Scott Adams, "Scientific" Misogyny, and Roland Barthes's Mythology

Scott Adams offered a story for why wokeism is on the rise, grounded in evolutionary psychology, but it's just the same old misogyny.

There's a contingent of the right that imagines itself persecuted for speaking “truths they don’t want you to hear.” In these circles, the “truths” are often presented as scientific, just the simple application of reason to incontrovertible evidence, arriving at forbidden conclusions. But those conclusions always seem to just be the pretty standard racism and misogyny at common to the reactionary far-right worldview.

Take cartoonist Scott Adams’s tweeted attempt to explain why the world doesn't conform to his miasma of cultural preferences.

Here's a reframe for understanding basically everything wrong with the country right now.

We think we have a racial and political divide. We do not. We have a broken mating system (marriage).

When men and women have adequate mating strategies, they put their focus on mating, and in so doing they become biologically satisfied. Or at least it keeps them busy.

But when mating strategies fail -- for a variety of social reasons, like now -- men become dangerous and women become batshit crazy and start defending DEI and open borders and anything else that increases the odds of women being around additional sperm.

What we think we see is Democrats versus Republicans. That's the downstream effect. But it's really a mating failure that turned Democrats into the woman party and Republicans into the man party.

Democrat men are pleasers, so they play along with the single women to increase their mating options. Republican women are inclined to back their protectors, which is also a good mating strategy.

There you go.

This looks vaguely like evolutionary psychology, and that’s not surprising. Evo-psych frequently features in the reasoning of these types. While there are some interesting ideas in the field, it lends itself quite well to just-so stories: unfalsifiable narratives intended to render “natural” whatever contingent social preferences the arguer would prefer are natural and so fixed and unavoidable. Such as “traditional” gender roles, and fundamental, natural, and genetic differences in outlook, intelligence, and capabilities between men and women.

It’s also a pretty clear example of what the French philosopher and literary critic Roland Barthes called “myth.” He didn't mean only stories of Zeus or Thor. Rather, he had in mind the very tendency found in the common (mis)use of evolutionary psychology to take political claims and beliefs and depoliticize and naturalize them as a way to anchor them in reality itself, and so buffer them from critique. It’s unreasonable, after all, to rail against the way nature just is, and so if right-wing views of gender are natural, then it is unreasonable to argue against, or deviate from, right-wing views of gender. Never mind that these notions of gender aren't universally held, nor are they historically uniform.

Evolutionary psychology—or speculative biology more generally—is particularly useful for the task of myth-making, because it constructs compelling narratives grounded in an ancient and inaccessible past. There's no way to check its truth, because it doesn’t offer real predictions, only explanations, and whether you find those explanations compelling, compared to others on offer, is ultimately about how appealing you find the historical narrative.

Our task, in the face these anti-liberal myths, is to expose them for what they are. As Catherine Belsey puts it in her short introduction to poststructuralism, “Myth, Barthes explains, converts history into nature. And the task of the mythographer is to rediscover the element of history that motivates the myth, to elicit what is specific in a given time and place, asking what interests are served by the naturalization of particular convictions and values.”

Scott Adams’s interests are pretty clear.

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