You're a big man, but you're in bad shape. With me it's a full-time job. Now behave yourself.
This is a fundamental epistemological problem, and although my comment referred to feminism, it could just as easily go all the way back to some of our oldest foundational ideas, such as Plato's parable of the cave. ABCs: our knowledge has limits. The dominant special interest group, privileged white males, has somehow managed to hit on this truth and neutralize it at the same time-- which is exactly what Hitchens always does. Appeals to reason, logic, common sense, and empirical evidence were used as brickbats to beat down the opposition to the Iraq War, and yet it was precisely in these areas the Iraq War failed, most signally in the easiest measure of all: Saddam had no WMDs.
But your post then restates what I take to be your criticism of feminists, which seems to be that they, like most identity-politics players, are not interested in arriving at anything resembling a larger truth applicable to all people, however flawed or limited, which is usually the claim their critics make for themselves. Rather, they are self-serving, narcissists seeking to justify the bratty, child-like tantrums they like throwing because the world won't wipe their asses for them anymore. No doubt some feminists are guilty of exactly that. Many aren't; and there are many more who have absorbed feminist ideas without actually being "feminists" as such, and they are not even close to being obnoxious narcissists. It seems to me that we are judging an entire philosophy or political movement based on their worst adherents. Yet neither you or I would sit here for a moment and tolerate a woman bashing men as a group based on the behavior of the worst specimens of our gender. Why do we set the bar so high for them? Could it be that deep down we know we have something to lose?
Also, as a side note, I've found that most feminists actually accept and promote the idea that there are a multiplicity of thought processes. In fact, the complaints of historically excluded people are almost always explicitly attached to demands that society embrace all Others, as Others, and not just to put themselves in power at the expense of other groups. There are fringe groups who do want that, but we call them extremists and radicals for a reason.
Last edited by Worm; December 9, 2011 at 03:38 PM.
That said, I think our point of view is still too narrow because it is not clear which feminism we're talking about. It's true there's a version of feminism prevalent among women who are powerful, but there are also versions of feminism coming from women who are not.
Last edited by Worm; December 9, 2011 at 03:43 PM.
I am not a relativist. I do believe people can reach consensus. Reason and truth exist, just in a much more complex way than many people seem to think. But it behooves us to recognize the limits of our knowledge, and throughout history the one group that has repeatedly and tragically failed to do this is privileged white males. And that is a valuable perspective feminism serves up better than any other critique of power, it seems to me.
"Human nature" is the other term, cousin to "common sense". You always hear the right talking about human nature.
Incidentally, lest common sense get too bad a reputation here, I have to point out that "Common Sense" is the name of a book written by one of history's all-time great radicals, Thomas Paine.
Last edited by Worm; December 9, 2011 at 04:43 PM.
What I'm saying isn't very profound.
Think of it like the ocean. The Atlantic Ocean is a huge body of water, it's always there, we know what it means, we can easily conceptualize it. We talk about it all the time as if it were like any other thing (a ball, a boy, a bee).
In reality the Atlantic Ocean is so complex it's dizzying. As soon as you begin to try and understand one aspect of the ocean, you have to understand 30 or 3000 other parts. The ocean is a system, not really a "thing", and within that system there are countless elements (condensation, evaporation, atmospheric patterns, currents, salinity, sealife, man-made pollution, etc). Also, time is also a major factor: what are we talking about, and when are we talking about it? Oceans are always changing.
Humans are just like the ocean or any other complex system in the sense that the only truly permanent aspect of life is that it's always changing. The mind often remains stuck in place, but the rest of us, and the world around us, does not.
That doesn't mean that understanding complex systems is impossible. Many things are knowable. But one has to think fluidly and recognize where and how the parts of these complex systems are shifting, including the observer who is trying to understand them. Nature is in flux. There's no standing outside it. To think we can is an illusion. But that does not mean we should give up and not try as much as possible to reach the truth about ourselves or the world. Understanding isn't zero-sum, all or nothing. It is important to try and understand what human nature is, but in doing so we can't forget our limitations, just as I know something real about the Atlantic Ocean even as I'm aware I know far less than an oceanologist.
I do not mean to infer that we should not try to understand the human condition (or question the nature of art) but personally, I do not know right questions.
Yes, but "I do not know the right questions" is a starting point to finding the right questions, not a reason to give up looking.
Think of it like the scientific method. A theory is only true until additional evidence disproves it. Scientists attempt to find a single transcendental truth, but as they do so they view their own efforts with skepticism. A good scientist will always try to disprove whatever it is she is trying to prove. Over time, incrementally, they arrive at "truths", solid ground on which they can stand. And they, too, don't limit themselves to scrutiny of the answers, they also constantly question the validity of their questions (as well as the instruments of measurement on which they rely). Read about the latest Higgs boson news, for example.
I don't think it's any different with art or politics or anything else. Nobody agrees on what art is, but that doesn't mean we can't make judgments about what's good or bad, or make positive, qualitative claims about individual works of art. Just because a thing can't be taken as entirely "proven" or "true" doesn't mean the opposite, that anything goes. Minor holes in the theory of evolution do not make the Flying Spaghetti Monster real; a few idiot drummers camped out at Occupy Wall Street did not mean the whole movement was bad, nor give the 1% a free pass; and not being able to define what art is, at all times and in all places, does not strip me of the capacity to think critically and dismiss some art as mere nonsense.
