Another example that I have encountered repeatedly is the Columbus myth, the belief that the difference between Columbus and those who argued against his voyage was that he knew the world was round and they thought it was flat. It is a widely believed story, but it is not only false, it is very nearly the opposite of the truth. A spherical earth had been orthodox cosmology ever since classical antiquity. The difference between Columbus and his critics was that they knew how big around the earth was, they knew how wide Asia was, they could subtract the one number from the other, hence they could calculate that he would run out of food and water long before he got to his intended destination. Columbus, in contrast, combined a much too small estimate for the circumference of the earth with a much too large figure for the width of Asia in order to convince himself that the difference was a short enough distance to make his planned voyage possible.
Why is this wildly ahistorical account so widely believed? Because it lets moderns feel superior to all those ignorant people in the past.
I could offer other examples of the same pattern, beliefs about people in the past inconsistent with the historical evidence, based on and supporting the unstated assumption of our superiority to them. It is the same motive that makes men believe they are superior to women, women that they are superior to men, Americans that they are superior to foreigners, Frenchmen that they are superior to everyone. Feeling superior feels good, and the less likely you are to confront the people you feel superior to, the easier it is to maintain it.
Men often meet women, women men, Americans foreigners, Frenchmen non-French, which can be a problem. Believing in your superiority to people long dead is safer.
David Friedman, “A Modern Conceit”, Ideas, 2014-09-16.
September 18, 2014
September 14, 2014
Up to a point, as we recognized, the problem of the coolie-millionaire offers no real difficulty. The Chinese coolie lives in a palm-thatched hovel on a bowl of rice. When he has risen to a higher occupation — hawking peanuts, for example, from a barrow — he still lives on rice and still lives in a hovel. When he has risen farther — to the selling, say, of possibly stolen bicycle parts, he keeps to his hovel and his rice. The result is that he has money to invest. Of ten coolies in this situation, nine will lose their money by unwise speculation. The tenth will be clever or lucky. He will live, nevertheless, in his hovel. He will eat, as before, his rice. As a success technique this is well worthy of study.
In the American log cabin story the point is soon reached at which the future millionaire must wear a tie. He explains that he cannot otherwise inspire confidence. He must also acquire a better address, purely (he says) to gain prestige. In point of fact, the tie is to please his wife and the address to satisfy his daughter. The Chinese have their womenfolk under better control. So the prosperous coolie sticks to his hovel and his rice. This is a known fact and admits of two explanations. In the first place his home (whatever its other disadvantages) has undeniably brought him luck. In the second place, a better house would unquestionably attract the notice of the tax collector. So he wisely stays where he is. He will often keep the original hovel — at any rate as an office — for the rest of his life. He quits it so reluctantly that his decision to move marks a major crisis in his career.
When he moves it is primarily to evade the exactions of secret societies, blackmailers, and gangs. To conceal his growing wealth from the tax collector is a relatively easy matter; but to conceal it from his business associates is practically impossible. Once the word goes round that he is prospering, accurate guesses will be made as to the sum for which he can be “touched.” All this is admittedly well known, but previous investigators have jumped too readily to the conclusion that there is only one sum involved. In point of fact there are three: the sum the victim would pay if kidnapped and held to ransom; the sum he would pay to keep a defamatory article out of a Chinese newspaper; the sum he would subscribe to charity rather than lose face.
Our task was to ascertain the figure the first sum will have reached (on an average) at the moment when migration takes place from the original hovel to a well-fenced house guarded by an Alsatian hound. It is this move that has been termed “Breaking the Hound Barrier.” Social scientists believe that it will tend to occur as soon as the ransom to be exacted comes to exceed the overhead costs of the “snatch.”
C. Northcote Parkinson, “Palm Thatch To Packard Or A Formula For Success”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.
September 12, 2014
People who say they are against teaching the theory of evolution are very likely to be Christian fundamentalists. But people who are against taking seriously the implications of evolution, strongly enough to want to attack those who disagree, including those who teach those implications, are quite likely to be on the left.
Consider the most striking case, the question of whether there are differences between men and women with regard to the distribution of intellectual abilities or behavioral patterns. That no such differences exist, or if that if they exist they are insignificant, is a matter of faith for many on the left. The faith is so strongly held that when the president of Harvard, himself a prominent academic, merely raised the possibility that one reason why there were fewer women than men in certain fields might be such differences, he was ferociously attacked and eventually driven to resign.
