a philosophy blog

Stephenson: crime is a masculine statement (III)

Bianco Luno’s notes on June Stephenson’s Men are Not Cost-Effective

  I   |  II  |  III 


Not all men are criminals, but nearly all criminals are men. By a ratio of 94 to 6, men outnumber women in prison, a fact that raises the questions of whether and why crime is a masculine statement. [I wonder why this fact is not typically treated in philosophy of law courses. It would seem there is an issue here. The fact is rife with implications for understanding the nature of crime, the criminal, and the legal and moral systems built around them. I can’t believe that the answer is that we can do nothing about male criminality. I want to make clear that we choose not to.]


Boys are “programmed” to win at games. “Life is for winning. This is foreign territory for a girl.”


Stephenson cites Lawrence Kohlberg’s well known four* stages of moral development in children.† The story diverges in critical ways in girls as revealed in Carol Gilligan’s work which is also alluded to later.

*Editor’s note: Kohlberg actually asserts six stages though they are sorted into three groups of two. Luno here addresses the breakdown used by Stephenson who conflates the original Kohlbergian stages but not in a way significant for Luno’s purposes. Luno will at some point publish his direct ruminations on Kohlberg and Gilligan.
Editor’s note: The stages do not all transpire during childhood. It is not clear where one draws the line: indeed, Luno (characteristically) suggests elsewhere that the highest stage, stage two of post-conventional morality, ought to be the demarcation line between child- and adulthood, implying there are very few actual adults in the world.

In boys (at least), there is supposed to be progress through these stages:

1. Behavior centered on satisfying personal needs.

2. Importance of peer approval. “Girls depend on a male who is a winner, in control, self-sufficient, and physically strong. Boys depend on girls to approve of their being that way.” [Apart from Kohlberg or Stephenson’s point, the notion that males depend on “approval” from females is critical to understanding normative human experience. Consciousness of this need should lead to critical self-examination on both sides: in men for being so dependent on feminine approval that they too easily abdicate personal responsibility through criminality, thinking that in this way they serve her essential materiality, and in women for being such suckers for generation and aiding and abetting, aka “nurturing,” that they demand so little that actually matters from men. (Weininger’s insight.) Feminine moral pettiness and masculine cowardice conspire to no good end.*]

*Editor’s note: See J. Pessoa’s Luno-inspired essay on the von Trier film, “The Christ Figurine of Dogville.”

3. Importance of what we owe the community. Women are brought up to feel a sense of connectedness and are concerned to preserve social order. [Men, for their part, supply the criminals and the massive legal apparatus to go with the social order.]

4. Importance of conscience. The most refined and least attained stage of moral development. [There is, of course, a stage beyond this where conscience, itself, is taken out to the woodshed. As in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. But those making it that far are a negligible few.]

Not being tormented by conscience after committing a crime means that moral punishment is nonexistent. In felony crimes, what is left is societal punishment—imprisonment. But is prison really much of a punishment?

Stephenson briefly considers other causes such as lower moral standards, poor schooling, indigence, and child-abuse. But she pays special attention to a study that showed that the children of single-parent families are no more crime prone than two-parent ones:

It is important not to lose sight of the fact that the criminals most highly rewarded for their crimes, those in the S&L scandal, were almost all from two-parent families.

[We thank Stephenson for stressing this point. It is apparently not in the interest of “the pillars of the community” to dwell on it.]


She considers testosterone which “may cause aggression, but aggression need not equal violence.” [No, but there is a continuum between assertiveness, running through aggression, and ending in violence. The lines we draw are arbitrary, if I may for once speak of the socially conditioned. The ruling principles are ideals on the one hand and material productiveness on the other. We tolerate the most horrendous violence if we convince ourselves it is necessary for our survival (Hiroshima). We will endure it if we think survival is over rated by comparison with a vision (the martyr). Men are instrumentalities in violence and drama much as women are for generation and staging. There is nothing moral about this. It just is. The imposition of judgment happens on another level that ultimately leads to questions about the need for survival itself—that is, for the show to go on.]


Margaret Mead is quoted from Male and Female: “In every known society, homicidal violence, whether spontaneous and outlawed or organized and sanctioned for military purposes, is committed overwhelmingly by men.” [See also Baumeister.] Mead goes on to ask, “If boys and girls were raised in exactly the same environment, would they be different?”

