In Defense of the Traditional Family (Response to Will Kymlicka)

In this post I will be responding to the political philosopher Will Kymlicka, as he wrote in his book Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction. The part I will be responding to will be in his section written on Feminism. The book is intended to be an educational text, but there is a clear (and intentional) bias throughout, so I will be working from the assumption that Kymlicka agrees with the arguments he put forward. In the chapter on Feminism, he breaks down three major arguments in favor of contemporary feminism in the West, the first of which being what he refers to as the dominance approach. In this argument, he tries to show that taking a stance against discrimination of women is not enough to achieve sexual equality. This is because the very manner of which society has been set up is for the benefit of men. If one wants to make society more equal for women, then one must rethink how society is structured. One such way that he demonstrates this is by critiquing traditional marriage, demonstrating that it is an oppressive institution that makes women dependent on men. I will attempt to represent Kymlicka’s argument on such a subject as accurately as I can and will then provide a rebuttal to his points.

The Feminist Argument Against Traditional Marriage

Kymlicka asks us to “Consider a society which restricts access to contraception and abortion, which defines paying jobs in such a way as to make them incompatible with childbearing and child-rearing, and which does not provide economic compensation for domestic labour.” These three conditions are the foundation upon which a patriarchal society is situated. As long as these three conditions are present, then society is sure to be structured in a way that oppresses women and privileges men. The fact that they do not have any legal means to avoid pregnancies through the use of contraceptives and abortions, and simultaneously are not allowed to raise children while working a full-time job, forces women to make life decisions that lead them towards dependence on men. Kymlicka argues that women’s means for doing this are becoming “sexually attractive to men.” They will inevitably not go for the same economic opportunities and will instead try to appeal to men. “This, in turn, results in a system of cultural identifications in which masculinity is associated with income-earning, and femininity is defined in terms of sexual and domestic service for men, and the nurturing of children.” This characterizes patriarchy. There are roles that men and women are prescribed to and they are specifically defined to place men in a position of privilege over women. As a result of these differing pressures on men and women, they go into the institution of marriage with differing outlooks. The woman is going in dependent on a man to help her survive, especially if she intends to have children. Then, as time goes by, the marriage only makes her more dependent, as she is expected to be the one who stays home to take care of the children. She is incapable of establishing a career so the prospect of a divorce is almost out of the question. If the woman can’t support herself outside of the marriage, while the man can, then that gives the man leverage over the woman. He has less incentive to maintain that marriage than she does, so he can use this to control her.

In response to the oppressive nature of the institution of marriage, Kymlicka claims that society needs to reject the three basic conditions that serve as the foundation for patriarchy. If abortion is legalized and contraception is made available to the population, if institutions of employment are structured in a way that makes them compatible with child-bearing and child-rearing, and if women are compensated for the all of the domestic duties done by them, then this will have a trickle down effect, where masculinity and femininity as roles in a society are defined equally. As is obvious, this argument is put forward purely in the abstract. Kymlicka is not claiming that any particular society, especially in the West, fits this characterization perfectly. He does, however, claim that all Western liberal democracies contain elements of what is described and are, therefore, all are patriarchal to some degree (1).

Problems With The Feminist Argument

There is quite a lot to unpack with this argument, so to begin, I will start by saying that I will be critiquing various elements of this line of reasoning followed by an argument for why the institution of marriage is actually preferable. Not only is it not oppressive to women, but it is specifically tailored for everyone’s benefit, as it acknowledges human nature.

Let us take a look at the three conditions that provide the basis for a patriarchal society:

Condition One

The first of which is not having access to abortion and contraceptives. Standing against this condition is the most reasonable of the three. If women are denied access to abortion and contraceptives, then that will severely alter their approach to everyday life, as they will have to either practice chastity while gunning for a career, or latch on to a man who will support them. Unfortunately for feminists, abortion in particular is something that is more nuanced than they would like it to be. Looking at it in the abstract terms of gender equality, it seems to be common sense that abortion be legalized. It is not that simple, though. There are detractors, many of them women, who believe abortion to be an immoral act, as it involves terminating the development of a fetus after it has already begun. I will not get into the weeds of this issue in this post; I am simply pointing out that there exists another dimension to this issue that feminist will happily ignore if they can get away with it. It is one of those issues where both sides of the debate are so uninterested in the other side of the argument that it inevitably devolves into moral grandstanding and accusations. But to get back on point, if we are going to involve the issue of abortion in this debate, whether you like it or not, it is not accurately characterized by giving the women a choice over whether she wants a child or not. Some people claim that the child has a life with value. Middle ground may be accessible with the acknowledgment of adoption centers, as they can serve as a replacement for abortion, but this will inevitably require concessions of the feminist side of the debate, as women will still have to deal with the implications of child bearing.

Condition Two

The second condition is a society where institutions of employment are defined so that they are incompatible with childbearing and child rearing. This is mainly referring to how institutions do not have employee benefits like paid maternity leave, which hurts women’s prospects of successfully maintaining a career while also having a child. This is regardless of whether that woman is married or not.

The first point I want to make here is that employee benefits like paid maternity leave will actually have a negative effect on women’s employment prospects. Something that is regularly being talking about in intersectional feminist circles is the concept of unconscious bias and how this affects women and minorities in their everyday lives. Studies have shown that men and women have their applications for jobs selected for at differing rates, even when the applications are identical. This is considered to be a great issue in the modern West, and it even has its own big, scary name to shock the masses into action: systemic oppression. Upon the adoption of paid maternity leave, I argue that what is referred to as systemic oppression will only increase. Place yourself in the shoes of the employer for a moment. If you have the possibility to hire a man or a woman, you would absolutely take into account the fact that the women will likely go out on paid maternity leave at some point or another, possibly multiple times. This will increase the amount of bias against women in hiring.

