America certainly has come a long way in the past fifty or sixty years.
Entitlement programs now soak up three quarters of the federal budget. Immigration policies have gone from restrictive to permissive—and even illegals now are so numerous that they could populate a medium-sized city in each of the 50 states. Civil rights expansions have allowed, among other things, women in combat units and same-sex marriage—developments that would have been scarcely imaginable a half-century ago.
How did all this happen?
“It was inevitable—it was progress,” is one possible answer. And in a narrow sense it’s true: The policy shifts listed above are typically called “progressive.”
But broadly speaking, progressive policies are just those that put compassion before cold logic. Logic tells you, for example, that over-generous welfare will, in the long run, discourage work and self-reliance, harm families, and ultimately hollow out society. Compassion tells you to focus on the short term and fill every begging hand that presents itself.
So why did America make such a decisive shift towards compassion over cold logic?
And why does this question never get asked by our mainstream media, let alone answered?
The ascendancy of women
Here’s one big hint at a cause for this cultural shift: A greater preference for compassion over cold logic—sometimes described as empathetic vs. rule-based thinking—is one of the most prominent features of female psychology.
That’s according to the age-old pop-psych view. But the scientific literature doesn’t really contradict that view. Females seem to score higher than males on empathy tests, on average, and at the low end of the empathy spectrum, among the sociopaths and autistics, one finds hardly any females. The widespread, plausible assumption has been that women (on average compared to men) evolved a greater capacity for empathy and compassion because that is an adaptive trait for raising children. Probably most of us who have wives and kids are aware of that tension between what we want as fathers (toughen the kids up a little, prepare them for the real world) and what mothers want (protect, protect, protect).
Women aren’t just more compassionate in a general sense. Studies over the past few decades have shown that they are more likely than men to favor specific, usually compassion-related progressive policies: looser immigration, tighter gun laws, more generous welfare programs, expanded civil rights, more lenient law enforcement, and less military intervention.
So why have these policy and cultural shifts, which seem so strikingly aligned with female thinking, occurred in just the past several decades?
In case it’s not obvious from the charts, women, who had been trickling into the peacetime workforce since the early 1900s, suddenly moved there in a flood starting in the 1960s. By the year 2000 they had nearly doubled their 1950 participation rate.
Over that same period, men started leaving the workforce in large numbers, partly due to earlier retirement but also because welfare policies—including programs like Social Security disability compensation, which became a lot more generous—made it easier to live off the government.
But the more important trend here has to do with women. And they didn’t just reach workforce participation levels close to men’s. They also began to achieve parity or near-parity in professions of strong cultural influence that had been traditionally dominated by men—including journalism, law, academic research, publishing and politics.
In other words, they obtained the power to affect how all Americans tend to think and act—to a degree that has probably never been seen before in any large civilization on this planet.
At the same time, and also to an unprecedented extent, women loosened their ties to men. Sociologists have found evidence that the average woman is more likely to vote the way her man votes, the more she depends on him financially. Women as they moved into the workforce certainly lost much of their traditional financial dependency, and moreover started marrying later, or not at all. When they did marry they had a high—and again, I think unprecedented—chance of divorce.
Being less influenced by men, women thus may have felt more free to follow their own (progressive) policy preferences. A curious fact that is sometimes noted in the media these days—but of course never in a context like this one—is that single women, of all races, are overwhelmingly likely to identify themselves as politically liberal and to vote Democratic.
The social impact of women’s new influence would have been huge anyway. But it presumably has been intensified by the Democratic party’s deliberate alignment, since the 1960s, with women and their policy preferences. In recent years, the partisan “gender gap” has become so large that, if one excluded women’s votes, Mitt Romney would have easily won the 2012 presidential election—and Hillary Clinton would not stand a chance in 2016. Frankly, were it not for women voters, the country probably would never have heard of Hillary Clinton, or Bill (“I feel your pain”) Clinton, or anyone as liberal as Barack Obama.
Environmentalism and illiberalism
There are other traits besides empathy that women and men appear to have in different measures. Women seem to have a greater affinity for environmentalism, for example, and also for ”natural” or “organic” foods and medicines. That “green” mindset became mainstream over just the past several decades, and is now often considered part of progressivism.
