Yes, But…

In the 1890s when gender role reversals could ...

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I have been a consistent supporter of the idea that women should be regarded as the moral, legal, and political equals of men. In general, I have based this support on the principle of relevant difference: people can (morally) be treated differently only the the basis of a (morally) relevant difference between them. So, while it would be acceptable to pay someone who has more education more than another person, it would not be acceptable to pay someone less simply because she happens to be a woman (or he happens to be a man). I first learned of this principle as an undergraduate during a class on feminism. This class had a lasting impact on me, including an interest in gender issues that persists to this day.

As time marched on from my undergraduate days, I was pleased to see various unjust aspects of American society change. Women had ever increasing opportunities in business, education, sports and in many other areas as well. This trend continued, with the occasional specific set back, until some feminists went so far as to claim that feminism had grown stale or even that there was no longer a need for feminism in America.

While I was pleased with the trend towards equality, another trend that has stood out is what could be called the “yes, but…” trend. I first noticed this when I was doing research for some essays on men, women, and higher education (which appeared in my book). I found that the although the majority of undergraduates were women, there seemed to be almost no concern about this new gender inequality. This initially struck me as odd. After all, feminists and their allies had always been very quick to point out gender disparities that were not in favor of women and endeavored to rectify such imbalances. When I would bring up my concerns about the male decline in higher education, I would most often by the phrase “yes, but…” where the “but” would be followed by some area where men still exceeded women, such as in  physics or the highest levels of the corporate world. Watching the occasional news report that mentioned gender issues, I noticed a similar pattern: it would be pointed out that women exceeded men in some area, but this would be followed by pointing out some area (like income) where women were said to lag behind men.

I most recently noticed this in a Newsweek article, “Born Again Feminism“, by Kathleen Parker. She writes:

As a group, we are worse at some things, but better at others—the very “others,” it also turns out, that happen to be driving today’s economy and that of the future.

Consequently, in the U.S. today, women hold a majority of the jobs, and dominate in colleges and professional schools. They also hold a majority of managerial and professional positions, and about half of all accounting, banking, and insurance jobs.

These socioeconomic facts don’t mean that women have achieved perfect parity with men, who still dominate at the highest levels of business.

As a side point before getting back to the main issue, it is interesting to note that Parker also makes use of a common device in today’s discussion of gender issues: men and women are different, but women are better than men in terms of what is needed today. This, in many ways, is a distorted echo what might be called the old sexism in which men and women were seen as different, but men were regarded as being better than women in the ways that mattered economically, politically and so on. Given this similarity, this sort of thing should be a point of concern among those who are worried about sexism.

Getting back to the main point, this nicely illustrates the “yes, but…”approach. Parker notes that women hold the majority of American jobs, classrooms, managerial positions and have parity in accounting, banking and insurance. But, they have not “achieved perfect parity with men.”

One obvious response is that she is quite right. In America, women have not achieved perfect parity because they are the majority in the areas she mentioned. Perfect parity would require that no gender dominates in any area-even if the dominate gender is female.

I always find it interesting how quickly certain people can transition from saying how women dominate in so many areas to criticizing the fact that there are still areas dominated by men. What is most interesting about this is that the arguments used to argue for equality in the areas still dominated by men would certainly seem to apply to the areas that are now dominated by women. As such, it would seem that the concern about the remaining male dominated areas should also apply to those areas where women now dominate. After all, if gender inequality is unjust when it favors men over women, it would seem to be unjust when it favors women over men. However, this concern often seems to be lacking and it might be suspected that there is a certain moral inconsistency at play in some cases.

This is not to say that there are not areas where the inequality does not unjustly favor men nor is it to say that there are no longer any valid problems left in the area of women’s rights. When people use the “yes, but…” approach they often do point out legitimate problems that need to be addressed. However, they all too often seem to miss the legitimate concerns in regards to areas in which women dominate.

Naturally, I am open to the idea that cases of gender inequality need not be cases of injustice. For example, in my book I consider that the gender disparities in higher education might be due to free choices on the part of men and women and not the result of any form of sexism. However, I am also careful to consider (as I learned from the feminists) that gender disparities could be the result of injustice. Those who use the “yes, but…” approach should be careful to apply a consistent set of principles to both sorts of situations, those in which men dominate and those in which women dominate. After all, we surely do not want to trade one form of sexism for another.

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  1. Gawd, of all the dull, mealy-mouthed pieces of philosophy. Write about something that matters for god’s sake.

    This isn’t just troll-ish invective (though it is that–sorry)–it’s an actual criticism. People’s time and attention is scarce. By focusing on the issue of sexism against *men* (sheesh) you’re also saying implicitly that this is an issue that merits attention over other, more pressing social issues.

    You see a similar version of this in politics. Republicans will spend an awful lot of time and spill an awful lot of ink about “reverse-racism”, but hardly pay any attention to–and seem not be too interested in or concerned about–actual cases of just plain racism. And it’s not like they’re racists: they go through great pains to explain that they’re not racist. And I believe them! But nevertheless there is a pattern of attention that reveals where their empathies lie. And those empathies tend to be aligned with white males (especially rich ones), and not really with anybody else.

    Am I calling you a Republican? No. I’m just trying to call you out on what I guess you might call either a failure of imagination or a failure of courage to say something meaningful and interesting, instead of some contrarian point you’d expect out of the mouth of a preening first year Philosophy undergrad.


  2. Dennis Sceviour

    Yes, but more women than men are enrolled in educational institutions. There is nothing new about this. For example, in Afghanistan, women are (or were) persecuted (or stoned) for going to school. Women have been very influential in emancipating my openness to different ideas. In spite of the numbers, I am disappointed at how few comments are posted by women in this philosophy blog site. The girls are out there and reading this, but don’t they have anything to say?

  3. Curious,

    True-the average situation for men in the US, UK, Canada and so on is rather good, especially relative to the rest of the world.

    Actually, I think we men should step up and take on more of the domestic work. It does suck (I did the cleaning when I was married and obviously do it now that I am divorced), but it has to be done and the crap jobs should be handed out fairly. Plus, as my mother always says, it builds character to clean your own messes.

  4. David,

    Gawd, of all the dull, mealy-mouthed pieces of philosophy. Write about something that matters for god’s sake.<

    Thanks for the constructive criticism.

    This isn’t just troll-ish invective (though it is that–sorry)–it’s an actual criticism. People’s time and attention is scarce. By focusing on the issue of sexism against *men* (sheesh) you’re also saying implicitly that this is an issue that merits attention over other, more pressing social issues.You see a similar version of this in politics. Republicans will spend an awful lot of time and spill an awful lot of ink about “reverse-racism”, but hardly pay any attention to–and seem not be too interested in or concerned about–actual cases of just plain racism. And it’s not like they’re racists: they go through great pains to explain that they’re not racist. And I believe them! But nevertheless there is a pattern of attention that reveals where their empathies lie. And those empathies tend to be aligned with white males (especially rich ones), and not really with anybody else.Am I calling you a Republican? No. I’m just trying to call you out on what I guess you might call either a failure of imagination or a failure of courage to say something meaningful and interesting, instead of some contrarian point you’d expect out of the mouth of a preening first year Philosophy undergrad.<

    Actually, I’m a reluctant Democrat. We really only have the two choices in the US (well, independent-if you have no interest in primaries in most states).

    Perhaps you could provide us with an example of courageous imagination or imaginative courage?

  5. Dennis,

    Philosophy does still seem to be a boy’s club, at least for the most part.

    Various women have had some interesting things to say about this problem-but I will not presume to speak for them.

  6. Your post always stimulate my thinking.

    “I have been a consistent supporter of the idea that women should be regarded as the moral, legal, and political equals of men. In general, I have based this support on the principle of relevant difference: people can (morally) be treated differently only the the basis of a (morally) relevant difference between them.”

    I wonder, then, should politicians be treated differently; or is there some moral difference between them and us? After all, if I steal money from someone, or if I get a gang to steal from a bunch of people, I will go to jail, even if I am using that money to pay my sick grandmother’s medical bills. Politicians, however, can steal (read: taxes) and it is seen as morally acceptable.

    The difference here certainly isn’t level of education. Maybe it’s that some people voted for those politicians? But does that really elevate them to a level of morally superior human beings? I don’t think so, and there are plenty of instances from history to illustrate this.

  7. Perhaps you could provide us with an example of courageous imagination or imaginative courage?

    An artist’s–or in this example, a philosopher’s–last recourse against a critic can always be, “Well why don’t you do it better then.” E.g., if I say your band sucks, you might say, “Well go start your own band then.” And what that really signifies is a termination of the conversation between creator and critic. So: can I provide you with an example of philosophical imagination or courage? Other than pointing to some other philosopher’s work, no. And that’s because I’m not a professional philosopher; I never wrote a philosophy book; I’m no great shakes at it. But you are! I hold you to a higher standard, just like I hold, say, the band Oasis to a higher standard (Oasis sucks–and yet, they are much better than me at making music!).

    So I cannot produce for you an example of better philosophy. Ya got me there. But maybe I can clarify my problem with your post in a less troll-ish way.

    Here is where the lack of courage is: you don’t seem to be defending anyone who needs defending. Where are the examples of men complaining that they’ve been passed over for a scholarship or a job or a raise because of being a man? Where are the complaints that women are showed favoritism in virtue of being women? Can you show me one activist group, one op-ed, that lodges a complaint against the subjugation of men to the matriarchy? You mention some fields where women “dominate” by numbers, but then go on to say that, of course, this isn’t necessarily the result of sexism against men. Um, ok–so where’s the evidence of sexism against men then? You don’t actually provide any, you just conclude with a weaselly, super weak, gender inequalities “could be the result of injustice”. COULD. Yeah, okay. Who is arguing against that? How can anyone argue against so trivial a conclusion?

    Writing with courage means writing about something that you are passionate about–it means caring about an injustice that is done somewhere. When feminists write, they begin by looking at concrete harms and injustices perpetrated against women, and structural disadvantages for women in society. And they get fired up about this, and think about it, and come up with arguments, and write posts. But can you say you went through the same process? Oh, there’s more women than men in academics–that burns you up? I kind of don’t believe it. What I instead believe is that you like to argue contrarian points, and that this is an example of a clever contrarian point you can make. But philosophy and arguments should be motivated by real passion about real life things, it shouldn’t be reduced to a debating exercise.

    Let me add one other thing, on a separate note, that I think might be interesting to consider. You don’t seem to point to any concrete evidence of sexism against men–in particular, in the form of *men complaining about being discriminated against*. Instead you simply point to a state of affairs that would be the case IF there were discrimination against men (gender inequalities where men are in the minority in a particular field). You seem to conclude: well, when women are in the minority it seems we are very concerned about confirming that this is not the result of sexism (as we should); so when we see men in the minority, we should–by symmetry–be equally on guard against the possibility of sexism against men, SINCE IN PRINCIPLE sexism against men is no better or worse than sexism against women.

