Monday, April 30, 2007

On Desperation

Megan writes:
So, it is particularly cruel for you to tell me that this desperation, which is more painful for me than for anyone else, is simultaneously the reason I can’t have what I am desperate for. I didn’t WANT this bind to start with and I refuse to feel like I am doing something wrong. It is not wrong to want children, even to be a woman and want them very, very much. So if some men think my urgency for kids is unappealing, F**K THEM.
This is too bad. Out here in flyover country, men want kids too . . . or at least recognize that it is normal for women to want them, and their expectations are conditioned accordingly.

But it also struck me as something very similar to what I thought and said back when I was single, and not wanting to be, about all the times I was told or was told about some other young man who was single while not wanting to: "don't be desperate." Aside from the paradox, that by the very act of wanting a girlfriend/fiance/wife meant that I couldn't have one, was this: since when did wanting to meet a young woman that I would like and who would like me back, courting for a while, and then getting married become somehow abnormal, somehow anything other than an honorable and moral objective for a 23 - 24 year old, professionally employed man to have?

So I'm sympathetic to Megan.

And I also know the answer to my own question. The label of "desperation" has less to do with anything that its bearer actually says or does than it has to do with the reactions of the women around him. He is "desperate" because the women don't want him.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Feminists and the Alpha Male

I recently came across a couple of blogs that generated the following post. Spungeon posts at and Dizzy posts at Both are thirty-something women, both lawyers or aspiring lawyers, and both have written dismissively about the "alpha-male" paradigm, i.e. the pop-sociobiological explanation for female sexual selection. It is this last point that I write to address.

This post is not intended to be a comprehensive defense of either sociobiology or its application to human sexual selection; this has been done better elsewhere. Nor is it an unalloyed apologia. In fact, there may be perfectly valid criticisms of the “alpha male” paradigm used to explain female mate selection: it can sound tautological, and therefore doesn’t really predict anything; it often tries to account for more variation than it actually can; and the paradigm doesn’t really apply to women over 30. (Both Spungeon and Dizzy are over 30, so they have had plenty of opportunity to assess the market and their actual buying power in it − but this is a subject for a separate post.) But feminist (broadly speaking) objections are seldom expressed in such an analytical way. My impression is that such as Spungeon and Dizzy reject, root and branch, the idea that the choices of women might be biologically determined. They are not alone in this rejection: all the (few) feminist bloggers I have read have expressed similar hostility. Since the hostility is so widespread, I decided that it requires some examination.

Sex and Liberalism

With the exception of libertarians, those of use who came of age politically in the last 30 – 40 years accept as a matter of course the political correlation between holding traditional views on sexual morality and pro-market views among conservatives on the one hand, and sexually licentious views and pro-interventionist economic views among liberals on the other. As any student of history could tell you, these correlations are anomalous: one only need to consider the writings of a tradition-minded socialist like G. K. Chesterton and a libertine capitalism like H. L. Menken, both of whom wrote during the 1920s, to realize that these correlations once cut the other way. But during the 1960s, the sexual revolution hitched its wagon to the horses of economic interventionism, a union that ultimately drove many Democrats into a newly-traditional Republican party. These coalitions, whatever their roots in expedience, and whatever theoretical tensions may exist within them, were ultimately marketed, and purchased, as package deals. (I myself bought the conservative package back during the Reagan administration.)

So the anomaly has become established fact: interventionist, sparrow-catching liberals, for whom no human suffering is beyond the reach of government to remedy, also advocate sexual anarchy. So long as they are between “consenting adults,” not only must our sexual relations be free from the reach of the law, they must be free from the reach of convention as well. Men and women should be free to mate with whom they wish, under whatever arrangements on which they mutually agree. (I shall write a post on whether this anarchy constitutes a stable end-state, but not today.) It didn’t take feminists long to realize that this anarchy left a lot of female victims: young women, pregnant and abandoned; older women, traded out for the new model. Feminist response to these victims varied in the particulars, but the central theme was that these injustices were artifacts of the imbalance of power between men and women. Specifically, men had greater social and economic power, and therefore were able to enjoy most of the benefits of sexual liberation. Correct that imbalance, and women, too, would reap its benefits. So ultimately, “liberation” required yet more intervention: affirmative action, childcare subsidies, taxpayer-funded abortion, comparable worth, etc.