Yet the claim that such differences must be insignificant is one that nobody who took the implications of evolution seriously could maintain. We are, after all, the product of selection for reproductive success. Males and females play quite different roles in reproduction. It would be a striking coincidence if the distribution of abilities and behavioral patterns that was optimal for one sex turned out to also be optimal for the other, rather like two entirely different math problems just happening to have the same answer.
The denial of male/female differences is the most striking example of left wing hostility to the implications of Darwinian evolution, but not the only one. The reasons to expect differences among racial groups as conventionally defined are weaker, since males of all races play the same role in reproduction, as do females of all races. But we know that members of such groups differ in the distribution of observable physical characteristics — that, after all, is the main way we recognize them. That is pretty strong evidence that their ancestors adapted to at least somewhat different environments.
There is no a priori reason to suppose that the optimal physical characteristics were different in those different environments but the optimal mental characteristics were the same. And yet, when differing outcomes by racial groups are observed, it is assumed without discussion that they must be entirely due to differential treatment by race. That might turn out to be true, but there is no good reason to expect it. Here again, anyone who argues the opposite is likely to find himself the target of ferocious attacks, mainly from people on the left.
David D. Friedman, “Who is Against Evolution?”, Ideas, 2008-08-29
August 26, 2014
About 15 years ago, John Heath and I coauthored Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, a pessimistic warning about where current trends would take classics in particular and the humanities in general. It was easy enough then to identify the causes of the implosion. At the very time the protocols of the universities were proving unsustainable — more expensive administrators and non-teaching personnel, soaring tuition hikes, vast non-instructional expenditures in student services and social recreation, more release time for full professors, greater exploitation of part-time teachers, and more emphasis on practical education — the humanities had turned against themselves in the fashion of an autoimmune disease.
For example, esoteric university press publications, not undergraduate teaching and advocacy, came to define the successful humanities professor. Literature, history, art, music, and philosophy classes — even if these courses retained their traditional course titles — became shells of their former selves, now focusing on race, class, and gender indictments of the ancient and modern Western worlds.
These trendy classes did the nearly impossible task of turning the plays of Euripides, the poetry of Dante, and the history of the Civil War into monotonous subjects. The result was predictable: cash-strapped students increasingly avoided these classes. Moreover, if humanists did not display enthusiasm for Western literature, ideas, and history, or, as advocates, seek to help students appreciate the exceptional wisdom and beauty of Sophocles or Virgil, why, then, would the Chairman of the Chicano Studies Department, the Assistant Dean of Social Science, the Associate Provost for Diversity, or the Professor of Accounting who Chaired the General Education Committee worry about the declining enrollments in humanities?
If the humanities could have adopted a worse strategy to combat these larger economic and cultural trends over the last decade, it would be hard to see how. In short, the humanities have been exhausted by a half-century of therapeutic “studies” courses: Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, Environmental Studies, Chicano Studies, Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Asian Studies, Cultural Studies, and Gay Studies. Any contemporary topic that could not otherwise justify itself as literary, historical, philosophical, or cultural simply tacked on the suffix “studies” and thereby found its way into the curriculum.
These “studies” courses shared an emphasis on race, class, and gender oppression that in turn had three negative consequences. First, they turned the study of literature and history from tragedy to melodrama, from beauty and paradox into banal predictability, and thus lost an entire generation of students. Second, they created a climate of advocacy that permeated the entire university, as the great works and events of the past were distorted and enlisted in advancing contemporary political agendas. Finally, the university lost not just the students, but the public as well, which turned to other sources — filmmakers, civic organizations, non-academic authors, and popular culture — for humanistic study.
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Death of the Humanities”, VDH’s Private Papers, 2014-01-28
July 8, 2014
In the Telegraph, Iain Martin tries to put this summer’s British media hysteria/witch hunt into a bit of perspective:
Anyone who expresses astonishment about the wave of recent revelations and allegations centred on the conduct of assorted entertainers and celebrities from the Seventies must have been lacking access to a television set, if they are genuinely shocked. In that decade, and on into the Eighties, even the most successful and least funny comedy programme rested mainly on one joke, which involved a man in a raincoat chasing around bikini-clad young women. Back then the work of Benny Hill was regarded as family entertainment, and groping, sexual incontinence and jokes about the corruption of innocence were the staples of countless other comedians. It would be surprising – really, wouldn’t it? – if a minority of twisted, power-crazed people working in “entertainment” intent on sexual abuse hadn’t exploited the opportunity to do terrible harm.
