Why is Sex Fun? by Jared Diamond

Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Science Masters)Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality by Jared Diamond

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thought-provoking across the board and convincing in some places, Diamond makes a evolutionary biology argument that posits part of human distinctiveness arises from our unusual reproductive characteristics: concealed ovulation, recreational sex, and female menopause. Diamond's meditations on how menopause may have been selected for and why men don't breastfeed their children were compelling and carefully argued. When he ventured into the territory of human social arrangements; however, Diamond hamstrung himself with his own disciplinary bias. As a sociologist, I find it extremely hard to believe that complex human social behaviors - like adornment and marital relationships - are driven by an evolutionary logic. As Diamond points out in his chapter on male breastfeeding, humans have often made "counter-evolutionary" choices. If our instincts drive us to behave in certain ways - why some ways but not others? I highly recommend the book, despite these problems.


In Which I'm A Crazy Person, Or Graduate Assistantships and Being On the Market

So, even though countless people have told me that being on the academic job market is a full-time job. I've decided to apply for a graduate assistantship next year. It's through the library and a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Essentially, it's about alternative learning models that involve technology (I did my master's thesis on learning communities and have experience with online courses)- and requires the applicant to have experience with qualitative research in general and Atlas t.i. - a particular qualitative software package I happen to be using for my dissertation and another research project. 

In other words, I dare you to find a better suited applicant.  

So, anyway, I sent an e-mail to the dude in charge of this business late last night and am somehow managing to stress and obsess over whether I'll get the gig a) before I've even learned what the pay and other particulars are and b) while I simultaneously stress over whether this would negatively affect my ability to apply for jobs/work on the diss. next semester. 

In conclusion, I'm really excellent at worrying and overfilling my plate.

Still wish that guy would e-mail me back, though.

The TSA, Rationalization, and Impression Management

I started off my (Sociology of Jobs and Work) class today by talking about the TSA. It had little or nothing to with the day's reading, but it did relate to a couple of other issues we had discussed.

To my surprise, very few of the students had heard about the backscatter x-ray machines OR the enhanced pat-downs. One woman had been through the backscatter and had (surprise, surprise) never been informed of their function or purpose. She was horrified to find out that they had, essentially, negative images of her naked. In general, the class was shocked that they would be either exposed to x-ray radiation or asked to submit to a search that involved having TSA agents touch their genitals.

First, I asked them to consider this phenomenon in terms of rationalization and the irrationality of rationality. Max Weber was the first theorist to put a name to the attempts  to make human social organization and interaction more predictable, regulated, and controlled. He called this phenomenon rationalization, referring to it as an "Iron Cage." My students read a piece by Weber on bureaucracy and follow it up with an excerpt from George Ritzer's The McDonaldization of Society. In this book, Ritzer applies and extends Weber's analysis to modern day phenomena - suggesting that whereas Weber thought of bureaucracy as the iconic example of rationalization, it has become the fast food restaurant - or the Starbuck's Coffee. Ritzer also nicely condenses Weber's observations (and fears) that rationalization could have deleterious effects - often the opposite of those intended - into the phrase "the irrationality of rationality."

In this instance, I asked my students to consider how procedures meant to make the public safe made them feel violated and exposed them to potentially harmful radiation. (This is, of course, contested by the FDA and Janet Napolitano, but four UC San Fransisco professors personally wrote to President Obama about their health concerns.)

Second, I asked my students to consider the increased security procedures as a form of impression management. They recently read an excerpt from Robert Jackall's Moral Mazes. Jackall's fieldwork in several large corporations led him to conclude that, rather than talent and qualifications, the ability to adeptly manage impressions was the main determinant of both individual and group success in the corporate world. Rather than worrying purely about the profitability of their plants, managers would spend thousands of dollars creating full color booklets about the plant and ensure the facilities were newly painted before the CEO came to visit.

I explained that Israeli airport security procedures rely primarily on asking questions (not to present this as a security method totally without problems, but as an effective alternative to invasive scans and physical searches). Given that, I asked them to consider - and read further themselves - whether the backscatter x-ray machines and "enhanced pat-downs" were truly measures that would make the flying public safer - or just performances to create the impression of greater safety and security.

I'll check back in with them on Monday, but it was a lively discussion.




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