iSoul In the beginning is reality.

Tag Archives: Society

Sex and gender

Let us untangle the words sex and gender, which have become so confused and adulterated. In the past they were almost synonymous but today are quite different. The Online Etymology Dictionary notes:

As sex (n.) took on erotic qualities in 20c., gender came to be the usual English word for “sex of a human being,” in which use it was at first regarded as colloquial or humorous.

Academic theorists have successfully tied gender to culture, which can change with one’s place, time, or personal inclinations. Today there is no reason to use gender as a substitute for sex, for example on forms. Also one should not say sex when one means gender.

Let us then accept the simple distinction between sex, a biological term, and gender, a cultural term. In accord with this, let us distinguish male and female sexes from masculine and feminine genders. The former is fixed at conception, recorded at birth, and an aspect of physical embodiment throughout life.

Let us also acknowledge that there is no simple relation between male and female on the one hand, and masculine and feminine on the other hand. We could posit as a definition that masculine means the cultural expectations for males, and feminine means the cultural expectations for females.

But it would be simplistic to speak as though males are always masculine and females are always feminine. We are all a mix of masculine and feminine aspects, although their definition suggests that most males are mostly masculine and most females are mostly feminine.

What if a male is mostly feminine or a female is mostly masculine? Some societies would not permit it, but most find a way of accommodation. This has been the source of humor as, for example, the not-so masculine husband with the not-so feminine wife who appear to act in socially expected ways but really do not.

What if a male is so feminine they want to be addressed with a feminine pronoun, or a female is so masculine they want to be addressed with a masculine pronoun? On the face of it, masculine behavior and masculine pronouns might seem to go together, as might feminine behavior and feminine pronouns. But that would make society captive to personal behaviors that have changed and may change again. One purpose of culture, that is, social conventions, is to make things simpler for society. Conforming society to the changed and changing behaviors of individuals would make society the pawn of individuals. That would be counter to social solidarity.

So let us use pronouns that correspond to sex, not gender. A similar argument holds for what should be obvious, public accommodations such as public bathrooms that are related to biological functioning, in which public safety and comfort are also at issue.

Sane slogans

We live in a political time. Politics intrudes everywhere because the state intrudes everywhere. So the political stakes keep getting higher. And the political rhetoric keeps getting louder and more vulgar.

The only way to lower the intensity is for the state to back off. More issues need to be taken off the political agenda and put on the social agenda, the business agenda, the neighborhood agenda.

Meanwhile we need to reaffirm sanity — and have sane slogans. Here are a few:

Belief is more than knowledge.

Identity politics is hate speech.

Imaginary insults are no offense.

The only race is the human race.

Peace is an attitude. Freedom is a goal.

Society is sovereign.

Male and female are parallel.

vertical parallels

Manliness

Harvey C. Mansfield wrote the book Manliness (Yale University Press, 2007) which is about manliness in the gender-neutral society. The author is a professor of government at Harvard University so the book is concerned with manliness in its social setting. The book is an intellectual tour de force that seeks a place for manliness in contemporary society. And the conclusion strikes just the right note.

What follows are some excerpts from this book:

Manliness seeks and welcomes drama and prefers times of war, conflict, and risk. Manliness brings change or restores order at moments when routine is not enough, when the plan fails, when the whole idea of rational control by modern science develops leaks. p.ix

Manliness is below the gentleman, since many manly men are coarse and rude, but I believe it is also above him in the unfamiliar uncelebrated manliness of the philosopher. p.xii

The gentleman, however, is an embarrassment to the gender-neutral society. p.5

How is it possible that men will let women do men’s work but no reciprocate and do women’s work when women are perfectly willing to let them do it — when women even invite them to do it? The answer is that men look down on women’s work. They look down on it not because they think it is dirty or boring or insignificant, which is often true of men’s work; they look down on it because it is women’s. p.7-8

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Three racisms

A previous post on racism is here.

This is a big picture, philosophical look at racism or racisms (as in Francisco Bethencourt’s Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century, Princeton University Press, 2014). It is also historical, although that is incidental to the philosophical progression.

Racism means treating people differently (e.g., negatively) depending on their race. Here races are understood as varieties of the human species (or kind), which are often associated with ethnic and cultural characteristics. Racism is wrong in an ethical sense. However, taking ethnic and cultural characteristics into account is acceptable as a social grace or for effective communication.

