Archive for July, 2012

Steven Pinker and The Decline of Violence

July 28, 2012

Steven Pinker is a great thinker and writer. He is also (I can personally attest) a great human being. And he has produced a magisterial tour-de-force.

The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a big book on what might seem a narrow topic. But in Pinker’s hands it turns out to be broad indeed. It’s about how humans relate to each other – from individuals to nations – and how those relations have evolved. It’s about moral progress.

Pinker argues that such progress has been immense, concentrated in recent centuries, manifested in a “Humanitarian Revolution” and declines in violence of all kinds, including war. He recognizes this is a tough sell, with so much contrary conventional wisdom: “Man’s inhumanity to Man,” and so forth. (One radio interviewer I heard was like, “Pinker, are you out of your mind?”) That’s partly why it’s a big book. Pinker has to clobber the cynics (non-violently, of course) with an avalanche of facts.

And he’s not satisfied merely showing what has happened. He aims to explain why it happened (as the title promises). However, human life being so complex, such explanations are hard to tease out, and Pinker has to dig deeply in the effort. Following along with this, for the reader, is full of reward.

I’ll be candid that I agree with virtually everything Pinker says — deliciously feeding my confirmation bias. A remarkable number of his points are also found in my own shorter book, The Case for Rational Optimism. (Pinker mentions it; he told me it’s a “wonderful book.”) It’s an excellent alternative if you want just the capsule version.

Pinker starts off with a plot summary of the Bible. This is a hoot. (His writing is sometimes literally laugh-out-loud funny.*) In contrast, the “Good Book” is pretty appalling (though the real good news, Pinker notes, is that little of it is true); but his purpose is not Bible-bashing. Rather, it’s to show how drastically attitudes toward violence have changed – biblical “civilization” was utterly barbaric by today’s standards.

One of Pinker’s key points is that indictments of modernity rest on romanticizing the past and forgetting its horrors. And he unsparingly reminds us. The chapter on torture not only shows how ubiquitous it was, but provides clinical details. It’s extremely unpleasant reading which tender souls may prefer to skip. The pillory might seem a mild, even comical form of punishment. It wasn’t. Victims were helplessly assaulted by onlookers; agony, maiming, and death were common. Other tortures were often far worse.

And what was the bloodiest conflict in history? If you say WWII you’d be right in absolute numbers killed. But its death toll ranks only ninth as a percentage of population. On that measure, history’s killingest episode was one you never heard of: China’s 8th Century An Lushan rebellion. I am both a history buff and Chinese coin specialist, and even I was ignorant of this. It shows how deep historical amnesia runs.

The World Wars were admittedly non-trivial. But all the peaceniks who prattle about our supposedly inveterate war lust are, as is often said of generals, “fighting the last war.” We’re now at 67 years with zero wars among major powers.

To explain this, Pinker invokes Immanuel Kant’s 1795 essay, “Perpetual Peace,” foreseeing a warless club of free-trading democracies. Kant, he says, got three out of three right: trade, democracy, and association among nations practicing those things, all combine to produce peace. Indeed, Pinker sees an even deeper Kantian cause, with all the foregoing reflecting operation of Kant’s “categorical imperative” – guide your actions by principles that can be made universal. In other words, an instinctual human bedrock utilitarian morality. Thus major wars, Pinker says, seem to be going the way of such practices as slavery, heretic-burning, breaking on the wheel, flogging, etc., “that passed from unexceptionable to controversial to immoral to unthinkable to not-thought-about.”

Of course violent conflict still happens; as in Syria. But the cause is almost always bad, undemocratic governments; and more of those are falling than arising. Germany and Japan were the prime examples; Serbia was another. One country at a time, the world grows up, and its juvenile delinquents turn into responsible adults.

As noted, the book presents a mountain of factual material, and the scientifically proper way to assess such data is through statistical analysis. This Pinker does – or perhaps overdoes. The problem is that statistical analyses of such complex phenomena as war and violence entail a plethora of knotty methodological issues, which Pinker conscientiously adumbrates – filling many pages that are apt to leave a lay reader more confused than edified. While of course such analyses are integral to the book’s argument, Pinker might have been bolder in cutting to the chase, recapping the big picture in the text and relegating the nitty-gritty to appendices. Similarly, he seems impelled to pursue every possible nuance of every point, sometimes leading afield of the main line of argument. (Any book review must include at least one knock. There’s mine.)