    BUT THIS IS TOTALLY WRONG, because you are ignoring a priori information that tells us that there is a long history of sexism against women, whereas sexism against men is almost unheard of. I mean, right? So there are more women in a field than men. But what is the a priori probability that a man was rejected from a position because of being male? On the one hand you have this HUGE problem of sexism against women that launched, like, a major civil rights movement. On the other, you have the hypothetical possibility that, perhaps, it COULD be that there was sexism against men. You see what I’m getting at here? It’s like, yeah, if you ignore all of history sexism against men starts to look like a problem worthy of our consideration. But why would you do that?

    So, like I said: courage. It really takes a lot of courage to stand up for the lowly male against the oppressive matriarchy–good job. Fight the good fight. Wrong all those harsh injustices we see out there every day. Hey maybe next, you can take a similarly courageous stand for white people–after all, in principle racism against whites is just as bad as racism against blacks? CAN WE BE SURE that whites aren’t being oppressed?!?!?! Oh hey, and what about billionaires? Who will have the courage to stand up for THEM????

    Etc. etc.

  8. Mike Billy,

    I would be inclined to say that merely being a politician is not a morally relevant difference. Of course, it can be argued that there are exceptions. For example, if I order the deaths of people to advance the interests of my family, I am acting wickedly. However, a politician who does this is often claimed to be acting rightly.

    As far as taxes being theft, that is an interesting point. On one hand, it could be seen as theft (taking wrongly by force or guile). On the other hand, if we are citizens, then we agree to the taxes either by tacit consent or direct consent by voting. I’ll have to write something up as a post on taxes and theft.

  9. An artist’s–or in this example, a philosopher’s–last recourse against a critic can always be, “Well why don’t you do it better then.”

    I think that is a fair point to make. If someone claims I suck, then they seem to be obligated to demonstrate this. As you point out, one option is to show the suck without actually doing the task better. For example, if someone claims I suck at running and I beat them in a 5K, then they could still argue that there are people better than me (just not them). This does seem to be a fair and true point.

    Here is where the lack of courage is: you don’t seem to be defending anyone who needs defending. Where are the examples of men complaining that they’ve been passed over for a scholarship or a job or a raise because of being a man?

    Three responses: 1) You can use Google as well as I can.  2) Even if there are not bitter complaints, this does not entail that there is not a problem or at least a potential problem. 3)Take a look at The War Against Boys for a start. While it is an older book (2001) it should be a good beginning.

    Writing with courage means writing about something that you are passionate about–it means caring about an injustice that is done somewhere.

    That does not seem to define courage. Rather it seems to be compassion.

    When feminists write, they begin by looking at concrete harms and injustices perpetrated against women, and structural disadvantages for women in society. And they get fired up about this, and think about it, and come up with arguments, and write posts. But can you say you went through the same process?

    I can. Obviously I did not lay out extensive research for a blog post. However, I did when I wrote my more substantial essays that appear in my book. You can also check out some rather interesting books by feminists who raise concerns about the situation for men.

    Oh, there’s more women than men in academics–that burns you up? I kind of don’t believe it.

    Obviously that does not “burn me up.” After all, I have an established track record of supporting women in academics. Also, I think that there are many fields that need to far more open to women. Somewhat ironically, philosophy is one of these.

    What I instead believe is that you like to argue contrarian points, and that this is an example of a clever contrarian point you can make. But philosophy and arguments should be motivated by real passion about real life things, it shouldn’t be reduced to a debating exercise.

    While I do appreciate the assessment of my motivations and psychology, my goal was not to make a contrarian point. I do freely admit that I did that often in my misguided youth, but my objective here was to consider a point that I regard worth considering. This is a real life thing-especially for me as a professor. To use an example, I see that men are a minority in my classes and tend to do worse than the women. This seems real. Now, I am willing to consider that this is a just situation, that the men are a minority because many men simply do not want to go to school or lack the ability to handle college. However, I am also willing to consider that there are real problems here. Perhaps it is not so much that men are being “pushed down” as women are being “pushed up.” In any case, it does seem something worthy of even more investigation. We might find that there is no sexism at work here, but there seem to be some clear problems that are worth addressing.

    BUT THIS IS TOTALLY WRONG, because you are ignoring a priori information that tells us that there is a long history of sexism against women, whereas sexism against men is almost unheard of. I mean, right? So there are more women in a field than men


    Sexism against men is not unheard of. Check out Christina Hoff Summers’ book. Also, take a look at Parker’s book Save the Males. I’d provide more sources, but I need to cook dinner for my girlfriend (she is working on a presentation whereas I was slacking with Starcraft II).

    So, like I said: courage. It really takes a lot of courage to stand up for the lowly male against the oppressive matriarchy–good job. Fight the good fight. Wrong all those harsh injustices we see out there every day.

    Interestingly enough, I would say that it does take courage to raise concerns about the plight of men. After all, mentioning certainly seems to cause some folks to mock.

    Hey maybe next, you can take a similarly courageous stand for white people–after all, in principle racism against whites is just as bad as racism against blacks? CAN WE BE SURE that whites aren’t being oppressed?!?!?!

    I am for justice across the board. If white folks are subject to discrimination or mistreatment because of being white (you might laugh, but this does happen), then I am against that as much as I am against discrimination against blacks or anyone else. What matters to me is the justice, not the color.

    Oh hey, and what about billionaires? Who will have the courage to stand up for THEM????

    They can buy their own defense. However, if they were being treated unjustly, then I would defend them against such injustice as well.

  10. “As far as taxes being theft, that is an interesting point. On one hand, it could be seen as theft (taking wrongly by force or guile). On the other hand, if we are citizens, then we agree to the taxes either by tacit consent or direct consent by voting. I’ll have to write something up as a post on taxes and theft.”

    I look forward to that post. I’m not saying that taxes aren’t necessary, I just find them hard to justify from a moral standpoint.

    The tacit consent argument falls flat for me because the ability to revoke consent and remove your citizenship is highly restricted and costly.

    Voting is another tough issue for me. I’d like to pose a hypothetical. Suppose a man took a few hostages and created a website where there was a live stream of the situation. Suppose he also gave visitors the ability to vote on what his next action would be. The current choices regarding one of his hostages are A) Burn his house down, or B) Murder him. Am I giving the hostage taker my approval to be an arsonist by voting for the less harmful choice A? I don’t think that I am. In reality I would support all actions that were underway to find the mad man, but I would also vote for A.

  11. Write about something that matters for god’s sake.

    THEDAVIDMO, you are naive to think this doesn’t matter. Very often one injustice is followed by another as we over-compensate for our past failures. The greatest example of them all is socialism in the 20’th century. I’m not claiming that reverse sexism could lead us to the same tragic purges as in the Soviet Union. But if men are not encouraged to seek the same level of education as women it will have negative societal consequences.

    I cannot imagine that men are not innately as interested in “higher” education as women. And what I do know is that I helped my wife found a school for so called twice exceptional children (gifted kids with ADHD, Asperger’s, generalized anxiety, etc.). These kids have had trouble in general ed K-12 classrooms. Many of them are termed as having a disorder. I think it’s better to think of them as having a character that has more than 1 standard deviation from the “norm”. The deviations can cause social problems but when properly harnessed are actually beneficial to society. For example, one characteristic of ADHD in its positive expression is divergent thinking (flight of the mind), a crucial element in innovation. Why do I mention this in the current context? Out of the 15 students at The Lang School only 1 is a girl.

    The reasons for this disparity are unclear. It may be because certain genetic anomalies are more prevalent in males. But it seems to me that whatever biological reasons underpin it, the situation is exasperated by the fact that pedagogy is completely dominated by women. And it probably is because women are naturally more drawn to the profession than men. But it behooves us to consider that educational norms are established based on standards generalized by a profession almost completely dominated by one gender. This is bound to have consequences. Obviously women are not incapable of properly educating boys. And these ADHD kids have loving mothers who fell in love with a guy who probably has ADHD as well! But what is certain is that if there is sexism in pedagogy like the kind expressed by Kathleen Parker – that women are better at what matters for the future – those with the predominantly male characteristics that lead to diagnoses like ADHD are going to be at a severe disadvantage. Women are probably going to naturally dominate pedagogy for as long as we remain biologically configured as we are today. But we can encourage those in pedagogy (women and men) who appreciate, love and recognize the societal benefits of what is considered more male characteristics to raise their voices.

    We won’t know the true consequences of reverse sexism are until 1 to 2 generations later. We need to raise awareness about its possible consequences and be vigilant about early signs of adverse effects. I think the fact that there is a need for a school like the one I helped my wife found could be such a sign. A bias towards an educational style that better fits girls might not be the only reason. But I cannot believe it isn’t a contributing factor. And such sexism will lead to fewer boys being deemed suitable for higher education. And hence lead to an increased dominance by women in higher education. What is considered higher will eventually become defined by a group that is overwhelmingly female. Wait, haven’t we been down this course before? Hmmm… Carolingian schools and medieval universities come to mind.

  12. “Consequently, in the U.S. today, women hold a majority of the jobs, and dominate in colleges and professional schools. They also hold a majority of managerial and professional positions, and about half of all accounting, banking, and insurance jobs.”

    Where is Parker getting her data from?

    According to the Bureau of Labor Stats, in 2009 women composed roughly half of all managerial and professional positions — approx. 20 million out of 39 million. That’s a majority, but a pathetically slim one (51.5%). (page 10 of

    Women do indeed dominate men in the category of “Education, training, and library occupations”, being about 74%. But that is not the same as “colleges and professional schools”, which doesn’t appear to be a category at all. The closest thing is “postsecondary education”, where they are 49%.

    Women do outnumber men in the category of accounting and auditing (61%). But there’s no category called “banking”. And there’s no single category called “insurance jobs” (what does that mean — sales? clerks?).

  13. Thanks for the clarification, Jim. I was misled by her phrasing: “Women hold a majority of the jobs, and dominate in colleges and professional schools.” Even though they’re separated by a comma, when you put the two together in a single sentence it seem as though they are connected statements.

    The statement, “Women hold a majority of the jobs”, appears to be false. Out of roughly 99 million full-time workers, women make up roughly 44 million. That’s about 44.8%.

    Also, assuming that women really do outnumber men in pursuing bachelor of arts degrees, it is entirely unclear what implications this has concerning social justice. It’s certainly better that more women are going to school than none at all, of course, but there are just too many obvious questions that the author evidently didn’t bother asking. (Do we seriously think that men are alienated from getting BA’s? Do we really think that people with BAs are driving the economy and the future? What about women getting BSc’s and BEng? What about credentialism in the marketplace, making a BA mandatory? What benefits are these women left with after student debt? Etc.)

