a philosophy blog

Cockroaches and Balloons:
Weiningerian Reactions to a Distractionist

In the following oblique philosophical rant, occasioned by nihilist/distractionist George (whose views can seem bleaker even than Luno’s), Luno reveals his own lively obsession with dividing up the moral world in two, one part governed by a feminine, the other by a (you guessed it!) masculine imperative. —Ed. note.


(Distractionist) GEORGE:
It would seem any moral theory that is not merely an adjunct of political economy is insightful only “in the privacy of one’s home”. In other words, an insight that does not grapple with how one goes about intertwining introspective use value with social, political and economic exchange value is largely an intellectual contraption that doesn’t need to be construed as a utility.

“Political economy”? What’s that? I didn’t know there were still people who believed in “political economy”. The sweep of the idea takes my breadth away! Oh, that the counting and distribution of beans could aspire to such heights! George is so right, me “in the privacy of my own home”! No, “…my own head,” for I have always lived in uncurtained rented spaces, experiencing only the privacy of my bed sheets. (But there…such sweet privacy! My pillow clasped to my breast! Save me! From “political economy”!)

George is brave to believe in “social, political and economic exchange value.” I have tried with more or less success to believe in many things but have never been able to pull that one off. I feel at the thought of “political economy” the vertigo of standing at a precipitous cliff, looking out to sea. I confess the only class I ever came close to flunking was one in microeconomics. I simply could not crack the book! It was as if the pages exuded some soporific gas. I passed out almost instantly. And had terrible dreams that I had forgotten about the final exam and missed it. Those were dark days in my life.

And yet it is true that normal people do think and talk about “political economy” and there is so much there beyond my understanding—for all my self-vaunted wisdom and talk of moral theories to end all moral theories—that even the retarded that I worked with for so many years knew more about it than I. The material loss, the hunger, the deprivation—all those terrible things I never knew, having been born to extreme wealth. I spent my youth daydreaming about which would come first: my old age or my death. What luxury! All around me people were eating dirt, their bellies distended… I certainly could have tried harder and learned about “political economy,” instead, I wasted my life with a vengeance, shuttered in the privacy of my own mind.

Well, here’s the rub then. [Luno] seems intent on exploring the role of the architect. I prefer to examine the complex and convoluted motivation that lies behind designing and building anything at all. You can, for example, focus the beam on scientists who designed the atomic bomb…or on those who ordered that it be designed and the manner in which it is actually used by them. Is it inherently or theoretically immoral to design a thermonuclear device? Who knows, right? But it becomes a very, very practical necessity that we grapple with the various proposals regarding it’s actual use. And here we arrive at the unsettling conclusion there are no theoretical or metaethical constructs that would allow us to resolve this. Then what?

Here’s a picture: After the atomic bomb of nihilism has obliterated the City of Philosophia, two of the first asked to report back from the scene of devastation are George and me, like two John Hersheys at Hiroshima. George looks around and is impressed by the fact that everything looks horizontal, all these vain structures mowed down to humble proportions. What was the point? Where was the meaning?…

I am distracted by unevenesses, however: By the fact some ruins have a certain nobility about them, casting beautiful shadows in the rubble. Some things still aspire to rakish verticality. There is texture in the rubble. Not everything melted in quite the same way. Eyes from sockets, copper from roofs. Some things droop or hang as though they had been sculpted that way, as though the architect had originally planned the destruction of the work, too, planning that when things fell they would fall just so at just this or that angle, in this or the other final attitude of strain or repose.

American CockroachI am positively moved not just by the stench of decomposing ideas but by what survives: by the cockroaches scurrying about, busy carrying on the grimier business of nature. If ideas had legs they would look like these marvelous creatures. They remind me of hope, not even the most potent weapons can destroy them. They creep arrogantly, they crawl with a swagger. I am caught up not only in imagining myself a cockroach, like Kafka, but in tasting the white ooze leaking from a door-pinched cockroach, like Clarice Lispector. I imagine myself a woman eating a cockroach “in the privacy of her own room” (as in The Passion According to G. H.) Because, in part, this is the only thing worth doing in the privacy of one’s own house, room or mind…

Then what?

