Steven Goldberg on Goddess issue
Steven Goldberg (Dept. of Sociology, City Univ. of New York) writes:
Robert (and all on Usenet and Bitnet):
Thanks very much, Robert, for sending the disk with the second
batch of Usenet and Bitnet stuff. I know that these responses must be
excruciatingly repetitive, but old questions from new readers
require the old answers.
RESPONSE TO THE GODDESS ISSUE: Your (Robert's) presentation of the
Goddess refutation material is terrific. While I've taken it upon
myself to examine every ethnographic work invoked as representing
a matriarchy (never by the ethnographer), I would get involved with
entirely speculative (and entirely dubious) claims of "pre-
historic" matriarchies only if they were taken seriously by those
qualified to assess them. You make clear beyond the possibility of
dispute that serious archaeologists don't take any of the Goddess-
matriarchy stuff seriously.
I would be interested in any fairly hard *ethnographic* evidence of
a society in which the highest god were female. If there is such,
it would demonstrate that patriarchy (the political-authority
system) need not determine the gender of the highest deity and that
religion can be independent of the political-authority system. It
would *not* cast doubt on the universality of patriarchy, since the
ethnographies always demonstrate the presence of patriarchy. I did
not specifically look at the religions in all of the various
ethnographies, but I think I would have noticed a clear example of
one in which the highest deity were female. But, as I've said, it
would not be shocking to find that some small primitive society,
constantly struggling for food, saw the highest deity in terms of
agricultural fertility (like our "mother earth") rather than the
protectiveness associated with the male. If there is no society
whose religion's highest deity is female, this might imply that
human fear of the inevitability of failure, the immensity of the
universe, and the eternity of death are ubiquitous to the point of
determining the nature of religion everywhere (so that the need to
believe in the goodness of the Most Powerful always takes priority
and the highest deity is male or genderless). It's an interesting
issue, but not one relevant to *Patriarchy* as long as a highest
god who is female is not seen--as it can not be seen--as implying
an absence of patriarchy.
[RS comment: studies of ethnographies show societies with all-male
gods, those with male gods predominating, those with approximately
equal power between male and female gods, and perhaps one case of
a slight advantage to female gods. Apparently no societies have
only female gods, or female gods with clear predominance over
male ones. See "The Status of Women in Preindustrial Society" by
Martin King White (Princeton Univ. Press, 1978), p. 50.]
GOLDBERG'S RESPONSE TO THE CLAIM THAT "IF PATRIARCHY IS SO NORMAL, THEN WE
COULD NOT HAVE SUCH A THING AS FEMINIST PROTEST"
(RIPB@CUNYVM.BITNET): I never use the word "normal" (except in one
essay in *Wish* addressed to the empirical question of what people
*mean* by "normal"), But I assume that the writer means to say that
feminist protest implies that physiology need not result in
*Patriarchy* no more implies that there will be no feminist
protest than a claim that all societies will have channels for
individual sexual impulses implies that there will be no Shakers.
Human beings have always railed against their inherent human
tendencies. It indicates only that some
people won't like that which physiology makes inevitable. There is
not a physiological reality--no matter how inevitable its social
manifestations--that has not been the target of enormous human
anger. In many societies there have been those who raged against
it being women who have to give birth, against "the domination of
the sex drive", etc. Likewise, there have been cults that wished
that a whole society could ignore the "sex drive" (i.e., Shaker-
like groups, etc.).
Feminist protest *does* indicate that *individuals* can be more
strongly motivated by other imperatives, just as the Catholic
priest indicates that an *individual* need not act out the "sex
drive". But the existence of Catholic priests hardly argues for the
possibility of a society in which all but those people required for
propagation of the population have no sexual relations. (Note,
incidentally, that I grant here something that is far from clear:
a feminist's protest does not indicate that even the feminist
exhibits the greater dominance behavior discussed by *Patriarchy*.
But, since other factors--and the statistical exceptions of
physiology itself--engender exceptions, let's grant here that the
radical feminist *individual* represents an exception to the
statistical realities that make patriarchy inevitable.)