    Considering the above points, and the fact that she has evidently misrepresented the statistics about women in managerial and professional positions, and I’m left puzzled. Just about the only thing that seems to have panned out here are the claims about insurance and accounting. Surely, a font of wisdom and scholarly integrity such as Newsweek would not publish something without fact-checking first.

  14. Thanks for the link, Jim. I’m interested in the claim that “Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women”. Presumably, she is referring to a chart like this one:

    Of that top 10 list, I find that women constitute the majority in 6 of 9 verifiable categories, ranked according to median weekly income:
    1. Registered nursing — 91% (1035/wk — approx. 54,000 per year)
    2. Postsecondary teachers — 48% (1030)
    3. Office clerks, general — 82% (594)
    4. Customer service representatives — 67% (587)
    5. Retail salespersons — 43% (443/wk — approx. 23,000 per year; around the poverty line)
    6. Home health aides — 88% (430)
    7. Personal and home care aides — 83% (406)
    8. Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners — 27% (401)
    9. Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food — 64% (347/wk — 18,000 per year)
    10. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants — ??

    I think this is consistent with the remarks you’d made before — that the only jobs that are growing are low-paying ones. The economy after the Great Recession is destroying (and/or has already destroyed) the middle class. Women are evidently the key under-laborers in this system.

  15. Yes, as you point out, we’re only talking about full-time labor. Goodness knows what the part-time economy looks like. Not great, I’m guessing. So though Rosin’s article appears to be a few intellectual notches above Parker’s, many of her points are evidently just as dubious.

    Then the question is: OK, so what’s really going on with women in the economy? Are they getting paid what they’re worth? In order to give an answer, we would need to presuppose that *anybody* is getting paid what they’re worth, in idealized free market terms.

    But that’s not obvious. Actually, it’s pretty obvious that everyone is getting paid arbitrary amounts that are more or less dictated by fiat. It’s a perfect climate for revolution.

    To avoid a bloody upheaval, we have to start asking honest foundational questions again. The old Marxist question, “What is the value of someone’s labor?”, has to be addressed. Presumably, the answer is not “the labor theory of value”. But it also seems to me that in modern times we don’t have any sober, intelligible replacement for the labor theory of value. As a result, we end up with a public who thinks that our capitalist command economy is natural despite the market’s elitism and hostility towards libertarianism and meritocracy.

  16. Having worked for over 15 years in software engineering, I anecdotally knew there was a gender gap in my field. It was blatantly obvious. I can almost count on my hands the number of female software engineers I’ve worked with. But until now I had not checked the actual numbers. According to IEEE Spectrum, my field is at the bottom of the barrel with only 9.2% of bachelor’s degrees being awarded to women in 2007. According to a publication by the American Association of University Women (AAUW),Why So Few? Women in Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the picture is only slightly rosier, with 20.5% of those getting a bachelor’s in computer sciences in 2006 being women.

    Why the discrepancy? AAUW notes that there is some evidence that men perform better at spatial thinking. This may not seem like a skill-set required for a field so heavy on logic and seemingly sequential and procedural. But my own experience is that it matters tremendously. Ontology mapping is crucial for software design and requires the same approach used when dealing with spatial problems. However, AAUW claims that this skill can be improved fairly easily. The ease of imparting spatial skills does not gel with my own anecdotal experience but I haven’t really studied a wide variety of training techniques.

    It seems more likely that the main reason, though, is what AUUW calls just not interested. 73% of college-bound boys thought a college major in computer science would be good for them compared with only 32% of girls. One might be quick to conclude it’s therefore a cultural issue. But the cultural issue might arise from biological inclinations. Software engineering has an antisocial stereotype in part because it is in fact punctuated more frequently by solitary activities than, say, business management. Like all stereotypes, however, it is in the end a gross exaggeration. Nevertheless, women’s aversion to software engineering may be deeper than just the skin of social trends. This assumes that women are more interested in fields involving more social problem solving.

    The good news for boys is that despite Kathleen Parker claims, they seem to tend to excel at a skill-set still crucial for the future. It may be that in the future mostly female-oriented characters will define and manage societies goals, assigning mostly male-oriented characters the responsibility of engineering technological solutions to help achieve them. I’m sure many men can tolerate that compromise. You want to buy a house, honey? Aright. We need build a den for the baby? Sure. Repair the dishwasher? I’m on it! Your email isn’t coming through? I’ll check the server. I need to go see the doctor? Fine, I’ll go.

    Joke aside, I think that in dealing with the issue over the last 50 years we have established that there are gender differences which are bound to affect our career choices. The problem occurs when one fundamental skill set is devalued and another over-emphasized. It’s the whole humanities versus sciences rather than seeing them as an integrated whole, one inspiring the other in a continuous beautiful dance. And dialogue and contemplation are equally important when trying to find answers.

  17. Jim, if “social justice” has too many activist connotations, then “distributive justice” might make for a suitable replacement. There’s an identifiable tradition in political philosophy that uses the latter term, including Hayek, Marx, Rawls, Nozick, Walzer, etc. But if even *distributive justice* doesn’t sound right, then I think it only shows that Americans need to grow new ears. (Or, more importantly, that moderates need to stop being so terrified of activism.)

    As for “liberty”… I’m afraid that, since “liberty” is a constitutional value, any disparagement to it will imply the deprecation of America itself. I don’t see any point in that. If people want to grouse about “liberals” or “libertarians”, they can, but that should be a different conversation.

    I don’t know what caused the misrepresentations cited above. I’m not sure there’s anything to say about it except that they’re getting paid to tell stories for politicians. It doesn’t matter what their angle is — we all have a standpoint, after all. It only matters that their stories are, by all appearances, disconfirmed.

    It doesn’t help that I don’t expect Newsweek to have any intellectual self-respect at all. And I can only look at The Atlantic (and The Economist) with caution, because they have a way of getting a wee bit overexcited when it comes to certain issues.

    Andreas, it probably doesn’t help that software engineering is made up of insular nerds, and insular nerds tend towards social conservatism. For instance, Waterloo’s campus is full of nerds, and recently, some hilariously demented little warlock has sent out rambling misogynistic emails (pretending to be from the university president), covered up posters of women running for school council, circulated incoherent fliers that condemn Marie Curie as being the modern Eve, etc. It wouldn’t be a mystery to me if girls didn’t want to share a classroom with suchlike.

  18. Jim, while history matters, it isn’t as politically important as it seems. If history really were important, then we would not be seeing the decimation of the constitution through the repeal of habeas corpus. But history only matters to a public, and it only matters insofar as it affects the contents of the common mind. If you can short-circuit the common mind by controlling the media, then history loses its relevance.

    One day, “social justice” might become a vote-winning slogan. We don’t know. Sometimes, change happens fast. It depends.

    I’m not sure that there is a distinctly American conception of liberty. The modern liberals won the welfare state argument for a while, which convinced lots of people in the idea of positive liberty. Other folks would prefer a negative conception of liberty.

    The Spelke/Pinker debate is an interesting look at the so-called “variability hypothesis”, or the idea that there is more variation in male intellectual ability than female ability.

    But arguably, the take-home message is something like this. We can cite a 1988 study by Benbow that looked at scores of men and women at the SAT-M, and showed that there were more men than women who had extremely high scores. However, there’s some doubt that the SAT-M is a straightforward measure of aptitude, since it tends to under-predict female performance in math courses, and over-predicts male performance. There are two well-documented reasons why the SAT-M failed in these ways: first, there’s the problem of stereotype threat (roughly, you can psych people out in substantial ways by expressing low expectations in them), and second, there has been a sharp vertical decline in the disparity between the 70’s and today. (From Carla Fehr:

    Of course, these are not reasons to completely reject the variability hypothesis, but it puts it pretty firmly on the defensive.

  19. Oh, I don’t claim to not be an insular nerd myself. I suppose I think I’m less of one primarily because of philosophy.

    Anyway I refuse to comment on the nerdy credentials of my peers for fear that they will read it and slay my mage at the next Dungeons and Dragons party.

  20. My curiosity in Kathleen Parker awakened, I quickly skimmed through the first 32 pages that are available online of Kathleen Parker’s book Save the Males, Why Men matter, Why Women Should Care. Unfortunately I didn’t find out why I’m worth her effort. Granted, I scanned through only the beginning. But I think I get it now. I will surmise that Parker is totally infatuated by the hard power of management and politics. The soft power of scientists, academics and engineers (so called geeks I suppose) seems like a yeah, whatever enigma to her. Otherwise she would know about the AAUW’s concern for a gender discrepancy in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) and address it more thoroughly.

    She quickly passes by the issue:

    The only field boys are still ahead are math and science, but that gap is steadily closing.

    And here’s the clincher:

    Radium! Madam Curie you rule! But when it comes to the kind of inventions and events that dot history’s timeline, men deserve most of the credit. (And blame, too.) Martha Washington was a great woman, to be sure, but she did not, in fact, lead the American Revolution. George did, and it’s his face, not hers, on the dollar bill.

    What seems to count is good old geopolitics hard and fast. And, just to round off the stereotype, straight up cash. It’s not even like she contrasts two-time Nobel prize winner Marie Curie with a thinker-doer like Alexander Hamilton. She plucks out a battle scared war hero and President who, though commendable for his great deeds, left little in form of an intellectual legacy. No wonder she thinks that men are an endangered species. Her view of manhood seems based on a Spartan poised to hack his enemy in half in defense of family and nation. This is further emphasized in her article Born Again Feminism by her distaste for (what she believes to be) feminist attitudes towards men in my country of origin, in favor of more assertive womanhood elsewhere:

    You won’t find me pushing for a Swedish model, in which “velvet dads” are penalized for not staying home with Baby. But somewhere between the abayas of Abu Dhabi and the pistol-packin’, “man-up” mamas of Wingnut, America, is a strong, compassionate, heroic womanhood of which we can all feel a part and be proud sisters. And brothers, too.

    It’s odd. She does genuinely seem to want to come to the defense of boys and men. But the picture she paints of what it means to be a man comes across, at least at first glance, like a pastiche. Mike tackled being a man in a much more thoughtful way in a 5 part blog series. Which is why we need philosophers and why journalist aught to read them. Parker is a mother of three sons that no doubt she loves. And she thinks she has figured out what they want:

    [My friend and I – two intense, overarching, helicopter mothers of only boys –] had our boys’ best interest at heart, of course, and did our utmost to be good den mothers. But trust me when I say that seven year old boys are not interested in making lanterns from coffee tins. They want to shoot bows and arrows, preferably at one another, chop wood with stone-hewn axes, and sink canoes, preferably while in them.

