The gender angle in Michael J. Sandel’s book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do

The gender angle in Michael J. Sandel’s book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
NY: 2009, 308 pp. hb

October 19 2009

[There is no Aesopian content in this article. It is just about knowledge production and gender.]

*See also our page on wimmin, family and gender issues generally

As the MIM FAQ has argued, criticisms of Mao as a bloody butcher are off the mark. Stalin and Mao doubled the life expectancies of their people, which is not to say that if I were president and Congress and the Supreme Court abolished, that I would be able to get the United $tates to 160 years life expectancy by following the road of Stalin and Mao.

Nonetheless, what we like about Sandel’s book is the discussion of being a train conductor and choosing tracks to hit the fewest number of people in a runaway train situation. The runaway train or trolley is a symbol for imperfect society. The choice of tracks metaphor makes it clear that no matter where the runaway train goes it will cause damage. That is a point often lost in anarchist and humyn rights discourses. The error of idealism is to compare ideas with realities instead of realities with realities.

Sandel opposes utilitarianism, but utilitarianism as a philosophy does fine in the main train track question. However, seeing oneself as a train conductor also fits in well with Sandel’s discussion of Aristotle and the cultivation of citizens. There is a sense in which the question behooves those who see a need for political leadership. Not everyone is trying to conduct a train.

Idealism is an easy strategy demonstrated by the pseudo-Maoists criticizing MIM on gender questions. There is no pseudo-Maoist party in the united $tates or any imperialist country that MIM is aware of that had MIM’s percentage of females or had a female Theory Minister for any length of time. Yet, by putting focus on an individual sex life, these pseudo-Maoist organizations can avoid gender discussion
in any substantive way. With vague statements of gender not pointing to any specific path, the other organizations avoid
unpopular positions, but they also abandon the struggle for feminist liberation. It’s another example of taking one persyn’s datapoint–mine–and comparing it to whatever random principles the idealists pull
out of their hat that day.

Sandel convincingly argues against liberalism of the Kantian-inspired Rawls type. It’s airy and won’t be applied even by a majority of Harvard graduates. In the name of high-fallutin’ principles,
Kantian-inspired liberalism will be oblivious to the vast majority of sentient-conditioned moral activities while claiming to be above it in a small percentage of cases.

Without mentioning our articles, Sandel apparently would not have been convinced by our coverage of the “means vs. ends” question in violence. We did not go far enough into Kant and Rawls to be completely convincing. His book without mentioning MIM is nonetheless aware of MIM. That’s not surprising, because the book is like a 25-year followup check on a student, since I took some lectures from Sandel in college.

If we were to delve into a comparative discussion of gender, we would find Avakian defending Kant recently. Indeed, Avakian’s long-term position on gay/lesbian questions until recently was also Kant’s position: Kant opposed casual sex and sex outside a context of procreation — the familiar position of Christian and Islamic
churches, an irony given Avakian’s position on religion. In other words, even when discussing Kant against MIM’s Marxism, MIM detractors fail to draw out the comparisons to their logical conclusions.

Baby M case: surrogate mothers

Sandel is right to raise the “Baby M” case that MIM Notes also covered. Paternalist liberals held that Mary Beth Whitehead could not have made an informed decision to be a surrogate mother and her contract to incubate a baby was hence invalid.

MIM pointed out we lived in capitalism and even custody of the child would have to be decided based on the wealth of the parents. Pretending otherwise was to act as if we did not live under capitalism and invite even more backward ideas–feudalism.

Sandel brought us to those saying that females are incapable of contract agreements. With quotes from Rousseau and others on this particular question, pro-Whitehead people further invoked feudalism, which Marx said was destined to fall to the market influences of capitalism.

We did not favor handing the baby over to the poorer parents as some sort of liberation and for us the whole discussion reeked of how children are just property. There was no media discussion of the
child’s best interests or vantage point. To be seen as the focal point of a property conflict worthy of the media does not seem to be in a child’s best interests.

