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February 16, 2013

Some Good News

Elise is blogging again. Her latest post puts forth an interesting theory:

Perhaps what look like media malpractice and media bias to people on the Right; what look like deliberate decisions to deceptively edit and knowingly omit; what look like actions in service of an ideology and a goal; perhaps all that is simply a result of a mindset that defines certain people as existing outside the realm of decent, serious society and that believes no reason is sufficient to explain their utterly unacceptable ideas and policies.

Elise is onto something here, but I don't think it's the whole story. All writers are selective, but to paraphrase Tolstoy I suspect we are selective for different reasons.

I reject some issues because I'm conflicted about them. If I have a lot going on at work, I may simply lack the mental bandwidth for the discussions that will ensue. Sometimes - rarely - I reject a topic because it is emotionally freighted and I suspect my own position won't stand up well to scrutiny (mine, or that of others). That last one sometimes results in my writing about it anyway, but this doesn't happen as often as it should.

Sometimes I avoid topics because I know my friends disagree vehemently with me. I know I won't change any minds and don't want to distress them for no reason. This is why I don't write about pornography or prostitution. That's not something I'm proud of.

Elise's post reminded me of one of the most thought provoking posts I've ever read on bias. It took me a while to find it:

Suppose we look at writing on issues where people tend to hold strong opinions that fit with their ideology. Such writing can

(a) attempt to open the minds of people on the opposite side as the author

(b) attempt to open minds of people on the same side as the author

(c) attempt to close minds of people on the same side as the author

So, think about it. Wouldn't you classify most op-eds and blog posts as (c)? Isn't that sort of pathetic? Here are some more thoughts:

1. The default is (c). If you are not consciously trying to do (a) or (b), then you will almost surely do (c).

2. Most of us, most of the time, do (c).

3. Doing (c) 100 % of the time can earn you fame and fortune. Yes, you get criticized for it by people on the other side, but the positive reinforcement you get probably more than makes up for it.

4. Try to think of folks who try to have a high proportion of (a) and (b). The first ones that I think of are David Brooks and Tyler Cowen.

This part, in particular, fascinated me:

Tyler is good at paying attention to the strongest arguments of those with whom he disagrees. Focusing on weaker arguments instead is a classic (c) move. I only get annoyed when he gets to be so cagey with his own point of view that people can take him for holding an opinion that in fact he definitely rejects.

I spent a long time thinking about this one.

Posted by Cassandra at February 16, 2013 10:55 AM

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Just so you'll know, while you and I obviously disagree profoundly about pornography and prostitution, I always find it useful to review what you say on the subject. You're neither distressing me nor wasting your time. And that's true of a number of other issues, too.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 16, 2013 02:12 PM

Those are, actually, two topics that it would pay to reconsider. I've been rethinking my position on both for some time, so it may be that we don't disagree as much as once we did.

Posted by: Grim at February 16, 2013 02:27 PM

It may be that I'm too pessimistic on those particular topics.

I once had a male reader and blogger tell me that I was the first person who had ever caused him reconsider some of his positions on one of those topics. That really surprised me.

I don't think I changed his mind, by the way. He said it was more that for the first time, he understood some of the arguments on the other side. That's really all I've ever thought was possible/practical on most topics. It's probably pretty rare for most adults to completely change their minds, so that may not be a realistic goal.

These topics in particular seem to provoke emotional reactions in a fair number of folks on both sides, and it seems to me that once that happens, people are just talking past each other. But then I suppose the same could be said of many political debates :p

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2013 02:37 PM

I have to admit that I don't have a strong emotional reaction to either topic. Prostitution is wrong, and I think I can explain why; pornography is at least sometimes wrong on the same terms. I used to think that it was also sometimes right on other terms, and maybe it is; but the argument of moral degradation of society is clearly more obviously true today than it was ten years ago.

On the other hand, what I see as moral degradation is usually described by our gentle opponents across the aisle as social progress toward obvious justice. And they have arguments for this, which are rational in their way. So it's probably worth taking a new look at the problem. If you don't do it, I will. :)

Posted by: Grim at February 16, 2013 02:50 PM

Hmm. I need to think about (b) and (c) some more but I'm pretty sure I don't do (a). Why? Well, the ugly reason is because I sometimes think people who are on the opposite side are just idiots who will never be convinced by my obviously superior logic.

