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Individuality versus Gender

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DonAthos
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The standard of value is life, human life.

But whose life specifically? One's own life.

And thus, to be a good person, one must have an understanding of their own nature -- not simply "as a human being," but as an individual entity. As a human being, we may generally say that drinking water is good and drinking poison is bad. But in a specific context, what was once "poison" might actually be life-saving medicine. Thus, it wouldn't do to establish some moral rule that drinking "Poison X is wrong", because "Poison X kills people, and human life is the standard of value" while ignoring the circumstance of the individual to whom Poison X is a benefactor.

(Though it remains valid to say that "poison is bad" where "poison" does not refer to anything specific, but the general class of those objects which are inimical to a specific individual's life and health; with regard to such a statement, Poison X would no longer be "poison" at all when required by a given man as medicine -- not for him -- though the rest of the world continue to classify it as such.)

I would like to move from this understanding -- if we are agreed on it -- to an informed analysis of the various controversies regarding gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation that seem to spring up again and again on these forums (and, if I may infer, within Objectivist communities generally).

Suppose that a claim is made in the following manner: men and women are different, and possess different fundamental natures according to their gender. A woman -- a "good woman" -- will act in certain ways according to her feminine nature (which, we are left to suppose, is derived from... the shape of her vagina, or the physical nature of the sex act, or her brain chemistry, or something). And any woman who acts apart from this supposed ideal is in rebellion against her nature, and thus... wrong or wicked in some vague manner.

But with respect to any gender-specific behavior that we would seek to offer prescriptive advice, or make general moral pronouncements (e.g. transsexuality is immoral; women should not ask a man out, but be asked; nor should she seek to be President; etc.)... doesn't it remain that any individual woman is not ethically beholden to her nature as "woman qua woman," but to her nature as an individual? That she must first understand herself, and then take those actions which are best for her personally, not simply as an instance of a type, but as a highly specific entity in an actual, real-world context? And where she finds that her individual nature is in conflict with that which is proposed to be typical of her, as a woman, that she must pursue that which is best for her as an individual -- the expectations of others for womanhood be damned?

To wit: being possessed of a vagina means that it is irrational to seek the office of the Presidency (the details of this argument to be worked out by someone, presumably, in the future)*. However. An individual woman who does not share whatever psychological traits are assumed to be possessed by all those who also have vaginas may not be irrational in her pursuit of the Presidency, but might in fact be acting according to her nature as an individual. It may be irrational for such a woman not to seek the Presidency, insofar as this pursuit will further her life in the manner it would for a man to whom it would be likewise the best thing to do.

If there is any truth to the contention that certain things are generally true for the member of a gender (i.e. Poison X is bad to drink, and women ought not seek the Presidency), don't we counsel our own destruction when we continue to apply this derivative thinking to individuals to whom these things do not, in reality, apply (my body needs Poison X to survive [and we shall call it "medicine"], and this woman, per her nature as an individual, would be well-served by running for the Presidency)?

* Please note: none of this is meant to signal my agreement with the notion that it is irrational for women to run for President, even "in general." Such a thing requires its own argument -- and I would likely put myself on the opposing side. But I would like to explore the idea that, even were this shown to be somehow "generally true" (just as a certain liquid might be "generally poisonous"), we must allow that in individual circumstances it might not apply -- and thus a context-free admonition that "women ought not seek the Presidency" is as wrongheaded as a general proscription against a liquid which may, in a specific scenario, actually be a life-saving medicine.

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An object of reality is what it is independently of what individuals or moral majorities think it is. Something that is poisonous may have medicinal value in proper doses, and the identification of gender isn't dependent on sexual preference. General truths, or truisms, are necessarily incomplete in what they state about reality, where some poisons may save your life, and some women are excellent candidates.

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Suppose that a claim is made in the following manner: men and women are different, and possess different fundamental natures according to their gender. A woman -- a "good woman" -- will act in certain ways according to her feminine nature (which, we are left to suppose, is derived from... the shape of her vagina, or the physical nature of the sex act, or her brain chemistry, or something). And any woman who acts apart from this supposed ideal is in rebellion against her nature, and thus... wrong or wicked in some vague manner.

But with respect to any gender-specific behavior that we would seek to offer prescriptive advice, or make general moral pronouncements (e.g. transsexuality is immoral; women should not ask a man out, but be asked; nor should she seek to be President; etc.)... doesn't it remain that any individual woman is not ethically beholden to her nature as "woman qua woman," but to her nature as an individual? That she must first understand herself, and then take those actions which are best for her personally, not simply as an instance of a type, but as a highly specific entity in an actual, real-world context? And where she finds that her individual nature is in conflict with that which is proposed to be typical of her, as a woman, that she must pursue that which is best for her as an individual -- the expectations of others for womanhood be damned?

Well, my first thought in this case is that the person theorizing about some characteristic being a fundamental element of femininity is simply wrong. That would certainly be my response to the idea that a woman should not want to be President. If we have actually discovered a fundamental characteristic of women, it should hold true for all instances of that concept (the exception is broken units, which I don't have a complete grasp on but I think is well explored in this topic: http://forum.objecti...?showtopic=1099). This is why we should be wary of claims about the fundamental nature of each gender which are based on nothing more than armchair theorizing and personal introspection. Personally, I think it's obvious that there are fundamental differences between men and women, but what they are, and which ones are truly fundamental rather than just generalizations, I have no clue.