Then, for me, the ruins are beautiful and the cockroaches good company. And everything has meaning, pace George. In the lovely privacy of my own little mind.

Well, it seems that which separates Kant from Hume respecting moral philosophy is, of course, God. Kant snuck him in the back door. Otherwise the “noumena” is ultimately groundless. As are his theories about duty and categorical imperatives and ends and means. As are all theories about human ethics. They are just word contraptions that fall back on the syllogistic assumptions that are made about what words mean—deductively?

I really love Hume, le bon David. I had reason to quote him recently: “‘Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.” I feel sometimes that way, too. He was a man out for my heart. If I was a woman, I would have wanted to seduce the pudgy Scotsman. He wrote with such measured elegance. Not like Kant, usually. Antique BalloonNo, the slight Kant really did have his head in the clouds, where Hume, sadly, with his extra mass would have doomed any early balloon. “Up, up and away in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon!…” Looking out and down with a monocular from his noumenal heights, Kant did see something, however, that Hume missed—Hume, who had the hardest time seeing even the causal nexus between constantly conjoined events right under his nose.

Kant discovered the curvature of the moral world.

To be sure, we can’t overblame Hume. He was built for sensory action and traipsing the empire, mapping time and space, and finding nothing he could not add to his bundle of perceptions. No self, no soul, no mind, no God, no cause, no nonsense but what could be dried and bundled into a vase as potpourri for the delectation of the senses. As for morality, down here on the ground, there are just impulses: good ones to foster and market and bad ones to manage and minify. And damn it if there hadn’t been a lot of hot air on these matters heretofore.

Meanwhile, Kant in his 17th century sublimely beautiful balloon oohed and ahhed at the previously unidentified transcendental objects appearing on the horizon. There at the vanishing point, where the empire curved out of sight, he descried, for the first time in history, the The Moral Law enveloped in a strange aureate light educing feelings of awe and respect. It wasn’t Hume’s fault he had never seen it. It could only be made out from way up here where only men, real men, dare to go.

For Hume was a ladies’ man, by which I mean he discovered what women had already known and would never have thought remarkable had a man not found it, too. Namely, that the capacity for empathy and fellow-feeling were the only real adhesive in earth-bound human communities. And if men placed great stock by principles of virtue, utility or abstract reason, it was because, deep down, they did not trust themselves to be guided by humors and capers. They required moral leashes, iron rules, fast principles. And when these failed them, they were bad, bad boys. And they were failing much of the time. And to compensate they insisted on tougher and tougher rules and penalties and concocted whole mythologies based on duty and respect for rights and authority, etc.,…that whole foundation of western moral, legal and political theory that got itself enshrined in constitutions. (Witness the Bill of Rights where such lofty stipulations as “No one can make me shut-up!” and “No one can take my stick away!” are set down in stone instead of community-building—though slightly effete—sentiments as “Have you done something nice for someone today?” or “Where is the love?”)

Hume was right: it was all crap. Bentham would later say of “rights”: “nonsense on stilts”. But Hume, unlike Bentham, also got this right: The only authentic moral theory anywhere in sight is that which our mother’s vainly tried to teach us: caring about others.

Until Kant, that is—that cool dude in his beautiful balloon, elevated not by hot air but by a substance so rarified it reeked of otherworldliness: Reason with a capital “R”—came along. No, this was no ordinary hot air. If angels farted, it would be made of this. Higher and higher his balloon rose into…not the empire, but the empyrean. “Oh David, if only you were here and could see what I see!” Kant whispered, beside himself.

The moral world had curve to it. At its extremities, lines ceased to be straight, the geometry of right and wrong—divorced from all pain and distraction, from all utility and habit, all human allowance—now crystallized into pure imperative utterly freed of the necessity of being comprehended by finite beings.

Later, when Kant had returned to terra firma, he was heard mumbling over and over again, “If my vision was correct, not a single act by any human being in the whole history of the species has ever been moral…” Whereupon, at the enormity of the thought, he fell to his knees…and God, for the first time, found rational excuse to exist in the minds of men. God simply was pure fleshless reason, the disembodied essence that must be true for anything else to be true.

