MALE DISPOSABILITY – Risk-taking and rice rockets

Here’s a story that illustrates how deep male disposability can go.

Last weekend we drove up to IKEA in Renton. The rain was really heavy. One the way home coming south along Hwy 167 the road was still quite wet. We were driving along about 60 mph when a small black car of some kind went whizzing past. It cut in and out between cars and then a little while later my partner said in surprise “Look up there, he’s flipped over!”

When we got up to the black car, it hadn’t just flipped over, it had flipped over and flown upside down across the median strip, coming to rest against the guard rail, which had in fact kept it from sliding into oncoming traffic. I called the accident in. There was a small crowd of people around the car and they had pulled the kid out – not the best thing to do, but an understandable impulse.

The next day a state trooper called and asked if I would be willing to testify. Yes I would; if that were my kid I would want him of the road for a while because he would almost certainly not survive the next time. Had I seen a small silver Subaru he was racing? No, but the way he was driving was completely consistent with racing. Around here we have a pattern of young guys racing small Toyotas ad Nissans, so these cars are called “rice rockets.”

The young man is being charged with two driving-related felonies, it’s likely that the car was totaled, and it’s quite likely it was uninsured. Those are all hard lessons and yet he is a very lucky guy.

Some observations:

1. Risk-taking behavior is a basic part of life. It is a survival strategy. It involves first a calculation of the odds the risk involves, and then a cost befit analysis.

2. When someone risks his life for a temporary adrenaline rush, he is either in denial over the likelihood of death or else just rates that rush over his life.

3. This kid was young and stupid but not so stupid as not to know how likely he was to die. People die around here doing this all the time. “It won’t happen to me” is real – it is horribly easy to whip young men that age into a frenzy of heroism and run them right into machine gun fire – but there is enough conventional wisdom around this that if anything the knowledge of the likelihood of death just added to the buzz.

More observations:

1. This kid was ready to play his life away for a thrill.

2. No woman was egging him on to do it. No woman was standing over him shaming him into doing it. No male authority figure was whipping this kid into this stupidity.

3. This kid was doing this based on his value system, and the way he valued his life in that value system.

When we talk about a misandrist culture, this is part of it. When a culture teaches little boys to grow into young men who become their own executioners, that is misandry.

Culture works just like language. It is impersonal – no one controls it, no one administers it – and it is indoctrinated at so young an age that it forms your sense of who you are as a person, and it takes huge effort to notice it much less really question it. If you grew up speaking English, the reason you cannot distinguish between the tones of Vietnamese or the sounds “k” versus “q”, or produce them accurately, it’s not because someone is jamming cotton in your ears or holding your tongue so you can’t move it right, it’s that when you were two years old you noticed that those differences made no difference in anyone’s speech and you could safely ignore them. This is what shaped your accent and pronunciation and perception of the sounds of human speech. Do you want to know how baked in the cake this stuff is? Try teaching a Chinese speaker how to accurately and correctly use English verb tenses.

It is idle to try to blame anyone for this kid’s stupidity in risking his life. Just as victimhood is central to a lot of women’s female gender identity and they cling to it like an oxygen mask, male disposability is a fundamental part of a lot of men’s male gender identity. What is important is to recognize these patterns and find ways to tame or change them so that the good of risk-taking remains without the waste.

 

 

EDIT: A couple of commenters, Clarence and TDOM, have raised some good points. i wanted to address them here:

TDOM said:

 “Unlike language, which is learned at a particular stage of human development, something like this cannot be called misandry unless and until we can identify it as cultural rather than biological. Male risk-taking behavior seems to be more prevalent across cultures than is female risk-taking behavior.”

 That fact that a behavior shows up in all cultures does not perforce mean that it is biologically-based, just that it is common to humans generally. Cooking is certainly a cultural practice, it is certainly not biologically determined, but it is found across all cultures.

 Also it is a fallacy to see biology and culture as two unconnected influences in competition with each other. The example above of cooking is apposite. Human dentition is very reduced from what is necessary to process raw food in adequate amounts for basic nutrition. Cooking substantially drops the digestion cost of food and has probably licensed the reduction we see in human dentition – a cultural practice that over a very long time has produced biological effects. Another example of this is the rapid spread of the most comon kind of lactase persistence, long after people started cattle pastoralism.

 Clarence said:

 “Your articles overall point is spot-on, but you’ve chosen a rather crappy example.

I’d chalk this incident up to boredom + biology + lack of wisdom or self-control(and often drugs as well).

I’m aware of no culture ever in which young males are considered the cautious ones while those foolish old guys are always risking their life.

In short very weak link (if any) to misandrist parts of culture here. The only real link is probably lack of a strong father figure – we don’t know this kids personal history.”

 Biology is certainly involved. That’s why I mentioned risk-taking as a survival strategy in the post. Girls engage in risk-taking behaviors too, as I mentioned in the post. The difference is that they don’t engage in life-threatening risk-taking behaviors anywhere nearly as much.

 The fact that it 1)gendered, affecting males, 2) deadly, not just risky but lethally risky, and 3) not purely or probably even mostly biological are the reasons I consider this cultural misandry.