The Invisible Men

But there was a second group of victims unaccounted for in the feminist worldview. Indeed, it was not until the age of the internet ended the monopoly of the “mainstream media” that these victims found each other, compared notes, and found in sociobiology a parsimonious explanation for their plight.

Under the tradition dispensation, there was some social and economic pressure on men and women to get married and to do so relatively young. Men enjoying higher status by virtue of their wealth and power, and young beautiful women got their pick, but monogamy was the rule, and almost everyone had the opportunity to marry somebody. Under the new dispensation, monogamy was most definitely not the rule, so it was very easy for high-status men to “play the field,” and easy for the majority of women to believe that they would eventually monopolize the affections (and resources) of a high-status male (because, after all, they slept with one). So women, lacking economic pressure to do otherwise, spend their twenties ignoring the majority of ordinary men and wait their “turn” to be with the alpha.

It is possible to overstate the injustice here. As I said before, most women realize as they approach thirty that sleeping around is not a viable strategy to finding long-term happiness. Therefore, most men will eventually get a shot. And it may be difficult to have much sympathy for those men whose disappointment stems from their failure to live the playboy’s life themselves.

Feminist Hatred

But even this does not account for the scorn with which feminist women hold low-status men. It is not enough for them to say simply that low-status men are unattractive. It is not even enough to say that they are socially inept (which is often the case for personalities bred in social isolation, itself a function of unattractiveness). No, these men are evil for one reason or another. Witness Spungeon’s observation that unattractive people are conveniently mean and treacherous. I say “convenient” because these qualities relieve Spungeon of any obligation to have compassion on them. The liberal worldview does not allow for distinctions like “the deserving poor” or shrugging at the realization that the free market leaves some better-off than others. No, low-status men must be morally undeserving, because if they weren’t that would mean . . . .

I will at this point officially decline to speculate what “affirmative action” or a “welfare program” would look like for men who can’t get dates. My point is that it is in this direction that left-liberal reasoning takes them. And since feminists most emphatically do not want to go in this direction, it is necessary for them to postulate something that they refuse to recognize in any other sphere of life: absolute, de facto, equality of opportunity. For the sexual anarchy of the feminist worldview to be morally coherent on its own terms, it is absolutely necessary for them to believe that, but for men’s own choices, all men have an equal opportunity to mate with all women.

And it is this postulate that runs into a fatal collision with sociobiology. Because sociobiology, as Darwinism in general, starts from an assumption of inequality. Indeed, it is precisely the inequality, and differential rates of reproduction, among individuals and groups that drive natural selection, evolution, and speciation. If Darwinism is describes reality, then the feminist worldview necessarily cannot describe reality. So in conflict with feminism, Darwinism must yield.

Update: Dizzy and Spungeon post comments that require me to issue a clarification. Both Dizzy and Spungeon, having reached their thirties, broadened their dating pool and had a number of negative experiences as a result. Dizzy in particular tells tales that beggar the imagination. Dizzy, Spungeon, and any other woman who has been treated like this has fully earned whatever feelings she has.

So in an effort to salvage my theory, I may need to restrict its explanatory power to the attitudes of women in their twenties torward men that they do not date. I had in mind such a woman when I wrote the post. I have no doubt that many "beta" males can behave abominably, especially when they try to imitate the behavior of the alpha males they see as successful. But what I attempted to explain was the willingness of women who have never dated such a beta to make gross (and, in my opinion, unwarranted) generalizations about all of them. This is most definitely not to say that they should feel obligated in some way to date anybody they do not wish to date (although she might be pleasantly surprised, as my wife was when she finally went out with me).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

More on the Virginia Tech Massacre

From the Roanoke Times:

The obvious objection that the typical gun-grabber would offer here is a reductio ad absurdum: "Do you really want to let ALL college students walk around carrying guns?!? You'd have Dodge City circa 1875!"

