Sunday, July 30, 2023

Patrick Deneen's Sophistical Account of the Power Elite

 In my posts on Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed, I identified his sophistical rhetorical strategy of begging the question:  throughout his writing, he makes assertions as if they were obviously true (often by quoting or paraphrasing from some authors who agree with him) without offering any proof and without explaining or replying to the best objections to his position.  In Regime Change, he employs the same sophistical technique.

For example, the second chapter is entitled "The Power Elite."  The idea of the Power Elite--that there is one, and only one, ruling class that is socially uniform and unified in purpose that rules over the United States, and perhaps even over the whole world--is a crucial claim of his argument.  He does not tell his readers that this term the Power Elite was invented by C. Wright Mills in his book The Power Elite (1956).  Nor does he tell his readers that there were many powerful criticisms of this book.  Moreover, Deneen does not reply to these criticisms or offer any empirical evidence that Mills was correct in his account of the Power Elite.  Deneen simply asserts the truth of this idea as if it were so obvious that he need not make any effort to substantiate it.

According to Mills, the members of three kinds of American elites--business, political, and military--cooperate to make all of the crucial decisions for the nation.  Their ability to act in common as the Power Elite depends on their social uniformity: they have the same socioeconomic, educational, and professional backgrounds that set them apart from the rest of the nation.

But some of the sociologists who study elites disagreed with Mills.  For example, Suzanne Keller (in Beyond the Ruling Class) argued for "elite pluralism"--"a diversified, heterogeneous set of elites instead of the monolith that had been assumed heretofore" (xiii).  She pointed out that Mills' own data did not support his claim about the social uniformity of American elites because his biographical data showed striking dissimilarities in their backgrounds, education, careers, and religious beliefs (108-109).

Does Deneen have the evidence proving that Mills was right about the Power Elite and Keller was wrong? We don't know because he says nothing about this debate.

Deneen does say that the Power Elite is socially uniform because they all belong to what James Burnham called "the Managerial Elite" (27-39).  And one "defining feature of this new elite is its near-complete dissociation of the new class from the lower and working classes" (36).

One manifestation of this complete separation of the Power Elite from the lower and working classes is the division of the American electorate--particularly in the election of 2020--"between a dominantly credentialed professional class, on the one hand, and an increasingly multiracial, multiethnic working class, on the other" (156-157).  On the one side, those supporting Joe Biden "were dominated by members of the credentialed professional class."  On the other side, those supporting Donald Trump were "largely noncollege credentialed, hourly or self-employed, private-sector rank-and-file union members, and generally working class."  What we see here is "the few against the many, or oligarchy vs. demos.  In such a condition, the foreseeable future is one in which the mass and the elite remain locked in a prolonged adversarial contest" (158).  Biden is on the side of the few who belong to the elite, while Trump is on the side of the many who constitute the mass.

But is that true?  If Biden is on the side of the few and not the many, why did he win the popular vote?  And why did Trump lose the popular vote both in 2016 and 2020? Does Dineen identify the "few" as actually the majority of the voters, and the "many" as actually a minority?  Does the majority of the American electorate belong to, or at least support, the Power Elite?  Dineen doesn't explain this.

Moreover, if the "largely noncollege credentialed" were on the side of Trump, then one would have expected that most if not all of those voters without college degrees would have voted for Trump rather than Biden.  That did not happen.  Why?

It is true that some of the analysts of the 2020 election thought they saw a "diploma divide," with the Biden voters being more likely to have a college diploma.  But that's not exactly true.  In 2020, only 35% of the registered voters had a college degree, while 65% did not.  So, obviously, any candidate or party that would appeal only to the college educated would lose.  

Of the voters with a college degree, 42% voted for Trump, 55% voted for Biden.  Of the voters with no college degree, 49% went to Trump, and 49% to Biden.  If Dineen is right that the "largely noncollege credentialed" were for Trump, why did half of them vote against Trump?  Dineen doesn't explain this.  Nor does he explain how the party alignment can be understood as "the few against the many," when the majority of the voters are on the side of the "few."

What we see here is the fundamental incoherence in Trump's populist rhetoric, which I have noted previously.  The populists assert a stark opposition between the Elites and the People.  But then a large portion, perhaps even a majority, of the People belong to or support the Elites.