 And the other main piont is that this misandry is completely internalized.

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  • Dani Pettas

    Maybe hormones or ‘things going on at home’ could be factors in addition to gender identity. Risk-taking behavior is one of those things like alcoholism or other kinds of harmful coping mechanisms.

  • Clarence

    Your articles overall point is spot-on, but you’ve chosen a rather crappy example.
    I’d chalk this incident up to boredom + biology + lack of wisdom or self-control(and often drugs as well).
    I’m aware of no culture ever in which young males are considered the cautious ones while those foolish old guys are always risking their life.
    In short very weak link (if any) to misandrist parts of culture here. The only real link is probably lack of a strong father figure – we don’t know this kids personal history.

  • Harrow

    I don’t think it’s such a crappy example Clarence. I’ll concede that biology (and age, in this case) is an important factor, but it’s not the end of the story. Some things that were acceptable for excitable young men in the past are no longer socially acceptable and have declined or vanished as a result.

    These days, girls in the West get mixed messages about doing risky, adventurous things but boys still get told overwhelmingly to go out and do bold, crazy stuff and that thrills and glory are more important than retaining all their limbs (maybe not by their parents, but certainly popular culture).

  • Harald K

    I have a rather trivial argument about risk and risk-taking. People who take risks are people who feel (right or wrong) that they have little to lose or much to gain.

    As a board game enthusiast, it’s one of the things you start to appreciate: If you’re losing, you need to take chances. Even if the high-risk choices with very poorer expected payoff (in terms of points or whatever you’re playing with) are worth taking if you’re sufficiently behind. There is no competitive game where it doesn’t pay to keep close track of how your opponent is doing, even games where you do nothing to them directly (like yahtzee). Even in non-competitive contexts, anywhere there is some kind of threshold or discrete levels in payoffs, there is much to be gained from knowing when to switch to risky, “suboptimal” strategies.

    I read a great essay about economics and egalitarianism a while ago, which referred the debates between Thomas Carlyle and John Stuart Mill. The anti-egalitarian Carlyle talked about the liberated slaves of the west indies, growing “pumpkins for their own lazy benefits” rather than the “nobler products” of spices and sugar, and saw this as clear proof of their moral inferiority. Mill responded by saying that they’re only doing what makes economic sense for themselves – he believed that they made their decisions on exactly the same basis as a white person would. If you want them to make spices, pay them better, I suppose.

    This is the egalitarian side of “homo economicus” models. Flawed as they may be, they assume we all ultimately make decisions on the same basis.

    I think women and men do too. If men are more reckless, men take more risks, that is because they don’t value what they have, and I don’t think they can in the long run be wrong about that. Individually we do of course all make choices we regret, that we believe in retrospect to be bad ones. But in aggregate, I think we must accept that the value we put on things is their correct price in some sense.

    So when young men consistently act in such ways, it suggests ultimately that they see their lives (as lived without street racing, at least) as having little value. They aren’t wrong as a group. They don’t make this decision on fundamentally different grounds than a woman would.

    Now, I expect some people will talk about hormones or brains and tell me I’m wrong. They’re missing the point. Our differences there are just part of the situation. If my hormones make me feel worthless without achieving, then that is my reality, a fact I take into account as I make my decisions.

    So to seek equality, men must get more to lose and less to gain. Women must get less to lose and more to gain. The distinction between “equality of outcomes” and “equality of opportunity” is in fact a pointless one if you assume that men and women are equally capable of rationality, as Mill did for whites and blacks.

    If we are equally capable and have equal opportunity, we may not end up doing the exact same things or having the exact same things, but we should end up equally risk-averse. We should end up equally happy with what we’ve got – measured not in our words, but in our decisions. If not, there’s something wrong.

  • H. E. Pennypacker

    @ Harald

    Good post but I’m not sure that basing it on theories of economics strengthens your arguments. This is going slightly off-topic but as you point out homo economicus models are flawed. Actually, they’re demonstrably false. The supposedly egalitarian idea that people from other cultures conform to Western definitions of rationality still rests on the same conceited assumptions of the superiority of a supposedly Western way of thinking. The very idea that it would be unegalitarian to argue that people from other cultures didn’t make decisions in ways that Western economists consider rational is ultimately based on the assumption that making decisions based on different criteria would inherently be inferior.

    If we take your example, Mills is essentially saying:

    “These people are just like you or me in that they are rationally and self-interestedly trying to maximise their individual economic gains and therefore they’re not inferior to us.”

    This obviously implies that if they weren’t rationally and self-interestedly trying to maximise their individual economic gains then they would be inferior. Seeing as many people quite clearly don’t conform to the model of homo economicus by this reason they’re inferior to supposedly enlightened Western gentlemen.

  • http://thedamnedoldeman.com TDOM

    “When we talk about a misandrist culture, this is part of it. When a culture teaches little boys to grow into young men who become their own executioners, that is misandry.”

    Unlike language, which is learned at a particular stage of human development, something like this cannot be called misandry unless and until we can identify it as cultural rather than biological. Male risk-taking behavior seems to be more prevelaent across cultures than is female risk-taking behavior. This would tend to indicate there is a biological basis for that behavior. However, that does not mean that it can’t (or shouldn’t) be addressed.

