site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of September 26, 2022

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

Is the Gender War the oddest "culture war"?

Fair warning: this is going to provide few conclusions. TBH I'm more interested in soliciting opinions on which explanation seems most plausible.

I was on another sub and someone complained about how tiring the interminable gender war was. And it raised something I had been thinking of for a while: it feels like there's something very odd about a society where sexes are encouraged to disdain each other despite being unable to actually do without said sex.

I grew up in Africa and moved to the West near the end of my teenage years so I've lived in very different societies and have struggled to understand their differences. . One highly progressive and aiming for gender egalitarianism and another that has a very traditional understanding of gender still, due to religion and culture. As Muslim nations go we're pretty progressive relative to some of the Arabs (no one I knew growing up wore or was expected to wear hijab - though I saw more of them around when I returned not too long ago), but it's no Sweden.

The interesting thing is though, growing up, gender wars weren't as big a deal as in the West. I'm not saying that women never reacted badly to sexism or no one ever pushed for change. just didn't feel like there was this interminable "battle of the sexes".

Thing is: we had many other forms of culture war. The most obvious being ethnic strife. That was just taken for granted. It makes perfect sense to me that tribes will dislike one another, groups will cynically deploy identity politics as suits them and so on.

It doesn't seem obvious to me that any tribe will be so riven internally that men and women (the two components necessary for it to reproduce the tribe) see themselves as competitors or enemies. With this logic being taken to absurd extremes where women make money publicly mocking their husbands for the applause of the internet

So why is there a gender war? Why didn't it feel as big a deal back home? Potential reasons:

  1. There was, I was just too young to know. The most parsimonious and intuitive. Game stops, do not pass "go".

  2. There's "'gender war" in the same way there's "class conflict" in the medieval era: exploitation is still happening but conditions haven't allowed something like marxism (well...feminism here) to explode cause the proles are still too oppressed. So there's a latent gender war. a. There's some attraction to this one too, especially when it comes to one obvious gender war issue we don't share with the West: polygamy. Here many women are opposed and it does create a clear split between men and women. But it seems like it simply hasn't bubbled up into a politically salient critique of the whole institution or, even broader, some "patriarchy"

  3. The West has much weaker tribal and religious links, which means there's much less of a sense of intratribal loyalty to block gender wars or redirect them. If you're just someone in some random urban region (that you likely moved to) they're not really your men/women, it's not really your tribe. There's no common destiny; it's just random individuals and so it's easier to demonize them as oppressors/bitches. a. As a corollary: the absence of strong, traditional identities allows/drives people to identify in different ways that allow gender conflict.

  4. Traditional societies have a much clearer path to marriage/family which reduces what there is to fight over. It is precisely the shifting of norms (and their endless litigation) that justifies becoming a gender warrior. Even unjust but stable norms may be better here.

  5. Blank slate ideology hasn't taken root. IMO this leads to damage because the natural points of divergence between men and women are no longer natural tendencies we have to work around but actual failings on the part of the other side (obvious examples would be: women being "too" choosy, men valuing youth and variety "too much")

  6. The American culture war is just particularly strange; Austrians and other Westerners do not speak this way but they don't get as much airtime.

  7. Similarly: the Culture war doesn't actually represent lived reality, it is just a loud form of kayfabe, especially on the Left. Women and men pair up and go about their days, regardless of the TikTok rhetoric

  8. Feminism itself is to blame: the ideology, especially when stripped of class, requires a male enemy. When stripped of class it becomes a tool of middle class and above women seeking to remove barriers to their privilege who especially need men as such to be the enemy (if they argued on the basis of class they would risk arguing against the very privileged state they wish to reach). If this allows a middle class woman to talk down to a working class man as an avatar of the problems of all men...all the better.

So...I'm curious which ones the Motte finds intuitive (besides the obvious). Because - if I ignore my desire to be epistemically humble - I do have sympathy for 2,3 & 5 (though arguably 5 is just a proxy for how far feminist ideas have spread in the first place).