The more I think about it, I think the broken units discussion might get to the core of what some of the issue is here. It could certainly be the case that there are instances of men and women who do not share the fundamental characteristics of their genders, in the same way that a broken unit generally is missing a characteristic that it should have. On the other hand, most of what is said about the "fundamental" nature of men or women is just people speculating based on their personal experiences. Serious claims should be backed up by serious, objective evidence.

Edited by Dante
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(just as a certain liquid might be "generally poisonous"),

I doubt that we would benefit from reliving a past conversation much, but I do believe that considering the basic principle from outside of gender difference, which you allude to, is the correct approach.

Something like lactose intolerance in Asians, as an aspect of character, for example, might illuminate the value of drawing personal knowledge from generalized statistics. If an Asian fellow lived in the west, accepted that 4 servings of dairy per day were necessary for his health since he is a human and human nature requires 4 servings of dairy per day then understanding that a group he is a part of shares certain characteristics might lead him to a more accurate view of his own individual nature. He would no longer have to feel guilty and inadequate for being so poor at digesting dairy and leave a more gastrointestinally enjoyable life.

If he is 1/2 caucasion, or digests dairy well for any other ideosyncratic reason then he is in no way required to keep applying the principle to himself. He's only freed by the more accurate view of his capacities from an over-generalized view of human nature that cannot answer every question regarding his shoulds, coulds, and woulds.

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Well, my first thought in this case is that the person theorizing about some characteristic being a fundamental element of femininity is simply wrong.

Before I respond to you on this -- though I will, and soon -- may I ask whether it is clear that the point of my OP is not primarily to rehash the many debates on 1) whether there is any genuine, fundamental distinction between genders or 2) what they might be? Because based on the responses I've thus far received, it appears that my point may not be clear.

If I am unclear, let me restate it as directly as I can: an individual human being -- howsoever we would like to classify that individual, according to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., etc., etc. -- has no ethical duty to set "human life," as such, as their standard of value, or "masculinity" or "femininity," or "heterosexuality," or whatever we think should be true according to what we perceive as their "nature." An individual's only proper standard of value is his own life, per his own nature.

If a person is a "broken unit" (somewhat more on that to come), I don't know that this changes my assertion. Their ethical standard must follow suit to accommodate and reflect their "brokenness." An individual lives his life for himself -- for his own, one existence on earth -- and not for the sake of any other entity.

But to speak to what most people seem to find interesting, I do think that this has a general application to all of these controversies. As when we attempt to group people into these categories and make moral pronouncements -- general moral pronouncements as to what is good for members of that category (e.g. a woman should not run for President) -- we are certainly misstepping. Because, whether we're ultimately agreed with the idea that men are typically one way, and women another -- and howsoever we account for those who do not fit our mold ("they are broken"; "they are outliers"; etc.) -- we must still recognize that there may exist a woman who should run for President (in the same sense as such men exist), which makes the sentiment that "a woman should not run for President" false.

It remains tautologically true that a person for whom it would be irrational, or immoral, or self-destructive to run for the Presidency ought not do so. And for many (or even most) women, this may well be the case. And ethically, I don't know that much more must be said on the matter -- do you? "Judge for yourself whether taking this action (here: running for the Presidency) would be best for you in your given context (one's 'nature' considered), and if it is, then do so, and if it is not, then don't." But whatever is our interest in proclaiming that women are a certain way when we know that "broken units" exist, when we know that it is not true of all women that they are the way that we say that we are, when what we have to say amounts to a falsehood in some individual applications... whatever we believe we stand to gain from this, I don't know that we don't stand to lose much more. In my view, philosophy ought not be about the "approximate," but the exact. Not the "mostly true, sometimes false," but the true.

That would certainly be my response to the idea that a woman should not want to be President. If we have actually discovered a fundamental characteristic of women, it should hold true for all instances of that concept

I agree.

(the exception is broken units, which I don't have a complete grasp on but I think is well explored in this topic: http://forum.objecti...?showtopic=1099).

I've read the OP and done a quick review of the thread, which seems to descend into the kind of mindless acrimony that so many discussions on this board do. As that topic is seemingly likewise controversial, and as I haven't given it sufficient time and attention yet to know my position, I don't think I can agree to it without reservation for the purposes of our discussion; it may be begging the question.

And so, while I will shortly attempt to make an initial response to the topic of "broken units," on the basis of the thread to which you've linked, I would hope that you are willing to develop those aspects of that case which you find germane, here, for the purposes of our discussion.

This is why we should be wary of claims about the fundamental nature of each gender which are based on nothing more than armchair theorizing and personal introspection. Personally, I think it's obvious that there are fundamental differences between men and women, but what they are, and which ones are truly fundamental rather than just generalizations, I have no clue.

I don't know that I am inclined to argue against the proposition that there are "differences" (fundamental or otherwise) between men and women. That I recognize men as being one thing and women being another lends credence to the claim. But when it comes to issues of psychology -- human psychology -- it seems to me that the wide divergence of individual variation trumps whatever generic claims we would like to make about a given population, time and time again.

