Blogs > Liberty and Power > Sorry to Disagree, But...

Jan 26, 2005 2:37 am


Sorry to Disagree, But...



Well, no, actually I'm not sorry. I disagree with Keith Halderman's entry about Larry Summers' remarks on numerous grounds, which I set out at some length here (an essay which I wrote yesterday, thus predating Keith's entry).

Although I recommend that people read that lengthier post if they want to understand my full perspective on these issues (and even that essay is quite condensed, given the complexity of the questions involved), let me very briefly address two points raised in Keith's final paragraph:

Lastly, if the evidence cited by Sullum is true then how can Summers’ remarks be considered bigotry. Is it bigoted and racist to say that generally Black people have darker skin coloring than White people? Is it bigoted and sexist to say that women have vaginas and men do not? Bigotry is not about truth it is about falsehood, all Mexicans are lazy, all Blacks steal, all women are emotional. In order to legitimately assert that Summers comments were bigoted and offensive Hopkins, Ring and their allies must first prove them to be false. Maybe I have missed it but I have yet to read anything concerning this controversy that even attempts to do so.
I'm not familiar with the research that Sullum cites, but based on a few of the articles that I excerpt in my post, the evidence would not appear to be nearly so clearcut as Sullum implies; moreover, quite a lot of evidence points to very different conclusions.

I also think Keith improperly shifts the burden of proof. Remember the key part of what Summers said: that women's performance levels in certain fields may be due entirely (or in significant part) to genetic differences between women and men. As I note in my post, this is a genuinely extraordinary claim -- one for which the necessary amount of evidence simply does not exist. And if Summers is going to make a claim like that, then the burden of proof is his. It is not anyone else's burden to prove his statements to be false. This is akin to someone claiming that God exists -- and to view as proper epistemologically his subsequent demand that I disprove his claim.

I would hope that Keith would reject such an approach with regard to the God question -- and I am thoroughly convinced that the same reasons compel the identical conclusion here. But my further objections to Summers' entire approach are set forth in the other post. I think the major root of my disagreement with Keith lies in the importance we attach to cultural factors. As I explain, I think the role of such factors can never be overestimated -- and I further think we are a long way away from being at a point where any genuine differences between the sexes can be objectively and accurately assessed.

On the state of the current evidence, I do not view Summers' comments as plausible at all -- and given his position, I also view them as singularly unhelpful. And I think it is very easy to see why many people would view them as deeply offensive, as I do myself -- not only for their specific content, but for the general methodology they reveal.


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Steven Horwitz - 1/29/2005

Jeanine wrote:

***You later make loud invocations of individualism; but your method is anti-individualistic by nature... at least if individualism is a theory meant to be applied across the gender line.

'Each of us...
a cell of awareness.
Imprefect, and incomplete.
Genetic blends,
with uncertain ends...
on a fortune hunt that's
far too fleet.'

[Rush]
***

Oh my god, you're a Rush fan too?! I told you we had more in common than you thought:

http://it.stlawu.edu/shor/Rush/rush.htm


Bill Woolsey - 1/28/2005

"If statist feminists didn't exist,
sexist libertarians would create them."

I'm not a sexist.

It wouldn't bother me if all academic
positions in math and science were held
by women.

I have no nostalgia or preference for
traditional gender roles.

I am not personally all that interested in
determining the role of biology in the
interests or talents that people have.

I do think that people should be free to
do as they choose.

I also beleive that people should be able to
influence others--including their own children--
in ways that they think are appropriate.

But I don't appreciate it when people of
vilified because they describe a possible
hypothesis.

I do think it is rude to say things like
"Mexicans are lazy." Similarly, it would
be rude to say "Women are stupid."

I don't believe that "Mexicans are lazy,"
is the same thing as saying that the
mathematical genious might not be evenly
distributed between the genders because of
biology.

I also don't believe that it is right
vilify people because they have what some
consider an excessively materialist
conception of mind.

Not that I have much interest in the
philosophy of mind.

Of course, I did think that Bell Curve
was pretty reasonable.

Oh well.






Jeanine Ring - 1/27/2005

>What a poor analogy.

Actually, what you are arguing is that it is a good analogy, but that it's not clear if Summers' comments make it applicable, and that sexist generalizations, unlike racist ones, are scientifically meritied.

>Summers didn't say that women are stupid, or
even unable to do math or science.

Even if this wasn't the case, you are defending the position Summers is accused of holding.

>The uncontested fact is that there are
few women counted among the tiny group
of people who are counted among the most
talented in math and science.

