Monday, August 11, 2014

Small Sample Size

I had a little theory which, upon further review, isn’t likely to hold up under scrutiny.

There are relatives who I now have little contact with*. I’m thinking of a nephew I have never seen as an adult (he must be 40 now), and a cousin about 50 who I have seen only once since he was a toddler. Yet I have kept up with both of them from a distance because of reports I get from others, who remain in closer contact with both of us.  You know the sort.  I wish them well, and they are some part of the tribal background of my life.

Communication is different now, and group emails that chain back through several replies, or Facebook shares, or retweets suddenly put you in possession of comments that the original sender never expected would come to you.  When those comments are rude statements about political or religious groups you belong to, it’s suddenly uncomfortable. It is rather like the time I was chatting with a Mormon friend, who was joined by another Mormon who presumably thought I was in the fold as well and made some disparaging remarks about gentiles. Ah, so that’s why you think of us when we’re not around.

I certainly make generalisations myself, but I hope it is only in response to actual data and real-life examples, not the stereotypes handed to me.  Perhaps not.  One would have to ask those who disagree with me about that. 

Because the two relatives were both male who so emphatically declared the standard insulting cliches, and in both cases made them to other males, I wondered if there was a gender difference here.  Without effort, into my mind popped a short list of male relatives who carry on their interactions in just this way, and in contrast, the female relatives who first came to mind do not do this at all. (Those females hold similar political and religious views, so far as I can tell.)

Their woofing has a schoolyard feel to it, of bumping into people intentionally to see if they will make something of it, or of marking out territory and daring people to cross lines, which also suggests males more than females.

So I set about pondering the various people I encounter, at work, at church, online, at community events. Equally, I thought through categories of relatives close and distant, alive or deceased, looking for patterns.  I pretty quickly thought of two female relatives who mark out political territory on Facebook almost daily, most of it tribal, chirping out what good people their group has and what ignorant bastards are in the other group. These are presented with some wit and skill, usually in the form of a poster to share, but the undercurrent is obvious.  (Duh.  Note: Of course it’s obvious, even when it retains some deniability along the lines of “But I was just…”  The criticism of the others, as people, was the whole point.  There is no other content.)

Likewise, I saw that most of  my male relatives do not set down political markers at every turn - only a few were in this wolfpack mode 24-7. So my theory of male political aggressors and more harmonising females in my family has only weak support.  But not no support.  The trend is there. Additionally, it is supported by my observations at work, where males are clearly more aggressive in their political and religious comments than females.  Church, email, community, also true that the males are - not overwhelmingly but consistently - more likely to set down territorial markers a bit defiantly.  These latter categories are important, because those are more conservative individuals making those declarations. The liberals in those groups are less likely to make irritating comments, conservatives more likely.

I wonder if this woofing largely takes place when people think they generally outnumber the opposition and are attempting to herd the others into compliance, or invite them out.

I think I'm the only referee in most places, and not a fully objective one.  Which is to say, of course I'm objective, but A) I have to show false modesty to retain credibility and B) not every agrees with me.

*Notice that the sentence is grammatically “wrong” in two ways, but is the clearest and most natural expression of the idea in English.  That is evidence that the rules are wrong.


Retriever said...

I'm not so sure about the gender differences...What about the "mean girls" who torment outsiders? I have a sister who constantly rants on FB about people who think this, that or the other way, never realizing or caring that I feel that way. Without even the fig leaf of "anonymity!"

Thinking also about the small sample size aspect of this, and applying it to our political overlords. Most of us received some semblance of a classical education (hence our brutal frankness when asked an opinion, hence our NOT being the Sultan's favorite). Kidding aside, imagine a bunch of PC types, compound their biases w small sample size when they try in good faith perhaps to get a good read on situations. They can't.

I was watching the unutterably silly film "Day of the Siege" last night (about the wicked Turks at the gates of Vienna in the 1680s. Caveat: I loved modern Turkey and the Turks when I visited them two years ago. The movie was chiefly interesting because of pretty horses, buildings, costumes, and a monk just like a wizard. But it struck me that our present government is very much like the decadent Viennese Court is depicted in the film. The half starved obsessed monk warns them of their peril but he is someone to be revered not listened to. In the wrong box.

I cd relate to the tribal stuff u mentioned except that I gave up on most of my tribe because of their essential dishonesty about certain issues, their preference for rich and successful relatives, and their utter lack of empathy for what our family has been thru.

Texan99 said...

My sister once accidentally replied to one of my emails when she evidently meant to send a message to one of her friends, the text including a disparaging assessment of my politics and a sigh about how I had become one of those cold-hearted Republicans. It made me glad I hadn't (as far as I know) accidentally copied her on an email accusing her of being a pudding-headed union lackey. I didn't call her on it.

In the intervening years, I've had to set some boundary rules about our conversations. There are areas where we differ, we aren't likely to agree, and if she'll be careful about tossing out incendiary comments about my politics or my religion, I'll return the favor. If she wants to discuss our differences without being insulting, I'm up for that, too, but I'm not interested in a conversation where I pull all my punches but she gives herself full rein for partisan vituperation.

I have a couple of friends I've had to do the same with. The attitude I was getting from them was basically that they assumed I wasn't serious about any of my beliefs, because they thought I was an OK person at heart, and that couldn't be true of anyone who believed those things. I finally had to ask whether they didn't think I could just as easily adopt that position myself, about them, if I didn't think it was a characteristic human mistake that I was determined to avoid? They were very shocked.

Texan99 said...

Female friends, BTW.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"I pull all my punches but she gives herself full rein for partisan vituperation."

When I stopped doing that, I became defined as the troublemaker.

jaed said...

...see last sentence of your post.