72. Why Men Aren’t Really Men Anymore (and the Bell-Shaped Curve)

WARNING: MATHS AHEAD

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to have the pleasure of introducing to you all: the bell-shaped curve.

In normal distribution, provided you have a sample size sufficiently large to represent the population, the bell-shaped curve is what you would normally get when you begin plotting a graph to represent your data.

Now, this all may sound very confusing to some of you, so let me break it down: imagine we are studying the probability of a random person’s IQ being higher than, say, 140. So we get a million participants to join in our little experiment.

(in truth, 1 million out of 7 billion is hardly a “sample size sufficiently large to represent the population”, but let’s run with it for now)

Now, assuming that this mission people are from all sorts of diverse background: they come from different countries, speak different languages, have different education backgrounds, and different upbringings – chances are, we’re going to get a very wide range of data. We’re going to get people who are Mensa-level intelligent (IQ > approx. 140), people who may be mentally handicapped (IQ < approx. 60), and all sorts of people in between.

As you may imagine, the chances of people with either very high or very low IQs showing up will be very rare; and the general population will have an average of IQ falling around the middle of these two extremes, somewhere around 100. If you’ve done some elementary statistics, and you connect the top of the bars on the histogram, you’ll get something that looks like an upside-down letter “U’, with the edges sloping outwards – which makes it looks like a bell.

Hence the bell-shaped curve.

It shows up for all sorts of other normal distributions: number of chocolate consumed in a year; movies watched in a month; annual salary… The list goes on. But the basic implication is this: in every normal distribution, there are always rare extremes, and there is always the common middle ground.

The implication is also that the world is filled with very normal, very average people; and for every person extraordinarily good at something, there is another person extraordinarily bad at the very same thing. For every saint, there is someone who is evil in equal measure. For every poverty-stricken person, there is someone who is rich in the same magnitude.

Even in your life you can see the application of the bell-shaped curve: you have made some very bad choices along the way to where you are today; but you have also made some very good choices that you wouldn’t replace for anything else. You have incredible memories that you want to relive, and you have awful memories that you wish you can just delete.

Now, why am I talking about the bell-shaped curve?

Earlier this evening, I read an article that pissed me off. Stoic as I am, it’s pretty hard to either piss me off or get me excited about something (see? Bell-shaped curve!); so this gives you an idea of how bad it was. It was an article titled “Why Men Aren’t Real Men Anymore”, published on The Elite Daily (a website which is, frankly speaking, full of shit).

First of all, the title itself presents a whole range of debate topics, starting with: what constitutes a “real man”? Are these qualities quantifiable? If so, how? If not, how does one know if one qualifies as a “real man”? But let’s put that aside for now.

The article, written by a certain Paul Hudson (who identifies himself as a writer and philosopher, among other things), went on at length about the terrible state that Gen-Y is in. The young men of today are not as classy as they used to be, it claims. The young men of today do not exhibit intelligence of charm as the youths 50 years ago did. Society is on a decline, blah blah blah.

The writer, first of all, has been obviously unscientific in his sampling of “men”, and seems to focus exclusively on the legions of youngsters who spend the vast majority of their time on the internet surfing porn and playing violent video games. This, by the way, is called bad sampling. Remember how we talked about getting a sample that is “sufficiently large to represent the population”? This is when sampling fails to do the last three words. Allow me to introduce an excerpt of the article for your reading pleasure:

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

Oh wait, I’m sorry. That quote was from Socrates, who lived in ANCIENT GREECE, 400B.C.

It reminds me of a trend that emerged on the ever-popular 9gag about last year, with a string of posts condemning the duckface, most of them accompanied by captions reading: “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore”, or “Where have the real ladies gone?”

Bad, bad sampling. These people fail to understand that for every ugly duckface photo there is on the internet, there are at least 10 others of girls smiling normally, and one of them is beautiful in equal measure to the ugliness of the duckface. When one chooses to highlight the negatives and ignore the positives, they distort our reality, and ultimately our perception of truth.

For every Miley Cyrus (bless her soul), there is an Emma Watson. For every teenager doing something stupid in the name of YOLO, there is one making something amazing out of his life. For Paul Hudson, young writer and eminent philosopher: for every porn-surfing video game addict you know, there is another person in their 20s who is steadily making the world a better place, and setting a higher standard of ethics and class.

So to you, dear reader: the world is beautiful. The world is ugly. The world is both. The world is neither.

It’s how you want to see it.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
-Marcel Proust

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