The Second Sexism (plus a mystery or two)

I have my eye on the book The Second Sexism -- to read it, or not to read it?  We will certainly review it at The Philosophers' Magazine and Benatar is writing an essay on discrimination against men for the magazine.  If nothing else, the book is intriguing, and it sure has a clever title. But ...

Honestly, I cannot say that I feel the problem of sexism against men looms large, especially compared with the problem of sexism against women. I laughed when I read a column at the Guardian that accuses Benatar of "victim-envy".  Next thing we'll be finding out that rich people are terribly mistreated too.  And don't forget to pity the poor gorgeous people! On the other hand, in The New Stateman Ally Fogg says Benatar gives full credit to feminism and just wants proper attention paid to anti-male discrimination as well.  So I will do my best to withhold judgment until I've read the book or learned more about it from a reliable reviewer. (Full disclosure:  my own book Animalkind is in the same series as Benatar's.)

OK, now for the mysteries.   One is about the connection between The Second Sexism and Benatar's last book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into ExistenceWomen have traditionally played the larger role in creating and raising children and Benatar thinks we harm people by bringing them into the world.  Does that anti-natal stance make him less sympathetic to women?  Just asking.  (I was gratified to learn that I'm not the only one "just asking"--Christine Overall asks similar questions in her recent book Why Have Children?)

The other mystery...

First let me refer you to an interesting blog post by James Garvey on whether it's legitimate to be interested in the personal lives of philosophers.  I say "of course".  Being interested in people's lives is the engine behind literature and movies, and I make no apologies for my curiosity.  Now, whether people's lives shed any light on the believability of their philosophical views is another matter. I'd even say "quite possibly" to that.  But let's keep the focus just on lives, period.  I like to know what people look like, at the very least, but in the case of someone with views as extraordinary as Benatar's, I'll go a little further. It would be fun to know some personal details. Does the author of Better Never to Have Been has 10 children? Does the author of The Second Sexism have three angry ex-wives?  Probably not, but it would be fun to know.

No, I refuse to be ashamed of myself for wondering.  (Perhaps Emrys Westacott's book The Virtues of Our Vices could help me defend myself.  I believe he's got a defense of gossip in there.)

OK, so here's mystery #2.  I was curious to know what Benatar looks like, but that's been hard to find out.  Yesterday I thought I'd hit the jackpot, because I found a YouTube video of a debate he participated in (about admissions at the University of Cape Town--he argues against race-based affirmative action).  However the videographer trains his/her camera on the other five panelists, but deliberately keeps Benatar out of view (he's the speaker furthest to the right).  The minute it's his turn to talk, we see him for a spit second (at 8:54), and then the camera focuses on the audience and avoids him (see 10:19 and 12:55).  What's up here? 

Sherlock, take it away!


Anonymous said...

I have the "Better never . . ." book and I presumed Benatar to be sincere. Based on what you have here, I propose an additional mystery. Is he sincere in taking these positions or has he "decided" that his career is best served by becoming known as the contrarian, regardless of the issue?

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, good question, and maybe it relates to my mystery #2. Does Benatar actively seek to antagonize people by taking contrarian positions, and if that's so (it could be so, even if he's sincere about hte positions), what's the connection with not wanting to be seen on camera? The two things seem inconsistent! I think the New Yorker should publish a profile on him, like the one they did on Derek Parfit. I nominate him as one of the most intriguing philosophers around. I should add--I also think he's one of the best writers around. "Better Never..." is a masterpiece, as far as writing goes, and also enormously thought provoking (if ultimately wrong and even revolting).

BenSix said...

He's wearing a hat indoors. Perhaps that's just the way he likes to dress but I know I feel most nihilistic when I think I'm losing hair...

Jean Kazez said...

Ha. OK, that's mystery #3. Why the hat? Mystery #2 is why the camera moves away from him immediately, even though it shows all the other panelists?

I'm still waiting for my Sherlock. I know there's an answer.

Anonymous said...

I cannot say that I feel the problem of sexism against men looms large, especially compared with the problem of sexism against women... Next thing we'll be finding out that rich people are terribly mistreated too
The problem is that you commit the apex fallacy.. you seem to only think of the men at the top. Not the men in the middle or the bottom. Do you seriously think that men in the "death professions" arent discriminated against? Do you ever pay attention to men immensely suffering because a woman's word is believed over his in the legal system, such as this from a few days ago?
Brian Banks, CA Football Player, Exonerated Of Rape Charges After Over 5 Years In Prison (PHOTOS)

The truth hurts rape liar 3 yrs. in prison for framing innocent man http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/brian-banks-ca-football-p_n_1543992.html
women are assholes w.r.to the other sex as much as men are, and thats a fact that people individually dont accept due to their psychologies, and as a consequence society doesnt accept either. Thats probably why the sexism against men isnt realized.

Anonymous said...

Human psychology is such that both males and females end up being more sympathetic to females, and cops and judges do the same. Thats means men are at a greater disadvantage, and if justice is to be served, then society needs to pay more attention to the crimes of women.. not men. There's plenty of evidence to back this up.

look at how nobody interferes with this assault
MBTA Assault Is Caught On Camera
Reaction To Women Abusing Men In Public

Anonymous said...