The less ugly reason is that it seems to me that people are unlikely to have their minds opened by reading something written by someone who believes strongly in the opposite of what they believe. I know that a passionate defense of a viewpoint I oppose often hardens my opposition.

I read somewhere very recently (wish I could remember where) that the best way to make someone more willing to consider an opposite view is not to explain what I believe or explain why they're "wrong" but rather to ask them to walk through their beliefs. I had one of those V8 head-slapping moments as I relived episodes from the past in which I had shut up in the face of a friend's (to me) inexplicable belief. Rather than badger him or her, I chose silence. I realized it would have been more productive to ask my friend to walk through his or her belief. Who knows? I might have learned something, too.

Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure how to do that walking through in a blog post.

Posted by: Elise at February 16, 2013 03:22 PM

"Try to think of folks who try to have a high proportion of (a) and (b). The first ones that I think of are David Brooks and Tyler Cowen."

As I'm unfamiliar with Tyler Cowen I'll substitute Peg Noonan. In either or both cases I find them to be as pathetic in being (a) (b) as those who traffic in (c).

Brooks & Noonan are preternaturally measured, thoughtful, incisive, fair... and paranormally gifted to detect what is not evident materially, spiritually, or in the abstract in any universe or dimension but the one they call their own.

Anyone may be stupid on occasion but there is always a threshold that may not be breached and when it is all understanding is suspended. To submit the "well-creased-pant-leg-means-he'll-make-a-good-president" hypothesis and expect to ever be taken seriously again suggests an breakdown. To break down Charles Murray's latest book Coming Apart and come away from it with the vapid observation "If we could jam the tribes together, we’d have a better elite and a better mass" is a relapse. I haven't any of Ms. Noonan's foolery at hand but it has been no less pathetic.

It's one thing to be led into a bias of whichever sort; it's another to be led into a yearning; I prefer the former.

There is not a bit of flattery to this: In the few months reading, I routinely come across a primed knowledge and insight at VilCo that I haven't noticed at Brooks & Noonan in years. And I have been disabused of my mistaken beliefs here; there, I've had nothing but laughs.

Posted by: George Pal at February 16, 2013 03:38 PM

I don't think we do (a) or (b) or (c) at the Hall. I assume you have a mind that is adequately open to consider a new argument, and doesn't need me to pry it apart; and I would be sad if you left the discussion with a mind that was closed. Maybe that's not exhaustive: maybe sometimes you just want to take a look at the problem in a fresh light. (One of Aristotle's favorite expressions, after he's gotten you a book or three into one of his works, is "We need to make a fresh start." And he does.)

Posted by: Grim at February 16, 2013 07:55 PM

c) reminds me of the discussion we were having a week or two ago (before it was terminally derailed by the critical lack of an apostrophe in one of the comments) regarding people on both sides of the political aisle largely agreeing but continuing to vote the same as always. The idea was floated that the Democrats considered the Republican brand "irretrievably damaged" (which, frankly, seems to be the case for both sides). Style c) definitely seems to contribute to this. It reinforces the idea that, no matter how hopeless one's own politicians are, those on the other side STILL managed to be worse.

Posted by: Matt at February 16, 2013 10:58 PM

I understand your struggle with certain issues, Cass. I too struggle very hard with despair when examining the political scene, and have been doing so for quite a long time. I have essentially given up on having meaningful discourse with those on the Left, because I have concluded that no amount of serious dialogue will have any impact upon them whatsoever. Liberal ideology is essentially a religion or cult. Evidence or reason means nothing because, after all, The Revolution can never be wrong. You would have better luck trying to persuade a jihadi that blowing up a bus full of schoolchildren is wrong, or a scientologist that Xenu really didn't live in a volcano 10 million years ago. If someone will reject any facts whatsoever that conflict with these kind of religious beliefs, then you might as well shout at the wind.

