Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why Can't Critical Theory Be More . . . Critical?

Jean-Christophe Lurenbaum, self-described "militant au planning familial" (which I totally want on my business cards), recently published his master's thesis, entitled Naître est-il dans l'intérêt de l'enfant? (Is birth in the interest of the baby?) at the Université Pierre Mendès France.

M. Lurenbaum makes a very important point: the modern value of preventing suffering is at odds with the ancient value of procreation. We as human beings use various strategies to avoid confronting this conflict, including outright denial of science.

But Lurenbaum is writing critical theory (French feminist critical theory, no less), not science, and he denies science (or makes bullshit assumptions that elide scientific thinking) in his own way. Here is an exemplary claim (p. 25):
Ces indices attestent une création tardive du concept de père, suivie de la mise en place d'un contrôle masculin sur le pouvoir de reproduction des femmes après l'invention de l'élevage : le moment de l'invention de l'élevage focalise donc le soupçon d'une découverte d'un rôle masculin dans la reproduction. [Emphasis in original.]
These observations attest to a relatively late creation of the concept of the father, followed by the development of male control over the reproductive power of women after the invention of agriculture: the moment of invention of agriculture is the moment when mankind first suspects that men have a role in reproduction. [Translation mine.]

Essentially, the claim is that pre-agricultural people did not understand how sexual reproduction works. (Lurenbaum maintains that there are cultures to this day that lack the concept of a father.) This is at odds with the evidence that pre-agricultural peoples do, in fact, understand where babies come from, as evidenced not only directly by ethnographic records, but indirectly by the universality of punishment of female adultery and other means of proprietary control of female sexual capacity by men.

I think that even "true stories" are dangerous, because a "story" is a way of thinking about events (a particularly human, conscious way) that implies that events may be meaningful. "True" "stories" are dangerous because life is actually meaningless, and "stories" make us falsely believe that life is meaningful, and that the actual fact of suffering can be justified by subsequent events, the attitude of the sufferer, etc. But this story of Lurenbaum's, while deployed toward a noble conclusion, is a false one. I will be the first to admit that humans are stupid monkeys, but even the behavior of literal monkeys reflects the importance of genetic paternity.

Lurenbaum's entire text is steeped in the myth that, because representations of goddesses are more common in some ancient cultures than representations of male gods, ancient societies must have been literally female-dominated. This is so retarded that it makes the baby Jesus cry, yet it is a core belief of science-denying academic feminist critical theory. It's just as stupid and falsifiable as a claim of a weeping statue, and it is protected from rational analysis in the way that other culturally important myths are protected.

The idea that the imperative to reproduce is a patriarchal human construction is one that can only be held by a denier of evolutionary biology - or at least someone whose understanding of human evolutionary history is confused.

I will give Lurenbaum props for reminding me that Hitler was an unashamed pronatalist (p. 130). Do you love Hitler? Yes? Then have more babies!

Thanks to Chip for sending me this article, and to Jim for independently posting it at antinatalism.net.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for your attention.

    About "Lurenbaum maintains that there are cultures to this day that lack the concept of a father", you can verify and read for example Hua, Cai, Une société sans père ni mari [Society without father neither husband]. Les Na de Chine, Paris, PUF, (1997), 2000... or go directly to China to see this society.

    There is no male domination in this society. No father, no patriarcat. Sexuality there is free and equal, people have currently hundreds of partners.

    "Lurenbaum is writing critical theory... not science". I challenge you to demonstrate errors in what I say : about datas and science, all are detailed and could be easily verify at

    http://dumas.ccsd.cnrs.fr/docs/00/52/92/73/PDF/Annexes_-_Naitre_est-il_dans_l_interet_de_l_enfant.pdf

    On the same way, I never wrote that "ancient societies must have been literally female-dominated".

    But your first point is the very right one and has to be considered :

    "M. Lurenbaum makes a very important point: the modern value of preventing suffering is at odds with the ancient value of procreation."

    What I try to show is :

    - Reproduction Ideology appeared long long time ago with the magic thinking that a baby is a spirit of ancestor who want to revive (it was the main representation of reproduction over the world, before we kwnew the recent biologic way),

    - Reproduction Ideology is in conflict with non-suffering way. For example with its patriarcal step, Reproduction Ideology was very bad for women (or homosexuality, contraception, free sexuality, the right to suicide...).

    Then, it's not enough to fight against Patriarcat, we have to fight further against Reproduction Ideology, to avoid suffering.

    Excuse me for my english which is not so easy.

    jc Lurenbaum

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  2. Merci pour votre attention aussi. Vous écrivez en anglais mieux que j'écris en français!

    Obviously, we agree in our conclusions (birth is not in the interest of the child). And we both agree that an unfortunate, immoral force causes us to reproduce. In your view, it is an "ideology" - the patriarchy and reproduction ideology. In my view, the malevolent force is merely biology, which is of course reflected in culture.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I see your view of history as follows: (1) pre-agricultural humans are promiscuous, egalitarian, don't have sexual jealousy; (2) agriculture is developed, humans begin to understand the male role in reproduction; (3) powerful males develop the ideology of patriarchy and reproduction, aided by religion.

    My view of the matter is: (1) early humans were slightly polygynous and males strove to control female sexuality, as in other great apes; early humans exhibited anti-cuckoldry tactics (as do all species where the male invests substantially in raising the offspring); (2) agriculture came along and human nature did not drastically change; males still strove to control female reproductive capacity; (3) modern patriarchy and what you term "reproduction ideology" was not artificially imposed, but arose naturally from our evolved brains.