Stephenson opines,

Boys will be boys because that is what society expects. Girls do not learn to be nice simply because they have less testosterone, and boys do not learn to be aggressive simply because they do. The psychologically healthy personality includes both feminine and masculine characteristics. Having androgynous personalities, men are not over masculinized; that is, they are sensitive and caring as well as responsible and strong. The women are self-sufficient and adventurous as well as nurturing and conciliatory.

[The Aristotelian notion of a “psychologically healthy personality,” the result of the proper education of sentiments, describes an important fact: most personalities must have partaken of enough of such an idea for us to have survived this long. (Cf. Baumeister, again.) A sensible person can scarcely argue with such well-meaningness. This target of norms is ancient and venerable. How could one wish to have it any other way?

We only point out that this attitude of “wanting others to be as sensible as one is” can be, and usually is, an impediment to seeing things as they are. And it is anathema to the often overweening faith in our capacity to change the fundamental conditions that force such mediocrity. Where shall we go if we are so balanced that it consumes all our aspirations to go in circles? Balance is a temporary state. To try to make of it stable ideal is worse than pipe dream, it may be folly. Balance is rest. We need rest, but, like Aristotle would say, in moderation. Even moderation in moderation, I say.

Psychological androgyny in people describes exactly the way things are, as Weininger and others before and many after him have averred. But there is necessary tension in this setup as though only by being incompatible things at once can we become aware of whole realms of possible human experience. Androgyny exists internally—inside the single person—but an androgynous configuration also composes itself by the coupling of separate persons, each finding completion in the other (as Weininger suggested). Like Aristophanes’ sundered, originally spherish, beings, forlorn until re-united, if we are not fortunate enough to be complete unto ourselves (and perhaps no one is entirely), we must seek it through another.

The gods who sundered us were teaching us a painful lesson, the same one intended in the placement of the tree of knowledge of good and evil squarely in the center of the garden. Limitation.

The unhealthy state is the absence of awareness of this need and a proper respect for it. If men cannot find their softer side on their own then the structure of their environment must change to prevent the consequent abuse. Privileges they have not responsibly exercised should be stripped from them. Morality must come down harder on men for this reason. (Nature comes down harder on women, as Rosalind Hursthouse has written in the context of discussing abortion.)

Respect for our condition presupposes knowledge of it. My recurrent plaint is that some idiotic notions of “equality” actually stand in the way of the awareness of difference and our subsequent dependence on this difference. Men and women do not and cannot play by the same rules. Moral and political theories that ignore this may as well be addressing beings from distant planets. Human beings do not exist and equality between them is a red herring. I do not say anything controversial. If you see it that way, you have missed the point. The most enlightened, self-ascribed “progressive” societies currently behave as though they miss the point. (Nothing I say should be interpreted as placing limits on what women or men may be or aspire to. There is more than enough reason why aspiration is critically needed.)

When I say that human beings do not exist only masculine and feminine ones do (in all their intermediate forms), I am not saying there is no merit in attempting a transcendence of sex. Morality has that as aspiration. It is by no means clear that “ought implies can,” but the ought is not by definition in the habit of being fettered by practicalities. Nevertheless, with the fact of our sexed nature we begin. The only break in the bleakness of this picture is that we may at times envision an alternative. We do not twig the other as we pretend to, we are far from understanding the other, but we may with great love and effort imagine them with all the tentativeness and humility this entails. (Something like this is what I take Marguerite Duras to mean in some of her revealing dramatic illustrations and discussions of the essentially difficult relation between women and men.*)

*Editor’s note: Luno probably has in mind Duras’ The Malady of Death and her short essay entitled “Men.”

Stephenson seems dimly aware of the problem (unlike many feminists) for she does not seem to have much faith in a grand plan to socially re-sculpt men.

“Stress-driven violence does appear to require some particular male trait,” she writes. When earthquakes, hurricanes, economically disabling calamities strike and women’s shelters report increases in women getting beaten, we learn that underneath a calm, even sensitive, exterior men are only too ready to sink to the occasion and behave as though women were responsible for an intransigent world. She becomes then in his mind the personal representative of all that he is enslaved to and cannot change. She becomes the one part of nature that he can subdue.

The subduction leads to criminality and self-destruction. It is naïve to think all or even most of what results in this reaction may be “programmed” out of boys. We are left with two choices. Get rid of boys and men (Weininger’s suggestion, also entertained by some feminists) or live with them but make them pay—Stephenson’s brilliant and characteristically feminine, accommodative suggestion.

