That’s a Generalization… only feminists get to make truth-claims about groups?

Knowledge involves generalizations. The science of amphibians is not about specific frogs, but about frogs in general. A veterinarian, asked to treat a specific frog, would call upon a store of generalizations to help make a diagnosis and to recommend treatments. Even if the vet was very familiar with past episodes of sickness of that particular frog, he would still be generalizing across instances. i.e., in the past, when this frog burps purple bubbles, it has meant that he is reacting to eating a certain kind of fly. The frog is burping purple bubbles, therefore…

It is true that there is nothing logically precise or rigorous about induction. Technically, induction can even be regarded as an error. Just because 100,000 white swans have been observed, it does not mean all swans are white.

On the other hand, since human knowledge is finite, and people are often operating in conditions of uncertainty, it is frequently necessary to make educated guesses based on past experience.

In the past, that chair has supported my weight. Therefore, it can be expected to support my weight this time and it will not be necessary to subject it to analysis before sitting down. Likewise, even with unfamiliar chairs in other people’s homes, or at work, sitting down in a chair is not normally a case of taking your life in your hands.

There is a philosopher who claims that he does not “believe” in induction and inductive arguments. Since someone’s beliefs can be determined by his actions, an observer could be expected to see this philosopher not eating any food, since the fact that this particular item of food was nourishing and not poisonous in the past does not mean it will be today, not expecting his car to start in the morning, to gingerly place his feet on the ground upon exiting bed in case the floor no longer supports his weight, and to duck just in case his wife has decided to imitate a boxer that morning. Failing to observe any of these strange behaviors, it is possible to conclude that the “philosopher” is in error about what he believes and does not believe.

To live a functioning human existence is to believe in induction.

It is possible to get carried away with theory and abstractions and to have a reliance on logic with no wiggle room for intuition and lived experience. It is also possible to fixate on the concrete and specific and to anathematize generalizations. Several smart, educated women I know have begun discussions by saying “That’s a generalization.” I have learned to be ready with the reply, “Yes. But there are such things as true generalizations.”

I have never actually had a man take an anti-generalization stance in conversation.

It seems to be related to the fact that more smart men are interested in theoretical matters than smart women. Men and women balance each other out in this regard; one group trying to find commonalities and another prioritizing the unique and particular.

If this is true and my experience reasonably representative, then it is true as a generalization that women tend not to like generalizations. Since it is not actually possible to live non-inductively it is more a matter of emotional allegiance to the particular than something women can actually live out all the time.

In many instances, this emotional allegiance has a nurturing motivation – a concern for the lost sheep who does not match expectations and the rule. There is a motherly concern for the person who does not fit in. This gives a perhaps inborn tendency to be suspicious of generalizations a moral dimension. Your generalization means someone will be left out and that’s not nice!

These issues tend to come to the fore on the fraught topic of feminism. On the one hand there are proven psychological facts such as men tending to be more interested in things than women. Women tend to be more interested in people than things. On the other hand, there is a motherly concern that such general truths will harm women who are more interested in things than people. Anyone who diverges from expectations, from inductive generalizations, might face prejudice. A man more interested in people and a woman more interested in things might be seen as anomalous. Although, since neither men nor women tend to care about the welfare of men very much, the anomalous male can be forgotten, unless he wants to be a woman, in which case he is worthy of concern.

Characteristics of groups necessarily generalize across individuals. If the attributes of individuals are the focus, then groups as a topic simply exit the picture.

Feminism, however, cannot exist without generalizations and theory. It is in the business of making broad sweeping statements about such things as the history of the relations between men and women. The fact that there are fewer women engineers than men is characterized as being the result of discrimination against women – though the fact that 75% of psychology majors are women is regarded as non-problematic.

In fact, the more egalitarian a country is, the more sex differences emerge. A hyper-egalitarian country like Sweden has just 23% of its engineers being women. In India and Iran, it is 50/50. It turns out that when women are given more free rein to choose what they want to study their choices diverge from men’s choices more.

Claims of discrimination necessarily refer to groups. They are generalizations across individuals. Women as a group, it is imagined, are somehow being prevented from entering STEM subjects – despite enormous financial incentives to choose them in the form of job opportunities and financial aid.

