What’s So Scary About Women? Introduction

In my last few blog posts I promised I would tackle a most difficult topic and that’s the misogyny embedded in many of our institutions. Well, that’s what I will do over the next few blog posts.

I’ve always liked to try to figure out how things work. When I was a kid I used to dissect and disassemble things all the time. I was forever curious about how things were made, especially mechanical things. Taking them apart was not usually too much of a problem, but to my father’s dismay, putting them back together was sometimes not so easy. My favourite targets were toys and motors but clocks really topped the list. As I got older and went away to a Catholic boarding school in Edmonton for high school, I still had a live curiosity but the priests were not too keen on seeing things taken apart and strewn here and there on campus. They were especially protective of the lab equipment. Looking back on it, I remember also having a keen interest in why people did things the way they did them. I had a hard time making sense of what I came to know as institutions (crystallized habits of thought and life). And, of course, figuring out why I had a penis and my sisters didn’t was top of mind. That said, I would never have dared, after turning 4, to bring up such a subject at dinner time. The disapproval would have been swift and sometimes mildly violent. I felt very early on that certain subjects were absolutely taboo. Still, lots of sniggering went on because we children weren’t yet completely indoctrinated. Of course, we learned a few anatomical things by playing doctor but it wasn’t easy to figure out the moral issues involved. The questions definitely outnumbered the answers in my first two decades of life on earth.

In my early twenties, after a serious sawmill accident, I had back surgery and wondered what to do next. Well, I went a little crazy for a while, smashed up a few cars, got drunk and stoned frequently but I had a couple of mentors that made a huge difference in my life. They prompted me to go to university. I applied to Simon Fraser University (SFU), but was rejected because my grades in high school were lousy so I attended Douglas College in New Westminster for two years, got an A average, had some great teachers and decided at that time to study sociology. On I went to SFU. That time of my life was super exciting and difficult too because of money, to be certain, but also because of sex. I couldn’t seem to get enough of it and too much of my energy went into pursuing it or worrying about not getting any. The sex drive for me was very powerful. It’s hard to concentrate under these conditions. I was clumsy and ridiculous like most of my friends and acquaintances around the subject of sex, but this was the early seventies for god’s sake. We would have been into some promiscuity and there was definitely some loosening of mores but we were mostly unsatisfied. But when all else failed, we always had some beer and weed to make us feel better. Still, I couldn’t help thinking about sex and women. I should now say sorry to all the women I was a dickhead to in those days. It wasn’t me, it was my gonads. Now that I’m 71 that drive, thankfully, is largely attenuated. Frankly, I don’t know how most of us get through our teen years. Our bodies are yelling at us YES and our damned superegos are blocking our genital paths to glory. Oh well, such is life. Eventually, I met Carolyn and that was that. We fit together nicely.

It took me a while to get settled into the academic life. For a long time I called myself a Marxist but I stopped doing that for the same reason that Marx pointed to French syndicalists in the late 1870s saying that if these people are Marxists then I’m not. I still find Marx’s analysis of history very compelling, but I I strayed from looking only at economic matters to studying schizophrenia (R.D. Laing, Thomas Szasz, etc), mental illness, depression (with which I’ve been on intimate terms with), crime, deviance, social solidarity, morality, Norbert Elias and other things. In my last couple of years teaching I taught a sociology course on love and sex. Given what I wrote above, this fit right to my curiosity bag. I got interested in pornography. What is it about porn that makes it such a lucrative business? It’s one of the top internet money makers( yes, people sniggered.) And, of course, I had a long standing interest in Ernest Becker’s work. You just have to check the archives on this blog to ascertain that. Becker’s book Escape From Evil has a lot to say about sex and about misogyny. In fact, Becker’s work is the foundation of my views on this topic.

So, in the next few blog posts I will address Becker’s work to start with, especially his emphasis on evil, animality and our institutional denial of death. Then I want to look more specifically at woman as temptress, as devil. I will follow that up with a look at language and women before turning to marriage and some of the other cultural institutions of sexual relations. Things may evolve as I go along. The order I present issues may change. Your comments might modify my approach too.

I must say, in concluding this introduction, that I, by no means, intend to glorify women and vilify men. We are all ‘guided’ in our actions by our social relations, our language, our sex, our gender, our economic interests, our egos, and a myriad of other factors. Morality plays a huge role although we barely ever mention it. We swim in a moral world but we seldom recognize it. Like fish who don’t know they swim in water, we are the last to recognize that we swim in a moral world. In this series of posts I’ll try to open up that moral world a bit so that we can see more deeply into want makes us tick as humans.

Interlude: Veblen’s The Barbarian Status of Women: an accessible file.

BSW

Click on the link above and I guarantee you that you can read Veblen’s The Barbarian Status of Women, published in 1898. This file is in the public domaine and is available in the internet archive.

I think WordPress hates me. I put up the BSW link above thinking everything is going to go fine because I actually uploaded the file to WordPress. Well, when I click on BSW above, my computer tells me it’s downloading the file….but when I go looking for the damn file, I can’t find it. So I copied the whole damn thing below. 

The Barbarian Status of Women

by Thorstein Veblen

American Journal of Sociology

vol. 4, (1898-9)

 

 

 

It seems altogether probable that in the primitive groups of

mankind, when the race first took to a systematic use of tools

and so emerged upon the properly human plane of life, there was

but the very slightest beginning of a system of status, with

little of invidious distinction between classes and little of a

corresponding division of employments. In an earlier paper,

published in this JOURNAL,(1*) it has been argued that the early

division of labor between classes comes in as the result of an

increasing efficiency of labor, due to a growing effectiveness in

the use of tools. When, in the early cultural development, the

use of tools and the technical command of material forces had

reached a certain degree of effectiveness, the employments which

occupy the primitive community would fall into two distinct

groups – (a) the honorific employments, which involve a large

element of prowess, and (b) the humiliating employments, which

call for diligence and into which the sturdier virtues do not

enter. An appreciable advance in the use of tools must precede

this differentiation of employments, because (1) without

effective tools (including weapons) men are not sufficiently

formidable in conflict with the ferocious beasts to devote

themselves so exclusively to the hunting of large game as to

develop that occupation into a conventional mode of life reserved

for a distinct class; (2) without tools of some efficiency,

industry is not productive enough to support a dense population,

and therefore the groups into which the population gathers will

not come into such a habitual hostile contact with one another as

would give rise to a life of warlike prowess; (3) until

industrial methods and knowledge have made some advance, the work

of getting a livelihood is too exacting to admit of the

consistent exemption of any portion of the community from vulgar

labor; (4) the inefficient primitive industry yields no such

disposable surplus of accumulated goods as would be worth

fighting for, or would tempt an intruder, and therefore there is

little provocation to warlike prowess.