The reason I am inclined to give at least partial credit to this objection is that I have over the years developed a rather low opinion of the judgment and maturity of college students in general. This is not necessarily because 18 - 22 year olds are inherently irresponsible, although I will allow that maturity continues to develop through one's twenties. Rather, the college environment is one where the vast majority of students have very little in the way of responsible behavior expected of them and carry very few of the consequences for their actions.

Anecdote #1: When I was a student, our school football team beat the #1 ranked team late in the season. The game was "away," but of course much of the campus was watching the game on television. In "celebration," a mob of students threw an alcohol-fueled riot outside of our football stadium. They ripped up any flammable material available and built a bonfire in the middle of the intersection underneath the traffic light. (Casualty: one traffic light.) They further went through all the nearby dormitories discharing the fire extinguishers to ensure that they would not be available to anyone seeking to put out the fire. They then ripped up one of the goal posts from the stadium and tossed it on the fire. (Casualty: one goal post.) Police were summoned. (Casualty: one police car.) The fire department was summoned, but the rioters first would not allow the fire trucks to approach the fire, and then did their best to crimp the fire hoses the firemen were trying to use. The riot continued until well after our team arrived home.

What causes this kind of behavior? THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES!!! No arrests. No bill of damages presented to any student. No expulsions. All the costs generated by the rioters were born by GROWN-UPS! The most salient feature of college life is that ALMOST NOBODY IS PAYING THEIR OWN WAY IN THE WORLD. Their way is being paid by Mommy, Daddy, and Uncle Sam. For the few students studying engineering or the physical sciences, their studies might be difficult enough to absorb their energies. But for the vast majority of students, college life is four years of beer and circuses, an externally created and artificially maintained responsibility-free existence. Such an existence must surely have the effect of undermining the character of middle-class young people no less than the responsibility-free existence created by, say, AFDC undermined the character of the urban poor. Once upon a time, this effect was mitigated by college administrators by acting vigorously in loco parentis and rigidly structuring the lives of its students. Colleges have abandoned this role, substituting "tolerance" and "diversity" for virtue and discipline.

The institute at which I teach is fairly unique in still requiring our students to lead highly structured lives and enforcing that structure with multiple layers of oversight as well as significant penalties for infraction. But even this isn't perfect: last weekend, five students took it upon themselves to sneak out after curfew, break in to the school gymnasium through the roof, and throw a fairly low-key, non-alcoholic party in one of the squash courts. Now on the one hand, I have to admire the initiative and courage on display here. (To enter the gym the students had to drop from the ceiling into the swimming pool, a good 12 meter jump into the dark.) But on the other hand, these students are not paying their own way and will probably not be prosecuted as common vandals. (They will be disciplined in other ways, and required to pay for the damage to the roof.) This kind of thing doesn't happen very often, but the fact that it happens at all shows that even the most motivated young people in the nation are not yet quite GROWN-UPS.

So I don't claim to be a big fan of allowing the typical Virginia Tech student to walk around armed. This is not because he lacks the capacity to carry a weapon as a responsible adult but because in no other aspect of his life is he being required to live the life of a responsible adult, and therefore the potential for his misbehavior rises dramatically.

But the solution to this problem is not gun control. The solution to this problem is reforming higher education. Raise admission standards. Enforce behavior standards. Reduce or eliminate most government aid to education. Reduce or eliminate most on-campus housing. Reduce the student population to serious students studying serious subjects leading to marketable degrees. When students are paying their own way, and interact in their non-classroom hours with the real world, and are taught to regard their time at school as a monetary investment in their future earning potential, THEN I would allow them to keep and bear arms as a responsible citizen.