The only way to counteract such paranoid assertions is to point to differences between groups – in this case, sexual dimorphism. Men and women as groups have different preferences and tend to make different field of studies and career choices accordingly. No “discrimination” is going on – or, if there is, it is not the root cause of massive society-wide differences.

The critic of feminist complaints is faced with claims about groups. He responds with facts about groups. These facts about groups are then described as potentially injurious to individual women who tend towards the exception rather than rule. Question – “So, we are to avoid making gross generalizations in case individuals who do not conform get hurt in the process? Generalizations are stereotypes and stereotypes confirm or result in prejudice?” Response: “OK. If you stop making generalizations about all men and all women and the relation between the sexes. If you stop claiming sexist discrimination based on differing outcomes between men and women as groups, I’ll stop referring to general truths about men and women as groups.”

The only way to counter generalities is to refer to other generalities. The motherly concern for the lost lamb, and for the possible negative consequences of publicizing true generalizations has to stop in this particular context.

If you stop making general claims, I’ll stop making general claims!

Put the gun down! (While pointing gun) Put the gun down! Put the gun down! (Gun is put down) BANG!

The feminist interlocutor generalizes about men, women and the “patriarchy.” Motherly concern for the plight of women is evinced. Then, also out of motherly concern, men are forbidden from pointing out general facts about sexual dimorphism to explain the error of thinking women are being discriminated against and oppressed out of fear that such general truths will harm individual women who do not conform to the rule. The fact that men are referring to general facts about men and women as groups is then regarded as further evidence of the oppressive nature of men and all opponents of feminism.

21 thoughts on “That’s a Generalization… only feminists get to make truth-claims about groups?

  1. You say:

    In fact, the more egalitarian a country is, the more sex differences emerge. A hyper-egalitarian country like Sweden has just 23% of its engineers being women. In India and Iran, it is 50/50. It turns out that when women are given more free rein to choose what they want to study their choices diverge from men’s choices more.

    There are examples where the opposite is true, as well (which supports your thesis). I don’t know the technical term for it, but acolytes and assistants to a priest were traditionally supposed to be boys or men who were training to be priests. This may or may not have been a rule, but when it was relaxed and women were allowed to help, interest in the vocation declined. It used to be a unique and special thing that only men could do–women have their own unique and special things. ‘Integrating’ (for lack of a better word) made it no longer unique and special. In fact, it became rather mundane.

    Forcing equality is deleterious to actual equality. Denying unique differences is also deleterious to the things which make us unique and different. All of these constructs, in which some government apparatus attempts to force equal outcomes, are destructive to the individuals that participate and the outcomes they hope to achieve.

    But then, I am generalizing…

    • @Scoot – Agreed! Ideologically driven idiocy interferes in voluntary and free choices about what to study and what job to do, etc., helping no one.

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  3. I think you are right to say that women are more likely to object to generalizations about groups, but women I have known are far more likely to make generalizations about individuals. A woman may contradict her generalization twenty-four hours later, but for the present she is decidedly of the opinion that “you never” or “you always.” These generalizations are not always captious, for a woman in a generous mood will be exceedingly generous. “Oh, you always give me such nice presents” (at which the man silently recalls the many cheep and shabby presents he has given her).

    This is, of course, a generalization of the sort feminists deplore, but I daresay it is known to every man who succeeds in living on easy terms with a normal woman. It is simply futile to point out exceptions to her generalization about “never” and “always,” or even to produce photographic evidence that you do, from time to time, put the toilet seat down.

    Academic feminists are not normal women, and many of them do not seem to have spent much time around normal women since they were in high school. This is one reason the Women’s Studies Department is so ignorant about women, and so outraged by simple home truths that everyone else knows. But we must add female malice to this, for female malice has its own character (“Hell hath no fury,” and all that). As I said above, when a woman is angry at you she will see no good in you. And when she is in a generous mood she will find no fault. On average, men are more likely to acknowledge the flaws in their friends and the virtues of their enemies. This blind malice sometimes finds expression in wild generalizations about men as a class.