The first response to this is to provide paternity leave as well as maternity leave, but this is complicated by the fact that men rarely ever use their paternity leave, mainly because it is not necessary. They may be able to take time off to care for the child, but they don’t birth children, so it is not the same. It is unrealistic to expect that paternity leave will mitigate the amount of discrimination against women upon being hired. The second response to this would be to use social pressure to influence how people are hired. In other words, use quotas that prescribe the amount of people within a particular demographic that can be hired within that institution. An example of this would be an institution making sure fifty percent of their employees are women. This will eliminate the discrimination against women in hiring even in spite of paid maternity leave. The problem with this is that institutions that are now adopting this strategy are no longer hiring people according to their qualifications. Instead, they are hiring people on the basis of characteristics that say nothing about their ability to contribute to that institution. In the interest of maximizing the output of any institution, it is advisable to avoid such practices. Over time, it is possible that the market will be a disincentive to companies opting into this quota solution, as other companies could be more successful than them. If this happens, then government action would be required to maintain quotas. You can see where this is going.

Government control is a slippery slope. Government solutions often create problems, which require more solutions. Using the government to force paid maternity leave on business owners will ultimately lead to more systemic oppression of women in hiring, which will spur on even more government intervention to fix that new problem: quotas. It is questionable whether this will ever end. The issue is much broader, too: Requiring paid maternity leave is a government intervention in an employer’s business, which sets a precedent of government control of private property. Once this precedent has been established, it then opens up the possibility of other ideological forces using this government power to push whatever agenda they may espouse. If you can do it, so can they.

This strategy also involves throwing individuals under the bus. Men who are qualified for those positions can potentially lose out against women for no other reason than because they were born that way: mainly because of a presumption of inherent privilege. This privilege is conceived of at a collective level of understanding of human relations, and is then grafted on to individuals. In other words, they claim that men as a collective generally have it better than women as a collective, so it is okay to assume that every individual man has it better than every individual woman. This argument is obviously absurd. Men who are homeless are in no way more privileged than even a single mother on welfare. Group trends are nothing more than just that: group trends.

Paid maternity leave is the main employee benefit discussed here, and it mostly relates to women’s need to take time off as a result of child bearing. Child rearing is another matter. What Kymlicka is demanding here is that institutions of employment be structured so that it is compatible with the raising of a child. Working out the practical application of this seems to be an impossibility. Is it really possible to hold both a job and also raise one’s children? This is not how family structure manifests itself in reality. Usually one parent stays home with the children, and this is usually the mother. If the mother is single, then she is required to have her children cared for by another, which is generally not seen as desirable. It just strikes me as wholly unreasonable to think that this part of the condition can be avoided.

Condition Three

The third condition is a society that does not provide economic compensation for domestic labor. The stance against this condition is the most unreasonable of the three. The belief that women don’t get economic compensation for domestic labor is completely unfounded. Women who do domestic work in a patriarchal society, as described above, do get compensation for their work. The woman does the domestic work in exchange for resources acquired by her husband. This is what marriage is: an exchange of resources and services. The man gives the woman protection, resources, and his seed and the woman gives him sex, domestic services, and children. This is to achieve the common goal of raising a family together. The only gripe one can have with this is that the man doesn’t exactly give the woman a wage, but this is just being technical. The woman is receiving resources from the man and this is partly because of her domestic labor.

Kymlicka’s characterization of the institution of marriage eviscerates the exchange that I described. He completely ignores the nature of the exchange in order to claim that women are being exploited. This is exemplified in the following quote that I provided earlier: “This, in turn, results in a system of cultural identifications in which masculinity is associated with income-earning, and femininity is defined in terms of sexual and domestic service for men, and the nurturing of children.” Note how he slips in the phrase “for men” after his description of femininity to remind the reader that she is subject to the will of the man. At the same time, when he describes the conception of masculinity in society, he neglects to slip in the phrase “for women” despite the fact that that is precisely what the man is expected to do. This is one of those absurd double standards wherein when women do things for men, this is an example of women being exploited because it is for the benefit of men, often at the expense of women; but when men do things for women, this is also an injustice towards women because they are now dependent on men for those things.

I think the response to this would be to point out the nature of the exchange. What the man is providing are resources necessary for the survival of the woman, while the woman is simply giving the man things that he may desire, but does not necessarily need. This imbalance is what makes it unequal and gives men leverage over women. My response to this is going to be my biggest critique of this argument thus far. Kymlicka’s mistake is that he makes what I will call the humanist assumption.

The Humanist Assumption

The humanist assumption is the assumption that any two particular groups of people—men and women, in this case—are equal to one another, particularly in behavior and temperament, until proven otherwise. This is an assumption made by most people in the West that I believe is fundamentally flawed. Focusing in on men and women specifically, why is it that we work from the default position of equality between the sexes until shown otherwise? Have men and women ever been equal in temperament and behavior in any society throughout human history? If this is the case, how often is it? Couple this with the obvious physical differences between the sexes, you should wonder why this assumption is being made. Obvious physical differences like breast development and genitalia are not evidence of behavioral differences, in and of themselves, but they should make you question what your default position on this subject should be. Are men and women equal until proven unequal, or are they unequal until proven equal? I argue the latter. This is especially reasonable when you consider that these observable differences are not necessarily all biological in origin. There are environmental influences, as well as biological ones. The humanist assumption starts from the extraordinary position of zero biological differences.