MIM has consistently argued that child status questions are the focal point of gender oppression when relevant in the imperialist countries, as the Baby M case demonstrates. In other words, the temptation to posit Whitehead as an irrational female of wild earthly nature incapable of Reason is subordinate to the oppression of children.

The mode of production across history does not figure in Sandel’s discussion systematically. Yet in escape from responsibility situations, so often seen in controversial gender topics in the imperialist countries, there is no real justification other than feudalism.

Mary Beth Whitehead’s surrogate pregnancy was all the rage in her day’s press. Kant, Sandel said “emphasizes the distinction
between persons (worthy of respect) and mere objects or things (open to use) as the fundamental distinction in morality.” (p. 98)
So Kant would have said that Whitehead did not have the right to enter a contract for surrogate reproduction.

MIM opposed this position in the Baby M case years before my lynching and we had at least one writer at the feminist publication “Off Our Backs” agree with us. We can thank Sandel for making clear what it means not to be a sexual or reproductive object in the Kantian case.

MIM has often argued with imperialist country females that they could be doing better things, but we do not shade into saying females are incapable of making contracts under capitalism. A socialist struggle points to the negative aspects of seeing children or even marriage as property to divide.

The position of Kant and many others on sex, left conveniently unstated

First off, Kant opposed all casual sex, consensual or not.(p. 129) Kant believed all freedom and moral activity was free of economic or
biological causation–anything sentient. Whereas we try to guide our Reason by the interests of the proletariat, Kant and Rawls try to free
Reason choices from sentient causations. Because the proletariat has nothing, there is some similarity in the underlying position of Marx and Kant but also important differences.

Ironically, then, people making Kantian arguments against MIM do so without making the comparison all the way through. We are supposedly for “totalitarian control,” according to our critics, but it was the Kantians saying there is no moral sex outside of married procreation context. By contrast, MIM favored gay/lesbian rights from before the beginning. I had acted for that position while still
a virgin — in answer to the Kantians openly concerned about motivations.

From the beginning, MIM was of the opinion that there was no longer any justification for opposing sex for its own sake in the
United $tates and doing so only masked various forms of discrimination. That’s not to say that sex escaped its coercive context, but there is a difference between feudal criticism of sex and having a forward looking goal for sex in society. The proletarian outlook on bourgeois Amerika asks why do various sub-groupings in that society where Hollywood and casual sex influences are so rampant attempt to pick on other sub-groupings as if casual sex and Hollywood were not the norm?

The answer in Kant is that he does not care about the relative prevalence of various realities. Indeed, moral action occurs
without regard for its consequences according to Kant. Sandel says of Kant that moral action occurs as a duty freely chosen without regard to material factors in motivation or material factors in consequences. This is a wide open door for national chauvinism and patriarchy to walk through.

To MIM’s mind, the idea of “humyn rights” is good Kantian cant. All the people on the train tracks have humyn rights, but when a runaway train is going down the tracks there is still a moral action that has to be taken with regard to consequences.

The economic question underlying procreation

Recently MIM has drawn the line in the sand regarding poverty’s intersection with reproduction. For the truly exploited, raising children as single mothers is a disaster which people in the imperialist countries fail to perceive anymore. The New York Times just reported in echoing our article on Iran that southern Korea has a one percent out-of-wedlock birth rate. The Korean people still view single motherhood as an utter disaster, despite having been reasonably rich for a generation by global standards. I support the Koreans’ resistance to Western decadence.

When we see Madonna or other Hollywood millionaires adopt babies abroad, we know there is a basis for thinking that even as single mothers such Hollywood millionaires could take responsible care of a child, by hiring professional help if need be. It’s also no accident that the superstructure is filled with these stories of Angelina Jolie adopting babies. The underlying reason is economic. As Western wealth has increased, the West has taken a more lax view of single motherhood.

