Eat and be satisfied

Eat and be satisfied

Monday, February 16, 2015

My neighbor looks like Ed Sheeran

I love his music and when I first watched one of his videos, I was surprised. Ed Sheeran looks remarkably similar to my neighbor across the street. I would mention it to him but I'm confident people pester about it all the time. They're both in their early twenties, about 5'8", stocky, with bushy hair and completely unremarkable features. The main difference between them is Ed Sheeran is a global pop sensation with millions of adoring female fans and I'm pretty sure my neighbor is not. 
  
So what does Ed Sheeran and my neighbor reveal about the nature of sexual attraction? 

Women value emotional connection over physical appearance. Both men and women are designed for relational connection but women are especially responsive to heightened emotional expression and sentimentality. The ability to display empathy and communicate passion is huge. And it's not enough for man to merely posses the ability, he must put be able to put it on display. That's why in the college Christian dating market, men who lead worship tend to garner beaucoup female attention. A guy might be able to sing and play guitar but leading worship provides a way to showcase his talents and contribute to the church.

On the other hand, men see women's appearance as an inextricable part of emotional connection. Attractive women trigger an emotional (sexual) response in men. Thus, for most men, there's a minimum threshold of physical attractiveness that unless reached, men are simply not turned on. Certainly, men can be attracted to a diversity of body types but conventions of female attractiveness are fairly uniform. 

This also explains why jerks attracts women. A jerk is characterized by aggression and initiative. He may be arrogant, selfish, and cruel but he is impossible not to notice and difficult to ignore. He stirs something up in others and he is not like everyone else. He always leaves an impression, positive or negative. So like tyrants, it can be better to be feared than loved. When it comes to competing for someone's affection, being different from the crowd goes a long way. 

So what does this mean for guys who want to attract women? 

1) Be good at something meaningful. Extraordinarily good if possible. The key is having a passion or skill that distinguishes you from other people. Every guy has a passion. If you don't, develop one. I don't think having skill at something is that hard for most guys. And in this day and age, even video games apply. Eddie Huang doesn't write a book or get a TV show if his soup dumplings suck.

2) Find a community where that gift or talent can be applied and appreciated. This means more than joining a group of artists who can share in your art but finding ways to exhibit and contribute your gifts to other people. For example, your gift is administration, then organizing non-profit events puts your gifts on displays and benefits others. 

3) Learn how to emotionally connect with people. if your talent is video games, it's important to find a way to articulate your passion in a way that is insightful, mysterious, and interesting. It also means being a good communicator - the ability to convey your convictions in a compelling way and being an attentive and responsive listener. Lastly, it means having a good sense of humor and being witty. It this sounds difficult, it is. It takes practice and work. Some guys are more gifted than others but anyone can improve with deliberate, focused effort and feedback. The awesome thing about what Ed Sheeran does is the nature of his work emotionally connects with other people. 

The same is true for Jesus. He did not pander to others or cater to people's whims. He was not focused on attracting women but focused on his passions - drawing people to God.  What is admirable is also attractive.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Prophetic Genius of Eddie Huang

Fresh off the Boat (the book not the show): A prophet in exile rants against injustice.

I'm not gonna lie - I'm jealous of Eddie Huang. I'm not jealous he has a prime time TV show inspired by his life. I'm not jealous of his award-winning  restaurant. I'm not jealous of his popularity, or that he's written a book, or his sharp sense of fashion. I'm jealous of his courage with words.

Because Eddie Huang is a prophet.

A prophet speaks truth without compromise. Isaiah was commanded to speak to a persistently unfeeling people.

A prophet is not afraid to call out the establishment on issues of social injustice. Amos proclaimed judgment on "those who trample the heads of the poor" .

A prophet employs symbolism to make his point. Ezekiel cut his beard off with a sword and set it on fire as a witness against Israel.

A prophet is offensive and persecuted for his views. John the Baptist got his head chopped off for calling Herod out on his illicit marriage with his brother's wife.

A prophet eats wack food as part of his testimony. Ezekiel ate barley cakes cooked over dried feces and John munched on locusts and honey.

