When Men Were Men and Women Were . . .

As I predicted to myself, I'm catching heat for my banal generalization that “men need women to be women and women need men to be men…” Julian and Amber each have a go. Perhaps the claim is less mysterious if more specific. I'm saying that, in general, men prefer women who are more typically feminine and women prefer men who are more typically masculine. Yes. Wow. Femininity and masculinity have both natural and cultural components. Its tricky sorting out which is which. In any case, there's nothing normative about statistical trends of either “natural” or “cultural” preferences.

My obscure point, in reference to the Kipnis article, is that the blank slate view, which was hegemonic in the humanities and social sciences until the rise of sociobiology, at best entirely fails to help us understand ourselves by assuming that sexual preference and sexual identity is entirely cultural, and at worst causes a lot of grief by causing people to bang their heads pointlessly against an unbending reality.

I find that I have been, quite perversely, made to feel guilty by blank slate ideology for having preferences for women who are, in many ways, traditionally feminine, and for preferring certain traditional gender roles. Indeed, I feel like I have been, in some ways, ideologically estranged from components of my masculinity by my tentative attitude toward my own preferences. I had been made to assume that they were cultural, elective, and possibly wrong. It's quite strange that one can feel positively transgressive by acquiescing to nearly universal preferences. Now, I am eager for others to pioneer new modes of living, and to surprise us by revealing with their lives well-lived that norms we thought were deep were in fact shallow. But I am personally risk averse and want to maximize my chances for deep satisfaction as a human and a mammal, and I think the best bet is living largely within the old mode. In any case, that's what my gut tells me. I think this is what most people's guts tell them. And, yes, this is also how oppression perpetuates itself. So I vow to do my utmost to root out the genuinely harmful. But I will not ruin my life speculating about injustice.

The point regarding Kipnis, then, is that I have every intention of maintaining my preferences for women who are beautiful, feminine, and who desire to be mothers, and I am not about to be sorry for it. And I do not believe I am alone. And so, yes, if feminism as an ideology requires that men do not have these preferences and that women do not tend to wish to satisfy them, then feminism is in trouble.

Now, I also intend to maintain my preference for extremely intelligent and ambitious women. Julian writes, ” . . . neither Will nor I would find interesting or attractive someone who fit some kind of 1950s archetype of femininity . . .,” but I think I would, insofar as intelligence and ambition are allowed. June Cleaver as Secretary of State? Yes, please.

The universal aspect of femininity that Kipnis I think was lamenting was women's propensity to go through pains to make themselves attractive to men. I am, of course, against stuffing girls like foie gras geese. So whether or not we can approve of a particular cultural instance of the tendency to ornament and improve one's appearance according to the prevailing cultural norm depends on the nature of the prevailing cultural norm. But objecting to the tendency as such is futile. I, for one, am an advocate of lipstick, pearls, and tight sweaters, whether they appear in 1955 or 2005. Sue me.

I was also NOT saying that if you are a women and you find you prefer to be a bit more mannish than typical, or you're a man and find that you cry at Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, or whatever, then there's something wrong with you. Nor was I saying that guys who like butch girls or girls who like femme guys are in any sense wrong. If the prevailing gender norms get you down, then by all means, buck the norms. Find your own way. And if the elective norms are harmful, then fight them. But don't get surprised when you find most people defending norms that are norms precisely because of the pattern of revealed preferences across the culture. Think of us as witless sheep, if it makes you feel better.

Could We Grow Out of the Social Security Crisis?

Sure. If we had fantastic rates of growth, we could zero out the deficit and have huge surpluses in a fairly short amount of time. And we might also make medical discoveries that extend life expectancy 150 years, in which case Social Security would be in REALLY big trouble. (Raise the retirement age to 200?) It's a wash!

Is the Social Security Trust Fund a Fiction?

No! If the government exists, and government securities exist, and different accounts have different legal status, and so forth, then the social security trust fund exists.

Every month, my employer dumps a bunch of money into a pipe (I like to imagine it as coins from a big change jar) that has my name on it. Most of that money goes through the main pipe to my checking account. A bit goes down a little pipe to my health savings account. A good bit of it is diverted down a pipe that goes to the federal government. A yet smaller amount goes down a pipe that goes to the DC government. Some goes down pipes to special bins for Social Security and Medicare. Some of that flows back up pipes to SS and Medicare claimants. Some continues into the big pipe to the general fund. The Treasury sends little pieces of paper up one of those vacuum tubes that say that they'll pay back the money that passed through the Social Security bin and ended up in the general fund.

Now, my health savings account and my checking account are both my accounts. However, there are legal restrictions on what I may do with my HSA. If I buy a big bag of Skittles with my HSA, I will, in some fairly clear sense, owe my HSA $1.99, or whatever it is, even though I would be transferring money from myself to myself.

Similarly, the Social Security Trust Fund and the general fund are different accounts that have different legal statuses. The administrators of the SSTF can, as far as I understand it(and please correct me if you understand it better), do three things: (1) cut SS checks; (2) pay SS administrative costs; and (3) buy securities from the Treasury. The SSTF, as I characterized it, is basically a little stopping off point from the pipes that run from our paychecks to the general fund. The point of this, I take it, is to have a box of change from which to pay SS benefits without having to get legislation appropriating money for SS each year. Because there is no point in having a huge pile of coins sitting in the SSTF being unspent, the rest of the coins are sent down the chute to the general fund, and are replaced with slips of paper (vacuum tubes!) promising repayment from the Treasury.

Now, I don't see how the SSTF is any more a fiction than my HSA. As John Searle would say, the SSTF and the general fund have different “deontic powers” associated with them, and those powers are real powers underwritten by real institutional facts.

But who cares? Suppose there was no SSTF, and SS benefits were paid out of the general fund, and thus there was no issue of the general fund owing money to the SSTF. The demographic unsustainability of Social Security as it presently exists would be exactly the same. And the regressive and unjust nature of Social Security as it presently exists would be exactly the same. So I can't understand what's at stake in the discussion of reality of the SSTF, or whether we have a crisis of the general fund to which the design of Social Security contributes, or a crisis of Social Security, period. What we've got is a program that's just plain bad in normative terms, and even worse in normative terms because it's unsustainable.

Oxygen is My Achilles Heel!

Ain't ideology grand? Laura Kipnis:

Heterosexuality always was the Achilles heel of feminism because the asymmetries involved usually took the form of adequacy for one sex, inadequacy for the other. And so things seem to remain: You may hear a lot of tough talk about empowerment and independence in women's culture today, except you hear it from women shopping for baby-doll outfits or getting Brazilian bikini waxes and double-D cup breast implants. (“I'm doing it for myself.”)

Wouldn't you think that if heterosexuality is your Achilles heel, you're in big, big trouble. This isn't far from saying, “My ism would work out great, if only people didn't like eating and laughing.” Anyway, the asymmetries between the sexes have nothing to do with adequacy and inadequacy, unless you understand inadequacy as kind of dependence, in which case, we're all inadequate, just asymmetrically so. Men need women and women need men. More controversially, men need women to be women and women need men to be men. And if you don't know what that means, or know and object to it, then life among the humans may turn out to be tough for you.