Friday, August 24, 2007

Is there anything good about men?

Interesting talk, which explains some interesting things like why more of your ancestors were female than male, and why men are more motivated towards novelty and risk-taking and women are more motivated towards just going along with the crowd.

Sample quotes:

"Culture has plenty of tradeoffs, in which it needs people to do dangerous or risky things, and so it offers big rewards to motivate people to take those risks. Most cultures have tended to use men for these high-risk, high-payoff slots much more than women. I shall propose there are important pragmatic reasons for this. The result is that some men reap big rewards while others have their lives ruined or even cut short. Most cultures shield their women from the risk and therefore also don’t give them the big rewards."

"A pattern of more men at both extremes can create all sorts of misleading conclusions and other statistical mischief...Thanks to grade inflation, most students now get A’s and B’s, but a few range all the way down to F. With that kind of low ceiling, the high-achieving males cannot pull up the male average, but the loser males will pull it down. The result will be that women will get higher average grades than men — again despite no difference in average quality of work. The opposite result comes with salaries. There is a minimum wage but no maximum. Hence the high-achieving men can pull the male average up while the low-achieving ones can’t pull it down. The result? Men will get higher average salaries than women, even if there is no average difference on any relevant input. "

"It’s not that the men pushed the women down. Rather, it’s just that the women’s sphere remained about where it was, while the men’s sphere, with its big and shallow social networks, slowly benefited from the progress of culture. By accumulating knowledge and improving the gains from division of labor, the men’s sphere gradually made progress. Hence religion, literature, art, science, technology, military action, trade and economic marketplaces, political organization, medicine — these all mainly emerged from the men’s sphere."

1 comment:

paul parmenter said...

Yes, I found this extremely interesting. A well-reasoned thesis that offers credible explanations for the differences between men and women, how their different roles and places in society have developed, and society's attitude towards them.

I don't immediately see any obvious flaws or contradictions; and anything that gets away from absurd universal male conspiracy theories has to be worth listening to.

Without leaping too quickly to conclusions without testing all aspects of the theory, one is still tempted to look ahead to crucial questions: if Baumeister turns out to be correct, what does it mean for all the ways men are put down in our society, and current notions about "glass ceilings" etc. There are huge ramifications which he barely touches on, such as the avalanche of women coming into the workplace which has historically reserved the highest rewards for only the most successful; but bringing their own philosophy of "equal rewards for everyone" with them, and the chaos that inevitably results.

Coincidentally even as I write this, I am also watching a CNN TV programme (you see, a man can multi-task!) which is asking the familiar old question: "why are there not more women in the boardroom?" A successful woman is being interviewed and she is trotting out all the half-baked theories that are also boringly familiar: women can do everything men can do but they are just not encouraged enough, are not confident enough, are not presented with enough successful female role models, etc. Not a mention of which sex created the company and built it into a world leader in the first place, and exactly how they did so. Now I see another candidate for a good read of Baumeister's talk!

But Baumeister's talk/theory is also extremely vulnerable. By this I refer to the insidious way that feminism and female-influence have so often perverted objective scientific research. At several points in Baumeister's talk I was half-expecting to see him divert off track to get in a gratuitous dig against men, or to conclude that women were in some way - or lots of ways - superior. Even the title of his talk is a glaring invitation to answer with the word "No!", which is no doubt the very word that will form in the mind of a huge proportion of people who will ever read it, so conditioned are we to denigrate men at every turn.

So you just know that his words will be distorted and different conclusions will be drawn. His theory about men forming broader but shallower networks than women is ripe for being misinterpreted as "men are more shallow than women". His idea that most men have been unsuccessful at breeding will be twisted to mean "most men are losers", and so on.

Will his talk be listened to and its ideas developed? Or will it go the way of so many other carefully thought out theories - failing the test of political correctness and therefore dismissed as simply off-message, unacceptable and downright wrong?