I’ve been thinking about this all day, intending to satiate myself with my own musings, however I think that the firestorm of outrage could use a little level-headedness. Not that the outrage is misguided, unexpected, or even inappropriate. I’m pretty outraged myself, but outrage does very little to ease my own need for understanding. Only rational thought can fan those flames.

Smart people are very good at rationalizing things, by the way. History is full of examples of smart people doing lots of things with lots of reasons. Reasons are one of the things humans are best at manufacturing, even though we are not as good at reasoning about them. We construct meaning for our own purposes very much in the same way that we eat or drink or breathe or sleep. We are built to do it even though it can be pretty difficult to accomplish at times. We can’t help ourselves, and it’s rather a helpful thing that we can’t, too! It would be pretty horrible to live a life without any meaning, wouldn’t you say?

Understanding that is the first step towards rationalizing your reasoning, whether you are trying to reason through thought, action, or emotion. (The latter is particularly difficult due to our particular neurological evolution, but possible nonetheless.) In other words, know that your reasons are meaningful only because you have given them meaning. If it were not for that, your life would be meaningless. It should not be a disheartening insight if you understand the empowering nature of such a statement.

But I digress. This is about the idea of supremacy, that one person, place, or thing (we’ll call these options a noun, collectively) is superior to another, different noun. Here are a few examples of nouns that I’ve heard many people compare with one another throughout my lifetime:

  • Apples and oranges.
  • Glasses and contact lenses.
  • City dwellers and suburban dwellers.
  • Democrats and Republicans.
  • Americans and foreigners to Americans.
  • Men and women.
  • Heterosexual people and people who are not heterosexual.
  • Light-skinned people and dark-skinned people.
  • Jewish people and Christian people (and Muslim people and Hindu people and on and on and on).

Here’s one funny thing about such comparisons, in case it wasn’t clear to you from the list above: each set of nouns contains members which share an enormous number of characteristics. In my experience encountering comparisons intended to determine superiority, this rule of likeness has never been broken. Actually, I am eager for the day when it will be. On that day I will have met someone “truly” deranged.

Apples and oranges are both fruits, glasses and contact lenses are both corrective eye-wear, and (I did focus on the human comparisons purposefully) the rest are all humans. I have never heard an apple compared to a Jewish person, for example, nor have I heard a woman compared to a pair of glasses. Why? Well, naturally, it’s because the comparison to determine superiority in a way people can get emotionally invested in requires the act of measuring both nouns against the perceived value of a common property.

That is to say, in order to determine that one thing is superior to the other and have people care about it, your measurement must measure a characterstic that both things have. If you instead measure a characteristic that only one of your member things have then no half-thinking or half-feeling person would give your comparison any meaningful meaning. (See what I did there? I went back to the meaning thing from the beginning of the entry. Remember that. It’ll come up again, I promise.) What does it mean to make something meaningful? It means to give that opinion weight, to use it as the basis for your reasoning and the motivation behind your actions, whatever they may be.

There are some very smart people who use this argument to try and prove the idea of absolute superiority of one form or another, citing nuance or complexity to hide their absolutism. The previous link, in particular, leads to a man named Alexis’s writings, who believes in the potential superiority of all women over men.

Alexis (who is very clearly superior in his intelligence when measured for such things by means of analyzing his grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, and the like), says the following—after a very long-winded but informational digression about the merits of apples over oranges or vice versa—about making such comparisons:

My point: accepting any measure as a guideline means that one option will not rate as high as the other option. And it is the measure that is argued, not the superiority of the two options. Statistically, by changing the measure you change the results.

Preceeded immediately by this (in my opinion very accurate) statement:

If we could ever get two people to agree on the subject of what measure could be used as a guideline.

This is, unfortunately and unsurprisingly, a circular argument. A measure of superiority without defining superiority of or in a specific something is not a persuasive argument because it is statistically (and otherwise) meaningless. (Oh, there it is again! Did you see it?)

To combat that very simple point, reasons are concocted. For example, the argument changes from an absolute statement “Women are superior to men” to a qualified statement “Women are potentially superior to men” to a theory “Women are potentially superior to men if they can be shown to be smarter/stronger/better/whatever” to a belief “Women who have been proven to be smarter/stronger/better/whatever are superior to men.” Is it just me, or is it smelling a little One True Way® in here all of a sudden?

God bless our puny mortal souls and our meaningless lives. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. The opportunity for satire is rather irresistable.)

The problem with all this is, I dearly hope, obvious by now (especially since the really smart female supremacists said it first, even if they may have missed the point a little): you’re not going to get everyone to agree. The disagreements aren’t about measures to use for determining one gender or sex’s superiority over the other. They are about the idea that any one measure or collection of specific measures are an accurate depiction of unqualified superiority whether it is applied to gender, race, religion, or anything else.

I can disprove absolutist remarks stated as fact. I can’t (and won’t try to) disprove belief. Neither can they.

Wow. How anti-climactic. I know, I’m almost disappointed, too.