Monday, October 8, 2018

Thoughts on Kavanaugh

Friday night on Real Time, Bill Maher wondered aloud to the panel whether we are swinging the pendulum of justice too far, from never believing women who claim they've been assaulted to always believing them.  A neutral middle ground, maybe?  My opinion is that believing women should be the default option.

Over the years, decades, centuries, even millennia, we have emerged from cultures that systematically oppressed, exploited, mistreated, abused, and (to be frank) hated women.  For many of us, this culture was Indo-European, originally centered (probably) in Anatolia in what is now Turkey and spreading during the last 6-8,000 years or so to the southeast and northwest as far as parts of the Indian subcontinent and Scandinavia.  The Indo-Europeans were, essentially, farmers; as they spread they replaced or pushed into marginal habitats the foraging and other peoples who stood in their way.  It is the introduction of farming, especially the extensive farming required to support rapidly growing populations, that typically leads to reduced status of females in human cultures.

But this is not the only way of being human.  Foraging and horticultural societies do not typically share this sort of ideology; women and men tend to be relatively equal in status and often share leadership and other important group statuses.  These are what we anthropologists call small-scale societies, in contrast with the large-scale agricultural and, more recently, industrialized ones.  What I am leading up to is to suggest that the way we have treated women in our society is not the only way of being human.  In evolutionary terms, it is a derived, rather than primitive, trait, but it has a deep history.

We instituted affirmative action programs for minorities to counterbalance the effects of several hundred years of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and more subtle discrimination, especially for African Americans but also women and others.  Bill Maher, in suggesting that maybe we don't have to always believe women's accounts of sexual abuse, is like the people who claim that affirmative action is no longer necessary because discrimination is illegal.  I'm saying that we should believe them by default, because there are thousands of years of abuse to overcome.


  1. I very much appreciated your eloquent, well-considered thoughts and shared them with a couple of women at work. Thanks, Bro!

  2. That was me, your sister, not "Unknown"!


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