Sunday, June 22, 2008
The Problem of Popular Science
When one is presenting a series of facts about humans, especially about human sexuality and gender, one cannot avoid also presenting a system of beliefs and values about the topic. Of all scientific topics, the topic of human sexuality is one where having a bias toward a particular value system is impossible to avoid. It does not mean that there are not facts. The bias lies in which facts are presented, which aren't and how the whole presentation of the facts is "editorialized" into conclusions.
In the same way, a newspaper cannot fully hide its editorial opinion; it is evident in the news it chooses to cover and not cover and the angle and perspective with which it covers the news. As with any "news" facts, scientific facts are pixels on the screen that together end up being used to construct someones over-arching view of life. This is especially true when the facts are "editorialized" into conclusions. Popular science is the editorializing of scientific facts into conclusions and speculations for mass consumption. Popular science is popular precisely because it invites lay people to place themselves in the realm of science by bringing science alongside their lives and imaginations.
A popular science book invariably paints pictures of values and beliefs from the facts presented. The more editorialized the popular science is the more this is true. A newspapers/magazine article about a popular science conclusion from a book all the more clearly displays the values and beliefs about that popular science conclusion. This is a consequence of condensing the facts and conclusions from a book into the space of an article, wherein magazines and newspapers must primarily highlight the conclusion while touching on the facts. And when a magazine, like The Week, is summarizing another magazine/newspaper in a tabloid style, the raw display of the values and beliefs of the popular science in question is even more enhanced and can even be distorted.
In the realm of popular science, especially where popular science conclusions about human sexuality and gender are summarized in book conclusions and in newspaper and magazine articles, one can no more avoid presenting a value system when presenting scientific facts about human sexuality than Charles Barkley can avoid being a role model. Many scientists who are quoted in the press and who write books for mass consumption like to present themselves as merely offering the "facts". The are not. They are "fact artists" who allow their beliefs and values to shape how they view the facts and how they present the facts. When they begin to draw conclusions about the facts, they are "opinion artists". Being a "fact artist"/"opinion artist" is not a bad thing, since every writer is one. The problem lies in not admitting that one is neck deep in presenting a value system.
The problem of Atheism
With that in mind, allow me to discuss atheism. The best summation of atheism was stated by Simon Winchester, a popular author, whom I heard in passing while watching TV and that I can't now find in the Internet so I must paraphrase it (ARRRG!). He said something to the effect that life though ultimately meaningless, is a richly rewarding journey. Atheism is, by definition, a belief in a certain ultimate nihilism about the ultimate purpose of life. Atheists like to believe that they can nevertheless construct a sense of meaning for themselves. The problem is that the ultimate nihilism that an atheist has sits atop his optimistic atheist's belief like stagnant rain water sits on a tin roof – it finds a way to leak in.
Here is how it leaks in. Beliefs exist in three dimensions, along three axis. The vertical axis of a belief system is that aspect of a belief which is rooted in what is ultimately true and real about the universe. The Longitudinal axis of a belief is the teleological aspect that interprets reality through time. The Horizontal axis of a belief is that axis which interprets the vertical and longitudinal axis for the purpose of operating ethically from one to another in the here-and-now.
The ultimate nihilism of atheism on the vertical axis finds its way into the life of an atheist and into the lives of those he influences by way of the longitudinal axis. Specifically, an atheist's nihilism about life's ultimate purpose becomes an atheist's nihilism about our origins and about where we have developed from those origins. This atheistic nihilism is presented in its clearest and rawest form in the popular science narratives regarding human evolution. The evolutionary nihilism that derives from the ultimate nihilism of atheism is the belief that humans are ultimately the product of accidental and amoral raw natural forces colliding into each other – the need to reproduce being one of them – with consequences beautiful, fun and tragic and ridiculous.
It is in a narrative of history that the ultimate nihilism of atheism is editorialized into this conclusion: we are the beautiful and tragic confluence of colliding natural forces far beyond our control – forces that were there before us and will continue after we're gone and over which we have little or no mastery. For an evolutionary nihilist, there is no facet of human reality that cannot be fully explained by these raw confluence of impersonal, amoral natural forces.
Evolutionary nihilism and PC/Gender Feminism
From this evolutionary nihilism, an ethical system arises as a horizontal axis: we humans are bound to contain and the harness the natural forces that operate through us and within us for our maximum peace and harmony. The Id, especially the intuitive, artistic and sexual id that manifests itself individually and collectively is the seat of maximum wisdom and harmony, and this Id needs to be experienced with minimum inhibition.
The greatest threat to this containment, harmony and equilibrium is male aggression, especially male aggression in the realm of moral violence. From the perspective of a nihilist evolution, there is no place to contain a transcendent idea of what is "right" that justifies any such violence/aggression/assertion. A man who thinks that he is right is merely projecting his raw sexual id and inflating it into a means to subjugate others.
It is the Gender Feminists who wish to advance women by deconstructing manhood. For PC/Gender Feminist belief, the history of evolution contains an ethical lesson that humans must acquiesce to the Female – the wisdom of the Id and to the fluidity of what is "correct" where in the collective id continually recalibrates the calculus of ethical harmony ("times change"). The collective id is the wisdom of evolution in motion through the generations.
The Proctologists view of reality
Dennis Prager describes the "proctologists view of reality" when someone is only seeing the worst aspect of something to the exclusion of seeing the whole. It is OK to take a protologists view when A) one is fully conscious that one is excluding other aspects of reality and B) when one has a particular, limited need to exclude those aspects of reality from the analysis and C) when one up front with one's readers about this. For one to take a proctologists view and to fail at A), B) and C) is to present a jaundiced and nihilistic view.
