Tuesday, March 31, 2020

“When in Danger, Turn Right: Covid-19 Threat Promotes Social Conservatism and Right-wing Presidential Candidates

Karwowski, Maciej, Marta Kowal, Agata Groyecka, Michal Bialek, Izabela Lebuda, Agnieszka Sorokowska, and Piotr Sorokowski. 2020. “When in Danger, Turn Right: Covid-19 Threat Promotes Social Conservatism and Right-wing Presidential Candidates.” PsyArXiv. March 31. doi:10.31234/osf.io/pjfhs

Abstract: The recent coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forms an enormous challenge for the world's economy, governments, and societies. Drawing upon the Parasite Model of Democratization (Thornhill, R., Fincher, C. L., & Aran, D. (2009), parasites, democratization, and the liberalization of values across contemporary countries, Biological Reviews, 84(1), 113-131) across two large, preregistered experiments conducted in the USA and Poland (total N = 1,237), we examined the psychological and political consequences of this unprecedented pandemic. By manipulating saliency of COVID-19, we demonstrate that activating thinking about coronavirus elevates Americans' and Poles' anxiety and indirectly promotes their social conservatism as well as support for more conservative presidential candidates. The pattern obtained was consistent in both countries and it implies that the pandemic may result in a shift in political views. Both theoretical and practical consequences of the findings are discussed.

In a large-scale, preregistered experiment, we found evidence for a shift in political views of individuals threatened by the coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, we show that those who feel threatened react with anxiety, tend to seek greater structure in their environment, and thus shift toward social conservatism. All of this increases the support for conservative presidential candidates. A great value of our research is the observed similarity of this effect in two countries: Poland and United States. Different in many aspects, these populations still exhibited the same pattern of results. Further, our findings cohere with political ideology shifts following terrorist attacks (38). Hence, the results suggest a universal character of the threat-to-conservatism path.

Our results have crucial, practical implications, since they suggest that forthcoming elections can be biased toward right-wing, conservative candidates. People simply seek stability and order, which seem to be more pronouncedly exhibited by conservative candidates. Our findings also have important theoretical implications, as the current pandemic created a unique opportunity to validate the Parasite Model of Democratization (14). We found strong support for it – pathogen threat boosted preference of values typical for social conservatism. We also provided evidence against an alternative explanation of threat boosting support for status quo, because support was also greater for less liberal (or more centrist) counter-candidates, if participants were to choose among them.

Regarding applicability of our findings, we believe that all candidates should reframe their political communication. In the moral foundation theory (39, 40), loyalty and authority constitute the so-called binding values. These moral values are more prominent in conservatives but are not ignored by liberally oriented individuals either. Hence, communication appealing to these values may be an efficient way to mitigate the shift of values in societies: they are accepted by the core supporters of liberal candidates and are actively sought by individuals affected by the coronavirus threat. In general, our results highlight how important it is for people to perceive the world as a stable and predictable place. This preference is even stronger in times of chaos. Those interested in human behavior should consider its importance in the current models explaining how we judge and think.

Perceived political and nonpolitical dissimilarity were associated with negative emotions, prejudice, and lower affiliative intentions among both liberals and conservatives, more strongly in the former

Ideological Conflict and Prejudice: An Adversarial Collaboration Examining Correlates and Ideological (A)Symmetries. Chadly Stern, Jarret T. Crawford. Social Psychological and Personality Science, March 30, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550620904275

Abstract: In an adversarial collaboration, we examined associations among factors that could link ideological conflict—perceiving that members of a group do not share one’s ideology—to prejudice and affiliation interest. We also examined whether these factors would possess similar (“symmetrical”) or different (“asymmetrical”) associative strength among liberals and conservatives. Across three samples (666 undergraduate students, 347 Mechanical Turk workers), ideological conflict was associated with perceived dissimilarity on political and nonpolitical topics, as well as negative emotions. Perceived political and nonpolitical dissimilarity were also associated with negative emotions, prejudice, and lower affiliative intentions among both liberals and conservatives. Importantly, however, perceived political dissimilarity was associated with negative emotions, prejudice, and lower affiliative intentions more strongly among liberals. Some inconsistent evidence also suggested that perceived nonpolitical dissimilarity was associated with prejudice and lower affiliative intentions more strongly among conservatives. These findings document nuance in relationships that could link ideological conflict to prejudice.

Keywords: ideological conflict, prejudice, ideological symmetry, ideological asymmetry

Females are more likely to tweet about the virus in the context of family, social distancing & healthcare, males are more likely to tweet about sports cancellations, the virus global spread & political reactions

Covid-19 Tweeting in English: Gender Differences. Mike Thelwall. Institute of Health, University of Wolverhampton. https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/2003/2003.11090.pdf

Abstract: At the start of 2020, COVID-19 became the most urgent threat to global public health. Uniquely in recent times, governments have imposed partly voluntary, partly compulsory restrictions on the population to slow the spread of the virus. In this context, public attitudes and behaviors are vitally important for reducing the death rate. Analyzing tweets about the disease may therefore give insights into public reactions that may help guide public information campaigns. This article analyses 3,038,026 English tweets about COVID-19 from March 10 to 23, 2020. It focuses on one relevant aspect of public reaction: gender differences. The results show that females are more likely to tweet about the virus in the context of family, social distancing and healthcare whereas males are more likely to tweet about sports cancellations, the global spread of the virus and political reactions. Thus, women seem to be taking a disproportionate share of the responsibility for directly keeping the population safe. The detailed results may be useful to inform public information announcements and to help understand the spread of the virus. For example, failure to impose a sporting bans whilst encouraging social distancing may send mixed messages to males

Quantifying, and Correcting For, the Impact of Questionable Research Practices on False Discovery Rates in Psychological Science

Kravitz, Dwight, and Stephen Mitroff. 2020. “Quantifying, and Correcting For, the Impact of Questionable Research Practices on False Discovery Rates in Psychological Science.” PsyArXiv. March 26. doi:10.31234/osf.io/fu9gy

Abstract: Large-scale replication failures have shaken confidence in the social sciences, psychology in particular. Most researchers acknowledge the problem, yet there is widespread debate about the causes and solutions. Using “big data,” the current project demonstrates that unintended consequences of three common questionable research practices (retaining pilot data, adding data after checking for significance, and not publishing null findings) can explain the lion’s share of the replication failures. A massive dataset was randomized to create a true null effect between two conditions, and then these three practices were applied. They produced false discovery rates far greater than 5% (the generally accepted rate), and were strong enough to obscure, or even reverse, the direction of real effects. These demonstrations suggest that much of the replication crisis might be explained by simple, misguided experimental choices. This approach also produces empirically-based corrections to account for these practices when they are unavoidable, providing a viable path forward.

Even Prosocially Oriented Individuals Save Themselves First: Social Value Orientation, Subjective Effectiveness and the Usage of Protective Measures During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Germany

Leder, Johannes, Alexander Pastukhov, and Astrid Schütz. 2020. “Even Prosocially Oriented Individuals Save Themselves First: Social Value Orientation, Subjective Effectiveness and the Usage of Protective Measures During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Germany.” PsyArXiv. March 30. doi:10.31234/osf.io/nugcr

Abstract: We investigated the perception and the frequency of various protective behavior measures against COVID-19. Although our sample (German general public, N = 419, age = 38.07 (15.67) years, female = 71.1 % (diverse = 0.5%), students = 34.37%) consisted mostly of prosocially oriented individuals, we found that, above all, participants used protective measures that protected themselves. They consistently shunned measures that have higher protective value for the public than for themselves, which indicates that public protective value comes second even for prosocially oriented individuals. Accordingly, health communication should focus on emphasizing a measure’s perceived self-protective value by explaining how it would foster public protection that in the long run will protect the individual and the individual’s close relations.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Robin Hanson: Variolation May Cut Covid19 Deaths 3-30X

Variolation May Cut Covid19 Deaths 3-30X. Robin Hanson. Overcoming Bias, March 30, 2020. http://www.overcomingbias.com/2020/03/variolation-may-cut-covid19-deaths-3-30x.html

(Here I try to put my recent arguments together into an integrated essay, suitable for recommending to others.)

When facing a new pandemic, the biggest win is to end it fast, so that few ever suffer. This prize makes it well worth trying hard to trace, test, and isolate those near the first few cases. Alas, for Covid-19 and the world, this has mostly failed, though not yet everywhere.

The next biggest win is to find a cheap effective treatment, such as a vaccine. And while hope remains for an early win, this looks to be years away. To keep most from getting infected, at this point the West must apparently develop and long maintain unprecedented expansions in border controls, testing, tracing, and privacy invasions, and perhaps also non-home isolation of suspected cases. Alas, these ambitious plans must be implemented by the same governments that have so far failed us badly.

Yes, there remains hope here, which should be pursued. But we also need a Plan B; what if most will eventually be infected without a treatment? The usual answer is “flatten the curve,” via more social distance to lower the average of (and increase the variance of) infection rates, so that more can access limited medical resources. Such as ventilators, which cut deaths by <¼, since >¾ of patients on them die.

However, extreme “lockdowns”, which isolate most everyone at home, not only limit freedoms and strangle the economy, they also greatly increase death rates. This is because infections at home via close contacts tend to come with higher initial virus doses, in contrast to the smaller doses you might get from, say, a public door handle. As soon as your body notices an infection, it immediately tries to grow a response, while the virus tries to grow itself. From then on, it is a race to see which can grow biggest fastest. And the virus gets a big advantage in this race if its initial dose of infecting virus is larger.

This isn’t just a theory. The medical literature consistently finds strong relations, in both animals and humans, between initial virus dose and symptom severity, including death. The most directly relevant data is on SARS and measles, where natural differences in doses were associated with factors of 3 and 14 in death rates, and in smallpox, where in the 1700s low “variolation” doses given on purpose cut death rates by a factor of 10 to 30. For example, variolation saved George Washington’s troops at Valley Forge.

Early on, it can be worth paying such high costs to end a pandemic. But once a pandemic seems likely to eventually infect most everyone, it becomes less clear whether lockdowns are a net win. However, the dose effect that lockdowns exacerbate, by increasing dose size, also offers a huge opportunity to slash deaths, via voluntary infection with very low doses.

