Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Gender Role Cult Problem: How Identifying with One Particular Team Blinds Our Objectivity

"Hey Jason, why do you seem to have a disdain for feminism and all the male responses (men's rights activists, the "manosphere", The Red Pill, etc.), yet use their concepts on a regular basis?"

I've received this question a few times over the last few months, and it deserves a little explanation. I really like and can identify with a lot of the goals and ideas of both "sides" of these gender advocates, but the actual movements themselves are wayyyyy too cultish for my liking. 

Specifically, the proponents of these ideologies increasingly use the in-group/ out-group bias when considering their particular group. They start framing anything and everything as "us versus them." That leads to a tendency to stereotype "them", which is made worse by the confirmation bias

We don't know nearly as much about gender roles, relationships, and sexuality as we believe we know, so it makes sense (to me anyway) to remain as impartial as possible. The moment we identify ourselves as a member of a particular ideology, we begin losing the skepticism necessary to really investigate anything. 

For me personally, this gets annoying when discussing these issues. People that identify themselves as a feminist or as a men's rights activist have no ability to see the flaws in their own stance because their self-worth is tied to the emotional outcome of the debate. They consider themselves as part of a team and they do not want their team to lose. 

This became apparent when I recently posted about the flawed logic liberals use when considering gender. I was hoping to have an actual conversation that would discuss what I saw as hypocrisy of vilifying masculinity as a social construct while supporting transgender folks as victims of biology. As a pretty liberal person, I was curious how others logically overcame that cognitive dissonance. Instead of actually discussing the issue, it turned into a nit-picking of semantics or outright changing the subject.

When you don't play for a particular team, you don't give a fuck who wins or even if there is a winner. Instead, you can focus on what really matters - getting closer to an objective "truth" and seeing the world as it really is, not how you wish it were. 

I got a healthy dose of this phenomenon when I was actively promoting barefoot running. Scientifically, we didn't know a lot about running gait. We had some hypotheses related to the superiority of being barefoot, but simple experimentation with minimalist shoes *should* have led us to conclude our hypotheses were incorrect. The people that strongly identified themselves as "barefoot runners", however, completely ignored the obvious and continued to cling to their beliefs. Their complete inability to see what was obviously solid empirical evidence that refuted their beliefs ultimately led me to back away. They knew what they knew and could not be convinced otherwise.

I experienced the same issue with men. It's clear the alpha/beta concept plays an important role in female attraction. Beta males simply do not arouse women. Even most women tell men this. Still, the vast majority of modern men continue to believe women are aroused by sensitive, vulnerable, weak men. 

While rejecting the label and refusing to identify with one particular group does provide a degree of insulation, it's not infallible. I still fall for all kinds of cognitive biases. The difference? I expect all my thoughts and ideas are wrong and look for information that confirms my wrongness. It's a pretty simple mental game that turns the conformation bias on its head. This is also the reason I apparently change directions so often. I may promote one idea, then promote a radically different idea for what seems like no apparent reason. People have a hard time understanding that I don't tie myself down with one particular ideology. Ever. 

So what can you do?

I like this activity. Get a piece of paper. Make a list of every "group" you consider yourself to be a part of. Think globally. For me, it does something like this:

  • Male
  • Resident of USA, California, and San Diego
  • Teacher
  • Liberal
  • Libertarian
  • Father
  • Stay-at-home dad
  • Sort-of Marxist
  • Mixed martial artist
  • Husband
  • Left-handed person
  • Caucasian
  • Trail runner
  • Jiu jitsu player
  • Writer
  • Detroit Tigers fan
  • French Canadian
  • Fitness enthusiast
  • Norwegian
  • Dude with a beard
  • Entrepreneur
  • Guns rights supporter
  • Pro life supporter
...and so on. Once you make the list, think about each item. How does this affect your world view? Specifically, how does this cause you to fall for the in-group/ out-group and confirmation bias? Does membership in this particular group limit your ability to rationally consider new ideas, or are you emotionally-invested in the outcomes related to that particular group? Think about an issue related to that group. Can you compose an effective argument against your opinions? If you can't, you're too attached to that group and it blinds you to reality.

The difficult part of this exercise is this tendency to align ourselves and filter information is hard-wired into all humans. It occurs automatically in every situation. Even when we're aware of the concept, we still fall for it. That requires us to make these thought games a habit. If you're interested in trying to learn how the world really works, this is an invaluable skill that' well worth the effort.

I don't despise feminism and the male variants; I just understand the danger of identifying too closely with them. They have good ideas and should be used as resources, not as lifestyle identities. The concept of gender roles influence pretty much every aspect of our behavior. As such, understanding how they work is more important than joining a team and helping them "win."


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