Pinker is no monomaniacal pedant. Notably, after cataloguing great reductions in varied forms of child abuse, he goes on to argue that we’ve over-corrected, falling into an overblown hysteria that actually harms children. Parents driving kids to school, in fear of abduction, subject them to a far greater risk from car accidents. Keeping them from playing outside contributes to obesity. Et cetera. Pinker seems particularly miffed that misguided overprotectionism has put paid to the game of dodgeball. A DVD of early Sesame Street episodes was labeled “not suitable for children.” And one school banned Halloween costumes in a host of categories – including those that are “scary”!

Speaking of scary, terrorism has preoccupied America for a decade, feeding perceptions of a dangerous, violent world. Pinker is admirably cogent on why that’s so cockeyed. In the big scheme of things, terrorism is simply trivial (vis-à-vis, for example, the 30,000+ yearly U.S. highway deaths, which I keep mentioning, and which we accept without a murmur). Indeed, as Pinker explains, more Americans may have died due to our panic over terrorism than from terrorism itself. He does acknowledge the special danger of nuclear terrorism; but after carefully dissecting all the logistical hurdles, deems it highly improbable. Meantime, terrorism is not on the upswing in recent times, and is actually burning itself out mainly for the simple reason that it rarely works. (With every terrorist atrocity, I ask myself, what is the f—ing point? What do these people expect to accomplish?) That means our strategy toward terrorism is exactly wrong. Getting our knickers in a twist over it makes it seem like it is working. Far better to shrug it off, sending the message: do your worst, it won’t affect us.

So – why has violence declined, virtually across the board? Pinker provides a whole synergistic web of reasons, a virtuous circle in which diverse trends feed each other. At its heart is that people are actually becoming smarter and thinking better. This heresy against conventional wisdom is (like everything in the book) backed up with plenty of evidence and analysis. Pinker also addresses just how and why cognitive advancement leads to greater peaceableness. One aspect is technological progress (accelerated by the growing brainpower) which has made ideas and people increasingly mobile, producing the global village and what Pinker calls the “Republic of Letters.” Civilization is civilizing us. And smarter people are more likely to be liberal – meaning not so much left-liberalism as classical liberalism (my kind), whose chief value is maximizing the autonomy of individuals to pursue their own flourishing, with its corollaries of limited government and free trade. That such a worldview would promote peaceableness over violence seems obvious.

So Pinker does not join with those intellectuals and scientists among whom it is lately fashionable to deride the whole idea of human reason. He thinks we have brains, and use them — increasingly.

This book will make its readers even smarter still; and thus its author isn’t merely heralding a better world, he’s helping it along.

* Discussing vegetarianism, he queries whether a moose-eating bear oughtn’t, morally speaking, be “tempted away with all-soy meatless moose patties.”

There Is No Dark Matter

July 23, 2012

I don’t believe in dark matter.

Now, generally I take a dim view of refusal to accept well-established scientific propositions: heliocentrism, or evolution. But I’m a dark matter nonbeliever.

For many decades we’ve had the “standard model” of physics, standing up quite well to the crucial test of falsification through experiment and observation. This standard model encompasses Einsteinian relativity (modifying Newtonian physics), quantum mechanics, the Big Bang, four fundamental forces, and a zoo of subatomic particles. Physicists have so far been unable to unify it all into a “theory of everything,” reconciling gravity with the other three forces; but hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Nevertheless I, in my naïve way, have long felt something’s wrong at the heart of this standard model.

Isaac Asimov said important moments in science don’t come with someone shouting “Eureka!” but saying, “That’s funny.”

That’s what Jan Oort must have said in 1932, upon noticing that other galaxies, based on calculating gravitational effects, ought to be flying apart, but they’re not. Galaxies are held together by gravity, and gravity’s force is a function of mass. Galaxies didn’t seem to have enough mass – i.e., matter – to account for what we observe.

So, apparently there had to be more matter than we were seeing. This non-visible stuff was named “dark matter,” until we could identify it, which was expected to be soon. Since then, there have been many hypotheses, but none very persuasive.

This is not a small issue. Our calculations indicate that around 84% of the matter in the Universe is dark matter. That’s a lot of stuff to be clueless about.

Meantime there’s another problem: dark energy.

Back in 1929, Edwin Hubble discovered that those little smudges in the night sky were actually other galaxies. The Universe suddenly got a lot bigger. Furthermore, most of those galaxies were flying away from us, and the farther away, the faster. Thus the Universe was not just huge but getting huger. And of course the final shocker was that if you run the film backwards, you end with . . . a Big Bang.