Huang speaks both for and against those who are outsiders, the ones who don't fit in, the invisible, and the oppressed. He is an ambassador of exiles - a voice crying in the wilderness - who on one hand, rebukes authority for its systemic discrimination against exiles and on the other, rebukes exiles for their silent fear and pandering. He speaks the truth exiles don't have the courage to speak to themselves and speaks on behalf of exiles truth the establishment can't bear to hear. He is an intestine-eating, hip-hop quoting, Nike Jordan-rocking, bundle of angry contradictions whose life trajectory was forever changed by an 18th century Irishman's satirical essay on consumption of impoverished children as a means to end welfare. Clarity takes a back seat to impact. His lyrical verse and urban culture lingo go over people's heads but there's no mistaking the blade to the heart. Only a prophet stabs you in the front.

I started blogging because I couldn't find a voice that articulated the experience of being an Asian Christian male in America. My face says I don't belong to the US but my personality says I don't belong to China. I'm no rotten banana but I wanted to express an anger that came from feeling marginalized. That's exactly what Huang does in his memoir. It's not for the faint of the heart. He does not mince words and from one rage monster to another, I loved it. The fact he loves basketball doesn't hurt either. I still work on my Andre Miller old man game to this day.

Huang has a unique life path from my own. He is a second-generation Taiwanese American who grew up on the East Coast and moved to Orlando when he was eight years old. He grew up as the troubled oldest son of a restaurant owner. I'm also second-generation Chinese American but I spent most of my childhood in an area where highly educated Asians made up a critical mass, had parents with a much more stable marriage, and had a far more positive experience with Christianity. The model minority myth is zombified in Silicon Valley - we are the walking dead of stereotypes.

What I admire most is the gradual transformation of Huang's rage. It first finds expression through fighting and vengeance and I never had the courage to do that. My anger seethed beneath the surface and was sublimated in my pursuit of academic achievement. I'm straight Uncle Chan in that respect. He's got lots of youth rage stories and I admire how he didn't allow himself to get bent over a barrel. 

But the vengeance and doing-stupid-things-while-drunk-and-high accounts get boring after awhile because disconnected, impulsive rage is meaningless. If I wanted humorous inebriation stories, I could read Tucker Max and Huang realizes the self-destructive nature of his temper in college. That's when things start getting interesting as his journey changes. He discovers his gift for words and he realizes his calling is as a prophet - to speak out on behalf of racial identity and against injustice.

There are six themes in Eddie's prophetic repertoire (there are more - I just picked the ones that stood out to me most): organized religion, racism between minorities, Asian American discrimination, racial identity, appropriating hip-hop culture, and finding a voice. I describe them below:

1) "I don't think people realize how fucking weird Christianity is if you're not raised around it" Despite his prophet title, Huang is no follower of Jesus and is repulsed by organized religion. His exposure to Christianity comes in the form of establishment control, inextricably tied with white supremacy. Ms. Truex's heavy-handed indoctrination program at First Academy ensures this for an eight-year old Huang. Believing in Jesus meant alienation from his culture, discrimination, conformity and, most of all, whiteness. This is another area where he resonates with the prophets - they also distanced themselves from organized religion. How could they rebuke it otherwise?

2) "I was still the buffer between him and the bottom" The worst discrimination can come from minorities not white people. The switch for Huang's rage gets flipped in elementary school when Edgar, a black kid, calls him a chink and throws him to the ground. Possibly the greatest tragedy for marginalized minorities is the basement in-fighting. The consolation of the low is beating up on the lowest. Sometimes a prophet must endure suffering at the hands of those with whom he has most in common.

3) "They'll never let someone with a face like you on television" Those words came from Huang's dad in response to his desire to be an ESPN sportscaster. Similar words are echoed when Huang interviews for a beat writer position at the Orlando Sentinel. Later on he writes this about being Asian American:
We can't fucking win. If I follow the rules and play the model minority, I'm a lapdog under a bamboo ceiling. If I like hip-hop because I see solidarity, I'm aping. But, if I throw it all away, shit on my parents, sell weeds, pills, and strike fear into unsuspecting white boys with stunt Glocks, now I'm authentic? Fuck you, America.
How can a prophet speak against injustice unless he experiences it first-hand?

