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Re: Superiority

Dec 13, 1996 09:39 AM
by Tom Robertson

At 03:07 PM 12/13/96 +0000, Paul wrote:

>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

People must "read minds" all the time, that it is not an exact science
notwithstanding.  To be convicted of murder requires other people to decide
what they believed the accused's motives were.  It would be difficult for me
to think of anything more important than knowing other people's motives.
That there can never be 100% certainty about them does not make estimating
them inappropriate.  I put conscious effort into avoiding cynically assuming
the worst, but even as I write this, there are those who insist that I meant
something different from what I have explicitly explained probably more than
10 times.  If that is not evidence of deliberate mischaracterization,
especially by people who claim to be logical and intelligent, I would not
know what is.

>My main point, though, is to say that your use of "superiority"
>is really problematic.

My main point is that hostility toward the making of comparisons is 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"?

Assume the worst case regarding the accuracy of that statement.  Suppose
that the least logical woman is more logical than the most logical man.
Would even that justify a personal attack on me for saying what I said?  Why
not simply, calmly, rationally, peacefully, LOGICALLY point out _how_ I was
wrong, specifically?  If giving others' motives the benefit of the doubt is
so good, why was it not applied to me?  What might my motives be for making
such an inflammatory statement, if it is so obviously false?  Why would I
keep saying it once its falsehood was pointed out to me?

>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 that would be a weaker statement than I wanted to make, and would
constitute a compromise with falsehood.  I do not just believe that some men
are more logical than some women.  I believe that the average man is more
logical than the average woman.  Conclusions can be induced from a certain
sample of individuals to groups.  But I have an open mind.  If  someone
wants to try to point out to me how I need to know most people personally
before I make general statements about them, as was implied, I will listen.
The problem with this, though, is that I am too familiar with probability to
stand much chance of believing that samples of populations do not give
information about the population in general.  And your last statement
implies that I must not say anything that anyone disagrees with, or they
might start a fight for which I will be responsible.  For you to say what
you just said, which disagrees with what I said, is no reason we would fight
about it.  Opinions are of the intuition.  Fighting is of the spirit.  I am
not nearly so concerned with convincing people that my opinions are right as
I am with opposing the spirit that it takes to fight those who express
dissenting opinions.

>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"?

I would be happy to make that statement, regardless of how outraged a
reaction I would get, in addition to being willing to make many other
statements, based on objective considerations, of how different races
compare to each other.  The distinction between the actual and the potential
should be kept in mind.  I interpret the statement that atma is not the
private property of any individual to mean that all human beings have
identical potential.  We all have the same root.  But that does not mean
that the actual development of all human beings is identical, which is the
preposterous idea that those who reject all comparisons are implying.  If
saying that some people, and, by logical extension, some groups of people,
are better than others in some ways, is met with hostility by a group of
people who claim to believe in truth and in the spirit of brotherhood, how
is that my responsibility?  Rather than avoiding it, I consider such
potential for hostility to be worth seeking out and exposing.  Are you
saying that the word "superior" is so likely to be misunderstood, and that
there is such an absence of alternatives, that attempting to communicate
what one believes about comparisons one sees between people should always be
regarded as inappropriate?  This seems far-fetched, but I am open to the
possibility that I am not aware of which words have developed which bad
feelings.  I am also open to the possibility that I have overestimated the
ability of people to be objective about words for which bad feelings have
developed, but I do not see how to fault myself for that without faulting
others for their lack of objectivity.  If generalizations are so inciteful
that they cannot be made without being responded to irrationally, then I
definitely do not belong here, since I see nothing wrong with making

>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.

By now, I believe I have made sufficiently reasonable attempts to clarify
what I have said, especially when compared to the absence of attempts to
specifically ask what I meant, that I will continue to accuse those who
misrepresent what I have said as doing so deliberately.

Regarding what you probably mean by a "hot-button issue," my being a
straight white male makes it harder for me to empathize with them.  I have
never lost a job, as far as I know, or been treated with any significant
prejudice, because of my race, gender, or sexual orientation.  I have been
primarily left to my own imagination in developing such empathy, and I am
heading in the right direction.  Theosophy, and being around particularly
compassionate Theosophists, have been a big help.  I at least believe that
differences between people are illusory and are not inherent.  Being
labelled sexist when someone of the opposite gender can make many more
inflammatory remarks about men and not be so called, is a relatively new
experience for me in being prejudiced against.

>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.

If I had used language that meant to say that I saw general rules, to which
there are exceptions, and if it had been understood to mean that I saw no
exceptions, then it would simply have been a misunderstanding that would
have been easy to clear up.  The reason I believe you are exaggerating my
responsibility is that I _have_ explicitly explained the very thing you just
said many times, and the attacks are still coming!  If explicitly saying,
many times, not only that I do not consider all men to be more logical than
all women, but I also consider it to be only one aspect of how men and women
compare to each other, and that I consider them to be of equal value
overall, is not enough to clarify what I said, what would be?  How many
times should I repeat this and still get personally attacked for it before I
should conclude that others are responsible for choosing to fight?

>In short, you are using fighting words, and taking no
>responsibility for the fighting that ensues.

The freedom to be honest and not be personally attacked for it is worth
fighting for.  That the idea that some groups of people are better than
others in some ways is met with such hostility is an attitude that I find
worth fighting.  (And note that I did not say that _people_ who have such
attitudes are worth fighting.)

Apparently my most inflammatory statement was the following:  "It is natural
for men to dominate women, since they are stronger, both physically and
volitionally.  Most women want this, preferring men to be the leaders."  I
do not see how those are fighting words.  If anyone disagrees with their
understanding of what that statement might mean, why not just voice _how_
one disagrees, and if I believe I have been misunderstood or if I have
changed my mind due to seeing something, probably from responses to it, that
I did not see when I originally said it, I would naturally clarify it and/or
change it.  By now, I see ways both in which I was misunderstood and ways I
which I would rephrase the statement to make it more accurate.  But I have
yet to be specifically asked what I meant by it, and, once I was personally
attacked, I considered _that_ to be the topic of conversation I was
primarily interested in, since I care far more about a spirit of brotherhood
(and I am willing to use a gender-neutral term for _that_, but I have not
seen any suggestions) than I do about whether or not the average man is more
logical than the average woman.  I put the entire responsibility for any
fight that ensued on those who responded personally without seeking any
clarification.  I have no recollection of starting a fight, but, once it
started, I reserved the right to criticize untheosophical behavior by

>As for the list
>having a "feminist agenda"-- I never saw one until you came on
>the scene with polarizing remarks.

I saw it before I ever wrote my first article.  I was seeking to balance it
out.  It still confounds me how an article with at least 23 stabs at men has
yet to be labelled sexist.  To oppose the abuse of such words of accusations
of prejudice as sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, etc., may do more
to fight prejudice than anything else.  They should not be used to describe
the mere making of comparisons between groups of people, but should be
reserved for cases of prejudice, or they will end up being meaningless and

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