And if we would like to make some claim that a woman's psychology is necessarily directed in a certain way according to the shape or function of her genitals -- if we even want to make the case that this somehow amounts to general proscription against running for the Presidency -- then as you say, I expect "serious, objective evidence" and likewise serious discussion on the topic. The case must be made. And argued. And if and when it is, I fully expect it to be found wanting.

But instead of this method (a claim is made, a case is made and argued, with recourse to evidence and logic and etc.) what I instead find here seemingly without exception? The "case" that is made for such things is: "men and women are different -- so you see, I can make whatever claim I'd like as to their differences, sans reasoning, sans evidence, but presented as a matter of obvious truth, acquired somehow." This board, which is supposedly organized as a means of discussing Objectivism, which I believe to be a philosophy of reason, regularly entertains, without apparent irony, such "discussions." It is (and I don't use this word lightly) a travesty. It is appalling.

The more I think about it, I think the broken units discussion might get to the core of what some of the issue is here. It could certainly be the case that there are instances of men and women who do not share the fundamental characteristics of their genders, in the same way that a broken unit generally is missing a characteristic that it should have.

Again, I don't know that I can immediately agree to "broken units" wholesale -- I hope you'll forgive this. But as an initial attempt to address that subject directly, insofar as it relates to our topic here, let me pull from the OP of that thread:

[A] broken unit is not simply a unit that lacks a characteristic shared by other units of the concept of which it is a member. Instead, a broken unit is a unit that lacks a characteristic that is proper for its survival qua the entity it is. Or, in the case of non-living entities designed to serve a human purpose, a broken unit is a unit that lacks a characteristic that is proper for its functioning given its intended function (a function supplied by man). A broken unit, in other words, is one that lacks a characteristic it should have but doesn’t [1].

“Should” implies “goal.” To say an entity should have X is to say X is a means of achieving some goal. Only living entities have goals. Putting aside for the moment the issue of human purposes, the goal that directs all living action is the survival of a living entity as the kind of entity it is. This last part is important – although it might perhaps be beneficial for a gorilla to be able to conceptualize, his survival qua gorilla is not dependent on conceptualization. Therefore, it makes no sense to say a gorilla should have the ability to conceptualize. Only man, who survives by his use of reason, should – in the relevant sense – have a conceptual faculty [2].

*************************

[1] “Should”, in this context, is not meant to imply “choice” - rather it means, "proper, given its goal or purpose."

[2] It must be stressed that “broken” does not mean simply, “different from the norm.” The standard for what is or is not a broken unit is its relationship to the goal it is intended to serve, given its nature.

So... what is the potential claim with regards to a "broken unit" here? That a woman somehow "insufficiently feminine" (however we believe that would express itself...) does not have a characteristic "that is proper for its survival qua the entity it is"? Can you elaborate on this?

It seems to me that the phrase "qua the entity it is" introduces the potential for a question-begging argument. For I would ask whether -- taking this all quite literally -- a woman who runs for the Presidency thus condemns herself to a shorter actual lifespan (as against men in the same position)? But in response, a person might say ("qua the entity it is") that, at that point, she is somehow no longer living "as a woman, but as a man does." Ta da.

Apart from that, the "broken unit" argument appears to rest on a claim that things cannot serve their "purpose," though I believe that DPW intends this to apply solely to "non-living entities." Still, perhaps it is important to state that other people are not means to our ends. A given woman does not have the burden of our "purpose" for her, and she is not "broken" because she does not conform to what we wish her to be, or does not serve our ends.

Approaching this idea of "broken units" more generally, I wonder... at what point would we conclude that the "break" occurs? In another thread along Kevin Delaney's quest to reshape this board into his personal blog, he has made wild and insulting claims as to what women are supposedly like. Insofar as my wife does not conform to Delaney's expectations (and thank god for that)... would my wife be "broken"? Or is it rather the women Delaney encounters who have -- we must presume -- somehow led him to his sad vision? Is this understanding achieved through a statistical analysis? How would you propose we establish the paradigm for female behavior, against which outliers must be considered "broken"? And is it a binary thing? Or a continuum? If a woman enjoys -- oh, I don't know, scents which are accounted masculine -- is she broken yet? Is she yet missing that vital characteristic "that is proper for its survival qua the entity it is"? Will she curl up and die? Or just turn into a man? (And if I begin to make this all sound a bit preposterous, I apologize -- but it's hard for me to revisit these actual arguments, these actual claims, these actual, tortuous threads, and not get a little giddy.)

I doubt that we would benefit from reliving a past conversation much,

Well, you never know.

Something like lactose intolerance in Asians, as an aspect of character, for example, might illuminate the value of drawing personal knowledge from generalized statistics. If an Asian fellow lived in the west, accepted that 4 servings of dairy per day were necessary for his health since he is a human and human nature requires 4 servings of dairy per day then understanding that a group he is a part of shares certain characteristics might lead him to a more accurate view of his own individual nature. He would no longer have to feel guilty and inadequate for being so poor at digesting dairy and leave a more gastrointestinally enjoyable life.

I don't think I'm disagreeing with you or your example, per se, except that I don't believe a person should feel either guilty or inadequate for being "poor at digesting dairy" in the first place. Do you?

