Is middle school homophobia “natural”?

So, my 13-year old son is super-tolerant, probably best described as pro-gay.  We’ve talked a lot about the issue due to the gay marriage debate and this has become a strong political stance of his.  (Heck, probably stronger than my position).  An obvious assumption would be, well, he’s gay.  Based on his poor ability to hide his on-line browsing habits, I’m pretty sure he’s not.  He just feels quite strongly that why should other people have a problem with it if someone is gay.  Anyway, he was complaining to me the other day how annoying it is that it is so common for his middle-school classmates to regularly use anti-gay slurs about each other.

That got me thinking.  We all know that young people these days are super-tolerant of homosexuality.  But that is young adults, not young teenagers– who are never, of course, the subject of public opinion polls.  I almost wonder if somewhere between 12-13 and 18, kids actually learn to be tolerant.  One theory of mine is that as kids are coming face-to-face with their own sexuality in a very personal way for the first time, it makes intuitive sense that they would really want to emphasize their male sexuality.  How better to do that, I suppose, than denigrate homosexuality.  Than, as cognitive and emotional maturity increases and they get strong messages from more mature young adults, they become tolerant.  Then again, this is all based on rank speculation from what my one seventh grader tells me about one middle school.  That said, it really got me wondering how common these strong anti-gay attitudes are among middle schoolers and why that might be.  Sometimes I just like to wonder aloud here.  Make of it what you will.

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Photo of the day

From a National Geographic series on Mt Everest:

Photograph by Kristoffer Erickson

Headlamps trace a path to the summit a few hours before dawn. Without tighter safety rules, climbers will continue to face more hazards on the mountain than altitude and the elements. “The most dangerous thing about Everest,” said one guide, “is everyone else who’s trying to climb it.”

Give it away

I recently listened to a very interesting NPR TED Radio hour about charity.  Most compelling, was a TED talk by Dan Palotta who argues that we need to fundamentally re-think the way we think about charity.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfAzi6D5FpM

I thought this bit was particularly thought-provoking:

Interesting that we don’t have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money not helping other people. You know, you want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it. We’ll put you on the cover of Wired magazine. But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you’re considered a parasite yourself…

Some people say, “Well, that’s just because those MBA types are greedy.” Not necessarily. They might be smart. It’s cheaper for that person to donate 100,000 dollars every year to the hunger charity, save 50,000 dollars on their taxes, so still be roughly 270,000 dollars a year ahead of the game, now be called a philanthropist because they donated 100,000 dollars to charity, probably sit on the board of the hunger charity, indeed, probably supervise the poor SOB who decided to become the CEO of the hunger charity, and have a lifetime of this kind of power and influence and popular praise still ahead of them.

So, not long after listening to this, I came across this equally provocative post at wonkblog with the non-so-subtle title, “join Wall Street and save the world.”  How’s that, you ask:

Jason Trigg went into finance because he is after money — as much as he can earn.

The 25-year-old certainly had other career options. An MIT computer science graduate, he could be writing software for the next tech giant. Or he might have gone into academia in computing or applied math or even biology. He could literally be working to cure cancer.

Instead, he goes to work each morning for a high-frequency trading firm. It’s a hedge fund on steroids. He writes software that turns a lot of money into even more money. For his labors, he reaps an uptown salary — and over time his earning potential is unbounded. It’s all part of the plan.

Why this compulsion? It’s not for fast cars or fancy houses. Trigg makes money just to give it away. His logic is simple: The more he makes, the more good he can do.

He’s figured out just how to take measure of his contribution. His outlet of choice is theAgainst Malaria Foundation, considered one of the world’s most effective charities. It estimates that a $2,500 donation can save one life. A quantitative analyst at Trigg’s hedge fund can earn well more than $100,000 a year. By giving away half of a high finance salary, Trigg says, he can save many more lives than he could on an academic’s salary.

In another generation, giving something back might have more commonly led to a missionary stint digging wells in Kenya. This generation, perhaps more comfortable with data than labor, is leveraging its wealth for a better end. Instead of digging wells, it’s paying so that more wells are dug.

“A lot of people, they want to make a difference and end up in the Peace Corps and in the developing world without running water,” Trigg says, “and I can donate some of my time in the office and make more of a difference.” …

While some of his peers have shunned Wall Street as the land of the morally bankrupt, Trigg’s moral code steered him there. And he’s not alone. To an emerging class of young professionals in America and Britain, making gobs of money is the surest way to save the world.

Fascinating.  And more power to Jason Trigg.  But I really wonder just how common this among this “emerging class of young professionals.”  I’m guessing that over 90% (if not 99%) of those heading to Wall Street are simply doing so because they want to me rich.  Those who actually make the calculation that Trigg or Pallotta’s hypothetical example do, I suspect, are exceedingly rare.  For those that do– awesome.  Truly.  But let’s not pretend that there’s some substantial portion of Wall Street types who are motivated for these soul-less jobs just so they can give the money away and make a difference.

Finally, I was very intrigued to learn about an organization called Givewell.org that rates charities simply along the lines of how effectively they use evidence-based strategies to give their money away.  They essentially highlight three charities that give an enormous bang for the buck in doing good.  For example, money goes a lot farther by simply spending it in country than flying in Westerners and housing them, feeding them, etc,. to make it all happen.   I was pleased to see that one of my regular charities (out of every paycheck, actually) Doctors Without Borders (or Médecins Sans Frontières, as I like to call it) comes out pretty positively, even if not highly recommended.

Anyway, a lot of thought-provoking ideas about charitable giving.  I’m definitely going to have to consider Givewell’s top charities for the future and re-think my thinking about charity.

And, how could I not conclude with this ode to giving it away:

 

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