Predation, Gender and our Anthropological Oxymoron

ARTICLE | | BY Gerald A. Gutenschwager

Gerald A. Gutenschwager

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Predation, an inheritance from our biological past, is alive and well. It now takes the form of concern with our place in the social hierarchy, the “social food chain”. Furthermore, it appears in science as the underlying principle of individualism in the free market system in economic theory. Darwinian theory has also been distorted into survival of the strongest, in order to suit the needs of this modern ideology. The deterministic systems of both science and religion are far from ancient Greek philosophy, which gave rise to most of western thought about the meaning of human existence. Women do not generally participate in this predatory ideology, but are more geared to cooperation, partly because they have been at the bottom of the “food chain” for thousands of years, and also because their brains are shaped differently from men’s when their gender is determined as embryos. Male brains are compartmentalized; female brains are more connected. Each could play a significant role in human society were they given equal opportunity to do so. As all 70 trillion cells in the human body are important, so should the female population be involved in the creation of a new society based upon cooperation.

1. Predation

A long, long time ago, a really long time ago, a creature was walking along and saw another creature approaching him. He had to make a split-second decision: Was that creature a predator who was going to eat him or not. In other words, where was he in the ‘food chain’ at that moment? This was/is not an idle question; he had to decide whether to stay and fight or to flee, or as an additional stress response suggests, freeze, hoping the other creature would think him dead and leave him alone.

Believe it or not, this bit of decision-making is still with us. Most men still want to know about every other person (man) they meet. Is he above me or below me in the ‘food chain’? What we mean, metaphorically and to a degree ironically, by ‘food chain’ is whether the other person is above us or below us in the social hierarchy, especially in the workplace, so that we will know how to confront him. Though this varies from culture to culture, this is nοt a minor question, for the fate of men low down on the ‘food chain’ is much worse even than for women since they are given all the riskiest life assignments: fighting wars, exploring unknown territories, carrying out risky occupations, etc., with the attendant higher mortality rate (Baumeister 2007). In the predatory system which we inhabit in the world today this sense of location in the food chain extends all the way up to communities, regions, nations, religions, cultures, etc. It is captured in the psychological idea of in-group/out-group. Where is our group in the hierarchy of groups? How can we rise to, or stay at the top of this collective food chain in order to survive (and not be ‘eaten’)?

“What sets us human beings apart, more than anything else, from other species is the development of consciousness.”

Most women are different from men in this respect. They have been below men in the social food chain for so long that they don’t really bother asking this question. What they do want to know is whether the other person they encounter is with them or against them. Would she (or he) be willing and able to cooperate with her, so they could together better survive “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that accompany their common subordinate position? (Gray 2012) This bit of decision-making is also still with us, for women, in spite of some improvements in the past 50-100 years or so, are still considered by most men in the world to be far below them in the social ‘food chain’!

2. Evolution

But now Darwin, in discussing the evolution of species, suggested, if I understand him correctly, that human beings are the highest stage in the evolutionary process. What sets us human beings apart, more than anything else, from other species is the development of consciousness. We have the ability to think, even quite abstractly, and to communicate these thoughts to other human beings and then act in response to those (now) collective thoughts. The workings of this process are embodied in the concept of culture, something to which anthropologists have devoted a great deal of effort to understand and to document. Culture, however, is not simply a biological mechanism; it is a human construct held together by emotional and moral, as well as intellectual meanings. It contains a set of roles and rules designed to allow a group of human beings to work together as a social group beyond specific natural laws that only set ultimate constraints on human behavior. The strictly biological requirements for culture are survival and reproduction, and there is and has been, apparently, an endless variety of different cultural forms that in one way or another have succeeded in fulfilling these biological requirements (and perhaps some that did not). This is not to say that biological factors at some point disappear from human behavior, but that once consciousness enters the picture biology and culture enter into a dialectical relationship, with infinitely more complex outcomes than can be formulated by biology alone.

