Saturday, March 21, 2009

Facebook Protestant Award

Last week, as I was recovering from surgery, I remarked a particularly happy milestone with this status update on Facebook:

"[Gruntled] says no painkillers + coffee = clearer head, better work ethic"

To which a very Catholic friend replied:

"if that fb update were to enter a contest for the most protestant update ever, it would win."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Men's and Women's Different Sexual Peaks Not a Tragedy, But a Complement

In class I mentioned the well-known stereotype that men reach their sexual peak in their early 20s, whereas women reach their sexual peak in their mid-30s. Afterwards I realized that I did not really know the research behind this claim, nor what, exactly, "sexual peak" means.

Alicia Barr, Angela Bryan, and Douglas Kenrick did research at Arizona State on whether people think men peak in their early 20s and women in their mid-30s. They do. And what most people seem to have in mind for "peak" is a little different for men and women. For men, sexual peak means their peak of desire; for women, their peak of satisfaction. When they asked when men and women peaked in sexual desire, satisfaction, and frequency (of intercourse), men were still thought to peak earlier than women on each dimension, though they were pretty close together, of necessity, on frequency.

Alfred Kinsey's plaint that this difference was a tragedy. Some have even suggested that it would be good to change our mating system to bring older women together with younger men, matching peak to peak. This is what might called the "cougar strategy."

Barr and colleagues, though, speculated on why this difference might have evolved. Men prefer young women who are at their most fertile. Women favor older men when they have the most resources. Different sexual peaks would counteract these opposing desires with a balancing sexual motivation.

If young men with few resources most desire young women, they will compete harder for them, wooing them with ambition and commitment. The young women, prudently, are not so swayed by sexual desire that they do not choose wisely among their suitors. If women in their mid-30s, by contrast, are heading to the end of their childbearing years just as their male counterparts -- their husbands, for most women -- are becoming most successful, they will compete better to hold their mate's attraction with more satisfying sex. For both men and women, the shifting balance of passion and prudence across the childbearing years strengthens marriage.

Contrasting sexual peaks is an instance of the marvelous complementarity of marriage.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Making Marriage Ordinary is the Best Role Model of All

Merlene Davis writes a column for the Lexington, KY Herald-Leader. She writes homey, sensible pieces about her husband and children, jobs and schools, their local neighborhood, and sometimes about larger issues. Most papers have a middle-aged mom writing a similar column. I like her column and read it regularly. Davis is black, so often takes an explicitly African-American take on these universal themes.

In today's column Davis has a nice piece about the quiet 25th anniversary celebration she had with her husband recently. She notes that there are many public benefits to marriage. Communities in which marriages are the norm are safer, richer, happier, and more giving. Married people are richer and healthier, too. But the main reason she is married is because she loves her husband, and likes him, too. The feeling, she says, is mutual. The public benefits are gravy.

These micro and macro benefits of marriage are universally true. She says the Davises don't deserve any particular notice for making it to 25 years. Their parents and couples in that generation routinely enjoyed mariages twice that long and then some.

What struck me most in Merlene Davis' column was her modest assessment of how she contributed to the public good:

Through it all, I've never considered us to be examples for younger couples. We are rather run-of-the-mill. Most of our friends, black and white, are ancient, and most have been married much longer than we have.

Davis notes, though, that black America passed a tipping point in the past generation. Marriage is not the norm for most black Americans. This is not true of any other ethnic group. She praises the upcoming annual Black Marriage Day. She and her husband should be role models, encouraging young African-Americans, including their own children, to aim for marriage. And the best role modeling is to make a community where marriage is a normal, "run-of-the-mill" institution that regular people join in. For themselves and for the public good.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Gender Gap Only Matters If it Hurts Society as a Whole, Over Generations

There is a well-known gender gap in the average pay of men and women. Likewise, there is a gap in the proportion of men and women at the top of most occupations.

People whose main conviction is for equality look at the gender gap and see something bad because men and women aren't the same.

People whose main conviction is for liberty look at the gender gap and see something potentially good because men and women get to choose what they want.

Most of these gaps come from the differences between married fathers and married mothers. Married men respond to parenthood by working more and seeking more money, status, and power. Married women respond to parenthood by working less and trading money, status, and power for greater time to raise their children.

From the perspective of the good of society as a whole, both equality and liberty are means to a greater end. Neither equality nor liberty are ends in themselves. In order for there to be society at all, there have to be children. Having some educated women choose to have children and invest themselves in them is a good thing for society.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On Mental Fogginess

I have felt too mentally foggy since surgery last week to write the blog. Last night I stop taking painkillers. This morning I had caffeine for the first time in almost a week. I feel much clearer right now.

On the other hand, I thought several emails that I wrote over the past few days, including some written from the hospital, were competent -- until the recipients had to ask for clarification of some words that were clearly not the right ones. So I decided I better not try to grade until I could get external validation that my brain was truly up to speed.

When I told my father-in-law the above, he told me of a time he had twisted his back and was on serious pain medication for a week. He did his job through the week - but found afterwards he had no memory of anything he had done.

His conclusion was the punchline of my thought on this subject: "To think that some people take drugs on purpose." Amen.

I don't understand why people would want to have an altered consciousness. I am not talking about medicine that helps give you a normal, focused mind. I am talking about wanting to be high or drunk. I just don't get it.

In many ways I am a regular guy. (More ways than my family will assent to, I maintain). But I know from the long history of alcohol and high-inducing plants found in every culture I have ever heard of, that most people do like an escape (I guess) from this reality. And the well-off seem as likely to seek this escape as the miserable, at least in moderation. I don't condemn this. Jesus made wine - it can't be all bad. But in this particular I am an outlier, in the tail of the distribution.

I don't like to be mentally foggy. I like this reality, seen clearly.