Now, we can readily picture a Big Bang exploding outward, with continued expansion as an after-effect. Though common sense tells us it should be slowing down over time. And so does physics: the gravitational force of all the Universe’s matter should counteract the outward oomph. The question seemed to be whether there’s enough matter to eventually stop the expansion and reverse it, pulling everything back, to end in a “Big Crunch.”

Then came another “That’s funny” moment. This time it was data showing the expansion is not slowing. It’s speeding up.

This made no sense at all, scientists hated it, and tried very hard to make it go away. However, though humanly imperfect, scientists always ultimately accept what evidence shows. So, after much tooth gnashing, it’s now a fact: the Universe’s expansion is accelerating.

What’s causing that? Dark energy. As in the case of dark matter, the “dark” translates to “we don’t know what the f— it is.” And putting dark matter and dark energy together, it’s now about 96% of the Universe we can’t account for.

All this is why I’ve long felt queasy about the standard model. No self-respecting standard model should be flummoxed in such big ways.

But let’s return to dark matter. Again, physics, and the law of gravity, say galaxies should be flying apart unless they have way more matter than we can detect.

But what is this law of gravity, actually? Newton figured it out: objects’ attraction is proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Simple and clear. But why is it the square of the distance? Aha – we have no clue.

For a long time we had no clue how gravity even worked. How does one object move another without touching? Einstein provided an answer. We’ve all seen those illustrations of the bowling ball in the bed, creating a dip. An object distorts the space around it, affecting how other objects move in that space. The Sun is like a bowling ball distorting the “bed” of our solar system, and that gravitation, balanced by the Earth’s own motion, keeps it in orbit.

I’ve frankly always found this a little glib; more a metaphor than an explanation. However, even if you accept it, why must the effect vary with the square of the distance? Of course, we’ve measured it, and it does. But not because it must; there isn’t (as far as we know) some deeper law of nature that requires that exact relationship, in lieu of some different proportionality.

Now, you can’t argue with nature’s laws, but their operation can vary with circumstances. A glaring example: quantum mechanics. Newtonian physics applicable to the everyday world does not apply when it comes to the extremely small, the subatomic world; entirely different laws apply. So – what if Newtonian gravitation does not apply to the extremely large: the galactic world?

This is not my own cockamamie idea. Some very serious scientists are working on this, as it relates to dark matter. Again, the problem is galaxies not behaving as conventional gravity theory says. But it turns out that you only have to tweak Newton’s law just a little – i.e., gravity just a bit stronger at extreme distances – in order to explain what we see – with no need for added matter. The hypothesis is called Modified Newtonian Dynamics, or MOND.*

Realize that we are talking about exceedingly minute effects. When gravity diminishes with the square of the distance, it becomes evanescently tiny when the distance is light years. Even with the proposed tweak, it’s still tiny. The difference between the two is not great enough to seem weird or implausible. Yet that difference is enough to resolve the dark matter mystery.

This also comports with Occam’s razor. It seems far more parsimonious and reasonable to postulate that square-of-the-distance doesn’t precisely hold at extreme distances than to swallow any of the other dark matter hypotheses generally requiring gigantic agglomerations of exotic particles none of which have ever even been detected. In contrast, MOND requires only a very minor adjustment to the standard model. The difference at extremely large scale is much more modest than the perversities that quantum mechanics gives at extremely small scale.

This is why I now believe there is no dark matter. (As to dark energy – let’s stay tuned.)

A final word. This essay may give superficial comfort to the “science knows nothing” mind-set – 96% of the Universe unknown! Well, forget it. That we have these kinds of problems actually shows how very far we’ve come in understanding the cosmos. Earlier generations couldn’t even have conceived questions like these. Science has progressed fantastically, and will continue to do so, improving our understanding (totally unlike certain other constructs by which humans have tried to understand Creation, which conspicuously lack any methodology for adding knowledge).

* I learned about this in Michael Brooks’s book, 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense.

Syria Quotes

July 20, 2012

“This is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control” – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Do you mean till now the Syrian situation has been under control?

“Danger of becoming a civil war” – heard 73 million times since the civil war began over a year ago.


Four down, two to go

“We condemn” (the bomb attack that killed Syria’s defense minister and 3 other monstrous criminals) – British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Under his breath: Must I really say such shit? We’re exultant at this attack.

“Armed terrorist gangs” – Bashar Assad, incorrectly referring to the opposition rather than his own guys.

“No government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person” – Bashar Assad, 12/7/11, no comment necessary.