4) "I was proud to be a Hunan Ren because my grandfather is one of the most honorable people I've ever known" I've never seen someone so thoroughly Americanized also simultaneously pay homage to their roots. Typically, assimilated Asian Americans are ignorant about their family history or resent their immigrant culture. But Huang is deeply knowledgeable and grateful for his family. His dad was a respected gangster in Taiwan. His grandfather gave up a promising political career as a protest against the corruption of Chiang Kai-Shek's regime.  There's a unique blessing to knowing your family history as the roots of his prophetic fire were seeded generations earlier and inform his path of protest today.

5) "People in Orlando never understood why two Asian kids were rocking Polo, Girbauds, and listening to hip-hop" Being an Asian minority parallels the black experience. I always felt it presumptuous to see being Asian as similar to being black. But for Huang growing up in Orlando in the 90s, it rings true. Huang's defiance gets him branded a troublemaker but instead of fighting the label, he goes with it - constantly stirring up trouble.  This is how he resonated with the black experience. A prophet learns from the prophets who have gone ahead of him.

6) "Those professors changed my life. I went from a punk kid that fought without a true understanding of the who, what, when, where, and why to a contrarian with a cause" A prophet is dedicated to texts. Huang was formed by Emerson, Locke, Ghostface, Lao Tzu, and Biggie. Never underestimate the power of words and food, fashion, hip-hop, and basketball make up the medium of Huang's voice. His break comes when he writes a letter to the Orlando Sentinel calling out the coded racism surrounding the 2004 Malice at the Palace. His prophetic voice is forming.

You see, anybody in America who tells the truth about the barbarity of white supremacy and its legacy must be willing to die. 
And like all the great martyrs who have heralded the message, Eddie Huang is laying his life down. So watch the show because it smokes - funny, insightful, and ground-breaking - but don't skip the book or you'll miss the fire. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Spiritual maturity is not increased religious involvement

Our church theme for this year is Come Follow Me. It's the first three words of Jesus's statement in Matthew 4:19 - Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men. 

In a message by Jim Putman on discipleship, he talks about this verse. Following Jesus means transformation. Before meeting him, the disciples were fishers of fish but after encountering the carpenter, they will become fishers of men. Their identity will change. 

Pastors and church leaders often encourage involvement in programs such as small groups, bible studies, and worship services. We do this to help people become disciples. Our language can imply relationships are the means for spiritual maturity. If you join this group or do this activity, you will grow spiritually. If you lead a bible study, it will grow you spiritually. If you serve other people, you will grow spiritually. 

But Jesus never indicates relationships are the vehicle for spiritual maturity. They are not the side show, they are the main event. Relationships are not the means but the ends. Religious programming is the side show and our connectedness with each other is the main event. Everything we do is meant to support building relationships. If our religious activities don't contribute towards that objective then we are not growing spirituality. Putman says it simply: The product of spiritual maturity is relationships.

Thus, how you love your husband, wife, children, parents, coworkers, classmates, and neighbors is not the means of discipleship, it is the outcome. You do not evaluate your spiritual maturity by the amount of time you spend serving the church but by how the people around you are being led to follow Jesus. 

This means religious involvement which does not build our love for others is not only useless but antithetical to being a disciple of Christ. The Pharisees had off-the-chart levels of religious involvement but Jesus never described them as spiritually mature. They were devoid of compassion and empathy for people. Religious involvement without love is not only incomplete, it is evil.  

This is challenging for pastors and anyone whose livelihood depends on the prosperity of an organization. We want to build our empires but Jesus wants to radically transform our identity through relationships.  Here's the question we need to grapple with: How are we doing at loving God, others, and ourselves? A person's religious involvement is easy to manufacture and easy to measure. You can throw yourself into church activities and feel godly. But the question of love is more perplexing and difficult to answer. It recasts everything and sets the bar impossibly high.

