Drunk people respect authority

Really interesting research by Laura Van Berkel shows that people who are drunk, tired, or suffering other types of cognitive impairment such as distraction or stress are more likely to be vulnerable to “those in charge” and when asked, affirm that “control or dominance over people or resources” is  a “guiding principle in your life.”  Equality is something a calm, leisurely person is more likely to support. We revert to hierarchy under cognitive stress.

According to a 2009 review, conservatives tend to support hierarchy andauthority more than liberals do. Van Berkel, working with Chris Crandall and other colleagues, found that, in terms of how the hundred and seven subjects interviewed outside the bar thought about hierarchy, drunk people gave more conservative responses while sober people gave more liberal ones. Over the next few years, she and her team ran five more experiments, exploring the relationship between mental effort and support for hierarchy. In each case, they found that cognitive impairments, such as being stressed or distracted, made people more likely to favor hierarchy. Even encouraging “low-effort thought”—by forcing respondents to think quickly, say—made people more respectful of those in charge.

There may be some sub-category of people for whom being drunk arouses their own need to dominate. We’ve all seen belligerent, brawling drunks domineering drunks and aggressive drunks. And people who are stressed at work are also more likely to do what the boss says. Equality, the article notes, may be a state of mind.


Further Reading

Also mentioned in the New Yorker article:
 Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior by Christopher Boehm. A 1999 book in which Boehm, an anthropologist theorizes egalitarianism is in effect a hierarchy in which the weak combine forces to dominate the strong. Domination does not disappear, it just gets distributed.

Youth sports are destructive to family life

Soccer KidsI was in a meeting the other day in which we went around the table and introduced ourselves to each other. We were meant to describe our personal, non-work lives, and some people named hobbies, or told about their recent vacations, but more than half of the people at the meeting said they were big readers, or enjoyed hang-gliding, but 60% or so said they were the chauffeur for their kids and their soccer obligations, and slave to their children’s sports schedules.

I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to invite friends with traditionally schooled children to do things spontaneously on weekends–picnic or go hiking on a beautiful day, go out for dinner. “Sorry, Tommy’s got baseball”. “Can’t today, Melanie’s soccer practice.” Fortunately homeschooled kids seem to do a lot less organized sport and seem less invested in conforming with suburban social expectations. If you live in the suburbs, participation in team sports seems to be all the social activity on offer.

What an astonishing loss of life. Is it worth it to lose all that time with family and friends? The losses are steep. In a post on Mom’s Team, a blog for “Sports Parents”, Jeannette Twomey lists the things her family has missed:

“Over the years, we saw one family activity after another bow its head to youth sports. Dinner at home, reading before bedtime, visits to grandma’s house, household chores, games in the backyard, picnics, weekend jaunts into the countryside, camping trips, school vacations – all casualties of the children’s sports schedule.”

The rest of the family generally bears the brunt of one kid’s involvement in sports. How much lost time together, how many things missed? It boggles the mind.

Generally team sports  are not lifelong sports. You don’t see 50 year old men playing soccer or hockey. Lifelong sports are things like skiing, tennis, dancing, yoga running–70 year olds are still doing these. And the whole family can do them together.

Defining the role of Lead Parent

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Anne-Marie Slaughter’s husband wrote a great article about how he put his wife’s career first. He has a career, yet he takes the role of “lead parent”, a better term than the one I usually hear: “primary caregiver”.  I’ve read many similar articles, and the statistics and anecdotes in all of them are dismaying. This one was no different. But one thing I liked was how the author described his role and responsibilities, giving concrete examples.

Lead parenting is being on the front lines of everyday life. In my years as lead parent, I have gotten the kids out of the house in the morning; enforced bedtimes at night; monitored computer and TV use; attempted to ensure that homework got done right; encouraged involvement in sports and music; attended the baseball games, piano lessons, plays, and concerts that resulted; and kept tabs on social lives. To this day, I am listed first on emergency forms; I am the parent who drops everything in the event of a crisis.

