Friday, October 02, 2015

A patriarchy can value women

The book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is impressive in its scope. It makes many sweeping statements like:
At least since the Agricultural Revolution, most human societies have been patriarchal societies that valued men more highly than women.
Patriarchal, yes. Devalue women, no.

A patriarchy means a society structured around men, but implies nothing about how women are valued. For example, a patriarchy will use men to fight and die in its war, but maybe they are sheltering the women because they are valued more highly.

It is sometimes argued that women are valued less in India and China, but Christian countries value women as much as men.

Here is a rebuttal to a similar claim in another popular book:
Harvard professor Steven Pinker is a superstar scholar and a champion of science and truth-seeking. His book, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, is an international best-seller. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, who each are probably more influential world-wide than any politician, lauded Pinker’s book.[1] Pinker’s book explains that prior to the eighteenth century, or perhaps prior to the past few decades, women had no rights, men held women as property, and men could rape and beat women with impunity. But much more work remains for men to do to protect women:
At the top, a consensus has formed within the international {elite} community that violence against women is the most pressing human rights problem remaining in the world. ...

it was also during that era, the age of Enlightenment {18th century}, that women’s rights began to be acknowledged, pretty much for the first time in history.
... High-quality data freely available online makes clear that, in the U.S., four times more men than women die from violence. Much higher levels of violence in medieval Europe were even more disproportionately directed against men. Loss of men’s lives through suicides, workplace fatalities, and battlefield casualties vastly outnumber the corresponding loss of women’s lives. These gender inequalities in lives lost attract remarkably little public attention even in our time of intense concern about gender equality. Evolutionary psychologists might explain that, because of sex differences in reproductive potential, men’s lives are socially less valued than women’s lives. But Steven Pinker and most elite thinkers declare that women’s lives have been socially devalued throughout most of history. To ordinary persons not thoroughly indoctrinated, that elite view is obviously, egregiously false.
Pinker is way off base here. See for example Women in ancient Rome, where it is explained that women had all sorts of right, such as owning land and businesses. And no, husbands could not beat their wives with impunity. See also Women in Ancient Egypt, where women were also highly valued and had many rights.

The Israeli Sapiens author goes on to present gender role theories based on men being stronger, more aggressive, and more competitive. [p.152-159] But he rejects all these, and says that maybe men have "superior social skills and a greater tendency to cooperate." A combination of all of these is the obvious conclusion.

If you think that it is odd to say that men have better social skills, just look at Bill and Hillary Clinton. Bill knows 100s of people that he can make deals with, if not 1000s. But it is hard to imagine Hillary cooperating with a large number of people.

The Sapiens book is filled with opinions about how no one is better than anyone else, no religion is better, history is a bunch of chance events, cultures are just lucky and not better, and even the invention of agriculture was not really progress. I guess he has to say stuff like that to get a broad audience. From a book review:
Nine Key Takeaways are discussed in this summary. Here are a couple to whet your appetite:

#3 - "Laws, corporations, money and religion are collective myths, or inter-subjective beliefs that collapse unless believed but enable strangers to cooperate and live in peace. The same forces that created the economy and social safety nets also support racism, class division and sexism."

#9 - "Humans are rapidly approaching an era in where they can significantly augment themselves with technology, apply intelligent design to their environment, create inorganic life forms, and possibly achieve a-mortality."
The back cover brags that you will be amazed at his logical leaps.

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