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Date: Thu, 17 Dec 1992 17:52:47 EST
Reply-To: SKEPTIC Discussion Group
Sender: SKEPTIC Discussion Group
From: Taner Edis
Subject: Reply to Goldberg
To: Multiple recipients of list SKEPTIC
In-Reply-To: Robert Sheaffer's message of Thu,
17 Dec 1992 00:16:07 -0800 <9212170820.AA14917@eta.pha.jhu.edu>
Steven Goldberg's lengthy reply to one (out of 3) of my
postings partially critical of his work is curious -- at points I had
to wonder if he had actually read what I said. He certainly seemed
eager enough to respond to contentions that I never expressed, perhaps
assuming that I must have a lot in common with certain of his critics,
and therefore that a standard reaction would be justified. Let me
reiterate some of my major points; it is possible the mistake was on
my part in not making myself clear enough.
1. The discussion between myself and Sheaffer on SKEPTIC
started out about a Tavris-Goldberg comparison, but my critical
postings were not in the context of arguing against "Patriarchy," but
pointing out certain aspects of the argument forms used that I deem to
be incorrect. Furthermore, it is my impression that this species of
overstatement is common enough among skeptics to give me reason to
complain. It may be recalled that I raised similar questions in the
debate about so-called fallacies, particularly ad hominem and
authority invoking ones. Thus it is beside the point to lecture about
merits of "The Inevitability of Patriarchy" as a hypothesis, if the
intention is to respond to my postings.
For the record, I have never disputed the existence of a
pattern of male dominance of hierarchies on SKEPTIC -- indeed I cited
Goldberg's work in a response to someone who presented examples of
matrilineality against patriarchy, before Robert Sheaffer ever brought
it up. This is not to be taken to mean that I am fully satisfied with
either all aspects the picture Goldberg paints, or his preferred
explanations of what does seem to be a clear pattern. If this is
brought up to debate explicitly, I will air the questions that I have.
Note that I use the word "question" intentionally, as opposed to
"detailed counterargument" or "professional opinion."
Also, my criticism of certain lines of argument does not imply
that I am not in comfortable agreement with many others. For example,
Goldberg is entirely correct in pointing out the inability of
"socialization" to stand alone as an explanation for the empirical
evidence he presents in "Patriarchy." I may again have my doubts
about what Goldberg proceeds to make of this, constructing a dichotomy
between a strong biological determinism and an almost unconstrained
environmentalism, but I have no problem with the logical point itself.
2. I find it hard to understand how Goldberg can assert that
I can find no "specific errors of logic" in his work. Coupled with a
lack of objections on empirical grounds, this is presumably to mean
that I'm making out excuses to whine about theories I react
unfavorably towards because of consequences.
My claim is that *some of* Goldberg's work is riddled with
logical holes, particularly the book "When Wish Replaces Thought," a
volume which ironically purports to be about countering some common
fallacies in reasoning. These errors, furthermore, are in my
judgement fairly common among certain skeptics with a penchant to act
as "logic police." To guard against the inevitable misinterpretation,
I am not stating here that such mistakes mean that the person
committing them is a logical cripple, or even that this form of
"specific error" is inevitably fatal or very important.
Two of the errors I pointed out were perhaps traceable to
overstatement: relating to the relevance of bias and the status of
conflicting experimental evidence. In these cases, the statements
were perhaps unobjectionable taken in isolation, e.g. if translated
into elementary formal logic with proper definitions of terms.
However, Goldberg's use of these statements is in an entirely
different context of inductive logic, in evaluating what counts for or
against a proposition. In general the presence of bias, or
contradicting experiments *is* relevant information, particularly so
if there is little direct information available. Of course, the
weight of such considerations can be made negligibly small, if for
example detailed information is available about the circumstances
which would indicate little effect of bias, a detailed debunking of
certain forms of experiment etc.
The important point here is that we do not have a general
logical principle like "bias is irrelevant;" the case for irrelevancy
or relevancy has to be made for each case and context. If Goldberg
were to make a detailed case that an existing institutional bias was
nevertheless inadequate in accounting for some empirical results and
theoretical preferences, i.e. that the work was nonetheless sound,
this would be fine (this would also have to address historical issues,
as with Ray Hyman's skepticism about parapsychology). But the efforts
he makes in this direction are relatively feeble (this is not to claim
that such a case can't be made!), and he resorts mainly to an
assertion that charges of institutional bias can be ignored, since
such bias is irrelevant in a formal, noninductive sense. This is
incorrect, similarly his implications that null results can be ignored
simply on logical grounds. An *empirical* case has to be presented.