Looking at these Madonnas and Brad Pitts, we the proletarian scientists still perceive various types of discrimination,
even within sexual standards that would be impossible in the Third World. One type of discrimination we see in gay-bashing actually reduces down to heterosexual gender role stereotyping, in which aggressive males label as “fags” those seen as too “sissy.” In such criticism, far from seeing opposition to sex for its own sake, we hear something completely different, which could even be opposition to those resisting sex for its own sake (right then and there) as lacking manliness. Lockerroom boasting about sexual conquests easily shades into leisure-time oppression of gays as well. This sort of oppression
can be seen as an enforcement of sex for its own sake. It were as if society were saying we worry about those who do not reach
the level of enjoying sex for its own sake. This enforcement of sex for its own sake extends to Angelina Jolie’s imperialist quest to
prove to the Third World that it is still concerned with reproduction while she has risen to sex for its own sake. We can even say
that in some instances there is white man’s burden to have anxiety about the enjoyment of sex for its own sake by others, even in
sub-groups where sex for its own sake might flourish without white intervention.

Economically superior creatures such as Angelina Jolie demonstrate in this aspect key characteristics of what MIM has called the gender aristocracy. The gender aristocracy has female biology but could be as little as about 5% of the world’s population, and with a disproportionate influence in global cultural questions, the same way that Dallas millionaires in television series draw attention to the “American Dream.”

Marxism does not teach people that they escape the material world. Any criticism of the idea of “sex object” is not the same in Marxism
as in Kant or religion. In Marxism, we can only criticize the idea of “sex object” in the context of socialist criticism of capitalism. The use
of female bodies in advertising is a good mark for socialist struggle, but it is also a good mark for oppressed nation struggle by nations being
told they are inferior for not achieving Amerikkkan leisure standards. The sex objects Britney Spears etc. are not oppressed by oppressed nation consumers. Rather billboards of Britney Spears selling Pepsi across the world are oppressing the leisure-time disadvantaged.

Denial of the humyn’s material condition leads only to selective and half-baked moralities. MIM is consistent on this point whether the question is runaway trains or sex. People are objects that need to eat, have clothing and own shelter, and we say so not just in class questions but gender questions as well. As objects, people are embedded in relations with other objects, whether
they like it or not. We can even say that resistance to MIM theory production centers on general resistance to science.

We disagree with the imperialist country pro-family opposition to gay/lesbian marriage, because we believe the interests of children can be disaggregated from the gender role question. If the state wishes to reward having children it is still free to do so after recognizing gay/lesbian marriage. Like it or not, sexual relations in the couple come logically and politically prior to procreation.

Intra-bourgeois discrimination

When we speak of “imperialist decadence” we should not link this just to gays/lesbians. The point is that it is rich people disproportionately who enjoy sex for its own sake in general. In fact, anything otherwise is only a form of intra-bourgeois discrimination. There is indeed more basis for sex for its own sake than there is for art for its own sake. Indeed, I would argue that there is more basis for Kantian style freedom in sex for its own sake than in Kant’s idea about Reason and free choice. Reason and sexual intercourse are both produced by objects and as spies will tell you, Reason is subject to every bit as much competition and pressure as sex. If Larry Bird could say a Michael Jordan performance was God playing basketball, then the same can be said of sexual and intellectual performers.

The rich promote art for its own sake to pacify the people and preserve rich rule. If we do not appreciate art for its own sake the reason could be because we favor proletarian art. By contrast, it would be hard to say there is proletarian sexual intercourse and bourgeois sexual intercourse. MIM has stressed that among rich people where there are no dire consequences from sex for its own sake, the conflicts over lifestyle tend to be subjectivist competitiveness. Whether it is gay/lesbian bashing or lynching, intra-exploiter discrimination has recourse in feudal ideas taken out of economic context and other forms of cultural prejudice. This is especially clear lately as the United $tates justifies wars on Iraq, Afghanistan
and Pakistan with reference to sex. U.$. troops in Iraq are dropping off pornography CDs and literally legalizing prostitution further than it was. The attitude is that “freedom” means sex for its own sake, and if need be, the United $tates will deliver that at gunpoint–very strange from the standpoint of the world’s majority of people–so strange that it makes us think that such a position on leisure-time questions must mask other impulses of class and national origin.