Why then is this predatory mentality still with us after such a long time? For tens of thousands of years humankind lived in small bands determined largely by kinship. In these bands women and men consciously shared responsibilities for the cooperative effort that allowed them to survive in all sorts of hostile environments from the frozen Arctic to the steaming jungles. From what we know and can infer, there must have been a degree of equality between the sexes in these hunting and gathering societies. Though there might have been cultural differences, there was no problem of property to be inherited or special territories to be defended. The birth and death rates were both high and the population sparsely distributed (Lerner 1986, pp. 17-19, Boehm 2012).

Meanwhile, along the evolutionary trajectory, Darwin wrote about mutations and/or changes in the environment of organisms and the ability of those organisms to adapt to those changes in a mindless process of natural selection (Dennett 1995). One result of this was the disappearance of some species as a result of their inability to adapt. He characterized this process as a competitive struggle among the different species. Those able to adapt would be the ones that would survive. I think he also suggested that cooperation was very important in this process of competition and adaptation, such as molecules cooperating to become cells, cells cooperating to become organisms, multi-cellular organisms following this, etc. This process also culminated in the human body with its plus or minus 70 trillion cells, which exist in more or less perfect biological cooperation unless and until environmental forces enter to upset this balance.

One could be allowed to ask if the evolution of the species, as Darwin described it and as the subsequent research in biology has demonstrated, would have succeeded if half the population of elements in the universe had been excluded by definition from participation in that process. This has been exactly the fate of women who have been excluded from meaningful participation in the evolution of society over the past 8,000 years or so. Is there anything about the human body, that greatest marvel of evolution, which suggests that it could function just as well without the full participation of half of its cells? Do we see human organs waging war on each other in order to protect their ‘interests’? Does the liver attack the kidneys, or the heart the lungs, for whatever reason? Somehow, over time all the body’s cells discovered a way to cooperate for a mutually beneficial coexistence.

In fact, it would appear that the process of evolution has in some ways been arrested with more recent developments of consciousness, particularly since the time of the domestication of plants and animals. We have experienced an enormous increase in our ability to produce goods and services, often, if not always at the expense of the less fortunate members of the human race, including our own countrymen, as our history of imperialism, slavery and exploitation can well attest. But our ability to manage ourselves as a species has been somewhat more erratic, at least with respect to the question of predation. Neither science nor religion, those two great systems of deterministic thought that have governed our lives in the West for the past two thousand years or more, allows for the full significance of consciousness. Or perhaps we could better say that those systems of thought have been used primarily to rein in or channel consciousness, rather than to allow it the freedom to evolve as it might have, or as, indeed it did for a time in ancient Greece before the new religion of the day arrived. Byzantine emperors tore down most of the Greek temples and schools, destroying the spirit of democracy and freedom of inquiry in the process. The Bible also writes:

“You shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and burn their Ashram with fire, and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods and obliterate their name from that place”. (Deuteronomy 12:3)

The same fate has befallen countless other ‘pagan’ philosophies in most of the remainder of the world as they have become ‘civilized’ by the West, either in the name of religion or, more recently, economic progress.

Many Darwinians, and, especially, social Darwinists have developed an image that emphasizes the competitive nature of the process of evolution, though many have misinterpreted Darwin’s meaning, for example Herbert Spencer, who coined the term, ‘survival of the fittest’. Unfortunately, the word, ‘fit’, has (at least) two meanings in English: a) in good physical condition, or strong and dominant, as it is popularly interpreted, versus what Darwin actually meant, b) appropriate for the circumstances, i.e., the shoe ‘fits’, or, more to the point, if the environment changes or if a mutation in a species ‘fits’ the environment in which it arises, it will over time survive, and the species that embodies this mutation will survive.

The same can be said about social evolution. If a social or cultural form is appropriate for the natural environment in which it arises, that social group, now including most of humanity during our present evolutionary moment, will survive. So with our new-found evolutionary level of consciousness we are able to and need to ask ourselves if our present socio-economic system of rugged (predatory) individualism is appropriate or fits the environment in which it finds itself and hence whether that system and its people will survive. Indeed, the environment is actually sending us some messages on that score at this very moment. And, in fact, some people are, indeed, conscious of this existential problem. They are working to inform others so that the necessary ‘adaptation’ need not be left to blind chance but could actually be designed by us humans before it is too late.

