The Rational Animal
Hello everyone. Today I wanted to talk about human self-perception. The articles I talk about, I'm going to link, so you can read them yourself, interpret them for yourself, see whether you agree with me.
Over the past view years, I've noticed a shift in the attitudes that are considered "progressive".
Traditionally, the status quo was highly authoritarian, and the view of human nature was heavily influenced by hundreds of years of Christianity in Europe, and constraints of Original Sin and susceptibility to demonic influences. And a major factor in human progress was the idea that human beings are independent moral agents, which for a long time was a radical idea. But recently, there's been a shift, and the cutting-edge "progressive" view is of a whole new array of demonic influences, which we don't call demonic influences, we call "human nature" or "societal forces" and so on, but psychologically and socially I think their influence is the same. Respect for the human being as having individual responsibility and moral autonomy seems to be on the way out of popular thinking.
The phrase animal rationabile originates in Mediaeval scholasticism, but the concept was developed by Aristotle, who claimed that human beings have a rational principle, the λόγον ἔχον which doesn't imply that every individual always makes the rational decision, but that we all have the ability to make them. Aristotle understood that in the fourth century BC, but it seems that in the twenty-first century, despite all the progress we've made, putting a man on the Moon and all that, we don't grasp that any more. For a while it looked as if we would. There was a detectable line of progress forwards from the Dark Ages. But then, in a way we moved back again.
One of the key teachings of the Church, which goes back to the very first Book of the Bible, is that human beings are sinful creatures, in constant need of the over-sight and guidance of God. We're susceptible to the influence of the Devil, a particular point of concern for Jehovah's Witnesses and Roman Catholics, who place quite a lot of emphasis on the Devil. We're eternally damned unless we complete surrender our weak, sinful will to the will of God, no questions asked, no doubt, no rebelliousness of any kind. And naturally on a practical level this can be used to justify authoritarian social structures. The Divine Right of Kings, justifying the monarch's absolute authority in both the spiritual and material affairs of his kingdom, is traced back to the prophet Samuel anointing Saul. (The idea of a god or gods appointing or granting their blessing to earthly rulers exists in other religions besides Christianity, but here I'm talking about the Christian tradition.) The king is answerable to no earthly authority, only God. Richard the Lionheart first used the motto Dieu et mon droit which is still our national motto. After the Reformation, when our monarch became the head of our Church as well as our state, the Kings of England had no need to defer to anyone, even the Pope. Basically established the monarch as unchallengeable. Over in Russia, the Tsar was a divine emissary, and on a practical level presided over the management of the Russian Church. Peter the Great abolished the Patriarchate and replaced it with the Most Holy Governing Synod, whose bishops and lay officials were appointed by the Tsar.
There's been a movement, mostly between the 18th and the 20th centuries, to remove Church influence from public life. Following the French Revolution, the Portuguese Republican Revolution, the Spanish Confiscations of Mendizabal, the election of the Spanish Republican government and the Mexican Reform War, Church property was confiscated and, importantly, Church influence on education was usually reduced.
So, you'd have thought we could move forward. If we shake off God, and we shake off sin and we establish that the Devil is not going to tempt you into evil, you'd have thought the sky's the limit for human progress. There is nothing higher than a human being. But we seem to have found new ways to impose limits on ourselves, and new forces to be victims to.