Britain in the Seventies was a very weird place. The sexual revolution (largely an elite project of the Sixties, which did not go mainstream until later) had produced a bizarre popular culture hybrid. In the Seventies, the British saucy postcard tradition, always darker than it looked, featuring cheeky innuendo, collided with a crazed mood of supposed sexual liberation. The message pushed out in some sitcoms and other forms of popular entertainment was that everyone was permanently at “it” and that any woman resisting “it” was a prude or a relic of a bygone era. Questions of license, consent and desirability became hopelessly confused. This was the dark flip side of the numerous benefits which came with the abandonment of the old, stifling constraints imposed on both sexes.
To make matters even more hazardous, Britain in the Seventies was a country wobbling on the verge of a transition. The population’s over-reliance on deference and a blind faith in the virtues of authority had already been tested in the Suez disaster and in the Profumo scandal of 1963, although it had not collapsed entirely. Parents still operated on the assumption that fellow adults in positions of power were likely to be trustworthy, and the majority were. But thanks to scandals revealed since involving schools, churches, children’s homes, the BBC, the Scouts and so on, we know that some individuals and networks of paedophiles exploited that trust, again to do terrible harm.
The hound pack of the media is in full cry, and that urge to convict before trial is overwhelming common sense and propriety.
But increasingly we seem less interested in due process – as a protection against miscarriage of justice or to prevent a bad precedent being established – than we do in the excitement of the moment and urgent demands for a government “inquiry” which must usually be “over-arching”. These inquiries are now an industry in themselves, although curiously the one area that probably deserved it (the banking collapse presided over by the political class which triggered the worst downturn in 80 years) was not given a proper inquiry. Funny that.
On Westminster child abuse, the risk was identified by Claire Fox speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme earlier. She said that rumour is already becoming confused with evidence. All manner of claims are now being aired and reported as though they are fact. “Twenty members of the Establishment,” “ministers” and unnamed “leading figures” are accused of dark and sinister deeds. Alongside those making genuine allegations, anyone with a claim will get on air at the moment, any crank or fantasist who wants to attract attention or settle scores will cry that they are being ignored or suppressed if the broadcasters will not give them a platform immediately. It would be a brave BBC producer who would decline right now.
April 23, 2014
Amy Otto on the attempt to sue McDonald’s because they were handing out “gendered” toys with their Happy Meals:
A recent article in Slate by Antonia Ayres-Brown, a junior in high school, details the valiant feminist struggle she ultimately brought to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against McDonald’s for … discriminating on the basis of sex in the distribution of Happy Meal toys. “Despite our evidence showing that, in our test, McDonald’s employees described the toys in gendered terms more than 79 percent of the time, the commission dismissed our allegations as ‘absurd’ and solely for the purposes of ‘titilation [sic] and sociological experimentation,’” she wrote.
Let’s leave aside the fact that Connecticut has a Commission on Human Rights and note that this girl sincerely believes McDonald’s offering toys described, at times, as being for a girl or for a boy is a human rights violation.
While I admire the girl’s plucky disposition and effort, I do hope one day she learns to channel her energy into productive uses that will advance her cause in positive ways. This could have all been solved by her parents simply encouraging her to ask for the toy she wants. If girls are continually taught that they as individuals have no power to negotiate a situation as simple as “I’d like that toy” without the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights getting involved, I submit that these women are proving the case that they should not be put in positions of leadership or power.
By the author’s own admission,“McDonald’s is estimated to sell more than 1 billion Happy Meals each year.” Yet it does not occur to her that the fast food worker giving a “girl’s” toy to a girl is simply trying to give the customer what she wants in the most expeditious manner possible. This is a company that sells a billion of these things a year and gets them in the hands of their customers as fast as possible.
