Posts Tagged 'francis fukuyama'

Yielding results.

I’ve been trying without much success to write an essay about Francis Fukuyama’s widely misunderstood 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, and how it’s more ambivalent about the apparent triumph of liberal democracy than its conservative critics tend to recognize.

This article in City Journal, “A Primal Struggle for Dominance”, seemed to promise an engagement with Fukuyamian themes. (One of the chapters in The End of History is titled “In the Beginning, a Battle to the Death for Pure Prestige”.) But it was less relevant than I’d hoped. The author, Robert Henderson, rounds up some research illustrating the unsurprising fact that the breakdown of status hierarchies tends to lead to violence – and predicts that, given the ongoing delegitimization of police and other authority figures, the current spasm of leftist street brawling is likely to continue.

As part of his discussion of the stability of hierarchies, Henderson observes that while animals of unequal size are unlikely to do each other much harm when scrapping over food or territory – because the smaller one will quickly submit – in cases where the animals are evenly matched the fight may drag on, leading to serious injury.

In human society our methods for determining dominance are a little more subtle, but size still plays a part. Henderson points to a Dutch study showing that when two pedestrians of the same sex and approximate age approached each other in a narrow passageway partially blocked by scaffolding, the shorter one gave way to the taller 75% of the time.

In a variation of the above experiment, the Dutch researchers enlisted subjects of various heights to walk against the flow of pedestrian traffic and record how often oncoming pedestrians altered course to avoid them. They determined that people were more likely to alter their course to avoid, and less likely to bump into, taller subjects of either sex.

Reading this study, I was reminded of a post from Steve Sailer’s blog last year that highlighted complementary articles from the world of Grievance Journalism.

First there was Greg Howard, a black man writing for the New York Times, who complained about white women crowding him off the sidewalk by declining to make room when they saw him approaching:

Why haven’t I ever just walked headlong into a rude white woman? What lessons tug at me, force me off the sidewalk, tell me that my personal space is not necessarily mine? Because explicit in every white woman’s decision not to get out of my way is the expectation that I’ll get out of theirs.

Then there was Charlotte Riley in The New Statesman, complaining that it was men who “have been socialized, for their entire lives, to take up space” who were crowding women off the sidewalk, and that to even the score she now refused to give way:

You need to really commit to Patriarchy Chicken: don’t let your social instinct to step to the side kick in. Men are going to walk into you: that isn’t your fault.

Sailer imagined a game show called Intersectional Intersection in which various minority, gender non-conforming, undocumented, differently-abled, and otherwise marginalized people would approach each other from opposite directions to see who yielded to whom.

These articles stuck in my memory because around the same time, after spending the afternoon in a heavily Chinese neighbourhood here in Metro Vancouver, I was temporarily convinced that Chinese women were obnoxiously hogging the sidewalk.

Three, maybe four times that afternoon, as I approached Chinese women walking singly or in small groups, rather than scooching over to make room for me to pass, they barrelled straight ahead like I wasn’t there, obliging me to step off the pavement onto the muddy grass.

The next day, back in my own neighbourhood, it happened again, and I found myself thinking, maybe Chinese women just don’t know how to bloody well walk.

Luckily, I was familiar with the concept (although I had to Google the term) of apophenia – the natural human tendency to perceive patterns in random data.

Otherwise I might have done something truly embarrassing, like publish a clickbait article about how insufferably privileged Chinese women were, and how I was therefore entitled to retaliate with antisocial behaviour of my own.

***

I’d watch Intersectional Intersection: I’d be curious to see who’d win. But the results wouldn’t have much scientific validity.

It’s certainly possible that different nations, different subcultures, different genders, have different attitudes to sharing public spaces. Maybe men, maybe white people, really do tend to hog the sidewalk. As a white guy, I’d be the last to notice.

The Dutch height study gives us some ideas for the design of an experiment that might settle the question:

• We’ll need a location with a large number of pedestrians passing each other in a narrow space, while unaware that they’re under observation.

• The pedestrians will have somehow to be categorized by race, gender, or other relevant demographic category. In the Dutch study, there was no interaction with the subjects – the observers assessed their height, gender, and approximate age from a concealed position across the street. With race – nowadays even with gender – this would obviously present problems. Perhaps we could chase people down after they’ve cleared the observation zone, and ask which race, gender, or marginalized group they identify with. I imagine we’ll get a lot of rebuffs from impatient or irritable subjects, whose data will then have to be thrown out. Will this skew the results?

• We’ll need to grade each interaction according to who yielded, which will mean agreeing on how much lateral movement counts as “yielding”. The Dutch study cleverly took advantage of an obstacle that allowed only one pedestrian to pass at a time.

• And ideally, unlike the Dutch study – conducted in a single “mid-size city in the north of the Netherlands” – our experiment should be conducted at multiple locations, with different population mixes, to see how each group’s YQ (Yieldingness Quotient) varies in majority, minority, and evenly-mixed situations.

Alternatively, we could simply ask subjects to report who tends to crowd them off the sidewalk, and discover – what a scoop! – that it’s members of the group against whom they already have a grudge.

M.

My old post on whether crosswalk timers cause car accidents seems vaguely relevant to today’s theme; likewise this more recent entry on the social pressure to turn right on a red light. In 2019 I described an incident of cross-cultural confusion on a crowded bus that could, if I were a maniac, be spun into a generalization about racial privilege.


Michael A. Charles is a writer, animator, and musician currently living in the Vancouver area. He used to be the singer and guitarist for the band known as Sea Water Bliss.

You can find a selection of his cartoons, music videos, and ads on the Gallery page.

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