You have to remember, Lenin and his cadre of Bolsheviks were quite honest about their belief that the end justifies the means. Because the highest ideal was to achieve the Revolution, every action to lie, cheat, steal, or murder was not only permissible, but encouraged. Any student of history can see the long legacy of death and human misery that follow from left-wing "Revolutions" around the world. The evidence is overwhelming, but routinely rejected by the Left who want to give it another go.

As an immigrant from behind the Iron Curtain, I have always been appalled at the naivete of Americans in believing that Leftists are open-minded but merely misguided. I suppose it is true that the Revolution does need its "useful idiots", but at the core you always have a group of brutal, cold-blooded monsters. The undermining of America has been going on for about a century, and has been carefully proceeding according to Leftist plans. Read the writings of the early progressives at the beginning of the 20th century. They play for the long-term win, and many of their policies are only now bearing fruit. Remember, it took the Bolsheviks about 30-35 years to overthrow the Tsar and create the USSR. They followed a carefully scripted plan of social agitation, assasination and destruction of their political enemies, control of education, and skillful use of media propaganda.

For example, the abuse of the "protest march" was a favorite tactic. Get a big bunch of ordinary civilians for a supposedly peaceful protest march. Insert some die-hard Bolshevik agitators near the front. Have those agitators inflame the mob with fiery rhetoric, then attack the police/security forces with rocks or firebombs to hopefully provoke an overreaction or panic. The goal is to get civilians slaughtered by security forces firing on or even just beating up the mob. You will naturally have pro-Bolshevik media or agitprop agents there to catch everything on camera. Lurid photos, especially of any women or children injured, will be on the front page of every newspaper the next day. Weeping mothers are also great copy to show the monstrous callousness of the regime. Rinse and repeat.

This is the general script followed by the Left. The Leftist protestors of the 60s followed these Bolshevik tactics very carefully. Why this surprises anyone anymore boggles the mind. Kent State was perfect from a Leftist viewpoint and closely mirrors an incident that the Bolsheviks used very effectively in 1905. The 1968 Chicago riots as well. I have seen some of the raw footage, and you clearly see and hear the guys at the front of the crowd daring the police to open fire on them. They were hoping for a bloody massacre right in front of all the TV cameras. The Soviets always used to speak about "spontaneous uprisings of workers and peasants", but this amost never occurred. The Left carefully calculates and plots their moves well ahead of time for maximum propaganda effect. Naturally, they will certainly take advantage of a truly random event. As Obama's closest advisor, Rahm Emanuel, famously said: "You should never let a crisis go to waste".

The American people seem totally blind to this, though. The USA has been so blessed for so long, that many seem to take these blessings for granted. People seem to believe that the principle of cause and effect no longer applies here. We can do endless amounts of stupid and irresponsible things, but there will never be a day of reckoning. Its sad, really.

Posted by: a former european at February 17, 2013 07:15 AM

I think I do all three, (a), (b), and (c), from time to time. I'm not even sure I have a strong preference among them. But I like Elise's idea. It's not something you can do well in a post, but you can do it in a comments thread.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 17, 2013 05:11 PM

(a) is probably as close to the reason I started blogging as a single factor is likely to get.

That said, there is plenty of equal opportunity stupidity on both sides. It's just that we notice (and are offended less by) the stupidity coming from our own side. It's easier to dismiss out of hand, though that's a mistake. I used to believe that much of the reason conservatives don't do a better job of influencing the public was that so many conservative arguments are emotion-driven and begin by insulting not just their intended audience (a tactic not noted for enhancing an audience's receptiveness) but a fair number of folks on their own side.

I still believe that, only more so. What has changed is that I now think I understand a little better *why* our arguments don't gain traction in those cases where they're actually reasonable. I think it has a lot to do with Haidt's moral dimensions theory. The better conservative arguments sometimes manage appeal to values liberals share (fairness, care/harm). I have had the most success with liberals when I can point out harm from progressive policies, or when I can show how they are deeply unfair to individuals. But the care ethic is always going to be the one that is most difficult for conservatives to overcome.

Many of our arguments also appeal to values that liberals not only don't share, but which actually turn them off (purity/sanctity, authority, in group solidarity).