Monday, July 17, 2023

The Natural Desire for Sexual Identity Is (Mostly) Binary


                                            The Binary Sexual Reality of Two Kinds of Gametes

I have argued that the natural desire for sexual identity as either male or female is one of the twenty natural desires of our evolved human nature.  But even as I stress the dualism of sexual identity as male or female as the biological central tendency of our human nature, I recognize the variation from this strict bipolarity--such as true hermaphrodites who combine both sexes, other kinds of intersexual people, and people who are transgender in crossing from one sex to another.  

The natural desire for sexual identity is mostly binary.  For most of us, our biological sex is clearly male or female.  And for most of us, our gender identity corresponds to our sexual identity as male or female.  But in rare cases, an individual's sex is a biological mosaic of male and female traits.  And in some cases, an individual's gender identity diverges from his or her biological sexual identity.  I have written about this hereherehere, and here.

I was recently prompted to think more about this as I read an article in Skeptical Inquirer by Jerry Coyne and Luana Maroja on "The Ideological Subversion of Biology."  They consider six examples of how "progressive social justice" denies the truths of biology.  The first example is the popular claim that "sex in humans is not a discrete and binary distribution of males and females but a spectrum."  They reject this:

"This statement . . . is wrong because nearly every human on earth falls into one of two distinct categories.  Your biological sex is determined simply by whether your body is designed to make large, immobile gametes (eggs, characterizing females) or very small and mobile gametes (sperm, characterizing males).  Even in plants we see the same dichotomy, with pollen producing the tiny sperm and ovules carrying the large eggs.  The size difference can be huge: a human egg, for instance, has ten million times the volume of a single sperm.  And each gamete is associated with a complex reproductive apparatus that produces it.  It is the bearers of these two reproductive systems that biologists recognize as 'the sexes.'

"Because no other types of gametes exist in animals or vascular plants, and we see no intermediate gametes, there is no third sex. . . ." (35).

Although I generally agree with everything they say, I would emphasize the significance of the adverb in the first sentence: "nearly every human on earth falls into one of two distinct categories."  Coyne and Maroja admit that a few human beings cannot be clearly identified as either male or female.  In some previous posts, I have commented on Anne Fausto-Sterling's claim that there are at least five human sexes.  In addition to males and females, there are three other sexes.  True hermaphrodites ("herms") have both male chromosomes (XY) and female chromosomes (XX); and consequently, they have can have one testis and one ovary, or a fusion into an ovotestis, and they might have a vagina with a large clitoris that at puberty grows to the size of a penis.  Female pseudohermaphrodites ("ferms") have ovaries and female chromosomes (XX), but they might have beards, what looks like a penis, and other apparently masculine traits.  Male pseudohermaphrodites ("merms") have testes and male chromosomes (XY), but they might have a vagina, a clitoris, and breasts.  Merms and ferms are intersexual individuals whose sexual development has deviated in some way from that of a typical male or typical female.  This includes various disorders of sexual development that create anomalies in the sex chromosomes, the gonads, the reproductive ducts, and the genitalia.  For example, Caster Semenya of South Africa, who won the 800 meters race for women at the Rio Olympics in 2016, is probably a chromosomal male (46 XY) who was born with sexually ambiguous sex organs, and who was raised as a girl, despite being biologically male.

While Coyne and Maroja recognize these anomalous cases of confused sexual identity, they deny that these represent "other sexes."  They insist that there can only be two sexes--male and female--because these are the two reproductive systems designed by evolutionary natural selection.  The male reproductive system contributes sperm to the reproductive process, while the female reproductive system contributes eggs.

One can see this in hermaphrodites, they argue.  Most hermaphrodites are infertile.  But in those few cases where hermaphrodites are fertile, they must be fertile as a male (Parvin 1982) or as a female (Schoenhaus et al. 2008).  In the one case, a phenotypically male fertile hermaphrodite fathered a child by impregnating a woman with his sperm.  Remarkably, blood tests showed that 81 per cent of his cells were 46 XX, and 19 per cent were 46 XY.  He was a biological chimera who had arisen from the fusion of an XX zygote and a XY zygote.  In the second case, a phenotypically female hermaphrodite gave birth to a child after being impregnated by a man.  Blood tests showed that 96 per cent of her cells were 46 XY, and 4 per cent were 46 XX.  She was probably a biological mosaic arising from a mutation in one zygote.

That human beings must be fertile either as a male or as a female proves that male and female are the only sexes, Coyne and Maroja suggest, because reproduction is the only natural function of sex.