With the growth of industry comes the possibility of a

predatory life; and if the groups of savages crowd one another in

the struggle for subsistence, there is a provocation to

hostilities, and a predatory habit of life ensues. There is a

consequent growth of a predatory culture, which may for the

present purpose be treated as the beginning of the barbarian

culture. This predatory culture shows itself in a growth of

suitable institutions. The group divides itself conventionally

into a fighting and a peace-keeping class, with a corresponding

division of labor. Fighting, together with other work that

involves a serious element of exploit, becomes the employment of

the able-bodied men; the uneventful everyday work of the group

falls to the women and the infirm.

In such a community the standards of merit and propriety rest

on an invidious distinction between those who are capable

fighters and those who are not. Infirmity, that is to say

incapacity for exploit, is looked down upon. One of the early

consequences of this deprecation of infirmity is a tabu on women

and on women’s employments. In the apprehension of the archaic,

animistic barbarian, infirmity is infectious. The infection may

work its mischievous effect both by sympathetic influence and by

transfusion. Therefore it is well for the able-bodied man who is

mindful of his virility to shun all undue contact and

conversation with the weaker sex and to avoid all contamination

with the employments that are characteristic of the sex. Even the

habitual food of women should not be eaten by men, lest their

force be thereby impaired. The injunction against womanly

employments and foods and against intercourse with women applies

with especial rigor during the season of preparation for any work

of manly exploit, such as a great hunt or a warlike raid, or

induction into some manly dignity or society or mystery.

Illustrations of this seasonal tabu abound in the early history

of all peoples that have had a warlike or barbarian past. The

women, their occupations, their food and clothing, their habitual

place in the house or village, and in extreme cases even their

speech, become ceremonially unclean to the men. This imputation

of ceremonial uncleanness on the ground of their infirmity has

lasted on in the later culture as a sense of the unworthiness or

levitical inadequacy of women; so that even now we feel the

impropriety of women taking rank with men, or representing the

community in any relation that calls for dignity and ritual

competency,. as for instance, in priestly or diplomatic offices,

or even in representative civil offices, and likewise, and for a

like reason, in such offices of domestic and body servants as are

of a seriously ceremonial character – footmen, butlers, etc.

The changes that take place in the everyday experiences of a

group or horde when it passes from a peaceable to a predatory

habit of life have their effect on the habits of thought

prevalent in the group. As the hostile contact of one group with

another becomes closer and more habitual, the predatory activity

and the bellicose animus become more habitual to the members of

the group. Fighting comes more and more to occupy men’s everyday

thoughts, and the other activities of the group fall into the

background and become subsidiary to the fighting activity. In the

popular apprehension the substantial core of such a group – that

on which men’s thoughts run when the community and the

community’s life is thought of – is the body of fighting men. The

collective fighting capacity becomes the most serious question

that occupies men’s minds, and gives the point of view from which

persons and conduct are rated. The scheme of life of such a group

is substantially a scheme of exploit. There is much of this point

of view to be found even in the common-sense views held by modern

populations. The inclination to identify the community with its

fighting men comes into evidence today whenever warlike interests

occupy the popular attention in an appreciable degree.

The work of the predatory barbarian group is gradually

specialized and differentiated under the dominance of this ideal

of prowess, so as to give rise to a system of status in which the

non-fighters fall into a position of subservience to the

fighters. The accepted scheme of life or consensus of opinions

which guides the conduct of men in such a predatory group and

decides what may properly be done, of course comprises a great

variety of details; but it is, after all, a single scheme – a

more or less organic whole so that the life carried on under its

guidance in any case makes up a somewhat consistent and

characteristic body of culture. This is necessarily the case,

because of the simple fact that the individuals between whom the

consensus holds are individuals. The thinking of each one is the

thinking of the same individual, on whatever head and in whatever

direction his thinking may run. Whatever may be the immediate

point or object of his thinking, the frame of mind which governs

his aim and manner of reasoning in passing on any given point of

conduct is, on the whole, the habitual frame of mind which

experience and tradition have enforced upon him. Individuals

whose sense of what is right and good departs widely from the

accepted views suffer some repression, and in case of an extreme

divergence they are eliminated from the effective life of the

group through ostracism. Where the fighting class is in the

position of dominance and prescriptive legitimacy, the canons of

conduct are shaped chiefly by the common sense of the body of

fighting men. Whatever conduct and whatever code of proprieties

has the authentication of this common sense is definitively right

and good, for the time being. and the deliverances of this common

sense are, in their turn, shaped by the habits of life of the

able-bodied men. Habitual conflict acts, by selection and by

habituation, to make these male members tolerant of any

infliction of damage and suffering. Habituation to the sight and

infliction of suffering, and to the emotions that go with fights

and brawls, may even end in making the spectacle of misery a

pleasing diversion to them. The result is in any case a more or

less consistent attitude of plundering and coercion on the part

of the fighting body, and this animus is incorporated into the

scheme of life of the community. The discipline of predatory life

makes for an attitude of mastery on the part of the able-bodied

men in all their relations with the weaker members of the group,

and especially in their relations with the women. Men who are

trained in predatory ways of life and modes of thinking come by

habituation to apprehend this form of the relation between the

sexes as good and beautiful.