Therefore, the work of building Christ-centered relationships requires a different type of person. It cannot be achieved by discipline and willpower. It requires an inward change that may happen immediately but only manifests itself through a persistent and vital faith. Like life, spiritual maturity is non-linear, messy, and often difficult to distinguish. The early disciples' growth was not rapid - it happened in fits and starts - but once it blossomed after Jesus left, the world was forever altered.

Friday, January 30, 2015

What are the right reasons to get married?


A single female friend in her early thirties asked me to blog about why people should get married. She's been dating men who seek marriage as if it's something to cross off their checklist - they want children before they get too old, they're lonely and desire companionship, etc. 

If I had to guess at the thinking behind the question, she senses something off about the attitude and tone of these men's responses to her question. Or there might be something off about how she asks the question and her expectations concerning their responses. We'll address both possibilities. I'm also assuming she is the one posing this question to men. It's difficult for me to imagine guys offering canned reasons for pursuing marriage without first being put on the spot. If guys open with unsolicited sharing about loneliness and wanting children, that's really, really not good.

First let me note, there is nothing wrong wanting children or addressing loneliness as a reason for getting married. Marriage is good for companionship, sex, and procreation. The companionship and procreation aspect of marriage is discussed in Genesis 1 and 2 and Ephesians takes it further - the marriage relationship is a symbol of the covenant Jesus made with his bride, the church. Sexual desire is explained in 1 Corinthians 7. I've explained why marriage is good in the most rational terms possible but, as we'll see, a guy can't simply tell these reasons to a woman and expect her to fall in love with him.

Given the above, here are my comments:

1) There are no "right" reasons to get married: I was fully aware marriage is good when I got hitched at twenty-three. However, I pursued marriage for mainly selfish reasons I only now recognize after sixteen years of hindsight. Most people are aware church is good but attend worship services for selfish reasons. I don't know if there's a right set of words a person can say indicating they have the "right" reason for doing something. There is no formula for what a person should say about getting married. It's unique to each person's calling and journey.

2) Women, stop asking this question and observe what a man does: Men might view the question of why do you want to get married as obvious - as in "Duh, I'm lonely and want kids, why else do people get married?" It's also possible it's a good question but the tone and the timing are off. If you ask this like an interview question on a first date, it's not enjoyable for guys and puts them on the defensive. So if you want to make this easier, I would ask the question playfully, in a more interesting way, and after rapport has been established, like "When did you first realize you were called to marriage?" or "How do you imagine marriage will make you a better man?" or "What's your biggest fear about marriage?" 

Finally, and this advice is true for either sex, I would not pay as much attention to the specifics of a man's response as much the consistency between his words and his actions. If a guy says he wants to have children but he has no experience working with kids and avoids any interaction with them, that's a red flag. This takes time and means you need to get to know a guy in various contexts. That's a tall order as people get older and common venues dwindle and why most marriages occur between mutual friends because there's a credibility already established. 

3) Men, find interesting ways to answer these kinds of questions: Women want to know the uniqueness of a guy's story. It doesn't give women much to work with if you simply spout off rational reasons for why marriage is good. It makes you look like an emotion-less robot. 

Unfortunately, most men are unprepared to give compelling answers to these kinds of questions. If I were asked this on the first or second date, I would first make a joke - "All the cool kids are getting married" or "I've got to catch up to the Duggars" and keep clowning until I felt the time was appropriate to say something more substantive. The timing would be contingent upon whether I felt the woman had marriage potential. I might offer something brief in the beginning and expand later, depending on how things progressed. It's possible these men give stock answers because they're self-protective and not yet sure where the relationship is going. Here are some more substantive responses to the question:

"I've always dreamed about being a dad.  I want to teach my kids things my dad never taught me"

"Because I'm messed up and two messes are better than one"

"I'm not sure why. Seeing my parents divorce has caused me to re-think a lot of things"

"I love teams and I've heard marriage is the best possible team you can have."