Perhaps it was too much to ask that Kant realize, himself, the full implications of his discovery. That took a century or so more, and a younger, more passionate mind. Forget God, the problem was that the heterocosmic, skyscraping vision that so entranced Kant was the perfect description of the—not human—but male obsession with rules and their violations. (Mostly, violations, they’re more fun.)

J. S. Mill perspicuously noted that what was valuable in Kant owed its value to utility, the rest was window-dressing. And what did Mill do? He went on to postulate a new rule—something about maximizing distraction and minimizing fuss. (Or, rather, he refined it from a cruder formulation of Bentham.) What was his first application of this new rule? The justification of liberty and the inutility of paternalism. The new rule was to have as few rules as possible. Happiness could not fail but ensue. He then got it famously into his mind that women also wanted liberty, they, too, wanted to be left alone above all else, just like men did. What’s good enough for us is good enough for them. That’s what equality means, isn’t it? Liberate them, set them free, let them eat the cake of their own baking, just like us guys like to do.

Odd that it never seemed to occur to him that he was being the quintessential paternalist in—no doubt with “the best intentions”—generously extending to women what he, a man, valued so dearly. “To be left alone”? Really? A man, yes, I see it all the time. But a woman? What woman wants above all else “to be left alone”? Sure, she may settle on it, for lack of anything better, but is it—has it ever been—her ambition from the beginning?

This is the kind of stupidity that arises from the elaboration of half-assed moral theory. It would take another century of women speaking up and telling us themselves what they want before the stage was set for the next genuine moral insight. And nothing quite like Mill’s “alone-letting” liberty was to be heard. There are a dozen or more things that would occur to her before that. Read them and you keep coming back to Hume. They want—long before they want liberty—to be understood, respected, valued, allowed to participate, treated fairly within a larger community of like-minded selves, etc. …way, way down, well below “security” maybe “liberty” creeps onto the list but even then it doesn’t mean what it means for men: Not to be left alone to do whatever they want (every man’s secret wish), not freedom from, but freedom to. Never has as simple preposition meant so much!

Mill confessed in “The Subjection of Women” that if there really were deep and significant moral differences between women and men, he had no idea what they might be and he doubted anyone else could figure it out either. As far as he could see, women and men are both just humans and humans “just want to have fun” free from intervention.

But thirty years after Mill’s essay, a Viennese crackpot, a “case” as many like to call him, named Otto Weininger, a mere boy, Kant-crazy, thought he saw precisely what Mill, for one, had failed to see: Weininger noticed that nothing Kant seemed to be talking about had anything to do with women. Why if you took Kant’s task seriously as describing “human” morality, women were not even human, let alone moral! They had no souls, no minds, no egos, no morality… rules carried little weight for them, decorating their nests meant a lot, match-making meant the world to them, being part of larger family and social structures even more so. Preparing to have babies, having babies, and the aftermath of having babies seems to sum up their agenda. (Yes, it’s easy to make fun of this, but what period of life are they missing?) What do most “liberated” women want careers for? So the babies they wait to the last minute to have won’t be dependent on men who have too often shown themselves to be less than reliable (or, if reliable, content as) providers. Or, so they can better shape and influence societies comprised of already born babies—other women’s, if not always their own—to enrich their lives and those of others. To what end? Again, Hume had the answer: Women actually want people to get along and enjoy life. (The nerve.) It is about engendering and facilitating life at every turn. (The gall.) And their every function and goal serves these ends. It’s life, stupid…and the so-called “truth” be damned if it gets in the way. We, as women, need unamenable “truth”—truth that dares to stand in the way of a flourishing life—like a fish needs a bicycle.

