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A better future versus the transformative future
Degrading the bargaining politics of human flourishing: I
Meanwhile,has a thoughtful response to Essay 15 (the second of Lorenzo’s three pieces on feminisation) over at his place.
This article can be adumbrated thusly: The Emancipation Sequence depended on campaigns for legal and social standing based on shared humanity. It did not—until the emergence of feminism—imply social transformation, or pretences that the excluded were somehow better humans than the included.
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The Emancipation Sequence
The politics of the transformative future are profoundly different from standard attempts to do better.
In many ways, Western societies have been doing better for centuries. We can identify an Emancipation Sequence marching through Western (especially Anglo) history: abolition of the slave trade, then of slavery; Catholic emancipation in the Anglican United Kingdom; Jewish emancipation; adult male suffrage; women’s suffrage; equal opportunities for women; civil rights in the US, and finally gay and lesbian equality.
The common element in these widenings of legal equality and political participation is that each step in the sequence was not about social transformation. It was about being included, about a place at the table. The basic claim was “we want to have the legal and social standing to participate in society that you have”.
This claim did not depend on some elevated valorisation of the to-be-included group, merely an appeal to a common humanity. Indeed, both Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi regularly criticised failings among those on whose behalf they spoke.
Again and again, this appeal to a common humanity was powerful and persuasive. Every single advance in the Emancipation Sequence came from successfully convincing folk who were not from the group seeking inclusion. Most obviously, every single women’s movement advance came about by persuading men.
A persistent feature of human societies has been presumptive sex roles. It has always included cultural endorsement and management of the presumptive sex roles within each society or collection of societies. The speed of the success within Western societies in achieving legal equality—and the acceptance of women’s participation in all walks of life—is, in historical terms, astonishing.
In the case of the UK, the process started with the Married Women’s Property Act (1882). Most women were granted the right to vote at the same time as all adult men were, in 1918. By 2015, a survey in the UK found that 84 per cent of men and 81 per cent of women endorsed equal opportunity for women. The concept of presumptive sex roles had become attenuated to the point of near complete disappearance.
To acknowledge the Emancipation Sequence and its successful inclusions is to undermine any division between the moral wonder of the imagined future and the moral perdition of the past or present. This is why those who promote the politics of the transformative future ignore or disparage that history and those successes.
Those who endorse the politics of the transformative future seek to claim the Emancipation Sequence’s moral lustre, particularly that of the civil rights movement, while rejecting its underlying principles and devaluing its achievements. It also regularly eschews the politics of open political bargaining—which, after all, might not go the way you want—for the non-electoral politics of institutional capture.
TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN and TRANS RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS are slogans with roots in the belief that rights fall from the sky, that electorates and parliaments are not permitted to assess or reject them.
This politics of institutional capture intimidates, seeking to destroy careers while censoring dissent. Dissent from the moral project is taken to be either malfeasance or the tacit endorsement or facilitation of evil. This view of dissent rejects the bargaining politics that is inherent to democratic process and parliamentary politics.
The politics of the transformative future is not about doing better within society as it is. It is about transcending that society and its heritage. It creates such a conceptual and moral gap between what is, what has been, and what ought to be, that the transformational future become endless fodder for status-and-social-leverage strategies. The problem with having practical aims—such as legal equality—is that such aims come with end-points.
But outcomes and finality are also end-points to utility as a status-and-social-leverage strategy. The politics of status-through-social-leverage is far more reliably useful if it is endless. There’s always more oppression to fight, always another marginalised group to champion and valorise.
The social-justice as status-and-social-leverage strategy requires mechanisms to signal commitment, to motivate, to fuel the in-group/out-group distinction between those bringing about the transformative future and those standing in its way. In the case of the advocacy economy—non-profits and various bureaucratic units—it requires something to keep the donations and taxpayer support coming.
The problem with each step in the Emancipation Sequence is that people came to agree. Where is the status distinction, the social leverage, in that? The endlessly re-interpreted goal of social justice—grounded in an imagined future’s authority—is much more useful as a status-and-social-leverage-strategy than is any achievable, practical programme.
Exactly the same logic was used in Marxist regimes. Communism was always being built, but was never achieved. The concentration of power to achieve it required endless maintenance.
Derailing the sequence
Feminism is where the politics of inclusion—of the Emancipation Sequence—came to be distorted and derailed. It’s where the sequence went past “we want what you have too, because we are human” to systematic self-valorisation based on drawing a moral distinction between groups (specifically, between men and women).
We are now seeing explicit rejection of equal opportunity.
