eirias: (Default)
[personal profile] eirias
I've never done anything really different with my hair. No perms, no dyes. It's not that I love the color I was born with, an unassuming medium brown. The texture isn't the one I would've chosen, either, and while I imagine chemical treatments wouldn't improve that in the long run, that's not the real reason I've stuck with what I've got. The real reason is that perms and dyes feel like cheating.

What does that reaction say? I actually think it says something pretty awful, something I don't want to endorse: that what we deserve is what we got in the birth lottery; that using human capacities like planning, social interaction, and technology to improve our position is an alteration of the natural order of things. That people are supposed to know their place, and redheadedness ain't mine.

I think this hair dye example (trivial though it is) is a good way to illustrate the tension between two ideals of my culture: self-determination and authenticity. You can be anything you want to be! But only losers try to be something they aren't!

And I think this sort of tension is everywhere in modern society. Everywhere! It's in the outrage about steroids (chemical differences are cheating; genetic differences are not). It's in the outrage about test prep (a high score counts if your parents' genes, wealth, and culture gave you good g, and not if they just gave you good strategy). It's in the outrage about Botox, and breast implants, and liposuction. Hell, it's in people's deep discomfort with transsexuals, too.

This isn't just a philosophical problem. It's also a measurement problem, which is deeper than philosophy, and this is why it comes up so much: very few things in life are immune from the constraints of what you can measure. If the raven in the office is really dyeing her hair black every morning, and her roots never show -- unless I put cameras in her bathroom, how am I going to know? And suppose it's not just that I don't know -- suppose that at bottom, I can't know. In that case, on what grounds do I retain the theoretical distinction? All we can trust is what we can observe.

If I were Dorothy Gambrell I would find a way to turn this into a comic, and then I would frame it and put it on my wall. But I still wouldn't dye my hair.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-24 01:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] drspiff.livejournal.com
That's quite thought provoking. I don't think dying your hair causes health problems later in life like using steroids. But you're probably right that people aren't thinking about his future health when they boo Manny Ramirez. Although there is one other difference there... dying your hair is not against the written rules of the game. But it is thought provoking to wonder why it is a rule and why it might be prohibited when a physical freak of nature who was born that way is allowed.


Date: 2009-07-24 02:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cognative.livejournal.com
Test prep and steroids are both good examples. Though I think of it more of a issue of fairness. What sorts of advantages are fair and which are cheating? Maybe because those two examples involve competition in some way.

In sports athletes use many things that could be loosely described at PEDs (performance enhancing drugs). Many of them are legal and thought fair, or at least ignored when cheating comes up. So some chemical things aren't cheating, but others are. I'm not sure how they decide, perhaps it is a health thing.

Also there was a minor bruhaha when an athlete go contacts that gave him better than 20/20 vision. Even though every single player could afford to do the same thing that was somehow cheating because 20/20 is "perfect" and anything better is cheating, unless it's natural.

Re: rambly

Date: 2009-07-24 10:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
Those are some great points. I love the 20/20++ thing -- that's right in the spirit of what's been sticking in my craw. Thanks. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-24 03:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rms10.livejournal.com
This is a tangent, but isn't part of the discomfort with test prep the fact that the kids who have the access to it and money for it are the ones who already have the socioeconomic advantages? And therefore it's just another way to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots? (Also, tangenting from my tangent, some people just don't like seeing any evidence that the SATs just measure how well you take tests.)

I don't think outrage over things like Botox and breast implants is universal -- they are certainly unremarkable in some segments of society. Just not, admittedly, in the nerdy academic crews we tend to run with. Maybe we lean more towards the authenticity side because while academia requires a lot of hard work, being naturally intelligent is the first requirement.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-24 10:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
This is a tangent, but isn't part of the discomfort with test prep the fact that the kids who have the access to it and money for it are the ones who already have the socioeconomic advantages? And therefore it's just another way to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots?

Certainly that is one thing that has irritated me about the test prep industry. But I have been thinking about it and -- I am just not convinced that it is actually responsible for keeping poor kids out of school. IIRC, the gap between poor and rich on SAT is a heck of a lot larger than the gap between the, we'll call them the "unprepped" and the "prepped" rich. The people whose lives are more difficult because of competition with the prepped are the ones whose scores without test prep are good, but not stellar. That's not the urban poor, I'd wager -- it's our peer group growing up, the moderately intelligent middle class.