People do not eat at McDonald’s to get into a gender studies discussion with the teenage kid at the register; they go there to get food fast, hence the term “fast food.” If the author had worked in fast food for any nominal period of time, she might realize that the employee’s main motivation is not to spend any time persecuting women but to make it through his or her shift as painlessly as possible.
March 8, 2014
At Bikini Armour Battle Damage, a handy Bingo card for your MMO:
As a special present for Bikini Armor Battle Damage first anniversary, I present to you: Female Armor BINGO!
Feel free to use as a reference to quantify how ridiculous any female armor is.
edit: Updated the link into downloadable PDF!
Breakdown of all the squares under the cut.
For the record: the game refers to the context of wearing skimpy “armors” for battle (any other context, like cosplay, is excluded)
February 24, 2014
While working-class left-wing political activism was always about fighting the powerful, treating people how you would wish to be treated and believing that we’re all basically the same, modern, non-working-class left-wing politics is about… other stuff. Class guilt, sexual kinks, personal prejudice and repressed lust for power. The trade union movement gave us brother Bill Morris and Mrs Desai; the diversity movement has given us a rainbow coalition of cranks and charlatans. Which has, in turn, has given us intersectionality.
Intersectionality may well sound like some unfortunate bowel complaint resulting in copious use of a colostomy bag, and indeed it does contain a large amount of ordure. Wikipedia defines it as ‘the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination’, which seems rather mature and dignified. In reality, it seeks to make a manifesto out of the nastiest bits of Mean Girls, wherein non-white feminists especially are encouraged to bypass the obvious task of tackling the patriarchy’s power in favour of bitching about white women’s perceived privilege in terms of hair texture and body shape. Think of all those episodes of Jerry Springer where two women who look like Victoria’s Secret models — one black, one white — bitch-fight over a man who resembles a Jerusalem artichoke, sitting smugly in the middle, and you have the end result of intersectionality made all too foul flesh. It may have been intended as a way for disabled women of colour to address such allegedly white-ableist-feminist-specific issues as equal pay, but it’s ended up as a screaming, squawking, grievance-hawking shambles.
The supreme irony of intersectionality is that it both barracks ‘traditional’ feminists for ignoring the issues of differently abled and differently ethnic women while at the same time telling them they have no right to discuss them because they don’t understand them — a veritable Pushmi-Pullyu of a political movement. Entering the crazy world of intersectionality is quite like being locked in a hall of mirrors with a borderline personality disorder coach party. ‘Stop looking at me funny! Why are you ignoring me? Go away, I hate you! Come back, how dare you reject me!’ It’s politics, Jim, but certainly not as my dear old dad knew it.
February 20, 2014
The Dark Enlightenment is, as I have previously noted, a large and messy phenomenon. It appears to me in part to be a granfalloon invented by Nick Land and certain others to make their own piece of it (the neoreactionaries) look larger and more influential than it actually is. The most detailed critiques of the DE so far (notably Scott Alexander’s Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell and Anti-Reactionary FAQ nod in the direction of other cliques on the map I reproduced but focus pretty strongly on the neoreactionaries.
This is the map ESR is referring to:
Nevertheless, after we peel away clear outliers like the Techno-Commercial Futurists and the Christian Traditionalists, there remains a “core” Dark Enlightenment which shares a discernibly common set of complaints and concerns. In this post I’m going to enumerate these rather than dive deep into any of them. Development of and commentary on individual premises will be deferred to later blog posts.
(I will note the possibility that I may in summarizing the DE premises be inadvertently doing what Scott Alexander marvelously labels “steelmanning” – that is, reverse-strawmanning by representing them as more logical and coherent than they actually are. Readers should be cautious and check primary sources if in doubt.)
Complaint the first: We are all being lied to – massively, constantly, systematically – by an establishment that many DE writers call “the Cathedral”. Its power is maintained by inculcation in the masses of what a Marxist (but nobody in the DE, ever, except ironically) would call “false consciousness”. The Cathedral’s lies go far deeper than what most people think of as normal tactical political falsehoods or even conspiracy theories, down to the level of some of the core premises of post-Enlightenment civilization and widely cherished beliefs about the sustainability of racial equality, sexual equality, and democracy.
Complaint the second: “All men are created equal” is a pernicious lie. Human beings are created unequal, both as individuals and as breeding populations. Innate individual and group differences matter a lot. Denying this is one of the Cathedral’s largest and most damaging lies. The bad policies that proceed from it are corrosive of civilization and the cause of vast and needless misery.