Upon the removal of the humanist assumption, the assertion that marriage gives men power to control women starts to fall apart—this argument being that women are dependent on men to support them, so women will naturally value the marriage more than men, giving the man leverage over her. The problem with this stance is that they are ignoring biological drives in men that influence their behavior. Men evolved to be protective of women, as it was beneficial to the survival of the species as a whole. I discuss this more in depth in my post, The Curious Case of Sex Relations (2). This leads to social norms, such as men sacrificing themselves for the sake of their women that rarely, if ever, happen the other way around. The relevant point is that this shows commitment. It is hard to argue that men have less commitment than women to a relationship if men have a biological drive within them that sometimes leads them to kill themselves for the sake of their women. The feminist critique also completely side steps the emotional component to marriage, that being love. A major binding force to these relationships is this emotional bond that men and women have for one another. When looking at tendencies to dismiss romantic attachment across cultures, it was found that men were no more dismissive of this emotional attachment than women were (3).

Neither of these points show that women are not dependent on men, as I am sure a feminist will be quick to point out, but I am going to go one step further and assert that women, specifically those that have children, are inherently dependent. Two things should be established: most women want children, and children are tied to their mothers. A mother and her children should be treated as a single unit. Because of this, motherhood renders women dependent. Feminists are correct to point out that women are dependent on men in the traditionalist framework, but they are naive to think that this can be changed. Think about it this way: when a woman has a child, she must find someone to financially prop her up, whether that be her husband or boyfriend, the father through alimony, the state through welfare, food stamps, charity, or their employer through paid maternity leave (or any combination of these things). The prospect of being a single mother is horrible. This is for a reason. Mothers need support. Traditionalism recognizes this and specifically tailors itself for their benefit.

Kymlicka’s humanist assumption also leads him to make a presupposition in his argument about men and women. He assumes that both men and women are equal in their desires; he assumes that they have the same paths to fulfillment. Here is a series of relevant facts that I think one should consider: When looking at self-reported surveys of happiness, women tend to evaluate their self-esteem on how close they are in their relationships with others and with god, while men tend to evaluate their self-esteem based on their active leisure and mental control. Women focus on domestic and personal problems, while men focus on matters without, like their job. Women’s love life and family life are the most relevant factors in determining their happiness, while, for men it is their job and appearance. When looking at depression, women are more likely to be depressed because of family problems, while men are more likely to be depressed because of financial issues. When looking at stress, women are more likely to report stress being caused by other people (relationship issues), while men are more self-focused, reporting stress over academic success or other related endeavors (4).

These facts show an obvious trend that women are more focused on relationships, while men are more focused on their success in their career. And even if you do want to make the humanist assumption and claim that this is all neatly explained away by socialization, you would have to explain why there are cross-cultural trends in personality differences between the sexes. Cross-cultural trends are a strong indicator of biological underpinnings to human behavior. Given that women score higher on agreeableness and openness to feelings, it lends credence to the series of facts shared here (5). Women also prove to care more about resources and socio-economic status than men do when selecting mates (6,7). It’s almost as if men and women evolved specifically to fit the roles prescribed to them in the traditionalist framework. Finally, both men and women have been getting progressively less happy in the West within the past thirty years. Not only this, but women have been twice as likely to have depression than men for the past twenty years (4). This is not to say that the destruction traditionalism is the cause of these things, as this is only some correlation, but if the progressive liberation of women from the private sector correlates with the regression of their own happiness, then it should at least make you stop and think.

Traditionalism

This established, men and women are proving themselves to fit into the traditionalist framework quite well. Traditionalism places women in a position where they interact with people, that being motherhood, and places men in a position where they are working at a job. Nothing I have said here necessarily translates into absolute and rigid roles for men and women, but the general trends will and should exist. Arguments about oppression are nonsensical. Given the fact that men and women make up about the same percentage of their populations, it strikes me as naive to try and argue that social norms like that of gender roles within traditional marriage do anything to suppress women as a collective relative to men. This would require extraordinary evidence. Feminists are presented with two possibilities: women’s oppression by social norms is a naturally occurring phenomenon in human behavior, or women simply exhibit interest in different things, leading to the two sexes taking up different roles in society. Either way, pointing out the apparently oppressive nature of the dynamics of these two roles is ultimately irrelevant, as biology is strongly suggested by how consistent these circumstances are.

Conclusion

Kymlicka’s feminist critique of the institution of marriage is flawed at best. Abortion is too contentious an issue to receive the treatment it does in this argument. Paid maternity leave is not the panacea it is pretended to be. The institution of marriage is fundamentally an exchange, which is ignored. And finally, it fails to take human nature into account and properly recognize the differences between the sexes. Because of this, it characterizes the male and female dynamic in the traditional sense as oppressive when it is actually preferable. It does not render women dependent on men; it recognizes that this dependency is inherent to the human condition and specifically tailors itself for that reality.

 

Sources:

Video: https://youtu.be/YYER604Wegw

(1) Book: Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction: Second Edition

(2) Video on gender relations: https://stateofthenihil.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/the-curious-case-of-sex-relations/

(3) Relationship attachment in men and women: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1475-6811.00052/full

(4) This is a compilation of sources; the primary sources are at the bottom of the page: http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/courses/pospsydocs/oldwikis/2%20Gender.pdf

(5) Personality differences: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.463.9292&rep=rep1&type=pdf

(6) Male and female attraction: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-006-9151-2

(7) Another study on male and female attraction: https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S0140525X00023992

Unconscious Bias

In our every day lives we get judged by every characteristic you can possibly imagine. We are prejudged based on sex, race, height, looks, the sound of our voice, our physique, and so on. Human brains are biologically designed to recognize patterns in behavior, as this was an evolutionary adaptation that allowed us to survive in dangerous environments. The hypothesis is that humans who could recognize patterns in behavior in other species have higher fitness than humans who treated every organism they encountered as an atomized case. Human beings, on a mass scale, will never go against this adaptation. The point is that these unconscious biases are part of our every day experience.

Before I go on, I want to note that this post is talking about unconscious prejudice, not conscious prejudice.

