Friday, November 2, 2012

Is the portrayal of Patriarchy realistic?

Hello, folks.  I've always been a strong proponent for equality between the sexes.  To that end, I've been doing what I can to keep myself educated in what I've always thought to be movement that pushes said equality forward, that movement being feminism.  As a male, I've always thought that it was my place to do my best to learn as much as I can about the issue of feminism before opening my mouth, since I am inherently on the outside by virtue of my sexual orientation and women know a hell of a lot more about the trials and tribulations that they go through than I ever will.   

Even with that being said, the learning process has been a sobering one, such as the concept of Schrodinger's Rapist, where a woman is always on the look-out for a potential rapist because she just doesn't know a man well enough to discount that possibility in a society where 1 in 6 women have been raped at least once in their lives.  I myself would never entertain the possibility of raping another human being, but simply knowing that a woman who doesn't know me may think of me as Schrodinger's Rapist in any case makes me feel, in some way, like a monster, because I have the physical capabilities of performing such a heinous act.

But that's besides the point.  I delved into feminism for my own educational benefit and I feel all the richer for it.  Recently, however, I ran into the Youtube channel of a user named "girlwriteswhat" who also has a blog called Owning Your Shit (owningyourshit.blogspot.com).  Her Youtube videos contain critiques about feminism and feminist concepts, which brings me to the topic of this blog post:  Patriarchy and whether or not its depiction of men as historically being the privileged class and women as historically being the subjugated class holds any merit in comparison with the narrative.  To illustrate whether or not the theory of patriarchy has any merit, I want to compare it to another social structure where the privileged class derive maximum advantage and minimal disadvantage and where the reverse is true for the subjugated class:  rich vs. poor.

Before I begin, I would like to insert a disclaimer.  These are just musings and my opinions.  This is not a complete dismissal of the idea of patriarchy, but it is a critical look at its veracity as a privilege-subjugation social structure.  I am open to and welcome critiques of this post as long as they amount to more than just an argumentum ad hominem.

As I said before, patriarchy is postulated by feminist theory as a social structure where men are the privileged class and women are the subjugated class.  In any society where there is a privileged class and a subjugated class, the privileged class derive maximum advantage and minimal disadvantage, while the subjugated class derive minimal advantage and maximum disadvantage.  Is this really the case in the patriarchy as depicted by mainstream feminist theory?  I don't think so.  To illustrate this point, I'm going to use another example of a social structure with privileged and subjugated classes:  rich people vs. poor people (more specifically, not-rich people).

Societies that utilize slavery, feudalism, and/or capitalism divide people into two economic categories:  those who are wealthy (masters, lords, capitalists, chair folk of the board of directors, etc.) and those who are not (slaves, serfs, wage earners, etc.).  The wealthy enjoy an immense amount of privilege that workers do not, due to the vast amounts of resources that wealthy people have that are unavailable to the working class (due to lack of resources).  Wealthy people simply have more options in just about every aspect of life because they can afford it.  Furthermore, wealthy people have the resources to minimize any opposition they may encounter in society, such as paying off expensive lawyers to reduce the taxes that they pay or to get the best possible defense in a court hearing, or lobbying or flat-out buying off politicians so that they can change laws to their favor, frequently at the expense of the average working class.  The average worker must make due with what they are paid or with what product they can make for themselves with their own brains and muscles, and must make a considerable effort to make any changes to laws that impact their lives, usually by gathering and organizing a group of like-minded workers.

When such a society gets involved in a war, invariably it will be those among the working class who are on the front lines fighting and dying for their society.  On the other hand, it is those among the wealthy that are able to profit from war by coming up with an enterprise that is involved with a particular product or service related to the war effort (uniforms, weapons, ammunition, rations, etc.).  When such a society suffers an economic crisis (due to the poor economic decisions of particular wealthy people), the wealthy tangled with the mechanisms that spell "doom and gloom" for society should their institutions fall will receive massive bailouts from the government, while the working class will pay the price either through increased taxes, a reduction in public services, or a combination of the two.  When a wealthy person lays off thousands of working class people in order to cut costs, it's business as usual.  When a working class person steals some office equipment, they risk jail time.  And so on and so on.