Sandel sharply distinguishes among libertarianism, utilitarianism and other ideas throughout the book. He well understands MIM’s main
argument about the coercion underlying all sex and economic intercourse as well. Yet, Sandel draws our attention to MIM’s definition of gender via a discussion of golf.

Readers will find that MIM makes leisure-time the center of the definition of gender, not reproduction which we see as fading in importance. In class, the historic mission of the proletariat guides moral thinking. In gender, there is a parallel question of not resisting the inevitable with costly struggles in humyn terms. The equivalent of resisting the proletarian trend in gender is resisting the fading social centrality of reproduction as wealth increases. So needless strife results over the morning-after-pill and like advances.

Against us, the RCP=CIA recently tossed out the word “essentialist” without any follow-up argument. In all likelihood this was just another example of their persyn-centered politics fishing among MIM ex-comrades, not coming up with a consistent line. For Marxists, “essentialist” should be the charge against those who see permanent ideal pithiness. Examples would be seeing gender as biology as destiny; hence, wimmin would be more stupid because of smaller brains or other biological difference of permanent nature. Another example would be religion dictating gender roles as the same for all time.

MIM has never made an argument out of context. We specifically say that imperialist country females are not wimmin, so there is no permanent biology-based gender. In practice, the RCP=CIA and others might say they oppose biology-as-destiny in gender questions, but they capitulate on the gender aristocracy to a biology-based definition of gender 99% of the time. The charge of “essentialist” against MIM reflects confusion, because MIM has identified gender more demographically and economically specifically than anyone else. The charge of “essentialism” falls more consistently on the RCP=CIA and other opportunists lacking in theory production.

Supreme Court Justice Scalia also addresses essentialism in gender questions. Scalia argued that the court should not involve itself in deciding the essence of golf and that doing so was teleological. When a court case came up in which a handicapped persyn argued for
the right to use a golf cart in a professional tournament, Scalia said in effect we should let the market decide.

Oppose MIM’s definition of gender and get the following:
1) Reduction to class, so let the market decide what golf is. Fans will pay more money for golf tournaments using a definition that fans like.
We might guess that leagues that use the wrong definition will eventually go out of business. MIM’s lousy opponents reduce everything to class and nation and are generally incapable of a feminism that is not class or nation in new bottles.
2) Reduction to a timeless biological essence.
3) Encouragement of Counter-Enlightenment identity politics.
In other words, from scrutinizing intellectual production in connection to feminist theory, MIM concluded that its definition was necessary
to steer a course. The poverty of RCP=CIA theory and the poverty of theory in other organizations convinced us on this score.

The Supreme Court decided 7-2 on both class and gender grounds (as defined by MIM not the justices) that handicapped golfers could use
a cart to get from hole to hole in professional tournaments. Scalia lost.

Here is a point of interest for MIM from Scalia:


“‘To say something is ‘essential’ is ordinarily to say that it is necessary to the achievement of a certain object. But since it is the very nature of a game to have no object except amusement (that is what distinguishes games from productive activity), it is quite impossible to say that any of a game’s arbitrary rules is ‘essential.'”(p. 205)

If we consider golf as work, a means of making a living, then the Supreme Court recognized a class issue in able-bodiedness, and of course MIM agrees with that. We’re not fond of discrimination even at bourgeois workplaces and we oppose leisure-time discrimination by country clubs that accept only whites. In general, if an organization invites the public, it should invite the public and accord it its rights. The courts seem to have an issue in deciding how to determine whether an association is truly private or not.

If we look at sports as gender as MIM has encouraged readers for years now, then we see again an issue of able-bodiedness
filtering into general leisure-time attitudes. To put it in Liberal terms, the Court chose for “inclusiveness” and that impact may show up in leisure-time dynamics, that MIM refers to as “gender.”

So against Scalia, by setting it up that way, we guard against external pollution in leisure-time. Scalia too is concerned with protecting leisure-time, apparently from goal-oriented people and also the state. Yet the golfers opposed to allowing carts argued more in macho terms, that getting a little tired walking was part of the competition, and Sandel sniffed out some questionable image posturing about golf.