The interesting thing about the examples I gave in the beginning is society’s response to these prejudices and how they differ from one another. The first two I mentioned, race and sex, have a very clear response: that these types of prejudice are wrong and should be curbed by any means necessary. Now we have studies on implicit bias and the like, showing things like applications for jobs being picked at different rates, and more. Now contrast that to something like height. If you are incredibly tall, then that affects how people will perceive you, especially when they first meet you. You come off as more imposing and dominant. And then the opposite is true for short people: you naturally come off as more submissive and less imposing.

And most people react to this reality in an incredibly different manner. We implicitly accept the fact that people are prejudiced according to height in this way, as it is just a fact of life, and usually end up ignoring it. The people being judged, instead of expecting society to change to suit their own conception of themself, change to suit society’s opinion of them. A short person will eventually accept that they will never be imposing to prejudiced onlookers and they will adopt a more passive approach to life. There are exceptions, but we all know of the stereotype of the scrawny, male teenager who thinks he’s a whole lot tougher than he is; and we all know how satisfying it is to see him get his ass handed to him when he crosses the line.

My question is why we aren’t treating race and sex based prejudice like this latter example. As I have already pointed out, prejudice is something that is inherent to us, so simply saying that it should go away is not feasible. Not only are you demanding perfection from imperfect creatures, but you are demanding that they go against their biology. This will never happen on a mass scale, unless you have an oppressive ideology to herd the masses. But people on the Left will never accept that bias based on race and sex is acceptable. I think much of this has to do with the history of racism and sexism, and I certainly think this would be the response. Ultimately, I do not think that this is a fair reason to make the demands that the Left makes.

The Left claims that the history of racism and sexism feeds into today and that this is why issues surrounding race and sex are so important. I can get behind this idea, but I would like to see how it would play out in a specific example of prejudice. Let us compare two examples: In the first example, say that a man prejudges another based on his height. He assumes that he is going to hurt him based solely on the fact that his is tall and imposing. And this is not a fair judgment, as the man is actually very nice. In the second example, a man prejudges another man based on the fact that he is black. He assumes that he is going to hurt him based solely on the fact that he is black. And this is not a fair judgment either, as the man is also very nice. Are these two examples not the same? Why should I assume that the second example of prejudice is worse than the first? Does the history of racism change anything in these specific examples? Why? Is it fair to just assume the prejudice based on race is worse “because history?”

I think the response to this would be to mention why prejudice is wrong in the first place. They would claim that prejudice is wrong because it hurts people’s feelings and that this is how history plays a role in the difference. Black people are conscious of a history of racism and that leads them to perceive these prejudices differently. It is the effect that matters, not necessarily the action.

There are two problems with this. First, this is a great generalization of people’s behaviors. We are talking about two individual cases and this response applies assumptions based on group membership to make the point. We do not know if the black man in the example will truly be mulling over the history of racism. Second, these instances of prejudice are not always something that the target is conscious of. If we look at biases in hiring, as I mentioned earlier, then we see that some applications are selected more often than others. This isn’t emotional hurt though; there is a material effect on the target and it is ultimately something that they are not aware of. How would a history of racism justify the claim that racial prejudice is worse than prejudice based on height when there is a material effect, but no emotional effect? Say that you could have hired the tall man and the black man, but rejected both after the interview because their respective characteristics intimidated you. Their personalities were exemplary and fit the job, but you ultimately rejected both because of unconscious prejudice. Are these actions equally bad, or is the racial prejudice worse? Why?

I don’t think it is worse. This is why I think we should transition into a society that shrugs off unconscious prejudice based on race and sex and deals with it in the same way that we do prejudice over someone’s height. Prejudice is inevitable, so people need to learn to accommodate that in their lives.

Video: https://youtu.be/HpUXud1ZnP0

The Curious Case of Sex Relations

The biggest problem with modern day politics is the fact that we get too bogged down in our own moral assumptions about the world. If you actually want to understand politics—and by extension, human behavior—you have to recognize that human beings are animals. We aren’t free agents trying to change the world for some higher purpose. Everything we do is fully informed by the interplay of our genetics and the environment we grow up in. Because of this, there are recognizable trends in human behavior that are observable across cultures and throughout history. The best way to understand these trends is to approach it from an evolutionary perspective.

When I think about sex politics, I don’t look at it according to what is just and what is not just, at least not when I want to lay down the basis for my understanding of the subject. Instead, I look at it through an evolutionary lens, because I think much of this is easily explained in this way. I want to note that this argument is not a one hundred percent proof of anything. Through Occam’s razor, this evolutionary explanation is the one I fall back on.

The first thing I want to do is refute a few common misconceptions held by many people about the biological explanation for behavioral differences. Claiming that there could be a biological reason for a difference in behavioral trends does not mean every individual person in these collectives are equally different from one another. We are talking about trends, not absolutes. The only way evolution can work is with genetic variation, so of course there will be exceptions to the trends I am talking about. Pointing to any exceptions does not negate the argument since the argument rests on the claim that these trends exist for a reason.

The next thing I want to refute is the false assumption that biological explanations for behavioral differences necessarily indicate that the differences are fully genetic. Things are rarely one hundred percent due to genetics. There is almost always some environmental component along with some genetic component. So when I say that there is an evolutionary explanation for a behavioral difference, this merely means that the basis is genetic; differences can certainly be amplified by the environment. For example, if a certain genetic population A has genes that make them predisposed to aggressive behavior relative to genetic population B, then it should be noted that population A will also construct a social environment that conditions people’s behaviors to be more aggressive, thus amplifying the aggregate aggression. Pointing out that the social environment in population A affects people’s behavior is not an argument for why there is no genetic component to their aggression relative to population B.

Finally, I think I should establish what men and women are, given this rise of postmodern deconstructionism. In many cases, I think postmodernism goes a bit too far with their deconstruction of some categorizations. This subject would be one of those cases. Here, we are talking about human relations as it pertains to our role in evolution. So the biological sexes are defined by their gametes, or by their role in sexual reproduction. Men create the sperm, women create the egg, and any deviation from this is an evolutionary dead end.