So, the idea that morality is based on an over-the-rainbow abstraction like THE MORAL LAW is like a cockroach in the kitchen, step on it, swat it, who needs it! It does not belong here! Or another very male conceit, born of fatigue and impatience with the abstraction game, “the meaninglessness or absurdity of everything”, i.e., nihilism? Yeah, sure, a web in the corner, nothing a broom can’t handle. We have already hinted at what “utility” means to a woman: this or that man should make himself useful, certainly, but the idea of “utility” in isolation?… Where’s the can of Raid?…

(Now, of course, I am oversimplifying. As a matter of fact, some, if not most, of the insightful Kantians writing today happen to be women: Onora O’Neil, Marcia Baron, Christine Korsgaard… I know this because I have made a point of studying them very carefully: the surface irony is irresistible to me… Read them carefully though and you will notice something. One of two things tends to happen: either they see Kant as the key to unraveling, not human, but specifically male moral speech and behavior (otherwise inscrutable to them) or they seek to emphasize Kant’s own later excursions into practical morals, his more expansive feminine side (yes, Kant had a feminine side, irony of ironies, Weininger noticed this), which they supplement with their own feminist criticism. In short, they try to domesticate Kant by flattering him with attention and honoring the depth of his vision while adding a nip and tuck here and there to make him presentable to a world, even a feminist world, that would otherwise too quickly and rudely dismiss him as irrelevant. He’s a “project” for them, if you know what I mean. They do find in him enough to work with, though. And “working with” is what it’s all about. Anything wrong with this? Absolutely not. But the irony is delicious. As I said, the interesting stuff written about Kant today is by women, the men seem to be spinning their wheels by contrast. The very status of women as outsiders from the moral world Kant described has given them a perspective on that world no man can match.)


Now back to “political economy”… Dense as I am, it’s taken a while for it to dawn on me what George could have meant by that. It shows how little time, relatively speaking, I have devoted to reading Marx and Marxists. Long ago, I read a fair amount of Marx, but not much since—at least until quite recently (in my post-Weininger period) when I had occasion to revisit the territory while investigating a number of feminist Marxists.

The same thing about Karl Marx and Adam Smith has long fascinated me. They both contrived to reduce human aspiration to material well-being. Only one at the aggregate, the other at the individual level. As between them, I remain agnostic. It’s like asking me to believe in God or in the Devil. I have trouble telling them apart. What impresses me most is not the competing theories but how they have been implemented in actual “political economies”. All the so-called “communist” states I am aware of have devolved into oligarchies, power in the hands of a few, if not outright tyrannies. Communism may just be too good for the likes of us. But it’s the same with so-called “free enterprise” states. There are no nations on earth where individuals and their rights really are respected, certainly not this one. (In the United States, for example, manufactured or imaginary “rights” are respected, not real ones.) Collectivism comes in two forms as I see it: communism and capitalism. Both are species of “corporatism”. In the one, the corporation is the state, in the other there is a culture composed of a manageable number of smaller corporations—small enough not to be identical with the state but not so small and numerous that the state cannot manage them. The functioning modern capitalist state is thus a “collectivity” of collectivities, again, power in the hands of a few. Power in the hands of the individual is nowhere to be seen. (Except, of course, “in the privacy of their own minds”—those of us living in the conceit that we have a “mind.”)

The original idea behind classical liberalism—that the individual and his estate (that which is a part of him like his body and all that which is extracted from him or his body like blood, sweat, tears, semen, ideas, (notice how male this idea is) or that which these can, in turn, be traded for) was sacred and never to be melded into a larger unity to the point where identity and integrity are dissolved—is about as mythical as the idea of a happy and stable commune.

But the immediate question here is: is the Marxist vision any closer to expressing the deep feminine aspiration than that of the classical liberal?

At first blush, one might think so. After all, aren’t women focused on relationships, as Weininger remarked, and don’t relationships require gatherings larger than one? And collectivities are comprised of nothing if not more than one individual? Moreover, the classical liberal’s vision seems founded on the peculiarly male preoccupation with the individual as the building block of all larger social structures whereas a fully developed feminine sensibility is more likely to see the relationship (husband/wife, mother/daughter, mother/son, etc.) or network of relationships (family, extended family, community, class, race, species, etc.) as the center point of all further speculation about the well-being or flourishing of individuals.

Marx, in focusing on classes of humans defined in relation to their role in producing material goods, was still obsessed with the distribution of material power above all else. He had an almost religious awe for the impersonal workings of nature. The same awe that causes the scientifically inclined to get teary-eyed. A bit like Freud, he tried too hard to want to suck up to the label of “scientist.” The scientist wants to get behind and under things so as to uproot the true sources of knowledge, that is to say, acquire power. It’s a male thing: the idea that the world can be grabbed by the horns and wrestled to the ground and forced to puke up its secrets. Don’t ever let a scientist tell you he’s interested in “truth” or he’ll start to levitate with hot air no where near as pure as even Kant’s.