    • @JMSmith – I do have the impression that women use that kind of extreme language more than men. I don’t know that I would characterize it as having much to do with generalizations though. Clearly they would, in most instances, be FALSE generalizations. It stakes out a position so vulnerable to a single counter-example. Personally, I would get sick of being wrong all the time and making it so easy to prove me wrong.

      I think I have a tendency to call foul in such cases but a) I might be wrong about that and b) I’m not sure how productive it would in a romantic context.

      I find it more pertinent in this context that many smart women object to TRUE generalizations just because they are generalizations. Since feminism is BASED on generalizations it sets up a bizarre dynamic.

  4. I think you’re suffering from taking the words of feminists and other liberal groups too seriously, as though they have some objective meaning attached to them that is meant to be communicated. However, most of the time ‘activist’ speech is in the φωνῆς mode rather than the φρενός mode. The call ‘racist’ or ‘equality’ or the like hold the same essential meaning as the vocal signals of social animals – a marking of danger, or targets, or rich feeding ground, etc. rather than real philosophical claims.

    • @Rhetocrates – True. Perhaps my limited imagination means I can only think to respond to unreason with reason. Perhaps along the lines of “two wrongs don’t make a right?”

      The other thing is that most of my students are not extreme feminists. They’ve swallowed the general Kool-Aid but most are reasonably moderate. It is they who I notice reacting negatively to general statements about the differences between men and women and it is they I am hoping might respond to a little bit of logic.

      • Which is fair, on both counts. But generally, it’s rhetorically un-useful. I should think your logic would work better along the lines of pointing out that the shibboleths they invoke are merely that, shibboleths, empty of logic (though not meaning).

        But what do I know? I’m not a famous rhetorician.

      • Maybe I have too much time on my hands but I’m not averse to both approaches. Use whatever means are at our disposal!

      • Prof. Cocks:

        Perhaps my limited imagination means I can only think to respond to unreason with reason.

        Pardon my interjection, and just take it for what it is worth, but in my limited experience “it’s hard to reason someone out of something she didn’t reason herself into” contains a lot of truth. It is, of course, not necessarily true that one *can’t* reason such an one out of his/her unreasoned position, but I guess that is why the principle usually declares it “hard” rather than impossible. Anyway, interesting discussion.

      • Maybe I have too much time on my hands but I’m not averse to both approaches. Use whatever means are at our disposal!

        One of the advantages of intentionally using reasoned arguments rather than merely rhetorical ones is that you will necessarily select for those who are capable of changing their minds via reasoned discussion.

        That emphasis, however, is important: the best rhetoric is that which is not false, but rather true, and allows the receiver to realize truths that were previously hidden. Thus my contention that focusing on the nature of the speech – its essentially social rather than dialectical function – is better rhetoric is, I think, also better founded in truth. It recognizes the hidden truth that your liberal opponents operate according to different rules, and brings that truth forward into the light. After this is realized, then the point can be made that, unsurprisingly, products of unreason are unreasonable.

        In short, I take the Aristotlean position that rhetoric and dialectic are not opposed, but rather that in its full and proper employment rhetoric is the handmaiden of dialectic. The best rhetoric is based in truth rather than lies.

      • That’s probably right. Unfortunately, I am a mere philosopher without the benefit of rhetorical training. I’m sure I need better PR.

      • You and me both, brother. Aristotle may have been a great-souled man, but methinks the best I can hope for is to execute the middling office well.

  5. Although, since neither men nor women tend to care about the welfare of men very much, the anomalous male can be forgotten, unless he wants to be a woman, in which case he is worthy of concern.

    You seem to be making an attempt in this entry at steering the societal ship a little bit in the direction of getting us to care more about the plight of males. It is true from what I can see that their particular plight is not a natural concern of men and women, at least not to the extent of the particular plight of females.

    On the one hand your concern seems just – we should be concerned about men because they are human. On the other hand it seems to be a fight against what comes naturally to everyone, i.e., not to care particularly about men.

    • @buckyinky – You’re right. Feminism relies on chivalry from men in a rhetorical version of real men don’t hit women. Feminists tend to rail against simple biological facts like – how come men like pretty women? They should equally like the ugly ones. Anyway, beauty and ugliness are cultural constructs! Why should little girls play with dolls and boys with trucks? It’s not a question of “should” just inborn preferences. I often feel like saying go watch a nature show and watch the animals exhibiting maternal instincts. It’s not a cultural invention designed by men to oppress women for God’s sake.

