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Dec 13, 1996 06:57 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

Dear Tom,

I have been disheartened to see the aggresssion level on
theos-l back up to the benchmark previously set by a few others
who are no longer with us.  You are acutely aware of the
aggression that has been directed toward you, but seem to be
oblivious of the degree to which your own aggression sparked
the whole conflagration, and continued to pour gasoline on the
fire.  This is not said to justify anything anyone else said,
but to point out that there is a dysfunctional pattern here
that could bear some looking into.  Particularly accusing
people of *deliberately* misinterpreting you-- that kind of
thing implies that you are a mindreader and know the intentions
of others.  Attributing such evil intentions just makes things
worse.  Given how many accidental misunderstandings there are
in the world, why assume them to be deliberate when you don't

My main point, though, is to say that your use of "superiority"
is really problematic.  "In that men are more logical than
women, they _are_ superior."  As Mark (I think) said, your use
of language here seems to leap from statistical generalization
to categorical dogmatism.  Are men in fact "more logical"?  The
most the evidence shows me is that according to *some*
operational definitions of "logical" in *some* populations,
men's scores on this variable have *on the average* been higher
than women's.  No one would want to fight you if you put it
that way.  But use of "superior" as a predicate nominative is
*very* much laden with centuries of bad feeling over
oppression.  What if you were to say "In that blacks earn less
than whites, they _are_ inferior"?  When you get an outraged
reaction, you might say "I only meant inferior in income, not
that they are generally inferior"-- but that seems disingenuous
when you pick a hot-button issue, use polarizing language, and
then rather than backing down apologetically continue to
escalate tension by accusing others of deliberately
misunderstanding you.

The whole idea of "superior" and "inferior" is meaningful only
in context of linear measurement in which one can score
"higher" than another.  And even then, it can be said without
qualification only about individuals.  When you make any such
statement about categories, you need plenty of qualifiers in
order to make it clear that, for example, you don't mean that
*all* women are inferior to *all* men in logical capacity.  In
short, you are using fighting words, and taking no
responsibility for the fighting that ensues.  As for the list
having a "feminist agenda"-- I never saw one until you came on
the scene with polarizing remarks.


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