Other things not included here would be: being responsible for buying, preparing and serving food and cleaning up after meals, while encouraging healthy eating and monitoring general health of the children. And beyond the parenting role, but intrinsic to the role nonetheless: being responsible for the house or apartment and its cleaning and maintenance. And likely also the car, as it is needed for shuttling kids to and from activities, grocery shopping and errands.

I was also moved by the implication in his last paragraph that so many men are missing something deep and meaningful in their lives:

At the end of life, we know that a top regret of most men is that they did not lead the caring and connected life they wanted, but rather the career-oriented life that was expected of them. I will not have that regret.

Photo via Flickr.

Champerty, Gawker and Peter Thiel

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It’s hard to pick a side in the Gawker-Thiel-Hogan lawsuit, reported today in Forbes. Billionaire Peter Thiel appears to be funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media, but the lawsuit and its outcome are a mere sideshow to the main story which is that this case is a terrifying development for those of us who value a free, democratic media. What is most frightening about this lawsuit is that the press has always played a significant role in defending the small and powerless against the big and powerful. Gawker has played this role in its own tabloid style, but Thiel’s funding of this lawsuit shows how money can protect that power through third-party litigation funding. 

Lawsuits like these can have a chilling effect on the rest of the media industry, said First Amendment expert Peter Scheer, as they may encourage other wealthy individuals to back litigation against media companies that run unflattering stories about them.

“That’s often the purpose of these cases,” said Scheer, the director of the First Amendment Coalition. “Winning is the ultimate chilling effect, but if you can’t win the case, you at least want the editors to think twice before writing another critical story about you.”

Champerty, as third-party litigation funding used to be called (and should probably be called again!) was formerly a crime, but the commercial litigation finance industry has been growing in recent years . It’s most commonly used as a form of speculation, in which “investors” seek potentially lucrative lawsuits, from which they receive a percentage, or as a means of protecting and expanding a company’s business. But the Thiel funding, coming as it does from a billionaire, is not an investment, but the settling of a personal vendetta  against a media company by someone with the money to drive a company to ruin through litigation.

Generally, people avoid frivolous lawsuits because it often exposes them to as much scrutiny as those they sue, so what is significant about this case is that by funding Hogan behind the scenes, Thiel could get his revenge, escape exposure, and influence the outcome of the case. Hogan’s lawyers made decisions against Hogan’s best interests, withdrawing a claim that would have required Gawker’s insurance company to pay damages rather than the company itself–a move that made Nick Denton, Gawker Media’s founder and CEO, suspect that a Silicon Valley millionaire was behind the suit. Gawker Media may or may not survive the suit in which Hogan was handed down a judgement of $140 million, which the publisher has appealed.

My hope is that the high profile of this case will hasten legal reform. The ethical dodginess of this type of funding is well known–after all champerty was once illegal.


Further Reading:

Gawker-Thiel-Hogan lawsuit article on Forbes

Why Denton thought Thiel was behind the lawsuit article on re|code

Arms Race: Law Firms and the Litigation Funding Boom article in American Lawyer

“There has always been discomfort about the role of money in the profession,” says Geoffrey Miller, co-director of New York University School of Law’s Center for Civil Justice. By adding investors to the litigation ecosystem, “are we losing something?” he asks. “Do we degrade our professionalism? Do we create in the public’s mind the sense that law is all about the money?”  Well, yes.

Where the term “Conventional Wisdom” came from

It was John Kenneth Galbraith, the hyperliterate economic sage, who coined the phrase “conventional wisdom”. He did not consider it a compliment. “We associate truth with convenience,” he wrote, “with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem.”

Smart people are happier with fewer friends

Interesting article in the Washington Post conjecturing why smart people appear to be happier with fewer friends. Or, as I interpret it, fewer social obligations. The sociologists interviewed guess it might be because smarter people have bigger goals, like writing a novel or curing cancer, which friendships can distract from. Others guess that smarter people are better equipped to adapt to dense, urban environments and many interactions with many people. But my guess is that it is the social obligations that come with being smart. I remember a smart friend of mine, a lawyer, complaining after a very frustrating day that her job was to be smart and competent, for people who were neither smart nor competent, and it was wearing on her.

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