The "sluts and whores" contingent of the Republican party seem to be incapable of understanding how they sound, not just to liberals but to women who share many of their beliefs and values. I listen to these folks and I just cringe. And then there are brilliant tacticians like this gentleman.

That sort of thing is why the whole idiotic war on women shtick was so effective. Too many women like me, who have voted Rethug all their lives, hear frankly idiotic stuff like this and think, "You know, I don't want to have anything to do with people like you. And I don't want to associate myself with people who don't have the sense the good Lord gave a grapefruit".

Posted by: Cass at February 18, 2013 09:13 AM

Thank you so much for referencing that incredibly idiotic, unprincipled, bigoted, stupid post by the "brilliant tactician". I read that a couple of days ago and was going to blog about it but was afraid my head would just explode. (I still may write about it once I calm down which, obviously, I haven't yet.)

Ahem. To return to the original a, b, c issue: My knee-jerk response was to say I don't do (c) attempt to close minds of people on the same side as the author. And I don't when I'm making (what I think is) a reasoned argument. But that is exactly what I'm doing when I'm snarky or sarcastic or flippant or take the quick cheap shot.

I don't think it's always wrong to do it - sometimes I need to vent, sometimes I'm just overcome by my own cleverness :+), sometimes people need to feel solidarity with others of their "kind". But I do think it's important for me to be aware that's what I'm doing.

Finally, I think T99 is right that one can explore explanations for beliefs in comments - if and only if one has commenters who are engaging in good faith. To echo the bit of flattery, one of the most appealing thing about this blog is that Cassandra has the knack of creating such a community of commenters.

Posted by: Elise at February 18, 2013 11:33 AM

I saw the item several days ago too, Elise, and wasn't sure what to make of it.

I used to simply ignore that sort of thing, especially when accompanied by the inevitable, "Wink, wink, nudge, nudge... gosh, you didn't really think I was *serious*, did you?" inanity - mostly because it really is hard to take such weak arguments seriously.

OK - so you're seriously arguing that the ability to vote should be based on whether or not "enough" of a class of people vote for your preferred policy preferences? What is "enough", by the way? What threshold justifies disenfranchisement?

By that argument, blacks should not be allowed to vote. Far more blacks vote for progressives than women. What is it, 90%? And I as demonstrated shortly after the 2008 election, not "letting" women vote would have changed only one election in recent history, which seems rather inconvenient (not to mention short sighted).

This sounds rather like the gun debate again.

Married women vote Republican, for the most part. But we're willing to disenfranchise the "innocent" because the end justifies our means (but of course not the opposition's), or some such nonsense.


I didn't think it worth a post, but wanted to point it out, if only to counter the folks that responded to my ignoring this sort of thing by saying that it never happens.

Posted by: Cass at February 18, 2013 12:03 PM

I used to simply ignore that sort of thing, especially when accompanied by the inevitable, "Wink, wink, nudge, nudge... gosh, you didn't really think I was *serious*, did you?" inanity

Or my other personal favorite:

"Thanks for having the courage to say this out loud". Because it takes so much courage to post an opinion on the Internet.

Someone might disagree with you :)

Posted by: Cass at February 18, 2013 12:07 PM

I'm reading a book now about how to get by in the coming decline. It's mostly a way for the author to vent about how crazy things are getting, and I enjoy that part of it. What sticks in my craw is the frequent lapse into the assumption that he's talking only to men. You can't find good women any more, for instance, because (of course) feminism has ruined them. Women are good when they're his long-legged girlfriend bringing him a cold one, but all the rest are fat welfare queens putting out for their shiftless boyfriends. I think he has no idea how he sounds, or he is so sure that no women would agree with his conservative politics that he doesn't care.

It's really hard to get my attention on any argument made by a guy who constantly trumpets his view of women as a kind of quiet, convenient household appliance that he supports out of his superior skill and generosity.

So I try to take it as a lesson in how not to sound like so much of a jerk in my own ways. I think a lot of liberal thought is parasitic and irresponsible, when it means to be kind. That has to come across constantly as a deadly insult, because I'm tactless.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 18, 2013 12:23 PM

his view of women as a kind of quiet, convenient household appliance that he supports out of his superior skill and generosity.