About women and the Presidency -- just to pull a topic out of nowhere, and apropos of nothing -- do you think that a woman who thinks to herself, "yeah -- I might want to run for the Presidency someday" should feel either guilty or inadequate?

If he is 1/2 caucasion, or digests dairy well for any other ideosyncratic reason then he is in no way required to keep applying the principle to himself. He's only freed by the more accurate view of his capacities from an over-generalized view of human nature that cannot answer every question regarding his shoulds, coulds, and woulds.

Well indeed.

What may cause a person to feel guilt, perhaps, is if they attach moral significance to their individual "nature" conforming to, or contradicting what supposed "authorities" proclaim as being that which ought to be true of them, depending on their membership in some group.

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Heh, when I first noticed the thread, I thought how seeing the word gender in a thread title is like a signal for me to post. B)

"If there is any truth to the contention that certain things are generally true for the member of a gender (i.e. Poison X is bad to drink, and women ought not seek the Presidency), don't we counsel our own destruction when we continue to apply this derivative thinking to individuals to whom these things do not, in reality, apply"

Sure, but before talking about what is true for gender at all requires specifying what gender means, and proposing essentials to the concept. Ethics have to be applied to personal circumstances through principles, so for gender to be part of developing any ethical principle depends upon knowing what gender specifically refers to. A lot of the time I think culture has a massive influence on raising kids, and leading them to adopt genderized behavior. While that may be interesting sociologically speaking, in terms of ethics that is mostly irrelevant - society isn't a basis for ethical principles. Anyone who accepts Objectivist ethics wouldn't care if their behavior conforms to society, only if it conforms to pursuing values and one's own life.

For psychological interpretations of gender, that requires expertise or background, and evidence. Studies are even better. Dante stated a similar idea, I think, by saying that simply theorizing is insufficient. That's true for any statement regarding reality, whether its physics or psychology. I should say that some studies are questionable because of poor statistical methodology that generalizes far too much, and extends too far. Are there differences between genders for spatial processing? Perhaps; I haven't seen many studies. Even if there are, how significant are the differences in daily life? The differences might not be noteworthy, even if statistically significant. There is likely more overlap than people on average care to acknowledge, but I need to read more on the subject. There are scientific questions that need to be answered.

Suppose a fundamental characteristic of gender (i.e. masculinity, femininity) was discovered. Whatever it could be still doesn't quite warrant ethical considerations about what behaviors to take, because broken units exist. A person has to be established as a non-broken unit before anyone can make a proclamation of immoral behavior. For instance, I think of how telling someone in a wheelchair to work out more to be able to walk again has moral weight to it if the person can be expected to recover, but it is meaningless if the person is that way due to genetic disease.

DonAthos, I think you misunderstood the point of a "broken unit". Changing the terminology to "abnormal unit" may make more sense, it really doesn't matter. A person being born diabetic is a broken unit to the extent any human should be able to produce insulin, but this individual does not. The difference isn't enough to suggest a diabetic is inhuman, but enough of a difference to be diagnosed with a disease that negatively impacts survival/existence. In the case of gender, "survival" of the unit as it doesn't have to do with dying per se, only whether or not a person has even the non-essential characteristics. If someone is a broken unit for whatever reason (e.g. transgender because of XXY chromosomes), then different behaviors become necessary than would normally be expected of anyone else.

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In another thread along Kevin Delaney's quest to reshape this board into his personal blog, he has made wild and insulting claims as to what women are supposedly like. Insofar as my wife does not conform to Delaney's expectations (and thank god for that)... would my wife be "broken"? Or is it rather the women Delaney encounters who have -- we must presume -- somehow led him to his sad vision?

I was wondering how long it would take for you to mention me by name.

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Suppose a fundamental characteristic of gender (i.e. masculinity, femininity) was discovered. Whatever it could be still doesn't quite warrant ethical considerations about what behaviors to take, because broken units exist.

This appears to me to summarize a lot of what I've said. Please advise if you think I'm mistaken.

A person has to be established as a non-broken unit before anyone can make a proclamation of immoral behavior.

I would like to propose going one step further. A proclamation of immoral behavior must rest on establishing that the behavior in question is actually destructive to one's life.

DonAthos, I think you misunderstood the point of a "broken unit".

This is certainly possible, perhaps even likely. I tried to caveat my response to that line of thought, but otherwise I must wait on Dante to respond with his understanding -- and how he relates it to the discussion.

I was wondering how long it would take for you to mention me by name.

Do you think there's a reason I shouldn't?

You will not condescend to defend your claims in the threads you create for the purpose of spreading them. And I understand that you're merely here to offer your opinions and observations -- take 'em or leave 'em -- "one small voice," as it were... But do you object to your claims being discussed anywhere at all?

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I have a messy hodgepodge of thoughts here that I got while reading this thread. Not so sure what the best order of presentation for them is, so sorry this isn't so well written.

1) A is A. You are you, regardless of anybody or anything else. To try to treat yourself as something you are not would be irrational. Irrationality is a recipe for failure for people.

2) You are you, but to a certain extent some aspects of you are open to adjustment. Such things are like rough edges that can be sanded to make them more consistent with the rest of you, what you are overall as a whole. If you can't change something effectively, just accept it for what it is. Work with what you've got. Make the most of it. If you could change something about yourself though, then it only is a moral matter to make the change if there is compelling reason to believe that doing so would benefit your life qua you on the whole. Fitting in with what is normal for a group you belong to is not all on its own something that would be of any such benefit. Something more than that would be needed to justify making a change.

