May 17 2013

Women In Secularism 2 – Rebecca Goldstein liveblog #wiscfi

Women In Secularism 2 logo

Rebecca Goldstein wrote out her speech for this conference for the first time ever, agonized over whether to for the first time examine “the gender issue”. To examine whether her behaving as though the world doesn’t care that she’s a female was a good behaviour.

Rebecca is often described in her writings — her science and her novels etc — as being “coldly cerebral”, basically of writing “not like a woman”. “Wanton subjectivity rules in literature.” Authors are treated differently based on their gender. Biases hold sway, criticism of literary works have these biases creep in. Being a woman increase likelihood of being misconstrued, mocked, sidelined, etc.

People ask women if they ever experience biases when speaking — the big problem is often being invisible, that your point is ignored until a man picks it up and says it. Compared to the “more violent” manifestations of misogyny like acid in faces and genital mutilation, it’s easy to dismiss what “privileged women” experience, call them petty for voicing complaints, made to feel ashamed when complaining of microaggressions.

Psychologists cite evidence that microaggressions take more of a toll over time than overt attacks. It’s easier to deal with overt “because no guesswork is involved”. The unconscious and unintentional biases do more damage overall, especially if you’re not quite sure about them.

Sidebar — A “failing” of the secular community when talking about religion is the issue of concentrating on religion abuses the “will to believe”. We attack it with science and sound epistemology, which is all good. But we’ve ignored the will to matter, which is also exploited by religion. Made a fictional character named Renee, who had this idea about “mattering”.

The will to create and procreate are part of the will to “matter”. To want a reason to live, to have a reason to exist in the world. Working theoretical construct in certain branches of psychology, spawned by her fictional character’s idea — Map of “mattering” — determines how a person views themselves, based on what matters to them. Who matters is a function of what matters. “Everyone wants to be a hero.” Ahahahaha. “The heroes are the geniuses.” Ahaha, um…

Googled “mattering maps” — got tens of thousands of hits, “far more than for me, which implies I’m not getting credit”.

Harvard Business Review refers to Mattering Maps almost verbatim quoting from Goldstein’s novels.

Mattering is a concept that can do a lot of ethical heavy lifting — spreads itself out over fact and value, “giving the lie to Gould’s ‘NOMA’.” Science can help discover how people feel they need to matter.

What is it that keeps religious but intelligent people in religion? (Know empirically that religious folks are not stupid — and that the people calling religious folks stupid are just wrong). Why do they like “the technical term of ‘stupid-ass shit?’” The religions that still resonate with our intellectuals were all originally forged during “the axial age” — that same period saw the emergence of secular philosophy as well as tragic drama.

Secularists are the inheritors of the Greek traditions. Preoccupations in the axial age are with issues of “mattering”. The sense that some lives “achieve mattering” and others don’t, raising the possibility of self-direction of mattering. The sense that if you don’t achieve “mattering”, you didn’t even really need to show up to existence. The ideas struck such a chord possibly because of the introduction of cities, and the possibility of anonymity, when til then relationships were all personal.

Despite the religious rituals and pantheistic gods that saturated the Greeks’ lives, when it came to the question of mattering, they tended to answer the question in human terms without gods. Approaching “mattering” from a humanist perspective was “the singularity”.

The idea of attracting the attention of other mortals was the only sort of life worth living (though avoid getting the attention of the gods because they’ll screw you up). To achieve arete, kleos. The only way to defeat the oblivion of death is to be remembered.

Achilles was the greatest celebrated hero, eminently songworthy, despite he’s entirely self-interested, needing to reclaim his “lawfully won Trojan booty”. Chose the short but exceptional life not the long but unexceptional one.

Socrates and Plato — after his death, Plato refined the vulgar credo to “the unEXAMINED life is not worth leading”.

Our normative culture is an uneasy mix of disparate approaches to issues of mattering between Greeks and Hebrews — Greeks with humanistic approach, Hebrews with divine approach. Terrifying to consider the implications of needing every action judged by a divine judge to “matter” ultimately.

