Monday, March 23, 2015

More Men and Marriage

Summaries and Restatements of Some of Gilder's Arguments

One way of expressing some of Gilder's arguments: Men who are acculturated to tie their sense of manliness to making money and caring for a wife and children do a better job of getting rich and caring for their wives and children than men acculturated differently. They are less likely to leave their families, commit violent acts against women and children, be sexually promiscuous, and contribute to other societal evils. Consequently, gendered differences are a societal good because the naturally beneficial impulses of women to nurture children and foster society shape the naturally selfish and detrimental impulses of men towards societally beneficial ends. Without those gendered differences, society and civilization will fall apart and make the world economically poor and physically violent.

Wealth is a primary moral good, and how wealthy a person or society is becoming is a sign of how morally healthy that person or society is (at least most of the time).

Men are not biologically well adapted to the cultural/technological reality that strength and risk taking are no longer necessary to success in human life. Society is experiencing serious problems as the result of this, because it has made the role of men in the family less secure. Gilder has drawn the correct conclusion that we must face this biologically influenced problem directly or we are living in dream worlds. Gilder's conclusion is that women should fix these problems by approximating their subservient, tribal role (what they evolved for) like they continued to do throughout the development of capitalism in Europe and the U.S.

In all of his analysis of biology and evolution (which is flawed in too many ways to address), he has missed the import of a couple of the facts that he himself points us toward. Culture has influenced human evolution. Our bodies adapt, over time, to new environmental pressures. Human dimorphism has already shifted (lessened) in response to technological and cultural changes in our evolutionary history, and this was known in 1980. Since then we have learned that sexual dimorphism affects far fewer traits, and is far less significant in defining a person's personality and motivations, than Gilder asserted. In fact, variation among males or among females is much greater than the differences between sexes on all but a few, mostly physically obvious, traits. By Gilder's kind of reasoning, this lessening in sexual dimorphism was an essential step in getting to the nearly wonderful capitalist present (that would be even better if it were more patriarchal and more capitalist). Why does he think pressures to lessen the dimorphism even further will result in the destruction of civilization when that same lessening resulted in the emergence of civilization? Apparently we have the variability in male biology to adapt to a stronger position for women in our society, but maybe accepting and fostering that will create a society where "masculine" men, by Gilder's definition, can't survive. I actually hope so. We can't afford the kind of dishonesty, war, and destruction that supporting such definitions of manhood has brought upon us throughout history. Humanity can't survive attitudes that take us back to our more violent past.

Problems and Changes Gilder's Solutions Don't/Can't Address

  • Technology has taken jobs in the past, is taking them now, and will take even more in the future. I'm surprised a successful futurist hasn't incorporated this fact into his worldview. Loss of the ability to provide for a family destroys marriage. This has nothing to do with feminism or sexual liberation. No amount of societal or sexual pressure will give jobs to people when those jobs don't exist.
  • Technology has removed many consequences of promiscuity, technology is removing the dependence of women on men for reproduction, and technology is beginning to remove the dependence of men on women for reproduction. No amount of societal pressure will undo these technological advances, and most people don't think we should. These advances serve many traditionally good purposes as well, such as healthcare research and helping infertile couples conceive and bear children.
  • We may very well be at a point where human culture is affecting biological evolution (in fact it is extremely likely). We won't solve the problems of this shift by fighting evolution and going backwards to more male-dominated, more tribal mentalities.
  • Sexual liberation and feminism are not responsible for high levels of female infanticide that have resulted in large numbers (hundreds of millions) of unmarriageable males in the Far East. The lack of economic value of women is more responsible, and the shame cultures that place high value on masculinity.
  • Sex and World Peace suggests three ways to make the world better for women: 
    • protect women physically through making and enforcing laws that protect their safety. Such laws often have the consequence of making women less dependent on their husbands to protect them, and according to Gilder's logic must undermine manhood and thus society. I say, such a society deserves to be undermined. Gilder's logic says reducing women's dependence on men will destroy society and make it worse for both men and women. Look at the evidence in Sex and World Peace. The world is measurably better for men and women in countries and cultures where women are dependent on law, not husbands, for their safety.
    • make women equal in family law. Gilder implies that family law already undermines manhood through divorce laws that typically take the family from the man and unman him. Even if Gilder's view were defensible (it isn't. Read Sex and World Peace to see how nations benefit from equality in family law), I say tough. Be a man. Deal with it. It's no excuse for anti-social or destructive behavior.
    • have women present in roughly equal numbers with men on ruling councils. According to Gilder such efforts would undermine the natural place of men and destroy society. Having a hard time making that connection? Read Gilder's book. It's pretty clear. Except Sex and World Peace provides evidence of how the world is better where women are present in large numbers on governing councils.
I have failed to find value in Men and Marriage. It is poorly informed and reasoned from a biological perspective. It is short on evidence and long on opinion (in contrast to Sex and World Peace and Poor Women in Rich Countries, which are long on the former). It looks narrowly at the U.S. most of the time and provides no quantitative controls or comparisons to help interpret most of the statistics provided (in the first eight chapters). It dismisses all feminism and sexual liberationism as leading to the extremes, and dismisses anyone who thinks otherwise as ignorant or intellectually dishonest. It fosters a black and white, either/or approach to the issues which helps his weak arguments (who wants the awful alternative of society falling apart?), but fails to suggest solid, actionable paths like those indicated in Sex and World Peace. It labels everyone who would give rights and autonomy to women as desiring the sameness of women and men. It overplays the differences between men and women and undermines the agency of both men and women to choose moral courses without being forced to them (men by their sexual urges and women by the men who control their laws and finances).

