The Barbarian Way

Here I sit waiting for Microsoft to get back up so I can post stuff on the blog. I might as well answer you.

I think the phrase "nature vs. nurture" assumes that those factors work together generally, and I don’t buy that. To me, nature and nurture are usually in conflict. Most men probably feel deep down inside that the Barbarians had it right. Romance be damned! Rape, pillage, loot. Yeah, that’s the ticket! The only problem is, all that raping makes for lots of babies, and those babies are our genes so we can’t just bash in their little heads. No, damnit, there’s nothing else for it. We gotta raise the buggers, and that means having a stable life. Let’s try this thing they call a "society." I think you get the idea. 😉

It’s my thesis that instinct and society are in tension. Yes, we do have societies basically because of our urge to procreate. Yet, in a twist of fate, I was also into History during my college years. One of the patterns I noticed there was that the whole drive toward equality didn’t really start until Guttenberg. That’s right, the printing press. In other words, the sharing of information over long distances relatively cheaply benefited the development of societies in manifold ways. The reason why the quest for equality has benefited is fairly simple. No matter how powerful you are, you can only have only have so many troops. If the masses can communicate well enough to join together, you can only repress them so long. So ok, the only practical thing to do, given that you know you need the masses to run your society for you, is to somehow mollify them.

I’m sorry to say that that seems to be the real function of social initiatives. I can’t see any that have clearly only positive results. In fact, I would contend that it’s nearly impossible to conclusively show a link between an initiative and its intended results, because so many other factors can be in play without even the sociologists realizing it. I’m hardly the first person to observe that the social sciences tend to be very imprecise due to the lack of verifiable "ground truth." Everything involved seems to be self-referential. It’s basically navigation without any external landmarks. You can’t truly know if a result you see was solely due to your initiative.

I really don’t mean to "diss" your chosen vocation. It is, after all, a perfect outgrowth of your love to be helpful. Still, it saddens me that you couldn’t fully appreciate how helpful you were at Dell. That makes the most sense if you are aware how personal a computer can get.

—–Original Message—–

From: Alecea Standlee []

Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2007 3:57 PM

To: Scott Royall

Subject: RE: FW: Xpress-it


As always a pleasure. You are without a doubt one of the most interesting people I have had the opportunity to discuss. Feel free to post this email on the blog.

First off, ah technology, the PC/Mac debate is as much fun (and as solveable) as the Pepsi/Coke debate.

Ultimatly, I must probably conceed the field to you.

Despite my time at Dell, when it comes right down to it, I am more interested in people than technology. I can’t argue that Jobs and co. haven’t maintained a near stranglehold on apple products from hardware to accessories. On the other hand, there are some things tat Mac’s just do better. And I must confess, after spending several hours trying to get my Mac to run a number of Sociology statistical programs, there are some things PC’s just do better. Vista is to me an untouched venue. Perhaps i’ll check it out.

With regard to your comments on sociology and inequality studies. You have a number of valid points.

I took Sociology classes as an undergrad myself, and generally hated them. I couldn’t stand the surface discussion of issues that frankly pissed me off. Here i was, the illegitamate daughter of a teenaged hotel maid, raised in "middle of nowhere" Idaho on few hundred dollars a month. I grew up alternating between homelessness and a 30 foot trailer for gods sake…And these privledge middle class teachers where talking about social inequality and systems of power! What the hell did they know… I could toss out a story about living in a tent for a few months and how I overcame my cirucumstances to get to college and get an A on sympathy. I suppose i could defend sociology, point out the ways in which it has shaped and expanded understanding of human behavior. I could also point out, that despite its flaws, and its occasional half-arsed practitioners it has produced some extrodinary insights into social strucutes. I might also mention that for good or ill, sociological research guides public and social policy. As thats the case, I have every intention of making sure that the sociology I produce, and that my students produce is not superficial or inane.

But… for me there is more…I wanted to understand society, I ached to understand humanity. Why do we do what we do… is it nature like you are suggesting. Do we respond to one another based on age old biological imperatives that want us to eat, sleep an of course mate? It reproduction why we are jittery around the disabled, unable to get attracted to the obsese, and plain pissed off about homosexuality?

Or is it culture. Are we raised to believe that is group or that is superior? Do we exist in a socio-culture space that brainwashes us on a daily basis, tells us what to eat, where to sleep, who to have sex with? the nature vs culture debate is a big one. Sociology and anthropolgy vs biology its a battle royal!