This cracked me up. Thanks.

Posted by: Elise at February 18, 2013 12:35 PM

I think I know the book you mean, Tex -- did you cite it at the Hall, maybe? I read the introduction on Amazon, and decided not to bother with it precisely because of the woman-pointed language.

What might be helpful is if conservative women would help conservative men find a way to express the valid part of his complaints without the invalid parts. They want to say something like, "There has been a real decline in the moral quality of the average American woman," and also, "It is currently impossible to have a discussion about what a good woman ought to be like, because there is an instant rejection of the idea that a woman should be like anything in particular. You can talk about what a good person is like, which answers many problems, but there are areas in which men and women are genuinely different."

Is it possible to talk about a good woman, over and above whether she is good according to the standards for any person? It is certainly possible to talk about what a good man is like, over and above the basic moral code. There are certain moral standards that pertain particularly to when a man courts a lady, or when he is a husband, or a father, which arise from both the role and the essential nature of the men filling them.

Maybe it's not possible to do the same thing with women, and if so that's a genuine change related to feminism. And maybe it's mostly a positive change, but with some negative side effects -- something about what it means to be a wife or a girlfriend, or a mother. I think maybe what you would find most comfortable is to find ways to describe the differences as instead some sort of similarity, and reduce the fact of sex as much as possible. 'A father or mother cares for his or her child,' for example, with the differences in just how that care expresses itself either not spelled out or left in a footnote somewhere.

But there is something different about being a good father, versus being a good mother. There is something different about being a good husband, versus being a good wife. Both are necessary goods, and we ought to have a way of capturing what is unique and special about each role.

What we have instead are people getting frustrated with each other: women are frustrated because they don't want men to tell them what they can and can't do, and men because every time they try to talk about it they get painted as haters of women. Some of them go on to become genuine haters of women, I think, and that is a detestable thing. Some of them turn women into genuine haters of men, as women bristle at the increasingly unreasonable anger and bitterness of the women-haters' tone.

Perhaps we could help them if we could find a way to have the conversation respectfully. Or, at least, perhaps we could produce fewer of them.

Posted by: Grim at February 18, 2013 01:02 PM

Is it possible to talk about a good woman, over and above whether she is good according to the standards for any person? It is certainly possible to talk about what a good man is like, over and above the basic moral code. There are certain moral standards that pertain particularly to when a man courts a lady, or when he is a husband, or a father, which arise from both the role and the essential nature of the men filling them.

I think we had this discussion a long time ago, Grim. What I argued for, in particular, was the notion that being a good *person* has very little to do with masculinity or femininity. Being a good parent is, I think, similar.

For instance, when reading that WSJ article on the "masculinization" of parenting, I had to laugh because it was more descriptive of the way I raised my boys than most articles about supposedly "feminine" parenting. Why does good parenting even have to be masculine or feminine?

I think it's legitimate for me to ask that men I associate with be good people. I would never take it upon myself to tell men how to accomplish that, or to demand that they do so in a way that conforms to my idea of manliness. That's for them to decide - men aren't all alike. If they were, they'd be interchangeable and they're really not.

FWIW, it's every bit as difficult to talk about the declining moral character of men. And it HAS declined, overall. Which is not surprising, since most of us believe society's morals are declining overall.

Women are painted as haters of men when they try to bring these topics up. We joke about that here from time to time, remembering some of the more memorable drive by "rebuttals" directed at yours truly :)

We also get the tired old, "You must be ugly/insecure/controlling" (always such a convincing argument). I agree with you - wholeheartedly - about the problem. I don't know what to do about it, except to gently point out what I see and try to be as even handed as I can be about it. Being human, I don't always succeed.

Posted by: Cass at February 18, 2013 01:20 PM

One more thought.

I think any time someone of one sex begins to tell people of the other sex how they should act/think/feel, it's going to provoke a hostile reaction.

I try not to tell men how they should feel about various things. How in the hell should I know how a man should feel or what he should think? I have never been a man. I've never walked in a man's shoes, or lived in a man's body. So I can't tell a man how to be a man.