I have been kindly accused of being a bleeding heart liberal who just doesn't understand the economic or social implications of my political, economic, and religious views. If agreeing with Men and Marriage implies correct understanding of politics and economics, I can confidently state that I have more reason and evidence behind my bleeding heart liberalism than any Gilderian conservative, and in addition I have compassion for the plight of women and the poor. On rational, moral, and emotional grounds, I'd rather be where I am than go backward to Gilder's ideal manhood.

My Summaries

I didn't finish reading Men and Marriage. I stopped after chapter 8. I don't think Gilder's ideas deserve more air time, and I was tempted to not complete my review at all and just let the topic die. But I did this much work, and many people I know (and even some I love) are influenced by the supposed reasons of arguments like Gilder's, so I will publish my summaries of the first eight chapters. I do not pretend that my summaries are thorough or fair. At first I tried to be. Later summaries just tried to capture what seemed to be the main point of Gilder's argument without nuance or attempts to make it seem palatable.

Maybe in part three Gilder has some interesting and insightful things to say about economics and family. Maybe he points out some worthwhile things for us to do to make the world better. But his poor reasoning, dearth of quantitative evidence, and poor use of the evidence he does provide in the first eight chapters made me unwilling to continue. If I were to interpret his actions in writing this book, I might posit that he perceives feminism, sexual liberation, and socially liberal economic policies as threats to his masculinity, so he feels morally justified in playing fast and loose with evidence to protect that sense of manhood. That would be an evidence based opinion (see link in chapter 4 notes) as well established as many of Gilder's arguments.

Chapter 2 The Facts of Life

Gender binary is a biological reality, not simply a cultural construct. We need to accept these biological differences and shape our institutions and culture to channel them toward the optimal ends. (side note: people who don't fit the binary are abnormal.) Every human society has been dominated militarily and politically by men, and women have only had significant power when men were significantly absent. Hormones are destiny, and we should accept it and see it as good. [While I concede sexual dimorphism, recent measurements suggest it is neither as large nor as important as Gilder implies. I will question the conclusions later, if needed.]

Chapter 3 After the Hunt

Violence is a natural outlet for male hormonal impulses, so war ("defence") and hunting are good past times for men so they leave food growing/gathering/preparation and child rearing to women. Humanity has made advances that have problematized the natural, tribal gender and hierarchy roles, and this has had psychological consequences for our time. A developmental replacement for violent outlets of masculinity was to tie masculinity and approved sexuality to economic growth--you had to be financially independent to be socially approved more marriage and conceiving children.
"In terms of the relations between men and women, the industrial revolution, for all its violence and technological impetus, was probably dependent upon a draconian imposition on males of the long-term rhythms and perspectives of female sexuality. Men were made to feel that their identities as males were dependent not chiefly on religious rituals, or gang depredations, or hunting parties, or warfare, but on work, initiative, love, and responsibility for a wife and children. The new structure of motivation, which arose in agrarian England and Western Europe . . . prompted the ideas of individual responsibility, dignity, and equality that are the pride of capitalism."
In other words, behind every good male-dominated civilization, there's a good female civilizing influence. This has gotten us to the place we're at, and the burden of proof for the goodness of change is on the people who are calling for change.
[a la Sex and World Peace, that evidence is plentiful the moment you stop looking at the world from a male-centric viewpoint, and it's even evident from male-centric economic and technological viewpoints. Also, even from Gilder's narrative, responding to women made the industrial revolution possible. Why would you assume we have now arrived and that really listening to women on human councils (making them equal in numbers and power on those councils) would not continue human improvement?]

