POP culture

Premises Of Post-Objectivism


A response to Cathy Young's review of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand

Copyright Thomas Gramstad (september 1999)

In her engaging review of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand in the August/September 1999 issue of Reason magazine, available at http://www.reason.com/9908/bk.cy.hear.html, Cathy Young writes that

   Gramstad offers a rousing "Randian-feminist synthesis" in
   which the heroic individualist potential of Rand's philosophy
   is fully extended to women. Like Brown and some other
   contributors, however, he is much too uncritical of the
   feminist dogma that all psychological differences between the
   sexes are social in origin, and much too inclined to dismiss
   biological theories of difference by citing ideologically
   driven critiques.
Not so; I do not deny the importance of biology. Young fails to consider that biological difference does not mean, and cannot be reduced to, sex difference. People are indeed so different, even biologically, that relying on biological averages or statistical tendencies is often misleading and unhelpful and may even be life threatening. A New Scientist article, 14 Nov 1998 pp. 32-36, titled Tailor Made Personal Drugs to Suit Your Genes, illustrates this point. What is good and healthy for one person may be unhealthy or even poison for another. Preferences in food and drinking no doubt have a significant biological component. Other preferences and values may as well.

But sociobiologists and social conservatives seem to have misunderstood what conclusions may be drawn from this. The conclusion is not one about averages, uniformity and biology as destiny. On the contrary, the conclusion is one about customization, individuality, and one's unique identity as destiny. (There is also an interesting connection that can be drawn here to Barry Vacker's vital essay (in Feminist Interpretations) identifying and comparing second wave esthetical paradigms vs. third wave ditto - because gender and sexuality are more related to esthetics than they are to science.)

Now, observe two things.

  1. The bulk of human biological difference is not related to sex. Most biological differences between people are not related to reproduction.
  2. Emphasizing "group differences" (real or imaginary) always implies deemphasizing, reducing, marginalizing and denying individual differences. I always find it strange and self-contradictory when libertarians and other alleged individualists are eager to run gender collectivist hammerheads into the heads of individuals whose only crime is the expression of non-majority gender or sexual preferences.

Anyone may make an argument that biology is important, or that environmental influences are small compared to biological factors in some area or even many areas. Fine, but such a case, even when it succeeds, is not per se an argument for biological or inherent sex roles because of observation no. 1 above. So far this would be just a lack of a connection, a missing link in the chain of reasoning. But now consider observation no. 2: one sees that biology is in fact opposed to sex role stereotypes, because the former implies individualism and variety while the latter implies collectivism and conformity.

"Biological individualism" implies that people are all different, as individuals, and since these differences are inherent, they are hard to change - and why would an individualist feel compelled to change or erase individual differences and promote conformity, anyway? Sex role stereotypes, on the other hand, are based on group identity and enforcement of group rules designed to promote conformity, and on a belief that all men are fundamentally the same and all women are fundamentally the same, and that the sexes are, not different, but "opposites".

Of course, all these individual differences would be just as real and inherent/incorporated in the individual if they were the result of early choices or early environmental influences. Neither biology, nor the social sciences and environmentalist theories about humans, support gender collectivist ideas about sex roles. These ideas are ideological, not scientific. The sex role comprachicos don't have a scientific leg to stand on.

Space constraints did not allow me to discuss biological individualism in an already densely packed article. I did, however, address the ideological nature and agendas involved in gender and sex research. Young refers to "feminist dogma" and "ideologically driven critiques", but she got it mostly backwards. Sociobiology, for example, is more ideology than science, dogmatic and riddled with bias and hidden agendas. It would be more aptly called sociobiologism.

Pointing out patriarchally inconvenient facts like the above inevitably inspire some alleged champions of liberty and individualism to label me Politically Correct... well, I can live with that. In my experience, the PC epithet is commonly used as substitute for argument by those who prefer the secondhander collectivist lifestyle of Patriarchal Correctness and sex role stereotypes. At her best, Rand championed sex as celebration of life, the most intense and ecstatic expression of joy, pride and happiness. In order to realize that ideal, Patriarchally Correct sexuality ("wham bam, thank you ma'am") must be rejected, so that the full scale and potential of human sexuality in all its wonderfully polymorphous, individually unique and artistically diverse glory may be explored and embraced.

I have no wish to rob Young of what she describes as "perversely refreshing" ideas of male dominance - as one "natural way of things" among many others. I would like to remind her that each and every natural way is never a universal way. Nature thrives on variety and diversity, which are both preconditions for and results of evolutionary change. Natural selection cannot work in the absence of biological variety, and a one-way one-universal-form monoculture is not only evolutionary vulnerable and unstable, it is headed for extinction.

How is that for a "biological theory of difference".

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