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Belief in the Unfalsifiable
January 24, 2013 11:56 AM   Subscribe

What would you think if I told you there is an ugly, self-sustaining, omnipotent invisible force that explains everything. It frames every argument, structures language, and every element of human experience.... This article will examine Patriarchy as a theory that is beyond falsifiability. - Naomi J. Chambers
posted by scharpy (85 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
The biggest practical problem with a theory like this is that it relieves the believer of responsibility. If they fail, it's because of The Conspiracy. It's someone else's fault, and someone else has to fix it. So like day following night, vicitimization leads to entitlement.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:59 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Of course "patriarchy" is unfalsifiable. But it's more of an interpretation, not a "theory" in the hard-scientific sense. It's more like religion, or the meaning of life: a myth in the non-pejorative sense. That doesn't mean it can't be valuable. We all, whether we want to admit it or not, need myths of some kind.
posted by smorange at 12:05 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm always suspicious of arguments that explain human behaviour starting with biology, eg, something so powerful, omnipotent and invisible that it is able to inundate every single collective achievement made by humanity since the day we jumped down from the African trees and started walking on two feet.

For one thing, what I quote above is not accurate. Did we jump down from African trees? Did we start walking around on two feet? I don't care if it's "just a metaphor." If it's not accurate, then the thinking in the essay is probably not accurate.

Besides, the Bonobos, which are among our closest cousins, are not great examples of patriarchy.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:08 PM on January 24, 2013


The biggest practical problem with a theory like this is that it relieves the believer of responsibility. If they fail, it's because of The Conspiracy. It's someone else's fault, and someone else has to fix it. So like day following night, vicitimization leads to entitlement.

Exactly this. Self-righteousness is more addictive than any drug, and a shortage of actual oppression spurs a desire to create an oppression rather than deal with the world.
posted by kafziel at 12:09 PM on January 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't really understand the point of this essay.
The social theory of patriarchy should be treated like any other social theory. Sometimes it is real and sometimes it is not real.
Well... ok. It seems like she's responding to a strawman of the hyperfeminist which doesn't really exist outside of the paranoid imaginings of men's rights activitists.
posted by codacorolla at 12:19 PM on January 24, 2013 [18 favorites]



Of course "patriarchy" is unfalsifiable. But it's more of an interpretation, not a "theory" in the hard-scientific sense. It's more like religion, or the meaning of life: a myth in the non-pejorative sense. That doesn't mean it can't be valuable. We all, whether we want to admit it or not, need myths of some kind.
posted by smorange at 12:05 PM on January 24 [+] [!]


She discusses that.

"The concept of Patriarchy falls under the social sciences..." should address your first point, and her conclusion really does address your second:

"We can say that we will examine individual crimes against women on an case by case basis. We will confront all unfalsifiable beliefs, regardless if they are economic theories, psychological theories or in this case, the social theory of patriarchy, on a case by case basis. If we believe in the unfalsifiable theory, we will maintain only a (small b) belief, and never a (big B) Belief. We will not say that any unfalsifiable theory explains everything in one fell swoop."

I don't think that she's suggesting you can't have a unified belief, just that you should be willing to accept new evidence, whether it challenges and supports or your working theory.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:19 PM on January 24, 2013


What would you think if I told you there is an ugly, self-sustaining, omnipotent invisible force that explains everything. It frames every argument, structures language, and every element of human experience.

I would think something along these lines.
posted by jquinby at 12:21 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The biggest practical problem with a theory like this is that it relieves the believer of responsibility. If they fail, it's because of The Conspiracy. It's someone else's fault, and someone else has to fix it. So like day following night, vicitimization leads to entitlement.

I am curious as to whether this statement is falsifiable. Or even demonstrable. If we are to demand that social theories fit rigorous scientific parameters, we should not then feel free to spin off into untested theories of our own.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:21 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This piece is incredibly dense, enough so that I suspect that it's going to be very hard to have an constructive discussion of it here. It's very good though, and I'm glad you shared it. Thanks.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:21 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think that she's suggesting you can't have a unified belief, just that you should be willing to accept new evidence, whether it challenges and supports or your working theory.

Right, but that's pretty banal.
posted by smorange at 12:22 PM on January 24, 2013



Right, but that's pretty banal.
posted by smorange at 12:22 PM on January 24 [+] [!]


That's why she wrote an essay, and didn't spin it out as a one off on a message board like I did.

It's a discussion of philosophy and logic, the proof is what's interesting, not the conclusions.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:25 PM on January 24, 2013


There's pleasure in the proof, but the conclusions will inevitably be used by the unreflective to accuse others of lack of reflection.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:28 PM on January 24, 2013


So let me get this straight. Your theory explains everything from the orbits of the planets to falling objects on earth in terms of some mysterious, unobservable action-at-a-distance force? Pull the other one.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:33 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a discussion of philosophy and logic, the proof is what's interesting, not the conclusions.

What proof? The only thing approaching such is maybe section II, "Refuting Absolute Patriarchy", which is one: a refutation of a straw man, and two: so handwavey it almost reads as a parody of a proof.
posted by kmz at 12:34 PM on January 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


There's pleasure in the proof, but the conclusions will inevitably be used by the unreflective to accuse others of lack of reflection.

