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Monday, January 24, 2005

Natural Law Had It Right from the Start

Men and women are very different from each other.

The flap over Harvard President Lawrence Summers remarks about women’s abilities in a recent conference reminds us of some eternal truths.  For background details, see the Wall Street Journal article Summers and Smoke, January 21,2005;PageW11.

A posting today on The Volokh Conspiracy, Gender and Brain Function, references an article on this subject in socialism’s primary propaganda organ, The New York Times.  Gray Matter and the Sexes: Still a Scientific Gray Area tip-toes gingerly around the issue, admitting that there are real differences between the sexes, but struggling to clutch some straw, any straw, to deny the palpable reality of decisive differences that make women better at some things than others.

Any unbiased observer (which means someone unaware of the feminist movement since the 1960s) would immediately declare that there are very obvious differences between men and women, in physical construction, strength, instinctive attitudes, and abilities.  Neither is superior to the other, just different.  Without both men and women, the human race would cease to exist.

Beginning in prehistoric antiquity, humans universally accepted this obvious truth, without making it a subject of political controversy.  No woman nursing an infant could survive alone in primitive societies.  She had to have a male companion to forage and hunt for food, to find firewood and build fires, and to ward off enemies and animal predators.

By the time of Plato and Aristotle, around 400 B.C., this understanding had been incorporated into what became known in Western Europe as natural law.  In its simplest terms, natural law was the view that God had created all things for some purpose.  Aristotle, in the first truly scientific endeavor, collected plant and animal specimens and categorized them in the manner of present-day botanists and zoologists. Each of these types of life, as well as inorganic matter, appeared to occupy a niche, for example in the food chain, or served to support some other aspect of earthly existence. 

Aristotle also catalogued the characteristics and practical results of differing systems of political rule in all known parts of the ancient world, drawing from his analysis the conclusion that the highest good of human existence is to strive as an individual for a life of moral virtue, living within a free society dedicated to crafting laws and maintaining religion and traditions that support moral virtue.  The parallel development of similar thinking in the long history of Judaism is evidence of the reality of natural law arising from a common, God-given human nature.  It was this body of thought that became natural law and formed the foundation, indeed the very substance, of Western civilization, our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Extreme cohorts of feminism assert that there are no differences between men and women, beyond reproductive functions.  Their aim is to gain more respect for women and to further their advancement on equal terms with men in the business, professional, and academic worlds.  Granting the desirability of giving every person an equal opportunity to succeed on individual ability, without barriers imposed by stereotypical preconceptions, feminism nonetheless fits well with left-wing liberalism, because one of its effects is to tear down existing standards and traditions. 

One of those standards is the use of the word gender when sex is the proper word.  Webster’s New International Dictionary, in the 1957 edition shortly before the irruption of feminism, defines gender as the term applied to nouns and adjectives in languages, most of which have masculine, feminine, and neuter words, many of which do not correspond to the expected gender derived solely from sex differences.  For example, the French word for army has a feminine gender, despite the masculine nature of armies.  Webster’s says of using the word gender to indicate sexual differences between people that it was in 1957 an outdated colloquialism.  Feminists apparently wanted to avoid using the word sex, because it inescapably emphasized differences between men and women.  To speak of the sexes today is tantamount to sexual harassment and may summon an avenging emissary from the ACLU.

As I wrote in Understanding the English Language is Essential to Clear Thinking:

“Spinmiesters and speech police have debased the language. Words are the units of thought. When their meaning is distorted, communication becomes unreliable. In a democratic republic, this is a grave danger.”