Tag Archives | Personal

Babes in Toyland

Child Catcher and Toymaker There’s an interesting phenomenological shift that happens when something you thought you knew suddenly surprises you by turning out to contain – to have all along contained – something else that you always associated with an entirely different context.

For example; just now while channel surfing I caught a few minutes of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a movie I haven’t seen since childhood.

Specifically, I saw the scene where the Child Catcher invades the Toymaker’s shop. Now although I’d remembered the Child Catcher vividly all these years (really, who doesn’t?), I hadn’t remembered the Toymaker at all.

But seeing the Toymaker now – that mobile, mock-innocent face, that fake German accent – it’s Benny Hill! And the whole movie is retroactively transformed.

Okay, I didn’t say it was a profound example. Just an example.


Milton Friedman I’m saddened to learn of Milton Friedman’s death. I didn’t know him personally (though I’ve met his son and corresponded with his grandson; my sympathy to them both), and his flavour of libertarianism wasn’t mine, but he was an articulate, influential, and charming defender of liberty, and wasn’t afraid to take un-Republican stands on issues like military conscription, corporate welfare, and drug prohibition. I have pleasant memories of watching the original full-length version of his Free to Choose miniseries on PBS during my high school days. See Richard Ebeling and Sheldon Richman’s tribute here.

Ayn Rand On a happier note, I’m pleased and honoured to note that I’ve been added to the editorial board of Chris Sciabarra’s Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. (Now the Right-Randians can add another organisation to their list of classical liberal institutions that have been infected by the whim-worshipping, chaos-fomenting taint….)

I’ve spent the past four weekends giving talks at, respectively, the Alabama Philosophical Society in Tuscaloosa, the Mises Institute Supporters’ Summit in Auburn, the Murphy Institute in New Orleans, and Revoluticon in Asheville. Which means I’ve been even more pressed for time than usual. I hope to get a chance to blog about the above over Thanksgiving.

Don't taser me! In the meantime, here are two recent pieces of mine, now online:

My talk at the Mises Institute conference on imperialism, What Empire Does to a Culture (see discussion here and here); and my Center for a Stateless Society op-ed on last Tuesday’s UCLA tasering incident, What Makes Police Brutality Possible? (see also Charles Johnson’s post).

More soon!

Send Women Back to the Sink Before They Kill Our Kids

Happy Day-after-Hallowe’en!

Had a good (but busy) time the past two weekends, at the Alabama Philosophical Society and the Mises Institute conference on imperialism respectively. And this coming weekend I’ll be at Tulane to give a talk on free will.

But now, on to some blog business:

I’ve complained before (see here, here, and here) that religious conservatives’ attitude toward women is too often one that regards womanhood as fundamentally other-oriented and thereby encourages women’s subordination to the demands of men and of families. (I’ve also suggested that one of Rand’s valuable, though partly inadvertent, contributions to the cause of feminism is her revival of the 19th-century libertarians’ insight that an ethics of self-sacrifice contributes to the subjection of women.)       

Sharon Valerii wears army boots Larry Beane’s piece on LRC today illustrates the point I’m making. Commenting on the case of a female U.S. soldier in Iraq who ran over a small boy because she’d been trained not to stop, Beane writes:

First of all, as a traditionalist Christian, I have to say that this is not the proper vocation for a woman. We strain the gnat by exempting women from combat duty, but swallow the camel by training them like men (and usually with men), dressing them in masculine fatigues and boots, outfitting them with weapons, putting them in trucks in combat zones, and expecting (even ordering) them to run over little children.

This is not the biblical understanding of womanhood.

God has designed the female body from the womb up. Even her arms bend differently than those of a man to accommodate her hips. Women are completely designed around the uterus. Their very bodies are temples where the miracle of life begins and is nurtured – the safest and most gentle environment for humanity on the planet. Women are equipped with breasts to feed and nourish babies once they have been delivered from the womb. Women are the cultivators of life, the primary teachers of the human race, the defenders of civilization. Theirs truly are the hands that rule the world by rocking the cradle.

But how many mothers are away from the cradle, neglecting their roles as the teachers and civilizers of youth, doing something “more fulfilling” – such as driving supply trucks in Iraq? And what has happened since women in large numbers have abdicated their vocation as defenders of civilization? Well, we now live in a society that expects mothers to be soldiers and to kill children – and they do it. Their maternal instincts and godly vocation of nurturer do not override their orders to kill.

On this, three points:

Slave Girl movie poster 1. To say that women are “completely designed around the uterus” is to reduce women, insultingly, to a biological function, and specifically an other-directed one, and to take that function as determining their destiny; it is to say that women’s function is to serve others. But an entity whose primary function is service to others is a natural slave. Calling women’s bodies “temples” and telling them that they “rule the world” does little to soften the insult. If, as I venture to suppose, women are persons, then, just as with men, a woman’s central and ruling faculty is her reason, not her uterus. In Aristotelean terms, the reproductive capacity belongs to the nutritive soul, not the rational soul, and so its operation is subordinate to the needs of reason and not vice versa.

Nor will it be any defense to say that men, too, are destined primarily to service. For a) that would make men slaves as well, which is no improvement; and b) in any case the religious conservative’s claim is generally that women are especially oriented toward service, and adding as an afterthought “oh yeah, but men are too, somewhat” does little to counteract the overall tendency toward the subjection of women in particular.