Another claim Goldberg makes, that it is the plausible
assumption that null results are explained by lack of discrimination
on the part of an experiment, is outright false -- again, as a general
claim. I have explained why this is at best unjustified in more
detail in a posting Sheaffer has apparently not forwarded to Goldberg,
and can repeat it on request.
Goldberg seems to be partial to laying down the logical law,
with little regard to the particular context, and ignoring the
complications presented by the necessity of detailed empirical
support. This kind of shortcut in determining probabilities of
explanation proposals is simply not available.
3. The tone of a presentation is indeed of little relevance
in determining whether the contentions made are adequately supported.
However, this is not the only consideration in a semipopular work.
Goldberg's books are presented to the general public, and I would
contend that issues of educating the readers, and maintaining an
environment where a constructive exchange between proponents of
opposing views can take place must also be kept in mind.
This is again a recurrent subject of debate among skeptics,
how one should proceed in debunking. My inclination (though I'll
regretfully have to agree that my practice does not always conform to
it) is to adopt a less confrontational style, while still being able
to vigorously defend points of view.
Let me give some examples from material that I substantially
agree with: Some of Martin Gardner's short pieces on parapsychology,
and Robert Sheaffer's UFO work. In either case, I tend to agree with
the substance of what is being presented, but am very ambivalent about
the fashion in which this is done. I would not be able to suggest
either to a believer friend who would be interested in understanding a
skeptical point of view. There is too much of a Fighting-The-Good-
Fight subtext to avoid a negative response by someone with a different
opinion, possibly mistaken, but nevertheless who is intelligent and is
not the all too often used caricature of a True Believer.
In is in this fashion that I object to the occasionally snide
and pontificating tone in those of Goldberg's semipopular books that
I've read. In my case, I have no real expertise on the scientific
issues being discussed, and all that I've encountered suggests a large
degree of uncertainty would be called for, given the information I
have. This makes it all the more important for me, if I'm to learn
anything at all, that there be a better atmosphere of debate between
various parties, biological determinists, feminists, whomever. I'm not
sure that Goldberg is helping, Sheaffer is so sure of himself that he's
on a perpetual crusade, and this becomes yet another possibly
constructive exchange drowned out by a shouting match. Perhaps what
is needed is not so much an impossible ideal of a disinterested
observer, but reasonable restraint.
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GOLDBERG'S RESPONSE TO TANER EDIS' NOTE OF 17DEC92: I'll leave it to readers
of my first response to Mr. Edis whether I have made sufficiently
the points I summarize here. (I have, incidentally, responded to
every communication from Mr. Edis that I have seen. If there are
some that I have not seen, I'll be happy to do so.)
(1) I am in complete agreement with Mr. Edis' points about
methodological bias *in general*. My point is that none of these
can be argued to be relevant to *Patriarchy*. And, after all, Mr.
Edis' comments were all addressed to *Patriarchy* and made in a
discussion of *Patriarchy*. **In the case of *Patriarchy* ** the
evidential base is sufficiently wide (the evidence of every
culture, whatever a given culture's specific institutions) and
varied (a century of anthropologists and archaeologists) to dismiss
the possibility of bias misrepresenting a reality whose absence
would ensure any young anthropologist's or archaeologist's career.
To use Mr. Edis' phrase: "the weight of such considerations of
(methodological bias are) negligibly small" in the case of
*Patriarchy*, the only case relevant to our discussion.
Likewise, *of course* it is true that--in Mr. Edis' words--"we do
not have a *general* logical principle like 'bias is irrelevant'"
and that "the case for irrelevancy or relevancy has to be made for
each case and context". Does Mr. Edis really believe that I claimed
that "bias is irrelevant" in cases where incomplete information or
biased evidence are serious issues? Does he think I'm ready to
accept the existence of flying saucers because two gas station
attendants in Arkansas think they saw one. It seems obvious to me,
and I hope nearly all readers, that my point was that the
possibility of such bias' being significant is "negligibly small"--
**in the case of *Patriarchy* **--given (A) the fact that the
evidence comes from thousands of researchers whose work spans a
century, and (B) the fact that bias, to be significant, would have
to have led a researcher to hide the fact that the positions of the
hierarchy in the society he was living with and studying were not
overwhelmingly filled by males. That would not be bias, it would be
blindness. In short: in the "case and context" of *Patriarchy*,
there is no reasonable argument that methodological bias is
relevant to the book.
