of manhood are not elabatorated by Bates.  Predictably, Laura Bates supports a men’s movement that accepts the feminist viewpoint that women have historically been oppressed and that wants to cure men. This has been apparently: “threatened and overshadowed by other, hateful male movements.” If Bates was really concerned about issues affecting men, she would be willing to explore ways in which the feminist movement has worked against men or take some of the frustrations she observes from men seriously. For this to happen though she would have to question her own world view.

She later gives the reader a description of the apparent abuse she’s received online: “men have sent me daily messages, often in their hundreds, outlining their hatred of me, fantasising about my brutal rape and murder, detailing which weapons they would use to slice my body open and disembowel me…” Perhaps courting our sympathy, Bates asks: “Why are these men so angry? Why do they hate me so much?” Would it be incredibly harsh to consider that Bates may like the idea of being a victim? The amount of detail she goes into suggests that Bates has thought quite vividly about it. Of course, I don’t condone any threats of violence against anybody and if Bates was ever in any danger I would condemn it. However, while there are many genuine victims of violent crime there are also people who want to be seen as victims in order to garner attention and sympathy from others. To suggest that such people exist however, is now a sign you’re a heartless person. Bates continues to describe the threats she’s faced which include somebody describing “using my hair as handlebars and raping me until I die”. These are all unpleasant examples of online abuse if they are true, but Bates could have simply stated she’s received abuse without giving so many graphic examples.  Unless of course she wanted the give the impression that hordes of men are lurking in the dark ready to pounce on her at any moment. We could take Bates’ claims more seriously if she had described experiences of stalking by men or serious threats to her that warranted the police getting involved. It’s not that online abuse is harmless, but many people, whether they are men or women, have experienced it. Does Bates think that the abuse she’s received from online trolls is far worse than that targeted towards other people in the public eye? Maybe.

Bates tells us she has spoken to many schools across the UK over the years about sexism and makes an interesting observation: “over the past two years, boys’ responses started changing. They were angry, resistant to the very idea of a conversation about sexism. Men themselves were the real victims…” If true, this might indicate a backlash to the current state of feminist overrule and younger people attacking the conventional wisdom of female victimisation. There may be hope in the future yet. Laura Bates may be worried that the jig is up: she’s made a comfortable career talking about how bad things are for women and their status as victims of society that now may increasingly fall on deaf ears. Who will buy her wonderful books then? Will people stop listening to her and all of the insightful things she has to say? Judging by the attention this book has received from the mainstream media, she has nothing to fear at the moment.

Following the introduction, Bates describes the world of involuntary celibates or ‘Incels’ in the first chapter. Incels are defined in this book as “the most violent corner of the so-called manosphere. It is a community devoted to violent hatred of women.” Basically, it is a group of men who for whatever reason cannot get relationship and/or sexual satisfaction from women and so express anger and hate towards them.  Although I’ve followed men’s issues for a number of years, I’ve never read or encountered anyone who identifies themselves with this label which makes me wonder how big of a problem they really are. We are told that “over 100 people, mostly women, have been murdered or injured in the past ten years” in the name of Incels. Elliot Rodger, who murdered six people (four of whom were men), was said to have been an Incel because one of his motivations for killing was rejection by women. The implication here of course it that anybody associated with the manosphere is directly or indirectly linked to people like Rodger. Whether you are interested in men’s issues or not, we can surely all agree Rodger was a loser and be appalled by his actions.

Bates reveals that she explored an Incel forum under the guise of a lonely young man called Alex. Under this name, Bates imagines what Alex would think upon learning that men were discriminated against: “he’d pictured himself as an underwhelming, very average man. But now he realised that he was a survivor. Part of a team of underdogs, fighting evil forces against the odds. Alex could be a wronged, avenging hero”. The metaphor of the  ‘red pill’ from the Matrix movies is mentioned here which is used to describe the change in perception that a lot of people experience when they become interested in the manosphere but it can be applied to other political topics as well. Bates argues that the red pill metaphor “is immediately attractive to those with any kind of grudge or grievance. Lost your job? What could be more appealing than a whole new worldview in which isn’t your fault” – Laura and Alex may be more alike than she would like to think.

