How a Meme Shed Light on One of America’s Biggest Problems
I’m sure we’ve all seen the Daily Show interview where a man is asked his stance on abortion:
And I’m here to tell you that this man is not a hypocrite in the slightest.
On the surface, my assertion seems impossible. If we care about protecting lives, why don’t we care about protecting lives from the coronavirus? And if we don’t care about protecting lives from the coronavirus, how can we claim that we care about protecting lives? On the surface, the two seem to contradict each other.
Here is where we drag in an old axiom from the field of psychology: “Correlation does not imply causation.” Sometimes this is quite obvious: if I step out my front door, and immediately get a text that my grandma has passed away, I don’t spend the rest of my life scared of going out the front door. The two events are correlated — they happened at the same time — but it is obvious that my front door did not instantaneously affect events in a state halfway across the country… And, furthermore, that my grandmother’s passing did not somehow psychically compel me to go on a walk.
The problem is when the events seem to be related. For instance, it is known that if you, as a child, had a night light in your room, you are more likely to need glasses in the future. So which causes which? It seems unlikely that night lights themselves could damage your eyes, since they are exposed to much higher amounts of light during the day; additionally, there are no physiological differences between daytime eyes and nighttime eyes which would cause the latter to be more vulnerable to smaller amounts of light. Is it possible that your adult glasses damaged your childhood eyes? Yes… In a world where time travel is possible. In our world, it is obvious that something that happens in 10 years has not had affected — okay, this is what TVTropes calls “Time Travel Tense Trouble.” But the point is, causality does not move backwards chronologically. (And while there are points to be made about the young children already having poor vision, it should be pointed out that this correlation affects children who, during their youth, had 20/20 vision.) One causation is physically impossible; the other causation is… physically impossible. How then could one cause another?
The answer is that they don’t. The answer is that A does not cause B and B does not cause A… And C causes both. The thing in common with both adulthood glasses and childhood night lights is your parents’ vision. They needed the night light, not you; and bad eyesight is known to be hereditary. Therefore, both the night light and your adult spectacles are different symptoms of a single underlying problem.
The lesson there is to understand that sometimes we have to think outside the box. Every problem can be solved if we understand what causes it… But “what causes it” is not necessarily obvious or even included in the presentation of the problem itself. In fact, it’s why I started writing. Modern politics spends too much time getting hung up on symptoms instead of identifying root diseases; I’m doing the best I can — with my, what, 40 hits a week — to correct that. But I digress.
Our maskless conservative presents a similar quandary. His two standpoints seem mutually contradictory if you look at the two of them in isolation. But when we bring in element C, it all makes sense.
Because element C is gender essentialism.
To oversimplify, America is a warrior culture. More accurately, America is a murder culture — the mutated descendent of a kyriarchy that enshrines violence. Murder culture is what you get when you move past the idea that violence is the only road to upward mobility, but do not move past the idea that violence is a road to upward mobility. In America, “just shoot the fucker” is not expected to be the only solution… but it is expected to be an available solution. And it is never considered to be an inappropriate solution.
(I mean, seriously: remember how surprised you were when people reminded you that police officers aren’t actually supposed to kill criminals. Which, again, underscores my point. “But if a peace officer kills a criminal, isn’t that a success of the system?” No, it’s a failure of the system. Especially when we know — from first-hand experience — that police officers are capable of talking down men wielding guns. At least, when they’re white.)
Now, in case you didn’t know what gender essentialism is, it’s the belief that the sexes each have intrinsic and immutable qualities — and not just the basic physiological ones of women being able to get pregnant and men being able to pee standing up. No, gender essentialism posits that there are intrinsic and immutable personality traits associated with each gender. When you put it this way, it’s pretty obvious where we’re going: men are from Mars, women are from Venus; men hunt and kill, women gather and nurture; so on and so forth.
Finally, we draw in one of the key elements of patriarchy. — well, “key elements” may be an overstatement, as in fact patriarchy consists of only two tenets. The first is that men are inherently better than women. The second is that gender essentialism is so true, that men and women are so opposite, that the essentials cannot mix. Those things which a woman are, men should not and cannot be. This is why conservatives oppose feminism: it encourages the mixing of oil and water.
And remember: women gather and nurture.
And then we get back to the idea that men and women are polar opposites, because that defines both of their roles. Women create life, right? Then, obviously, the role of a man — the role of a woman’s polar opposite — is, and must be, to end life.
In the context of this framework, our outspoken conservative no longer seems logically inconsistent. Instead, we see that he is positioning himself as a guardian of the old order — as, well, a conservative. Since a woman’s job is to have babies, it is his duty to make sure that women do that, by outlawing abortion. And since a man’s job is to kill, it’s his duty to remain ready to do so by any means necessary — including, if necessary, biological warfare. If you go by these traditional models, asking a man to not spread COVID is asking him to surrender his very identity as a man.
I said when I started out that this viewpoint is logically consistent. I stand by that statement. There is no logical conflict between the ideas that American men should be able to kill each other and that American women should not.
This does not mean, and should not be taken to mean, that I condone the idea that men and women must have polar and separate roles. I am not a gender essentialist, and anyone who is one, or ever has been one, has been ignoring fact the entire time. If you have met any number of real, actual people, you know that every man is not identical, that every woman is not identical, and that people like to do what they do. Some men are better parents than some women. Some women are better soldiers than some men. This is how human beings have always been, and trying to change it is a waste of time.
More importantly, this does not mean, and should not be taken to mean, that I condone the tenet of American men being allowed to kill each other. One of America’s biggest problems is its love affair with violence; one of its biggest problems is its insistence on, still, today, defining men by their capacity for violence. One of America’s biggest problems is its insistence that “just shoot the fucker” is and should be an appropriate solution.
It’s what we need to fix if we want to move forward.