Put another way: yes, rich kids who pay for test prep will outscore the poor inner city kid most of the time. But they would have done that anyway. Unless that poor inner city kid is really remarkable, the fact that the game hinges on the SAT is the problem. Because "unprepped" kids like me have, in fact, spent most of their lives in test prep of one kind or another. Having a mom who'll shell out for Kaplan is just icing on a very rich cake.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-24 03:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] darlox.livejournal.com
Interesting post! I think, however, that people's own self-images are at the root of the issue. How do you define who someone really is, at any given point in time?

You know I'm not an especially wild personality, but 3 times in my life, I have RADICALLY changed my hairstyle. Bowl-cut childhood, to 1/2" bleached spike in high school, to ponytail in college, to... whatever this current style is called. It's not that I've tried to change who I am. It's that it was a reflection of who I was at the time.

Blatent use of steroids to pump up an athlete's performance is hard to classify as anything other than cheating. But a lot of that starts with an injury, when a player who WAS really good can't rehab fully. Are they trying to be something they aren't, or looking for ways to be what they truly are?

As humans, we're wired to distrust anyone new or different. We overcome that through socialization, but at a primal level, we fear anything outside of our "tribe". When the illusion someone casts to the world is perfect -- your root-less raven head -- they tend to be absorbed into a tribe. Most times, even with our technology, the illusion is less than perfect, and so we can instinctively judge their presentation as false -- steroids, dye and disproportionately good performance on tests.

Having been dragged (no pun intended) to a number of high-quality drag shows in New Orleans by a group I work with, I appreciated and complimented the Queens that were at the top of their game. Despite them being intellectually identical to their more polished peers, I had involuntary bursts of disgust at the trannies with the big Adams Apple and 5:00 shadow...

We like what we perceive as real, and discriminate against what we can't believe in. Dyeing your hair isn't a problem -- unless you do it poorly.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-24 03:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mokatz.livejournal.com
, to... whatever this current style is called.

It's not called "What my wife will let me get away with?" I keed! I keed! ;)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 04:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
The tribe aspect is interesting. Actually I think it's especially interesting because your reaction to drag queens is the opposite of what I'd predict -- not for you I mean, but in general for someone who's not in the culture. I would figure that someone who passed successfully should be more disturbing, once discovered.

This tribe talk reminds me of the disdain I have for people who have disdain for poseurs. Now that is a tribe thing pure and simple: narrowing the universe of people you have to worry about to the 150 people who knew your favorite band before you did.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-24 06:16 pm (UTC)
kirin: Kirin Esper from Final Fantasy VI (Default)
From: [personal profile] kirin
I think sports are entitled to arbitrary distinctions between what's allowed and what's "cheating", because at their core sports *are* contests st up within arbitrary, well-laid-out boundaries. That's what they're for. They're designed so that people can "defeat" other people without being in a no-rules arena where "defeat" means getting your head bashed in.

On the other hand, I think we as a society are going to need to get over the notion that you can "cheat" at real life. Giving sight or hearing to people who were born without it is great, and that's a lot bigger modification than hair color. And what's to say we can't move to better sight or hearing than most people are born with? This is going to come up more and more. For the most part, I am generally a fan of people being able to make their bodies into whatever they want them to be.

Also, I agree with darlox that some of the instincts we may feel here are just a primal distrust of the "new". If something was impossible for the previous generation to do at all, it becomes suspect for the next generation to indulge in it. I don't hold much truck with arguments that can't come up with a better reason than that. (Which isn't to say there aren't sometimes better arguments against diving headfirst into untested life-altering technologies.)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-24 10:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
Your point about sports is well taken: steroids violate the rules and that's that. But it's the emotional stuff that gets me, the moral outrage -- the system [livejournal.com profile] cognative describes does not inspire me to grand thoughts of the miracles of the human spirit. It inspires me to sort of mundane thoughts of what the hell? If a rule system is truly arbitrary, it's fine to enforce it, but getting invested in it to the point of moral outrage seems deeply inappropriate to me.

Your point about disability-related body mod is very interesting -- again, I go back to [livejournal.com profile] cognative's comment about 20/20++ vision. I think that people tolerate interventions that bring "broken" people up to "normal." I think they do this for two reasons: 1) "broken" people are not a threat to a well-placed person, so it is okay to be charitable toward them; 2) the act of "fixing" them validates the existing hierarchy. (Now that I think about it, I suspect that this is what negative Deaf reactions to cochlear implants are about.)

But someone else using technology to obtain an advantage over me... that, I think, is much harder for people to stomach.