Just as replacing accidental smallpox infections with deliberate low dose infections cut smallpox deaths by a factor of 10 to 30, a factor of 3-30 is plausible for Covid19 death rate cuts due to replacing accidental Covid19 infections with deliberate small dose infections. Observed mortality differences due to natural dose variations give only a lower bound on what is feasible via controlled doses. Of course we can’t be sure until we get more direct evidence. But systematic variolation experiments involving at most a few thousand volunteers seem sufficient to get evidence not only on death rates, but also on ideal infection doses and methods, and on the value of complementary drugs that slow viral replication (e.g., remdesivir).

This dose size advantage adds to several other substantial advantages of variolation. Not only does it offer controlled conditions for studying disease progression, and for training medical personnel, it can also help ensure consistent staffing of critical workers, by spacing out their infections.

Furthermore, the combination of variolation with immediate isolation until recovery “flattens the curve,” by spreading out medical demand over time, and also adding to the herd immunity that usually ends a pandemic. So even without a death rate cut due to lower doses, this strategy produces a net social gain.

This last claim may sound counter-intuitive, but it has in fact recently been confirmed in three independently developed simulations. For example, in a simulation where old and sick people are selected for isolation, while only the young and healthy are eligible for variolation, there are 40% fewer life years lost, compared to no variolation and random selection for isolation. Each variolation volunteer suffers only an additional 0.20% chance of death to save a random other person from a 6.5% chance. And these simulations ignore any benefits of low doses; they hold constant the infection and death rates, and the total quantity of social isolation, and thus expense.

Of course, if low doses cut death rates by a factor of two or more, variolation volunteers would actually cut their chance of death, perhaps greatly. Yes, the first few thousand volunteers could be less sure of such gains, but they could be compensated for this risk, just as we now consider compensating subjects in vaccine trials using live Covid19 viruses. We could pay variolation volunteers cash, offer their loved ones priority medical care, certify them as safe for work and social gatherings, and honor them like soldiers selected for their elite features who take risks to produce community gains.

So the scenario is this: Variolation Villages welcome qualified volunteers. Friends and family can enter together, and remain together. A cohort enters together, and is briefly isolated individually for as long as it takes to verify that they’ve been infected with a very small dose of the virus. They can then interact freely with each other, but not leave the village until tests show they have recovered.

In Variolation Village, volunteers have a room, food, internet connection, and full medical care. Depending on available funding from government or philanthropic sources, volunteers might either pay to enter, get everything for free, or be paid a bonus to enter. Health plans of volunteers may even contribute to the expense.

Those who work in medicine or critical infrastructure seem especially valuable candidates for early variolation; volunteers might be offered larger bonuses. Once they have recovered, they are more surely available to work near the pandemic peak, and can more easily risk social contact at work.

Note that this strategy of variolation plus isolation requires no government support, nor loss of personal freedom, just the sort of legal permission sometimes given to administrators and volunteers of vaccine trials. And this comparison with vaccine trial policy can be emphasized to those tempted to see this policy as repulsive. Variolation policy offers similar social gains, and may require similar voluntary personal sacrifices.

Note also that there is no minimum scale required to make this policy beneficial. Even variolation of only a few is still a social gain compared to none at all. A small early trial could generate much useful attention and discussion regarding this strategy, to inspire application in this and future pandemics. Furthermore, the optimal time to stop this practice for personal reasons is probably close to the optimal time to stop for social reasons, so choice of stopping date needn’t be heavily regulated.

Some fear that it is now too late to consider variolation, as the pandemic peak may be only a few weeks away. But lockdowns may succeed in substantially slowing Covid19 growth, and we may then be in for many months or years of alternating local waves of suppression and reappearance. Furthermore, if low doses cut death rates enough, variolation can make sense even at the pandemic peak, when medical resources are stretched most thin. For example, for a factor of 3 cut in death rates, variolation replaces three sick patients with one similarly sick patient, lowering total medical demand.

As variolation doesn’t much change the total number who are ever infected, it doesn’t give the virus more total chances to evolve. In fact, while accidental infections risk selection for versions that infect people more easily, voluntary infections avoid this problematic effect.

While you might think policy wonks would be eager to cut Covid19 death rates by a factor of 3-30, few have so far been attracted to discuss or pursue this concept. It seems to push the wrong buttons in many people. So if you are a rare exception who finds the concept plausible, you can get a disproportionate policy leverage by working on a neglected important option. You might help in one of these areas:

[more text at the link above]

We have much work to do if this Plan B is to be ready when needed.

Adults severely underestimate their absolute and relative fatality risk if infected with SARS-CoV

Niepel, Christoph, Dirk Kranz, Francesca Borgonovi, and Samuel Greiff. 2020. “Sars-cov-2 Fatality Risk Perception in US Adult Residents.” PsyArXiv. March 30. doi:10.31234/osf.io/w52e9

Abstract: Our study presents time-critical empirical results on the SARS-CoV-2 fatality risk perception of 1182 US adult residents stratified for age and gender. Given the current epidemiological figures, our findings suggest that many US adult residents severely underestimate their absolute and relative fatality risk if infected with SARS-CoV-2. These results are worrying because risk perception, as our study suggests, relates to self-reported actual or intended behavior that can reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission rates.

Animals benefit from numerical competence (foraging, navigating, hunting, predation avoidance, social interactions, & reproductive activities); internal number representations determine how they perceive stimulus magnitude

The Adaptive Value of Numerical Competence. Andreas Nieder. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, March 30 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2020.02.009

*  Numerical competence, the ability to estimate and process the number of objects and events, is of adaptive value.
*  It enhances an animal’s ability to survive by exploiting food sources, hunting prey, avoiding predation, navigating, and persisting in social interactions. It also plays a major role in successful reproduction, from monopolizing receptive mates to increasing the chances of fertilizing an egg and promoting the survival chances of offspring.
*  In these ecologically relevant scenarios, animals exhibit a specific way of internally representing numbers that follows the Weber-Fechner law.
*  A framework is provided for more dedicated and quantitative analyses of the adaptive value of numerical competence.

Abstract: Evolution selects for traits that are of adaptive value and increase the fitness of an individual or population. Numerical competence, the ability to estimate and process the number of objects and events, is a cognitive capacity that also influences an individual’s survival and reproduction success. Numerical assessments are ubiquitous in a broad range of ecological contexts. Animals benefit from numerical competence during foraging, navigating, hunting, predation avoidance, social interactions, and reproductive activities. The internal number representations determine how animals perceive stimulus magnitude, which, in turn, constrains an animal’s spontaneous decisions. These findings are placed in a framework to provide for a more quantitative analysis of the adaptive value and selection pressures of numerical competence.

Keywords: quantitynumberWeber-Fechner lawproportional processingultimate causesanimal cognition

UK: Inequality in socio-emotional skills has increased across cohorts, especially for boys and at the bottom of the distribution

Inequality in socio-emotional skills: A cross-cohort comparison. Orazio Attanasio et al. Journal of Public Economics, March 30 2020, 104171. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpubeco.2020.104171

Abstract: We examine changes in inequality in socio-emotional skills very early in life in two British cohorts born 30 years apart. We construct comparable scales using two validated instruments for the measurement of child behaviour and identify two dimensions of socio-emotional skills: ‘internalising’ and ‘externalising’. Using recent methodological advances in factor analysis, we establish comparability in the inequality of these early skills across cohorts, but not in their average level. We document for the first time that inequality in socio-emotional skills has increased across cohorts, especially for boys and at the bottom of the distribution. We also formally decompose the sources of the increase in inequality and find that compositional changes explain half of the rise in inequality in externalising skills. On the other hand, the increase in inequality in internalising skills seems entirely driven by changes in returns to background characteristics. Lastly, we document that socio-emotional skills measured at an earlier age than in most of the existing literature are significant predictors of health and health behaviours. Our results show the importance of formally testing comparability of measurements to study skills differences across groups, and in general point to the role of inequalities in the early years for the accumulation of health and human capital across the life course.

JEL classification: J13J24I14I24C38
Keywords: InequalitySocio-emotional skillsCohort studiesMeasurement invariance

Our results imply that the ability to utilize the enhanced information of a face to recognize familiar faces may develop aged around 7 months of age

Infants’ recognition of their mothers’ faces in facial drawings. Megumi Kobayashi  Ryusuke Kakigi  So Kanazawa  Masami K. Yamaguchi. Developmental Psychobiology, March 29 2020. https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.21972

Abstract: This study examined the development of ability to recognize familiar face in drawings in infants aged 6–8 months. In Experiment 1, we investigated infants’ recognition of their mothers’ faces by testing their visual preference for their mother’s face over a stranger’s face under three conditions: photographs, cartoons produced by online software that simplifies and enhances the contours of facial features of line drawings, and veridical line drawings. We found that 7‐ and 8‐month‐old infants showed a significant preference for their mother’s face in photographs and cartoons, but not in veridical line drawings. In contrast, 6‐month‐old infants preferred their mother’s face only in photographs. In Experiment 2, we investigated a visual preference for an upright face over an inverted face for cartoons and veridical line drawings in 6‐ to 8‐month‐old infants, finding that infants aged older than 6 months showed the inversion effect in face preference in both cartoons and veridical line drawings. Our results imply that the ability to utilize the enhanced information of a face to recognize familiar faces may develop aged around 7 months of age.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

At low levels of video gaming time, gaming protects against gun violence; at high levels, it imprints gun-related behaviors and naturalizes them, a small effect; moral panic of video gaming is largely unsubstantiated

Videogames and guns in adolescents: Preliminary tests of a bipartite association. Ofir Turel. Computers in Human Behavior, March 29 2020, 106355. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2020.106355

• We propose a U-shaped association between video-gaming and gun-related behaviors.
• At low levels of video gaming time, video gaming displaces gun-related behaviors.
• At high levels, it imprints gun-related behaviors and naturalizes them.
• This can explain inconsistent past findings based on an assumed linear association.
• Moral panic over light to moderate video gaming is largely unsubstantiated.

Abstract: The possible role of video gaming in imprinting aggressive and specifically gun-related behaviors has been elusive, and findings regarding these associations have been inconsistent. We address this gap by proposing and testing a bipartite theory that can explain inconsistent results regarding the previously assumed linear association between videogames and gun-related behaviors. Our theory suggests that this association follows a U-shape. It posits that at low levels of video gaming time, video gaming displaces gun-related behaviors and shelters adolescents by keeping them occupied and by reducing opportunities and motivation to acquire guns. However, at some level of gaming time (because most popular games adolescents play include violent aspects), the assumed imprinting of aggressive behaviors overpowers the positive displacement force, and this trivializes and naturalizes gun-carrying behaviors, and ultimately increases motivation to obtain and carry guns. We tested this theory with two national samples of American adolescents (n1 = 24,779 and n2 = 26,543, out of which 403 and 378, respectively, reported bringing a gun to school in the last month). Multiple analyses supported the proposed U-shaped association. These findings show that the moral panic over video games is largely unsubstantiated, especially among light to moderate gamers.