However, the prohibition on the possession of firearms by faculty is a gross violation of their constitutional rights and led directly to this tragedy. The administration of Virginia Tech may be beyond accountability in this regard, but I hope the voters of Virginia remember last year's failure by the state legislature to protect the rights of the VT faculty, and act appropriately.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin nails it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Violence Prevention at Virginia Tech

As we mourn today's loss of 32 innocent lives on the Virginia Tech campus, and mourn as well the expected loss of our constitutional rights, as will surely come as night follows day, we might pause to ask a number of questions:

Question 1: Why didn't a student, confronted with a murderer on a rampage, shoot back?

Answer: from Virginia Tech's Student Code of Conduct, Section II:

10. Fireworks/Explosives/Hazardous Chemicals/Weapons Unauthorized possession or use of fireworks, explosives, or weapons is prohibited. Hazardous chemicals that could pose a health risk are also prohibited from the campus, including chemicals that, when combined with other substances, could be hazardous or present a danger to others.

Unauthorized possession, storage (in vehicles on campus as well as in the residence halls), or control of firearms and weapons on university property is prohibited. (NOTE: Organizational weapons of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, approved by the commandant, are not prohibited by this policy.) Firearms are defined as any gun, rifle, pistol, or handgun designed to fire bullets, BBs, pellets, or shots including paint balls), regardless of the propellant used. Other weapons are defined as any instrument of combat or any object not designed as an instrument of combat but carried for the purpose of inflicting or threatening bodily injury. Examples include (but are not limited to) knives with fixed blades or pocketknives with blades longer than four inches, razors, metal knuckles, blackjacks, hatchets, bows and arrows, nun chahkas, foils, or any explosive or incendiary device. Possession of realistic replicas of weapons on campus is prohibited.

Students who store weapons in residence hall rooms, who brandish weapons, or who use a weapon in a reckless manner may face disciplinary action that may include suspension or dismissal from the university.

Refer to Section V.W. for additional information about Weapons. Section V.W. - Weapons: Unauthorized possession, storage, or control of firearms and weapons on university property is prohibited, including storing weapons in vehicles on campus as well as in the residence halls. (Note: organizational weapons of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, approved by the commandant, are not prohibited by this policy.)

Firearms are defined as any gun, rifle, pistol, or handgun designed to fire bullets, BBs, pellets, or shots (including paint balls), regardless of the propellant used. Other weapons are defined as any instrument of combat or any object not designed as an instrument of combat but carried for the purpose of inflicting or threatening bodily injury. Examples include but are not limited to knives with fixed blades or pocket knives with blades longer than 4 inches, razors, metal knuckles, blackjacks, hatchets, bows and arrows, nun chukkas, foils, or any explosive or incendiary device. Possession of realistic replicas of weapons on campus is prohibited. Students who store weapons in residence hall rooms, who brandish weapons, or who use a weapon in a reckless manner may face disciplinary action, which may include suspension or dismissal from the university.

Exceptions to possessing weapons may be made in the case of university functions or activities and for educational exhibitions or displays. Such exceptions will be subject to authorization by the Virginia Tech Police. This policy does not prohibit the possession of firearms by persons, such as law enforcement officers, who are authorized by law to do so in the performance of their duties. A weapons storage program is available. Interested persons should contact the Virginia Tech Police (Sterrett Facilities Complex, 231-6411.

Question 2: Why didn't an instructor at Virginia Tech, faced with a murderer on a rampage, shoot back?

Answer 2: From the Faculty Handbook, Section 2:

2.7.3 Campus and Workplace Violence Prevention Virginia Tech will not tolerate acts of violence or hostility committed by or against employees, students, contractual workers, volunteers, visitors, or other third parties on university owned, controlled, or leased properties, or while conducting university business at another location.

The university’s employees, students, and volunteers, or any visitor or other third party attending a sporting, entertainment, or educational event, or visiting an academic or administrative office building or residence hall, are further prohibited from carrying, maintaining, or storing a firearm or weapon on any university facility, even if the owner has a valid permit, when it is not required by the individual’s job, or in accordance with the relevant University Student Life Policies.

Question 3: But surely, wouldn't someone have armed himself anyway? What would the penalty be?



