Saturday, October 01, 2011

Logic and male status

Pamela Gerloff has commented on my earlier post with some remarks that deserve to be taken seriously.  Her main points are as follows (I hope I have summarised them correctly).
1.  That the discussion on this site is  male-dominated.
2. That research (such as by sociolinguist Deborah Tannen) shows that male conversation typically serves a different purpose than female, leading to misunderstanding.
3. Male discussion is characterised by jockeying for position and establishment of status, which is different from how women tend to approach discussion.
4.  Likewise, discussion on this site is about commenters asserting their own status as superior thinkers and logicians and not about fruitful intellectual inquiry.
How do we answer this?  In one sense, it is easy. Logicians are concerned about the validity of arguments alone, and the complaints by the commenters here were about exactly that.  Pamela's arguments simply weren't valid.  Now even if it is correct that the men's comments were motivated by positioning and status, in order to establish themselves as 'superior thinkers and logicians', that hardly invalidates their position.  If an argument is invalid, it is invalid, whatever my motivation in affirming its invalidity.  The reply to Pamela seems clear: her first argument was invalid, and so was her reply to critics, which was a form of ad hominem (addressing the person, not the reasoning).

In another sense it is more difficult.  I am sure Pamela will reply that my objection remains stuck on the rails of 'male logic'.  Calling ad hominem is just another move in the game of patriarchal domination. Why, after all, is it called 'ad hominem' (to the man)?  There is a nice observation by Robin Turner along this line.
If women reject logic and rely solely on feelings, they are left in the weak position of having to argue with feelings. Feeling that something is true does not make it true, and it will not convince anyone else that it is true either. You can say, "I feel X", but the person you are arguing with can just as well reply, "Well I don't." The result is that the argument usually goes nowhere. This is particularly damaging in arguments between men and women, since both sides are likely to go away with their prejudices strengthened; the men think women are subjective, emotional and illogical, and the women think men are impersonal, cold and over-intellectual.

To justify their feelings of hurt at being "beaten" in an argument, the women concerned may go further and dismiss the whole thing as "male logic", as though there were two types of logic, on for men and another for women. This then places the men in an impossible position, since if they attempt to be reasonable, they are accused again of using "male logic", in the same way that if a woman gets upset in an argument, it is taken as proof that she is overly emotional, and hence irrational. This does not only lead to a lack of communication between the sexes, it leads to a lack of communication in which women come off worse, since policy is generally made as the result of argument, not sharing feelings. [link]


Pamela said...

Thanks for this enlightening post, Edward. Truly, until I read it I had not understood what sport you were playing. (Insufficient context, I guess.) I had originally thought your sport was to seek understanding of the point of my blog post. (Natural to expect this, in my context.) When I began to understand that that was not the game you were playing, I thought you were simply turning your logic sport into a fox hunt. (A fine pasttime for those who like to hunt.) It took me until now to understand that you don't really care whether something is *actually* true or might be *experientially* true. You care only whether it is *arguably* or *logically* true. To you, they are all one and the same. To me, they are not necessarily.

I'd guess you would argue that what I just said is faulty logic, even nonsense. I understand that, and now I understand why you are arguing the things you are arguing. I realize also that you and your merry men believe you understand what I'm saying. (You've been there, done that, and find it banal. Ref. Tony.)

Apparently your earlier assertion is correct. Without agreement on some fundamentals, there can be no "argument." I would add "nor fruitful discussion."

My only other comment is: I feel sorry for your wife. Please give her my condolences. :)

Kind Regards,

Pamela said...

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other,"
don't make any sense.