Keywords: Video gamesTechnology and societyGunsAdolescentsImprinting hypothesisDisplacement hypothesis

Patrician women loitering on dark streets, giving themselves to common passers-by; half-clad men molested by their mothers and sisters; effeminates soft as a rabbit and “languid as a limp penis”

True Greek orgy meant mystic loss of self. But in imperial Roman orgy, persona continued. The Roman decadent kept the observing Apollonian eye awake during Dionysian revel. More Alexandrian connoisseurship, here applied to the fashionable self. Eye plus orgy equals decadence. Salaciousness, lewdness, lasciviousness: such interesting hyperstates are produced by a superimposition of mind on erotic action. The west has pioneered in this charred crimson territory. Without strong personality of the western kind, serious decadence is impossible. Sin is a form of cinema, seen from a distance. The Romans, pragmatically adapting Greek ideas, made engineering out of eroticism too. The heir of Greek theater was not Roman theater but Roman sex. The Roman decadence has never been matched in scale because other places and times have lacked the great mass of classical forms to corrupt. Rome made daemonic music of gluttony and lust from the Dionysian body. The Maenadism absent from Roman cult became imperial ecstasy, mechanized greed.

Roman literature’s sexual personae are in hectic perpetual motion. Greek aristocratic athleticism split in two in Rome: vulgar gladiatorship by ruffians and slaves, and leisure-class sexual adventurism, a sporting life then as now. As the republic ends, Catullus records the jazzy promiscuity of Rome’s chic set. Patrician women loitering on dark streets, giving themselves to common passers-by. Half-clad men molested by their mothers and sisters. Effeminates soft as a rabbit and “languid as a limp penis.” A sodomite waking with battered buttocks and “red lips like snow,” mouth rimmed with last night’s pasty spoils. The strolling poet, finding a boy and girl copulating, falls upon the boy from behind, piercing and driving him to his task. Public sex, it is fair to say, is decadent. Oh, those happy pagan days, romping in green meadows: one still encounters this sentimental notion, half-baked Keats. It is quite wrong. Catullus, like Baudelaire, savors imagery of squalor and filth. His moral assumptions remain those of republican Rome, which he jovially pollutes with degeneration and disease. His poetry is a torch-lit descent into a gloomy underworld, where we survey the contamination and collapse of Roman personae. Men and women are suddenly free, but freedom is a flood of superfluous energy, a vicious circle of agitation, quest, satiation, exhaustion, ennui. Moral codes are always obstructive, relative, and man-made. Yet they have been of enormous profit to civilization. They are civilization. Without them, we are invaded by the chaotic barbarism of sex, nature’s tyranny, turning day into night and love into obsession and lust.

Catullus, an admirer of Sappho, turns her emotional ambivalence into sadomasochism. Her chills and fever become his “odi et amo,” “I hate and I love.” Her beloved maidens, fresh as orange flowers, become his cynical Lesbia, adulteress and dominatrix, vampiristically “draining the strength of all.” The urban femme fatale dons the primitive mask of mother nature. Lesbia, the wellborn Clodia, introduces to Rome a depraved sexual persona that had been current, according to aggrieved comment of the Old Testament, for a thousand years in Babylon. Female receptivity becomes a sinkhole of vice, the vagina a collector of pestilence to poison Roman nobility and bring it to an end.

Catullus is a cartographer of sexual personae. His lament for the dying god Attis (Carmen 63) is an extraordinary improvisation on gender. Castrating himself for Cybele, Attis enters a sexual twilight zone. Grammatically, the poem refers to him as feminine. “I a woman, I a man, I a youth, I a boy”: in this litany of haunting memory, Attis floats through a shamanistically expanded present tense of gender, all things and nothing. Like imperial Rome, he has been pitched into an ecstatic free fall of personae. Suspension of sexual conventions brings melancholy, not joy. He is artistically detached from ordinary life but feels “sterile.” Attis is the poet himself, mutating through gender in a strange, new, manic world.

Ovid, bom forty years later, is the first psychoanalyst of sex. His masterpiece is aptly called Metamorphoses: as Rome changes, Ovid plunders Greek and Roman legend for magic transformations—man and god to animal and plant, male to female and back. Identity is liquid. Nature is under Dionysian spell; Apollo’s contours do not hold. The world becomes a projected psyche, played upon by amoral vagaries of sexual desire. Ovid’s encyclopedic attentiveness to erotic perversity will not recur until Spenser’s Faerie Queene , directly influenced by him. His successors are Sade, Balzac, Proust, Krafft-Ebing, and Freud.

The Metamorphoses is a handbook of sexual problematics. There is Iphis, a girl raised as a boy who falls in love with another girl and is relieved of her suffering by being changed into a man. Or Caeneus, once the girl Caenis, who rejects marriage and is raped by Neptune. As compensation, she is changed into a man invulnerable to wounds, martial and sexual. According to the Homeric scholiast, Caeneus set up his spear as a phallic totem in the marketplace, prayed and sacrificed to it, and commanded people hail it as a god, angering Zeus. In Vergil’s underworld, Aeneas sees Caeneus as a woman, the morphological ghost of her femaleness reasserting itself. Ovid’s complications of violation and fetishism are theory, not titillation. The theme is our “double nature,” his term for the centaurs who smother impenetrable Caeneus after a horrifying orgy of Maenadic pulverizations. Like Freud, Ovid constructs hypothetical models of narcissism and the will-to-power. His point of view comes from his position between eras. Sexual personae, in flux, allow him to bring cool Apollonian study to bear upon roiling Dionysian process.

In his lesser works, Ovid lightens Catullus’ bitter sex war into parlor politics. In The Art of Love, he says the seducer must be shrewd and changeable as Proteus. This is the Roman Dionysus, metamorphic Greek nature reduced to erotic opportunism. Sex-change is a foxy game: the wise adulteress, counsels Ovid, transsexualizes her letters, turning “he” to “she.” The empire diverted Roman conceptual energy into sex. So specialized is Martial’s sexual vocabulary that it influenced modem medical terminology. Latin, an exact but narrow language, became startlingly precise about sexual activity. The Latinist Fred Nichols tells me that a verb in Martial, used in poetry for the first time by Catullus, describes the fluttering movement of the buttocks of the passive partner in sodomy. There were, in fact, two forms of this verb: one for males and another for females.

Classical Athens, exalting masculine athleticism, had no conspicuous sexual sadomasochists and street transvestites. The Roman empire, on the other hand, if we believe the satirists, was overrun by epicene creatures. Ovid warns women to beware of elegant men with coiffures “sleek with liquid nard”—they may be out to steal your dress! “What can a woman do when her lover is smoother than she, and may have more boyfriends?” 28 Ausonius tells a sodomist with depilated anus and buttocks, “You are a woman behind, a man in front.” Girlish boys and long-haired male prostitutes appear in Horace, Petronius, and Martial. Gaius Julius Phaedrus blames homosexuals of both sexes on drunken Prometheus, who attached the wrong genitalia to human figures he was molding. Lesbianism, infrequent in Greek literature, makes a splash in Rome. Martial and Horace record real-life tribads, Baiba, Philaenis, and Folia of Arminum, with her “masculine libidinousness.” There are lesbian innuendos about the all-woman rites of the Bona Dea, crashed by Publius Clodius in drag. Lucian’s debater condemns lesbian acts as “androgynous passions” and calls dildos “infamous instruments of lust, an unholy imitation of a fruitless union .” 29 Rome’s sexual disorientation was great theater, but it led to the collapse of paganism.

Pursuit of pleasure belongs on the party circuit, not in the centers of power. Today too, one might like playfulness and spontaneity in a friend, lover, or star, but one wants a different character in people with professional or political authority. The more regular, unimaginative, and boring the daily lives of presidents, surgeons, and airline pilots, the better for us, thank you very much. Hierarchic ministry should be ascetic and focused. It does not profit from identity crises, the province of art. Rome had a genius for organization. Its administrative structure was absorbed by the Catholic Church, which turned an esoteric Palestinian sect into a world religion. Roman imperial bureaucracy, an ex* tension of republican legalism, was a superb machine, rolling over other nations with brutal force. Two thousand years later, we are still feeling the consequences of its destruction of Judaea and dispersion of the fractious Jews, who refused to become Roman. We know from Hollywood movies what that machine sounded like, its thunderous, relentless marching drums pushing Roman destiny across the world and through history. But when the masters of the machine turned to idleness and frivolity, Roman moral force vanished.