I'd wager most of it is simply from the decline of monogamy. In the West, both men and women are regressing to their biological sexual imperatives where men want to have sex with lots of women and women want to clinch commitment from a high-value man. This creates an adversarial relationship with many people left out in the cold: low-value men are rejected by most women outright, high-value men have a huge abundance and can treat women like sentient fleshlights, and women in general target the top quintile of men who treat them as disposable goods, or else they have to brave the lower quintiles full of "creeps". The best soothing balm for the battle of the sexes is simply being in a healthy long-term relationship, as it's hard to have a war when all the soldiers are fraternizing with the enemy. But the decline of monogamy has had a catastrophic impact on the rate of healthy relationships.

There are other more minor factors, e.g. the Internet has let people delve into their niche interests harder than ever, which has led to men and women dividing from each other more. I, for example, spend much of my free time playing grand strategy games and discussing culture war + philosophy with strangers in a rationalist framework. Women probably make up <5% in any of these areas, and as such I barely have any meaningful interactions with women since I graduated college. I didn't make a conscious effort to weed women out of my life or anything, I just focused on the things I was most interested in. I do interact with women a bit at work, but modern white collar environments are completely sterile so that hardly counts for much. In any case, two groups dividing from each other doesn't do wonders for understanding between them.

There's also the impact of third wave feminism implicitly branding most men as latent rape machines and red-pill/incel communities treating women like drones, which also doesn't help.

But yeah, it's mostly declining monogamy.

In any case, two groups dividing from each other doesn't do wonders for understanding between them.

What you describe, however, is more the traditional way things worked: men had their own sphere (generally the exterior world of work) and women theirs (the domestic), and both sexes went their own ways with regards to interests and hobbies (men-only clubs, women's sewing circles or coffee mornings). Interaction between the sexes was mostly within the realm of the family; you found someone, or your parents found someone for you, you got married, and setting up as man and wife in your own home was where you interacted. Men in general didn't expect to interact with women at work or in their spaces, and the same for women with regards to men.

And then the feminist movement pushed for women in work alongside men (ignoring for the moment that working-class women and men were working together in factories and the mines, which is a whole other question) - in white-collar jobs, let us say, and no more men-only clubs. This introduced more social interaction between men and women, but unless interests overlapped, there still remained and remains the gap where, as you say, "I, for example, spend much of my free time playing grand strategy games and discussing culture war + philosophy with strangers in a rationalist framework. Women probably make up <5% in any of these areas, and as such I barely have any meaningful interactions with women since I graduated college."

I think this was less of a problem when society as a whole accepted that "John is going to visit his club and talk about politics" (even if mostly John went to his club to drink and smoke and gossip with the lads), and "Mary is going to her sewing circle or ladies' benevolent club" and there wasn't the expectation that the sexes were supposed to mingle like that. Yes, it was hard on women who did want to talk about politics and philosophy and not about cake recipes or knitting scarves for the poor, hence the label of bluestocking, but it also gave both sexes a breathing space where they could cluster around their own interests.

But the decline of the acceptance of separate spaces, because that is discrimination (and again, yeah, if the boys are all going to strip clubs for entertaining clients and making deals, this cuts out Joan who works in the same industry from climbing the career ladder the same way Phil can) combined with the decline of monogamy and marriage, means that the gears have slipped. Now Sally is supposed to be able to join the He-Man Girl Haters' Club and talk about politics and economics and the like, which is great if Sally is interested in that and can hold an intelligent opinion. But if Sally is only joining because "I should be able to join this club!" (the absurd limit of this being avowed atheists protesting that they can't join college Christian groups and be officers in them, so the university either forces the group to let them include atheists or close down) then in the long run there will be a dilution of the purpose of the club, and we'll end up with the familiar complaint by women that "I wanted to join this hobby club, and I met a guy there who I thought was interested in being my friend, but it turns out he only wanted to sleep with me and when I turned him down he never spoke to me again" versus the complaint by men that "she friendzoned me, why are women such mercenary bitches?"