Seriously, I admitt that biology and nature have some impact on a behaivor. But to suggest that our behavior is somehow dictated by our lizard hindbrain is in my opinion a total cop out. ‘oh, the devil made me do it!’ I’m not buying it. We live in a society that shapes us, I have no doubt of that, but we in turn shape it. Who we are, what we do, is guided but culture and its a powerful force, don’t mistake it.

Millions of people have died for culture, for beliefs, for what they are taught. Its not easy to change attitudes, to change culture, but it is possible. its not hardwired. As a society we no longer lock up our disabled, enslave based on color, or kill based on sexual orientation. IF those things were part of inate biology, we would not be able to change them.

If that the case and we can change them, that leads to your final question…should we change them. Should it be survival of the fittest? Is that what is best for our species? Would you let your child be born if you knew he or she would experience your level of disability? Would I let a a child be born if I knew he or she was going to be raised in grinding povety and physical abuse like I was? I don’t have clear answer for you here.

I "overcame" my circumstances, I am the living embodyment of every anti-welfare, bootstrap theory privledged republican who preaches if you only work hard enought you can get out of proverty, racism, sexism, hetrosexism fill in the blank. Was my life shaped by culture…absolutly.

But my mother works for minimum wage at a job she hates in order to rent a room in a dingy bording house. My sister ignores drunks who smack her on the but and insult her while she carries drinks in a smoky casino. And my baby brother will spends his life counting the days he has been clean and out of prison and has done so since he was 19 years old. Are there lives shaped by culture? Damn staight.

I will understand how the forces that raised and shaped us could have produced such different people.

Because when it comes down to it, society is not simple. Its not as easy as nature vs. nurture. Biology vs society. Is an equal society possible? Honestly, probably not. Is it desirable…I think so. Is it best for humanity? Well I think that depends on how we define equality. It depends on what kind of society we shape, and how in turn that society shapes us. Is allowing everyone to procreate indescrimatly best for humanity? Probably not. Is allowing only the privledged to procreate, wealthy, white, western, perfectly healthy, equality? No. Nor is it best for humanity, after all survival depends on genetic variety. Finding the line between social justice and survival is what good sociology is about. How can we make society work better for everyone. How can we create a society that meets the needs of the indivdiual and the species? That what sociology and social justice and inequality studies is supposed to be about.

i love your emails…they make me think!


— Scott Royall <> wrote:

> You see, I didn’t forget.


> If you like "pretty shiny," Vista should be right up your alley. It is

> definitely that. Vista, at least on a M1710, is also surprisingly

> resilient.

> Macs achieve similar stability through the Josef Stalin methods, they

> control the entire market vertically. The sole difference is that,

> instead of the Red Army, NKVD, and KGB, Jobs employs legions of

> lawyers marching in tight phalanx. Microsoft is a hippy commune by

> comparison!


> And what, pray tell, does the Zune have to do with the PC? Precious

> little, of course. You worked for a large corporation long enough to

> know that they are as multi-faceted and imperfect as the people who

> run them. None do everything right. Do I really need to remind you of

> the Newton and iMac? The Mac needed to co-op Unix to escape obscurity.

> The one thing about the Zune that may yet save it is its

> upgradability. With the iPod (and likely the iPhone), the only upgrade

> path is tithing large portions of your income for future models.

> Emperor Jobs has pranced around naked much too long.


> The study of inequality, and indeed Sociology in general, makes my

> teeth itch. Admittedly, my personal exposure to Sociology was limited

> to the undergraduate level during the early ’80’s. By no means do I

> consider myself as any sort of expert on the topic. Yet, one of the

> aspects that stuck in my mind was how superficial Sociology seemed to

> be. I wasn’t forgetting that I was just working with undergrad

> concepts, but everything seemed so naïve. I would write papers that

> would leave my professors wet with joy even while I fully realized I

> was laying heavy smoke! I recall one course that included a post

> mortem of Great Society initiatives, and I figuratively spent much of

> that semester in amazement that educated people could ever propose

> such obviously (to me anyway) flawed programs. Ah, the "wisdom" of

> youth, eh?