“Obama Hits Syria With Brutal Blast of Adverbs”Bloomberg News (Jeffrey Goldberg) 5/7/12; but “America’s stockpile of vivid adjectives is being depleted rapidly.”

 “[Silence]” – The International Criminal Court, regarding the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Assad and his henchmen.



The Outsourcing “Debate”

July 17, 2012

Obama: You did outsourcing!

Romney: No, offshoring!

Obama: Same thing! Shipping jobs overseas!

Romney: Did not!

Obama: Did so!

Romney: Did not!

Obama: Did so!

If we’re to have a debate about outsourcing, fine, let’s have it. But this isn’t it. Romney’s lame response is baffling. It’s like, “when did you stop beating your wife?” He can’t win that argument.

But there is a debate Romney could win, if he weren’t such a wuss. He should defend outsourcing, and call Obama not merely on lying, but on economic folly. Yes, most voters have been demagogued into thinking outsourcing is a crime on par with using children’s blood to make matzoh. But it’s a bum rap.

While some individual workers do lose jobs, those losses are balanced by even greater benefits. “Shipping jobs overseas” is good for the overall economy, in two basic ways.

First, it benefits consumers through lower prices and less inflation. If a company can get some work done more cheaply, it can keep prices down, to beat the competition.

 Second, if it doesn’t do that, competitors will eat its lunch and put it out of business. An exporting company must compete against overseas rivals; if it can’t match their costs, and prices, it will fail. (That’s what happened to Solyndra!) And even regarding products sold at home, it’s unrealistic to keep lower-cost foreign competitors at bay. In sum, if outsourcing can reduce costs, then it’s outsource or die. And a dead business provides ZERO JOBS.

So outsourcing is good for U.S. jobs, by keeping employers in business. In fact, studies have shown that companies taking advantage of outsourcing are more successful, they sell more product, expand their markets, and in consequence wind up actually hiring more Americans.

 No responsible economist, of any stripe, would disagree with any of this. It isn’t rocket science, or convoluted economics. It’s plain common sense (in short supply in America’s economic debates). And it would help Romney’s killer line of argument: that Obama bungles the economy. The misguided outsourcing witch-hunt exemplifies this administration’s economic cluelessness.

But if Romney did have the balls to defend outsourcing, imagine the brain-dead hooting and hollering of pundits, let alone Democrats. No wonder Romney won’t do it.

There is a further point. It’s okay to care about our own. But foreigners are our brethren too. They too deserve good jobs; and those “outsourced” by U.S. companies tend to be very good indeed, compared to their alternatives. Outsourcing helps people live better lives, and makes a better world for us all to live in. It’s not a crime; it’s a mitzvah.

NOTE: I posted this before seeing David Brooks’s uncannily similar latest column. Honestly I did!


July 12, 2012

President Obama ignores our real economic problems. He has actually made things worse. America’s borrowing ability is great but not unlimited, and the longer we postpone defusing the entitlement spending bomb, the harder it gets. This will ultimately blow up our economy.

Obama talked of ending partisan bickering, but never walked the walk. Our situation cries out for his leadership on a “grand bargain” – Democrats finally agreeing to major entitlement reform, along the lines of Simpson-Bowles, in exchange for Republicans accepting higher revenues. This at least would constitute a serious long-range economic plan, and a broad spectrum of responsible opinion would strongly support it. If Republicans refuse, Obama could attack them from high ground.

Instead he takes the low road: cheap shots like the Bain Capital ads, and small-beer feel-good proposals, while offering no comprehensive economic plan. It’s remarkably irresponsible; fiddling while Rome burns.

Obama’s campaign harping on fairness is simply a distraction. This isn’t our big economic problem. Nor is it that the rich don’t pay enough. Even raising their taxes as Obama wants would only be a drop in the bucket. We spend way more than taxes can ever sustain.*

 Instead of quibbling about dividing up the pie (the perennial obsession of liberals), we need to make it bigger. Then more people can get bigger slices without reducing the slices of others. Such economic growth would also ease our debt problem.

Democrats act like all the economy needs is to be goosed back to normal humming, by government stimulus. But massive stimulus so far (repeated trillion dollar deficits) hasn’t done the trick. Obama’s economic proposals, all together, boil down to borrowing $1.2 trillion annually instead of $1.1 trillion. Could that really make the difference?