Complaint the Third: Democracy is a failure. It has produced a race to the bottom in which politicians grow ever more venal, narrow interest groups ever more grasping, the function of government increasingly degenerates into subsidizing parasites at the expense of producers, and in general politics exhibits all the symptoms of what I have elsewhere called an accelerating Olsonian collapse (after Mancur Olson’s analysis in The Logic Of Collective Action).
February 7, 2014
An interesting post by Susan Sons illustrating some of the reasons women do not become hackers in the same proportion that men do:
Looking around at the hackers I know, the great ones started before puberty. Even if they lacked computers, they were taking apart alarm clocks, repairing pencil sharpeners or tinkering with ham radios. Some of them built pumpkin launchers or LEGO trains. I started coding when I was six years old, sitting in my father’s basement office, on the machine he used to track inventory for his repair service. After a summer of determined trial and error, I’d managed to make some gorillas throw things other than exploding bananas. It felt like victory!
Twelve-year-old girls today don’t generally get to have the experiences that I did. Parents are warned to keep kids off the computer lest they get lured away by child molesters or worse — become fat! That goes doubly for girls, who then grow up to be liberal arts majors. Then, in their late teens or early twenties, someone who feels the gender skew in technology communities is a problem drags them to a LUG meeting or an IRC channel. Shockingly, this doesn’t turn the young women into hackers.
Why does anyone, anywhere, think this will work? Start with a young woman who’s already formed her identity. Dump her in a situation that operates on different social scripts than she’s accustomed to, full of people talking about a subject she doesn’t yet understand. Then tell her the community is hostile toward women and therefore doesn’t have enough of them, all while showing her off like a prize poodle so you can feel good about recruiting a female. This is a recipe for failure.
I’ve never had a problem with old-school hackers. These guys treat me like one of them, rather than “the woman in the group”, and many are old enough to remember when they worked on teams that were about one third women, and no one thought that strange. Of course, the key word here is “old” (sorry guys). Most of the programmers I like are closer to my father’s age than mine.
The new breed of open-source programmer isn’t like the old. They’ve changed the rules in ways that have put a spotlight on my sex for the first time in my 18 years in this community.
When we call a man a “technologist”, we mean he’s a programmer, system administrator, electrical engineer or something like that. The same used to be true when we called a woman a “technologist”. However, according to the new breed, a female technologist might also be a graphic designer or someone who tweets for a living. Now, I’m glad that there are social media people out there — it means I can ignore that end of things — but putting them next to programmers makes being a “woman in tech” feel a lot like the Programmer Special Olympics.
February 6, 2014
Being shy can be a handicap for certain kinds of activities. It can prevent you from doing things you might otherwise want to do. Shockingly, however, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal doesn’t think that you should get special treatment just because you’re afraid to be the only guy in a class full of women:
Sexual politics have erupted again in Toronto’s ivory tower as another male student has lost a bid to be excused from a class with women without losing marks, this time because he’s shy.
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a complaint by University of Toronto student Wongene Daniel Kim, who accused his professor of discriminating against him as a male when she docked him marks for not coming to class because he was too shy to be the only guy.
The second-year health science major arrived at the opening of a Women and Gender Studies course for which he had signed up in the fall of 2012 — “It had spaces left and fit into my timetable” — only to discover a room full of women and nary a man in sight.
“I felt anxiety; I didn’t expect it would be all women and it was a small classroom and about 40 women were sort of sitting in a semicircle and the thought of spending two hours every week sitting there for the next four months was overwhelming,” said Kim, 20, adding he manages a part-time job with women because there are also other men.
However the tribunal ruled his complaint did not warrant a hearing.
“The applicant has not satisfied me that his claimed discomfort in a classroom of women requires accommodation under the (Ontario Human Rights) Code,” wrote adjudicator Mary Truemner. “He admitted that his discomfort is based on his own ‘individual preference’ as a shy person … and stated he thought they (the women) would not be willing to interact with him because of his gender.”
This was “merely speculation as he never gave the class, or the women, a chance,” wrote Truemner, vice-chair of the tribunal.