All the women in the group will share in the class repression

and depreciation that belongs to them as women, but the status of

women taken from hostile groups has an additional feature. Such a

woman not only belongs to a subservient and low class, but she

also stands in a special relation to her captor. She is a trophy

of the raid, and therefore an evidence of exploit, and on this

ground it is to her captor’s interest to maintain a peculiarly

obvious relation of mastery toward her. And since, in the early

culture, it does not detract from her subservience to the life of

the group, this peculiar relation of the captive to her captor

will meet but slight, if any, objection from the other members of

the group. At the same time, since his peculiar coercive relation

to the woman serves to mark her as a trophy of his exploit, he

will somewhat jealously resent any similar freedom taken by other

men, or any attempt on their part to parade a similar coercive

authority over her, and so usurp the laurels of his prowess, very

much as a warrior would under like circumstances resent a

usurpation or an abuse of the scalps or skulls which he had taken

from the enemy.

After the habit of appropriating captured women has hardened

into custom, and so given rise on the one hand to a form of

marriage resting on coercion, and on the other hand to a concept

of ownership,(2*) a development of certain secondary features of

the institution so inaugurated is to be looked for. In time this

coercive ownership-marriage receives the sanction of the popular

taste and morality. It comes to rest in men’s habits of thought

as the right form of marriage relation, and it comes at the same

time to be gratifying to men’s sense of beauty and of honor. The

growing predilection for mastery and coercion, as a manly trait,

together with the growing moral and aesthetic approbation of

marriage on a basis of coercion and ownership, will affect the

tastes of the men most immediately and most strongly; but since

the men are the superior class, whose views determine the current

views of the community, their common sense in the matter will

shape the current canons of taste in its own image. The tastes of

the women also, in point of morality and of propriety alike, will

presently be affected in the same way. Through the precept and

example of those who make the vogue, and through selective

repression of those who are unable to accept it, the institution

of ownership-marriage makes its way into definitive acceptance as

the only beautiful and virtuous form of the relation. As the

conviction of its legitimacy grows stronger in each succeeding

generation, it comes to be appreciated unreflectingly as a

deliverance of common sense and enlightened reason that the good

and beautiful attitude of the man toward the woman is an attitude

of coercion. “None but the brave deserve the fair.”

As the predatory habit of life gains a more unquestioned and

undivided sway, other forms of the marriage relation fall under a

polite odium. The masterless, unattached woman consequently loses

caste. It becomes imperative for all men who would stand well in

the eyes of their fellows to attach some woman or women to

themselves by the honorable bonds of seizure. In order to a

decent standing in the community a man is required to enter into

this virtuous and honorific relation of ownership-marriage, and a

publicly acknowledged marriage relation which has not the

sanction of capture becomes unworthy of able-bodied men. But as

the group increases in size, the difficulty of providing wives by

capture becomes very great, and it becomes necessary to find a

remedy that shall save the requirements of decency and at the

same time permit the marriage of women from within the group. To

this end the status of women married from within the group is

sought to be mended by a mimic or ceremonial capture. The

ceremonial capture effects an assimilation of the free woman into

the more acceptable class of women who are attached by bonds of

coercion to some master, and so gives a ceremonial legitimacy and

decency to the resulting marriage relation. The probable motive

for adopting the free women into the honorable class of bond

women in this way is not primarily a wish to improve their

standing or their lot, but rather a wish to keep those good men

in countenance who, for dearth of captives, are constrained to

seek a substitute from among the home-bred women of the group.

The inclinations of men in high standing who are possessed of

marriageable daughters would run in the same direction. It would

not seem right that a woman of high birth should irretrievably be

outclassed by any chance-comer from outside.

According to this view, marriage by feigned capture within

the tribe is a case of mimicry – “protective mimicry,” to borrow

a phrase from the naturalists. It is substantially a case of

adoption. As is the case in all human relations where adoption is

practiced, this adoption of the free women into the class of the

unfree proceeds by as close an imitation as may be of the

original fact for which it is a substitute. And as in other cases

of adoption, the ceremonial performance is by no means looked

upon as a fatuous make-believe. The barbarian has implicit faith

in the efficiency of imitation and ceremonial execution as a

means of compassing a desired end. The entire range of magic and

religious rites is testimony to that effect. He looks upon

external objects and sequences naively, as organic and individual

things, and as expressions of a propensity working toward an end.

The unsophisticated common sense of the primitive barbarian

apprehends sequences and events. in terms of will-power or

inclination. As seen in the light of this animistic

preconception, any process is substantially teleological, and the

propensity imputed to it will not be thwarted of its legitimate

end after the course of events in which it expresses itself has

once fallen into shape or got under. way. It follows logically,

as a matter of course, that if once the motions leading to a

desired consummation have been rehearsed in the accredited form

and sequence, the same substantial result will be attained as

that produced by the process imitated. This is the ground of

whatever efficiency is imputed to ceremonial observances on all

planes of culture, and it is especially the chief element in

formal adoption and initiation. Hence, probably, the practice of

mock-seizure or mock-capture, and hence the formal profession of

fealty and submission on the part of the woman in the marriage

rites of peoples among whom the household with a male head

prevails. This form of the household is almost always associated

with some survival or reminiscence of wife-capture. In all such

cases, marriage is, by derivation, a ritual of initiation into

servitude. In the words of the formula, even after it has been

appreciably softened under the latter-day decay of the sense of

status, it is the woman’s place to love, honor, and obey.

According to this view, the patriarchal household, or, in

other words, the household with a male head, is an outgrowth of

emulation between the members of a warlike community. It is,

therefore, in point of derivation, a predatory institution. The

ownership and control of women is a gratifying evidence of

prowess and high standing. In logical consistency, therefore, the

greater the number of women so held, the greater the distinction

which their possession confers upon their master. Hence the

prevalence of polygamy, which occurs almost universally at one

stage of culture among peoples which have the male household.

There may, of course, be other reasons for polygamy, but the

ideal development of polygamy which is met with in the harems of

very powerful patriarchal despots and chieftains can scarcely be

explained on other grounds. But whether it works out in a system

of polygamy or not, the male household is in any case a detail of

a system of status under which the women are included in the

class of unfree subjects. The dominant feature in the

institutional structure of these communities is that of status,

and the groundwork of their economic life is a rigorous system of

ownership.