All of this established, I will get to the actual point of the post: When looking at sex politics throughout history, I have come to the conclusion that you can place men and women at opposite ends of a spectrum. This spectrum has freedom on one end and safety at the other. The closer you are to the freedom end the freer you are, at the expense of your safety, and vice versa for the other side. Men have been placed on the freedom end of the spectrum, while women have been placed at the safety end of the spectrum. Feminist scholars usually characterize this as patriarchy, where men take up the public sector of life, with women being relegated to the private sector. Basically, men are the ones out in the world working for a wage and women are left in the home for domestic duties. They generally are correct, though I think my characterization is better since I am not pathologically adhered to the idea of how unjust this is. Whether it is unjust or not is irrelevant. Biology does not care about your morals.

I think there is an evolutionary explanation for why the varying forms of patriarchy exist. As biological creatures, it is in our nature to reproduce and spread our genes on to the next generation. Much of our behavior can be traced back to our desire to do this. Because of this, the male and female roles in society are predicated on our respective roles in sexual reproduction. Given the fact that women are the ones who bear the children, and also given the fact that this is a long and arduous process that makes them incredibly vulnerable, it makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint for our species as a whole to value the safety of women. If women are not kept safe, then that will imperil the entire species. And this does not apply to men in the same degree, since all they need to do is inseminate and their deed is done. Ideally, he should remain alive so he can provide for the woman, but since their tribe can compensate, his value is less than that of the woman.

Put another way, a women who is prone to taking risks is less likely to successfully reproduce and pass her genes on to the next generation than a woman who prefers safety. Going through nine months of pregnancy is a severe handicap on reckless behavior. Through the process of natural selection, the genes related to risk averse behavior will begin to take up a larger and larger percentage of the female population. At the same time, if women are becoming more prone to safe behavior as a collective whole, then men necessarily need to compensate if the species is to survive. There needs to be someone to risk their life against the horrors of the natural world in order to retrieve the resources needed to live. A safety prone woman paired with a safety prone man is less likely to succeed in passing her genes on to the next generation than a safety prone woman paired with a bolder man. The result of these selection patterns is women who are collectively less likely to put themselves in harms way and men who are collectively willing to compensate for that.

And there is evidence of these sex differences up until today. These behavioral differences can also be looked at in terms of the five big personality traits. They are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. If you score high on all of these, then you are inventive and curious, efficient and organized, outgoing, friendly and compassionate, and nervous and prone to worrying, respectively. They all score around fifty percent heritability based on our knowledge gained from twin studies, so genes have an effect.

A study with a sample size of 23,031, across a selection of 26 different cultures, has shown that there are recognizable trends in personality traits generally held by women relative to men. Women tend to score higher on neuroticism, agreeableness, an element of extraversion known as warmth, and openness to other’s feelings. Men tend to score lower on neuroticism, agreeableness, and higher on openness to ideas and assertiveness, the latter being an element of extraversion. There is some variability in the degree to which these differences exist, but the freer the society the more stark these differences get. This strongly suggests that there is some biological component to the differences in personality traits. Given these differences, women are more likely to have the personality traits of person who places herself in positions where there is little risk and low stress. This is consistent with my hypothesis for an evolutionary explanation for patriarchy.

Applying this to history, the further back you go the more dangerous the public sector gets. Depending on how far you go depends on precisely what horrors you may experience, but this trend absolutely exists. This correlates with another trend: the further back into history you go, the more likely it is that men dominate the public sector. In other words, the more dangerous something is, the more likely it is to be the domain of men. It was men who historically went out into the world as hunters, coal miners and soldiers. The only reason for the move of women from the private sector to the public sector as time goes by is because of western development that has made the public sector a much safer environment. Today the public sector isn’t coal mines and battlefields, but desk jobs with air conditioning.

So it makes sense, from an evolutionary standpoint, for women to be historically placed in the private sector where it is safe, with men placed in the public sector where it is free (but dangerous); our species would likely have gone extinct if it wasn’t otherwise. It also makes sense to have this rise of feminism to push women into the public sector today. The public sector of life has been softened, so there is no longer a severe existential threat to women or, by extension, the species as a whole. This is not to say that the public sector is as safe as the homelife, but this is explained by the influence of feminism and its desire to protect women. Our biological drive to keep women safe is still kicking.

The important thing to note here is that there will likely never be a society where men and women are equal in representation, when these institutions are specifically tailored for an output of the best of the best. Although our species has evolved in environments that are much different than it is in the modern west, our evolved behavior will not just disappear. Women prove to be generally more competent than men in some fields, and vice versa for men in other fields. In the event that we allow people to fall where they may in a free society, a least a soft form of patriarchy is likely to characterize our species.

Sources:

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5ymdfB2B1o

Study: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.463.9292&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Nihilism

If you claim to be a nihilist, that can mean a whole host of different things. I do consider myself a nihilist, but it is important to specify exactly what I mean when I say that. To communicate this, I will boil nihilism down into three specific categories: there is existential nihilism, moral nihilism, and rational nihilism. The first two of these reflect my view of the world quite well, while the last one is a bit more complicated, as you will see.

Existential Nihilism

Existential nihilism is the belief that life, specifically human life, is ultimately meaningless, or that it has no purpose. Since I consider myself an atheist, this belief naturally follows. There is no evidence of a god out there, particularly one that cares about human beings and holds them up as his prized creation. We simply exist as a result of many causal actions. Whatever meaning that is applied to our existences is self-applied, which is only natural for self-aware beings to do. This is a rather common belief amongst most atheists, but I am going to take it a step further. Even within the context of our own self-constructed world of meaning, there is really no purpose to be found. Even in the world constructed by humans, I likely won’t ever have an effect. The only reason why I follow politics and post these writings online to my scant following is because I am human, just like everyone else: cursed by a desire to matter in a world where that is impossible.