 Of course not — because we have deep structural economic problems that government stimulus can temporarily mask but doesn’t cure. Industry grows increasingly high-tech and productive, and the good old blue collar jobs that have in consequence disappeared are not coming back. Highly skilled people thrive, but a majority of American workers lack a college degree, and a quarter or more don’t even finish high school. Hello: this is the chief cause of chronic unemployment (and of inequality, too).**

Stimulus can’t fix this, it’s a band-aid under which the infection festers. Borrowing ever more from China to finance deficits to prop up the economy makes a phony prosperity that only digs our debt hole deeper. Again, Obama is a man without a plan.

The Democrats’ whole economic mentality is reliance on the public sector; they never seem to grasp that wealth creation only ultimately comes from the private sector. Borrowing money, or printing it, to pump into the economy, or boosting government payrolls, does not add to national wealth. Only production of saleable goods and services does.

Thus Obama’s remark about the private (versus public) sector “doing fine” was no mere gaffe. Democrats consistently talk as though more government employment (and debt) can fix the economy. They are besotted with government and hate business; love “jobs” but hate “profits.” They don’t get that companies not making healthy profits can’t hire and keep workers. Same for their demagoguery about “shipping jobs overseas” – if businesses don’t stay competitive by keeping costs down, they can’t employ anybody.

Government regulating the economy

Over-regulation doesn’t help. This may sound daft after 2008. But liberals always overrate government’s ability to do it right and underestimate downsides. It’s debatable whether 2002’s Sarbanes-Oxley law, to curb Enron-like abuses, does much good. But it does create massive red tape for businesses, particularly harmful for small ones, impeding their growth. The number of new companies going public annually has plummeted sharply since Sarbanes-Oxley. Dodd-Frank vastly compounds the problem.

Hate me for this: we’d be better off with zero regulation. Because the undoubted abuses would be more than compensated by greater business expansion, wealth and job creation, and enlarging the economic pie for everyone. (Just look here, at China.) The most effective regulatory regime is a free competitive market with no government protection. The Democrats’ regulation lust makes them the anti-growth party.

And they’re not the education party. They are the party of the teachers’ unions, avatars of the status quo, resistant to reform, and especially to competition. Again, America’s education level is no longer good enough – a key reason for economic underperformance.

This election will be close. Even if Obama squeaks through, Dems will not sweep back into the House of Representatives, and may well lose the Senate besides. To re-elect Obama would lock in four more years of partisan war, ensuring inaction on the nation’s real problems. After four years, they will be considerably worse, and harder yet for the political system to deal with.

Republicans (as I’ve blogged) do have their own meshugas. But on the direction of the economy, they’re still much nearer the right track than Obama and the Democrats. And at least if a single party controls both White House and Congress, they can’t evade accountability. They might, just conceivably, do something right.***

*And the messed up tax code itself is a major drag on the economy.

** See also David Brooks’s recent column about how affluent families do far more than lower income groups to prepare their children for success.

*** Romney could invoke a useful new guy’s wheeze: “When I got into office, I found our finances even worse than I thought . . . .”

The Climb From Slime To Sublime

July 7, 2012

For four billion years, Earth was populated by living things with no grasp of their situation nor control over it. Then at last came something new: a creature aching for understanding, and, through it, for mastery.

We arrived as naked animals like the rest, clueless and powerless, pitiful really. But we got to work. We started making tools from rocks and sticks and bones, whatever we could find. We started making fire. We started making words.

With words, we could start building knowledge by passing it along. That went into overdrive when we figured out how to write.

Meantime, with fire, we began melting metal from stone to make better tools. Then, after millennia foraging for food, we found a way to make that too. This was our first, and most profound, declaration of independence. And, once sure of our next meal, we could do so much more: we could have permanent homes, then cities, and civilization, and Facebook.

But still we understood so little. The sky, the sun and stars, were mysteries, so too the earth below, wind and rain, and even the inside our own skins. We faced a mountain of secrets we could barely scratch away at, crumb by crumb. It took a long time just to find the right way to scratch: Aristotle, Archimedes, Lucretius, Francis Bacon scratched their way to the method we call science, to pile up those hard-won crumbs of truth, to build them into castles.


Copernicus, Brahe, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Herschel (and many more; always many more) began to decipher the celestial blueprint; men like Vesalius and Harvey our inner one. Always so much to figure out. People like Francis Bacon and Newton again, and Boyle, Priestley, Bernoulli, Lavoisier, Wohler, started to untangle the underlying fabric of existence; Dalton and Mendeleev to weave its pattern.