At bottom I think this is about turf protection. People like knowing where they are in society; they don't like it when you do something that moves the goalposts. They don't like it when someone's hard work or money means that they have to run a little faster if they want to stay on the treadmill. You're probably right there's a luddite aspect to it too; perhaps it is easier to adjust to a new world when you haven't yet got comfortable with your place in the old one.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 12:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evil-fizz.livejournal.com
This is somewhat of a tangent, but I find the continuum of hair dye and athletic performance enhancers to be fascinating.

I worked for a professor who wrote fairly extensively about enhancement related issues. His main line of argument was "it's your body, do what you want with it." He took this position on everything from steroids to pot. With respect to turf protection, he called it "meritocrats trying to preserve their own hegemony." The phrasing still makes me giggle, but I know what he was getting at.

The problem, however, with various kinds of performance enhancement is that the bar just gets raised as a particular enhancement becomes more ubiquitous. There's already a level of variation that's ascribable to genetics. (Lance Armstrong's lungs and mine might as well come from different species). Either an enhancement allows people who previously couldn't compete to become competitive (say, Floyd Landis), or it just makes everyone a little bit faster, better, stronger, etc. For example, if all swimmers wear Speedo's super high tech suits, then the advantage gained by wearing one is comparable across the board. Times drop, but the swimmers who were previously the best remain so.

The real issue then becomes the rate of enhancement, how much sooner you can get it in comparison to your competitors, and how long you can corner the market on something particularly effective.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 02:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evil-fizz.livejournal.com
Curious that I should use the Speedo suits as an example. FINA (swimming's governing body) has just voted to ban them. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/25/sports/25swim.html?hp)

Evidence of how much the suits made the difference: In the 17 months since the LZR Racer hit the market and spawned a host of imitators, more than 130 world records have fallen, including seven (in eight events) by Michael Phelps during the Beijing Olympics.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 03:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evil-fizz.livejournal.com
One additional quote from the article: In the Olympic individual events, only four world records remain from the pre-2008, pre-polyurethane era: the men’s 400- and 1,500-meter freestyles, and the women’s 100 breaststroke and 100 butterfly.

As setting world records became almost commonplace, the swimsuit controversy spread beyond issues of performance into the territory of morality.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 04:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
Fascinating! Thanks for the thoughts and the updates, [livejournal.com profile] evil_fizz.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 04:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
With respect to turf protection, he called it "meritocrats trying to preserve their own hegemony."

OMG THIS! I <3 your professor.

I think that the best answer to the ramping-up problem is for worried people to stop competing at that level, honestly. I see no plausible force that can prevent technology from finding means, overt and covert, to make it harder to be the best. I think the better strategy, when the stakes get too high, is to take your chips and make your own game in a less-crowded arena. Find a small community in which you can shine and do it.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 04:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
The rate of enhancement... gosh, I got so distracted by the quote that I didn't notice this. How interesting. Yes -- the rate of enhancement is going to determine how profitable it is to enter the market. In a sport with no controls on performance enhancement, I'd (naively) predict bubbles as technology developed followed by busts as it started to make developments counterproductive. So there could be good times and bad times to get into swimming, just like any other job and any other investment.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 03:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evil-fizz.livejournal.com
It's well established in sports like cycling (where doping in all forms is endemic) that it's really just a race between the dopers and the testers. They know to look for things like synthetic testosterone, but you can't look for chemicals if you don't know they exist. The discovery of the BALCO lab enabled WADA and athletic governing bodies to come up with new tests because they had new substances to screen for. However, in the absence of raiding labs, testing agencies don't know how to find PEDs.

I think the other thing about enhancement that we've not mentioned in how small the margins can be. The difference between first and last place in an Olympic sprint event will likely be measured in fractions of a second. The difference between winning the Tour de France and finishing in the middle of the pack is a tiny percentage of the total time spent riding. Swimming now calculates down to the hundredth instead of a tenth second because that's the margin they need to distinguish between competitors.

You don't need much of an improvement to shave a few hundredths of a second off your time, or to ride just a little faster in the Tour. And, of course, the story of the underdog is ridiculously popular in athletics. People liked the idea of Michelle Smith (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelle_Smith) unexpectedly dominating the field at the Atlanta Olympics and of Floyd Landis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floyd_Landis) having an incredible day on the Tour de France. Whether people like it or not, doping is an advantage to the underdog.