There is another dimension to my lack of purpose in this human world. For most people, having a purpose is tied to being a good person. A person’s purpose in life usually has to do with them helping others, in one way or another, but, being the pessimist that I am, I see this desire to do well to others as a way of making you feel better. You see yourself being “good,” and the resulting feeling encourages repetition of that behavior. I have two things to say in response: one, I don’t care for having a purpose or being “good” if it’s down to only good feelings; and two, more importantly, I think it is entirely fruitless. I have realized quite a while ago that there is no such thing as a “good guy.” Even the best of us have dark sides, and no matter what we do, people will suffer and die. So I don’t care about being good, I care about achieving my own political aims. This is no different from anyone else. A good example to illustrate this would be the migrant crisis. The left views itself as the moral stance on the subject. They see people fleeing from their country, which is at war, and they know they must help. These are the kinds of people with a childish view of the world. They have a simplistic understanding of what it takes to do something like this and they end up justifying horrible things to get this “moral” end they stand with. John Oliver has claimed that he has no care for how many people die in the terror attacks that result from letting in the migrants. He believes that all the death brought down on the American people is simply a worthy “risk” to take. And he naively thinks that he is still a “good guy,” or, he at least still has the gall to morally posture in front of everyone.

And this is seen on the other side of the aisle, as well, though not nearly as often. Some right-wing nationalists jump at the chance to show how immoral the left has become when they say things along the same lines as John Oliver. After a terrorist attack at a college university, at least one student blamed his fellow Americans, saying their racism drove the killer to do what he did. The right-wingers rightly pointed out the horror of this sentiment, but it was clear that they thought they held the morally correct position. They want to help the American people, so that is why they are supporting Muslim bans or other immigration crackdowns.

In my view, neither of these positions is moral. In both cases, people will die. If we let the refugees in, people’s lives will be risked in potential terrorist attacks; if we keep them out, people’s lives will be risked in their war torn country. To act like either position is morally better than the other is absurd. So, I have given up on having a moral purpose in my life. I am not a good person, and I don’t strive to be. I have values on which my political aims are based, but I no longer think this makes me a good person, nor do I think it gives me purpose. I’m just another cockroach, scrambling towards what I want in this world.

Moral Nihilism

Since having a purpose in life is usually intrinsically tied to morality, in that our purpose is striving to do well to others, this a perfect segue into the next topic: moral nihilism. I consider myself to be a moral nihilist. This is simply an acknowledgement that there is no such thing as an objective morality outside of the human species. In fact, I consider morality to be a social delusion (a common belief among those in society that does not exist due to reason or evidence). Morality is humans’ flawed attempt at trying to understand why there are behavior trends within human populations. As a result, I don’t think anyone has moral authority behind their words, not even myself, even though I play along with this social delusion from time to time.

But this is not to say that there is no reason for these aforementioned behavioral trends. If you want to understand this, you need to step back from the moral framework of right and wrong and instead look at things according to evolution. Things should now be looked at according to what is evolutionarily advantageous, rather than what is right and what is wrong. People get antsy when I say this, but it is important to note that I am not trying to argue for why some things, which are typically considered immoral, should be considered moral, but am simply providing an explanation for why these typically immoral things are considered immoral.

To begin: a brief explanation of evolution, to clear up any false assumptions. Evolution is the change of the overall genetic make up of a species over time. Through processes like natural selection, some genes are selected for more often than others, and, over time, these genes become more plentiful, thus evolving the species as a whole. This selection process happens primarily at the level of the individual. Basically, what this means is individuals that have traits that help ensure the spread and survival of their genes are the individuals that pass on their genes most often. As a result, they come to represent the species.

But there is another level at which selection must occur. This is at the group level. When something is selected for at the group level, a trait not only benefits an individual, it also benefits the group as a whole. This is an important point to make because, if a trait is selected for at the individual level, it does not necessitate it being beneficial for the group as a whole. If it isn’t beneficial, it is either selected against or the species dies out.

For example: if you only take into account what is selected for at the individual level, then something like rape would be selected for. Individuals that most successfully spread their genes are the ones most likely to survive, so, naturally, rapists would become more common. But this ignores selection at the group level. A rapist’s behavior may be beneficial for that individual, but it is not beneficial for the group, so it is selected against at the group level. This is because the only way the human species could survive is by evolving empathy. This empathy allows us to be social beings, in which we work together to survive. We were handicapped evolutionarily by the fact that human women can only give birth to one child at a time, generally, and only every year, at best. Our social behavior (empathy included) was compensation for this. By forming into groups, especially familial groups, we ensure the survival of our genes. It shouldn’t be a surprise that our species has a better chance of survival if we form into pockets for mutual survival, than if the men go around raping as many women as they can; and since these two behaviors are mutually exclusive, one will be selected for at the expense of the other.

Once this is established, this explains why behaviors like rape, murder and even simpler ones like lying are considered wrong by humans. The important thing to note is that we don’t think rape and murder are wrong because they are morally bad, but because that behavior is detrimental for our survival. We are biologically inclined not to do these things.

As I stated earlier in the post, I do play along with the social delusion of morality. Since I am human, I do have a capacity for empathy that leads me to formulate opinions about how people ought to behave. But I will say that my opinions have absolutely no authority behind them, no more than any other person in this world. It is simply my goal to convince others of my opinions on morality, rather than assert that I am objectively right.

