Friday, March 09, 2018

Is objectivity a means of white male heterosexual supremacy?

"If feminism is a critique of the objective standpoint as male, then we also disavow standard scientific norms as the adequacy criteria for our theory, because the objective standpoint we criticize is the posture of science. In other words, our critique of the objective standpoint as male is a critique of science as a specifically male approach to knowledge. With it, we reject male criteria for verification."

"Questions of falsifiability look different in this context.  One consequence of women’s rejection of science in it’s positivistic form is that we reject the head-counting theory of verification.  Structural truths about the meaning of gender may or may not produce big numbers.  For example to say “not only women experience that” in reply to a statement characterizing women’s experience, is to say that to be properly sex-specific, something must be unique to one sex.  Similarly to say “not all women experience that” as if that contraindicates sex specificity (this point is to Larry Grossberg), is to suggest to be sex-specific something must be true of 100 percent of the se affected.  Both of those are implicitly biological criteria for sex: unique and exclusive."

Catherine McKinnon in “Feminism unmodified:  Discourse on Life and Law”.

TL;DR version, no it is in fact a threat to white male heterosexual supremacy.

To find out why let’s start by defining our terms.  White in this context means those that both identify as white and have enough of the genes that predominate in people who identify as white to be classed as European by genetic testing.  Male are those that identify as male and are treated as male by society in general.  Heterosexual are those with no significant attraction to the same sex and who are attracted to the opposite sex.  Supremacy is the possession of the ability to impose your preferences either individually or as a member of a group on another individual or set of individuals in contradiction to their own in a large proportion of cases.

Objective measurements by definition aren’t affected by the race, gender, sexuality or class of the observer.  A properly designed objective test does not yield different results if done by a poor black lesbian than a rich white straight man.  Nor does it yield different results if done ON a poor black lesbian rather than a rich white straight man unless those people differ in the thing tested for.  This means that having your own group in a position to conduct the tests is not helpful to maintaining that group’s power.  Since of course an incumbent powerful* group has more power to conduct tests and decide the significance of their results objective tests give them LESS power, not more than subjective tests.

An example of this is the “Shall Issue” reforms to Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) permits in parts of the United States.  Legally carrying a weapon, particularly a firearm, concealed required a permit. Only Vermont allowed concealed carry without a permit.  There were often no formal rules about who should be issued such permits and the law was therefore effectively quite subjective.  Accusations that this resulted in favoritism and racist policies were common and no doubt had validity in many cases.  In the wake of a shooting where one person claimed she could have saved lives if she had been allowed to carry concealed a reform movement sprang up.  This resulted in many jurisdictions having “shall issue” rules that forced police forces to issue the permits as long as the applicant satisfied certain criterion or state a reason that a judge could reject.   The criterion were things like no previous drug or alcohol problems, domestic violence problems or felony convictions.   Adopting these relatively objective tests deprived the (predominantly) white, male, straight police departments of much of it’s power to refuse concealed carry permits.

To be clear this did not result in a completely objective system of permits or even one that was entirely racially neutral.  If black men are arrested and charged in circumstances that white men would not have been arrested and charged they would still be deprived of CCW permits at disproportionate rates.  However the reforms did result push the balance of power towards poor black people and others, away from rich white men who are able to control the political structure and therefore the police force.

Now the objection might be raised that the power to carry a gun is not a desirable power to give anyone, but that is not relevant to the point.  For a start what power a relatively powerless group should strive for really shouldn’t be decided by a relatively powerful group.  The latter need not have the required information about what power the former needs and in any case telling someone what power they can have is disempowering in itself.  Secondly the point is to give an example of objectivity acting against white, straight male power not an example of objectivity creating a real social good (although I believe it did both in these cases).

In fact objectivity will tend to act against the dominant group because, even if they try to use an appearance of objectivity to legitimize their power, objectivity cannot be totally faked.  If, for instance, a dominant group should argue that they should be in charge of X because they objectively have more of quality Y, that quality can be tested for.  If it cannot be tested for then obviously they are not really appealing to objectivity but to an arbitrarily assigned characteristic.

If a dominant group can assert it’s authority without reference to objective standards there is no limit to their demands on the subordinated group.  A group that claims objective standards can be held to those standards, at least in theory.  Of course it may not be practical to actually hold them to these standards in some cases, but the dominant group cannot violate them blatantly without sacrificing the ideological basis for their authority.  Since all authority is based on ideological claims, not force, claiming objectivity makes all authority vulnerable.  A claim based on subjective standards however cannot be challenged in the same way, since any challenger would find it impossible to prove their case, and an unproven case will be decided in favour of the powerful, because that’s what “power” means.

For another example of objectivity undermining white, male, straight power is civil service exams, particularly multiple choice ones and particularly where the marker has no direct observation of the subject.  These were introduced to defeat favoritism in government appointments and the corruption and incompetence they bred.  While I’m not arguing that they are a perfect or even necessarily the best form of candidate selection they do allow members of non-powerful groups to get power regardless of the wishes of the powerful.  A poor, black man who scores 135 beats a rich white man who scores 133.  Now of course differences in education and other environmental factors means that this need not be a perfectly fair test in terms of ability and/or effort, but it is objective.  There is a way to determine if the black guy or the woman or the transgender person “should” have won, and if it isn’t followed the elites could be in for trouble.  Contrast this with a subjective method of selecting employees where the guy who “seems right” for the job get it.  How would you determine if the selectors were being racist or sexist, consciously or unconsciously?   Of course not, and the fact that no blacks or women get in  merely “proves” that there are no blacks or women that the high, if vague standards required.

*    Whether formally powerful or powerful through some generally accepted social compliance.

No comments: