“But the human tongue is a beast that few can master. It strains constantly to break out of its cage, and if it is not tamed, it will run wild and cause you grief.”
— Robert Greene
The world is growing simple by the day. Simple, not as opposed to complex, but as opposed to sophisticated. It is very difficult nowadays to have a discussion where you can forward a nuanced, complicated argument, and not have it immediately reduced to gross, low-resolution generalizations by the opposition.
Paper, indeed, has more patience than people. It is much easier to write about this than talk. The downside is that a number of people lack the patience or the discipline (from Latin disciplina ‘instruction, knowledge’, from Latin discipulus = ‘learner’) to read a length of text and supplement their own ideas. In the age of fashionable activism, rebels like their comfort unbroken.
The question at hand is whether to discard feminism absolutely, or reject certain parts of it and retain the rest.
Twelve months ago, I would have framed the question differently. Back then, I would have asked whether to accept feminism absolutely. The change in language is noteworthy. From a ‘feminist’, I have turned into an anti-feminist. How transformations like this happen is a question that both camps should examine carefully.
Take the popular debate of #AllMen vs #NotAllMen. Whenever a friend asks me what I think about it, I ask them to complete the phrase and be clear about what is being meant. ‘Not all men’ is not a sentence, it does not have complete meaning. Passing judgement without grasping the complete meaning is a fool’s task.
There is a reason why I lead with this argument. Depending on how the rest of the sentence is constructed, I may either support it, or protest it. But before we proceed, let’s revise what we mean by the words ‘possibility’ and probability’.
[not usually before noun] that can be done or achieved
possible to do something – New technology has made it possible to communicate more easily.
it is possible to do something – It is possible to get there by bus.
It’s just not physically possible to finish all this by the end of the week.
probable (adjective)Source: Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries
likely to happen, to exist or to be true
the probable cause/explanation/outcome
It is probable that the disease has a genetic element.
As we can see, there is a distinct difference between the two terms. Possibility refers to whether it is permitted at all by the laws of nature. It is possible for me to be the richest person in the world. It is possible for me to discover a new species in the heart of the Amazon. It is possible for me to punch Donald John Trump. But it is not possible for me to be the youngest person in the world (since people have been born after me), it is not possible for me to discover the Newtonian laws of motion (since they have already been discovered by Newton), and it is not possible for me to punch Richard Milhous Nixon (since he is now dead). Probability, however, refers to the likelihood of something happening, the chances of something coming about. It is not probable that I will become the richest person in the world, it is not probable that I will discover a new form of life, and it is not probable that I will ever punch Trump. All these things are perfectly possible, but they are not probable events. It is possible and probable that I will buy a book next week; it is possible but improbable that I will burn down my house next week; all things that are impossible are improbable by definition, since they can never come about. Probable is a subset of possible.
Let’s throw in another couple of words while we are on it: ‘plausible’ and ‘preferable’.
(of an excuse or explanation) reasonable and likely to be true
Her story sounded perfectly plausible.
The only plausible explanation is that he forgot.
preferable (adjective)Source: Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries
more attractive or more suitable; to be preferred to something
preferable (to something) – Anything was preferable to the tense atmosphere at home.
preferable (to doing something) – He finds country life infinitely preferable to living in the city.
preferable (to do something) – It would be preferable to employ two people, not one.
Plausible, as we can see, is also a subset of possible. It refers to something that is not impossible but isn’t inevitable either under ordinary circumstances. It is completely within the bounds of belief, but it doesn’t carry the confidence of likelihood that comes with probable. Tell your teacher that the dog ate your homework. If you are a regular shirker, he would say that while that’s plausible, it isn’t very probable in your case. However, if you are a model student he will happily believe you, since the weight of confidence would be greater, and your excuse would qualify as probable.