Kim had no evidence of being “excluded, disadvantaged or treated unequally on the basis of” his gender, she said.
H/T to Joey DeVilla who posted on Facebook, “Way to perpetuate the feckless Asian nerd stereotype, Kim. After all the work I did dispelling it!”.
January 20, 2014
I must not have been paying attention, but according to Jamie Bartlett, we should be terrified of a “dark enlightenment” that is sweeping the internet:
Since 2012 a sophisticated but bizarre online neo-fascist movement has been growing fast. It’s called “The Dark Enlightenment”. Its modus operandi is well suited to today’s world. Supporters are dotted all over the world, connected via a handful of blogs and chat rooms. Its adherents are clever, angry white men patiently awaiting the collapse of civilisation, and a return to some kind of futuristic, ethno-centric feudalism.
It started, suitably enough, with two blogs. Mencius Moldbug, a prolific blogger and computer whizz from San Francisco, and Nick Land, an eccentric British philosopher (previously co-founder of Warwick University’s Cybernetic Culture Research Unit) who in 2012 wrote the eponymous “The Dark Enlightenment”, as a series of posts on his site. You can find them all here.
The philosophy, difficult to pin down exactly, is a loose collection of neo-reactionary ideas, meaning a rejection of most modern thinking: democracy, liberty, and equality. Particular contempt is reserved for democracy, which Land believes “systematically consolidate[s] and exacerbate[es] private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption.”
So, according to this report, we should be terrified of a bunch of basement-dwelling maladjusted would-be techno-feudalists. The question that immediately springs to mind is “why?” We’re told that they’re “neo-reactionary”, “racist”, and “sexist”. We need to be afraid of them because they have the power to … well, nothing. He’s sounding the tocsin of alarm because he’s discovered that there are people who are wrong on the internet!
Update, 3 February: Scharlach created an affinity diagram of the Dark Enlightenment movement, grouped according to their major themes.
Update, 4 February: ESR‘s take on the affinity diagram linked above.
Just looking at the map, someone unfamiliar with the players would be justified in wondering if there’s really any coherence there at all. And that’s a fair question. Some of the people the map sweeps in don’t think of themselves as “Dark Enlightenment” at all. This is notably true of the light green cluster marked “Techno-Commercialists/Futurists” at the top, and the “Economists” connected to it in yellow.
If I belonged on this map, that’s where I’d be. I know Eliezer Yudkowsky; the idea that he and the Less Wrong crowd and Robin Hanson feel significant affinity with most of the rest of that map is pretty ludicrous.
Note, however, that one of only two links to the rest is “Nick Land”. This is a clue, because Nick Land is probably the single most successful booster of the “Dark Enlightenment” meme. It’s in his interest to make the movement look as big and various as he can manage, and I think this map is partly in the nature of a successful con job or dezinformatsiya.
In this, Land is abetted by people outside the movement who are well served by making it look like the Dark Enlightenment is as big and scary as possible. Some of those people lump in the techno-futurist/economist group out of dislike for that group’s broadly libertarian politics – which though very different from the reactionary ideas of the core Dark Enlightenment, is also in revolt against conventional wisdom. Others lump them in out of sheer ignorance.
So, my first contention is that Nick Land has pulled a fast one. That said, I think there is a core Dark Enlightenment – mostly identifiable with the purple “Political Philosophy” group, but with some crossover into HBD and Masculinity and (possibly) the other groups at the bottom of the map.
For the record, I don’t think I’ve got a dog in this fight … I only recognize the names of nine of the linked sites, and most of those are of the recognize-the-name sense, not the familiar-with-the-content sense.
January 14, 2014
She wrote a column on this topic last week, and the resulting discussion with commenters has her back at the keyboard:
Last week, I wrote an essay on women on the Internet in which I argued that the real problem is not the sexualized remarks and threats of violence that people tend to focus on. I’ve now been blogging for more than a dozen years, and for all the threats and the comments, they have never resulted in so much as a light shove or a pushy pass in the real world. No, the real problem, to me, is that women attract an undue amount of nonsexual rage and denigration from people who don’t like the opinions they hold. People are ruder, angrier, more condescending and more dismissive with women who make arguments they don’t like.