We will have to consider whether Baumeister’s apologia for masculine earthly recklessness is convincing. Are we in the state we are because, all things considered, the good that men do outweighs the bad, as Baumeister suggests? As bad as Stephenson describes things, are we better off with men, just as they are, than without?

The good that men are responsible for can never be materially adequate, we fear. For perhaps the odd reason that in the end his coin is not hers (Weininger’s insight). He can never compensate her enough. This is written into his contract. It is her house. He does not rent. He is guest.*

*Editor’s note: The analogy is a refrain in Luno’s writing on this subject.

This is true even though the good he does bring into the world is rarely appreciated as such by her. She invariably mistakes a side effect for his intent.]


Stress may cause criminal behavior—in men. It is not likely to do so in women. For many men, murder is a way of relieving stress.


At the University of Oregon,

Dr. Mary Biaggio studied the cause of anger for ten years. She concluded that men were angered by people who annoyed them, while women were angered by people who criticized or rejected them.

[Men have a dog in the fight, a heterocosmic agenda, a project to complete: their own refinement. Women have a body with a set of passions inextricably woven of its sensations and desires. One is annoyed to be distracted from his project. The other offended at not being taken seriously.]


Stephenson cites Aristotle on anger,

Anybody can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. [Aristotle’s measuring cup philosophy aside, he did offer an unsurpassed beginner’s guide to practical ethics. Big on the “how to,” not as much on the “why.”]


Just as it is true for boys and girls,

men and women read books about men, but only women read books about women. No wonder men say they can’t understand women! No wonder Freud asked the question, “what do women want?”

[In partial defense of Freud, he did devote more of his life to the scrutiny of the feminine psyche than nearly any other man. That said, he didn’t actually succeed in studying women. He excelled at getting at the heart of masculine perceptions of women, however. Therein lies the value of his work.

A more serious problem here is that it will avail us nothing to study the other sex if we operate under the assumption that the object, she or he, is merely a cosmetically differentiated variety of generic human being. To use the language of metaphysics, women and men are irreducible natural kinds. We persist in believing predicates meaningful to us are in the same way meaningful to them. The notions of “mind,” “soul,” “morality,” “ego,” and “compassion,” for example….*

*Editor’s note: Luno discusses this and related points at length elsewhere.

We may learn something about the other sex by reading books by and about them after the manner of the scientist squinting at the world. (Squinting is what a pretension to objectivity amounts to.) But we shall not learn what it is like to be the other,* to feel the world at the edge of her senses and the value she bestows upon the objects there or to apprehend the heterocosmic stirrings in the soul of one whose mind is furnished with only delicate abstractions, as in the case men. Until we can stretch sympathetic imagination—the principle faculty required—to compass that, we will only continue to amass catalogs of vices, virtues, and mysteries concerning the other—all, of course, relative to our own.*

*Editor’s note: Luno, at one point in another commentary, alludes in this connection to Thomas Nagel’s famous paper in the philosophy of mind, “What it is like to be a bat.” Nagel explores the conceptual limits of efforts to transcend kinds of consciousness that frustrate the ambitions of objectivity. In marginalia to these notes, Luno writes, “I enjoy reading books by women writers and poets. It is like traveling to distant countries or even distant planets for me, (as I am not prone to travel in the ordinary sense). And discovering beings there at once familiar and strange, but, above all, triggers for imagination. Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Simone Weil and Clarice Lispector share the precious space on the tiny shelf of my imaginary bomb shelter with Kierkegaard, Pessoa, Bernhard, Kafka, Beckett, Nietzsche, Weininger or Wittgenstein. With the latter group there is a mental sympathy, but the worlds of the former ceaselessly fascinate me, the sympathy there is deeper than mental: it brings clarity and humility, a sense that the human world really is far richer than I can experience…. but even to know that others may experience it brings me some comfort.” Luno is extremely chary of assuming a hypertrophic communion that comes too easily (he would say) to many.

The tragedy, as Weininger illustrates, is that the other is in us, too. It is a tragedy because it so invites us to think we ought to be able to understand, but leaves us with no assurance that we will. A certain romance attaches to tragedy. But to avoid seeing it… only stupidity attaches to that. The fact of this “mixity” (Agacinski’s expression), at the same time, must enable the understanding, such as it is, that manages to cross the divide. The other cannot be so completely other as we sometimes, with good reason, believe.