Could that green mindset also owe something to women’s traditional roles as child-bearers and child-raisers? It may seem un-PC to suggest that, but in fact women often refer to their children’s present and future health when they talk about green issues. Women during pregnancy also exhibit food aversion and nesting instincts—instincts apparently meant to minimize the risk of toxins and germs—and conceivably that innate sensitivity to the possibility of environmental harm persists to some extent outside pregnancy.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting a clean environment, and foods and medicines that are “natural.” Who likes toxins? But if that preference springs from somewhere deep and irrational in the mind, it might often manifest in unscientific nonsense—such as Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine rants, Gwyneth Paltrow’s “detox cleanse” regimens, or the histrionics of the anti-GMO movement. Not to mention the vast majority of the claims made by the alternative medicine industry—claims that their customers, most of them women, tend to swallow whole.
The spread of the political correctness mindset is another striking cultural trend of the past few decades. “PC” emerged in large part from campus feminism of the 1970s and early 80s, and this link to feminism, which certainly persists, begs the question: Does the PC impulse to silence speech and speakers that it doesn’t like—even to suppress certain scientific research—also spring from some female psychological trait?
I don’t know, and I doubt that any academic psychologist these days has the balls to address the question experimentally. But plainly there is something motherly and hyper-empathetic about the protectiveness of the PC mindset towards certain favored groups. And perhaps a natural motherly protectiveness is also one that brooks no debate.
More generally—just as a matter of naked reasoning here—if women tend to rely more on empathy and other emotions vs. cold logic, then one would expect them (on average compared to men) to tend to avoid situations of free and open debate, where their lesser reliance on logic might leave them at a disadvantage. After all, reason is just one way to win a point. Shouting down your opponent, or employing drama and spectacle, can work too.
This is meant to be just a quick sketch—a little “red pill” to help raise awareness of some things that seem largely overlooked. I think that, once prompted to look, we all can see how life in America, and indeed throughout Western societies, has become dominated particularly by themes of compassion, and related protectiveness towards special groups, and how cold logic has been devalued.
Indeed, cold logic now seems effectively forbidden in some cases. All that has to happen is for the new guardians of the culture to find it “offensive.” A male New York Times reporter recently provoked those furies, drawing criticism even from his paper’s own (female) Public Editor, for drawing the simple, emperor-has-no-clothes conclusion that Michael Brown, the late convenience store robber and arrest-resister from Ferguson, Mo., was “no angel.” That male Times reporter might have been fired, except that, luckily for him, he is black.
But back to that other question I posed at the outset: Why do we hear nothing about women’s influence—probably a decisive influence—in shaping the progressive culture that one finds in early 21st century America? The answer, I think, is that hardly anyone has an incentive to say anything about it.
Feminists hate almost any argument that has to do with innate sex-based psychological differences, especially if it sounds like “women are more emotional and less rational than men.” Feminists also don’t want to admit to their enormous cultural sway, having complained for decades that they don’t have enough.
The MSM won’t let on either: newsrooms now are full of, and often headed by, women—and men are swiftly punished when they fail to toe the PC line.
The Democratic party won’t tell you. They wouldn’t want you to think that their sacred “progress” might be attributable, in large part, to a mere demographic shift, let alone to a mindset that evolved for the raising of children. They also don’t want men to know that the Democratic Party now is essentially the party of women.
Won’t the Republican establishment speak up about this? Dream on. Tarred with the “war on women” brush, and facing a demographic calamity (from non-whites and single women expanding their electoral share), they are desperate to retain some women’s votes. They are now far more likely to pander to women—as the Tory government does in the UK—than they are to say something (on purpose) that might “offend.”
So how does all this end?
I don’t see how it would on its own. The women-and-minorities electoral bloc seems on its way to supremacy not just in the US but throughout Western societies.
Interestingly, though, the progressive, feminine mindset I’ve touched on here hasn’t stopped “at the water’s edge.” US foreign policy now includes the promotion of progressive themes such as women’s rights and LGBT rights in traditional, conservative societies. America’s military operations also seem increasingly consistent with what women want—i.e., they seem more about helping whomever is suffering during a given news cycle, and less about long-range calculations of the national interest.
Perhaps none of that will come back to haunt America. After all, many of the world’s strongest and most prosperous countries, including America’s closest allies and trading partners, have political cultures that are just as feminized and progressive.
But America does have a fairly long list of adversaries, from Al Qaeda and ISIL to Russia and China. All have a deep loathing of progressivism, and a corresponding lack of—even rejection of—female influence at the higher levels of culture and politics.
What wouldn’t they do, as America weakens, to keep its infection from spreading to them?