The problem is that our environment is now more and more being created by men (gender intended); it is no longer only a passive force arising according to ‘natural law’. Mortality and morbidity are created as much by human intervention in the natural environment as by the ‘forces of nature’, themselves. Indeed, we now have many studies to enlighten us about the state of our health in an environment largely created by us (Gutenschwager 1991, Cloninger 2004, Deiner, et al 2010, Edwards 2010).

In fact, the truth of the matter probably is that cooperation has been a much more important force in the survival of our species than competition (Minard 2006). This question has been studied in great detail by Martin Nowak (2011). He used Game Theory, especially The Prisoner’s Dilemma, to establish that cooperation would generally improve the chances of survival of any species or social group, more than, or in addition to competition, as both are present in nature and society.

Darwin and most of those who have followed in his giant footsteps have talked about mutation and selection. But we need a third ingredient, cooperation, to create complex entities, from cells to societies (Nowak 2011, p. 14)

So why have economists and other scientists dwelt so much upon competition in their theoretical formulations? Perhaps it is because it has been necessary for their atomistic paradigm, or perhaps it is because men are always concerned about their hierarchical position in relation to other men in a world they have already defined as predatory in the first place. Or, perhaps, the men who first sought to rationalize the so-called ‘free market’ were reacting to the oppressive nature of feudalism and religion, the social paradigms that preceded and opposed the rise of science.

Nowak employed the Prisoner’s Dilemma in a specific manner. Unlike the traditional approach, he iterated it over many trials or generations. He found that players over time discover indirect reciprocity: “I scratch your back and somebody else will scratch mine”. They are then willing to take some risk by adjusting their future moves in accordance with their prior experiences. Thus, they tend toward cooperation in the long run or, at least, those who found ways to cooperate were more likely to survive, as his subsequent research in biology and medicine also established. Indeed, he claims,

Cancer is a disease where individual motives return to dominate (p. 142).

The story of humanity is one that rests on the never-ending creative tension between the dark pursuit of selfish short-term interests and the shining example of striving toward collective long-term goals (p. 280).

Furthermore, the development of indirect reciprocity, which leads to cooperation, requires communication, so that language has been the key evolutionary adaptation that has allowed humans to survive and now dominate nature itself. But communication is used differently by women and men. Men communicate to transmit information and to solve specific problems. Women communicate to share emotions (Gungor 2008). One is not more important than the other: Both forms are necessary to establish cooperation. But since women have been missing from the public discourse for thousands of years, this may be why prevailing ideologies and scientific theories, including especially economics, would, when applied to society, ignore the emotional and moral dimensions which play an important role in constructing the social world (Gutenschwager 2015).

3. Science and Predation

Science arose as an integral part of philosophy in Ancient Greece. It was the product of a natural curiosity about human existence in an environment uncomplicated by modern systems of technology and large-scale organization. Leisure time was provided by slavery (and the usual unrecognized labor of women). There was no particular compulsion to control and dominate nature in the search for profits. There was also no imposition of orthodoxy; men (and even some women) were more or less free to express their philosophical thoughts without fear of reprisal. Thus there were almost as many schools of thought as there were philosophers, located throughout the territory of the Greeks, from Asia Minor to the islands, to Athens itself. This is not to say that there were no political conflicts or wars or that human beings were somehow free of all the other failings of humanity at that time, but simply that philosophy and hence science were not so involved in material society at that time.

This is quite unlike the rise of modern science, which took place in a very hostile environment characterized by strong opposition from religion. Though Galileo, Copernicus, Giordano Bruno and others were merely saying things that Aristarchus had stated freely 2000 years earlier (about the earth circling the sun), they either paid with their lives or were exiled as a result of their thoughts.

But it was mercantilism and budding capitalism that preserved their ideas and the subsequent scientists who were influenced by them. In fact, modern science and capitalism had a very close relationship from the very beginning. It was the profits from trade and industry that provided the leisure time for philosopher-scientists to pursue their ideas during the renaissance. At the same time science and technology provided many of the innovations in both production and weaponry that have facilitated the expansion and continued success of capitalism. This same symbiotic relationship continues right up to the present day. Both science and capitalism are dedicated to the domination and control of nature (and society) through both theory and action. Predation is, therefore, at the heart of both endeavors, whether or not all the participants in the two systems of thought and behavior intend or even recognize this. In some cases scientists are willing and able to bridge the gap between their science and the political economic system that it serves and are thus able to use their scientific knowledge to criticize its use (Commoner 1971, 1990). But these cases are somewhat rare, for reasons we shall examine below.