The Roman annalists give us the riveting gossip. Sodomy was reported of the emperors Tiberius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Commodus, Trajan, and Elagabalus. Even Julius Caesar was rumored to be bisexual. Hadrian fell in love with the beautiful Antinous, deified him after his death, and spread his image everywhere. Caligula had a taste for extravagant robes and women’s clothes. He dressed his wife Caesonia in armour and paraded her before the troops. He loved impersonations, appearing in wig and costume as singer, dancer, charioteer, gladiator, virgin huntress, wife. He posed as all the male and female gods. As Jupiter, he seduced many women, including his sisters. Cassius Dio tartly remarks, “He was eager to appear to be anything rather than a human being and an emperor .” 30 Nero chose the roles of bard, athlete, and charioteer. He dressed as a tragedian to watch Rome bum. Onstage he played heroes and heroines, gods and goddesses. He pretended to be a runaway slave, a blind man, a madman, a pregnant woman, a woman in labor. He wore the mask of his wife Poppaea Sabina, who had died, it was said, after he kicked her in her pregnant belly. Nero was a clever architect of sexual spectacle. He built riverbank brothels and installed patrician women to solicit him from doorways. Tying young male and female victims to stakes, he draped himself in animal skins and leapt out from a den to attack their genitals. Nero devised two homosexual parodies of marriage. He castrated the boy Sporus, who resembled dead Poppaea, dressed him in women’s clothes, and married him before the court, treating him afterward as wife and empress. In the second male marriage, with a youth whom Tacitus calls Pythagoras and Suetonius Doryphorus, sex roles were reversed: the emperor was bride. “On the wedding night,” reports Suetonius, “he imitated the screams and moans of a girl being deflowered .” 31

Commodus gave his mother’s name to a concubine, making his sex life an Oedipal drama. He appeared as Mercury and transvestite Hercules. He was called Amazonius, because he dressed his concubine Marcia as an Amazon and wanted to appear as an Amazon himself in the arena. Elagabalus, Caracalla’s cousin, brought the sexually freakish customs of Asia Minor to imperial Rome. He scandalized the army with his silks, jewelry, and dancing. His short reign was giddy with plays, pageants, and parlor games. Lampridius says, “He got himself up as a confectioner, a perfumer, a cook, a shopkeeper, or a procurer, and he even practiced all these occupations in his own house continually .” 32 Elagabalus’ lordly ease of access to plebeian roles was social mobility in reverse. Like Nero, he practiced “class transvestism,” David Reisman’s phrase for the modem bluejeans fad . 33

Elagabalus’ life passion was his longing for womanhood. Wearing a wig, he prostituted himself in real Roman brothels. Cassius Dio reports:
He set aside a room in the palace and there committed his indecencies, always standing nude at the door of the room, as the harlots do, and shaking the curtain which hung from gold rings, while in a soft and melting voice he solicited the passers-by. There were, of course, men who had been specially instructed to play their part. . . . He would collect money from his patrons and give himself airs over his gains; he would also dispute with his associates in this shameful occupation, claiming that he had more lovers than they and took in more money.
Miming an adulteress caught in the act and beaten by her husband, the emperor cherished black eyes as a souvenir. He summoned to court a man notorious for enormous genitals and greeted him with “a ravishing feminine pose,” saying, “Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady.” He impersonated the Great Mother in a lion-drawn chariot and publicly posed as the Venus Pudica , dropping to his knees with buttocks thrust before a male partner. Finally, Elagabalus’ transvestite fantasies led to a desire to change sex. He had to be dissuaded from castrating himself, reluctantly accepting circumcision as a compromise. Dio says, “He asked the physicians to contrive a woman’s vagina in his body by means of an incision, promising them large sums for doing so .” 34 Science, which only recently perfected this operation, is clearly laggard upon the sexual imagination.

Absolute power is a door into dreaming. The Roman emperors made living theater of their turbulent world. There was no gap between wish and realization; fantasy leapt into instant visibility. Roman imperial masque: charades, inquisition, horseplay. The emperors made sexual personae an artistic medium, plastic as clay. Nero, setting live Christians afire for a night banquet, played with reality. Roman copies of Greek statues are a bit dull and coarse. So too with Rome’s sexual literalization of Greek drama. The emperors, acting to provoke, torture, or arouse, removed the poetry and philosophy from theater. The vomitoria of Roman villas are troughs for vomiting the last six courses before starting on the next. Vomitoria is also the name for the exits of Roman amphitheaters, through which the mob poured. Imperial Rome, heir to sprawling Hellenistic culture, suffered from too-muchness, the hallmark of decadence. Too much mind, too much body; too many people, too many facts. The mind of the king is a perverse mirror of the time. Having no cinema, Nero made his own. In Athens, the beautiful boy was an idealized objet de culte. In Rome, persons were stage machinery, mannequins, decor. The lives of the wastrel emperors demonstrate the inadequacy of our modem myth of personal freedom. Here were men who were free and who were sickened by that freedom. Sexual liberation, our deceitful mirage, ends in lassitude and inertness. An emperor’s day was androgyny-in-action. But was he happier than his republican ancestors, with their rigid sex roles? Repression makes meaning and purpose.

Pandemics Depress the Economy, Public Health Interventions Do Not: Evidence from the 1918 Flu

Correia, Sergio and Luck, Stephan and Verner, Emil, Pandemics Depress the Economy, Public Health Interventions Do Not: Evidence from the 1918 Flu. SSRN, March 26, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3561560

Abstract: What are the economic consequences of an influenza pandemic? And given the pandemic, what are the economic costs and benefits of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI)? Using geographic variation in mortality during the 1918 Flu Pandemic in the U.S., we find that more exposed areas experience a sharp and persistent decline in economic activity. The estimates imply that the pandemic reduced manufacturing output by 18%. The downturn is driven by both supply and demand-side channels. Further, building on findings from the epidemiology literature establishing that NPIs decrease influenza mortality, we use variation in the timing and intensity of NPIs across U.S. cities to study their economic effects. We find that cities that intervened earlier and more aggressively do not perform worse and, if anything, grow faster after the pandemic is over. Our findings thus indicate that NPIs not only lower mortality; they also mitigate the adverse economic consequences of a pandemic.

Keywords: 1918 Flu Pandemic, non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI), real economy
JEL Classification: E32, I10, I18, H1

Mirror-writing intersects with fundamental questions about the neural representations for reading and writing, and for object recognition and purposeful action more generally

Reflecting on mirror-writing. Interviewing Robert McIntosh and Sergio della Sala. The Psychologist, April 2020 Vol.33 (pp.32-35), Mar 2020. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-33/april-2020/reflecting-mirror-writing

So, would it be normal for children to mirror-write?
Mirror-writing, though striking to see, is an absolutely normal occurrence when learning to write. It would surprise us if there are any children who never make at least some mirror reversals. Rather than being regarded as a mistake, mirror-writing can be viewed as an impressive act of generalisation from a child, who is able to produce mirrored forms that they have never been taught. Parents with a young child who mirror reverses letters or words should enjoy the variety, and should not worry. Such reversals would only be of concern if they persisted well beyond the age by which most children have securely learned letter direction (7-8 years), in which case they would be part of a broader profile of slow literacy development.

Is there any update on mirror-writing from your own research or other sources?
Mirror-writing is still a ’niche’ research topic, but a few recent papers have been published on developmental mirror-writing. Jean Paul-Fischer’s group in Lorraine (France) had previously shown that children learning a dextrad (left-to-right) language like French (or English) are much more likely to reverse characters that face to the left (like j, z, or 3) than those that face to the right (like k, s, or 6). They inferred that the child may implicitly learn that most letters they see face to the right, and then over-apply this rule, so that they are more likely to flip a left-facing character to the right than vice-versa. We recently confirmed that this bias really is driven by character orientation, and not by differences in frequency, or how hard it is to remember certain shapes. We taught primary school children to write four novel pseudo-letters, two of which were left-facing and two of which were right-facing. We used identical but mirror reflected character sets for different groups of children, to control for any incidental differences between the shapes. Children were three times more likely to mirror-write a novel character they had learned in a left-facing format than to mirror-write one they had learned in a right-facing format.

Interestingly, it turns out that the bias may not be so much about whether the character faces left or right, but whether it faces in the direction of writing. Fischer and his colleagues used a simple technique to bias children to start writing in a right-to-left (i.e. reversed) direction, and they found that the pattern of reversals was also reversed, so that right-facing letters were now more likely to be flipped than left-facing characters. So, it seems that children may generally learn to face characters in the direction of writing before they know which way each of the individual letters should face.

And there is one point in our previous article that we would now revise. We suggested that mirror-writing in children was driven mainly by uncertainty about the direction of writing actions, and not by perceptual uncertainty about how the letters should look on the page. We have now tested this idea more directly, and found that there is in fact a close relationship between a child’s likelihood of mirror-writing and the errors they make when perceptually judging whether normal and reversed characters look correct or not. This relationship was significant even when controlling for age; and the letters that were most often mirror-written were also more prone to recognition errors. These new data indicate that perceptual uncertainty does accompany mirror-writing in children, and that visual and motor representations of letters develop in parallel.

What questions on mirror-writing are still unanswered?
One major shortcoming is that most of what we know about mirror-writing relates to dextrad (left-to-right) languages based on the Latin alphabet, which is only one class of directional writing system, so cross-cultural studies seem essential. How do these phenomena compare in other language systems, especially sinistrad (right-to-left) written languages such as Arabic or Hebrew? Bilingual children, being schooled both in dextrad and sinistrad languages, might be particularly interesting to study. We have unpublished data suggesting that children learning to read and write both English and Arabic make more orientation errors for left-facing characters in English and for right-facing characters in Arabic, consistent with a general bias to prefer letters that face in the script direction. It might also be interesting to examine the relation of reading and writing to other culturally-specified directional behaviours (such as turning taps or screws).

In adults, we would be interested to investigate a possible association of mirror-writing ability with atypical language dominance. We have functional magnetic resonance imaging data showing an unusual pattern of bilateral language representation in a skilled mirror writer. This result is intriguing, but it is not yet known whether it is typical of people who have a facility for mirror-writing. The extensive email correspondence that our Psychologist article has elicited has convinced us that there would be plenty of candidates for a larger-scale study. However, in pursuing this question it would be essential to define more precisely what should qualify a person as being a ‘natural’ mirror-writer; because mirror-writing is also a skill, like any other, that can be developed and made automatic through practice.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

European population at high risk of cardiovascular disease: Inverse relation between moderate alcohol consumption and carotid subclinical atherosclerosis and its 30-month progression

Alcohol consumption in relation to carotid subclinical atherosclerosis and its progression: results from a European longitudinal multicentre study. Federica Laguzzi et al. European Journal of Nutrition, March 24 2020. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-020-02220-5

Background/Aim: The association between alcohol consumption and subclinical atherosclerosis is still unclear. Using data from a European multicentre study, we assess subclinical atherosclerosis and its 30-month progression by carotid intima-media thickness (C-IMT) measurements, and correlate this information with self-reported data on alcohol consumption.

Methods: Between 2002–2004, 1772 men and 1931 women aged 54–79 years with at least three risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) were recruited in Italy, France, Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland. Self-reported alcohol consumption, assessed at baseline, was categorized as follows: none (0 g/d), very-low (0 − 5 g/d), low (> 5 to  ≤ 10 g/d), moderate (> 10 to ≤ 20 g/d for women,  > 10 to ≤ 30 g/d for men) and high (> 20 g/d for women, > 30 g/d for men). C-IMT was measured in millimeters at baseline and after 30 months. Measurements consisted of the mean and maximum values of the common carotids (CC), internal carotid artery (ICA), and bifurcations (Bif) and whole carotid tree. We used quantile regression to describe the associations between C-IMT measures and alcohol consumption categories, adjusting for sex, age, physical activity, education, smoking, diet, and latitude.