Regarding the role of the state versus the market, here too we should skewer the many post-modernists including those masquerading as Marxists who have a de facto belief that Darwin was illogical or religious with his concept of “survival of the fittest.” MIM argued that the male came to dominate warfare originally for reproductive reasons. Tribes that did not have male focus on warfare sacrificed their reproductive capacity in combat and lost out to other tribes. Hence, warfare and government became male, not necessarily because of gendered questions of strength or mentality.

One might question whether without the MIM theory there is a way to organize a feminist intervention by the state. In other words, one might wonder that since warfare produced a male state, then perhaps it is better for feminist goals to rely on the market instead of the state, especially in the united $tates where contrary to pseudo-feminist myth, females actually own the majority of wealth. Here we make explicit what many pseudo-feminists seem to think implicitly about Liberalism–better the invisible hand than the male state.

No less than Carma Hinton unintentionally made the Liberal argument recently. She said that the quotation “wimmin hold up half the sky” could be detached from Mao’s statements that wimmin can do whatever men can do. “Wimmin hold up half the sky” taken by itself is less critical: it can be taken as whatever wimmin are doing, they are equally valid holders of the sky. This leads to Liberalism of no struggle where there is no long-term goal to eliminate commodification of sex. Wimmin could be seen as holding up half the sky even if they are prostitutes, strippers and models under socialism. That’s why it’s important not to disaggregate Mao’s statements on gender. Such pseudo-feminism becomes a backdoor for commodification under
socialism, the capitalist road.

A prediction about how the business of golf would survive is of interest to us in capitalism as well. If golf were left to itself in capitalism, what would it tend to produce on the question of handicapped people and golf carts? What leagues would survive with what rules? To believe that competition might shape the game, a kind of survival of the fittest causality is not the same thing as saying God willed golf to be X, Y or Z.

The anarchy of production Marx described is the result of competition among exploiters. There is no discussion of the anarchy of production that I am aware of in Kant or Rawls. Considering that they did not consider themselves “consequentialists” that is not surprising.

In producing a model for the survival of the species in an era of nuclearized militarism, we are commenting on the anarchy of capitalist production. This question is taken uncritically by far too many discussing equality instead of classes and modes of production. It is possible that we could reduce certain kinds of discriminatory inequality in golf while still leaving in unhealthy competitive tendencies. To fail to see those tendencies is excessive Panglossian regard for capitalism.

Conclusion

A benefit of the MIM framework on feminist theory production is that we start to place the question of “sex object” in economic and social context. Marx, Engels and Catharine MacKinnon stress that in commodity society there is no big dividing line between monogamous marriage and prostitution. It is in Kant and religion where we find otherwise. If treating people as objects is wrong, then there is no way morally to enjoy sex for its own sake. MIM holds that whether they admit it or not, the vast majority of First World people partake in sex for its own sake and that matters contrary to anti-consequentialists unconcerned with discrimination or selective moral posturing.

We do not encourage anyone to think that gender oppression is something only one biology can understand. We draw comparisons of male athletes and female models. We encourage people to think across-the-board about physical handicaps. Ideas about “incommensurability” and identity politics can be papered over with
discussion of “diversity.” It is there that counterrevolution lurks.

Today there was a radio discussion of Luis Tiant’s story. There is now apparently a film about how baseball star Tiant deals with his Cuban heritage and family. The radio discussion concluded that questions of Cuban nationality were principal over questions of his sport. From the acclaim given to baseball players and supermodels, more important questions can get lost. If we were to criticize supermodels alone, we might be guilty of a biology-based discrimination. Yet it is in a few minutes thought that we realize that this same question of fame and misplaced priorities rises above genitalia. Unfortunately, it has taken a MIM to provide the framework for theory production on gender. Our framework produces theory pointing to paths of struggle. The class struggle takes a detour around the labor aristocracy and the feminist struggle takes a detour around the gender aristocracy. The gender aristocracy and labor aristocracy are both enemies. It is only the electoral opportunists chasing votes, post-modernists and the insane who cannot distinguish between enemy and friend.

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