"Are counted" being the key phrase; counted by whom and by what standards? I know women whose intellectual powers could shred nearly all participants in this forum, myself definitely included (I speak from humbling experience), but they will never be 'counted' in top position.

But still, granted.

>To try to come up with an analogy between
Mexicans and laziness would require a notion
that there are relatively few Mexicans among
the tiny minority of the most extreme
workaholics.

So again, the only real problem you have with the analogy is that you think sexist generalizations are justified, while racist ones are not.

> Of course, being a workaholic sounds negative.
But to say merely ambitious doesn't quite get
at the extreme situation comparable to top
mathematicians and scientists.

Your primary point is unclear here.

> Anyway, if it were true that some ethnic
group or other was over-representated among
the highly driven personalities, considering
whether there is some biologicial basis shouldn't
be ruled out of consideration.

A perfect illustration of why, so long as we accept the fallacy of physiological determinism or other forms of scientism and positivism, racism- and sexism- will never die.

> Summers didn't conclude that women are poorly
represented at the top tiers of science and
math because of biological factors--he mentioned
that it was possible.

Again, your defense of Summers here would be less disingenious if it weren't coupled with a defense of worse interpretation of what he may have meant.

> How can one come up with scientific evidence to
reject that hypothesis if it is never considered?

The entire problem is this approach of treating human consciousness as a scientific objects. If human beings have free will- a principle I take to be axiomatically certain; and if freedom of will implies the autonomy of reason and the passions- a principle I defend on Randian grounds- then any direct or neccesary form of emprical generalizations about 'human nature' are invalid.

You later make loud invocations of individualism; but your method is anti-individualistic by nature... at least if individualism is a theory meant to be applied across the gender line.

'Each of us...
a cell of awareness.
Imprefect, and incomplete.
Genetic blends,
with uncertain ends...
on a fortune hunt that's
far too fleet.'

[Rush]

> The policy relevance is pretty clear. Is the
rarity of women academics in math and science in
top schools evidence that highly talented women are
somehow discouraged from pursuing their talents?

Actually, this is to set up a strawperson. I myself think that the culture of the academic sciences is pretty-mostly open to women; the problem occurs in childhood socialization, particularly in adolescence, and to some degree I think actually the problem is that women *are* encouraged to pursue social, aesthetic, and interpersonal talents more than men, which puts them at a far more uncomfortable double-mindedness when they enter a culture that assume a culturally masculine single mindedness.

For that matter, I don't accept the standard model of 'talents' as inherent potentialities, nor do I accept the notion of 'top schools'. Individualists might remember that Ayn Rand didn't even hold a graduate degree.

> If it is based upon a difference in the distribution
of particular talents with a biological basis, rather
that some kind of discouragement, then the differences
don't prove that some discouragement exists.

Y'know, my main problem is that Summers' remarks are *themselves* discouragement. I had an ex-girlfriend whose self-conception was crippled for almost a decade because, being told that females just 'weren't good' (statistically... yes, she knew all the bell curve disclaimers) at math and science, took her own troubles at age 12 and 13 to be a haunting terror of just biological inability.

> As for the notion that such biological differences could
be overcome (by discouraging male's from pursuing and
realizing their talents, manipulating females to get
them to do something other than what they are most
suited to do, seems questionable.

No one here is suggesting this, nor has any feminist writer I am aware of. Though some of us accept an ideal of the personal cultivation of a wide range of talents, and distrust a society's obsession with specialization to the point of defining types of human beings by vocation.

> By the way, those of us who are economists (like
Summers) should think about the obvious "solution."

> Top schools should cut the pay of male mathemticians
and scientists and increase the pay of female ones.

Well, I as a libertarian and feminist, would oppose this hypothetical proposal (yes, I know you don't mean it.)

> Given enough differential, any cultural or biological
factors will be overcome and there will be equal numbers
of male and female academics in the field.

This assumes an omnipotence of economics which I do not grant. Homo Economicus is a useful abstraction, but it mangles the substance of qualitative decision-making when misapplied (I can;t help finding amusement at which side of this question I'm arguing on).

> This sort of thing does happen. The female premium
for academic accounting positions was about 10k in
the nineties.

Unfortunately, I lack the knowledge to understand the above. What precisely does 'premium' mean in this context? Apologies, here I'm just honestly ignorant.

> Most feminists are committed to using state power to
implement their vision of a society where there are
no statistical differences in what men and women do.