And it was not just a picture we were making – we were making power. It began with putting animals to work; then gradually fire, and coal, and water power; then James Watt started putting steam to work. Men like Franklin, Faraday, Ohm, Maxwell, began to dissect the forces of nature itself; and ones like Morse, Edison, Bell and Westinghouse to harness those unseen yet even more powerful forces too, at our command.

Slowly at first, one little innovation, invention or improvement at a time, bit by bit, then gathering speed, ever faster, ever better, our machines commenced to whirr and hum, making things and making tools to make more things, tools for living, to chop away our age-old shackles. Before, just staying alive took all the work we could do; life was something to be endured. Now it could be enjoyed.

And we could get more of it as well. Suffering, pain and disease had always been our constant afflictions, but these too we strove against: Lister, Koch, Pasteur, Fleming, Salk, and a million others, scratching away at another side of that mountain. In the great war of life against death, the tide of battle at long last began to turn.



Yet still so much more to figure out. Still we had only myths for how we’d even got here. But then came a man who actually figured that out. Charles Darwin had what’s been called the best idea ever. But “idea” is an inadequate word: it was an incredible revelation. (Literally incredible, to some even today.)

Darwin gave us the big picture scoop on living things. Yet still we needed much more, to get inside the clockwork. Mendel, Morgan, and Dobzhansky figured it out, on one level; Watson and Crick on a deeper level; and today we continue going deeper still.

And just as Copernicus and Newton gave us the big picture of the cosmos, here too the mountain was really hardly scratched. Came now people like Einstein, Rutherford, Curie, Planck, Fermi, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, teasing out the clockwork at the innermost level of existence. And the outermost too: we have taken the measure of cosmic vastness, and even figured out how it all began, with the Big Bang.

But this whole story, starting with the first creature with a mind not just to wonder but to scratch, to figure something out, has all been one great big bang. Our at first pitiable but indefatigable and ever deeper scratchings have not yet leveled that mountain – but we have penetrated far into its core. All that’s knowable shall be known.

There are no gods; just us; but that’s enough.

“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”

July 3, 2012

That’s the title of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent article that has the nation abuzz.

The story: Slaughter was a tenured (!) Princeton (!) professor (!), married to another (!), with two adolescent boys; she got a top State Department post (!). She commuted home on weekends, but sometimes family situations required extra trips. She finally decided her boys needed her closer, so left government and resumed her professorship, plus 40-50 speeches a year (!), regular TV and radio appearances (!), working on a book (!), and writing articles (!) like this one.

Boo hoo. I feel so sorry she “still can’t have it all.”

This is not exactly a poster girl for motherhood conflicting with career. Yet Slaughter invokes her “predicament” to argue that society ought to change to make it easier for women “to have it all.”

Earth to Slaughter: Hello, nobody can ever have it all. (But gosh, woman, you come damn close.)

Life is about making choices. There are no free lunches. Whatever it is you desire, there is always a price to be paid, a sacrifice to be made, a trade-off. There is no such thing as “having it all,” not for women, not for men, not for anybody.

Earth to Slaughter: Raising children involves sacrifices.

Where is it written that you should be able to raise children in New Jersey while also holding a high-power Washington job? That Slaughter would love to have both is understandable. Whining that she can’t is ridiculous.

Suppose she also would love to compete in the Olympic pentathlon. For her, “having it all” would include that too. If she can’t have that, plus the government job, plus the kids, is that tragic?

Many of us like eating lots of chocolate. We also want slim bodies. Can’t have both. Life is choices and trade-offs.

 The rap is that for all the gains women have made, they are still way behind men in careerdom, because of a “glass ceiling,” i.e., discrimination. It ain’t so. What is true is that women, on average, have different career trajectories than men because the average woman behaves differently from the average man. Studies have shown that women whose approach to work and career resembles men’s get outcomes and pay similar to men’s.

But it’s just a biological fact that parenthood differs between the genders. Nature and evolution have programmed women to be more invested in children than men are. Thus, on average, men skew the trade-offs between career and parenting differently than women do, and that affects their career outcomes.

There are other factors. Women have different psychologies than men, they tend to want somewhat different things, and to behave differently even apart from parenting concerns. They tend to be less aggressive and pushy. Et cetera. And while Slaughter argues that society would benefit from greater female contributions in the workplace, it also benefits from what they do in parenting. The parenting inevitably detracts from the workplace; but we certainly don’t want to give up the former for the sake of the latter.

In sum, if women were more like men, their careers would be more like men’s. But do women want to be more like men? Would life be better if they were?

Earth to Slaughter: You can’t have a penis either.


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