Chapter 4

Young men need to be civilized. Sex is the only power sufficient to control him, so society has to tie access to sex to socially beneficial behaviors. Work and women do this because they define masculinity and masculine success. Young men who don't find these successes will hurt society.
[Threatened masculinity does justify for men selfish and unethical behavior, but as the definitions vary culturally, so do the senses of threat. Gilder is proposing removing the threat to masculinity by increasing men's sense of masculinity based on economic success and dominance over a single family unit (as opposed to over women generally). But this means threats to a man's economic success will promote less moral behavior in the workplace. We will have more cheaters in financial and political realms who feel just fine about it. That's Gilder's "pride of capitalism"?]
American couples are happier with an ambitious male provider and unhappier with an ambitious female provider. Men who say they support equality for women in the workplace don't really because they are fighting a biological reality, namely that working women threaten their sense of masculinity. Gilder's solution? Women should fix men by staying financially dependent on them and either out of the workplace or in low paying jobs.
[Seriously? He puts it in a lot more words and from a male perspective so that it doesn't sound so brazen, but if you don't believe me read the chapter and summarize his solution for me, yourself.]

Chapter 5

Powerful men are the winners of social changes that have reduced pressures for men to be monogamous. Divorce and promiscuity [which Gilder equates with sexual liberation] yield more poor women, powerful men taking advantage of the freedom of women to choose because most women choose them, dangerously increased numbers of single men, and a less egalitarian and more dangerous society. Gilder's solution? Keep women financially dependent and enforce monogamy through limiting divorce.
[So it's feminists' fault for claiming that women should have choice and autonomy that is responsible for the abuses of powerful men because powerful men can't help themselves--it's just a biological reality. Again, show me that I'm misinterpreting this. The first three chapters were just about how men can't change, and those following are just about how we shouldn't ask them to, but those who control the economy (powerful men) and those who control sex (women, but not really because they don't have sexual autonomy) should use men's unavoidable impulses to control them. To me that sounds like the business model of the pornography industry, but it's women's lib that's responsible for the pornography industry, not Gilder's model.]

Chapter 6

Single men = poor, neurotic, and harmful to society. Here Gilder presents a few statistics that I don't doubt are real. We have societal problems that result from large numbers of unmarriageable men. Gilder presents a handful of very broad statistics, provides no controls or reference points other than some imagined past where the family was stronger and these problems were much less for that reason, and not given time to any competing explanations or multifactorial explanations. He's even goes so far as to say (it may have been in a different chapter) that looking for multifactorial explanations to some problems Gilder points out is a waste of time because it overlooks the biological and family reality (from chapters 1-3) that Gilder claims explains everything.
[If you want to talk about ways we can improve the world relative to any of the problems Gilder brings up in this chapter, I'd be happy to look into those issues more with you. I'm convinced these are serious problems we face, but as you can see from other comments I find Gilder's solutions intellectually and morally bankrupt.]

Chapter 7

Gilder blames homosexuality on increases in numbers of single young men.
[Why aren't there higher proportions of black homosexuals than white in the U.S., since there are higher proportions of single black young men? That's a convenient oversight. Plus, Gilder's biology on this was incorrect then, and has been shown to be beyond left field since then. He would have done better to stick with his hormones as destiny thesis on this subject, too.]

Chapter 8

Gilder blames high percentages of single parent homes (or "high illegitimacy rates" as he phrases it to emphasize the strength of his thesis) on the welfare state and how that has made poor women financially independent. He claims other experts don't have any good explanations.
[I admit the problems with the numbers of broken families in the African American community. Many of them admit it. But it couldn't possibly be the result of centuries of slavery followed by institutional racism and poverty that have destroyed Black families. It must be the financial "independence" of Black women and their resulting lack of need for Black men to  provide. It couldn't be that Black men feel like it is impossible for them to provide for a family adequately in any legal way because of racism in education and the work place. No, it's the welfare state that's to blame.]

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