    Really? All my two boys seem to want to do is hang out and play Super Mario on the Wii, buy Super Mario paraphernalia and then scout for more Super Mario resources online. When I do occasionally manage to drag them on a camping trip they have a lot of fun hiking, kicking dust and poking sticks in the camp fire. As long as they can bring their Nintendo DS…

  21. Jim, I’m not so sure.

    The events of the past ten years have been so unpredictable, so why should we think the future is any less unpredictable? Would you have predicted six months ago that Wisconsin’s legislature would be flooded with public service workers fighting for their rights — and that the police would disobey orders to stand next to them? 15 years ago, would you have predicted 9/11? 25 years ago, could we have foreseen the fall of the Soviet Union?

    I don’t think so. In fact, if (in the past) people had argued that these events were going to happen, I would have said they were batty. Threats in the future seem unbelievable and ridiculous, but when threats are in the here-and-now, they seem like the new normal.

    This is just to say that you aren’t going to get any warning signals from a modern media whose first priority is to convey a sense of social stability.

    Andreas, that’s all true. And that juxtaposition is amusing. All hail the Great Inventor, George Washington! Huzzah!

  22. Benjamin certainly puts his finger on an important problem. While people argue about pay, we do lack an adequate theory of value with which to ground such discussions.

    Unfortunately, as Curious notes, attempts to talk about “social justice” or things like fair wages tend to run afoul of being tagged as socialist.

  23. Andreas,

    The “just not interested” is something well worth considering and I am glad you brought that up. After all, if women (or men) do not enter a field because they do not find it interesting, then it would seem to not be a case of discrimination. To use another example, consider games like World of Warcraft, Halo and Starcraft II. Most people who play these sort of games are male, but this is most likely not due to discrimination. Anecdotally. I have tried to get female friends interested in these games, but they have almost uniformly declined-usually saying that they just do not like that sort of game. Interestingly, they almost all really enjoy games like Bejewelled, Tetris and those horrible Facebook things. As such, Parker’s general point that men and women are different seems to be correct (as people have been pointing out for centuries).

    Of course, it is still worth sorting out how much of the differences are natural and how much they are imposed or shaped.

  24. Curious,

    I’m sure the nerd levels in philosophy are still adequately high. 🙂

  25. But Mike, surely no self-respecting philosophy should be motivated by a desire not to be called certain names! If you don’t want to be called a socialist, then disavow socialism. If that doesn’t work, then try in good faith to explain your views as best you can, e.g., by saying “I believe that the centralization of the means of production places power into the hands of the few, and that oligarchy/oligopoly is both immoral and unsustainable.” And if that doesn’t work, stop wasting your time talking to fools — give them a knock on the forehead and get on with your day.

    North American intellectuals seem to be affected by a strange kind of reverse-cynicism, where the opinions of fools are given the status of wisdom. As a result, the culture has lost patience for values like reason and truth, and has become overly generous with trust. It is as if we expect each other to be more like Homer Simpson than like Aristotle, and are then surprised when the system falls apart at the seams.

    Jim, fine, but the fallout from these events is just as important as the events themselves. There’s no doubt that the heads of the CIA predicted a 9/11 like event in the summer of 2001, and perhaps there are intelligence analysts who predicted that the USSR would fall back in 1986. But who could have predicted that in our lifetime Americans would be so glad to see their constitution revoked, all the while invoking that very same constitution under false pretences?

    It is true that many citizens think that it is justifiable to repeal habeas corpus, and to abandon the Geneva conventions. But if I were a rational anthropologist from Mars, it would all seem like a magic act, or mass dementia. And that’s all I want to point out. The fact of the matter is that public attitudes can be completely inverted in unexpected ways, given the right (often unpredictable) circumstances. This is a wonderful/horrible, strange/commonplace fact, and I only want to draw your attention to that.

  26. Curious, I think that what Benjamin is ultimately implying is that society and hence the world is to some extent inherently unpredictable due to the contrarational capacity of its constituent parts. Reminds me of another recent discussion on this blog…

  27. I asked my inner Laplacian demon if we were going to continue the discussion on Free Will but he just laughed a mean old laugh. “You’re on your frikin’ own, kiddo” he said rather snarkily. I guess if you’re infinitely older than Methuselah you can call me a kid, but I have to admit I felt a little miffed and looked down upon. Hamlet was not of much help either. He tried his best to help me figure it all out. But, man, talk about the inaction of blathering soliloquies! Al right then, what seith thyn astrolabie Aeternalis, Curiosus?

  28. Jim, yes, there you provide excellent illustrations of what I meant by the word “revoke”, not all of them consistent with one another. But I don’t really care which one we choose — they’ll all suffice. So replace “revoke” with your favorite cognate term: repeal, suspend, ignore, outflank, limit, override, or any other. I don’t care which term we use, since the point of bringing up the habeas corpus issue was only to use it as an illustration of the point I’m making about the unpredictability of world events.

    If we have learned anything over the past 25 years, we have learned that the future can’t be taken for granted. A great many recent major changes in the political landscape were unforeseeable, even though they seem obvious or inevitable in hindsight. Prophets and intelligence analysts might be able to hear major changes coming, but most other people can’t. (Nevermind hope, nevermind progress, nevermind all that hi-falutin’ philosophy-of-history stuff — things could just as easily go uphill as they could go downhill or stay the same.) “Social justice” in 2011 might not appeal to Glenn Beck, but then again, “nation-building” didn’t appeal to George W Bush in 2000; and it only took two years for the latter to change his mind. “Identity politics” didn’t appeal to the 1980s fiscal conservative, but the 1990’s New Right is drowning in it. People will sing a new tune whenever their circumstances change in such a way that their needs and opportunities change.

    I don’t mean to say that history isn’t important, full stop. What I’m saying is that I think history is not as important to *social cohesion* as it used to be. Just as there was a major difference between the way that history was used and understood before and after the invention of the printing press, so there is also a major difference between how it is used and understood in our present media climate.

    I don’t understand where your reference to the “real world” has any purchase. If the phrase “real world” means anything, it refers to the world of everyday, insufferable, unavoidable misery that we share in common. And, sadly, the real world includes having to explain the facts of life to the sorts of dangerous fools who think any use of rationality or nuance equates to socialism. You have to engage with them by showing them what’s what. And that’s more or less what I was saying in my reply to Mike. So.

  29. So strange this conversation as I live in a country where the now not very socialist Socialist Party gets 20% of the vote and has elected two presidents in the last 20 years, Lagos and Bachelet, as part of a coalition government and where the now not very communist Communist Party gets between 5 and 10% of the vote.

  30. Andreas, it probably doesn’t help that software engineering is made up of insular nerds, and insular nerds tend towards social conservatism. For instance, Waterloo’s campus is full of nerds, and recently, some hilariously demented little warlock has sent out rambling misogynistic emails (pretending to be from the university president), covered up posters of women running for school council, circulated incoherent fliers that condemn Marie Curie as being the modern Eve, etc. It wouldn’t be a mystery to me if girls didn’t want to share a classroom with suchlike.
          Benjamin S Nelson

    You almost make it seem as if the student body of computer science is a breading ground for wifeless right-wing psychopaths. Granted, I know little about this student body but I can guarantee you (at least anecdotally) that most mature software engineers are stable, socially integrated and productive members of society. Some women and men are even specifically attracted to the archetype of these mostly upstanding fellows. Their innovations have driven some of the most amazing sociopolitical changes in centuries, the current unrest in the Arab world being only the latest case in point. For being insular nerds “tending towards social conservatism” they have had quite a progressive impact on our social fabric.

    I checked out the posters at the Waterloo campus you talk about. For those who don’t know, the posters have an image of Marie Curie next to an atomic explosion. The words “The Truth” are written above and below is the following text:

    The brightest Woman this Earth ever created was Marie Curie, The Mother of the Nuclear Bomb. You tell me if the plan of Women leading Men is still a good idea!

    That is what we call a left-handed compliment. With Marie Curie as the measure of women’s potential in the STEM fields, the celestial sky is the limit! Obviously, the poster is full of non-sequiturs. Marie Curie was a scientist and not a leader of men. And you could just as well replace Marie Curie with scientist X, Y or Z and give it a naive feminist spin, claiming:

    The brightest Man this Earth ever created was Oppenheimer, The Father of the Nuclear Bomb. You tell me if a future where Men still lead Women is a good idea!

    And of course whether Marie Curie (or Oppenheimer) are the brightest people ever created by Earth is debatable into the wee hours of the night. I do like the anthropomorphic spin to planet Terra though.

    I don’t find the poster on its own so horribly misogynistic. But accompanied by the email that was sent out afterwards, the picture is much grimmer. The implication in the email is that Marie Curie was not very bright at all. Supposedly she was just a front woman for a nefarious conspiracy to push “Radioactive Technology” (Does that include smoke detectors?). The email claims gender equality was no where in “the Original Plan of Creation”(Earth’s plan?). And that men have “higher moral intelligence” (Because Harry Truman had the balls to drop the bomb on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki?) In considering men’s superior morality, we are, of course, implicitly asked to overlook the aforementioned plan, by men I assume, to push the nefarious “Radioactive Technology”.

    The email was signed Feridun Hamdullahpur, the university’s president. This fake signature seems indicative that we are dealing with a sick prank based on some twisted views. But does the one (or the ones) who sent out the email actually believe what they wrote word for word? Hard to tell without further investigation. However, would the perpetrator have signed it with the president’s name rather than some organization made up at the spur of the moment if they did in fact believe and were truly committed to the ideas expressed therein? I realize all this is speculative but I can hardly believe it. My personal assumption (which falls pretty much in line with Benjamin’s) is that some young male idiot who feels unfairly treated decided to play an offensive joke on the faculty and student body.

    Some blogs have called for prosecuting this incident as a hate crime. Despite its misogynistic nature, I think this would be going a step too far. And here is the question relevant to the debate ensuing from Mike’s blog post: if the poster had been given a naive feminist spin, what would have been the reaction? What if the email would have claimed that women are morally superior to men? What if it would have claimed that the last predominantly patriarchal millennium was an aberration caused by male immorality? That Gaia, Mother Earth, intended that womankind and not mankind should lead and protect the world? Would there have been the same calls for prosecuting this as a hate crime? My guess is no. I think it would have been viewed as the dumb actions of a naive young feminist that reasonable feminists would have dismissed as pathetic, immature and outright stupid. End of story.