The purpose of these responses is to provoke interest and invite further discussion. And since there's no definitive way to answer the question, it's important to make it resonate with your life story.

The value of marriage: Lastly, my friend commented she is seeing less value in marriage than she did previously.  She observed, correctly, marriage would mean other meaningful relationships and pursuits would have to take a back seat. That is spot on. I don't think there's anything wrong with seeing diminishing value in marriage for one's self. It may mean she is called singleness. Tim Keller says in his marriage talk that one sign of the gift of celibacy is singleness comes naturally. That makes sense to me. If you see decreasing value in what you don't have then perhaps God is saying you're not meant to have it. Marriage is hardly the only way to glorify God and not even the highest calling. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

If Jesus epitomized tribal leadership, then so do you

How God invented the triad

I hate leadership books. They remind me of everything I should be doing as a leader but not doing today. I feel guilty, insecure, and ashamed after reading them. So when a friend of mine recommended checking out Tribal Leadership, I balked.

But I finally got around to reading it and the book is awesome because it's completely about Jesus, though he's never mentioned by name.

Language matters: The premise of the book is that tribes are groups of about 20-150 people and each tribe has a culture that can be categorized in stages. The key insight to the three authors' research is each stage is defined by its culture and the culture is defined by language.

That's the key to making the book work - listen to how people talk about their company, their group, their church and you can determine what type of culture they participate in and what stage of leadership they're at.

Stage One: Life sucks  ==> "Everything that can go wrong will go wrong. This world is hopeless"
Stage Two: My life sucks  ==> "So and so has it all together but I just can't seem to catch a break"
Stage Three: I'm great (and you're not) ==> "If only I was surrounded by competent people, they could fully appreciate my brilliance"
Stage Four: We're great ==> "We have a great team and we trust each other"
Stage Five: The sky is the limit ==> When employees of Amgen, the pharmaceutical company were asked who their competitors are, they responded "Cancer" or "Untimely death" not "Pfizer" or "Genentech"

Jesus' words: You can argue about Jesus' legacy - the Christian church, his disciples, etc. But it's more difficult to challenge his words. At the very least, he left us his language.

How then did Jesus speak about his tribe of disciples? 
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12
He dealt with a group of mediocre, uneducated men. At so many points he could have disparaged his disciples (and at some points, he did). They repeatedly misunderstood his plans and intentions. They deserted him.  And yet he continued to believe in them.

Triads: The most distinctive aspect of Stage Four and Five tribes is their usage of triads. Rather than individuals depending on a celebrity leader, each tribe member has his/her network of expanding relationships.

Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright give the example of Darla Longo, a real estate executive, who holds an annual party whose purpose is to allow her (and others) to play matchmaker. She introduces clients to brokers, senior brokers to successful rookies, and clients to one another. In each conversation, she talks about each person's strengths and passions -intentionally creating business relationships between two people based on shared values.

Triads function based on trust. A celebrity leader accumulates followers because he alone is trustworthy. But triads expand because each member trusts the other to whom he is being introduced. This is also generates stability because no single tribe member is responsible for holding the tribe together. It is truly a team effort.

The trinity is by definition triadic. Jesus builds triads with us because he trusts us. Jesus is the bridge-builder, the liaison with us between God the Father, between us and the Holy Spirit.
If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. John 14:7
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:16-17
Jesus introduces his disciples (and all believers) to the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is the mediator of both relationships. He talks up each party -  we are righteous because of his finished work on the cross , the Holy Spirit is awesome, and God the Father doesn't need a lot of introduction.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:9-10,12
Our role as disciples is triadic. We love each other because Jesus loved us first. And Jesus loved us first because God the Father loved him first. Our role as disciple-makers is also triadic. We introduce people to Jesus, who introduces them to the Father. The people who meet Jesus, in turn, introduce him to others. That's how the network expands. Every relationship we begin has it's basis in a prior relationship. Everything God does in us, He wants us to do in others. If it sounds like multi-level marketing or of certain cult religions, good. Those organizations are merely copying what Jesus invented. 