If this is just an exercise in proving a boring statement like "one theory doesn't explain everything," then I don't see the value in using such a highly charged topic like patriarchy as your arbitrary unifying theory for your thought experiment.
posted by codacorolla at 12:35 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why is it highly charged?
posted by Sebmojo at 12:38 PM on January 24, 2013


This piece is incredibly dense, enough so that I suspect that it's going to be very hard to have an constructive discussion of it here. It's very good though, and I'm glad you shared it. Thanks.
posted by Stagger Lee at 20:21 on January 24 [+] [!]


I agree that it is going to be difficult to have a discussion about this, but in my opinion that is because the paper is all over the place. Firstly, the author ignores the huge problems with accepting Popper's falsifiability as a useful definition of science. More importantly, the point of the paper is unclear. The summary at the end reads like a summary of a different paper entirely, bringing in a discussion of "gender as a social construct" which wasn't in the main body of the paper at all.
posted by jonnyploy at 12:39 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, if you're trying to get it linked to all over the Internet, that's pretty valuable.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 12:39 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Logical women
posted by SassHat at 12:39 PM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I suppose my concern is that this article gives the uncareful reader a sense that any discussion of patriarchy can be dismissed, because it's all woo woo pseudoscience superman in heaven garbage. And there are a lot of people who really want permission to dismiss that discussion, and it certainly helps that they feel a woman has given them this permission.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:44 PM on January 24, 2013 [20 favorites]


Do many serious people believe that "patriarchy" is a theory that "explains everything"? I'm doubtful. It doesn't seem to be an assertion that needs much arguing against. At the end of her piece the author writes "I think that patriarchy is a real social system, but that it exists at varying degrees across cultures." If she'd started from that point, then she might've gone on to points worth making.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:45 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


But it starts off on the wrong foot with the premise of patriarchy being a "real omnipotent force". Does anybody actually believe that patriarchy is an all-powerful force? De Facto powerful, sure. Often extremely powerful. But ALL POWERFUL BOOMING VOICE OF GO THUNDERCLAPS TORRENTS OF RAIN HELLFIRE I really don't think so.

Also what kmz and octobersurprise said.

On preview: the existence of biased is demonstrably NOT pseudo-scientific woo and patriarchy is a useful guide for discussing those systems.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:46 PM on January 24, 2013


Why is it highly charged?
posted by Sebmojo at 20:38 on January 24 [+] [!]


The first comment below the paper answers your question. The commenter rejects all feminist theory on the basis of the paper.

Or on preview, what Bunny Ultramod said.
posted by jonnyploy at 12:46 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


If this is just an exercise in proving a boring statement like "one theory doesn't explain everything," then I don't see the value in using such a highly charged topic like patriarchy as your arbitrary unifying theory for your thought experiment.

It does if you're trying to prove that feminists are evil and/or dumb. (See the entire rest of the blog.)
posted by kmz at 12:49 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The author's "interpretation" of feminism and understanding of patriarchy seems to come from exactly nowhere. It also seems to be a complete straw argument (she presents this "theory" in ways I certainly have never encountered in my time as a Women's Studies student and lifelong feminist). Additionally, her entire summary is garbage and her End Notes brings in ideas that she didn't even touch upon...and are also complete bullshit.

From the End Notes:

I think that it is flawed to presume that patriarchy explains everything
Who exactly thinks this?

it certainly does not explain why women do horrible things to their children and family.
So you're going to toss in the idea of women doing horrible things as a way to counter argue the existence of patriarchal thinking? Whaaaaat?

Patriarchy does not explain why men are predisposed to violence, or why most rapists are men.
No? Really? Are you sure you know anything about this matter?

I think we should look at people as individuals and not as a gender.
Cool, Taylor Swift, now you've stated your bias at the end, we can go back and bang our heads on the table for having wasted time reading this garbage.

I find gender wars to be very destructive especially for women and men.
Really? Who else do "gender wars" harm? What about dogs and cats and rabbits?

I'm sorry guys, this person is an academic? Who's already written a book? Go back to your Philosophy department hobbit holes, everyone who enjoyed this. And then google "patriarchy", and you'll already be a step ahead of the author of this piece.
posted by SassHat at 12:53 PM on January 24, 2013 [29 favorites]


Chambers freely admits in this article that her refutations are of her own "interpretation" of patriarchal theory, which posits a universal male dominance, found as strongly in human interaction as in "the plants, the trees, the air, the soil and even in the water that we drink." I'm not quite sure what to make of this statement, and I doubt many well-read or well-spoken (or just ordinarily rational) feminists would be either. She seems to be arguing against a popular, vapid idea of what feminist theory is (as if it were singular!), not against actual feminist texts or thinking.

One thing that we should surely be wary of is a text that rebukes an absent conversant.
posted by mcoo at 12:55 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


It does if you're trying to prove that feminists are evil and/or dumb. (See the entire rest of the blog.)
posted by kmz at 20:49 on January 24 [+] [!] Other [2/2]: «≡·


Yeah, the more I look at this the more it's just someone with an anti-feminist axe to grind applying a completely misunderstood version of Popper's falsifiability model of science in a field in which it doesn't belong.
posted by jonnyploy at 12:56 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


From my interpretation, patriarchy is an all-powerful, omnipotent, invisible thing that we cannot refute because it is all encompassing, influencing every aspect of human experience. The mere definition of patriarchy treats it like a mind virus that infects our brains as if it were HIV. Patriarchy theory is compatible with most human behavior, it is practically impossible to describe any behavior that cannot verify patriarchy. Patriarchy is doing the exact thing Karl Popper said we should be concerned about, it answers everything. Patriarchy is in the plants, the trees, the air, the soil and even in the water that we drink.

Err, what? This is literally the first time I've heard patriarchy referred to this way - as opposed to a social setup that is more or less prevalent in any given society at any given time, and concentrates power and wealth in the hands of old men as the defacto 'most effective and appropriate' way of apportioning wealth and power. It keeps women away from the levers of power, and keeps younger men who are not powerful and rich in line but who want to be via the promise of being powerful and rich one day, and in the meantime, they will at least have power over women and yet lesser men, if they're interested in that. It's not some invisible HIV that's in the soil (WTF??), it's a social structure that rewards some groups of the population disproprtionately over others.

Men are expected to be strong, confident, independent, in control of their emotions, hold positions of power and exercise power over others. The reality, is than many men are not these things. Many men are weak, insecure, dependent, sensitive, have bosses that they must answer to and do not have power over others.

Because the patriarchy is not setup to serve or support ALL men - only some men, at the expense of everybody else. When you have an elite 1%, even if it's almost all wealthy old men, that still leaves 99% of the population getting a bad deal, including a lot of men as well as women. And just as women are not all 100% identical and think alike, not all men are part of, or want to be part of the patriarchy.

And yet, being seen as too weak, emotional or sensitive can definitely harm your career as a man. I've seen people explicitly not hired for the company I was working for because they were not 'manly' enough.

You know, much the same arguments deployed in this article could be used to dismiss racism, homophobia, sexism, ageism, for exactly the same reasons. Just because something doesn't rely on maths to make it falsifiable, doesn't make it worthless to study or label, nor does it mean it can't exist - and I say that as an engineer who's only ever studied in the hard sciences.

There are two stats, for me, that prove the patriarchy, or something similar in its effects exists - the gender percentages of who is wealthiest and most powerful; and the gender percentages of victims of domestic and sexual assaults and murders.

Most men are not afraid that women will attack them in a a dark alley, nor rape them if they get too drunk at a club or party, or simply because they were there. They do not expect to be held back in their career based upon their gender. They do not generally expect to be told that any time they stand up and say or do anything that are too emotional and unreliable, or be told to shut up and sit down.

I wish I didn't know a lot of women that have good reason not to have that same confidence - because they have been subjected to it already. But yeah, yada yada, anecdote is not data, it must all be false and not happen because we can't falsify it with maths, social sciences aren't real science because karl popper says so.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:57 PM on January 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


Here's a falsifiable, scientific claim about patriarchy based on a factor analysis.

Consider the following social phenomena mentioned by the author: "women are subjected to humiliation, discrimination, exploitation, control and violence. Women are suffer unequal treatment, access to education, decision-making abilities and ability to earn a living because of their gender." The author also mentions gendered language, stereotypes and dirty jokes.

Not all societies are equally bad. Compare Sweden and Saudi Arabia and I think we will find that all of these social phenomena are more prevalent in Saudi Arabia than they are in Sweden. In other words, the prevalence of these social phenomena are strongly correlated with each other. My testable hypothesis: compare many countries to confirm that social phenomena such as access to education, workplace harassment, etc. are in fact correlated with each other.

If they are strongly correlated, then it would be unscientific just to assume that they are unrelated phenomena. We would have reason to suspect that some of these social phenomena cause the others, or that some some common factor or factors is causing these phenomena to take place. Saying more than that would be speculative, but if the correlations hold across many societies then it's not a coincidence that societies with a lot of gendered stereotypes also display a lot of discrimination.

"Patriarchy" is a word referring to the as yet undetermined pattern of causation that links these observed social phenomena together. If the correlations exist (testable) then it's real.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:58 PM on January 24, 2013 [25 favorites]


I found this essay confusing. I got a strong whiff of the biological essentialist, which I think is shaky ground to build an argument on.

From the end notes, where she discusses her personal beliefs about patriarchy: "I think that it is flawed to presume that patriarchy explains everything, it certainly does not explain why women do horrible things to their children and family."

Why does she think the concept of patriarchy is incompatible with women doing horrible things to their children and family? I am not sure exactly what she means by "horrible things," but the concept of patriarchy certainly doesn't exclude women from participating in oppressive behaviours. It's pretty commonly accepted among feminist theorists that we're all, men and women both, complicit in patriarchy as a system of oppression (some of us prefer the term kyriarchy, but it hasn't really caught on quite as well, more's the pity).

"Patriarchy does not explain why men are predisposed to violence..."

I don't get it. Isn't that begging the question by basing the argument on the unproven assumption that men are predisposed to violence? Perhaps I am misunderstanding what she means by "predisposed," but to me that indicates a belief in biological essentialism and the idea that men have an innate predisposition to violence...do we have proof for that? I don't think so.

"...or why most rapists are men."

The concept of patriarchy doesn't explain why most rapists are men??? Seriously?

I think she needs to read this: Who Are the Patriarchs, Anyway?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:00 PM on January 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


What would you think if I told you there is an ugly, self-sustaining, omnipotent invisible force that explains everything. It frames every argument, structures language, and every element of human experience. It is like the air we breath, most of the time we do not think about it or know it is there.

You enfold yourself in the blue pillow, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You enfold yourself in the red pillow, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how...um...big the cake will make you grow.
posted by R. Schlock at 1:02 PM on January 24, 2013


I do not think that any social system has so much power that it shapes our thoughts, and causes a person to behave in an unfair manner.