(A couple, happily in love, may respond, “We don’t know what you are talking about!” For the space of time they can remain wondering, they are better off not knowing. Lucky are the few who can keep this up for a life time.)]


As the boy comes to believe his own importance both at home and in school, for him there’s never enough of what he feels he should get. The criminals of the S&L scandal are the epitome of this expectation.

Stephenson, in discussing the training of boys, notices a distinct “lack of sympathy for the victim.” [Anything but would be a handicap for the good soldier, law-enforcer, or criminal.]


She educes circumcision and first hair cuts as early “attacks” on the male psychic constitution: primal causes of male anger.


Mothers do their part to masculinize sons by pushing them away from their emotions, substituting a “symbolic privilege” of maleness.


For the boy, separation from the female world is vital to make the transition from baby to boy to man. …he must be strong, must not cry for what he wants. It has been said that grown men are afraid that if they start to cry, they will cry forever.

[Beckett from The Unnameable: “I, of whom I know nothing, I know my eyes are open because of the tears that pour from them unceasingly.” I guess this explains me. My mother didn’t do her job well. I weep at the drop of a hat. I apologize to everyone and everything for anything that goes wrong. I live cloistered to keep from embarrassing myself. In a past life, I must have been a very bad person. I have made of this attitude a matter of some pride. As though it were an accomplishment.]*

*Editor’s note: Warning: Luno is given to self-mockery. But, despite what was said in an earlier editor’s note, he often trades on the line between self and others not being sharp: just as many of his critics would contend. “Thus, if we are all one, and I am a jerk, then you must be one, too.”


Rejection and betrayal as cause of male anger.

In disliking their dependence on women, many men turn this dislike of their dependency into disdain for the gender on which they are dependent.

[Perhaps common misogyny might be described this way. It is real but the tools to transcend it are present in masculine will and the felt demands it makes. The very energy that seeks privilege can turn on itself and abdicate. This is hard going. More often the dislike of dependency sinks to a kind of self-loathing peculiarly male in its extremity. A man does not become sensitive to women by losing sight of what a man is. But the challenge is formidable and replete with opportunities for self-delusion.]


Because of systematic repression of feeling in boys, “There is possibly more for the little boy to get even about than there is for his sister.”

Carol Gilligan (who in her now classic study, In a Different Voice, extended and refined Kohlberg’s research into moral development in children, revealing the differences in girls) is cited: “…boys fear intimacy and girls fear isolation.”

[This shows up in countless ways. To mention just one: in the conceptualization of “freedom.” Isaiah Berlin identified two versions of it, a freedom from and a freedom to, or prepositional freedoms. He wasn’t thinking about women and men but about competing political cultures, but underneath his insight is a deeper one that has to do with sex. Western liberalism is extremely masculine in its pedestalization of freedom, in the value it places in shielding it from outside interference. J. S. Mill’s notion of liberty is a case in point. Elsewhere, the other conception has sometimes taken hold, the one that finds value in participation, in becoming part of something bigger than oneself, in joining with another or others, in a shared voice, ultimately, in relationship or a network of relationships (and not merely for utilitarian purposes, as described by Baumeister, but relationship as a stable end in itself). This latter freedom is essentially a freedom to get while giving (as opposed to the tit for tat economics associated with the arm’s length freedom from conception). It is essentially feminine. It is averse to isolation. Freedom from, on the other hand, is averse to a relation that would entail giving up individual autonomy. Intimacy, of exactly the sort women crave, is the most frightening thing to one under the sway of the freedom from conception. (There is irony in the fact that John Stuart Mill who wrote The Subjection of Women also offered one of the clearest articulations of the freedom from conception in On Liberty. Mill chivalrously offered women what he, as the quintessential man, valued—thinking he was doing them favor. This from the enemy par excellence of paternalism.)]

Much of male criminal violence is the symbolic destruction of the early power of the mother.

“Mother” as elision of “motherfucker” becomes the lowliest of epithets.


On February 25, 1991 in Lancaster, California,

Roy Anderson shot to death his wife and two teenage daughters, stabbed to death another daughter, age twenty, and then shot himself… [Cowardice. A real man would shoot himself dead first then kill the others. Misguided chivalry.*]

*Editor’s note: A wry allusion to the materially absurd consequence of heterocosmic demands on men.