3) What you are is your guide in what to do. This makes it your guide in what tweaks to make to yourself or not. However, what you are is not always immediately obvious. People may make mistakes about themselves. When it comes to psychology in particular though, few to no people will ever be able to acquire greater amounts of evidence with greater accuracy about the nature of your own inner workings than you on any given topic. Observation of others isn't the same as observation of you either when it comes to presenting evidence for your psychological make up. Just because something may be true of many other people in some group you are in doesn't automatically mean it must apply to you and therefore trump all your own knowledge and observations of yourself. Certainly not when we have observed huge variations in psychology does being different mean something must be false about a person's psychology. If you think your mind is one way and not another, you're probably right and therefore it is rational and proper to live by what you know of yourself even when and if this runs contrary to possible typical mental workings and interests of many others. Don't neglect introspection though. Keep gathering evidence about yourself and make your assessments of yourself that you act on increasingly accurate.

4) Changes which may fit and benefit certain people may not fit with certain other people and therefor not benefit said people. That a change may benefit some does not make it necessarily advisable to all. More evidence than benefits to others alone is needed to show that something would be of benefit to another person.

5) One exists and has to keep existing as a particular individual, not as just an instance of some other thing, some group or concept. Groups and concepts are determined by the individuals that make them up, not the other way around. "All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal" is the sort of thought process I could see being applied to this issue of gender. However, the conclusion is only true if the premises are true. The premises need to be derived from that observation of specific instances. If one were to hypothetically, for example, find an immortal man that doesn't mean that either it must not be a man because you've already concluded all men are mortal or that there is something "wrong" with the immortal man, or that what you've found is not really an immortal (hypothetically anyway, immortality isn't really feasible, but I got onto this line of example to follow along with that famous example of logic.) Sometimes you may think something is an inherent part of a concept, that the thing can't come without it, but then it turns out you were mistaken. It happens. I can understand hesitance to throw out or change what has seemed to be a well established part of a concept since you may also just be mistaken sometimes about what you seem to have found, but do be open to it.

6) One does themselves no favors by just treating themselves according to what would usually be best for somebody in a group to which they belong. Ditto for interacting with other people and things. An average may well be helpful at first when you don't know much about a new person or thing you've encountered except for what group they belong to, but to keep acting on that in the face of evidence of an abnormality in who or what you are dealing with is just irrational and a recipe for failure. You won't change one thing into another thing by just treating it as that other thing.

So, yeah, be yourself, that's what counts. You can't be somebody else after all, the only alternative is to not be at all. ~

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Hopefully this should cut through much of this discussion as far as my viewpoint is concerned.

If a person is a "broken unit" (somewhat more on that to come), I don't know that this changes my assertion. Their ethical standard must follow suit to accommodate and reflect their "brokenness." An individual lives his life for himself -- for his own, one existence on earth -- and not for the sake of any other entity.

Yes, absolutely.

The point of me bringing that up was that I wasn't comfortable with the statement that, if we've indeed identified some fundamental gender characteristic, it must apply to absolutely everyone of that gender. So we can properly identify the essence of masculinity or femininity without necessarily implying a course of action for all men and all women.

The whole of the Objectivist ethics is premised on the notion that we can make true statements about the nature of man, that imply certain courses of action (adopting productive purposes, adherence to reason, dealing with each others through trade, etc). Thus, if someone actually does make a convincing case for the fundamental nature of a gender, we should take it seriously as men and women who want to achieve happiness. In actuality, I'm not at all convinced that anyone has done that. Furthermore, this issue of broken units, as well as the importance of context in applying principles, just goes to say that we should first and foremost be concerned about ourselves as individuals.

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The point of me bringing that up was that I wasn't comfortable with the statement that, if we've indeed identified some fundamental gender characteristic, it must apply to absolutely everyone of that gender. So we can properly identify the essence of masculinity or femininity without necessarily implying a course of action for all men and all women.

Beyond the surface-level identification of biological sex -- speaking of gender rather as some collection of psychological attitudes or preferences, as I believe we tend to do -- I would like to know what kinds of things you're proposing that might be a "fundamental gender characteristic" that would yet not necessarily "apply to absolutely everyone of that gender." And how would you propose we arrive at such a conclusion -- by what actual methodology? How would you decide which people represent "femininity as it ought to be" and those who are "broken units"? (We're not talking about a "woman" who is born without a uterus -- are we? Because that seems more closely akin to a deaf man or a flat tire or etc. But what of a woman who prefers blue to pink, likes to be on top during lovemaking, and wishes to be President?)

At some point, we must be talking about something. Mustn't we? And our conversation does not take place in a vacuum, does it? We live in a world where there has been strict division between genders and gender roles -- and much social re-enforcement of the same, including shaming and humiliation -- for a very long time. (And, for what it is worth, great contention within the Objectivist community. I have known Objectivist homosexuals -- have you? Turns out that they're not monsters.) So while it is wonderful to approach these topics on an abstract level, and I consider that to be a rewarding and necessary part of the total conversation, I would also like to have some idea as to the practical and concrete applications you have in mind. Otherwise, I fear that this vague sort of acceptance of "things that may be true generally... kinda sorta" will just embolden those who wish to make claims for a group without actually having to take into account the real world discrepancies that we find. ("Oh -- what I say doesn't fit you? Presto chango! Broken unit!")