The institution is found at its best, or in its most

effectual development, in the communities in which status and

ownership prevail with the least mitigation; and with the decline

of the sense of status and of the extreme pretensions of

ownership, such as has been going on for some time past in the

communities of the western culture, the institution of the

patriarchal household has also suffered something of a

disintegration. There has been some weakening and slackening of

the bonds, and this deterioration is most visible in the

communities which have departed farthest from the ancient system

of status, and have gone farthest in reorganizing their economic

life on the lines of industrial freedom. And the deference for an

indissoluble tie of ownership-marriage, as well as the sense of

its definitive virtuousness, has suffered the greatest decline

among the classes immediately engaged in the modern industries.

So that there seems to be fair ground for saying that the habits

of thought fostered by modern industrial life are, on the whole,

not favorable to the maintenance of this institution or to that

status of women which the institution in its best development

implies. The days of its best development are in the past, and

the discipline of modern life – if not supplemented by a prudent

inculcation of conservative ideals – will scarcely afford the

psychological basis for its rehabilitation.

 

This form of marriage, or of ownership, by which the man

becomes the head of the household, the owner of the woman, and

the owner and discretionary consumer of the household’s output of

consumable goods, does not of necessity imply a patriarchal

system of consanguinity. The presence or absence of maternal

relationship should, therefore, not be given definite weight in

this connection. The male household, in some degree of

elaboration, may well coexist with a counting of relationship in

the female line, as, for instance, among many North American

tribes. But where this is the case it seems probable that the

ownership of women, together with the invidious distinctions of

status from which the practice of such an ownership springs, has

come into vogue at so late a stage of the cultural development

that the maternal system of relationship had already been

thoroughly incorporated into the tribe’s scheme of life. The male

household in such cases is ordinarily not developed in good form

or entirely free from traces of a maternal household. The traces

of a maternal household which are found in these cases commonly

point to a form of marriage which disregards the man rather than

places him under the surveillance of the woman. It may well be

named the household of the unattached woman. This condition of

things argues that the tribe or race in question has entered upon

a predatory life only after a considerable period of peaceable

industrial life, and after having achieved a considerable

development of social structure under the regime of peace and

industry, whereas the unqualified prevalence of the patriarchate,

together- with the male household, may be taken to indicate that

the predatory phase was entered early, culturally speaking.

Where the patriarchal system is in force in fully developed

form, including the paternal household, and hampered with no

indubitable survivals of a maternal household or a maternal

system of relationship, the presumption would be that the people

in question has entered upon the predatory culture early, and has

adopted the institutions of private property and class

prerogative at an early stage of its economic development. On the

other hand, where there are well-preserved traces of a maternal

household, the presumption is that the predatory phase has been

entered by the community in question at a relatively late point

in its life history, even if the patriarchal system is, and long

has been, the prevalent system of relationship. In the latter

case the community, or the group of tribes, may, perhaps for

geographical reasons, not have independently attained the

predatory culture in accentuated form, but may at a relatively

late date have contracted the agnatic system and the paternal

household through contact with another, higher, or

characteristically different, culture, which has included these

institutions among its cultural furniture. The required contact

would take place most effectually by way of invasion and conquest

by an alien race occupying the higher plane or divergent line of

culture. Something of this kind is the probable explanation, for

instance, of the equivocal character of the household and

relationship system in the early Germanic culture, especially as

it is seen in such outlying regions as Scandinavia. The evidence,

in this latter case, as in some other communities lying farther

south, is somewhat obscure, but it points to a long-continued

coexistence of the two forms of the household; of which the

maternal seems to have held its place most tenaciously among the

subject or lower classes of the population, while the paternal

was the honorable form of marriage in vogue among the superior

class. In the earliest traceable situation of these tribes there

appears to have been a relatively feeble, but growing,

preponderance of the male household throughout the community.

This mixture of marriage institutions, as well as the correlative

mixture or ambiguity of property institutions associated with it

in the Germanic culture, seems most easily explicable as being

due to the mingling of two distinct racial stocks, whose

institutions differed in these respects. The race or tribe which

had the maternal household and common property would probably

have been the more numerous and the more peaceable at the time

the mixing process began, and would fall into some degree of

subjection to its more warlike consort race.

 

No attempt is hereby made to account for the various forms of

human marriage, or to show how the institution varies in detail

from place to place and from time to time, but only to indicate

what seems to have been the range of motives and of exigencies

that have given rise to the paternal household, as it has been

handed down from the barbarian past of the peoples of the western

culture. To this end, nothing but the most general features of

the life history of the institution have been touched upon, and

even the evidence on which this much of generalization is based

is, per force, omitted. The purpose of the argument is to point

out that there is a close connection, particularly in point of

psychological derivation, between individual ownership, the

system of status, and the paternal household, as they appear in

this culture.

This view of the derivation of private property and of the

male household, as already suggested, does not imply the prior

existence of a maternal household of the kind in which the woman

is the head and master of a household group and exercises a

discretionary control over her husband or husbands and over the

household effects. Still less does it imply a prior state of

promiscuity. What is implied by the hypothesis and by the scant

evidence at hand is rather the form of the marriage relation

above characterized as the household of the unattached woman. The

characteristic feature of this marriage seems to have been an

absence of coercion or control in the relation between the sexes.

The union (probably monogamic and more or less enduring) seems to

have been terminable at will by either party, under the

constraint of some slight conventional limitations. The

substantial difference introduced into the marriage relation on

the adoption of ownership-marriage is the exercise of coercion by

the man and the loss on the part of the woman of the power to

terminate the relation at will. Evidence running in this

direction, and in part hitherto unpublished, is to be found both

in the modern and in the earlier culture of Germanic communities.

