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Jun 02 2013

Reasoned arguments against the basic tenets

I’m re-reading Professing Feminism, by Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge. It’s become a new talking point and favorite with the anti-feminism crowd, which makes me laugh a little. I first read it years ago, in the ’90s. It was part of the foundation for my involvement with the original Butterflies and Wheels. I’m friends with Daphne Patai.

It’s not an attack on feminism. It’s about women’s studies programs, not feminism as such. The two are not identical, to put it mildly. There is (ironically) a lot of anti-intellectualism in women’s studies programs, and that’s what the book is about.

One sentence raised a question I often think about, and suggested a new (to me) way of framing it.

What needs to be investigated is whether students are at all receptive to reasoned arguments against the basic tenets of their own framework or, to the contrary, have learned to deploy various criticism-deflecting strategies in an effort to keep their acquired ideas inviolate. [p 176]

The part I think about is which basic tenets we mean.

Put it this way. Say the most basic tenet of all is that people should be treated as equals – the translation of the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal.”

I think it’s easier for me (for example) to be receptive to reasoned arguments against that tenet than it is to be receptive to reasoned arguments against the tenet that women are not equal inferior to men, perhaps especially when the reasoned arguments come from men.

I bet you can see what I’m getting at already.

It’s easier to have a calm disinterested “reasoned” discussion of abstract issues than it is to have one that has to do with one party thinking the other party is inferior and subordinate.

Just for one thing, if one party is inferior and subordinate then how can both parties have a reasoned discussion? A reasoned discussion takes place between equals, not between innate superiors and their innate subordinates. A discussion like that assumes equality. Not equality of knowledge or intelligence, but just plain equality.

I think it would be hard to do. I think it would be very difficult to be receptive to reasoned arguments that I am inherently, because a woman, inferior and subordinate, coming from people who argue that they are, because men, inherently superior. I think the same applies if you substitute other, similar categories – race and all the rest of them.

I think, in a way, that’s an idea that people need to keep “inviolate” in order to thrive or flourish. It’s a very very difficult tenet to treat as negotiable or even subject to reasoned arguments against it.

You?

14 comments

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  1. 1
    Aratina Cage

    This is exactly what is wrong with Dan Fincke’s idea of civility. You can’t have a reasoned discussion with someone treating you as something inferior, deviant, subordinate or even non-human.

  2. 2
    maudell

    That’s also what I read when I hear the ‘feminist dogma’ argument. It’s not that feminists cannot be dogmatic, but feminism itself doesn’t entail dogma, it doesn’t preclude critical thinking.

    Funny how these people just never have ‘critical’ discussions about the inherent inferiority of men. It almost seems like it’s a given that they are not inferior and made to shut up and serve women! Dogma!

    The bottom line, IMO, is that ‘value’ of one gender over an other is a nonsensical question. I liked how you framed it yesterday. If we don’t believe in a god, teleological arguments are baseless. Purpose means nothing. Purpose to whom? To men? That’s just circular reasoning. For theists, they have a bit more grounds based on scripture, but really, what does it mean? You’re my servant because the boss said so? It’s hard to perceive critical thinking here.

    In my teleological world, all living beings worth should be ranked according to how they serve me personally. Oh, ok, I won’t be so selfish then, ranked according to how they serve my family, my ethnicity and my particular type of sex, sexuality and gender expression. Now that’s critical thinking. [/sarcasm]

  3. 3
    deepak shetty

    @Aratina
    This is exactly what is wrong with Dan Fincke’s idea of civility. You can’t have a reasoned discussion with someone treating you as something inferior, deviant, subordinate or even non-human.
    He doesnt say you can have a reasoned discussion with everyone – only that being uncivil doesn’t add anything to your argument or discussion and in some cases can harm your argument or discussion so why do it (im paraphrasing offcourse).

  4. 4
    zibble

    “Civility” is the idea that words and arguments are more oppressive than laws or violence.

    People fetishize civility chiefly because they don’t experience the effects of bigotry, all they see is the argument. It’s a means of insulating people of privilege from the negative repercussions of their own aggressive actions against the underclass. It’s a means of making sure that the only people who suffer in political debates are the Others who “deserve” it.