Modern culture also reflects and promotes predatory thinking. It is addicted to violence and predation. This is evident in the newscasts, in the movies, in television and in the computer games promoted even among the very young. Natural and man-made disasters—blowing up people and objects, killing and/or devouring of living things, continuous images of terrorism—are everywhere in the media. Is this an accident or, as claimed by those who produce this predatory carnage, a mere “reflection of what people wish for”? Or is it part of an organized attempt to perpetuate the predatory culture within which it is embedded?

The predatory search for wealth, idealized in economic theory, is also claimed to be the most important measure of success in modern society, leading, it is presumed, to happiness. Of course, this is true up to a certain point, but predation and the need for power can be addictive for most men (and even some women), and money is pursued way past its ability to bring satisfaction based upon the consumption of goods and services. This can also be seen in the theory and research originating in most of the (non-predatory) humanities and humanistic social sciences, including psychology, all of which are, needless to say, marginal in the mainstream culture of both academia and larger society. One indication of the mixed blessing of power and money is a recent survey of 5,000 American users of the online social media network.

Higher-income people are using Twitter as a means of disseminating information; lower-income people use it more for social communication… The analysis also revealed that tweets from those who make more money are likelier to express fear or anger (Nuwer 2015).

Still, there might well be hope for a future where cooperation replaces predation. Greek philosophy also offered Epicurus, whose philosophy of cooperation is gaining support in the world today. The idea of the dialectic also suggests that conflict in the form of antitheses is incomplete without new syntheses (Gutenschwager 2013). Conflict needs to be resolved with some new form of cooperation, as Kuhn suggests in his influential study of conflict among scientific paradigms. There are also some 100 million American and European adults experimenting with new forms of community living without competition and even in some cases without money (Ray and Anderson 2000). There is also hope in an otherwise unsuspected (by men) location—the female brain.

4. Male/Female

Perhaps we could allow ourselves the freedom to ask if life today, or, perhaps more importantly, tomorrow, might be different, if women were and had been allowed to participate freely in discussions about what kind of society we should create for ourselves? Also we might ask: Has woman’s fate always been thus, that is, since the beginning of our time on this planet? How did this circumstance arise? Is it a product of our biology and thus a result of natural law (Lerner 1986, Chodorow 1999)? Or could the position of women, in fact, be changed? Indeed, one could say that it is already changing. What would be the benefits of this change (apart from the obvious benefits to women, of course)?

Throughout our biological history the predators have almost always been men. They were the hunters, while women were the gatherers. The women knew plant world and were likely responsible for the domestication of plants and the rise of agriculture. The domestication of animals then made hunting less a necessity than a sport. Men also became involved in much of the farming activity in the West, leaving the not inconsiderable ‘domestic’ activities to women. Over time land became the primary resource both for agriculture as well as for the grazing of animals. What male predators hunted then was land and the best ‘hunters’ obtained the best land. In time the most cunning men were able to monopolize and privatize land and to define themselves as feudal lords, landed gentry, emperors, kings, etc., declaring themselves as rulers by ‘divine right’ or natural selection or whatever. They also at some point developed the idea that their fellow human beings could be preyed upon and used to further their economic interests and satisfy their psychological needs for power and security. Marx documented this process up into the 19th century for the nobility in England, describing what Thomas Paine in The Rights of Man had already referred to humorously as a class of ‘no ability’!

In time, and with the increasing size of society, men also began to develop more specialized forms of knowledge in order to survive in a more complex social world. Thus carpenters, merchants, plumbers and subsequently accountants, salesmen, etc., took their place alongside the farmers and herders, creating a more divided social world and a separation of knowledge and expertise into separate compartments.