Results: Adjusted differences between median C-IMT values in different levels of alcohol consumption (vs. very-low) showed that moderate alcohol consumption was associated with lower C-IMTmax[− 0.17(95%CI − 0.32; − 0.02)], and Bif-IMTmean[− 0.07(95%CI − 0.13; − 0.01)] at baseline and decreasing C-IMTmean[− 0.006 (95%CI − 0.011; − 0.000)], Bif-IMTmean[− 0.016(95%CI − 0.027; − 0.005)], ICA-IMTmean[− 0.009(95% − 0.016; − 0.002)] and ICA-IMTmax[− 0.016(95%: − 0.032; − 0.000)] after 30 months. There was no evidence of departure from linearity in the association between alcohol consumption and C-IMT.

Conclusion: In this European population at high risk of CVD, findings show an inverse relation between moderate alcohol consumption and carotid subclinical atherosclerosis and its 30-month progression, independently of several potential confounders.

Women’s satisfaction with their body image, interest in enhancing their sexual attractiveness to men, acceptance of cosmetic surgery, and overall belief that they were a high-quality romantic partner

Female Self-Sexualization Covaries with Mate Value but Not Mate Availability. Lindsie C. Arthur, Robert C. Brooks & Khandis R. Blake. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, Mar 27 2020. https://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40750-020-00133-5

Objective: An array of literature spanning economics, sociology, biology, and psychology suggests that the availability of romantic partners has profound consequences for individuals and the societies in which they live. Here we build on this growing body of research to understand how variation in mate availability—operationalized via experimental imbalances in the ratio of men to women (the sex ratio)—affect women’s willingness to enhance their physical and sexual attractiveness to men.

Methods: Using a series of three treatments, with four replicate stimuli nested within each treatment conditions, we experimentally manipulated the sex ratio of the dating environment for 334 women, giving them the impression that romantic partners were either abundant, scarce, or balanced relative to competitors. We measured women’s satisfaction with their body image, their interest in enhancing their sexual attractiveness to men, their acceptance of cosmetic surgery, and their overall belief that they were a high-quality romantic partner (their mate value; a potential moderator of the sex ratio effect).

Results: Contrary to expectations, we found no evidence that sex ratios affected women’s enhancement of their physical and sexual attractiveness, but we did find that individual differences in mate value robustly covaried with all three outcome variables.

Conclusions: Results raise the possibility that female self-sexualization does not covary with the relative availability of mates, but that it is reliably associated with individual differences in mate value.

Overall, how would you rate your own level of desirability as a partner?

Which option best describes how you feel about your appearance?”; 1-extremely dissatisfied, 7-extremely satisfied

I feel complimented when men whistle at me; 1-strongly disagree, 7-strongly agree             

Cosmetic surgery is a good thing, because it can help people feel better about themselves; 1-strongly disagree, 7-strongly agree           

Attractive individuals are rated as more extraverted, friendlier, more trustworthy; teachers see children as of higher intelligence, better social relationships with mates; judges see them as more talented

Batres, Carlota. 2020. “PSA001 Secondary Analysis: Examining the “attractiveness Halo Effect”” PsyArXiv. March 27. doi:10.31234/osf.io/c7hf3

Research has demonstrated that we are able to make judgements of people after only 100 milliseconds of exposure to their faces (Willis & Todorov, 2006). With such minimal information, participants are able to effortlessly and intuitively rate faces on a wide array of traits, such as competence and aggressiveness (Willis & Todorov, 2006). Moreover, empirical evidence shows that the effects of these impressions on social outcomes are pervasive (Todorov, Mandisodza, Goren, & Hall, 2005; Třebický, Havlíček, Roberts, Little, & Kleisner, 2013).

Physical attractiveness can also be judged from such short exposures (Willis & Todorov, 2006) and it has been found to have several real-world effects (Badr & Abdallah, 2001; Clifford & Walster, 1973; Landy & Sigall, 1974). For example, premature infants rated as more physically attractive by nurses caring for them did better in terms of weight gain and length of hospital stay, compared to those perceived as less attractive (Badr & Abdallah, 2001). This positive effect of attractiveness extends to all age groups. In children, for instance, teachers given a report card with a photo of unknown children rated the more attractive children as having higher intelligence, better social relationships with classmates, and more likely to progress in school (Clifford & Walster, 1973). In adults, judges given an essay with a photo attached rated the attractive authors as significantly more talented than the unattractive authors (Landy & Sigall, 1974).

Given these results, attractiveness has been said to have a positive “halo effect”, where physical attractiveness confers socially desirable personality traits. Indeed, several studies have documented this “attractiveness halo effect”. For example, more attractive individuals are rated as more extraverted (Albright, Kenny, & Malloy, 1988), friendlier (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972), and more trustworthy (Ma, Xu, & Luo, 2015). Most of this research, however, has been conducted using Western samples. Some studies have found cross-cultural agreement in  judgements between western and non-western samples (e.g., between Chinese and American participants) (Albright et al., 1997) but other research has found cross-cultural variation (e.g., between Nepalese and Japanese participants) (Marcinkowska et al., 2014). Therefore, this report aims to extend the cross-cultural work on this topic and examine the “attractiveness halo effect” across eleven world regions. The Psychological Science Accelerator collected thirteen ratings on faces, including attractiveness (for details see (Jones et al., 2018; Moshontz et al., 2018)). We hypothesized that attractiveness would correlate positively with the socially desirable personality traits and negatively with the socially undesirable personality traits.

fect of attractiveness extends to all age groups. In children, for instance, teachers given a report card with a photo of unknown children rated the more attractive children as having higher intelligence, better social relationships with classmates, and more likely to progress in school (Clifford & Walster, 1973). In adults, judges given an essay with a photo attached rated the attractive authors as significantly more talented than the unattractive authors (Landy & Sigall, 1974).

Conclusions: Our hypothesis that attractiveness would correlate positively with the socially desirable personality traits and negatively with the socially undesirable personality traits was largely supported. This was true for both male and female faces. More specifically, across all eleven world regions, individuals rated as more attractive were rated as more confident, emotionally stable,  intelligent, responsible, sociable, and trustworthy as well as less weird. These results replicate previous findings of the “attractiveness halo effect” in Western samples and suggest that the positive effect of attractiveness can be found cross-culturally. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

One-time interventions will be insufficient to maintain COVID-19 prevalence within the critical care capacity of the US; intermittent distancing measures can help maintain control of the epidemic

Social distancing strategies for curbing the COVID-19 epidemic. Stephen M Kissler,  View ORCID ProfileChristine Tedijanto,  Marc Lipsitch, Yonatan Grad. medRxiv, Mar 24 2020. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.22.20041079

Abstract: The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is straining healthcare resources worldwide, prompting social distancing measures to reduce transmission intensity. The amount of social distancing needed to curb the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in the context of seasonally varying transmission remains unclear. Using a mathematical model, we assessed that one-time interventions will be insufficient to maintain COVID-19 prevalence within the critical care capacity of the United States. Seasonal variation in transmission will facilitate epidemic control during the summer months but could lead to an intense resurgence in the autumn. Intermittent distancing measures can maintain control of the epidemic, but without other interventions, these measures may be necessary into 2022. Increasing critical care capacity could reduce the duration of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic while ensuring that critically ill patients receive appropriate care.

Significant macroeconomic after-effects of the pandemics persist for about 40 years, with real rates of return substantially depressed; in contrast, we find that wars have no such effect, indeed the opposite

Longer-run economic consequences of pandemics? Oscar Jorda, Sanjay R. Singh, Alan M. Taylor. Univ of California at Davis, March 2020. http://ssingh.ucdavis.edu/uploads/1/2/3/2/123250431/pandemics_jst_mar2020_.pdf

Abstract: How do major pandemics affect economic activity in the medium to longer term? Is it consistent with what economic theory prescribes? Since these are rare events, historical evidence over many centuries is required. We study rates of return on assets using a dataset stretching back to the 14th century, focusing on 12 major pandemics where more than 100,000 people died. In addition, we include major armed conflicts resulting in a similarly large death toll. Significant macroeconomic after-effects of the pandemics persist for about 40 years, with real rates of return substantially depressed. In contrast, we find that wars have no such effect, indeed the opposite. This is consistent with the destruction of capital that happens in wars, but not in pandemics. Using more sparse data, we find real wages somewhat elevated following pandemics. The findings are consistent with pandemics inducing labor scarcity and/or a shift to greater precautionary savings.

Keywords: pandemics, wars, depressions, real interest rate, natural rate, local projections.
JEL classification codes: E43, F41, N10, N30, N40.

7. Conclusions
Summing up our findings, the great historical pandemics of the last millennium have typically been associated with subsequent low returns to assets, as far as the limited data allow us to conclude. These responses are huge. Smaller responses are found in real wages, but still statistically significant, and consistent with the baseline neoclassical model.

Measured by deviations in a benchmark economic statistic, the real natural rate of interest, these responses indicate that pandemics are followed by sustained periods—over multiple decades—with depressed investment opportunities, possibly due to excess capital per unit of surviving labor, and/or heightened desires to save, possibly due to an increase in precautionary saving or a rebuilding of depleted wealth.

Either way, if the trends play out similarly in the wake of COVID-19—adjusted to the scale of this pandemic—the global economic trajectory will be very different than was expected only a few weeks ago. If low real interest rates are sustained for decades they will provide welcome fiscal space for governments to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic. The major caveat is that past pandemics occurred at time when virtually no members of society survived to old age. The Black Death and other plagues hit populations with the great mass of the age pyramid below 60, so this time may be different.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

This paper examines the puzzling phenomenon that many Chinese liberal intellectuals fervently idolize Donald Trump and embrace the alt-right ideologies he epitomizes

Lin, Yao, Beaconism and the Trumpian Metamorphosis of Chinese Liberal Intellectuals (January 28, 2020). Journal of Contemporary China (Forthcoming), Mar 17 2020. SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3538736

Abstract: This paper examines the puzzling phenomenon that many Chinese liberal intellectuals fervently idolize Donald Trump and embrace the alt-right ideologies he epitomizes. Rejecting ‘pure tactics’ and ‘neoliberal affinity’ explanations, I argue that the Trumpian metamorphosis of Chinese liberal intellectuals is precipitated by their ‘beacon complex’, which has ‘political’ and ‘civilizational’ components. Political beaconism grows from the traumatizing lived experience of Maoist totalitarianism, sanitizes the West and particularly the United States as politically near-perfect, and gives rise to both a neoliberal affinity and a latent hostility toward baizuo. Civilizational beaconism, sharing with its nationalistic counterpart – civilizational vindicativism – the heritages of scientific racism and social Darwinism imported in late-Qing, renders the Chinese liberal intelligentsia receptive to anti-immigrant and Islamophobic paranoia, exacerbates its anti-baizuo sentiments, and catalyzes its Trumpian convergence with Chinese non-liberals.