(Now, you might say, “Don’t you—didn’t Weininger try to do this too?” Not quite,… we’ll return to this flattering question later.)

Let’s attack science, shall we? It was my first love. My 4th grade teacher called me her very own “little scientist” because I had read every science book in our elementary school library. I was her favorite (no, her name was not Mary Kay… I admit I sort of liked her though, her name was Mrs. Middleton, she gave me straight “A”s, and I think she liked me…but, sadly, it went no further). I could spout off the names of all the moons of all the planets and the chemical compositions of their atmospheres, as it was all then known. I knew all about the latest subatomic particles, about DNA and RNA, about fluorescing deep-sea creatures, and how to make gunpowder at home with only household and drugstore materials…a year later this last bit of practical wisdom nearly got me in serious trouble when I showed up at school with a baby-food jar of the gray powder and rumors spread that I intended to blow up the school which I admitted to spreading.

Now what was the point of all this early nerdiness? I was power-hungry. I loved books but I hated the idiot rules at school. Why did I love science so much if not because I saw in it a way to even the scales of power. I wanted revenge. For what? Good question. The world infuriated me. My scores in conduct were perfect, but it was all a sham! Little did they know that I was part of a sleeper cell of alien terrorists (My mother did not know that I was a product of “a close encounter of the closest kind.” She had been impregnated by an alien. I later learned he was from Mexico not from Mars but never mind… To this day, I still don’t know much beyond that about my real father.) There were many of us biding our time in schools around the world, and I was one of the leaders, and we were quietly planning the obliteration of the arrogant forms of life infesting this planet! Idiocy oppressed me, and at age 10 it was obvious to me the world was knee-deep in it. Does one really need more excuse than that?

And science promised the knowledge to affect change. So I can understand the thrill Marx must have felt when he thought he saw a solution to the idiocy of his time. Morality had for too long been centered on the wrong categories. Science, which recognizes only aggregates, held the key, no bourgeois pussyfooting around with particles of vanity anymore. Scientize the foundations of society. Morality and just about everything else of value comes down to “political economy.” Knowledge is power, Bacon asserted so, Foucault concurred, sort of…

Later in college I spear-headed an uprising of dining hall workers at the elitist institution I attended. The school administration was trying to privatize our worker-run operation, bringing in outside professionals, “business-types,” with no sense of the tradition of worker solidarity that we had come to cherish. I got some local notoriety for writing something called “The Commons Manifesto” (“The Commons” was the name of our main dining hall.)…

Power to the… to the…the what? I was going to say “the people,” “the workers,” “the masses.” But why?

Well somebody has to have it. It might as well be them.

Who has it now?

Some of the people, but not the right ones.

The right ones?

The ones who deserve it.

“Deserve it”?—sounds like a leftover from the days of individual morality.

The ones who create objects of “exchange value.”

What’s so special about them?

They work, they labor, they create…

The individual worker?

No, the class of workers.

The class “labors,” “creates”?


The whole class?


I’ve never seen a group of people accomplish anything, I just see individuals doing things. I see bricklayers laying bricks, I see this ant with his tidbit, I don’t see the horde of ants erecting a mound or the legion of bricklayers the building. Where are the boundaries—what is the shape of a class?

You are not looking at things correctly, it’s the class, the collective that truly accomplishes, that creates, that plays a role in world-historical processes; the individual, as a moral center point, is a vain figment of an idle or corrupted consciousness.

Is “the class” perceptible?

Of course, look at its effects all around!

I mean “the class” itself?

You are playing with words here, you know as well as I do what a class is: do you know what a chair is?


Now think of the class of all chairs.


Now, do you see “the class”?

I’m squinting…

The class of chairs, it’s an idea but a concrete idea.

A concrete idea?


How’s that different from an abstract idea?

It is grounded in empirical fact, in the data flooding your senses.

Not like, say, the Moral Law?

Exactly. There is no moral law. There is only what serves what Marx called the “species-life” and what serves the living, breathing, throbbing, consuming species-life is the concrete material good: tangible commodities with exchange value.



