The problem with this meme… (Some Thoughts on Gender Equality)

critique

I’m a 21-year old guy (almost 22). I am not now nor have I ever been a woman; I am not now nor have I ever been a housewife, or a wife of any sort; I am not now nor have I ever been a working woman, a working mom, a working girlfriend, a working wife, etc. Anything with the word ‘woman’ in it, I haven’t been that, I am not that, and I never will be that. Now, I have studied some feminist philosophy, and I certainly subscribe to the statement ‘the personal is political’. At the same time, I would never presume that this gives me the right to speak on a woman’s behalf. So in what follows, I’m not saying that this is what women think. I’m merely stating some observations that I have made as a guy who has studied feminist philosophy and cares about gender equality at home, in the workforce, in politics, etc.

I’m not particularly interested in the picture itself, although one could suggest that it’s objectifying to women, that this speaks volumes about how we still think of gender roles and norms, etc etc. I’m not concerned about that; pictures are difficult to interpret, and I’m no art major. I’m more concerned with the words in this meme.

In itself, there’s nothing wrong with a woman doing any of those things. I think it’s reasonable to sometimes expect your significant other to ‘give you a break’ every now and then, but then again I’ve never been married. I do know this much, however: at the end of the day, both people are tired. If the woman is a housewife, then she’s been bustling about taking care of the house all day long. Now she’s expected to make the man dinner on top of everything else? Is that a fair expectation? Why can’t the man give her a break and make both of them dinner? True, the man is probably tired too. But just because he’s tired, why should that automatically mean that it’s the woman who has to make dinner if she’s tired as well?

And if both people are working, then this is all a very unfair expectation. Do we really expect the woman to do all the cleaning and cooking after she gets home? Is that really a fair expectation? If both people are equally tired, it doesn’t make any sense to just dump the duties on the wife anymore than it makes sense to dump all of them on the husband.

And why should it be that only the woman has to clean? Let’s say all the housework gets done over the weekend — is it fair to expect that only the woman has to pitch in? Why doesn’t the man have any duties? Why shouldn’t we expect the man to not only wash his clothes, but wash his wife’s clothes as well? There’s nothing wrong with the wife doing the laundry every now and then, but is there really a good reason to expect that only she has to do it? Because honestly, the laundry is one of the easiest chores to do in the house. There’s really no good reason why all of the housework ought to fall on the woman alone or on the man alone — it should fall on them equally.

Nor is there anything wrong with the woman giving the man a massage. It feels pretty good. I love it when my girlfriend gives me a massage, but if she’s sore and tired, my hands had better damn well get to work, too.

Here’s the point of all that I’m saying: There’s nothing wrong with a woman ‘catering to’ her significant other, so long as the other person reciprocates regularly. There’s no good reason for it to be 100/0, 75/25, or 60/40. The only fair situation is where this ‘catering’ is a 50/50 thing.

(As an aside, I don’t know why we’re thinking of doing chores as ‘catering’. That’s just stuff that needs to get done around the house. Whoever is doing the chores isn’t really doing the other person a favor, strictly speaking. Really, the person doing the chores is doing a favor for everyone who lives in the house, themselves included. For instance, I just got done doing the dishes. I didn’t just do my mom a favor or my brother a favor, I did myself a favor too: now I have some clean dishes to eat off of!)

My experience with Christianity

I was a Christian for what felt like a considerable period of time, but compared to other people, I suppose four or five years is a very short amount of time to be in a religion. I was about twenty when I left, and I certainly do not regret my decision. Overall I found myself content, but towards the end of my trek I felt increasingly dissatisfied and emotionally…unwell, let’s just say. By the same token, I wouldn’t say that I regret having become a Christian. It’s part of my personal history, and is therefore part of who I am. It’s a period of my life that I left behind, but there’s no denying the mark left on me. Whether its nature is positive or negative I cannot say. Furthermore, I do not necessarily hate Christianity…well, I’ve grown to dislike contemporary Christianity, at least as I experienced it. Perhaps I also dislike the Christianity that follows faithfully from the Bible, at least some parts of it. But then, perhaps not. For all I know, I’ve only experienced contemporary Christianity — whatever the hell that is.

The point of this post is not to gain attention. This is mostly for myself: I want to put down, once and for all, why I will never come back. Still, I want to point out what I enjoyed, or what I perceived to be the most positive aspects of my experience. If, per chance, people reply to this, that’s fine. They can reply however they want — they can even try to persuade me back, if they’d like. Do what they like, this is for my own closure.

The Good

1. Community — At least as I experienced Christianity, there was a strong emphasis on community. I felt, on the whole, like I was part of something bigger than myself. This is, of course, an important part of being human. It seems like we all want to feel that. I don’t lack this currently, though. Through philosophy, I still feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself: the search for truth, wisdom, and understanding.

2. Acceptance — For the most part, I felt accepted by others, regardless of my flaws, quirks, etc. Well…quirks…that’s another thing all together. I sometimes had the feeling that some of my personal traits marked me out in a less-than-favorable way. On the whole, though, I never felt actively stigmatized in virtue of my personal traits, even though there were some who kept their interactions with me somewhat minimal. Whether or not it was because of those particular traits, I have no clue. But then again, that’s normally how human interactions work. Perhaps I expected too much.

Unfortunately, in terms of the good, that’s about it. Perhaps someone who knew me can insist that I experienced more good things. Of course, it’s up to me to decide whether or not the suggested things were actually good. In any event, here comes the real substance of the post…

Why I’ll Never Go Back

What I’m about to list are arguments that most every Christian is familiar with. Indeed, as a Christian I was familiar with them. I was never able to come up with a satisfactory counter-argument to them. I don’t think it’s possible. Perhaps a philosopher who is primarily concerned with the existence of God can give satisfactory answers to the arguments, but if there are any, they have escaped me.

1. God is Either Callous or Impotent — We’ve all heard this argument before, I’m sure. However, I think it’s more potent if we add things from the Bible: Obviously, there’s a lot of evil in the world. Not only that, but that evil is caused by people, and supposedly people are innately sinful. Supposedly, God has the power to mete out justice. Now, ask yourself this: if a judge has the means to sentence a criminal to death (supposing that criminal deserved it), and there’s a guarantee that the sentence would be carried out immediately, would it be just for the judge to wait or act immediately? Intuitively, the just thing would be to act immediately. God, however, does not do that. Supposedly, God has multiple ways of rectifying these situations. It would be just for God to mete out justice via punishment, but perhaps it would also be just if God were to change the relevant parties from the inside out completely. God does neither, apparently. There are two immediate conclusions: he is either callous or impotent.

One could reply that he waits out of wisdom, but the question isn’t one of wisdom. The issue examined here is one of justice. If God has the ability to immediately deal with evil, and if he is a maximally good being, it seems to make sense to say that the just thing would be for God to act immediately. I would invite others to offer a reason why we should think of God’s duties as being different from that of a regular judge. For my part, I can think of none: if, like in the real world, God could hold the relevant criminals away in a cell until they swear to change their minds, that would be fine. They wouldn’t be able to harm others or do various other kinds of evil deeds. However, God doesn’t do that. So I ask: why would it be acceptable to think that God doesn’t have a duty to act immediately?

Consider another analogy: if there’s a serial murderer on the loose, arguably the police have a duty to look for him. Now, we can’t blame them for not capturing him immediately, since their knowledge is imperfect. God has perfect knowledge, however. Why shouldn’t he be held accountable for not dealing with injustices immediately?

It seems to me, given God’s attributes, that we should hold him accountable for not doing something about evil. Either that, or he doesn’t have the attributes he’s purported to have.

2. What’s Up with the Devil? — ‘Lucifer’ became ‘Satan’ when he rebelled against God. God created ‘Lucifer’, knowing that he would become ‘Satan’. God also knew that ‘Satan’ would be responsible for creating all sorts of evil on earth. Why did God create ‘Lucifer’? More importantly, why didn’t God destroy ‘Satan’? Alternatively, why didn’t he make Hell a better prison for ‘Satan’? Seriously, there are some design flaws with that place if ‘Satan’ was able to get out and tempt Adam and Eve.