It is only in cases where circumstances have, in an

exceptional degree, favoured the development of ownership-marriage

that we should expect to find the institution worked out to its

logical consequences. Wherever the predatory phase of social life

has not come in early and has not prevailed in unqualified form

for a long time, or wherever a social group or race with this

form of the household has received a strong admixture of another

race not possessed of the institution, there the prevalent form

of marriage should show something of a departure from this

paternal type. And even where neither of these two conditions is

present, this type of the marriage relation might be expected in

the course of time to break down with the change of

circumstances, since it is an institution that has grown up as a

detail of a system of status, and, therefore, presumably fits

into such a social system, but does not fit into a system of a

different kind. It is at present visibly breaking down in modern

civilized communities, apparently because it is at variance with

the most ancient habits of thought of the race, as well as with

the exigencies of a peaceful, industrial mode of life. There may

seem some ground for holding that the same reassertion of ancient

habits of thought which is now apparently at work to disintegrate

the institution of ownership-marriage may be expected also to

work a disintegration of the correlative institution of private

property; but that is perhaps a question of speculative curiosity

rather than of urgent theoretical interest.

 

NOTES:

 

  1. “The Instinct of Workmanship and the Irksomeness of Labor,”

September 1898, pp. 187-210.

 

  1. For a more detailed discussion of this point see a paper on

“The Beginnings of Ownership” in this JOURNAL for November, 1898.

 

What Will a Post-Employment Future Look Like?

One of my former students, a frequent commentator on my blog, commented on my last post about my disillusionment and the nature of capital. She asked two questions in particular that I will address in this post:

“Do you see hope for mankind’s survival after workers are replaced by robots and machines and software? If so, do you have an idea of how we humans will be able to sustain ourselves once traditional “jobs” have disappeared?”

These are both good questions. To answer the first one, I’ll say right off that I’m no utopian. I leave the musings about future worlds to the utopians, dystopians, novelists and science fiction writers. There are enough Star Wars and Star Treks to go around. Still, there are some things I can say about the future that are science-based and predictable. However, it’s necessary to first think about what ‘mankind’s survival’ means.

The word survival needs some consideration. Ultimately, none of us, nor any of our marvellous creations survive or ‘live beyond’. Science, especially palaeontology, archaeology and related disciplines, have made it clear that our planet has only been around for a few billion years and we, as a species, have only evolved in that last few million. Us modern humans are a very recent addition to the planet and as with everything else, we’re still evolving and will continue to do so until we go out of existence, and that’s a sure thing. I used to challenge my students to come up with an example of anything that was amenable to perception via our senses that had not or would not come into existence at some point and go out of existence at a later point. Everything comes and goes. Life is a process, not a thing. Of course, I’m sure you can come up with a lot of “what if’s” here as in what if we blow ourselves to bits with nuclear weapons before we get a chance to evolve more or less peacefully out of existence? That may happen. We may try to commit species suicide, but it’s highly unlikely that every human on the planet would be eliminated by nuclear war. I’ll let the dystopians speculate on that one.

Besides, species don’t always disappear completely. They often evolve into other species over long periods of time. So, ultimately, survival is not an option for us, nor is it for any other species. It’s not even  an option for mountain ranges and continents, or the universe, according to some scientists. Nothing ever stays the same. Our limited sensual and perceptual abilities and weak sense of time often prevent us from fully appreciating that.

That said, and moving on, mankind will easily survive the advent of robots and extreme mechanization. I think my student’s question was more in line with the question: “what are we going to do when robots do everything for us?” I really don’t know. Probably some of the things we do now. Work will still need to be done. It is on Star Trek’s Enterprise. (Do you think people get paid on the Enterprise? What would they spend their money on, especially when you can order an Earl Grey tea, hot, at the replicator anytime you want without putting a toonie in a slot?)

Marx actually speculated on a post-capitalist world in one of his books, The German Ideology, but lived to regret it because he was afterwards forever branded a wide-eyed utopian. Later in his life he focussed almost entirely on writing Das Kapital, a basically scientific venture. By then he had abandoned his youthful idealistic philosophizing and political pamphlet writing. But I digress.

What I argued in my last post was that employment would come to an end, not work. I should have made that more clear. Employment is a way work gets organized. Working for wages is only one of many ways work can get organized. Slavery is another way. Work can get done too by volunteers. The point is that employment will disappear but work won’t. To take this one step further: Marx concluded (not specifically in these words) that communism will come when we are all unemployed. Now, that’s not strictly true. Markets existed in ancient Egypt, they just weren’t the dominant means of creating wealth. In the future, if things continue as they are, some employment may still exist, but it won’t be the dominant social relation of production.

The truth is, businesses are rapidly eliminating employees in a number of critical large scale industries. Machines have been eliminating, at an accelerating pace, a lot of the more onerous and dangerous tasks we used to perform as a matter or course. Who would have thunk that lawyering could be automated. It can be and already is to some extent. There are research algorithms that can do away with a lot of the work previously done by junior lawyers and minions in law firms. Lawyers will still be with us for some time, of course, but they don’t have any long term immunity from elimination. Same goes for physicians and surgeons. Very few activities we now take for granted have a guaranteed future. That idea seems impossible at the moment, but could a person living when the Gutenberg press was invented have been able to foresee the use of computerized printing, freeways and skyscrapers?

The point here is that the historical trajectory we are on suggests that capital is replacing labour at a greater pace than ever before in the execution of work. The mechanism by which this occurs is the constantly shrinking margins of profit and the inability of the whole capitalist world (not necessarily individual capitalists) to exploit workers.* In practical terms, if a large scale fast-food chain manages to eliminate most of its workforce, it will have a harder and harder time making money. This is partly because in eliminating its workforce it would also be eliminating a major market for its products. Obviously, there is no direct equivalence between workers and their ability or not to buy hamburgers, but if enough businesses eliminate a significant part of their labour force, there is obviously less and less in the way of aggregate wages to buy commodities. It’s true that fast-food workers could go work elsewhere, but if most other large employers are also doing the same thing, there will soon be nowhere to go. Meet a huge number of American workers. That’s exactly  the situation they’re in. Some may ‘choose’ to become self-employed, but that’s just another way of surreptitiously eliminating employment.

Employment will not be eliminated next week, or next month or next year. Probably not in the next 100 years. But it will be. If that’s true, how will we then sustain ourselves? With no wages, what would we do to buy things? Well, the trick here is to avoid thinking about the future in terms of the present. That’s tough. We have stores full of stuff for us to buy. What would they do? Change drastically, that’s what. Can you imagine a ‘store’ where you walk in, take what you need and leave (legally, that is)? Hoarding? Why would anyone hoard if they can get whatever they need anytime they need it? Besides, we have to ask ourselves why we need all the ‘stuff’ we buy. Do we really need it to be happy, to be fulfilled? As I already noted, we can’t think about a future world by simply imposing our current institutions on it.

