Something has been working at me since my post against using stupid slogans instead of thinking (when reality is almost if not actually the opposite – and no, I’m not going to reprise that. I made all the arguments I wanted to make in that post. And everyone got a chance to yell at me. Enough.) Weirdly, what bothered me most was not the name calling, but a seemingly innocuous comment, which was echoed and repeated by any number of commenters.
To begin with, it was the way it was repeated – not, like a lot of it, as though the person were working from a cheat-sheet, but more – as though a lot of people at the same time had come up with the same clinching argument… Or what they thought was a clinching argument.
Except it wasn’t, not when you step back and analyze it. Worse, when you step back and analyze it, you grow quite alarmed at its underpinnings and the fact that ANYONE would think this served as an argument to defend anything.
If, like me, you are – for your sins – a graduate of an excellent college, and hold a degree in the humanities, you don’t wonder why so many people echoed it probably without coordination. The reason is that they all heard this in school and that in school, if this had been a college paper, it would have won a good grade. And like most such arguments, it echoes the bias of thought of college professors and current academia.
I don’t remember off the top of my head whether we let any of those comments through. I wasn’t the only one weeding through them – I have helpers who do that also, so I have time to write. So, I’ll have to reprise it.
The comment omitted what they were against so I’ll put it in square brackets [It doesn’t surprise me that you think that men get a worse deal in current society than women because] This reminds me of all the Victorian women who were against female suffrage. [presumably meaning: and you don’t realize that just like them you are brainwashed.]
If you are nodding along, you probably ALSO had an excellent college education in the humanities and learned what would get you an A in sociology or feminist literature or whatever the heck it was you took. (In my case it was theory of Literature, American Literature and Comparative Literature. Also American Culture, British Culture and German Culture. Possibly also linguistics, though those tended to be more factual.)
If you are nodding along you ALSO never took the time to unpack this argument. Don’t feel bad about it, though. It bothered me – and not in the sense that it felt right – because though it felt like while it was a “valid” – i.e. “logical” – argument, I had a feeling it was wrong. Not just in my case, but in general.
Still even now, several decades after leaving college, it took me hours and the fact I had a lot of time in a waiting room yesterday to unpack it and figure out the LEVELS of wrong in it: in general, in particular, and when applied to my blog. We are ALL the product of our education, and if you think that unlike your grandmother you had an education that prepared you to think without bias, it just means you haven’t seen through the bias.
This is a staggeringly bad argument in general because it can be used to dismiss anyone’s ideas based on what a group in the past did. Say you don’t believe – I plead the fifth. Most of the time I have a better image of humans in general and yes, women in particular. Periodically I get annoyed and have to point out certain issues – that women tend to repeat slogans without examining them and fall for quasi-messianic movements without examining their underpinnings. I could sneeringly dismiss your argument with “Well, you know, the first thing women did, given the vote, was pass prohibition.”
And then you’ll say – rightly – “but Sarah, that was a different set of women, educated under different circumstances, informed by a different set of beliefs, which make your argument irrelevant.”
Which brings us to the second part of why this argument is wrong in the specific and why it’s appalling that people with a college education can’t unpack it. Repeat after me: The past is another country. Not only do you not know how you’d have reacted to the suffragette movement if you lived in that time (rather irrelevant, really, since if you lived in that time, you wouldn’t be you) BUT you have no idea if they were right for their time and by their lights.
Now before you go screaming around the echo chamber that Sarah Hoyt believes women shouldn’t have right to vote, let’s register it for posterity that Sarah Hoyt has her doubts on universal suffrage regardless of gender. It’s a horrible system. It’s just the best one we’ve come up with so far. The average woman is no dumber or less equipped to make a voting decision than the average man, and at the high end, women are as equipped to do it as high-end men.
What I’d like say, though – and what I’d like you to listen to, if you can remove the wads of indoctrination blocking your ears – is that just because women’s suffrage won and the results (except prohibition) have been pretty good, they had no intellectual way of knowing that at the time.