I’m squinting still… I am having trouble seeing it. How can the species have any life that matters to you or me? Except insofar as you or I matter? If there were a God who cared about species survival, sort of a “Green God,” I can see how it might matter to him or her but as just one roach among many how can the survival of the whole nest of us matter to me when my own survival is so tenuous? It’s just that the whole “class,” “species” thing is so abstract—I have to be feeling separate from myself—removed, abstracted from my individual predicament to barely begin to grasp it.

Well, there you go, that’s a feeling you should cultivate, maybe then you would better understand. It may be an abstraction but the real concern here is power: the unjust distribution of power.

Two things: first, yes, power sounds like what it’s all about: who has it and who doesn’t; but, second, the “unjust” thing again sounds like a legacy from Kant’s old-fashioned morality.

Ok, so it is, but you agree it’s about power?

Yes, and you know what else?


It’s not about power.

But you just agreed it was!

I should cultivate this feeling of personal detachment and it’s all about power, right?

Right. The just distribution of it.

(I still don’t get how “justice” fits into what you are saying, you seem to think the world-historical process gives a damn about who is being oppressed!, but never mind.) We began this part of the discussion with the question whether dialectical materialism, the swirling ocean of ever-changing states of substance in which personal estates (me, you, mine, yours, etc.) matter not a whit,…

Yeah, yeah…

…had a better claim to serve her interests, a woman’s, that is, than the commodification of personal estates sometimes called capitalism. But this personal detachment and “all about power” thing doesn’t strike me at all as what I hear when feminists, even Marxist feminists, speak. If they hitch their wagon to socialist theory and causes, it seems more out of despair with the patriarchal aspect of capitalism, than from any conviction that Marx better understood women. Read them again, with this thought in mind, and you will see what I mean. Alexandra Kollontai (Marx’s Russian contemporary), Simone de Beauvoir, contemporary feminist Marxists like Nancy Hartsock… while agreeing on the inadequacies of classical liberalism as a foundation for any kind of just distribution of power, they all find male Marxism a little too interested in form and rule and abstraction and detachment and the redistribution of power for its own sake.

It’s not “species-life” that so concerns her, but “the life of the species,” not the state, the collective, but the family, both extended and intimate, and the ever-enrichment of relationship and opportunities for cooperation. If power is needed to promote these causes, then power is to be desired. But never is power, as a force in itself, as an ornament for the arousal of pride in self or the species, or for transcending them, the goal. And “detachment”—that’s one of their biggest complaints about patriarchal structures. It permits no small amount of moral atrocity. Rather, it’s about connection and intimacy…

You twist my words…

I don’t, the ladies do… They have to. To get them to fit, to make them make sense! I think they take up whatever philosophy they find that men have devised to serve their (whose? this is deliberately ambiguous; both, men and women make the mistake to believe here “their” means “humanity’s”) ends and, without deliberately intending to distort (what would be the point of that?), lend it meaning that stems from the reality of their lived experience: the proprietary way the whole world feels to her. (They are inclined to want “to get along” after all.) Thus every term of value employed in philosophical discussions whether it is “right,” duty,” “freedom,” “community,” “individual,” “collective,” … no, any kind of discussion, “love,” “hate,” “compassion,” etc. is equivocal, bivalent, ambiguous to the core.

It’s the same at the other end of the spectrum with the women who have taken up the cause of classical liberalism (or, if not quite that, at least to eke out something from it intelligible to them): Martha Nussbaum, Ayn Rand, Catherine McKinnon, Susanne Bordo, Susan Miller Okin, Susan Wolf, the Kantian women already mentioned… What strikes me is that women from very opposite traditions have much more shared understanding between them than they do with men who share in those same traditions. Sex runs thicker than political philosophy.

Which leads to this observation: someday it will dawn on people that it has never been about left and right, about the individual or the collective, about the means of production and exchange value but about women and men… And that is why men must cede at least half of the public political power they have, and have always had, in defiance of their instincts to hoard it, and why women must accept it as their duty to take up the half-abandoned reigns—again, in defiance of their instincts to defer this public realm to him.