Shaping our thoughts is what social systems do, and "unfair" is a very slight degree of shaping, easily achieved. The author has grown up in an unusual freedom of thought, and mistakes those circumstances for universal experience.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:09 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I should stress that I do know the difference between correlation and causation. Seeing a correlation does not mean you know what is causing that correlation, but it does mean you might want start a research program to determine what is causing the co-occurrence of the correlated phenomena.

"Patriarchy" is the I-know-not-what which explains why societies with a lot of workplace harassment are also societies where women have restricted education. Feminists investigate what actually causes (e.g.) workplace harassment so that they can get a bit more specific than I-know-not-what.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:09 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


What an awful article. I'll skip over Karl Popper, who's an idiot and not worthy of being the groundwork of any consideration of justice in society. It's probably better to point out that this is the author's summary of what "the patriarchy" means to feminists:

“The very basis of patriarchy is that the world is male focused, centered and identified. Men are expected to be strong, confident, independent, in control of their emotions, hold positions of power and exercise power over others. The reality, is than many men are not these things. Many men are weak, insecure, dependent, sensitive, have bosses that they must answer to and do not have power over others. Even when we come across a man who is the boss, he is not the boss in every element of his life. There may be many instances in life where he must answer to another person, regardless of that person’s gender. As men age, we find that they become even less powerful, in control, independent and unfeeling. We find that they enter a phase of integrity vs. despair.”

Look – I appreciate that "that's not what we mean!" is an annoying dodge, but this summary doesn't even bear the slightest resemblance to what academic feminists say about patriarchy and patriarchy theory. I defy the author or anyone here to cite even one single academic feminist who claims that patriarchy means that no men are ever weak, insecure, dependent, sensitive, subordinate, or powerless. I defy the author or anyone here to cite a single academic feminist who claims that patriarchy means that men are always in control or always powerful. This is almost the polar opposite of patriarchy theory as it's generally meant, in fact.

This piece reads like a sort of acceptable freshman philosophy essay, but it would only be acceptable if the class didn't include any feminist readings whatsoever. I understand that academic feminism might not be feminism as it is talked about in society. But if that's that case, at least cite something when constructing your summary of what feminists believe about patriarchy.

Ultimately, the author isn't arguing against belief in the patriarchy. She's arguing against belief in what she believes people mean when they say "patriarchy" – and she hasn't gone to much trouble to try to deepen her understanding of what feminists are talking about when they use the word.
posted by koeselitz at 1:10 PM on January 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


And on review, this says it more succinctly and directly than I did:

mcoo: “One thing that we should surely be wary of is a text that rebukes an absent conversant.”
posted by koeselitz at 1:13 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


This piece is incredibly dense

It's dense alright.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:13 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well... ok. It seems like she's responding to a strawman of the hyperfeminist which doesn't really exist outside of the paranoid imaginings of men's rights activitists.

Strawperson
posted by Edgewise at 1:15 PM on January 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


This post is like when Wile E. Coyote forgets to put gunpowder in the cannon.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:16 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


the more I look at this the more it's just someone with an anti-feminist axe to grind

The more I look at the blog, the more it looks like run-of-the-mill internet autodidactism along with SEO-y links to the author's soap-making business and some stay-for-the-Islamophobia videos on her YouTube channel. ("UK Muslim gang rape epidemic" and "Tolerating Islam is suicidal," for example.) And if that's not enough there's also some really bad photoshops at the "Satire Factory."
posted by octobersurprise at 1:17 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Stagger Lee: “This piece is incredibly dense, enough so that I suspect that it's going to be very hard to have an constructive discussion of it here. It's very good though, and I'm glad you shared it. Thanks.”

Note that "hard to read" and "relatively poorly phrased" are not equivalent to depth or thoughtfulness. Also, quoting Karl Popper a lot is not generally a sign that you're going to make a groundbreaking argument about political philosophy. We're talking about a man who claimed that Plato was a fascist, for heaven's sake. "Falsifiability" isn't even the standard of all science, much less the standard of all rigorous thought.
posted by koeselitz at 1:21 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


koeslitz I'll skip over Karl Popper, who's an idiot and not worthy of being the groundwork of any consideration of justice in society.

Karl Popper was one of the major influencers of the modern philosophy of science. He does not deserve to be blithely dismissed as an "idiot" by Some Guy on the Internet, no matter how many books that guy has published or major scientific and philosophical awards that guy has won.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:26 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let's be honest rather than polite or excessively circumspect: this essay is pure garbage. Children of all ages who like to wade into the shallow waters of complex issues with the confident assumption that they don't need to understand matters they know almost nothing about in order to make fact-free, authoritative determinations of their truth should not be humored.
posted by clockzero at 1:29 PM on January 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm a middle class white man and the existence is obvious in the way women are treated everywhere. And a the stuff about some men being weak - yes, we are. And the patriarchy also hurts us, which is why we also need feminism.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:33 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


aeschenkarnos: “Karl Popper was one of the major influencers of the modern philosophy of science. He does not deserve to be blithely dismissed as an ‘idiot’ by Some Guy on the Internet, no matter how many books that guy has published or major scientific and philosophical awards that guy has won.”

Look, if the fact that we're all "some guy on the internet" means we're not allowed to say what we think, we may as well shut this down right here.