Keywords: Chinese liberalism, intellectual, Trumpian metamorphosis, baizuo, political beaconism, political pilgrimage, civilizational beaconism, civilizational vindicativism

Older people estimate the risk of COVID-19 as being less than younger people

Gerhold, Lars. 2020. “COVID-19: Risk Perception and Coping Strategies.” PsyArXiv. March 25. doi:10.31234/osf.io/xmpk4

Abstract: This paper presents preliminary results of a representative survey of the German population focusing on perceptions of risk and ways of coping with COVID-19. Results show that older people estimate the risk of COVID-19 as being less than younger people. Women are more concerned about COVID-19 than men. People especially worry about being infected in places with high public traffic such as public transport and shops or restaurants. Coping strategies are highly problem-focused and most respondents listen to experts’ advice and try to behave calmly and appropriately. People accept that measures to tackle COVID-19 will take time to be effective. Bulk buying and storing of food is mainly justified by a combination of convenience and a perceived need to be prepared for potential quarantine.

Studies of human twins reveal genetic variation that affects dietary fat perception

Studies of human twins reveal genetic variation that affects dietary fat perception. Cailu Lin et al. bioRxiv, Jan 18 2020. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.01.18.910448

Abstract: To learn more about the mechanisms of human dietary fat perception, 398 human twins rated fattiness and liking for six types of potato chips that differed in triglyceride content (2.5, 5, 10, and 15% corn oil); reliability estimates were obtained from a subset (n = 50) who did the task twice. Some chips also had a saturated long-chain fatty acid (hexadecanoic acid, 16:0) added (0.2%) to evaluate its effect on fattiness and liking. We computed the heritability of these measures and conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to identify regions of the genome that co-segregate with fattiness and liking. Perceived fattiness and liking for the potato chips were reliable (r = 0.31-0.62, p < 0.05) and heritable (up to h2 = 0.29, p < 0.001, for liking). Adding hexadecanoic acid to the potato chips significantly increased ratings of fattiness but decreased liking. Twins with the G allele of rs263429 near GATA3-AS1 or the G allele of rs8103990 within ZNF729 reported more liking for potato chips than did twins with the other allele (multivariate GWAS, p < 1×10-5), with results reaching genome-wide suggestive but not significance criteria. Person-to-person variation in the perception and liking of dietary fat was (a) negatively affected by the addition of a saturated fatty acid and (b) related to inborn genetic variants. These data suggest liking for dietary fat is not due solely to fatty acid content and highlight new candidate genes and proteins within this sensory pathway.

People reported the highest levels of well-being while in the company of friends (compared to romantic partner or children) because they engaged in more pleasurable activities in their presence

Hudson, N. W., Lucas, R. E., & Donnellan, M. B. (2020). Are we happier with others? An investigation of the links between spending time with others and subjective well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Mar 2020. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000290

Abstract: Previous research suggests that having close relationships is a fundamental human need that, when fulfilled, is positively associated with subjective well-being. Recently, however, scholars have argued that actually interacting with one’s closest partners may be psychologically taxing (e.g., because of pressures to provide support, care, and empathy). In the present research, we tested (a) how experiential affect varied as a function of which persons were currently present (e.g., romantic partners, friends, and colleagues), as well as (b) how global well-being varied as a function of total daily time invested in these individuals. Replicating previous research, participants reported the highest levels of experiential well-being in the company of their friends, followed by their romantic partners, and then children. Statistically controlling for the activities performed with others, however, suggested that individuals did not necessarily prefer the mere company of their friends per se: people reported similar levels of well-being while in the presence of friends, partners, and children when adjusting estimates for activities. In contrast to the experiential findings, global well-being varied only as a function of total time spent with one’s romantic partner. Our findings further support the claim that experiential and global well-being are often separable constructs that may show different patterns of association with relationship experiences (e.g., well-being may operate differently on within- vs. between-persons levels).

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Western alchemy: The Greek principle of domination by the beautiful person as work of art is implicit in western culture

Western alchemy: The Greek principle of domination by the beautiful person as work of art is implicit in western culture. Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, 1990.

The Greek principle of domination by the beautiful person as work of art is implicit in western culture, rising to view at charged historical moments. I see it in Dante and Beatrice and in Petrarch and Laura. There must be distance, of space or time. The eye elects a narcissistic personality as galvanizing object and formalizes the relation in art. The artist imposes a hieratic sexual character on the beloved, making himself the receptor (or more feminine receptacle) of the beloved’s mana. The structure is sadomasochistic. Western sexual personae are hostile with dramatic tension. Naturalistic ally, Beatrice’s expansion into a gigantic heavenly body is grandiose and even absurd, but she achieves her preeminence through the poet’s sexually hierarchizing western imagination. The aesthetic distance between personae is like a vacuum between poles, discharging electric tension by a bolt of lightning. Little is known of the real Beatrice and Laura. But I think they resembled the beautiful boy of homosexual tradition: they were dreamy, remote, autistic, lost in a world of androgynous self-completion. Beatrice, after all, was barely eight when Dante fell in love with her in her crimson dress. Laura’s impenetrability inspired the “fire and ice” metaphor of Petrarch’s sonnets, which revolutionized European poetry. “Fire and ice” is western alchemy. It is the chills and fever of Sappho’s and Plato’s uncanny love experience. Agonized ambivalence of body and mind was Sappho’s contribution to poetry, imitated by Catullus and transmitted to us through folk ballads and pop torch songs. Western love, Denis de Rougemont shows, is unhappy or death-ridden. In Dante and Petrarch, self-frustrating love is not neurotic but ritualistic and conceptualizing. The west makes art and thought out of the cold manipulation of our hard sexual personae.

Domination by the beautiful personality is central to Romanticism, specifically in its dark Coleridgean line passing through Poe and Baudelaire to Wilde. The Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti, imitating his namesake, invented his own Beatrice, the sickly Elizabeth Siddal, who obsessively appears throughout his work. That Siddal, like Beatrice and Laura, was a female version of the beautiful boy is suggested by the speed with which her face turned into the face of beautiful young men in the paintings of Rossetti’s disciple, Edward Burne-Jones. The beautiful boy’s narcissistic remoteness and latent autism became somnambulism in Rossetti’s pensive Muse. Antinous, Beatrice, Laura, and Elizabeth Siddal passed with ease into art because in their cool, untouchable impersonality they already had the abstract removal of an objet d’art. Transcendance of sexual identity is the key.

[...] The absence of moral obligation in this sexual religiosity explains the amorality of aestheticism. Oscar Wilde believed the beautiful person has absolute rights to commit any act. Beauty replaces morality as the divine order. As Cocteau said, following Wilde, “The privileges of beauty are enormous.”

The beautiful boy, the object of all eyes, looks downward or away or keeps his eyes in soft focus because he does not recognize the reality of other persons or things. By making the glamourous Alcibiades burst drunk into the Symposium, ending the intellectual debate, Plato is commenting in retrospect on the political damage done to Athens by its fascination with beauty. Spoiled, captivating Alcibiades was to betray his city and end in exile and disgrace. When the beautiful boy leaves the realm of contemplation for the realm of action, the result is chaos and crime. Wilde’s Alcibiades, Dorian Gray, makes a science of corruption. Refusing to accept the early death that preserved the beauty of Adonis and Antinous, Dorian compacts with a fellow art object, his portrait, projecting human mutability onto it. The ephebic Dorian is serene and heartless, the beautiful boy as destroyer. In Death in Venice , Mann’s homage to Wilde, the beautiful boy does not even have to act to destroy.  His blinding Apollonian light is a radiation disintegrating the moral world.

The beautiful boy is the representational paradigm of high classic Athens. He is pure Apollonian objectification, a public sex object. His lucid contour and hardness originate in Egypt’s monumental architectonics and in Homer’s gleaming Olympian sky-cult. The Apollonian beautiful boy dramatizes the special horror of dissolved form to Pheidian Athens, with its passionate vision of the sunlit human figure. Unity of image and unity of personality were the Athenian norm, satirized by Euripides in his chthonian dismemberments, symbol of fragmentation and multiplicity. The androgynous beautiful boy has an androgynous sponsor, the male-bom Uranian Aphrodite whom Plato identifies with homosexual love. While the Archaic kouros is vigorously masculine, the early and high classic beautiful boy perfectly harmonizes masculine and feminine. With the Hellenistic tilt toward women, prefigured by Euripides, the beautiful boy slides toward the feminine, a symptom of decadence.

Praxiteles registers this shift in his ephebic Hermes (ca. 350 b.c.), which misaligns the elegance of classic contrapposto. Hermes awkwardly leans away from the engaged leg rather than toward it, curving his hips in a peculiar swish. His arm, supporting infant Dionysus, rests heavily on a stump. Farnell says of the Praxitelean “languor,” “Even the gods are becoming fatigued.” 16 Kenneth Clark finds in high classic Greek art a perfect “physical balance of strength and grace.” 17 In the Hellenistic beautiful boy, grace drains strength. Rhys Carpenter sees Praxiteles’ Knidian Aphrodite as a sexual degeneration of Polycleitus’ canonical fifth-century Doryphoros , a “languid devitalization of the male victor-athlete into an equivalent feminine canon.” 18 Hauser says of the Hermes and Lysippus’ Apoxyomenos , “They give the impression of being dancers rather than athletes.” 19 Jane Harrison denounces Praxiteles’ Hermes on the grounds that as Kourotrophos (“boy-rearer”) he “usurps the function of the mother”: “The man doing woman’s work has all the inherent futility and something of the ugly dissonance of the man masquerading in woman’s clothes.” 20 Again, Harrison recognizes sexual duality but finds it repugnant. Clark points out that wherever contrapposto appears in world art, it shows Greek influence, even in India, to which it was carried by Alexander. Originally a male motif, it entered female iconography to become “a vivid symbol of desire.” 21 What seems overlooked is that contrapposto was erotic from the start, in the dignified exhibitionism of the early classic kouros. Hellenistic ephebes use a more extreme hip-shot pose, ripe with sexual solicitation.  It is the street stance of harlot and drag queen, ancient or modem. Male contrapposto with hand on hip, as in Donatello’s David, is provocative and epicene.