I tried to make it clear what I was not saying: “Men, you need to clean up your act.” This is not just something men do. It is not just something conservatives, or liberals, or nonfeminists do. It is a general rule about how people of all genders and political ideologies interact with women who assert their right to have strong opinions about important issues. I was not issuing dicta; I was trying to start a conversation about how people view women. Most people can see the outsized abuse that the women on their own side of an argument get; I hoped that maybe the next time they got similarly outraged at a woman on the other side, a few of them would think, “Wait, am I angry at her for being stupid and disingenuous, or am I angry at her for being a woman who disagrees with me?”
I believe that three things are true:
- It is quite possible to vehemently disagree with a woman for reasons that have nothing to do with her gender.
- Subtle sexism is nonetheless quite widespread.
- Therefore, it is generally helpful to discuss sexist patterns in human behavior. However, unless the offense is really quite blatant, it is generally unhelpful in the extreme to accuse specific people, or actions, of being sexist. I mean, if someone says something like “I just don’t think women should have opinions on politics because they’re too stupid and overemotional to think clearly about anything,” then go to town. Otherwise, discretion is the better part of valor.
When you talk about generalities, you’re having a conversation. When you talk about specific people, you’re making an accusation. And that makes it very hard to have a rational discussion.
December 21, 2013
In the Guardian, Sam Leith says the push to eliminate gender stereotypes from toy stores is really for the parents, not for the children:
My daughter wasn’t yet three when it started. First she refused to wear anything that wasn’t pink. Then she announced that she wanted to change her name to Cinderella Barbie Sleeping Beauty. This was an achievement.
We owned no Disney princess DVDs, had never uttered the word “Barbie”, and she wasn’t yet at nursery so it couldn’t have come the route of the nits.
Are the spores of this stuff, I wondered, in the air?
Now my son is two and a half. Dollies delight him not, no, nor fairies, though by your smiling you seem to say so. The two things in the world that interest him most are fire engines and (oddly) zebras. He has a special dance that he does on sighting a fire engine. When he wakes up in the morning and you ask him what he dreamed about, he says: “A fire engine and a zebra.”
Now Marks & Spencer has joined a growing number of retailers in announcing that all its toy marketing will be gender-neutral. Does that mean my next child will grow up free of these obsessions? I’m not counting my fluffy pink chickens.
I don’t want to troll all you good people by trying to make the case that marketing toys by gender is a positive social good to be applauded. But I think there is a case — a pretty strong case — for not getting ventilated about it. And — not to make the perfect the enemy of the good — for seeing the battle against it as a sideshow, and potentially one that could distract us from the main event.
December 19, 2013
Paul Rowan Brian explains where the suddenly omnipresent term “microaggressions” came from:
Microaggression is a term first coined by Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Chester Pierce in the 1970s that, at least in original meaning, describes situational, spoken or behavioural slights (especially unintentional) that convey ignorance, hostility or dismissal toward individuals belonging to minority or marginalized groups.
Pierce is also quoted as saying that all children of five-years-old entering school are mentally ill. The reason they’re mentally ill, according to Pierce, is the children’s loyalty to their parents, the Founding Fathers, and belief in God or a Supernatural Being. The education system must seek to correct these mental illnesses, Pierce argues. Which is all to say that Pierce is certainly not one to overstate matters or let his rhetoric get away on him. (Not that anyone was worried about that, right)?
To look at how subtly microaggression may manifest, let’s take an example.
A middle-aged, white male in a city with a white majority offers his seat to a kindly-looking black lady of an older age on a crowded subway train; nobody looks twice, perhaps the lady even smiles as she accepts the offer.
But did you know that the male individual may well have committed microaggression?
Well anyway, he likely wouldn’t know if he had, by definition.
In offering his seat to the kindly-looking older black woman (or even, God forbid, thinking of her in those stereotypical terms), the white man has made hurtful assumptions about her needing the seat more than him including her identity as a woman, older individual and member of a minority. Even if none of these thoughts or impressions crossed the man’s mind or the woman’s, they have subtly-imbued the interaction with a harmful aspect, potentially causing or contributing to long-term feelings of marginalization, ‘otherness’ and psychological damage for the woman.
A number of other variables including the woman’s sexual orientation, socio-economic status and religion could make the seemingly-harmless and chivalrous interaction a double, triple or even quadruple microaggressive whammy.