Wow, is this a utopia I promised not to get into? I don’t think so. The logical conclusion of the elimination of employment is the elimination of employer/employee relations, wages, salaries and the need for any kind of benefits.  Some countries are already moving toward a guaranteed income for everyone out of the pool of income produced nationally by way of industrial production and business profits. Their education and health services are already paid for by the state.

Earned salaries and wages will no longer exist. Won’t that do away with human initiative? Yes, as we know it. But following the logic of the falling rate of profit to its conclusion suggests a number of consequences we cannot predict at this time. What will people do in a world without employment? Lots of things. Like I said, work will not be eliminated and may be more popular than ever. Most jobs will be eliminated however and, frankly, that looks like a good thing from where I sit right now. Many women who for a long time have not been paid for domestic work might also approve. If they don’t get paid for what they do, then why should the rest of us? Seems fantastical, doesn’t it? Well, it’s no more fantastical than the creation of employment in the first place. Jobs have not always existed, that category of labour was created in Europe starting around the 11th century,  but work has always been necessary because things need to get done. What may come of all of this is a much more equal distribution of the fruits of social production. How that would unfold politically I have no idea except to say that it would have to be a global affair. It may not come peacefully either.

As fodder for a future blog post, one thing I’ve always found fascinating is our love affair with our jobs. Maybe a topic for another post. It’s funny, though, why we seem to crave vacations and get lots of congratulations upon our retirement. Maybe we don’t love our working lives so much after all because we seem happiest when we don’t have working lives or when we ‘vacate’ them.

As a bit of an aside, but a point still relevant to make here, some of us were (in my case as a retiree) and are quite happy with the work we did or do. We were/are the fortunate ones. I loved teaching, but I didn’t particularly love my job. I liked the pay too, of course, but a paycheque is only one way that’s possible to reward a person for doing work. I’ll save this for another blog post too.

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*This statement itself requires much more elaboration, but I’ll save that for another post.

Why do we so often refer to sex as dirty?

My next post was supposed to be about morality and that will be the subject of a number of future posts, but I was listening to the CBC this morning and the guest host of the morning program was interviewing a comedian and talking about his upcoming show. That tweaked my interest as I sipped my coffee. The host asked the comedian if his show was going to be clean. The comedian responded that for the most part it would be but that it would also be dirty at times. Well, I just had to weigh in. Morality will just have to wait a bit.

By dirty I know, and you know, that the host and the comedian were referring to the use of  swear words like fuck and shit and piss in his routine. He was not, however, going to make specific reference to the sex act and have some fun with that. That would be too raunchy. After all, you’ve got to keep it safe for a regular audience or they won’t come back to see you again. Swearing, it seems, is fair game. It’s okay to make fun of your wife or yourself in a comedy routine, but it’s not okay to talk explicitly about what went wrong or right the last time you had sex. That will be okay in the not-too-distant future, I expect.

It’s quite telling that in English swearing is almost exclusively sex based or has to do with genitalia or bodily functions of one sort or the other. In French Canada, swearing is entirely different, or at least it was when I was a kid. In French swearing relates to religious things although it can stray into combining sex or bodily functions with objects or persons of religions significance. For instance, a great swearing line in French refers to the ‘holy cream of an old nun.’ It’s probably changing now to a more ‘cleanly’ sex-based expression. Tell me if you know. I’m not up on Québecois swearing behaviour these days. In English, of course, fuck is the word or choice in a number of expressions not at all related to sex, but the word clearly relates to coitus or the sex act. For instance we might exclaim upon seeing a cute cat video: “Wasn’t that just the cutest fucking thing you’ve ever seen?” Or, listen to George Carlin classify people into three categories. He says that there are stupid people, people who don’t give a shit and people who are just fucking nuts!

So, what about this sex is dirty thing? Well, Ernest Becker (in his many books, but especially The Denial of Death and Escape From Evil, concludes that it all goes back to our fear or terror of death,* which also has a lot to say about how women are so often poorly treated in our world and in times past.  So what does considering sex as dirty have to do with our fear of death and the way women are so often (mis)treated?

It’s a bit of a truism to say that we all live and die. Yes, we do, but we don’t necessarily like the dying part so we concoct all sorts of cultural mechanisms to help us deny  that fact. One way we do that is to separate ourselves linguistically from other animal species by referring to ourselves as ‘human’ and to those other things as ‘animals.’ Of course, we are animals and it’s hard to deny that because we’re obviously not plants or rocks, but that doesn’t matter. We deny anyway. That kind of attitude allows us to treat animals in all kinds of nasty ways, because, well, they aren’t human and God did say that he put them here on earth for us to have dominion over. We are spiritual beings, animals aren’t. Enough said.

More significantly however we also take great care to separate ourselves into male and female classes. Yes, I say classes because that’s what’s happening. Just as we consider ourselves spiritual beings and animals as spiritless, we have also contrived historically to consider men as spiritual beings and women as physical beings. In many parts of the world in every time in history women have been considered a lesser species than men.

There’s a simple, yet devastating reason for this. Women remind men at every turn that they are mortal. Women exude blood on a regular basis. Babies are born between shit and piss in an orgy of blood. You lose blood, you die. Men have gone to extraordinary lengths to deny their physicality, their animality, and emphasize their spirituality to the detriment of women. Men in some cultures wear anal plugs to show that they don’t need to shit. They are above that. Menstruating women are often shunned for fear that they might contaminate something or other. Men denigrate women at every turn. Not all men, of course, but our culture and many in the past have built massive institutions that denigrate women. The pornography ‘industry’ is a good example of that. It’s popularity attests to how important sex is to us, but how important it also is to objectify women and treat them as sexual objects and as not quite human. Generally speaking, women are way more important to men for their genitals than for their brains. Hillary Clinton is facing this fact right now in the U.S. Many men just can’t see the president of the United States being fucked. Tell me it ain’t so.