Reflection: In the past, when friends asked me how my tribe was going, I would be quick to blame the failings and weaknesses of fellow tribe members. They were the ones holding me back. They were the ones keeping me down. They didn't have the same gifts I did. And they didn't share the same values. I felt bitter, resentful, and insecure. I wanted people to be dependent on me and yet I couldn't figure out why the people I discipled didn't feel confident enough to disciple others. Finally, I was sorely disappointed when people failed my unrealistic expectations.

The pronouns "I" and "them" are Stage Three language markers. It is the language of arrogance and ineffective leadership. Bitterness, resentment, and insecurity are also lower stage markers. The Pharisees epitomized Stage Three leadership. They were prideful, suspicious, and insecure. Other people held them back. Jesus held them back. Jews who did not follow the ceremonial cleanliness regulations held them back. Their world was carefully structured so the Jewish community would depend on them. Everything and everyone else held them back except for themselves.

I've been stuck at Stage Three for a long time. I've spent a large part of that time wondering if that will ever change. 

The good news is it already has. 

It's the one of the first promises Jesus made to his disciples in the farewell discourse (John 14:12). The good news is that it's not about me, it's about his church - his tribes of disciples. The good news is that I am surrounded by effective and competent leaders. Truth be told, the disciples didn't hit Stage Five until Jesus left the earth. The church took off once given the Holy Spirit. Jesus guaranteed the church would have every full capacity to live out Jesus' tribal leadership. 

That is his greatest gift to us. 

If we believe his words and obey his teaching, we have every capacity, as he did, to be Stage Five leaders. That is the identity of the church - a supernatural Stage Five tribe of tribes on mission to rescue humanity. We may not act that way, we may splinter into Stage One chaos, fall into Stage Two malaise, or compete in the wild, wild west of Stage Three but the reality is that we have been changed from death to life, equipped with His Spirit, and sent on mission to triad the world to Jesus. 

Buying into that reality is what the journey of faith is about. I don't rely on external evidence of my personal change, rather I trust the Savior of the world who promised that anyone who believed in him would do even greater works then he did. There is no fear of failure because the success of my tribe does not depend on me. There is no pride or insecurity because each of us is adequate, trusted, and worthy in Christ. We depend on the supernatural reality of the Spirit working in every one of his tribal members. The ultimate tribal leader is the one whose leadership impact is greatest after he leaves.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sexodus and Paper Tigers

I love Milo Yiannopoulus's viral two-part series titled "Sexodus". It is one of the few nuanced, well-researched articles that attacks feminism and defends men's rights without descending into vitriol and misogyny.

My journey with the men's rights movement (aka "manosphere") started with Wesley Yang's Paper Tigers. The New York Magazine's feature article from May 2011 blew me way. He examined how internal and external cultural biases stunt the social and economic growth potential of Asian American men. It was a mainstream unveiling of a phenomenon almost every Asian American guy has personally experienced - the bamboo ceiling and discrimination.

The 9,000 word essay wasn't just a rant. Yang provides a complex, well-researched portrait of both victims of the bamboo ceiling and positive examples of Asian American men who broke through. After reading it, I felt more hope than sadness because light was piercing an area that's been dark too long. At the end of the article, Yang encourages Asian American men to defiantly forge their own way and "dare to be interesting".

That's the same feeling I have about the Sexodus articles.

Both are sympathetic to the plight of men. It's also not a rant but rather light shining on a dark place. Except in Yiannopoulus' case, he is pointing the finger firmly at feminism:
Social commentators, journalists, academics, scientists and young men themselves have all spotted the trend: among men of about 15 to 30 years old, ever-increasing numbers are checking out of society altogether, giving up on women, sex and relationships and retreating into pornography, sexual fetishes, chemical addictions, video games and, in some cases, boorish lad culture, all of which insulate them from a hostile, debilitating social environment created, some argue, by the modern feminist movement.
I remember Yang's article mentioning Neil Strauss' seminal book on the pick-up artist community, The Game. I fell in love with the story. It's arguably the most popular men's self-improvement book, only it's written as a memoir.