You don't meet a girl, get married and settle down now as per the expectations of society; both men and women are supposed to play the field, sow their wild oats, and cohabit before marriage. Romantic partners are now also supposed to be all-in-all to each other - not just lovers or spouses, but best friends, total emotional support network, interested in everything the other is interested in, the first and only port of call for all needs. That John goes out for a night out with the boys separately, leaving Susie at home, and Susie goes off on a day shopping with the girls, leaving John home, is now a bad thing. You're supposed to be joined at the hip at all times.

A little space, where John and Susie are allowed separate interests, as long as Susie (or John!) can join the same Baking Club or Economics Forum, isn't a bad thing. I think we threw the baby out with the bathwater when we pushed for closing those down. And the decline of monogamy/the family does mean that the primary way men and women relate to each other is as sexual partners first, before ever stable relationships come into the picture, and that drives for a lot of sleeping around when you have the opportunity, then the whole "men want a lot of women, women want a high-value man" disjoint becomes even worse.

EDIT: To quote C.S. Lewis writing about Friendship in "The Four Loves":

I have said that Friendship is the least biological of our loves. Both the individual and the community can survive without it. But there is something else, often confused with Friendship, which the community does need; something which, though not Friendship, is the matrix of Friendship.

In early communities the co-operation of the males as hunters or fighters was no less necessary than the begetting and rearing of children. A tribe where there was no taste for the one would die no less surely than a tribe where there was no taste for the other. Long before history began we men have got together apart from the women and done things. We had to. And to like doing what must be done is a characteristic that has survival value. We not only had to do the things, we had to talk about them. We had to plan the hunt and the battle. When they were over we had to hold a post mortem and draw conclusions for future use. We liked this even better. We ridiculed or punished the cowards and bunglers, we praised the star-performers. We revelled in technicalities. (“He might have known he’d never get near the brute, not with the wind that way” . . . “You see, I had a lighter arrowhead; that’s what did it” . . . “What I always say is “ . . . “stuck him just like that, see? Just the way I’m holding this stick” . . .) In fact, we talked shop. We enjoyed one another’s society greatly: we Braves, we hunters, all bound together by shared skill, shared dangers and hardships, esoteric jokes—away from the women and children. As some wag has said, palaeolithic man may or may not have had a club on his shoulder but he certainly had a club of the other sort. It was probably part of his religion; like that sacred smoking-club where the savages in Melville’s Typee were “famously snug” every evening of their lives.

What were the women doing meanwhile? How should I know? I am a man and never spied on the mysteries of the Bona Dea. They certainly often had rituals from which men were excluded. When, as sometimes happened, agriculture was in their hands, they must, like the men, have had common skills, toils and triumphs. Yet perhaps their world was never as emphatically feminine as that of their men-folk was masculine. The children were with them; perhaps the old men were there too. But I am only guessing. I can trace the pre-history of Friendship only in the male line.

This pleasure in co-operation, in talking shop, in the mutual respect and understanding of men who daily see one another tested, is biologically valuable. You may, if you like, regard it as a product of the “gregarious instinct.” To me that seems a round-about way of getting at something which we all understand far better already than anyone has ever understood the word instinct—something which is going on at this moment in dozens of ward-rooms, bar-rooms, common-rooms, messes and golf-clubs. I prefer to call it Companionship—or Clubbableness.

This Companionship is, however, only the matrix of Friendship. It is often called Friendship, and many people when they speak of their “friends” mean only their companions. But it is not Friendship in the sense I give to the word. By saying this I do not at all intend to disparage the merely Clubbable relation. We do not disparage silver by distinguishing it from gold.

We have down-valued friendship and companionship, and mixed them up with erotic love, and so there is now the feeling that not alone should men and women intermingle in all spheres, (and I have no objections when it comes to them both being genuinely interested in something for its own sake, be that talking about philosophy or the latest Marvel movie), but that not to do so is discriminatory, and on top of that, you should always be on the look-out for sexual opportunity: whether that is "join this club to meet people" (again, not a bad aim in itself, but if you're only wanting to find someone to bang, then you are misusing the club) or "why do guys always try to get in your pants/why do women always friendzone you" complaints.