There were several points where God could have intervened in ‘Satan’s’ machinations. Supposedly, if he had done that, the world wouldn’t be such a screwed up place. Once again, the conclusion is the same: God is either callous or unjust for not doing anything.

3. The Resurrection is Question-Begging — Here’s what I mean: the only way that the resurrection could have happened is if an omnipotent God existed. In itself, that’s not a huge problem. But here’s what the problem is: there aren’t any arguments that can suggest the existence of an omnipotent God. There’s probably an ontological argument for it, but whether or not it’s any good is another question all-together. Think of all the arguments you know: the cosmological argument, the design argument, the ontological argument. If they are any good, they can establish that some kind of God exists. However, they cannot establish his specific nature apart from the fact that he’s the ‘greatest’ or ‘perfect’ (what exactly constitutes ‘greatest’ and ‘perfect’, anyway?), or that he at least had enough power to create the universe, get life started, etc. For all we know, that single act might have drained his power. These arguments can’t establish anything beyond that.

One could say that there are natural signs that indicate God’s nature and power, but one person’s natural sign is another person’s purely empirical experience and nothing more. In other words, your subjective experiences are not enough to establish something about the nature of a deity.

Since we can’t establish the existence of a omnipotent deity, we can’t establish that the resurrection — the cornerstone of Christian doctrine — happened. In other words, we can’t establish that the consequent of the following obtains: “If there’s an omnipotent God, the resurrection is possible.” Now, one could say that the historical evidence points to Jesus’s resurrection. If it happened, that means it’s possible. However, from that we cannot conclude that there’s an omnipotent God: we’d be committing the fallacy of assuming the antecedent.

Really, these are just some of my beefs with Christianity. However, I can think of no logical solution to them. One could reply that there is no logical solution to these problems, true, but we have to accept that God is good and all-powerful on faith. To which I reply: yeah, it certainly seems that way. You’ll have to excuse me, though, if I choose to reject the Christian God on the basis of arguments that leave me with no doubt regarding either the callous quality of his character or his lack of omniscience and omnipotence.

True, logic is not all that matters — we cannot live our whole lives on logic. Hell, I still consider myself agnostic. The best arguments for the existence of a deity are inductive in nature, which means that the conclusion is never certain. Still, I find them convincing enough that I’m willing to concede that some sort of deity (probably) exists, even though I have no certain evidence or arguments for its existence. You could say that I am making a bit of a leap of faith in conceding that. However, given Christian doctrine, I cannot concede that the God of the Bible exists. For my part, I find the arguments impassible and damning. Even though they did not lead to my rejection of Christianity, they will certainly sustain it.

Feels good to get that off my chest. We will now return to our original programming — philosophy and ethics! (Technically I just did philosophy of religion, but whatevs.)

What Spongebob Can Teach Us About Moral Deliberation

Considering Everyone’s Interests

When it comes to moral thinking, it’s commonsensical that we ought to give equal consideration to the interests of the people affected by our actions. Broadly speaking, this means that whenever we’re faced with a moral dilemma and our decision affects other people, we need to make sure that we act in a way that fulfills the interests of others.

It sounds simple, but the way it works out is far from obvious. Should we should choose the action that brings about the greatest satisfaction of interests, even if it’s just for one person? Or should we have to choose the action realizing everyones interests, even if that means we have a relatively low sum?

Aside from being an everyday problem, we also see this dilemma on TV. The main character has multiple friends who really need her help. She doesn’t want to disappoint any of them, so she tries to juggle going from one friend to the other. Mayhem ensues, but the main character is forgiven and the show ends on the implication that they’ll work something out eventually.