Not because this will make things better, mind you; don’t think for a minute that I think women are going to solve our problems—but because we cannot even dream of the correct description of those problems until this reorganization happens. The alternative is more of the same.

That, oddly enough, is the lesson of one of the greatest “misogynists” who ever lived.

How so?

Because Weininger described more accurately than had ever been done before what it means to be a man and what men want. We have already said what women want, they want “nice” things…but—to rehearse the age-old question form—what do men want?

To die, better, to have never been born.

Failing either one of those, to spend their whole life in preparation for death. It is their specialty. Its instigation, its facilitation and promulgation. Just as I was not kidding when earlier I said mentioned babies and women, I shall here say that men are fascinated by corpses, making corpses—not in themselves as much as symbols of the transition to something better, beyond, a more perfect embodiment of their aspirations than can be had this side of the grave. Everything this side of the grave is a stand-in for that. They blatantly use the world, human and object alike, in open violation of Kant’s imperative. These heterocosmic ambitions drive them in everything they do here below, good or bad. And those ambitions are fierce! Even the feminine desire to continue living in every cell of a man’s body cannot fully withstand them.

That’s right, a man’s body, insofar as it is made of organic, decaying matter, is feminine. This is why he is so detached from it. Why his relation to it so tortured. Why it is so distorted and lacking in native grace. What beauty a man attains in life is the product of his effort not what nature gave him. Born ingrate, he disparages what he has not created, and he did not create himself, his body.

If they don’t show enough respect for life—and woman as its embodiment, it’s because they really don’t have any. They can only deep down respect abstraction, principle, rule, order, crystalline beauty… but the messiness of the flesh embarrasses them: it is too much a painful reminder that they were indeed born and have not yet died.

So what can morality mean against this worldly bleakness? (For that is what we are all curious to know, women, especially.)

Kant, Weininger noted, got it right in spite of himself. A man’s life is a burden to him and how well he bears it is the measure of his value. He is not allowed any easy way out. He has a duty to serve while here. Morality, for him, is the life-long struggle to bring himself under a rule. To focus that materially destructive ambition on something transcendent and not be disrespectful to others or himself in the process. A tall order.

This explains male criminality. Not every male knows how unhappy he is being alive until he finds himself finding more delight in the trashing of rules than in anything else. Male criminality is universal. It afflicts equally the saint, martyr, and the serial killer, the difference is success at keeping to the rule. We have a legal system specifically designed to manage as best we can, not human, but male criminality. If the hapless woman, the Mary Kay or Martha Stewart, is swept up by it, she is collateral damage; she is the landscape in war. But the war was never really about her. Women sometimes make the mistake of thinking men hate them, that misogyny really exists. It’s worse. If only men really could hate them that might mean something. Only women can truly hate, however. Men cannot even see in woman a subjectivity worthy of such a sentiment. One doesn’t really hate objects. When a man hates (or loves) a woman it’s because he has mistakenly imagined her something she is not. Weininger famously cried “love is murder.” He meant by this the stripping away of truth for the benefit of self-gratification. Only women can truly hate because they cannot objectify.

Women who “commit” crimes have “issues”—susceptibilities born of nasty environments, abuses present or past, mental, physical, or emotional disorders. The school of social engineering that would soon abolish retributive punishment in favor moral education or conditioning has a more promising field for operation in them. (But—Weininger loved to repeat, especially in On Last things—men, too, are showing their true colors when they are busy being criminal: paradoxically, their weak feminine side. So this is no simple vindication of retributive theories of punishment even as applied to men. The immediate point, however, is that retribution has no place whatsoever in our response to female law-breaking. Criminal justice systems are corrupt at their core not to see this.)

