Strakon Lights Up, No. 114

The logic of empowerment


Andrea Yates, the Houston woman who drowned her five children in a bathtub last year, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. At first we heard that it was "postpartum depression" that forced Mrs. Yates to plan and systematically carry out the homicides, one after the other; but now the defense has turned the volume up all the way, to something called "postpartum psychosis."

When I first examined this affair, I noted that some women — by whom I meant feminists with the standard automatic access to the official media — were expressing horror at the "proposition that women are slaves of their hormones, and they [were warning] that such an idea altogether undermines feminism and sexual egalitarianism." But I also noted that other Progressive wymyn with a free pass to official-media coverage seemed comfortable claiming that the murders weren't really Mrs. Yates's fault.

That second category of wymyn are right to be comfortable. And the first category should relax. I figured that out as soon as I remembered a conversation I had with a feminist acquaintance fifteen years ago. It's an exchange that can help us understand not just what the modern feminist ideology is working for but also how it works.


A buddy and I were drinking with our lady friend in a dingy, down-market tavern in Indianapolis, and she proferred the characteristic female complaint, by no means restricted to feminists, and often, I'm sure, quite reasonable, that the sanitary accommodations for women in the back of the place left much to be desired. (It was not a typical feministic venue to begin with — there was nary an egg-white omelette for blocks around, and the liquid refreshments centered more on whiskey than sparkling water — but my female interlocutor had some good-ole-girl qualities that overlaid her ideology. She was even a cigarette smoker, God bless 'er.)

I must have been knocking back the Jack Daniel's pretty hard and fast that night, for I heard myself incautiously observing that, hey, while some women's restrooms were no doubt almost as grim as the male variety, we ought not forget all the ones that featured sofas and chairs and lounges scattered about in a sort of frou-frou vestibule or sitting room. And I asked, "What's all that about, anyway?"

I was just joshing (somewhat misogynistically, I admit), but I did not receive joshing in return. Instead, all trace of the good ole girl went out the door, and I got a grim — and long — lecture about why all that extra furniture is necessary. Turned out it was because of the incredible variety of ills and dishumors and frailties to which women uniquely fall victim. Hyperspondulix of the precocia sinistra, Art Vandelay Syndrome, polywolyfistulism, chronic mesofuchsia — OK, obviously I'm making all of this up, because I remember none of what she actually listed. I'd never heard of any of it before, and I've never heard of any of it since. But you get the flavor.

I'm sure she wasn't making it up. You can tell. She'd have to have been both a sociopath and a creative genius in order to carry off a spoof of those dimensions, and she was neither. Nope, it was clear to me that she'd been through Advanced Feminist Training and had paid close attention. As the droning went on and on (and on), I tried to think of a subject with which I had a degree of familiarity sufficient to support a similar litany. I probably couldn't have listed my own relatives in such an encyclopædic fashion, if I'd had to include all the in-laws. Finally I decided that I could list the U.S. presidents in the right order, assuming someone gave me a minute to figure out, amid the fumes of the Black Jack, just where Franklin Pierce fit in. I was frustrated, too, by the fact that the only gender-specific ills I could come up with for my male brethren were testicular and prostate cancer. The only special furniture they might call for is a coffin.

Even with all those molecules of Tennessee's finest perfusing my cerebral cortex, though, I was able to reflect that my interlocutor's dogma about Women's Special Needs might be a little problematic with respect to sexual egalitarianism, which I took to be Belief Number One for those feminists who weren't outright female supremacists. Shades of Victorian hysteria and vaporous faintings upon the divan! Why, patriarchial non-libertarian types might even seize upon that litany of Special Woes and Special Needs as all the excuse they needed to keep the "frailer sex" barefoot and confined to the house.

How, then, could a self-aware, self-described feminist deliver that litany so unapologetically? Proudly, even? Intending, by so doing, to advance feminism itself and its agenda? In this Orwellian universe, Winstona Smith would look out her window and see inscribed on the towering pyramid of Minifem: Weakness Is Strength.