Bates does concede that not all of the manosphere is extreme: “this sprawling web of communities encompasses well-meaning groups that tackle genuine problems affecting men, not just groups deliberately and systematically promoting physical and sexual violence against women. Its adherents range from naive teenagers to advocates of rape, vulnerable recluses to violent misogynists, non-violent ideologues to grieving fathers,” etc. etc. That a similar observation could be made towards feminism is again not something contemplated here. Since the manosphere is such a diverse and sprawling group, should all groups within it be tarred with the same brush? Is this blog post part of the manosphere? Despite being a nobody whose blog has only been viewed by a handful of people I’ve written about MGTOWs and mentioned other anti-feminist figures. I’m also critical of feminism even though I don’t consider myself to be an Incel, pick-up artist, MRA or MGTOW. Furthermore, I’ve never harmed any women and I have no desire to. The fact that some men who use one or more of those labels will be extremist or mentally unstable does not mean that there aren’t legitimate reasons for men to be angry about how they are treated by society and individual women. Should a book that explored feminism mention Valerie Solanas – the publisher of the SCUM Manifesto who once shot the artist Andy Warhol – and conclude that it’s a hateful extremist movement?

Inevitably, there is a connection made between the manosphere and the alt-right and ultimately Donald Trump, the usual boogie-men of SJWs and woke people: “Much has been written about the alt-right, and particularly its links to the rise of Donald Trump. But the deeply misogynistic beliefs that run through the movement, and their role in many of its foundational tenets, often go overlooked and unreported.” By now you probably get the gist of the book. The extract provided doesn’t include the chapters that explore Men’s Rights Activists and Men Going Their Own Way but Laura Bates probably has a lot of fascinating things to say about them as well.

There is the potential for an interesting, objective book to be written about the manosphere by somebody in the mainstream media who has no particular affiliation with feminism or men’s rights but has explored identity politics before (someone like Douglas Murray for example) not unlike Cassie Jaye’s documentary The Red Pill. Unfortunately, although this book will probably shape many people’s view of the manosphere, for people immune to feminist propaganda this is probably only useful to get an insight into how modern feminists think.

Happy Retirement, Bernard Chapin!

I’ve noticed that of all the things I’ve written on here, my review of Bernard Chapin’s book SJWs Attack has received the most attention – which on this blog amounts to a humongous two people commenting! There seems to be a few guys who have searched Bernard’s name wondering where he’s gone and stumbled upon that post accidentally.  A lot of people obviously wonder what happened to Bernard after he stopped creating online content.

I don’t know Bernard personally and I’m not his official spokesman or anything but I thought it would be helpful if I shared what I know about what’s happened to him. Bernard continued his YouTube channel until the latter half of 2019 when he decided to delete it. I’ve found a post he originally put on SoundCloud a few days after he ended the channel where he talks about why he did it which can be listened to here. He continued his SoundCloud posts until the end of 2019 and then decided to delete that too after not being able to get a large enough audience. He often talked about being ‘in retirement’ from YouTube and content creating.

Recently, he’s deleted his Twitter account as well possibly in response to all the craziness that’s happening at the moment. I think Bernard’s got to a point in his life where he doesn’t want to deal with the potential drama that can befall people who create online content, particularly of the political incorrect kind. His real passions were always reading and writing which increasingly, it seems, are not things that appeal to many people.

I don’t know if Bernard has stopped writing as well but if he has and he never has an online presence again I will always be grateful for everything he’s done in helping to shape my view of the world.

If you’re interested in reading Bernard’s books, they can be purchased on Amazon.

