Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why Feminism Crashed and Burned: Scolding, Private Decisions, and the Left

Wow, this is bad.

As I've made clear, I think feminism went into a death spiral when it (a) moved to the left of liberalism and (b) allied itself with incoherent postmodernist/poststructuralist/etc. pseudo-philosophy.

One of the problems with the left is it's moral fanaticism. The extreme left is very much like the extreme right in that both love, love, love micromanaging other people's lives. "The personal is the political" is the bumper-sticker slogan beloved of leftists who long to invade your private sphere and scold you about everything from your eating decisions to...as it turns out...your reading decisions.

As it turns out, according to ladybusiness, you must weep and gnash your teeth and torture yourself over who has written the science fiction books you read. You must agonize over their life stories, the obstacles they have faced, whether or not you are reading equal numbers of books written by different types of people...or, well, men and women, anyway... There's no suggestion that you should consider, e.g., their economic background, nor any such thing...but, then, there never is...

And note: this is not even about the serious literature you read...  This is about the science fiction you read. (And I say that as somebody who likes sci-fi.)

Sigh

Look, people say silly things in every political movement. I do realize that. Consequently, it doesn't make sense to let stuff like this drive you away from a position that you otherwise accept.

But I have to say, I really find this sort of thing intolerable. Moral fanaticism is what drove me away from the right when I was young, and the more of it there is in any given political position, the less likely I am to be able to tolerate it, much less identify myself with it.

There's a kind of issue here, of course--that is, in the linked post. It just isn't very important. We certainly haven't accomplished equality between the sexes, despite some pretty diligent effort, and despite having done a lot of the really obvious things for awhile now. I do think that there are a lot of things in this vicinity that could stand some serious attention. But IMO, feminism isn't going to be much help the more it slides in this bad direction, and the more it adopts a strident tone about with respect to minor issues it isn't even obviously right about.

If I were going to write up a post like the one linked to, I'd have proceeded more like this:

1. Whoa, here's a surprising fact: men tend to review more books by other men than they do by women, whereas women seem to be a little better about that. That seems surprising...

2. Well, what's the base rate? That is, what percentage of sci-fi books are published by males and what percentage are published by females? Because men might just--indeed, probably do--just write more sci-fi books...

That'd put an end on things until we got the relevant information...  But ladyparts does not, so far as I can tell, provide that information. The very information without which the rest is useless just isn't there.

What we seem to have, rather, is the fact that men review more books by men, and women review more books by women, with women's preference for women being somewhat less pronounced than men's preference for men. Absent the relevant background information, however, for all we know, both men and women are biased toward reviewing books by women.

Stridently advancing weak arguments for the claim that we need to flagellate ourselves about our private, largely inconsequential choices is the sign of a dangerously irrational political movement. Feminism need not move in that direction. If it does, it will become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. In fact, it's already become, largely, part of the problem. There's still a rational, liberal core of the movement, however. If that core doesn't speak up and put down this sort of thing, feminism is dead. Worse, it'll be alive, but on the wrong side of justice.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Lewis Carroll said...

"All movements go too far."

-- Bertrand Russell

11:50 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Jesus... Wiser words were hardly ever spoken...

I'd never seen that Russell quote before, LC. Thanks for that.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Philip Weiss said...

As it turns out, according to ladybusiness, you must weep and gnash your teeth and torture yourself over who has written the science fiction books you read. You must agonize over their life stories, the obstacles they have faced, whether or not you are reading equal numbers of books written by different types of people...or, well, men and women, anyway... There's no suggestion that you should consider, e.g., their economic background, nor any such thing...but, then, there never is...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

12:51 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Nnnnope.

You might want to read the ladybusiness post.

Just a thought.

6:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry dude, love your blog but I agree with Philip. I must have missed the memo from Soros where ladybusiness became the vanguard of thought on the "left", whatever that is.
Mark

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Lewis Carroll said...

NP Winston.

In addition to being a first-class mathematician and logician, the guy was a treasure trove of great quotes.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

A,

Thanks for your thoughts, but all I can do is direct you to the ladyparts post that enjoins us to modify our sci-fi reading choices on the basis of the sex of the author. Once you hit that level of medding in personal decisions--that is, once you've in essence accepted that "the personal is the political"--you've left liberalism behind, and set out on a dark trajectory...

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not arguing with your statement about meddling, just your contention that ladyparts IS feminism or the left or even representative of majority thought in feminism or the left. I can read lots of crap on the internet. Wake me when Democratic senators are filing a bill to give what ladyparts suggests the force of law.
Mark

11:50 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, we agree about meddling in the private sphere--that seems like the most important point to me.

I don't ever assert nor suggest that "ladyparts IS feminism or the left." Rather, the view it espouses is characteristic of lefter-than-liberal feminism.

Is it representative of the majority there? Well, this is a funny question. Both feminism and the left are varied enough that each can always plead unrepresentativeness of any particular bad idea. I'm not saying that the ladyparts view is the majority view anywhere; just that it's a fairly normal *kind* of view for lefty feminism--that is, lefter than liberal. Maybe ladyparts is neither lefty nor feminist under normal conditions for all I know.

I don't see what the Democrats, nor turning ladyparts's bad suggestion into worse law really has to do with this.

7:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My point is that commentary by ladyparts is just that; commentary by ladyparts. They are just random people writing stuff on the internet. They are not the voice of feminism despite your title Why Feminism Crashed and Burned. My comment about Democrats was that your title would make more sense if ladyparts had captured some part of the nominal party of the "left" and was getting them to sponser legislation to enforce their ideas. The fringe left or fringe feminism is not catered to by anyone in the democratic party. Unlike the fevered swamps of the right which have no problem getting national and state legislators to carry water for their fringe ideas.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, I'm not saying that ladyparts represents the unified voice of feminism, but, rather that they are, in the post in question, advocating a position of a type that is familiar in fairly-far-left views in general, including especially fairly-far-left feminism: to wit, a variety of moral fanaticism that wants to make even fairly inconsequential private decisions fraught with undue moral and political baggage.

Also, I don't think that the Dems are lefties, I think they're pretty much middle-of-the-road liberals. So I don't see them as having anything to do with this.

Still, there's no reason to be unclear about things that can be clarified. So I ought to clarify them, and I appreciate the helpful comments.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, I don't think that the Dems are lefties, I think they're pretty much middle-of-the-road liberals. So I don't see them as having anything to do with this.

Sorry, I should have been more generic and said "people in a position of power". I guess that was unnecessarily confusing.

Mark

5:27 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Ah, I gotcha.

5:31 PM  

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