Sin, in Christian, Muslim and Judaic mythology often refers to succumbing to the temptations of the flesh, female flesh that is. The flesh is the territory of the devil. If you want to live forever  in the light of God then stay clear of unauthorized sexual pleasure. “Unauthorized’ here is a critical element in the preceding sentence. Although constantly being revised and rethought, when and how sex gets authorized and becomes okay is strictly defined in cultural precepts. That’s fodder for another blog post.

Oh, we take sex very seriously in our culture, in our time, but we have very contradictory ideas about it. Yes, the sex act is fun and all that, but it also brings us clearly into the physical world and that’s a dangerous place to be if you want to be immortal.

In my next post, I’ll consider how sex and our animality fit into our broader moral world.
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This is not about sex.

I think that the reality is that most of the judgments we make of other people and how we may ‘gaze’ at them  are not specifically about sex or their fitness for procreative success. They may be unconscious moral judgments about their fitness to be part of the in-group. 

 

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/schedule-for-monday-march-14-2016-1.3490076/photographer-captures-the-dirty-looks-strangers-give-her-1.3490082

So, I listened to the CBC’s Q this morning while waiting in the car for Carolyn to come out of appointment with her optometrist. The interviewee Haley Morris-Cafiero is a fine arts professor at an American University and she’s just recently published a book called Watchers. Obviously, listening to the radio, I couldn’t see what she looked like, but the host, Piya Chattopadhyay’s questioning made it obvious she was trying to get Morris-Cafiero to admit that she was fat and that’s the reason people were glaring at her askance.

The book and the interview are revealing for a number of reasons. I’ll deal with a couple here. For one, people judge each other constantly. It’s a part of being a human being. If a person stands out in any particular way, is a statistical outlier by being super tall, super small, super thin or super fat, tattooed all over the place, a different colour or ethnic group than everybody else in a group, then there will be stares or at least oblique glances or gazes. This we cannot avoid. Morris-Cafiero’s documenting of the oblique glances at her because she’s fat, is what’s interesting here. She is unapologetic for being fat and why should she apologize? Well, some of us see obesity as a moral failure for which we need to apologize. Others see it as just a problem of overeating: we should just stop eating so much. We make fun of fat people. The internet is full of blogs and commentary objecting to obesity. Morris-Cafiero actually reports that there are blogs set up just to make fun of her size. She’s now chasing them down to mock how they look if she can find photos of the bloggers and commentators. Morris-Cafiero claims to be perfectly happy with herself and the way she looks. I have no reason to doubt her.

Her book is not about the issue some women have of being stared at because they are ‘attractive’ to someone or other. They may not be beautiful in any normative sense, but they can and do attract the carnal attention of some men or women. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Of course the fashion industry has no qualms about deciding for all of us who is attractive and who isn’t.

On another CBC item this morning I heard a comment about women’s bodies being a battle ground. Men stare. Men comment. Men catcall. Men, men, men. Of course we do. Some of us are stupid and have no moral or social brakes, so we catcall and make rude remarks. Some of us admire from a distance and would be mortified if a women called us out for staring at her. Some of us get caught on the odd occasion stretching out a glance at a particularly attractive woman and we’re soon reminded of our misdemeanour. Some of us are not attracted to women at all so we only admire feminine beauty from an aesthetic place. But most of us look and assess. We check out people. We watch. We undress people we find attractive with our eyes only. Sex is sex is sex. We may be offended by people looking at us with a carnal look in their eye, but we may be just as upset if they didn’t look. Of course men get looked at too. This is a two way street.

Dress often makes things interesting too. It’s easy to dismiss a focus on dress as just a side issue to the real issue which is physical attraction. Women and men in their dating years often dress provocatively if they can. When they do, it’s hard to feel sorry for them if people look a little too long or too closely. That said, I’m not making any apologies for sexism and discrimination based on sex. It’s just that us humans are geared for sex and that’s a two way thing. Sexism and sexual discrimination mean treating people unequally because of their genitals, not their brains.

Thankfully, us older people are less subject to the overheated, pheromone soaked dating world younger people are subject to. In fact, I think that us older types are more easily capable of thinking of people of the opposite sex in terms of their qualities and characteristics other than their sexuality and sensuality. That said, even as an old man, I can appreciate the aesthetic qualities of a younger member of the female sex. Those inclinations don’t just disappear overnight. I’m sure the same goes for women.

I think that the reality is that most of the judgments we make of other people and how we may ‘gaze’ at them  are not specifically about sex or their fitness for procreative success. They may be unconscious moral judgments about their fitness to be part of the in-group. I think that goes for most people, young and old. We even look at children in strollers and unconsciously assess them for their future potential. We just do.

Being human is pretty funny if you can figure out how to get under our common prejudices and ‘see’ other people for what they are. It’s not easy because we have sexuality, procreation and morality all vying for attention and complicating things no end.

 

The Greeks, the Christians and Women: We are a tragic species.

In Greek myth, humankind started out as exclusively male.  The gods created men, mortal beings, but in the age of gold, their mortality was scarcely given any thought because men always died peacefully, in their sleep, with no pain and suffering and it didn’t end there for them.  After death they became pure spirit ‘daemons’ who are essentially given the task of ‘dispensing wealth to men according to individual merit.’ (Ferry 2014, 146)  That’s not a bad gig, really, not unlike how classical economists see the ‘invisible hand’ of the market.  These were invisible daemons doing the same job.

Pandora is the first woman.  She is Zeus’ creation and is given something by every god.  Of course, she’s drop-dead gorgeous but she also comes with a lot of, let us say, unsavory characteristics.  Without going into detail, Prometheus, the creator of men (males only at this point) has pissed off Zeus because he’s been trying to help his creation with getting on with the job of creating civilization. (What really pissed Zeus off was that Prometheus had stolen fire from Olympus and given it to man so that he could now cook his food…a very civilized thing indeed).  Up to this point, still in the golden age, men are living a pretty cool, decent life.  But because of the internecine pissing contests between the gods, things start going sideways for humans.  It comes to pass that Pandora seduces Epimetheus, Prometheus’ hapless brother at which point all hell breaks loose (which is what Zeus wanted in the first place).  Mankind is cast from the golden age into the age of iron, forced to feed himself, etc., and because of the nasty contents of Pandora’s box (pain, fear, old age, death) doomed to lead a miserable life with nothing but hope for succor. (Hope being the only thing not to escape from Pandora’s box.)

