Tuesday, April 21, 2015

To everyone according to her – what?

An article in Pacific Standard, the standard-bearer of pop (social) science, decries “The Hidden Sexism Lurking Behind the Pay Gap.” The teaser beneath clarifies the point: “Let’s stop arguing about how much of the pay gap is due to women’s choices. Those choices are often products of sexism hidden from view.” And what is wrong, for that matter, with women – or men, or those adopting any gender-non-conformist self-definitions – not choosing career paths which require mechanical drudgery, manipulating complex algorithms and abstractions, taking incalculable risks with imaginary “investment” vehicles, bossing underlings in the service of ethically dubious ends, etc.? And isn’t the bigger problem hidden in the vastly disparate rewards bestowed by the market upon more and less humane or caring service functions – to the point of sometimes rewarding socially destructive profit maximization? This is, at least, what British liberal theorist Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse was asking 100 years ago – but such utopian musings have now gone the way of openly professed “social Darwinism.” So all that is left is for everyone to get a shot at climbing as high as humanly possible on the existing socioeconomic food-chain – or ladder, if a less laden concept is in order. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hearts and minds

Tim Judah has another longer piece on the Ukrainian conflict in the NYRB (“Ukraine: Inside the Deadlock”). A most seasoned war reporter, he this time asks a somewhat naïve question: “It is baffling  why the Ukrainian government has not sought to win over the easterners by trying to send them its own aid convoys, even if the rebels prevented them from crossing into their territory. To ordinary people in the east it looks like Kiev does not care much about them and considers them the enemy.” Could it be that the volksgeist on both sides includes such communally biased attributions? In any case, this is a predisposition which will forever mystify cosmopolitan intellectuals – who can hardly understand how “weird” their own perspective may seem. Ironically, 100 years ago British observers had no problem understanding such mutual animosities among the squabbling “races” of the Balkans – and Eastern Europe in general.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The illusion of empowerment

The BBC web site carries an article on “placebo buttons” which provide the illusion that those who press them control the operation of doors, traffic lights, thermostats, etc. (“Press Me! The Buttons That Lie to You”). Could planting them seem a bit creepy and manipulative? Perhaps not if, pressing such useless buttons, “people feel happier with the world around them, more in control of events and comforted by the apparent efficacy of their actions.” Some psychologists, however, have pointed to a darker side. The article cites an experiment involving financial traders: some exaggerated how much pressing a button affected the value of financial assets in a game, and they were the ones who tended to take uncalculated risks in real life. This “illusion of control” is heightened under conditions of cut-throat competition, and may operate on a broader scale – a tendency which could perhaps help explain the risky calculations that led to the financial crisis. And how about, one is tempted to ask, invading Iraq and exporting democracy to a historically troubled region? Or launching the Euro and facilitating subprime credit lines to governments? It seems a degree of fatalism may not always be a bad thing – but won’t come easily to the “weirdest people in the world”...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Women’s Liberation 2.0

Anthropology professor Melvin Konner proclaims in The Chronicle Review “The End of Male Supremacy.” The teaser beneath the title clarifies his claim: “Biologically, intellectually, socially, women are the superior gender, and society will increasingly reflect that. I am all for that – in fact, it recalls Ashley Montagu’s classic, “The Natural Superiority of Women.” It’s a book which ticks some feminists – but I do occasionally recall it as a most inspiring read. Konner’s treatment of the subject, though, is less sentimental. What does he celebrate exactly? How “millennial male dominance is about to end." And how “glass ceilings are splintering into countless shards of light, and women are climbing male power pyramids in every domain of life to a point where entrepreneurship has become the new women’s movement.” And what, then, happened to the older women’s movement which aimed to dismantle those hated “male power pyramids” and usher in a better world for the meek? It apparently went the away of so many male utopian projects – minus the blood spilled by some male saviors of humanity.