F. Disciplinary Action

6. Unacceptable Standards of Conduct (Offenses)

c) Group III Offenses: These offenses include acts and behavior of such a serious nature that a first occurrence normally warrants removal. Group III offenses include, but are not limited to:

10. Unauthorized possession or use of firearms, dangerous weapons or explosives.

It seems fairly obvious to me that all this official ink served no purpose today except to guarantee that the victims would be disarmed in the face of the enemy.

Other Links:

Campus and Workplace Violence Prevention Policy

Workplace Violence

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Futility of Their Minds . . .

Today, our department heard a lunchtime talk by BGen Malham Wakin (USAF, Ret.), former head of the Philosophy department at the Air Force Academy, among much else. It was a participatory talk, and some of that back and forth is recounted here as best as I can reconstruct it from memory. Comments in brackets are those I would have made had time and discussion dynamics allowed.

WAKIN: If your daughter came to you and said, "I need help writing an essay defending the proposition that we should tell the truth," what would you say?

PERSON #1: I would tell her that if she lies, bad things will happen to her.

WAKIN: Okay, so you would discuss the consequences of untruthfulness. Anyone else?

PERSON #2: I would show the dangers of allowing people who lie to hold positions of responsibility, say, like a physician.

WAKIN: Good. Anyone else?

PERSON #3: I would cite the 9th Commandment.

WAKIN: Well, you couldn't really say "God said so" at a [publicly funded] institution.

[The legal prohibitions (such as they are) against using one's teaching position for religions proselytizing (if such could be construed) is irrelevant to the strength of the argument. A much better objection would be that the persuasiveness of the Decalogue depends on a pre-existing religious committment; however, it is the long-standing conceit of philosophers that their reasoning is somehow more accessible than religion in actually persuading anyone of anything without a pre-existing committment to either the philosophical school or the specific result.]

WAKIN: But I often point out that a universal moral principle like truthfulness is common to most religious systems, and therefore has presumptive validity.

PERSON #3: Perhaps. But that's not what I said. I happen to think that "God said so" is a pretty good argument.

WAKIN: No it isn't! If one of your students showed you an answer to an engineering problem and said that it was correct because "God said so," you would not accept it.

PERSON #3: But that's because engineering has a different methodology . . .

WAKIN: So do we!

[Let me be more specific. Engineers are not wedded (or should not be wedded) to their mathematical models out of religious or philosophical devotion. Engineers use their models because the models accurately predict the behavior of physical systems in the real world. The closest analogue to this in philosophy would be some form of Consequentialism, which, as BGen Wakin well knows, has a number of limitations.

One of those limitations is that it does nothing to address the problem of freeloading. We can probably all of us agree that a society in which nobody told the truth would not be a pleasant society to live in for anyone. But that knowledge, in and of itself, does nothing to address the individual member of that society who finds marginal utility in deception while externalizing its costs on everyone else. It's a classic prisoners dilemma.

Indeed, Nicholas Wade, in Before the Dawn wrote that it was specifically to address the problem of freeloading that organized religion evolved in the first place. So whether you are a Christian or a Darwinist (or both), you wind up in the same place: "God says so" remains the most compelling argument in favor of ethical imperatives. (Wade, as near as I can tell, does not adhere to any religion himself, and argues that the modern state has found replacements for religion in this regard, which he does not specify, but which I take to refer to bureaucratic/administrative enforcement mechanisms. I'm not convinced.)]

WAKIN: Let's try something like this. The purpose of language is communication. When people tell the truth, they improve communication; when they lie, they impede it. So untruthfulness undermines the very purpose of language in the first place.

[You've got to be joking. Do you think that anyone who does not believe that truthfulness in the abstract is A Good Thing will be persuaded that communication in the abstract is A Good Thing? Let me know how it works out, but I couldn't convince a twelve-year-old with it.]

Summary: we all had a good time today, but I couldn't help thinking that, if this is the best our philosophy department can do in ethical education, we have much to fear.