You know little about feminists. Feminism is more of a composite of related movements with 'family resemblances' and a shared desire to change a system that opresses women but there's little common conception of what's wrong with the system, what shoudl be striven for, or how to change it. If I might lay out the broadest subcategories of feminism:

A great number of feminists are 'cultural feminists' who talk about "womens' ways of knowing" and celebrate female caring or Earth-connectedness; their main problem with contemporary society is that it doesn't value these inherently female goods enough; gender equality is the last thing on their minds. (e.g., Adrienne Rich, Mary Daly, Janice Raymond, Audre Lorde) On the better side, many cultural feminists do emphasize neglected traditionally female virtues, values, and knowledges, and have tapped into a great deal of forgotten history.

Another broad group of feminists- 'pro-sex feminists', are not properly libertarian, but are generally very suspicious of state power and do not have a mind bent for statistics anyway. (e.g., Ellen Willis, Margaret Cho, Patirck Califia, Carol Queen, Annie Sprinkle) Most pro-sex feminists are devout civil-libertarians, radical individualists in their own lives, and extremely sex-positive... they get along well with libertarians who don't support patriarchy. On the down side, their liberatory attitude towards individual desire often glosses over repressive language built into individual desire... though consider me an uncomfortable fence-sitter on this one.

Then there are liberal feminists- who are approximately as statist as a typical liberal (i.e., moderately), such as Susan Faludi, Naomi Woolf, Betty Friedan. In one sense, you are right, in that most liberal feminists see the main goal in female inclusion in traditional patriarchal structures of power on male terms. However, most liberal feminists don't push their critiques of the system very hard, and certainly aren't commited to the radical program you outline above. Liberal feminists are mainstream types who have done a lot to get women included in public society, but given that it's just not possible to have a society where everone's the breadwinner of the house, it's only worked so much. And unfortunately most of them are as imaginative and rebellious as cardboard.

Then there are the people usually called 'radical feminists'- a term I don't like to defien that way because cultural and pro-sex feminists are also radical- these are your stereotypical anti-porn crusaders such as Robin Morgan, Susan Brownmiller, Catharine Mackinnon, ANdrea Dworkin, and Laura Lederer. Now, although I personally think libertarians have smeared the Dworkinites unjustly, and have defended them a bit recently... and I am grateful to Msrs. Long and Johnson for recently trying to set the record straight... still, my general personal and intelelctual assessment of them is that they are prudish jerks and control-freaks, steped in fear and hatred, and despite voiced skepticism that the state will ever work for them more than willing to use coercion to crush their enemies. However, I see little evidence they are much interested in any kind of statistical justice- they are into class analysis, not liberal sociology. And I do think a lot of their critiques of sexual exploitation- while way overblown and expressed dishonestly- ususally reveal crucial epistemological cores of truth... much like the Jacobins, who *were* bascially right about the Old Regime, but whose fanatical intolerance mainly ended up giving the Old Regime a bad name and equating radicalism with the guillotine.

This is, from my view, where feminist culture stands... as it exists, I'd say liberal feminists are the most numerous (of course, they're the moderates), radical feminists are loud, but declining... pro-sex feminists are the least numerous, though gaining a voice in the places where feminist ideology is made, while cultural feminism is blurring into other kinds of feminism as well as movements outside feminism.

Now, will you please not make such broad generalizations abotu 'feminists?' Go rent Margaret Cho's "I'm the One I want', read Starhawk, Sandra Harding, Julia Kristeva, Emma Goldman, Carol Gilligan, Angela Davis, Shulamith Firestone, and Suzanne LaFollette and please tell me how your views apply? I mention the above because all of these authors don;t clearly fall into *any* of the above categories.

> Individualists instead want to allow each and every
person realize their talents as they choose--and
not worry about imposing some kind of global model
on the final results.

It's not imposing a global model on final results to be disgusted with a set of irrational social values that harm human flourishing and happiness. It's not imposing a global model to, say, criticize a socially accepted (but not coercively opposed) set of religious norms that make for a miserable society. The same is true of critiques of patriarchy, which in my opinion creates unnecesary pain for women (and men).

Plenty of individualists are atheists who have no trouble talking about the greivous harms done to individuals by religions even in modern society. What's wrong with saying the same thing about patriarchy? (note: I'm not an atheist, but I'll go with atheists 75% of the way in terms of morality and 99% when it comes to political matters)

> Of course, most feminists don't like to admit and
certainly wouldn't support explicit pay differentials
for new hires. It is like environmentalists and
market incentives.

Apoliges if I don;t understand what you are saying.

> But then, I don't believe that individualists should
really support such a wasteful manipulation of people
either.

So I gather.