Realist racism is based on the doctrine that different races are different in kind, not merely in degree. So the various associations with race are considered as characteristic of the natural or created kinds. That implies there is nothing one can do to change these characteristics. If a race is considered slaves by nature (barbarians to the ancient Greeks), then that is what they always were and always will be. From this position an equality of races makes no more sense that an equality of apples and oranges.

Eugenic racism is the doctrine based on evolutionary biology in which races are different population groups, which could interbreed to form new races or be kept separate and maintain divergent traits. In evolutionary biology a single-race population might even become a new species. Because of the evolutionary descent from primitive organisms, it is possible that different races might be earlier or later in the evolutionary tree. This is taken as a justification by eugenic racists that breeding practices applied to animals should be applied to humans as well, in order to purify or perfect a racial group.

Identity racism is based on the doctrine that different racial identities (including related ethnicities and cultures) should be allowed to flourish on their own to ensure their development without interference. Identity racism supports race consciousness and race politics. The relation between races may be viewed as egalitarian or not. What matters is that independent racial development must be maintained for the sake of civil rights and social justice. Today non-egalitarian identity racism is widely condemned, but egalitarian identity racism is not widely recognized for its own racism.

The Western ideal has been individual development, apart from race. An ideal of collective development might also be different from race. In any case, we should focus beyond race to the development of our individuality and common humanity.

Equality and hierarchy

The state of nature was invented by Thomas Hobbes to support his idea of a social contract that was (or would have been) entered into by free individuals. In the natural state people would have been totally free but also lacking in security and other goods of society. So they voluntarily entered into a social contract that reduced their rights in exchange for social goods.

This placing of individual rights before social duties is what Harvey Mansfield called the beginning of liberalism. It is an egalitarian liberalism, since everyone is in an equal state of nature and has an equal right to make (or break) a social contract.

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Three kinds of racism

I believe there is only one race – the human race. Distinctions between people that use the word “race” are really about something else. I think there are three main ways that people use the word “race” and consequently may act in discriminatory ways toward people they believe are of other races.

(1) Racism of ancestry. This is the oldest kind of racism. It is a racism of “blood”. The one-drop rule says that “one drop” of blood from (sub-Sahara) Africa makes a person a member of the Negro or black race. The appearance of the person does not matter. Their culture or mannerisms do not matter. Only their ancestry matters.

This is the purest racism, which is built on feelings and ideas about racial purity, inherited character, and immutable destiny. There is nothing a person of a deprecated race can do to earn the respect or approval of someone who has this kind of racism.

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Politics and character

It is perhaps good that societies go through occasional paroxysms of outrage over abuses and vices among the high and mighty. That’s one way to reiterate the boundaries of acceptable conduct. It would be better if boundaries were in general supported on a daily basis, but societies have their ways.

In a representative system of government, it is often felt that representatives should represent all that is best in society, that they should reflect the self-image of people as good and wholesome. That may be asking more than elections can deliver, but it’s a noble sentiment.

The foremost task of a political representative is to represent the political views of the people in the district or state they represent. Alas, that includes the selfish side of the people. This is shown annually in budget battles for shares of the public purse.

A candidate whose words reflects the positions of the people is normally the best candidate without further ado. But if there are questions about character defects in the candidate, then the electorate has to take that into consideration, mainly to discern whether or not the candidate’s actions and voting would be consistent with their statements and promises.

If a candidate’s consistency is not an issue, they may still be questioned for their suitability if their character does not reflect the self-image of the people. What if the electorate has to choose between a candidate who does reflect their views but not their self-image and a candidate who reflects their self-image but not their views?

The choice is clear if unpalatable: elect the candidate who reflects the political views of the people because that is the purpose of an election. The integrity of the political process is what is the most important in an election.

Remember that democracies are not refined affairs. For example, promoting candidates with rum was an old trick in the early days of the republic (see here). If representatives reflect the political views of the people, that is sufficient. To insist on much more would be to expect some form of aristocracy.

Custom-made disagreement

I’ve written a few times before about U.S. Supreme Court cases, without claiming legal expertise. This time it’s the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, with oral arguments presented yesterday. This case is important because of the culture war implications and interesting because of the need to draw a line between behavior the state can prohibit and behavior the state can’t prohibit.

