Last week I addressed the shortcomings of one common argument in favor of expanding voting access. However, I failed to examine the appropriate use of that argument.Thank you to reader Roy Lefkowtiz for pointing out this oversight. This week, I’d like to quickly address that gap in my analysis, and then do something similar for an equally nonsensical argument against the (alleged) reality of a male-dominated society.
In my previous critique of the arguments in favor of expanding voting access, I observed that the fact that voter fraud is so uncommon as to be statistically insignificant is inappropriately applied. If anything, I argued, the fact that instances of fraud are rare speak to the efficacy of the current laws. Therefore, the rarity of the offense is a good argument for the preservation of the law, rather than a reason for the laws to be repealed or relaxed. However, I did not explain how the fact—that instances of fraud are rare—can be (and has been) used appropriately.
The appropriate deployment of the fact that instances of voter fraud are rare is in response to a preposition like, “the United States ought to have tighter regulations on voting eligibility and access.” The argument usually goes that if (or, more typically, since) voter fraud is a problem, we should legislate against it. Empirically, voter fraud is a statistical non-issue, so the argument that we need to legislate against it is unsound. Even if you agree with the conditional statement “If voter fraud is a problem we ought to legislate against it” the fact that the hypothesis “voter fraud is a problem” is false, means there’s no action-oriented commitment to the conclusion, “we ought to legislate against it.”
Another way of thinking about the application of voter fraud statisticsis that they are an appropriate defensive argument against the proposition “the United States ought to have tighter regulations on voting.” It is a response to an allegation. However, the same fact is an inappropriate offensive argument for the proposition “the United States ought to relax its existing regulations on voting.” It is not a reason for action. Just because an argument is properly employed defensively does not mean it is equally properly employed offensively.
In an alleged “destruction” of feminism by Dr. Jordan Peterson, the psychologist refuted British journalist Helen Lewis’ claim that society is male dominated by pointing to the typical role of men in (North American? Western? Global?) society. According to Peterson, society cannot be male dominated because “most people in prison are men, most people who live on the street are men, most victims of violent crime are men, most people who commit suicide are men, most people who die in wars are men and people who do worse in school are men.” So, according to Peterson, “it’s like, where’s the dominance here, precisely?” These points, while factually accurate, constitute a similarly flawed reason as in the voter fraud case.
Here, Peterson seems to be confusing the results of the policies issued by a governing body and the makeup of the body itself. We could, for example, imagine a society that is ruled by a king who is fantastically wealthy compared to his subjects. We could then imagine that king making a decree whereby everyone earning more than 10x the income of the lowest earning wage laborer in that society shall pay a higher tax (presumably they’re some kind of enlightened despot). Despite the fact that the king themself would be the target of that decree, we would’t say that he is not in charge, or isn’t, to use Lewis’ phrase, dominant. Similarly, just because many men suffer as the result of government policy and social values generally, does not mean that those policies and values cannot come from men directly. Indeed, it doesn’t even need to be the case that those policies and values come from men solely; If we imagine the ing replaced by a council of 4 men and 1 woman, where the 4 men always agree and the one woman always dissents, we could still say that society is male dominated, meaning the values and policies of that society have their genesis in men.
Not only is Peterson’s rebuttal flawed logically, it clashes with his own philosophy generally. I’ll temper this statement by saying I might misunderstand his philosophy, but, based on my understanding of his work, Peterson believes that women and men play, and have played, fundamentally different roles in society. Under Peterson’s psycho-social framework, females have selected from among the most fit (the top of the hierarchy), and males have decided the criteria of that hierarchy, i.e. what places someone at the top, versus the bottom. Evolution, for Peterson, is not merely a natural process, or a process that happens independent of the machinations of the beings evolved, especially conscious beings. So while he might disagree that society is male dominated, I think he would agree with Lewis’ implied proposition, that males, determine the hierarchical structures that guide our society and most (if not all) societies historically. Therefor, I read Lewis’ assertion as saying that any structural, systemic shortcomings of our society (and perhaps societies generally) can be directly attributed to not just men but The Male generally. Peterson’s rejoinder is thereby reduced to the observation that individual men (and even men as a group) also suffer as a result of the hierarchical structures created by The Male. As one gazes long into the void, the void gazes long into them, sort of thing.
Determined not to make the same argumentative oversight as last time, I will now attempt to explain what Peterson might have meant, or how his statement has some appropriate application. Perhaps Peterson is arguing that “men” is not the most appropriate categorization of the individuals who dominate our society. Though he didn’t make this point, perhaps old, rich, or white might be a better description. If we agree that the criteria Peterson offers for establishing dominance (which I’ve already demonstrated are actually irrelevant) do in fact appropriately categorize ‘the dominant,’ I believe that old, rich and white fit the bill.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “in 2018 black males accounted for 34% of the total male prison population,” while “white males [account for] 29%.”https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv18.pdf. The age group most represented in prison populations is 31-41, with that group representing about 78,000 people in federal prisons, compared to about 9,000 imprisoned people over the age of 60.https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_age.jsp Additionally, “in 2014 dollars, incarcerated people had a median annual income of $19,185 prior to their incarceration, which is 41% less than non-incarcerated people of similar ages.”https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/income.html The average age range of a victim of violent crime is 18-24 (individuals under 18 represent roughly 68% of reported violent crimes, versus the 22% represented by individuals 50 and up)https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv18.pdf, and the ethnic demographic with the highest rates of suicide are Native Americans and Native Alaskans, at 21.8 per 100,000 people, compared to 19 per 100,000 for whites. Rather than continue to bombard you with more incredibly depressing statistics, I’ll leave it to your discretion (and that oft maligned practice, your own research) to determine if my hypothesis, that Old, Rich and White fail to describe the average unhomed person, victim of violent crime, individual who commits suicide, individual who dies in combat, and individuals who do worse in school, is in fact correct.“White” is actually going to fail to meet these criteria in several cases, especially if one looks at total number versus percent of the population. There are simply more whites than non-whites … Continue reading If I’m wrong, please point me towards a source.
Peterson’s point is not a trivial one. All parties, even those who share some features with those in power, suffer as a result of a system which privileges capital over humanity and age over ability. At the same time, all parties, even those who share no features with those in power (besides being a human) benefit as a result of the same system. All of our lives are far, far easier than that of our ancestors. Both those of us living today and those of us who have come before us have a reason to be grateful for our existence and reasons to find beauty in even the most wretched of circumstances. My favorite kind of people have always been those who do just that. I am, and would recommend being, wary of anyone who wants to paint a purely pessimistic picture, and anyone who would want to categorize those worthy of praise or blame with the broad strokes found in the socially constructed concepts of race and gender.
|↑1||Thank you to reader Roy Lefkowtiz for pointing out this oversight.|
|↑6||“White” is actually going to fail to meet these criteria in several cases, especially if one looks at total number versus percent of the population. There are simply more whites than non-whites in the US. Additionally, remember, Peterson’s criteria for dominance is nonsense so it doesn’t really matter.|