    You could, of course, argue that the history of oppression against women by men is what justifies considering it a hate crime. But that means prosecuting something as a hate crime is a punishment not only for present but also for past actions. And then we must ask how long men should be penalized for the infractions of their fathers? Do men also owe reparations? Is affirmative action a type of reparation? If, so, when will the debt be paid back? When an equal amount of time has passed that it’s deemed that men oppressed women? How long is that? Or is it cuentas claras when a gender balance has been established? But if it’s the latter, should we not view affirmative actions simply as a means of establishing a healthy social balance? And if that’s the case, then affirmative action is not a punishment but just what society requires to be worthwhile and productive. And if there’s an imbalance for men, then men should be afforded the benefits of affirmative action as well.

    However, affirmative action begs the question of what is a healthy balance. Who decides? And how do we account for the just not interested factor?

    Note: I spent only a short time analyzing this event. The situation might be far worse due to other aggravating circumstances which I don’t know anything about, but Benjamin might.

  31. Jim, I think we agree on the main point, which is just that a) historical events are unpredictable, and b) unpredictable events are capable of completely inverting a valorized set of beliefs.

    There’s also the matter of history and modern media, but we can leave that aside if you like. To some extent it is a matter of interpretation. But the analogy to the invention of the printing press ought to lend it enough plausibility to take seriously.

    Of course, I don’t mean to say that belief inversion is for the best, or that it can be predicted in what direction people will have their beliefs altered. We agree.

    But it is worth keeping in mind that there are forces that can organize and manage the populace in such a way that their beliefs invert in the right kind of way. That’s the point of Naomi Klein’s excellent book, “The Shock Doctrine”.

    When we are aiming to be ‘realistic’ in this context, we’re aiming to create strategies for dealing with everyday obstacles, with tactics with a chance of success and goals that are worthy. When doing strategy, you may either alter your priorities, or you may alter your tactics (among other things).

    Notice two things. First, “change your priorities” is not necessarily the only realistic option. Second, being realistic presupposes that you are able to know what your current priorities and tactics actually are, and how they are distinct from one another. So you’re going to be realistic, then you ought to at least know what your own priorities are: that is, you ought to know for yourself what drives your goals, philosophically, and what consequences you’d like to bring about for yourself and for others. And here’s the kicker: it is utterly short-sighted, irrational, and arguably non-autonomous for you to ground your goals only upon the perceived success of your tactics.

  32. Andreas, I was a bit exasperated in my generalizations. I suppose I have in mind a certain agoraphobic sort, the kind who is afraid of all things outside their door. (I used to be one of them.) That’s what I mean by “insular” — they don’t get out much. The scary people with frowny faces and big voices demanding ‘rights’ are just another threat, along with monsters X Y and Z.

    This misogynistic campaign is certainly not a legal hate crime. By Canadian law, women are not protected from hate speech. If the poster had made comparable remarks about an ethnic group or a religion, the full resources of the country would have fallen upon it, but as it happens it isn’t, so the administration and officials aren’t taking it seriously.

    If a misandrystic campaign had started, you would have the usual results. Certain kinds of people in both sexes love the opportunity to valorize their gender. But how people react to being provoked matters quite a bit less than the provokation, at least when we have reason to worry that it presages actual violence. In Canada, it is perfectly reasonable to be viligant in every possible way, just to make sure another Ecole Polytechnique doesn’t happen.

  33. I was not aware of the École Polytechnique massacre of 1989. Given this horrifically tragic event, I understand why the Canadian public and authorities are on edge during a misogynistic campaign like the Marie Curie incident at Waterloo. The École Polytechnique atrocity is part of a body of evidence that women are sadly at a higher risk of being victims of gender-specific violence.

  34. s. wallerstein

    “The appetite for radical and fundamental change has diminished
    sharply during my lifetime”.

    During mine too. I’m almost 65.

    Why is that? Although average income has increased during my lifetime, income inequalities also have, for example. I suspect that the average working day, in my childhood, a fixed 8 hours, has also increased.

  35. s. wallerstein (ex amos)

    Humanity learned from experience?

    But it seems not to have been a learning process, but a sudden revelation, around the year 1980.

    It is mysterious that humanity in mass, circa 1980, realized that radical experiments in social change often fail. Maybe “they” put something in our drinking water.

    After all, the facts about Stalinism Revolution were fairly clear before that, since the 1930’s at least.

    By the way, I would not say that the French Revolution had “bad results”. They did away with feudalism in Europe, made the Jews full citizens, drew up the first list of “the rights of man”, instituted the metric system, made religious toleration the law of the land, decreed that all men are citizens and equal, abolished the rights of the aristocracy (and of the Church), etc, etc.

    By the way, I myself have no explanation of swing of the zeitgeist rightward.

  36. Jim, on the subject of realism in politics, I mean to suggest a slogan like this: “sour grapes ain’t realistic”. So the distinction I want to make isn’t between reason and passion, but between merits and opportunities. If you only see the merits of an option in terms of your perceived opportunity to gain it, then in some sense or other you don’t seem to be successful as a practical reasoner.

    The perceived decline in radicalism partially owes to the changing landscape of geopolitics, and the failure of Marxism to develop a competitive economic alternative to international corporate capitalism.

    I’m afraid that there’s been absolutely no dip in actual radicalism. It has not been at all difficult to organize oppressed and marginalized groups, since there are plenty of them. Wisconsin is just the latest example, where the Republican governor has succeeded in dissolving the rights of public sector workers to bargain, and so the capital has been occupied. We might also include the Tea Party movement, which is fuelled by rightful indignation towards the bank bailouts. Paris was *on fire* not long ago over civil rights and the treatment of Muslim youth. There were riots in London, only a few months ago, including attacks on Prince Charles, due to ridiculous tuition fee hikes. Every year, the G20 explodes into violence and the rule of law in the host nation-states is overruled by the need to protect the international assembly. These aren’t people demanding “more stuff”, they’re people reacting to concrete policy changes, or seeking to have a voice in a system that has no place for them. We can criticize them for good or bad faith, for lack of recognition of duties corresponding to rights, etc., but we cannot say they are not there — nor can we pretend that they are uncommon.

    However, I do think that it has been much more difficult for relatively non-marginalized people to understand what’s been going on at the margins. In part, because there’s often no coherent alternative; thanks in part to our postmodern friends, harmonious “grand narratives” have been replaced by a disharmony of local disagreements and demands.

    But still, even when there is a coherent message, the media gatekeepers aren’t interested in — or, frankly, capable of — conveying it. And even if the media were competent and diligent, it would require some effort to get the message across to viewers, who at the end of the day want to know that they’ll be safe just as much as they know that justice is done.

    Honest philosophy can make a world of difference. It’s difficult to even begin to know how to calculate the effects that Chomsky, Bentham, Rawls, or Foucault have had on the political landscape.

  37. I should not blame Marxism alone for failing to provide an alternative. Both classical and modern liberals failed to refute the radical social engineers of the Chicago and Austrian Schools both in theory and practice, and these schools have led us to the current state of international corporatism.

  38. s. wallerstein (ex amos)


    On the balance, as far as my historical knowledge goes, I’d say that the results of the French Revolution are positive.

    I can’t say the same for the results of the Bolchevik revolution in Russia.

    Now, although historical events are generally judged by their results, that can be tricky, as
    a case could be made that without the unfortunate historical stage of Nazism, contemporary democratic Germany could not exist.

    Therefore, let me go one step further and say that I find that the French Revolution, in spite of its numerous mistakes and excesses, was worthy or virtuous.

    It is hard to see the Bolchevik Revolution without the filter of Stalin, but Lenin does not inevitably lead to Stalin. I’d have to say that I find the initial steps of the Bolchevik Revolution, in spite of what followed, to be worthy and virtuous too.

    Could France have moved from the despotism of the Bourbons to a contemporary democracy without violence? Sure, and life would be nicer if oppressors and oppressed were willing to sit down and consider what would be a just society from behind Rawl’s veil of ignorance.

    However, that does not occur frequently, and most major historical changes have been accompanied by violence.

    You British went through a bloody Civil War in the 17th century; in the U.S. a long and cruel Civil War was needed to end slavery; the South American countries only won their independence from Spain through the force of arms, etc, etc.

    That is, the power elites in general only give up their power and privileges at gun point. There are exceptions (the independence of India, the collapse of the Soviet empire), but in general, historical change is bloody.

  39. I do think you’ve understood the distinction perfectly well. The point is that if you’re being realistic, when you compromise, it has to be an actual *compromise*, not an automatic capitulation. Compromise is a kind of practical reason (weighing your priorities against your opportunities for success), while capitulation is sour grapes (tying your priorities entirely upon the perceived chance for success).

    It doesn’t really matter whether you or I sympathize with any of these movements or events. It doesn’t matter if they’re made up of “malcontents” or “sincere people”. They could all be monsters or angels, and it would not make any difference to the point. The point is that they *exist* — and their existence alone is enough to defeat the claim that “within the West, radicalism seems to have had its day.” Radicalism — roughly, meaning activism for the sake of core principles that are at the sidelines of mainstream recognition — hasn’t flagged. The thing that has withered is the mainstream attention span and their access to information and analysis.

    Anyway, it’s worth taking a sober look at the objective constitution of the various protests.

    If the desire for lower tuition fees is a case of “people wanting stuff”, then every case of radicalism (e.g., French Revolution) was about people wanting stuff. I don’t see a relevant objective difference. We might make moral judgments about the worthiness of this or that protest, but that’s a side-question.

    Yes, radicals are angry in response to policy. But that’s almost axiomatic! So that statement is notsomuch an alternative interpretation of the facts, as it is a restatement of them.

    And in many cases there most certainly are practical policy solutions, though it depends entirely on the movement and the context. The right to bargain is the thing Wisconsin wants, what they had, and what’s been taken away. Ditto when it comes to the London riots: the repeal of the tripling of tuition fees. The G20 protests are more scattered, and so the media regularly have a hard time making any sense of them, but what they have in common is the desire to have a venue to have their grievances redressed by the international system as a whole. There is, perhaps, no unanimity around progressive policy solutions, although that area is not lacking in proposals to be debated.

    The way you put the G20 case is, I think, one area where I would care to be forceful in my choice of language. At least when it came to the G20 Toronto, there is no question that the rule of law was overridden. For the duration of that event, our police made arrests under false pretences with no coherent civil rationale on the basis of a mistaken interpretation of an unjustifiable and unwritten regulation of (what appears to be) an unconstitutional law. That seems to be a complete systemic failure — and if that doesn’t count as the dissolution of the rule of law, then nothing does. It’s really a separate question whether or not the activities were legitimate — the Canadian public seems to think they were. But then again, that tells us nothing, since a public can be completely deluded about the objective state of their society.

  40. s. wallerstein (ex amos)


    I agree with you that attempts to impose a radical and rapid change across a society are unlikely to
    end well.