Portraits of Dionysus illustrate the sensual feminization of male personae in Greek art. The Archaic transvestite Dionysus fuses a bearded adult man with a sexually mature woman. In the fifth century, he loses his beard and becomes indistinguishable from the ephebic Apollo of the Parthenon frieze. The Hellenistic Dionysus is a voluptuously appealing beautiful boy. A third-century head at Thasos could be mistaken for a woman, a movie queen, with thick shoulder-length hair and expectant parted lips. Scholars have generally been repelled by these beautiful objects, with their overt homoeroticism. Even Marie Delcourt, in her excellent study, Hermaphrodite , attacks the “effeminacy” of the Hellenistic Dionysus, which “pandered” to Greek homosexual desire. 22 But it was the Hellenistic Dionysus and Apollo who were the androgynous models for the exquisite Antinous sculptures.

The long, decentralized Hellenistic era was like our own time, lively, anxious, and sensationalistic. Hellenistic art teems with sex and violence. High classic Greek art honors ideal youth, while Hellenistic art is full of babies, brutes, and drunks. Athenian eroticism is pornographic in kitchen and tavern pottery but sublime and restrained in major sculpture. Hellenistic sculpture, on the other hand, likes large-scale wrestling and rapine—massacre, pugilism, and priapism. Hellenistic sex is in such free flow that the gender of shattered statues can be doubtful. Misidentifications have been common.

Dover speaks of the change in homosexual taste in Athens from the fifth century, which glorified athletic physiques, to the fourth, when softer, passive minions came into vogue. It is in the fourth century that the hermaphrodite first appears in classical art. The plush creature with female breasts manages to expose its male genitals, either by a slipping cloak or a tunic boldly raised in ritual exhibitionism. The Sleeping Hermaphrodite influenced later art, like eighteenth-century reclining female nudes. From one side, the drowsy figure displays ambiguously smooth buttocks and the half-swell of a breast; from the other, female breast and male genitals pop out clear as day. I found the Villa Borghese copy prudently pushed against the wall to discourage inspection! The decorative popularity of hermaphrodites is paradoxical, for everywhere in antiquity the birth of a real hermaphrodite was greeted with horror.  This condition, hypospadias, may be examined ad stuporem in the hundreds of photographs of Hugh Hampton Young’s pioneering text, Genital Abnormalities, Hermaphroditism, and Related Adrenal Diseases (1937). Since a hermaphrodite birth was a bad omen presaging war, disaster, or pestilence, the infant was usually destroyed or left to die by exposure. As late as Paracelsus, hermaphroditic children were thought “monstrous signs of secret sins in the parents.” 23 The annalist Diodorus Siculus, in the Roman era, records a case where an Arabian girl’s tumor burst open to reveal male genitals. She then changed her name, donned men’s clothes, and joined the [cavalry]. 24

The source of the Hermaphrodite legend is unknown. It may be a vestige of the sexual duality of early fertility deities of Asia Minor. Later stories improvised upon the name to claim he/she was the child of Hermes and Aphrodite. Ovid started a mythographic muddle with his version in the Metamorphoses, possibly based on a lost Alexandrian romance. The amorous nymph Salmacis traps the beautiful boy Hermaphroditus in her forest pool, entwining him with her arms and legs, until the gods grant her prayer to unite them into one being, like Plato’s primeval androgynes. The tale may have begun as a folk legend about a cursed pool sapping the virility of men who bathed in it.

Greek androgyny evolved from chthonian to Apollonian and back: vitalistic energy to godlike charisma to loss of manhood. I do not agree with the disparagement of the later androgyne by Jane Harrison and Marie Delcourt. Effeminate men have suffered a bad press the world over. I accept decadence as a complex historical mode. In late phases, maleness is always in retreat. Women have ironically enjoyed a greater symbolic, if not practical freedom. Thus it is that male and not female homosexuality has usually been harshly punished by law. A debater in Lucian declares, “Far better that a woman, in the madness of her lust, should usurp the nature of man, than that man’s noble nature should be so degraded as to play the woman.” 25 Similarly today, lesbian interludes are a staple of heterosexual pornography. Ever since man emerged from the dominance of nature, masculinity has been the most fragile and problematic of psychic states.

The Greek beautiful boy hovered between a female past and male future; dreamy and removed, oscillating between vigor and languor; synthesis of male and female beauties

The Greek beautiful boy hovered between a female past and male future; dreamy and removed, oscillating between vigor and languor; synthesis of male and female beauties. Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, 1990.

The Athenian cult of beauty had a supreme theme: the beautiful boy. [...]

Though the homosexuality of Greek high culture has been perfectly obvious since Winckelmann, the facts have been suppressed or magnified, depending on period and point of view. Late nineteenth-century aestheticism, for example, was full of heady effusions about "Greek love." Yet Harvard’s green and red Loeb Library translations of classical literature, published early this century, are heavily censored. The pendulum has now swung toward realism. In Greek Homosexuality (1978), K. J. Dover wittily reconstructs from the evidence of vase painting the actual mechanics of sexual practice. But I depart from sociological rationales for Greek love. For me, aesthetics are primary. The Athenian turn away from women toward boys was a brilliant act of conceptualization. Unjust and ultimately self-thwarting, it was nevertheless a crucial movement in the formation of western culture and identity.

The Greek beautiful boy, as I remarked earlier, is one of the west’s great sexual personae. Like Artemis, he has no exact equivalent in other cultures. His cult returns whenever Apollonianism rebounds, as in Italian Renaissance art. The beautiful boy is an androgyne, luminously masculine and feminine. He has male muscle structure but a dewy girlishness. In Greece he inhabited the world of hard masculine action. His body was on view, striving nude in the palestra. Greek athletics, like Greek law, were theater, a public agon. They imposed mathematics on nature: how fast? how far? how strong? The beautiful boy was the focus of Apollonian space. All eyes were on him. His broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted body was a masterwork of Apollonian articulation, every muscle group edged and contoured. There was even a ropy new muscle, looping the hips and genitals. Classic Athens found the fatty female body unbeautiful, because it was not a visible instrument of action. The beautiful boy is Adonis, the Great Mother’s son-lover, now removed from nature and cleansed of the chthonian. Like Athena, he is reborn through males and clad in the Apollonian armour of his own hard body.

Major Greek art begins in the late seventh century B.C. with the Archaic kouros (“youth”), a more than life-size nude statue of a victorious athlete (fig. 12). He is monumental human assertion, imagined in Apollonian stillness. He stands like Pharaoh, fists clenched and one foot forward. But Greek artists wanted their work to breathe and move. What was unchanged for thousands of years in Egypt leaps to life in a single century. The muscles curve and swell; the heavy wiglike hair curls and tufts. The smiling kouros is the first fully free-standing sculpture in art. Strict Egyptian symmetry was preserved until the early classic Kritios Boy , who looks one way while shifting his weight to the opposite leg (fig. 13). In the broken record of Greek artifacts, the Kritios Boy is the last kouros. He is not a type but a real boy, serious and regal. His smooth, shapely body has a white sensuality. The Archaic kouros was always callipygian, the large buttocks more stressed and valued than the face. But the buttocks of the Kritios Boy have a feminine refinement, as erotic as breasts in Venetian painting. The contrapposto flexes one buttock and relaxes the other. The artist imagines them as apple and pear, glowing and compact.

For three hundred years, Greek art is filled with beautiful boys, in stone and bronze. We know the name of none of them. The old- fashioned generic term, “Apollo,” had a certain wisdom, for the solitary, self-supporting kouros was an Apollonian idea, a liberation of the eye. His nudity was polemical. The Archaic kore (“maiden”) was always clothed and utilitarian, one hand proffering a votive plate. The kouros stands heroically bare in Apollonian externality and visibility. Unlike two-dimensional pharaonic sculptures, he invites the strolling spectator to admire him in the round. He is not king or god but human youth. Divinity and stardom fall upon the beautiful boy. Epiphany is secularized and personality ritualized. The kouros records the first cult of personality in western history. It is an icon of the worship of beauty, a hierarchism self-generated rather than dynastic.

The kouros bore strange fruit. From its bold clarity and unity of design came all major Greek sculpture, by the fourth century female as well as male. Hellenic art spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean as Hellenistic art. From that grew medieval Byzantine art in Greece, Turkey, and Italy, with its dour mosaic icons of Christ, Virgin, and saint (fig. 14). The Italian Renaissance begins in the Byzantine style. Thus there is a direct artistic line from Archaic Greek kouroi to the standing saints of Italian altarpieces and the stained-glass windows of Gothic cathedrals. Homoerotic iconicism goes full circle in the popular Italian theme, St. Sebastian, a beautiful seminude youth pierced by phallic arrows (fig. 15). Those arrows are glances of the aggressive western eye, solar shafts of Apollo the archer. The Greek kouros, inheriting Egypt’s cold Apollonian eye, created the great western fusion of sex, power, and personality.

In Greece the beautiful boy was always beardless, frozen in time. At manhood, he became a lover of boys himself. The Greek boy, like the Christian saint, was a martyr, victim of nature’s tyranny. His beauty could not last and so was caught full-flower by Apollonian sculpture. There are hundreds of pots, shards, and graffiti hailing so-and-so kalos, “the beautiful,” flirtatious public praise of males by males. Dover demonstrates the criteria governing depiction of male genitalia, opposite to ours: a small thin penis was fashionable, a large penis vulgar and animalistic. Even brawny Hercules was shown with boy’s genitals.

Therefore, despite its political patriarchy, Athens cannot be considered—horrid word—a phallocracy. On the contrary, the Greek penis was edited down from an exclamation point to a dash. The beautiful boy was desired but not desiring. He occupied a presexual or suprasexual dimension, the Greek aesthetic ideal. In convention, his adult admirer could seek orgasm, while he remained unaroused.