This, folks, is what it is to have a social structure of a privileged class and a subjugated class, with the privileged min-maxing (to utilize a role-playing game term) societal rewards almost invariably at a direct proportion to the subjugated class being screwed over.  Is this the case with patriarchy?  Have men enjoyed privilege in the same proportions that wealthy people have in societies with exploitative economic systems?  Have women suffered subjugation in the same proportions that working class people have in societies with exploitative economic systems?

In terms of war, it has historically been the men who go off to fight and die in the battlefield, while women and children were to be protected at all costs.  Historically, a woman's inherent worth is seen in her being a woman, whereas a man's worth is seen in his capabilities and is earned.  If a man is not capable enough or if he serves his purpose and dies in battle, he is seen by society as a disposable commodity.  Women, however, possess inherent value and are physically weaker than men and must be protected from the horrors of war at all costs, even if it's at the cost of many more of the lives of men.  Are men as obviously privileged in times of war as wealthy people are?  Are women as obviously subjugated in times of war as working class people are?  Not by a long shot.

In secular societies, women are afforded many of the same rights as men and, in a number of cases, more rights.  Conversely, in terms of imprisonment, men typically serve 40% more time in prison than women and, in cases of domestic violence, is more likely to go to jail if he strikes her than if she strikes him.  In terms of planned pregnancy and post-pregnancy, the woman has all of the agency as to whether or not she wants to be a parent, whereas the man who impregnated the woman without the intention or inclination of wanting to be a father must pay child support regardless and will be imprisoned if he fails to make sufficient amounts of payments (in other words, is thrown in a debtors' prison, which has been outlawed since 1833).  I don't know about you, but this doesn't look like the case where men are the unanimous privileged class and women are the unanimous subjugated class in the social structure called patriarchy, not in the same ways as the dichotomy between the wealthy and the working class in societies with exploitative economic systems.

One place where I will give credence to the concept of patriarchy are in the Abrahamic religions and societies with a strong prevalence in said religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).  In each of these religions, the gender roles are clearly spelled out:  man is primary and woman is made to serve man, and woman is at fault for man's shortcomings.  Women are clearly placed in subordinate roles and their testimony is worth less than an equal quantity of men.  The explicit goals in regards to women is to ultimately deny her consent and autonomy, lest she face God's wrath (directly or through proxy).  A direct correlation exists between the religiosity of a society and the violation of women's rights (as religiosity increases, so do the violations).  It is men who hold the most important positions within each respective Abrahamic religion.  It's just blatantly obvious to anyone with enough intellectual honesty to investigate that men are the big dogs in the Abrahamic religions and women better know their place.

In conclusion, I don't think that the portrayal of patriarchy as given my mainstream feminist theory reflects the reality of the matter when it comes to the privilege of men and the subjugation of women.  That's not to say that it isn't there; in many cases, it is, as I've demonstrated with the Abrahamic religions, for example.  However, I've also seen in blogs dedicated to feminism that there is a general mockery whenever the issue of men involved in a similar situation of suffering is presented as "what about the menz?!"  To present women's issues and completely disregard when men are similarly affected and are instead brought up as the monolithic villain is really looking at it with one eye shut in many cases.  With that being said, I am not, in any way, disregarding feminist issues, but I'm also going to start being more wary when I see men as solely the antagonist.  Furthermore, to more accurately represent my position on gender equality, I shall drop the feminist label and utilize a more accurate label:  egalitarian.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Illusive Perfect Being

The Illusive Perfect Being

Disclaimer

I am an atheist and I take the philosophical position of physicalism. This means that when I speak about philosophical topics such as the one I’m about to talk about, I won’t ascribe to any supernatural, paranormal, occult, or pseudoscientific explanations. I will only speak in terms that deal with physical reality (to the best of my knowledge), including conceptual, sociological, and psychological phenomenon (because these issues emerge from social animals, which exist in the physical universe).

The Fundamental Misunderstanding of the term “Man”

A large portion of the world’s population (I dare even say, the majority) possesses a belief that states that man (human beings) are imperfect, and that’s putting it nicely. Usually, more descriptive terms have been used, such as “fallen”, “sinner”, “lesser”, or even “retarded”. For the sake of this topic, let’s call these folk “perfection idealists.” When I hear perfection idealists speak of human beings using such sweeping generalizations, my instinctual response is to cringe, and I cringe because such assertions demonstrate not only an abysmal view of the species one belongs to, but of a basic lack of understanding as to the nature of the human animal.