Preferable does not have much to do with the bounds of reality. It is preferable that war, crime and poverty be annihilated. It is preferable that everyone be kind, happy, beautiful, healthy, rich. It is preferable that the richest 1% divide and distribute their wealth fairly among the rest of us. But these things will never actually happen. These things are all possible; they might even be described as plausible. But they surely are not probable. – In a dreary, discontented world, preferable lies in the twilight zone between plausibility and pure possibility. There is a concept called the Futures Cone which illustrates the idea pretty well:
Now, about the ‘men’ question: how does my stance vary depending on the construction of the full sentence?
If the sentence is framed thus – All men are possible rapists – then I agree with the statement completely. I agree with the statement because it is possible for every man – every human, rather – in existence to commit the act of rape, just like it is possible for every human in existence to commit the act of theft. We assume here, of course, that we are talking about physically able men – not those who are infantile, dead, comatose, or disabled in similar fashion from actually carrying out the act of rape.
If the sentence is framed thus – All men are probable rapists – then I do not agree with the statement at all. I disagree because there is no basis for this statement. Men who are not rapists outnumber the men who are rapists (rape: unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a person’s will or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception), so this claim does not hold true statistically. Even if we disregard the statistics, I would disagree with the statement because I don’t think that each and every man on the planet is very likely to commit rape. This is a serious error in logic: ‘Many dogs go rabid’ does not automatically lead to ‘All dogs go rabid’; indeed, not even ‘Most dogs go rabid’ leads to ‘All dogs go rabid’. Erroneous logic like this implies that I am a rapist-waiting-to-happen, and all the men I come across every day have either done it already, or will do it in time – it’s just a matter of when. Had I believed this, by now my life would have descended into considerable disturbance and chaos.
Agreeing with the statement ‘All men are probable rapists‘ is implicitly admitting that roughly fifty percent of all the people I know are violent sex-criminals under the surface. Call me soft, but I refuse to accept that proposition.
Of course, there is no need to examine the statement ‘All men are rapists‘ – that would mean all men have already committed rape, which may be a virtual smorgasbord for a Social Justice Warrior, but is simply rubbish to ordinary, commonsensical people.
This is why I don’t support or protest phrases like ‘NotAllMen‘. It simply doesn’t carry enough meaning to make head or tail of. First we need a complete statement – only then can we talk about what we believe.
The concept of preferability is relevant to another pet peeve of many up-and-coming feminists. In recent times, suggestions that it is advisable for girls to learn self-defense have been regarded as misogynistic and offensive. The argument is simple. Why ask girls to worry about defending themselves? Why not address the people who commit the crime? Asking females to take defensive measures, they say, is tantamount to supporting the males who offend.
I don’t see how this argument makes sense. I think most of us would agree that thievery is a crime and a bad thing. But would we go on and try to blame the lock business, saying that keeping locks on the market is passive moral support to thieves, since locks are a means of defense? How sensible would it be to reject the advice to put locks on my door, simply because ideally I should not have to fear for thieves?
The confusion arises because we mix up what is preferable with what is probable or plausible. It is preferable that no one in the world steals; but it is probable that many, many people would. Hence the importance of buying a lock – or setting a strong password, let us say. Similarly, it is preferable that no one attacks a girl with violence; but we are Homo sapiens, and it is probable that many, many people would do it every day across the world. It is absolutely reprehensible, but nevertheless, it is real. Hence the importance of learning self-defense. I do not advise a female friend to learn self-defense because she should have to; I do it because she would be better off if she does.
Why do new feminists take offence at suggestions like this? The answer is convoluted and complex. It has to do with a recent change in the global paradigm – a shift from a culture of Encouraging Strength to a culture of Indulging Weakness. The moral teachers of the day no longer push us to be stronger against adversity, instead, they train us to defend the weaknesses and question why adversities should exist at all. It reminds one of the corpulent human beings from Wall-E, who had lost their bodily functions due to a life of excessive ease. Without adversity, strength abates. But these sentiments are deemed incorrect in today’s popular discourse. We live suspended in a matrix of aggressive political correctness.
Personally, I believe that this cannot abide. Although still out of sight, there is a comeuppance in the offing. The universe is a very big place, everything in it is always changing, and the pieces in the game of life do not care for small vanities and human platitudes.