But whatever these developments, I think we can all agree that for thousands of years we have lived in a male-dominated predatory world: a world of men, by men and for men, to edit slightly Abraham Lincoln’s famous quotation. This is not just a male-dominated world. Since the social world is socially constructed we live in a world constructed by men. Furthermore, it is also probably true that most men in the world would accept the idea that this is proper and good: a woman’s place is in the home. Or as an educated Swiss man told me personally in all seriousness in the 1970s, “We Swiss believe that women are good (only) for the three ‘Ks’: ‘Kuche’ (Kitchen), ‘Kinder’ (Children) und ‘Kirche’ (Church)”! (See also Weisstein, 1970). More recently a fourth ‘K’ has been added: ‘Karriere’, usually without any lessening of the responsibilities in the realm of the other three ‘Ks’, of course. I believe that it was still the case that women could not even travel outside Switzerland at that time without the written permission of their husband, father, or male guardian!

This subordination of women and their exclusion from public life is something that has been going on for thousands of years. Women have been essentially imprisoned during this time: for the lucky ones it has been the bedroom and kitchen that was their confinement, for the less lucky it has been the slave quarters or the harem and for the really unlucky it has been houses of prostitution (Lerner 1986). With the glass ceiling and reduced pay for equal work that is still the fate of the majority of women, to say nothing of the largely hidden but still very substantial traffic in white slaves in the world today, we can assume that the idea of equality between the sexes is still very much something to be struggled for.

Meanwhile, we live in a world filled with irony, or of “unanticipated consequences”, as Robert Merton called it in the 1930s. That is, we are not able to foresee all the consequences of our behavior, mainly because we do not give full meaning to the idea of consciousness. This is related to our unwillingness to realize that, as human beings, we are constantly constructing and reconstructing our world in an endless dialectic process in which we act individually and collectively, attempting to perceive what we have done and then react to this with a hopefully improved set of images of the world (Gutenschwager 1970). The problem is that there are substantial time delays in this process. It may take whole generations for us to adjust our images of what we are actually doing, especially when we consider the emotional investments we have made in our existing images of the world, conditioned as they are by habit, superstition, mystery, mythology, religion, science, or just the great need for certainty.

One of the recent unintended consequences in the history of female oppression turned out to be a product of the economic system itself. Capitalism, as already noted, is a system of exploitation, of predatory individualism—the euphemistic vocabulary of economics notwithstanding. It was enormously successful in creating growth and the rise of the technological society. However, when the unintended consequences of overproduction or the loss of the equilibrium between production and consumption, (labeled ‘supply and demand’ by economists in order to mask any possible human involvement in the system) began to appear towards the end of the 19th century, capitalism turned to its recent consumerist form, trying to boost consumption. But the damaging effects of too much concentration of wealth in too few hands had already taken its toll on the ideological assumptions of Adam Smith’s formulation of a system of never-ending growth. In spite of this, the rate of exploitation of workers in relation to productivity gains in 1900 was still not yet extreme enough to prohibit the ability of those workers to maintain a family, often with many children, based on their wages alone. In other words, women could still be restricted to the three Ks without any loss of family status.

After two world wars and the attendant rampant rise of financial or casino capitalism resulting from overproduction, this is no longer true. By the end of World War II the wages of the majority of men alone were not sufficient to maintain a family of even one or two children. Women had to enter the labor force, as indeed they had in large numbers during the war years, in any case. Women then were able to enter the educational system, as they did also in large numbers, and then subsequently into higher education. As a result, their research began to reinterpret the male-dominated world of knowledge and to discover that their perspective on certain things was quite different from that of their male colleagues. Thus was born the Women’s Liberation Movement and its continuous effort to change our image of the world as it had been given to us by men over the past thousands of years.

As a result, female subordination is lessening somewhat now, largely as a result of this movement for women’s liberation that started in the 1960s, or even earlier if we go back to the movement for women’s suffrage. That prior campaign began in the 19th century and provided women with the right to vote in England and the United States in the 20th century after more than 50 years of struggle, including marches, imprisonment, hunger strikes and forced feedings, among other things!

Since that time a good deal of, especially, women’s research has been focused on the transition period when women lost the status of relative equality that they had enjoyed during the tens of thousands of years of small-scale hunting and gathering societies. There their abilities, not only to give birth and thus ensure the propagation of the species, but also their knowledge of the natural environment made them extremely important in the survival of the species: they were the source of a more consistent and guaranteed food supply, but also knew the medicinal properties of the plants that surrounded them; they were also the doctors of their time (Ehrenberg 1989).