Feminism’s fundamental problem is one of differentiation. If there is no profound moral distinction to be made between men and women, what is the point of feminism? Liberal feminism just becomes liberalism, socialist feminism just becomes socialism, and so on.
Feminism has thus openly valorised its own group. This is not a feature of previous inclusion movements. Feminism spoke as though, somehow, patriarchal constraints throughout history had turned women into a finer form of Homo sapien. This valorisation entailed denigration of men and masculinity.
This combination of denigration and valorisation is antipathetic to the politics of bargaining of electoral politics but well-suited to the politics of institutional capture through piety display*, intimidation and censorship. So, the more feminism comes to lean on moral distinction—and the less it becomes about practical politics—the more it shifts to the politics of institutional capture.
The more genuinely gender-egalitarian society becomes, the fewer legal or other barriers there are to women, the more feminism has to lean on making moral distinctions between men and women. It’s no longer about getting rid of various barriers, about the practical politics of inclusion as per the Emancipation Sequence, about investing in parliamentary politics and open persuasion. Instead, it becomes a status-and-social-leverage strategy.
The tendency to self-valorise women at times becomes a form of collective narcissism (“believe all women”, which permits conviction by accusation). Feminism has come to lean heavily on an updated version of the Victorian era cult of womanhood: that men are the brutes women have to civilise.
As is common with many persistent ideas, there is something to the notion. Mountains of bullshit usually need some molehill of truth underlying them. Marriage, and particularly fatherhood, can very much have civilising effects on men. Married men, and especially fathers, have dramatically lower crime rates than do single men, especially young single men.
This matters. Rape is almost entirely a male crime and violent crime is overwhelmingly male. The propensity of men to commit rape hugely varies by culture. One study of Asian-Pacific cultures found rape rates varying from 2.5 per cent of men in rural Bangladesh to 27 per cent of men in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Even when it’s, say, five per cent, that still constitutes a large population dangerous to women.
In developed democracies, around seven per cent of men are likely to commit a crime of violence, which is much larger than the proportion of women likely to do so—less than one per cent. Restraining male sexual and physical incontinence is a necessary part of creating and sustaining a decent society.
One of the signs a society is afflicted with structural misogyny is when female incarceration rates approach male incarceration rates. At that point, women and girls are being punished for deemed sins, not crimes against person or property.
So, there is a kernel of truth in “men are brutes”. But it is not remotely the whole truth. We are seeing a tail effect, which can be a misleading thing on which to focus. Creating a decent society has always meant mobilising and empowering decent men to restrain the indecent minority.
Group X is violent: this means they are inferior
Denigrating a group by pointing to violence perpetrated by group members has a long history. It is one of the standard tropes of anti-black bigotry—going back centuries— and justified their enslavement:
The rest of this tabaqat [category], which showed no interest in science, resembles animals more than human beings …
Also in this category are those who live close to the equinoctial line [equator] and behind it to the end of the populated world to the south. Because the sun remains close to their head for long periods, their air and their climate have become hot: they are of hot temperament and fiery behaviour. Their color turned black and their hair turned kinky. As a result, they lost the value of patience and firmness of perception. They were overcome by foolishness and ignorance. These are the people of Sudan who inhabit the far reaches of Ethiopia, the Nubians, the Zinj and others.
Said al-Andalusi, Ṭabaqāt al-‘Umam [Categories of Nations], Chapter 3.
This denigration based on “brutishness” is a recurring trope in Islamic thought, as one sees from Ibn Khaldun three centuries later:
The inhabitants of the zones that are far from temperate, such as the first, second, sixth, and seventh zones, are also farther removed from being temperate in all their conditions. Their buildings are of clay and reeds. Their foodstuffs are durra and herbs. Their clothing is the leaves of trees, which they sew together to cover themselves, or animal skins. Most of them go naked. ... Their qualities of character, moreover, are close to those of dumb animals. It has even been reported that most of the Negroes of the first zone dwell in caves and thickets, eat herbs, live in savage isolation and do not congregate, and eat each other. … The reason for this is that their remoteness from being temperate produces in them a disposition and character similar to those of the dumb animals, and they become correspondingly remote from humanity. … All their conditions are remote from those of human beings and close to those of wild animals.
Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, Third Prefatory Discussion.
Making women shine by hanging violence by some males on all males—so it becomes a marker of masculinity, distorts what men as a class are. Ironically, it also tends to undermine decent men’s ability to restrain the indecent minority. It also facilitates dishonesty about women. Betty Friedan warned of this back in 1972:
The assumption that women have any moral or spiritual superiority as a class or that men share some brute insensitivity as a class—this is male chauvinism in reverse; it is female sexism … It is in fact female chauvinism, and those who preach or practice it seem to me to be corrupting our movement for equality …
A particularly egregious example of expanding feminist investment in bullshit is how domestic violence has been defined as intimate partner violence. Violence against children has been defined out of domestic violence.
