Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wishful Thinking About Matriarchy, Compared to Technology as a Source of Freedom

There is a notion that in the past, there was a Matriarchy or Matriarchies, and that in it women were treated better.  They were not limited to the roles of wives, mothers caretakers and so on that they are seen occupying (if they are lucky) in every historic culture.

However, there is no actual historic evidence of the existence of this Matriarchy in the past.  There is, at best, evidence that past cultures worshipped Mother Goddesses and accorded women some rights in their children, which is manifestly not the same thing.  It is manifestly not the same thing because almost all historic cultures also have worshipped Mother Goddesses (yes, even Medieval Christendom -- think of the cult of Mary Mother of God) and have accorded women some rights in their children (indeed, promoting or restricting these rights has been fertile ground for legislators since the first written legal codes).

Here's what lies at the nub of the wishful thinking.

In most, perhaps all, pre-industrial cultures, the vast majority of people of any particular class and role only got to play their role, which was narrowly-defined compared to the equivalent roles in the modern world.  This is because pre-industrial cultures are poor and survival to adulthood, let alone old age, was uncertain compared to industrial and information age cultures.  You were doing well if you were merely living another day, another month, another year.

A woman who was getting to be a wife, mother and caretaker was doing well.  She wasn't being a whore, a spinster or a beggar, which were some of the other obvious alternatives (and ones which left her far more miserable and less powerful).  Lest we imagine that this was because of he Evil Patriarchy, take a look at the way that most men lived in those cultures.  They weren't exactly swimming in gravy either.  The truth is that living in pre-industrial cultures sucked -- by modern standards.

Why was this?  Because when survival is uncertain, most of what one does has to promote one's own survival and that of one's offspring.  Families have to be strong -- weak families fail to provide one with survival-support during bad times (wars, famines, plagues) and their members tend to die; it is from among the stronger families that the survivors are found.  People play whatever roles advance the interests of their families, even if this means a woman marrying someone she doesn't love, or a man risking his life in a war about which he doesn't care and for which he is inadequately-equipped and poorly-trained.  In return, their families help them out when they're in trouble.

The world of today, in which we pursue our own happiness even if our paths don't suit our families, is made possible only by our tremendous wealth, which in turn is made possible only by our advanced technology.  We take this for granted because we grow up rich (compared to Humans of most times and places); we are exactly like the spoiled children of the aristocracies of previous cultures save in that we mostly live better than they did (the richest and most powerful king of the 18th century died in agony if he got seriously ill, and all his wealth and power couldn't save him, because the doctors had no idea what to do for him).

Before we feel so superior, consider this -- a half-millennium from now (assuming that we don't manage to stop technological progress in its tracks, or freeze society back into some rigid class structure) humans will be immortal and free of any diseases save those we invent to war upon one another.  We will pretty much all have tremendous amounts of energy at our command and live better than the wealthy do today.  The humans of that time will pursue life choices impossible to us today.

What the wishful thinkers don't want to admit is that the Whigs had the right of it.  It is technological progress that improves the world, and technological progress is facilitated by Classical Liberal ideas.  The "Progressive" (absurd term, in this context!) fantasy of going back to a "sustainable" lower-energy, lower-tech civilization would just throw us back into the Dark Ages.  (Perhaps literally, as many of these fantasies have us giving up "unnecessary" lighting).  And then, everyone would suffer.

And what the feminists don't want to admit is that they are wrong about patriarchy being some sort of giant conspiracy which (somehow, don't think too hard about how) displaced a previous matriarchal or egalitarian culture (all over the world, which logically implies that this imaginary matriarchy was inferior in cultural-evolutionary terms, but this though most especially must not contaminate the virgin minds of the feminists).  And they are wrong about industrial technology disempowering women; on the contrary, it was the development of industrial technology (and, in particular, scientific medicine) which empowered women.

The historical evidence is overwhelming.  Politically male-dominated societies are the Human norm for pre-industrial cultures.  They outcompete sexually-egalitarian or matriarchal societies at those tech levels.  It is industrial and informational technology which change the rules of the game and make possible the sexually-egalitarian Western cultures of today.

If you love sexual equality, then love industrial Science and Technology.  Because if we go back to the "good old days" and eschew such knowledge, we will be going right back to the Patriarchy, in its most powerful and unapologetic forms.

3 comments:

  1. Good point. And there /are/ these weird feminist eco-utopias, like /Woman on the Edge of Time/.

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    1. I've often owned that book and could never get into it. In general, there's this idea that women are "closer to the earth" and hence would do better in a lower-tech society. There may even be a germ of truth to it in that the occasional Neolithic culture may have been matriarchal (based on the remanants in Bronze Age cultures of what look like earlier matriarchies).

      If so this would be matriarchy at a horribly low level of technology and hence wealth. It's no fun to be grindingly poor. In any case it wouldn't last, since humans know that it's possible to wield metal weapons and raise bands of specialized warriors ... which is what would have brought the old Neolithic matriarchies down, if they ever existed.

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