More to the point: the reason I skipped over him was because I don't think he's really the issue here. Do you really think this essay constitutes a careful and thoughtful consideration of the ideas of Karl Popper? Do you really think the "Karl Popper quotes" the author offers up at the end represent a perfect summation of all of his thought? I have problems with Karl Popper, and with the idea that falsifiability is the ground of true philosophy, but I don't think those problems even enter into what we're looking at here.
posted by koeselitz at 1:35 PM on January 24, 2013


The rabbit hole of her online work is pretty depressing. She regularly post anti-Islamic screeds on FaithFreedom.org, where she proudly proclaims that " I have grown to become one of the more popular anti-Islam, anti-religion atheists on Youtube." On this site, she comments that "You cannot support human rights and be a muslim at the same time. Islam is very much against human rights for all non muslims."

Here she writes "I have an idea. How about we tell Muslims that we will convert to Islam if they actually do it. That is – drink a cup of tea with a dead fly in it, record it, and post it on Youtube."

I suppose these might be a group of Islamophobes named Naomi Chambers, who regularly cross-post and link to each other, like a sort of anti-Muslim Ellery Queen, and so it is possible not every single anti-Islam statement credited to her is actually her. That being said, her own YouTube channel is so chock-a-block with anti-Muslim contents as to make me tremendously uncomfortable.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:36 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"It frames every argument, structures language, and every element of human experience...."

(alecguinness) Patriarchy is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together. (/alecguiness)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:36 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had to stop for a minute and look as to whether the author lives in the US. Finding that she does, and that the recent free for all over women's right to medical freedom by old white men in Government wasn't exactly hushed up, I have to question the author's sanity.

The definition of Patriarchy, control by fathers/males of the levers of social, economic, and political power, are most definitely measurable. How many men vs women do we have in top elected and non-elected government positions? How many men vs women run the think tanks on economic policy?

Then again, the author seems to be interested in attacking the small insular groups who believe in absolute patriarchy which clearly doesn't exist. This doesn't mean that patriarchy as a general force (abstract and socially distributed) is not something we can show to exist.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:42 PM on January 24, 2013


Gawd, even her most-sourced claim, that she refutes the idea of a double standard, is facially idiotic.

Her premise is that because a study of neutral descriptions (or equally biased) of different genders' sexual behavior led to respondents categorizing those descriptions through confirmation bias into a double standard, that this means that there's no such thing as a double standard, just confirmation bias. That's like saying that there's no relativity because systems are evaluated from the observer's frame of reference. The findings CONFIRM a double standard, but don't show causation; "patriarchy" is inferred.

Yargragrgragrag, this is like denying that class antagonism exists because we don't have kings in America.

And the couple of cracks about how people just want to be victims? You guys should be ashamed at the absolute lack of critical thought you put into your reading. Talk about fucking confirmation bias.
posted by klangklangston at 1:53 PM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]




I suppose my concern is that this article gives the uncareful reader a sense that any discussion of patriarchy can be dismissed, because it's all woo woo pseudoscience superman in heaven garbage. And there are a lot of people who really want permission to dismiss that discussion, and it certainly helps that they feel a woman has given them this permission.
posted by Bunny Ultramod


How do you pander to people that can't be bothered to actually read the paper?
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:56 PM on January 24, 2013


How do you pander to people that can't be bothered to actually read the paper?

I don't know. I didn't say anything about pandering. But if you're somebody who is predisposed to thinking that patriarchy is garbage, all you really need to read is the first paragraph to feel like somebody is agreeing with you.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:02 PM on January 24, 2013


According to Ms. Chambers, two of the six things stupid people do is 1) Pretend to like Jazz or some obscure band nobody has ever heard of and 6) Create trivial, straw-man arguments defeat their own arguments, then give themselves a pat on the back for job well done.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:03 PM on January 24, 2013


There've been a lot of fair criticisms of the author and her sources here. I don't think that the article is really a challenge to anything feminism is saying, but if it was written in poor faith and to attack a strawman, then I suppose there's still some troubling stuff going on.

A bunch of people here are discussing the article in the context of dubious sources and an author an axe to grind against feminism. If that's true then I see where you people are coming from.

I don't have a background in political-philosophy and have no idea who the author is. I assumed that the article was written/presented in good faith, and it sounds like I was wrong about that.

I still don't see how the text of the article is a challenge to feminist theory, but it's not my field, so I'll leave the philosophy to people that understand it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:04 PM on January 24, 2013


Falsifiability a la Popper is only one of many attempted solutions to the demarcation problem in the philosophy of science. It is by no means universally accepted or applied within science (hard/natural/social/whatever) or philosophy.
posted by yourcelf at 2:05 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, on further reading, I'm going to admit that I can't tell dense political philosophy from dense political philosophy, stop assuming good faith, and go have a cup of coffee. Thanks for clearing that one up.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:14 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I don't have a background in political-philosophy and have no idea who the author is. I assumed that the article was written/presented in good faith, and it sounds like I was wrong about that."

So, I'm not bagging on you, but if this was written in good faith, it fails in two significant ways: First, the idea that absolute patriarchy is not falsifiable is fine, but that's not really a conclusion that anyone would disagree with and it doesn't need an essay. Second, the conclusions that she does draw (like that there aren't double standards for sexual behavior) are unsupported by her evidence.

Even her odd asides, like that socialism can't create technology that rivals capitalism, are predicated on bizarre, idiosyncratic definitions.

She may be a decent linguist in her field, but when it comes to presenting even basic arguments, she fails. And if you can't present decent arguments, then you have no business mucking about with philosophy. She's barely boiling water, yet presenting herself as a visionary chef.
posted by klangklangston at 2:15 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't have a background in political-philosophy and have no idea who the author is. I assumed that the article was written/presented in good faith, and it sounds like I was wrong about that.

