Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dealing with Authority

I become involved recently in a conversation about "the patriarchy" (something people who self-identify as feminists often bring up as a persistent source of multiple evils in civil society). Here are some thoughts I had that seemed worth preserving (as something for me to think about more).

In my view, the root problem here is not this or that ἀρχή (Greek for authority among other things), but ἀρχή (-archy) in general. Humans, like other social primates, exist in groups where individuals (disproportionately males) arrogate authority.

In primitive societies, this tendency is arrested by the lack of independence that primitive life carries built-in (as strong as I might be, I can still get injured really badly really easily and/or have a bad day hunting: I need the cooperation of weaker folk to survive). The pill in this egalitarian jam is (1) living conditions are rough and (2) low-level violence is actually rather high (as individuals see opportunities to rise in the fluctuating informal hierarchy and take them: kick an alpha when he's down).

In more modern societies (agricultural instead of hunter-gatherer), hierarchies necessarily become more rigid (less egalitarian). I cannot know all the police personally (the way primitive people know everyone in the tribe by name). Leadership is institutional rather than charismatic and tends to move around less (the chieftain or king or prime minister remains in power on a schedule that is predetermined, often such that one individual holds power his entire life). People become stuck in their social place more firmly (entrenching themselves in inequality as primitives don't). The jam with this pill is (1) living conditions are nicer and (2) low-level violence drops (witness Steven Pinker, though it is not right to read him as saying that civilization is necessarily safer than lack of it in terms of outcomes: the elimination of low-level violence creates high-level violence that is much more lethal in smaller doses).

Education should help us understand (1) where human social order is flexible, so that we can avoid making it hurt us unnecessarily; and (2) where human social order is inflexible, so that we can fight back effectively when we are screwed without destroying the order that we require in order to survive. All human social order kills people. The aim is to die as beautifully as possible, recognizing that we will not all die the same way (or have the same idea of what constitutes a truly beautiful death).

I try not to be a misogynist (and this does not really seem hard to me in practical terms, since I have healthy relationships with good women--relationships in which all parties associate voluntarily because we like what happens when we collaborate).

I don't personally mind if people want to be misandrist: hate men all you like, as long as you don't insist on being my friend (and/or demanding that I join your club and hate myself: I promise I already do, and I don't need any help from people who think the solution to self-hatred is making oneself vulnerable to people who reinforce it).

If people like me and want to work with me, then I want to be there for them as much as I can. If people hate me and wish I would drop off the face of the planet and die, then I want to be there for them as little as possible (as they wish).

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