He feared his wife would break up with him again. His anger at this was uncontrollable. A neighbor described the family as “a typical all-American family.” [Given how often this sort of thing happens in America, the neighbor was right.] At the school where his wife worked as a secretary, the school coach said, “I think he wanted to keep them all with him.” [This is presumption. He was a guest in her house. A guest who is not happy should leave, not kill the host.]

Solutions considered


1. “Bringing in father.” Men should be more intimately involved in the nurturing and care giving of young children. Why can’t a man be more like a woman? (To reverse the lyric from My Fair Lady.) [The short answer to this question is because it is not in them. A more productive approach would be to remind men of what their mission here is. It is to make themselves useful—not to their own ends because their own ends are elsewhere—but to the ends of those who are invested in a full-bodied presence here, i.e., women. They don’t do this by pleading human. For that entails excuses that are not open to men, specifically. Attachment to material things, for example, is a feminine right; the correct masculine relation to the material is instrumental, transitory, and, above all, guided by strict rules against abuse, a special liability to which is his… The reminder to this effect may need more teeth in it than we could accept if men were merely human. They are men. The rules of men and humans are not the same. To this degree, Stephenson is right in the general tact she takes. The political and moral infrastructure requires being made over—or restored to a state reflecting what once, in primordial times, was understood with less ceremony than consciousness will permit now.

There is nothing wrong with men nurturing and caring. Nothing should stand in their way. Encouragement in this direction is not out of place. But to think that men can be refashioned to do these things in a way that is recognizably feminine is a mistake. What men may see in children to nurture and care for is not the same as what women see. So the supposed humanization of men by the intimate exposure to the very young is not likely to alter men—whatever good it may do the children. In the best case, it may impress on men a certain solemnity, the minimum that may be expected of them, in effect, their duty. But that duty is present in the absence of children.

The concept of duty is extremely unfeminine. A mother only out of duty is manifestly not a good mother. Whatever else happens in him, a dutiful father is at least an adequate one. It’s not that a father may not love his children but to the extent his love is a gratuity it is not a moral consequence. A mother’s love is a much purer gratuity. This is why she cannot be held morally responsible for not having it. It is what essentially gives her a certain circumscribed right to kill (through abortion and, even to a degree, in infanticide) that a man in no circumstance has—not even, strictly speaking, in self-defense. (See our comments on abortion.)]

2. “Reducing media violence.” Stephenson quotes Martin Scorsese (director of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Mean Streets, etc.): “I come out of Alien and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre refreshed. Movies can provide catharsis.” Stephenson comments, “Like an orgasm? As mentioned before, may men tend to relate violence with sex.” [Media violence is a reflection of what men think about. All men all the time. Even those who could never imagine doing such violence in real life. Even those who are genuinely mortified at what their sex has done and does and is always only a few stresses from doing. I don’t say men are always thinking about perpetrating violence. They think of enduring it, disciplining it, avenging it, stopping it, or what it would take to prevent its likelihood. And what to do in its aftermath. It is a last resort tool in their arsenal for reshaping the world. Or ought to be the last. But it is expected of them that they reshape the world. Morality was invented for men. Kant assumed it. Weininger dragged the assumption into the full light of day. Women might get by well enough without it. Nature usually sees to it… Yes, male obsession with breaking, destroying, causing pain, death and mayhem is connected with sex in the sense of the kind and in the sense of the act. In the best cases, they thereby realize an obligation to be creative, to extend the reach of human accomplishment, to make the world better—or at least to compensate for having made it worse.]

3. “Reducing gun availability.” Of almost 24,000 people killed in the U.S. in 1993, 82% were killed by guns. There were 214 million guns in the hands of private citizens in the country, “almost one for every man, woman and child…” [The only people with a rational excuse for owning guns are women. A law requiring that every woman—and only women—own a gun would actually make sense.]

A modest proposal


Having run through the usual suggestions on crime reduction, Stephenson proposes something more innovative and clear-eyed than we are used to hearing about what should be done. She likens the question of the responsibility of “non-criminal” men for crime to the question, after World War II: “How responsible was the rest of the world for the murder of six million Jews?”


She considers it folly to believe we shall succeed in sensitizing men [as suggested, for example, by Gloria Steinem, among others], however “joyful and novel” the event would be.

This country cannot count on its men to rectify its violent nature. They are too much a part of it. So what is left? Besides building prisons and increasing incarceration, what is left? Nothing short of men paying for their own criminal gender.

The suggestion for the tax equity would be a $100 user fee added to men’s IRS returns at the time of a filing of a return.