Rational Nihilism

The third, and the last, form of nihilism that I will discuss here is rational nihilism. This form of nihilism is the belief that reason and logic, or rationality, is a social delusion. The argument is that if it makes no sense to assert that there is an objective morality due to there being no known source for it, then it makes no sense to assert that there is such thing as rationality without naming a source. Not only that, but everything, including rationality is based off of our understanding of the universe, and since our understanding of the universe is restricted to our own perceptions, it can only be considered subjective. There is no way anyone can say rationality would be the same if we stepped outside of our perceptions of the universe and saw it unrestricted. These arguments make sense on the face of it, but I don’t consider myself a rational nihilist because these arguments are self-refuting. I am using rationality to prove that there is no such thing as rationality. The more rock solid the argument I make for rationality being non-existent, the more I implicitly contradict that. No matter what I do, it is impossible for me to show rationality to be non-existent, because all of my thinking is based off of rationality. So, the only thing to do is to put this to rest.

To sum up all of this: of the three forms of nihilism that I discussed here—existential nihilism, moral nihilism, and rational nihilism—I consider myself to be two of them. I find it irrational to have any sort purpose to your life, especially if that purpose paints you as the “good guy” in the world, so I am an existential nihilist. There is no such thing as an objective morality. Morality is a social delusion, and a flawed attempt at understanding why human populations have certain behavioral trends. These trends are simply a result of us evolving into social beings for our common survival. So these acknowledgements lead me to be a moral nihilist. And finally, it is possible for rationality to be considered subjective, but the only way to reach that conclusion is to use rationality as if it is objective, so rational nihilism is self-refuting. All in all, my worldview is quite happy and invigorating.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=whAtZXNM_Mo

(A)Moral Question

I was hit with a rather significant moral question a while ago that really made me think. It came about while watching the Netflix series: House of Cards. There is this one part of the fourth season where Frank Underwood loses his home state caucus because of a controversy concerning his father. His father, trying to save his family’s peach farm, had taken money from the Ku Klux Klan, and since his home state was made up of many black people, this did not ring well when the details became public. In an effort to save himself after the news broke out Frank asked the black voters what they would be willing to do to save their family and their livelihood. In the show, such an approach clearly failed, but it definitely did make me look at my own moral code that I abide by.

Say that you are in a similar situation as the aforementioned Underwood father. Your family is starving to death, you are losing your only source of income and there seems to be nothing you can possibly do to save your family. What significant action would you be willing to take to save them? More specifically, which would you rather do: make a business deal with the KKK, or kill someone? Some part of me wants to say that I would prefer to kill someone. And this answer interests me to no end. Why? Why is it that I find associating myself with racists to be more morally objectionable than committing murder? Keep in mind: I never said the person being killed was guilty of something (if that changes things for you). Say this victim would be a completely innocent person, where it would be unthinkable to kill him/her. Which would you rather do?

For me, the answer can be split up into two parts. The first part would be to consider the practicality of the situation. Taking money or doing a favor for the KKK is far more practical than committing murder, especially if you want to get away with it (which seems imperative, considering what would actually be achieved). But ultimately, the practicality of it all should be thrown out the window. The real question is the moral implications of these two actions. This brings me to the second part of the answer: throwing aside practical complications, it seems that associating myself with a group like the KKK would be the much more morally abhorrent thing to do. I would also argue that in the eyes of the public, most would probably agree. If a controversy exactly like the one in House of Cards happened, except his father had killed someone, I am quite sure that the fictional people in that world, who are meant to reflect the people in the real world, would be a lot more forgiving.

This question of, “which is worse”, brought my attention to another question: what brings about this reasoning? What leads people to think that one is worse than the other? Of course, perhaps I am wrong about assuming that most people would be far less forgiving of a racist implication than a murderer, but on the assumption that this is true, let us go forward. One of the reasons you would assume murder is more morally objectionable would be because human life is the most sacred thing of all, and hurting others is something the vast majority of people would agree on as morally wrong. One of the reasons associating yourself with racists would be morally wrong is because it devalues the lives of people.

These factors both play a part, but there is one distinction between these two that distorts its perception. This being the actual action you would have to engage in. In the first case, murder is murder. You are directly committing a crime here. But in the other case, you are simply entering a business agreement with a notorious group. You aren’t committing any crimes here, you aren’t hurting anyone directly: you are simply associating yourself with a group that has historically done all of those things. This distinction alone would make you think that the latter choice is the option more likely to be chosen, but I argued the opposite. I would say this has to do with how people view things in context with how they grew up. In the eyes of the public, racism is so bad because of our history; racism is still a hot topic issue. So even something a small as taking money from racists can be viewed as something as bad as (or worse than) murder.

I would say that the public and the way we are raised in society help shape things like this. There is a lot of baggage attached to the KKK, and they stand for some horrible things, to the point that any sort of action that associates you with them in any way, shape or form is one of the worst things you can do. This idea that the way we are raised, or the way our society views things will influence how each and every one of us personally views the world led to yet another idea that intrigues me. While it is obvious that racism is horrible, whether we consider murder to be a worse act or not, this leads you to acknowledge that society could potentially work in the opposite direction, where it makes something seem less objectionable than you would think. It is entirely possible that in a hundred years or so people could look back at how we, today, accept abortion as a viable option with the same amount of moral disgust that we, today, look back at slavery and racism. Think about, if you went back in time, how you would view the slavers of the day, and how they might react to your beliefs. They might even be baffled by your ridicule. It is entirely possible that the same thing could happen if a person from a future that abhors abortion came to our time. You would be baffled at their ridicule too (assuming you are pro-choice).

Morality is subjective and even malleable, so there is no way to know if this will ever be the case, nor will we ever tell which way is the “true” moral way, but it is worth considering as a possibility. Many people could process this conclusion in a bad way, thinking that leaves no leash for humanity, but I would beg to differ. Humans are the least violent they have ever been in our long history, and although we aren’t moving in the right direction in every facet of our lives, we are certainly in this respect.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=7qYohuUMSBA

College And Its Knowledge

I am arriving at a point in my life where I am beginning to identify a distinction between receiving good grades in school and actually learning. It seems like school is, more often than not, missing the mark entirely. Sometimes it just seems like school is failing to achieve its one purpose. I am not so naive to say that it has become essentially worthless, there are so many things that can be learned in the classroom. The issue comes when you look at execution. The most important thing for a class to accomplish is ensuring that students walk away with a solid understanding of the concepts and are able to comprehend how they apply to everyday life.

