Friday, October 27, 2006

Cat meat


Australian Muslim leader compares uncovered women to exposed meat | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited: "Sheik Hilali was quoted as saying: 'If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside ... without cover, and the cats come to eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat's? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab [the headdress worn by some Muslim women], no problem would have occurred.'"

Demeaning to women, offensive to cats...but also insulting to men. The idea is that men have no real intentionality, that they will of course pounce reflexively at the first piece of red meat they see and that they are so far from being rational, autonomous agents that they cannot be blamed. Without external constraints men will of course run amok.

Where does this come from? It's at the heart of traditional "shame cultures where there are no internal forces governing behavior, where people merely respond to external constraints and social approbation. This works fine in the village where most people play by the rules most of the time and see to it that their neighbors do likewise, where everyone is caught in a net of kinship and mutual obligation, shame and honor. In the anonymous city, without the village watching you at every turn, in a world of strangers, there is no reason why you shouldn't run amok. Of course if a tempting piece of meat comes your way you will pounce. The only way to stop you is either to restrain you physically or to hide the meat.

The gears grind whenever villagers move to the city and wherever the Third World meets the first. When people who are bound and constrained break free there's crime, corruption and social chaos. It happens to colleges too, when students away from their families and childhood rules, drink themselves sick because they can and don't show up for class because no one is taking the roll. Most figure out how to behave in a year or two, sometimes longer if they don't wash out first.

Lakoff is wrong: the cut isn't between the Strict Father and Nurturing Parent--code for the stereotypical masculine and feminine. It's between those who believe that men are cats and women are meat or, more generally, that people will run amok if not embedded in family and village, bound by custom, constrained by shame, honor and the fear of God, and those of us who believe that left to their own devices people can, and will--even if after harsh experience--grow up. I guess really that's why I got into philosophy--beyond the taste for fighting and puzzle solving, I do believe in reason, sweet reason, splendidly powerful and always benign.

21 comments:

Boofykatz said...

Lakoff- ??
Sorry, displaying my prejudice. there is a sense in which I wonder why you bothered? And another in which I question 'sweet reason'? As did Paul Feyerabend and Friedrich Nietszche (Oh my gawd, did I spell those names correctly?)
I doubt, you see, your description of your motives. I suspect that you are a Humean and that you deploy reason as a slave of your passion, and that is well and good.

Boofykatz said...

And very insulting to men. OK, you've pinned it.
I have a question. You are the only commonly blogging ethical philosopher, and those few of us who read you are entranced; but how are we to encourage others to join, to engage, to pay their subs?

H. E. said...

There are lots of other philosophers who discuss ethical issues blogging out there. Try, e.g. PEA (Philosophy Ethics and Academia) Soup at http://peasoup.typepad.com/. There's also Crooked Timber where academics in lots of disciplines, including philosophy, blog at http://www.crookedtimber.org/. Crooked Timber is very good and includes lots of links to other decent blogs--a favorite. David Chalmers' site at http://consc.net/chalmers/ has links to his blog and others, and lots of philosophical goodies.

No subs to pay for me--I'm just enjoying myself.

Boofykatz said...

I read the others, but I hadn't come across PEA soup, so many thanks.
I have to disagree wrt crooked timber - CT has always seemed to me a true equivalent of the curate's egg. The rottenness of parts taints the whole. An unpleasant odour of dualism and anti-materialism pervades CT. I doubt I need to go on.

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