The case is complicated by several factors: it concerns a business, not an individual; it concerns a corporation, not a sole proprietorship; it concerns a message without knowing any text associated with that message; it concerns freedom of speech, though it seems like freedom of religion; and it concerns food, which seems removed from freedom of speech.

The justices seemed to see the case in a larger context, which is good because that’s the rub. Where do we draw the line? The principle that a business must serve all comers is well recognized and accepted. But can a business refuse a customer on the basis of their purpose for buying the goods or services?

In most cases, a business does not know what that the customer’s purpose is, other than the obvious one – e.g., food is purchased to eat. But in the case of a custom product or service the business needs to know the customer’s purpose. What if the business does not want to be part of fulfilling that purpose?

There are straightforward cases of a customer of a print shop who wants a message printed that the print shop objects to. The customer has the freedom of speech to speak the message but the business has the freedom to refuse to assist them because of the message. The refusal is focused on the message, not the customer themselves.

Although a message wasn’t yet part of the transaction, the parallel with the cakeshop is clear. The cakeshop objected to the purpose of the custom-made cake the customer wanted. The state should not be able to force a business to make something for a purpose they object to.

The cakeshop could advertise that they custom-make wedding cakes for traditional weddings and (perhaps in small print) they don’t custom-make cakes for non-traditional weddings – except that a customer may purchase any off-the-shelf cake and use it for any purpose they choose.

Is that too difficult to understand?

Centrists and extremists

There are a variety of centrists, as there are a variety of means (e.g., arithmetic, geometric, harmonic, etc.). But all centrists share certain characteristics, which differ markedly from all extremists.

Centrists reside in the center, the middle, from a long-term perspective. Unlike moderates, who go with the flow of current politics and culture, centrists resist change away from the center. As I’ve noted before, that often makes centrists contrarians, trying to turn society away from movement toward any extreme.

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Conservatives and liberals

The terms “conservative” and “liberal” are used in a variety of contexts but what is the distinction? They have come down to us through 19th century politics, but that turns out not to help much since many conservatives today would consider themselves as “classical liberals”. One can use alternate terms such as traditionalist and progressive, but they have various associations of their own.

I would say that the basic distinction is this: conservatives are most concerned with saving something – souls or money or traditions – and liberals are most concerned with spending something – lives or money or resources. That is, conservatives focus on what is worth keeping and liberals focus on what is worth spending.

Religious conservatives want to save souls, to promote what it is that brings salvation, to keep people from being or becoming infidels or unbelievers. Religious liberals want to spend their lives helping people, making the world a better place, doing something that needs to be done.

Economic conservatives want to save money, to buy only necessities, to keep money safe for future needs. Economic liberals want to spend money, to give to the poor, to use money to improve the world now. In the past, this has meant that conservatives had more money than liberals but that is not necessarily true today. Contemporary culture is a spendthrift culture, where most people do not save money either because they have more than enough already or because they live for the present.

Environmental conservatives are “preservationists,” those who value nature for its own sake and want to save it from development. Environmental liberals are “conservationists,” those who want to spend natural resources optimally for the sake of humanity. This is the inverse of what political conservatives and liberals want to do regarding the environment.

Political conservatives want to keep traditions that have worked for generations, to maintain the solvency of governing institutions, to preserve culture and society. Political liberals want to spend resources on improving society, to change what is wrong with society, to remake everything in light of their vision for the world.

In short, conservatives see the glass as half-full, and liberals see it as half-empty. Liberals see what the have-nots need, and conservatives see what the haves could lose. In the past conservatives were considered more pessimistic – seeing what could go wrong – whereas liberals were more optimistic – seeing what could work for the better. But today liberals are almost paranoid about the future – warning of disaster if society doesn’t change radically – whereas many conservatives are content to stay the course with only modest changes.

I have written before, here, about an inversion that can take place between conservatives and liberals. If liberals succeed at changing society enough, then conservatives may long to change things back to where they were before, whereas liberals want to keep their gains. Then liberals will resist change and conservatives will promote a return to what was lost. So conservatives become liberals and liberals become conservatives.

We save in order to have something to spend, and we spend in order to have something to save. The wise counselor advocates balance between these two movements. That is the centrist approach.