The problem, of course, is that women are as likely as men to engage in violence, including violent abuse, of children. This reality gets in the way of defining women as a purer form of Homo sapien and of characterising violence as a definitively male problem. As does refusing to face the fact that some intimate partner violence is couples hitting each other.
As part of group self-valorisation, feminism became the first movement in the Emancipation Sequence not to seek to generalise dignity, but to redistribute it so women have more than men. Seeking an unequal redistribution of dignity—of presumptive social standing—is now standard across social justice progressivism.
Feminism’s valorisation of women means any suggestion that there may be downsides to institutional and professional feminisation becomes blasphemy. If you criticise men as a class, that is feminism. If you criticise women as a class, that is misogyny. If women are a purer form of Homo sapien, how can any flaws or weak points be of significance compared to those of their inferiors?
It is not that women are wind-up toys, compelled to act out the negative patterns discussed in previous essays—no more than men are. Only when the patterns are publicly identified is there any chance of doing better. Through self-valorisation of women, feminism has become a way for women not to own up to—and not take responsibility for—socially corrosive patterns of behaviour.
The awkwardnesses of biology
Why did feminism become the Emancipation Sequence step that got derailed in this self-valorising way? Because it was the first inclusion programme that came up against inherent constraints that were not socially constructed. That is, sexually-differentiated biological constraints.
We are a much more dimorphic species than is often admitted. Yes, men average 8 per cent taller than women and 13 per cent heavier but adult men have, on average, twice the lean upper body mass than adult women. Adult women average 52 per cent of the upper body strength of adult men. Hence women’s rational fear of male violence.
Women undergo the burdens, restrictions and vulnerabilities of pregnancy and nursing. A brute fact of human biological and social evolution is that raising our biologically very expensive children has required systematically transferring risks away from child-rearing, and resources to child-rearing. This meant risks were transferred from women to men. This is in large part why men are systematically physically stronger than women.
Competition between males—and the dominant male role in hunting and protection—is also why men have systematically faster reactions, better dodging and throwing capacities and are better at forming teams than women. These systematic differences show up at very young ages and add to women’s physical disadvantages.
We are also, as discussed in previous essays, a cognitively dimorphic species. This is a result not only of differences in the pressures and payoffs of reproduction for men and women in general, but also of risk transfers across thousands of generations.
The larger—and so less constraining—social niches we inhabit, the more easily expressed innate cognitive features become. This is why sexual cognitive dimorphism—such as occupational choice—have become more distinct as societies become more prosperous and gender-egalitarian. This is especially so in societies with weaker filial piety, that is, parental deference. Chinese and Japanese women study STEM because their parents tell them to, and so put personal interests aside.
To be the first societies in human history not to have presumptive sex roles is a leap into the evolutionarily novel and unknown. The women’s movement’s demand to have exactly what men have regularly runs smack dab into the biological constraints of how Homo sapiens reproduce. Matching male patterns and social outcomes sets male patterns of preferences and action as being what women have to replicate.
In part, this is understandable. The demands and constraints of motherhood were often wielded against the women’s movement’s claims.
This is why a dominant response by feminists to the weaponisation of motherhood was to adopt a blank-slate view of humanity, to claim all differences between the sexes were socially constructed. This is flatly untrue and constrains the development of effective policy and grappling with how things work.
All sexually reproducing species have sex roles: the behavioural manifestation of sex. As the cultural species par excellence humans also have gender: the cultural manifestation of sex.
The narratives, norms, expectations we create around sex are indeed socially constructed. But they are socially constructed on a biological base. They are socially constructed in response to the constraints of biology, to an interaction of the possibilities and constraints of technology and ecology, to the claims of religion. They are not expressions of unfettered social possibility (and certainly not of unfettered human autonomy).
Cultural conceptions of motherhood vary far less across human cultures than do conceptions of fatherhood, precisely because motherhood is far more bounded, far more constrained, far more driven, by biological reality. Conversely, much of the point of marriage is to create and sustain—to anchor—the social relationship of fatherhood: paternal care and investment in children.
A result of the tension between seeking to have all that men have—setting up masculine patterns as the benchmark for women to aim for—with biological constraints was feminism’s huge difficulties with motherhood. Motherhood has frequently been treated by feminism as something to be avoided, via female-controlled contraception and legal abortion, or as something whose impact on one’s career should be minimised—by child care, maternity leave, paternity leave and so forth.