“That we are facing not only an economic crisis, but a social, political and moral crisis as well is not often recognized in the compartmentalized male world of science and engineering.”

The key ‘moments’ of their loss of status is seen by some as beginning during the Neolithic period (7-8,000 years ago) as a result of, in part at least, the domestication of plants and animals (Lerner 1986). Riane Eisler (1995) has also examined this period and has suggested that equality between the sexes and cooperation had actually still been present even in agricultural societies up until the invasion by Kurgan herders from Asia and early Semites from North Africa. These were warrior tribes (and carnivores, one might add).

The one thing they all had in common was a dominator model of social organization: a social system in which male dominance, male violence, and a generally hierarchic and authoritarian social structure was the norm (author’s emphasis). Another commonality was that, in contrast to the societies that laid the foundations for Western civilization, the way they characteristically acquired material wealth was not by developing technologies of production, but through ever more effective technologies of destruction (p. 45)

Engels had also already analyzed this question in his now famous book, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1972), written in 1884 and based upon previous anthropological research carried on in the 19th century. Whether or not these historical accounts are completely accurate in their dating and/or descriptions, there is certainly evidence of a male predatory mentality still present in today’s ‘civilized’ society, including its science and engineering, whatever and whenever the actual origins might have been.

5. Human Biology

Confronting our biology has been one-sided within the deterministic framework of conventional science up until recently. That is, the highest form of evolution, human consciousness, has not been seen to play a role in the formulations about nature and even society, except in ancient Greece, in some non-western cultures and now in a different sense in the world of quantum physics. Ancient Greek philosophy is known only in part and only by very few scholars. When it was rediscovered during the Renaissance it was used only selectively and only insofar as it was compatible with the rising mechanistic view of the universe formulated at that time. The humanistic dimension enjoyed a brief period of attention but was soon hijacked by the spirit of individualism, which was more compatible with the atomistic view of the world propagated by Democritus and then Newton and Descartes. Undoubtedly science has changed our understanding of the universe and its technology has improved our lives in untold ways, but it has to a large extent ignored or even denied the spiritual dimension of that universe, at least until quantum physics came on the scene, as it were.

Human consciousness has made both religion and science possible, but neither of those systems of thought has seen it as playing more than a circumscribed role in the social order perceived and constructed by them. This has restricted the understanding of consciousness and not allowed it to be analyzed or fully appreciated in the study of human affairs. Thus, this highest form of evolution is still in an experimental stage, something that the current world wide socio-economic crisis makes abundantly clear. Economists and other positivist social scientists have offered many different explanations for this crisis, but only a highly restricted actual human involvement is present in these explanations and there appear to be few solutions in sight. Nor do they see the interconnections among the many dimensions of this crisis. That we are facing not only an economic crisis, but a social, political and moral crisis as well is not often recognized in the compartmentalized male world of science and engineering.

Could the female brain more easily see these connections? Perhaps, but it still plays only a minor role in the academic and political world. Recent scientific discoveries about the difference between the male and female brains might offer a clue. When the embryo reaches the stage when its sex is determined, the male embryo receives large doses of testosterone and the female embryo estrogen. The resulting male brain is larger but has fewer dendrites and synapses, or connections among the parts of the brain. In fact, testosterone actually appears to block connections between the two hemispheres of the brain. The female brain is smaller but has many more synapses or connectors.

The two hemispheres of [the female brain] interact and process information together [author’s emphasis]. Because of this, women process their environment from more than one point of view. They have logic and reasoning juxtaposed with feelings and relationships – much more complex than a man’s thinking. (Gungor 2008, p. 42)

Men’s brains are specialized. Compartmentalized. Because of the separation of the two hemispheres, men must focus on one thing at a time [author’s emphasis]. (p. 43)

. . . men have the ability to block out every distraction and focus on one task and excel at it. (p. 45)

Thus, most male brains are more compartmentalized and female brains more connected. This has allowed men to create a greater degree of specialized and penetrating knowledge about specific aspects of the world around us, something very necessary as society became more complex and at a larger scale following the domestication of plants and animals and the subsequent rise of cities. However, male dominated science and society have also become more compartmentalized, with a loss of appreciation for its inherent unity. This is reflected in the organization of the university, for example, where specialists in one field know little or nothing about what is going on in other fields, even though they are found on the same campus, or in medicine which divides the body into separate organs and systems, often without proper attention to the connections among them.