Yes, it was hard on women who did want to talk about politics and philosophy and not about cake recipes or knitting scarves for the poor, hence the label of bluestocking, but it also gave both sexes a breathing space where they could cluster around their own interests.

If they wanted to do that they could just join one of the numerous female political groups - temperance and abolitionism vome to mind e.g. Women's Christian Temperance Union. Of course, despite obviously engaging in political activity, they are rarely if ever described as 'political' clubs or organisations even today, often described in terms of the social or moral. Politics has acquired a broader meaning in contemporary society ('personal is political') but historically mostly just meant explicit partisans politics reflecting parliament. The idea that women weren't engaged politically in the broad meaning is a myth that won't die. They just did it via different means and largely seperate from men, which is keeping in with the theme of this thread.

Men and women used to have common interests, but seperate spheres.

Everyone went to the same movies, dances, etc... but men had clubhouses (litterally this is what service clubs were) women had their own seperate spaces, and this was how you had cross gender and homosocial relationships...

Now to get the value of single sex spaces you prettymuch need to dive into some niche interest that's actively repellant to the opposite sex. men can't just have men only drinking and social clubs, that's sexist, you have to cultivate something so nichely male coded that it will actively prevent women from trying to voluntarily occupy the space... thus you get something like warhammer 40k which could be summarized as "history, but actively trying to alienate women"

A little space, where John and Susie are allowed separate interests, as long as Susie (or John!) can join the same Baking Club or Economics Forum, isn't a bad thing. I think we threw the baby out with the bathwater when we pushed for closing those down.

I don't know that America made a conscious choice to downgrade friendship - Bowling Alone was calling the decline of social interaction and traced it to much earlier in time (which implies it isn't just ever more hegemonic feminism at play)

And, tbh, a lot of hobbies (And even sites) are still functionally gender segregated, outside of spaces where you can get sued for it.

The declining friend group issue may be its own that then exacerbates others (e.g. like turning one partner into the end-all,be-all - which may also be helped along by monogamy)

I do think the glamorisation of romantic love has a lot to do with it, and this is probably more so for women than men, but I'll let the men answer that for themselves.

Our culture has made romantic love the supposed peak of existence, there is a Mr. Right, the soulmate, out there for you and until you find him (or her) then your life is not worth living. When you do find them, they will be the all-in-all to you, this will be the most important relationship in your entire life, they will meet your every need. And when the romantic glow fades and you find that the soulmate is just another struggling human, then you dump them and go out to find the real soulmate to live happily ever after.

Which is stupid, because no one person can be everything, and they shouldn't have to be. When it was accepted that men had their own interests, and women had theirs, and once married you would have kids and women's main priority would be their family and home, then there was more room for people to get on. John could go off with the boys, and it wasn't a hanging offence. Susie could have her night out with the girls, and that was fine. They didn't have to be in each other's business all the time, and they had a wider circle of people to meet their emotional and other needs, rather than putting all the eggs in one basket.

I think also women took on the role of managing friendships once married; it seems often to be that the friends of a couple are different to the friends each individually had before. But now we're supposed to put our romantic partners above our natal families or our friends, and they are supposed to come first in everything (except your career). And then we had the breakdown of the bargain, and maybe it was good that it broke down, but it hasn't made all the problems obsolete. Now women are supposed to 'have it all' - a career and a relationship, and men are supposed to be whatever ideal modern feminism holds up. So there is more strain on people, and more dissatisfaction: you are not having the perfect work life and perfect relationship and being fulfilled and all the rest of it, and it's easier to blame the other party for it - it's all the fault of men who still have all this privilege, or it's all the fault of women who take advantage and then fall back on "you are supposed to treat me as special".

I don't have any solutions, but maybe putting down the guns in a ceasefire is a good start. Yes, men did have a social advantage, but men today aren't the oppressors (unless they are, you know, burning their wives in dowry murders). Yes, women do have a social advantage today, but we should be aware of that and not expect six impossible things ("I didn't really want to kiss him but we were both drunk and I felt pressured into it so it was rape because I didn't consent the way I'm supposed to consent").