First of all you’re assuming that suffrage is always an universal good. I will grant you our history – which they didn’t have – seems to show it. Societies where more people vote tend to, if nothing else, decay into tyranny slower. And it’s possible we might avert it altogether (maybe. History hasn’t weighed in.) However, at the time this was not clear. I like to joke that in the Portuguese civil war my ancestors fought and died never to have a say in their governance again. That is to say, they fought and died for the guy who wanted to be an absolute monarch. (Yes, there are other things there, including local and hereditary loyalty, but–) It’s a funny line, and it works for us, but it is just a joke. I don’t presume to judge their choice, and neither should you. Why? They remembered the French revolution and, btw, the British one. They had grandfather-handed-down memories of mob rule. Their choice of the king and stability might have seemed the best at the time. NOT mine. I disapprove of any dictatorship. But theirs. Their best choice, at the time, not knowing the future, and armed with what they did know of their people and place which are stranger to me than any culture on Earth today.
Quite possibly it was the same with female suffrage. The women you were talking about are not the women of today, with contraceptives and education that make them close enough to men.
Look, you go to war with the weapons you have, not the ones you hope for. The suffragettes fought for the rights of women as they were, not as they are. The women they had at the time were not us. Education in the upper classes schooled women towards subservience (at least if what we know is true, and I’m not saying it is, we weren’t there.) The lower classes are a lot more opaque. We study them through excavations of middens and sometimes surviving oral history. However, we can assume in the first throes of the industrial revolution men and women in the lower classes, both, were NOT equipped to be informed voters. Add to that the fact most women spent most of their lives pregnant. I’ve been pregnant. I’ve researched pregnancy (to figure out what the heck happened to my mind then.) There is an hormone whose sole purpose is to make you fat, contented and stupid. And yes, it says that in the literature. More importantly, when you’re pregnant and you feel your body is coping with all it can handle, you’ll take the path of least resistence in everything else.
This means that women who thought – at the time – about other women getting the vote and shuddered might have had a point. They foresaw disaster if women got the vote, and – THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT – though we know they weren’t right (the minor thing with prohibition excepted) THEY HAD NO WAY OF KNOWING THAT. Anyone who’s been through college should be self-aware enough to realize that. The past is determined, the future isn’t. We are their future. They had no way of being sure how things would go. They were entitled to their doubts and their second thoughts and by having them they showed NOT that they were puppets of the establishment, but that they were thinking human beings. Even if they were wrong. Hindsight is twenty twenty.
Now of course you’re saying “But Sarah, they were voting against their interests.” Stop it. Stop making me roll my eyes so hard they’ll fall on the floor.
What you’ve just slipped into, whether you realize it or not is “Argument by Marx.” You probably don’t realize it, because even though lately the establishment has got a lot more bold and started making self-satisfied noises about neo-Marxism (it’s like stupidity. Calling it neo-stupidity makes it sound so much better) it’s permeated all thought and all teaching for decades – unexamined, unthought-about. It’s in the bin marked “unexamined foundational beliefs” which in your ancestors’ time held the idea of G-d creating the universe, something that permeated all thought, even that of self-conscious atheists.
And it is the other thing that is wrong, wrong, wrong about that comment.
The comment presupposes what some of their comrades (da, tovarish) said more boldly. That by saying it is men who are getting the short end of the stick in our society and by standing in front of the feminist mob yelling “stop” I’m a “gender traitor.” It does this by equaling me with Victorian women who were against their “gender”’s rights.
This is pure Marxism. It strips me of me and my circumstances in life and what I want, and reduces me to one salient characteristic: the fact I was born with a vagina. It is one of the most dehumanizing and demeaning theories of history ANYONE could come up with. And Marx did.
Take your Victorian anti-suffrage woman. She lived a pretty contented life, and in her experience she didn’t need the vote. And if you’re going to say “but what about her sisters?” Her sisters probably had similar lives. If you mean other women in general, a woman of that time and class remembered the French revolution and was likely to have a sneering disdain for all lower classes. These were not her sisters. And the lower class men were not her brothers either. The whole idea would seem absurd to her. Before you condemn her ask yourself “Why shouldn’t it? What reason did she have to think of herself as belonging to any group? Why should she fight for more than what guaranteed the best life for her and her immediate loved ones?” (Bringing up nonsense about “false consciousness” and “group betrayal” is not thinking, it’s tourettes. You’re assuming again that Marx was right. This is some leap of faith since his ideas have yet to work on real people.)