So, the point of all of this is that it’s at this stage in the development of the cosmos that men are now born from sexual intercourse between men and women.  Pandora gives birth to other women and that’s it for man.  Sex is where it’s at now.  We come to be born, as it were, between shit and piss and the rest is history.

What I find interesting here as much as anything is the similarity of this account of the origins of people on this planet with the one offered by Christianity.  The details are obviously very different, but the principles are the same and so are the results. As the story goes, God creates man who is pure and spiritual, living in the Garden of Eden, the golden age.  Almost as an afterthought, God creates woman and she seduces the pretty dumb male and is punished for his stupidity by having to work for a living and by having to put up with woman who is never satisfied and reminds him of death every day.

Because this is the whole point and the tragedy of the relations between the sexes since forever.  Woman is associated with the body, temptation and death.  Men are associated with purity, spirit and life.  Women successfully seduced the stupid men and now we all pay the price of mortality.  How’s that for blaming half the world’s population for what came out of Pandora’s box.  Unfortunately, our world is still driven by these old stupid ideas.   Are we ever going to get over this crap and actually start real human history?  Of course, it’s much more complicated than this, but this is an important dimension of the issue especially when laid next to our incessant warlike behaviour and our drive for puffing ourselves up and smiting our ‘enemies.’  Dumb species we are.  Just plain dumb.  This is not to say that every man is a stupid mysogenist.  The fact is that our cultures are fundamentally mysogenistic.  Individuals can be better than that, but our lives are governed to a great extent by mysogenistic principles and practices. Hard to escape. I know some men and women who have.  For me, that’s grounds for optimism and for what little there is left in Pandora’s Box.  More later (of course).

Women as weak and unclean!

Barbarian Status of Women, Part 2:  Women as Weak and Unclean.

 

To start, I include here a sample of Thorstein Veblen’s writing to give you a sense of what it would be like to read a more substantial piece of his work, like his book The Place of Science in Modern Civilization.  Of course, this long quote is relevant to what I want to pursue in this post, that is, the general cultural institutional perception of women as weak and unclean, associated with the earth, dirt, blood, the night and death.  After all, Gaia, the first of the gods in Greek mythology was female, she was the earth. [She wasn’t personified as later Greek gods were, but she is a god helping to bring order into a chaotic universe.]   Veblen doesn’t go in all of these directions, but others do, including the Freudians.  We’ll have a little visit with them today too.  Now for Veblen:

In such a community [of barbarians] the standards of merit and propriety rest on an invidious distinction between those who are capable fighters and those who are not. Infirmity, that is to say incapacity for exploit, is looked down upon. One of the early consequences of this deprecation of infirmity is a tabu on women and on women’s employments. In the apprehension of the archaic, animistic barbarian, infirmity is infectious. The infection may work its mischievous effect both by sympathetic influence and by transfusion. Therefore it is well for the able-bodied man who is mindful of his virility to shun all undue contact and conversation with the weaker sex and to avoid all contamination with the employments that are characteristic of the sex. Even the habitual food of women should not be eaten by men, lest their force be thereby impaired. The injunction against womanly employments and foods and against intercourse with women applies with especial rigor during the season of preparation for any work of manly exploit, such as a great hunt or a warlike raid, or induction into some manly dignity or society or mystery. Illustrations of this seasonal tabu abound in the early history of all peoples that have had a warlike or barbarian past. The women, their occupations, their food and clothing, their habitual place in the house or village, and in extreme cases even their speech, become ceremonially unclean to the men. This imputation of ceremonial uncleanness on the ground of their infirmity has lasted on in the later culture as a sense of the unworthiness or Levitical inadequacy of women ; so that even now we feel the impropriety of women taking rank with men, or representing the community in any relation that calls for dignity and ritual competency ; as for instance, in priestly or diplomatic offices, or even in representative civil offices, and likewise, and for a like reason, in such offices of domestic and body servants as are of a seriously ceremonial character ‚ footmen, butlers, etc.

Veblen, then, in his odd style, explains that women are considered lesser than men because they can’t fight.  What they do around the house is fine, but the really important stuff, like hunting and protecting the group, is the purview of men and that type of activity becomes entrenched as the value standard by which to judge all action.  So, men, powerful men, manly men, become the standard by which to judge all of humankind.

Veblen’s explanation, then, remains at the level of performance.  The tabu on women is a result of their ‘infirmity’, their inability to pursue the hunt and to fight.  Because this ‘infirmity’ is infectious, men must avoid women, especially at certain times of the year and when women’s infirmity is most obvious during their time of her ‘customary impurity’ otherwise they risk losing their prowess.  There have been obvious residual instances of this proscription when it’s been made clear to professional athletes by coaches and others interested in winning.  So I googled: Is it ok to have sex before a high level athletic competition?  There were enough ‘hits’ to suggest that its still on people’s minds, mindless though that is.  After all when the French refer to orgasm as ‘la petite mort’ what they are referring to is the overwhelming bodily release of tension and semi-immobilization that comes with it.  One dies a little upon ejaculation.  At least that’s my interpretation and I’m sticking by it.  Others have suggested that ejaculation and orgasm give up a little of a man’s ‘life’ every time it happens.  I don’t think so, but it does bring up the notion that bodily functions in general, especially those that involve orifices, ejaculates, evacuations and such are subtle little reminders of our mortality.  Why else do Catholic priests and others vow to be chaste?  Why else would people (men, that is) in certain societies wear butt plugs?  Well, both practices deny the body and its downright nasty habit of getting ill, diseased and eventually dead.  Men can delude themselves into thinking that if they just abstain from bodily stuff and stick to the symbolic, spiritual side of life then they can live eternally.  Yeah, right.

Next class, we visit the Freudians via Norman O. Brown and Ernest Becker.  It might be fun later to look at Greek philosophy and myths to get a sense of how they see this stuff.