Really, the attention pulling excerpt here should have been a warning that this is probably not going to be somebody disposed to argue in good faith.

Then just looking at her blog, it's screaming kook from the get go. And reading her self description: CEO, wife, mother, yeah, this is not likely to be a person who takes patriarchy seriously...

(One of the things I've learned on the internet: prejudice and ideological bias can be a good thing when judging this sort of essay, that looks impressive and might take some of your precious time decyphering otherwise.)
posted by MartinWisse at 2:25 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


That first commenter's implicit misogyny shows itself:
I've seen you in a couple of your husband's videos on yt, but did not expect you had this much insight and intellectual rigor. Well done."
Gross.

Like others have said, the rest of her content ranges from "not much better" to "horrifyingly racist."

I'm also generally suspicious of anyone that refers to themselves as the CEO of what appears to be a facebook page.
posted by ndfine at 2:44 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Stagger Lee: “Yeah, on further reading, I'm going to admit that I can't tell dense political philosophy from dense political philosophy, stop assuming good faith, and go have a cup of coffee. Thanks for clearing that one up.”

Sorry if my response to you earlier sounded like an attack; I didn't mean it as such. I disliked this article, but I think it's really worth thinking about what we're talking about here.

In fact, maybe we should get beyond this one article and talk a little about the grim reality of what patriarchy means. It's easy for me and for others to say "that's not what patriarchy means!" and "that's not what feminism means!" But it's much more productive to talk about what those things do mean, and to talk about the ways in which patriarchy is part of the reality we live every day.

If you want a well-written, concise, thoughtful overview of the evidence that there exists a system of gendered oppression, look no further than this excellent article by Rebecca Solnit, which I was lucky enough to stumble across today:

“We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.”

Honestly, this is one of the more important and thoughtful essays I've ever read on gender issues, and I encourage everyone to check it out.
posted by koeselitz at 2:48 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


"It's barnacles are entirely invisible."

Ugh! I'm sick of Mrs. Malaprop's rants.
posted by pickles_have_souls at 3:12 PM on January 24, 2013


The Rebecca Solnit is incredibly shrill and very long on the rant, hyperbole, cherry-picking, and contributes nothing but a very generalized gender blame, it's gross, offensive, and lazy thinking.

But the most damning thing is it lacks any coherent suggestions on how to improve quality of life outcomes for women, particularly the most vulnerable women (the poor and under educated from developing countries). Luckily numerous studies, pilot studies, NGO programs, government and corporate investments -- the actual people and networks spending their time correcting these vast inequities have long ago acknowledged these disparities and are taking aggressive steps in developing greater equity, education, and financial security to women throughout the developing world.
posted by Shit Parade at 3:14 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shit Parade: “The Rebecca Solnit is incredibly shrill and very long on the rant, hyperbole, cherry-picking, and contributes nothing but a very generalized gender blame, it's gross, offensive, and lazy thinking.”

I sincerely have no idea how you got any of those things out of that article. It is none of those things. If you want to give a few examples, fine, but at this point it sounds a lot more like you're reacting emotionally to what you think is the implication. As Solnit says, the fact that violence is clearly and demonstrably gendered in our society doesn't make men evil. But you've read some of the statistics and concluded that that's what she's building to. That is a mistake.

“But the most damning thing is it lacks any coherent suggestions on how to improve quality of life outcomes for women, particularly the most vulnerable women (the poor and under educated from developing countries). Luckily numerous studies, pilot studies, NGO programs, government and corporate investments -- the actual people and networks spending their time correcting these vast inequities have long ago acknowledged these disparities and are taking aggressive steps in developing greater equity, education, and financial security to women throughout the developing world.”

Again, this isn't true. The last seven paragraphs go a long way toward pointing up the ways women and men have done great good in this arena, and sketching a way forward. Did you read that far?
posted by koeselitz at 3:35 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Go back to your Philosophy department hobbit holes, everyone who enjoyed this.

No, much more likely that people who've studied philosophy will be taking this apart. Philosophy encourages careful thinking, and this essay showcases some spectacularly sloppy thinking and writing.

-The theory she describes isn't held by anyone.

-Popper isn't regarded by contemporary philosophers of science as having a correct or authoritative analysis of what science is or what the cardinal virtues of a theory should be.

and worst,
-She doesn't do a good job of saying how belief in the patriarchy makes itself immune to falsification.

Now, this is very annoying because it seems to me there is a genuine epistemic problem for people who endorse some of these central feminist ideas about patriarchy and privilege, and how certain kinds of influence and causal relations will be not just subtle but systematically obscured; how certain kinds of evidence/testimony are systematically devalued/erased; and how certain privileged social positions can blind their occupants to some of what's obvious to less-privileged people in the same hierarchy.

If we believe in good old fashioned rules for deciding which beliefs to accept -- for example, that evidence should be intersubjectively available, that we need to vet the trustworthiness of testifiers before we take their word for things, etc -- then we face some real difficulties about how to weigh various evidence and claims in a domain where (it's claimed that) some of the evidence is only available to some parties, and (it's claimed that) the system is biased to discount the testimony of certain parties, etc.

It would be great to have an essay that does a good job of describing and exploring the epistemic problem from a sympathetic perspective. This essay has chosen what could be an interesting topic and made a complete hash of it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:39 PM on January 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


I kept expecting to see some argumentation for her claim, and there was none. Zip, zilch. She just asserts that "patriarchy" can't be falsified.