There's a weird new trend in criminal justice to argue that we're not really responsible for our actions. The US Supreme Court is quite explicit that the "universal and persistent" foundation of our legal system is free will. Sam Harris, an American neuroscientist, claims that criminal brains are dictated too by genes or circumstances over which a person has no control. law/2012/may/29/will-neuroscience-change-criminal-justice
The fundamental problem with this, is that it imagines a person as separate from their brain. A person is not responsible for their actions because their brain made them do it. Unless you believe in the immaterial soul, a person is their brain. So that argument doesn't work. There's also the comforting belief that criminal brains are fundamentally different from the brains of law-abiding folk. And this doesn't hold water. For what thing, laws are the arbitrary whims of the ruler, which are different in different countries and at different times. There are countries in which apostasy is illegal, there are countries in which homosexuality is illegal, there are countries in which women have limited civil rights. Do apostates have something fundamentally wrong with their genes? So I don't really know where Harris gets his idea that criminals are fundamentally different from himself. Has he never wanted to murder anyone? What about the days when duelling was common and accepted for settling affairs of honour? What about Aaaron Burr, who was vice-president of the United States, not your stereotypical "misfit", and killed a man in a duel? Because anyone's decision to murder or not murder somebody depends not just on the circumstances but on their analysis of those circumstances. That's the way human motivation works. The decision to, for example, kill somebody who's wronged you or yours is a perfectly understandable, not at all irrational decision. The argument is circular. Murder is bad. Ergo, murderers have something wrong with them. Why? Because they do something bad. This leaves out the whole question of motivation. To Harris, motivations don't seem valid. Not just the legal system, but the whole democratic political system rests on the notion of personal responsibility and the ability to make rational choices. Murderers are not fundamentally different from the rest of us. If people who fall short of generally accepted moral standards are victims, who need treatment or containment as if they were dangerous animals or whatever, then we can't have morality. If we can't make decisions, what becomes of democracy? Democracy rests on the ability of the public to make decisions about what's best for the community.
The fundamental premise of liberalism, is that the individual can and should make decisions. And as this view of people has become less popular, a new kind of authoritarianism has developed, in which people need decisions making for them, because they're not fit to make them for themselves. The traditional authoritarians—feudalists, absolute monarchists, Fascists, theocrats—are at least open about their philosophy, but a lot of the new softly-softly authoritarianism isn't. They pretend to be concerned about the welfare of the citizens, just don't believe that they're the best people to make decisions about their lives. Instead, they would prefer these decisions to be made by somebody else, who is presumably better-equipped to do so, and completely trustworthy. Campaigns for extensions of the suffrage, from the Chartists in the early nineteenth century through the suffragettes to the black Civil Rights movement in the 1960s have relied on the idea that all people are entitled to a say in how they are governed. Government should be by consent. The working classes, women and black people are also human beings. Are also rational free agents. And a lot of people who would now deny this claim to be the progressives, claim to be left-wing, on the right side of history, all the rest of it.
A good example of this is the language often used to describe black Trump voters over in the USA. It's generally accepted that a man entitled to a vote is entitled to vote for whichever candidate he sees fit. But it seems that some people don't think that applies if the voter is black and the candidate is Trump. I'm not a particular fan of Trump, or the politics and values of Republican Party generally. So I'm not here saying this as a Trump fan, or anything like that. Kanye West, as I think the entire internet-connected Western world now knows, is a Trump fan. He's also black. He's a rapper, I know nothing about his career as a rapper, I don't really listen to rap, I have no strong opinion regarding Mr West as an artist. The point is that Jenn M. Jackson titled her piece in Teen Vogue "This is What Internalised Racism looks like".
Teen Vogue, by the way, is a fashion magazine aimed at teen-age girls which seems to have recently developed a side-line in political commentary. She goes on to compare him to Uncle Tom.
Stereo Williams in Daily Beast accuses West of self-hatred, doesn't hold much truck with Mr West's idea that "the most racist thing a person can tell me is that I'm supposed to choose something based on my race",speculates about "who he aspires to be", accuses him of obsession with white approval and basically accuses him of being a stooge, and insincere, doing it for approval.
Rather than treating him as an autonomous voter with his own opinions on the issues, they're accusing him of all kind of internal complexes, and self-hatred. His political decisions are apparently the result of internalised racism, rather than just what he thinks.
And if anything the latest trends in feminism are just as bad. The idea that women are weak, are less than men, are irrational, can't be trusted, used to be fought against. The right of the woman to vote. The right of the woman to expand her mind through higher education. This is based on the idea that a woman is capable of thinking and making decisions. And it's being openly challenged by people who claim to be feminists and progressives and be trying to empower and liberate women.
Once again, a brilliant example is Trump. Here's Suzanne Moore in the Guardian—where else?.