Where is the outrage?

Men are expensive. Their crimes cost the country upwards of $61 billion each year incarceration and judicial costs alone. This figure does not include the cost of the S&L scandal nor the cost of toxic waste cleaning. [At the time of my writing this, in 2010, we can substitute new scandals and environmental disasters that dwarf those that bothered Stephenson in the early 1990s.] In addition, millions of men do not support the children they have fathered, leaving this up to mothers or taxpayers or both. Millions of men beat their wives, creating the need for battered women’s shelters. Millions sexually abuse children. Drunk driving and arsonists kill people as surely as murderers do. The fastest growing crime rape terrifies half the population of this country. The greatest environmental offender in the country is the government, which is run by men. Male corporate executives and military officers who have dumped toxic waste into the ground or into the air are destroying the planet. Hate crimes are encouraged by male organizations such as the skinheads or the Ku Klux Klan. The greatest financial scandal in U. S. history, the S&L scandal, is the province of men whose crimes will cost tax-payers at least $500 billion. Yet where is the outrage at all this male crime?


Stephenson waxes warm over the notion of a new spiritual reawakening, a second Renaissance like that which brought Europe out of the Dark Ages. A rebirth of learning, art, music…

If Corregio, Titian, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Mozart, Verdi, or Stravinsky would be considered “sissies,” then so be it. The world is better for their having been so….

We’re talking here about helping boys value and develop the feminine side of their personalities.


In reference to the “bad woman” examples of Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meier, she asks us to

Remember, we are not talking about women. This is about the feminine principle….

It is not being suggested here that men move over and women take over.

[These last remarks are especially interesting.

The chief architects of the Renaissance that Stephenson puts so much store by were almost all men. She suggests they were men with well developed feminine sides. Stephenson assumes men have feminine sides to develop. As did Otto Weininger (at least he agreed with the part about men having them). She doesn’t suggest that the masculine side of women might need similar encouragement. Other feminists, of course, have. As did Weininger. Weininger thought that the masculine principle in women has periods of ascendancy and this shows up with a curious regularity in historical feminist movements. Stephenson writes for the first time in her book of a “feminine principle” in a way that recalls Weininger. (In this she displays a tendency toward essentialism that no doubt disturbs equality feminists—and would certain metaphysicians such as John Dupré. We will comment on essentialism in the context of sex elsewhere.)

But why would she think that cultural creativity is feminine? She seems to associate the masculine with violence and mayhem—and good things with the feminine. So if men can also do good things it must be because they are being in some degree feminine. Stephenson seems to concede that great cultural creativity is also a product of men along with all the mayhem she describes so well in the book. Men are salvageable through their quotient of the feminine. As much as I am in sympathy with her message and even her suggested solution, I think she is a bit confused about her essentialism.

There is no reason to think creativity as such is either masculine or feminine. Baumeister has a point in showing that if it were and if creativity is an aid to survival, the sex without creativity would have been bred out of existence by now. What is clear is that the form creativity takes, its character or style, is very much tied to sex.

She departs from Weininger who, if one reads him carefully, separated goodness and badness from the bare fact of sex. If one reads him cursorily, as most do, one might think he says the exact opposite of Stephenson. When he says that women are incapable of being moral, for instance. How could anything good come from the feminine? Well, it might if a distinction is made.

Weininger means moral good. And the moral he identifies is the exclusive province of the masculine. Women he calls amoral. Nothing they might do counts morally. Is that a bad thing? Be careful. No, it is not. It is easy to slip from amoral to immoral. Weininger considers the state of being feminine as a morally inferior state. Or would be if morality applied intrinsically to the feminine. But it does not. If women behave or are in some sense bad it is so extrinsically: because they accommodate so easily to external circumstances and influences; because they are so receptive, they tend to be used, abused, instrumentalized, etc. By whom? By whatever—but, above all, by men, of course, the only moral agents, the only ones who do morally bad or good things. Women are often the occasion of evil, never strictly its instigator. At worst, she is victimized so early on in the process that she becomes fodder for his nefarious business.

If it makes any sense to say Nature victimizes, women are first victimized by the compulsion to bring life into the world. Men make it their project to take over the victimization from that point.