Hearing such a litany, so delivered, should spur us to investigate what sort of logic is at work in the particular ideology at hand. My own idea is that modern feminism actually isn't so particular an ideology, by which I mean that it has much in common with other modern ideologies, including our old friend Marxism-Leninism, insofar as they are all ideologies of Power. For ideologists of Power, as for pragmatists (assuming there is any difference worth observing between the two), truth is what works. And I don't mean "works" in the sense of accurately expressing the facts of reality. No, I mean "works" in the sense of helping ideological partisans achieve Power. Unlike real logic, the logic of Power does not observe the Law of Non-Contradiction.

Thus, enemies of the market tell us that freedom impoverishes the Workers and Peasants so that they have no time or resources left to pursue Social Goodness; and simultaneously suffocates them with an empty affluence so that they have no inclination to pursue it. Freedom causes both monopoly and anarchic cutthroat competition. It causes both business instability and revolution-suppressing stability — unemployment and sweat shops — prices that are too high and prices that are too low — inflation and the crucifixion of Workers and Peasants on the cross of hard money — innovation that uproots traditional families and communities, and stagnation that stifles them. Freedom enables men to oppress women and keep them home, and it forces women out into the job market, so that men may oppress them there. While not all of those examples are true antimonies, the overall pattern of attack reveals that the ideologists of Power are truly unbothered by contradiction. As Joseph Schumpeter observed long ago, our enemies always have an indictment of freedom in their back pocket, but the charges in the indictment are subject to change as required. Of course, the verdict never changes, nor the sentence they impose on all of us: less freedom for us and more Power for them over us.

The logic of Power must rely on contradiction because its overall aim is to justify the unjust holding of Power by some men over other men, and the granting of unjust privilege to some men at the expense of other men, despite the fact of reality that all are born inter fæces et urinam. Ideologies of Power are only the systematization of what, in other contexts, I have called "statish" thinking.


It would seem that, pace Orwell and his portrayal of O'Brien, true doublethink is necessary only for the unwary and unreflective Outer Party member, while the self-conscious ideologist of Power is really a singlethinker, and his single thought is one of undiluted contempt for truth and logic as Western man has traditionally understood them.

What I haven't figured out is just how the ideologists get those Outer Party folk to practice that necessary doublethink. I understand how they try to do it — the tools and strategems they use — but I don't understand how they succeed. In fact, I don't understand how true, thoroughgoing doublethink is really possible for anyone. Perhaps I need to consult a Practical Epistemologist.

In the meantime, here's what I can say. Folks down home do consistently practice doublethink, or at least they do a superb job of pretending they practice it. Otherwise everyone would shake his head with puzzlement when the Pentagon insisted that all recruits, male and female alike, are required to complete the same physical training, while it made no attempt to conceal the fact that they are not required to complete the same physical training.

Everyone would furrow his brow when the media proclaimed that women are quite able to succeed in the workplace with no special help and, simultaneously, that women need special help in the workplace, including special legal privileges.

Everyone would frown when activist groups announced that, while murder and assault are illegal for everybody, those crimes need to be made somehow doubly illegal — even at the cost of traditional protections against double jeopardy — when committed against a woman qua woman.

And anyone who believed in equal rights for all would just throw up his hands when feminists started claiming that murder is sometimes unpunishable when committed by a woman qua woman.

Andrea Yates's hormonal defense may or may not succeed, but whatever happens, feminists won't have to worry overmuch about any backlash. A few years ago we all heard much about a backlash against anti-white "affirmative action"; it even produced a few court decisions. But now we see that "affirmative action" is as pervasive as ever; it's just become more sophisticated, which is to say, more stealthy — which is to say, better armored against attack. Chances are the feminist ideology of Power will continue to thrive, too.

The real problem for men and women both, as they strive to live together peacefully and account for their actions morally, isn't an oversupply of hormones but a shortage of live brains.

January 28, 2002

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