She asks why, with Trump openly demeaning women, so many would continue to vote for him. She then goes on to answer her own question, saying that most people continued to vote on party lines. Which I think is quite a satisfactory answer to that question. Democrats vote Democrat, Republicans vote Republican, depending on which party best fits their ideas and values. But Moore apparently isn't satisfied with the obvious answer. Instead, she blames it on internalised misogyny. "At best, we might say some of this is unconscious". Last time I checked, political positions are very conscious. She then goes onto ask why the working class votes for billionaires. Maybe because there are working-class people who agree with the ideas that they're offering. Most bizarre is her condemnation of women who support Sanders as misogynistic, apparently because they think Clinton is a robotic corporate shill. I think Clinton is a robotic corporate shill, so apparently I'm a misogynist. She then expands from the fact that these women, for perfectly legitimate political reasons, don't like that particular woman candidate, to the generalised statement that women who seek power are seen as innately distrustful—I think she means untrustworthy—and fake.
Why can't people sell the candidate, rather than selling the voter's demographic category back at them?
Cesar Lopez in Girls' Globe also attributes women's support for Trump to internalised misogyny.
She offers a helpful definition of internalised misogyny as "unconscious and often unknowing self-acceptance of sexist perceptions".So there we go. Women did not vote for Trump because they agree with him about his positions. They voted for him because they had unconsciously self-accepted sexist perceptions. She offers an example of internalised misogyny as "seeing other women as emotionally unstable and incapable of holding positions of power because of their menstrual cycle". She herself seems to think women are emotionally unstable. Apparently we all have unconscious sexism. She then goes on "as insidious as it sounds, internalized misogyny acts like a parasite. Continually looking for different bodies to spread to while perpetuating the host's marginalized condition". So there we have it. I know she's being metaphorical, but I think it's a telling metaphor. The internalised misogyny has the agency, the women are the passive receptacles. This is full-on Devil possession. You're at the mercy of the malign force. This is what I mean about turning the clock back.
Elizabeth Daley in Advocate continues the theme.
She describes Hillary Clinton as "onewhodeclaredherambition and went boldly toward her goals, who dared to forget her status as subordinate. A woman who thought about power and control. A woman who declared herself best for the job of President of the United States without hesitation".
She doesn't actually mention her policies. Policies don't seem to matter. The recurring theme in these articles is that there's very little mention of what Hillary Clinton actually stands for. She goes on "a stark reminder was delivered Tuesday night. Educated women of the world, ambitious women of the world, daring women of the world: know your place".
I think that the reminder delivered on Tuesday night was that if you can't connect with voters, if you can't offer them a vision for the future of the country, if they prefer the other candidate, then you will fail. That shouldn't be surprising. That's how politics works. It never seems to even occur to Daley that Clinton lost because her policies were less popular, because her ideas were less popular. Daley really seems to uncritically accept Clinton as a heroic martyr.
She then says that women who voted for Trump have Stockholm syndrome—apparently she's a medical professional, now? On what authority is she diagnosing anyone with anything? And she says that Trump calls women fat and ugly and these women "look in the mirror and see themselves as the person Donald Trump describes, just needing to lose a few more pounds before being a 10". For all she talks about Trump's contempt for women, she seems to have a lot of contempt for women. This is what this feminist woman thinks of other women. This is actually how shallow and stupid she thinks they are. Has she talked to these women? Has she had long, in-depth conversations about their views and ideals? I doubt it. Apparently she's psychic. She just psychically knows that women vote for Trump because they're insecure about their weight.
She goes on about "to walk through life as a woman, with the full knowledge of what that means is exceedingly painful"—I don't know what she's talking about, I think it's just meant to sound good—and that these women are living through men and putting themselves in harm's way for them.
And then she goes on to say that women blame ourselves too often. "We blame ourselves for not getting a promotion despite evidence of a wage gap." Yes, there is evidence of a wage gap, but it's also just conceivable that you didn't get a promotion because you weren't fit for one and you need to work on yourself. If your first instinct is to blame someone else for you own failure, then probably, frankly, you shouldn't be promoted to a position of responsibility. "We blame ourselves for failing to assert our needs" I mean, what can I say? You need to assert your needs. "Or being "too much" in romantic relationships". That depends on what she's blaming herself for. If a woman's husband hits her, then that is absolutely not her fault. But if a woman's husband leaves her and gets a divorce because he finds her too much, maybe she is too much. "We blame ourselves for the failures of children we could have raised better." Your responsibility as a parent is important and should be taken seriously.
