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The norm.

[Francis] Galton was into the idea of improving the human race and believed that statistics could help. He loved [Adolphe] Quetelet’s whole “average man” thing but had one minor problem. In the center of Quetelet’s bell curve were the most commonly occurring traits, not the ideal bodies and minds Galton believed everyone should have. To solve this problem, Galton, through a complicated and convoluted mathematical process (the technical definition of statistics), took the bell curve idea, where the most common traits clustered in the middle and the extremes, and created what he called an “ogive” (he had a habit of making up words) which, as Davis explains “is arranged in quartiles with an ascending curve that features the desired trait as “higher” than the undesirable deviation.” He called this the “normal distribution curve,” and it made the most commonly occurring differences that Galton did not value into deficiencies, and the uncommon ideal bodies and minds that he did value… normal.

[…]

The conflation of the “average” man as normal was a significant step in the history of normality. Statistics did not discover the normal, but invented the normal as that which should occur most often. […] This was a big deal, especially to those who would later find themselves on the wrong side of normal. As Alain Desrosières, a renowned historian of statistics wrote, with this power play by statistical thought the diversity inherent in living creatures was reduced to an inessential spread of “errors” and the average was held up as the normal—as a literal, moral, and intellectual ideal.

Jonathan Mooney gives a brief history of “normal”.

2019-10-28T08:48:07+11:0016th February, 2020|Tags: culture|

AstroTERFing.

Online roots of the term TERF originated in the late 2000s but grew out of 1970s radical feminist circles after it became apparent that there needed to be a term to separate radical feminists who support trans women and those who don’t. Many anti-trans feminists today claim it’s a slur, despite what many see as an accurate description of their beliefs. They now prefer to call themselves “gender critical,” a euphemism akin to white supremacists calling themselves “race realists.”

 Katelyn Burns on euphemisms.

From a longer article about the rise of TERFs and their alliance with the ultra-right but, mostly… oooh Burns burns, lol.

[Obvious content warning due to the subject matter, in that the linked article does discuss TERF beliefs and history, though it’s by no means sympathetic.]

2019-10-25T07:44:42+11:0011th February, 2020|Tags: culture|

A for Anxiety.

When I was in the classroom, the students who plagiarized were never the worst students in the class. To be sure, there were a handful of students who are exactly the douchey, rich, entitled asshole you’re picturing as the customers of [essay writing] services. But most teachers will tell you that the students plagiarizing weren’t the laziest, or the most entitled. They were often the solid B students, desperate, truly desperate, for As. They’d do extra credit, they never skipped class. For some assignments, they were in my office, asking questions, talking over drafts, incredibly anxious about thesis statements, at a loss about how to craft the rest of the essay. And then something would happen with an assignment — not even necessarily a big one! — where they’d get super overwhelmed, panic, and copy something from the internet.

These students don’t cheat because they’re lazy; they cheat because they’re incredibly anxious, terrified of failure, and haven’t been taught to come up with original arguments (or trust themselves when they do). They’re the students who got into a desired college through sheer determination. They’re not dumb or stupid or anything close to it. But they’ve become convinced that any sort of failure (on an assignment, in a class) is tantamount to total life failure, and accumulate anxiety about each assignment accordingly.

Anne Helen Petersen on cheating.

2019-10-25T07:35:48+11:009th February, 2020|Tags: culture|

Digital superstition.

While this phenomenon has been called a hoax, a scam, and a new iteration of the chain letter, it’s also something like a superstition. People are legitimately concerned about the power of giant companies like Facebook, and it’s kind of believable that it’d be able to make these kinds of rules and you, the user, would be stuck with them. Thinking there must be some legal way out of this unequal relationship—that the law wouldn’t let one company act with impunity in this way—isn’t so irrational. And so these words keep popping up and, since there was no change in the first place, they seem to “work” and do no harm—like knocking on wood—so everyone forgets for a couple of years.

Katharine Trendacosta on digital supertitions.

This is about those panics that periodically go around social media where people believe making a post with a certain set of words in it will exempt them somehow from ToS enforcement or other unwanted behavior; the AO3’s version of this is the “don’t post to another site” tag, for example. The linking of this with superstitious practices like knocking on wood is pretty interesting—what are these posts, after all, but the digital equivalent of saying “bless you” to keep someone’s soul in when they sneeze—and now I’m imagining, like. All the weird little rituals and phrases people might be saying in ten or fifty or a hundred or a thousand years…

2019-10-23T08:53:50+11:005th February, 2020|Tags: culture, social media, tech|

Reclamation.

Contrary to your assumption, slurs are among the weakest insults. That’s why they can be reclaimed. No one stands up with fire in their eye and says, “Yes, I’m a poopyhead.” There are a lot of proud bitches out there though.

The power of a slur doesn’t come from the insult. It comes from the reminder that we exist in a system ready to put bitches back in their place. That’s not an insult but a threat. And the power of reclamation comes from facing that threat and persisting anyway.

Stephanie Zvan on slurs.

2019-10-23T08:42:33+11:003rd February, 2020|Tags: culture, language|

Malevolent benevolence.

[C]ontemporary moguls believe in “the idea that after-the-fact benevolence justifies anything goes capitalism; that callousness and injustice in the cutthroat souk are excused by later philanthropy; that giving should not only help the underdogs but also, and more important, serve to keep them out of the top dogs’ hair—and, above all, that generosity is a substitute for and a means of avoiding the necessity of a more just and equitable system and a fairer distribution of power.”

Jeet Heer quoting Anand Giridharadas on MarketWorld.

2019-10-23T08:01:56+11:0031st January, 2020|Tags: culture|