  • Harald K

    Pennypacker, yeah, but I still think it applies. See, we don’t have to assume that people are always rational optimizers of anything, only that they aren’t as a group systematically incapable of setting their own priorities. We assume that their choices make sense in their own context.

    You do a little disservice to Mill as well. He didn’t argue their humanity from their economic rationality. Rather, he took their humanity as axiomatic, and assumed from that that their decisions were a reflection of their priorities. it doesn’t take a paternalistic slaveowner to know their own good.

    And maybe their priorities are bad? Well, then those priorities will make sense in terms of deeper priorities. And so on and so on. What this “economic humanism” assumes is only that our ultimate priorities are not different, so arguments against more narrow theories of rationality are no problem.

  • DrDrBeat

    I don’t really agree with this one being an example of male disposability being central to someone’s identity. I think, to qualify as risk-taking behavior, it has to be something the person knows is dangerous. People of that age, both men and women, have an attitude of “negative consequences are for other people, not me!” and don’t really believe that the things they do could have bad outcomes.

  • Ginkgo

    Clarence and TDOM, I am amending the post to respond otyu oyur on-point objectiosn. I don’t agree with them, but I should have foreseen and dealt with those points in the post. Thanks for digging those points out.

  • dungone

    Seeing as many people quite clearly don’t conform to the model of homo economicus by this reason they’re inferior to supposedly enlightened Western gentlemen.

    Actually, many of those Western gentlemen do not conform to the model of homo economicus, either, and economics happens to be the ideal science to tell us how and why. Humans have a well-known cognitive bias called loss aversion, meaning that when it comes to risk taking, people prefer avoiding losses to making gains. But this has little to no bearing on whether or not former slaves and Western gentlemen are equal, or men versus women.

    Speaking of loss aversion, a street racer might continue to do so in spite of the inevitable outcome because he fears loss of status in the racing world far more than, let’s say, an equivalent gain in status in some other aspect of his life. Men and women suffer from a similar cognitive bias, so it has no overall bearing on equality. For example, a woman might irrationally seek to preserve her figure or youthful beauty, to the point of self-harm, even in a society that bends over backwards to give her the opportunity to get a good job and earn the same exact amount of money herself that she could gain by securing a provider male.

    The ultimate question is what drives men to get into street racing to begin with. We live in a culture where it’s been long accepted that a man needs to have a car before he can even ask a girl out on a date. But having a car isn’t enough to get the best girl – the guy has to have the best car. If you’re from a poor community and can’t afford to buy a luxury vehicle, this will inevitably lead to street racing of cheap ricers. Yet, these Baby Boomer social norms are slowly being dropped by Millenials who value having an internet connection and a smart phone to having a car. The important thing to understand is that these men aren’t taking those risks just because they’re a risk. Their communities are structured in such a way that gives them incentive to do so. And just as the former slaves who didn’t want to enter a price competition with slavers on the sugar and spice market, you’ll likely find a myriad of anti-male features in their communities that prevents these kids from competing in a more healthy way.

  • Ginkgo

    dungone, that was insightful.

    This is important here:
    “Yet, these Baby Boomer social norms are slowly being dropped by Millenials who value having an internet connection and a smart phone to having a car.”

    There is a class division here. The millenials who value an internet connection are in one class and then there are those who aren’t really in that world, and for them the car is still the instrument of status.

  • dungone

    @Ginkgo, the problem is that the achievements of low status men are derided and often pointless and illegal, especially when their cheap car is flipped over on a highway. Rich guys can buy a real sports car and take it out to the track, where they enjoy relative safety and legitimacy. We actually celebrate male risk-taking when it actually benefits society in some way. Like today: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/22/when-was-the-first-parachute-jump-what-was-the-highest-and-more/

    The whole thing isn’t that risk-taking behavior is bad, it’s just that society demonizes it and doesn’t provide enough healthy outlets for poor young men. It’s just like the way women’s martyr complex (aka “nurturing” personality) isn’t a bad thing, either, but every opportunity is given to them in the form of female-only scholarships, affirmative action, and various other quotas and incentives designed to help them overcome their nature – while, figuratively and literally, those very same low-status men who are dying on the freeways for a little bit of status end up taking the bulk of the blame for the downsides of female nature, as well.

  • dungone

    There is a class division here. The millenials who value an internet connection are in one class and then there are those who aren’t really in that world, and for them the car is still the instrument of status.

    It’s also because that part of society makes up the bulk of the people who look forward to making a living working on cars. Even in the 1980’s, it was considered a status symbol for a rich white kid to be able to hack a computer system (see: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), while for the most part street racing and the hot rod scene fell to blue-collar culture and stayed there probably since the 1950’s. What could happen here is that if these men, as a group, ever do well for themselves socioeconomically, you’ll see a legitimization of their racing pursuits, just like southern moonshining resulted in NASCAR or the way in which rural mechanics created monster truck racing.

  • teh Bastard formerly known as SWAB