Mr. Edis does seem to think that it behooves me to "make a detailed
case that an existing institutional bias (is not capable of
accounting for some empirical results and theoretical preferences)"
and that I reject the relevance of such bias *simply on the grounds
that such bias is irrelevant in a formal, noninductive sense"*
No. I do *not* say that bias is irrelevant to *Patriarchy*
*because* such bias is irrelevant on a formal, noninductive sense,
*but because the sources of such bias (few ethnographers or
experimenters; issues requiring observation and methodology more
subtle than that required for counting the numbers of males and
females in hierarchies, etc.) are not an issue in *Patriarchy*
My discussion of the *formal* ways in which bias would be relevant
is justified because**in the case of *Patriarchy* ** there is no
significant way in which the empirical reality deviates
sufficiently from the formal to make the relevance of bias
significant. This is why discussion of the formal issue is helpful;
it makes clear the nature of the irrelevance of bias in cases, like
that of *Patriarchy*, in which the sorts of bias Mr. Edis discusses
are not an issue.
And, if they are not an issue, then--whatever the value of Mr.
Edis' comments in other contexts--why are these comments relevant
in a discussion of *Patriarchy*? Mr. Edis never gives a single
example of such bias in *Patriarchy's* evidential or methodological
bases and it is only such that could make his comments relevant.
In short: interesting as are these general discussions of
methodology, they are irrelevant to *Patriarchy* unless there is
reason to believe that the universalities we discuss would be found
to be absent were there no bias. But this is not the case, and
extensive examination of "institutional bias" is no more called for
in discussions of the universality of patriarchy than in the
universality of the association of greater height with males.
(2) Mr. Edis finds "it hard to understand how Goldberg can assert
that I (Mr. Edis) can find no 'specific errors of logic' in his
work". I (Goldberg) find it hard to understand because Mr. Edis
does not give a single specific example. **Aside from Mr. Edis'
general points--which are correct, but irrelevant to *Patriarchy*--
his only attempt to cast doubt on the correctness of *Patriarchy*
is the claim--which Mr. Edis does not see fit to back up with any
examples--that "some of Goldberg's work is riddled with logical
holes, particularly the book, *When Wish Replaces Thought* **. Now,
I'll ignore the fact that we were not discussing *Wish* if Mr. Edis
will give us an example of an error or fallacy justifying the claim
that the "Wish" is "riddled with logical holes". There may well be
one or two, but an attempt to claim that this is the case--indeed
that there are many such "logical holes"--that gives no example is
pretty minor-league stuff.
(3) I think that the problem in some of the peripheral issues is
semantic. My claim--that the null experiment is irrelevant to the
experiment that seems to discriminate that which it is looking for-
-*is* correct ()in the sense that the null experiment does nothing
to cast doubt on the experiment that seems to discriminate that
which it is looking for). This does *not* mean that the experiment
that seems to discriminate what it is looking for is necessarily
correct, only that its incorrectness can be demonstrated only by
demonstrating error in *its* methodology or by a failure to
replicate using *its* methodology. The experiment using a
*different* methodology (rather than a corrected version of the
same methodology) is irrelevant.
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From: email@example.com (orion okotu auld)
Subject: Re: What's Innate and What Ain't and So On (was: Re: Entry level salar
Date: 1 Dec 92 17:15:17 GMT
Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org (UNT USENet Adminstrator)
Organization: University of North Texas
In <1992Dec1.email@example.com> firstname.lastname@example.org (Robert Sheaffer)
>Given that there are at least 1500 distinct human societies, and that
>while most parameters vary tremendously among them, not ONE exception
>to this rule exists. So: if "it's all just socialization," the
>environmentalist must explain WHY socialization always "socializes"
>in the direction of male leadership, and never produces a female-led
>society. If the feminists are right, it *should* be equally likely
>to go either way. For every 100 male-led societies, there should be
>something like 100 led predominantly by females. And since there are
>not, the only reasonable conclusion is that the "it's all socialization"
>hypothesis is wrong. Goldberg's answer is to say that "socialization"
>is the DEPENDENT variable, with biology the independent variable; in
>other words, every society's expectations are constrained by what biology is
>capable of producing. Socialization must follow biology.
In particular, the "If the feminists are right, it should be equally likely"
logic is particularly problematic. Social patterns spring from each other.