If you can't convince the voter why your ideas are right. Intrinsically, fundamentally, morally right, regardless of the demographics of the individual voter, then you need to consider why you hold those ideas.
This is what some people actually, seriously, honest-to-God advocate as feminism. Not that women are intellectually and morally equal to men. Not that women are people too. But that women are irrational, weak, psychologically damaged. Which is something sexists usually argue. And women are never responsible for anything. Should never blame ourselves for anything. I think personal responsibility is healthy. It's necessary for living life as an independent human being and for exercising your rights.But no. You are not responsible for anything. If you ignore what you want in order to make someone else happy, if you feel guilty, if you doubt your own abilities or any other aspect of your own emotions and behaviour, then that's the patriarchy's fault, not yours. Erin McKelle, in On 'Choice' Feminism and Internalized Misogyny: Why We Participate in Patriarchal Oppressionexplains that if you do "anti-feminist" things, which she seems to define as shaving and taking your husband's last name, then "society is who's at fault, not you". This great, monolithic, all-powerful mystical entity. Where is this bloody all-powerful society that these people live in fear of?
You can't be free if you're not responsible. You can't have rights if you're not responsible. The idea that you're not responsible for your own behaviour is inconsistent with feminism.
You could play drinking games with every time these people mention "socialisation" or "internalisation". But you'd probably die of alcohol poisoning.
Suzannah Weiss in Bustle, actually says something which I think is half-way near the truth. Internalised misogyny "allows women to perpetuate the oppression imposed on them for centuries without any effort on anyone's part".
In other words, even when nobody's oppressing you, your own internal mechanisms will keep on oppressing yourself. You might not have literal daemons talking in your head any more, but you have an inner demon of your own making. Which basically sums up the attitude these women have to themselves and other women. Not content with real issues in the real world, they've created "internalized misogyny" in order to explain to women that no, they are not autonomous agents, no, they do not have minds of their own. In God's service is perfect freedom. In Everyday Feminism's service is perfect freedom.
McKelle continues "Have you ever criticized a woman for the way she looks? wished you could look like the models that you see in fashion magazines? gone on a diet? shaved off any of your body hair?" And if so that's "practicing sexism and giving in to the pressures of our patriarchal society". Apparently "It's involuntary because the sexism that is present in our culture is taught to us through socialization a process we don't have much say in". This is the crux of the matter. People don't just sit and be passively socialised. You are responsible for your beliefs. You are responsible for assessing and evaluating information. You have a duty to think critically and if you don't do that that's your decision. No one else is to blame for what you think. There are people who have broken out of fundamentalist cults which burn books and live behind barbed wire fences. If they can take some personal responsibility in a literal cult, you can. Stop blaming your own thoughts on socialisation.
"When you hear your mom talk about how fat she is or your uncle make a sexist joke; when you see diet pill commercials on television or listen to your babysitter call someone a slut – these instances don't just go over your head, as many people like to believe. In reality, you're taking in these messages." So, now she's psychic. Feminists always seem to be. Again, apply a mental filter. Believe what you want to believe, for the reasons you want to believe it.
"Internalized misogyny becomes an involuntary part of your thinking". She really seems to know a lot about other people's thinking. She's scarily comfortable telling people how to think of themselves.
She goes on to talk about shaving her legs. She says "I shave my legs because I like how they look and feel when they are shaved". Not exactly unusual. Fairly standard behaviour. "This is an example of my own internalized misogyny at work". How? You've literally said you like how your legs look shaved. Now your personal hygiene routines are further evidence of your oppression by a patriarchal society. This is the perception feminists no less, have of themselves and other women. We've gone from man the smasher of God to existential crises in the shower. This is liberation. This is empowerment.