For example, I am currently taking a sociology class that is halfway exceptional. The professor claims that the students should take the time to mull over the ideas at hand and be able to take those ideas and apply them to the real world . . . and this is great! Finally, I no longer have to suffer through nonsense! For the most part . . .

The homework is excellent; the professor has us read a document and then write a page-long essay briefly describing what was discussed, followed by an explanation of how this applies to our understanding of the world, and topped off with a note on what we feel is the most intriguing part of the paper. The professor continually tells us that we can’t just state things; we have to put some thought into the work in order to receive a good grade. The only issue I have is that it is limited to a page, though learning to write in restricted blocks might be a skill worth practicing for, I’ll admit.

I had high expectations for this class . . . that was, until I took the exam. It seemed like the professor forgot what the homework assignments were trying to capture, or perhaps the professor just stopped caring. The exam was multiple choice, which I won’t hesitate to assert is one of the worst forms of tests; as long as they don’t involve math, they’re generally easy, but they always seem to miss the points I detailed earlier. Many of the questions were centered on discerning who said what. The whole test, I was sitting there thinking, “Why? Why does this matter?” How does knowing that “disenchantment” is Weber’s version of Marx’s term “alienation” help me understand what they are saying? Don’t you think it’s more important that we know what is said, what is meant by it, and why it matters, than who said it? Sure, knowing who said what can be helpful, but it seems to me that those specificities can be put on the backburner and learned indirectly; we can catch on to those small details as we go. Perhaps this complete miss-fire of an assignment wouldn’t be so aggravating if the exams didn’t collectively make up fifty percent of my final grade, but alas, they do. Some may accuse me of bitching about not doing well in school . . . because in some ways, I admit I am. But as of writing this, I don’t even know what I received on this sociology exam, I just know I wasn’t tested correctly and no matter what I get, it won’t really reflect what matters about my education.

But probably the worst offenders are high school teachers . . . or at least my high school teachers. I remember in my junior year of high school my English teacher was obsessed with the idea that students were using Sparknotes to pass the class without reading any of the books. I admit that this was and is a valid concern, but my true issue with this particular teacher comes from their “brilliant” solution to the problem, which was to ask multiple choice questions along the lines of, “What color of shirt was so-and-so wearing in “blank” scene?” And no, this isn’t an actual question I had to answer (This was a couple years ago, so forgive me if I can’t remember specifics), but the point is that they were entirely irrelevant. The only purpose was to ask a question that Sparknotes-based knowledge would fail to answer, all to ensure that students read the book. And many of the questions were like this! The way I see it, the whole purpose of studying literature is to apply it to our understanding of the world around us; it helps us understand other cultures we may not fully appreciate, it helps us interpret and understand human behavior and reason, there can be a moral to the story or some deeper truth, and probably one of my favorites: social commentary. But in trying to wean out the non-readers of the book, they completely missed the point of our education.

Probably the most irritating aspect of this was the fact that you could read the whole damn book and still miss the question. Isn’t it more important for us to recognize the moral of the story or the commentary the book may have than the ultra-specific details mentioned offhand? I honestly believe tests should be scrapped wherever possible (particularly multiple choice tests) and replaced with essays or short answer-based tests. I always found that classes that put a lot of weight on essays were always the best at reflecting what is most important. For some classes, of course, this method wouldn’t work: STEM fields, mostly, but then there is still the issue of multiple-choice tests. I think much of this problem has to do with the fact that grade school education tends to hold to all the wrong ideas. They lead us to care more about memorization of facts and almost completely ignore the essential practices of discussing the concepts and learning to utilize reason and logic.

But while the teachers can be part of the blame for this incongruence between actual learning and what it takes to get a good grade, I have to admit that I am, and other students are to blame as much as teachers. (And yes, I am aware that some teachers are forced to teach in certain ways (some are forced to give tests in an English class), and therefore, it’s not always their fault.)

Sometimes it’s not so much that the classes are poorly designed, but that there seems to be a certain method you can use to scrape away a good grade without actually doing the work that is required, or more aptly worded: needed. There is cheating, of course, but there are also indirect methods that you can use to weasel in and out of class workloads. For example, in my first year of college I decided I wanted to make the Dean’s List. I’m not sure if the benchmark differs between colleges and I really don’t care enough to find out, but my college requires at least a 3.5 GPA (out of four). I decided I was going to be strategic about it and focus on my classes in a way that would profit this objective. After a while, I began to recognize the difficulties of certain classes and my Introduction to Engineering class began to stand out as one of the worst. Much of that had to do with the fact that it was by far the largest workload, but was also the least amount of credit hours. Nothing is more irritating than disconsonant workloads. So I decided I would focus on my other classes and let the engineering class suffer a little. In the end, I achieved my goal, but thinking back . . . at what cost? Engineering was my major; shouldn’t it occur to me that my Introduction to Engineering class is the one I should care about the most? The more I think about it the more I realize that in many cases, I take my education for granted. It kind of rescinds some of my credibility, but the first step to change is to own the fault that is due to you.

So what is the point of this? I’m not entirely sure: I just feel obligated to point something out that seems to slip by the minds of most people. I’m not trying to trash teachers, there is no finger pointing. As is obvious, I am also guilty of caring more about grades than an actual education. We all seem to be so caught up in the fever to do well in school and receive recognition that we never stop to wonder whether we are actually achieving anything beyond the boundaries of school. It’s kind of scary, when you stop to think about it.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=kK91Y4qMv7Q