But as I have argued in my posts on animal homosexuality, sex has other natural functions beyond reproduction.  Pair-bonding, for example.  Heterosexual and homosexual couples have a natural desire for sexual bonding even when they are infertile.  And while sexual pair-bonding often promotes reproduction and parental care of offspring, it can be a naturally desirable good in itself.


Coyne, Jerry A., and Luana S. Maroja. 2023. "The Ideological Subversion of Biology." Skeptical Inquirer 47 (July/August): 34-47.

Parvin, Simon D. 1982. "Ovulation in a Cytogenetically Proved Phenotypically Male Fertile Hermaphrodite." British Journal of Surgery 69: 279-80.

Schoenhaus, Samantha A., Scott E. Lentz, Peter Saber, Malcolm Munro, and Seth Kivnick. 2008. Fertility and Sterility 90 (November): 2016.e9.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Man the Hunter, Woman the Gatherer--Predominantly But Not Exclusively. The Evolutionary Psychology of Sex Differences

In 1965, 67 of the leading scholars of human hunter-gatherers gathered at the University of Chicago for a symposium on "Man the Hunter," which resulted in a book with that title edited by Richard Lee and Irven DeVore (1968).  The fundamental idea underpinning the conference was that since through most of their evolutionary history, most human beings had lived in small bands of hunter-gatherer foragers--hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants--the hunter-gatherer way of life was the environment of evolutionary adaptation in which evolved human nature had been shaped.

As part of that adaptation, there were sex differences between "man the hunter" and "woman the gatherer"--men predominated in hunting, and women predominated in gathering.  One could infer from this that there were evolved natural differences on average in the psychological propensities of men and women, with men more inclined to be aggressive hunters and women more inclined to be caregiving mothers whose foraging was limited by their need to care for their children, which impeded women from hunting large animals.

For me, this supports the idea that there is an evolved natural desire for sexual identity.  Human beings generally desire to identify themselves as male or female.  All human societies have some sexual division of labor.  And although different societies assign somewhat different sex roles, there are some recurrent differences that manifest a universal sexual bipolarity in the pattern of human desires.

Those who want to deny or at least play down these natural sex differences will criticize the dichotomy of man the hunter and woman the gatherer, so that they can argue for male and female gender differences as being personal and cultural constructions rather than evolved natural propensities.  A recent example of this is an article in PLoS ONE--"The Myth of Man the Hunter: Women's Contribution to the Hunt Across Ethnographic Contexts" (Anderson et al. 2023).  This article has received wide coverage in the media, including the journal Science.

The authors report: "Of the 50 foraging societies that have documentation on women hunting, 45 (90%) had data on the size of game that women hunted.  Of these, 21 (46%) hunt small game, 7 (15%) hunt median game, 15 (33%) hunt large game and 2 (4%) of these societies hunt game of all sizes" (6).  They conclude from this that "the common belief that women exclusively gather while men exclusively hunt, and further, that the implicit sexual division of labor of 'hunter/gatherer' is misapplied" (6).

I think a better title for this article would be "The Myth of Man as Exclusively the Hunter."  The authors do a good job in refuting the idea that men are exclusively the hunters and women exclusively the gatherers.  James Woodburn expressed this idea in the original Man the Hunter volume when he said:  "Hunting is done exclusively by men and boys" (Woodburn 1968, 51).  But as far as I can see, most of the hunter-gatherer scholars have not said this.  Most have agreed with Robert Kelly (2013, 218-24) that while hunting is not done exclusively by men, it is predominantly done by men, particularly the hunting of big game.  So, the difference between men and women is a matter of degree rather than kind.  If I am right about that, then what Anderson and her colleagues are refuting is mostly a straw man (or straw woman).

All of their evidence supports the conclusion that the hunting of large game is usually men's work, although women regularly hunt small game, and occasionally there are individual cases of women hunting large game.
Their first cited evidence of female hunting is Haas et al. (2020).  But they do not acknowledge the remarkable admission in the online Supplement to that article that "the WMP6 burial is the only burial securely identified as a big-game hunter burial in the entire sample of late Pleistocene and early Holocene burials in the Americas."  Notably, Haas et al. do not include this statement in their published article.  I have written about this in a previous post.
As far as I can tell, none of the evidence in Anderson et al.'s article shows that women are the same as men in the regular hunting of large game.  Consider, for example, three societies where they see women hunting large game—the !Kung San, the Hadza, and the Bakola.  According to their authority for the !Kung San, although there are a few cases of women hunting small game, "basically they leave hunting to the men" (Lee 1979, 235).
According to their authority for the Hadza, although "the common view that males only hunt and females only gather is not true," it is nevertheless true that women mostly hunt small animals, and there is "a marked division of foraging labor" between men and women (Marlowe 2010, 269).
According to their authority for the Bakola, although the women participate in hunting, gathering "is reserved mostly for women and children" (Ngima 2006, 58); women participate in net hunting, but only as beaters and not as hunters (51, 57, 65-67); and women are excluded from ceremonial net hunting (66).
They cannot point to any evidence for a hunter-gatherer society where the hunting of big game is predominantly by women, or at least equally with men.