And then she moves on to talk about women who take their husband's last name. As if it were any concern of hers what other couples do and do not do in their relationship. She admits "Changing one's last name is no longer mandatory! It's optional, so you can choose to do it". And then she says it's a consequence of oppression, and "Not a real, honest choice", because "I would also probably view myself as not being a good wife," if she didn't change her name. I know I sound like a stuck record, but how you view yourself is really up to you. There is no telepathic mind control telling you how to think. People have very different ideas about what a good wife is, what a good relationship is. It's probably something that's very personal to you. And you might draw on your cultural heritage or your religious beliefs or examples of family members who had really wonderful relationships. But ultimately this is your personal idea of what a marriage should be. And no one's responsible for that other than you. You can't say that what you feel is or isn't a good wife is a consequence of oppression, or that changing your name is a consequence of oppression. Maybe it's a symbol of unity and devotion? Just a thought.
You might be wondering what I'm making such a fuss about. Nobody's being burned at the stake, nobody's being persecuted, what's the big deal? The big deal is what feminism means to these people. It's not about the oppressed seeking liberation, it's about the deluded seeking enlightenment. It's about seeing women first and foremost as damaged. It's about the idea that women, adult women, are unable to make rational choices about their own lives.
At the deep end of this twisted rabbit hole is the idea floating around radical feminist circles that all sex is rape. The number of people who actually believe that is exaggerated. Catherine MacKinnon never actually said "All sex is rape," or "All men are rapists",. However, there are some people who, even if they don't go quite there, go pretty close. This article by Anti-Imperialism's Freya Brown is super long, I'll link the whole thing, but there are a couple of points I want to mention.
First, that "all sex, consensual or not, plays a role in reproducing gender oppression". The justification for this relies on telepathy again. "Sexuality for men is conquest of a woman's body. A woman's sexuality is something to be "taken." To the extent that men are concerned about women's pleasure, it is because the female orgasm is a man's "trophy," a reward for a successful conquering, a validation of masculinity. Moreover, men see women's submissiveness as "sexy," while women learn to eroticize male dominance and assertiveness, and to associate their own submission with sexual pleasure."
If you're placing store on psychic powers, you have no argument. You don't know what you're talking about.
It goes on to discuss women having regret after consensual sex, and to dismiss out of hand any attempt at a medical explanation thereof.
It actually says that "It would be useful to find a replacement for "consent" as a model of thinking about rape". Because "people can consent to things which cause them harm" and good old "conditioning" comes up again of course. It criticises the idea of sex as "an exchange between ostensibly equal parties" or that rape is sex that one party does not agree to. It ends by asking "Is a distinction between rape and sex in general even meaningful? We might find that there is some usefulness in denoting some distinction between the average heterosexual relationship and, say, sex trafficking. For now, we leave this an open question." There we go. The question of whether the average heterosexual relationship is different from sex trafficking is an open question. Honestly and seriously, that's what she says. These, what I can only describe as, ravings, found not in some obscure corner of the internet but a large main-stream publication, are not only emotionally repellent and morally obnoxious, they also seem rather anti-feminist.
I can't find a better way to respond to this than by quoting a Redditor called Chris Rice.
There is an implied insult to women within their message.
What qualifies as rape? Lack of consent.
Their ideology suggests that women's consent to PIV sex is not valid for basically the same reason a child's consent is not valid - they are not mentally capable of making that decision. Even if they think they are consenting, they are not. They are too stupid to make that call. I find it a bit ironic that this faction of feminists is quite enthusiastic about insulting the whole of their gender like that.
"People of my gender are dumb and easily brainwashed. Btw, we should be your equals." – Radfem
I couldn't put it better myself. Thank you, Mr Rice.
Perhaps it says something for gender equality, at least, that men are also, apparently, "programmed" to be sexist, according to a philosopher called George Yancy.
They "unconsciously engage in patriarchal thinking". So apparently women aren't the only ones with no sense of personal responsibility. That's a relief, at least.
Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if this thinking were confined to the ramblings of journalists on the internet. But this thinking spills over into the real world.
The anti-gun lobby rests on the idea that the individual citizen is naturally a criminal lunatic, but the government is wise and good. Not only is that a wishful-thinking view of the government, it isn't a very high opinion of the citizen. But a lot of anti-gun advocates claim to be left-wing and progressive.
So that's a whistle-stop of how humanity nearly escaped from the Dark Ages, before moving backwards again.
Sorry if it got long.