To conclude: why is it 'individualistic' to entertain notions of making people pawns of biology, just because it provides a reason for contemporary social inequalities that the state needn't bother with? Why isn't is *real* individualism to oppose socail pressures, societal norms, and structures of power and language- like patriarchy- that treat people as types such as males and females rather than as individuals? Why isn't it *real* individualism to scorn determinism pushed in the name of science and instead to seek a conception of human nature than refusing to accept that we're pawns of either nurture *or* nature... by seeking conceptions of both compatible with our freedom?

You want to know why there aren't many serious feminists with libertarian sympathies? It might just be not so much that feminists are in love with the state, but because they are used to hearing individualism and libertarianism go hand in glove with anti-feminism. I mean, how many times does someone concerned with gender injustice have to hear 'if women and men were really equal, the market would have shown it by now' to conclude that the market is the enemy?

Well, I *do* happen to be a libertarian, as well as a radical pro-sex feminist, and I sure as the Abyss don't think the market is the enemy (many libertarians will balk at market rationality before I do). I simply think that patriarchy is an oppressive evil just like statism. But how on Earth do you think I can face other feminists and stand forth as a libertarian when most libertarians make a point of callous dismissals of gender injustices?

Why on Earth would I ever urge feminists with libertarian sympathies to get more involved with libertarianism... granting the kind of sexist balderdash they'd have to continually sit through? True, there are some better libertarians... but until or unless they form their own cultural institutions which set a firm anti-sexist standard as basic to their worldview, why would feminists ever seek libertarian company when virtually the entire social world of the liberal-left accepts at least a nominal anti-sexist standard as basic to their culture?

If statist feminists did not exist, sexist libertarians would create them.

Jeanine Ring )(*)(


Bill Woolsey - 1/27/2005

What a poor analogy.

Summers didn't say that women are stupid, or
even unable to do math or science.

The uncontested fact is that there are
few women counted among the tiny group
of people who are counted among the most
talented in math and science.

To try to come up with an analogy between
Mexicans and laziness would require a notion
that there are relatively few Mexicans among
the tiny minority of the most extreme
workaholics.

Of course, being a workaholic sounds negative.
But to say merely ambitious doesn't quite get
at the extreme situation comparable to top
mathematicians and scientists.

Anyway, if it were true that some ethnic
group or other was over-representated among
the highly driven personalities, considering
whether there is some biologicial basis shouldn't
be ruled out of consideration.

Summers didn't conclude that women are poorly
represented at the top tiers of science and
math because of biological factors--he mentioned
that it was possible.

How can one come up with scientific evidence to
reject that hypothesis if it is never considered?

The policy relevance is pretty clear. Is the
rarity of women academics in math and science in
top schools evidence that highly talented women are
somehow discouraged from pursuing their talents?

If it is based upon a difference in the distribution
of particular talents with a biological basis, rather
that some kind of discouragement, then the differences
don't prove that some discouragement exists.

As for the notion that such biological differences could
be overcome (by discouraging male's from pursuing and
realizing their talents, manipulating females to get
them to do something other than what they are most
suited to do, seems questionable.

By the way, those of us who are economists (like
Summers) should think about the obvious "solution."

Top schools should cut the pay of male mathemticians
and scientists and increase the pay of female ones.

Given enough differential, any cultural or biological
factors will be overcome and there will be equal numbers
of male and female academics in the field.

This sort of thing does happen. The female premium
for academic accounting positions was about 10k in
the nineties.

Most feminists are committed to using state power to
implement their vision of a society where there are
no statistical differences in what men and women do.

Individualists instead want to allow each and every
person realize their talents as they choose--and
not worry about imposing some kind of global model
on the final results.

Of course, most feminists don't like to admit and
certainly wouldn't support explicit pay differentials
for new hires. It is like environmentalists and
market incentives.

But then, I don't believe that individualists should
really support such a wasteful manipulation of people
either.


Jeanine Ring - 1/26/2005

"Furthermore, let me be very, very blunt (and undoubtedly ruffle more than a few feathers): unless they work very, very hard to capture a profoundly different perspective, one informed by a lifetime of experience in a culture which is largely hostile to them -- the kind of experience felt by women, blacks and gays for example -- white, heterosexual men simply *do not get it.* It's as simple as that. No, I am not endorsing subjectivism or saying that it is not possible to ascertain the truth. I am saying only what I *did* say: unless they try very hard, white, straight men just are unable to understand the perspectives and reactions often experienced by those who are *not* white, straight men. And that is absolutely true."

I, with much sadness, must agree entirely with the above. And for less than the most honourable reasons: as a transgender woman, I lived my previous life as a straight white male. Enlightenment libertarianism and formal individualism did little to overcome a thousand subtle habits of mental priviledge; one year living as transgendered woman has made an an awareness of oppressions I once dismissed simply an inescapable part of the daily occurence of life.