      If there were no biological prohibition, men would just respond aggressively to suppress feminist BS and propaganda – or pat them on the heads and give them a blanky, and ignore them. Instead, too many men give feminism the time of day and treat it seriously in a desire to please women – an inbuilt biologically derived urge.

      Defending men against feminist attacks is a no win situation. Yes, I would like people to care more about the plight of men. a) This earns you the scorn of feminists and non-feminists alike. Men’s biological role is provider and protector. Who wants a wimpy man in need of help and protection? b) This earns you the scorn of manly men (I don’t need no stinking concern) and feminist men (how dare you question feminists’ claims of victimization?).

      If men are to be expendable and their lives cheap, it all becomes a bit unbearable if on top of that there is no gratitude thrown their way and the very qualities necessary to play this role are regarded as “toxic.” If saving people and defending the country earn only scorn and no female admiration, to hell with it all!

      I heard a feminist mention the notion that feminism is a cancer recently. It is.

  6. “If men are to be expendable and their lives cheap, it all becomes a bit unbearable if on top of that there is no gratitude thrown their way …”
    Truer words were never spoken. I think most men feel a gut-level obligation to help a woman in distress, even at personal risk. This reaction might be underwritten by biology, but is definitely reinforced culturally: if a man does not help a woman in distress, even if she is a stranger, he will be mocked and reviled. A woman faces no such scorn if she does not help a man in distress. She would only need to say that she was afraid, and no one would hold it against her.
    Speaking for myself, I’m fine with these roles and assumptions as long as my sacrifice is recognized and appreciated. But am I supposed to give my seat on a lifeboat to a feminist who will only sneer at me as I gurgle my way to the bottom of the ocean?
    The (somewhat tired) argument is often made that since, biologically speaking, sperm is cheap while eggs are expensive, male expendability is only natural. Is it still only natural, then, if the egg-bearer happens to be an anti-natalist who has had multiple abortions and is determined never to be “burdened” with offspring, and if the sperm-bearer happens to be a devoted family man type who would actively support the rearing of children? Doesn’t feminism tend to make women as “expendable” as men? Feminists should be careful about what they wish for.

    • I think these imperatives are a lot more culturally conditioned than you give them credit for. Women being gang-raped on the streets of Hyderebad are more a local entertainment than a cause for the forming of a posse; the same goes for the general historical conditions in Somalia. (I take for my authority here Sir Richard Francis Burton, who knows a thing or two about that land as being the first White man to set foot in Harare and survive.)

      Closer to home, my generation (I am a milennial) is much more likely to feel vaguely uncomfortable but follow the imperative Do Not Get Involved than to step up and do something about it.

      Men coming to the aid of women is a social technology, one of many that feminists presume are permanent but which are perfectly capable of undiscovery.

      • @Rhetocrates – Islam seems to have some special pathologies all of its own. I had a nice Pakistani student this semester who commented that girls in his home town couldn’t go out without a male chaperone. Not following this obnoxious dictate I guess puts you beyond the pale of those who deserve protection. The rule concerning the chaperone seems to be a combination of over-protectiveness and not wanting women to get pregnant by someone other than a husband, which definitely has a biological component.

        Biology is not all but it accounts for cross-cultural similarities – and those similarities admit of exceptions – though perhaps not in this case if I am correct about the factors going into it.

      • I certainly think there is a biological motivation to this as to all cultural artifacts. I just don’t think the latter flows at all obviously from the former. Many different societies have many different ways to deal with the fact that women are, biologically and sexually, what they are while men are, biologically and sexually, what they are.

        It so happens (through the operation of Providence, lest I be mis-taken to be speaking of chance) that medieval Christian civilization invented the best social technology for dealing with these facts in the world, and it also so happens (though the diabolical opposite of Providence) that modern Western civilization is busy un-inventing it, having nearly finished the job. (How different the mores of even chaste women as far back as the 1780s were from those of women in Dante’s Florence!)


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