The Inevitability and Potential Benefits of Gender Norms

The world turned upside down, by Israhel van Meckenem the Younger.

James Damore was fired from Google for saying that women are biologically less disposed towards engineering jobs than men. He then sued Google for discrimination against employees who were white, male, or conservative. Let’s take a moment to savor the craziness.

In a saner world, the layers of irony in the whole situation would prompt a serious discussion about gender norms across society. The question would be one of factual inquiry: are women in fact less predisposed to engineering jobs? If so, is the cause biological or something else?

Some (including the paid scientific experts) took the occasion to respectfully disagree with each other. But those phlegmatic conversations have been like the one remaining mobile home in the wake of a tornado. In general, the reactions were “hysterical” (CNN’s Kirsten Powers’ word). Various thoughtful persons across the spectrum deplored the ideological histrionics displayed by most the rest of us (see the excellent Wikipedia article).

A slight majority (55%) disagreed with Google’s decision to fire Damore, according to a Harvard-Harris poll. But that means that 45% did not disagree with it. Many in the 55% majority disagreed with Damore’s opinions about gender dynamics, but still felt he should not have been fired for expressing them at work. But to a full 45% of the polled population, the expression of such views is apparently so heinous that termination is the appropriate response.

Obviously, gender norms are rather unpopular nowadays. And not without reason. I admit that gender norms, mis-conceived or miscarried or related to in mal-adaptive ways, can and do injure people, whether because those people do not conform to the norm or because they do.

But I also submit that a society without gender norms is possible only in theory and that this theoretical society is not the one we should aspire to. Continue reading

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Shame on Trump Voters

 

Make_America_Great_Again_hat_(27149010964)“Shame on everyone who allowed Trump to come to power! Because you didn’t vote for Hillary, you are guilty of, at best, accessory to crime or criminal negligence.”

Outbursts like this appear somewhat frequently on my social media feeds. Frustrated or frightened by the Trump administration, members of my network chastise the voters (i.e. small-minded fools or bigots) who brought Trump to office. Because a Republican president was elected, much of this kind of shaming currently comes from left-leaning folks, but I’m sure many conservatives do the same when the tables are turned, blaming an undesirable political outcome on the ignorance, stupidity, or moral depravity of the other side. I refer to this tendency as “voter shaming,” whether or not the shaming is made explicit, because its aim is to change political opinions/behavior by making certain voters feel ashamed of the way they voted. The perspective underlying voter shaming implies that the root cause of Trump’s election is the cumulative bad decisions of individual voters. Coming from a group of people who consistently assert that the root cause of outcomes other than the election (like poverty, for example) is ultimately not individual decisions but an inequitable system, this seems somewhat inconsistent.

In this post, I explore what it might mean to apply the same kind of system-level thinking to the election that Democrats generally apply to other social phenomena. What would happen if we viewed Trump’s election as the emergent result of a complex system, and not the additive sum of individual votes? Continue reading

The Inevitability of Masturbation and the Honesty of Sin, Featuring Tractors

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There are few topics that mainstream liberal and conservative minds will come to such clearly divergent opinions as masturbation. Most other disagreements between the liberal and the conservative tend to be like ships passing—both right about what they affirm, both passionate, both speaking right past the other. But with masturbation the argument seem to be more straightforward. As such, it is seldom actually argued. For once people have begun to argue they will almost immediately reach an impasse. From one perspective it is permissible, enjoyable, even healthy and from the other it is sinful, self-serving, and destructive.

The facts are straightforward and mostly agreed upon. Sexual impulses are natural for most people and mostly unavoidable. Sexual impulses, if followed, can lead to very positive results, minor results, and dramatically negative results. And so some of our sexual impulses must be restrained when they will damage ourselves or others. But the line between what is good and wholesome and what is destructive is drawn on opposite sides of masturbation by the traditionally liberal and the conservative opinions.

Whether or not masturbation has negative effects or positive effects is debated but the more fundamental question is whether or not it is avoidable. There may be negative effects of drinking unfiltered water from a river, but that becomes irrelevant when you are lost in the mountains and about to perish from thirst. You’re going to drink. And you should. If masturbation is avoidable, then we must debate whether it is constructive or destructive. But if it is unavoidable, the merits become mostly irrelevant. It will happen. Continue reading

In Defense of Thoughts and Prayers #2

 

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The following post is adapted from my post in December

By now we ought to know that below cliché is often the deepest sincerity. This was made evident to me once again after the Parkland, Florida shooting. History has repeated itself on my social media feeds. I see the same people writing the same messages I saw after the Las Vegas shooting last October. After that tragic event, my social media channels filled with people “sending thoughts and prayers.” The next day I encountered several reactions to these “cliché” responses which criticized people for their seemingly trivial and laissez-faire approach to a tragedy which took over 50 lives in Vegas. It is happening again, this time 17 lives in Florida were lost. People are sending thoughts and prayers. And other people are denouncing them for doing it. The sincerity of these complaints I believe deserves an honest evaluation of “sending thoughts and prayers” after a tragedy.

The most creative complaint against “thoughts and prayers” I have seen so far took the form of a game. By clicking on a link you became a player and were instructed to click two buttons over and over again. The buttons were labeled “Thoughts,” and “Prayers.” When the game starts, a number in the middle of the screen begins to increase exponentially indicating the number of deaths in the USA by gun violence. Ostensibly, by clicking the buttons the player is working to stop that number from rising. But, predictably, no matter how many times a player clicks one button or the other, the deaths continue to rise.

The obvious criticism is that sending thoughts and prayers is ineffective and the deeper and more subversive critique is that sending thoughts and prayers is cliché and easy—like clicking a button. Though witty, the critique falls flat in both instances. Continue reading

The Civil War and Polarization Today

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In these divisive days, I’m drawn to the U.S. Civil War. Not only are its monuments a matter of debate, but something about that quintessential national division is cathartic to the sense of animosity and alienation that plague me every time I scroll through my newsfeed. Recent events like those in Charlottesville echo many of the motifs that played out in the Civil War, reminding us once again that our history is never entirely buried in the past. As in the days of Lincoln, the United States is in a moment of (re)definition, something David Brooks has referred to as an “national identity crisis.” Although the current crisis is not necessarily about federalism, states’ rights, and slavery, it certainly implicates race relations and the role of the government in legislating morality, and ultimately boils down to what it means to be American. The current contestation and negotiation of these questions may not culminate in war, but the battle lines are being drawn—gay marriage, abortion, immigration, health care, welfare—our own ideological Mason-Dixon lines.

I have turned to the Civil War to learn what I can about a divided America, and its ultimately victorious refusal to remain divided.   Continue reading

The cliche of sending thoughts and prayers

To join the conversation and suggest edits, please use the google doc.

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By now we ought to know that below cliche is often the deepest sincerity. And that below what can only be called “non-cliche,” by which I mean words and deeds of originality, is often the fumbling of the insincere.

This was made evident to me once again after the Las Vegas shooting. Throughout my social media channels I came across a common and cliche response which read, “sending thoughts and prayers.” The next day I encountered several reactions to these responses which criticized them for their seemingly trivial and laissez-faire approach to a tragedy which took over 50 lives. Continue reading