Look how much impact the Babylonians had on our patterns of thought, for
instance. Perhaps all that is required is an early mythological tendency
Biology is a powerful force, but I think that religion demonstrates the
incredible power of humanity to interperet biology as it will. The fact
is that we write our own mythology, and that is too powerful an ability
to be constrained by something so static as biology. Perhaps we can say
that biology makes the patriarchy an easier thing to achieve. But calling
it inevitable is difficult to support, in the face of the evidence.
(Still, I will seek out the book).
>And near the end of the Twentieth Period, the score is: Patriarchy 1500,
>Matriarchy 0. But the challengers are convinced they're going to
>pull this one out! :)
With a little luck.
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GOLDBERG'S RESPONSE TO ORION; Orion writes:
>...Social patterns spring from each other. Look how much
>impact the Babylonians had on our patterns of thought, for
>instance. Perhaps all that is required is an early mythological
>tendency toward patriarchy.
>Biology is a powerful force, but I think that religion
>demonstrates the incredible power of humanity to interpret
>biology as it will. The fact is that we write our own mythology,
>and that is too powerful an ability to be constrained by something
>so static as biology. Perhaps we can say that biology makes the
>patriarchy an easier thing to achieve. But calling it inevitable
>is difficult to support, in the face of the evidence.
The point made in Orion's first paragraph is certainly true of
closely-related cultures. But when we speak of patriarchy we speak
of societies as unrelated as the most-unrelated societies. For a
non-inevitable institution to effect *universality* (in the way
Orion attributes to mythology), it would have to have exerted its
influence from a starting point tens (more likely hundreds) of
thousands of years ago. Note that Orion speaks of the *Babylonian*
influence on *our* patterns of thought. This is perfectly
reasonable. But Orion's example, to be relevant, would have to
claim an analog to Babylonian thought that determined patriarchy
not merely in societies clearly "descended" from the Babylonians
(like ours), but in "stone-age" societies in New Guinea, societies
not influenced to the point that they have literacy, etc. No
serious anthropologist any longer argues for this sort of linear
Orion's second paragraph: "...religion demonstrates the incredible
power of humanity to interpret biology as it will". How does
religion demonstrate this? Certainly there is some variation in the
degree to which biology is permitted to express itself: religion
(or other institutions) are partially successful in limiting sexual
behavior, just as American culture prohibits the manifestations of
patriarchy found in some Middle Eastern societies. To whatever
extent there is such variation, I grant that environmental factors
entirely account for the variation. But to see such variation as
humanity interpreting biology *as it will* fails to explain why
humanity has--at the societal level--never been able to interpret
biology as, for example, not manifesting itself in patriarchy,
limiting sexual activity to the procreatively necessary, etc.
Three points always worth repeating:
(1) I use the word "inevitability" in the title to specify in the
very title the conditions--should they be found to have existed or
come to exist--that would lead me to surrender the theory presented
in *Patriarchy*. (For reasons I have discussed, this is a slight
simplification; refutation would require a society *with* hierarchy
that was not patriarchal. But the absence of any society lacking
hierarchy--or an equivalent "male dominance" in a less-formal
authority system--justifies this simplification.)
(2) The title also focuses attention on the fact that the *purpose*
of *Patriarchy* is to explain the astonishing universality of
patriarchy, male status attainment, and male dominance in a world
of disparate societies so otherwise varying and changeable.
(3) *All* cultural, social, political, and economic explanations of
the *universality* of patriarchy, male status attainment, and male
dominance are unnecessary on grounds of parsimony and on the
grounds that they have nothing at all to say about all of the
neuroendocrinological evidence; they must pretend that the
neuroendocrinological evidence is irrelevant (because, if they
grant its relevance--its setting limits on the social-cultural--
they acknowledge their superfluousness to an explanation of
universality). Cultural, etc. explanations *are*, of course,
necessary for any explanation of *variation* in the institutions,
but it is only the universal limits within which all variation
falls, and not the variation itself, that *Patriarchy* addresses.
Thus, all of these cultural, etc."explanations" are irrelevant in
the same sense that theories explaining *variation* in sexual
practices are irrelevant to an explanation of why every society
*has* such practices. Clearly, the most sensible answer to the
question of why every society has sexual practices is one seeing as
*sufficient explanation* the physiological nature of the sexual
impulse. It is only for explanation of the *variation* within the
limits imposed by physiology that cultural explanations have
anything to offer.
All this is true also of the universality of patriarchy and the
variation of the forms patriarchy takes.
This is fun and I look forward to more. But it's time for
Best to all,