And please forgive me if I take these ideas seriously? I have for a long time, as I take ideas seriously in general, but recently I was fortunate to have a baby daughter, and it has caused me to engage in a lot of sustained reflection on the subject of gender roles. It has been an illuminating experience already in many ways. For instance, my wife and I declined to learn the sex of the baby until delivery. You cannot believe what consternation this caused for our relatives, who seemed to be unable to know what clothing and what toys to purchase for our child without that data; so early do we begin to segregate and treat people differently according to their gender. And going forward, beyond merely selecting pink or blue blankets for baby, I will eventually have to make some potentially more difficult decisions. Let me give you some examples of what I mean:

Suppose my little girl decides that she wants to pursue some activity that is not generally considered feminine -- some traditionally male sport, for instance, or occupation. Should I encourage or discourage her in her pursuit? Suppose that she doesn't like the scents that some on this very forum would say are appropriate for "femininity"? Or suppose that she doesn't become the kind of convoluted harpy that Delaney believes a "good woman" ought to be? (I don't want to raise a bad woman, Dante.) As she gets older, suppose she likes a boy and wants to pursue him. Do I tell her that the feminine (and thus good, per her "nature") thing to do is to wait for him to take action? Do I decline to give advice on any of these topics, because my brain -- "masculine by nature" -- cannot possibly divine what is appropriate for a woman such as herself?

Or -- suppose she and I have the talk in which I tell her that she can do anything she'd like: become a doctor, a lawyer, an actress, an athlete, an astronaut, etc. Do I leave President off of the list, because she could not, in reason, ever desire such a thing?

And if she were to come to me and ask whether she could one day be President, what should I say? Do I then tell her that the shape of her vagina makes such a bad idea? Suppose this conversation takes place at, like, nine or ten years of age -- suppose that she has not given sufficient consideration as to how a masculine penis will one day penetrate her feminine vagina, and how this somehow leads to a need for her to "worship heroes" (heroes like George W. Bush and Barack Obama), and thus it is irrational for her to aspire to the very pinnacle of power, if we for some reason agree that the Presidency represents this? Suppose she has not reached these very sound and well-thought-out conclusions all on her own? What then?

Do I tell her that she is probably just a "broken unit" of femininity? A woman, sure, technically speaking, but not as a woman "ought to be"? She will be facing a heavily gendered world. She will have questions. How do you propose I answer them?

I know that the modus operandi around here is typically that we all just pontificate as to the way other people ought to be. It is a very reassuring and self-congratulatory thing to do. But when I log off from here, I must participate in the real world, with actual human beings. This discussion of gender is not some abstract fantasy for me; I am raising a child, and I should like to do it right. I don't have time for armchair musings, and if anyone has any actual claims to make they had best be ready, willing, and able to back them up. If you'd like to apply "broken units" to gender, I'm all ears, but I should like to hear an actual case of how this might work. I'd like to know what we're actually talking about.

The whole of the Objectivist ethics is premised on the notion that we can make true statements about the nature of man, that imply certain courses of action (adopting productive purposes, adherence to reason, dealing with each others through trade, etc). Thus, if someone actually does make a convincing case for the fundamental nature of a gender, we should take it seriously as men and women who want to achieve happiness.

But doesn't it remain that regardless of this "convincing case for the fundamental nature of a gender," there remains the case to be made that one's actions must actually benefit one's life (speaking of life either as "survival" or as "eudaimonia," though it occurs to me that we have a conversation on that topic that I'd sorely like to get back to at some point)?

Trade is valuable because it helps a man to survive. If we wish to argue that people ought to adopt certain gender roles, I would like to see similarly that the adoption of those gender roles benefits their life, in terms of survival, or something. That one dismisses those gender roles at one's own peril, because.... X bad thing will happen. So: a woman runs for President and... her head explodes! That would work for me. Then it would only remain to establish that, yes, a woman's head does in fact explode when she runs for President. Give me something like that. A female baby, when draped with a blue blanket, experiences some sort of cognitive dissonance -- and here's why. Something.

In actuality, I'm not at all convinced that anyone has done that. Furthermore, this issue of broken units, as well as the importance of context in applying principles, just goes to say that we should first and foremost be concerned about ourselves as individuals.

Beyond "first and foremost," can I ask you something?

Why should we try to categorize people and their resultant ethical obligations at all? (For we shouldn't stop with men vs. women, should we? There are biological differences among races, too -- so oughtn't we start to speculate on racial roles and morality?)

Why concern ourselves with anything apart from ourselves as individuals?

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I would like to propose going one step further. A proclamation of immoral behavior must rest on establishing that the behavior in question is actually destructive to one's life.