After finishing Strauss' book in 2011, I discovered the Manosphere and bloggers like Roosh and Heartiste. I felt like my eyes were opened. The manosphere describes the experience as "taking the red pill" (a reference from the movie "The Matrix). I began blogging in 2012 with posts like this. I imagined myself as being defiant and interesting - championing the traditional complementarian view of gender roles while fighting the matriarchy. I thought I could be a Christian and part of the manosphere.

But I was wrong.

The men's rights movement is way too angry to be rational. There's truth that men tends hurt as anger and this victimized rage is evident throughout the manosphere. I found it increasingly difficult to read the blogs because of the hatred, vindictiveness, and most of all, insipid whining. This evidenced itself in manipulative tactics such as "running dread game" - keeping a woman in a state of anxiety or fear concerning the relationship-  or "qualifying her" - challenging a woman's self-esteem as a means of seduction. Then there was the anger and bitterness at everything women do - believe what she does not what she says, women only dig jerks, it's better to ignore women, blah blah blah. Pretty soon everything bad that happens is because of women or feminism. It got tiring.

I agree feminism has issues but whining, hatred, and rage does not help address the problems. I read Helen Smith's Men on Strike and her premise that men are behaving rationally by opting out of dating and marriage is somewhat compelling but does not sufficiently justify the phenomenon. No one behaves on purely rational terms.

In the end, men desire what all humanity was created for - connection. And we seek connection through companionship. Neil Strauss points out a fascinating irony in "The Game": these desperate men, united together to become better with women, found themselves spending most of their time bonding with each other. Through all their work as pick-up artists, Strauss discovered he was ultimately cultivating male friendships. 

In our church's men's group, we went through the Authentic Manhood series a couple years ago. The manual discusses how men often use props to facilitate bonding - a mountain climb, fantasy football league, construction project, road trip, or athletic event/endeavor.

I wonder if the pursuit of women is one of the most effective props for male bonding.

Ever since junior high, a mark of deepening intimacy among guys is broaching the topic of which girls you're crushing on. It feels like objectification but it's not. Being able to discuss women means having actual relationships with women to discuss. Most of all, misery loves company. And there is no misery like romantic travails.

What's unfortunate about the Sexodus is men are opting out of relationships with women - which robs both men and women of a huge opportunity for connection and companionship. And yet the great potential of the Sexodus is men bonding as friends because they're under attack. 500+ readers wrote Yiannopoulus privately to express gratitude, support, and relief knowing they are not alone. Lastly, given the cultural biases, I'm confident Asian American men are disproportionately over-represented in the Sexodus.  

Today, I'm not in the "man up" camp with Mark Driscoll, who castigates men for evading leadership in the workplace, church, and home. Nor do I blame women and feminism for everything like Roosh. Rather today, my goal is to restore a high view of both biblical man and womanhood. And my specific calling is to build male friendships - both in my own personal life and in my ministry, to model and encourage men to become friends. To that point, I don't mind discussing ethical game principles as a prop for male bonding.

What if my marriage serves the purpose of growing my male friendships rather than the other way around? After all, it appears the New Testament spends far more time teaching about the fellowship of brothers than about marriage.

To this point, strengthening ties between men serves as a prop for deepening men's relationship with Jesus Christ. God provides the church, the body of Christ, as the means by which our relational needs are met. Thus, the most interesting way for an Asian American man to avoid being a paper tiger is to love Jesus and love men sacrificially. Marriage is a significant but optional prop for the other two. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dataclysmic Disappointment

I love the OKCupid blog. Christian Rudder, an Harvard alum and dating site founder, writes  about the three "D"s of data, deception, and dating.  One of my favorite posts is this one from 2009, which connects data, deception, and dating with on another issue I'm passionate about - race. I'm fascinated by how we're walking contradictions when it comes to romance. We don't do what we say and most of the time, we're not even fully aware of the type of people we're attracted to (or repulsed by).