The unifying thread here is this concept that we like our athletic contests to be "pure", even if we have no idea what that means subjectively or objectively. We want things to be "fair", but we like people to excel. It's enjoyable to watch people excel, but it's boring to see the same people win every time, so sometimes we like to the see the favorite crash and burn. (See, e.g., Tiger Woods and the British Open and ensuing shock/schadenfreude.) These dueling narratives compel people to look for ways to gain an advantage. And of course, it's not just about winning. Prestige is nice, but it's nothing compared to cash prizes and sponsorships.

P.S. An analysis of the steroids versus LASIK and 20/20++ vision. (http://slate.com/id/2116858/)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-26 03:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
That's a great point. I have been thinking about small margins (http://eirias.livejournal.com/297422.html) off and on in another context. To me I find them extremely demotivating: the harder I have to work for a tiny payoff, the less I want to bother. But I can see from your description why they might be motivating to another kind of person.

I loved the Saletan piece. Thanks for the link. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 05:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tiurin.livejournal.com
I second what [livejournal.com profile] kirinn says about sports being contests with arbitrary rules set up so that we humans can "defeat" other humans without resulting(usually) in death or crippling injury. However, I think you might be missing something which is the cause of the emotional reaction and moral outrage.

I believe that people generally have the expectation that athletes play within the arbitrary rules of the contest. Indeed, athletes almost invariably say that they're playing within the rules until overwhelming evidence is found that they're not, and even then they often try to pave over it with brazen denials. It's this betrayal of trust that causes the moral outrage- the hypocrisy, the fact that the athlete was living a lie.

If I was some 8 year old kid who dreamt about being a professional athlete, and spent my formative years listening to the athlete say that reaching that level of achievement is all about proper technique and physical training rather than steroids[1], and then find out after a decade of swallowing his BS that he's been juicing this entire time and that steroids are probably responsible for much of his success...well, I'd be having a volcanic eruption of outrage.

So really, if any and all drugs were listed as legal(or even encouraged) in sports, I think you'd have a lot less moral outrage. But as it stands, it's not a simple breaking of rules- it's long-term hypocrisy on a massive scale, and that's what's causing the anger. We don't like it when our heroes lie to us.

[1] We'll leave aside the fact that some "performance enhancing drugs" like steroids may well have negative effects on other people, not just on one's own body. I sure wouldn't want to be a hyperactive child with a dad who was subject to "roid rage", among other things.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 11:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
I think what is hard for me to understand is -- given the arbitrariness at the heart of pro sports, what is the point of treating professional athletes as heroes in the first place?

IMO, for a victory to be meaningful, the rules ought to make some kind of sense.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-26 03:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tiurin.livejournal.com
I think it's because we're still only an evolutionary eyeblink away from the days when physical prowess was probably the most valued trait a man could have. Pro athletics are the way to demonstrate those physical capabilities without ending up with a lot of dead humans.

It's not really any different from people in our social circle being impressed by Fields Medalists or Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicists. It's entirely possible that a lot of the stuff those people are winning accolades for are essentially untestable and/or completely impractical in the remotely forseeable human future, so they're really "winning" a fairly arbitrary game whose rules don't make much sense either.

Heck, I think that the rules for most athletic games make a whole lot more sense to me than the rules for a real-life thing which could be considered a sort of game- like "getting tenure".

Personally, I don't care about most body enhancements as long as 1) they don't have negative externalities(like inducing violent behavior) and 2) they stay out of sports which ban said enhancements.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 06:01 pm (UTC)
kirin: Kirin Esper from Final Fantasy VI (Default)
From: [personal profile] kirin
Yeah... I can't personally take the sports analogy too far, because at some level I don't really "get" sports - that whole "miracles of the human spirit" thing doesn't really resonate with my like it does with some people. Though tiurin's point below about lies and hypocrisy being a big moral issue is a good one, and I can certainly sympathize with that angle of it.

I actually think this ties into my complete lack of moral outrage at general enhancements as well - since I emphatically *don't* view life as a competition between me and everyone else, the notion that someone could be "cheating" by using technology to make some aspect of themselves "better" than me is pretty much completely foreign. You want to try something out on your own body, good for you. Evidently I'm in the same school and evil_fizz's professor above.

I also tend to view "turf" and "knowing where you stand" and "the natural order of things" as huge, comforting, evil roadblocks to any sort of real human progress, so yeah.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-26 03:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tiurin.livejournal.com
Life itself may not be a competition per se, but you don't see life as containing a myriad of little competitions for things that people desire? Isn't the entire process of finding employment a rather serious competition?