> A logical conclusion of something I wrote the other day is our urge to

> achieve complete equality in society is not always in the best

> interest of Humanity. We tell ourselves that disabled people should

> have full equality, but I’m not convinced that it could–or even

> should–happen. Everyone feels some discomfort in the presence of

> obviously disabled people, and I’m sold on the idea that that

> discomfort is rooted in the same instincts that make certain body

> types universally preferred for mating.

> Though humans see

> ourselves as largely rational creatures, far more of our routine

> activities are driven by very primitive instincts. That’s hidden by

> our brains being hard-coded to rationalize everything. Unfortunately,

> I don’t think we can really consider re-engineering society

> successfully until we come to terms better with our base nature.


> While I was married twice, both marriages were doomed before they

> begun by the limitations and unfavorable comparisons imposed by

> society as an intentional or accidental response to my disability.

> For instance, my wives

> struggled to define their own self-image partly because they felt

> obliged to be my primary caregiver. Perceiving themselves as equal

> partners was quite difficult. Therefore, I don’t accept the

> mind-numbing mantra of "all life is precious." The truth is, we can

> create life at the drop of a hat (or other item of apparel). The basic

> opportunity is the result of a mechanical urge only tenuously related

> to rationality (whether there’s papal approval or not). Indeed, it is

> much like tossing a die in that it simply initiates the process.

> Whether or not a life is produced is hopefully the rational link in

> the equation. Factors such as the parents’ ability to provide for a

> child, and what that child’s life is likely to be like must be

> weighed. To not do that essentially reduces us to our animal

> instincts, literally breeding like rabbits. Knowing what I do now, I

> can’t say that I’d be eager to bring a child into the world if I knew

> he or she had my level of disability. To be sure, my life has had some

> nice moments, and the final verdict is still out.

> Yet, I don’t think anyone can accurately imagine how lonely my life

> has been. I’m to a point where I don’t see any possibility of future

> relationships, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a few more romps in the

> hay while I’m here!


> Getting back to Sociology, I think sociologists need to realize that

> tweaking a society is a lot like flying a supersonic jet with

> overly-sensitive flight controls! If you’re a ham-fisted Democrat, you

> can barrel-roll the country into the ground right quickly!


> Do you mind if I add this email to my blog. It touches on topics I

> think should be touched on.


> —–Original Message—–

> From: Alecea Standlee []

> Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 3:49 PM

> To: Scott Royall

> Subject: Re: FW: Xpress-it


> Scott,

> Wow, legendary huh! I can’t says I was expecting that.

> I have to admit your critiques of Mac makes me grin.

> I

> love a good Mac vs. PC argument. I might point out PC’s attempts to

> replicate the sucess of iPod, ‘nuf said there. As well as the

> infrastructue and GUI on the last releases of Windows have been a bit

> familiar… But as one of my pal’s says, Apple has spent their last

> few years as a free product development department for Microsoft.

> Don’t know what that says about Apple!

> I don’t consider myself a fan-boy (or fan girl for that matter) I am

> more of a mixed medium person in practice. I like pretty shiny at home

> (hence the

> Mac)

> and my department uses pc’s, Dell’s actually, at school.

> With regard to social inequality studies, thats my area of study and

> research. I have historically focused on gender and social class

> inequalities primarily, thats where I have done the most research and

> have personal experience. Though, I have done some work in disability,

> age, race and sexual orientation.

> I know what your mean about the complexity of inequality. I recently

> spent some time working with a friend of mine Liat Ben-Moshe as she

> finished her recent book "Building Pedegogical Curb Cuts:

> Incorporating Disability in the University Classroom and Curriculum."

> Which addresses disability issues in class design and teaching. It’s

> an excellent book dealing with institutional resistence to adaptations

> for disabled students and teachers. Liat has been struggling with

> getting an instructorship in her post-doc career because she is also

> in a wheelchair.

> So despite its so-called progressiveness academia still has a ways to

> go.

> I am currently working on a couple of projects, one examing the impact

> of Black Masculinity on educational attainment in inner city schools.

> Another is on community building and communication via cyberspace

> amoung minority groups…thats in the early stages now. I have some

> good research on sexual orientation support, gendered groups and

> ethnic cultural preservation groups. I am looking to incorprate a

> disabilty support or information dissemination cybercommunity. Feel

> free to suggest any other pieces I am missing.


> After you contacted me, I checked out your blog. I see what you mean

> about being a busy guy! on that note, I


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