The beautiful boy was an adolescent, hovering between a female past and male future. J. H. Van den Berg claims the eighteenth century invented adolescence. 10 It is true children once passed more directly into adult responsibilities than they do now. In Catholicism, for example, seven is the dawn of moral consciousness. After one’s First Communion, it’s hell or high water. Brooding identity crises were indeed the Romantic creations of Rousseau and Goethe. But Van den Berg is wrong to make adolescence entirely modem. The Greeks saw it and formalized it in art. Greek pederasty honored the erotic magnetism of male adolescents in a way that today brings the police to the door. Children are more conscious and perverse than parents like to think. I agree with Bruce Benderson that children can and do choose. The adolescent male, one step over puberty, is dreamy and removed, oscillating between vigor and languor. He is a girl-boy, masculinity shimmering and blurred, as if seen through a cloudy fragment of ancient glass. J. Z. Eglinton cites images of youthful “bloom” in Greek poetry: “The adolescent in bloom is a synthesis of male and female beauties.” 11 The slightly older ephebos gained in gravity but retained a half-feminine glamour. We see it in the pedimental Apollo, the Delphic Charioteer, the bronze Apollo at Chatsworth, the white-lekythos Eretrian warrior seated before a gravestone. These youths have a distinctly ancient Greek face: high brow, strong straight nose, girlishly fleshy cheeks, full petulant mouth, and short upper lip. It is the face of Elvis Presley, Lord Byron, and Bronzino’s glossy Mannerist blue boy. Freud saw the androgyny in the Greek adolescent: “Among the Greeks, where the most manly men were found among inverts, it is quite obvious that it was not the masculine character of the boy which kindled the love of man; it was his physical resemblance to woman as well as his feminine psychic qualities, such as shyness, demureness, and the need of instruction and help.” 12 Certain boys, especially blondes, seem to carry adolescent beauty into adulthood. They form an enduring class of homosexual taste that I call the Billy Budd topos, fresh, active, and ephebic.

The beautiful boy is the Greek angel, a celestial visitor from the Apollonian realm. His purity is inadvertently revealed in Joseph Campbell’s negative critique of fifth-century Athens: “Everything that we read of it has a wonderful adolescent atmosphere of opalescent, timeless skies—untouched by the vulgar seriousness of a heterosexual commitment to mere life. The art, too, of the lovely standing nude, for all its grace and charm, is finally neuter—like the voice of a singing boy.” Campbell quotes Heinrich Zimmer’s praise of the “heterosexual flavor” and yogic awareness of Hindu sculpture: “Greek art was derived from experiences of the eye; Hindu from those of the circulation of the blood.” 13 Campbell’s “neuter” is a blank, a moral nothing. But the beautiful boy’s androgyny is visionary and exalted. Let us take Campbell’s own example, “the voice of a singing boy.” In a Seraphim recording of Faure’s Requiem that substitutes the King’s College choir for the usual women, the treble parts are taken by boys from eight to thirteen. Alec Robertson’s review seeks a tonality of emotion for which our only language is religious: boys’ voices “add an unforgettable radiance and serenity to their part, impossible to sopranos, however good”; the soloist’s singing has “an ethereal beauty that no words can describe.” 14 The rosy English or Austrian choirboy, disciplined, reserved, and heart- stoppingly beautiful, is a symbol of spiritual and sexual illumination, fused in the idealizing Greek manner. We see the same thing in Botticelli’s exquisite long-haired boy-angels. These days, especially in America, boy-love is not only scandalous and criminal but somehow in bad taste. On the evening news, one sees handcuffed teachers, priests, or Boy Scout leaders hustled into police vans. Therapists call them maladjusted, emotionally immature. But beauty has its own laws, inconsistent with Christian morality. As a woman, I feel free to protest that men today are pilloried for something that was rational and honorable in Greece at the height of civilization.

The Greek beautiful boy was a living idol of the Apollonian eye. As a sexual persona, the kouros represents that tense relation betweeen eye and object that I saw in Nefertiti and that was absent in the Venus of Willendorf, with her easy, forgiving, spongy female amplitude. Zimmer correctly opposes heterosexual Hindu “circulation of the blood” to Greek aesthetics of the eye. The beautiful boy is a rebuke to mother nature, an escape from the labyrinth of the body, with its murky womb and bowels. Woman is the Dionysian miasma, the world of fluids, the chthonian swamp of generation. Athens, says Campbell, was “untouched by the vulgar seriousness of a heterosexual commitment to mere life.” Yes, mere life is indeed rejected by the idealizing Apollonian mode. It is the divine human privilege to make ideas greater than nature. We are bom into the indignities of the body, with its relentless inner movements pushing us moment by moment toward death. Greek Apollonianism, freezing the human form into absolute male externality, is a triumph of mind over matter. Apollo, slaying the Python at Delphi, the navel of the world, halts the flood of time, for the coiled serpent we carry in our abdomen is the eternal wave-motion of female fluidity. Every beautiful boy is an Icarus seeking the Apollonian sun. He escapes the labyrinth only to fall into nature’s sea of dissolution.

Cults of beauty have been persistently homosexual from antiquity to today’s hair salons and houses of couture. Professional beautification of women by homosexual men is a systematic reconceptualizing of the brute facts of female nature. As at the nineteenth-century fin de siecle, the aesthete is always male, never female. There is no lesbian parallel to Greek worship of the adolescent. The great Sappho may have fallen in love with girls, but to all evidence she internalized rather than externalized her passions. Her most famous poem invents the hostile distance between sexual personae that will have so long a history in western love poetry. Gazing across a room at her beloved sitting with a man, she suffers a physical convulsion of jealousy, humiliation, and helpless resignation. This separation is not the aesthetic distance of Apollonian Athens but a desert of emotional deprivation. It is a gap that can be closed—as Aphrodite laughingly promises Sappho in another poem. Lascivious delectation of the eye is conspicuously missing in female eroticism. Visionary idealism is a male art form. The lesbian aesthete does not exist. But if there were one, she would have learned from the perverse male mind. The eye-intense pursuit of beauty is an Apollonian correction of life in our mother-born bodies.

The beautiful boy, suspended in time, is physicality without physiology. He does not eat, drink, or reproduce. Dionysus is deeply immersed in time—rhythm, music, dance, drunkenness, gluttony, orgy. The beautiful boy as angel floats above the turmoil of nature. Angels, in Judaism too, defy chthonian femaleness. This is why the angel, though sexless, is always a youthful male. Eastern religion does not have our angels of incorporeal purity, for two reasons. A “messenger” (angelos) or mediator between the divine and human is unnecessary, since the two realms are coexistent. Second, eastern femaleness is symbolically equivalent to and harmonious with maleness—though this has never improved real women’s social status.

The pink-cheeked beautiful boy is emotional vernality, spring only. He is a partial statement about reality. He is exclusive, a product of aristocratic taste. He flees the superfluity of matter, the womb of female nature devouring and spewing out creatures. Dionysus, we noted, is “the Many,” all-inclusive and ever-changing. Life’s totality is summer and winter, floridity and devastation. The Great Mother is both seasons in her benevolent and malevolent halves. If the beautiful boy is pink and white, she is the red and purple of her labial maw. The beautiful boy represents a hopeless attempt to separate imagination from death and decay. He is form seceding from form-making, natura naturata dreaming itself free of natura naturans. As an epiphany, eye-created, he binds up the many into a transient vision of the one, like art itself.

Besides the Kritios Boy , the preeminent examples of this persona are the bronze Benevento Boy of the Louvre (fig. 16), the Antinous sculptures commissioned by the emperor Hadrian (fig. 17), Donatello’s David, and Thomas Mann’s Tadzio in Death in Venice. The Apollonian is a mode of silence, suppressing rhythm to focus the eye. The beautiful boy, sexually self-complete, is sealed in silence, behind a wall of aristocratic disdain. The adolescent dreaminess of the Antinous sculptures is not true inwardness but a melancholy premonition of death. Antinous drowned, like Icarus. The beautiful boy dreams but neither thinks nor feels. His eyes fix on nothing. His face is a pale oval upon which nothing is written. A real person could not remain at this stage without decadence and mummification. The beautiful boy is cruel in his indifference, remoteness, and serene self-containment. We rarely see these things in a girl, but when we do, as in the magnificent portrait photographs of the young Virginia Woolf, we sense catatonia and autism. Narcissistic beauty in a postadolescent (like Hitchcock’s Mamie) may mean malice and ruthlessness, a psychopathic amorality. There is danger in beauty.

The beautiful boy has flowing or richly textured hyacinthine hair, the only luxuriance in this chastity. Long male hair, sometimes wrapped round the head, was an aristocratic fashion in Athens. Antinous’ thick hair is crisply layered, as in Van Dyck’s silky princes or Seventies rock stars. In its artful negligence and allure, the hair traps the beholder’s eye. It is a nimbus, a pre-Christian halo, scintillating with fiery flakes of stars. The beautiful boy, glittering with charisma, is matter transformed, penetrated by Apollonian light. Greek visionary materialism makes hard crystal of our gross fleshiness. The beautiful boy is without motive force or deed; hence he is not a hero. Because of his emotional detachment, he is not a heroine. He occupies an ideal space between male and female, effect and affect. Like the Olympians, he is an objet d'art , which also affects without acting or being acted upon. The beautiful boy is the product of chance or destiny, a sport thrown up by the universe. He is, I suggested, a secular saint. Light makes beautiful boys incandescent. Divinity swoops down to ennoble them, like the eagle falling upon Ganymede, who is kidnapped to Olympus, unlike the pack of female lovers like Leda whom Zeus casually abandons as types of the generative mother.

In the Phaedrus, Plato sets forth Greek homosexuality’s ritualization of the eye. Socrates says the man who gazes upon “a god-like countenance or physical form,” a copy of “true beauty,” is overcome by a shudder of awe, “an unusual fever and perspiration”: “Beholding it, he reverences it as he would a god; and if he were not afraid of being accounted stark mad, he would offer sacrifice to the beloved as to a holy image of divinity.” 15 Beauty is the first step of a ladder leading to God. Writing in the fourth century about memories of the fifth, Plato is already postclassical. He is suspicious of art, which he banishes from his ideal republic. Visionary materialism has failed. In the Phaedrus, however, we still see the aesthetic distance vibrating between Greek personae. Plato has Sappho’s fever, but it is cooled by the dominating and dominated western eye. In Greece, beauty was sacred and ugliness or deformity hateful. When Odysseus bludgeons Thersites, a lame, hunchback commoner, Homer’s heroes laugh. Christ’s ministry to the lepers was unthinkable in Greek terms. In the Greek cult of beauty, there was mystical elevation and hierarchical submission, but significantly without moral obligation.