"Scientific soci­al theory, par­ticularly eco­nomic theory, contains little understanding of the human being."

Mark Gungor has portrayed this in a humorous manner in his YouTube presentation, “A Tale of Two Brains”. He describes the female brain as a mass of connections, as capable of multi-tasking and seeing the connections among the many portions of her life. This might be symbolized by the woman’s purse containing most things of importance for her life, in contrast to the man’s pockets, which compartmentalize all of his important belongings. Thus, these important differences in the ways in which women and men view the world would appear to complement each other. One is not superior to the other, though they may be so viewed in the different mental worlds that each occupies. Nature must have had some purpose in creating this two-world or two-‘brain’ views. In a Darwinian sense they must be necessary for survival.

Further evidence for this distinction between the male and female comprehension of the world can be seen in the field of psychoanalysis, especially post Freudian psychoanalysis, given that his contribution though substantial had a strictly male-oriented understanding of the psyche. Male identity formation is characterized by its need to develop apart from the mother; it is characterized by separation from her. Female identity formation confronts no such need.

The earliest mode of individuation, the primary construction of the ego and its inner object-world, the earliest conflicts and the earliest unconscious definitions of self, the earliest threats to individuation, and the earliest anxieties which call up defenses, all differ for boys and girls because of differences in the character of the earlier mother-child relationship for each… there is a greater complexity in the feminine endopsychic object-world than in the masculine. (Chodorow 1978, p. 167)

From the retention of preoedipal attachments to their mother, growing girls come to define and experience themselves as continuous with others: their experience of self contains more flexible or permeable ego boundaries. Boys come to define themselves as more separate and distinct, with a greater sense of rigid ego boundaries and differentiation. The basic feminine sense of self is connected to the world; the basic masculine sense of self is separate. (p. 169)

Masculine personality, then, comes to be defined more in terms of denial of relation and connection (and denial of femininity), whereas feminine personality comes to include a fundamental definition of self in relationship. Thus, relational abilities and preoccupations have been extended in women’s development and curtailed in men’s. (p. 169)

Consciousness, however, and the cultures that it creates, complicates both this psychoanalytic and Darwinian perspective. We must not only survive in and be compatible with our environment; we actually, now, are to a great extent creating both the psychosocial and the natural environment! Thus survival has much more to do with our consciousness and culture created by it than with the world of nature in which we find ourselves. Our consciousness is our world. A deterministic religion, social science or philosophy that ignores this fact is bound to be dangerous to our survival. Endless competition, endless aggression, endless and ever more destructive military and industrial technologies that ignore the broader effects on humanity and the environment cannot be beneficial to our survival in the long run.

What is important here are not only the differences between these perspectives but also the fact that the female understanding has been almost totally suppressed in the western and most of the remaining so-called ‘civilized’ world for thousands of years (Lerner 1986). Thus, the compartmentalized perspective has dominated not only the social world but also the theory about that world. Scientific social theory, particularly economic theory, contains little understanding of the human being. That is somebody else’s problem! Economics has created a caricature of the human being, ‘economic man’. This is employed along with myths of the market and of the models of that market, which it employs in its mathematical explanation of the world (Bjorkman 2016). Anything that does not ‘fit’ in this compartment is defined as a separate and exogenous factor and left to some other discipline. If there should be more to the current economic crisis than meets their eye, then it would appear that economists must believe that ‘the other side of the ship is sinking’. Hopefully it will not be too late before they and we realize that we are all on the same ship!

The body would not have survived if individual motives were the only things at work. As stated above, Nowak (2011, p. 142) considers cancer to be a disease where individual motives dominate. Nor would it have survived if half the cells were omitted from participation. It is now time to reconsider the role of women in society, especially their role in constructing society. Their long history of abuse and persecution is now becoming more widely known, thanks in part to the liberation of thought brought about by the scientific revolution itself.