There could be an interesting conversation on whether falsifiability even applies to a complex social theory. Complex theories (evolution, classical physics, quantum physics) have so many parts that it's debatable whether they are "falsifiable" as a whole. And anyway, human culture is not physics.

But she's not even starting that conversation. (A serious attempt ought to, at the least, give at least one example of a falsifiable complex social theory.)
posted by zompist at 3:57 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


she spends the majority of her space listing singular gruesome examples, like Ivan and his newspaper clippings. I've reread the last 7 paragraphs several times, again very little beyond some general vague conceptions, but several more gruesome examples of particular events. I find programs like Feed the Future a much more impressive and fruitful conversation on how to improve gender security.
posted by Shit Parade at 4:24 PM on January 24, 2013


When I look back on human history I see 5000 years of brutes in leadership. Usually replaced by more brutes. Until we ask ourselves how that pattern came to be, there's less need for talk about conspiracy and more need for talk about why we still adore strongmen so much.
posted by Twang at 5:07 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


there's less need for talk about conspiracy

We're not talking about some shadowy cabal of men, here, dude.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:09 PM on January 24, 2013


Ah, I remember the papers I wrote *my* freshman year of college, too.

Good times, good times.
posted by edheil at 5:29 PM on January 24, 2013


Koeslitz, I acknowledge your right to disagree with Popper, and many intelligent people do. But they don't generally dismiss him as "an idiot".
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:29 PM on January 24, 2013


What LobsterMitten said. My appetite has been whetted for a real critique, and not just this silliness.

Besides, patriarchy isn't really a theory unto itself, is it? At least, no more than alienation or injustice are theories unto themselves. Patriarchy is a concept. Of course it's unfalsifiable within certain systems of thought, just as it might be "not even wrong" within other systems of thought.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:05 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This article is pretty ridiculous... I think you could probably pull a find and replace on it use it to argue against the concepts of culture and cultural differences.

I'm trying to become a good pro-feminist dude these days, and a lot of the stuff that I read about patriarchy makes it sound EXTREMELY falsifiable.

The way I understand it, it describes a set of attitudes, beliefs, and expectations that people hold in large numbers that put women at a disadvantage compared to men, and a lot of it can be tested and observed directly if you look for it. I wonder how this author would explain the wage gap, sexual assault statistics, the gender disparity when it comes to violent crime, the demographics of the people who have tended to be in power, the prevalence of religions conceiving of god as male and excluding women from leadership roles, the history of laws prohibiting prosecution for spousal rape, laws that denied women the right to vote, or the prevalence with which wives take their husbands' last names compared to husbands taking their wives' names.

All of these aspects of the story, and more, check out.
posted by alphanerd at 8:35 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


aeschenkarnos: “Koeslitz, I acknowledge your right to disagree with Popper, and many intelligent people do. But they don't generally dismiss him as ‘an idiot’.”

Karl Popper himself did not shrink from calling other thinkers "fascist" and "authoritarian" simply because he happened to disagree with them. However: you are correct that that isn't conducive to reasoned debate, and I regret that I resorted to such tactics. I'm sorry about that.
posted by koeselitz at 8:45 PM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow... My first really post on MeFi, and it is memorable to say the least. Still chewing on on the comments, even if there were a few needless ad hominems. I've only read this article by the author and found the take on patriarchy interesting. But reading the criticism, I can see shortcomings that I didn't originally. I largely agree with Lobster Mitten.
posted by scharpy at 11:49 PM on January 24, 2013


We're not talking about some shadowy cabal of men, here, dude.

What a coincidence ... neither was I !

In re Popper: admittedly I got more out of Polanyi's little book than Popper's big book.
posted by Twang at 12:12 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Falsifiability is not about the truth or falsity of any given scientific theory, it is a criterion that an argument must meet to be considered as a scientific theory in the first place, namely that there must always be a real possibility of finding scientific evidence that would falsify the theory in question.

OK then, can falsifiability itself ever be a scientific theory?

In order for falsifiability to be a theory, there would have to be the possibility of evidence that would falsify it, and since falsifiability is about scientific theories, that evidence would have to take the form of a scientific theory-- a scientific theory that was not falsifiable.

But we already know that there are no scientific theories that are not falsifiable because that's the fundamental criterion by which we identify scientific theories, so there is no possibility of ever finding any scientific evidence that would falsify falsifiability.

Therefore, falsifiability is not falsifiable and cannot ever be a scientific theory.

What is falsifiability, then?

Only two real possibilities occur to me: either it is an unquestionable monolith which stands forever outside the purview of science-- and even outside of Nature itself, since all Nature is the purview of science-- and yet which all science depends upon for validity (in other words, falsifiability can scarcely be distinguished from the Godhead itself!), or it is an heuristic which has been useful in the past and probably will be again in the future, somewhat like Occam's Razor.

And I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the latter.
posted by jamjam at 12:22 AM on January 25, 2013


"Falsifiability is not about the truth or falsity of any given scientific theory, it is a criterion that an argument must meet to be considered as a scientific theory in the first place, namely that there must always be a real possibility of finding scientific evidence that would falsify the theory in question."

Your premises start to rot right there. Is falsifiability necessary to consider something a scientific theory?

