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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Political correctness alert: Non-Darwinist philosopher doubts equality of women

One thing about incorrigibly independent thinkers like agnostic Australian philosopher David Stove is that they are, well, incorrigibly independent.

Not content to take on Darwin, Stove apparently had the intellectual courage, as a friend puts it, to challenge the current bloviating about the "intellectual equality of men and women". Questioning that politically correct tenet as it applies to the sciences cost Harvard honcho Larry Summers his job.

Stove's outrageous essay, "The Intellectual Capacity of Women" is apparently Chapter 5 of Cricket Versus Republicanism from Quakers Hill Press, 1995. It was originally published in Proceedings of the Russellian Society, Vol. 15, 1990.

Now, when I say the essay is outrageous, I only mean that it will outrage the politically correct, usually the same people who rush to defend Darwinism.

Stove analyzes the case for the intellectual equality of men and women in the same slow, careful way that he analyzes the case for neo-Darwinism, and dismisses it - at least so far as human beings are concerned - because the actual evidence does not support it. That is, men have consistently outperformed women in intellectual feats over history, and Stove doubts that that can be explained merely by pointing out that women have been oppressed through the ages:
What would convince me of the equal intellectual capacity of men and women is, simply, the kind of evidence which, as things are, convinces me of the opposite: that is, equal intellectual performance, over a long time, and in the widest variety of circumstances.

Stove argues that, as the burden of childrearing has fallen disproportionately to women and that childrearing does not require much intelligence, therefore women did not need to be as intelligent as men, and hence were not.

Now, not being politically correct myself, I am not just going to just jump in here and threaten to be sick, as one of Summers' female opponents did - even though, as a woman, I do have a cat in the fight.

I would say two things, however:

First, the story is a little more complex than Stove seems to want to recognize. Perhaps because he is a philosopher, he conceives of intelligence in an abstract way. In that case, if women are of equal intelligence, they should overcome male oppression and have equal achievements.

He admits that women in most societies have also been much less aggressive than men, and therefore were often pushed aside when opportunities arose, even if they would individually make a better use of those opportunities. He argues that this factor is irrelevant:
But of course not every such factor will do. Some people love just stringing together anecdotes: women were prevented from exercising their intellectual capacity by this obstacle in Periclean Athens, by that obstacle in Confucian China, by the other obstacle in seventeenth-century France, etc. But an equality-theorist must do more than this. He has to offer some definite explanation of why the intellectual capacity of women has so consistently met with obstacles it could not overcome, and his explanation must be one which is consistent with the equality-theory.

There, I disagree. Aggression is not intelligence or any proof of intelligence, and it can alter a climate to favor one party over the other without the first party having any other advantage at all. Think of all the fathers through the ages who sent stupid sons to school and kept smart daughters at home, learning to dodge the well-aimed blows ....

In general, high achievers are quite single-minded. Most women who want a traditional family life simply cannot pay that price, whether they are highly intelligent or not. (Yes, yes, there are exceptions to everything, but most of us are not exceptional, by definition.)

In Canada today, the enrollment of women in university is beginning to exceed that of men, primarily due to aggressive promotion of gender equity policies. Stove (now deceased) said he wouldn't accept such evidence as disproving his thesis, because it is the result of interference ... But what were all the complex prohibitions against women at universities and in the professions a result of? Blind nature?

Anyway, on his main point, Stove is actually right. Generally, far more men than women have been responsible for truly ground-breaking intellectual achievements, especially in the sciences. The sort of people who are responsible for such achievements ofter were oppressed but soldiered on anyway. So that particular difference cannot be entirely the result of oppression of women.

But ... far more men than women have also won "Darwin awards," for fatal stupidity that takes them out of the gene pool. And I won;t even get into the difference in the numbers of men versus women who end up on death row or in the morgue with enough alcohol in their blood to power the car ...

One way of looking at it: If you picture human achievement as a sort of bell curve, you will find that, absent serious social oppression of women, the women's achievement curve is of equal height to that of men, but fits inside it. Thus there are more male supergeniuses out there, and there are also more men in prison for essentially stupid offenses.

In the middle of the curve, women hold down normal jobs just as well as men - deliver the mail, doctor your dog, fix your teeth, et cetera. But at the outer edges on BOTH sides, it's mostly, though not entirely, a guy's world. Make sense? Anyway, Stove is fun whether you agree with him or not.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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