Now, take me. Yes, I have a vagina. I checked this morning. It was still there. BUT I have a lot of other circumstances in my life. I have two sons, for instance – sons I’ve seen systematically discriminated against in school starting with the type of work required (group work is deadly for boys. It’s also dominant now) to the style of teaching (most male brains learn more visually and kinetically. Most teaching is verbal) WHY would you presume I’m more interested in bullying males and getting more and more benes for my as yet non-existent female descendants, rather than in fighting for my sons to have at least the same basic treatment as their female peers? Or, presuming I’ll have female descendants some day (I could have all granddaughters) and I can’t know, WHY would you presume, since I have kids and I don’t know what the future will be, I would want anything beyond “equality under the law?”
Leaving all that aside why would you presume I have more in common with a single woman working in a factory somewhere in the Midwest than with a married man with sons who writes articles for a living a hundred miles away? What earthly sense does that make?
And before you lecture me about how Marxism envisions people as belonging to several interest groups – thank you muchly. I was raised in a country that was going head over heels for Marxism. I studied Marx in several classes. I also had the dubious pleasure, a few months ago, of reading what earnest Utopian American Marxists in the seventies viewed as the ideal system of government. It was bewildering and vomit-inducing. They wanted the country organized into “soviets” (in real soviet, country organizes you) each of them representing an interest group to which you “belonged” in some way. For instance, take me (please) I’d be in the women’s soviet, the Colorado soviet, the mother’s soviet, the Latino soviet and – presumably – the intellectuals soviet (Okay, for minus three seconds, after which I’d be in the Gulag soviet.) Each of these would elect representatives.
And none of these would represent anyone. For these to work, it presupposes that you have more than a marginal interest in common with other people in the same group. Heck, even if you put me in the “Portuguese immigrants soviet” I’d have barely nothing in common with most of them because for one most don’t come from my part of the country and very few write or read SF (Okay Larry Correia, but he’s third generation. Also, I’d be more likely to be with him in the Gulag soviet.)
The essential failure of making individuals go through groups with which they share a characteristic, is that ultimately groups are too amorphous for the representative to represent anything but himself. The last irreducible group is one. Which is why our system establishes rights of the individual and equality under the law. ANYTHING else, no matter how “progressive” it sounds is a shambling step back into the mists of tribalism and irrational group think.
(And yes, I realize group people by region as we do has its issues too. OTOH if your city is razed, it kind of matters to you. But I’m not saying that representation in other ways can’t or shouldn’t be considered. I’m just saying multiplying the number of “representatives” and subtracting from the individual is not a step in the right direction. And that groups aren’t as obvious as you think.)
The only place where it is appropriate for me to “think as a woman” or fight for an issue “as a woman” is the type of situation as in Arab countries where women AS A WHOLE are subjected to prohibitions in driving, working, learning or dressing the way they please (and no, it couldn’t happen here. NEVER to that extent. It’s the result of complex forces of culture and history. Correction: It couldn’t happen here that fast and without some serious foundational changes.) That fight has been fought for me already, and I’m guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Oh, yeah, and equality under the law. And I will fight for those for EVERYONE, man, woman or yet undiscovered sentient being. Yes, even against a group to which I nominally belong because you think I do.
And now that we’ve gone through why that comment was stupid and irrelevant in general and in particular, let’s talk about why it was wrong as a comment to put in my blog…
Having unpacked the levels of unthinking and unreasoning repetition of college-learning in that comment, we can now stand back and be amazed at the staggering arrogance of it. To wit, the person making it assumes that a) I’d never heard it. b) I’d never studied history. c) I didn’t have the ability to reflect upon my situation in the light of history.
Given that this is the blog of – forget formal education – someone who is addicted to books, interested in history, and who has written historical fiction, the hubris in that comment is staggering. And it shows something else. It shows the desperate need to count intellectual superiority over anyone who disagrees with you, without even giving it a moment’s thought. (None of these people said something like “I’m surprised someone like you didn’t realize” – no, the presumption is always that I never thought in historical or self-reflective terms.)
Make a note of it: if this is the only type of argument you can marshal – one size fits all and regurgitated from college classes – and if you think it will win the discussion, you’ve already lost.
UPDATE: Welcome instapundit readers! I normally don’t talk about vaginas in my posts. Oh, wait, yes I do if the post demands it. Sigh. I yam what I yam. Thank you to Glenn Reynolds for the link.