The difficulties being a working mother of young infants caused for mothers, their children, their fellow workers, and employers is largely a verboten subject. Meanwhile, mothers who want to stay home with young children have been treated at least implicitly as engaging in some sort of betrayal.
Moreover, a commitment to false blank-slate claims opened the door to adopting a male attitude to sexuality. Hence the shift from sex as a bonding experience that better fulfils most women’s socio-sexual personalities** to the ecstatic-cathartic pattern that is more likely to suit male sexual personalities.
All for obvious evolutionary reasons.
This has much to do with why happiness data has flipped. In c.1970, women were generally happier than men. Men are now generally happier than women. That sexual culture has moved toward a pattern that suits men—while males have also been relieved of the burden of being the family’s sole income-earner—are also factors in the shift.
The revolt against biology, the self-valorisation, and blank-slate views, meant that feminism became the first movement in the Emancipation Sequence to make false claims—for instance, about rape conviction rates—and suppress accurate ones.
We’ve ended up with the pattern of (1) men set benchmark of “true” equality, which is OK because (2) we are blank slates, so (3) all differences are socially constructed, yet (4) women are morally better than men because of patriarchal oppression, those oppressors who (5) we are using to set the benchmark for proper outcomes for women.
This is envious, deranging nonsense.
The next essay explores further the consequences of undermining conceptions of a common humanity.
* Piety display is more accurate term than virtue signalling, as (unlike the biologist’s and economist’s signal concept) it does not involve genuine cost (rather, the cost is often in not engaging in such display) and it is about profession of belief, so lacks the character element of virtue.
** Women may experience some tension between sexual and emotional desires. It seems to be the emotional aftermath of casual sex that is most difficult for many women.
Roy F. Baumeister, Is There Anything Good About Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men, Oxford University Press, 2010.
Joyce F. Benenson with Henry Markovits, Warriors and Worriers: the Survival of the Sexes, Oxford University Press, 2014.
Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, (trans. Franz Rosenthal, ed. and abridged N J Dawood), Princeton University Press,   1967.
Jemina Olchawski, Sex Equality: State of the Nation 2016, Fawcett Society, January 2016.
Louise Perry, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century, Polity Books, 2022.
Thaddeus Russell, A Renegade History of the United States, Free Press, , 2011.
Said al-Andalusi, Science in the Medieval World: “Book of the Categories of Nations”, (ed. and trans. Sema’an I Salem, Alok Kumar), University of Texas Press,  1996.
Stephen Smith, Pagans & Christian in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018.
Will Storr, The Status Game: On Social Position And How We Use It, HarperCollins, 2022.
Robert Trivers, The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life, Basic Books, , 2013.
Articles, papers, book chapters, podcasts
O¨rjan Falk, Ma¨rta Wallinius, Sebastian Lundstro¨m, Thomas Frisell, Henrik Anckarsa¨ter, No´ra Kerekes, ‘The 1% of the population accountable for 63% of all violent crime convictions,’ Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, 2014, 49, 559–571.
Rachel Jewkes, Emma Fulu, Tim Roselli, Claudia Garcia-Moreno, ‘Prevalence of and factors associated with non-partner rape perpetration: ﬁndings from the UN Multi-country Crosssectional Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Paciﬁc,’ Lancet Global Health, Vol.1, October 2013, e208-e218.
Ada Johansson, Pekka Santtila, Nicole Harlaar, Bettina von der Pahlen, Katarina Witting, Monica Algars, Katarina Alanko, Patrick Jern, Markus Varjonen, and N. Kenneth Sandnabba, ‘Genetic Effects on Male Sexual Coercion,’ Aggressive Behavior, 2008 Volume 34, 190–202.
Tim Kaiser, Marco Del Giudice, Tom Booth, ‘Global sex differences in personality: Replication with an open online dataset,’ Journal of Personality, 2020, 88, 415–429.
David P. Schmitt, Martin Voracek, Anu Realo, Ju¨ri Allik, ‘Why Can’t a Man Be More Like a Woman? Sex Differences in Big Five Personality Traits Across 55 Cultures,’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2008, Vol. 94, No. 1, 168–182.
Betsey Stevenson, Justin Wolfers, ‘The Paradox Of Declining Female Happiness,’ NBER Working Paper 14969, May 2009.
Robert Trivers, ‘Parental investment and sexual selection,’ in B. Campbell, Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man, Aldine de Gruyter, 1972, 136–179.