Anderson, Abigail, Sophia Chilczuk, Kaylie Nelson, Roxanne Ruther, and Cara Wall-Scheffler. 2023. "The Myth of Man the Hunter: Women's Contribution to the Hunt Across Ethnographic Contexts."  PLoS ONE 18(6): e0287101.

Haas, Randall, et al. 2020. "Female Hunters of the Early Americas." Science Advances 6: 1-10.

Kelly, Robert L. 2013. The Lifeways of Hunter-Gatherers: The Foraging Spectrum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lee, Richard B. 1979. The !Kung San: Men, Women, and Work in a Foraging Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lee, Richard B., and Irven DeVore, eds.  1968.  Man the Hunter.  Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company.

Marlowe, Frank W. 2010. The Hadza: Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ngima Mawoung, Godefroy.  2006.  "Perception of Hunting, Gathering, and Fishing Techniques of the Bakola of the Coastal Region, Southern Cameroon." African Study Monographs, Suppl. 33: 49-69.

Woodburn, James. 1968. "An Introduction to Hadza Ecology." In Lee and DeVore, 49-55.

Monday, July 03, 2023

The Supreme Court Has Unanimously Upheld Individualized Affirmative Action

On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, which was decided together with Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina et al.  This seemed to overrule the previous decisions--particularly Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)--that had upheld affirmative action admission programs in higher education that were designed to increase the admission of applicants from disadvantaged minority racial groups.  The majority opinion is supported by all six of the conservative Republican Justices--John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.  The dissenters are the three liberal Democrat Justices--Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

From my reading of this decision, there is something strange about it that no one else has noticed (as far as I know).  It seems to me that all nine Justices actually agree with one another in upholding as constitutional an individualized form of affirmative action, while rejecting a stereotypical form of affirmative action.  The fact that no one else has seen this--not even the Justices themselves--makes me worry that I am mistaken.  But if I am wrong about this, I will be happy to be corrected.

Individualized affirmative action is my term for what Sotomayor sees in the affirmative action admission programs at Harvard and UNC as an "individualized review as part of a holistic admissions process" with a "limited use of race" (2. 15).  This differs from what I am calling stereotypical affirmative action, which Roberts identifies as affirmative action that creates "preferences on the basis of race alone" or "race for race's sake" that depends on "racial stereotyping" (28-29, 39).  As I read their opinions, all of the Justices agree that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permits individualized affirmative action but prohibits stereotypical affirmative action.

Individualized affirmative action is a "multidimensional system" for judging applicants as individuals, in which "race is only one factor out of many."  Sotomayor observes: "Stated simply, race is one small piece of a much larger admissions puzzle where most of the pieces disfavor underrepresented racial minorities.  That is precisely why underrepresented racial minorities remain underrepresented.  The Court's suggestion that an already advantaged racial group is 'disadvantaged' because of a limited use of race is a myth" (44-45).

At Harvard, for example, the admissions process gathers a wide range of information that includes grades, test scores, recommendation letters, personal essays, and interviews with alumni and admission officers.  Applicants are not required to identify their race.  Admission officers may, but need not, consider a student's self-reported racial identity.  

Harvard usually receives about 35,000 applications for a class with about 1,600 seats.  A long round of competitive reviews identifies about 2,000 highly qualified candidates.  To reduce this to 1,600, Harvard considers "plus factors" that can help "tip an applicant into Harvard's admitted class."  To achieve diversity, Harvard awards "tips" for a variety of reasons, including geographic origins, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and race.  The use of race is so limited that most of the Hispanic and African-American applicants are rejected (Sotomayor 31-32).

This multidimensional individualized system benefits students with various racial backgrounds, including those who identify as white.  For example, Harvard provides points to applicants who qualify as "ALDC," meaning "athletes, legacy applicants, applicants on the Dean's Interest List [primarily relatives of donors], and children of faculty and staff."  ALDC applicants are predominantly white--about 68% of them (Sotomayor 44).