Against Equality

The political obsession of modern times is that of equality – whether it is gender equality, racial equality, economic equality, LGBT equality – every equality you can imagine is the desired end goal of many politicians and activists. This is evident in the lengths organisations and political parties go to appeal to the designated victims groups of women, gay people and ethnic minorities regardless of if other groups object to what could be viewed as preferential (and therefore unequal) treatment. While this fanaticism for equal outcomes in an infinite number of ways is much more prevalent on the political Left, many people on the political Right also claim to believe in equality or, as it is often defined, ‘equality of opportunity’. This could be described as ‘meritocracy’ – i. e. people being provided with the opportunity to reach prominent positions of society on the basis of merit alone and ignoring their race, sex or sexuality. This is a commendable idea in many ways but it is debatable if societies could organise themselves on merit alone and abandon its fixaton on identity groups. The conflict between the desires of equality of outcome vs. equality of opportunity is the main talking point of modern politics but it is likely that a more fundamental distinction between the two opposing views is required in order to combat the increasing dominance of SJW thinking.

I’ve come to believe that the only appropriate response to combat the religion of equality of outcome is to reject the idea of equality in the first place. The fact of the matter is that people do not just differentiate as groups but as individuals as well. Therefore it should come as no surprise that there are disparities between certain groups of people. There will always be some people who are smarter, wealthier, healthier and more successful than other people and no amount of intervention can prevent that. The attempts by people to construct an equal society have always resulted in failure. Countries that embraced Communism to create a supposedly equal society ended in corruption, oppression and mass deaths and, crucially, created a ruling elite that was unequally privileged over the rest of society. It is far better for people to accept that equality is not possible at least in the ways that it is often pursued. Instead of having an idealistic view of what can be achieved it is better to be realistic about what is possible. The political divide could be viewed then as not between two ideas of equality but between realism and idealism.

The objective to achieve total equality is inevitably flawed because inequality can occur even when equality is stipulated. An example to illustrate this to imagine somebody setting up a course that would teach people IT or engineering skills which would help them find a job in a STEM field. The course would make clear that both men and women are equally welcome to take the course possibly with the hope that there would be a substantial number of women participating or at least a 50:50 split with men. A predictable outcome would be that many more men sign up to the course than women resulting in the women present being a noticeable minority. Therefore the gender balance of the course would be unequal despite the equal opportunity granted to both sexes. The inequality in this scenario is not an unfair one though as nobody had prevented women from participating in the course.

Moreover, inequality may not be a bad thing if one kind of inequality replaces another kind that was worse. Imagine a brand new technology is invented that is only affordable to the very rich. The technology could be something that brings many benefits and revolutionises how people live their lives. The outcome of course would be an inequality created between those that have the technology and those without it. Eventually new versions of the same technology develop that perhaps improve on whatever faults the initial version had. Sometime later the technology improves even further so that the original (albeit inferior) version becomes affordable to even the least wealthy and prosperous. The inequality would not have disappeared but changed from those that have or don’t have the technology to those with the latest superior version and those with the inferior one. A large inequality is replaced by a smaller one which is at least better for the disadvantaged group. No doubt this inequality would still make some people angry despite the circumstances of the less fortunate group improving gradually over time. A progression like this is reflected in history with inventions such as the telephone or television. These were originally only accessible to a minority of people but over time the majority would possess both of these devices. The advent of colour television and the mobile phone created others kinds of inequality between rich and poor but these too were followed by other inequalities which were less extreme – satellite television, HD television, smart phones etc. Nevertheless, an equality of sorts has been achieved as in the present day almost everybody has access to a television or mobile phone.

Of course, some aspects of equality do underpin the rule of law and how we treat others as the notion that all people are created equal, every person has the right to a fair trial and the rule of innocence until proven guilty indicate. This could be argued to be a matter of fairness and justice rather than equality though. In fact, an article in The Guardian of all places pointed out that most people value fairness over equality. Affirmative action is one area where fairness and equality diverge because people who belong to a certain demographic – e.g. black, woman, gay may be promoted on that basis alone regardless of if they are competent or not. These groups additionally are given special attention and any problem they may have is attributed to being society’s attitude towards them. People in the so-called ‘privileged’ category – heterosexual white men – do not get any special treatment or consideration and may in fact be punished for being of this group. Therefore, the drive for equality here leads to a lot of unfairness.