    The left learned that from what happened to Communism. Few people, either on the left or on the right, thought that way in 1917. Perhaps Burkean conservatives did, but they have always been a minority on the right.

    Let’s hope that the non-Burkean right learned the same lesson from the disastrous attempt to “democratize” and “remake” Iraq and Afghanistan (among other nations) under the reign of Bush II.

    Lenin was ruthless. You forgot the brutal suppression of the sailors’ revolt at Kronstadt. However, let’s put Lenin in historical context. The Western democracies were waging a pointless, mass slaughter, called World War I, in which they sent literally millions of their young to their deaths over 100 meters of territory. What’s more, the same Western democracies, Great Britain, France, and the United States, the first two possessing huge empires where democratic rights did not exist, intervene in the Russian Civil War against the Bolcheviks on the side of the White Army.

    Is Lenin especially ruthless or careless of human life, given the historical context?

    As the Russian Civil War comes to an end, with a Red triumph, Lenin institutes the New Economy Policy, a recognition that they have to take a step or two backwards, that excessively radical changes cannot be imposed by force or by decree. Stalin does away with the NEP with his policy of forced collectization, which politically is a way of controlling all social and economic life, of doing away with what is called “civil society”.

    I’ll concede you a point, which you are likely to make: great leaders should understand the consequences of their policies and as is obvious from what occurred in the Soviet Union, neither Lenin nor Trotsky do: they underestimate the “weight of the night” in Russian culture, they do not foresee Stalin’s cunning, they fail to see that a working class revolution in the rest of Europe will not occur, they do not understand the force of custom and habit in shaping the culture of a nation, they are oblivious to the power of nationalism in moving people, etc, etc.

    So they are guilty of not seeing what it was their job to see.

  41. s. wallerstein (ex amos)


    Call me “Amos”. No problem.

    Lenin and Churchill probably would have enjoyed each other’s company.

  42. Ah, the descent into right/left political prose, the inevitable dichotomy of all political dialogue. Conservation versus progress! What shall it be? I think it’s self-evident that we cannot have evolution without stability, nor can it exist without risk. Only if the outcome of random variations were known would history be entirely devoid of pain and suffering. But if they were known, in what sense could we call them random? And what would this bizarre notion of evolution be? And why would the aforementioned political dichotomy be needed at all? If God knew what worked, why would God not have implemented Nirvana from the beginning? It’s the old theological question of why an all-knowing and compassionate Being would allow such intense suffering as is the result of our human condition, the intense fear of facing the unknown.

    What I don’t like about your argument, Jim (I hope you don’t mind me calling you that Curious), is that it smells of the idea that the West has reached the end of history. I do think you are right in that we are learning from or past mistakes (we are, so to say, evolving). But I’m convinced evolution will not come to an end until we collapse into the all-knowing and ultimate immobility of Godliness (knowing every reaction to every action). Perhaps there is some truth in that as we approach this divine stage, we approach ever increasing stasis and stability. You might be right that Western society is in a temporary lull. But that’s all it is: temporary. Nirvana awaits us only at the end of time and God is infinitely distant. The universe, as Japan’s unfortunate recent travails illustrate, is an extremely hostile environment to any one specific and static biological and social configuration.

    There will always be new challenges where we must risk our own existence in order to potentially survive, where we must climb the barricades and risk perishing for our own fallible beliefs. This is not to say that I think we can’t minimize our suffering. But at the same time there is a simple truth everyone faces at some point: We must be ready to die in order to live.

  43. Jim, alright, we have different definitions. Good to get that clear.

    In my formulation of “radicalism”, I ascribed a few distinct features to the term, above: activism, principled action, and being outside the mainstream (either in tactics or aims). You think that this is too wide a definition, because it includes people who are trying to hang on to what they had, and is not narrowly limited to people who are trying to change the system dramatically. I would have called the people with wild ambitions “revolutionaries”, not radicals, because I think it’s natural to say that people can be radicalized without necessarily advocating revolution. But if that wasn’t your meaning, then that’s fine.

    Your claim is still false. To the extent that people advocate libertarianism, State’s Rights, or the merger of church and state, they are radicals. (Which is not to suggest that there are no leftist examples, just to suggest that the movements are currently in a state of discord.)

    Regarding the G20, whatever term we use to describe citizens, activists, and officers that participated in the riots, the central point that has to be made here is that there was a dramatic disruption in the society of laws. Despite this fact, the forum proceeded without a hiccup. A natural conclusion, and I think the correct one to make, is that Canadian law was overridden by a greater power. Just as you would expect the sudden appearance of a new moon in our sky to alter the tides, the temporary formation of a new set of laws created a temporary legal landscape in Toronto which was alien to our contemporary way of life. (I borrow some of these terms from Andre Marin, the Ombudsman for the Ontario government, from the written report “Caught in the Act”, whose acidic eloquence outpaces anything I could possibly express.) Whether or not you agree that it’s a case of law being overriden, at the very least you must agree that the case is extremely bizarre, and that we need a rich serious-minded explanation to make sense of it.

  44. Benjamin,
    I don’t know exactly what happened in Toronto at the G20 summit but what you state, that the Rule of Law was overridden and dissolved seems hyperbolic. This is not to say that I doubt there were constitutional transgressions. We had unconstitutional arrests here in New York as well during the Republican Convention of 2004. The easy and simplistic argument would be that the Republican (at the time) mayor Michael Bloomberg was willing to disregard civil rights because he has no respect for civil liberties. But it does not seem to me that Bloomberg is a nefarious Republican out to tear the Constitution to shreds. His understanding of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution may be lacking. I think there have been other indications of this. But the evidence seems to be that this is all it is, a lack of understanding on the part of Bloomberg, and not an outright affront to the U.S. Constitution on his part.

    Drawing a line between permissible and illegal arrests is far easier from the cozy armchair of a legal scholar, philosopher or commentator. As a police officer confronted with the potential dangers that build up at mass assemblies I imagine it’s far more nerve wracking. Decisions have to be made at the spur of the moment. I’m not absolving police officers from training to intuitively know the difference. All I’m saying is that we should not be so quick to attribute to them and their superiors a disregard for and willingness to override and dissolve the constitution that they are sworn to protect. Life is full of unconstitutionalities despite our best efforts. And we have a complex system of jurisprudence specifically intended to sort out and constantly remind people of the boundaries.

  45. Andreas, it seems to me that your comment is misdirected. The failure I am criticizing is more than just one of judgment in the heat of the moment. The failure occurred across multiple levels, as a matter of organization. And so it is precisely the problem that our system of laws, presumed to be a function of a “complex system of jurisprudence”, was (for the duration of that period) turned into little more than poetry.

    Recall the key quasi-empirical claim I made to support the idea that the rule of law was itself overridden. For the duration of that event, Toronto police “made arrests under false pretences with no coherent civil rationale on the basis of a mistaken interpretation of an unjustifiable and unwritten regulation of (what appears to be) an unconstitutional law”. Notice, there’s a lot going on there. It is one long conjunction. I mean to suggest that if only one of these things had happened — e.g., if the Toronto police had only made arrests under false pretences, and everything else had been copacetic — there would be no “overriding” of the law in any meaningful sense.

    Since you know the background to the event, you surely know that — with the exception of the constitutionality of the PWPA (which is an open question) — most of the qualifiers used in this claim are simply not under dispute. The matter has been thoroughly documented, and turned into a highly readable volume by the ombudsman. So I think you’ll be unable to sustain the opinion that this is a judgment of “armchair philosophy”, unless you believe that the ombudsman is doing that in his report. At the very least, the burden of proof is on you, and that will require a more extensive argument than you have produced here.

    And I’m sure that would be a productive and interesting conversation to have. But before we do that, it might be worthwhile to recall the context that I brought up the G20 incident to make sure we’re not going down the garden path. I wanted to refute the claim that radicalism was on the decline. But it turns out that the G20 incident is not an *obvious* instance of radicalism, under Jim’s definition, since a great many people who were there were citizens looking for a voice. (The so-called “black bloc” were radicals, perhaps, and the government was certainly radicalized, but apart from that it’s just not as clear.) So it no longer fits my rhetorical purposes, even though it is still a grim case study in other respects.

  46. s. wallerstein (ex amos)


    Lenin and Churchill were both political realists, ruthless in their methods, but with firm ethical principles.

    Stalin was the will to power gone mad with paranoia.

    Both Lenin and Churchill come from the pre-World War I cultured elite of Europe. They probably both loved Beethoven and read the Greek tragedies and Dickens.

  47. Jim, it seems we’ve come to an agreement, as far as the bigger picture is concerned. I’ll just clarify a few more details.

    Regarding the connection between radicalism and libertarianism, I mean to point out that the present state of corporate capitalism is the antipode of libertarianism. Those who advocate libertarianism must necessarily advocate the deflation of the nation-state as we know it, and the nation-state we are familiar with today is one that subsidizes corporations and banks. So libertarianism is surely a radical vision.

    “Conservative” in the current intellectual climate is more or less an incomprehensible term, since a great many people who adopt that moniker think they are conserving the present state of the society, but are deluded about the actual facts about the state of the society. But not all ideologues are like that. e.g., it’s worth noticing that television pundit Bill O’Reilly calls himself a “traditionalist”. This is to his credit, I think, since he no longer has to talk about trying to preserve the current social order.

    But I doubt very much that the Tea Party movement really has any libertarian spine. As far as I know (and mind you, I could be wrong), the only libertarian congressman is Ron Paul. But if the Tea Party were serious about their values, you would expect a far greater number of libertarian congressmen.

  48. Benjamin, I think you are right to point to protest during G20 summits in arguing that radicalism in the West is not on the decline as James originally claimed. I’m going to climb out on a limb here but it seems to be a common feeling amongst people born roughly between 1945 and 1960 that the Western world has become less radical. I don’t know if this is your so called generation, James. But what I can tell you is that my so called generation, the infamous Generation X, has been accused time and again of being apolitical. (And materialistic and caring only for their own shallow self-fullfilment, which I’m not saying you’re implying, James). We didn’t march with Martin Luther King. We didn’t protest against the Vietnam war. We didn’t climb the barricades in Paris in 1968. We didn’t join an ashram somewhere in the hinterlands of India.

    I think radicalism has come to mean someone who is looking to make sweeping and uncompromising social changes, regardless of whether these changes are deemed to be on the left or the right of the political spectrum. It has been generalized that Generation X in their youth were not interested in really changing much of anything. To the left or to the right. All they supposedly wanted to do was listen to music, get smashed, slack off and mind their own business. The theory is that they were reacting to the excessive idealism of their parents. This ignores that we made Greenpeace the largest environmental organization in the world. That we scraped money out of our piggy banks to give to Amnesty International. That we were the first digital generation, flocking to the Internet on our home-built computers to proclaim the end of the nation-states. That we became born-again Christians or converted to Islam. After us came the so called Millenials, the ones who connected through social media, packed their bags and bought an airfare to some distant city holding a G20 summit. They extended their rebellion from the dark ICQ chats of Generation X, climbing the barricades and putting cars on fire again.

