Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Helena Cronin on "Sex"

Edge mission statement:
"To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."
Every year, Edge asks these great minds a question. This year the question is "Which Scientific Term or Concept Ought To Be More Widely Known?"

By now you probably have a question of your own. What word best describes this mutual back-slapping fest?
  • Smug 
  • Pretentious
  • Self-indulgent
  • Conceited
  • Pompous?

The full list of essays is here.


Amongst the self-satisfied, complacent, virtue-signalling there are a few intriguing articles.

Take Helena Cronin's piece on "Sex"
"The poet Philip Larkin famously proclaimed that sex began in 1963. He was inaccurate by 800 million years. Moreover, what began in the 1960s was instead a campaign to oust sex—in particular sex differences—in favor of gender.

Why? Because biological differences were thought to spell genetic determinism, immutability, anti-feminism and, most egregiously, women's oppression. Gender, however, was the realm of societal forces; "male" and "female" were social constructs, the stuff of political struggle; so gender was safe sex.

The campaign triumphed. Sex now struggles to be heard over a clamor of misconceptions, fabrications and denunciations. And gender is ubiquitous, dominating thinking far beyond popular culture and spreading even to science—such that a respected neuroscience journal recently felt the need to devote an entire issue to urging that sex should be treated as a biological variable."
It's the usual issue: equality of opportunity (ie no discrimination) vs equality of outcome (ie no differences in preference).
"Bear in mind that equality is not sameness. Equality is about fair treatment, not about people or outcomes being identical; so fairness does not and should not require sameness. However, when sameness gets confused with equality—and equality is of course to do with fairness—then sameness ends up undeservedly sharing their moral high ground. And male/female discrepancies become a moral crusade. Why so few women CEOs or engineers? It becomes socially suspect to explain this as the result not of discrimination but of differential choice.

Well, it shouldn’t be suspect. Because the sexes do differ—and in ways that, on average, make a notable difference to their distribution in today's workplace.

So we need to talk about sex.

Here's why the sexes differ. A sexual organism must divide its total reproductive investment into two—competing for mates and caring for offspring. Almost from the dawn of sexual reproduction, one sex specialized slightly more in competing for mates and the other slightly more in caring for offspring. This was because only one sex was able to inherit the mitochondria (the powerhouse of cells); so that sex started out with sex cells larger and more resource-rich than the other sex.

And thus began the great divide into fat, resource-laden eggs, already investing in "caring"—providing for offspring—and slim, streamlined sperm, already competing for that vital investment. Over evolutionary time, this divergence widened, proliferating and amplifying, in every sexually reproducing species that has ever existed. So the differences go far beyond reproductive plumbing. They are distinctive adaptations for the different life-strategies of competitors and carers.

Wherever ancestral males and females faced different adaptive problems, we should expect sex differences—encompassing bodies, brains and behaviour. And we should expect that, reflecting those differences, competitors and carers will have correspondingly different life-priorities. And that's why, from that initial asymmetry, the same characteristic differences between males and females have evolved across all sexually-reproducing animals, differences that pervade what constitutes being male or female.

As for different outcomes in the workplace, the causes are above all different interests and temperaments (and not women being "less clever" than men). Women on average have a strong preference for working with people—hence the nurses and teachers; and, compared to men, they care more about family and relationships and have broader interests and priorities—hence little appeal in becoming CEOs. Men have far more interest in "things"—hence the engineers; and they are vastly more competitive: more risk-taking, ambitious, status-seeking, single-minded, opportunistic—hence the CEOs. So men and women have, on average, different conceptions of what constitutes success (despite the gender quest to impose the same—male—conception on all).

And here's some intriguing evidence. "Gender" predicts that, as discrimination diminishes, males and females will increasingly converge. But a study of 55 nations found that it was in the most liberal, democratic, equality-driven countries that divergence was greatest. The less the sexism, the greater the sex differences. Difference, this suggests, is evidence not of oppression but of choice; not socialization, not patriarchy, not false consciousness, not even pink t-shirts or personal pronouns … but female choice."

In yesterday's post, on Michel Houellebecq’s ‘Submission’, I finished with a quote from the book where François says this:
'I’ve never really been convinced that it was a good idea for women to get the vote, study the same things as men, go into the same professions, et cetera. I mean, we’re used to it now — but was it really a good idea?’
Houellebecq needs this throwaway apparently-misogynistic remark to ease the way for his narrator's later conversion to Islam - thereby opening the door to a well-paid lecturing job at the Sorbonne and three wives. (It's satire, but Islam's historically-regrettable attitude to women is entirely real).

Of course women should have the vote, as should the poor, the rich and the liberal intelligentsia.

Elites used to worry about mass democracy, for example that the great unwashed would simply vote themselves endless benefits financed by taxing the rich, resulting in economic collapse.

Things like that have happened, but the ruling classes are now on the case. Governments with such programmes don't end up actually pulling the levers of power, and if they do, they find those levers don't connect to anything. The bureaucracy has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.

Military force serves as the ultimate insurance policy.

Mass-participatory, bourgeois democracy has been made stable and safe, most of the time. François's half-hearted flirtation with Islam as a replacement ideology - vigorous, based on deep biological truths, giving meaning to life - is flawed through and through.

I'm sure it will never catch on.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Keep it polite and no gratuitous links to your business website - we're not a billboard here.