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-26 12:46 pm (UTC)
kirin: Kirin Esper from Final Fantasy VI (Default)
From: [personal profile] kirin
I'm aware that I'm *extremely* lucky in the fact that I've never had to seriously compete for a job. I'm sure that contributes to my weirdly zen world-view here. Though it also self-reinforces, in that I'm sure I tend to self-select against more competitive aspects of life. (Well, competition with actual consequences, anyway - it's not like I mind the occasional board game.)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-24 08:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] leora.livejournal.com
This is actually pretty much why I dyed my hair. A long time ago I decided never to dye my hair, because i wanted to accept going grey gracefully and I felt that there was nothing wrong with it. This is still part of my key beliefs that viewing age as a negative is generally stupid, and that while being closer to your likely death is bad, looking younger through things like hair dye won't affect that at all and I'd rather claim all of the experience I've gathered to help compensate for being closer to death rather than pretend that I'm younger, less experienced, and then still have to die at the same time.

But anyhow, the thing is dying my hair when I'm not going grey doesn't actually relate to that. It just got tangled up with purity issues and the idea that it was somehow more virtuous not to dye my hair. And I decided I couldn't support that notion. I'm fine with, I don't dye because it takes effort. Or I don't dye because I don't want to. Or I don't dye because it might be bad for my hair. But it's not a purer, more virtuous position. So, I decided I needed to dye my hair.

I actually really liked the results, and I may redo it at some point. It does take effort, but it's quite fun dying the bottom half as light as it will go and leaving the top half my very dark brown. This allows for some very nifty two-color effects in fairly simple hairstyles like a half-ponytale or braids.

Plus the endless amusement of having family members notice that some of my hair was lighter (i.e. blond) and asking me if it was natural... this vastly amused me. First, it was half my hair and the underside half at that, second, my hair has never been that light naturally. I don't think hair tends to naturally turn half of itself blond well into adulthood.

Takes effort and money though, which is a fairly serious drawback.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 04:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
This sounds very much like you :). As this post was gestating in my brain I toyed with the same idea. But I am really a very inert person, so I won't. I figure that having considered it is at least a minor moral improvement.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 12:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jpfed.livejournal.com
The state of my identity is not valuable for its own sake. If it has any value, it is only because its individual elements have proven desirable* over time. If there is an undesirable* element in my character, it should* not be preserved simply because it is already there; I should* be rid of it.

*Note the value assignments inherent in the use of these words. Self- determination does not constitute a lack of authenticity, because to go through that process of self-change I must have placed valuations on the different "ways of being" that I choose between. Self-determination is a change in identity, but it is one caused by valuations that come from one's identity.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 04:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
The difference between the born-and-bred Catholic and the convert, yes. One could make the argument (I have toyed with it myself) that a choice to diverge from your own personal path of least resistance is *more* authentic, *more* meaningful, than the choice to remain as you are. Blessed be the pre-meds and the bottle blondes! But I don't think that idea will ever be pretty enough to make hippies approve of Botox. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 01:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] supercarrot.livejournal.com
if you want a golden shimmer and more glossy hair, you can give yourself cassia (aka neutral henna, but not really henna at all, that's just a nickname for it) treatments. you go about it in a similar way to henna, but because it doesn't dramatically change the color of your hair, you're not locked in to monthly treatments if you don't want to.

:-) just figured i'd give you some practical advice.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-25 04:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cynic51.livejournal.com
You think people are uncomfortable now? Wait until some bright boy or girl figures out to genetically enhance kids in the womb. It'll happen eventually, and there'll be lots of pointless moralizing.

Me? If I could make my hypothetical kids more intelligent/athletic/etc at zero to minimal risk, then I damn well would.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-02 03:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ksledgemoore.livejournal.com
It is interesting how it's acceptable to society for you to change yourself by hard work (e.g. diet and exercise), but not by a quick fix (e.g. liposuction or a diet pill).

I think it does have to do with our concept of "cheating." And...I really hate evolutionary psychology...but I think it could have to do with evolutionary psychology.

Basically, if you dye your hair or get implants or get coaching on the SAT, you are misrepresenting your genetics. What if someone were to have children with you, and they all had the wrong hair color and weren't as smart as expected?

Hard work causing these changes could still result in a misrepresentation of genetics, but at least it shows a desirable personal trait, namely being hard working and/or resourceful. Also, it's usually more obvious if someone is working hard to make something happen versus using the quick fix. So in that sense they aren't misrepresenting.


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