I *can* tell him what effect it has on me if he does X or Y or Z, and I think that's proper. I'm the authority on "How things seem to me" and "What I like and don't like". But I am not the authority on "What men should think".

That said, there have to be moral standards out there that don't depend on the notion that X is right when I do it, but wrong, evil, and bad when you do it.

Our instinctive reactions and thoughts are just one part of what it takes to make a civilized person as opposed to an uncivilized conglomeration of unchecked urges and emotions.

Where it often seems to me that both men and women go wrong in these debates is:

1. When they try to tell the other sex, "The right way to be is the way I am, or the way I want you to be".

2. When they endorse moral double standards (It's OK when I do it, but wrong when you do it. Why? Because I'm a man/I'm a woman and I say so).

Posted by: Cass at February 18, 2013 01:32 PM

I like the blog and appreciate the comments discussion. I think that perhaps there are further layers to the a,b,c classifications: for example how dogmatic or respectful. I enjoy VC in general because of your balanced approach to the topics (and I am in agreement with you in most cases). I think that a factual, respectful response could be categorized as a "C", but still has its uses. Attacking or belittling people could also be categorized as a "C", but have little value. I think a problem with the "A" approach is a difference of opinion about theories. Both sides may want the same final results (e.g. "A strong America") but have a fundamental difference of opinion about how to achieve the goal.

Posted by: TheAcorn at February 18, 2013 02:54 PM

Yes, sometimes a "c" argument is a call to battle among people who are mostly convinced but slightly wavering. "Closing the mind" might not be how I'd put it, but "removing enough doubt to facilitate decisive action" isn't always very much different.

I think it's a question of whether you're trying to remove doubt by honest means, or by hiding something. My mind is pretty closed on the subject of torturing animals for fun, or applying the death penalty to three-year-olds. I'm not necessarily going to take the time or trouble to consider counterproposals even if they're superficially reasonable and politely stated.

But on most subjects, of course, I have no cause to be so dogmatic or so uninterested in hearing an opposing view. I resent not being able to buy unpasteurized milk if I feel like it, but I'm open to consideration of the societal dangers from brucellosis.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 18, 2013 04:00 PM

What I argued for, in particular, was the notion that being a good *person* has very little to do with masculinity or femininity. Being a good parent is, I think, similar.

My concern is that, while you can certainly frame the discussion that way, the price is that you end up conducting it at a level of abstraction. That you should be "good" is obviously quite right; but there is a question about what it means to be good, given who you are and the particular roles and duties (and rights) inherent in your particular position and relationships.

It's a general problem not limited to issues of men and women. One of the biggest intellectual pushes of the last 300 years has been to try to make ethics rational. There are problems with doing that, and one of them is that you end up talking about abstractions. Both Kant's and Hegel's systems are bedeviled here, because when they get down to the place where they want to stop talking about rational abstractions and start laying out what a real person ought to do in a real case, it's pretty obvious that their systems can't handle the weight. The system is too abstract: it doesn't really define the duties they would like for it to impose.

So yes, we can do it that way, but if we do we aren't really talking about the problem. The problem is that men and women in our society are at an impasse about what they expect from each other, and are finding it difficult to form lasting relationships, or to treat each other with sensitivity and respect. Those problems are precisely about the differences between men and women, rather than the easy and rational abstractions: "One ought to be good," "One ought to do one's duty." Certainly! Agreed! But, ah! What does it mean to be good? What kinds of duties do I have, or ought I to accept?

Posted by: Grim at February 18, 2013 04:01 PM

And no, Grim, I suspect you're thinking of one of my other TEOTWAWKI books. My husband ordered this one, so I picked it up. I think if I'd read the reviews, I'd have been warned of. I'm feeling a little sulky about things, but this guy's too petulant even for me.

Mostly it's advice about how to hunker down, go off the grid, and stop working hard enough to expose yourself to confiscatory schemes. I'm thinking of going in the opposite direction: after several years of almost zero income, I may be taking on some oil & gas work. There's something very appealing about it right now, and business is booming. Let's see Texas go energy-independent! Take that, Washington! You too, Hugo!