Positivist social science has been little affected by their contribution, however, conceived as it has been in the deterministic framework of natural science. But this bias is largely a product of otherwise ignored male psychology: many (though certainly not all) men up to now appear to need to dominate and control. Natural science has had great success in dominating and controlling nature. Why wouldn’t the same approach in social science lead to success in controlling society? If this were the perception of the male-dominated academic world, then this approach would naturally be more highly rewarded there; indeed, positivist social scientists are made to feel superior to more humanistic academics. They dominate academic faculties and the social theories that emanate from them. As they dominate intellectual thought they necessarily dominate social thought and behavior. Our social world is now a product of their beliefs and behavior. We will not be able to solve our social, economic and political problems, to say nothing of our psychological and medical problems, as long as women are denied access to the discussions that have defined these problems up until now.

Of course these discussions are already changing, not only because women are more active intellectually but also because more and more men are beginning to see the world differently. We can see the effects of these new approaches throughout biological and social sciences, as well as even medical science. The latter is changing to a more holistic approach, borrowing in part from eastern traditions that do not separate the mind from the body. It is also being affected by quantum physics, which defines the universe as a world in which all particles are connected instantaneously to all other particles. Bruce Lipton’s book, The Biology of Belief (2016), finds intelligence in the membrane of the cell rather than in the DNA, which is merely a blueprint for reproduction of the cell. The membrane acts as an intermediary with its environment, therefore informing and ‘educating’ the cell. All cells in the body are in communication with all other cells, including those in the brain.

"Compartmen­talization is an obstacle to true understanding."

Other scientists are exploring the intelligence of the heart, or ‘heart math’, as it is called, where information from the environment is seen to be received first by the heart and then by the brain. Observing the one third of people in drug trials that experience therapeutic results after receiving only a placebo or sugar pill or the 10 percent of nocebos who receive the drug itself, but without effect, suggests that more than chemistry is involved in healing. The beneficial effects of acupuncture and acupressure, as well as bio-resonance, yoga and meditation, which results in more visits to alternative medical practitioners than conventional ones in the U.S., also supports the need for a less mechanistic and more holistic approach to health. As always, it is important to stress that the older paradigm of conventional medicine is not to be thrown away with these new (old) understandings, but merely to be seen in a broader framework, as Kuhn emphasized in his book on scientific revolutions.

6. Our Anthropological Oxymoron

Indeed, it would appear that we are now finally confronting a long established anthropological oxymoron (οξύμωρον): as humans we are born into, are socialized into and live together in a social setting, but at some point we decided, or were persuaded by a massive propaganda campaign, NOT to cooperate with each other but rather to prey upon each other under the aegis of the so-called free market system. And with the proper (largely self-serving) assumptions and a bit of mathematical sleight-of-hand we are led to believe that this will produce the best social outcome! The assumptions and outcomes of social science based upon natural science epistemologies are filled with injustices and inequalities which are in no way necessary or appropriate in a civilized and conscious world. The division of labor and the compartmentalization of knowledge with the rise of complex societies may have been appropriate for the actual societies created by these developments but are in no way appropriate for the theories and ideologies that seek to explain and legitimize this complexity. Here compartmentalization is an obstacle to true understanding.

It is long past the time when our consciousness, aided by the structure of the woman’s brain, should be allowed to play a less confined role in defining the social theories and ideologies that control our thoughts and actions. There is no reason why we cannot create a social system not based upon predation and one that respects all members of the species in this search. Psychosocial and biological predispositions should not necessarily be seen as deterministic, however, but as an active part of the dialectic between biology and culture, once they are brought to human consciousness as it evolves into the future.

Meanwhile, we can only hope that women in today’s society will not have to become as predatory as men in order to gain participation. This is also not to say that men should become women or, heaven forbid, that women should become men, but that the dialectic between their two different ways of understanding the world should be allowed to work its magic so that we may survive the adolescence of our consciousness.


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About the Author(s)

Gerald A. Gutenschwager
Emeritus Professor, School of Architecture, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, USA; Scientific Fellow, Department of Regional Planning and Development, University of Thessaly, Volos, Greece