I specifically emphasized the words “human animal” to make a point: when it comes down to it, we are social animals, specifically apes. To put human beings at the impossibly high standards that the perfection idealists do is absurd. As gene machines, we are built to survive and reproduce as human beings; everything else we have done for the vast majority of our existence as a species has been to serve those functions. Gorillas are built in a specific way so that they can survive and reproduce as gorillas. Rabbits are built in a specific way so that they can survive and reproduce as rabbits, and so on and so forth. And when I say we are “built”, I mean that our genes made us in a particular way to facilitate survival and reproduction in a specific manner. (For a more in-depth look at the topic of genes and how we are machines for the genes, read “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins).


The Idea of the Perfect Being

When perfection idealists say that we are imperfect beings, I feel compelled to ask myself, “What are the beliefs behind such assertions and what are the origins of these beliefs?” While to some this may seem like an exercise in futility, I have to respectfully disagree. Finding out the belief systems that influence way people think, speak, and act is of paramount importance to understanding the thoughts and actions of my fellow human beings. I personally believe that this can be accomplished without worldviews that incorporate extraneous elements outside of physical reality and the constituents thereof (conceptual, sociological, and psychological), and adding extraneous elements will not only unnecessarily complicate such explanations, but will actually cause us to reach erroneous conclusions.

What is meant when a perfection idealist refers to “perfection” and our inability to achieve this state? When a perfection idealist talks about “perfection”, I think they’re referring to a sort of moral and cognitive perfection, as opposed to a physical perfection. In the context of this topic, the dictionary describes the term “perfect” (the state that is perfection) as “excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement.” So, when a perfection idealist speaks of the imperfection of human beings, I think they are referring to the lack of achieving moral and/or cognitive excellence or completion beyond practical or theoretical improvement.

As an evolving species, the idea that we are “imperfect” according to such a standard is obvious. Of course we’re not perfect! Evolution doesn’t stop. As the environmental conditions of a particular species change, the animal must change and adapt accordingly or risk extinction. To imply that we need to be perfect would imply unchanging environmental conditions, which is not and has never been the case in the universe. To impose perfection on a particular animal is an absurdity derived from an attachment to artificial, abstract ideas that have no basis on physical reality.

Not only do physical environmental conditions differ and change throughout the world, social conditions differ and change throughout the world as well. Human beings are social animals and, as animals, our prime directives are survival and reproduction. In order for us to continue as a species, everything we do must serve those two functions, including how we conduct ourselves in a community of human beings. Social constructs that serve to help a particular group of human beings to get by in the most beneficial manner possible - i.e., culture - are a product of human minds that come about through evolution much in the same way that a bird’s beak will adapt and change into a particular fashion to feed from a particular tree. If the culture doesn’t adapt to social and environmental changes of a particular human group (such as a tribe), the chances of extinction increase and continue to increase in proportion to the group’s inability to socially adapt.

Tribe X – An Example of Social Adaptation

As a theoretical example, say we have a tribe called Tribe X. As part of Tribe X’s culture, each couple is to have a minimum of one son and one daughter and must continue to procreate until both one son and one daughter are produced. The tribe’s reasoning behind this is that both males and females are needed to make more human beings. As a method of population control, however, the tribe limits who can reproduce and when and provides natural contraceptives to the other members of the tribe, through various herbs and whatnot. Let’s say that, through this method, Tribe X has been able to retain a consistent population of about 200 members, give or take 10% at any given time, and has been successfully able to feed that population due to their environmental conditions for thousands of years.

Let’s say that Tribe X encounters a drastic environmental condition that threatens the tribe tremendously: a really harsh winter that has driven out all game for much longer than expected and in a much wider geographical area than ever encountered by the tribe in its history. Tribe X has to make some tough choices now. In order for animals to continue living, they must consume living cells, with no exception. Pickings are so slim that the tribe will not be able to maintain their population of 200 members, but may be able to maintain a population of roughly 150 members. Rather than watch his people starve to death, the chief makes a decree and reduces the frequency of impregnation to slowly and safely bring down the population to a more manageable level, as well as cutting back on roughly 20% of the tribe’s caloric intake. Some members of the tribe (usually the younger, less worldly members) may object to this reduction of food intake (because they had it much better before the harsh winter), but the wiser members know that in order to survive as a tribe, such measures must be taken. It’s tough times for Tribe X, but if they don’t make these changes, they could risk extinction as a people. The better they are at assimilating these changes, the easier time they’ll have of adjusting to the new conditions imposed upon them by the environment.