A more basic and literal creativity is already hers: a woman brings life into the world and gives it its first shove to the best of her ability in the right direction—the direction of survival and—wistfully—flourishing. If this is good, it is pre-moral. It is good in the sense that life is good. A recognition one cannot help seeing in animals, even in plants. Thus Weininger assigned women to the same moral class as flora and fauna. Not from disrespect but to excuse them from the awful responsibility he lays upon men. Masculine morality has nothing to do with life being or becoming good. It has to do with his making himself worthy of existence. But without her initial generosity there would be no culture. No playing field for him to practice his rules in activity that is morally liable—for better or worse, too often, worse.

It falls to him to take what she has given and make something good from it. But does he? We owe Stephenson for reminding us that a horrible percentage of the time he does not.

Take male interference both deliberate and incidental out of the picture, could women create high culture? Nothing stops a woman from achieving great things culturally except herself. Weininger’s point is that she almost invariably does stop herself. Barring a masculine principle at work in her, she will retreat from pressing on the limits of what can be done or thought. But even with a high level of masculine in her, in so far as she is still a woman, she is held back—or courts destruction, sometimes self-destruction. (Keep in mind that destruction and self-destruction are unexceptional masculine traits. Nothing shows this more clearly than Stephenson’s book. Destructiveness in women is exceptional.)

There are exceptions to my point about women creating high culture. They are extraordinarily rare. Cases where for a brief shining moment, at least, genius takes feminine form, reminds us that if most of the time it is men who are so driven it is not because they have a birthright. I can think of two women poets that are second to no male poet. Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath. But each of these women paid a high price. (This almost never happens in music composition where the distillation of emotions is abstract and extreme. It may happen sometimes in other arts, especially the performing arts, where the sensual is not so constrained. Literature because of its diverse material, unlimited palette, and aversion to essential purity is where one would expect feminine sensibility to shine. It is least likely to happen in the sciences, especially the more theoretical ones, for reasons that are not too difficult to fathom and which we discuss elsewhere. I think in philosophy—as it is, after all, a branch literature—there is hope for a very distinctive feminine and positive contribution which I think is beginning to emerge.)

Stephenson’s proposal for cost equity suggests that male cultural creativity is not by itself sufficient to balance the mayhem. Maleness ought to be taxed to even things out. Or become immensely more creative than it has shown itself to be. Hard as it may be, the former would be the easier to enforce.

The latter was Weininger’s way out. He proposed that if a man cannot rise from his default criminal state to the occasion of being one in the class of the only moral beings in existence he had no business here at all. Each breath taken by him is one robbed from a being more worthy—or at least more blameless.

Stephenson envisions a return to the Renaissance, a time when learning, the sciences and the arts re-emerged from the darkness of centuries. We will not comment on what we think of such nostalgia except to say that in her despair at the modern criminal state of man her flight to a vision of a golden time is not singular.

Otto Weininger’s longest quotation in Sex and Character is from Pico della Mirandola. The young count who—at twenty-three, barely older than Weininger himself at the time of his suicide—wrote a short audacious treatise as a justification for the study of philosophy around 1486. It was an inspired and inspiring piece of rhetoric.

The quoted passage (in translation here) is in the first part of Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man. God speaks and assigns to man both his place and mission in the scheme of all things. The passage must have deeply haunted Weininger. Near the end of the quoted passage is the prescient thought of man as “happy in the lot of no created thing.”

It is the gravest sin to rob the happiness of others because of one’s own lack. Science may explain well enough, if we need an explanation, how this happens. But it is a cardinal principle of morality and it is violated without cease by men. Neither Stephenson nor almost anyone else penetrates this far into the problem she describes. But she has offered a wonderful and awful occasion for re-visiting the thought. Realizing what happens and why it happens, it would seem, we are then obligated to redesign the social, economic and political institutions that constitute the basis or infrastructure for—if not the point of—civilization. The beginning and the end is moral.*

*Editor’s note: This perhaps cryptic assertion is a reference to a theory tying consciousness, the end of civilization (both in the sense of goal and in that of finis), and the will to value. Luno has yet to fully articulate in one place the tight connection he sees between these notions though there are many hints scattered among his notes. Actually, the pieces may well have been articulated in isolation but he has not yet seen fit to bring them together.

As for her practical suggestion: tax men. Sure. Why not? It can do no harm. It might give them pause for thought in their headlong rush to stew in the emptiness of created things.]

  I   |  II  |  III 

Posted by luno in Criminality, political philosophy, moral education, female criminality, sex differences, male criminality (Friday November 26, 2010 at 12:25 pm)

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