    But radicalism does not require the throwing of Molotov cocktails and overturning of cars. It’s only the most obvious expression of it. Radicalism is an uncompromising minority position where the person who holds a belief does not think that positive change can be achieved through negotiation with the opposing majority. I’m going to conjecture that over time there is only a marginal variation in the number of people who are radicals versus gradualists (gradualist meaning a minority position believing that change can in fact occur through constructive engagement with the majority). And that the number of people who want to change society also only varies marginally. Otherwise we would be saying that evolution has indeed, as Fukuyama claimed, stopped (or at least that it’s slowing down) since there would be an insufficient pool of change agents.

    The new frontier of social evolution is global governance, which is why the G20 summits is where we see fire, blood and tear gas. I think that Fukuyama was right that the basis on which new political evolution is occurring is mostly rooted in Western liberal democracy. But what he failed to see in 1989 (and since seems to have admitted) is that Westphalian diplomacy will have to be replaced by a new form of global governance, and that such governance is heterogeneous governance on steroids. Compared to the cultural variations across the world, the United States and Europe are tremendously homogeneous. He seems to have assumed that these variations would be smoothed out within the foreseeable future, global trade turning everyone pretty much culturally into a Westerner. I don’t see it. At least not in my lifetime or that of my sons. So in my view as far as we can predict into the future we will have we will have a world of drastically conflicting values. The proper governing mechanisms to deal with such heterogeneous demographics have yet to be established. I think they can be based on existing concepts of federalism and subsidiarity as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But their exact nature is as of yet unknown. And unfortunately I fear that more blood will be spilled. Our challenge is to make the transition to good global governance as smooth as possible and avoid a repeat of the American Civil War and World War I and II.

  49. Hi,
    This blog popped up when I was googling “yesbut” (it really should be one word, shouldn’t it?) out of frustration at having heard the silly sound so much in my attempts to have a particular situation resolved.. “Ysbt! Ysbt! Ysbt!”

    For far too long I’ve been having difficulties with a major university in Australia. The crux of the issue is that bullying was rife in the research group were I was studying a PhD, though the story is a bit more complex than that, for the bullying overlaps with other important issues.

    I was not your typical physics PhD student – not for this country, anyway – in that I was definitely not of the middle-class. Rather, I had grown up with one relative who was addicted to gambling and drinking. Growing up, I was repeatedly abandoned at a train station, to be baby-sat by the staff there, and then delivered home (well, the nieghbours) by the police. I was left to take myself home from school, let myself in (the neighbour had to do this as I was too young to reach the lock), feed myself on little more than breakfast cereal, and often enough not even that, until the tell-tale, uneven, drunken footsteps of my guardian could be heard around midnight, outside, returning from another drinking and gambling session. When, occasionally, I challenged this state of affairs with something like “I don’t see you eat at all. You must be eating take-away food and you’re leaving me with nothing but breakfast cereal to eat”, I was put in my place with “That’s good enough for you!” I endured all this alone, for about half of every week, from the age of a small child to an adult moving from home. In that time we were evicted from two apartments, the gambling addiction culminated in embezzlement to feed its voracious appetite, which in turn led to joblessness & homelessness, the drunkenness lead to a drink-driving accident wherein my guardian hit a pedestrian, attended a police station for an interview, and then drove the damaged car home, still drunk, and with me in the rear sitting among the broken glass. I shan’t continue – you get the idea.

    Amid the isolation, I spent my time – instinctively, perhaps – pulling apart appliances to see how they work, learning about computers from books and eventually from the real thing, teaching myself programming and electronics. In short, my isolation was soothed by nerdy pursuits, surely indicative of a raw passion, if not a raw talent.

    I was certainly not supported in my education: for lack of school fees, my teachers were threatening to away my school books. They were commenting on my school uniform, bursting at the seams as it was, not updated for lack of money or interest at home.

    Surely all these details comprise a narrative of actual, material disadvantage. Despite those disadvantages I managed to find a place at one of the country’s best computer science schools, eventually completing degrees in computer engineering and physics sufficiently well to earn an automatic offer of a PhD scholarship. All of this was achieved without any positive discrimination, while I studied alongside female students with “women in engineering” scholarships, and the like.

    Despite all of my past problems, and their more recent ramifications – poverty to the point of being unable to afford necessary medicine for an auto-immune disease, housing insecurity, etc, I had coped with university well enough to achieve good results. That is, until the bullying began.

    My background, which was really a whole childhood and adolescence of bullying with typical, commensurate victim-blaming, had left me completely unable to cope with a toxic workplace culture which should not have existed in the first place. Terrible problems ensued and I was driven away, and have since attempted to have the matter addressed, but to avail.

    Naturally, the university has refused to acknowledge that any bullying took place. It even asserted that “’socio-economic disadvantage’ does not qualify as ‘disadvantage’ in the university’s equal opportunity policy statement”, despite the fact that the policy makes no such proscription, and that the university is in receipt of federal funds for the purpose of precisely such inclusion . Naturally also, the university now denies that such a statement was made. Rather than dealing with the bullying, the university deployed the language of psychology to locate the problem within me through the concept of Seligman’s “Learned Helplessness”. It’s true, I was depressed, but rationally so, and in a manner that ought to be remedied by being treated with, for once, some fairness.

    I guess I ought to hurry up and tie this story to the topic: it’s been striking to me just how much of this Kafkaesque nonsense has been wrought by female employees of the university: viz. most of the employees called upon to address the bullying. Notably also, those at the centre of the bullying were dealt with when the complainant was a female staff member.

    Foolishly, I thought the whole situation could be mediated to a happy conclusion through rational discussion. Instead, the university staff have relied on the language associated with mental illness to relate to me, not as someone not deserving of a faithful rendition of the social contract, but rather as someone possessed of the social determinants of mental illness such that the social contract need not apply in this case. Hence, I attended meetings prepared to talk about the philosophy of Michel Foucault – not something I’m trained in, but something I’ve had to become versed in.

    Of course, being philosophers you will all know that Foucault spent his career talking about power structures and how they related to attributions of labels like “Normal/Abnormal”, “Sane/Mad”, etc. Making reference to him seemed particularly useful at a university, where Foucault’s outlook is Conventional Wisdom in academic fields like Queer Theory & Gender Studies. Such academic discourse has then informed the practical inclusion of of gay and female students and staff at university. In turn, women have been admirably included at the university: 60% of the students are female, and of those I’ve experienced, most of the apparatchiks are too. These facts alone, I thought, would constitute a powerful argument that would resonate with said apparatchicks, but instead the immediate response was (for a woman) to assert that I was taking about issues that were so broad as to be irrelevant.

    The same woman – head of the uni’s counselling service, no less – again located the problem within me by asserting “You just want the university to be a nicer place, and that’s not realistic”. Is that wrong? And is that not what the processes of inclusion sought for the benefit of women?

    Moreover, she has asserted her part of the solution is to run “assertiveness courses” at the counselling service, to which I replied “You didn’t achieve the inclusion of women by telling them to be a little less female, or of gay students, a little less gay”.

    Another female staffer sent me for counselling rather than doing anything about my complaints, while a third espoused all sorts of noble values as a prelude to copping out by saying “the university is a corporation” and so I shouldn’t expect anything but cynical behaviour from it. She started several sentences with “I’m not making excuses, but…” – which prompted me to google “yesbut”.

    Again, I could point to many more pernicious comments and attitudes, all of which point to a failure of values – values for which the university is actually in receipt of money to implement.

    In fact I think the Foucauldian viewpoint is tremendously useful for the inclusion of low-SES (socio economic status) people in society’s institutions, and especially the queer-theoretic vantage; the “Abnormal” & “Insane” labelling that has had to be overcome to effect inclusion of homosexuals could probably mapped over precisely to low-SES students. That such a labelling problem exists for those at the bottom of the social order, there can be no doubt: history is full of identical narratives wherein groups have the social ills that grip them located within in them by the Authority of the top of the social order. Notable examples include the “Hysterical Woman” diagnosis, applied to disgruntled, disenfranchised, white, middle-class women of the 19th century, the “Drapetomania” diagnosis applied those slaves “insane” enough to want to flee their American slave masters, the “Protest Psychosis” diagnosis applied to those African American men audacious enough to be angry at a society that clearly – according to white, privileged, male, psychiatrists – had nothing wrong with it, and the “sexual orientation disturbance” label applied by the DSM to gays that was not removed until 1987.

    Now, I fear what follows might be cause cognitive dissonance among my American cousins: the fact is that the core narrative of Foucault’s History of Madness & other historiographies of “mental illness” is that of those at the bottom of the social order. It must be remembered that “insane asylums” predate psychoanalysis, psychiatry, neuroscience, psychology, or any other purported science for classifying people by state-of-mind. Those herded in to the first French asylums were, in fact, the 30,000 beggars of Paris, of a population of 100,000; the history of an Authoritative treatment of “madness” is, in fact, economic & societal at its root. Foucault pointed this out, as did Satre in some sense, and certainly Fanon.

    Nevertheless, the Foucauldian view has notably ameliorated the circumstances only of other groups: women, and to a greater extent in the case of Foucault, homosexuals. “Female” & “homosexual”, though, are labels that cut across class boundaries. Remarkably, Foucault’s core narrative – that of the bottom of the social order – has been conveniently ignored, so that it seems his insight has been limited to the prevention of discrimination of the middle-class against its own.

    Obviously there are a bunch of overlapping problems in my story:

    ++ The modern addiction to locating all social problems within the individuals who suffer them. This is a huge topic in itself, but for an entertaining starting point in to this topic, start reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How positive thinking is undermining America. What is it that sustains the great disparity between rhetoric and reality in the US? For it is the most vocal proponent of a social contract – that opportunity awaits those who are willing to exchange hard work for it – while offering the least social mobility in industrialised world. In fact, this is quite an old issue: Martin Luther King spoke on this topic to the American Psychological Association in 1967. Perhaps this old struggle has been given up on account of other points in this list.

    ++ The propensity of organisations of humans to become psychopathic – a problem that has endured despite Kafka’s noting of such phenomena in his books of 85 years ago.

    ++ A modern cynicism, encouraged by the above points, and permitted by the fundamental assumption of Public Choice Economics: that there is no such thing as altruism or public duty. Thus, throughout the Western World since about 1980, we have all been given permission to be the “island” that that John Donne asserted “no man is”.