The June 27, 2008 Issue of The Week
With all of that said, there are two editorialized presentations of popular science that came out in this weeks The Week magazine – two tabloid caffeinated powershots of evolutionary nihilism – wherein the worldview begs to be exposed and deconstructed. The proctologists view of reality is also apparent if you have the worldview to see it.
First there was the article on page 22 entitled "How to make fools of men" about Belgian researchers who discussed men's responses to seeing women in bikinis. The Week magazine's article was based on this livescience.com article
Here is The Week magazines's article:
"Just seeing a woman in a bikini so discombobulates men that their judgement is impaired, leading them to make foolish decisions…"
"so when men are sexually stimulated but not rewarded with sex, researchers said, men crave an alternative reward. The findings explain why so many advertisers use photos of sexy women…".
Of course there is a serious kernel of truth to this article. It is a bit comical that it takes a "scientific findings" to verify this. The problem is that the article does not make a distinction between what men have the potential for and what many men actually do. Men have the potential to see that they are being manipulated and operate with a certain mastery over what they are being presented with. It is this consciousness potential that makes a male human a man. This article though, is imbued with an evolutionary nihilism that makes no distinction between that aspect of a man that is animal and that aspect of a man that transcends what is animal.
So the article is true about men when looked at from a primal facet of men's nature. And since many men don't transcend their base nature, many men are predictably discombobulated by bikinis.
The evolutionary nihilism lies in not acknowledging the other facets of a man's nature. This animalistic determinism leads to a second moral problem with the article. The article is very matter of fact in stating that advertisers use sexy women to draw men to seek an alternative reward by buy their products. Many sexy women, of course, use their sex appeal to get men to find an "alternative reward" by doing something the women want. From the perspective of an evolutionary nihilist, harnessing this primal aspect of men's nature is allowed in a moral paradigm that seeks the containment of natural forces. Men get a certain pleasure from being "discombobulated", women get a certain pleasure from the power to discombobulate and advertisers get to sell their products. From an evolutionary nihilist perspective, all parties involved are getting their basic desires so the cost benefit outweighs any concerns about men's judgement being discombobulated.
It is only in believing that male human animals are summoned to being men – in a way that transcends being an animal – that the willful effort to manipulate their base nature to "discombobulate" them is a moral problem.
Then there is the "Author of the week" article on page 25 about Faye Flam's book The Score which was reviewed here in Salon.com
"… Men, Flam says, "are more likely to get completely frozen out of reproduction" so they "chase after sex" more frantically and feel "more evolutionary pressure than women to stand out from the crowd." That explains why women exhibit "a little more common sense" when it comes to drinking, driving, weapons use, and other high risk activities."
The article then discusses how Flam believes that hunting was less important in ancient tribal societies than previously thought and how women weren't dependent on men for survival and how the pickiness of women has a long history. From there the article discusses how Flam believes that "men shouldn't curse their fate" because animal species capable of choosing their sex choose to be male to avoid parenting responsibilities since "everyone wants to do less work...it's a universal laziness".
Again, from an evolutionary nihilists perspective on male nature, the only purpose and drive for being male is to reproduce. In this article and in Flam's world, men are not recognized as having identity needs that transcend these base desires in any way. Male aggression is reduced to the expression of mere sexual anxiety, which makes men prone to bad judgement like imbalanced tires are prone to tread problems. Flam does not recognize men has having any meaningful “work” other than to copulate and live out their sexual anxieties.
The women, lacking this anxiety are endowed with the greater ballast of common sense. It is the women and their child bearing who are given “more work”. With the consolation that everyone is inclined to laziness, Flam believes that women are, in fact, less lazy on account of their being busier with naturally endowed duties. She stands on her analysis to counsel modern men, who might otherwise feel slighted by her analysis that they should be simply glad that they have less work.
Of course, If anyone were to take this seriously it would also grant “guilt trip” rights to women, “See you men have it easy! You should be grateful that we, the more even keeled sex endowed with more natural responsibilities are here to pick up the slack.” Giving herself the privilege to apply her science into the world of modern gender, Flam confers on women the status of being more productive creatures who have been compelled by nature out of their laziness into what is a more noble existence than men.
All this is fine if you are an evolutionary nihilist who doesn't believe that that is any essence or substance to being human than being merely human animals. If men have a primal laziness, is that the sum total of manhood vis-à-vis women? Aggression for the sake of a moral, intellectual and artistic reality beyond sexual anxiety does not factor into this analysis because the evolutionary nihilism of this article does not recognize that these realities exist. If these realities are allowed to exist, men's aggression -- taken as a whole reality and not merely as a primal reality-- may actually make them less lazy in the pursuit of these realities. Even the primal laziness of men itself may actually make them ultimately more productive in certain ways, seeking to invent easier ways to do things.
There is nothing in Flam that even hints at anything that is uniquely noble in men. This fits hand in glove with a “gender feminism” that, for a political agenda, is disinclined to acknowledge any gender differences unless the discussion frames women as being better. As I have discussed in other writings, my drawing attention to this lack is not for the purpose of giving men big heads. Rather it is for the purpose of confronting women to deal with men as they actually are. As I’ve said before, male bashing is relationship bashing, even when the male bashing is subtle and backhanded.
Flam owes it to modern men and women to be more aware of the feminism that bridges the gap between her narrow scientific analysis of the past and her pontificating on the now. Until then, the evolutionary nihilism of popular science that has been condensed into these glance-able articles helps to reinforce a proctologists view of male nature that serves the interests of Gender Feminists and their PC fellow travelers.