Posted by: Texan99 at February 18, 2013 04:08 PM

Those problems are precisely about the differences between men and women, rather than the easy and rational abstractions: "One ought to be good," "One ought to do one's duty."

Grim, those are so broad and vague as to be useless and it's not as though we don't have more useful (and specific) standards:

1. Be honest.
2. Treat others with respect.
3. Keep your promises.

And so on. Now if you're arguing that there are male and female versions of these general rules, I'm willing to listen but they seem pretty straightforward already. Not sure we need to guild the lily.

The problem is that men and women in our society are at an impasse about what they expect from each other, and are finding it difficult to form lasting relationships, or to treat each other with sensitivity and respect.

I don't think the answer is for either sex to unilaterally dictate to the other what the other person's gender-specific duties are, though. There's a conflict of interest there you could drive a Mack truck through :p

It also seems that we're conflating standards and duties. Standards are generic. Duties are specific. We have marriage ceremonies that set forth the duties of marriage (not that people pay any attention to them). So the problem isn't that people don't know what to expect of each other, but rather that people aren't honoring their voluntary commitments.

Things like honoring your spouse or being faithful really aren't that hard to figure out.

I think the nastiness between the sexes occurs precisely because you have one sex trying to dicate to the other without any real willingness to be bound in turn. People want the benefits but not the hard work that makes those benefits possible.

Witness my periodic reminders that Hugh Hefner was no supporter of marriage and repeatedly provided a platform for precisely the kind of nasty stuff you're complaining about, long before Betty Friedan or no fault divorce came along, old Hugh was whipping up resentment of women and traditional institutions like marriage.

Posted by: Cass at February 18, 2013 04:37 PM

Oh, and by the way the worst of the rad feminists are no better. They want respect for women but they aren't willing to treat men with respect. It's a two way street.

Posted by: Cass at February 18, 2013 04:39 PM

I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. I don't know if you've been following along with that lecture series on Hegel, but on Valentine's Day the professor spoke about the sections on marriage and the family.

Now, Hegel has set up a rationalist model for how he thinks the family is structured, and this is one that on its face sounds pretty good. Marriage is defined by the co-determination of the wills of the two parties entering into it, which is takes the sex drive and turns it into an ethical union. This union has rules (being an ethical society in which there is a common good for the members of the union, as well as for the children they produce; and the children have rights as well as duties resulting from their character as needing education and development).

As the professor points out, however, Hegel goes on to make some assumptions about the marriage that his rationalist model can't support. These passed unnoticed at the time, but now it is clear that his model can't define marriage as he really believed marriage worked.

For example, since child-producing is a kind of contingent accident -- the core of the union is the ethical union co-determined by the individual wills of the marrying couple -- then there is no reason that it should be a union of man and woman. That may be fine, or not, but it turns out that they can co-determine pretty much any rules they want: so sexual fidelity and avoidance of adultery, which Hegel assumes (as we all used to do) to be at the core of what makes the union valid and binding, is in fact disposable. Monogamy? Hegel takes it as binding, but really there is no reason you can't co-determine to have a union of three or four (even if it were more difficult)

What we end up with when we strip it all away is a model for an ethical society exactly the same as the one Aristotle offers for friendship, which he saw as a practical union in which true friends would put their goods in common and live together directed at a common purpose. The thing we called marriage is entirely lost when you describe it in purely rational structures.

And of course, the story of the 200 years between Hegel and us is the playing out of that wearing away of marriage. The rational standards aren't enough.

You'd have thought that would be obvious, since Hegel realizes that he's talking about an institution founded on love. Of course the rules of love cannot be fully rational.

(It's also odd to me to take the starting point of the family with marriage, as he does, as opposed to with birth: in fact, we usually enter a family when we are born, not when we marry. That's a major flaw in his approach, from my perspective.)

[I]t's though we don't have more useful (and specific) standards:

1. Be honest.
2. Treat others with respect.
3. Keep your promises.

Well, number 3 is specific, although there remains a question about what kinds of promises it is right to ask of someone, or to make.