I now consider myself a comitted radical feminist, and I know I can become quite angry about sex and gender issues. But it's not because I think I possess some special insight- I don't; I've just happened to have the 'luck' to see things froma couple of angles. In my previous life, I quite easily and honestly thought of America as a "more-or-less" post-racist and post-sexist society in which prejudice barely existed except among rednecks and in the minds of grievance comittees. I now look back at the world I once believed in and wonder what universe I was living in.

my regards,

Jeanine Ring )(*)(


M.D. Fulwiler - 1/26/2005

There is a dinstiction between being wrong and being offensive IMHO. For example, to say that all gays are evil is wrong and offensive, but to say, for example, that gays are better suited to be florists than straight men in general because they have some "artistic gene" is merely silly and without good scientific evidence at this point. But such a statement would not be offensive to me.


Arthur Silber - 1/26/2005

And here's a perfect example of the kind of daily occurrence that I mean.


Arthur Silber - 1/26/2005

And let me mention one other thing, while I'm at it. I generally admire Sullum's work a great deal. However...the opening in particular of his Wash. Times article simply *drips* with male condescension, with his reference to Hopkins' "medical excuse."
Furthermore, let me be very, very blunt (and undoubtedly ruffle more than a few feathers): unless they work very, very hard to capture a profoundly different perspective, one informed by a lifetime of experience in a culture which is largely hostile to them -- the kind of experience felt by women, blacks and gays for example -- white, heterosexual men simply *do not get it.* It's as simple as that. No, I am not endorsing subjectivism or saying that it is not possible to ascertain the truth. I am saying only what I *did* say: unless they try very hard, white, straight men just are unable to understand the perspectives and reactions often experienced by those who are *not* white, straight men. And that is absolutely true.


Arthur Silber - 1/26/2005

Steve: You're giving Summers the benefit of the doubt where he doesn't deserve it at all. Note what he said to the Boston Globe AFTER all the commotion:

“Research in behavioural genetics is showing that things people previously attributed to socialisation weren’t due to socialisation after all,” he told the Boston Globe yesterday.

Now you explain to me how that statement is not deeply offensive, and how it does not write off all cultural factors -- and you show me the scientific research that even *begins* to substantiate such a claim (taking into account just the other research mentioned in my post and the articles I cite). And as a thought experiment, try substituting blacks (or gays, for that matter) for women in this discussion.


Steven Horwitz - 1/26/2005

Summers was not "presuming" the differences are genetic/biological (note, those aren't the same thing). He was offering it as one possible contributing explanation to the differences in social outcomes, and he was not using it as the basis to justify differential treatment of men and women.

There is some evidence that there are brain differences between men and women that could account for *some portion* of the difference in outcomes (with all the earlier caveats about interpreting that evidence carefully). Summers' hypothesis is NOT the same as "all Mexicans are lazy," unless you have some (even slim and disputed) scientific evidence about Mexicans that I'm unaware of.


Jeanine Ring - 1/26/2005

"Sexist? Ridiculous! I have known many female scientists."

- something that might have been said by Msr. Summers.


Jason T. Kuznicki - 1/26/2005

"All Mexicans are lazy" is not the standard form of bigotry. Much more accurate is the following: "Most Mexicans <em>tend</em> to be lazy, if they can get away with it. Sure, some Mexicans are hard-working; there are a few good ones out there..."

Differentiate <em>that</em> from Summers' statement, and I will accept that he was not making a bigoted remark. Until we know where the observed differences come from, it is pure presumption to claim that they are genetic.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 1/26/2005

I have to confess to not having had the time to read Summer's speech or the central essays surrounding it, but I was struck most by Arthur's comment on his blog:

You can never overestimate the importance of culture and of cultural factors with regard to any observed phenomenon, particularly when seeking to formulate an explanation as to why certain obtained results exist as they do. You can only underestimate the crucial role played by culture, cultural stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes.


Now, of course, there is a constellation of factors that affect human behavior and that contextualize the choices that human beings make; some of these factors are biological, some are genetic, psychological, economic, political, and so forth. And there is a complex interaction between these factors; it is often very difficult to pinpoint which factors predominate in any given situation. But I do think that there is an unfortunate tendency to rely on uni-causal models of explanation. This often reduces to biological determinism or genetic determinism, or even economic determinism. Throughout the debate, the impact of culture---which, itself, is extraordinarily complex---is all too often neglected.

This is not an argument for universal "social construction" in the explanation of all differences. But it is an argument for a multi-causal model of human behavior---one that really requires us to do a lot more work in analyzing social phenomenon.

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