So when I heard he was coming out with a book I was pretty excited and finally got a copy from the library. The official title is Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)

Wow, it was a disappointing read. The book is about self-deception and how big data now allows us to measure the precise distance between our public and private persona. It succeeds in broaching the topic but unfortunately it's a shallow dive. Here are two observations:

1) The book does not contain much about dating: Rudder gathers data from facebook, twitter, all the major social networking sites. And the stuff is somewhat interesting but most of it is not about dating. And the stuff that is about dating he's already written about in his blog. The only difference is that his insights from the book are longer, more rambly, and less humorous.

He has a unique writing style and I wanted a deeper look into the dating stuff and more interesting observations about the self-deceptions people engage in when dating. Everyone fools themselves when it comes to romantic relationships. Why not dig where there's plenty of gold left?

For example, his first chapter titled "Wooderson's Law" concerns how a woman's attractiveness  a man peaks at age 22, regardless of the age of the man. That means a 50-year old man and an 18-year old man both find 22 year old women the absolute hottest. Women, on the other hand, are more assortative in regards to age. According to Rudder's OKCupid data, a 55-year old woman finds a 46-year man to be peak hotness. 

The way this works in reality is that as men age, they will message younger women - not quite as young as 22 but with a progressively increasing age gap. 28-year old men will send the most messages to 24-year old women and 44-year old men will send the most messages to 35-year old women. 

This is not news to anyone who is modestly familiar with the dynamics of today's sexual marketplace. Worse yet, this disparity in how attractiveness works between men and women was already explored in the teaser articles that accompanied the book's release. The book doesn't add much except a little more pontificating. 

Likewise, the second chapter is about being interesting in order to attract people of the opposite sex. The ability to trigger polarizing reactions reap great benefit in terms of message response rate. The idea is not to be "meh" - the failure to elicit a strong emotional response from others. A woman with blue hair or multiple body piercings stands out a lot more than a woman posing with a cat or a dog. This makes sense when you think about the sheer volume of profiles people have to scan but I was hoping for something more. 

Chapter four is pretty lame in terms of exploring new ideas. The argument is that marital strength correlates with how embedded your personal networks are. The more friends you have in common between you and your spouse, the stronger your marriage is. That is just not that interesting. Correlation is not causation, blah blah and it feels like common sense.

2) The book does not have a unifying, compelling theme: Most popular nonfiction (anything by Malcolm Gladwell, the Freakanomics series) is  both nerdy AND interesting. That is extremely challenging to do. This book illustrates how difficult it is to pull of well. What makes Gladwell so popular is that he's able to weave a coherent, enthralling narrative out of seemingly unrelated people, ideas and fields. The Freakanomics series takes specific behavioral science principles and applies them to real-life situations. In each of those books, there's a unifying theme and the authors make it interesting. Unfortunately, Rudder does not succeed in Dataclysm. 

The latter chapters concerned how dating sites and twitter have changed how we use language and what that illustrates about who we are. It didn't relate very much to dating so I tuned out. 

The best chapter in the book is called "The Confounding Factor" and it's about race. It's a more extensive exploration into insights that Rudder began in his blog. He simply adds more data from other dating sites but the conclusions are the same. The net is Asian men are like Black women - the opposite sex does not find them sexy or appealing. I don't need a book to tell me that. 

The only mildly interesting insight was that being Asian,  Latino, or Black plus white instantly makes you more attractive to the opposite sex. Being a half-white, half-black women garnered a 24% boost in attractiveness from white men (vs. being black alone). Being a half-white and half-Asian guy provided a 32% boost in attractiveness from white women (vs. being Asian alone). Wow. I will tell my kids to marry white people for the sake of my grandchildren.

The book is about how data reveals our own self-deception but I was hoping for more concrete ways to tell ourselves the truth, especially in regards to dating. After all, the reason I like Rudder isn't just because he knows data but because he applies big data analysis to dating. That's OKCupid's niche. And by departing from that niche, it was a significant let-down. Ultimately, Rudder's book is guilty of doing what his second chapter warned against. It became too common and not polarizing. Meh.