That sounds like the latter approach to the equal consideration principle; let’s just call that the egalitarian approach. The main character is certainly realizing their interests equally, but it’s at a low amount. If she took the former approach — let’s call it the aggregation approach — the main character might make a commitment to one or two of her friends. Sadly, that leaves everyone else out in the cold.

Intuitively, aggregation seems like the way to go in these sorts of scenarios. However, that might just be because we’re led to believe the egalitarian approach is either impractical or leaves a lot of people dissatisfied. If maximizing people’s happiness, preferences, welfare, etc just is the morally right thing to do, the egalitarian approach seems to be right out.

Aggregation, in that light, seems to be the correct approach. However, it rests on the assumption that the only way to deliberate about these problems is to dwell on immediate solutions, rather than trying to solve problems over a longer period of time. If we approached this dilemmas with a long-term approach, we might be able to combine the egalitarian and aggregation approaches to satisfactorily meet everyone’s needs.

Aggregating & Equalizing

To see how this approach would work, I’ll use an example from the show Spongebob Squarepants (don’t judge me). Mr. Krabs wants Spongebob to help him build a telescope; Sandy wants Spongebob to help her with a science conference presentation; and Patrick wants Spongebob to come to his birthday problem. All on the same night. Here are the  values of their interests:

Value of Interests
Mr. Krabs: 10
Sandy: 10
Patrick: 10

Suppose he can’t satisfy all of their interests, but he can satisfy some of them. Let’s start assume that aggregation is the right thing to do. There are two options:

Option 1
Sandy: 7
Patrick: 7
Mr. Krabs: 0

Option 2
Mr. Krabs: 10

Obviously, the sum of Option 1 is higher than that of Option 2. If we assume that aggregation is the right thing to do, Spongebob should obviously do Option 1. However, taking the aggregative approach requires us to assume that the right thing to do, or at least the best thing to do, is to satisfy needs immediately.

What if that’s wrong? Let’s suppose that we take a long-term perspective with satisfying the interests of others. Here’s what Spongebob could do:

Option 3

Evening 1
Sandy: 10

Evening 2
Patrick: 8

Evening 3
Mr. Krabs: 6

If we add their sums together, we get 24 — certainly higher than aggregation’s immediate approach. Now, in terms of the values yielded for each person, it doesn’t seem like an egalitarian approach: the individual satisfaction values are relatively disparate.

Nevertheless, even if Option 3 isn’t unqualifiedly egalitarian, it’s the most egalitarian option available so far. Option 1 is definitely not egalitarian: the average difference is 4. Under Option 3, the average difference between the individual values is 2 — which is far closer to an egalitarian arrangement. Thus, if we take a long-term approach to aggregation, we get a hybrid between the egalitarian approach and the aggregation approach.

Let’s keep examining this approach. Suppose the values of each person’s satisfaction is lower on Evening 2 and Evening 3. We get the following:

Option 4

Evening 1
Sandy: 10

Evening 2
Patrick: 2

Evening 3
Mr. Krabs: 0

Sum: 12

This might indicate a flaw in the long-term approach: we can’t guarantee everyone’s interests will be satisfied, period. However, I don’t think this is true. It seems like Mr. Krabs would have a satisfaction rating of 1 if Spongebob at least tried to help out. In which case, the sum of their satisfaction would be 13. Nevertheless, this brings up egalitarian-aggregation approach’s real problem: the long-term approach could yield a sum lower than the immediate approach.

Fine, then let’s try things this way:

Option 5

Evening 1
Sandy: 7
Patrick: 7

Evening 2
Mr. Krabs: 1

Sum: 15

Obviously, this sum is higher than Option 1’s. Thus, here’s the reply to the problem: it all depends on how Spongebob works things out with his friends. It’s possible to fulfill everyone’s interests in the long-run and still get a higher yield than we would via the immediate approach.

We now see that we can consider everyone’s interests by combining aggregation and egalitarianism. That doesn’t tell us whether or not this is actually the right course of action, though. In the mean time, if you have a friend faced with these sorts of improbable situations, tell them to aggregate and equalize!…They’ll have no idea what you’re saying, but you’ll sound smart.