"In order for falsifiability to be a theory, there would have to be the possibility of evidence that would falsify it, and since falsifiability is about scientific theories, that evidence would have to take the form of a scientific theory-- a scientific theory that was not falsifiable."

Paradoxes like this are usually a sign of poorly defined terms.
posted by klangklangston at 12:46 AM on January 25, 2013


Well this thread has had a little silver lining: I've realised that I need to understand what all this falsifiability bizzo is about. If anyone wants to make a post about it, you'll have at least one reader :)
posted by harriet vane at 1:30 AM on January 25, 2013


I'm sorry guys, this person is an academic? Who's already written a book?

I'm afraid I'm not sure if you are being sarcastic. For what it is worth, she describes herself on her blog as "CEO and Chemist behind Seattle Soap Company. I am a wife, mother, linguist, and artist. Self sufficient, self-reliant and obsessed with everything DIY."

Also, the headline of her blog is "Toxic harangues and buffooneries written by an eccentric, atheist, cynic, comic, and all round unusual person who enjoys canning, gardening, creating cool stuff with glitter whist [sic] occasionally tripping smelly grumpy old people at the shopping mall for her own sick amusement."

Her favourite quote is "I am your density...I mean...your destiny."

Make of all that what you will, but it doesn't look promising to me. In my experience people who want others to know how eccentric and intelligent they are seldom either of those things in practice...
posted by lucien_reeve at 4:09 AM on January 25, 2013


> The definition of Patriarchy, control by fathers/males of the levers of social, economic, and political power, are most definitely measurable. How many men vs women do we have in top elected and non-elected government positions? How many men vs women run the think tanks on economic policy?

> I wonder how this author would explain the wage gap, sexual assault statistics, the gender disparity when it comes to violent crime, the demographics of the people who have tended to be in power, the prevalence of religions conceiving of god as male and excluding women from leadership roles, the history of laws prohibiting prosecution for spousal rape, laws that denied women the right to vote, or the prevalence with which wives take their husbands' last names compared to husbands taking their wives' names.

For anyone wanting some actual research on things like this, a recent study on gender bias in science is interesting.

It's nice and neat: their methodology was to send one of two identical resumes with gendered names to colleagues, and then ask for advice on whether to hire the applicant and a suggested salary, all double blind.

And it shows that both men and women discriminate significantly against female applicants, which - as I understand the concept - is right in line with the predictions of patriarchy.

(So no rabbits in the precambrian on this occasion)
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 9:05 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


> In order for falsifiability to be a theory, there would have to be the possibility of evidence that would falsify it, and since falsifiability is about scientific theories, that evidence would have to take the form of a scientific theory-- a scientific theory that was not falsifiable.

This sounds a lot like the problem of induction, which, while really interesting, hasn't struck a deathblow to 1) science or 2) any other reasoning based on induction - e.g. whether it would be a good idea or bad idea to point a loaded gun at your head and pull the trigger. It seems a bit unfair to dismiss Popper on similar grounds.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 9:16 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aren't all of the social sciences themselves unfalsifiable?
posted by rhizome at 11:48 AM on January 25, 2013


No, not really. Are you unfamiliar with the social sciences?
posted by klangklangston at 12:11 PM on January 25, 2013


"It frames every argument, structures language, and every element of human experience...."

(alecguinness) Patriarchy is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together. (/alecguiness)


It's perhaps even more pertinent that Alec Guinness didn't think much of his role beyond the $$ he needed at the time, and thought his dialogue was "rubbish":
new rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wadges of pink paper – and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable.
Yup, comic book characterizations in both texts. (And I don't mean graphic novel-type comics. A Maus-level treatment of feminist theories [plural] of patriarchy - that I'd read.)
posted by Philofacts at 2:26 PM on January 25, 2013


It ain't Maus, but it's a good time: Introducing Feminism.
posted by klangklangston at 12:20 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I figured there might be an "Introducing..." volume on it. (Looks a bit more general than what I had [offhandedly] in mind.] I have a few of that series on various philosophers, fields of philosophy, etc. Handy when I don't feel like giving the complete synopsis to some random curious friend but do want them to get something of an accurate overview. Another series that is good enough to have been included among the course lists of some of my undergrad classes, as initial texts, although it's not in a graphic format, is the "A Very Short Introduction to..." series. One such was the one on Continental Philosophy, by Simon Critchley, whom I later met at an anarchism seminar at the New School in NYC and got to thank for his lucid overview of an area notorious for its obscurantists.
posted by Philofacts at 5:55 AM on January 26, 2013


My takeaway from this article is that its worst consequence is that it's likely to be seized upon by the MRA (Men's Rights Activists) crowd with triumphant cries of "See! A woman wrote this! We're right!", since the level of their critical thinking is generally just as poor as what's demonstrated in the article, if what I've had to endure, when someone I know who's an MRA type has dumped all over anything and everything I've posted that was even vaguely feminist, is any indication.

If anything, the best feminist writings I've come across have struck me as exemplars of thorough skeptical thinking, of an applied scientific mindset in the broadest sense. When one is a victim of real, sustained discrimination & violence, one tends to question one's world a bit more completely and urgently than do those who are less so.

Time and time again I've been brought up short against my own male myopia by women who point out things I've missed because they aren't part of *my* everyday experience, and who have critiqued me, stingingly but accurately, for shooting my mouth off (even mansplaining, which was not my conscious intent, but that's hardly a defense) on things I don't know enough about. It's an ongoing, gradual process.
posted by Philofacts at 6:29 AM on January 26, 2013


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