  5. 5
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    There’s nothing remotely civil or decent or ethical about erasing the humanity of other people in order to make it easier for you to have a purely academic/philosophical discussion. Women aren’t an abstraction for men to discuss dispassionately among themselves in order to decide how human women really are. I’m almost more disgusted at people like Fincke and Nugent than I am at the overt misogynists. At least being angry at women shows that you see them as worth being angry at… treating the humanity like a hypothetical thought experiment is reducing people to less than bacteria under a microscope.

  6. 6
    Stephanie Zvan

    Funny how these people just never have ‘critical’ discussions about the inherent inferiority of men. It almost seems like it’s a given that they are not inferior and made to shut up and serve women! Dogma!

    And they get remarkably emotional if you say anything that could even potentially be viewed in that light. So, so emotional.

  7. 7
    NotThe Boss

    This is less an abstract discussion and more an anecdote, but FWIW:

    This does remind me of when my born-again-Christian friend brought a fellow to one of my parties, and we got stuck into her “female submission” dogma (yes, she bought into it; awful and yet darkly hilarious since she remains one of the least submissive people I have personally known). The guy basically responded with (I’m paraphrasing), “Hey, I don’t make the rules. I don’t want that responsibility either. It’s hard to be me.” When I questioned him on exactly what, if anything, his genitals had to do with his ability to make appropriate decisions, he just got this smug little smile on his face.

    So yes, I think these discussions are very difficult when had with a person who believes they are inherently superior, dominant, and in charge, whether because God put them there or because mumble mumble science patriarchy misogyny mumble (I don’t actually get the atheist/skeptic argument for sexism).

  8. 8
    Aratina Cage

    He doesnt say you can have a reasoned discussion with everyone – only that being uncivil doesn’t add anything to your argument or discussion and in some cases can harm your argument or discussion so why do it (im paraphrasing offcourse).

    I think you should read his comments to Brian on his follow-up post about his debate with Vacula. It seemed to me that he was saying that someone could argue for your dehumanization, subordination, inferiority, etc., and you would have to put up with it as if it were a reasoned argument (worth considering).

  9. 9
    brucegee1962

    I, personally, have never been the target of hatred or bigotry. But I’ll note tangentially that Martin Luther King does provide an awfully good role model of how to remain civil, even while receiving massive amounts of dehumanizing abuse. He was scathing and biting, but he also rose far above his opponents while doing so.

  10. 10
    Ophelia Benson

    Civility isn’t what this particular post is about though. It’s about the ability to have reasoned arguments. Related, but not identical.

    It’s quite possible to be civil but still refuse to have a reasoned argument about whether or not one is an inferior.

  11. 11
    deepak shetty

    @aratina
    It seemed to me that he was saying that someone could argue for your dehumanization, subordination, inferiority, etc., and you would have to put up with it as if it were a reasoned argument (worth considering).
    It’s not ‘put up’ if you are going to argue back – and Dan is quite clear that being civil doesnt entail keeping quiet or accepting bad arguments – the claim is merely that your argument doesn’t get better by being uncivil. (Disclaimer I don’t practice what Dan preaches , nor do I intend to, but I do believe people confuse his views with accomodationist views).

    @Ophelia
    It seemed to me that he was saying that someone could argue for your dehumanization, subordination, inferiority, etc., and you would have to put up with it as if it were a reasoned argument (worth considering).
    Some of the religious believe that atheists are inferior – Is it that difficult to have a reasoned argument with them ?

  12. 12
    Great American Satan

    Deepak – In regard to the last question, Yes. No matter how tight your reasoning, if they see you as inferior, they won’t allow themselves to process it or see your point of view. Was that a rhetorical question? My sense of these things is sometimes pretty far off.

  13. 13
    jackasterisk

    This might be an example of the stolen concept fallacy, one of the few good ideas to come out of Objectivist philosophy.

  14. 14
    deepak shetty

    @great1american1satan
    if they see you as inferior, they won’t allow themselves to process it or see your point of view.
    Fair enough – no one is saying reasoned argument always works (though people have been known to change their minds!)
    Was that a rhetorical question?
    Only in the sense that you can find examples (like Ophelia, Greta , Hitchens, Dawkins,and many more) have provided reasoned arguments against religious fundamentalists(some of whom think atheists are inferior) in debates and articles while still being civil (subjective of course)

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