Last edited by Worm; December 9, 2011 at 05:59 PM.
For anyone interested, there was a good, long essay on the state of feminism in the London Review of Books, As Many Pairs Of Shoes As She Likes. Jenny Turner surveys the scene and touches on some of the points mentioned here.
It's too long to condense with any fairness to the material, but there are a few points she makes worth excerpting; her underlying argument is somewhat in agreement with Qvist (and Hitchens), that the mainstream feminist movement lost its way around 1970 with "the personal is the political" choking off other avenues down which women could go. One of these was Marxism, which as Joan Didion noted in 1972 was key to the early stages of the movement. Turner quotes Barbara Ehrenreich's contention that "there is no way to understand sexism as it acts on our lives without putting it in the historical context of capitalism". Turner also notes, as I did, above, that one of the major problems with post-60s feminism is that it became vulnerable for exploitation by the usual capitalist suspects:
Feminism, according to the sociologist Angela McRobbie, has been ‘disarticulated’ and ‘undone’, bits pulled out, reworked and retwisted, and other bits dumped. At the moment, the popular elements include ‘empowerment’, ‘choice’, ‘freedom’ and, above all, ‘economic capacity’ – the basic no-frills neoliberal package. It’s fine for any ‘pleasingly lively, capable and becoming young woman’ to aspire to this. It doesn’t matter if she’s black or white or mixed race or Asian, gay or straight or basically anything, so long as she is hard-working, upbeat, dedicated to self-fashioning, and happy to be photographed clutching her A-level certificate in the Daily Mail. This young woman has been sold a deal, a ‘settlement’. So long as she works hard and doesn’t throw bricks or ask awkward questions, she can have as many qualifications and abortions and pairs of shoes as she likes.
For me this doesn't necessarily discredit the idea of "the personal is the political", though, because capitalism has forced matters into the personal in new and frightening ways. Turner's second paragarph starts off with an interesting quote from a woman who was commenting on the riots in London earlier this year:
A writer called Charmaine Elliot posted on Blackfeminists.blog, remembering her own youth in London. ‘I took a trip to Selfridges one afternoon to visit a friend and was struck by advertising slogans that said, à la Barbara Kruger, I shop, therefore I am. And I couldn’t help but wonder that as I couldn’t actually shop, ergo what?’
Just as Britney Spears astutely reminded us, a body is now a political statement in different ways than it was in the 70s. Today corporations are people and if you don't have a high score with the credit agencies you are effectively a non-person.
My own thoughts about uncertainty, multiplicity, etc, above, are echoed in this bit: "To put it schematically: “women” is historically, discursively constructed, and always relative to other categories which themselves change.’ Thus the British poet-philosopher Denise Riley in Am I That Name? (1988), her short, playful, brilliant study of the many ways in which fixed identities never work. ‘That “women” is indeterminate and impossible … is what makes feminism,’ Riley concluded, so long as feminists are willing ‘to develop a speed, foxiness, versatility’". Though I speak as a male, I find this convincing, and certainly very applicable to me. It's a healthy attitude, one I got from feminism-- by way of Morrissey, natch.
Last edited by Worm; December 9, 2011 at 07:05 PM.
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the following in her manifesto "On the Vindication of the Rights of Women" of 1792. It is a proto-feminist essay, but it illustrates the philosophy behind gender equality. It was written in response to the prevailing 18th century notion that women should not be educated, because they are incapable of rational thought. Although Wollstonecraft's work is marred by some of the conventions of her time, it presents a very compelling argument that the education of women would lead to a complete realignment of society and humankind as a whole. As you can see, the role of mother was neither denigrated or dismissed:
"I am aware that this argument would carry me further than it may be supposed I wish to go; but I follow truth, and, still adhering to my first position, I will allow that bodily strength seems to give man a natural superiority over woman; and this is the only solid basis on which the superiority of the sex can be built. But I still insist, that not only the virtue, but the knowledge of the two sexes should be the same in nature, if not in degree, and that women, considered not only as moral, but rational creatures, ought to endeavour to acquire human virtues (or perfections) by the same means as men, instead of being educated like a fanciful kind of half being—one of Rousseau's wild chimeras.
Women, as well as despots, have now, perhaps, more power than they would have if the world, divided and subdivided into kingdoms and families, was governed by laws deduced from the exercise of reason; but in obtaining it, to carry on the comparison, their character is degraded, and licentiousness spread through the whole aggregate of society. The many become pedestal to the few. I, therefore, will venture to assert, that till women are more rationally educated, the progress of human virtue and improvement in knowledge must receive continual checks. And if it be granted that woman was not created merely to gratify the appetite of man, nor to be the upper servant, who provides his meals and takes care of his linen, it must follow, that the first care of those mothers or fathers, who really attend to the education of females, should be, if not to strengthen the body, at least, not to destroy the constitution by mistaken notions of beauty and female excellence; nor should girls ever be allowed to imbibe the pernicious notion that a defect can, by any chemical process of reasoning, become an excellence. In this respect, I am happy to find, that the author of one of the most instructive books, that our country has produced for children, coincides with me in opinion; I shall quote his pertinent remarks to give the force of his respectable authority to reason."
I do not want to make you a feminist - if that goes against your grain, so be it. But I do want to defend feminism against all the petty tropes that have arisen out of the relative success of the movement. Agere sequitur credere: we act on what we believe to be true.