Not so with men. They will play fast and loose with the law even if—especially if—they have been brought up by two loving parents in comfortable circumstances with the best training and education money can buy, and if they have a faithful wife and two beautiful children, the honor and respect of their peers and community and even vast amounts of money—you don’t want to believe it, do you?—but all this just aggravates their desire for more power even as it places them in the perfect position to exploit it. (They do not know the meaning of the word “enough”. This is because it—the whole world delivered to them on a platter—would never be enough. What would make them content is not of this world. Their birth into it was a mistake…) These are the very people who run the societies we live in. (I won’t repeat here again the statistics on “white collar” crime and how it compares to “street”—or better, “television news”—crime except to say that as bad as the numbers are they are understated. Who collects and keeps them? Who is responsible for prosecuting and adjudicating genteel malefactors? (“Malefactor”= male from the Latin for “evil”; factor: “doer”. Puns are never unintended.) The criminal justice system doesn’t punish crime, it samples it. The optimistic estimates have it that for every street criminal caught another never gets caught. With privileged crime, however, the ratio of apprehension to elusion is vastly smaller and the consequences of being caught greatly mitigated. Crime, like any other career, benefits from a top-notch education, only more so.)

Am I saying women are innocent? (Are the cheerleaders at a football game responsible if the team wins or loses?)

Well, if responsibility accrues to them for aiding and abetting, for giving birth and comfort to the primary agents of criminality, once again shall we blame the landscape for the war that is fought upon it? There is a sense in which every mother should be executed along with her murderer son. She might have aborted the miscreant. She didn’t. She gambled. Every woman who carries a male child to term is guilty of gambling. She permits herself to be suckered (now I know where that expression came from) into suckling the cute little genitally-misshapen larva. Shouldn’t she pay? [Note: in Roman mythology, “larvae” were malevolent spirits of the dead.]

However one may care to answer that question, the fact is, she often does. Just as the landscape.

“But,” I can hear a heckler in the audience, “doesn’t male ambition for power at all costs have a good side? Hasn’t it led to great inventions, discoveries, achievements that we must look upon with wonder?” Camille Paglia said we (meaning, we women) would still be living in caves, nibbling nuts and berries without men. No fine linen, no nail polish, no moon shots, no Chopin. Hasn’t the richness of the accumulated, largely male-engendered, culture of at least the past twenty centuries been enough to compensate for his criminal instincts? Weininger devoted entire chapters to the celebration of cultural genius in men, lamenting its near absence in women. These are the chapters that everyone hears about (but few read carefully.) The ones that earned him his unsavory reputation…. So do we really need June Stephenson’s “man tax” to level the score a little? Can’t we just say “well, you have to take the bad with the good” and leave it at that?

What would the “man expert,” Weininger, say about a male tax proposal? I think he would say—indeed, all but did say—that it would be getting off cheap. The right thing for a man to do if he cannot complete his tour of duty here honorably is to make himself scarce. To not further soil the air with his exhalations.

Weininger was no Marxist. There is no collective accomplishment of the race of men that could save each man alone in “the privacy of his own mind” where it is his duty and no one else’s to clarify his soul: to wash it of all fuzziness or despair about meaningless. The desire to live in a world full of comfortable imprecisions, distractions, with shadows for hiding and crannies for rest—is precisely what he meant by criminality. This desire is his backsliding, his “feminine” side, his wanting to pretend he can have all the privileges of being male without the responsibilities, that when it comes to being judged he wants the forgiving standards that apply to her to apply to him. He wants it both ways.

Far from lacking meaning, the world, every atom of it, became drenched in it for Weininger: Every dog’s bark in the night, a whirlpool, the letter “L”, every illness, meteor, Orchid, each animal, a cloud, every creak in a floorboard…

Vomiting is to diarrhoea as nausea is to fear.

The sin of the bird is lightness, overcoming gravitation without alighting.

Nothing can be so beautiful as man; nothing so ugly!

The cracking noise of the room is inner snapping become unconscious.

(Weininger, Otto, Collected Aphorisms, Notebook, and Letters to a Friend, Translated by Martin Dudaniec & Kevin Solway, 2000.)


Posted by luno in Hume, Mill, J. S., male criminality, Kant, feminism, Weininger, Moral Theory, General (Saturday December 4, 2004 at 8:00 am)

1 comment for Cockroaches and Balloons:
Weiningerian Reactions to a Distractionist»

  1. The radiation resistance of cockroaches is somewhat overrated. See May Berenbaum’s article, “Rad Roaches” in American Entomologist, vol 47, no.3, 2001. Also, Hume was ok, but, as a woman, I would have found Kant more intriguing.

    Comment by iaia — 1/4/2005 @ 9:17 pm

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