Another reason could be what Florence Nightingale says:
Quotes from The Life of Florence Nightingale (1913) by Edward Tyas Cook

Let each person tell the truth from his own experience. I have read half your book thro' and I am immensely charmed by it. But some things I disagree with and more I do not understand. This does not apply to the characters, but to your conclusions, e.g. you say "women are more sympathetic than men." Now if I were to write a book out of my experience I should begin Women have no sympathy. Yours is the tradition. Mine is the conviction of experience. I have never found one woman who has altered her life by one iota for me or my opinions. Now look at my experience of men. A statesman, past middle age, absorbed in politics for a quarter of a century, out of sympathy with me, remodels his whole life and policy — learns a science the driest, the most technical, the most difficult, that of administration, as far as it concerns the lives of men, — not, as I learnt it, in the field from stirring experience, but by writing dry regulations in a London room by my sofa with me. This is what I call real sympathy.
Letter to Madame Mohl (13 December 1861), pp. 13-15
Now just look at the degree in which women have sympathy — as far as my experience is concerned. And my experience of women is almost as large as Europe. And it is so intimate too. I have lived and slept in the same bed with English Countesses and Prussian Bauerinnen [farm laborers]. No Roman Catholic Supérieure [president of a French university system known for their diverse, eclectic teaching methods] has ever had charge of women of the different creeds that I have had. No woman has excited "passions" among women more than I have. Yet I leave no school behind me. My doctrines have taken no hold among women. ... No woman that I know has ever appris à apprendre [learned to learn]. And I attribute this to want of sympathy. You say somewhere that women have no attention. Yes. And I attribute this to want of sympathy. ... It makes me mad, the Women's Rights talk about "the want of a field" for them — when I know that I would gladly give £500 a year [roughly $50,000 a year in 2008] for a Woman Secretary. And two English Lady Superintendents have told me the same thing. And we can't get one.
Letter to Madame Mohl (13 December 1861)
In one sense, I do believe I am "like a man," as Parthe [the writer's sister] says. But how? In having sympathy. ... Women crave for being loved, not for loving. They scream out at you for sympathy all day long, they are incapable of giving any in return, for they cannot remember your affairs long enough to do so. ... They cannot state a fact accurately to another, nor can that other attend to it accurately enough for it to become information. Now is not all this the result of want of sympathy?
Letter to Madame Mohl (13 December 1861)
People often say to me, You don't know what a wife and mother feels. No, I say, I don't and I'm very glad I don't. And they don't know what I feel. ... I am sick with indignation at what wives and mothers will do of the most egregious selfishness. And people call it all maternal or conjugal affection, and think it pretty to say so. No, no, let each person tell the truth from his own experience.
Letter to Madame Mohl (13 December 1861)

Anonymous said...

Oops.. the second link in my first comment is wrong..

The truth hurts rape liar 3 yrs. in prison for framing innocent man

Anonymous said...

I'd love to know whether Benatar is gay, cos if he is then I'd be proud, cos I'm gay and what a privilege It would be to say that one of the most intriguing, clever and articulate moral philosophers is one of my sort

Anonymous said...

He's on the far right in this picture. As far as I know, at least for the past few years he invariably wears a baseball cap.


Jean Kazez said...

Thank you! That article looks intriguing .:: must run it through a translator.

Anonymous said...

Is he going bald? Why would he be so self-conscious?

Anonymous said...

Okay, I admit that I'm not particularly interested in his personal life, his appearance, or his feelings of inadequacy. I'm in a glass house on those fronts. But I will be interested to know what you think of the book. I think I'm going to order it, if only because I hope it is not as terrible as it sounds. He's a clever man, and I admit that I found his last book engaging, if mistaken. But I suspect this book will just make me angry.

Also, I worry that he's getting himself into a competition--"it would have been much better for people of my kind never to have been than for people of your kind never to have been." All these young men dying young are only avoiding all those years of human suffering, right?

Anonymous said...

Benatar's argument is absolutely sound. And it's also simple. By not bringing a person into existence, u spare that person pain (the absence of pain Is good, even if there is nobody to enjoy that good). If u r worried that a potential future person is 'missing out' on things that existent actual people experience (eg joy, happiness, pleasure, etc), then u stop worrying - the absence of pleasure is not bad (and not good either - in fact it's neutral), cos there is nobody for whom it's a deprivation, no matter the amount of pleasure that that possible person could have experienced if they were to become actual.

With existence, u experience both pain (which is bad) and pleasure (which is good).

Comparing existence with non-existence, non existence wins

Ppl find his argument radical and wrong cos it implies there should b no more ppl. And humans hate the idea of there being no more humans. In the book, he says this is because humans are arrogant (ppl think the whole point of the universe is to hv humans in it, cos humans are intrinsically valuable or important) or sentimental (a misplaced sentimentalism about there being no more ppl)

If u disagree w Benatar's argument, then it's YOU who is thick and wrong.

Jacques Rousseau said...

I'm so very late to this, I know - found your post when Googling for a link to pass on to a friend. David Benatar is a colleague of mine at the University of Cape Town, and is very protective of personal details, even with those of us who work with him. And, he refuses permission for any photographing/video - so any pics you do find are illicit, as it were.

Anonymous said...

I've been taught by Benatar so I will be your Sherlock as to what he looks like and why he wears a cap all the time. He's white, and...on the younger side of middle age, I think (the photo you get on the Wikipedia article doesn't look at all like him, I wonder if it's a different David Benatar). And he wears a cap all the time indoors because he's Jewish and apparently wears a yarmulke underneath.

If you want mysteries, he is in favour of male circumcision despite calling it an example of sexism against men and seems to support corporal punishment despite all his writings about pain and ethics.

I used to greatly admire him and think he's very intelligent and skilled and a brilliant lecturer, but you have to wonder if he's entirely intellectually honest or informed about how the world works.