2. Beane’s argument seems to be this: women’s primary function is nurturing; hence, when women are encouraged to neglect nurturing in favour of seeking a fulfilling career, this goes against the natural order, and the result of this unnatural deviation is that women end up doing bad things like running over innocent children. But first, the inference from the perils of careers that require being desensitized to inflicting death on the innocent to the perils of careers, period, seems a rather heroic leap. And second, even if women’s running over children were an argument against women valuing careers, why wouldn’t men’s running over children – which presumably also happens – thereby be an argument against men valuing careers?

Now it’s obvious from Beane’s overall discussion that he thinks running over innocent children is wrong whether it’s done by a man or by a woman. I am happy to say that this is a point on which Beane and I are in complete agreement. But given that fact, it’s hard to see how this is a special problem about women in military roles. The purported fact that women are divinely ordained to be walking wombs can’t be the reason why it’s wrong for them to run over children, because it’s wrong for men to do so as well, even though men aren’t walking wombs. Well, whatever the reason is for its being wrong for men to run over children, why can’t that be the reason it’s wrong for women to do so as well?

Beane does suggest an argument to show that women’s focus on careers can be blamed not only for women’s but also for men’s running over children: “Most men no longer have examples of manly and honorable fathers and grandfathers, not having been taught by their mothers from the cradle to revere chivalry and decency, nor to defend life and to protect the weak. No, our mothers are too busy wearing army boots.” But this won’t do; for it suggests that male violence against the innocent is a recent development, a product of women’s liberation from the role of compulsory homemaker. A glance at history suggests otherwise: when the Israelites “utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” (Joshua 8: 26), men, women, and children, was it because their mothers had been too career-minded to teach them chivalry? What about the Athenians in Melos? What about the Romans, well, anywhere? When the French soldiers at Agincourt killed “the poys and the luggage,” were their mothers all in army boots? The patriarchal family has reigned for millennia without preventing male violence against the innocent; indeed, male violence against the innocent has been a not infrequent occurrence within the patriarchal family itself.

Jael and Sisera 3. While I don’t regard the Bible as an authority one way or the other on such matters, it’s perhaps worth noting that it’s not entirely clear that the “Biblical understanding of womanhood” consistently places nurturing first. When Lazarus’s sister Martha is pursuing her feminine nurturing duties, “cumbered about much serving,” and complains that her sister Mary is neglecting her household chores by pursuing religious studies with Jesus instead, Jesus famously takes Mary’s side. (Luke 10: 39-42) One could read this as a vindication of a woman’s choice to reject homemaking in favour of some other vocation.

The Catholic Church, of course, has traditionally interpreted this passage as licensing only the choice of nun – another nurturing role – as an alternative to wife and mother, but this interpretation is hardly inevitable. After all there is also the prophetess Deborah, who (though herself in fact a wife and – unless Judges 5:7 is metaphorical – a mother as well) “judged Israel at that time. … and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.” (Judges 4:4-5) Hardly a conventionally feminine role! Moreover, she even participated in military operations: when Barak “went up with ten thousand men at his feet” we are told that “Deborah went up with him.” (Judges 4:10) We’re not told that Deborah was personally involved in acts of warfare; but we are told this (Judges 5:24-27) about another woman, in terms of high praise:

Blessed above women shall Jael
the wife of Heber the Kenite be,
blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
He asked water, and she gave him milk;
she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
She put her hand to the nail,
and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer;
and with the hammer she smote Sisera,
she smote off his head,
when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down:
at her feet he bowed, he fell:
where he bowed, there he fell down dead.

In short, Jael and Deborah wore army boots. Whether they did so in just or unjust wars is hard to determine given the Bible’s narrative vagueness, but they certainly did so with the Bible’s approval.

Philosophy in Alabama

Alabama philosophers? The conference schedule for next week’s Alabama Philosophical Society is now online. This year it’s up at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where I’ve actually never been before, despite having friends in the area.

I’m giving a paper on how Aristoteleans can avoid the twin pitfalls of making the concept of happiness include everything worth wanting (thus rendering happiness unattainable) and making it include only everything worth choosing (thus making it too easily attainable, since whatever’s currently unattainable is currently not worth choosing). (This sort of topic makes it all too obvious, to Greek philosophy specialists anyway, whose student I was at Cornell.) Anyway, my paper overlaps heavily with my APEE paper and Mises seminar.

Fellow Molinarian Charles Johnson is also scheduled to be there, defending Francis Hutcheson on the psychology and epistemology of ethics.

Revisionist History

Text of Herodotus I recently came across a story (if that’s the right word for it) that I wrote when I was around nine years old. It presents itself as being part of a series, but I have no idea whether I wrote any of the other installments listed.

Anyway, it’s called The History of the World! and it’s … kinda strange.

Follow the Rules!

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Ludwig Wittgenstein My article “Rule-following, Praxeology, and Anarchy,” which I presented last April at the PCPE in Prague, has just been published in the Liberální Institut’s journal New Perspectives on Political Economy. I argue that Wittgenstein’s rule-following paradox has implications both for Austrian methodology and for anarchist theory. Czech it out.

In a recent column, Sheldon Richman, citing my article, suggests some implications for our understanding of the Constitution as well.

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