Of those admitted to Harvard's freshman class each year, about 15% are black.  For UNC, the proportion is about 9% black.  The U.S. population as a whole is about 15% black.  The state population of North Carolina is about 22% black.

While Sotomayor, Jackson, and Kagan correctly identify the admission programs at Harvard and UNC as showing individualized affirmative action, Roberts, Thomas, and the others in the majority mistakenly identify them as stereotypical affirmative action programs with "preferences on the basis of race alone" that "pick winners and losers based on the color of skin" and thus practice "racial stereotyping" (Roberts 28-29, 38-39).  Sotomayor and Jackson rightly say that in claims like this Roberts, Thomas, and the others are attacking a straw man--the straw man of stereotypical affirmative action (Sotomayor 46-50, Jackson 18, 26).

Here's an example of "racial stereotyping" in connection with the affirmative action debate.  The Barbara Grutter of the Grutter v. Bollinger case is my sister-in-law.  She had applied to the Law School of the University of Michigan and was denied admission, even though some of those admitted because of their racial identity had lower grade point averages and lower LSAT scores than she did, and she argued that this violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.  Some years ago, another sister-in-law happened to be a student in a class in the College of Education at Northern Illinois University where the professor led a discussion of the Grutter decision.  The professor casually remarked that "this woman Grutter probably comes from a rich white family," and so she felt entitled to be admitted.  My sister-in-law raised her hand and explained that no this was not true, because she was her sister, and they had been raised in a relatively poor family of nine children with a father whose salary as a Calvinist minister was quite low.  A more individualized affirmative action program would not assume that every white woman has benefited unfairly from "white privilege."

Roberts makes it clear the majority opinion allows for the individualized form of affirmative action that gives some preference to individuals who have shown moral courage and determination in overcoming the disadvantages coming from racial discrimination:

". . . as all parties agree, nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant's discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise. . . .  A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student's courage and determination.  Or a benefit to a student whose heritage or culture motivated him or her to assume a leadership role or attain a particular goal must be tied to that student's unique ability to contribute to the university.  In other words, the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual--not on the basis of race."

"Many universities have for too long done just the opposite.  And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual's identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin.  Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice" (39-40).

Similarly, Thomas says, "nothing prevents the States from according an admission preference to identified victims of discrimination," and most of those benefiting from this preference might be black (20).

Thomas himself was the beneficiary of such an affirmative action preference when he was admitted to Yale Law School after identifying himself as a young black man who had grown up in the 1950s in a racially segregated Georgia.  See Corey Robin, The Enigma of Clarence Thomas (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2019).  Sotomayor draws attention to this: "The three Justices of color on this Court graduated from elite universities and law schools with race-conscious admissions programs, and achieved successful legal careers, despite having different educational backgrounds than their peers" (56-57).

Some of Thomas's critics have accused him of hypocrisy and self-contradiction because he wants to overturn the very affirmative action programs from which he has benefited.  But he could defend himself by saying that there is no contradiction in his benefiting from the individualized affirmative action preference for him at Yale as an individual who overcame the disadvantages of racial discrimination, which differs from a stereotypical affirmative action preference for anyone with black skin.

That the decision in Students for Fair Admissions does allow for individualized affirmative action is quickly being recognized by some admissions officers in higher education.  For example, Dr. Mark Henderson is the head of admissions at the medical school at the University of California, Davis, has developed the "socioeconomic disadvantage scale" (SED) that rates every applicant from zero to 99 measuring their life experiences such as family income and parental education.  For admissions decisions, that score is combined with many other factors--grades, test scores, recommendations, personal essays, and interviews.  This has allowed the medical school at Davis to practice "socioeconomic affirmative action," which I would call individualized affirmative action.  And they have done this in a state that voted in 1996 to ban affirmative action.  The school says that its socioeconomic disadvantage scale is "race-neutral."  But, of course, admitting students with disadvantaged backgrounds will favor the admission of many individuals who are racially disadvantaged.  In its most recent entering class of 133 students, 14 percent were Black and 30 percent Hispanic.  In the U.S., only about 6 percent of practicing doctors are Black.  Dr. Henderson is confident that he can defend his admissions program as permissible under the Supreme Court's decision.

I will be arguing in some future posts that this kind of affirmative action can be part of a Lockean liberal meritocracy based on equality of opportunity that rewards the moral and intellectual talents of those who have come from unfairly disadvantaged backgrounds.