Religious Mandate

A major factor in the idea of our moral and cognitive imperfection comes from religious mandate, specifically through religions brought about by revelation. The subject of revelation is a different one from the current topic at hand, so I won’t say anything more on it for now other than I think that it is pure nonsense and that I regard it either as a case of apophenia, pareidolia, a scam, or as a result of some sort of brain damage.

These religions teach, in some form or another, that human beings are born flawed and that we must seek some manner to make up for this fundamental error due to the mistakes of our ancient predecessors. Engaging in such flaws is referred to as “sinning.” The way I interpret the term “sin” is: “to engage in some activity that is considered illegal to one’s own religious law.” To support this interpretation of sin, I point to you 1 John 3:4, which says "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness." For example, in many religions, it is considered a sin to murder another human being because there is a mandate against murder; for Judaism and Christianity, it is the sixth of the Ten Commandments. In Judaism and Islam, it is also a sin to eat pork, and each has their own reasons for the mandate (something about swine being “unclean”). Even folk that are not particularly religious or who are irreligious may still carry this belief due to the miasmic effect of a previously held religious belief now rationalized in a non-religious manner or because they’ve been infected by this particular meme from their social environment.

These mandates are supposed to come from some divine source, such as God, and because God dictates these mandates, going against them is sinful, regardless of how harmful or immoral (or lack thereof) the actual act is. To this, I present Euthyphro’s dilemma: “Is it good because God commands it, or does God command it because it’s good?” If it’s the first, then it’s simply a blatant command, and calling the command “good” irrespective of the actual benefit or harm of following the command simply because it comes from God is a moot point. If it’s the second, then making the beneficial activity a command from God is redundant. This following of religious mandates essentially dictates religious morality, which I feel that, while simpler to do (just do as you’re told), leaves one woefully lacking in psychological development and in understanding humans in a more grounded manner without serious reinterpretation of religious dogma and/or by not assimilating it literally.

The Highest Form of “Perfection”

For perfection idealists who seek to implement moral and/or cognitive perfection religiously, it would go something like this: the less you err from sinning, the closer you are to achieving perfection. The caveat is as follows: since you are born a flawed sinner, you will never actually achieve perfection, no matter how hard you try. This, to me, is a tremendous source of needless guilt and frustration, as well as an insidious excuse to be a self-righteous prick to others. This concept of perfection seems more like an adherence to robotic behavior, the perfect little soldier. It espouses obedience as the highest virtue one can hope to achieve, and we all know how obedient the Nazis were when Hitler ordered them to commit their heinous atrocities. We also know how disobedient and “sinful” the founding fathers of the United States were when they risked their lives to defy the British Empire and claim independence. I’m not saying “disobey for the sake of disobeying.” What I’m saying is to think about why you obey what you do and why you disobey what you do. That, unfortunately, requires something more complex than doing what you’re told; it requires thinking for yourself.

Conclusion

This idea of being morally and/or cognitively perfect is one that should be discarded. Striving to be a more helpful member of society is a noble goal indeed, but moral or cognitive perfection is not required, just good intentions coupled with the proper skill set. Heck, even selfish intentions with the proper skill set work, because you’ll not only help yourself, you’ll help others who benefit from your work as well. We didn’t get our morals from religion, religion got their most universal morals from us, with additional baggage imposed by special interest groups (such as the clergy or the priesthood). Just because you “sin” doesn’t make you inherently flawed, fallen, lesser, or even retarded; it simply makes you human. In the end, we are all accountable to each other.

Just the concept of “perfection” is a nebulous concept used by self-righteous folk to serve their own ends. Rather, I postulate the following: Do turtles work as turtles? Yes. Do turtles work as eagles? Why should they?! Do eagles work as eagles? Yes. Do dogs work as dogs? Yes. Do humans work as humans? A resounding “yes”! Do humans work as robots or angels or gods? No. Why should they, if they are not those things?

If you have found yourself to be a perfection idealist, it does no good for anyone, least of all yourself. Embrace the fact that you’re a human being with this grand intellectual capacity and embrace the fact that you won the lottery of being alive whereas the rest of the sperm you competed against while your father ejaculated inside of your mother was not.