Only one vision of mattering has substantively evolved since then — secular moral reason. Only it has corrected its false presuppositions. It’s by that means we know every human life “matters”. If any of us is entitled to a life of mattering, we all are so entitled.

The will to matter is powerful stuff. It has driven secularists to refine our philosophies. Ethical behaviour is behaviour that does justice in ways large and small to all of us.

Microaggressions undermine that sense that a person matters.

Devaluation and depersonalization gave rise to the axial age in the first place. Because of this, secular movement cannot be dissociated from social justice movements.

Standing ovation. Hells yes!

Q1: familiar with work of Hillary Putnam?

Yes. Facts aout mattering are accessible. Greatest philosophical minds of Greece didn’t figure out that slavery might be wrong. As soon as you realize there might be a link between facts and values, you can build links between them. There are facts ABOUT values, so NOMA is wrong.

Q2: What about people who want to matter by notoriety instead of good acts?

Ways people want to matter are interesting. Celebrity culture existed in Greeks too, with wanting poetry and song about you for your deeds. Maybe a secular culture that recognizes every person becomes all the more important. Religious people have the afterlife to worry about, and all they have to worry about is being known by God. Doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lead a satisfactory life. That’s an empirical question to be figured out.

Q3: How you justify the claim that secularists are heirs to Greeks, when there are such strong aversions to philosophy and liberal arts in the secular movement?

(Me– If this is true. I doubt it. )

This should be corrected. We rely on philosophy whether we know it or not in making these arguments against religion — even the claim that evidence-based science is the best grounding for beliefs, that’s an epistemological claim.

Q4: You spoke about mattering. Can you talk about old, rigid gender roles about “real men and real women”?

“Where does one begin?”

One can be convinced of these things because they’re rigidly imposed. Questions about mattering are all about accepting rigid roles of behaviour and how to achieve each person’s mattering. Empirical question is about whether they work. Do they allow people to matter? The fact that they’re breaking down and being broken down suggests they don’t. Slavery is wrong because it takes away an ability to matter from a person — that’s a rigid role. Once you realize that racism/sexism/etc is wrong, that it’s not contributing to the greatest good for the greatest of people, you never go back. It’s ethical progress, like scientific progress.

Very nice answer!

Q5: Bring ideas on mattering to understand psychology of “the reviled misogynist”

“I feel I do understand the reviled misogynist, I’ve had quite a few in my books and I’ve never included a character I didn’t in some sense sympathize with.” The motivations are fairly well understood. Often think that it must be wonderful to think you’re born with an idea that everything coming to you, and that wherever you are in society, you can be sure that some people matter less. Which is why social justice is the answer to all these questions — to make people feel like they matter, instead of that they matter “more” than some other group.

Break, then reception at 7pm in the Grand Ballroom. Ooooh!

Also, tomorrow morning we start at 8:30. MAKE A DECISION HOW YOU DEAL WITH THAT INFO. :)


4 pings

  1. 1

    Standing ovation. Hells yes!

    Wish I could be there. Thanks for taking the time to share the experience.

  2. 2
    Argle Bargle


    Decision made.

  1. 3
    Rebecca Goldstein on mattering » Butterflies and Wheels

    [...] As I mentioned on Saturday morning, Rebecca Goldstein’s talk was brilliant. Miri did an incredible job of liveblogging it, so you can just read her post to learn what RG said. Ditto Jason and his post. [...]

  2. 4
    What Matters Determines Who Matters » Almost Diamonds

    [...] many, I was already familiar with the drive to matter, the topic of Rebecca Goldstein’s talk. Believe it or not, there are advantages to a good general education in psychology, though I still [...]

  3. 5
    Quiverfull Mega-Moms Matter the Mostest

    [...] it wasn’t until I heard philosophy professor and novelist, Rebecca Goldstein speak at the Women in Secularism conference that I finally understood the essential reason behind all of the above-mentioned peripheral reasons [...]

  4. 6
    Crosspost: Quiverfull Mega-Moms Matter the Mostest | H • A

    [...] it wasn’t until I heard philosophy professor and novelist, Rebecca Goldstein speak at the Women in Secularism conference that I finally understood the essential reason behind [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite="" class=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>