2006/07/28

Antipluralism?

A leftist might often have to come to the conclusion that what she thought true and certain in the past has been successfully challenged. Many of us woul dlike to believe that, except for the dangling or non-dangly parts in our crotchs, there are no fundamental differences between men and women. I believe recently the president of a prominent American university was forced out of his job for suggesting the possibility of differences in brain development or function (or so I suppose one could interpret it, dark suspicions aside) between men and women that might explain the disparity of proportion of female scholars in certain fields as compared to their frequency in the general population. But it isn't really surprising to find that sex differences in gene expression might conribute to such a disparity.

But let's be clear: this issue should and must be separated from the social forces that have far more to do with actual differences in (1) intellectual interest (2) intellectual aptitude (3) intellectual training (4) professional conduct/attitudes between the sexes. That we might find biological reasons to found some differences that can't be papered over by corrective education (however ominously you'd like to take that phrase to be, bear with me here) should not bother us. Just as there are cultural spectrums of behavior that a pluralist society (not, that is, a color- or culture-"blind" one) accepts, it should not be a problem to allow within such a society the existance and acceptance of a spectrum of sex and gender roles. Whether or not they are sociohistorical or biological. (fizhburn claims I have bought his argument that the nature/nurture distinction is merely a conventional fiction, but I am not so sure I finally agree with the conclusion that such forces are sui generis.) Why should we be bothered by it?

The most obvious reason is, simply, that, as every good feminist knows (?), such differences will be viewed through a cultural, and specifically semi-Calvinist patriarchal, lens. Which is to say such differences, one fears, will be exploited as justifications for the continuation of the white man's supremacy. But should we then attack anyone who proposes that such differences are real (and irrepressable)? No. We need to attack misuse and misunderstanding of real and potentially valuable differences. Why not look at such differences of, say, mental capacity (whatever that turns out to be, if there even is any; remember, far more women are graduating college than men these days) are in fact useful for thei potential contributions to the understanding of complex physical, social, and philosophical issues? Let us not be so smug as to suggest that lefty politics gives us exclusive access to the plausible and implausible. If we want to come up with longstanding (permanent?) truths, we needs must listen to what science discovers about us--how we take it is the real issue.


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