Definitely, that was the point the sentence following the one you quoted. For the most part, I see "broken units" as an aspect of variability within concepts which for people results in different conclusions to make for ethical decisions. I can apply principles, but the particulars are unique. Of course the primary concern is as an individual, yet categorizing can help make decisions about life. A diabetic is classified as such so that he knows that insulin is an ethical need to the extent insulin maintains his health. I doubt though that gender is even an important attribute, and might be better left as a cultural concept, just as a subculture works. For some people, a broken unit wouldn't apply to them if gender is left as a cultural concept, because they were never part of the concept in the first place. You personally wouldn't be a broken unit of Marxist, because you aren't some altered form of Marxist - you're simply not a Marxist in any sense.

Edited by Eiuol
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Or suppose that she doesn't become the kind of convoluted harpy that Delaney believes a "good woman" ought to be? (I don't want to raise a bad woman, Dante.)

Please do not conflate my ideas about romance and relationships with moral pronouncements. I have never made any statement whatsoever about what a woman — "good" or otherwise — "ought to be."

When I have referred a "good woman" in my writings, I describe the kind of woman with whom a man is able to experience a happy romantic relationship. A woman who does not fit the description is not necessarily morally bad (nor "broken"), however a passionate love affair with her is generally made very difficult.

A reader who is cognizant of context, and is not working to discredit me, should have no trouble understanding this.

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Please do not conflate my ideas about romance and relationships with moral pronouncements. I have never made any statement whatsoever about what a woman — "good" or otherwise — "ought to be."

When I have referred a "good woman" in my writings, I describe the kind of woman with whom a man is able to experience a happy romantic relationship. A woman who does not fit the description is not necessarily morally bad (nor "broken"), however a passionate love affair with her is generally made very difficult.

A reader who is cognizant of context, and is not working to discredit me, should have no trouble understanding this.

I get the word "good" from this quote, and the context for this quote is available for anybody interested:

This type of man embodies respectful, benevolent, romantic dominance, which every (good) heterosexual woman deeply craves.

I am not "working to discredit you," Delaney -- your writings do that on their own.

Edited to Add:

By the way, Delaney. If you're here and contributing to this thread, we might as well do something productive -- something that can possibly help to resolve the central issues *and* work to restore your "good name."

We'll start with a couple of questions that, for some reason, you haven't seen fit to address in your many blog-threads:

You've made a number of claims as to what women are like. Some of these claims have struck members (including female members) as being false. So...

Where on earth are you getting this from? What females have you met?

What's your evidence for all this? Do you have formal studies to back you up?

In this thread -- though perhaps you did not read the post, for it didn't mention you by name -- Dante said the following:

Serious claims should be backed up by serious, objective evidence.

Can you meet his standard?

Edited by DonAthos
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DonAthos: My "good name" does not need to be "restored," and I have no interest in discussing anything with you.

I suppose that this is true. For a "good name" to be "restored," we would first have to establish that there was a "good name" to begin with, which... seems unlikely in this case.

As for your interest in discussion, you must admit that you send mixed messages (presumably in the manner that you would typically assign to the feminine). After all, you're posting here repeatedly in response to me, while presumably you know where the exit is without being told.

No. It actually seems to me that your reluctance to engage in discussion coincides with anyone asking substantive questions as to your claims. For as you've noted before:

This is what is always boils down to. "You cannot produce evidence or proof of your claims, therefore your ideas cannot be shown to have any merit. What you are saying, therefore, need not be considered by anyone."

For what do you mean that "[t]his is what it always boils down to"? That thread was my first interaction with you, but I haven't kept up with you generally. Do you mean to say that you go around online and in real life spouting out your "theories" and you are constantly met by people who... you know... ask you to back up the things you say? The nerve of them!

But listen, once you've reached the following point:

For the record, I'm not interested in advancing "arguments" on this topic, nor in logically proving or demonstrating anything.

Once you've decided that you can just spout out any claim that it occurs to you to make, taken from your rear end, and that you don't have to give any reasons why, no argument or defense or anything at all except for your say-so, then you've already excluded yourself from rational discourse. You have no place in this thread, and so far as I can tell, no place on this board.

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I don't think I'm disagreeing with you or your example, per se, except that I don't believe a person should feel either guilty or inadequate for being "poor at digesting dairy" in the first place. Do you?

No

About women and the Presidency -- just to pull a topic out of nowhere, and apropos of nothing -- do you think that a woman who thinks to herself, "yeah -- I might want to run for the Presidency someday" should feel either guilty or inadequate?
No, of course not, but the reverse of that is what I was mainly trying to suggest. That if women generally shy away from or feel uncomfortable with particular types of leadership roles such as the didactic military ones and feel more comfortable in concensus building leadership roles they need not consider a failure in the first as anymore of an indictment than a bunch of short guys losing a basketball game.

Well indeed.

What may cause a person to feel guilt, perhaps, is if they attach moral significance to their individual "nature" conforming to, or contradicting what supposed "authorities" proclaim as being that which ought to be true of them, depending on their membership in some group.

You can apply that notion to the whole of morality. Some humans enjoy the comfort of a "well managed penetentiary," possessing no inclination toward freedom of choice in their day to day actions. Some people are psychopaths that only like to hurt others. From this, do you believe we ought to reject the notion that individual negative liberty is a derived principle of man's(the whole set) nature?

edit: sorry did something wrong with the quote button. Those comments belong to Donathos

Edited by aequalsa
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No, of course not, but the reverse of that is what I was mainly trying to suggest. That if women generally shy away from or feel uncomfortable with particular types of leadership roles such as the didactic military ones and feel more comfortable in concensus building leadership roles they need not consider a failure in the first as anymore of an indictment than a bunch of short guys losing a basketball game.