Number 2 is actually one of the examples I was offering you as problematic. :) What does it mean to show due respect to someone? Well, it differs a great deal depending on who they are, and who you are. It is a form, if you like, which has very different content depending on whether you are thinking about how you treat your father, or an adult stranger, or a child.

One of the things that seems to produce the most friction is how men and women treat each other in relationships. What constitutes "respect" here is a big part of the problem.

For example, we have no problem demanding of a young man that "showing respect" for a young lady he is dating includes getting explicit consent for sexual advances. So if she gets drunk and 'consents,' when her judgment may be clouded, we often still hold him responsible.

Now I think that is totally appropriate and correct. I'm not arguing against it. It seems to me to rise from a natural fact about young men, and some natural facts about young women (e.g., they are physically more susceptible to alcohol). It's not an exactly equal standard, but that is appropriate. This is an important component of respectful behavior as a young man who is seeking relationships with young women.

Posted by: Grim at February 18, 2013 05:26 PM

For example, we have no problem demanding of a young man that "showing respect" for a young lady he is dating includes getting explicit consent for sexual advances. So if she gets drunk and 'consents,' when her judgment may be clouded, we often still hold him responsible.

Yes, you do. But please note that I have always vehemently disagreed with you on this one.

If intoxication clouds the judgment, that blade cuts both ways. Intoxication can't excuse the female, but not the male. It's stupid for women to put themselves in those positions, but it's also really stupid for guys to put themselves in a position where they can be accused of something like that. Poor judgment (and foolish risk taking) all around.

*rim shot* :)

I don't actually see this one as a respect issue, though. I see it as an awareness issue.

Posted by: Cass at February 18, 2013 05:45 PM

You don't see a respect issue in the question of consent? I would think that whether the woman really consents to sex would be fundamentally about respect. It's not just that I wouldn't want to be in a bad position in which I might suffer from an accusation: it's that her consent really ought to matter.


In any case, if I were to find that my son was standing under such an accusation, I can assure you that I wouldn't chiefly be angry with him because he had taken a stupid risk with his personal reputation. I'd be mad at him for abusing the trust of the woman who accepted him as her date for the night. She has a right to expect her date will not abuse her trust in him, and he has a corresponding duty.

Posted by: Grim at February 18, 2013 05:58 PM

I guess I think not raping a woman is so basic that I don't lump it in with "treating her respectfully".

If the entire spectrum encompasses seeing women as less than fully human on the one end (something I don't think describes the vast majority American men) and treating them like princesses on the other, I suppose you have a point.

But not committing rape is one of those things that I just take for granted that most men understand on an intuitive level. Treating women with respect is several levels above the expectation that women have some obligation to have sex with men regardless of the woman's feelings on the subject :p

If my son got drunk while on a date and his date also got drunk and they had consensual sex, I would view them as equally at fault and equally guilty.

If my son somehow got so drunk that he rendered himself incapable of controlling himself (a very different matter), I would blame him more than his date. Unless of course she got equally drunk, in which case they are again equally at fault. And equally stupid.

But I can't imagine either of my sons doing that. Not, mind you, because I raised them to protect girls from themselves, but because I raised them to believe that allowing yourself to get so drunk that you lack the will or capacity to control yourself is a fundamental abdication of adult responsibility. It's not up to others to know your limits - it's up to *you* to know your limits.

I think the same logic applies to girls, by the way.

Posted by: Cass at February 18, 2013 07:11 PM

"Treating women with respect is several levels above..."

I've been told I'm bad at paraphrasing Tex, so take this with a grain of salt, but at times I read her as seeming to think that 'requiring your consent' and 'respecting you' are almost equivalent terms. On that model, then, we'd be in the right place if clear and unambiguous consent (for sex, or for anything else) were insisted upon.

I'd be interested to know, however, what additional content you'd like to have the young man build into "treating a woman with respect."

Posted by: Grim at February 18, 2013 07:37 PM

By the way, I don't mean to suggest that I read Tex as thinking that "requiring your consent" is equivalent to "respecting you" in matters of sex. I mean, rather, that it seems to be a general principle underlying her political philosophy, and her market philosophy too.

Posted by: Grim at February 18, 2013 07:43 PM