Weinstein on Sexism and Genetics

Joe Rogan Experience #1006 – Jordan Peterson & Bret Weinstein

From 33:00 – 34:00, Bret Weinstein briefly describes a theory concerning sexism. I’ll sum it up in point form here:

  1. It is not possible for ‘male genes to gang up on female genes’ because all of our genes spend half their time in male bodies and half their time in female bodies.
  2. This does not mean that ‘civilization is fair in terms of sex and gender’.
  3.  It does mean that there is no biological basis for a patriarchal force that subordinates women because whatever men visit upon women in such a scenario will be visited upon themselves when they are women later.
  4. He goes on to say the same doesn’t hold for racism.

I understand the distinction he is drawing our attention to. Your own offspring, possessing half your genetic material, will either be male or female. Another race’s offspring and I am assuming there is little race-mixing in this scenario, do not have any of your genetic material, so your genes are not ‘abusing’ themselves.

Any weight this brief description may have resides in what I see as a common fault in many evolutionary psychology-informed explanations – the personification of the gene.

Genes can’t gang up on anything, nor can they worry about their future. They are inanimate. Ganging up and worrying require the ability to do all sorts of other things logically impossible for the inanimate to do. This includes: having intentions, thinking, believing, having a reasonably complex understanding of time, etc. Therefore, those cannot be reasons why there is no genetic basis for patriarchal oppression. If genes were people, however, not doing something because of inevitable unwanted consequences makes perfect sense. Therein lies the persuasion.

Before you accuse me of being shallow and pedantic, be reminded of the only escape hatch possible in dealing with questionable scientific metaphors: you must be able to redescribe the metaphor in causal terms. There is no such thing as a licit metaphor without a literal redescription.

For instance, when explaining evolution to children, one could begin by saying things like, “A giraffe’s neck grew longer over time to eat leaves high up in the trees.” Giraffes’ necks didn’t grow longer to do anything. I assume I don’t have to go through a legitimate causal redescription.

How on earth would one redescribe Weinstein’s explanation in literal terms?

I am no expert, but in the case of men oppressing women, I think it is quite likely there is a genetic, or, the term I prefer, natural basis for it. Depending on what you mean by oppression, of course. This is not to say such a social organization is right, or the best one, but that, in a sense it is so prevalent in the history of human culture it is hard to see how there couldn’t be.



Jordan Peterson and Bret Weinstein on the Joe Rogan Podcast

Jordan Peterson and Bret Weinstein, two popular psychologists, recently spent some time talking about various issues on Joe Rogan’s podcast.

While both certainly have Wisdom to disburse, Peterson more than Weinstein, both are also good examples of how thoughtful, intelligent, and good-hearted intellectuals’ thinking can be warped, in certain ways, by the conceptual diseases of their discipline.

Peterson tends towards mistakes influenced by his psychometric and psychoanalytic background, whereas Weinstein evolutionary psychology.

I am a good philosopher, and so, in a sense, not so concerned with facts, so much as understanding and reasoning. My next few (maybe many) posts will be devoted to critiquing some of the things that come up during in their conversation. You can find the episode here: Joe Rogan Experience #1006 – Jordan Peterson & Bret Weinstein

The Law and Spirit of the Law

Laws are a particular kind of convention. They are made. As artifacts, they are characteristically made for a purpose. It might be tempting to say that laws are not objective, but this would be misleading.

It would be misleading because their lack of, in a sense, objectivity, does not diminish them in any real way. In the usual talk of objectivity and subjectivity, a distinction is made between something that is the way it is independent of us and something that is the way it is depending, in some way, on us. That there are flowers, for instance, is objective, while their beauty or ugliness is subjective. Being objective is generally given pride of place. The mistake lies, as usual, in forgetting there are other possibilities.

Laws are a kind of rule we use to guide and judge behavior. That we have x, y and z as laws is objective, but we, in various ways, decide what laws we have and how they are applied. Thus laws themselves are neither objective nor subjective in the senses laid out above.

A law’s purpose and its spirit are synonymous. For example, the law against jaywalking was made to deter pedestrians from interfering with traffic, for the safety of everyone involved.

Interpretation is itself a rule-governed practice. We have a whole system, the legal system, set up around applying, enforcing and interpreting the law. Because laws can be interpreted, they can also be applied against their spirit. For instance, someone could walk into the road to take something dangerous off  of it. Technically jaywalking, but applying the jaywalking law in this situation, stated as it is, would go against the overriding spirit of general safety which it is meant to serve.

What forces affect the application of laws? Can you think of any other examples of when the law was misapplied against its spirit?

Saying, Showing and Doing

The distinction Wittgenstein makes between saying and showing in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is a famous one. He later repudiated that exact account, but it could be said there was a kernel of truth in that distinction that remained important to his writing afterwards.

What I am talking about is his later distinction between empirical and grammatical propositions. Empirical propositions may be true or false, their truth or falsity depending on the way the world is. For example, Sherbrooke is east of Montreal. Grammatical propositions are neither true nor false, and retain their status regardless of the way the world is. For example, you kick with your foot. In a sense, empirical propositions ‘say’ and grammatical ‘show’. Do not be misled, since these are idiosyncratic and not normal uses of ‘say’ and ‘show’.

In the normal cases of saying and showing, one is also doing. Yet, we make an important distinction between saying and doing in the ethical arena. The threat of violence is not as bad as violence, for instance. Insofar as the threat of violence is bad, our judgment of it is also context-dependent. Why threaten? we might ask. From another current popular angle: words are not violence.

Here our discussion connects with the notion of free speech, the idea that while it makes sense that one cannot do what one wishes, one should be allowed to say what one wishes, with certain exceptions applying. What are those exceptions and why are they exceptional?


Personal Responsibility

Our notion of personal responsibility is an important one; much can ride on its proper application in the course of human life.

In this case, there is the description of the concept and a related ethical component. If someone were to ask for a brief explanation of its nature, you could sum it up like this: Personal responsibility means that blame or praise, punishment or reward, if necessary, is applied to the person who intentionally committed the act in question. Everybody knows this – it goes without saying. However, in certain circumstances it can be tempting to deny one’s own responsibility or transfer one’s own responsibility onto others who do not deserve it.

There are legitimate and illegitimate reasons to deny or transfer responsibility.

One may deny personal responsibility when one either acted unintentionally, or intentionally while lacking full knowledge of the consequences of one’s action. In the former case, one cannot be willfully neglectful, for then one would be responsible for that. In the latter case, one cannot be willfully ignorant, for then one would be responsible for that. 

One may transfer personal responsibility when an action can reasonably be considered to be forced, by some means, by another actor.

These considerations factor in to the practices of communal punishment and circumstances in which an actor is faced with a no-win scenario. In communal punishment, the actions of a single member are said to justify the punishment of the group. It is a corrective method, meant to influence the behavior of the group, whose members will likely directly pressure the transgressor to change their future behavior. The transgressor will also likely feel the added need to change their behavior knowing that any future actions’ consequences will affect the group.

There is no doubt that communal punishment may be warranted within certain guidelines, and in other cases, not.

Can you think of examples of either? What are the guidelines of its application?

The Alpha

This blog is for tinkering with some current ideas, practicing my writing and attempting to engage other like-minded people in thoughtful and productive debate. Do not hesitate to criticize anything at all and, please, feel free to suggest topics if you think I can do them justice.