The only place where we might find disagreement here is that I read a (slight) implication in what you say which reads: if a woman feels more comfortable with consensus building than other types of leadership (i.e. military), she should not consider that a failure -- because she's a woman, and that's what women are like. But a man who feels the same way... perhaps he should consider that a failure on his part, because he's a man.

Maybe you don't mean to say that, exactly? But it is part of what I believe I'm reading.

You can apply that notion to the whole of morality. Some humans enjoy the comfort of a "well managed penetentiary," possessing no inclination toward freedom of choice in their day to day actions. Some people are psychopaths that only like to hurt others. From this, do you believe we ought to reject the notion that individual negative liberty is a derived principle of man's(the whole set) nature?

The whole of morality is not based on subscribing to what authorities proclaim is true of you, and then feeling guilt when you fail to measure up to their standards (whether those standards apply to you in reality or not). Morality is based upon what is true for you: those virtues that you must possess and those values you must seek for the benefit of your actual life, in reality.

The ethical argument against someone who enjoys living in prison or hurting others is not that it is bad for others -- we do not therefore fall back on altruism or categorical imperatives as to ethical duty. The argument is that acting in those manners is ultimately destructive to the individual who employs them.

If a given man's mind is so twisted that he derives pleasure from nothing apart than hurting others, say -- if this exists in reality -- then honestly he is probably beyond the reach of proper ethical argument. Even so, I would not say to such a man, "you ought not seek out your own happiness; it is wrong for you to do so." I could only reiterate that it does not serve his own, actual interests. That what he works to attain is not "happiness" in truth. But if that fails to stop him from initiating force, then political recourse (i.e. retaliatory force) is our only just response. Such is "liberty." (And I would advise steering clear of psychopaths in any event.)

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For some people, a broken unit wouldn't apply to them if gender is left as a cultural concept, because they were never part of the concept in the first place. Your personally wouldn't be a broken unit of Marxist, because you aren't some altered form of Marxist - you're simply not a Marxist in any sense.

Having thought about the idea of "broken unit" more, I do not think it would apply to attributes that are due to choice. Being a Marxist is a choice, as is being a Christian or even a Scientologist. What would a "broken unit" of a Christian be? A Mormon? We can argue into the finer details of conceptual hierarchy about whether or not Mormon is properly a species of Christian, but the point I'm making is that for chosen viewpoints and/or non-concrete abstractions (i.e. justice) don't have broken units. Lacking some important features seems to really only move the concept around in hierarchy, or modify the concept's definition. Broken seems to only be relevant in the cases where choice is not directly part of the equation (e.g. tires, apples, genetic traits, some psychological disorders/problems, medical conditions).

My reasoning is that concrete entities or anything close to concrete is meant, by nature, to function a particular way. Certainly, philosophical concepts have a nature and function, so my point is that variation may be more acceptable and even epistemologically necessary in order to interact with physical entities on a direct level. Trying to consider any person with a medical flaw as inhuman would be an epistemological nightmare, as would a dog with three legs being declared a "nondog". Or that a flat tire is a "nontire". Those types of aspects can be theoretically fixed, like if someone discovered a cure for diabetes. Even if fixing is impossible, all of these entities still maintain clear semblance to what they are supposed to do in normal circumstances. Perceptually, there is enough to not establish a whole separate category for these broken units.

With psychological traits/personal aspects, this is difficult to break apart. Personal aspects are anything like choosing one's moral code, while psychological traits are things like cognitive ability. Personal aspects on their own may be immoral, as anyone here would say about choosing an altruistic morality. But psychological traits are not immoral on their own because they are largely not up to choice; cognitive ability caused by certain psychological traits isn't immoral on its own. A person with dyslexia, for example, is not inherently immoral. If that person fails to take into account their dyslexia into their life and doesn't make proper considerations for their circumstance, then that is immoral.

Is a moral code of altruism a "broken unit" of a proper moral code? I say no, as treating altruism on its own terms is epistemologically important. Is someone with bipolar disorder a "broken unit"? I'd say so, because for all intents and purposes, a person with dyslexia is as human as anyone else for interaction, yet dyslexia is an abnormal condition, in the same way a physical disability is an abnormal condition.

As was said earlier, thinking about people on an individual level is what's important, not whether or not they conform to the statistical norm. But figuring out cases of a "broken unit" is important to figuring out what actions a person can take in order to be moral. A dyslexic would value knowing they are dyslexic for purposes of adaptation. The "brokenness" isn't immoral, though. An on the other hand, one can help being altruistic, so it's possible to condemn that choice for being totally up to individual choice. At the same time, it's possible to praise choosing egoism.

Where does gender fall? I think it primarily falls under individual choice, so "broken units" in gender don't make sense. Any justification I've seen for masculinity/femininity have been based on someone being male or female, which often seems like begging the question. If gender falls in the other category, then it is still treated like any "broken unit": becoming fixed isn't always obligatory, but making one's life as good as possible given the circumstances is.

(I think from now on I'll say "deviant unit", I don't like the connotation of broken when it involves people.)

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