One argument against those who oppose society’s fixation on equality is that it is suitable for those who are more privileged to state that inequality is a fact of life as they benefit from it while the disadvantaged suffer. Similarly, too much inequality can create division and resentment which contributes to an unstable society. That people can be complacent about stark inequalities might be true but the problem still remains that there are an infinite number of ways for individuals to be unequal to each other and an infinite number of ways for resentment to emerge because of it. As I stated before, inequalities might not be static but can change so they become less of a problem. For larger inequalities such as great disparities in wealth which can create a societal division and distrust it is sensible to try to alleviate it in some way to avoid conflict. However, a better solution than using the state to intervene would be to encourage a culture whereby people will help those in need.

The question then should not be how to make societies more ‘equal’ but to accept that inequality is a fact of life and instead look at what actions can be taken to make inequalities between groups less extreme to maintain stability. However, this is again a question of fairness rather than one of equality.

The National Religion

I consider myself to be Agnostic (or, if you like, a fence-sitter) when it comes to things like religious belief: I don’t have a strong conviction towards any particular religion but at the same time don’t think that the world would be better off if religions no longer existed. People who believe that religion is the source of all human misery probably have a naïve understanding of human nature because if we weren’t killing each other over religion we’d be killing ourselves over something else. Also, the anti-religious Communist countries were not exactly Gardens of Eden where peace and brotherhood reigned supreme and arguably the belief in its cause, despite the evidence of its failings, was a religious one. 

Since I grew up in a historically Christian country I has some affinity towards Christianity more than any other religion and I have a lot of respect for the teachings and messages of the Bible. Furthermore, the influence of Christianity on the Western World from its laws, customs and language cannot be easily dismissed even though many countries in the West are now mostly secular. The human need to believe in something has not gone away with the decline of religion and many people have suggested our obsession with identity politics has come about because of the vacuum left by the decline of religious belief.

In the UK, institutions like the National Health Service (NHS) have a following that matches the devotion people once had for the Church and this was evident to me recently when there was a public show of applause for the NHS in response to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and the work of medical staff in managing it. People took to the streets to register their love for the NHS and those  on Twitter from both sides of the political spectrum spoke of being filled with emotion at the sight of people clapping and cheering for ‘our NHS’. In an article for Country Squire website, James Bembridge describes the religious undertones of this: “People were expected to practice this worship from home but open the windows so that others may hear, like some perverse call to prayer.” Bembridge goes on to write: “By all means praise the workers, but why extend that to the whole of the NHS? We are perhaps the only democracy that regards a government institution with this quasi-divine reverence.”

At the time I write this the UK, along with many other countries, is in lockdown to try and slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The police have been given more powers to restrict people’s movement and, in the case of Derbyshire police, even spy on people outside via drones. The Country Squire article also describes how the increase in the State and curbs on freedom in response to the virus have been widely accepted and how the small number of people who have questioned the government’s response and the severity of the virus have been condemned for taking an opposing point of view. Journalist Peter Hitchens is one of those who has spoken out against the rapid increase of government control to tackle the virus and a recent article he wrote in the Mail on Sunday resulted in Hitchens being mobbed on Twitter. Such a response, similar to that seen by people who preach identity politics, is reflective of the way those who questioned dogmatic and fanatically religious belief were labelled as ‘heretics’ in the past.

I’m no expert on viruses so I don’t know how dangerous the current outbreak of coronavirus is or will be but I am sceptical about the worship of national institutions like the NHS regardless of all the hard working staff who undoubtedly have done their best to treat patients with the virus. Moreover, I’m sceptical of many people’s desire to increase the size of the state to deal with the crisis. In his article Hitchens writes: “I despair that so many in the commentariat  and politics obediently accept what they are being told. I have lived long enough, and travelled far enough, to know that authority is often wrong and cannot always be trusted.” When a similar pandemic occurs in the future, regardless of if the future virus is more or less deadly than Covid-19, governments will be eager to adopt similar powers again.

It’s possible that when the Covid-19 crisis finally passes those who questioned the response towards it will face more abuse and ridicule and the NHS may take the form of a national religion to an even greater degree. If the virus is not as terrible as it is been portrayed than hopefully more people will question the government instead of making it into a national religion as well.