    ++ The general ineffectiveness of moral arguments that people like Satre and Fanon alluded to, and which can be discerned from the growing frustration expressed in MLK’s speeches throughout his career.

    But regarding the role of women, in particular:

    ++ My experience speaks of women who are not open to the arguments that have afforded their own empowerment which, along with their own personal skills, has put them in a position to judge others. Given the women I encountered had power, they were in a position to short-circuit all the other barriers to the inclusion of socio-economically disadvantaged as espoused by my society, and so this point is vital.

    ++ I can’t help but think that there is a deeply rooted conflict between feminism and the concept of a weak male. I suspect that feminism is, in general, resentful of this concept, as it would like to retain a view of society with men being empowered and abusive for its own purposes. Is that not what Kathleen Parker was trying to sustain, in the face of contrary evidence, with her yesbuts?

    ++ The great American community organiser, Saul Alinsky, wrote of the “Back of the Yards” neighbourhood of powerless, Polish immigrants in Chicago. He wrote of their once shared narrative with African Americans, but then later wrote of how their discourse changed once they had arisen the social ladder, had their own secure community, and then found that their black brothers were moving in to it. He wrote

    Today they are part of the city’s establishment… They rationalize thus: they are not trying to keep blacks out but rather are trying to keep their people in. They are segregationists.

    Alinsky explained they they had

    moved steadily up the ladder from the Have-Nots to the Have-a-Little-And-Want-Mores. Then they cast their lot in with the Haves, as – with a few burning exceptions – the middle class always does.

    Should we expect feminism to be any different?

    While I’m on the topic of female responsibility, I might point out that my guardian – my mother, who abandoned me at train stations, smugly withheld food, etc, has explicitly drawn succour for her actions from feminism over the years. I certainly don’t think it’s a female thing per se; rather, it’s a consequence of the fact that this guardian is just not too bright, and will readily take pride in the inherent value of women purported by feminism, in spite of her own despicable actions. Such ideological pats-on-the-back become a discourse for avoiding introspection, especially for th 50% of us who have, by definition, below average IQs.

    So, while it might be asserted that the average male is empowered, to the occasional one who is disempowered, the discourse at the moment means it’s very difficult to find a way out. And, even though I’ve experienced the above (and a lot worse), I would not say “The pendulum has swung too far”; I’m still a believer in equality. Rather, I would say “The discourse has become sick”.

    And a final note: to the readers who would assert, following the sick discourse, the problem is within me for choosing to be weak, an assertion that would not be levelled at me if I were gay or female: “F!*k you very much for proving my point”.

  50. Filius and Andreas — those were two enormously prosaic sets of observations in a row. Nicely done, and thanks.

  51. (Incidentally, this is not to suggest that I agree with Andreas’s final paragraph or its contents. World federalism gives me the creeps.)

  52. Benjamin,
    Prosaic as in matter of fact, or dull and lacking imagination? And what is it about world federalism that gives you the creeps?

  53. Poor choice of words — I mean autobiographical, matter-of-fact. Also, I should have added “eloquent”. I really appreciate those posts.

    I think that world federalism is essentially inconsistent with democracy. On the other hand, it seems like the push towards international governance is very strong, so we might as well try to hold the leaders of the free world accountable in whatever way we can.

  54. I believe I can prove that federalism is the only viable option for global governance. It’s a very long discussion. And we have already strayed far from the original subject of misandry and reverse sexism. I will try to be as succinct as possible. First, we must establish what federalism is.

    There are two extremes on the political spectrum: anarchy (“without ruler”) versus autocracy (“one who rules by himself”). Why do I not include any of the other forms like oligarchy (“rule by a few”)? Because all other constellations of governance are gradations between these two. Anarchy is essentially a state were each agent rules themselves. There are as many rulers as there are individuals. It might seem as if this aught to be called democracy (“rule of the people”). But in effect democracy is, as Alexis de Tocqueville recognized, tyranny of the majority. A coalition of active agents monopolize governance (a few many so to say). Compare this to an anarchistic state, where each individual minds their own business, governing only their immediate sphere at any given moment.

    I will now abstract anarchy versus autocracy into a more general concept: autonomous versus centralized control. We are no longer speaking of just rule by individual human beings. Any control mechanism can be analyzed in these terms. Computerized network systems operate according to autonomous versus central control mechanisms as well. So what are the advantages of either extreme?

    Autonomous control is extremely responsive. But unless you provide each agent with an information stream from all other agents (turning them into Leibniz famous little monads), it’s hopelessly local. We are forced to implement what is called redundancy. The more redundancy we have, the more expensive the control system will be. Because the more information each agent must effectively process, the more resources each agent must consume. The advantage with redundancy is that any point of failure is less likely to have globally catastrophic effects. Another problem with autonomous control is that there is no clear solution for how to resolve conflicting decisions. Cooperation works only as long as there are no contradictions.

    Centralized control solves the problem of contradictory decisions. There can be no conflicts because only one agent decides! It’s less wasteful because only a single point of control must be fed with information about all other agents. The other agents are, in the philosophical sense, really not agents at all. They are in effect only the acting extensions of the central control. They are, so to say, mindless. All efforts at optimizing the decision making (i.e. making it more intelligent) can be focused on a single process. However, every point of failure has a higher likelihood of being globally catastrophic. If the central control stops making good decisions, all parts will perform poorly.

    Both extremes have advantages and disadvantages. Is there a system that borrows from both, minimizing the adverse effect of either and maximizing their positives? Yes, and it’s what I call federalism. A key component of federalism (and which really defines it) is called subsidiarity. It’s essentially the idea that decisions should occur at the least centralized level of governance possible. Decisions should take place between those agents that will be affected by the outcome. Control mechanisms are implemented in layers at each level where consensual agreement must occur due to the need for cooperation and the potential for conflict.

    Everything is, of course, easier in theory than in practice. An unresolved problem is how do we define being affected? When there are conflicting value systems with different end goals like in human societies, their’s no straight forward solution. Some believe (I think erroneously) that sodomy is corrosive to the very structure of society because it contradicts the procreative purpose of a sexual bond. Permitting sodomy according to this view makes it more likely that young people will fall pray to its purely carnal appeal (the corrupting the youth argument). It’s irrelevant how wrong headed I think that this argument is. I merely mention it as an example of where a distinctly local and private act between two consenting individuals is seen as “harmful” to the whole.

    Federalism is not a panacea. But it is the only solution to the problem of autonomous versus centralized control. Failures can still occasionally cascade catastrophically across the entire network. There is also no clear answer to the right amount of redundancy required for a system. Risk must be balanced against cost. So why do we need political federalism at a global level? Because the Internet has made it possible for effects to ripple through the world at hitherto unheard of speeds. The type of national sovereignty created in Westphalia in 1648 to solve the centralization problems of the Holy Roman Empire are no longer adequate. I actually don’t know if they ever were since they did not prevent further wars equally disastrous to the Thirty Years’ War. You could argue that the United Nations has addressed the problems of Westphalia. This is yet another very long discussion. But the manner in which it has been addressed is at best ad hoc. National sovereignty has not been redefined in any truly meaningful way, leaving open the (unfortunately at times necessary) option for a coalition of the willing (which is nothing else than “rule by the few”).

    P.S. I guess my attempt at succinctness again leaves something to be desired. My apologies.

  55. I just remembered a couple more anecdotes for my story.

    Recall the woman who, in response to my statement that “if I wanted to be treated so cynically I would have skipped the PhD and gone straight in to the corporate world”, said “Yes but, the university is a corporation, too! People forget that!”

    Well, I mentioned to her that, if we cannot resolve this situation, then I might as well do a PhD on the topic of social inclusion, given my now great insight. Two rather significant people (in this pond, anyway) have suggested such an undertaking.

    Without any apparent self-awareness, she immediately said “Oooo, that’s a bad idea. I really wouldn’t advise you to do a PhD in an area in which you are so personally invested. PhD’s are never good when they seek to fulfill a forgone conclusion”.

    Her description, spoken from the position of power as it is, ironically sounds to me like it neatly describes the PhD’s completed in the name of “Gender Studies” and “Feminism”. Is she burning the bridge now that she’s crossed it?

    A second point regards mentoring programs. Given my background, the middle-classedness of the university society is patent to me, so as one of my concrete suggestions for this uni of mine, funded as it is to effect the inclusion of low-SES students, I asserted that a mentoring program would be appropriate for them. They have such programs for female students, after all. I thought they had such programs for indigenous students too, and said “When I look on the website for [an admirable group striving to improve the lot of Australia’s Aborigines by creating educational opportunities] they suggest that this university has mentoring programs for Aboriginal students…”

    But as I was saying it, this apparatchik (head of the uni counselling service) interrupted with “Yes! I heard about that; we used to have mentoring programs for Aboriginal students, but we don’t anymore. I don’t know how that got on the website.”

    In her expression was a definite triumphant note. I’m not paranoid enough to think this was a triumphalism at withholding inclusion-programs for Australia’s beleaguered indigenous population; instead, I’m realistic enough to estimate that her triumph was the point she scored against me — at least until her pridefullness withered away as she realised what she was saying.

    So, they offer mentoring programs to female students, none to socio-economically disadvantaged students, and proudly no longer offer such programs to indigenous students!

  56. I think that world federalism is essentially inconsistent with democracy.
          Benjamin S Nelson

    The word undemocratic is used so often to criticize a political process people are suspicious of. But democracy, in its purest from, is a horrible state of affairs. It’s a sluggish beast that when awakened oppresses the individual. Minority position have ZERO power. Divergent thinking, the engine of innovation, is punished and suppressed. Without multiple safeguards, “democracy” inevitably degenerates into a form of tyranny: ochlocracy (“rule of the general populace”).

    I don’t think this is the state you’re thinking of when you use the adjective democratic. I assume (but perhaps wrongly) that your adjective encapsulates the modern republic with basic protections for the rights of individuals. How world federalism is antithetical to this state is unclear to me. The only aspect of the modern republic that a world federation infringes on is the de facto right to act with impunity outside its boarders and disregard international law without consequences when global affairs do not suit its domestic interests.

  57. I don’t want to drift too far off topic. This might be a discussion better had in another thread. I’ll see if I can’t cook something up.

    To cut to the chase, I don’t think world federalism is compatible with democratic republicanism, understood as a state that is ruled by citizens and the rule of law. It would be if subsidiarity were practically possible. I do not think it is, because of the iron law of oligarchy.



    Well, Marta then go ahead and discuss it. Surely there are plenty of places on the Internet to discuss dirty politics? And remember: She who shouts loudest shall be heard. Unless we all shout, in which case none shall be heard.

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