    The book on the Na is interesting (the English version was released in 2008). The publisher's blurb memorably concludes: "Though thoroughly researched and meticulously presented, it lacks the kind of readability that could have made it a 21st-century Coming of Age in Samoa." Indeed, there are many ethnograhpic tales of societies without fathers and which tolerated female promiscuity. Ford & Beach's Patterns of Sexual Behavior (1951) made the claim that in 7 out of a sample of 139 societies, "the customary incest prohibitions appear to be the only major barrier to sexual intercourse outside of mateship. Men and women in these societies are free to engage in sexual liaisons and indeed are expected to do so provided the incest rules are observed." However, looking at the primary sources, in every single one of the seven societies, extreme violence by cuckolded men is reported.

    (Continued)

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  3. Regarding the famous Trobriand Islanders (who practice female-selective infanticide, by the way), Daly & Wilson say:

    "Malinowski (1929) described a particularly interesting example of a norm of paternal resemblance among the Trobriand Islanders. These people are a favorite example of apparent ignorance of the male's role in procreation. They explicitly deny agnatic kinship. Nevertheless, it is an offense to remark similarity to uterine kin and polite to assert resemblance to the father, who is said to influence the child's appearance in utero by his association with the pregnant mother." (Emphasis mine.)

    I think the whole weight of the evolution of living creatures, and especially the great apes and hominids, must be considered in questioning what human behaviors are "natural" and which are prompted by ideology. (Also of course ideology is often a product of biology.)

    I do not think that the horrors of patriarchy and reproductive ideology (pronatalism) have been artificially imposed on us; they are part of us, and arose naturally. But they are tragedies, and horrors, indeed.

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  4. In societies like the Trobriand Islanders and the Na, paternity confidence is low, hence males invest in their sister' children. But in those situations in a society like this where paternity confidence happens to be high, males do prefer to invest in their own genetic offspring instead of their sister' children, as would be predicted by an inclusive fitness model of parental solicitude.

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  5. When reading you, I realize there must be few misfeets about the interpretation of the french main text (saddly, I have no english translation of it at that time, just the abstract - if somebody is a good translator : help !). Then it will be very difficult for your readers to know what I really wrote !

    Then, shortly about what I think :

    - I investigate to understand how it's possible to reduce suffering of sentients being, what are the barriers

    - the strongest ennemy I discover in the very long term of the humanity is the Reproduction Ideology which give the priority to reproduction although there must be big sufferings (to forbid contraception is an example, same with homosexuality or soft suicide)

    - but it's culturaly possible to free ourself about this Ideology (as we succed little by little with sexist stereotypes) and open the way to non-suffering Value.

    I didn't say that 'being born is not in the best interest of the child' :

    - this is true only in the 'individual consciousness' hypothesis as we are used in Occidental philosophy (we believe that we are the same and different from the others between birth and die, but it's an illusion as bouddhism philosophy demonstrate)

    - if we decide to reach the 'universal consciousness' (there is a continuum between I and the other sentient beings, we all share the suffering feeling, etc - not easy to understand for occidentals), the answer is undetermined. Because with this continuum I will "be" (continuous with) all sentient beings in the future (and because it's impossible to garanty the end of life process and sentient beings for the future), when one baby is coming alive, sometimes it's good for non-suffering in the universe (Gandhi ?) sometimes it's not good...

    For universal consciousness, we can't extinguish suffering with extinction of humans or animals or life (because the process of reproduction/life will probably be one more in the universe, and suffering rebirth) : we just can promote the cultural way of non-suffering to reduce suffering as more we can and the longuest we can...

    But where you are very right is that, because darwinian theory, the Reproduction of Ideology is a lot stronger than Non-Suffering culture. Bad for us !

    (continue)

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  6. About long term history.

    You wrote "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I see your view of history as follows: (1) pre-agricultural humans are promiscuous, egalitarian, don't have sexual jealousy; (2) agriculture is developed, humans begin to understand the male role in reproduction; (3) powerful males develop the ideology of patriarchy and reproduction, aided by religion."

    My subject is not to know if pre-agricultural humans are promiscuous, egalitarian, don't have sexual jealousy, etc. I investigated on the long history of Reproduction Ideology. I think that nobody can easily go against my presentation (the first half page... as you said) about cults of spirits of ancestors and Reproduction Ideology : we have tons of evidences about this in anthropology, ethnology, religions history and few more.

    About the datation of the human knowledge/representation of reproduction (especialy the concept of paternity), what is your hypothesis if not neolithic ? Do you really think that a baby, if we neither teach him, will know one day that "the father is one male who put the gene in the woman with sperm" ? and that apes have this knowledge ? Look at all the different representations of "how to make baby" in different cultures in the historic chronology...

    Then, I don't say that "powerful males develop the ideology of patriarchy and reproduction, aided by religion". Instead, I suggest that, because Reproduction Ideology was strong BEFORE Patriarchy and the invention of father's concept, when males slowly discovered that they have a part in the baby, it facilitated their way to dominate women.


    In all this propositions, I try to use scientific datas that we have now on the academic table, I didn't invent nothing, I just made new links on a large spectrum of knowledges already there. And I repeat that it seems not so easy to demonstrate errors on my writing of the "half page" from the abstract.

    Think you for your patience,

    jc Lurenbaum

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